Thursday, June 16, 2016

Outskirts of Heaven

I met another one today.  Somebody who has been to the outskirts of Heaven.  At the time, she was 12-years-old.  She had a high fever and was wondering why the ice her body was packed in didn't feel cold.  Shortly thereafter, she traveled through a beautiful valley, saw somebody she knew to be her grandmother (though they'd never met), and heard a resounding voice tell her, "It's not your time.  You must go back." 

Some fifty years have passed.  She recalls her trip to the outskirts as if it were yesterday.  She has no fear of dying and anticipates her entry into eternity with great confidence and joy.  She urges the dying to shake off their fear, and the grieving to cry only for themselves. 

Working as a hospital chaplain, these kinds of stories are finding their way to me and I couldn't be more grateful.  But tonight, I wonder again, if I have a role beyond courting gratitude.  Is my privilege of listening to these encounters part and parcel of my responsibility to join these blessed ones in their very-clear-mission-to-tell?.  ...Everyone to whom much is given, of him much will be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.  [Luke 12:48]

Last week, I met a woman who was touched by Jesus on her left shoulder when she was intubated and struggling to breathe.  She knew it was Him because she recognized His sandals, His shining robe and His beard (although it was longer than she expected).  She saw everything except His Face.  She was up and walking around three hours later.   

It made sense to her that she would have to wait to see Jesus face to face, as she recalled Exodus 33:21-23:  And the Lord said, "Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand upon the rock; and while my glory passes shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen."

She said the Lord tells her who to tell about her experience.  I made the list, so she assumed I was skeptical and needed her story to bolster my faith.  I assured her that my faith was indeed bolstered, but that I was not at all skeptical.  

One man was stabbed multiple times in his youth.  He visited the outskirts and is now an elder in his church and a beacon of hope to all of the young men in his impoverished neighborhood.  Young men who need every reason to believe, but have (almost) every reason not to.

Yet another, and perhaps my favorite story, was a man who was helping his younger brother one afternoon.  His brother was dying of leukemia.  During their time together, his brother asked him, "Do you hear that?!"  He didn't.  "I hear trumpets," he said.  A little while later..."Do you see that?!"  He didn't.  "The angels!  The angels are coming for me."  His brother died the next day.

A couple of decades later, the man who told me this story "died" during his first of several strokes.  He saw his brother who heard trumpets and saw angels, sitting with another brother on a hill of the greenest green.  They beckoned for him to cross the valley separating them.  But, he knew it wasn't time.  He shook his head no.  He had to come back to tell.

A few months ago, in another post, I reviewed The Other Side by Michael H. Brown - a collection of experiences and encounters of those who have visited the other side.  Every story I have heard in person matches up with all of the others I've read about.  While their modes of transportation seem to vary, their experiences are exactly the same in the beauty they describe, the peace they felt, the voice or knowing that it wasn't their time to stay, a complete absence of desire to return to earth, an overwhelming conviction they'd been to Heaven (or at least the outskirts) when they returned, and an unmistakable sense of mission to tell about this other reality, and Jesus who abides there.

I'm so very grateful... for my job, which provides the opportunities to hear these stories and to meet the people who carry them.  To have my faith edified daily.  To share their gift with others, and hopefully, to help them fulfill their God-given tell. 

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever  Amen.  [Book of Jude, v.24] 



Thursday, June 9, 2016

One Shade of Grey

I don't really like the color grey and I magically disappear during discussions of how many shades of it there might be.  For me, there is only one shade of grey.  Grey and not grey.  Grey and the opposite of grey - blatantly obvious.    I much prefer blatantly obvious.  Remind me to write Crayola. 

My favorite color is actually green (which would be good to know if you're writing a book), but today, grey abounds. 

When too much grey is hanging out upstairs, I have to sort it out.  Sort of like brain laundry, I guess.  As much as I wish my basket full of grey could be separated neatly into two piles, preferably one black and one white, the best I can do is throw the laundry on the floor and decide...What is grey and what isn't.

For today...

Grey is... standing in for an absent ordained Protestant minister when you are a lay Catholic woman.  Who said God doesn't have a sense of humor?

Grey isn't... a room full of people expecting a church service, who don't care one iota who shows up or what they show up with.  They are simply ready to receive what is offered - without judgment and overflowing with gratitude.  Being empty and hungry is not grey.  It is beautiful.  Especially to those who are neither empty nor hungry.  Blessed are the poor in spirit...Matt 5:3  

Grey is when you've been married for forty years, your husband is ready to die and giving him your support means you will be without his, for the rest of your life.

Grey isn't... the love that can endure that kind of self-sacrifice.

Grey is...telling someone you love them without clarifying why or being at all sure they love you, too.

Grey isn't...having no regrets if time runs short, or opportunities run out. 

Grey is...being stranded on an island and wondering if you're offending your God by paddling back to the Mainland with the wrong colored paddle, when it's the only one you have.

Grey isn't...the God who created islands and paddles.