If I was behind the wheel on a road trip, it typically meant that I was headed either to a concert (usually One Direction) or a horse show. This also meant that Brooke was in tow. Road trips with Brooke were very much unlike the ones I’ve taken with her older sister. Trips with Megan generally comprise of short talks with music filling the gap. There were no gaps with Brooke. A background of music was overlaid with non-stop chatter.
What if I get nervous and throw up in the ring? Did I tell you about so-and-so? What if it rains and my saddle gets wet? Who’s my favorite this concert – Zayne or Harry? But what about Niall? What if the hotel smells? What if I can’t sell these tickets for better ones? Where are we going to see One D next summer? How much longer? Are we there yet?
These little journeys were peppered with little worries. Life’s journey is bigger and infused with bigger worries.
What if I don’t graduate on time? What if I don’t get the right job? What if I lose my job? What if I don’t get married on time? Have children on time? What do you mean “tumor?” What do you mean “affair?” What do you mean “life without parole?” What do you mean “we lost her?”
One question, however, punctuates both journeys – are we there yet? For most of us, “there” is heaven. For a long time, I’ve thought abstractly about heaven. I’ve thought of heaven in terms of a destination at which I hope to arrive at the end of my life as long as I’m a good person, and where I’ll be reunited with the ones that I love.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that there is a lot of “stinkin’ thinkin’” in that last sentence.
First, it’s really unpopular to say these days – but the road to heaven is narrow. It’s not just about being a “good person.” We so desperately want to be inclusive. We want to show our love for all by tolerating all. Tolerance and inclusion are often ways to love someone. But, sometimes true love means gently sharing hard truths.
Brooke asked me about getting to heaven less than a year before her accident. She wondered whether I really believed that people went to hell for not believing. Even though, I didn’t fully understand (and still don’t), I assured her that that is what I believe. I loved (and still love) her too much to tell her a lie about something so important. I’m not convinced that I did an adequate job that day of explaining what the Bible teaches about heaven. I just assumed that I’d have more time to explore the topic with her.
We always think there is plenty of time to think about these things. Brooke had only barely dipped her big toe into the pool of life. My brother had a young family – a daughter (4) and a son (1) who had time stolen from them. How many victims of time do you know? Tomorrow is not guaranteed. The time to reset the GPS for destination heaven is now.
There is an even more subtle lie lurking in my prior thinking. If my focus for getting to heaven is to see Brooke (or my brother or my dad or whomever), I’m headed down the wrong path. My eyes have been diverted from the road. As tempting as it is to be motivated by the desire to be reunited with loved ones in heaven, this temptation pulls us off the narrow path. It’s okay if your desire to be reconciled with a loved one is the catalyst that gets you to thinking about heaven. Please don’t stop there. Give it some deeper thought.
A few weeks after Brooke’s accident, I was having dinner with a friend who is in love with heaven. (She is on fire for heaven! You should have dinner with her some time.) Anyway, our dinner and Brooke’s accident got me to thinking about heaven in ways that I’d never before. She commented to me that when I get to heaven, seeing Brooke will be the least of my joys. In the immortal words of Hans and Franz – “hear me now; listen to me later.” I heard what she said. Yet, my desire at the time and for a long time was to get to heaven to see my baby girl.
Over this year, I’ve started to listen to what she said – really listen.
Imagine how you would feel this very instant if whatever you MOST desire in this world were granted to you. No limitations. Your grandest wish, your deepest yearning satisfied – forever. What emotions would overtake you? If Brooke were to walk through my door this second, the earth would literally tremble from my joy. Tsunamis of elation would overtake every grief that haunts my soul. The closest thing that I can imagine to what that feeling would be like is that moment when the doctor placed each of my newborn daughters in my arms for the first time. Pure, unblemished bliss – yet temporary.
Now, imagine – for the rest of eternity, the feeling that you just imagined becomes the worse feeling that you will ever experience again. Your highest high has been turned on its head and is now your lowest low.
As much as we love our children, our spouses, our jobs, our health, [fill-in-the-blank], none of it is the path to heaven and eternal life. That’s a little bit of a hard pill to swallow while I am still on this side of eternity simply because I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the things that my heart knows. My faith is still seeking understanding. (Anselm of Canterbury).
But make no mistake, heaven is real. I should have been more engaged in the things of heaven and should have engaged those around me long before now. This realization breaks my heart. The good news today is that we aren’t there yet. We still have time to find our paths.
It is only slightly ironic that we took so many road trips seeking the band, One Direction. Today, I pray that we are all find the One Direction that leads straight to heaven. As we travel that path, I pray that we adopt a “no-man-left-behind” mentality toward those we meet along the way.
More than anything, I pray that Brooke took our most recent conversation about heaven to heart because after meeting Jesus, the first person that I want to see in heaven is my baby girl.