(*MGO stands for My Grief Observed. These are the thoughts I’m writing as a process my grief over my dad’s finish to his battle with brain cancer.)
Shortly after the doctors found the second tumor in my dad’s brain, my dad compiled a list of books he wanted to read. At first I was beyond thrilled to have something tangible that I could do for my dad. My goal this past year was to make sure that he had everything he wanted and that it was possible to obtain on this earth. When the man wanted a pumpkin spice Krispy Kreme doughnut, I’d go get him a dozen and throw in some crullers for good measure because I knew he liked them. When he was out of the cologne he’d discovered on his trip to visit us in Boston, I ordered it online from the company. But when I read his list–90 Minutes in Heaven, Heaven: My Father’s House, The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth, Heaven–I was scared and even a little perturbed. I wanted him to be reading books about winning battles; didn’t Lance Armstrong write a book he could read, for Pete’s sake?
I tried to make light of the situation. “You planning a trip I don’t know about?” I asked offhandedly.
I can still the slight, almost sheepish smile on his face as he said, “Cramming for a big test.”
And it touched my heart to realize that at the end of the day, this man who had devoted his life to ministry for over forty years wanted to be sure of what he knew that he knew. He never gave up the fight, but he knew that unless God gave him a miracle of earthly healing, he was getting close to the end of this part of his journey. Even in death, my dad was teaching me that it’s always important to be ready and prepared for what lies ahead. I don’t think for a minute that my dad ever doubted that he was going to Heaven, but just as I research a new city before we move there , my dad wanted to make sure he knew all he could about the next stop on his trip.
He ordered several books about Heaven, but the one that meant the most to him was a book by Randy Alcorn aptly titled Heaven. Although I’d accepted that he wanted to read about what happens after death, I didn’t share his interest at the time. I didn’t want to talk about anything that reminded me that my dad might not be with us much longer. But not many days before he died, my dad asked me if I would read to him from Heaven. I think it had become very difficult for him to visually focus by this time although he tried to keep us from knowing about a lot of the changes he was experiencing. I sat down in the chair beside his bed and picked up where he’d stopped reading.
Apparently my voice would make a great cure for insomnia because a couple of sentences in to the chapter, he was sound asleep. He was sleeping more and more at the end but sometimes he’d recount things we’d discussed in the room when we thought he was asleep. Since I wasn’t sure just how much he was hearing, I decided to keep reading anyway. I’ve heard preachers talk about Heaven in sermons and at funerals all my life but I’d never heard anyone say some of the stuff I was reading in this book. I think I was hooked when Mr. Alcorn talked about how the Heaven we hear about in church a lot of times doesn’t sound like a particularly fun place to go. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good church service (or I did once upon a time and probably will again one day), but I’ve never been sure I wanted to be a part of a service that lasted forever and ever and ever. Isn’t that the impression you get from preachers some times? I’d always felt bad about thinking that way about the place Jesus was preparing for us, but was relieved to know that maybe I wasn’t the only person who’d ever thought that.I’d always heard that Heaven was too wonderful to imagine, but this book was actually encouraging me to picture Heaven and even gave me the words to help paint the mental pictures.
Here are a few of the questions covered in this book:
What is life like in the present Heaven (or the place were we go when we die before Jesus comes back again)? Do people in Heaven know what’s happening on earth?
Will there be space and time?
Will we eat and drink?
What will our daily lives be like?
Will we desire relationships with anyone except God?
Will there be arts, entertainment, and sports?
Dad died before I finished reading the book and like I’ve told you, I’ve needed some time away from books and words for awhile. But I find myself drawn back to Heaven to read more about where my dad is and where I’m going to be. I remember when I was younger hoping Jesus wouldn’t come back until I got married, or had sex (just keeping it real, kids), or had kids….I always had a few more things I wanted to do. Now that my dad is already there, I can’t wait to get to Heaven. And the more I read this book, the more I want to go and the more I want to be sure that the people I love will be there, too.
Shortly after Dad died I was having an email conversation with one of my newer friends who lives in my computer, Marla Taviano. Do you know her? She’s a wife, a mom, an author, a lover of zoos, and she’s become a true friend over the last little bit. She mentioned the book Heaven to me in a letter of encouragement. I told her the story about the book that I just told you and she told me that she had corresponded with the author, Randy Alcorn, on occasion. She asked my permission to share the story with him so he could know that his book had been an encouragement to my dad and to me. I told her that I’d be more than happy for her to do so.
This weekend I received a package in the mail from Mr. Alcorn’s ministry. It contained two beautiful picture books for younger children about Heaven, the older kids’ version of his adult book on CD, and a devotional book. The package didn’t have a note in it and I just assumed Marla had sent it to me. When I asked her about it she said that when she told Mr. Alcorn about me, he asked for my children’s ages and my home address. I think one of the things that blessed me most about the package was that he was more concerned that I receive the resources than he was that he received the credit for sending them. I was touched that he was concerned about how my kids are processing my dad’s death and that they have all the facts about Heaven in language they can understand. I told Marla that his kindness has made such an impression on me that now I want to read everything he’s ever written and he’s written quite a few books. In fact, Marla says that his fiction book Safely Home is one of her all-time favorite books.
I know this has been a long post and I’d really promised myself that I was going to write shorter posts this year (Keep ’em thin in 2010!) but I wanted you to know about this book and I especially wanted you to know about this author. If you want to know more about Heaven, you need to read this book. We are just starting to listen to the CDs but I can already tell you that his books and resources for children are great tools as well. Mr. Alcorn’s ministry, Eternal Perspective Ministries, has a detailed website with information about the other resources he has available (www.epm.org). Thank you, Marla, for telling Mr. Alcorn how much his book has meant to me. I wanted to tell the rest of you about this book today so that you can be encouraged by it, too.
And now I’m going to ask you to do something else. I want you to pray for our friends Mike and Suzonne Callen. Mike is battling the same kind of cancer my dad had (glioblastoma multiforme). He had an MRI not too long ago and the results were inconclusive so he’s having another test on January 7th and will get the results on the 8th. When my dad died, my family promised Mike and Suzonne that we would use every bit of the fight that we’ve called on for the past year to fight his battle with him now. We fight with our love and loyalty and we fight with our prayers. I need you to pray for Mike with me and for me. I still struggle with my communication with God, I’m not going to lie to you, but I’m working through my stuff. Those of you who are stronger in the faith than I am right now? Well, I need you to stand in the gap and go to the Father on behalf of Mike. Don’t get me wrong. I’m praying for Mike, too, I just need backup. You’ve always had my back before and I’m still counting on you to have it now. Thanks, friends. I can always count on you.