Inspired by the passing of a real person who was very dear to us. Names have been changed.
Kara felt a vague heaviness in her soul as death approached. The cancer had done its work and there was not much of her body left. But it was not a bad heaviness she felt. Kind of like if the president, or some ancient king were walking toward them down the hallway to ask something of her. An honor, but a heavy honor. Something of great glory was approaching.
But maybe the people in the room sensed it even more. Radiance was the word that kept going through her pastor’s mind as he sat beside her and her husband Mack as they talked through funeral plans. This is one of those rare thin places, her pastor kept thinking. She’s about to step through. I can already see the light from the other side on her face.
Then as she closed her eyes, when the relentless pain and fatigue finally squeezed her spirit out of that tired package, she wasn’t aware of the moment when she stopped feeling Mack’s motorcycle-toughened hands in hers, or when the music coming from the little iPhone speakers faded away. She only felt light on her. Warm light. It was taking her eyes a moment to adjust. But she did not squint- it did not hurt her eyes at all. In fact she opened them wide- she wanted as much of this light as she could get. She hadn’t realized how cold she had been before she knew this type of light.
Then she felt a warm hand take hers. It seemed so similar to the way Mack’s hand had held hers, but the actual thickness and shape were a little different- a little thinner, and rougher. As her eyes adjusted she saw a man before her, with a serene smile, behind which he held secret beauties he was going to show her.
“Who are…?” And she stopped.
“Oh, Jesus.” She almost just let herself fall fully into his embrace, but his gaze looking at her was so good. He was so pleased with her she didn’t want to break the moment.
He didn’t look quite like Mack, but she saw Mack in him in ways. No, she thought, that was backwards; she had seen parts of this man in Mack. Parts of that smile were in Mack’s smile that moment in the car after their wedding when he had looked at her and said, “I’m excited for this life with you.”
Then the man asked, in a kind voice, not unlike Mack’s on that wedding day. “Are you ready?”
Kara smiled. It felt good to smile so freely again. She breathed in, her lungs working so well again too. She looked at him, his eyes helping her to overcome her fears, and she nodded. She just felt like she could trust him. This smile that was so kind also held the power to crush all the dark claws of cancer that had torn at her on earth.
His eyes glinted at the thought of the great things he had been waiting to show her. He turned and led her, hand in hand, along a stone path. Beneath a row of large willow trees, budding tender green shoots. The clap of their leaves seemed to hush as they walked under them. She felt a soft branch brush her cheek. She jumped back and laughed, surprised. It was as if it had reached out to touch her.
“They have been whispering about your coming all day.”
She marveled as she looked at him. He was serious.
She said, “They’re beautiful.”
He smiled. “They like hearing that. They long to serve us.” Then he leaned close and whispered, “You should see them in the spring.”
Another soft bud reached out and snuck a brush of her arm and a little surprised laugh snuck out of Kara again. She kept stealing smiling glances at the trees as they walked on; they were flirting with her.
Then at a little clearing, Jesus brushed her hand with his thumb in a very specific way- it was so natural, but it was calculated and timed for this place, and suddenly sorrow whelmed and flooded her. She stopped and almost fell to her knees. He walked her to a tree’s roots that had grown into a soft-looking, welcoming bench at one edge of the clearing.
“It’s okay,” Jesus said. “Cry. And cry well. I’m here.” He sat down with her and held her.
“Mack used to do that with his thumb just like that.”
“I know. I needed to do that. I need you to cry like you’ve never cried before. To empty all the pain from that life. I will soak up the tears, Kara.” It was only then she became aware of the oceans of pain she had gathered in her short life. And they poured from her. But he was a sponge for it. He wanted to take it all and she let it flow freely. Her tears soaked into his hair. Sometime between her sobs, she realized he had long hair like Mack did too- a little darker. He was a little shorter than Mack. Smelled a little more like ... like he had been working in a barn today, but had put on a fresh white cotton shirt and pants to meet her. His neck had a 5 o’clock shadow, a little bit scratchy on her cheek, up to where his beard grew a couple inches long, but was trimmed neatly and smelled as if he had just rubbed oil of rosemary into it. He was so human and real. And his voice, and those glistening eyes with the tiny crows feet when he smiled, and the way he moved was lovely.
Her face was resting in the crook of his neck, as her sobbing settled into calm. She felt his shoulders jerk slightly several times. She realized sobs had been quietly working their way through him as well. He felt the pain as much as she did. But somehow she sensed in him the certainty of a coming hope. He could cry with no fear of defeat. He felt the pain with her, but a greater good was coming.
She held him tighter. She cried for minutes upon minutes, and then minutes more, until, for now, she was emptied. She took a deep, shuttering breath and said somberly, “I feel like half my heart was torn right out of me.”
“It was, my dear. Mack had deeply become a part of you. But the pain is done for you, Kara. You will cry sweetly from the memories but the pain for you is finished.”
She nodded. That felt so right. She was so tired of the pain. A moment later she added, “But I feel like even just being with you fills in that other half really well. Your half fills in my half that was torn away.”
He smiled and nodded. They both knew it was deeply true. But then his breath quivered as memories occurred to him, “Yes, I’ve had my heart torn in half too. A million times. That’s partly why I came to be with you: so that I could know your pain and so that the half of my heart could better fill the missing halves of your hearts.”
After minutes of silence followed by several more heavy waves of sobs she quieted again in his arms. “What about Mack? Who will fill his hole?” She said. Tears filled her eyes again. “Oh, Mack. I miss him– but it’s such a sweet missing. I know it won’t be long. I mean it feels like it won’t be long.”
He said, “And even the small wait will make the meeting grow sweeter.” After a pause he continued. “It will seem longer for him but his heart will heal over in time. Slowly and steadily, like a tree that has lost its first and biggest branch. I know how it will hurt him, I have felt it too. I’m so sorry for the pain of that place.”
She took a deep breath and felt his cheek press against her head, “It’s okay. I’m so grateful you gave me him to love. He made my life happier.”
He smiled again and she felt it on her head. He said, “And heaven got to see that love. The really beautiful, hard type, that suffers all pain for another person. All of heaven got to see that love he had for you, and you for him.”
Eventually she sat up and said with a smile, “So, aren’t we supposed to be singing all the time up here or something?”
He laughed heartily and rolled his eyes. “I know. But hey, we do have some really good music here. Some have been practicing what they love for centuries. But everything we do is like singing up here in a way. How you bake your pancakes is like a song for the person you’re baking them for.” He paused and gave her an inside smile. “Or how you eat a pizza.”
She smiled, “Pizzas?”
He winked as they got up and started walking again. “Kara, we have the best pizza you have ever had before. These chefs do it with all their heart, because they want to love people with what they love doing. But worship up here can also be how you build a treehouse, or keep a promise, or nurse someone’s tears ...” But then he said with a mysterious look, “Or learn someone’s earthly language to sing the lullabies of their youth to them.” He let it sink in for a moment and continued, “That’s all love and is exactly worship. It all makes my people and my kingdom more beautiful.”
They were approaching beautiful buildings, integrated into the steep rolling hills. And the walls were made of the branches of trees grown into winding round rooms and bridges in, on, and above the hillsides. She saw people moving excitedly in the streets. They were wearing loose, white clothes like his and waving flags with simple stripes and colorful crests. A group of men were tuning big bronze trumpets and others were setting the ends of strangely long, golden horns on the edge of walls, getting ready to project the sound into the sky. “Wow, is it like this every day? I mean do they do anything other than. . . celebrate?”
“It’s a white day at this door of the city, usually they all wear more interesting clothes.” He held that secret smile again. “On the other days they each pursue what they are passionate about, like baking or architecting or babysitting. You’ll discover yours and you’ll do it better each week, better most days, even. I think yours has something to do with organizing musicians to play for people. I’ll be curious to see how you shape it here.” His smile was still so proud of her and mysterious.
She nodded, knowing that just felt right, a continuation of her passion she had started to discover on earth. She smiled at him. But he was still hiding something behind his.
She asked, “So, what’s a white day?”
“It’s a day we all wear white.” He paused and looked at her, waiting until the last possible moment to add, “When someone new comes into our kingdom.”
A small gasp slipped out of her and tears blurred over her eyes as she looked toward them. “That’s for me?”
He nodded and enjoyed looking at her smile. “In fact, one of your great-great-great-grandmothers from Germany is especially looking forward to meeting you. She’s been preparing for it since she saw you born. She’s been learning English and practicing some songs that are very precious to you. One of them is Stairway To Heaven and she thinks that’s funny.” He smiled and then continued, “And she’s made for a very special tour to introduce you to all of her favorite people that she thinks you’ll like, and her favorite gardens and bridges and her favorite art on walls, and lots and lots of different people’s music. She organized lots of very good concerts in honor of you over the next few weeks. Just because she wants you to love it here so much.”
She could barely speak through the lump in her throat, “Why her and why me?”
“That’s just how it works up here. You can ‘fall in love,’ you could say, with anybody. Not quite like earthly romance, but a passionate obsession with the beauty found within another. Many people at once even. And all you want to do is make them happy.”
They were nearing the city. She could hear the people hushing each other because they had seen her. They were waiting to cry out all at once, or start some song or something. Jesus pointed to a forrest of trees climbing the vast, rising hills to their left. He said, “I was thinking that would make a pretty good motorcycle path through there if we cleared it out.”
She smiled, paused, and breathed very deeply. Something was growing, almost bursting from her heart. Her eyes glistened. She nodded slightly, love overflowing her eyes for Mack. And now even more for this man.
He continued matter-of-factly, “Do you know anyone who would like to take you on a motorcycle ride through those hills?” His face finally cracked into a smile too and then he added, “You and I can make the trail together- I know he’ll love it. And the trees will help us. We can replant them in a place where you and Mack can go together.”
"Yes," She whispered. "I'd love to design it for him. I think I know just how he'd like it."
But then her smile quivered into a hesitant frown, and she felt the heaviness again. “Wow. What is this I feel? It’s so big– it almost makes me scared.”
He leaned tenderly in and whispered, “It’s hope. Your soul is already beginning to sense the next thing so big that your hearts will barely be able to receive it. I am bringing it to all my people here. It’s just beyond your heart’s horizon. And it’s almost time. It will not be long until all the others will be with us here too. And then your new hope will be fully born, born as pure joy. More joy than you’ve ever known. Only I know how much joy you were built to feel. I will get to show you another gift I started to prepare for you even before the world began.”
Raw Spoon, 4-15-16
Sister, we miss you. Save us places next to you in that big city.