On a recent drive down Florida’s I-95, I turned to the passenger riding shot-gun, “It seems kind of boring and ugly and sort of claustrophobic, doesn’t it.” Relentlessly guarded by a wall of trees, the road leaves a lot to the imagination.
“All of the above,” she replied, straining to see the beautiful sunset we had admired only moments before getting on the highway. “I can’t see the marsh anymore either.”
We were traveling from Savannah to catch a flight home to Dallas via Jacksonville. The towering tree line came with obstructed-view seating. All the colors, the birds and the beauty of the marsh-grasses emerging from their soggy foundation could only be glimpsed, every so often, through gaps in the towering line of trees.
“It’s funny isn’t,” I think out loud (car rides are nice that way – they beg for thoughtful conservation to fill the time), “Whether we can see the marsh or not has no bearing on its existence. All the beauty we were just admiring – the sun setting, light shimmering against the barely-noticeable water at the base of all mulit-color marsh grasses – is still there.”
My mind quickly moved from the trees and marsh to life’s curveballs/suffering and the promises that can be hard to see when obstructed-view informs the moment.
“It makes me think of the suffering so many people we know have endured or are enduring,” I continue. “Well, not just suffering – there’s lots of life stuff that can take over – and we forget what’s on the other side.”
One of our friends who has traveled a bear of a road is Jen Clouse. I shared a little about her in Dec. ’14:
… she was diagnosed with cancer shortly after giving birth to her son Lincoln – a sweet surprise to her and her newlywed husband Scott. That was three years ago. A little over 12-hours ago Jen was admitted to Baylor hospital where she was told that the cancer is back. And it’s not good. The pain of a broken rib due to the ugly disease is being managed while they figure out what’s next. They’re hurting – physically & emotionally.
What do you do?
Jen, with her heart breaking, stands firm. Not on her own foundation, but on the One who never wavers, whose provision is always sufficient – even when circumstances beg us to fear otherwise. As she struggles to put one foot in front of the other – because she will press on like she always does – she stands strong on her faith. Joyful, truly joyful, while crying at the same time.
And therein lies the mystery: how can something as wonderful as faith (sinking into all the goodness of God’s sufficiency, provision and love) be so horrible (we can’t see it with our eyes) at the same time ? Trusting that God has it covered is hard. (What an understatement.) But almost inexplicable good abounds in the midst of such trust.
A few months after that December day, when our little Neighborhood Bible study gals were tossing around ideas for the summer, she texted us: “What would y’all think about a summer study on heaven? Dare I dream we all set our sights on glory together?” She had her eyes set on the Promise beyond rather than allowing trees/suffering at hand to inform her world. She wanted us to look too. So we did.
Here are just a few heaven-glimpses seen during our summer of looking beyond the trees:
- HOPE is real.
- People matter. As the saying goes, “Two things last forever, the word of God and the souls of men.” So, see and treat people that way.
- Sin is not a part of heaven. Which means neither is jealousy or self-absorption or shame or regret or trying to find our identity/self-worth in anything other than God.
- In heaven we will be FILLED with joy and eternal pleasures (Psalm 16). Any goodness in this life is a glimpse of the good and glory to come. Any suffering and any sadness is the reminder that we aren’t home.
- Heaven is all about God. “On this earth we make it all about grief, guilt, pain – we make it about ourselves … in this life we should all over ourselves & others.” If we won’t do it in God’s presence – since these won’t exist – why do it now?
- In heaven, ALL (not some, but ALL) tears are wiped away. No more death. No more mourning. No more crying. No more pain.
Maybe Jen’s invitation to contemplate heaven offers part of the answer to navigating suffering, to seeing beyond the trees that can obstruct our view – informed perspective. Perspective in light of eternity. Perspective so we can live, not just exist through, life’s regular and life’s hard. Because, like the marsh & the beautiful sunset hidden by the tall trees, more-than-meets-the-eye owns more real estate than life’s-hard could ever claim. It’s the cornerstone of of Faith.
“Whether my months have been numbered or not, I want to live more detached from this world and with more hope for the next,” Jen said. Then she – always the teacher, the encourager, the contemplater of things to come – added an analogy:
It’s like a hotel room: I’ve never gone to a hotel room and tried to rearrange the the furniture, hang pictures, take things out and put things in. We don’t think “Oh, I’m going to live here for a week and make it awesome. I’m going to make this hotel room my home.” It isn’t our home. It’s a hotel room. We’re literally passing through.
It’s the same as it relates to this life compared to the next – the real one, eternity – this is not my home.
“What would y’all think about a summer study on heaven? Dare I dream we all set our sights on glory together?”
We’re all glad, grateful, we said yes.
Tuesday morning, our friend went home. Not only is she glimpsing the other side of the trees, she’s seeing and living it in all its joy & peace & splendor.
Thanks for walking the sad, but paved by Hope, road with me. Thanks for praying for this sweet friend and her family. Please keep them in your prayers.