Celebrations on Earth and In Heaven!

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The weekend began with much anticipation after months of planning. The day was surprisingly beautiful for mid-November. Eyes were drawn upwards as the sunshine highlighted the stained-glass depictions of Jesus’ life. There was a smile and hug at every turn in the church. My younger son said, “I do!” to the most important woman in his life. The marriage between my son and new daughter-in-law became official.

The celebrations continued and held the promise of memories that would last a lifetime. Those special moments were captured from every angle and the perspective of old and young alike with tweets, cell-phone video, Facebook postings and pictures galore. I will be able to savor the many details that made this wedding day perfect.

The wedding festivities didn’t disappoint. Joy and unity were themes for the entire weekend. I recognized pure joy in the bride’s and groom’s faces. I felt unity as family and friends came from near and far to be a part of the celebration. Two people became one in marriage and now two families are linked together for what the future holds.

At least for one weekend, all was right with the world! In life, we long to go from milestone to milestone with many reasons to celebrate in-between. In reality, we know that this world is more a mix of rejoicing and sadness, hopes and disappointments, successes and failures, and ultimately, life and death.

Examples of these juxtapositions can be found even at a wedding. We rejoiced with those who were present while intercessions were made for deceased loved ones who couldn’t be there. In-memory-of-pictures and votive candles were placed alongside wedding pictures of the newlyweds’ parents and grandparents.

Although I was unplugged from technology and the world for the weekend, life and death didn’t take a break. I was reminded of this fact as I returned to my normal routine and responsibilities for a cancer ministry. One of our cancer survivor’s family made the difficult decision to place their loved one in hospice. Three other survivors and a leader’s stepmom passed away. I enrolled two new survivors recently diagnosed with cancer. All in the same week.

The wedding weekend was a mountain peak followed by a valley of unexpected sorrow. Revelation 19 connects the themes of weddings, eternal life, and death:

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:6-7)

John’s words in Revelation evoke the same emotions in me that I felt at my son’s wedding. The wedding was even more special because I had a genuine relationship with and closeness to the groom. Joy united the guests invited to the wedding banquet. The bride was beautiful in her dress. I knew I was blessed by God to be an intimate part of the wedding festivities.

The wedding is over. My two sons are married to women that I am pleased and excited to call my daughters-in-law. There are no more weddings to plan or prepare for in our immediate family. The excitement of wedding festivities will gradually fade as the memories take root in my heart.

The Bible reminds me that there is one more wedding in my future that I can look forward to as an honored guest. My faith in Jesus Christ guarantees that I am invited to the wedding of the Lamb and His bride, the church. I will join people from every tribe, language, and nation united with one heart for our Lord.

There will be no last song as the marriage celebration will never end in heaven. Memories will not be necessary as we will have all of eternity to soak in the wedding joy. God’s people will be overwhelmed by the love the Bridegroom has for His bride. We will see that love in His eyes and feel it in His hugs. We will dance with Jesus and never let go.

Hallelujah for celebrations on earth and in heaven!

 

 

 

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Chance Connections

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It caught me off-guard. I was in a paper store attending a free “Make It, Take It” card-making session. One of the employees was helping the teacher at the table where I was seated. As the employee’s hands moved, her ring finger caught my attention.

I asked to see her wedding ring up-close. Sure enough, her ring brought back memories. My fiancé (now husband) included me when it was time to go jewelry-shopping. I was instantly drawn to an engagement ring with a single diamond and a matching wedding band with a chip diamond. The uniqueness of the rings’ finish hooked me. The rings have a split design with contrasting brushed and polished finishes. I had not seen another ring like it in twenty-eight years until that day at the paper store.

I just had to know more about her wedding ring story. We compared notes like giddy high school girls showing off their boyfriends’ class rings that they had received. We were married a year apart in neighboring states. She had a different style of wedding band while mine was bought as part of a set. It was a fun connection in an otherwise typical day. I walked out of the store smiling at this chance connection that God wove together.

For a moment, I thought that maybe God had given me a glimpse of heaven. We won’t meet a stranger in heaven because we will discover connections we were unaware of while in our physical bodies. We will be amazed with connections that God used to encourage, to mature, and to love on His people in preparation for heaven. We will learn how every little act of obedience and service to God resulted in a connection that will be celebrated in heaven.

On earth, our most basic connection is our shared sin against God. God’s heart is to connect us to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit uses our faith to bind us to God and Jesus. This special connection that begins on earth will take us into heaven’s glory with many more stories of God-ordained connections.

 

Revelation 7:9

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. Thy were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

1 Corinthians 2:9

However, it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

I Hope Everyone Has An Uncle Cliff!

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I hope everyone has an “Uncle Cliff.” My Uncle Cliff is 99 years old and a storyteller. His memory is still sharp and he can recall experiences from World War II to current baseball statistics. Every time we visit him, I am reminded that he has more stories we need to hear.

I am thankful that he has recorded over 158 stories in a binder that he keeps close to his side. The stories are pulled out to bless visitors and I love to read Uncle Cliff’s stories out loud to him. I even shared two of Uncle Cliff’s stories with our younger son when he graduated from college. The stories warned that a “young engineer’s” degree doesn’t mean much if he doesn’t care about the people he supervises. Of course, Uncle Cliff said it much better than I ever could have: life experiences were interspersed with humor to make the lessons stick.

Since we live out-of-state, we only see Uncle Cliff twice in a good year. What always touches my heart is that Uncle Cliff remembers our stories. The first thing Uncle Cliff does is to grasp my hand and ask, “How many years has it been now?” He always knows the answer and then follows up with, “How are you doing?” Uncle Cliff never stopped celebrating the fact that I am a cancer survivor.

I like to think that as we held each other’s hands tightly, strength was flowing between us: the wiser to the younger and the younger to the older. In reality, it was Uncle Cliff’s strength of spirit that infused me. I tend to think Uncle Cliff will be with us forever. We don’t want to let go of a man that can still captivate us with his words.

But Uncle Cliff is not doing well. His body is worn out. At age 99 with failing health, I know there aren’t many stories left in him. I am comforted that his last story will be his very best story: the glory of heaven. Someday, our stories will merge and become one for all of eternity. Through faith in Jesus Christ, our lives have the same ending. Only God could write such a beautiful story!

Prologue: This post was written after we visited Uncle Cliff for the last time. He experienced heaven’s story firsthand in late October.

 

John 17:24

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

 

1 Corinthians 2:9

However, it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

 

 

So Close, But Yet So Far!

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Not Lion's Head, but a view from the trail to Lion's Head in Dolly Sods Wilderness.

Not Lion’s Head, but a view from the trail to Lion’s Head in Dolly Sods Wilderness.

I wanted to share a picture of Lion’s Head: the rocky formation with a view of Canaan Valley off of the Rocky Point Trail in Dolly Sods, West Virginia. However, I can’t because we never found it on our hike.

Oh we tried to find it. We prepared by checking maps and following advice from online hiking blogs before we even ventured out. We planned the hike for the near-perfect day and weather conditions. We hiked the ten mile loop. And we failed.

We were very close, I know it! We scrambled up rocks, but did not get to the promised view. We checked out other routes marked by cairns (rock piles left by other hikers to indicate a trail). Everything led to more dead ends. With our energy waning and time limited, we had to move on.

I have to admit that I was disappointed. The spectacular view of Lion’s Head was the purpose and the highlight of this hike. Despite the fresh mountain air, the sound of streams and nature’s best surrounding me, I longed for the something more that we missed.

I think of the patriarchs of faith. God placed a vision of His promise in their hearts. Hebrews 11:13 shares how these patriarchs felt about not receiving the promise in their lifetime: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.”

May we have the same faith to know, to embrace and to confess Jesus in our hearts. May we consider the life lived in the flesh as preparation for heaven.  May our longing always be for heaven, that which is hoped for, but not yet seen. May we trust God to make good on His promises. God will bring us home and share His view of our glorious inheritance in Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Isaiah 33:17

Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar.

 

Hugs in Heaven:

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Introduction: This post was inspired by a desire to give my blogging friends a hug! Annie of freedomborn.wordpress.com in Australia comes to mind along with others.

Annie knows Scripture and is not afraid to use it.  One of her many gifts is encouraging fellow bloggers by creating Power Points. Below is a link to a Power Point she created especially for me. The theme is Hope Blossoming in Faith and is filled with beautiful pictures of snowdrops and Scriptures on hope. Consider it five minutes of worship time. Thanks Annie and hugs to you!

Click on this: Link to Annie’s Blog. Then scroll to the bottom of the screen on Annie’s blog and click on the link for Hope Blossoming in Faith to download the Power Point for playing.

Hugs in Heaven

I have a long list of people to hug in heaven. My mom is at the front of the line. Since her death was sudden and unexpected, I ache to feel her hug again. There are grandparents who passed away before I was even born. This will be our first hug. Of course, there are other family members that we didn’t have as much time with as we wanted here on earth. Those hugs can linger in heaven.

The list is comprised of more than just family members. There are people I have only read about. People before my time and examples of faith I have learned from through their stories in the Bible. Will I be shy about hugging Moses or Paul?

There are people I will recognize, but won’t know their names like that guy from the Christian bookstore. I was a seeker at the time shopping for a Bible. Overwhelmed by all the options for Bibles and embarrassed by my lack of knowledge on anything biblical, he asked if he could help me. I bought his recommendation. I want to hug him for his kindness and for noticing me without shaming me.

Hugs for people I know only as a name with a picture. There are blogging friends that hold open their arms through the internet to welcome and encourage me. Just maybe, there will be an opportunity to meet and hug before heaven even though we are literally worlds apart. Yet we are family in God’s kingdom and the hugs will feel natural in heaven.

I hope there will be many surprise huggers in heaven. People whose faith I wasn’t sure off, but desperately long to see their faces in heaven. The awkwardness will be gone and the hugs will be genuine.

Although I have had a foretaste of this hug on my heart and my life, I can’t wait to run into my Abba Daddy’s arms and feel the physical presence of His hug. I am home at last.

I am thinking of a great big group hug in heaven. Will you gather in?

 

Philemon 7

Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints. 

2 John 12

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

Guest Blogging on He Holds My Right Hand / What Is Your Favorite Song?

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This blog was originally posted on Victoria Stankus’s website, He Holds My Right Hand.  The prompt I responded to was, “What is your favorite song. Why?” (My God story is found in the why!) Vicky is a cancer survivor, homeschooler and blogger. Vicky’s plate is full, but she knows her cup overflows with God’s mercy and goodness.  Check out her blog for a transparent peek into her life of following God.

What Is Your Favorite Song?

What is my favorite song? Without hesitation, my answer is, I Will Rise, by Chris Tomlin. The words are a wonderful reminder of what we leave behind here on earth to enter the glory of heaven in God’s presence. As a believer in Jesus Christ, the words are rich. As a follower of Jesus Christ, the words are significant because of God’s timing in my life.

I received a call from my brother-in-law informing me that the doctors had given my mom less than twenty-four hours to live. Taken by surprise and living out of state, my husband and I did the only thing we knew to do: pray, quickly pack, pray, get in the car and drive and pray some more. As I walked out the door, I grabbed a handful of CDs to play during the trip.

The miles passed slowly as I cried, prayed, texted with my sister and listened to music, including Chris Tomlin’s song. The words of I Will Rise touched a tender spot in my heart. Tears cascaded down my cheeks as I thought of my mom’s death. Part way through the song, I smiled uncontrollably as I realized afresh that the resurrection followed death. My mom would experience her resurrection into God’s eternal life with no more pain, sorrow, failing flesh, grave or darkness. Like a rainbow breaking through dark clouds, a comforting peace began to fill my heart.

At my mom’s bedside, we knew the time was soon. To fill the heavy quiet in the room, we softly played music. The words of I Will Rise hung in the air. The second time through the song, my mom took a deep breath and was gone. In my heart, I heard my mom respond to Jesus’s invitation as she grabbed hold of his hand. And I will rise when He calls my name. No more sorrow, no more pain. I will rise on eagle’s wings. Before my God, fall on my knees. And rise, I will rise.

Epilogue: After the song ended the second time, we prayed as a family thanking God that my mom had risen to fall on her knees before God. This beautiful song was shared at my mom’s memorial service. Even today, two years later, every time I hear this song, the words bring tears of joy to my eyes. I will see my mom again.

Guest Blogger: Donna Cronk / Where is Home?

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The home down the lane. Picture submitted by Donna Cronk.

Introduction: Home sweet home is where our hearts are. When we are away from home, we try to feel at home. In her Christian novel, Donna writes about returning home. God gives us a longing for our eternal home. For now, Donna Cronk calls Pendleton, Indiana, her home.  She has written for Hoosier newspapers for more than three decades. For more stories and perspectives on life, see Donna’s FaceBook page, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast by Donna Cronk. Her novel, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast, is available on Amazon.

Where is Home?

By Guest Blogger Donna Cronk

Recently, I returned to the county we called home during most of the 1980s. On the way there, I wanted to look at the farmhouse that we rented for most of those years. At the edge of the road, I took a picture of the snow-covered lane to show my husband. That lane was the bane of our winter months because it blew shut so frequently. I knew he would remember and chuckle, relieved to be free from that issue. Even so, that home back down the lane was dear to us. We rented it for $200 a month from a sweet old farmer who had moved “to town” with his wife, but continued to plant a garden out there and insisted that we eat our fill and then some of the fresh vegetables. It was up that lane that we brought our newborn son Sam home for the first time. As I paused there briefly at the end of that lane, it occurred to me that while this was once our home, it was no longer that at all. The “Private, keep out” sign on the telephone pole was directed at strangers … at me. The people who lived there now didn’t know me from the man in the moon. The thought was sad.

As we near retirement, my husband and I discuss where we might want to call home for that phase of our lives. Brian’s comment that he wouldn’t mind spending it back in my hometown in a different part of the state helped inspire me to write a novel, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast. In my fantasy-writing world, we would return there and open an inn. But the hometown I remember wouldn’t be the same hometown against the backdrop of our retirement years as it was against the framework of my youth. My parents have passed on and we no longer own the family farm. The children I played with as a kid are as grown and gone as I am. Our own kids never lived there so there would be no nostalgia on their part. In fact, we might be strangers in a familiar landscape.

Like jobs, relationships, hobbies and everything else in this world, the concept of “home” is fleeting. We are here for just a moment in time, yet we deeply long for something permanent, eternal; for home in its deepest, truest sense. We are hardwired to crave the notion of belonging, fitting in, being loved and wanted and welcomed. When I was a girl, we sang a song in Sunday School with lyrics that went like this: “I’ve got a home in glory land that outshines the sun.” It goes on, “Do Lord, oh do Lord, oh do remember me.” Wherever we may roam in our earthly lives, whichever homes provide shelter, and no matter how much sweat equity we put into them, our earthly homes are temporary stops on the road to eternity. How I want the Lord to welcome me and my loved ones with open arms one day and say, “Welcome home.”

 

John 14:2

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.

Hebrews 13:14 (NLT)

For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.

 

 

What Would You Name Your Little Piece of Heaven?

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Lake Superior Shoreline

Lake Superior Shoreline

I enjoy the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan for the slower pace of life, the natural beauty and the friendliness of the people with a Yooper accent. The locals lovingly refer to their U.P. as “God’s Country.”

On the way to our destination in God’s Country, we passed a stretch of road dotted with houses bordering the rugged beauty of Lake Superior. You can’t see the homes, but their locations are marked with signs that identify their little piece of heaven here on earth.

The names have always caught my attention. Names that describe what they expect to do: Rancho Relaxo, No Rest Here II. Names of who they hope to see: Papa’s Camp, The Shores of Maggie Mae, Ruth’s Land. Names of what they look forward to: Foote Rest, Superior Times. Names that make their little piece of heaven feel like home. Superior Hut, End of Track. Names that try to capture the allure: Superior Reflections, Lake Superior Shangri-La. Names for its natural beauty: Thistle Dew, Loon Call Cove.

What would you name your little piece of heaven here on earth? As believers in Jesus Christ, one day we will experience the heaven God has prepared for us. If God were to put up signs marking heaven, I believe that He would name it for what can not be found there: No Sin, No Pain, No Illness, No Death, No Sorrow, No Harm, No Tears and No Evil. A simple description that fulfills the longing of our hearts for eternity. But wait, there is one more name I can think of for heaven: Promise Kept!

Revelation 21:2-4

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 

Isaiah 11:9

They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

 

 

I Hope There are Blueberries in Heaven!

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Picking a Blueberry Patch in the Mountains of West Virginia

Picking a Blueberry Patch in the Mountains of West Virginia (Berries with a Beautiful View!)

I have always looked forward to picking wild blueberries in the mountains of West Virginia. I first got hooked years ago when my boyfriend-turned-fiancé and now husband of 26 years took me to meet his grandmother, “Grams.”

The evening walk with Grams and Grams’ dear friend Barb included blueberry picking and girl talk. When Gram’s arthritis kept her from long walks and stooping over to pick berries, it was just Barb and I. And now and then, my two boys would join us. After Gram’s death, we spent our West Virginia vacations with Barb and I kept picking berries.

In good years, I gathered enough berries to make a batch of jam. One year, we celebrated my youngest son’s birthday with a blueberry pie. The family favorite was always Grams’ recipe for pancakes with blueberries thrown in. I thought we would pick blueberries forever. For Barb was my scout to find the berry patches and to let us know when to plan our yearly visit in order to fill my freezer with berries. But Barb died suddenly and I lost my best blueberry-picking buddy ever.

A couple years passed and the desire to pick berries lingered and grew. This year while on vacation, I was determined to find blueberries and to start a new tradition of berry-picking with my daughter-in-law. It didn’t happen. Wrong time of the summer. Wrong place.

On the next to last day of vacation after the kids left, my consolation was a hike in Dolly Sods with a beautiful view of Canaan Valley. And a surprise. Ripe blueberries along the trail. A trail I was not familiar with. A trail that I have never ventured on before. My heart swelled with joy at the sight. Enough berries to eat out of hand. Enough berries to take home and make Grams’ blueberry pancakes.

I smiled at my taste of blueberry heaven. Then my eyes welled up. It wasn’t just about that blueberry goodness. I missed Grams. I missed Barb. I missed the time that has gone by so fast. It was about the good memories. It was about the connection with those I loved and lost. It was all about the feeling that blueberry-picking evokes in me: love and longing. I hope there are blueberries in heaven for my berry-picking buddies are waiting for me.

 

Ezekiel 47:12

Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.

 

Revelation 22:1-2

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

 

My Favorite Parable

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Which parable of Jesus is your favorite?  I have one. It is the “Parable of the Workers Paid Equally,” found in Matthew 20:1-16.  The parable can be summarized as different groups of workers started at different times (working more or less than their counterparts), but everyone was paid the same wages at the end of the day.

The reason why this particular parable is my favorite is because I am the worker that started in the middle of the day.  I was an adult with kids before I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  Even though I didn’t work for God as a child, a teen, a college student, a newlywed or a new mother, I still receive the full wages of heaven at the end of my life.

I distinctly remember the feeling I had when I first read this parable.  It was relief that I hadn’t blown my opportunity with God. Of course I missed out on many blessings along the way, but I still get to share in the biggest reward of all.

Sometimes, I act like I have to work twice as hard to make up for lost time.  But this parable allows me to relax.  God is more interested in my future with Him than in my past without Him. This parable reminds me that we are never too old, too late, or too lame to come to Jesus and say, “Put me to work in your vineyard. I want you to be my boss.  I can’t wait to be paid in blessings.”

Matthew 20:12-14

‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered on of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you.  Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’