I received “Rare Bird” by Anna Whiston-Donaldson in the mail today and I haven’t been able to put it down. In 2011, Anna’s son was swept away in a horrific flash flood and died. This book is exactly what I needed to read right now–not because I’ve lost a child but because Anna’s faith reminds me that even when the worst thing happens, God is still real. God is still good. Anna’s writing is clear, accessible, raw, honest and true. Go buy a copy for yourself NOW–it’s a book you’ll read and immediately pass on to friends. I’m so grateful there are women of faith like Anna in this world. I am so grateful for her book. Anna has generously offered a copy of her book to one of you, my lucky birds. Please leave a comment with a valid email address. EE.
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“What if heaven is boring, Mom?”
“Eternity seems like way too long to be in any one place.”
“Forever scares me.”
Jack was afraid of heaven.
We would talk about it at bedtime, and I wondered if I was the best person to calm his fears. Sure, I wanted to go to heaven someday, but I couldn’t imagine it being all that great. I’m not musical, so choirs of angels don’t appeal to me. Streets of gold and jewels? Ick. Over-the-top opulence struck me as gaudy—a cheesy amusement park gone wrong.
And the idea of constant worship freaked me out too. It has always been hard for me to truly let go and worship God. In fact, one of the easiest times for me to really get into worship, swaying, clapping, and calling out to Him, happened to be at a retreat in Indiana—a plane ride away from anyone I might know. I guess you could say the idea of holding up my arms in the air or falling on my face in worship makes me mildly uncomfortable, so I didn’t relish the idea of doing it for all eternity.
And then there was my mom. It was a hard sell for me to believe there could be any better place for a forty-six-year-old woman than with her kids, on earth, where they needed her. She was the heart of our home, and home was where she belonged.
And what if heaven was too formal for her? She loved Jesus—the dusty-footed, sinner-loving Jesus. Would heavenly Jesus be a little too…stuffy for her? She liked to dig her hands in the dirt, eat half a pound of gumdrops in one sitting, throw back her head and laugh, and screw up the punch line of the only joke she knew. Can you even do those things in heaven?
After she died it was as if a steel wall came down between the two of us, between here and there. Heaven felt so far away. I saw no signs indicating she was okay. I felt no closeness, just absence and lack. I did not comfort myself knowing we would see each other again someday, because I wasn’t sure if that’s even how it worked. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, only to be disappointed later.
Fortunately, I didn’t dump all of this on Jack, but I just listened in his bed in the dark to his concerns, which were similar to my own. We read a few books about children who had gone to heaven and come back. That helped. So did a conversation he had with a camp counselor when he was ten. “I’m not afraid of heaven anymore,” he announced as we debriefed after his week away. I got no more details, but I was relieved. Jack was now fine with heaven. But that didn’t really change my own views.
In the few weeks since Jack’s death I’ve gone from being someone who rarely thought about heaven to someone living with one foot here and the other there. My kid is in heaven. I don’t need to know the nitty-gritty, like how big it is, where it is, or absolutely everything you do there. But I need to know something! I never even let Jack go to a sleepover if I didn’t know the family well andwhat he could expect there. But now he’s somewhere very, very different, and I don’t really know what it’s like.
And here’s the strange thing. Heaven is central to our belief as Christians. We believe that Christ offers us eternal life in heaven, but in my almost four decades in church, I’ve rarely heard anything about what heaven is like. Aren’t we curious? Why are our minds not being blown by the fact that a soul can live forever with God? Do we consider ourselves too intellectual to consider the spiritual realm? And if so, why do we bother saying we have faith in the first place, when to have faith is to believe in something we cannot see? Are we so rooted in the here and now that we treat heaven just as some insignificant, distant reward?
I’m pretty clueless about heaven, and even though I want Jack’s new home to be better than anything he could experience here, I have a hard time accepting how it could be better than life with us.
In October, I write on my blog:
Heaven had better be:
Better than any stinkin’ Youth Group costume party.
And being trapped inside a Lego Factory over a long weekend with plenty of Cheez-Its and Dr Pepper.
And the buzzy feeling you get when the person you have a crush on crushes on you back.
And sledding down a huge hill with your best friends until it’s cocoa time.
And a wonderful, fumbly first kiss.
And skiing black diamonds with your dad in Colorado.
And a high school debate trip to New York City with fun but slightly lax chaperones.
And praising God at a retreat and finally getting how much He loves you.
And sitting around with your friends at college laughing until yourstomach hurts.
And falling in love.
And watching in person as the Yankees win the World Series…again!
And surprising your little sister by flying in for her college graduation.
And doing work that fulfills you and honors God.
And dancing with your mom at your wedding.
And holding your newborn baby—staring at your wife thinking,“We made this?”
And giving that baby a bath and zipping him up in footy pajamas.
Oh yeah, and sex.
Heaven had better be more wonderful than sex.
Okay, God? Good.
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Excerpted from Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson Copyright © 2014 by Anna Whiston-Donaldson. Excerpted by permission of Convergent Books, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.