Salve for Souls

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


 In a car with no heater, I shivered all the way to the hospital that cold January day.  But I was also trembling with fear.  Suspicious lumps had been discovered and I was scheduled for tests that would determine if they were malignant.

If you let me have my life, God . . . I bargained

God did let me have my life, as the lumps were benign.  However, being confronted with my own mortality made me yearn to know more about immortality—and heaven.  Does the Bible paint a picture of heaven that I can understand?  I believe it does.  For me, it paints a picture of home.

"A happy family is but an earlier heaven," said the late Sir John Bowring.

Warm memories of growing up in a secure Victorian home with my mother, grandparents and aunt, help me to appreciate Sir Bowring's words.  Even though my family members were not believers, they treated me with great kindness.

Recently, my eighty-year-old mother and I cracked open an old family photo album, to recall those bygone days.  Most of the black and white photos were taken in that elegant home, which my grandfather had restored from ruin. 

In rural Staten Island, New York, it was sheltered by trees and across the street from peaceful woods.  With a grand stairway, polished hardwood floors, spacious rooms with beamed ceilings and crackling fireplaces, the house was like a mansion to me.

But when my grandparents died and the house was sold, the door to that "mansion" forever closed. The sorrow these losses etched into my heart makes me grateful for the promise of a heavenly home—beyond the reach of death or time.

"In my Father's house are many mansions" Jesus assures his disciples and all who believe (John 14:2, KJV).  "I go to prepare a place for you."

Although my finite mind could never capture the wonders of such a place, my family photo album offers hints. My mother pointed out an old snapshot.  It showed me at two years of age, beneath the boughs of our family's majestic Christmas tree.  Just as he did every year, my grandfather had purchased the large spruce, then set it up beside our grand stairway.  Antique ornaments would shimmer while the fragrance of evergreen mingled with home-cooked food wafted through our home.  I looked overjoyed among toys that my folks had lovingly chosen. 

Only after my grandparents were departed, did I realize how blessed I was to have experienced such personalized attention.  But God lavishes His personal love on each Christian--as if there were no other.  Every one is "the apple of his eye" (Deuteronomy 32:10, NIV).  That is but one reason why I believe our mansions will be tailor made. 

"I go to prepare a place for you" (emphasis mine) Jesus reassures His own in John 14:2. Those words tell us that heaven's mansions aren't cookie-cutter sprawl.  He, who created humanity in such a beautiful tapestry of sizes, shapes and colors, has to enjoy variety.  Our Creator, who worked as a carpenter, must be preparing mansions as unique as our DNA—each according to a personalized blueprint.  Because Jesus cares about our every heartache, individual touches might involve situations and desires that earth left unfulfilled. 

What disappointments have we suffered?  What prayers have gone unanswered?  In heaven's glittering mansions, I believe we will find the fulfillment of lost dreams and desires.  We will also find earth's heartaches understood in heaven's light.

My grandparents might have spent a month preparing the Christmas gifts.  Compare this to the 2000 years Jesus has so far spent preparing our heavenly homes.  Imagine the wonderful surprises He is tenderly tucking away in heaven's mansions.  "More than all we ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20, NIV) awaits God's dear children.

Another picture my mother pointed out was taken in my grandparents’ dining room, during the 1940's.  Beneath the beamed ceiling and crystal chandelier, the Chippendale, "claw foot" table was spread with silver platters of sumptuous food.  The juicy roast beef, buttery vegetables and fresh bread were for a wedding reception, held in the home.  Surrounding the table, were the happy bride and groom, along with other family members.  All wore the glamorous styles of the day—women in dresses of silk, satin and velvet, men in military uniforms or tweed suits.

Looking at that picture, I could almost smell the food.  The laughter of my loved ones seemed to echo down the corridors of time.  And God will not let that laughter forever fade away.  I look forward to joining my heavenly family of believers, at the "wedding supper" of heaven's King (see Revelation 19:9).  Even now, I get a preview of this great day by gathering with fellow Christians for communion.

I was reminded of this by yet another picture in the old album.  Also at the wedding reception, my entire family had assembled in the massive entrance hall.  Almost everyone I knew and loved still smiles at me from that photo.  Without any of those dear ones, the picture would have been incomplete.

 I'm amazed to think Jesus feels the same about each of us.  Our individual faces make up His portrait of family and home.  From time immemorial, He has carried us in the locket of His heart.  I don't doubt He "opened" that locket while He purchased our salvation on Calvary.  For just one of us He would have left heaven's mansions for a manger and a cross.

And there is always room in God's family picture (and in His heart) for one more.  Empty seats remain at His banquet table.  The good news is that reservations can still be made.  Christ asks those who believe, to carry this invitation to others through the presentation of the gospel.  In Luke 14:23 we are instructed to, "Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full" (NIV).

However, as my mother looked up from our family album I saw tears in her eyes. "They're all gone," she wept of the loved ones to whom we had bid sad farewells, "all gone."

A trip my mother and I took to our old neighborhood was likewise disheartening.  Abandoned and deteriorating, the house had again fallen into ruin.  Gone were the peaceful woods across the street.  In their place were tall buildings that overshadowed my former home.  My mother and I walked into the yard, now overgrown and strewn with trash.  Peeking through the faded windows, we saw only decaying clutter. 

The old house was just a shell without my family members.  I regret that most of them were gone before I knew Christ, and I had nothing eternal to offer them.  However, a solitary, purple iris poking out from the weeds in the yard, rekindled my hope. Like that flower, my maiden aunt remained after the others had passed away.  I told her of my new found faith, which she accepted as her own. "I'll see you in heaven!" I exclaimed, overjoyed with her decision.

Not long after, a shocking phone call came.  My beloved aunt had suffered a heart attack and died.  Today, I still see her in those old pictures.  And I know we will meet again.  She waits with our heavenly family of believers, who will die no more.  Because Christ conquered death and the grave (see 1 Corinthians 15: 54-57) death casts no pall in heaven's light.  Therefore, sad farewells have no place in a picture of heaven.  Nor do aging bodies, decaying buildings or altered landscapes.

But, what does belong in a picture of heaven?  One more photo in my family album helps bring this into focus.  The picture is of my maiden aunt, smiling from the front steps of our home.  Her hand is on the knob, as if she is about to open the door and bid me welcome. 

If  I could re-enter those secure, old doors I would be greeted by the waiting embraces of loved ones.  I would be enveloped by the beauty of elegant rooms, warm with firelight and the glow of love.  I would also find a place at the dining room table, prepared just for me.

So much more awaits the Christian, when Heaven's gates of pearl (see Revelation 21:21) open to welcome us home.  Earth's dearest delights are but fleeting shadows compared to the wonders God is preparing for those who love Him.
As Robert Browning wrote in his poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra; "The best is yet to be."

Flora is a novelist and journalist. She invites you to check out her devotional book, that explores the many ways God whispers our name.
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  1. Very poignant, Flora! Isn't it almost mysterious how a photograph freezes a moment in time. I have a picture of my wife and I on our wedding day. We were in a park near a lake where the wind caressed the water and there was a mother duck with her brood. Each detail in that picture is so unique. It could never be "refabricated". How precious is each moment of our time here!

  2. During a difficult time, the above picture assured me that no matter what, God is still on His throne.