On December 30th, I got the phone call. That phone call. It was my mother, letting me know my father had passed.
I sank onto the couch, wind knocked out of me, seismic shift wrenching my soul.
Dealing with death is a strange way to enter the New Year. No matter how elderly a loved one is, no matter how many physical challenges they have, no matter how much we realize they are close to the end… death is still a shock.
My son Sam described his feelings this way:
“It’s like going to a movie with lots of plot twists that never resolve, and then all of a sudden the credits are running, and you’re like, Really? That’s it? That’s all we get?”
We’re just never quite ready.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Death is not what God had in mind for human beings. It only exists because of sin. It’s the most horrific consequence of our first parents’ act of treason back in the Garden of Eden.
This is why death feels so wrong, so senseless, so disorienting. We have to accept it as part of life in a broken, yet-to-be-restored world, yet we know deep down it is unnatural.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart….” –Ecclesiastes 3:11
Eternity is engraved into our DNA. We still hear faint echoes of Eden, telling us one day death will die.
Meanwhile, I’m starting out this year in the valley of the shadow. I feel fragile and vulnerable. I can’t make simple decisions. I’m not sleeping well. I’m weary and irritable.
It’s not like I don’t where my father is. I’m not concerned for him at all. He’s happy and whole and fully alive, rejoicing in the presence of his heavenly Father.
He’s joined a great throng of family members and friends who are enjoying a level of love, joy, peace and community which those of us on earth can only try to imagine.
Heaven explodes with color and fragrance, with sounds and tastes and textures. It’s a place full of glory and wonder and praise to the Living God.
(Just read the book of Revelation to catch a glimpse.)
How do I know heaven is real? How can I be so assured that’s where my father is? How do I know I’m not just making stuff up to make myself feel better?
I know it because of the historical veracity of the Bible and of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I know it because my father oriented his whole life around serving Christ. I know it because I’ve witnessed the faithfulness of God.
I know it because even my nose has confirmed it.
Years ago, asleep in our tent at our church’s family camp, I was stirred to wakefulness around four in the morning by a wonderful scent which my mind couldn’t place.
Someone just walked by our tent, wearing the most wonderful perfume …no, that’s not it … they must be baking something really sweet down at the cafeteria … no, that’s not it either…
As I struggled to identify the scent, I drew in air to the point where my lungs stretched to capacity, but I didn’t want to exhale.
Like, ever again.
I just wanted to keep inhaling that intoxicating, irresistible, indescribable scent forever –because that’s what you feel when the presence of Jesus wafts through your life.
During a meeting at camp the next year, my husband and a number of other friends caught the same scent. I didn’t smell it myself that time, but I recognized the sharp intake of breath of those around me.
Like me, others were literally experiencing the presence of Jesus with their physical senses.
On another occasion, the fragrance drew me out of slumber at home. When it waned, I got out of bed to read my Bible.
I landed here:
“Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out.” – Song of Songs 1:2.
This heavenly scent, this evidence of God’s presence, is the air my father breathes now. Nothing toxic or painful or grievous will ever touch him again.
No wonder Paul writes about Christians grieving differently than those who have no hope (I Thes. 4:13). No wonder my mother and siblings and I could easily agree to a quick burial without the need for a viewing.
No wonder strands of hope and joy and peace are woven through our sorrow.
We know where Papa is.
He’s with Abba.
It’s a good way to begin a new year, really. I’m at peace. I don’t have to traverse the valley of the shadow alone.
The presence of my Good Shepherd is with me—and the tiniest trace of his scent is enough.