Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Dream, The Book, and The Picture

It started with a dream, then a book, and then a picture.

My relationship with God has been a turbulent one my whole life, but especially after my Mom’s death.  I was angry at Him for letting her die, for not having the doctors do more to save her, for taking her away from me.  I felt like so much could have been done to make her well and I felt like so much hadn't been done and that she’d been failed by the team that was around her.  I wondered where God was if He cared so much, and if we prayed so much, why those prayers weren't answered.  I’d already watched saints rally around my grandmother and watched her die a horrible death to cancer, and I was incensed that this had occurred to my mother, as well.  What was the purpose of serving God if He didn't listen and didn't act?

I stood in the humidity at my mother’s burial and just stared at that cold casket that held the remains of my mother.  It was there that I had decided that that was it with God.  I was done.  I wasn't going to go there again because I was so tired of being duped.  That was the only way I could explain it, and obstinate as I was, no one could change my mind.

My father had asked me multiple times to go to church with him, and each time I refused.  He was gentlemanly about it… never pushed, but I made my stance pretty clear.  I wasn't interested.  So when he sheepishly came over to my house and asked if I would attend Easter service, it surprised me that I actually agreed.  I felt like it was important to him, and being a key holiday that you’re supposed to spend with your family, I felt like it was imperative that I show support for my Dad and be there for him as he faced his first Easter without Mom.

What changed me wasn't the service, though it was pretty powerful.  I wept openly at the music service, but that’s because music has always had that power over me.  The preacher’s sermon was compelling and beautiful.  In the end, I was glad I had gone, but when Dad mentioned something about coming again the following Sunday, I faltered.  I've been burned by churches too many times, by church congregations.  Both my children and I have been met with judgment and the duplicity of people at church.  I wasn't eager to run headlong into that again.  I gave him a shrug and said that I was interested in attending church, but I’d yet to find a church that really felt like home.  Sweet man that he is, he left it at that and we said perhaps we needed to explore different churches together.

The rest of that day went pretty much like every other Sunday… full of chores and relaxing and hanging with my boys.  There was no electricity in the air, no fanfare.  I emphasize the normalcy of this day because it’s important that you understand that what came next was completely unexpected, and the most wonderful and needed thing.

I had gone to bed late, and crawled under the covers with my youngest beside me.  I always sleep light, so when I woke up at 4:00 am, I didn't think too much about it.  When I went back to sleep, however, I had the most life changing dream.

I dreamed that I was sleeping in my childhood bed at my parents’ house, and I reached up my hand and brushed against another hand.  For some, this might have freaked them out, and I honestly remember thinking that I was surprised that that skin felt familiar.  It was my mom’s skin.  I looked up, and sure enough, there she was.  She still had a splint on her hand, but she was lying in bed next to me.  What struck me most was how gorgeous and young she looked.  With thick pale brown hair falling past her shoulders, her green eyes were wide and happy, and she grinned at me.  She was clad in a long, simple white dress, and her skin glowed.  When I say it glowed, I don’t mean unnaturally, but there was just this luminescence of bronze, and her skin shimmered.  I remember looking at it and thinking that it was so cool, but attributing it to the star light.

I sat up beside her and said, “Mom, the next time you come to see me, I want to see you how you are now.  Not with splints on your hands.”  She moved up her leg, and adjusted herself to look at me better, “How many times do you think my coming to visit you is normal?” she laughed, and I shrugged and said, “I don’t know.  I've never done this before.”  And then I commenced to talk to her.  I told her how angry I’d been after she died, I told her about how angry I’d been about so many things.  But what marked me the most was that I felt like we spent so much of our time arguing.  “We wasted so much time,” I said, and she just looked at me.  Shortly after that, she got up to leave, just as I was forming the words, “I’m sorry.”  I remember thinking as I awoke please don’t go, and when I looked at the clock again it was 4:15 am.

It was 15 short minutes, but the realness of that dream, or that vision as my father and I call it, will remain burned in my mind and heart forever.  What was miraculous was the feeling I had after that dream.  I sat up and cried, feeling the most wonderful peace I've had in longer than I can remember, and I felt a small voice speak to my spirit that if I wanted to see her again, I really needed to get my life right with God.  The voice wasn't rebuking, it wasn't judging, it was just a matter of fact truth that I had to stop running from what God has had planned for me since my inception.

I have gone over that dream again and again in my mind since it’s occurred, and I feel there are several important things about my mother that I have to explain.  First, my mother was in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down for over 30 of my 35 years.  This is why I was so accustomed to seeing her with a splint on her hand, and why seeing her leg moving when she adjusted herself should have sent me shouting or screaming in joy.  Seeing her bronzed glow instead of the sallow, barely breathing figure that she was before she died should have broken me down into tears at the knowledge that she was in heaven, and very, very well taken care of.  I believe I was just so overwhelmed and so excited to see her again and to talk to my best friend, that nothing else registered.

Now for the book.  

My Dad had bought me a copy of Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo a couple of weeks prior to that dream, but I’d never read it.  When I told him about my dream, tears came to his eyes, and he asked if I’d read that book yet.  I told him I hadn't, and he insisted that I needed to read that book.  The book is an easy read, so I was able to read it in one Saturday, but everything that I read in that book spoke to me on a deep level, because how that little boy described the people he saw in heaven was exactly like I’d seen Mom in my dream.  I didn't see wings, but the heavenly glow, the white apparel, the peaceful demeanor were all dead on.

For my father, this marked the difference between it being a dream and a visitation.  In his mind, he believes that mom came down to check on her baby girl.  I think perhaps the reason why is clear.  If I was ever going to believe in the things of God again, I had to know that my mom was okay.  Seeing her like that showed me a side of the spiritual that I’d never thought of.  Heaven and its glories were mere bedtime stories.  Something that glimpses of came to other people, certainly not to skeptical and dubious me.  I think God wanted me to see that she was not only okay, but that she was happy, glowing, whole, and changed.

As an added measure to this tale, my grandparents gave me pictures of my mother for Christmas… a lot of old photos of mom from when she had been a baby up through her teenage years.  I hadn't looked at them because honestly it was too painful.  But cleaning house just yesterday, I found that book of photos, and felt like I could probably look through them without being reduced to a ball of tears.  I was so happy that I could look at the smiling and beautiful child and young woman she was and smile instead of cry.  It had taken me over a half year to get past that grief, so for me it was a testament to how much my heart had healed from her loss.  While sifting through these old photos, I came across one picture that stopped me dead in my tracks.  Luckily my grandmother had labeled the back of picture: a snapshot of Mom when she was 16 back in 1973.  What struck me most was not only that this is exactly how I saw her in my dream, but that it was also a photo I’d never seen before.  The familiarity of her image could have only come from that indescribable dream.

The weeks following have been life changing for me.  I know I've used that word over and over again, but it’s the only way to illustrate it.  I feel like for just 15 minutes a piece of heaven was allowed to come visit me in the form of my very best friend in the entire world, and with it came the realization that not only is heaven very real, but so are all things spiritual that accompany that.  I have no doubt that my mother is there right now alongside my grandmother and great-grandparents.  And the urgency with which my spirit has been infused that I have got to get things right and be busy about His business is something that I can’t describe. 

I don’t want to be preachy.  That’s not the intent of this blog entry.  It’s just a fraction of a glimpse at something that has changed my life in such a magnificent way that only God could have accomplished, and it was something that I felt like I needed to share.

For Easter, I got the rare gift of being able to spend a beautiful holiday with all of my family.  It’s something I’ll never forget as long as I live, and it’s an opportunity that I thank God for.