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Paradise Unleashed

The husband of a dear friend passed away recently. On that day, and surrounding that day, there were many “letters from heaven,” as she put it. These letters are messages from God, often borne by trivial events, but speaking profoundly and marvelously from the heart of God. This is an account of one of these letters from heaven.

I was visiting my friend soon after her husband’s death, sitting in the circle of family and friends, feeling dazed and muted and raw but also full of wonder. There was sharing of communications to and through friends and family, and talk about the psalms and how important they had been in the last days and months.

My friend read aloud Psalm 71, a “prayer of an old man for deliverance” as the NASB titles it. Here are some excerpts:

In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge; Let me never be ashamed. In Your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; Incline Your ear to me and save me. Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come; You have given commandment to save me, For You are my rock and my fortress. I will hope continually, And will praise You yet more and more. You who have shown me many troubles and distresses Will revive me again, And will bring me up again from the depths of the earth. May You increase my greatness And turn to comfort me. Psalm 71: 1-3, 14, 20-21 (NASB)

At one point, the front door opened, and into our subdued mood entered a floppy-eared, curly-haired, pint-size cutie of a dog named Ella. She ran around the room, checking us all out, then alternated between bounding from chair to chair and lying down in watchful repose. Soon we opened a “Bark Box,” a monthly treat box full of dog toys and edibles. We were puzzled by the shape of one little squishable stuffed toy with bright colors. What was it supposed to be?

My friend’s son searched the Bark Box packaging for clues. “I think that’s supposed to be an umbrella drink” of the rum and tropical fruit variety. Then he held up the Bark Box and announced its theme: Paradise Unleashed.

Like the rush of water when you suddenly flip the tap to full on, our feelings splashed up in amazement. “How true!” flashed through my mind. Such a glorious message in an absurd container! We laughed while the tears flowed. It felt like the touch of an otherworldly hand reaching into our grief—a letter from heaven.

That body left behind was truly left behind—the truth of his life had nothing more to do with it. His life now might well consist of snowboarding down the slopes of heavenly mountains or casting his hook into the tumultuous rivers of paradise. He can wrap his arms around his dear brother and contemplate with sweet peace the face of our Lord Jesus, welcoming him to the wonders of heaven.

I don’t think about paradise very much, at least not with that word. But, since I was young, I haven’t been able to read aloud the verse about the thief crucified alongside Jesus without tears welling up in my eyes:

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23:42-43 NASB

There in the circle, we were faced with the immediacy of paradise. We knew what we had known before, but it had not come so forcefully into our consciousness: my friend’s husband was no longer bound by our earthly troubles. He was soaring.

That glimpse of paradise sticks with me. There’s still grief and loss and tears. Every matter of life has to be rethought now with the new reality of a family minus one member. This is the work of this season of life for them, and it’s good, godly work, when undertaken with Jesus. But the burden of the work is lightened considerably as we simultaneously hold our faith and hope in the resurrection and paradise.

Jani can be reached by email here.

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