I have always been fascinated by the idea of a portal. As a child, the adventures of Alice, who went through the looking glass into a mythical land, complete with tea and cake, caught and held my attention. Growing older renewed my interest in such things, perhaps even more so recently. My personal health crisis has certainly made me wonder about the threshold to eternity and the ultimate journey to the Great Beyond.
There have been numerous books written about near-death experiences, stories of people who were involved in almost-fatal accidents or who were comatose for months. The tales of what they saw on “the other side” are varied and intriguing. I am curious about such encounters, questioning if there is some biological reason for the visions, with their accompanying feelings of peace. I guess we tend to want explanations for situations that defy logic. Ah, human nature, which often challenges faith, the belief in that which we don't fully understand.
Quite frankly, I had my own mortality in mind when I went to lie on the surgical table last November. Two skilled doctors were working diligently to save my life, and they had assured me that they would do their best to remove all the cancer from my body. I had already endured nine chemotherapy infusions in an effort to shrink the sizeable tumors and soon, I would be facing nine more. This would be a battle not easily won. Minutes before they wheeled me down the hall, I prayed for a fighting chance. I wanted so desperately to live.
The operation took longer than expected as they examined each bit of tissue for signs of malignancy. Systematically, they removed the diseased parts of my body and waited on the pathology that signaled they had reached clear cells. It is a particularly brutal surgery, but it is also a particularly brutal disease.
But that’s not the story here. You see, I was unconscious for hours, blissfully unaware of what was happening in that operating room. And during that time, I got to have my own remarkable experience as the gate opened for me, and I crossed over from one realm to the next. Chemo has altered my brain a bit. I sometimes struggle to find the right words or use phrases that make no sense, but I recall every vivid detail of that moment. Every single one.
Although not aware of my body, I knew that I was flying, soaring through the most beautiful azure blue sky. In the distance, I could see a forest, the dense blossoming trees in various shades of green and pink. As I descended, a pasture came into view and then, the meadow, filled with thousands and thousands of flowers of every shape and color. (Including blue!) There was a glistening path encircling the perimeter, which narrowed, until it disappeared into the thicket of trees. I longed to explore where it might lead me, willing myself to grow closer, but I remained, suspended above the treetops. I wiggled and turned, trying to move toward the ground, but each time I asked to see what lay below, I was gently nudged away. “Not now,” the voice whispered. “Not yet.”
I woke to the post op pain and anesthesia fog, but I knew with complete certainty that I had seen heaven. There was no flash of bright white light. No angels appeared. And I didn’t get to gaze upon the loving face of Jesus, but make no mistake, what I saw was paradise.
In the days which followed, I didn’t mention it to anybody because, well, folks who know me understand that I tend to be a little on the dramatic side. I figured that everyone would chalk it up to meds and my vivid imagination. And so, it remained a special secret I simply tucked away in my heart.
Five months later, I was at a wedding, a happy celebration of love. I didn’t know many of the guests and was introduced to a courageous young woman who had endured unspeakable abuse and drug addiction. Most people carry their history close to them, but she openly shared the story of her trials. It was difficult to hear, but there was also triumph, a miraculous healing through a relationship with God. I listened with rapt attention to her testimony, a tale of amazing grace. When she was finished, we sat in silence as I searched for something profound to say. But in the end, I had nothing to offer except for these three words. “I saw heaven.”
Her eyes widened. “Tell me about it,” she said.
I described what I had seen, down to the color of the flowers. She began to cry.
“I didn’t mean to make you sad,” I said, suddenly aware that I had upset her.
“No,” she said, “you didn’t. It is just that when I was at my lowest point, begging for God’s mercy, I asked Him to give me a glimpse of heaven. And He did. It was just as you said it was, exactly, as a matter of fact.”
This time, I was moved to tears. You see, I suddenly understood that my visit to paradise, my brief glimpse into the land of glory, was not for my benefit, but for hers. For through my experience, I was able to validate hers, to show her that what she had witnessed was real and true. It was then that I came to understand the mystery of the way God works, always for good. But I also now see that when two or more gather in His name, He is there. And He does enjoy a good party.