Christians are stuck in the already-but not yet…Our future is secure, yet we still toil in this world.
She opened her eyes and looked around the room. The light is all wrong and the room is, what is it? It’s like it’s pretending, like it’s staged. She saw her husband emerge from the bathroom.
“Are you going in late today?” he said, with a strange look on his face. She wanted to leap from the bed and hug him tight, but something was keeping her from that. It was the tight and drawn look on his face and something was wrong with his light. The light coming from him was yellowed, somehow, dingy, with a big dark spot right in the middle. She just looked up at him and said, “yes, going in late.” She had no idea where she was going and what was meant by late, but she needed a minute to understand what was going on.
As he turned to leave, he muttered, “I’ll be home late tonight.”
She answered, seeing the lie that hung on his face, “Jim, I love you with all my heart.” She still wasn’t sure what was happening, but she could see his usual joy was gone, his faith faint, and his burdens were heavy.
He looked back at her, brow furrowed with disbelief, “How could you say that?”
She wasn’t sure what was happening, but she had faith there was a reason for it. She stumbled out of bed, lost her balance, and as she began to tumble down, Jim reached out to steady her. She let out a giggle. “Oh, that’s gravity!” She threw her arms around him and hugged him tight. A single tear escaped his eyes as he sat her down on the bed and studied her face.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Oh, yes, Silly. I’m just not used to the gravity.”
“I’m going to be late,” Jim said, confused.
“Sure, sure,” she said, still a bit fascinated by the weight of her body and how hard it felt to pick herself up. “I’ll see you tonight!”
As Jim opened the door to leave, more voices floated up from below. She thought about taking a minute to think about her situation, but then decided to go investigate. She stood up slowly this time and steadied herself by the bed. “I remembered gravity from the Place Before, but I guess I got really accustomed to not having it There,” she shook her head as she took a few test steps. Once she got the hang of it somewhat, she headed toward the bedroom door.
Brilliant sunlight lit up the hallway from the big window hung above the staircase. The light is just odd here, like it’s too harsh but not enough all at the same time, she thought as she made her way slowly to the stairs and found a firm grip on the handrail. She could still hear the voices drifting up from below. This gravity thing is definitely slowing me down, she laughed, as actual pain drummed in her legs from the effort of it all. She descended the last two steps and found three people in the room just beyond. They were in what she knew to be a kitchen from her Place Before memories. There, you can remember there was a Place Before, but details are fuzzy. You remember, for instance, that there was gravity in the Place Before, but you forget what it actually made you feel. Or you might remember that there was such thing as pain and sadness, and you even remember the things that gave you pain and sadness, but the pain and sadness aren’t a part of you any longer. There is only joy and contentment bathed in perfect light.
She approached the three people in the kitchen. She knew these must be her children. They looked a bit different. Like Jim, their lights were just a shadow of what they are There. “Oh, yes, yes,” she thought. That’s Lillian. I remember her from There. But Lillian was dressed in black head to toe and even had heavy black lines around her eyes and her fingernails were even black.
“Lillian, what in the world are you wearing?” The girl turned to her, rolled her eyes, and gasped, “Uh, my clothes, duh.”
“Oh yes, right, I think I must be in the Place Before because I’m definitely not There,” she said, mostly to herself. All three were now studying her very closely.
“Um, okay?” the big boy in jeans and a hoodie said as he came over to give her a hug.
She recognized him as Sam, her son. He was the oldest. He usually had a brilliant glow to him, but he gave off just a faint bit of shine with a big black center, just like Jim and Lillian.
“Sam, she said, what’s troubling you?” as she realized the dark in the center of their dull light was pain and sadness. She could see the pain very clearly.
“Geez, Mom,” Sam pushed her away and looked down at her, “Did you have a stroke last night?”
“Oh, maybe,” she said, beginning to wonder a bit more about how she landed here. She could feel her faith fading and her sadness at not being There was creeping in. “Wow, the flesh is weak,” she thought, as she refocused on Sam’s dark spot.
Sam held her gaze for a moment and then she said, “Sam, you are so loved; do you remember?”
Sam let go of her shoulders and chuckled, “Sure, Mom, whatever you say.”
She turned from Sam to another girl in the room. She studied the girl. She was perfect. Her hair was neatly done, her jumper came right above the knee, she wore little ballerina type slippers, and she had a cross hanging around her neck. She was in the middle of a spat with Lillian. “…if you would just be nicer to people, Lillian, they’d probably be nicer to you.”
“Oh, what do you know about it, Goody Two Shoes? You’re just embarrassed that I’m your sister,” Lillian barked back.
Her sister? She knew Sam and Lillian, but how is it that she had no memory of this Perfect Girl? And where was this girl’s light? There wasn’t even a dull glow about her.
There, where she had just been, everyone was family. While they were There, you could tell who your Before Place family was and they held a special place, but all the beings shared a familial bond There. Everyone had a bright light fueled by the joy of being in His presence. She recognized her other two kids and her husband, but this Perfect Girl was completely unfamiliar to her. She did not even feel there should be a memory of her at all, it was so blank when she looked at her.
The Perfect Girl turned to her and, throwing up her hands, said, “Mom, I can’t even with her today!”
Mom? She called me Mom. But Oh, God, where is her light and why can’t I remember her from There?
She was deep in thought when she heard the Perfect Girl tell her about her upcoming day. “We have to meet after school today to make the care packages for the soldiers. Then I’m going over to help the Pastor’s kid with his math. After that, I’ll be home for dinner and then I’m going straight back to church.”
Without thinking, she looked at the Perfect Girl and said, “you know, He loves you no matter how perfect or imperfect you are.”
The Perfect Girl just looked at her like she wasn’t speaking English. “Really, Mom, what’s gotten into you? Are you even going into the office today?”
She repeated, “I love you, even though I don’t remember you, and I know He loves you even though you don’t know Him.”
“Okay, Mom. That’s not what you were saying last night when we were talking about the need to be perfect on my college application essay. That’s it. I’m going to school. Are you coming to church tonight or what? You were supposed to bring cookies for the youth group,” the Perfect Girl said, somewhat annoyed.
“Oh, yes, I cannot wait to go to church!” She remembered from There that church was confusing from the Place Before. It brought her happiness, but she also remembered the feelings of burden and frustration. It isn’t hard to love people There, but she remembered from There that it was hard to love people in the Place Before.
“Mom, you were complaining last night that you didn’t have enough cookie dough for all the, what did you call them, ‘fringe kids’ who only come to church on Wednesday nights. Don’t forget to pick more up” the Perfect Girl said as she packed all her things into her backpack.
“I complained? About people on the fringes? How could I ever do that? I love all people There and are happy to see so many there with me,” she thought, passing judgment on herself.
“Mom, don’t forget you said you could come to my game tomorrow,” Sam shouted as he charged through the front door.
“Like, see you later or whatever,” Lillian moaned, dragging her feet behind her big brother.
The Perfect Girl looked back at her one more time, puzzled. “Mom, you really should get dressed if you’re going into the office” she said to her softly as she turned to follow her brother and sister.
Her heart sank. Just moment’s ago, she thought, I was standing in paradise with abundant joy and love. And there were no worries or sadness. No, no, I cannot give into this world’s lack of faith. She remembered from There that it was much easier to keep faith than it had been in the Place Before. She had to hold on tight to her memory of There so she could understand her purpose for being here, now, in what she understood was the Place Before. She didn’t know why or how she was here suddenly, but she would need to cling to what she now knew about being There if she were going to serve Him here.
She thought about the Perfect Girl Daughter and how she didn’t have a light at all and how the children she did know had big dark spots clouding their light. She found the mirror in the foyer and studied herself. She could see her own light was not as she remembered it and a small black dot had begun to form in the center of it. “The flesh is weak,” she sighed as she clung to the memory of being There and tried to concentrate on the joy from There to give her strength.
She started to study the pictures in the house that looked like it was pretending, the Staged House. She found plenty of pictures in a book under the table by the couch. As she flipped through them, she saw her life there, page-by-page. The Perfect Girl was in all of the family photos. She should be able to remember her but she knew she wasn’t There with them. Oh. Oh, no. She wasn’t There with them because she didn’t believe! That’s why she couldn’t remember. She remembered from There that not all people came to be with them There because they didn’t believe in Him. But that couldn’t be right, she thought, because she had a cross on and goes to church. She closed the photo book with sadness and began to pray aloud.
“Lord, I can’t be sure of your plan and the reason you sent me to the Place Before and away from There, but I think my daughter’s lack of faith might have something to do with it. Forgive me for being sad and missing being There, but give me strength to remember the joy we have There and to share that here in the Place Before as long as I am here.”
She was about to start the arduous climb up the stairs to what she now knew was her bedroom, when the front door opened. Her husband charged in. He looked her up and down and said, “What are you still doing here? Don’t you have a big case you’re working on?”
She thought, yeah, a huge important case. Our daughter doesn’t believe in Jesus, but she kept that to herself for now because she could tell by his huge dark spot in his light that she needed to pay full attention to whatever was causing him pain. It was hard to see him like this when she could remember him from There with his light so brilliant and not dingy and covered with a cloud.
“You have some nerve telling me you loved me this morning after the conversation we had last night,” he began, obviously trying to hold tight to his temper.
“I’m sorry, what did we say last night?” she asked, softly?
“You caught me in an affair! What game are you playing, telling me you love me?” he shouted.
All she could see was his pain and anger and frustration now. His dark spot almost completely eclipsed his light.
“I do love you. Whatever our problems, I swore before God I would love you all my days and I do. We hurt each other because we are human and we are weak, but in God, we are made one and I feel such joy with you every day There,” she said, realizing that he still wouldn’t understand what she meant by There. “If you could see yourself the way I see you, you would understand how much you’re loved and I share in that with you. There is nothing that could happen that could make me forget that bond” she reached out for him as she added, “And I forgive you.”
Jim began to sob. His dark spot was there, but it had shrunk now and was replaced by a more transparent grey color. They held each other for a few moments and then he looked up at her and said, “I’m not sure what’s changed your mind, but I want to try to fix this and am so glad you do too now.” They spent the rest of the day reminding each other of the faith they shared in one another and in God when they said their vows. “It would be hard,” Jim said, but she knew that they were happy together There and nothing could make her worry about their future together because she remembered it so clearly.
When the kids got home that evening, she and Jim were ready to go to church. She was so excited to be with fellow believers. It won’t be like There, she thought, but maybe I can find a few bright lights there to help me stave off the sadness I can feel from not being There.
The kids saw their parents being affectionate to one another for the first time in a long time. They weren’t quite sure what to make of it all. The Perfect Girl, was concerned about the cookies and the care packages not being just right. She worried she might have let a curse word slip in front of the pastor this evening while helping his son with his homework. She seemed so concerned about being perfect, that she wasn’t seeking God at all, only what she thought God needed her to be. She was missing the point entirely. Perfection is a façade, a pretending of control. But when we understand we are not perfect and not in control, we seek God’s help. She searched herself to find the right words to tell the Perfect Girl.
As Jim, Lillian, and Sam headed to the car, she reached out and grabbed the Perfect Girl’s elbow. “Sweetheart, let’s talk,” she asked.
The Perfect Girl exclaimed, “Mom, we’re going to be late! I have to help set up!”
She nudged her toward the couch. “It’s all going to be okay, I promise. All these things, they’re nice and it’s great to want to do the right thing with all the talents God gave you, but God never expected you to be perfect. The only way to perfection is through Him, not around Him. Let Him work in you.”
“Seriously, Mom, what has gotten into you?”
She began telling the Perfect Girl about how it was There, how she didn’t understand it, but she had clearly been There and couldn’t remember anything from before. She told her about the joy everyone has There and how she longed to be back There but knew she was here, in what she knew as the Place Before, for a good reason and she thought that reason might be sitting right in front of her. She told her about the lights and how brilliant and perfect their lights all shone with joy and love There, but here, now, she couldn’t see her light at all.
The child took it all in with disbelief until her mother told her about her missing light. She had been struggling mightily with her faith and had decided there was no God at all. How could there be a God who let so many people suffer so? She did all the right things, said all the prayers, went to all the church events and still, she never felt God’s love and was convinced that’s because He wasn’t there at all.
She began to weep. “Mom, how could you know that?” she pleaded. “I thought I hid it so well.”
“Jesus will always leave the 99 and go looking for that one stray little lamb, Sweet Girl,” she said as she rubbed the girl’s back.
And in that moment, a brilliant light emerged from the Perfect Girl, and, looking at the girl who now flooded her memory, she cried, “Oh, Charlie! I can see you with me There!”