"Mommy, where's heaven?" My pudgy-faced three-year-old girl could sometimes be an endless fountain of questions, and her faucet was definitely in the on position today.
"Well, I'm not sure, Sweetie. Where do you think it is?" Turning a question back on her sometimes helped stop the flow.
"And why are only dead people allowed to go there?"
This surprised me, and I turned away from my sandwich preparations to look at her. "Only dead people? Who told you this?"
She cocked her head at me, and I knew from the lines between her eyes that the conversation had made one of those sudden turns from breezy to brutal, with no warning. "Pastor Snitch said so at church, about Sister Wetzel."
"Pastor Smith dear, not Snitch. We've talked about this before..."
"He said Sister Wetzel was resting in the arms of Jesus, in heaven, and that we would all see her again, one day, when we passed out."
I turned back and pretended to smear the peanut butter until I could get my giggles suppressed. When able, I faced her and said, with much control, "That's passed on Honey, not out. Passing out is another way of saying fainting, and passing on is another way of saying dying."
Since we had attended Sister Wetzel's funeral last week, my little bundle of questions hadn't said one thing about death, or heaven, and I had been wondering what she was thinking and feeling about it all. Well, here we go. Lord, help me say the right things!
"I really liked her," she continued. "I remember when we visited her room that one time. I didn't like that place! It smelled bad! I was just wonderin' about heaven, 'cuz I want her room there to be real nice! And smell bee-yoo-ti-ful, like trillions of flowers!"
Her extra-careful pronunciation of beautiful reflected our efforts around the house, and she had recently heard the number trillion on the news, and had been fascinated by "all those o's" when I wrote out the number for her.
"Charlie, Honey, Sister Wetzel does have a room now, in God's house. Jesus talked about it in the Bible, John 14:2: In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. (NIV)
"What do you think about that, little Miss Chatterbox?"
While she chattered, I went back to the sandwiches, spreading the jelly on now.
"Can we decorate our own rooms? What will mine look like? Who will be my next-door-neighbors? Will you and Daddy be nearby? Can I be near Sister Wetzel? I hope her room is yellow-she said that was her favorite color-I hope it's a real bright yellow, like the sun!" With that she triumphantly pointed outside, and up, at the big saffron ball warming our world.
I placed her PB&J in front of her and a glass of milk, and sat down with her to "dine."
"Eat your sandwich now--see, no crusts!"
We said grace, and began to "eat." Charlie was always ravenously hungry first thing in the morning, and ate a pretty good dinner, but lunch was hit-and-miss. Today was definitely a miss day. She began turning her plate around, and humming.
As she ever-so-delicately pointed her index finger in the air, then drove it into the middle of her sandwich, she made a proclamation: "I think God is going to take good care of Sister Wetzel, 'cuz He knows 'zakly what everybody likes. He knows what she likes to eat, and the music she likes, and how fluffy she likes her pillows, and everything. His house is gonna be real fun to be in, for everybody! And He's gonna always cut the crusts off my sammiches, like you do, Mommy!"
30 minutes later, after cleaning up the tipped over glass of milk, removing jelly--how on earth did she manage this?--from the table leg, and wiping off the peanut buttery little girl, I settled her down for an afternoon nap, and sat for a while to think about our conversation.
What she had described was heavenly hospitality. God prepares for our arrival, and it's gonna be "real fun" to be there, because He knows exactly how we like everything.
I thanked God, again, for the gift of Charlie, and reflected on another lesson learned from my little babbling brook and all her questions.
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