How much do you think about Heaven? A lot? A little? Not at all?
Whether your earthly life is close to it’s end or you have many decades still in front of you, I hope your thoughts turn often to Heaven because that eternal perspective lifts the weariness we all face. One of my dear friends who thought well and often of Heaven was named Melina.
Melina was a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty (think, full-blooded Italian parents!) She and her husband Brian met in 1988 and married a decade later. Together their love produced two adorable little girls, Cecilia and Olivia. Melina was a mortgage broker and Brian worked as an electrical engineer.
It was a beautiful world.
But that was before October of 2003 came. And with it a diagnosis for 33-year-old Melina of colon cancer. I had just met Melina’s younger sister Rina through a mutual friend and I sent Melina a little note of encouragement when I heard about her diagnosis. I knew how important it was to hear from other survivors of “your” kind of cancer. I reminded her that I was still alive after having colon cancer spread to five lymph nodes (she “only” had it in two).
After surgery, Melina started chemotherapy, availing herself of the new anti-colon cancer drugs that had not been available to me back in 1990. But in August of 2004, three weeks after doctors told her there was no evidence of disease, she developed terrible abdominal pain: a grapefruit sized mass was on her ovary. Then a PET scan showed tiny cancerous spots in both lungs.
Melina quit her job to stay home with her daughters and for the next nearly three years, Melina fought back against the cancer, enduring such things as a clinical trial that left her bedridden for five months and a trip to Germany for a new laser procedure to remove the lung nodules. She spent two weeks in California learning about organic and whole food nutrition, and traveled to cancer centers in Philadelphia and Virginia to see what they could offer.
Each new approach seemed to knock down the cancer for a while, only to have it rear its ugly head once again.
Like many cancer patients do during their fight, Melina started a web page. She called it “Melina’s Hope.” As an author who appreciates a really great opening thought, I loved the way Melina began the first page of her site: “You might think my hope is to preserve my earthly life…”
That’s exactly what I was thinking her hope would be. But that’s because I was thinking of her cancer diagnosis as the beginning of her story. She set me and all her readers straight right away by explaining “My story begins one Sunday morning in August 2002.
“What a beautiful day,” she writes. “It was the day I accepted the Lord Jesus into my heart. With that acceptance came a promise: if I trust the Lord with all my heart and acknowledge Him in all my ways, He would direct my paths—and that He did in my journey with colon cancer.”
And that is why Melina said her strongest hope was not to preserve her earthly life, “but more important than that, is my hope that my story changes but one heart to accept the love and protection that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do and he will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3:5
That was Melina’s favorite verse—the one on which she firmly staked her life and the one by which she squarely faced her death.
“I can’t abandon the one true healer, Jesus Christ,” she wrote about five months before her passing. “It’s His decision where my healing will take place, here on earth or with Him in heaven. That is where my hope and comfort come from. I trust completely that the Lord will do what is best for me, my family and friends.”
Even though Melina grieved that she was going to leave this earth and not see her little girls grow up or grow old with her husband, she had hope because she knew this life is not all there is.
Hope that she was not saying goodbye forever.
Hope that she was headed to her real Home: Heaven.
Hope that in Heaven she would get a new disease-free body.
Hope that one day there would be a grand reunion of all her family and friends who also trusted in the Lord.
Near the very end of her life, she told her distraught adult family members: “I know you guys don’t want to hear this, but I know where I’m going and I can’t wait to get there!”
Then she added with a smile: “You’ll see me again.”
One of my favorite daydreams is to imagine that upon my arrival in Heaven, Jesus greets me and then takes me to a long line of smiling people: Melina and all of the faith-filled cancer patients I knew. I see that they are physically healed just like we prayed for so many times. We embrace and while there are no sadtears in Heaven, in my daydream I am filled with tears of joy.
But my dream is not just wishful thinking. The promise of Heaven for all who believe in Jesus is real and I know that reunion will really happen.
Another one of the people I look forward to seeing in Heaven is someone I never met on earth: my paternal great-grandmother May Andrews Peirce. She was a prolific poet and I’d like to think my writing ability came down through her genes. In 1928 when she was nearly 60, she wrote a poem she called “HOME.”
In childhood’s days, our thoughts of Heaven
Are pearly gates, and streets of gold.
But in the gathering years,
When time, within its fading leaf
With eyes, perchance be-dimmed with tears,
And hearts oft’ overwhelmed with grief,
We look beyond the pearly gates,
Beyond the clouds of sin’s dark night,
And see a place where loved ones wait,
A place all beautiful and bright.
And over all, we’ll see the face of Him
Who’ll bring us to our own—
Not to some far-off, distant place.
For Heaven is, after all, just HOME.
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