Not because the Bible says so...although I trust in its validity.
Not because my Mom says so.
Not because my priest or neighbor or friend says so.
I have been there. I saw it with my own eyes, felt it with my heart and all of my being. And I am not scared of death...because I know where I am going. It's not a fictional place and it doesn't require 'faith' on my part any longer--I saw and I believe.
I was eight months pregnant with my first baby, Ethan. The pregnancy had been smooth and uneventful, but the emotional toll of being an unwed, pregnant, soon-to-be mother was a weight that was both crushing and shameful.
It was around this time that I remembered a 'deal' I had made with God when I was 13; "If you let me live long enough to be a Mom, I will be ready to come live in Heaven with you. Just PLEASE let me have a baby first!"
The memory of the deal sprang out of nowhere, but added a terrifying "what if He follows through on it?!" emotion to my unstable hormones.
I realized that I had failed to add in that I also wanted to be here to raise my children...and I was horrified to think that after hearing my baby's first cry, God might make good on our agreement.
It was Easter morning, 1998, and I had prepared myself for church and headed off with my family. I was looking forward to the turkey dinner to follow the services...but was not looking forward to the curious stares and judgement-filled eye rolls of some members. My family formed a protective cocoon around me in the pew (we had begun to sit near the back, away from most stares), and sang our hearts out in celebration of Christ's Resurrection.
It was during one of these songs that I felt some cramping, so I sat down. I sat through two more songs, wondering if maybe these were 'practice' contractions, and hoping I wasn't going to throw up on the church floor.
My father sat down beside me after the last song and asked, "Sarah, are you okay?" I must have been showing signs of being ill. I tried to reply, "No, not at all."
My father later told me that I had said, "I'm fine."
My vision began to turn black on the periphery at first, then closed off completely as it neared the center of my sight. I found myself in darkness...but not for long. There was a bright light in the darkness, and I was moving towards it. It got bigger and brighter as I approached, then burst open as I crossed a threshold.
There was a crowd of people welcoming me...I knew each one of them, but I can't tell you who they are. They loved me, and I them. Their faces shone so bright, it was difficult to see features. There were flowers and meadows. I remember feeling at peace--no worries--full of joy. There was no more cramping, no more pain, no more shame. I did not think of anyone 'left behind'....I wasn't worried about my unborn child...I was home.
I have more memories about how it 'felt' there, than actual details of what I saw.
Then there was something pulling me backwards. I heard a voice say I was not going to stay...it was the worst, most heart-wrenching feeling I have ever felt. I fought to stay there...it was terrifying coming back....almost as if being ripped apart from within.
I awoke, very confused, upset, angry....to a smell of strong B.O. One of the parishioners had lent his sports jacket to prop my head up while I was unconscious. I didn't immediately remember any of the details of where I had been, but the feeling of peace was still a whisper of a memory on my skin. My fear of death was no more.
I don't look forward to the dying process, but I am not scared of the journey to come. Heaven is real...I wish I could describe it well enough for those who are desparate to believe, but can't.