When my children were young, I used to wait at the end of the driveway on the first days of school. It was always nerve-racking waiting, praying they had gotten on the right bus initially and then at the high school where they transferred buses. There was such elation when they emerged those first days. Home at last!
Three of my children have moved out. Two have come back home, and the third is quite happy to reside with his wife. Hugging children goodbye who no longer live with you is different. It is not the have-a-good-night’s-sleep hug or see-you-when-I-get-back-from-this-trip hug. It’s a thankful-to-see-you-and-God-be-with-you-till-next-time hug. It’s a brief prayer that God sustains this grown child in body and soul until you are able to see each other again.
A few days ago, I went back to the nursing home where I had worked for two years. Saying goodbye there is a different thing altogether. While I like to assume that I will cross paths with the residents again, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, I can’t be entirely sure. One of my favorite residents was sick, and if I learned anything while working there, it is not to take anything for granted. God calls his children home. What seems insignificant to one person could be fatal to another.
On my drive home, I couldn’t help but think of aging and illness from God’s perspective. While we struggle so often with changes and adjusting to the idea of a loved one no longer being here, God surely sees it otherwise. Another child is almost home.
I don’t know what our heavenly homecoming will look like. I don’t know if our loved ones who went before us will get to plan a celebration or meet us to show us around. I don’t know what we will or won’t remember from earth, if anything. I only know that Jesus told the man on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Today. This very day. The day that we take our final breath on earth is the very day.
And I can only imagine the anticipation of our heavenly Father. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants” (Psalm 116:15). Precious: of great value; not to be wasted or treated carelessly.
A few days before he died, I told the first man I had worked with as an elderly companion that when he saw my name flashing on the incoming billboard in heaven, I expected him to be there to meet me. He had served as a pastor for many years and listened to my babbling for several more, so he tilted his head and gave me a little smile. Who could promise such a thing? Maybe he would be working on something with Moses or in a deep conversation with Samuel or tending his weed-free garden. Perhaps after a time, those in heaven barely notice or blink when another person arrives. Maybe they throw a party at the end of the week so they don’t have to interrupt every moment of every day.
I don’t know how it works. Honestly, I don’t care. I know just enough to know that it will be amazing.
And those brief hugs I give my adult children and the prolonged hugs I give my dear friends at the nursing home make me think our Father is watching, knowingly giving us just a glimpse of his heart. We do what we need to do and complete the tasks before us—one day closer to finally arriving home.