When I saw Heather in April, she seemed perfectly fine. I hugged her and said, “I feel like I’m hugging a miracle.” And I was. Not just the miracle of cancer temporarily in remission but the even larger miracle of a heart made strong through a fiery trial and a faith that could not be shaken by the winds of adversity. That night those winds seemed far away. Little did we know they would begin blowing in just a few weeks, first gently, then stronger, and finally with hurricane force.
I sit here thinking about Heather and her sister Kim and her family and her many friends. Leah wrote from Beijing to say that Heather was like a big sister to her. I have more questions than answers, and I know that those questions will never be fully answered this side of heaven.
Deep in my soul I am tired of death, tired of saying goodbye to people I know and love, tired of the pain death has brought into the world. I long for a place where death will be more. I used a phrase a moment ago I have heard for years—"this side of heaven.” That’s where we are right now. We are on “this side of heaven.” On this side death reigns. On the other side death is nowhere to be found. Thank God, there are no graves dug into the hillsides of heaven.
In the sermon I wrote this week called It’s the Faith, Brother, I end with the story of LeeAnne Nichols who died last Sunday after a seven-year battle with cancer. When her husband Buddy sent out an email with the news, he ended with these words, “Your prayers have been answered. LeeAnne is now Home and healed.” That strikes me as a profoundly Christian statement. We pray for healing on this earth for as long as we can, and God often answers that prayer, sometimes in ways that surprise us. But we all die sooner or later. For the Christian death has taken on a new significance. Death for the Christian is the doorway to heaven.
Sometimes people ask me what death will be like. Of the physical part, no one can say with certainty because the manner of death differs from person to person. But I have often said this. “When your loved one dies and they close their eyes on earth, before you can call to let me know, they will have opened their eyes in heaven."
And so it happened for Heather. She slipped away from the earth and passed directly into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. She is truly Home. Note the capitalization. Jesus said, “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:26). What an amazing, stupendous, mind-blowing, death-defeating, hope-filled statement from our Lord. Though her earthly life has ended, her true life with God is just beginning.
Heaven is a bit sweeter now for all of us who knew her. And I thank God the battle is over and the victory won. Thanks be God for his amazing mercy in the Lord Jesus Christ that through him and by him we are delivered through death to everlasting life.
So I find myself happy and sad. But if I think about it—and I do need to consciously work it through in my mind, I am more happy than sad. Sad for Heather’s family and for her friends, sad that we will not see her for a little while, but happy that she is with the Lord. Happy that God’s promises are true. Happy that she is no longer on “this side of heaven.” Happy that death will not have the last word.
Rest well, Heather. We will see you again.You can reach the author at