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A Glimpse of Heaven, Part V: Lessons From A Friend

December 24, 2019

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.” (Psalm 111:10) [1]

This is the last of a series of posts describing an experience I had 22 years ago when I “saw” my recently deceased friend, Stephanie.  We have many teachers in life.  Our parents are our first and most important teachers.  We also learn much from teachers as we make our way through school, and perhaps college and beyond.  But our friends also teach us many things.

I learned many things from my friend, Stephanie, in the 27 years that I knew her before she died. She was a model friend who was not only intelligent and fun, but also unfailingly kind and thoughtful.  I learned much from her kind and giving spirit, but it is the lessons that she taught me during my encounter with her on January 3, 1998, that have encouraged me in my faith walk for the past 22 years.

Though Stephanie was a baptized Catholic  and a believer, she was not a regular church-goer.  I had not expected to be schooled spiritually by my non-church-going friend, but schooled I was.  The immediate effect of the encounter was to assure me that heaven is real, that Stephanie is not only alive, but more alive than ever and full of joy!  The encounter also confirmed to me that we can trust the Bible as the Word of God– as the light that shows us the way to God. It was a tremendous gift—being enveloped in a cocoon of well-being, peace, and love. It occurred on the Saturday night before the Sunday that we celebrated Epiphany, when the Wise Men, who had searched the night skies for the star leading to Jesus—found him and offered their gifts to the Child. The powerful brought gifts and paid homage to the Child. And now, this gift from the Child to me.  It was inspiring and humbling.

In the years that have passed since that night, I have distilled her message to me to three words: forgive, love, and persevere.

Lesson #1: Forgive

Stephanie said, “It doesn’t matter how I got here—I am here, happy, and scaling mountains.  What happened in the past doesn’t matter.” I had a lot of regrets after her death.  Why didn’t I insist on taking care of her while she was recuperating?  I was working full-time and had four school-age children at home, but I still regretted not doing more. She had given so much to her mother and to others. She put others’ needs before her own, even though she faced many challenges over the past few years before her death.  But when I saw her on the Tenth Night of Christmas in 1998, she told me that it didn’t matter.  She was telling me not to hold onto guilt or regrets.

I saw that Stephanie was no longer bound by the chains of life; she was set free.  She was living proof of St. Paul’s words, “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’  So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:6-7).

When we leave this earth, we leave our chains and burdens behind. But Jesus promises to shoulder our burdens during our life on earth as well.

Don’t let regrets, disappointments, resentments, jealousy, or anger rob you of your joy in Christ Jesus. When you forgive yourself and forgive others, you are set free from guilt and bitterness—you are no longer a slave. When you forgive, the Evil One loses.  When you forgive, your burdens are lifted from you.  When you forgive, you are free to love, to experience joy.

Lesson #2: Love

Jesus’ command to love is recorded in the 22nd chapter of Matthew, verses 37-40:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ . . . And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  He said that the entire law is fulfilled when you follow those two commandments.

St. Paul said that nothing that you have accomplished or that you possess matters if you are not acting out of love for God and others.  You can be as wise as Solomon, have several graduate degrees, own many homes, be the wealthiest person in the world, or the most talented, or the most beautiful—but without love—you are nothing.  Love of God and love of others—that’s it!  That’s all you need to know.

But what does love look like?  Paul also answers that question:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians, 13: 4-7).

Love builds up, it unifies—but hate tears down, it divides. Choose love.

Stephanie radiated with joy when I saw her that night—she was surrounded by God’s light.  And, the warmth and love I felt came from the Holy Spirit. Pastor Frese told me that he felt that same warmth during an extraordinary encounter he had—and that it is associated with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Lesson #3: Persevere

Stephanie said “You are on the right path. Stay on it on it.”  She said that several times.

What is the path?  The word path or paths is used 106 times in the Bible.  Some references are admonitions against taking the wrong path–a wicked path, a crooked path, a wandering path, the evil path, the slippery path, etcetera—but many refer to the path we should follow—the straight path, the path of life, the path to God, the ancient paths,  the path of justice, the level path, the path where the Word is sown, the path of peace.

The psalmist tells us how to find the path that we are to follow: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (Psalm 119:105). The path that Stephanie was telling me I was on and should stay on—is the path lit by God’s Word—the Bible.  God’s Word illumines our way so that we know which way to go.

Stephanie was telling me to persevere–that God’s Word is true—it is the right path—the path that I should stay on.  If you stay grounded in the Word, you will stay on the straight path, the level path, the path of justice, peace, of life—the path to God.

 Conclusion

 In Part I of this series, published on November 25th, I cited some of the many Biblical prohibitions against trying to contact the dead.  As I have already noted several times, the incident I shared with you was completely unexpected and was not sought by me.

Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft, points out in his book, All You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven and Were Afraid to Ask, “There are the bright, happy spirits of dead friends and family, especially spouses, who appear unbidden, at God’s will, not ours, with messages of hope and love.  They seem to come from Heaven . . . these bright spirits come back for the sake of us, the living, to tell us all is well.”

But Kreeft also points out that the spirits that appear as a result of conjurings, seances, and the like, are probably from hell. This is the reason why the Bible explicitly prohibits us from trying to contact the dead (see the November 25th post citing a few of the Biblical references).

My experience is an example of God’s grace.  I did not earn this experience—I was broken and grief-stricken. Nothing we receive from God is earned.  He blesses us freely and we should share those blessings with others.  In addition to expressing love and encouragement, the point of such experiences is that we are to trust God. That we can trust him. That God is real and that the Bible is true.

As we march through the final days of Christmas toward Epiphany, share God’s love with others. Share how he has come into your life and made you whole. How he has picked you up in your brokenness, and encouraged you. Tell your stories. Give someone else the gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love.  Spread the Word.

Prayer:  Jesus, forgive us, heal us, and send your Spirit to bring us peace and joy as we put all of our hope in you. Help us to persevere—to stay on the path to you.  Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with your love and power.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday. Isaiah 63:7-14; Psalm 111; Galatians 4:4-7; Matthew 2:13-23.

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