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Empty Buckets

There is spring and then there is spring in farm country. While nature everywhere is resurrecting in brilliant form, the countryside possesses a particular shine. It seems the farmers have barely scraped their plows through the expectant earth when the green bounds up behind them. Everything is emerald. My Irish eyes like to pretend this happy valley in the middle of Illinois is my Ireland away from Ireland…the place my great grandparents left long ago. How gracious is my God who led me to this little plot of land with a valley that resembles an ancestral homeland.

My husband brought home a calf this week. It was an impulse buy and we already love having this two-week old baby in our old barn. But we joke that now we’ll really never go anywhere. The more we add to this farmstead, the more tethered to the ground we feel. Daily feedings and care mean we’ll probably forego some trips and vacations. Somehow, right now, as all the earth unfurls, that acknowledgement comes with a kind of contentment.

My sweet friend sat on the deck with me this week, staring out at the skyline. She is in her second round of treatments for cancer. This time the doctors call it incurable. But there is still hope for more time, more life, more adventure. In a way there’s little a pressure to hit that bucket list with her dear family – her husband and three darlings. But she doesn’t necessarily feel that urgency. Her face lifted to the gracious sunshine, peace so obviously attending her soul, we chat about the assurance of things eternal, places eternal, places untouched by sin and suffering. There are countries and curiosities on this planet she and I would like to see that we know we won’t ever. There’s no certainty that I’ll get back to Ireland any time soon. My college European travels suffice for now…memories pasted into scrap books. But our disappointment of bucket lists left unchecked because of responsibilities, or illness, and mere lack of time, is checked by our faith in what we look forward to in the new heaven and Earth. It seems that sometimes the Christian Pilgrim’s hope and understanding of heaven are vague and a little weak. We know that in the book of Revelation Jesus promises to make all things new. We know there will be a new heaven and a new Earth but often our imaginations seem unable to drift past a boring scene of cloud surfing and hymn singing for all of forever. And the dullness leaves us rather forlorn and uncommitted to our eternal state. The reality is that the new creation God has planned for us will be brilliant, pristine, accessible, delicious, and sensational. And we are not forbidden from trying to imagine it. I’m reading Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven, and he encourages us to by all means imagine BIG what we can anticipate for eternity. Everything that is already gorgeous about this creation we can see will be restored to a glory we have never seen. We don’t know what the Earth looked like in its original form, before evil robbed it of perfection, but we know oceans weren’t choked by plastic, and lands weren’t parched by drought. All of that tragedy will be restored in the end when Jesus returns.  If we are going to be excited about our salvation through Jesus Christ, we have to understand the “what” we have been saved from – Hell –  to the “what” we have been saved unto – New Earth. There is no in between. The unbelieving will spend forever isolated from God in suffering and torment. And anyone who believes in Jesus Christ will spend forever discovering the goodness of a communion with God from which we were once banished. I wonder why it is so hard for us to let our minds go to this wonderful place. Is it guilt? Is it doubt? Is it distraction of the counterfeit pleasures? We gobble up the imagery and incredible scenery of A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle’s book and the recent film adaptation. I’m finally enjoying the novel myself. Our minds love to imagine these dimensions not seen by the eye where mysteries of incredible fantasy hide. It’s a thrill to follow a plot thread as it twists through gorgeous scenes and introduces powerful characters. So, why do we read our Bibles as if it’s a daily chore and struggle to conceive of a real place of wonder and enchantment – not fantasy but reality? I’m calling myself out here. By “we”, I mean me. I’ve spent the last six months debating Scriptures with a kindly Jehovah’s Witness. Every week she comes and we flip furiously through the Bible, each intent on defining who the real Jesus is and proving other significant theologies. But there is one thing I have gained from my new, unlikely friend and that is a realization that I have been not nearly excited enough for my future home. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are very eager for the new Earth. They spend a lot of time studying it and sharing door to door about it. It’s humbling really. And unfortunately, their view of Protestants is that we don’t know much or care. How sad. And so, through these recent conversations over coffee I am compelled to know more and to hope more. God gives us the gift of spring to revive our hearts to this reality of resurrection. As Charles Spurgeon said of the season, “He has himself risen that he may draw us after him: he now by his Holy Spirit has revived us, that we may, in newness of life, ascend into the heavenlies, and hold communion with himself.”

What a treasured moment this spring, as budding trees whisper their worship and reborn blades of grass point up piously, to sit with my gift of a friend who has heavenly hope, and to follow her gaze skyward and muse about our everlasting destiny. There is no frantic frenzy to finish things here. Because this is only the beginning. What comes next is the real living. We will tiptoe from grain fields to Emerald Isles to mountaintops to sparkling beaches to galaxies and beyond. And as we traipse in unbound joy, old memories will probably faintly prod at us. I’ve walked here before…but I trudged away in poverty. I’ve sat here at this horizon before…but I was sick. I’ve lived here before…but I was enslaved. But those memories will be but vapor because we will gather at the tree of life, and it will be for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2). And oh how we need that healing. A spring eternal. In that place, all of our undone plans and unmet goals and disappointed dreams will be fulfilled. Bring your empty buckets, friends.

I saw a dying cosmos hold out its weak right arm, longing for a transfusion, a cure for its cancerous chasm. I saw the Woodsman, holding what appeared to be a tiny lump of coal, the same size as the blue-green marble he’d held before. The Woodsman squeezed his hand and the world around me darkened. Just as I felt I would scream from unbearable pressure, the crushed world emerged from his grip a diamond. I gasped air in relief.

I saw a new world, once more a life-filled blue-green, the old black coal delivered from its curse and pain and shame, wondrously remade.

It looked so easy for the Woodsman to shape all this with his hands. But then I saw his scars… and remembered it was not.

Randy Alcorn, Edge of Eternity (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 1999), 311.

 

 

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