I have never been to Europe and have always longed to go. When my little sister was still in her teens she had the opportunity. When I saw her pictures I was so jealous that she had actually seen the Parthenon and Chartres Cathedral and many of the other edifices and artworks I had marvelled over while studying to become an interior designer. When I asked about the subjects of her photos she admitted that she had no idea what most of them were or what they represented. She just figured that they must be a big deal since everyone was taking pictures of them. (She has since returned to Europe with a much greater sophistication and appreciation for its art treasures.)

A few years ago I was planning a speaking trip to South Africa. I guess I knew as much as the average person about the end of apartheid and the leadership of Nelson Mandela. But I also knew the trip would be much more interesting and meaningful if I learned a lot more. One of the sources of my research was Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Feedom. It not only was a long walk, but also a long book. I guess it takes quite a few pages to tell a story decades in the making. And when you spend 27 years in prison, there’s time to recall and document a lot of detail. It was a very inspiring read. As I anticipated, it made the trip fascinating. I recognized the names of streets and places as the names of Mandela’s partners in the struggle for equality. I understood the significance of locations and why people of colour were welcome in some churches and not others. Learning about the country made it more excited to go there.

These days I am learning more about heaven. After all, I have a one way ticket to that place. And two treasured members of my family will be travelling there sooner rather than later, I think. Here are some lovely words I came across recently.

Heaven… is that place-

Where everything lasts forever,

Where love fills every heart,

Where praise never stops,

Where pain never enters,

Where joys never cease.

These are not words based on wishful thinking or vague hopes. They are words based on terra firma from the Bible. They are words of hope and joy I reflect on as I grieve the impending temporary separation from those I love so dearly. And I am reminded that because of this heaven, this place Jesus died inviting me to, my grief is tinged with hope:

And now, brothers and sisters, I want you to know what will happen to the Christians who have died so you will not be full of sorrow like people who have no hope.

~I Thes. 4:13 NLT