July 1997 — We took my wife’s 85-year-old widowed mother home last week, to a little stone house in Tennessee which Granddad built for her 57 years ago and in which she has lived ever since. Sara Faye carried her by car to experience the transition, then stayed the remainder of the week to help her get readjusted. I flew to Nashville Saturday afternoon, and drove back to Houston with Sara Faye on Saturday night and Sunday.
Back in Franklin, Tenn., we visited Granddad’s grave, beside both of Grandma’s parents, and next to a plot where Grandma will rest one day if Jesus doesn’t come first. “There’s just nobody left,” she remarked, as we drove down her familiar street, canopied with silver-leaf maples and aged oaks. Indeed, most of her contemporaries and many of her acquaintances have passed on.
We love those hills of Middle Tennessee, where Sara Faye was born, and just 90 minutes up Interstate 65 from my place of origin in beautiful North Alabama. The earth itself seems sacred in one’s birthplace. When Autumn comes, one might suppose heaven has descended to earth in the leafy spectrum of golds and oranges, reds and browns — and in the Fall foilage of flowers and bushes both wild and domestic.
We don’t have that in Houston, and our hearts miss it. But we have the most glorious sunsets, and the hugest sky, and the most wonderful billowy white clouds! “The clouds are so low here,” Grandma said day after day throughout her Texas visit. “It just seems like you’re closer to heaven than we are back home.” “Funny,” we thought, as we drove down from Texarkana under a sky full of white cottony clouds. “Grandma was right. The clouds ARE closer to us here.” I would miss that in Tennessee or North Alabama.
The truth is that every place has its own beauty, and no place has it all. And the more variety one experiences, the more one wishes to retain. The soul longs for low, white clouds AND the rolling hills, the flowerful mild February of the Gulf Coast AND the splendor of Autumn leaves. One wishes Granddad could be here (in the strength he enjoyed 20 years ago) AND the children, and one day their children. The soul longs for what this world cannot provide.
But another world is approaching, which the Bible calls the New Heavens and the New Earth — the Kingdom of God — the Age to Come. All God’s people will be there, and no one will ever be sick or suffer or die. I don’t know if it will have rolling hills and low, white clouds all in the same place, or whether the resurrection body will be able to travel instantly about the New Creation. Whatever the details, God will be there, as will our Savior Jesus Christ. Everything now deficient will be complete and everything now broken will be made whole. Our soul-longing will be over. Paradise will be restored.