Descending towards the golden city the messenger surveyed the land, squinting as his eyes adjusted to the brilliant glow that lit up the temple below him. "Ah," he sighed as he breathed in the fragrant incense emanating from the temple. "It is good to be home." As his feet came to rest on the soft green grass, the messenger carefully folded his wings and proceeded through the golden gates. Entering the temple he then washed his hands and face in the golden laver that stood just outside the inner sanctuary. He didn't want a molecule of dust from the world below to prevent him from seeing the King. Four powerful beings protected the King, and they would not allow even the slightest hint of unholiness to reach His presence.
Being refreshed and renewed by the waters of life, the messenger now approached the inner sanctuary with caution. Though he had been summoned by the Most High, he knew the power of the one who sat on the throne. Hanging his head in reverence he passed by the four winged beings, who quietly nodded their approval as flashes of lightning and thunderous booms emanated from their wings. Cleared by the winged guardians, the messenger now stepped onto the throne-room floor. From here he could vaguely make out the form of a fiery creature seated high atop a throne of jasper, draped in the "colors of promise" and enveloped in clouds of incense. At the foot of the throne the messenger fell prostrate and laid his sword before the King. "Holy of Holies, I am your humble servant. What message would you like me to take to your people?"
The King, whose radiant appearance shone brighter than the sun, acknowledged the messenger with a nod and then handed him a beautiful piece of parchment sealed with the King's insignia. Flashes of light and perils of thunder shook the temple as the Most High began to speak. "Take this scroll to the one I have chosen," He thundered, shaking the heavens and the smaller thrones that surrounded him. "My plans must be set in motion, and my glory must be revealed. My sheep are in need. Now go, for you have been sent by the Most High!"
The messenger returned his sword to its sheath, and then bowed once more as he walked backwards and he gracefully exited the presence of the Holy One. Unfolding his wings and bowing his head in reverence one last time, he flew past the four guardians, past the golden laver and back into the silvery tunnel of lights. As the glory of heaven faded behind him, an image appeared in the distance and steadily moved towards him.
It was a beautiful spring morning; the dew was glistening on the ground, birds were chirping in the trees, and little squirrels were scurrying from yard to yard in search of buried nuts. Janice, a beautiful silver-haired woman with warm brown eyes, yawned and stretched, breathing in the fresh smell of the new morning. Yawning again, she then sat up in bed and listened to the wonderful song of God's creation. She loved spring mornings, when the whole earth seemed to bubble with the joy of the Lord.
"How can anyone not know there is a Creator when they see mornings like these?" she said, yawning once more while pulling back the covers to search for her slippers. "Now where did those things go?"
The room was slightly chilly from the morning cold. It was one of those spring mornings where it's too warm for the heater yet too cool for the air conditioner, and Janice had turned on neither because she closely watched her pennies. Feeling the cold hardwood floor on her feet still warm from the bed, Janice shivered, remembering that she needed to retrieve the rug from the laundry room downstairs. She had done three loads last night, but had been too tired to bring up the last load, which of course had contained her bedroom area rug. As the cool floor chilled her warm feet, Janice quickly scanned the room for her slippers. "Hum, where are those things?" she mutter as she continued to look around the room." Remembering she had left them under the bed, she lowered herself to her knees and carefully felt around for a few seconds. "Come on, I know you're under here!" Not finding them, Janice reluctantly got down on her belly and poked her head under the bed to get a better view. Finally, she thought as she located the slippers, then pushed herself from under the bed and began to stand up; this is too much work for a woman my age. Her heart seemed to agree as a sharp pain ran up her left arm, sending tingling sensations shooting to her fingertips. The tingling sensation grew stronger then faded as her racing heart skipped a few beats, and then finally returned to a steady yet pulsing beat. Janice put her hand to her aching chest then sat down on the bed, pausing for a moment to catch her breath. It seemed as though she was having more of these pains lately, which would last for just a few seconds and then go away. With the pain lessening and her heartbeat returning to normal, Janice brushed the sweat from her brow then slowly put on her slippers. She hoped that these episodes were nothing too serious, but she had made an appointment with her doctor, just in case.
A little less than year ago Janice had a heart attack, which resulted in a triple bypass and an unwelcome two weeks' hospital stay. She hated hospitals and was hoping to avoid ever going back there again, but these little episodes seemed to be increasing. Nah, she thought, it's probably just that pizza I ate last night with the grandkids. It's probably nothing, and besides, I just bought some fresh pansies from the lawn and garden store, which I want to get planted right away.
The pretty white and purple flowers were her late husband's favorite and would look great around the big oak tree Janice and her husband had planted twenty years ago. "Why did you have to go and leave me so soon?" she whispered. A tear formed in the corner of her eye as she looked out the window at the tree, and thought of the wonderful times she'd had with her husband. The tall winding oak, which seemed to sway and weep with her, was an awesome symbol of their abiding love. They had seen it grow as their family grew, and each spring Janice and her husband had planted fresh pansies around its trunk. Even after her husband had developed cancer, they still managed to take time and continue this treasured activity.
Janice wiped the tears from her eyes. She was not going to let a little pain break the tradition; besides, she was only sixty-five and she wasn't about to exit the world today. She had many things to do, and dying was not on the list. Pushing all these thoughts from her head and gazing one last time at her beautiful tree, she slowly rose from the bed then made her way towards the closet to get dressed. The morning sun seemed to hear her cry as it kissed her tear stained cheek and warmed her heart with its soft rays. As the sun continued to warm the cold room a meadowlark flew up to her window and began to sing a happy tune. He turned his head toward Janice, gazed at her for a second, then fluffed his wings before continuing on his journey. Her mood brightened by the warmth of the sun and the cheerful ballad of the meadowlark, Janice began humming her own happy tune, one that always cheered her up when she was just a little girl. "Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so." She loved that song and remembered singing it when she felt happy as well as sad. The song always seemed to make her feel safe and secure, like Jesus was right there listening. "Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong." She just couldn't seem to get that song out of her head today and continued to sing the song as she ate, did the dishes, and then headed out to get her gardening tools.
The cool morning weather was as wonderful as she had hoped, and last night's light rain shower had made the ground perfect for planting. Janice knelt down, made a shallow hole with her hand spade, and then gently dropped in the first plant. She did the same for the next five plants, and then stopped to catch her breath. Something was wrong and she just didn't feel right. The earth started to spin, and the purple and white pansies faded in and out as another sharp pain ran up her arm; this one even more severe than the last. She tried to stand up, but fell backwards and hit her head on the tree. "Help," was all she could gasp as her body went limp. A neighbor, who was out mowing his lawn and saw her fall, quickly ran to her aide.
"Hello, Matthews' residence," answered a woman in her forties as she quickly picked up the phone.
"Hi, this is Barb from Saint Jude's Hospital; am I speaking to Karen Matthews?"
"Yes, this is Karen…?"
"We have just admitted your mother, Janice Martin; she's currently being treated for suffering a heart attack," replied the nurse.
Karen set down her laundry basket and gripped the phone tighter. The room was spinning. "Did you say Janice Martin, and she's been admitted to St. Judes?"
"Yes, that is correct Mrs. Matthews," the nurse repeated.
"Sure, I mean thanks for calling. I'll be right there."
Karen hung up the phone and immediately called Darin, her husband, informing him of her mother's condition. As she hung up the phone she sank back into the chair, fear washing over her. "No, not now!" she insisted as she began to cry. Over the past year, her mother had been in and out of the hospital with heart complications. Each time she had bounced back, but the stress had taken a toll on Karen and her family. Just a year ago they thought they were going to lose her, but miraculously she bounced back ready to enjoy her family, her faith and her flowers; the three good F's, as she liked to put it. She and dad had loved flowers, and took great care in keeping them in top shape. I bet she was out there planting today. I told her to take it easy. Why won't she listen to me? Anger billowed up inside her as she headed towards the door, wiping tears from her eyes as she grabbed her keys.
After the last heart attack, Karen knew this would eventually come, but not now. Sam, her son, was graduating from college; Joni, her daughter, was having her first baby; and her husband Darin's business was not doing well. Karen needed her mom; she needed her strength as a Christian, and her wisdom in tough situations. Why now when everything seemed to be crumbling around her? Why God? I just don't understand!
Karen stepped out the front door and was greeted by the bright sun warming her face. Birds were singing away, little squirrels were chattering, and the whole world seemed to be smiling. But Karen was not smiling; she was hurt, confused, and mad at God. How could He not answer her prayers? Didn't God hear all the prayers that she prayed every night for her mom's health? She was only sixty-five; she was supposed to be there for the birth of her great-grandchild, and to be there when Karen needed her. And on top of everything else her mom was a good person, a believer who served the Lord with all her heart. Why had He not healed her?
She slammed the car door and drove towards the hospital, her fingers gripping the steering wheel tighter and tighter as she became frustrated with the situation. Oh Jesus, are you really there? Janice fumed. What am I going to do? We can't take another financial burden. We have Sam's college to pay for; Joni and Jim will need help with the new baby. Karen rounded the corner to the hospital and turned into the parking lot. Lord you know Darin's job is in a slump and we're barely paying for the house. Mom always said you'd never leave us, but God, I just don't see or feel like you care right now.
Karen was so distraught that she didn't even see the car backing out. She heard the horrible sound of metal crunching against metal, and then realized that it was her own car that had slammed right into the side of a beautiful red Jaguar. The owner jumped out of his car and started brushing coffee off his pinstriped gray suit. He looked as though he had just come from a very important meeting.
"What in the world do you think you're doing?" yelled the man. "Are you crazy?"
Awakened by some unseen force, Janice opened her eyes and looked around the room. She was no longer planting flowers by the tree, but now she was in a hospital room with white walls and a little border with purple and blue flowers, just like the ones she had been planting around the tree. Continuing to survey her surroundings, Janice found a container of water by her bed and an IV hanging from a pole that was attached to her hand, but for some odd reason she felt no pain, not even where the IV needle had been inserted. She closed her eyes and shook her head thinking, what happened? When she reopened her eyes she now found herself above her body and ascending at a very fast rate towards the ceiling. She blinked her eyes once again and found the hospital building was now below her and was becoming smaller by the second. Suddenly a beautiful multi-colored tunnel of light appeared above her and sparkled and shone like the sun, beckoning her to come towards it. All fear and anxiety were erased, and a sense of peace and tranquility filled her spirit.
An unseen force was still moving Janice through the tunnel when suddenly a figure with massive wings wearing garments as pure as newly fallen snow emerged at the other end and came towards her. In the figure's right hand was a brown paper scroll, sealed with a radiant red marking, which was formed in the shape of a roaring lion. On the figure's left hip flashed a brilliant double-edged sword pulsing with a blue fire. The blue flame seemed to consume the blade, but did not burn or scorch it. The figure, who seemed to be in a hurry, quickly moved past her as he directed her to continue down the tunnel. Who was that? Janice thought. Still pondering this question she moved closer to the tunnel's opening. A glorious light flooded over Janice, causing her to squint while her pupils adjusted. Am I in heaven?
Looking to her left she noticed a riverbank that was lined with trees, gorgeous flowers, and all kinds of animals. Among these animals was a massive gray wolf with rippling muscles and large white teeth. The wolf made his way to the riverbank where he took a long drink of water, lapping up the cool water as it quietly bubbled over the rocks. After finishing his drink he stretched, yawned, and then made his way over to a small grove of fruit trees that lined the bank. The wolf stretched again then curled up beside a sleeping sheep, nuzzling his nose into the sheep's soft wool coat. But to Janice's amazement, the sheep didn't run or seem to be afraid; it merely acknowledged his presence, and then went right back to sleep. The sleeping pair looked as though they were best friends instead of natural enemies. In a tree above the resting pair, a black and white bird sang with all its heart as it perched on the back of a yellow striped cat, who was napping on one of the trees' branches. The cat yawned, licked his paw, and then fell back to sleep, unprovoked and not bothered at all by the singing bird. Janice blinked in amazement at the incredible sight before her. Here were four natural enemies resting peacefully beside each other just like the Bible described.
Behind the beautiful garden Janice could see an incredible light that illuminated a golden building, which was made of the brightest and purest gold Janice had ever seen. She could not decide if the gold was the source of the light, or if the light enhanced the beauty of the gold; whichever the case, the sight was almost too wonderful to behold. Making the beauty of the building even more magnificent was the multitude of colorful stones inlaid into each golden block, colors from the most brilliant ruby red to the deepest emerald green. Matching the stones were twelve glorious gates, out of which multitudes of people clothed in white entered and exited.
The gate, inlaid with a brilliant rose-colored stone, opened slowly where seconds later a glorious creature appeared and began to walk towards her. His wings were as white as fresh snow, and his face shone like the sun. "Welcome," boomed the figure standing in front of her, his massive wings slowly waving back and forth. "The King has been expecting you. Fall on your knees and worship the Most High."
As the presence of God poured over her, Janice's knees gave way, and the words "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty, who was and is and is to come," rolled out of her mouth. In all her years as a Christian she had never felt the presence of God this strong. Peace rolled over her like a river and she felt like crying, but only joy flooded her soul. When she opened her eyes she was in the throne room and Jesus was seated before her. His face shone like the sun and many seraphim surrounded Him. "Oh, my Lord and Savior," Janice cried as she bowed before her King. What a joy to finally see the Savior she had loved all these years. "Jesus, Jesus thank you for saving me."
Jesus stepped down from his throne and took Janice's hand, lifted her up and embraced her. "Janice my wonderful child. Oh how I have longed for you to come into your reward. Well done, good and faithful servant."
Karen shut her eyes and took a deep breath, "Lord, not now!" she sighed as she got out of her car and quickly made her way to the Jaguar to assess the damage. "Oh great," she muttered to herself as she assessed the damage. Just as she had feared, her front bumper had caved in the jaguar's passenger door. This will cost a bundle, not to mention a hike in her insurance rate.
Karen turned back to face the man, who was leaning on his car and attempting to dial out on his cell phone. "My mother has just had a heart attack, I've had an awful day, and I just didn't see you!" Karen's stress was written all over her face as blood began to ooze from a wound on her forehead. She took one more step, stumbled, and then fell right into the man, sending his cell phone crashing to the pavement.
"Here, you're bleeding, take my handkerchief," spoke the man as he picked her up and helped her sit down on the parking lot curb. "I'm sorry for yelling at you like that," he said, his face flushed red with embarrassment. "I'm always spouting off my mouth before I think. I guess acting like a jerk just runs in my family."
Karen took the handkerchief, checked to see if it was clean, and then pressed it to her forehead. She couldn't help but grin. Hearing this 6'4" handsome man apologizing profusely like a little child was a bit comical. "It's ok," she smiled, "you probably have had a bad day too."
"Not as bad as yours," the man said, holding out his hand to shake Karen's. "My name is Andy; I work at this hospital. Why don't you just give me your name and information? I'll give you mine, and then I'll wait for the officer to show up so you can go in and see how your mom is doing."
"That would be great," Karen sighed, digging around in her purse for her license and insurance card.
Janice's heart overflowed with emotion upon hearing the words "Well done thou good and faithful servant" spoken to her by her Lord. For all her Christian life she had waited to hear these words, to see and be able to embrace her Savior. "Oh, Lord, what must I do? How can I continue to serve you now that my time is finished on earth?"
"That is not true, my child. You have done well, but your task is not yet finished."
"What do you mean Lord?" Janice questioned. "Have I not entered into my final rest?"
"No, Janice; I have something I would like to show you first. Your daughter has doubted her faith, and I have sent My messenger to open her eyes."
"What do you mean, Lord?" Janice asked, looking confused. "How are you going to open her eyes, and what does it have to do with me?"
Jesus smiled while cupping her hand in His, and He replied, "Janice, you have been a faithful servant and your life is a tapestry of how I have walked with you. In every moment and in every detail of your life, I have been there. I carried you through each and every storm, just like I do for all my children."
"Oh, Lord, I know this now, but I also know there were times when I failed You. Are You going to show Karen everything?"
"Yes, Janice, she will see everything you went through in your life, but she will also be aware of things and circumstances that you were not aware of until much later in your life. I will show her how much I care for every one of my precious lambs, and how I guided and directed your steps," Jesus said squeezing her hand.
Janice looked around at all the beauty of heaven, the angels, the people worshiping, the four guardians that Ezekiel and John had written about, the glorious temple and so much more. Do I really have to leave right now? she thought to herself. "So, what would you ask of me, Lord?"
"Janice, you are now a part of the great witnesses. You will not be able to interact with your daughter, but you will see everything that she is going through, and hear everything she hears. Your body is still alive, but your spirit remains in heaven until her journey through the past is over. I will then send you back to your family."
"Lord," Janice said, hugging Jesus, "You are so wonderful! Thank you for giving me the privilege to be used in this way. Blessed be the name of the Lord. "
Karen had written down Andy's insurance information, and then quickly headed towards the hospital. Her head was pounding and she was still a little dizzy, but the wound had stopped bleeding. She rounded the corner, saw the reception sign, and then rushed towards the counter. "Can you tell me what room Janice Martin is in? I'm her daughter," she gasped, suddenly feeling exhausted from the accident and head wound. The receptionist looked up and saw Karen's stressed and tear-stained face, the cut on her forehead, and quickly typed in the name.
"She's in room 10, ICU," the receptionist replied, gently putting her hand on Karen's. "Are you okay?"
"Yes, I'll be fine. Thank you," said Karen as she took a deep breath and let out a sigh. She was feeling kind of woozy and her head hurt, but she had to get to her mother's room. As Karen walked down the hall quickly, anger flooded back into her heart. Jesus, how could You do this to me! We can't afford to fix that car. Why haven't You helped me today? I just don't know if you even care anymore! Tears flooded her eyes as Karen walked into room 10. "Why, Jesus why?" she cried, taking one more step before collapsing in a heap on the cold hospital room floor.
A nurse who had been in her mother's room rushed to her side to check her pulse then quickly sent out a STAT call. "I need some assistance here in room 10 STAT! A woman has just collapsed on the floor!"