As I write this,
Easter is near. It makes me remember my mom getting me up on that Sunday
morning, and putting on my new dress, shoes, and hat for church. After we had a big dinner at Aunt Sue’s with
my cousins. My favorite part was the Easter egg hunt! Uncle Ron would hide dozens
of eggs outside with candy and change inside. One gold egg had a $1 bill, so we
all tried to find it first. I didn’t understand what Easter really signified. Some
years it was the only time we went to church. It wasn’t because Mom didn’t want
to or didn’t believe. I think it was because by Sunday, all she wanted was
rest. When we went to church, it was First Baptist. I remember my mom sometimes
said a prayer before dinner, and she did tell us to say our prayers before
bedtime. I would ask God to take care of us, give us food and shelter, and take
care of sick people.
young, we don’t have control over our religious actions or beliefs. They come
from parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers…and the church itself. I had a
children’s Bible with stories I liked to read, but honestly, I thought they
were just stories. They talked about heaven too. I thought they were
make-believe stories like my other books were.
One Easter when
I was in third grade, we got baskets of candy at school from our teacher. She
told us we couldn’t eat any until we got home. As we were leaving, I was
sneaking to open up my ring pop. A boy leaned up and whispered to me “If you
eat that now, you will go to H-E double hockey sticks!” I knew that was a bad
word, and I told him so. He said it wasn’t a bad word, it was where the devil
lived. He said he was going to heaven to be with God, because he was going to
do what the teacher said. Walking the nine blocks home to my house sucking on
my ring pop, I started wondering if I was really going to H-E double hockey
sticks. I don’t think I understood God at all, but that night I prayed. I said I was sorry for eating my ring pop
before I got home. I asked God to let me go to heaven.
As I got
older, I heard and read more about God and heaven. When I was twelve, I went to
a weekend camp sponsored by the church. It was there that I learned that you either
believed or you didn’t believe. I was a smart kid, so I was intrigued to figure
out which category I fit in. There was a girl at camp I knew in middle school,
Denise. When it came to religion, she seemed to know more than any of my
friends. I didn’t know her well, but she wanted to help me. She said she loved
spreading the "word of God."
me I would get messages from heaven from loved ones who had died and gone
there. She told me stories about messages she’d received from her great grandma,
June. My Pawpaw had never sent me a message. He was the only person close to me
who had died then. Denise said I needed to believe the Bible was true. She told
me if I went to church every Sunday, I would be a believer. As I mentioned, I
was inquisitive. I needed to do research, to get facts about God, Jesus, heaven
and hell, miracles, and these messages.
I learned religion
is based on faith. Parts of the bible can’t be proven. To have proof that God
exists, you have to BE God. Denise had been right and wrong. The bible may not all
be factual since it a combination of 66 books written about hundreds of people.
There are parts that are actual historical events. Others contain what can be
described as symbolic, yet they teach love and faith. After asking questions without
definitive answers, I spent the next decade confused, not willing to commit,
and unsure what I believed.
It was after
my dad, Ernie, died suddenly of a heart attack when I was 26, that I felt
compelled to learn more about heaven and hell. He was only 48. We didn’t have
much of a relationship after he and mom divorced when I was young. I was
struggling with why he had to die just when I had reconnected with him. Two
weeks earlier, he’d met my two daughters for the first time. But I didn’t
remember him ever going to church. I don’t think I ever heard him talk about
God or faith.
Friends at his
funeral said they were praying for me, and that Dad was in a better place. The
preacher giving the sermon didn’t know my dad. I listened closely as he talked
about life after death in heaven with God. I was afraid. As horrible as it is
to say, I wasn’t sure if my dad was in heaven. But what was the alternative?
Surely, he wasn’t in hell. It seems that death is as mysterious as life can be.
I wanted to
be a believer. I wanted the facts and the lessons. I got a Living Bible and started
reading. I became hooked on finding answers to my questions through its
words. I was working full-time and raising three children, but each night I
read and prayed.
At 36, I got
my first "Message from Heaven." I was in the kitchen cleaning up supper. My seven-year-old
son, Derek, randomly asked me about my dad. I rarely talked to my children
about him, especially Derek, since he died before he was born. I began telling him
about his grandpa Ernie. I left out that my dad was an alcoholic, that he’d
spent time in prison, and that I hardly knew him. What I did tell him were the great
things about Grandpa.
basketball. My dad was a star in high school. He held the free throw record for
twenty years. My dad played with us whenever he was home. He got down on his
hands and knees and gave us horseback rides. We went to his softball games. He
got hot dogs and popcorn for us while we watched. He liked to tease mom and
scare her, so she’d scream, and we’d laugh. Derek loved hearing the stories,
and afterwards he went outside to tell his friends about his grandpa Ernie.
Back at the kitchen
sink, I looked out the window. There it was. My first message from heaven. I
had never seen a caterpillar climbing up this window. How did I know it was a
message from heaven? Whenever my dad would find caterpillars in our backyard, he
brought them inside for us to see and feel. There it was. My message. My dad must
be in heaven. It was the first of many more to follow. I am no longer confused
or uncommitted. I have to admit there are still times when doubt creeps in, but
I have faith. I am a believer, not because of facts. Because of "Messages from