Sometimes we meet people by chance and it changes our world. I met my husband while living in an apartment complex with my college roommate. He was living in the complex, too, and mutual friends thought we should meet. Even though there was a large age difference, our friends sensed something in the combination and it completely changed my life; that was 30 years ago. I am still friends with that college roommate and often tease her that my life is all her fault! But I also feel that God puts people in our life’s path to experience different types and levels of relationship. He is training us for the ultimate existence in Heaven. I sometimes think that in Heaven, we will be so absorbed with the Beatific Vision of God and all His Angels and Saints, that nothing else will matter. It will not matter if Aunt Susie is there, or if our dog from childhood runs up to us; we will be so absorbed in what we experience being in the Divine Presence, all else will fade to nothing. There are lots of interpretations of Heaven, but no one has gone there and returned to explain it all to us. Some people have had “near death” experiences and have described the bright light and being at peace, and seeing friends and relatives. There are lots of jokes about Heaven, too. One particular one always tickled me. St. Peter is giving a man a tour of Heaven. They pass several doors. One door has raucous music blaring and you can hear the tinkling of glasses. When the man asks who is in there, St. Peter tells him it is the Baptists, dancing and drinking away. They pass another door where you hear sort of a low droning and St. Peter says to tip-toe past that door. The man asks who is in there and St. Peter says, “Shhh…..it’s the Catholics; they think they are the only ones here.” Always made me laugh. We all have our own version of what heaven will be like and who will be present. And it brings us a modicum of peace in our hectic days.
This past New Year celebration, we were caught up in taking our son to his first “teen” party that went from 6pm to 10pm. Then I retrieved some neighbors from the airport who had spent Christmas in Hawaii. We were all home about 11pm and then we heard fireworks until well after 1am. In CA, they did not do this so it is something new we are getting used to! And we have mortars up here! It is LOUD! Over the day on New Year’s Eve, we were in touch with some dear friends who live in Oregon and we opted to drive down there, early on New Year’s Day to spend the day and night with them, as my husband had the 2nd off work. Our best intentions were to arise early and be on the road by 7am, for the 4 hour-drive. Well, we awoke playing roles in that old movie, “Home Alone!” We both sat up at 7:30am, lamenting, “We slept in!!!” We got ourselves together and got onto the highway about an hour later than we had intended. But it all worked out for the best. The drive was easy and colorful (we saw lots of snow) and the dogs eventually settled in for the drive, and we got there easily enough.
The people we were visiting have been close, close friends for more than 25 years. We have shared so much of each other in those many years. We have borne children, buried children, and buried parents together. We have spent time in emergency rooms together, praying over the health of one or another of us. We have cried over the phone about our children, and celebrated birthdays, graduations, marriages, and now grandchildren. These friends know us about as well as we know ourselves. Our son was trying to explain the relationship to his wife, as she thought there was some sort of familial relationship. He explained that as little children, we practically raised them together. Our middle son used to nap with the husband because he was a dairyman and napped mid-day. Because of that, he called our friend “da-da” before he said that to his own father! LOL! We joke about that all the time. We used to spend inordinate hours playing pinochle, and used to put their 4 children and our 2 children (at the time) all in the same bed to sleep, while we played cards long into the night. My girlfriend is a photographer and she was the photographer for that same middle son, and his wife, at their wedding this past summer. They are expecting their first child in May and my friend’s daughter is expecting her first child in June. We love how intertwined our lives have been and continue to be.
We drove down to see them because our friend has had some health issues and my husband just needed some “manly bonding time” with his best friend. It was good to be together and laugh and talk and share our lives. Friends like this come only rarely into our lives and I believe God gave them to us as a foreshadowing of His great love for us. How we can form such tight and inexplicable bonds with people we meet in happenstance and very, very invested in each other lives we can become. God wants us to love our neighbor as ourselves and with this particular bond of friendship, we do. We literally have had them save the life of my husband on one very momentous occasion and we have supported them through some very difficult times, as well. This weekend just further cemented our friendship and I cannot believe what a blessing it is for both families.
The very interesting thing about this relationship is that it is literally one of the closest relationships my husband and I share, outside of our marriage. And it crosses religious lines. They are very, very Protestant and their children are as well. Their eldest son was recently granted a doctorate in Philosophy and their middle son has his master’s and teaches, along with his wife, at a Protestant High School in California. We are not only Catholic, but we are Byzantine Catholics, which liturgically are pretty far apart. But the bonds of friendship we have cross through and over how our families choose to worship. I would not consider going through a life event like our son’s wedding or the funeral of a family member, without them present and they would not, either. We have attended graduations and weddings, showers and funerals for each other’s families over the years and we could not imagine a life event without them there, standing beside us. Because we pray together, we talk together, and we hold one another up in life. The way in which we choose to experience God, and experience our form of worship is very different, but our faith is the same. And I think this is how Heaven is for us. We may approach the Throne of God in completely different ways, and we may envision Heaven completely differently, to the point of the joke wherein we think our “group” or sect or whatever you want to call it, is the only group who made it to Heaven. God is the God of love. When I think of all the people in communist China, who have never been told of Christ and His Mercy, His Love, His Church, I cannot believe that God will keep them out of the place of His Dwelling. My friends may not use incense or receive Communion, nor do they practice confession or even know the Jesus Prayer or a Hail Mary, but their hearts live for their faith in God and they conduct themselves in Godly ways, and they love with the love of Christ and they are fierce in their devotion to family and friends. Maybe God will allow us, when we have all completed our journey, to have an incredibly fun and fruitful pinochle game in Heaven….maybe His presence, off in the distance, is all we need to feel at home. Maybe we won’t be seated at His Right Hand, but we get some nosebleed seats in the “stadium” that is Heaven. As long as I am there, being next to Him, I believe, won’t matter. Maybe He is preparing us to share ourselves with a host of others who believe in Him, like our friends we have enjoyed and loved these many years. Maybe we all just need to love first, and get along, as the prerequisite for eternal happiness in Heaven with God. Maybe that is our life lesson…
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(John 13:34-35)
As we remember and celebrate the Feast of Holy Theophany, or the Baptism of Our Lord, let us remember His precepts to love one another. Cherish your family and friends; renew your dedication to the welfare of those the Lord has placed in your path. I thank God for my family, and for my friends, who are the railings I need to keep my pathway to Heaven clear! “…By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”