The following story is a work of fiction, obviously. If you haven't read my previous post on Heaven, Homeward Bound, please read that first. It sets up the concept of Heaven that this story illustrates.
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3)
I awake in my own bed. But it's far more comfortable, somehow, than the bed I fell asleep in. For one thing, it's clearly not a hospital bed. I open my eyes and see a room that's strange and familiar at the same time. It's much nicer than any room I've ever stayed in, but has many familiar objects in it that I recognize. I prop myself up on one elbow, and am not surprised to see Baby Bear next to me, the teddy bear I slept with from infancy through elementary school. His formerly ragged brown coat gleams, and his formerly missing button eyes are now eyes that look real, and shine brightly. I resist the urge to curl up with him again and get out of bed.
Across from the bed is the desk set I had in my teenage years. The closet is filled with every article of clothing I loved to wear on earth, but made of materials I could never have afforded. There's a keyboard and a guitar by a window through which an unearthly light shines. I have no doubt where I am. I'm in my rooms in my Father's House.
Presently, the door opens. The most beautiful woman I've ever seen enters, and smiles at me. "So you're awake," she says. I run to her like I hadn't been able to do since I was in that hospital bed, and we embrace. Sharon looks to me like she did when she was forty years old; blonde and tan. My favorite version of her. But somehow, she also looks both older and younger. I can now also see the woman she became in my absence; a towering figure of strength.
"I'm glad you look like you did at forty," I say to her with a sly grin on my face.
"What do you mean?" she replies. "I look like I'm thirty!"
"Not to me, you don't." At thirty, her hair was long and black, and her skin was pale. That was her favorite version of herself.
"When I look in the mirror, I look thirty to me. But others see me at different ages, or some combination," she explains. As the words pass her lips, suddenly she looks like she did when we met as teenagers. It's bewildering and wonderful at the same time. Suddenly, I need to see what I look like.
In the mirror, I look about thirty years old. My curly brown hair is more relaxed and longer than it had ever been on earth, hanging down around my shoulders. The way I had always wished my hair would behave. In Heaven, I'll finally be able to rock my hair. My body looks and feels stronger than my old one ever was. Health and vigor radiate from me. But somehow, I still have the scars on my legs from accidents in my childhood. Then I remember that Jesus' resurrected body had its scars too.
"Stop staring at yourself, handsome," she smirks. "Would you like some coffee?" Coffee! I hadn't had coffee since my old body started deteriorating. Now, with this new body, I crave it. I can smell it brewing in the next room. "I also made some apple pie for you. It's better than I ever could have made on earth. The apples here are incredible." Now I know I'm truly in Heaven.
As we walk into the next room, I see a man I don't recognize. 'That's Josh," Sharon says. "He's just finishing up some work on the room. He's the maintenance guy here. You should see his carpentry work." Josh gets up from his work and walks toward me, smiling. "So glad you're here, Mark. But then, you always have been," he says with a twinkle in his eye. I offer a formal handshake, but Josh gives me a big hug. Somehow, I know exactly what he means. In a sense, I have always been here. My time on earth was a brief visit compared to eternity here.
I walk to the window. A golden city beyond my wildest imaginings appears before me. "Just ask the window to show you anything you'd like to see in Heaven, and it will appear." Josh says. "If you see someplace you'd like to go or someone you'd like to see, just touch the glass, and you'll be translated there instantly." The glass is transparent to the point of invisibility, but when I touch it, it's harder than diamond.
"Is that how we get around Heaven?" I ask him.
"You can, but we also enjoy walking here," Josh replies. "With these bodies, you never get tired. And time never passes, so there's no need to hurry."
A voice comes from the kitchen. "Hey guys, coffee and pie are on!" Josh and I exchange a look. "Her pie really is the best," Josh says. "You were right about that."
The three of us sit down to a leisurely breakfast. Now Sharon's hair is the glorious salt-and-pepper color of her late fifties and sixties, but her face looks no age at all. Or every age at once. I think to myself, "I could get used to this." The coffee makes the brief time I lived without it worth every minute. The pie is, well, heavenly.
As we eat, drink, and bask in the wonder of it all, people start walking in the door. My parents and sisters are the first to arrive. I marvel at how healthy and strong my dad looks. He no longer needs a cane or a walker. He looks, acts, and laughs like he did before he ever got sick. All of my family seems to share that ageless quality I saw in Sharon.
My friend Galen Koch comes up behind me. I know it's him by his laugh. The pain of the depression that plagued him for decades on earth is gone. His face radiates pure joy. With him is his wife Jan, looking more beautiful than she ever did on earth, and she was quite something there. Another towering figure of strength, molded by loss, like my Sharon.
Their son Tony is with them, as are their daughters Nicki and Athena. All beam with love for one another, and for me. Nicki's beauty shines like the sun. This is a family reunited for eternity, and my heart can't contain the joy.
Right behind them is our mutual best friend, Nikki Nielsen. Her love for Sharon and me and the family she accompanies is palpable. What I could feel before I now can see all around me. The air is thick with love. I see in her eyes the price she paid to be there for us while I was sick and for Sharon after I fell asleep. My eyes fill with tears, and the embrace we share speaks the words we cannot say.
My college professor and mentor, George Dunbar walks in. He looks stronger than I ever knew him on earth. His voice is clear, and his eyes still command that awe and respect that they did in our former life. His wife Linda is with him. Her laugh sounds like bells ringing.
My closest friends during my time with cancer start to show up. Some I'm seeing in person for the first time. The rooms are full of people, but it never seems crowded. I'm surrounded by loved ones. I am home.
One by one, our guests go about their business. Apparently, we have jobs in Heaven. I wonder what mine will be. When it's just Sharon, Josh and me again, I ask Josh, "Do you have other rooms to work on after mine?"
"I always have more rooms to prepare, but since you're just getting started, I thought I'd show you around a bit. Some events are planned for you." I raise my eyebrows. Events? This should be fun. "Your first should be arriving presently."
"That sounds wonderful, Josh," I reply. "But I want to go to the Throne Room. I want to see Jesus."
"He is with you all the time," says Josh. "The light that comes through that window comes from the Throne. There is no sun here, only the Light of Jesus. He will see you when you are ready to see him."
I find this statement impossible to argue with, so I remain quiet. I hear a knock at the door that sends a thrill up my newly cancer-free spine. I wonder who it could be. Sharon just smiles like she knows what's coming. She does, of course.
I get up and answer the door. It's Eric Gillette, standing right in front of me, like he did at Morsefest. The lead guitarist for The Neal Morse Band. His career was just starting when I arrived here. His album, The Great Unknown, helped me through a difficult time in my cancer journey. I did all I could on earth to get his name out. I felt a calling to do so. To see him now, with the wisdom of years in his eyes, he reminds me so much of his dad. Eric is the first person I've seen here who isn't better looking in Heaven. That's because it's impossible for him to get any better looking.
"Hi Mark!" says Eric, with a big smile on his face. "We're so glad you're here."
"Eric!" I cry, "What an honor! What brings you to my door?"
"We have a concert planned for you," says Eric. "I know how much you wanted to hear The Great Unknown live, and I never got the chance to perform it for you on earth. You also never heard any of my subsequent albums. I want to thank you for what you did for me by performing a concert of The Great Unknown, and each album after it, in their entirety. The audience consists of those who found out about me because of you. Come to the venue. We're ready to start."
Earth Mark would have begun crying at this point, but all I feel now is joy. I turn to Josh and ask, "Should we use the window, or walk? You know, I've always heard that when God closes a door, he opens a window."
All three look at me patiently. Apparently they've heard that one before. "Let's walk," says Josh. "It's not far." We walk out of my door onto the streets of Heaven.
Don't ask me to describe it. I can't. Just ask the prophet Isaiah and John the Apostle. When you try to describe what Heaven looks like in earth language, it just sounds weird. It's like describing the most beautiful dream you've ever had to someone, and it ends up sounding lame. I have no eyes for the scenery anyway. What I can't take my eyes off of are the people. Such indescribable beauty, serenity, and love emanates from everyone I see.
Every few steps, someone stops me and tells me of the impact I had on their life. Some were because of music, others because of my testimony. My heart is very full, but never reaches its limit to receive this love. My feet never leave the ground, but I feel like I'm walking on air.
Eric, Josh, Sharon and I arrive at the venue. Eric's wife Jaci appears at the door. Her beauty almost knocks me over. But it's not her outer beauty I see. I see the heart of a nurse. I'm unsurprised to see my oncology nurse, Melanie, and my hospice nurse, Carolyn, with her. The light coming from the hearts of these three is almost too bright to look at.
Eric takes his leave to start the show. The three ladies enfold me in a group hug. Jaci takes us to our places, front and center. "Eric's so excited to do this show for you," Jaci says with a smile. I turn around and see that the crowd looks like about ten thousand people.
"All these people know about Eric because of one Facebook review?" I ask her.
"Not just that," she says. "The blog and the book too. Every one who learned about Eric from you bragged about him to others. Each new fan made more fans, because of you." I'm speechless. "His audience grew much larger than this, but we limited this crowd to those you turned on to his music. But once he wrote that love song that got picked up by a movie, he became a household name."
The familiar strains of the opening title track sounds like the song I've heard at least a hundred times, but more intense and glorious than it ever could have sounded with human ears. The whole concert is overwhelming, and I see the star that Eric became. I can't contain my happiness, and the rest of the concert is a blur of sound, lights, emotion and blessing.
When it ends, I turn to Josh, who is still there with us as my guide. "That was incredible!" I cry.
"It's just the beginning," answers Josh. At that moment, I see Neal Morse walking up to me. Neal was my favorite music artist for the last ten years of my life on earth. His music ministered to me in a unique way during my time with cancer. I'm overjoyed to see him.
"Mark!" Neal calls, "Awesome to see you, man! I know you're not tired, because we don't get tired here. So we have another concert for you, in a larger venue. The band and I are going to perform every album we put out after The Similitude Of A Dream, in their entirety. As with Eric's concert, the audience consists of those who know about me because of you."
'That's why it's good to have these new bodies!" laughs Eric, who has rejoined us. "I can do two marathon Prog shows back to back and never get tired!" My head is spinning from what I've already seen and heard, but I'm ready for more. So we all head out into Heaven's streets to our next concert.
On our way, we pass another large concert venue. EDM - which stands for Electronic Dance Music - pulses from the stage in front of a massive dance floor, which is packed. In the crowd, I can see my friends Derek, Amber, Garrison and Sandie. Derek sees me and gives me a smile. If I know him, he promoted this show. I think I recognize the stunning brunette at center stage. She gives me a wink and keeps on entertaining the crowd, just like I told her to do. It's my friend Anne Bryant, known to her huge fan base as SnoWight. I know we'll get a chance to talk to all of them, so we keep moving.
We arrive at an arena-sized venue. Neal and Eric go backstage, and we're met at the door by Pamela George and Paul Hanlon. Pam just looks at me and laughs. I start laughing too. We're laughing with joy, not just at seeing each other again, but at what Paul is doing. He's dancing. No sign of a wheelchair anywhere. He looks for all the world like a taller, more muscular David Tennant. But like everyone else here, his physical appearance is secondary. His heart is what's making us laugh for joy.
"Are you ready to jump around like crazy Brazilians?" I hear from behind me. There are our friends Daniel, Kyle, and the rest of their crew. "Their music got even better after Similitude. Can't wait for you to hear it!"
"Good thing there's no waiting in Heaven, then." I reply with a grin.
This arena looks like it holds at least 25,000 people, and it's full. Full of people whose knowledge of this band's music originated with my testimony. I don't know what to say. But I don't get the chance to think of something to say, because that's when the music starts. I look back at the sound booth, and there's Rich Mouser with his Echoplex. No digital delays in Heaven.
Each song sounds like their entire catalog up to that point was merely an introduction to the Main Event. I always thought their music heavenly, but here, it's transcendant. It's a good thing no time passes in Heaven. You never run out of time for epics. I'm not the least bit surprised to see Mike Portnoy up there, killing it on the drums and entertaining the crowd, just like he did on earth. He gives me a knowing look, with a nod that says, "Look behind you."
I turn around, and it's Trevor Downing, my former atheist friend from England. He hands me a cold one, like we promised we'd share. Only since he's English, he has a room-temperature one. We clink our pints together and laugh. No words are needed.
The emotion of this concert is almost too much to bear. I know this is how this music was always supposed to sound, but our puny human ears and brains couldn't contain it. In Heaven, we hear it in all its God-given glory.
When the music stops, all my friends from Morsefest and the Neal Morse community surround me and share in my ecstasy. I wonder what could happen after this. As though he heard my thoughts, Josh answers. "We have one more concert for you. I think this one will mean the most."
At that, this vision of a woman comes walking towards me. She looks at once like the girl I knew and the woman I never met. I know her instantly, and my heart leaps. It's my protege, Payton Roybal. She exudes confidence, decades of experience, and professionalism. As I passed from my former life, I wondered if her dreams would come true. Now that I see her, it's all too obvious.
"I'm so happy to see you, Mark!" Payton exclaims. "I missed you so. Like Eric and Neal, I have a concert to perform for you. Unlike them, you never got to hear any of my albums because they all came out after you fell asleep. So I and my band are going to perform my entire discography for you. And again, the audience is made up of those who know about me because of you."
I can't contain my excitement. This really is a dream come true. Our party keeps growing. Everyone I've met so far wants to go to Payton's concert, including the entire Neal Morse band. And of course, they all know about her because I couldn't shut up about her. All of us make our way to the venue. I wonder how large it is.
On the way, Payton and I talk. She assures me that the work we did together made a difference for her. When we arrive, I can see what a difference it made. Her concert is in a stadium that holds at least 100,000 people. And it's jammed. We're greeted by her mom, Marni, and her sister, Delaney. Behind them are my friends Todd and Sandi. We exchange a look and a big laugh. Again, no words need to be spoken. We're together, and that's what matters.
In the crowd, I see many of my friends from The Littleton Conservatory Of Rock. I see the adults they grew to be, and the love they have for me. This is truly home.
The lights go down and the concert starts. On the stage, I see the megastar I always knew was there. She works the stage, pours out intensity, and holds the audience in the palm of her hand. Her voice is so powerful, she needs no microphone, even at heavy metal volume levels. The songs seethe with emotion, and all there are consumed by their power. I realize that this performer before me had reached even higher heights than I thought she would.
"I can see you're proud of her," Josh says in my ear. "I'm proud too. One of the best voices I ever made." I give him a quizzical look. What does he mean by that? Before I can answer, he says, "We have one more event for you."
"The Throne Room?" I ask.
"A reception your honor," he replies. The guest list is everyone who was impacted by your ministry, whether it be your work in music or the witness you bore during your time of trial. Come."
This time, we don't walk. The crowd that had gathered with me does not follow. Josh simply motions, and a window appears. We step through, and arrive at our destination.
We stand in front of doors so high, the tops are obscured by clouds. Beings of pure white guard the doors. Josh signals, and the doors open. On the other side is a crowd beyond counting. Millions, as far as I can see, even with this body's eyes. I am overcome. I turn to look at Josh, and realize who has been guiding me since I awoke. The same one who guided me until I fell asleep. Josh. As in Joshua. As in Yeshua. The Carpenter. Jesus had pulled that Emmaus Road trick on me! Now I see him in all his glory. I fall on my face before him, but he touches me on the shoulder and says, "Look, my son. Look upon this crowd who is here to thank you for your faithfulness. Great is your reward."
I remember what he said in my rooms. That Jesus is always with me, and that he'd see me when I was ready to see him. "Go," he told me. "Receive your reward. You see that brilliant light beyond the crowd? That's the Throne Room. When you've greeted every person who is here to see you, follow the light to my Throne. There I will receive you."
What happens next, I cannot tell. I am engulfed by love, gratitude, and joy. With every step, the light gets brighter. I know I am home. #waroncancer #bearingwitness