Imagine all the people…

The other day, an old song was recommended to me via youtube,

And God knew I needed to hear it.

It’s a song I hadn’t heard in a very long time.

It used to be one of the most popular songs in the world.

A movie was made about it, and I like the trailer because it explains the story of how it came to be written.

“I Can Only Imagine” is a famous song written by Bart Millard of MercyMe. His abusive father’s life was completely transformed by Jesus when he came to know Him. When his father eventually died, Bart’s grandmother came up to him at the church and said to him, “I can only imagine what your father is seeing right now…”

After that, those words were stuck in that poor Bart’shead for years.

8 years.

He wrote them down over and over again, but never really knew what to do with them. He would try to write a song, but it just wasn’t coming to him. It became an obsession he would pick up over and over, get frustrated, and put back down. Eventually, Bart realized he would never find peace until he wrote the one song that could express what he felt in his heart about the moment his Dad met Jesus face to face.

Bart Millard & his dad – Credit “The Media Collective”

The song was released in 2001,

And since its release 20 years ago, it has been the only Christian single in HISTORY to go TRIPLE PLATINUM.

Why is this?

Even newbies are impressed to learn how Bart managed to give so many Christians the words to express a love they find more powerful than any earthly romance: the anticipation that they feel for the day when they will get to meet their heavenly father face to face.

– Peter DeBrudge, writer for Variety

That’s it.

That anticipation was finally captured in a song.

“I Can Only Imagine” is one you can really feel the singer’s belief in… Like the depth of belief Bart feels is coming out of his throat and through your speakers like a tidal wave. This isn’t just an ordinary song… This is a Christian’s LIFE ANTHEM. It’s the essence of who we are.

Imagine (verb)

  1. To form a mental image or concept of
  2. to suppose or assume

It is a huge flip from the other very popular Imagine song, which is “Imagine” by John Lennon.

“Imagine there’s no heaven… It’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today. Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.”

In Lennon’s song, everything that divides us is hypothetically stripped away, theorizing that world peace would possible if these things just never existed. I don’t feel John’s intentions were to be in any way abrasive with this song – I quite like it actually. BUT, both ‘Imagine’ songs come from very different perspectives…

One is from the perspective of a man who had no hope,

and the other was from a man that did.

Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel? Will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of you be still? Will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing Hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all? I can only Imagine!

God knew I needed to hear the song,

because He knew I had been struggling with doubt.

I’ve been having an existential crisis for the last few months. Point blank: I have been battling feelings of doubt regarding what happens to us after we die. I am troubled about this admission because I have always believed in an afterlife and in Jesus, and in 2004, I put my trust in Him and sealed the deal.

So why did I suddenly start having these doubts?

  1. I am still battling post partum depression and my emotions are still shot. If you’re not familiar with PPD, it REALLY sends your emotions into OVERDRIVE. The emotions are very often traumatic and troubling, and they don’t always have to do directly with motherhood.. One second I am steadfast in my faith and have no problems; the next, I wonder if I died right now if I’d just cease to exist… Its crazy. There’s a sense of spiritual instability all of a sudden.
  2. I have recently watched several people I know bury their children, and it has really made me ask God WHY. “Why would you let this happen? Are you even up there?!”
  3. This pandemic. As of the publishing date of this post, I know of 22 people who have died due to Covid-19. I’m troubled now as I try to sleep at night, asking God, ‘Why is this happening?’

I think these factors all coming together have created a storm of unsettlement within me. I’ve even said these things aloud, to my own motherWhat if this Jesus thing is just comfort-food for us while we’re alive? – An aide to help us get through life’s challenges? … What if none of this is real? … What if we die and there’s just nothing?

Screenshot from Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” 2004

When I have doubts about my faith, I have to talk about it out loud. I talk about it with God, ironically. I talk about it with my husband, and my parents. I have to process things out loud. It’s too loud to keep buried inside. When I talk about it, I am reminded that just because you have periods of doubt, it doesn’t make you useless to God, or a non-believer. If you have never struggled with doubt, are you really alive? (Lol) I really feel I’m not alone in this at times. I thank God that He allowed certain things to be in the Bible. Example: His disciple Thomas. For me, to know that some of Jesus’s own disciples had doubts WHILE LITERALLY WALKING BESIDE HIM makes me feel a lot of relief… Thomas said, “Unless I put my finger into his wounds, I will not believe!” (-and then up pops Jesus like heyyyy.)

I think if we are all honest with ourselves, most all of us have been Thomas before; and if you’ve been fortunate enough to not know what I’m talking about, you may have not felt what I’m talking about YET.

Real talk: I think a lot of us doubt the existence of God because we don’t want to believe in a God that would allow things in the world that we don’t like. Like suffering, poverty, racism, murder, abuse, etc…

The problem with that is God isn’t responsible for these things being in the world.

We are.

WE brought sin and death to the Earth. WE needed a savior. WE live in a world that is fallen.

Some people are reading this right now thinking, “Man, she’s openly admitting to doubting God right here on the internet.”

Yes. Yes, I am.

I know I’m not a good Christian. I have never claimed to be. But, I WILL tell you this: I’m not a ‘spiritual robot.’. I believe in cultivating authentic Christians. If we’re not authentic about things that we are struggling with, or that matter, we are just living in a charade, and charades are dangerous. I think A LOT of Christians struggle with doubt, and its time we get real about it!

I like this quote regarding doubt:

“If you seriously contemplate your faith in Jesus Christ, then it’s almost inevitable that sooner or later you’re going to have some issues, some questions, some hesitations, some uncertainties or some doubts over one thing or another. This is not just a Christian experience. It is a human experience. It is not Christians who doubt. Atheists also doubt their position from time to time… So the issue isn’t whether or not we’re going to catch this virus of doubt. You probably will if you haven’t yet. The issue is what do you do once you’ve got it? Doubt can produce some positive side effects. It’s like an immunization. You get an immunization to help your body fight off the future disease. What they do is, through the shots they give you; they give you a little bit of that disease. Your body reacts to that little bit of disease and builds up antibodies so if you’re ever exposed to that disease your body will be able to fight it off before it takes hold and causes real problems. Your body is actually stronger from the experience of having had a bit of that disease injected in the first place. And when you’re infected with doubt, if you respond to it by seeking answers to your questions, you can emerge stronger than ever in your faith.(

I’ve even doubted I was saved before…

To the point that I was actually baptized twice.

I thought I was saved, and so I got baptized… but then I realized I wasn’t sure, so to BE sure, on June 24th 2004 I made that right between me and God, and I later chose to be baptized again. Lol. (It’s my belief that baptism doesn’t save a person)

I know im saved now. I’ve got it in writing. Black and white. Pen on paper. I saw myself as a sinner (at nearly age 17 too) and I did what the Bible says, and it goes on to say that He’s ‘never lost a one.”

So if I believe, why do I still doubt some things?

Because I’m a human being.

You need to know that doubt and unbelief are NOT the same. Doubt is to be caught debating between certainties and uncertainties, while unbelief is the literal decision to not believe something. Having doubts doesn’t mean you aren’t saved, but having UNBELIEF does.

So I’m doubting my faith. Now what?

I’ll tell you what you do: You seek answers to your questions. You worship. You allow God to help you through the doubt, as awkward as that sounds. “I Can Only Imagine” is helping me get through this doubt-period. It inspires my belief that there is something more out there, and that helps me.

I’ve been having doubts predominantly about what happens to the human soul when we die. So… I sought information about heaven. What do we know about it?

What the Bible tells us about heaven:

  • Heaven was made along with the creation of the Earth. (Genesis 1:1)

Because heaven was created by God, it also means that heaven and hell are both literal places to go, not a ‘state of mind’ or a ‘realm’. (John 14:2-3) In Revelation, it describes heaven as having gravity, and in John, Jesus told his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many mansions. Were it not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

  • It has streets of gold, walls of jasper, gates of pearl, trees, etc. (Rev. 21:21, 22:2)

This indicates that many things will be recognizable to us there. We also are told there are animals in heaven to some capacity, but to what level, we are not told.

  • Every tribe, tongue, and nation will be represented there. (Revelation 7:9-10)

  • Not everyone will be in heaven (John 3:3).

  • When a redeemed person dies, they immediately are ushered into God’s presence. (2 Corinthians 5:8, Luke 16:19-31) Jesus even told the dying thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise”, which at the time was synonymous with heaven (Luke 23:43).

  • What’s known as ‘Judgement Day’ comes later, along with a glorified body. (2 Corinth. 5:10, Heb. 9:27, Rom 2:16, Rev. 20:11-15, 1 Corinth. 15:52)

I’ve often wondered about this… For example, my grandpa was in a wheelchair when he died. So if he doesn’t have a glorified body YET, how is he getting around in heaven right now? Lol. I know his body is healed & he can walk again. But his glorified body that comes later after the second coming will be completely transformed. (1 Corinth. 15:52) Right now, when we die, our soul goes to heaven, but in the form of a body. This is known because the bible says we receive a robe and crown. Our soul has to therefore have a physical body of its own also.

  • The Bible says that our lives are surrounded by a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ (aka people already in heaven – Hebrews 12:1), but it is still unclear as to whether or not they can ‘see’ what’s going on down here. (Not sure if the verse means those people witnessed our lives here on earth, or if they are witnessing what we are doing right now.) The Bible does not elaborate on this.
  • We will still have individuality in heaven!

What is meant by this? Well, Revelation 2:17 states that we will receive a new name, which is only known between God and yourself, in the form of a white stone. -and in 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul tells us “For now we see in a mirror, dimly; but then, face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” This means we will be known as we were known on earth to those that enter heaven after us. Example: I knew my great grandmother when she died as an old woman. When I get to heaven, I believe she will look the same to me. I will recognize her as I knew her here on earth; but, to her friends, they knew her as a young person, etc… so they will view her that way. Personal recognition in the afterlife will definitely be a thing! When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, Peter, James, & John recognized Elijah and Moses – HOW they knew this is not known.

  • We won’t automatically know everything in heaven. In fact, some things are secret, for example, our new name.

  • We wont be married any longer, which to me, seems sad. (Mark 12:25, Matthew 22:30) But I think when we get there, it will no longer be a big deal to us at that time. This is a topic that can get deep. Lol
  • We won’t become angels.

The Bible says we will be AS the angels (Matthew 22:30), but that doesn’t mean we will BE angels. Human beings are unique in God’s creation in the fact that we required a Savior. God created the angels in heaven, yet he did not save them when they rebelled against Him in the beginning. We fascinate the angels for this very reason. We will be AS the angels simply because we cannot reproduce. (going back to last bullet point)

There are more points, but these are big ones to me.

Today, in this particular part of the post, it is now January 12th, 2021.

I went to see one of my friends for the last time today.

His name is Gary Jennings, and he died from Covid-19 complications two days ago.

He was my boss while I worked at the funeral home years back. We remained good friends after I left.  He was a part of some of the best times in my life. Gary had a way of somehow making everything more fun, and he ‘raised me’ in a profession I came to adore. I have taken his passing very hard this week. Today was the first day of him lying-in-state, and I went to see him, even though I knew it would be very very difficult.

Because I know I wont see him again for maybe another FIFTY years if I’m lucky.

As I peered down on him, I remembered the time he told me he wanted to be buried in a plain pine box, and he got irritated at me when I asked him if they made pine boxes that big. LOL! … I remembered how he helped me dress and put my own grandfather in his casket. I remember when he put ME in a casket to see if it would become a recommendation for the ‘little old ladies’. LOL. I also remembered how upset he got when I gave him my notice at work… I remembered a bullet casing he had on a keyring on his belt-loop all the time, how he told me when Fidel Castro died that he would smoke a Cuban cigar, and years later, how happy he was when he heard I finally was pregnant. Because of memories like these, today was hard. Its hard to look at a face that’s lifeless when you can still hear their voice in your mind… when you touch them and you know that life is gone.

Why is death so hard for us?

Is it because we’re not SURE about what happens afterwards?

I think so.

But you know what makes me feel a lot better?

That Gary was sure.

Gary and I a few years ago.

Sometimes, you get a ‘faith boost’ by leaning on the faith of others, and I’m here to tell you that’s okay.

I remember a conversation he and I had while in the embalming room once. I looked at the dead persons face and I said to him, “It’s weird to see them here and know there’s more to them than this.” He replied, “Oh they are still completely and totally conscious, just not in this body.” Gary buried a minimum of 10,000 PEOPLE in his lifetime, and he still believed this. Firmly. After awhile, most, I’m sure, would start to doubt the existence of an afterlife after seeing so many cold faces with contorted expressions… but not Gary. His assurance in the truth of an afterlife that’s better for the redeemed gave me a ‘boost’.

A HUGE one.

Let me tell you some examples of more ‘boosts’ I have had over the years

The things I’ve been told by others over the years haven’t always been good things, but they were things that confirmed to me a little more that He is real… All of it is real.

Juanita. Entered heaven in 2008.

My mother had a dream recently about a woman in our church that was named Juanita. Juanita was a BELOVED person to our church. BELOVED. Juanita came to Momma in the dream and told her she was looking forward to seeing our Christmas play. (Our church pre-recorded singers on video and put it on a big screen in the parking lot. We had to get creative with the pandemic.) The Christmas play was always the highlight of her year when she was alive. She told my mom she was proud of them and to keep doing what they were doing. My mom told me she looked just as she did in the years before she died – before her cancer.

My daddy has been blessed enough to have dreams where deceased people have talked with him about VERY specific things; for example, during times when he was contemplating resigning his pastorate at the church… I’ve been told of at least 2 occasions where a church member met with him in a dream to give him encouragement to keep going. I’m talkin’ things that are CRAZY detailed. Things that are too detailed for a figment of your imagination to just throw out at you randomly like a slot machine in your brain.

I have a friend who heard God speak to her while she was begging Him to spare the life of her young son. She told me she was having a private conversation with God in the hospital and she made the comment, “I can’t lose my son.” Right after she said it, she heard an audible voice as clear as day say, “Why not? I did.”

Their son met Jesus on his 7th birthday… and to this day, it is still a difficult thing to understand.

My friend didn’t forget what God told her that day. It has further deepened her cornerstone of faith, although its difficult to bear the weight of this loss.

My great uncle Harold died on Saturday, October 10th, 2015.

While my father was preaching his funeral on October 13th (3 days later), Harold’s brother – my Papaw – died too.

Picturing brother greeting brother in heaven has really helped me through the grief because the picture is such a happy one to me.

Brothers, Harold & James Johnson. They both died 3 days apart in 2015.

My husband told me about a dream his late grandmother had. (Lots of mentions of dreams, but they are cool.)

When she was a little girl, she dreamt she was in a field and saw a little boy standing in it. She went up to the boy and they started walking together. After a little while, the boy got too far ahead of her while walking. He turned to her and said, “Come on Joan. You better catch up!” – or something to that degree…

MANY years later, the little girl that dreamed that dream was now in her 60s. She was diagnosed with Lou Gerighs and her husband had cancer. Both were dying at this time. It was then that Joan dreamed the same dream AGAIN, only this time, she and that ‘little boy’ were much older. The man got ahead of her again while walking and he turned back to her. The man in this dream was her husband, Bill. He was the little boy she had seen in the same dream many years before, but never knew it until then. He said the same thing. “Come on Joan. Better catch up!”

The next day, her husband passed away from cancer,

And the next month, she passed away too.

She ‘caught up’ with the little boy.

I get a ‘boost’ when I think about my own life story thusfar; how it is so COMPLEX and so intricately woven, that there’s no way to explain things in a way that would make sense to others. There are things that have led to one thing, to another thing, to another that only me (sorta) and God know about and understand.  – especially in my journey to becoming a mother (thats in another post)… I talk with him often about things that have happened in my life that he rescued me from, etc. There’s just NO way ‘fate’ just did these things for me. It HAD to be God. I mean, IT HAD TO BE. There’s no other way.

Additional thoughts…

Think of all the parents who will meet children they never knew existed (unknown early pregnancy losses, fathers who never were told they were dads, kids who never knew they had other siblings, ALL SORTS of situations)…. Think of all the untold millions of unborn people that will be there. Think of all the people who took the lives of their children embracing those kids and no hard feelings exist. They are wiped away. That evil act, and every other evil thing, is wiped away…. Think of all the miscarried & stillborn that are numbered there… Think on all the incredible reunions that will take place.

I like to think of all the enemies I have and how I wont care anymore. That is a glorified body in itself for me – no longer bearing the weight of the anger I carry. The ‘scorecards’ are gone!

One thing I’ve always thought about heaven is that I think we will all be surprised by who is there and who is not, because we don’t know the hearts of men as God does…

I asked my Dad once, “How do you know all this is real?”

He replied, “As you get older, you will realize more and more how real it really is. I can’t really explain it, but things will happen to you that God can be the only explanation for. You will also have more waiting for you there than living here. That’s when it REALLY gets real. Also, I see the Bible come to pass right before my eyes each year. It’s not a coincidence.”

I will be 33 this year, and I’m finally starting to get what he means. With the passage of time comes more personal evidence to you. Evidence not just infront of your face, but in the form of experiences & just a knowledge in your heart.

There is a quote; by C.S. Lewis, spoken by Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, and it says,

“There I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia. That by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

I love that.

Surrounded by your glory.

What will my heart feel?

I dont doubt anymore, but I’m sure glad Jesus loved me through the doubt.

Don’t worry my fellow Thomas’s. 🙂 He has a place for you and He will forgive the doubt. Jesus’s own disciples epically failed. Lol. Peter DENIED Jesus, yet he has THE KEYS to heaven man… think about that for a second.

Jesus said, Blessed are they that havent seen, yet believe.

I havent seen.

But I’ve heard His word and have gotten ‘faith-boosts’ from others.

Talk to God about your doubts.

He will help you.

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