"Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem."
Zephaniah 3:14 (NIV)
Zephaniah 3:14 (NIV)
Until I received the phone call informing me that my friend had died, I stubbornly prayed for her complete healing. I was on my knees many days pleading to our Lord God with words barely audible through my sobs.
With my eyes shut tightly and the telephone pressed firmly to my ear, I listened to Michael's words, "Joanne is with the Lord now." All I could reply was, "So. I guess it's finished then."
Joanne Sampl was my dearest girlfriend. According to my pea-sized brain -- borrowing a phrase from author and speaker Sharon Jaynes -- I believe Joanne died way too young. She was only 47 years of age.
Once asked by his teacher what the definition of a friend is, a young boy replied, "It's someone who knows what you're like and they still like you." That description fit Joanne beautifully. She knew me, and she still liked me.
Joanne moved into the house across the street from my home seventeen years ago. Our becoming friends was rather unique as with the exception of the first year of our friendship, we never lived in the same state, much less in the same town. The framework that linked our lives was formed through handwritten letters (yes, using cursive writing), telephone calls, and e-mails. The added times we spent together during summer vacations, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, and an occasional retreat stamped our relationship with a 'face.'
Her two boys and my son and daughter often watched us in amazement. They wondered at our skill to talk for hours at length and carry on, at minimum, three different conversations at one time. Thankfully, our husbands understood. Girlfriends. Enough said.
It's been a little more than two years since I learned of Joanne's diagnosis of cancer -- a day I remember as if it were yesterday. We cried together in that phone call and I remember informing her quite adamantly that dying was not an option. After all, what would I do should she die. She was my best friend. In her quick-witted humor and not one to let such a self-righteous, self-serving comment pass, Joanne responded, "Oh, yes. That's right. It is all about you, isn't it."
During one of our last conversations, we talked about her greatest disappointment in dying. Joanne's comment, "I won't get to experience future grandchildren with Michael," led us to consider more deeply what happens when a person dies. Will she be able to see her grandchildren from heaven? Encouraging me to dig for an answer, Joanne assigned me the task to research our question.
With God's Word in hand and Christian teachers at my side, this is what I learned: I don't know if Joanne will be able to see her grandchildren from heaven. But, this is what I do know.
By the grace of God Joanne realized she was a sinner in need of a Savior. (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23)
Jesus Christ, the One and Only True Son of God, loves sinners. He died for our sins and rose again from the dead. (Romans 5:8; Acts 10:40-42)
Joanne knew Jesus is her Savior; He alone is the Way for eternal life in heaven. (Romans 10:9-13; John 14:6; Ephesians 2:8-9)
Heaven is a real place. (John 14:1-3; Acts 7:56; Hebrews 11:9-10; Revelation 21:1-2)
Joanne understood heaven is her eternal home; and the instant she died, her soul was in the presence of our Lord God. (Matthew 6:20; John 14:1-3; Romans 8:38-39)
There is no sadness in heaven; and while Joanne's mortal body rests in the ground, her eternal soul is in a condition of unimaginable peace and joy, a splendor the likes of which we cannot imagine, much less describe. (Revelation 21:3-5; 1 Corinthians 2:9)
Time on earth is not like time in heaven. One day Jesus will return in glory to earth and Joanne will receive a new body that's perfect, healthy, and without disease. (1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 2 Peter 3:8; Philippians 3:20-21)
I am grieving the death of my dear friend. But my sorrow is not without hope because there is one thing of which I am absolutely certain. By God's grace I, too, am believing Jesus died for my sins. When He returns one day, our Lord will bring with Him all who have died believing Him. I look forward to that grand reunion with loved ones who have died in faith. (1 Thessalonians 4:14)
Author and speaker Mary Southerland writes, "For the believer in Jesus Christ, heaven is the heart and soul of our faith. It is reality! For the unbeliever, heaven is a dream, a wish."
Yet, I miss Joanne. Part and parcel of grieving, this pain will gradually pass. Our relationship was such a beautiful gift from God; and as the days and months go by, I will continually discover the influence of her friendship on my life. In fact, when all is said and done, I realize Joanne's final "assignment" was more for my benefit than for her's. Even in her dying, she knew how to encourage me. "Take it to Jesus, Bon." she'd say. "Take it to Jesus." For now, I don't have all the answers; but some day I will know. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
My friend, what about you? Eternity is but one breath away and it's either heaven with Jesus or hell without. Those who trust in the redemption won by Christ our Lord pass from death to life. Not choosing Jesus is choosing hell; there are no other options. (Revelation 20:11-14)
By the grace of God, will you today recognize that you, too, are a sinner in need of a Savior; confess your sins before Jesus; and trust that in His love He saves you? (Romans 10:13)
Should we never meet this side of heaven, let's plan to meet on the other side.
Blessings, dear friend.
PS If this is the first time you've confessed your sins before Jesus and received His gift of forgiveness, I am celebrating with you! Please don't walk this new journey of faith alone. For your relationship with Jesus to mature it is important to remain in His Word daily, become involved with a Bible-teaching church, and receive encouragement from fellow believing Christians.