Chapter 4 – Copyright 2023 – Carla J Wood
Hope in Heaven First
“The first requirement to be ‘realistic’ is to have seen the ultimate reality.”
~ Juan Stam, Apocalipsis
Not too long after my hospital stay, we moved again to a town north of Seattle, which would set the stage for a firmer fixation on God’s big picture and his power available to us in all situations in our lives. What I learned in the next two years of my life would develop further what some may call a “Pollyanna” look on life. Recent and further reflection has shown me this constant search for God in everything and seeing his power proved to be crucial in my adult life. Having great faith prepared me to be able to handle what it truly means to be human.
This next move involved living with my grandmother again for a few months while my parents found a place to live in our new town. The experience continued a pattern that would remain consistent throughout my life – lots of moving, discord in my parents’ marriage, and general upheaval. It was difficult for me in those early years to switch schools and homes so often, but it eventually would prove to be a blessing as I learned to make friends quickly and developed many precious lifelong relationships as well.
God continued to encourage the habit of looking for the positive and his fingerprints in all the good and bad my life. At the same time, I began a habit of neglecting to grieve my losses in my moves and my relationship with my mom, some which eventually built up without resolve until later in life. While many people are imbalanced by falling heavy into grief in our earthly states, I did the opposite, and looked forward to Heaven and eventually thinking I could fix earth as well. He knew I would have to, one day, deal with the griefs in my life, but he also knew, as a child, I needed the foundation of an eternal heavenly perspective to be developed well before I needed to learn to deal with grief.
In March, we found a rental in north of Seattle, and I began attending my third school of third grade. I was beginning to realize that a new school could mean a new adventure and finding more people to love for Jesus. Our new church showed our family much grace and love as well, along with some exciting Bible teaching. After attending for just a couple of weeks, a family with two children around my age invited our family to dinner after church. I had no idea how large a role in my life Bud and Nan Childs would play, although I only spent a few visits with their family.
While we ate in their elegant dining room, I noticed on their wall a picture of a peacefully sleeping baby. I remember thinking it was uniquely set apart from the rest of the family pictures. My mom apparently had the same thought, because while doing dishes she asked which of the two children was in that picture. Nan explained that it was their son who had died as a toddler from a childhood disease. I was standing near the picture, listening as Nan told the sad story, all the while absorbing the hope and strength she got from Jesus as she walked through life without that precious baby.
Noticing her peace and trust in God, I distinctly remember thinking, “When”– not if – “I lose a child, I want to be like her.” Bud and Nan soon left for the mission field, yet they started a pattern that would repeat in my life as I observed how different people handled the loss of loved ones – especially children. With a peaceful attitude, I began to believe I would lose a child someday, so I was very aware of the difference between those who rested in Jesus and those who did not. Starting with Nan, each grieving smile of hope, each word of faith and trust, each vision of Heaven, every treasure, I would tuck away in my heart, soul, and spirit.
From that night on, anytime I went to a cemetery, I wandered away from our family to look for gravestones of children and pray for their families. At each grave, I’d wonder if I might have to visit the grave of my own child and thought about how it might feel to bury a child. I’d play out the story in my head of how I’d cling to Jesus to heal the incredible pain I was already beginning to feel. Even at a young age, more than anything, I wanted a large family and wanted to be a devoted mom to my kids, so I knew I’d need Jesus in a big way.
My mom struggled in so many ways, yet she always pointed me to Jesus and taught me to pray with faith. Shortly after the move North, since the previous landlords’ piano did not move with us, we began wondering if we would ever have piano lessons again. Mom told us, “If God wants us to have a piano, we will get one! I don’t know how, but he can do anything. Let’s pray!” So, we prayed – for about a week.
Then Mom got a call from an old friend, who, not knowing our prayers, asked if we would like a piano. She knew of an upright piano that was available for only $50 – gas money to move it. Stunned, Mom caught her breath and, of course, said yes. We all did a little happy dance and praised God! Our parents scraped together the $50 (which included some spare change my sister and I found in my dad’s recliner). To top it off, when our pastor’s wife heard about this miracle, she offered to give us free lessons. God was so good – and my faith grew enormously again.
So many special memories were made through that old piano. Bach and Beethoven, In the Garden, and The Entertainer sounded amazing on that tall black instrument, but my favorites were the Christmas carols. I heard Silver Bells, The Christmas Song, and Carol of the Bells for the first time on those keys.
Although eventually we would sell the upright and purchase a spinet piano, the seeds planted from those early days bloomed into a lifetime of music for my sister Carolyn and me, including my music teaching career. Every time I see an old upright piano, it reminds me of God’s loving and careful attention to our smallest desires, as well as our biggest dreams.
My sister and I spent most of our summers at Grandma’s. She always had a wading pool at the end of her slide on the swing set which was a source of great enjoyment for us and our cousins. Her beautiful half acre lot in the middle of Seattle was a little oasis with a rose garden and a camellia tree which grew into a cave-like shape that created a hollowed-out fort for us.
My grandmother didn’t talk about God, and I was never sure what she thought about Jesus, but she didn’t mind me talking about him. Bored one afternoon, I asked her if I could read some of her grown up books. Going into the fourth grade, an avid reader, I felt ready to tackle something more challenging. She said I could read anything in the basement bedroom. My dad and his brother had grown up in that large room paneled with cedar, and it was full of books – a reader’s “heaven.”
I’m not sure how many I thumbed through to begin with, but I finally was drawn to a book authored by Dale Evans Rogers. She and her husband, Roy Rogers, were in some of my favorite old movies and I knew they were Jesus followers. I remember being happy that Grandma had a book written by a Christian author and actor.
The small book, Angel Unaware, was about their little girl, Robin, who had Down’s syndrome and died at the age of two. Already intrigued with eternity, I was drawn deeply into the story as it was partially fictitiously told from Robin’s standpoint, in Heaven. I sat in that cedar-scented room reading it from cover to cover. Close to dinnertime, I finished and went up to eat. Grandma remarked that I must have found a good book and was astonished to hear I had finished it already. A gentle smile graced her face as I told her the title and she responded that she liked it too. I was so comforted knowing she had read a book about Heaven. From that little book, I was forever convinced that we didn’t need to be sad when anyone died and went to be with Jesus.
That same summer, my growing desire to learn more about Heaven and to love God more became a huge source of comfort as I watched storms brewing in my parents’ marriage. I saw early on that Mom was emotionally volatile and it scared Dad so he would pull away. I felt safe reading the Bible and longed to be closer to God. If I was home my time was spent reading a book or my Bible or playing LP vinyl records and singing my heart out to Donny and Marie and John Denver. My parents loved me, I knew this, but even at that young age I could tell their marriage problems kept them from knowing how to love me the way I wanted to be loved. A deep desire to see the hand of God in every life circumstance grew in my heart. When there was evidence of God’s face I was elated as if I had experienced a miracle. When situations didn’t make sense, I searched deeper and prayed until God gave me peace. I began to listen intently at church and Sunday school and in my Bible reading for answers to help me get closer to God.
One Sunday, I heard in church that if we read the last book of the Bible, Revelation, we would be blessed. Revelation 1:3 (NIV) says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” Carolyn and I were latch-key kids during the school year and part of the time in the summer, often with whole days to ourselves. So, on a summer day my audacity rose and I sat six-year-old Carolyn down at the kitchen table and informed her we were going to get that blessing and read aloud Revelation together! I think we did it in two days. Despite being so young and Revelation being perhaps the most difficult Bible book to understand, I remember seeing that vision of end times, Heaven and the new Earth, the Lamb, Jesus going to the throne being the only one who could open up the scroll, thinking about how sad it would be for those who did not trust Jesus, and realizing I did not want anyone I knew and loved to miss out. Heaven and the New Earth became a real place deep in my being. Even more than ever, I wanted to tell others about Jesus.
Sr. Juan Stam explains so well the effect seeing God’s fingerprints in my young life and reading Revelation had on my young heart, in his Spanish commentary of Revelation, Apocalipsis – Tomo 1 (capitulos 1 al 5), “The constant human temptation is to see our immediate reality as the final reality and to suppose or fear the grand truths of the faith are remote and small or secondary to the force of history. This we wrongly call ‘being realistic, with our feet firmly on the ground.’ But John reveals to us here that, if our eyes are not firmly fixed in the ultimate reality of the throne and its occupant, then our feet will never be ‘firmly set’ on the ground. The first requirement to be ‘realistic’ is to have seen the ultimate reality. (Juan Stam, page 198, English translation by Douglas Gamble)
God continued in my early years, with this foundation of faith and his reality, to challenge me and prove to me, even more, his power and love. There would be a day when he would help me learn what it means to be human with my feet on earth, but first he helped me fix my eyes firmly on the eternal.