Maui vs. Heaven: Which is really better?

As a teenager, my family took a trip to Maui.  What with the flower leis, tropical air that smells beautiful everywhere, exquisite fruits, floral & fauna my allergies didn’t react to, stunning beaches, squeaking dolphins, and delicious-delicious cheeseburgers, I was absolutely sure Maui was the best place on earth to be.

Going back to the end of a midwestern winter–with snow on the ground, no less-was, in my mind, abysmal.

The only good news I could see from this was that one day I could get to go back.

When my dad started struggling, even before we knew it was ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), I made him a promise: “I’ll take you back to Maui.”

My dad must have had close to the same feelings I had about Maui, because it was the best I’d seen him feel in a long time.  I had a plan.  I was, yes, a new little college student with parental funding, but someday–soon–I would take him to Maui.  Maybe only three or four years down the line.  I’d have a great paying job, and that was that.  There were always credit cards, anyway, and I’d be old enough for one by then.

I didn’t have three or four more years with my dad.  That year, he came down with the muscle-evaporating ALS.  Over the next year and a half, I watched my father waste away.

Maui wasn’t going to be possible.

Not only was he sick, but he was confused.  He had dementia–badly.  Even if I could somehow take him to Maui, not even the sun-sipped beaches could have cheered him up, or saved him.

When my dad died in ’04, I thought about that unfinished promise.  It wasn’t that I was guilty for being unable to take him to Maui.  But it felt as though God Himself had cheated my father.  After all, I really was going to take Dad to Maui, and God took him away before I could do so.  From my angle, God made Dad miss out on the juicy pineapple, chattering dolphins, and saltwater snorkeling.

Now Dad was in Heaven forever and would never get another Cheeseburger in Paradise with the pigeons playing football around the deck with pieces of bread.  He’d never get to see the saltwater rainbow fish or pat the dolphin that felt like a rubber inflatable, or gobble down pineapple closer to the color of egg yolk than I’d ever seen before.

Even if Heaven had some of these things, I was sure it wouldn’t be the same.

If you even got to snorkel in Heaven, I couldn’t see how there could be much adventure to it, since nothing bad could ever happen, like saltwater get up your nose.

If you even got to pet a dolphin in Heaven, I was sure you had to do it ancient-ritualistically-like (which was how I used to think of holiness).

And would there really be a Cheeseburger in ParadiseI didn’t expect to see franchises in Heaven, or waiters who served food around greedy pigeons.  The pigeons wouldn’t even be allowed to be greedy, so it would be no fun watching them.  They’d all take turns for the bread.

And how could the ridiculously sweet pineapple be special, if there wasn’t any sour pineapple to compare it with?

I was fairly suspicious that God had shorted Dad.  The worst part was my Dad would have to play a harp now.  He didn’t even like harps.  He liked drums.  What on earth was he going to do with himself until I got up to Heaven and we could at least whisper to each other and steal a few careful chuckles at each other’s ribbings?

If there was one word for how I felt about Dad’s luck in missing his Maui trip it was bummer.

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I still remember the day Chuck E. Cheese opened.

My friend’s mom drove us to Chuck E. Cheese.  I had never seen any place like it.  Ever.  Jam-packed with kids on its grand opening, there were theater lights, robotic characters that played in a band, a costumed mouse that walked around, an unthinkably long “jewelry shelf” (the kind that has the bubble top over it so you can’t help yourself to what you see) of toys, loud & crazy noises, and games, games, games, games, games.  GAMES!  GAMES!

Skeeball.  A little bowling game.  A memory match game that was digital.  A game with real squirt guns to put out a plastic fire.  I could have fainted from ecstasy.

But I couldn’t possibly faint because my friends’ mother broke the bank and got us a totally generous number of tokens.  I was just about beside myself.  I started playing up a storm.

And then, suddenly, my friends’ mother came back with a cup full of tokens.  It’s a good thing there weren’t any EMT’s there, because, if they’d taken my pulse, they might have made me go to the hospital.

We must have been there for hours.  I can’t even remember what cool stuff (that I cared about for at least 24 hours) I got.  But I was more totally satiated with delight than I had ever been.  I remember me and my friends sitting almost in absolute silence on the car ride back, worn out from too much happiness.

I was convinced–unshakably convinced–that there was no experience in the whole world any better than the day I’d just had.

And then the day came when I heard God say “I love you”.

Chuck E. Cheese dropped like a coin down a funnel to somewhere so far down it was hard to even see.

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It’s easy for me to explain my day at Chuck E. Cheese.  I can talk about the show, games, tokens, toys.  It’s easy for people to immediately connect with.  Most of us, as kids, liked bright lights, fun games, play money, and winning prizes.

You know what’s really hard to explain?  The day I heard God say “I love you”.

There is not something really from the ordinary realm of human experience I can compare it to.  Comparing it to natural experiences is really, really hard.  It wasn’t colorful lights or music-playing robots or arcade games.  Those things can be really fun, but that’s not the same kind of experience.  Because, at the core of those things, they’re manufactured, artificial if you will.  Made for the express purpose of getting a certain money-making emotion out of people.

And it’s not so easy that I can explain God’s love as something from the natural world, either.  There is a way of expressing salvation that’s like the freedom of riding a horse for the first time, or flying with new wings.  But these are just tastes of feelings, not the essence of what has happened.

To really explain what it feels like to hear God say “I love you”, you have to have that experience.  There really is no parallel.  And that’s why it’s so hard to get people to even realize they want to experience it.

It’d be a little like a parrot that has just had the meaning of language revealed to it trying to explain that to its parrot friends who are just mimicking.  What the parrot says to try to explain the meaning of language can be ignored or mimicked by the other parrots, but it cannot be understood without the same revelation the parrot has had.

Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to talk about spiritual things in the natural world, and why they sound so silly to people sometimes.  As a kid, I got tired of thinking about having wings in Heaven.  That didn’t seem like much after a while.  Golden streets sounded neat–but what was next?  Surely that wasn’t it.  Harps sounded outdated and tedious and very formal.  Singing all the time sounded dreadful to me and like a lot of standing with a hymn book.

I was missing the essence of Heaven, and so I made the mistake of thinking my father had missed out on Maui.

I was looking at “stuff”.  Good stuff, but still stuff: dolphins, cheeseburgers, snorkeling, leis, beaches, pineapple.  I was making an inventory of everything I thought Dad was missing and mentally frowning as I tried to imagine its replicate in Heaven.

Would there be greedy birds in Heaven?  No.  So how could Heaven be fun?

Would there be runt dolphins in Heaven?  No.  So how could Heaven be fun?

Would there be the risk of getting saltwater up your nose in Heaven?  No.  So how could Heaven be fun?

I was looking for Xeroxes of what I saw on earth.  If copies of what was on earth weren’t in Heaven, how could Heaven be even as good as earth, much less better?

This is something like a ten-year-old girl wondering how her wedding day can ever be half as good as the day she spent at Chuck E. Cheese.

But what if . .

What if the fun of watching birds compete for food . . . what if that kind of exciting race-and-tackle goes on in Heaven, but without ever any starvation?

What if the adorableness and precious love from petting a runt dolphin . . . what if that kind of “awww” feeling is created in Heaven by God making wittle bitty dolphins who are just as healthy as their peers and don’t ever die?

What if the thrill of the possibility of getting saltwater up your nose while snorkeling . . what if that kind of thrill is in oceanic adventures in Heaven, only without the nasty taste of the saltwater?

My fears are easy for me to find answers for now, but you know what?  The defenses I just gave really have nothing to do with the essence of Heaven.  They’re really pretty much worthless.

Heaven is not about pigeons or dolphins or snorkeling.  Before, I thought Heaven was less-glorious than earth.  But thinking of Heaven as just having more glorious (or fun) stuff than earth still doesn’t begin to explore Heaven.  It’s like looking at a snowglobe and describing each little white flake that falls down.

That’s not the focus of the snowglobe.

The center piece is the focus: the object all the snow is falling around.  The object that makes the falling snow enjoyable at all.

God is the center of Heaven.

That will be terrifying, undesirable, and/or disappointing to anyone who doesn’t know God.

But, if you have heard the heartbeat of God as He presses you against His chest and tells you He loves you, you’ll realize that is everything you were ever looking for.  It’s the kite with the never-ending yarn that flies higher and higher in the sky: this is a picture of what the love of God does to the receiving human heart.

It’s indescribable.  It makes worrying about pineapple–well, goofy.  My spectacular promise of taking Dad back to Maui became like a rotting pea in an infinite garden of watermelons the moment Dad saw God.

Dad could care less about Maui.  Maui smaui.  The only question about that is, Am I willing to let go of what I wanted to give and agree that what God gave Dad is totally way better and totally showed me up?

You bet I am.

Dear God,

If Dad was here right now, we’d probably be having his 62nd birthday right now.  Since he wasn’t much into parties and especially since people down here don’t think the number 62 is anything special, it would probably be just family.  We would probably have cake, and Dad would probably make sure there weren’t any crumbs left on the table.  I’d probably have gotten him something between $50-100 and he’d probably have liked it and it probably would have sat on his office desk on display.

I could be bitter, sad, or mad that he’s not here right now to celebrate with us.  But, God, how could I, really?  I don’t know what’s happening for his birthday right now.  Maybe there’s a huge birthday bash.  Maybe he’s singing for You and playing his guitar.  Maybe he’s waiting breathlessly for Your Coming Back, when everyone will be brought before Your Judgment Seat.

Whatever is happening right now, I can only guess.  But I do know this: He is altogether captivated by Your love.

I love You, too.

P.S.  Thank You for forgiving me for thinking all that messed-up stuff I thought about Heaven.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9b, NLT)

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Published in: on March 12, 2012 at 5:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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