Today, I have to share the devastating news that my wonderful wife, Fiona, passed away peacefully last week at the age of 52. She’d been suffering from pancreatic cancer.
We’d been married for 32 years; I was 21 and she was 19 when we married. We always said how glad we were that we’d married young because we got to spend more of our lives together.
We had so many adventures together: exploring our lovely country and other parts of the world; raising three wonderful children and then our two lovely grandchildren whom Fiona doted upon; exploring our faith and worshipping Jesus together. Fiona had an amazing singing voice which complemented mine perfectly.
Fiona was a Special Needs teacher at a local Church of England primary school. Over the sixteen years she was there, she touched hundreds of childrens’ lives in such a positive way. Fe had the gift of being able to see the potential – she saw it as a ‘golden thread’ – in even the most difficult of children, and of being able to bring out the full potential of each and every one of them. With a warm, loving heart and a gentle spirit, she looked after her students as if they were her own children; being there for them when they were sad, sharing in their joys, taking them to hospital in her car if they injured themselves in the playground, or simply using my first-aid cure-all – the ‘cold compress’ – and gentle words for less severe injuries.
Fiona affected so many lives that her Memorial service is going to be packed to the doors*. I’ve never known a lady so loved by so many people, such was the effect she had on them, students and parents alike. So many people have commented on how they loved the way she believed in their children, and brought out the best in them. It was such a privilege for me to be married to such an amazing lady. Her selfless giving and gentle spirit, along with her loving forebearance of all my weird Aspie traits, and the devotion with which she loved me, will never cease to amaze me. I never really felt worthy of that kind of love, but she gave it to me in full measure.
Fiona’s aim in life was to be Jesus to everyone she met, and she did this so well, living in her simple, trusting faith and devoted love for her Saviour, with Whom she now walks in the most glorious paradise which is beyond our imagination. She always loved all the seasons, with their variety of colours, smells and weather; she loved flowers, laughter (with her wacky sense of humour) music, moors and mountains, valleys and woods, walking, horses and people and watching them going about their business with a deep fascination. She’s now in a place where she can ride horses again – she’d had an injury which has prevented this for some years – and where the mountains are beyond anything we have here and where the colours are more real and radiant. And she is with Jesus. Over the last week I have had a series of solid visions showing me just what Fiona has right now, and it’s been life-changing even at a time of my life where my life is already changing because I have lost her. Now, I look forward to being with her, and although I know God has things still for me to do here, I look forward with eager anticipation to the time when I will see her again.
Her last battle was over the last two and a half years. We fought this terrible disease hand in hand and side by side, each trying to spare the other the worst of the ravages of the chemotherapy, the disease symptoms and the side-effects. We gave it our best shot, but this disease defied everything we could throw at it; I have never seen an illness so resistant to healing prayer. And I don’t understand that, having as I do a deep faith in God’s ability and willingness to heal.
Typically of Fiona, with her self-giving nature, I am sure that she underwent all these treatments not so much to save her life – we always knew it was a remote hope – but to help those who loved her, by giving them the chance to see her actually doing something about the illness. Fiona was never in any doubt about her final destination – heaven – and death held no fear for her. She really was remarkable. In her last months, she had a real, solid, lucid waking vision of what heaven was going to be like for her, which, typically, she did not share with me until only recently, for fear of upsetting me. I can’t go into the details but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was certain of her reward and that she has indeed gone to receive it from Jesus.
I don’t know the spiritual mechanics of what happens when someone dies. But I know, utterly and completely beyond any doubt at all, that Fiona is ecstatically happy, knowing that we who are left will be fine. In so many ways, losing Fiona, even in the face of disappointed hope for healing, has actually strengthened my own faith. Odd, isn’t it?
Fiona, I will miss you so much. But I’ll see you again, and next time it will be without the ravages of that bloody disease on your lovely person. You’re whole now, healed and glorified, and out of suffering and indeed in such glorious, glorious joy.
And you deserve every bit of it, you brave, beautiful girl.
*Edit: Fiona’s memorial service was indeed packed; the church was almost full. So much good fruit came of Fiona’s service; there are more details here.
There’s an odd, fairly obscure little Scripture, found only in Matthew 27:50-53, that describes how at the moment Jesus died, an earthquake broke open the tombs of ‘many’ holy people who were, at the same time, raised from the dead. After Jesus’s own Resurrection a couple of days later, these people were seen by many people in Jerusalem. Here’s the Scripture:
“When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He yielded up His spirit. At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs broke open, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After Jesus’ resurrection, when they had come out of the tombs, they entered the holy city and appeared to many people.” – Mt 27:50-53
I’ve always understood this as happening because of the sheer power and Life that pulsed out from the Cross* as Jesus died. Somehow, however the ‘mechanism’ works, sin and death had been defeated and history had been changed. Nothing would ever be the same again. Life had been released into God’s Creation in such a way that had not happened since He first said ‘Let there be Light!’. And all this was because of the death of the most righteous Man Who ever lived. It’s no wonder, then, that all those people were raised by that power. And, when a Godly person dies, in a similar way that same power is released, bringing life to those who will receive it.
Most of my regular readers will know that my incredible wife, Fiona, passed away a couple of weeks ago. And in a similar way to that Life that poured out from Jesus’s death, I believe that I have seen this Life radiating out from from Fiona’s loss too. She was, without exception, the most Godly person I have ever known.
Within a day of her passing, just like when Jesus died, so much good fruit was released. There were fruits of joy, laughter, reconciliation. Fruit of healing. People felt a light-heartedness, despite the heartbreak of her loss, that could only be explained by remembering her as she was through her life and her final illness. Always radiant, full of joy and laughter, always looking for the joke, that was my Fiona.
And then at Fiona’s memorial service in our Church, every single one of the people who got up to speak about her said about how full of fun and joy she was. As I’ve said, she was always looking for an excuse to laugh about something. Mark, our Vicar, commented on this and said that she was so full of fun, joy and laughter – yes, because that was the way she was made, the way she was ‘wired’ – but that she was also so full of that joy because she was also so full ofGod. And she was indeed 🙂
At the memorial service, many people – who were not all necessarily people of faith – were uplifted by the stunning testimonies of her influence on people’s lives. People I know who are not necessarily people of faith have been touched by the obvious light of this amazing lady’s life, character, friendships, life and death, and also by the shining faith and love manifested in lesser measure by those left behind. In this way, Fiona’s loss has radiated out new Life into people’s lives and hearts, in life-changing power. People who knew Fiona in life were, knowingly or unknowingly, being continually touched by the Love of Christ that was her driving force and the core of her being. At her memorial, even people who hardly knew her were moved deeply and felt something that they’d never felt before: the immense love of Christ that came from her life and ministry. The Presence of God filled that place and some people hadn’t felt that before. That’s much of the reason why it was so moving, because the testimonies to Fiona’s faithfulness and qualities were backed up by the actual Presence of God. Some might put this down to emotion or similar, and I agree that there was a lot of that about. Of course there was. But there was something more: the real Presence of Jesus right there in that place. If you were there and you felt that, and you were wondering what it was, hopefully that explains it for you. And that is partially why it felt as if Fiona was there with us, because Jesus’s Presence was so much of what you felt when she was nearby. I don’t think that anyone who was there went out of that place unchanged, in a good way.
So then, in Fiona, the life of Christ was made literally tangible because, as I have said previously, she was Jesus to others. And even in her death, that Christ-Life was still pulsing out in all its radiance and bringing Resurrection Life to those in that place, whether they reaslised it or not. It’s no wonder that people were finding the service so incredibly moving!
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints – Ps 116:15 (KJV)
Finally, I would like to share with you the brilliant life-tribute movie that my daughter made to be played in the memorial service. It shows Fiona with her family in various places. The music track is ‘Into the West’ by Annie Lennox, from the Lord of the Rings movie ‘The Return of the King‘. Fiona always wanted it at her funeral….
*By ‘The Cross’, I refer (as does St. Paul in his writings) to, not specifically the actual wooden scaffold on which Jesus was crucified, but to the history-changing events that happened when Jesus died and subsequently rose from the dead. The self-sacrificial death that Jesus died is the single most powerful event in all of history, and that’s what I refer to when I talk about ‘The Cross’.
Grief and mourning are part of losing someone dear to us – in my case, my dear wife, Fiona, who passed away a month ago today. But I have found that life goes on; I still have to manage my home, earn a living, look after my family. I still need to keep myself happy, to do the things I do, like flying, playing my (solitaire, billy-no-mates) boardgames, writing my blog, fellowshipping with my church, spending time with my family.
And sometimes there’s this really irrational thought there – How can you do (that thing that you enjoy) now that Fiona is gone; you used to love doing that together and you can’t enjoy it without her, because it will remind you of her.
Now, I understand that this may be a defensive mechanism to prevent us from being reminded of the pain of loss. But I also know that Fiona would have wanted me to continue with that pastime that we used to share, whatever it was.
In the unspeakably amazing book, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien writes of the hobbit Merry Brandybuck, who was looking forward to discussing ‘herb-lore’ (in this case, tobacco) with his master, King Théoden of Rohan, once the war was over. But Théoden was killed in battle, and Merry couldn’t face smoking his pipe and being reminded of Théoden…
” “Good!” said Merry. “Then I would like supper first, and after that a pipe.” At that his face clouded. “No, not a pipe. I don’t think I’ll smoke again.”
“Why not?” said Pippin.
“Well,” answered Merry slowly. “He is dead. It has brought it all back to me. He said he was sorry he had never had a chance of talking herb-lore with me. Almost the last thing he ever said. I shan’t ever be able to smoke again without thinking of him, and that day, Pippin, when he rode up to Isengard and was so polite.”
“Smoke, then, and think of him!” said Aragorn. “For he was a gentle heart and a great king and kept his oaths; and he rose out of the shadows to a last fair morning. Though your service to him was brief, it should be a memory glad and honourable to the end of your days.”
“Merry smiled. “Well then,” he said, “if Strider will provide what is needed, I will smoke and think. I had some of Saruman’s best in my pack, but what became of it in the battle, I am sure I don’t know.”
“Master Meriadoc,” said Aragorn, “if you think that I have passed through the mountains and the realm of Gondor with fire and sword to bring herbs to a careless soldier who throws away his gear, you are mistaken…”
“Was there ever any one like [Aragorn]?” [Pippin] said. “Except Gandalf, of course. I think they must be related. My dear ass, your pack is lying by your bed, and you had it on your back when I met you. He saw it all the time, of course!” ”
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King
If you have suffered a similar loss, and you find that life has lost its lustre because of that loss, then may I encourage you to ‘Smoke, then, and think of him’, in whatever way means something to to you.
For me, it’s like this:
I love going out for country, moor and fell-walks; Fiona used to love our walks together and with the dog. ‘Walk, then, and think of her’.
I’ve just heard my daughter singing in the shower. Fiona had a phenomenal singing voice and so has my daughter. ‘Sing, then, and think of her’.
I love sitting and reading; we used to do a lot of that together, particularly on a quiet morning. ‘Sit, then, and think of her’.
I fly too – of course! – and although Fiona didn’t really have the same, shall we say, ‘passion’ for it that I do, she still encouraged me in it. “You were born to fly”, were her exact words to me once upon a time. So, I will ‘Fly, then, and think of her’.
We loved worshipping together, whether in housegroup, in church, to recorded tracks in the kitchen, or just standing around my piano while Fiona sang or played the flute. ‘Worship, then, and think of her’.
For she was a gentle heart and a great woman and she kept the faith.
I’m writing this piece because it’s two months today since I lost my wonderful wife, Fiona.
And it’s all been very strange since. In addition to having the huge adjustment to life without my soulmate and team-mate, I’d expected to have been completely overwhelmed with grief and to have been good for nothing useful at all. I’d expected it to be crippling, indeed incapacitating.
But it hasn’t been like that at all. I’ve generally coped just fine; I have accepted her loss and I am just getting on with life. And I don’t fully understand why that isn’t difficult.
As you might imagine, I must credit much of this to my Heavenly Father. David wrote, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and He saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18) and I have found this to be true in my own experience. I have had such a consciousness of the Presence of God, and He seems to have released small chunks of memories for me to grieve over in kind of ‘bite-sized chunks’. I haven’t had to deal with 34 years of soul-mate relationship’s worth of grief in one big lump. It’s been much easier than I thought it would be, although still terrible of course.
I’ve called this piece, ‘A Crumb of my Comfort’. And so I want to share with you as many crumbs of comfort as I can, from the many I have received from Father. Remember, it’s my aim in life to always do what I see my Father doing (John 5:19). And the biggest comfort to me has been my absolute certainty that Fiona is in the presence of God, worshipping the One she loves.
Over the months before Fiona died, I had several personal worship experiences where I felt like I was participating in what you might call the ‘Worship of Heaven’. For this purpose, Holy Spirit used especially some of the worship songs of Terry MacAlmon, which I have featured on my blog in the past*. For those months, the Spirit was using these, and others of Terry’s songs, to impress upon me, “Look, this is what Fiona is going to, only better!” And over the months, that knowledge and experience has soaked into my very being and it has become a part of me – in greater measure than I have previously had, even as a worship leader. In some ways, I feel like I am still worshipping with Fiona. Within an hour of Fiona’s passing, I had a vivid and almost indescribable vision of her worshipping in the Presence of God, and felt the Spirit saying to me, “There. This is what I meant”. Since worship is such an integral part of my life, and since my experience of God is an almost constant, exciting and energising Presence right in the centre of my heart, what better way for the Spirit to encourage me regarding where Fiona is now?
And because of this, my grief is mixed with an indescribable, bubbling joy, that, through the tears, is a constant reminder of God’s Presence both with me and with Fiona. It’s all very odd; in some ways I feel as if she’s not really gone, but then I also realise that if I am worshipping in the Throne Room in my spirit, then in some indescribable** way I am also worshipping with Fiona, who is doing the same thing. My heart is full of thankfulness and joy and praise and worship and there isn’t a thing I can do to stop it – not that I would try! The whole thing is quite surreal! I know it’s a bit of a cliche but I really do know that she has indeed ‘gone to a better place’ and that she is full of joy there. And so it is difficult to be too upset; I know that the girl that I love is out of pain, in the Presence of her Jesus, and completely, utterly safe, whole and full of joy, in ways that are far beyond anything we can imagine.
Don’t get me wrong on the worship thing by the way; I don’t believe that the entire experience of Heaven is confined to just one big worship meeting. I’m sure it’s not; I’m sure that attendance at that great gathering is optional, and on a come-and-go as you like basis, and there’s definitely more to worship than just singing songs. But I do believe that Fiona walks closely with her Saviour and He has His arm around her (I’ve seen that too). The Glory she experiences is beyond anything that can be experienced in our mortal bodies, but I know for a fact that, despite our bodies’ limitations, we too can experience the Power and Presence of God. I know this because I have so experienced Him, and do so on a regular basis. I rest in the presence of God, knowing that everything is in His hands. The Spirit gave me a verse the other day, which describes my position well; it’s Psalm 116:7 – “Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee” (Ps 116:7 KJV) or in modern English, “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you”. And, again, this has been true in my personal experience.
Despite this being published on Christmas Day, I wasn’t going to mention Christmas. Bah humbug. But there’s a contextual reason for it: at Christmas, we celebrate the unbelievable phenomenon called ‘Immanuel’, which means ‘God With Us’, just like I am claiming happens to me.
God Himself, the Creator of everything, right here and walking and living amongst us.
Two thousand years ago, it was of course Jesus Who walked among us – literally walked among us – as a human being (Jn 1:14). Nowadays He is still with us, because He promised us that He would send His Holy Spirit, to be with us for ever (Jn 14:16 KJV). And this is how we know that we belong to Him; why I can claim that He is real in me: Ephesians 1: 13-14 says, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory“, and 2Cor1:21-22, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come“. I literally feel the Holy Spirit within my heart; that’s how I know. And He also said, I will be with you always, until the end of time (Mt 28:20). Note that it’s not that the Bible says it, so I believe it; its the other way round: I feel Him in my heart, and subsequently to that, I find from the Bible and from talking with fellow believers that others too have felt that Presence***.
And this is what is meant by Immanuel – ‘God With Us’. Again, this has been true in my experience. And that’s how I know; that’s why my faith gives me such assurance, reassurance, comfort and hope.
Let me finish with, would you believe, a verse from a Christmas carol (despite my not planning on doing anything Christmas here, but such is the Spirit’s leading…) O Little Town of Bethlehem. So many people simply sing these carols year upon year without really knowing what they are about, but this verse captures the idea of Immanuel beautifully:
How silently, how silently
The wondrous Gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His Heaven
No ear can hear His coming, but in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in
And all of those are the crumbs I offer you, taken from the vast comfort I have been given. I sincerely hope they bless and encourage you 🙂
**I think that’s the third or fourth time I have used the word ‘indescribable’. But it’s the correct word to use; I am trying to describe things here that are right out on the edge of what it is possible to decribe with language. Maybe only my Spirit-language is capable of describing this sort of stuff…
***And so it kind-of validates the experience – not that I need it validating; it’s real enough to me – but it a) explains what it is, and b) tells me I’m not alone in feeling like this.
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God”. – Ruth 1:16
Today’s post, unlike most of my posts, is a ‘spontaneous’ one. Most of the time, I write my posts in advance and schedule them to appear roughly every three days or so.
But not this one. Today would have been Fiona’s and my thirty-third wedding anniversary. (And I never once forgot, by the way!)
And so, today, it is only right that on my first anniversary without her, I acknowledge the day with something very special, deeply personal, spontaneous (I have just written it right now) and which would have meant a lot to her.
When we first met, Fiona and I used to do a lot of exploration, driving around the North of England in my little old white Mini (which we called ‘Cloud Nine’). And we used to play worship tapes through a ghetto blaster which sat on the back seat – and sing along, of course. One of the tapes we had was called ‘Emmanuel – God is With Us’, volume 5 of the ‘Songs of Fellowship’ series. And on there was a song called ‘Where you go, I will go’, which had a special significance for us. Once, when Fiona was ill in bed, I sat at her bedside and read her the lovely love story of Ruth and Boaz from the Bible, and we particularly loved the verse where Ruth says to her mother-in-law, Naomi: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God”. (Ruth 1:16). That song from the tape immediately became ‘our song’, and it became a symbol of our love for, and commitment to, each other.
I am absolutely sure that this next part of the story is no coincidence. For years now, I have been searching for a copy of that album, ‘Emmanuel’, that we lost so long ago. The album that contained ‘our song’.
And just this week, I have managed to find one on eBay and buy it – the vinyl record version – and so I have used the same technology that I use on my other website – VintageWorshipTapes.com – to convert the album into electronic files that I can play anywhere. I am sure the timing of this is entirely God’s work. Why this week, out of all the hundreds – yes, hundreds – of weeks I have been looking for this music, does it suddenly appear on eBay? That’s the Hand of God, right there. Thank You so much, Lord, for blessing me in this way!
“Where you go, I will go”
Today, of all days, should rightly be the day that I make this song public, in honour of my darling wife. It’s cost me a lot of tears to digitise that album, and to hear once again the tracks that remind me so much of our early days together, and also to write this piece. But it’s been healthy. It’s reminded me of the solid foundations of our relationship, and reminded me once again of all the amazing adventures we had together.
We fulfilled our promise to each other for over 34 years.
Where you go, I will go. And we did exactly that.
(Click the play button on the track to hear the song)
Where you go, I will go
Where you lodge, I will lodge
Do not ask me to turn away, for I will follow you
We’ll serve the Lord together, and praise Him day to day
For He brought us together, to love Him and serve Him always
Today, it’s three months since I lost my beloved wife, Fiona. I’m hoping to post a blog entry on the 25th of each month in order to share more of what I have learned about grieving the loss of a loved one. I know for a fact that there are people out there reading this blog who have said that my thoughts on this subject help them in their grief too*.
I’ve often heard it said that one of the most noticeable features of the bereavement grief process is that those left behind tend to dream a lot about the person they’ve lost. Sometimes these dreams occur every night; sometimes they are less frequent, but it does seem to be a common feature. And today I want to talk about how these dreams can help you to come to terms with your loss.
In my dreams, Fiona has often been present, not necessarily playing an active role, but maybe just sitting quietly in the background. Sometimes she talks to me too; it’s just talk about whatever’s going on in the dream. In the dream, I usually know she’s not with us anymore, but it doesn’t seem strange sitting and talking with her. I haven’t had bad dreams about her, but I do know of people who have had bad dreams about their lost loved ones. I’ll come on to that later. But it really is almost as if I can spend time with her in my dreams, even though it’s neither sought out nor deliberate. And this is a great comfort to me.
So, how does this work, and why can it help the grieving process?
Well, first of all, I think it’s incorrect when people use the old cliché that a person is ‘with us in spirit’. I’m not convinced; I believe she’s gone on to be with the Lord, as I’ve said before. But I do believe this: I think that everything that a person has put into our lives during our time together, is what remains with us on this Earth. All my attitude changes, because of life spent with her; everything she built into my life, all that still remains. I am the man I am today mainly because of her ‘input’ over the years. Everything that she was to me remains, if you like, alive in my memory. That other old cliché, the one where folk say that as long as we remember a person, they live on ‘in our hearts’, is, I believe, approaching what is happening. And so it’s as if we have a facsimile, like a ‘hologram’ of that person – personality, physical body, clothes, voice and what have you – stored away in our memories. And then, in our dreams, we can access these memories on a more meaningful level.**
I think it’s also that our subconscious mind – which is apparently more active in the dream state – has these dialogues with the departed because we can’t do it in real life. Only in our dreams is our full set of fantasy senses released into operation. You know how we can do things in our dreams that we can’t do in real life; well, this is one of those things. We can therefore talk things out with our beloved, albeit not really; it’s not really her, but we are talking with her memory. In a very real sense, we can commune with our loved one that is present in our heart. And so we can maybe say things we wish we’d said when she was still physically alive, maybe tie up ‘loose ends’, maybe assure her of our love (and possibly even be assured in return).
Although we may not always remember our dreams (in fact apparently it’s quite rare that we do), the effects of them, because they happened in our subconscious mind, will remain there in our subconscious mind, where actually they can do the most good and promote the most healing. The subconscious mind is recognised as having a powerful influence on our rational, conscious mind (just Google ‘subliminal messages’ to get a handle on this!) and any good stuff that happens in there is not lost even though we may not be able to access it directly.
What about bad dreams about the person you’ve lost? I personally think these can come from two main sources: unfinished business; and a reflection of the damage and hurt which accumulated during the process of the person’s loss; in Fiona’s case, we were ‘under the cancer cloud’ for just over three years. Or alternatively, the sudden trauma of an unexpected death, say by a road accident or a very short terminal illness, carries a special set of pains all of its own. In this case, there is much more chance of ‘unfinished business’; maybe you had harsh words with the person before they set out on the journey from which they did not return.
Either way, the dream-land can be a place where you can resolve, or at least discern, these issues. Maybe you can talk things out with the departed person. Sort out the unfinished business, ask for forgiveness, offer forgiveness, reaffirm your love. Often, though, bad dreams tend to be much less ‘rational’ than good dreams, if indeed any dream can be said to be rational! And therefore maybe the cause of the bad dreams might be presented in an abstract fashion, or by metaphor or symbolic things or similar. If it’s not clear what the problem is, perhaps you might try seeking professional counselling help. Most hospice organisations, for example, offer a bereavement counselling service at which these issues can be talked out. Or call the Samaritans! Or maybe just chat with a trusted friend or minister – although I realise that your trusted friend may well have been almost as close to the person you’ve lost as you were, so choose wisely. Maybe also have a notebook by your bed so that if you have a particularly vivid dream (good or bad), you can write it down at the time, because it’s almost certain that if you don’t, you will have forgotten it by morning!
Just coming back to the good dreams for a moment, I think that it’s perfectly all right to live in the dreams as if she is here, because in the dreams she is indeed there. You are accessing your memories of her and this is a healthy part of the grieving process. You are remembering her the way she was when she was alive, maybe even as she was before the illness. Enjoy the dreams and enjoy the time with her in the dreams. You don’t need to deny their help even though you know they’re not real. Your mind can still sort things out in dreams that it maybe can’t in ‘real life’.
And remember also that God is perfectly capable of orchestrating your dreams so that His purposes are fulfilled through them. He can easily bring healing into your life through your dreams of your loved one; you just need to trust Him that He knows what He’s doing.
If the dreams are bearing good fruit, then they are good and from God. If the dreams produce a fruit of darkness or uneasiness, then either there’s something you need to sort out (as above) or it’s coming from a different source, including maybe yourself. In these cases, praying in your Spirit language can be beneficial as it safeguards you from enemy activity. But look, what’s happened to you is a pretty dark thing; you’ve lost someone you love. It’s no surprise that your dreams and thoughts are going to be all over the place for some considerable time after the event. Relax, give yourself a break and go easy on yourself. And if the dreams help, then great. If they don’t, just see them as a bonus; a way of spending time with your loved one that you never expected to have.
Remember too that your (good) dreams of your loved one, although based simply on your memories, are really a reflection of a higher ‘Reality’ in which your loved one actuallyis alive and well, and where you will be going to join them within the next few decades. It’s a higher reality which will not change with time, no matter how much the memories fade or how infrequent the dreams become. Be encouraged!
*St. Paul said in 2Cor1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God“. [italics mine] 2Cor 1:3-4, and that’s what I propose to do with these posts.
**I realise that some people may be feeling a little uncomfortable with all this idea of talking with the dead. Surely, doesn’t the Bible forbid it? Like in Lev 19:31, “Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God”, or Deut 18:10-11, “Let no one be found among you who … is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead”. But let me reassure you that this isn’t the same thing at all. For starters, it’s purely involuntary; you are not actively seeking out the ‘dead’ in order to consult them. It’s a dream; you have no control at all over what you dream or don’t dream. And in any case, as we have already seen, you are not speaking to her herself; you are talking to the memory of her which is still ‘alive’ in your heart – her memory. The memory is still alive; you are not really talking with an actual dead person! It’s all completely innocent; it’s jut a dream! If you’re still really bothered by this, just ask the Lord to keep you from dreams that may be harmful, and trust Him to do the rest.
It’s four months today since my precious wife Fiona died, and I wanted to share another post about her and the grieving process, again from a different slant.
While looking for a picture of our first home, I came across the picture above. It shows Fiona with our dogs, Jasper and Katie, and our son David, in July 1987. David was about seven weeks old in this picture – he’d been born six weeks prematurely – and he’s now a big strapping lad who will be 30 in June. How time flies…and so does David; he’s a Pilot too 🙂
But the reason I was wanting pictures of our first home is because I remember God’s provision for us – in those days, and ever after – and I wanted to testify to that provision. He set up everything for us in order for us to get married, He set up everything for our house, my job, everything. Soon after David was born, as I said, six weeks prematurely, he caught a deadly illness from another child in the Baby Unit. This illness had a 50% fatality rate, and for the majority of survivors, they would have to have a colostomy. But David made a full recovery. Our next house purchase was also a series of one Divine Intervention after another. And that has been our testimony for our whole married lives together.
So how can I doubt that, even with losing Fiona, God will continue to provide for my family and I? All along, He’s been right there, provided what we needed, healed us and lifted us up.
Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s”. ( – Psalm 103:1-5)
And this has been true for us for our entire married lives together. The healing? Fiona died of cancer; how can that be a healing? Well, as I said in another post, I have never known an illness so resistant to healing prayer. And I have seen people healed by prayer; I have been healed myself – actually without prayer; God intervened sovereignly and decisively – so what happened? What went wrong? Well, I can only conclude that it was simply Fiona’s time. She always believed that each person has a time to ‘go’; her favourite Psalm was the 139th, and in Ps 139:16 it says that, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book, before one of them came to be”. Fiona believed that. And a couple of years before she died, I had a definite vision of her healed – but on the other side of the ‘veil’, although I only realised the significance of that after she died. (Sometimes the abstract nature of visions makes them unclear as to their full meaning). So in a very real sense, although she died, I believe that she is indeed healed, and whole, and walking with Jesus in paradise (Lk 23:43). And remembering these times, looking at these photos, are a lovely reminder of the amazing times and adventures we had together: the places we went; the things we did; the dangers we shared; the joys and the horrors. This is a healthy thing to do, to remember the life we had together, and it helps the grieving process. It helps here to remember the Dr. Seuss quote: “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened”. Although of course it’s a bit of both, to be sure!
Most of you will know that Fiona and I had a strong ministry in leading worship. And it is no coincidence that we considered our entire lives to be built on the foundation of worship. What’s that got to do with our first home? Well, as we were preparing our house to move into it, in late 1983 and just before we were married, we did the whole thing to the backdrop of worship. We had my ghetto-blaster playing worship tapes all the time, and we worshipped along with the music. One of the primary worship tapes we had at that time was one called ‘Call to War’ by David and Dale Garratt of ‘Scripture in Song’, and the songs on that tape always reminded us, and still remind me, of those days when we were getting our house ready. Like, for example, our first meal in the house together, when we ate Pot Noodles sitting on a pile of ripped-up carpet in the bathroom of our new house. So, here’s the song that gives this blog post its title: Song of Incense. This is a lovely worship song that, to me, epitomises that tape and those days. Here it is:
Let our praise to You be as incense
Let our praise to You be as pillars of Your throne
Let our praise to You be as incense
As we come before You and worship You alone
As we see You in Your splendour
As we gaze upon Your Majesty
As we join the hosts of angels
And proclaim together Your holiness
Holy, Holy Holy, Holy is the Lord*
What I’m saying is that you can’t do better than to build your life on an appreciation of God – which is what worship is – and to involve Him in everything. Even though Fiona died, still I know that a) she’s healed and whole, and b) I’ll see her again. God has revealed this to me personally and there is no way I can lose that vision. Doctrines and theologies will come and go, but once Father God has revealed something to a believer, they don’t forget His words. And all this is because we lived together a life of worship: closeness to God and declaring His merits. I can recommend no better way of living.
How to do this? Well, you might have heard people in churches speaking of a ‘lifestyle of worship’. In other words, it’s not just something you ‘do’ on a Sunday; it’s something that pervades your entire life every day of the week. As St. Paul says in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship”. It’s easy to start this. Just begin to praise and thank God for everything, in every situation, no matter what happens, and before you know it, it will become a habit that will sustain you for your whole life. Worship can be singing, just chatting with God, whispering to Him, dance, even basket-making or whatever your hobby is. And in this way you build up a consciousness of the presence of God in your life that you simply can’t get rid of; not that you’d try of course. This is why so many Christians appear to go around bubbling with an inexpressible, and inexplicable, joy and radiance. These are the worshippers; these are those close to God, hearing His heart, and you will find them in all denominations and also in places of no denomination. And aside from the habit-forming worship lifestyle, worship is also tremendous fun.
So, this day, determine to offer up your own personal ‘Song of Incense’ to God. Start with this song if you like, then look in my ‘Worship’ category here in my blog for more songs to get you started.
This is my secret for how I have kept so upbeat during this time of terrible tragedy. It’s all based on a closeness to God through the habit of worship. In some ways, ‘The thing I feared the most has happened to me’ (Job 3:25); the very worst thing that could happen has happened – I have lost my lovely, irreplaceable, precious wife. But still you see me ‘filled with an inexpressible joy’ (1Pet1:8), and let me tell you it’s not a ‘front’ as someone once suggested it might be! I am a Yorkshireman and, with me, what you see is what you get! Worship forms the centre of my life; I would not be ‘me’ without it. I know it might sound all airy-fairy and up in the air, but worship brings the reality of God into everyday life like nothing else. I heartily recommend it.
*For musical nerds, this song requires some explanation. Its exotic-sounding ‘unorthodox’ chord structure sounds the way it does because it is played mainly on the dominant chord instead of the tonic, that is, the song is written in the key of A♭, but it begins with, and is generally played, using the chord E♭. It’s a similar principle to the chord structure used in Kari Jobe’s ‘Revelation Song‘. This is all fine except when some dork who doesn’t understand how that works comes along and transposes it into ‘D’ for guitars, then they have to put in lots of ‘accidentals’ like C major and whatever. I once saw that in a Christian songbook, much to my chagrin. For starters, you should leave a song in the key in which it is written, unless there’s a potential problem with the congregation’s vocal range, which there isn’t in this case. Most instances of changing the original key are done because it makes it easier for lazy musicians to play in a key they can manage, rather than learning how to play in any key (some keys are more difficult than others). A song is written in the key it’s in because it sounds right in that key, and that shouldn’t be changed without a really good reason! A simple capo-1 ‘G’ notation would have worked…
I had wanted to write an article about my lovely late wife Fiona on the 25th of each month; the monthly anniversary of her passing. But I have today broken that pattern, because today would have been Fiona’s 53rd birthday – and I wanted to post another tribute as to what an incredible lady she was.
As I wrote in that first article, Fiona was a truly amazing lady. I know it’s customary to depict the departed in glowing terms, but Fiona really was a very special lady indeed. Everyone whose life was touched by her was affected positively in a life-changing way. Whether she was simply affirming a child rejected by her peers in the playground, or ministering encouragement to broken adults just by taking the time to listen with gentleness, or using her wonderful gift of hospitality to entertain a house full of people, Fiona enriched the lives of everyone she met. Her wisdom was deep and her compassion immense.
I have a book by C. S. Lewis (well, all right, I admit it: I have many books by him…) called ‘The Great Divorce‘ – it’s about heaven and hell, not about an enjoyable marriage breakdown! – and in it, there is a beautiful passage about a lady in heaven who, in her earthly life, had touched so many lives in a similar way to how Fiona did. I read it to her once, a couple of years ago, and explained how the character in the book reminded me of her, but with characteristic modesty she said, ‘Och, nooo, ah’m not like that’, in her lovely lilting Scottish accent. But she was. She didn’t even realise it; she was just being herself.
Now, the lady in the book was one ‘…Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green’. She was someone who was not famous in the worldly sense, and she reminded me of Fiona in that way too: modest and not famous, but making a huge difference in people’s lives just because of who she was.
Let me quote the passage from the book for you, then, and it might just give you a bit more of a picture of the person Fiona was. The scene is in Heaven, with the storyteller talking to his guide, the 19th-century Scottish writer George MacDonald:
All down one long aisle of the forest the under-sides of the leafy branches had begun to tremble with dancing light; and on earth I knew nothing so likely to produce this effect as the reflected lights cast upward by moving water. A few moments later I realised my mistake. Some kind of procession was approaching us, and the light came from the persons who composed it.
First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers – soundlessly falling, lightly drifting flowers, though by the standards of the ghost-world each petal would have weighed a hundredweight and their fall would have been like the crashing of boulders. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.
I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or crown is there as much as one of the wearer’s features as a lip or an eye.
But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.
‘Is it…it it?’ I whispered to my guide [George MacDonald]
‘Not at all’, said he. ‘It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.’
‘She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?’
‘Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on earth are two quite different things’
‘And who are these gigantic people…look! They’re like emeralds…who are dancing and throwing flowers before her?’
‘Haven’t ye read your Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her.’
‘And who are all these young men and women on each side?’
‘They are her sons and daughters.’
‘She must have had a very large family, Sir.’
‘Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that she met was her daughter.’
‘Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?’
‘No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.’
‘And how…but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat – two cats – dozens of cats. And all those dogs…why, I can’t count them. And the birds. And the horses.’
‘They are her beasts.’
‘Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.’
‘Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.’
I looked at my Teacher in amazement.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.’
Fiona was full of God’s life; full of His joy. This life and joy reached out and touched everyone she met, whether they realised it or not, and changed lives. The part of the Sarah story about the animals was Fiona too; she loved animals of all kinds and, although she wasn’t too keen on spiders and other ‘wee beasties’!, she quite literally would never even hurt a fly. She considered that every living creature deserved to live its life undisturbed. My lovely wife was indeed another ‘Sarah Smith from Golders Green’ – unknown by the world, but making a tremendous impact in ordinary people’s lives due to the power of God that lived within her. I wonder if she too will have a heavenly procession with her retinue, just like Sarah had in the book?
I don’t normally ‘do’ calendar festivals; I don’t particularly think of any day as being ‘special’, whether Christmas, Easter, my birthday… but sometimes these ‘recognised’ festivals do get me thinking along the lines of the things they are trying to ‘celebrate’ on those days. Which, when you think about it, is probably a fair part of the idea.
So, today is Easter Sunday, and I have just got back from Church where, as often happens there, I was completely lost in worship. We’d just finished a song, and David, the saxophonist, just continued to play a haunting little riff… and within a few seconds, the congregation were singing in the Spirit, a beautiful sound of blended, harmonised voices, with what could be heard as discordant counterpoints and undercurrents but because of the dynamics (relative volumes) they did not clash but enhanced the whole song. Quite the most beautiful Spirit singing I have heard in a long time, and only really possible with a largeish congregation because of the way the harmonies worked.*
Actually that’s not entirely relevant for today’s article, except that this article is about Easter Sunday. The day where Christians all over the world celebrate that Jesus of Nazareth, having been dead for a couple of days**, is resurrected. He came back to life; not just the same life as He had before He died, but risen to an entirely new kind of life, thus modelling our own resurrections at the ‘end of the age’.
Death had been beaten. Up until then, death was seen as The End. There were a number of ideas floating around like some sort of afterlife, but up until then, nobody had come back again after having been dead for that long. Isaiah 25:7-8 says:
“On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever”
…and this idea is covered again and again in the Bible. The promise that death would no longer be the terror and threat that, up until the Resurrection of Jesus, it had been.
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
This is Good News! It means that Death is not the end. I have had close acquaintance with death and its effects, over the last six months since my wife Fiona died. And I have to tell you that death no longer holds any terror, any fear, for me. This is, and has been, my personal experience. Because I know, because God has shown me, that death is not the end. He has shown me what Fiona has now. And I have seen an amazing woman of God face death with utter calm, peace and serenity – because of what she knew to be true – that again death is not the end.
God showed me lots of really deep things of the Spirit last night (I was in the bath, actually!), one of which was that Death is no longer the worst thing that can happen. He showed me that while at the same time pointing to the last six months, where I have lived in a certainty (not simply a denial of the facts!) that there is a life beyond the grave; Fiona is there, and she is safe in Jesus’s company. I cannot even begin to tell you what an incredible source of comfort and reassurance that is. This knowledge is, quite literally, a Life Changer.
I’ve always had a great passion for the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien; I have posted before on themes related to his work. Now, the following quotation is indeed from the last of the three epic Lord of the Rings movies ‘The Return of the King’; however, these actual lines were not written by Tolkien himself, but by the scriptwriters for the movie. The scene is in the beleaguered city of Minas Tirith, where the forces of Mordor are about to break down the last gate and destroy everyone within. Gandalf and the hobbit Pippin are awaiting their fate as the gate begins to splinter:
“Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?
Gandalf: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: No. No, it isn’t.”
– From the movie ‘Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King’
As I said, the quotation was from the movie, but the inspiration was actually from Tolkien himself. In this first quote, the hobbit Frodo is dreaming in the house of Tom Bombadil, early on in their adventure:
“That night they heard no noises. But either in his dreams or out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind; a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.”
– ‘The Fellowship of the Ring‘, Book I, Chapter 8: “Fog on the Barrow-Downs”
This is mentioned again at the end of The Return of the King, when Frodo departs on the Elven-ship:
“[T]he ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.“
– ‘The Return of the King’, Book VI, Chapter 9: “The Grey Havens” [emphasis mine]
One of the main reasons why Fiona wanted the Annie Lennox song ‘Into the West’ played at her memorial service was because she saw herself as fulfilling that promise; she would be going ‘Into the West’, with her Jesus. What an awesome thought.
Here then, I re-present the life-memories video that my daughter made for her Mum’s memorial service, with that song in it. This is the life of a great woman of God, whose confidence in her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was unshakeable, that He would carry her through the grey rain-curtain and on ‘into the West’:
No, as Gandalf said, “the journey does not end here”. The ‘shroud that covers all nations’ (Is 25:7-8) has been destroyed. Our physical death in this world is simply the transition from our present life into the even greater, fuller, and more complete Life, beyond the veil of death – beyond the grey rain-curtain, if you will – and into the light, love, power and glory of Heaven. The ‘white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise’. How can one fear Death when you realise this sort of thing – despite being quoted from a fantasy story – is real, that it’s true?
I claim that it’s true. How can I prove this? I can’t do it empirically. I can’t, except to give my personal testimony as to what I have seen, what God has showed me. I do hope it comes across as a transferable idea, that is, that you as the reader can derive some benefit from it. I know it’s difficult when it’s someone else’s story, but hopefully the testimony of someone who has been through this fire, and seen all the things I have seen, will help you in some way if you are struggling with the loss of a loved one, or indeed with life itself. Let me encourage you that the promise of the Kingdom of God is not, in fact, primarily concerned with the ‘afterlife’ – though of course it does indeed concern that closely – but also and especially it concerns bringing the power and life of that Country into our present world.
You see, when Jesus said, “Your Kingdom come; Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”, (Mt 6:10) He meant it. And He demonstrated it; by performing all the miracles He did, He demonstrated that in fact the power of the Kingdom can indeed be brought into this life, and our lives can be lived in the knowledge and exercise of that power. Because the fear of Death has been defeated by Jesus’s Resurrection.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is something that has been transmitted down the ages as something that is true. Granted, that of itself doesn’t make it true, but there is also the testimony of countless Christian witnesses down the centuries, all of whom have claimed that in fact Jesus Christ is alive and living within their hearts by His Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit within them, and their real consciousness of His presence, convinces these people (including myself) that this incredibly weird, far-fetched and too-good-to-be-true tale is, in fact, completely true. (And when you hear spontaneous, supernatural singing like that which we had in Church this morning, that just adds to the convincing evidence for me).
Just think about it like this: the one greatest fear, the most powerful natural force in history, the one thing that most humans spend their entire lives in fear of – Death – is no longer the power that it was. Its power – its ability to damage, to take away, to destroy forever – has been taken away because Death is no longer the end. Jesus said, ‘The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy; I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.‘ (Jn 10:10 KJV)
Living in the truth of that awesome fact – instead of fear of Death, Life More Abundantly – absolutely has to be one of the greatest keys to receiving the ‘Peace of God that transcends [goes beyond] understanding’ (Phil 4:7). This stuff is true; it is real, and I have lived it.
Peace to you.
The header image for this post is Gandalf and Pippin’s dialogue transliterated into the Elvish script known as the ‘Tengwar‘, as developed by J. R. R. Tolkien for his extensive development of the languages of Middle-Earth. You wouldn’t have seen this in the movies, although they were a beautifully detailed (and in my opinion accurate) representation of Tolkien’s fictitious world. There is so much richness in the Tolkien books; a whole world invented by the genius of that one man.
*For a good example of this kind of singing, take a look at this video from about 4:44 onwards.
**Most Christians think of Jesus as rising from the dead after three days. I have a problem with that description of the time gap: Died Friday, rose from the dead Sunday. No way that’s three days…there are a number of different ideas about that timescale which I won’t explore here, but suffice to say He’d been dead longer than a mere half an hour, which is the longest kind of time where we have records of people whom we thought were dead but actually they ‘recovered’. Drowning victims, that kind of thing. He really was proper dead and He was resurrected. Wow.
In the light of my former post in this series, in which C. S. Lewis describes ‘Sarah Smith from Golders Green’, a saintly lady in Heaven who had amongst her train of followers many animals that she had loved and befriended during her life – and who reminded me of Fiona – I thought it time to address the problem: Do animals go to Heaven? The Bible is silent on this issue, so what does happen to them? And my daughter lost her pet rat this month, when he lost his battle with a probable brain tumour. So, for us, it’s a pretty topical subject.
And, as we are an animal-loving family, I thought it might be an idea to discuss on here whether indeed animals will join us in Heaven, especially those who are ouranimals.
Why is this post part of my ‘Fiona’ series? Well, a few weeks before my wife Fiona died (can’t believe it’s six months ago today that we lost her), she had a real-life, solid waking vision of what was awaiting her when she passed away. I will not go into details, but I will say that the vision involved animals. Part of Fiona’s reward includes animals, very much like ‘Sarah Smith from Golders Green’. And Fiona loved her animals, and would it not be fitting if her animals were waiting to welcome her when she arrived there? Because I am indeed convinced that she went to be with her animals as well as with her Lord, I have today published this blog post. In this piece, then, I examine ideas about our animals being with us – and with Fiona right now – in Heaven.*
Certainly the Bible mentions animals in the Kingdom. Things like, ‘the lion shall lie down with the lamb’ and similar passages speaking of the peace of the Kingdom to come. And, while the Bible is very quiet on the ‘eternal fate’ of animals, there is the sense from reading the Bible that hints that, as humans are redeemed, so Creation as a whole is redeemed too on the back of our redemption. It’s all a bit mysterious, is that, but the concept certainly is there. Like in Romans 8:19, “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” It’s as if, once the saints come into their inheritance, Creation follows suit. I think Heaven is going to be full of animals!
In my research for this piece, I found many websites that kind-of abstract the whole thing about animals in Heaven. They talk about animals not being able to ‘accept Christ’; not being able to ‘understand salvation’, all that kind of thing. They miss out entirely the idea I mentioned above, that creation longs for the sons of God to be revealed. For the time when everything will be made right. In a sense, we understand salvation on their behalf, and it is through our life in Christ that they too are ‘saved’. Clearly, many of these writers have never known the love and affection of a devoted family pet, or the close relationship of a working animal with its master. Like a draft horse, a Police dog, or similar. When Jesus said that ‘he who loses his life will keep it for life eternal’, there is a hint there that everything you are, everything that formed a part of you, everything that your animals were to you, everything good about your life here on Earth, all that will somehow be caught up and included in your life in Heaven. And so it is my belief that this fully includes your animals. The animals to whom you show love and self-giving, with whom you form a loving relationship.
Also, the great Christian thinker and writer I mentioned above, C. S. Lewis, wrote that in his opinion, the ‘higher’ animals, such as dogs, cats and horses, almost seemed to have a ‘soul’. And therefore, at least some of the animal kingdom would be in Heaven. They have characters; they have personalities. They have intelligence, they have emotions and feelings. Sammy, my daughter’s rat, had a bright, sunny personality; he could do tricks, he knew his name and would come when called. He loved my daughter and you could tell that he knew she loved him. There was real intelligence and, yes, consciousness there. In other words, these animals are, in their own way, persons, and as such, that is what is redeemed. And the redemption idea was what Lewis was strongly hinting at in the ‘Sarah Smith’ passage quoted in my article. Zeus, my German Shepherd dog (he’s the dog in the header picture) is a person – there’s no doubt about it. Those who would sneer at this and accuse me of anthropomorphising Zeus’s behaviour (superimposing human traits onto an animal) don’t have a clue; they have never met him. He’s a person all right. My daughter, in fact, pointed out today that actually animals are, in a sense, far more Godly than we are because they love unconditionally, and forgive easily. And that they don’t have the same ‘walls’ that we have, whether self-erected or not. I read once – it may have been in Lewis, it may not – that animals live actually in the constant, conscious awareness of God. That’s something we cannot know, of course, but I do think there’s something in that; this is maybe why dogs and other pets are used as therapy visitors in hospitals, where they have such marked positive effects on the patients they visit.
And there’s more, this time from personal experience. I remember when we lost our first German Shepherd dog, Jasper, in 1994 (as mentioned in this piece). Fiona had a vision of him jumping up into Jesus’s lap and licking His face. (How Jasper got away with that, I don’t know; we never used to let him lick our faces!). As with all of the visions Fiona had, it was very real, almost like a solid vision, a ‘real dream’. But she saw it, all right. I saw her burst into tears of joy when she saw that picture…it wasn’t until after the meeting we were in that she told me what she’d seen. I’m convinced it was a real God-given vision, by its fruits of peace, joy and hope that it produced. We will see Jasper in Heaven. Well, we have already seen Jasper in Heaven!
This next bit is relevant, so bear with me! Christians speak about ‘Judgement Day’. For most, this is a terrifying concept where everyone’s secrets are laid bare so that God can ‘smite’ (whatever that means!) people for what they’ve done. Let me encourage you, then, for in fact the very opposite is true. God’s justice is, actually, everything being in right relationship, in its right place, ‘The way things should be’, we could say. And God’s judgement is not a heavenly court-room where we are all tried ‘for our sins’; instead, judgement is the means by which God’s justice is achieved; the process of righting all wrongs so that His justice comes into full fruition. That’s what Judgement and Justice mean.
God’s justice and His judgement are therefore restorational concepts, not punitive ones.
Like all Kingdom concepts, it is happening in the here and now wherever Christ’s followers bring Him into a situation. It is also what will happen at the ‘Last Judgement’ and at that point it will be brought to its completion. This is why I look forward to that judgement; I look forward to everything being restored to its proper order and in its proper place, with everyone in right relationship with God and with others. I look forward to everything that was ever wrong being made right, and every injustice set straight. I look forward to everything being ‘the way that it should be’. When viewed in that manner, ‘Judgement’ and ‘Justice’ take on a whole different meaning from that of the angry god taking out his ‘wrath’ on people, to one of a loving God who wants nothing less than peace and wholeness for everything He has made.
Why is this relevant to whether or not animals will be in Heaven? Well, you see, death is one of those things that is ‘wrong’; that needs to be put right. It’s just so hurtful, so damaging and so painful. And permanent too.
Except that it isn’t. Because Jesus rose from the dead, literally came back to life after being dead for days, it shows that in fact God has declared death defeated. Death no longer has the permanence it once had. ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory!’ (1Cor15:54 and Isa 25:7-8). And so death itself will be one of those ‘wrong’ things that will be done away with, for ever. So there is nothing to prevent all that our animals were to us, all the love and affection they gave and received, from being given back to us in the next life. Death is defeated; why should this not extend to our animals? God is just that kind of God, Who would do really ace stuff like that! 🙂
And so, if all that was ever wrong is put right, surely then the ‘wrong’, undeserved, sometimes untimely deaths of all these pets will be put right too. My daughter’s pet rat Sammy was only sixteen months old when he died. Rats are supposed to live for two to three years. It’s all wrong. But that too will be put right.
What about animals that were not our pets? How about animals bred entirely for use as food? What about bugs, bacteria and whatnot? Where is the line drawn? Well, we can’t know for certain, of course. For an animal that does not mean all that much to us personally, like, say, a wild animal; an animal that does not ‘belong’ to someone as such; such an animal might be in Heaven, but not actually linked with anyone. I really don’t have any ideas on that, I’m afraid.
But let’s stick to what I do believe. I personally think that people’s pets or working animals – shall we say, ‘conscious’ animals with which we formed a mutually-beneficial relationship – I firmly believe that animals like those will be raised up with us as part of our inheritance as saints.
And finally, there’s this vitally important point too: God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev 21:4). This means that everything that ever upset you, everything that ever hurt you, everything will be made right and things will be just as if the bad stuff never happened!I have written about this before, and the same principle applies here. This is part of God’s restorative justice. It’s part of what will happen. The Bible is full of God’s promises to restore – “I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel and will rebuild them as they were at first.” – (Jer 33:7); “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” – (Joel 2:25). Granted, many of these prophecies were regarding the restoration of Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon, but the heart of God is still to restore. Restoring: putting things back where they belong; giving them back; restoring relationship – including those with our beloved pets.
So, animals in Heaven. Why not? Given the generous and, moreover, restoring nature of God, and that He loves to surprise us and bless us with every good thing, and given that Heaven will be better than anything and everything we could ever have dreamed, why not?
Do our pets go to Heaven?
Yes! They do!!
*And part of the reason for this post is that, in this series, I explore various ideas about the ‘afterlife’ and the grieving process of losing a loved one. Animals too are ‘loved ones’, so I felt for both reasons, and more, it was fitting to examine this topic as part of this series 🙂
The header picture shows my magnificent German Shepherd dog, Zeus. He’s a gentle giant whom we adopted at fifteen months old. When we got him he was a bit of a sad case who was terrified of men (we think he’d been abused by his previous owner), he hadn’t been socialised with other dogs, and he was generally not well-trained at all. After four to six months with us, he’d turned into the most placid, gentle, obedient dog you could wish for. He now gathers a fan club wherever he goes; everyone wants to stroke him and have pictures taken with him (especially Japanese people for some reason). He’s 9 now and weighs in at 55kg, by far the biggest German Shepherd we have owned, even bigger than Bruno. Here he is again, on the beach at Porthcothan in north Cornwall (and the photo is clickable to magnify it):
[Edit 24th June 2017] – yesterday, our beloved Zeusy went to be with his Mum. He died completely unexpectedly; in the morning he was welcoming visitors and doing his walk and stuff, and within twelve hours he was gone. Naturally we are heartbroken but, as I am sure you’ve worked out by now, we believe that he’s gone to be with Jesus and his Mum. I look forward to the exuberant welcome he will give me when it’s my turn…