I grew up in a loving, happy, Christian-living home.
I can’t remember when I didn’t know the horrifying details of the Easter story, though it’s only been within the last five years or so I would admit my personal choice would be to skip the heartbreaking parts of the back story. My preference would have been to go straight to Easter morning where Christ has risen, all is well, there’s a basket full of Easter candy to be devoured ASAP and a new dress, shoes, hat and gloves to wear to church. Throw in the Easter dinner at Grannie and Granddad Cooksey’s – ham, yeast rolls, mashed potatoes and I don’t know what else, finished with homemade white layer cake and cocoanut icing – with the more than a dozen cousins, their parents and all our dogs in attendance.
Who needed heaven when there was so much to love and hold dear here on earth?
Some of those preferences are still considered today. And some of those questions I still ask.
All of my life we were faithful church-goers. The story is when Daddy was a rookie highway patrolman in Llano his captain told him after a Saturday night of busting drunks, he should always go to church on Sunday.
“Surround yourself with good people every chance you get,” the captain said.
Dad did, and so we did. And we celebrated holidays appropriately and religiously. I grew up believing, and believing seemed to come easy enough. Even as an adult, how many times has faith stepped in and seen me through. I can’t begin to count the times or ways.
But in all those years, it’s been a here and now foundation for living. Never, that I can think of, has it been an “I want to go to heaven” duty. My reasoning is I want to be as good and as kind and as loving a person as I can be, mostly for the feel-good of the present and not for stars in a heavenly crown.
Honestly, truly, while I’ve known so many good people I believe and feel assured are in heaven now – as they deserve to be, my first real consideration of eternity came with the death of my former husband.
He didn’t believe. It’s possible he could have had a death-bed conversion. I hope he did. But in my grief of losing my first true love and feeling a bottomless sadness over the closure my sons would never have with their father, the worst fear I could imagine stole over me. It was the thought of how long eternity will be for those who are condemned.
My Sunday school class has been studying Max Lucado’s “He Chose the Nails” lesson series during this Lenten season, and in our Palm Sunday video, Lucado discussed eternity in paradise, the reward – we know – for those who believe.
And after church, my trio of lunch buddies and I discussed that morning’s lesson. We don’t have the answers, we agree. But we have the faith, we shared. Believing may be enough, but we don’t understand how anyone can believe in Christ and not practice Christian ways. Except, there is that rampant practice – and it seems to be gaining in popularity – of those who quote the Bible, claim to be Christian and who judge, condemn and curse those with any sort of difference.
Borrowing the wisdom of an old German proverb, “To believe everything is (almost) too much, but to believe nothing is not (nearly) enough,” our discussion meandered a bit – they’re retired school teachers and I’m, well, I am a bunny-trail chaser any way you look at it.
Our greatest comfort has been to have the environments we grew up in – loving families, safe communities, good educations and guidance of those who helped us not stray from a good path.
But we kept coming back to the idea, heaven’s store isn’t the reason we are Christian. Nor is the threat of hell the reason we don’t commit atrocious, hurtful and cruel sins. Heaven is merely the white cake with cocoanut icing dessert for a filling feast – a blessed and joyful life where we gave and received, where joy was found in doing and serving, caring and helping.
The thought of life everlasting boggles my mind, but I think I get small glimpses of heaven’s great pleasures in so many beautiful things in this world’s people and places. It soothes my soul to know, ultimately, good overcomes. I choose to believe and celebrate my faith.
Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.