A Glimpse of Heaven from Oklahoma City

Two weeks ago today, we arrived in Oklahoma City. All of us were sick. All of us were tired. We had cancelled the rest of our appointments for our “home ministry assignment,” but we still had to get ourselves back to Seattle. So, we were looking at several long days of driving across the U.S. in the middle of winter. We almost didn’t even go through Oklahoma City at all since the shortest route to Seattle from Nashville puts you through Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota up to I-90.

But our friends Lj and Kari had made arrangements for us to stay at the Mission House near the Oklahoma Christian campus. And so, thinking that at least we could rest there and not worry about bringing our germs into a friend’s home, we went. I’m not sure what I really expected from our time there. To see old friends from our Japan days, to see Rusty’s nephew Robbie, who is a student at OC, to rest and relax for a bit before we made our big push west.

I didn’t expect to be totally overwhelmed with love and care. I didn’t expect to be ministered to. I didn’t expect to wish we could just stay forever. I didn’t expect to catch a glimpse of heaven from Oklahoma City.

From the time we arrived, our friends poured out for us. Seriously — we have the best and most thoughtful friends! People came to visit. They brought my kids a Wii to play. They invited them over to play. They brought food — every single one of our meals during our 2 days there was taken care of! They took us out to eat after church on Sunday. They invited us to their small group. They hugged us and encouraged us, and we laughed and reminisced together. They laid hands on us and prayed over us and our ministry, and it was so beautiful and so needed.

On Sunday night as we were packing up to leave the next morning, I started crying. I told Rusty I didn’t want to leave, that I wished we lived here, near friends, near kindred spirits. It’s amazing how you don’t even realize how lonely you’ve been until you’re suddenly – not. For a little while, anyway.

It probably sounds strange when I say I caught a glimpse of Heaven from Oklahoma City. Because, really, there are more beautiful places in the world. I think even people who live in OKC would acknowledge that! But what makes OKC beautiful to me is the people. So many of our dear friends from our English-teaching days in Japan live and work there now. There’s just something about those relationships that we formed in the early years of our marriage, during our first stint in our first foreign country. Every time I go to visit, I sort of feel like I’ve come home. And I’ve never lived there! But I’m with my people, my family, my tribe. I’m accepted and loved and understood. I matter to them.

I think this is what I mean. This is what I imagine Heaven will be like – a great big homecoming. The homecoming to beat all homecomings. We’ll throw our arms around each other and we’ll laugh long and loud. And maybe we’ll shed a tear or two. We’ll tell each other the stories of how we watched God work in us and through us and in spite of us. There will be food and there will be light and there will be warmth. Everyone will matter and everyone will belong.

This is what Heaven will be. And this is what I caught a glimpse of in Oklahoma City.

(A million thank-you’s to our dear friends Lj and Kari Littlejohn, Kelsey and Lisa Herndon, Mark and Charity Chan, and Damon and Amy Britton. You encouraged my heart in ways you can never know. I am blessed to know you and to call you my friends.)

Wheel-Less (Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago, our Land Rover was out of commission for about a week. We stayed close to home and took taxis when we needed to go somewhere further afield. One day, after Rusty had walked to the store in the rain to pick up a few things he needed, I asked him if it made him nostalgic for the good ol’ days of not having a vehicle. He actually rolled his eyes at me, so I guess the answer is no, but it got me to thinking on the two times in our married life where we have been completely wheel-less.

The first time was right after we moved to Japan as newlyweds. We didn’t buy our car until we had lived there six months. We took buses occasionally and rode the train, but our primary means of transportation was our bikes! We rode them to school and home each day, to church, to the Soken (Board of Education) office every Friday for our AET meetings, to the grocery store, to friends’ houses for dinner, to the park and Lake Senba, all over Mito really.

Of course, it’s easy to romanticize it now, to remember being out in nature — the fields of wild-flowers, the plum blossoms, the leaves ablaze with autumn colors — the feel of the wind in my face, how fit I was just from riding my bike everywhere (hello, toned calves!). But it was also so cold in the winter that I actually got frostbite on my toes and so hot in the summer that I was drenched in sweat after my 5-minute bike ride to school in the morning. Riding a bike in the pouring rain with a basket full of groceries is just not fun. And then there was the time I almost got hit by a car.

After we bought our car, we both felt as though our world had opened up. We could go more places, do more things. We weren’t bound by how far we could reasonably go on a bike or by train schedules and bus routes. We experienced a new-found sense of freedom. The world was ours for the exploring.

I continued to ride my bike to school and back each day since my school was only a 5-minute ride from our house. Rusty started using the car for his commute. I may or may not have occasionally begged him to drop me off at school when it was cold or raining. It was nice to have that option, but I actually found that I really enjoyed my daily ride. Since we left Japan, there have been times when I really miss just hopping on my bike and pedaling down the road, feeling the wind in my face as I ride and the rush of endorphins afterwards.

Part 2 coming tomorrow.