By Jan Davis
Special to The PREVIEW
Joanie’s grandparents sent her and her cousins, dressed in their Sunday clothes, to the backyard of her parent’s house.
“Stay clean. Don’t come back inside until called,” her grandmother smiled with tears in her eyes.
The boys pitched an old ball back and forth, while the older girls sat Indian-style on the porch, entertained with a game of jacks. Joanie played with her doll in the yard until she became bored. She left her doll in the swing and walked to the side of the small framed house. She watched as a long black car appeared through the dust on the country road and pulled into the drive.
Four men dressed in dark suits stepped out. They walked to the back, pushed up the door and slid out a large wooden box. Daddy opened the front door as the men carried the long crate inside.
A few minutes later, the four men carried the same box down the steps and placed it back inside the car.
Grandpa hugged her daddy’s shoulder and together they cried.
Something’s wrong. Joanie sneaked into the back door. Her grandparents, aunts and uncles stood in tight groups around the small living room and talked in low voices. Joanie couldn’t understand anything as she tiptoed through the room. Her aunts dabbed their eyes with hankies and blew their noses while her uncles stood straight, arms crossed in the back and stared out into space with red eyes. She didn’t see her daddy anywhere.
Why is everyone crying? Joanie tiptoed past the adults and headed to her parents’ bedroom and opened the door. I want to see Mama. The bed was made and a single rose lay on top of the pillow. Mama’s Bible lay open on the nightstand. Everything in place, but her mama was nowhere in sight. With her arms crossed in stubborn determination, she set out to find her Mama.
Joanie’s young life centered around the little house on the outskirts of town where she lived with her parents. She remembered the fun they had when Daddy would push her and Mama around in the wheelchair outside. Those were happy days before Mama became too sick to go outside and days were spent in bed.
Her daddy left early in the morning in the old family pickup. He drove a bright yellow school bus and picked up kids and dropped them off at school. Then he headed back home to care for her and Mama.
He fixed breakfast for the two of them in the kitchen and took a tray to Mama. He came back after a few minutes.
“Why are you crying? Is Mama OK?”
“She’s fine baby girl. Everything is OK.”
Joanie loved her daddy. She laughed when he wore Mama’s apron and played house. They sat in the middle of the kitchen floor as he poured tea into the little tea set Santa brought her for Christmas.
“This is the proper way to hold a teacup.” He held his pinkie in the air.
Joanie loved her mama, too, and they spent hours together in her room. She couldn’t remember when Mama wasn’t sick.
Mama mended Daddy’s socks or knitted a pair of booties for Joanie’s doll before her strength gave out. She took a pair of old socks and made a hand puppet and told Joanie stories. Some were make-believe, others of when she was a little girl.
There were stories of growing up on the farm chasing chickens around the yard with her brothers and sisters.
It would be fun to grow up on my grandparent’s farm.
Mama read “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Three Little Pigs” out loud. Joanie enjoyed the tricks of the little pigs and hid under the quilt when Daddy appeared as the big bad wolf with a red scarf wrapped around his head.
Her favorite times were when Mama read from the family Bible kept on the nightstand. The stories came alive as she told about God’s sky and cloud. Noah’s big boat, Jonah and the whale, David and Goliath, and Daniel in the lion’s den were some of her favorites. Joanie wiped tears from her eyes when she heard the story of Jesus and how he died on the cross for her.
Jesus loves me and I love him.
Mama took lots of naps. That was OK. Joanie crawled up close, laid her head on her mama’s breast and listened to her heart, before they fell asleep. Joanie felt loved and safe in her arms.
The night before the strangers showed up in the black car, Mama told a beautiful bedtime story about heaven. “Hi, baby girl, get my jewelry box off the dresser and come sit beside me. I want to tell you my favorite Bible story.”
Joanie hurried to the dresser and climbed onto a little stool. She reached for the pretty box and carried it back to the bed and snuggled under the quilt.
“Thank you, sweetheart.” Mama opened the lid, withdrew two items and placed the box on the nightstand next to her Bible. “When Jesus died on the cross, he went back to heaven, where his Father lives. He promised to return some day and take us to heaven. We will live there forever with him.”
Joanie listened and nodded her head. She knew this story.
Mama handed her a gold ring. “This is my wedding ring. It’s too big for me now. I want you to wear it while I tell you the rest of the story.”
Joanie slipped the ring onto her small finger.
Mama chuckled, “Looks like it’s a little big for you, too. Someday when you are grown, it will be yours.”
“In heaven, we will walk and run on solid streets, made of gold, like my ring.”
“Will you walk in heaven with me?”
“Yes, dear, I’ll hold your hand and we’ll walk together.”
“I can’t wait. Why are you crying?”
“I’m afraid you will have to wait for a little while sweetheart. You have a lot of growing up to do. Anyway, let me tell you more.”
She reached for the pearl necklace. “These are my pearls. A gift from your daddy on our first Christmas. Do you want to wear them?”
Joanie clapped her hands. “Yes, oh yes.” She scooted close and leaned her head in.
Mama draped the pearls over Joanie’s neck, leaned back and smiled. “They look beautiful on you, baby girl. The first thing you see when you get to heaven are big gates made of solid pearl like my necklace, but bigger. Everything is huge in heaven.”
Joanie grinned. “Heaven sounds pretty.”
“It is. And the best part is, in heaven there will be no more pain. We won’t hurt anymore. Jesus takes it all away.”
“I’ll be glad when you don’t hurt anymore.”
Her daddy walked in and smiled. “How are my two favorite girls? You look pretty in Mama’s pearls. Why don’t we put them away for now and let her rest? Grandma made some chocolate chip cookies. We can eat some in the kitchen with a cold glass of milk.”
“Yummy. Can I have two?”
“We’ll see.” He chuckled and placed the ring and necklace back into the jewelry box. He gave his wife a kiss and picked Joanie up off the bed.
She leaned over and gave her mama a hug and kiss. “Night, Mama, I love you.”
“Night, Joanie. I love you, too, but Jesus loves you more.”
Joanie’s dad returned the box to the dresser as he glanced back at his wife. Without a word, their eyes locked on each other before he closed the door.
Mama was not in her bed. Joanie ran past relatives around the kitchen table and out the back door. She needed to find Daddy and ask him about Mama. She spotted him sitting alone on the swing in the backyard. Joanie hurried to stand in front of him. Daddy is crying.
“What’s wrong, Daddy?”
He pulled her up onto his lap and handed her the doll she left behind earlier. They began to swing back and forth. “Remember yesterday when Mama told you the story about heaven and let you wear her wedding ring and pearls?”
“Yes, she said it was her favorite story and heaven sounded amazing.”
“It is.” He choked back the tears. “Well, last night Mama went to heaven and today she is with Jesus. She wanted me to tell you how much she loves you. She will wait for you inside the big gates and you will walk together on streets of gold.”
Joanie wrapped her arms around his neck and they cried until all the tears were gone.
Years later, Joanie sat by her dad’s bed.
“You’re wearing your mama’s gold band and necklace.”
“Yes, I think of her whenever I wear them and remember her favorite story. Tell her I miss her and love her whole bunches.”
“I will. Your mama would be proud of the woman you are today. You have a wonderful family. You have kept her memory alive through the stories you share with your own little girls.”
“I love you, Dad.”
“I love you, Joanie, but Jesus loves you more.”
Joanie wiped away the tears and watched her dad’s eyes close as a smile crept across his face.
Joanie’s granddaughter, Katherine, sat next to her in bed. They had spent the day together. Joanie told stories, “When I was a little girl …” and shared memories of summers spent on her grandparent’s farm. Stories similar to the ones she heard as a child and shared with Katie’s mom when she was young. They laughed together while Katie snuggled close under the old quilt with her Nana.
“I love you, Nana.”
“I love you too, baby girl, but Jesus loves you more. Before we get cozy and fall asleep, jump down and bring Nana her jewelry box. I want to tell you a story about heaven.”
Life application: Joanie discovered life is not always fair and tragedy happens. Most of us have experienced the death of a parent, child or sibling and our world changes forever. Through God’s mercy, we are able to face each new day. We learn to live in spite of our loss and move forward.
Her mom explained the promise of eternal life in Christ, free from sorrow, pain and sickness, no longer separated through death from those we love.
Because of Jesus, we find hope in His Word, which declares, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” -— Lamentations 3:22-23 (KJV).