It has been quite a few days…yes it has. I guess we all have those types of periods in our lives. I have just had one. When I was younger I used to recoup a lot faster to those types of episodes. Not so much in my 68th year.

“What in the heck are you talking about, Hayden?”

Let me explain.

My job is to proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ came to earth because God loves us. During his stay here he grew like we grow, he worked like we work, he learned like we learned, he struggled like we struggled, he found his purpose like we find our purpose, he lived his purpose teaching us, healing us, leading us, dying for us and then rising from the death. We celebrate his victory over death on Easter every year. Some of us celebrate his victory every Sunday (which is why Christian churches worship on Sunday and not the Sabbath like our Jewish predecessors). Some of us celebrate the promise of new life in and through Christ Jesus with the beginning of each day and with gratitude at the end of each day. That is what I do.

So, what’s the problem?

This past week I went on a good news roller coaster. Last week, Dr. Mary Neal visited our community and shared her story of having died in a kayak accident in Chile. I remember her story vividly because I walked with her through her healing process with the new life the Lord had given her. Dr. Neal dynamically tells of her experience in heaven, meeting friends, meeting Jesus. She tells how it changed her life, how she wanted to stay even when she was told she must return. Every time I hear her story, I am reminded that “this world is not my home…I’m just passing through.”

Then, this past Monday, I made a quick trip to Jackson to help lead a Celebration of Life service (funeral) for a friend of 25 years. She was only 55 years old, but the glioblastoma tumors won the day and she died because of the brain cancer. Even though I had just been reminded of Dr. Neal’s story, I was still struck by the grief of having lost a friend. From celebration of life to the grieving from death — a roller coaster.

Upon my return I am left with this mixture of emotions. Because of Jesus and confirmed through Dr. Neal’s experience, I have a taste of what is ahead for everyone of us. Heaven is for real and for those who, like the thief on the cross who believed in Jesus, we who believe the good news believe will also hear, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Hallelujah. That is what I want. That is what I look forward to. On the other hand, because of my friend who died, I know the journey we all must take to get there.

So, what do I do between the hope I have in eternity life, which I anticipate, and the process of getting there, which I dread? Simply put, I believe all of us are called to live the two great commandments that Jesus highlighted for us:

• Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (because this is the one with whom you will spend eternity), and

• Love your neighbor as yourself (because these are the ones you live with until you get there). Mark 12:28-31.

That is my purpose between now and then as I ride this roller coaster called life. I believe it is the purpose we all share as we follow Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.


Paul Hayden is interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church.