While visiting my family in San Angelo, Texas last summer, I was afforded the rare opportunity of experiencing a mid-summer rain storm. Not rare for anyone who lives in the South or the Mid-West, but rare for someone who has been living in the bland capitol of the United States, southern California. A place where you can only tell what season it is, by looking at a calendar. The smell of a summer rain is equaled to nothing I know of. You can smell it coming for about fifteen minutes before it hits. The air becomes a little cooler, and there is a stillness to the atmosphere that cannot be described in words. To me the smell is the real bonus here because it washes down all of the grime and trash that humankind has dumpted into the atmosphere.
To me, that is peace. The quiet, the clean smell, the stillness that carries from the swiftly moving black clouds, to create a dichotomy of nature. The clouds attempt to scare all of God's living creatures with the promise of a pounding rain storm, but are foiled in that effort when we realize what a summer rain storm can do to revitalize our lives, which by that time of the summer, are filled with humors in need of repair. Stand still. Smell it. See it. From a distance of many miles, you can see the rain coming in vertical sheets that look like huge, grand shower curtains being pulled across the landscape of the flat lands. Suddenly, thunder cracking like the sound of enormous redwood trees being felled. Then, the first few big drops hit the ground. The wet spots they leave stand out like flags amongst the whiter look of the dry ground all around them. Within minutes, it is hard to believe that the ground was anything but soaked. Hard to believe that the heat was unbearable. Hard to believe anyone could dread a gift from God such as this.
To me, that is what it is. A gift from God. A reward to His children for remaining civilized through otherwise unbearable months of heat. And so it is, that I believe that His reward to us for all eternity, will be along that vein. Surely it will be different for different people. Just as these summer storms bring about a peace in me, it might be that a spring day full of light winds, and puffy white cumulus clouds playing umbrellas for a field full of grass and flowers is someone else's idea of peace. Either way, you get the idea. Each person's idea of an idyllic existence is different in its window dressings, but all have the same magic vein running through them. A minute, an hour, a day, a week, without strife. Without sorrow, and grief, and war and hunger and sickness and loss. Everyone, has, at one point in their life, experienced their own version of that feeling of peace.
I know as well as I know anything, that this is what will await all who believe in God. Only sinners are born into this world. Sinners all. Yes, no matter who, no matter what they do, what they say, what they think, they are, you are, I am, we are all sinners before God. That doesn't mean that we are all bad. We are just humans. Flesh and blood given to temptation, to mis-beliefs, and to errant thoughts. That was the master plan. Yet, if a person believes this, he believes it because it is written in the Bible, which is God's book. Believing in God is the one prerequisite to entering His kingdom for all time. Different religions aside, if you believe in God, you are a Christian. By virtue of the word, you are a believer in Christ. But actually, you believe that Christ is God, and God created us, and will take us in the end. If you are a Christian, you believe in your heart that God is your creator and your savior. If you truly believe that, (and only you and God know if you really accept this in your heart as the truth) you will live on in an eternal peace after you leave your earthly form to enter heaven.
When I get there, it will be summer in San Angelo, Texas with a summer rain just beginning. I know this because I have faith that this will be. But the faith that this is the way Heaven looks, is so strongly rooted in my mind, that there is no wondering about it. As sure as I'm sitting here tapping my skinny fingers on the keyboard, I know when I enter my life after death, I'll see my grandmother Bebo there waiting for me. She has been in peace since she left the earth herself and has been waiting anxiously for her loved ones to join her. Knowing of the peace there, she is wondering why anyone would dread dying. Her good heart has won her a huge mansion to live in I'm sure. I'll see my cousin Brett there, probably playing a happy, sweet song on the banjo that he loved to play, or on his guitar, whose strings have been still and quiet since he left us to begin his eternal peace. I'll see one of my best friends Bernie Dicicco, who died at the age of 40 from a brain hemorrhage one Saturday afternoon, leaving five children, and a wife who thought he hung the moon. I'm not so sure that she was wrong about that. Few men I know have been the kind of person who could teach his sons how to be men instead of males like Bernie could. His heart was the size of an olympic sized swimming pool. I'll see John and Reve Walsh's son Adam, along with all other children whose lives were cut short before they had lived long enough to have had a bad thought, let alone acted on it.
And Staf Sergeant Roy Benavitez who jumped from a helicopter almost five stories in the air while fighting in Viet Nam. He did this to give support for his unit which was pinned down. He broke his leg on the fall and immediately took small arms fire from the enemy. He was shot in the head, lung, leg, arm and shoulder. But he kept going and killed most of the Viet Cong while dragging his wounded comrades to a safety zone so they could be picked up by helicopter. He got them all in and took some more bullets in the bargain. They were lifting off and the pilot was killed by the Cong. The helicopter crashed and Sgt. Benavitez pulled all from the downed chopper and called for another. He dragged all the remaining live soldiers to a lagoon where the next helicopter picked them up. While dragging them to the chopper he was wounded again by two Viet Cong soldiers whom he killed bare handed with his knife. When medics pulled him into the chopper, they thought they were pulling in a dead body but the Sgt. moved and they began working on him immediately. Sgt. Benavitez was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The men he saved went home to have families and careers. If not for Benavitez, there are close to hundred and fifty people who would not be here today. If there is a hierarchy for living in heaven, surely he will have earned one of the most beautfiul gold mansions.
I have sinned. I have had unkind thoughts. I have acted in a manner that could never be mistaken as Christian, but I know I will see these people because even though I am a sinner, I also believe I have the basics to enter His master planned community. I have never done anything to anyone with a conscious knowledge that they would be hurt by it. I have had revenge in my heart, yet, cannot remember ever actually carrying out a vengeful act. Even though I have wronged other people, I know that God knows what I am made of. My heart is not full of hate and bitterness. I guess that's because I was lucky enough to have been raised by a Mother who loved me and my sisters and brother, and made sure we knew who God was and who we were in that context. She provided happiness in a time when others would surely have seen only poverty, and sadness. We were the wealthy among the poor. If that is instilled in someone's heart at such an early age, I think there is little chance of that person being bad to the core. I know right from wrong. I don't always do right, but I also know that when I don't do right, it is not because of an evil heart, it is because I was born a sinner, and as such, am prone to mistakes.
That is something that non-Christians (non-believers) could never understand. I really am sorry for them, that they will not be joining us there in that summer rain storm. For just as we all have our own private peace, we also have our own version of hell. Something we fear and dread, and would be in constant pain with. It's hard for we humans to comprehend anything without boundaries. Hard for us to understand that God has always been. There never was a beginning for him, and there'll be no end. There is no end to the universe we live in. It just keeps on going indefinitely. We only deal with finite and concrete concepts here on earth, so we think of everything as having a beginning and an end. Life has a beginning and end, but your soul will go on forever. I can't imagine something being forever, let alone being filled with sorrow and pain for that forever. And even though my inherent mortal intelligence cannot completely grasp the concept of never ending, I can imagine the idea of a peace that reaches down into your soul and becomes part of it.
That is the place where I will meet up with every good person I've ever met and multitudes of others I never got the chance to meet. I'll be re-acquainted with scores of other people's souls. Souls that belonged to people I have had the pleasure to have known and loved, and I'll be waiting for scores more that I will precede. All spending an eternity in a storm in the middle of a hot summer day. Or a spring day. Or a serene snowfall. Their own heaven. Their own eternity. All different and personal, yet tied together by one common fabric...their belief in God and its resulting reward....peace forever in a summer rain.