The clouds part at laser-speed. Planets spin into darkness.
The wind roars like a hurricane against her face,
yet does nothing to slow her passage as she shoots like a lightning bolt in reverse, through atmospheres and realms she never knew existed.
Her home planet is nothing but a pebble far below,
discarded like a thousand other pebbles on the vast dark blanket of space.
A trumpet blasts as a thousand voices shout in triumph.
A new world engulfs her senses, swirling with sights, sounds, and smells—all new, yet not foreign.
She is stunned, a bit numb, but has never felt so alive.
Why do those back on the pebble consider her dead?
The cries draw her in with a force more powerful than anything she's ever felt.
Music is everywhere: in her ears, her mind, her being.
It vibrates to the core,
indistinguishable from the radiance
that swirls around her like a mist.
it would have blinded her.
Now it only sharpens her vision.
He holds out strong hands to greet her. “Conna-Joy, you’ve come!”
He leans close and power crackles from his white garment like electrical charges. “Weren’t you taught that the names of the beloved
are written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life?”
The man sweeps a massive arm to encompass the teaming throngs ahead.
“You were chosen to represent His joy!
You are the very image of the Master’s joy,
something which we celestial beings cannot know.”
to be of His heart, to carry His essence, and to reign with him forever.
It is a breathless wonder my brothers and I cannot imagine.”
“Yes, and such an honor it has been to serve the Master
by overseeing you from your birth.”
He laughs again, a deep rich sound that joins with the music
and adds a unique harmony.
“That’s what you call us, but it is so much more than guarding, you know.
We exist to do the will of the Master, to listen to His every whisper
and rush to fulfill it.
I and others were there to bring His plans into fruition,
to urge you on, protect you, guide you and fight for you
so that His will would always prevail.”
With her face buried in the icy freshness of his garment,
she feels the solid strength beneath the spotless white.
“I always wondered...if I would meet you...if it was true.”
But this time, it is you who will go on before me in your understanding,
for there are things we celestial beings cannot know.”
Laughter explodes and she is pulled toward the crowd as with a magnetic force, anticipation building inside her chest.
The music swells and she hears herself singing with them,
a song she has never sung before.
The voice that soars from her throat is in perfect pitch
and she wants to laugh again for the sheer joy of it.
At a touch on her shoulder, she whirls.
Gazing back at her are eyes she had seen every day of her life
until the drunk driver stole them away. “Mama?”
She lifts her head to look.
“Daddy? Daddy, you’re here! We didn’t know…”
Tears drown her laughter and she buries her face in his white garment.
“Yes, I'm here by His grace. I now understand what grief I caused with my pride and stubbornness. After the wreck—your mother was already gone—I lay there in the broken glass and cried out to God.
He saved me in that instant, and suddenly—I was here!”
He watches her face as understanding dawns. “Yes, you see it, don’t you?”
My ability to worship and enjoy this place is not as great as those who faithfully served him all their days.
No, it doesn’t make me sad. There is no sadness here.
The knowledge causes me to praise Him all the more
and reverence those who have such stories to tell.
Others possess such depth of understanding,
it will take me eons to comprehend it all!”
among the duller hues.
But the differences don’t hamper the delighted celebration
going on all around her.
We held each other and prayed for you.
When it got too hard to watch, I had to turn away.
But when I did, there He was, holding out His arms to me.
He wiped away my tears with such love and joy I could never stay sad.
I knew it would be a short time until you would be here with us forever.”
I felt so alone.”
You were never alone.”
She sweeps an arm toward the crowd.
“Look at them. They’re all your family. So many of them stopped to pray with us and joined us in our vigil.
"Look, over there, see the short man with the black skin?
That’s Fen-Kindness. He was like your father.
He met the Lord a short time before His homecoming.
But once here, he was able to become all that the Father had planned for him.
You can actually see the kindness floating around him like a cloud.”
surrounding the gentle-faced man, walking arm-in-arm with another.
We’ve been doing this for centuries, and every time it is new.”
Her mother and father lag behind as they talk with others.
they are a part of it.
Music fills the cathedral, the top of which soars upward and out of sight.
From the enormous platform before them,
lightening flashes and sparks skyrocket like fireworks.
The air seems charged with electricity.
it is as though she is the only spectator.
A sea of musicians stretches for miles, yet she can clearly see every face and the instrument each plays.
As she watches, the director moves away and another strides onto the platform. The orchestra never misses a beat as they leave the elegant Austrian ballad
and launch into a lively Mexican dance.
from the incredible musical display.
“There, to your right. See them? This is my favorite part."
A Presence unlike anything she has ever experienced fills the place,
swirling like a tornadic wind, golden in color and taste,
engaging every sense and leaving her breathless.
rising in unfaltering crescendo.
She cannot speak the name aloud.
“Yes. He fills the place with his presence many times a day,
but He is so magnificent, your eyes are not ready to see Him in all His glory yet.
My brothers and I can.
We gaze upon His face at all times to draw strength and instruction.
But mankind is different. In time you will.
You have all of eternity, you know.”
She squints at him and he laughs.
“Try this,” he says. “Close your eyes. Now face the platform
and tell me what you see.”
It’s like watching a blockbuster movie on a mini-screen.”
“You creatures of earth are so entertaining!”
He wipes his eyes on his sleeve and grows sober.
“Now, we must stop this chatter, or we’ll miss it.
Watch! Here come the Polynesian Islands.”
A human-like hand emerges from the dazzling Presence
with palm up, inviting more.
Was that Jesus?”
Who else would be sitting at the right hand of the Father?”
“Oh, Daughter of Earth, you so delight me!
I have enjoyed serving the Master with you.
You brought me much joy the years you were on earth.”
But now, there I go again. I don’t want you to miss this part.”
They open to allow the Polynesians to exit, and the music changes beat once more. From the orchestra pit comes a song from the Orient
and a voice from near the Presence announces:
“The People’s Republic of China.”
wearing the traditional garb of the country and era to which they had been born.
brighter and more colorful than anything she had seen on Earth.
On the heads of many, are crowns, laden with jewels.
her eyes riveted on the solemn dance before them.
“I know those must be the crowns they earned when they served the Lord on earth. Some don’t have anything,
and their faces look a bit less radiant than the others.
Why are they so much bigger...and, wait!
Jesus is coming down the steps! Look! Look Dre, He’s coming down!”
She jumps up and down like a child at the fair
and he smiles at her indulgently.
all instruments in unison.
The Son Himself is making his way down from the throne,
and going directly to the group in the center.
She turns to Dre and whispers, “What’s He doing?
Where’s He going?
Who are those people in the middle,
the ones he’s going right up to?”
She tears her gaze away from the scene to look at him. “What?”
The Son has reached the group and the music stills.
A hush envelopes the place and as one,
the group falls before him,
lifting the sparkling crowns from their heads,
and laying them reverently at his feet.
“The largest crowns are reserved for the ones
who gave their earthly lives for His sake.
He will spend all of eternity thanking them and praising them for it.”
He opens His arms and they rise to embrace Him.
When He looks up, the rest of the Chinese assembly joins them
with tears and laughter.
How they all fit inside His embrace, Conna-Joy cannot imagine.
But they do fit, and no one is any farther from Him than anyone else.
Dre nods. “Your name is Joy. He gave you so much it is difficult to contain.”
as the Chinese dance out of sight.
Right behind them, Ethiopia twirls through the gates,
singing and chanting as the music evolves into an African chant.
Once more, they bow and present their crowns
as the Son steps forward to embrace them.
“Come with me. It’s your turn,” Dre says
and without waiting, takes her arm and leads her toward the gate.
What at first appeared to be a long distance, they cover in an instant.
This one is so brilliantly white it makes her robe look dingey.
She is once more in a great crowd of people, but they aren’t singing.
They stand patiently, most in the company of an angel.
No one here wears a crown.
There He is!
He’s coming down the steps in a simple white robe,
his hands outstretched in greeting, his face alight with a smile
“Conna-Joy, my beloved sister!”
His voice is like a rushing stream, powerful and clear.
How can she approach that throne?
How can she look into that face? Gaze upon those hands?.
Tears well in her eyes as she makes her way to his feet.
stepping down to pull her to him.
His touch is like an electrical charge surging through her body,
but instead of pain, she feels life radiate through her skin,
out her hair, uniting with the brilliance around her.
She closes her eyes and clings to Him, knowing she could stay here forever.
Then she feels something being placed upon her head
and she draws back.
“Oh, no! No, I don’t...no, oh Lord, no...I’m not like all these people.
I don’t deserve this at all. I’m so ashamed of how I doubted you,
I...I turned my back on you so many times...”
but she feels his hand on her chin.
He turns her face to His. “I am so proud of you, my sister.
This is for those times you served me when you didn’t want to.
The Evil One attacked you and you could have listened, but you didn’t.
You did what I asked, even when it cost you. And I was so proud.
All Heaven rejoiced with me!
"You taught that class of third graders
when you'd rather have been in the college class.
"You gave your last dollar to the benevolence fund
when you were out of a job?
He exchanges a smile with the angel.
She’s so unworthy of this, but He insists.
She tries to meet His eyes, but her own are swimming.
Then He touches her cheek and her tears dry.
“Enter into the joy of your Lord!”
He smiles and winks, just for her.
The crown feels funny on her head.
It isn’t uncomfortable, it just doesn’t belong there.
She looks at her reflection in the polished gold pillar.
The crown is indescribably beautiful, encrusted with diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. On earth, such a crown would buy an entire continent.
but we love to watch.
This is reserved for the ones the Son went to redeem.
You will know what to do.”
She turns to search the sea of faces, not recognizing the voice.
“Oh, my baby!” she cries, her voice muffled in the feathery curls.
“My baby, my little baby...
They told me you were nothing but a blob of tissue,
but I knew. I named you Rose.
You were too small for a real funeral,
but I never forgot you.”
and she pulls away to drink in the face she has never seen.
She laughs again, a happy musical sound that Conna-Joy thinks
she’ll never tire of hearing.
explaining patiently as Dre had done.
“It’s almost time. I love this part! You have a crown, but I have these!”
She holds up a fistful of exquisite, long-stemmed roses in a vivid array of colors. “The children get to throw these like this, see?”
She demonstrates by pulling the petals from a rose and tossing them into the air, giggling with joy as they float down around her.
“He just loves it when I do this!”
They both pluck a handful and toss them together,
laughing and clapping in the middle of the rose-petal storm.
"Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty..."
A million voices join the instruments in a roar of music
that makes the distant planets tremble.
The words come to her lips
and she sings with her new voice a harmony she had never known before.
Peaceful Rose grabs her hand
and together they sing and dance for joy because they can’t keep from it.
A deep voice announces them
as the crowd surges through the gates:
“The United States of America.”
Every eye is fixed on the glowing Presence before them.
She is so close now she feels the heat, the energy that flows in never-ending movement around the golden throne.
The weight of her crown grows heavier, not in discomfort, but in humility.
How can she wear a crown like this when she looks into that face?
as they take their places before the Presence.
and sees the heavier crowns she’d seen before.
There are martyrs in her group after all.
They move forward, their faces radiant
as they lift the heavy crowns from their heads
and lay them at Jesus’ feet.
And over there! Charles Coffee, Mama's friend,
murdered by a witchdoctor in Zambia.
as she places her crown at His feet.
She told him she forgave him,
even as his finger pulled the trigger that ended her life.
Now Conna-Joy stands beside the young hero,
surrounded by others who had been tortured and and murdered for Jesus's sake.
Who is she to be in their company?
She'd done nothing worthwhile on earth. Nothing.
She bows her head, humbled by the paltry gift she has to offer.
With shaking hands, she lifts the jeweled crown from her head
and places it at His feet, grieved at its inadequacy.
Why hadn’t she done more while she had the chance?
What had she to offer among these who had given their all?
Yet it is nothing but garbage when it’s all she has to offer Him.
He accepts her gift as He accepts her.
giggling and dancing before Him.
He scoops her up and kisses her cheek.
Leaning toward Conna-Joy, he whispers,
“Let the little child lead you, my sister.”
He opens His arms and welcomes them all into His embrace.
“Thank you, my beloved ones.
I accept your gifts and your hearts of devotion.
May you find pleasure in My house!”
Don’t you remember the Son telling you
that he was going to prepare a place for you?”
to welcome your guests.”
When you’re ready, He will come and escort you there.
It brings him great pleasure to give to his children."
With one hand clasped in her mother's and the other clinging
to Peaceful Rose, they make their way toward a massive host
filling the air with praises.
"I know how you always wanted to sing," her mother is saying.
"Wait until you experience music the way it was created to be!”
welcoming her home. People she had almost forgotten.
when she had visited him as a child.
He lopes toward her to envelop
her in a strong bear hug,
the strength of youth in his arms.
and a handsome, olive-skinned man grasps both her hands in his.
He’s ruddy face beams as he pumps her hand joyfully.
“We heard you were here!
We are some of those from India
who were blessed by your mission trip many years ago.
You never knew, but after you came and ministered to us, my father—”
He gestures to the smiling man at his side.
“He came back to our village and told us what you said.
We all accepted the Son as our Lord.
We want to thank you with all our hearts!”
“It took many of my brothers
to combat the forces of darkness that tried to destroy you.
But the Son was victorious! Praise to his Name!”
“I forgot about them. What can I do?”
When you’re ready, you may join them.”
Then he is gone.
whose numbers she could never count.
Their voices blend in perfect twelve-part harmonies, never imagined on earth.
A tiny Japanese woman smiles and gestures to her seat
as she prepares to leave the choir assembly.
Conna-Joy takes her place, slipping into a row beside an African woman.
She lifts her voice and her hands as a song she’s never known before
pours from her lips.
A chill ripples over her being.
Such exhilaration had been only a fleeting dream until now.
Nothing on earth had prepared her for the higher thoughts and emotions
that now lift her from the inside out,
pulling from her higher waves of exultation.
She is home.