"In most ways, it was a heavenly place to await their return. Arlene and George were among my favorite people in the whole world, kind and loving and happy just like my own parents, and they never failed to lavish some of their love on any children in their vicinity. They lived in a tree-lined neighborhood very much like our own, full of charming older homes and kids and family dogs, in a neat white two-story house.
"They had one daughter who was still at home – a girl who was probably an exotic 13 or 14 at the time, and who was much nicer to me than I would have been to a summer-long intruder. And Arlene, no doubt anticipating how homesick I would be, gave me a gift every Friday to help me celebrate making it one week closer to Mom and Dad’s return. I’ve forgotten what almost all of those gifts were, except for an Etch-a-Sketch – a drawing toy so new that I’d never even seen one before, so enchanting that I spent the rainy days of summer learning how to draw with it.
"Arlene even found a playmate for me. Her name was Maureen. She was my age and lived up the hill from Arlene’s house. Her house was exotic, too: it had no upstairs, and her backyard was all wooded, and there were these beautiful flowers in front, in a bed framed by split-rail fencing; I remember in particular stunning orange blossoms with freckles, which my new friend called tiger lilies.
"Maureen and I spent lots of long summer days together, exploring the neighborhood and the woods beyond, playing games like Sorry and Old Maid, piecing together jigsaw puzzles, packing lunches and taking off on our bikes – the daughter let me use hers! – to destinations unknown. You could do that in those days; adults didn’t worry if the children in their charge disappeared for six or eight hours, as long as they were home in time for supper.
"Thanks to this wonderful, warm cast of characters, it was one of the best summers of my childhood. Except that I wasn’t at home with my parents, and I ached for them. And so it was also the only unhappy summer of my childhood. Good and bad, rolled into one.
"In the end, though, the good outweighed the bad, because I knew the bad would come to an end. I had no doubt that my parents would come get me eventually and take me home, and in fact when I thought about that, when I pictured them pulling up in front of Arlene’s house, I could barely contain my joy.
"It’s kind of the way I feel now that I’m a heaven-bound Christian whose parents and Granny have gone on ahead.
"Others, even some other Christians, seem to think I’m crazy and quite possibly suicidal. But I am neither. They simply don’t understand, maybe because they never had a summer-of-1961 experience like mine.
"Which is too bad, because it’s a totally thrilling way to live.
"On the one hand, I am surrounded by people I love – a fine husband and extended family, an array of good friends, a church family whose loving-kindness is astounding. I live in a nice house with a big garden and all the pets anyone could ever want. I enjoy my work most of the time – especially since my commute is about 10 steps from the kitchen and it can be traversed in warm slippers or bare feet, depending on the season. And I spend much of my free time studying mind-blowing books about all things related to the Lord, most importantly the Bible.
"What more could I want?
"I honestly can’t think of a thing – not even my friends’ lake-side cottages or fat retirement accounts or exotic vacations could add anything to my joy. Not even another Super Bowl season for the Packers.
"Life is good.
"My mom and dad and Granny aren’t here. They’ve already departed for our new Home, leaving me behind, unable to get to them under my own power. And so I am at times consumed with a new kind of homesickness – a longing to be with them in the Lord’s kingdom, a land where there are no tears, no aches and pains, no disease or death, hunger or thirst, just Jesus and joy that we can’t even imagine in our earth-bound 3D hides.
"And so I ache once again. And once again it’s mostly a good ache, one that’s accompanied by butterflies and by capital-H biblical Hope – not merely a wish but a confident expectation about what is to come.
"Life is indeed good. But it’s going to get a whole lot better one day. And it’s all going to happen in the twinkling of an eye."
From Heaven Without Her, pages 249-25