This morning my friend Melissa reminded me that it was the start of my birthday week. And while my grandmother told me that a lady never shares her age, I’ll tell you anyway. I’m turning 45.
At my age, many women don’t consider yet another birthday to be something to celebrate, but I woke up feeling like passing another year was good news. It’s actually great news. Another birthday means I’m over halfway there.
I’m sure some of my well-meaning friends would want to make me feel better and say, “Sissy, you’re not really halfway there. Lots of people live to be over 100 these days.” But I haven’t had a family member I know of who made it over the age of 90, and to me, that’s really the good news here. My new brother-in-law, who probably thinks I’m a little crazy, recently told my sister, “I’ve never heard anyone as excited to go to heaven as Sissy.”
A Long-Time Longing
Though it’s gotten stronger recently, I’ve actually felt this way for years. I specifically remember being a high school junior and already longing for heaven.
One day I skipped school (oops!) with my dear friend, Tracey. However, rather than getting into trouble or engaging in some type of destructive behavior, Tracey and I took our delinquent selves to the local Baptist bookstore. I remember sitting in the parking lot with her, praying and crying over how badly we wanted to go to heaven. (Not really sure what all that says about me, skipping school to go to a Christian bookstore and cry and pray with my friend. . . but there it is.) Even at that age, something inside of me longed desperately for more.
Fast forward to college when I was a pre-med major. I stumbled upon a book called Inside Out by psychologist Larry Crabb. It brought everything into sharp and freeing focus for me. In essence, what I heard for the first time was that we aren’t home, that we are created for much more than what this world can offer, and that those longings will be met at times, but they will never be completely fulfilled on this side of heaven.
This realization changed everything for me. It gave my longing purpose and freedom, and it gave me the desire to share that truth with others, which is a huge part of why I’m a counselor today.
Twenty-five years later, I now sit with girls every day in my counseling practice who experience that same hunger. But things have changed, or at least it feels like the landscape has changed. I’m grieved by the amount of girls I sit with who talk about, at most, wanting to end their lives, and at the very least, not wanting to be here any longer. I get it—or at least parts and moments of it. We’re created for more. Our hearts will never be fully at rest—feeling safe, loved, and known—until we get to heaven. We can have these beautiful moments, but they will only be moments or seasons until we’re finally home.
But what worries me, as a counselor, is that so many kids today want to usher in that process sooner than God would intend.
I recently met with a mom whose 13-year-old daughter was struggling. She brought up the possibility that her daughter could be depressed, and we broached the subject of medication. “I just don’t want her to believe that pain is something to be avoided,” she told me. “It’s a part of our lives, and we grow by learning to live with and in it.”
I love those words. She is a wise mom who is also aware that depression is a very real thing, and her daughter might ultimately need to take medication to overcome it. But she doesn’t want her daughter to expect that life will be pain-free. Because it won’t.
I want to shout that same truth from the rooftops for the girls I counsel. I know things are hard: Your friends abandon you. You don’t make the team. You feel lost, insecure, and lonely. I get it. Life will not be pain-free. But that doesn’t mean we give up. Instead, we lean into a faith that can truly surround and sustain us. We echo the words of Paul in his letter to the Romans:
All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. . . . That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. (Romans 8:22–28, The Message)
We are all enlarged in the waiting. Years ago, I met with a woman who’d lost her husband when her children were young. At the time, her father was dying of dementia. I remember clearly her looking at me and saying, “My father is not afraid to die. He loves the Lord and can’t wait to meet him.” Her eyes filled with tears as she said, “He and I both have a deep, deep hunger for heaven.” I wanted to shout out, in that moment, “Me too!”
A Room for Me
On this earth, pain isn’t something to fix. We can’t cure it—at least not now. And we shouldn’t even try to avoid it really. Pain and loss pervade our choices, relationships, and hearts, but they also drive us deeper. One of my favorite songs is by David Wilcox: “That’s What The Lonely Is For.”
When I get lonely, now that’s only my sign,
That some room is empty in me,
And that room is there by design.
The view from here—from over halfway home—is not at all what I thought it would look like. I’ve had gifts in my life I never would have imagined and disappointments I wouldn’t have believed I could bear. But I wasn’t created for this place. One day, I’ll be home where I’ll see all of the pain and disappointment redeemed and understand how God used them for my good (Revelation 21:4).
For now, God is still at work. He’s using every one of those gifts and disappointments to create deeper places in me—places from which I can live and love with more hope than I would have had otherwise. There is good here—and there is great to come.
In this last half of my journey, I take great comfort from this passage in Reliving the Passion by Walter Wangerin, Jr.: “Weeping may last the night, but joy cometh with the sunrise—and then your mourning shall be dancing, and gladness shall be the robe around you. Wait.”