Magnificence of Heaven

My co-author of “Jurisdiction”—Jon McNeff (left)—and I (right) had a chance meeting with Carol Rhodes (center) in Marble Falls, Texas last week. Carol wrote an incredible testimony that we used in the final chapter of our book outlining the magnificence of heaven. (The book is available on Amazon.)

This is her story:

At first reading, this chapter in Jon and Jim’s book seemed to me to be the law enforcement version of “Who’s On First.” Why would they ask me to contribute after a story like this? Then it hit me – that one chapter encapsulates four years of my life. Years that would progressively lead me to question all I had counted on as foundational truth. 

My security began in 1971 when, after 30 years of searching found its culmination in the realization that God was real— not a wishful delusion—and was readily available through a relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. My life was radically changed as I experienced more and more of the wonder of God’s goodness and love.

No longer overwhelmed with the insecurities inherent in my roles as wife and mother of three sons and a citizen of a world continually in chaos, I looked for and found, guidance and peace in God’s Word and found I could rely on my prayer-answering Lord to be faithful in any and all circumstances. With this as my firm foundation, I was now, unknowingly, ready to learn much more about this God I loved and served.

Oct. 5, 2005. Together with the love of my life since high school, we sat down with a doctor to address my husband’s lack of energy. Within two hours we were referred to an oncologist. We were shocked but God was not and within the deepest part of me I knew that there would be no healing and that the end would be quick. My prayer for my husband was two-fold: that he would have no fear and that he would experience the overwhelming presence of a good God.

But well-meaning people began to deluge me with urgent suggestions: miracle drugs, faith healers, cancer centers, declaration prayers denouncing Satan, claiming healing. I began to fear that I was praying incorrectly so I asked the Lord for a sign and that’s exactly what I got! In a dream I saw myself looking down on a large gathering of people and one of them held up a large land-lettered sign. On it was printed “THIS IS WHAT GOD HAS CHOSEN.” I knew from that point on my original prompting from the Lord was correct and I could relax into my original prayer.

Eight weeks from the first pronouncement of cancer, my husband of almost 46 years was gone and life as I had known it would never be the same.

As I struggled to find my footing over the next months I searched for God’s perspective—and three thoughts began to take shape:

  1. Grief, as awful as it is, is also an affirmation of love. The opposite of love isn’t hate—it’s apathy. I had loved and been loved. The cost of loving is pain at the loss. But would I have wanted to live never experiencing love?
  1. God had stepped in when I needed Him by giving me truth to hang onto at the beginning of that eight-week journey. I might not be happy about what was happening but I had my marching orders—pray and serve my husband. When my focus began to waiver and I grew fearful and doubting, the Lord graciously reminded me THIS IS WHAT I HAVE CHOSEN.
  1. Months after Rick’s passing I realized the cryptic message that got me through that journey was also a message for my new life. Widowhood was what God had chosen for me. No accident, I had a new calling.

Fast-forward 20 months. It was a warm summer Texas day. My Bible study was scheduled to begin the next week and all the leaders gathered to prepare for the kick-off. After glad-to-see-you again hugs, we gathered together for a time of prayer and praise. One woman after another began to sing the chorus of her favorite praise song. Sweet female voices harmonized as we joined each woman in praise. When it was my turn to lead I began singing “My Peace I Give Unto You.” Evidently I was the only one who knew the words because I sang the entire chorus by myself! We all laughed about my unexpected solo as we began our planning session.

During the morning break I was surprised to see the youngest of my three sons appear at the door. From the look on his face I knew something was terribly wrong. Once outside, he choked out the words, “Kevin’s gone.” My middle son had been instantly killed in a car accident as he was coming home from work. My sweet son—a faithful husband with sons of his own, compassionate, fun loving, Godly—was gone. As I followed my youngest son home, I said, “God, this morning when I left home I had three sons.” His response was immediate. “You still do.” Eternal life is a reality.

Nevertheless, I was once again catapulted into grief. The precious memories I had of Kevin were mixed with disappointment, pain and confusion. Why Kevin? I could understand the loss of a husband; while gut-wrenchingly sad, still somehow understandable. Death is inevitable the older we get but Kevin was 44 years old! Where’s the sense in that?

Slowly, as though through a thick cloud, I once again began to see the truth I so wanted to avoid—the world isn’t fair. Greed and prejudice and hatred cause pain and suffering for the innocent and a distracted teenager driver can mow down a greatly loved son.

The God I ran to for solace reminded me that He knew just how I felt—He, too, had lost an innocent Son to a largely uncaring world. But He was still in control and one day, I would see my son again. The song I had sung by myself was, in reality, a song He was singing to me:

“My peace I give unto you.

It’s a peace that the world cannot give,

It’s a peace that the world cannot understand

Peace to know, peace to live

My peace I give unto you.”

I have learned that God’s peace isn’t the absence of grief.

For a Christian, peace is the companion of grief. I was learning lessons about the character of God that I suppose could only come through a breaking heart.

Then the bottom fell out. Four years later, almost to the day my husband had been diagnosed with cancer, the source of my youngest son’s terrible leg pain was found—again, cancer.

A few months earlier a spot on his skin had been removed and at that time he was told that it was a melanoma but they removed it all and not to worry.

Dana continued with the hectic schedule of husband, father of three young children and business owner despite growing pain in his leg. Throughout the summer, he went to the chiropractor, got massages, took prescriptions for pain and muscle aches—nothing helped. Finally, his general practitioner ordered a full body scan. What had appeared to be a single skin lesion had by this time metastasized to his whole body.

I went numb. This could not be happening again—it was unthinkable. I refused to even consider the loss of this greatly loved “child.” God would not, could not allow this to happen! Dana, deep dimples, a charmer from birth, optimistic, confident, generous, and kind began a fight for his life.

He asked if he and his family could move in with me into my large home. I saw this as a gift from God. I was able to keep a semblance of order and provide the supervision and love that the kids (12, 9 and 5) needed while his wife threw herself into caring for him.

It wasn’t long before a hospital bed was needed. Days were filled with treatments that seemed almost worse than the disease itself.

People were wonderful. The church provided endless meals, friends stepped up to the bat with the kids, a physician friend came at noon a number of times to hydrate him just because it made him feel better—no charge, prayers from people we didn’t even know were lifted to the throne room of heaven.

I was caught up in the eye of a hurricane—devastation swirled around me while I helplessly watched. But I knew the One who had control. The only Physician who had the power to heal. The God who had sustained me through the loss of Rick and the loss of Kevin.

I pleaded, I begged, I nagged. God, heal my son. Don’t let this happen—You can’t let this happen.

Dana grew worse. His hair fell out, he could no longer get up from the bed, the cancer had invaded his brain, further robbing us of the wonderful person he was.

Now the numb was wearing off and I was angry. God was letting this happen. Where was He? At night I would go outside in the dark, away from the house and yell into the heavens—Don’t do this! Don’t take my son! Don’t make my precious daughter-in-law a widow. Don’t take the father of my grandchildren!

Dana got sicker, weaker, and thinner. Now I was really mad. Whose fault was this? The dermatologist who said not to worry? Dana who didn’t follow up? The MD who for so long just ordered painkillers? The radiologist? The oncologists?

But I knew the only One with ultimate power and control and He was holding out. So I upped the ante. I threatened. God, if you let him die I will never speak to You again.

He died. January 10, 2010 Dana died. I stood there holding his hand watching him breathe and realized the next breath didn’t come. He died.

And so did I. Oh, I took my next breath but something in me died.

It seems like the story should end there. I wanted to end there. Three quarters of my family were gone and the God that I had trusted and relied on had failed me.

I went on with life, fulfilling obligations, putting on a happy face, comforting others—it’s easy for me to bury feelings. I think it was Norm Wright who said, ‘you can bury feelings but you must realize you bury them alive and there will be a resurrection.”

Weeks went by, maybe months and I attempted to keep my promise never again to speak to God. But how do you just instantly ditch the habit of decades; how do you cut off the best Friend you ever had?

I thought of John the Baptist, his whole life single-focused on elevating Jesus, now in prison. He begins to question. If Jesus is who John has always believed He is, why is this happening. John sends a message to Jesus—Are You really the Messiah? Jesus sends back a cryptic answer—look at all I’ve done. (Matt 11:1-6)

What kind of an answer is that?! John is going to die for goodness sake! John is left with the same questions I was struggling with. I realized this is not an uncommon occurrence in Scripture.

After some straight talk (John 6) to a large group of followers, Jesus finds only a small handful still with Him. He looks at Peter and challenges him about his commitment. I can see Peter weighing the options then responding (my paraphrase) “Where else can I go? I’ve seen too much to walk away now.”

That was me. I’d had too many years with Jesus to turn my back on Him now—like Peter, I’d seen too much. But in reality, not enough. I had naively thought I knew Him. But in truth, I had made Him into a small and manageable god that I could understand and arrogantly, command.

Now I had a decision to make. Could I still trust and worship and obey a God I didn’t always understand, a God who didn’t fit into my Sunday School image, a God with an agenda that often differs from mine?

Who should be in control? God….or me? That was my quandary.

Humbled by my smallness, exhausted from my raging internal battle, I bowed the knee. I prayed and He was there.

Someone asked me a while back if I wish I had known all that was going to transpire at the beginning of my four-year journey. After a little thought I told her that I realized I DID know. Not the details but Jesus’ words to His disciples that they could expect trouble in this world.

Little girls are taught that living happily ever after is our expectation/right and anything that differs is a deviation from the “plan.” But the truth is that we live in a fallen world but as believers in the One who overcame death we also live with the hope of eternity on this side. His grace is more than sufficient and His strength is truly manifested in our weakness.

Do I wish those four years and the ones following could be a do-over? You bet! But looking back over the decades I’ve been a child of God, I can see He has taken my prayers seriously—to be closer to Him, to know His power, to share His heart for others, to die to self, to live by faith and not by sight—and He is in the process of answering those prayers. I just had no idea the cost on this side of eternity.  

 – Carol Rhodes


The rest of this chapter on heaven will bless your soul. Jurisdiction: A Cop and a Pastor Talk About Life can be ordered here.

– Jim McNeff

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