By Leigh Tolton
Philippians 3: 17- 21
17 Join together in imitating me, brothers and sisters, and pay close attention to those who live by the example we have set for you. 18 For I have often told you, and now tell you even with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of the Messiah. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their belly, and their glory is in their shame. Their minds are set on worldly things. 20 Our citizenship, however, is in heaven, and it is from there that we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah. 21 He will change our unassuming bodies and make them like his glorious body through the power that enables him to bring everything under his authority.
It is hard to go through a day without remembering those who have passed over into heaven before us. We find ourselves still trying to make them happy, still trying to honor their wills and wishes, still thankful for their lives.
As I have shared, I didn’t have a deep feeling of an afterlife until I was 25 and gave birth to my first son. I had preeclampsia and toxemia, so my blood pressure was too high to control, and my kidneys failed. I went from 170-330 pounds in weight, and they lost the pulse on the top of my son’s head thinking that my body had killed him. I slipped in and out of consciousness, and at one time they lost my pulse.
During that time, I had a sensation that I was leaving my body, floating in the hallway. I could see all of the people there. And then I followed that light that everyone talks about and I never believed in before, and I was welcomed into the warmest feeling of love. As a child who was not particularly wanted by her family, the feeling of warmth and goodness was so beautiful. But I also felt I was given a choice to give into this crossover experience or come back and raise my son. When I came to, my son was 13 minutes from being born, alive, both of us.
The reason I never believed in heaven or hell before was that I thought God was too loving to do anything on the reward and punishment table. I was honestly fed up with religious hypocrisy. It was fine with me to just go about my life like the book of Ecclesiastes had suggested – Just living from one day to the next, enjoying it because one day I would die.
But once I felt that love, it made an amazing change in my life. I went from being the outcast drunk that ridiculed the local Baptist Church to being a happy participant in just about any project that helped people find hope or to make long-term change. I wanted to be involved in actively making people’s lives better. I had always been a pretty good person and had always advocated for people to live their best lives. But the change in me was noticeable because I had felt something that is only talked about in books – LOVE.
So I grieve the deaths of our friends of pass. I miss them with us, worshipping with us, smiling and socializing, giving me feedback and encouragement, kidding me, advising me. But I also know that Rusty, Bill, Wapella, and Bob, to only mention a few, are happier, healthier and more complete than they ever imagined. And for me the best thing we can do is to imitate the good things about their lives. We can let their lives touch us in good ways ,and we can reflect on their qualities and do as Paul asked people to do – imitate those who went on before us. To be bold, to be dedicated, to be all-in, to be thoughtful, to be kind, to be loving, to be inclusive – When we do this, what is good helps to rise not just in heaven, but helps us to rise and become better here on Earth as well.