When I was in the 3rd grade, one of my homework assignments was to fill in the blanks to complete various phrases. I cannot recall specifics, but for some reason, I clearly remember one response: “I wonder what it’s like to be in heaven." This entity called heaven was such a huge mystery to me. Through Sunday school, I formulated my own opinion of what heaven was. I envisioned it as some magical land where I'd see angels flying and where people lined up single-file to enter through the gates. Like most children, I believed it was a tangible place up in the blue sky where I would go when I passed from this world. When I filled in this particular blank, I had no idea that I would come full circle one day to tell 8-year-old Peter all about it.
A few weeks ago, I attended a retreat called Caritas set in beautiful Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, CA. When I was informed of this event, I garnered from the invitation that it was a retreat about relationships. Fresh off a break-up, I figured I could use a little pick-me-up in that aspect of my life. So I booked a flight across the country with the hope that I would finally find the elusive answer to why all of my romantic relationships had failed. I entered this retreat holding my empty (spiritual) water jugs, one in each hand, ready to fill them with the graces I expected to receive. To my astonishment, these spiritual jugs were overflowing in the first few hours! Throughout the weekend, fellow retreatants and I shared our most private moments with strangers. I heard counts of heartbreak, betrayal, fear, trauma, emotional affliction, and deep wounds that the storyteller thought could never be healed. It was through these stories that I realized something incredible. God’s love was undeniably recognizable in every single story that was told. I saw just how beautiful each person was because of their past hurts. I never thought human beings could be so perfectly crafted to give and receive love because of how broken we all seemed. I learned that personal shortcomings and mishaps are what happen to us, not what defines us. Ultimately, God knows everything about you. He knows all that you’ve done, are doing, and will do in this life. He loves you completely and wholly, with no strings attached!
One of the key themes throughout the weekend was vulnerability. Some instinctively perceive this charged word with negativity, whereas others, including myself, have actually come around to appreciate its positive implications. To me, vulnerability is letting go and having the courage to dismantle those built-up walls in order to be fully embraced by God’s love. It’s certainly a frightening thought to be vulnerable; it takes immense bravery to do so. I've learned that when I allow myself to be vulnerable, I am receptive to genuine love, one that is unconditional, requires no rhyme or reason, one that transcends all boundaries. This love is not what the movies, books, or world tries to portray. It is simply the greatest, purest love that we are all deserving of.
Maybe 8-year-old Peter was up to something when he described heaven as a magical place. If I could go back in time, I would tell little Peter that heaven isn’t exactly a physical place where your soul floats to once you leave this world. Rather, heaven is a state of being with God. So it IS possible to experience heaven here on earth. I know this because I’ve heard about it. I’ve seen it. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a little taste of it.