I had been scared to death of planes all of my life. I’d only flown once (to
San Diego) the summer after my freshman year of high school. I’d spent the week before my trip telling everyone that I only had a week left to live. I even marked in on my calendar—“the day I die”. How morbid. I was convinced that the plane was going to crash. If is didn’t crash on the way there, I still had a backup—it was a round-trip flight. Needless to say, the plane didn’t crash and I’m still alive. However, the plane was every bit as horrid as I convinced myself it would be. All we did was go up and down, over and over. It was like the elevator from hell—up and down forever, but never close enough to the ground to risk jumping off.
It was because of my dreadful, totally irrational fear of flying that I took the train to Warrensburg. My brother was going to school at Central Missouri State University and I needed a vacation. Of course Warrensburg isn’t the ideal place for a vacation. Central is known fondly by its students as Call Me Stupid U. Not exactly a tourist attraction but it only cost me the thirty or so dollars for the train ticket.
I was in my first year of college and hating every second. ‘Maybe I’ll transfer,’ I thought. ‘Maybe I’ll love Central and just have to be there.’ Maybe not.
October is an amazing month. It is supposed to be beautifully gloomy. Those cold rainy days are magnificent. Leaves of various shades with the brilliant rays of the sun beaming down on them are enough make me need to stop and catch my breath. But it is the cold rainy days I love. They’re perfect for train travel. Not too cold—warm enough to leave the heaters off and the windows cracked, making sweaters comfortable, but turtlenecks too hot. The sky is full of whitish-gray clouds that aren’t thick enough to form cute little shapes that don’t really look like anything. It’s those days that most people look out of their windows and frown at. Those are the good days that I can’t wait to get out in. They call to me—we crave each other. Maybe I was a rainy October day in my former life. No—this must be what Heaven is like. When I die, I’ll sit by my window in my mansion on the streets of gold, watching the rain fall while I sip hot chocolate and eat broccoli cheddar soup, curled up in a purple sweater at least three sizes too large. I love purple. If fall were purple I’d love it even more. Not lavender or plum, but the deep dark royal purple shade that sometimes, when the sun is setting, fills the sky. If October had skies like that, I think I’d never want to leave it. That had to be Heaven. Maybe even Chris Rice or Rich Mullins playing in the background. After all, what was Heaven without Christian music? Chris Rice reminds me of fall—especially October.
It was a day like that when I waited at the Kirkwood Amtrak station to board the Southwest Chief. It was a 5:00 evening train and the sky was just beginning to darken. As I waited for the train to pull into the station, I decided to do a little research. I had a twenty-page paper to write for my theology class on religious cults, so I pulled out my library copy of Jesus and Jim Jones. All of that stuff fascinated me. My parents once thought I had joined a cult when I converted to Pentecostalism. After researching the Peoples’ Temple, I could see why. Let’s face it, radical Christianity is a little weird, but it’s home to me. Religion is a personal thing. Each person’s relationship with God is different. If I want to clap my hands and shout to the world how much I love Him, then I should be able to do that. At the same time, if someone finds no closeness with God in a church, but would rather spend quite time alone with God, that should be fine too. God has created us as individual people. He knows us better than anyone else ever could.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses were making their rounds on the platform. They were passing out booklets to anyone who’d listen. A tall man in a dark perfectly pressed suit approached Jim and me as we sat on top of my luggage.
“Would you like something to read on the train?”
“No thanks. I’ve got something.” I showed him the cover of my book and watched as his eyes grew wide and he backed away in fear. Unfortunately the train arrived before I could watch him relay what had occurred between us to the rest of the cavalry.
I got on the train and found a comfortable window seat. I could look out of my window for perhaps another hour and still enjoy the scenery. The train rarely went through a city. We stuck to raw nature for the most part. Rows of trees surrounded the tracks, their near naked branches shuddered in the cool breezed. I stared out of my private window with a sleepy grin on my face. I could ride the rail forever, perfectly content. Perhaps in Heaven, I’d leave my mansion on the streets of gold and ride a golden rail in the endless October. Or perhaps I’d simply ride after I die on my way to my new mansion. I can’t wait to get to Heaven! I hope I die on the first day of November.
When finally the lights inside the train made it impossible to see the October splendor outside, I resigned myself to reading. Jim told me all about how he brainwashed hundreds of people and fed them all poison laced kool-aid. Fascinating! Jim couldn’t have been too captivating because I must have fallen asleep at some point. When I woke up, I noticed that several people were no longer on board. I looked at my watch, which indicated that we were late. As I sat puzzled by the time, the conductor walked by.
“This was only supposed to be a two hour trip for me.” He looked at me like I was not quite all there, then suddenly snapped back into politeness.
“Oh, yes. Well, we had to alter the course.”
“Alter the course? This is a train. How do you alter the course? Aren’t the tracks pretty permanent, being bolted down and all?”
A calming smile spread across his face. “Don’t worry. Everything will be explained.” He walked away, leaving me bewildered. I frowned in confusion and decided to go back to my book. Jim wasn’t on my seat, so I looked on the floor. Still not seeing him, I got out of my seat and crouched down in the isle. Still, no Jim. Great. I’d lost Jim. How could it just be gone? Dag-nab-it that was a library book! There’d be a fine! Swell. Just swell. Now what was I going to do? I hadn’t brought L. Ron Hubbard or David Koresh with me. Only then did it occur to me that I had been nearly handed free research only hours before and had turned it down. Gosh darn it to heck! I should have taken that stuff from the Jehovah’s Witness Cavalry. Note to self: whenever someone—anyone—offers research of any kind, TAKE IT! You’ll need it someday.
Now resigned to life without Jim, I tried to peer out the window and catch some glimpse of the scenery. It was far too black. ‘If only they’d turn the lights out.’ I thought to myself. I dozed off again, this time to awaken when the train came to a rather abrupt halt. The few of us left on the train gradually proceeded to the front. The door ahead of me was open and a blinding light issued forth from it. I couldn’t see a thing as I walked down the steps off of the train. ‘This is too weird,’ I thought. I was supposed to be in Warrensburg and I would up in Sunnyville.
When my eyes adjusted to the intense light, I could see that I was a long way from Warrensburg. The ground beneath me was made of shining golden bricks. They were so bright; I could hardly look at them. Everything else around me was sort of a white blur—sort of cloudy—hey! Is that an elephant up there? Oh, no, it’s just a cloud shaped like an elephant.
The golden path led up to a pearl-white gate that was guarded by a young man in denim shorts and a Jars of Clay t-shirt. I walked up to him.
“Excuse me, can you tell me how I got here on my way to Warrensburg?”
He laughed. “Don’t you know where you are?”
Yeah, I got a pretty good idea, but I don’t remember the train crashing or catching some fatal disease—unless this is the rapture.”
“No, no, nothing like that. Just one of those things. No one ever knows when their time is. Hey, did you hear that joke about the Baptists who died in a car wreck?” I looked at him, confused.
“Oh, you’ve got to hear it. It’s so great. See, I’m standing here at the gate and I call all the Baptists to enter. We all get on the elevator and I push sever. Then I say, ‘everyone be really quiet when we pass the third floor. Don’t even breathe. Not a sound!’ Then they ask why. Well, just then, we pass the third floor and everyone gets really quiet. ‘Whew! That was close,’ I say. ‘The Pentecostals are on three. They still think they’re the only eon’s here! HA! Isn’t that great? I love that joke. ‘Course, we don’t have an elevator.”
“Ok, I get that you’re St. Peter…”
“Call me Pete.”
“Sure. What’s with the shirt?”
“What? Don’t you like Jars of Clay?” “Sure I do. I just pictured you as more of an—Andy Griffith sings his favorite gospel hymns—kinda guy.”
“Oh, well, Southern gospel is ok, but I’m more into the alternative Christian music. Besides, I can’t wear this stuff on the inside. Everyone dons a white robe in there.”
“So, what happens now? Do I have to convince you I’m a Christian now or something?”
“Oh, no. You’re in. See? Got you’re name written down right here.”
He showed me the mother of all guest registers, and sure enough, there was my name.
“Lemme guess—this is the Lamb’s Book of Life, right?”
“Hey, wow! Most preachers don’t even know that.” He was genuinely amazed.
“Well, we Pentecostals aren’t as dumb as you think. So what now Pete?”
“Well, first you’ll head on over to the mansion and get changed. You can go on over to choir practice if you want to.” I thanked Pete for all of his help and walked past him through the gates.
It was warm in Heaven. If there was a sun, it was shining brightly. So much for an endless October. Finding my mansion was easy. It had my name on the door. Since it was my house, I didn’t bother to knock.
The splendor inside was unimaginable. Everything was purple. Purple carpets, purple furniture, purple window coverings—whoever built this house knew me well. There must have been a dozen rooms, all beautifully furnished in an elegant Victorian style. It was a little elaborate, but I wasn’t about to complain. The long winding staircase in the foyer led up to several more rooms. In one of them I found several long white robes made of the finest silk. They were nearly the only things in the house that wasn’t purple. I changed into one and found that it was the most comfortable thing I’d ever worn. It was warm and fuzzy, yet not stuffy or heavy. If I were still alive, I’d market these things. They’d be more popular than jeans.
I perused all of my new rooms, not quite sure what I’d do in them. When I came to the last room I was hesitant. It was different from all the rest. Every wooden piece of furniture in the house was made of mahogany. This door was made of pine. It smelled like a Christmas tree. I opened the door and watched as my silk white robe transformed into a huge purple sweater. It reached down to my now denim clad knees, peeking out from beneath. The room was chilly despite the crackling fire built in the fireplace on one side of the room. There was one window in the room with a seat attached to it. Sitting on the windowsill was a steaming bowl of broccoli cheddar soup and a huge mug of hot chocolate. Amazed and thrilled, I sat down on the window seat and looked out of my window. The sky was gray. The trees below were various shades of reds and browns. Perhaps it would rain. It was October in Heaven from my window. It was clear to me at that moment just how well God knew me and how much He loved me.