Those Last Tenths of a Mile Before Heaven Began


before Heaven

It’s the route that we take when we remember those lives before Heaven.

The roads on this route are full of curves and hills. Each homeowner/store owner remembers those days in 1998 and 2011. We do, too.

A few weeks ago when Dave traveled out of town for a meeting, he mapped out the route we’d take this Saturday for the annual Jerrel Good/Paul Slabach Memorial Bike Ride.  (You can read more about the people in this event here.) He stopped at each place we’ll visit and scouted the surrounding area for safety issues for the two dozen bikers who will be on this ride. He’d taken his weed eater and trimmed around the edges of the bank where the cross we’d place a few years ago could hardly be seen for the weeds and brambles.

Dave took the time to cross the road to visit with the store owner – who recognized him and marked his calendar for the event this year – June 17, 2017.

before Heaven

Because he traveled the route alone, Dave had a lot of time to think.  If you know Dave, you’ll know he’s a thinker, and you’ll understand how this route caused him to think. I wasn’t with him, but I am as sure as I can be that he also cried.

On Sunday when he continued his messages on the Lord’s Prayer and shared from Thy Will be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven,  he shared. That poignant sharing came from the depths of his heart.

We see life on this earth from our human perspective. As parents, we want to offer the best for our kids. We want their happiness, their health, and their success, and strive to help them achieve those goals.  Then, when “bad things happen to good people,” we don’t get it because we’re looking from our perspective as parents and not from the perspective that our Heavenly Father sees. The Eternal View.

“I watched the odometer as I neared the crash sites.  These guys had no idea that they were nearing the place where God would call them Home in a matter of minutes. They had no idea, but God knew. Five-tenths . . .  four-tenths . . . three-tenths . . . two-tenths . . .  one tenth, and BAM!  It was over.”

As he recounted those scenes, he cried. So did we.

“But THEN I remembered that it wasn’t over. It was only the beginning!”

That is why we ride.

This Saturday when we ride, we’ll certainly be remembering. We will remember the ripping rawness, the horrendous ache, the harrowing questions, and definite uncertainty. We will remember asking Why? over and over again.

This side of Heaven, life often doesn’t make sense – and sometimes it’s so unfair. Before Heaven, we wrestle and we groan.

Then comes Heaven – where there are no more tears, no more pain, no more sorrow. Where the old things will be passed away and all things will be new.

I’ve learned that when we answer the questions of our kids – and even questions of our own – it helps solidify our faith. We find answers to our own questions when we have to contemplate the ones others are asking.

This I also know: we can look back and see that God continues to be good, even when life hurts and doesn’t make sense. We know that His will is done here on earth – as it is in Heaven. Truly, reaching Heaven is really what this life is about.

before Heaven


So we ride and we remember. We will not forget the ache, the sorrow, or the pain.


before Heaven

before Heaven


Yet, more importantly, we will remember the faithfulness of the God we serve.

We have traced His hand in the years since Heaven claimed our guys.

This we will remember: that our God has been faithful.

And He is always eternally good.






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Is There Mother’s Day in Heaven?

May 2010. My first Mother’s Day without my mama. My thoughts then – and now, seven years later.

It’s a lovely morning. Sun filtering through the treetops, birds singing, and flowers lending fragrance to a day in celebration of mothers. I find myself wondering: do they celebrate Mother’s Day in Heaven?

A pair of bluebirds has built a nest in the birdhouse outside the office window. I watch them and wonder what is happening inside the nest they built together. Mama Bluebird is possessive of her nest, her house, and her babies. And I wonder, is there Mother’s Day in Heaven?

The stray cat that showed up at our door a year ago has grown up. Because she has a crook near the tip of her tail, she was dubbed Crooked but is affectionately called Crook. Her kittens were born a week ago, and Crook has hidden them well. The other felines at our house move out of the way when she comes to feed, for motherhood takes precedence even among their kind. I watch Crook, and I ponder, do they celebrate Mother’s Day in Heaven?

Out in the pasture, the new cinnamon-colored calf frolics among the blossoming blackberry bushes. Izzy, her mother, guards her fiercely, and not even Roscoe, the bull or the other pregnant cow will attempt to interfere. She gives her commands in low mooing sounds. The calf listens, for, after all, Izzy is her mother. And I find myself wondering, do they celebrate Mother’s Day in Heaven?

Mother's Day

All around me, there is new life and birth – and mothers with their offspring. Year follows year, day follows day, and season follows season. Every May, we celebrate Mother’s Day. And I question: do they celebrate Mother’s Day in Heaven?

Mothers give birth and nurture their young. Children grow up, spread their wings, then leave the nest. My sisters and I grew up and moved away from time to time. Some of us got married, had our own babies, and then brought them home for our mother to see, hold, and cuddle. We celebrated Mother’s Days together.

Mama was always there, ready for us to come home. Now I find myself wondering, do they celebrate Mother’s Day in Heaven?

One wintry day seven Januarys ago, Mama changed her address from home in Grantsville, Maryland, to Home in Heaven. We said “Auf Wiedersehen!” and buried her between her two husbands in the Maple Glen Mennonite church cemetery. A chapter closed in our lives, and we began a new one. And I wonder, do they celebrate Mother’s Day in Heaven?

mother's day

Winter closed its doors, and year after year, spring peeked in slowly, then decided to stay.

Now it is May. Ah, yes, the month of Mother’s Day.

mother's day

Again this May, I have not gone to the store to buy a card or written my own verse inside a blank card, even though it’s Mother’s Day. There has been no gift to purchase, no quick phone call to a sibling for a suggestion of what to get for Mama, and no flowers ordered and sent. There will be no phone call on Mother’s Day to wish her “Happy Mother’s Day”.

And I wonder, do they celebrate Mother’s Day in Heaven?

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Why I Am Wearing Red Today

I am wearing red today* because it was Mom’s favorite color.

Mom Slabach always said she didn’t understand why Christian conservative folks didn’t think women should wear read.

Yes, red was a color often worn by harlots, she knew. She’d been reminded of that many times. She didn’t care if that’s what harlots wore, because she wore red, too.

She’d say, “Red also represents salvation — because

the blood of Jesus Christ, His son, cleanses us from all sin.”

So this wife of a Mennonite minister wore red.

Today I remember Mom. And I am wearing red.

Mom loved –

steaming hot coffee,

wearing red

ice cold Pepsi,

wearing red

fried bacon,

wearing red

and delectable ice cream.

wearing red

Looking at this list makes me smile as I put on my red in honor of a mom who enjoyed life and family fun.

wearing red

I didn’t know much about raising boys because I grew up in a family of girls.  When we started our family, God gave us three of our four boys in a row. I used to think, if I was having a problem with one of my guys, I’d just send them to Grandma. She’d have Sunday school (as her kids called it) and send them back to me, all fixed up. Only thing is, she didn’t get to help raise those boys because she died when the oldest was five and before the youngest was born. I never got to send them to her for Sunday school, but she had prayed for them! She prayed for her kids, her grandkids, and those not yet born.

I wear red in memory of Mom’s Sunday schoolsIn honor of her prayers, I am wearing red.

wearing red

I wear red today for the mom who believed in her son Dave and the spunk he possessed; who always said she wouldn’t give a dime for a kid without some spunk – and then prayed and prayed over that spunk and asked God to use it for His kingdom. I wear red today for the memories I cherish of a woman who claimed me and was glad I was loving her Dave.

I reap the blessings of a life well lived, a character well defined, and a faith well practiced. I benefit from the harvest of her commitment to her family and to God and gladly claim her son as mine.

I wear red today in honor of my mother-in-law, who was not just a mentor, but also my friend. There wasn’t a subject that was unmentionable with her, and she didn’t mind delving into the nitty gritty of life. Even when we disagreed, we were friends.

Although cancer took her life, it did not deprive her of her spirit. That is why everyone wanted to help care for her and be there during those last weeks.  Mom could make a party out of an event, and none of us wanted to miss the party. I am wearing red in memory of those parties!

Twenty-five years ago we stood by her bed and watched her face change from agony to peace, calmness, and rest. We watched her lips change from a grimace into a beautiful smile. Oh yes. She smiled.

Ah, that smile!  I remember it still. When we saw that smile, we knew that Mom had Arrived! She fought the fight, she finished her course, she kept the faith. Mom finished well.

I wear red today because she won the Victory.

Today, I am wearing red, in honor and in celebration.

I wear red today, not with tears, but with joy.


Happy 25th Anniversary of your Arrival in Heaven, Mom!

wearing red

Watching Mom fight that dreadful disease of cancer was not easy. Caring for her was a privilege and a blessing. That journey of grief and gallantry is chronicled in the book Aren’t We Having Fun Dying?!.  The title of the book is a direct quote from Mom two weeks before her Arrival.  Each chapter title is a quote from Mom during her last months here on earth. For more information about this book, you can visit this page.

[some wording/quotes come from (my) book “Aren’t We Having Fun Dying?!”

*the anniversary of Mom’s arrival in Heaven is March 16.

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Arrival is a Reason to Celebrate!




                            Mom rifling through her pocketbook –                                                            something none of her kids were ever allowed to do.

She called it her Arrival.

Today, it has been twenty-four years. She has missed so much – but not as much as we have missed her!

When Mom arrived in Heaven, she had a baker’s dozen grandchildren. Now there 29 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and a few more on the way.

mom grandkids 2

No one can ever be completely prepared for the inevitable end of life, but Mom helped prepare us as she prepared herself.

No matter what was happening, she looked for the fun in the event.  How many times we’d hear  her say, “Aren’t we having fun today?!”  or “Didn’t we have a good time today?!”

 Two weeks before her Arrival, she helped celebrate a granddaughter’s birthday.

When her grandchildren overheard conversations or when they were present and asked questions themselves, Mom’s response assured them that death was not something to fear. “Grandma will be waiting for you in Heaven,” she was heard to tell grandchildren on different occasions.

But then, in the middle of her anticipation of being done with cancer, she was left with things she still wanted to do. She crocheted furiously to complete a baby afghan and told us, “I don’t have time to die.”


                Mom listens to a grandson read a book he had written in his                                                       kindergarten class.

When she knew the inevitable was going to happen, she had fun planning her own memorial service. She asked us to sing at her funeral – and made us do a second recording when she didn’t hear one son’s tenor voice on the recording we did the day he couldn’t be there.

After she heard a minister speak of death as arriving in Heaven, she ordered us to remember that she wasn’t really dying. She was going to be arriving.

“So when I die,” she told us, “don’t call it my death. Call it my Arrival.”

And we did.


The grandchild who was to be born in April – would she live to see his birth?

“Will I be here for April?” she asked me in December.

I told her, “Sure, you’ll be here for April.” But she wasn’t.

She made use of her diagnosis to reach out to people who didn’t know Jesus.

“People listen to me now because they know I’m dying,” she smiled at me one day.

When her children rallied around and set up a schedule to take care of her at home in her last weeks, she quipped, “Now I know why I had all those babies, so they could take care of me when I die.” Those eight babies (and their spouses) did take care of her as she was dying.

There were questions. She thought them, and she asked them.

“Will I go through the valley alone?” “How does it feel to die?” and “Will we pray in Heaven?”


                                                                 Mom with one of her granddaughters

On the 29th of February, I told Mom that she couldn’t die that day. “For how,” I asked her, “are we to remember your Arrival?”

“Oh no, we wouldn’t want that happen now would we?” she chuckled as I gave her morning bath. “But we sure are having fun dying, aren’t we?”

Yes, Mom, we sure were having fun.

She knew where she was going, and she knew she would leave us behind. “Life goes on – remember?” she reminded us.

As her last days were near, she was not afraid.

When you know Jesus, you don’t need to be afraid.

“I know Jesus is going with me,” she said.  “I won’t be alone.”

She wasn’t alone. Jesus was with her.

“Don’t hold me back,” she begged one day.

“We won’t  hold you back,” we assured her. “When those angels come, you just go with them. ”

So on March 16, 1992, those angels came.

As music played in the background and as her family gathered around her bed,  her grimace of pain and her moaning stopped.

She opened her jaundiced eyes one last time.  And. She. Smiled.

That is when we knew that Mom had, indeed, arrived.

We knew Jesus was there to go with her, and we knew He had welcomed her Home.

Happy Anniversary on your Arrival in Heaven, Mom.

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The story of Mom’s journey following her terminal diagnosis is in the book Aren’t We having Fun Dying?! and can be purchased here.