And aren’t you a lucky little girl! Because Jesus is coming back so soon, you’ll never even have to go to college!” I can remember my Grandpa saying these words to me when I was seven years old. “You won’t have to get a job or get married or have babies and go through childbirth; you won’t have to worry about bills or car payments or mortgages—or ever grow old and die—because Jesus will return long before you ever grow up! Isn’t that exciting?” Grandpa beamed.

I didn’t know what a mortgage was, but it sounded like a lot of work if it was grouped in with those other big scary things like college and bills, so I nodded my head in agreement.

“What a wonderful day that will be,” Grandpa sighed wistfully, “when we get to see the new earth.”

I admit that I felt relief at the thought of not having to go to college, because second grade was already taxing enough. But I did experience just a twinge of sadness at the thought of never being married—because that looked like it might be fun. Forget the childbirth part, though; the future could keep that renowned nightmare! After giving it just a bit of thought, I decided that I was pretty happy Jesus was coming so soon. And I felt extremely lucky that I would grow up in the new earth and never have to die.

A few weeks after that conversation in church with Grandpa, I was playing happily in the front yard after school. Absentmindedly, I glanced up at the sky to discover a bright wall of brilliant, billowing, puffy white clouds headed in my direction. In that instant my seven-year-old self just knew for sure that it was Jesus! Here He comes!

Dropping my jump rope, I ran to my room and cleaned it spic and span—Jesus would not be finding me with a messy room, unprepared for His coming, no siree! I brushed my hair, put on a fancy church dress, and ran back outside to wait for Jesus on the front porch. My little heart could hardly contain my excitement. I watched and waited as the clouds drew nearer and grew larger. I sang happy songs and told Jesus how wonderful it felt to see Him coming.

There on the top porch step, I first began dreaming of what my heavenly mansion in the new earth would look like: Would it be a castle, a treehouse, or an underwater palace? Would it be filled with animals, angels, or candy? Made of silver, gold, diamonds, or, my favorite—amethyst? One thing was for sure—it was heaven—so I wouldn’t have to be sharing my mansion with my annoying little brother (assuming he somehow managed to gain entrance in the first place, which was doubtful).

I kept waiting for Jesus to burst out of those puffy white clouds. I listened so very hard for that first angel’s trumpet call, for the sound of shouting, singing, or harps. But of course, the sounds never came. The thunderheads passed over my house that day, with nothing bursting forth except a small spring shower. As the sky cracked open with rain, my child’s heart cracked open in disappointment: Jesus had not come!

I waited a little longer just in case, but soon evening fell. When I turned to go back into my own family’s small home, I noticed for the first time just how very unlike a mansion it really was. There was laundry on the couch and there were shoes piled by the door and toys scattered underneath the table. Nothing was made of gold—not even one single thing!

At bedtime that night I shared my dashed hope of Jesus’ return with my mother. In detail, I told her all about the puffy clouds, the trumpets I’d listened out for, and the mansion home I’d been dreaming of in the new earth. She listened patiently, with a sad smile on her face.

“I just don’t know why that wasn’t Him!” I ended. “Why didn’t Jesus come back?”

“You know, Sweetie,” Mom began, “when I was a little girl, I thought Jesus would come back before I grew up too. But here I am, all grown up, and a mommy of you, your sister, and your brother, with another baby in my tummy, and Jesus still isn’t here.”

“How can you stand it, Mommy?” I remember exclaiming.

“Well, I guess it’s because I’m happy here,” she said slowly, unsure of her answer. “But listen honey, I’ll tell you something else: I have my heavenly mansion all designed; do you want to hear about it?”

“Yes, Mommy, tell me!” I insisted.

There on the green carpet beside my daybed, in the shadowy glow of my glass swan night-light, I remember my mom describing her dream home in heaven. It showcased four doors, and out each one of these doors would be found one of the four seasons: one door led to summer’s sun and beaches, one led to springtime flowers, another opened into winter’s silent, snowy wonderland, and the last door revealed a breathtaking autumn display of vibrant red, yellow, orange, and golden leaves.

I loved my mom’s home in heaven even more than I’d loved any of my own, even one made of candy. It all sounded so wonderful and, to a little girl, so magical. But best of all, she described long afternoons playing tag with Jesus or riding exotic animals or listening to King David tell of his escapades as a teenager or exploring new planets in space. I decided right then and there that no matter how long Jesus took to finally come back, I’d be waiting for Him when He arrived! Whatever glories the new earth promised, I wanted to enjoy them.

I’m all grown up myself now, with college and a wedding behind me, more childbearing than I care to recall, and mortgages and bills and all the other things Grandpa said I’d never have to face as part of the constants of my life. True to my seven-year-old decision, I’m still eagerly waiting for Jesus. But life’s struggles and sorrows have changed my hopes for heaven quite a bit since childhood. Instead of sparkly jewels and homes made of candy, I’m more interested now in being reunited with loved ones lost. I don’t care about the design of my mansion as much as I care about who might be in it, and I trust that all my four children will be there with me. Death, suffering, pain, and loss have taught my heart to long for a world free from sin and sadness. And the closer I grow to Jesus, the more I long to walk and talk with Him face to face.

The Bible’s book of Revelation talks about a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21, 22) that replace the present ones—a real and literal place in which real people with real bodies will dwell for eternity. Just as God made this world perfect in the beginning—before sin intruded—when He cleanses the earth with fire and recreates everything (Revelation 20, 21), before it will be perfect again.

It’s hard to imagine an earth very similar to this one but without all the scars and results of sin. Will we still have a Yosemite, a Grand Canyon, beaches, and mountains? Or an Amazon rainforest, but without the bugs and bites? I don’t know for sure, but I imagine it will be at once both familiar and different. We will recognize it as Earth, but it will be unlike the Earth we knew.

What will life on this new earth be like? Will I still be married to Greg? Will I recognize Grandma Shirley if she rises to life as a youthful 25-year-old? How long will I have to wait in line to see Jesus? Is Peter going to tire of telling his “fish” stories? And will he have forgiven himself—and forgotten—his denial of Jesus? What are we going to do for all of eternity? The amazing thing about an eternity of perfection is that it will offer unlimited potential—with a brain untouched by sin and “all the time in the world” (if time still exists; that is); who knows what we’ll be capable of realizing, building, and enjoying?

Perhaps more important than what the Bible says the new earth will be like and who and what will be there, is what it says the new earth will not be like. One of the questions my own children ask me now is, “Mommy, how do we know that bad things won’t come back when Jesus makes the world brand new?”

The Bible writers actually anticipated their question: Revelation 21:4 says that there will not be any death, any pain, crying, or sorrows. Satan and sin will be eradicated forever, and with them, both our natural inclination to sin along with our many temptations will be forever gone. While we won’t experience the ache of years past any longer, we’ll still remember how serious sin was. Throughout eternity, the scars in Jesus’ hands, feet, and side will serve as reminders of all that sin did to us as human beings, and we will be able to examine God’s goodness and grace to a depth we can’t even imagine now.

Just last week, my son climbed up beside me on the couch with his favorite blanket and asked, “Mommy, do you think ‘blankie’ will be in my new home when Jesus comes back? What about Charlotte [the pet hamster] and my books and fish? If they’re not there, I’ll miss them too much, Mommy!”

I smiled down at his bedtime hair, his blue pajamas, and his sleepy brown eyes, and recalling my own conversation with my mother so many years before, answered, “I don’t know for sure, honey. But what I do know is that Jesus will be there! And Jesus will make us happier than we’ve ever been in our whole entire lives. So, if He needs to include blankie and Charlotte to do that, well, I think He can.”

“That’s good, Mommy,” he sighed. “That’s reeeal good. Our new place will be the best place! Ever.”

It’s true, little one, I smiled to myself; our new place will be the best place ever.

My Idea of Heaven

by Melissa Howell
From the March 2018 Signs