January 1, 2008 is the day God called our 43-year-old daughter, Julie, home—a date forever burned in my mind. So is December 19, 1980, the day He took our youngest, Tammy, to Heaven. I’ve done a lot of thinking these past two weeks since Julie’s death.
While attending the first session of Focus on the Family’s “The Truth Project” video series this month, I was struck by a question from the presenter: “Do you really believe that what you believe is really true?”
When tragedy strikes and I come up against a situation that is totally out of my control, that’s when I face the question, “Is what I have been taught to believe really true?”
In 1980 our 12-year-old Tammy was drowned in a river in Nasuli, Philippines, where our family was serving as missionaries. I was only 43 at the time and nothing really bad had ever happened in my life. At that age, you tend to think that tragedies will happen to other people, not to you.
But it did happen to me and there was nothing I could do about it. Even though I had attended Sunday school and church all my life and associated with mature missionaries overseas for years, I had a shallow knowledge of God’s Word in many areas.
For three days after Tammy’s death, I was in a deep, dark depression. I kept visualizing the scene of the drowning, having found Tammy’s body lying next to the river with her long, blond hair spread out around her beautiful face. And I kept remembering how John Rollo helped me drag her body up the steep bank, with dirt falling into her face and eyes. She was so heavy for such a little girl that I strained my back. I could not get this scene out of my mind.
After the burial, I was not sure where she was. I knew her body was in the grave. I thought that since in eternity time did not exist, then even if her soul remained in the grave, it would be only a blink of an eye until she woke up at the end of earth’s time when Jesus would return. But that was not very comforting.
One night three days after her death, as my wife and I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep, Joanne said to me, “Pat, do you see what I see?”
“What is it?” I asked.
“I can see Tammy up in Heaven, surrounded by myriads of angels!”
Joanne clearly saw this as a vision. But for myself, I can’t say I actually saw it with my eyes as she had, but I did have a vision of it in my mind—as clear as anything. I saw Tammy laughing and incredibly happy, as if she were thinking how silly it was for me to be so depressed and grieving when she was in Heaven, filled with so much joy.
All of a sudden my depression lifted and I experienced a blissful, joyous feeling. I wondered if the depression would return, but it never did. I still grieved because I missed her, of course, but the assurance of knowing where she was and how happy she was never left me.
I now know there are many passages in the Bible that assure us that our loved ones go directly to be with Jesus at the time of death. A significant one is Luke 23:40–43 where the thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His Kingdom. Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (NLT, emphasis mine).
I know the Lord gave both Joanne and me that vision because we needed it. This time, now 28 years later, as Julie has also entered heaven to be with her sister and her Lord Jesus, we don’t need a vision. I know what I believe is really true, having seen it, lived it. My faith is sure and solid this time around. I know where my daughters are—waiting in Heaven for me, for the time when God calls me too.
By Mr. Pat Cochran with Carol Brinneman