"How about a walk?" he asked. "I would like to show you something."
Just as I was about to voice my agreement, we were there, in the midst of the most incredible stand of trees imaginable. It seemed to span miles, and each tree was a magnificent specimen of everything majestic and solid about stately, monumental trees.
"I love good trees!" I exclaimed, again, like a two-year old when first introduced to something exciting and grand. "They are just so real and friendly and comforting and noble all at once. Is this what you wanted me to see?"
He just smiled for the billionth time, and it was not at all condescending or patronizing. In fact, each repeat occurrence seemed to express his growing fondness for me, the Dead Man he used to be.
"Not really," he replied. "But I am aware of our fondness for forests, and, as heavenly examples go, this is pretty spectacular, yet nothing like what He's provided closer to the Throne."
I didn't waste any energy speaking, but just kept gazing open-mouthed at the vast perfection around me. Unlike planetary forests, with their tangled undergrowth, dead and fallen leaves, damaged and felled trees, and unkempt terrain (all beautiful enough in the natural state, of course), THIS forest was incomparably better in every conceivable way. It was both undeniably natural AND manicured. It was carpeted with a never-ending lawn of cottony-soft, almost emerald-green grass, from which the gigantic trees sprang as if planted there eons ago. The canopy of tree-tops, though incalculably huge, did not obscure the ground with shadow, nor block the light radiating from some source, currently unidentifiable, but nevertheless a pleasant source of warmth and clarity unparalleled on earth.
And the atmosphere of utter peace and safety overrode even the visual effect, as if nothing bad or negative had, or could, or would, happen anywhere within this blessed fortress of trees.
"I'd advise trying to not be so open-jawed in astonishment," my companion offered, "but there's really no danger of any bugs or flies inadvertently invading your mouth, so stare away my friend, for as long as you like."
I don't know or care how much timeless time passed while we walked through this magic place, saying very little, except for me exclaiming, "Oh! Look at that!" over and over again, as some new and glorious wonder caught my eye. If I were the most gifted painter in history, I could spend the rest of my temporal life attempting to capture these scenes and not do them the least amount of justice. And if the visual arts were woefully inadequate, literary artistry ran out of verbal canvas, easel, colors and brushes before even getting started. There were only so many adjectives in the Universe, and five minutes trying to describe this place exhausted the supply from one end of existence to the other. I was transported in a way that only glorious natural scenery, or heart-stirring music, or the innocent devotion of children could manage. For it was all those things, and much, much more.
Then, as if this were not gift enough for several centuries, and much to my complete shock, I heard three separate, but undeniably familiar barks in the distance, heading my way. The next instant, overtopping a slight rise in the ground ahead, I saw three oh-so-recognizable dogs coming right toward me.
"It can't be!" I remember saying, or maybe just thinking very loudly, as I dropped to my knees instinctively to greet three very special, long-lost, and faithful companions.
"Clyde! Chips! Little Mac!" I cried out, tears streaming down my face in rivers of child-like joy. "It can't be!"
But it so was. They were here in this place and clearly happier to see me than I had ever remembered them being on-planet. Then, as if to memorialize the significance of this mini grand reunion, all three dogs came to a dignified stop about ten feet from me. I stared at them in utter amazement and joy, unable to speak because my throat was so full of emotion and gratitude.
Clyde was the one who approached first. He looked precisely as he had in his prime, but better, with a shinier and smoother coat. He did not resemble at all the crippled, and stroke-devastated animal I had put to sleep after being my loyal and unconditionally loving dog for 17 years. Of the three, he was the one I had spent the most time with, and who deserved all the respect and regard I could give him. That tri-colored, mixed German Shepherd-Collie (and who knew what else), stuck by me no matter what, through everything and anything during a very bad and troubled period in my youth. More than once, I felt he was the only friend I had. And he was here with me again!
Next Chips, the diminutive Manchester Terrier, sidled up respectfully next to the larger dog, awaiting his turn for my effusive and tear-filled greeting. Though he had run away from our house when I was just a boy, he had meant much to this lonely country kid as we moved from town to town as my Dad began working closer to the big cities.
Last was Mac, still the puppy he was when he died of liver failure after only one night in our house soon after my wife and I were married. He was the animal that opened my heart again to having a dog years after I had said good-bye to Clyde, and swore I would never leave myself open to that kind of heart break again.
"These are just dogs!" I said finally, my voice hitching like a little kid's who had cried his breath away. "Why?"
"Are you disappointed?" my future-self asked.
"You know I'm not. How could I be?"
"Well, here's the thing, in case it hasn't hasn't hit completely home yet: NOTHING IS LOST IN THE LORD! NOTHING!"
He actually shouted that last thought, but it sounded more like a chorus of praise than anything else.
"He has provided this small taste of the future Grand Reunion, not only because He loves you with an everlasting love, but He loves these faithful creatures, as well. He was the One who brought them to you in the first place. And believe me, when these wonderful critters sensed that you were approaching, very little could have stood in their way from seeing you again."
He laughed good-naturedly then, and more than anything else, at that moment he reminded me of a kindly grandfather whose favorite thing in the world was to see the delight of his precious loved ones.
"He loves you more than you can possibly know," he repeated. "This is just the beginning."
"Thank You Lord!" was all I could say.