One of the girls’ Christmas presents this year was a visit to Disneyland. We were supposed to fly to California the day after Christmas and spend a day riding rides and meeting characters, and if Lenya had her way, eating lots of cotton candy. Things turned out very different. Our airplane took off without us as we stood shedding tears in a snowy cemetery.
A smaller, stunned and broken-hearted version of our family eventually made it to California. We hadn’t kept the trip a surprise so they had all been talking about it for several months and had mapped out which rides we should go on while we were there and in what order. Though she wasn’t with us, we headed to Lenya’s first choice and rode it right off the top. It was all bittersweet. We have terrific memories of her all over the park, from previous trips, that we cherished and were stung by as we laughed, smiled and cried our way through the day.
One of Disneyland’s nicknames is, “The Happiest Place on Earth” and, even though adults love to bag on this title because of the long lines and dollar signs, I think it is pretty fantastic. Especially when you experience it through the eyes of your kids. The sights, smells and sensations are all carefully crafted to be warm, bright and exciting. That was Walt Disney’s whole idea, to build a utopia for children of all ages, a perfect little world where fantasy is reality and dreams do come true–if you wish upon a star. Of course it’s all fake. There is a dude inside the Mickey costume, you can’t live in the castle, and it all closes at end of day.
The good news is that Jesus said that there really is a place like the one Walt tried to create, where every dream comes true. It’s not the Magic Kingdom, but the Messiah’s Kingdom. It’s called Heaven. He promised that there is room for us in His Father’s House and that He would bring us there one day. My daughter Lenya is there with Him right now. The Bible also promises that the day is coming when all of Heaven will come down and be permanently fused to the new Earth. When that day comes there will be no unhappy places on the planet. All of earth will be as cheerful as It’s a Small World, but much less creepy.
What gave us great joy as we waited in line for Dumbo, one of Lenya’s very favorite rides, ate six dollar churro’s, and took photos that have a conspicuous absence in them, was the thought that Lenya is in the place Disneyland is trying to be. Paradise. Though we wished desperately she could be there with us we held on to the comforting reality that she was not missing out on the fun. We were. Our sadness was for us and not for her. We wanted her there with us to laugh at the silly faces we made for the camera at the end of Space Mountain, to meet Ariel and to spin furiously in the Mad Hatter’s Teacups because it would have been better for us. But returning to this fallen earth would not mean more fun for her but far less.
The reality is even the happiest place on earth, on it’s best day, can’t hold a candle to Heaven. Disneyland is like a cross between the DMV and the Dentist compared to the slightest sliver of what Heaven will be like. David said that one day in God’s courts are better than a thousand elsewhere. She is with the Lord in a perfect place and she has been made perfect too. In the Kingdom she is in there really are princesses living in the sparkly castle, and she is one of them. And maybe just maybe the animals really do talk where she is. We miss her with all our hearts and I have no doubt that she is looking forward to the day when we will see what she is seeing and experience what she is experiencing. I can’t wait. Until that day I want to reach as many people as possible so they can go there too.