There are some things about heaven that I’d really like to know. For instance, will our pets be there? Will there be people of all ages, including babies and senior citizens? And, very important to the here-and-now me: will there be stories and novels to read?
These and many other questions won’t be answered until Jesus calls me home. For now, I must be satisfied with the things I have been told about heaven, and one of my favorite things is this:
“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2, ESV)
What kind of picture does that conjure up for you, hearing Jesus say that you’ll have a room in your Father’s house? Do you see sort of a hotel, with many individual doors in many hallways, perhaps in a building several stories tall? Do you see, instead, small private rooms built into a hillside, or maybe in a quaint, monastery-like setting? Or do you see something like God’s big dormitory—which might not be as bad as it sounds since we’ll all be without sin? I’ve considered all of these things.
When I first heard this verse, though, I heard it in a different translation, one that I came to love and still the one I most often say to myself:
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2, NKJV)
Has Jesus gone before us to prepare rooms or mansions? These seem like quite different things. (The literal translation of this word from the Greek is “dwellings.”) But who wouldn’t rather have a mansion? Doesn’t that sound elegant, beautiful, awesome, expensive, and big? Isn’t that what many people strive for here on earth, and frequently attain, at least in our current time and place in history? A mansion for all—wouldn’t that be just heaven?
Even though I love the “mansion” translation now, I didn’t always. For a long time, I struggled with this concept, because frankly, mansions didn’t appeal to me. They made me feel uncomfortable, like I didn’t belong, like I didn’t measure up. All through the ’90s and ’00s, I enjoyed making fun of McMansions as they sprang up everywhere, and I told myself I’d never want to live in one if only for the reason that I wouldn’t want to clean all of those bathrooms. I was pretty sure that if Jesus offered me a literal mansion in heaven, I might say no, thank you.
My husband sometimes tells me that I have a wee bit of a chip on my shoulder about growing up poor. He’s right; sometimes I do. But the older I get, the more I realize that you can take me out of poverty (thank you, God, for doing that), but you can’t take the effects of poverty out of me (thank you also for this, Lord).
Which reminds me … I want to tell you about the mansion I’d like in heaven.
I spent most of my adolescent years living in trailers. Now, there are some very nice mobile home communities in this country—I’ve seen a few in my time. They have clean, well-kept, late-model mobile homes, even some doublewides, with tiny, manicured yards, little white picket fences, flowers strategically planted to disguise the hitch, short concrete driveways with attached carports and maybe a neat, small shed. I love that there are safe, affordable communities like this for retired folks, young families, and single people just starting out.
I never lived in a place like that.
During my teen years, my mom and I lived in a trailer court which was referred to by nearby residents of our suburb as “the armpit” (it was shaped like an elongated U). We lived in two different trailers, both about 30 feet long and about 30 years old, as were most of the trailers in this court. (Please don’t call where we lived a “mobile home.” We would have cringed to call it that.)
The first trailer was blue, and the second one was green. Both were rusty, chipped, and dented in various places. Both had wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling wood paneling inside. I remember the green one best, having lived there from about age 14 until I went to college. It had an 8-foot-wide living area that held a TV and the daybed/couch where my mom slept, a compact kitchen, a very narrow hallway with a bathroom similar in size to an airplane bathroom with a shower stall, and a tiny bedroom at the other end, with enough room for a twin bed and space to stand next to it. The many cabinets all had latches and most were located above our heads. In the winter, we used an oil heater; we often had to conserve at night, and I frequently woke up able to see my breath.
This trailer court was well known to the police. Our neighbors had drug problems, gun problems, domestic problems, mental health problems, truancy problems (that one was actually me), and other issues. Throughout my trailer park years, I tried, mostly successfully, to hide where I lived from the other kids in my relatively affluent school district. But once a friend’s mom drove me home after dark and refused to drop me at the top of the court like I asked her to. Gritting her teeth and wincing at each speed bump, she resolutely drove me to my door, at one point commenting under her breath, “You never know who lives in places like this.” Which, I suppose, is true. You never know.
Still, there were good memories. My uncle coming by with his little blue MG Midget, promising me that when I turned 16, it would be mine (sadly, that didn’t happen). My grandfather dropping off groceries after my grandmother told him we had no food. Me making bacon and eggs in the morning in order to get my mom out of bed in a good mood. Me squeezing a record player next to my bed so that I could belt out Broadway musicals, Styx, Heart, and maybe some Janis Joplin with abandon. My mom giving me an electric typewriter for my 15th birthday ($149 at Sears—an outrageous sum) with a typed paper in it saying, “This is so you can start writing your first book.”
Now, with all that said, I’ll tell you about the kind of mansion I’d like when I get to heaven. It’s the kind of mansion I would feel comfortable in, truly understood, and cared for by God.
My mansion in heaven, Lord willing, just may be a neat, well-kept, clean little trailer, with a picket fence, flowers, and a small shed. I would like some chickens this time, please Lord, and cats, of course. I’ve learned to grow a few things since I was 12, so I’d also like a small herb garden and maybe a few vegetables alongside. If there are novels in heaven, I’d like at least one a week, if you don’t mind—you can pick. I’d like to look all around and see other homes very similar to mine, all about the same size, each a little different but nothing to arouse feelings of insecurity or discontent, neither of which will exist in heaven anyway.
Why a trailer as my mansion in heaven? My mother, God bless her, would roll over in her grave if she knew I was writing this. The answer to “why a trailer?” is the same answer I give when I give my testimony: Jesus redeems. He redeems. He takes what is broken and makes it whole. He takes sad and difficult memories and wipes away every tear. He takes what seems irredeemable (like me, like you) and at the cost of his own flesh and blood, presents us spotless to God and able to dwell in his presence forever.
“Many mansions” (I love this translation now) in my Father’s house reminds me of just how big God’s house truly must be, and how I can’t comprehend the size and the significance no matter how hard I try. It also reminds me that in heaven, no matter what my “dwelling” is, it will be as a mansion to me, a place of unsurpassed beauty and comfort, because I’ll be dwelling in the perfect love of my Savior and my Lord.