As a little girl growing up in Southern California in the late 70’s, I used to make frequent visits to Disneyland with my family. The park was less than 15 miles away from our house and getting there was not nearly as complicated as it is today. Not to mention, it was way before a day’s admission felt like you needed to take out a loan. Back in the day (now I’m really aging myself), one could simply park a car in the parking lot right in front of the entrance of Disneyland – no tram needed, walk into the park and purchase books of tickets for individual rides. The “A” tickets were the cheapest at ten cents and were for rides like King Arthur’s Carousel and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. An “E” ticket was for something far more thrilling, like the Matterhorn and Haunted Mansion. So we would come after dinner, ride an “A” ride or two, a “B” ride if we were lucky, and then go home. (Thus, the secret to how we could afford to go to Disneyland every so often.)
I had so many happy memories from my childhood of my trips to Disneyland that years later, I wanted to experience that same joy from the perspective as a parent. Back in 2005, I spent months prepping my three-year-old son with Disney books, songs, and movies, so he’d know all the characters by sight. I wanted him to be prepared for his trip to The Happiest Place on Earth.
The day came and Joseph took it all in stride. He patiently waited in a long line for his beloved Peter Pan ride, sang along as we rode on the Pirates of the Caribbean (even though he belted out “Heigh-Hooooo”, instead of “Yo-Ho”), and had enough energy for eight hours of non-stop fun before he crashed in the Tiki Room. It was a great day.
There were other trips to Disneyland over the years. But perhaps none as significant as last year. You see, Joe got to spend his final birthday on earth with his best friend at The Happiest Place on Earth. He had talked about the annual junior high choir/handbell trip to California for months. It was the highlight of his entire school year. For his birthday, I wrapped up things he could take on the bus ride there: Flaming Hot Cheetos, Coke, Kit-Kats, a puzzle book, and of course, spending money. It was the first time I wouldn’t get to be with Joe on his actual birthday. But how could I be sad knowing he was ecstatic to be going to his happiest place? I remember him calling me on the phone that April 23 from Disneyland to check in with me – and so that I could sing Happy Birthday to him. He was so happy. And that made my heart happy, too. And a little sad for not being there to share those birthday memories with him.
And now, a year later…life is so incredibly different in many ways. Except one.
This year, my son isn’t just at The Happiest Place on Earth. He’s in THE Happiest Place. Period. And knowing he’s happier now than this world could ever make him does bring joy to this sad mama’s heart today. I want to be there with him. More than anything most days. But I can’t.
What brings comfort to my heart, though, is this: I know Joe was prepared for this trip he left for seven and a half months ago…not with food or movies, but with the things that mattered in this life. The prayers we prayed together. The devotions we would read at night snuggled up in his bed. The many church services we went to together. The tearful conversations we had about forgiveness and love. The years of a Christian education and learning Scripture verses. The community of people who loved on my son and were models of Christian love. But ultimately, with the grace of our loving Savior.
Today is one of those dichotomous days. Celebrating and mourning. Life and loss. Happy and sad. Laughter and tears. The “year of firsts” continues. Some days, like today, are harder than others. But each one brings me closer to being with my boy in The Happiest Place ever.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”