Sharon’s talk about Thelma’s empty suitcase

The following was shared at a recent family gathering to celebrate Sharon’s mom, Thelma Mason:

At the age of 96 our mom took the trip of a lifetime, as her days on earth came to an end. It’s a trip we are all going to take. Mom planned her trip in advance—but she didn’t take a suitcase. What would you put in your suitcase if you took a trip? What do you think mom/grandma had in hers? How did she prepare for her trip? She made a reservation in heaven many years ago, but she didn’t have to pay for it.

When we were young, did we have to pay our mom or dad when we went on a trip with them? I remember when I was three-years old that I moved with mother and dad from Saskatchewan to Portland. I didn’t have any money to pay; mom and dad did it for me. It was costly to them but free to me.

Many years ago, when mother was a young girl, her mother (grandma Carrie Maines) told her that Jesus loved her. Sometime after that, mom gave her heart to Jesus. There is a verse in Revelation (3:20) where Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to them, and dine with them.” My mom invited Jesus to come in to her life to dine with her, which He did over the course of the rest of her life. He came into her life and was at the center of her life from that time on.

Some people give their lives to Jesus when they are young—like mother did—like I did. When we moved to Portland, we lived in an area called Vanport City. Vanport was a city of public housing located between the Portland boundary and the Columbia River, located today where Delta Park and the Portland International Raceway are. Fortunately, we moved shortly before the big flood that wiped out Vanport 1n 1948.

While in Vanport, we lived next to Stan and Lola Mallory. There was a door between our house and the Mallory’s that was always open during the daytime, so I would go back and forth as a little girl. Stan and Lola worked with the Salvation Army and told me about Jesus. When I was just three-years old, like mother, I too gave my heart to Jesus. I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t believe in Jesus, thanks to Stan, Lola, and mother. I didn’t always follow Jesus in the years that followed, and got myself in trouble when I met Linus, but I always believed in Jesus as my Savior, from the time that I was a little girl.

Others give their lives to Jesus further along in life, like the one of the criminals hanging on a cross next to Jesus. This criminal confessed that he deserved the punishment he was getting but that Jesus did not. He turned to Jesus and said, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” to which Jesus replied, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Here was their conversation just before dying:

“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:39-43).[1]

Scripture tells us to “call upon the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). It also says that if we “confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead we will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Jesus made it so simple that even a child could understand and accept Jesus…as I did…as mother did…as the dying criminal did.

So mother/grandmother had a reservation in heaven from the time she was a little girl. She knew that one day she would go to heaven. I remember talking with her once about her faith in Jesus and the fact that she knew she would go to heaven. Suddenly, she waived her arms in delight and exclaimed, “I can hardly wait!”

Do we all go to heaven? No we don’t. Our lives and decisions are important now. The Bible says that today is the day of salvation. Paul put it this way in

“In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

We make a decision in our lifetime, as to what happens when we die, and where we will spend eternity. This life is a preparation for eternity, and the choices we make in time are binding for eternity.

I know that I am getting closer to death. We all are. There are little signs that tell us the clock of life is ticking. Our hair turns grey. We lose our hair. Little health issues pop up. We are diagnosed with things we are not happy about. I have an autoimmune disease that affects my balance that I have to take medication for. Some of you have high blood pressure and cholesterol. We all begin to see changes in our skin and cracks in our faces. Of course, death can happen to any of us unexpectedly. Right now there is a pregnant woman who was just taken off life-support who suffered a blood clot in her lungs and was declared brain-dead. The truth is we don’t know when our day will come. None of us knows the day of our departure.

So the Bible says, “Today is the day of salvation.” Don’t run from the thought, “What happens to me when I die?” Don’t suppress grappling with the question, “Where will I go when this life ends?” Jesus says, “Come to me you who are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Do as mother did and receive Jesus. Say to Him, “Jesus I want to know you. Come in to my heart and be my Savior. I want to know your presence in my life, and I want to be where you are when I die.” God will give you His peace, love, and joy. He says in Jeremiah, I have plans to bless you not to harm you:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

I experienced this recently as I flew to Geneva to meet Linus who went ahead. He took my bigger suitcase with him so I wouldn’t have to manage it, but I had a hand carried bag that was filled with reading material, an iPad, and some other travel items I needed. When I got to Amsterdam, I had to wait in a long line to go through security again. By then I was tired and my carry on bag was becoming heavier and heavier. I began to feel fatigued, alone, and sorry for myself, wondering how I was going to make it through the long line ahead. In my head I jokingly asked, “Lord, where are my people?” Then more seriously, I prayed, “Lord, please show me that I am not alone, that you are with me, that you care.”

Just then a man approached me and said, “I’m going to help you.” He didn’t ask, “May I help you?” He just declared that he was going to help, then took my carry-on bag, took me to the front of the long line, and got me through security. When I got to the other side, a cart was waiting for me, and the man who helped me was gone. I was flooded with a fresh sense of God’s love and care for me. His plans are not to harm us but to walk with us, care for us, and give us hope for the future.

There really is a heaven and a hell. We were not made for hell. Hell was made for Satan and his followers. We weren’t made for that. We were made for a person and a place. The person is Jesus. The place is heaven. Jesus told His disciples that in His Father’s house were many mansions and that he was going to prepare a place for them/us that where He was they/we might be also:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples, confirming that there is life after death and that we can have hope in Jesus” (John 14:1-3).

I want to go back to mom’s suitcase. It was empty but she sent something on ahead—her prayers. Mom prayed for each one of you here, as well as those not able to attend. She spoke to Jesus about each of you. She prayed that you would come to know Jesus like she did…like dad did. Jesus said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

So this life is a preparation for eternity. The choices we make here are binding for eternity. Mother is in heaven because she made the choice to receive and trust Jesus. I want to play a song (“I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me) for you that pictures mother’s experience when she arrived in heaven. Then Linus will lead us in a prayer and we can share memories of mom/grandma/great grandma.

Sharon Morris

January 26, 2014

[1] Two other verses in the New Testament speak of paradise, or the presence of God:

2Cor. 12:4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.

Rev. 2:7 ¶ He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

7 thoughts on “Sharon’s talk about Thelma’s empty suitcase

    1. Sharon, what a wonderful tribute to Auntie Thelma, and a wonderful way to spread the good news of the Gospel. Wouldn’t Grandma Carrie be proud?!
      In His Great Love, margot ♥

  1. Hi Linus & Sharon,
    What a beautiful ‘generational’ photo and such a heartfelt and
    inspirational story about “Thelma’s suitcase”. It’s ‘Truth’. !!! Praise
    the Lord for his ‘amazing’ Grace, and so thankful for your witness and
    all you do around the world. Be safe, be strong in the Lord and the power
    of his might !! With love & prayers,

  2. Sharon,
    I love the way you chose to tell your Mother’s story. What a beautiful expression of the Gospel. I am thankful for knowing you and your family.
    Love & comfort,

  3. Thank you for your beautiful words and pictures. God is using you, Linus and your family in such far reaching ways. All who know you are touched beyond measure. Much love and comfort, Linda

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