[I am excited to post my second short story—The Man-Boy Dreams of Heaven—a true story about my stepson, Alan Wade Kellogg. In spite of Wade’s many special needs, he is loved and adored by all who are fortunate enough to be a part of his life. Likewise, he is loved and adored by his Heavenly Father. I think you will understand why as you read about his life and his dream of visiting heaven.]
His small one-hundred-ten-pound, five-foot frame stood tall among the tombstones scattered across the mountain cemetery. The only sound was the wind rustling through a few dead leaves still clinging to the trees overhead. Wade did not know that Papa Buddy had died the week before Thanksgiving.
Dad had brought his thirty-two-year-old son with a missing chromosome over Jumbo Mountain to visit his grandfather’s grave. Because Wade had handled death with great courage so many times before, Dad wasn’t concerned that today would be any different.
“We had a funeral last week,” Dad said, as they neared the mound of fresh flowers heaped high over the dirt pile next to Grandmother Minnie’s grave.
“Who?” Wade asked, turning his head sharp to see Dad’s face.
“Is he in heaven?”
“Yes,” Dad assured him.
Fighting back tears, Wade faced the reality of yet another life gone from his. Dad marveled that once again he processed the sadness like a pro.
Old enough to be a man—still so much a boy, this man-boy has many special needs. Wade is best described as a full bundle of God-given life living inside a body with a missing chromosome—Chromosome 4, to be exact. Wade has few basic survival skills, yet he is a genius in other ways. His ability to retain information is an uncommon gift. If it is history or geography, Wade knows his stuff. He can name the capitals of every state in the United States, and most capital cities of nations around the world. An avid Olympics fan, he can call out the dates of all future Olympic Games. While in middle school, Wade participated in an Academic Quiz Bowl. As expected, he gave all the right answers to his team; but he also gave them to the opposing team.
Shortly after his high school graduation, Wade’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Mama-Judy had hormone-negative breast cancer, not the usual garden-variety type. This would be a fight for her life. With Wade requiring 24/7 care, Dad’s plate was soon piled full. He held a job, tended his cattle, and kept up with the daily needs of his family. Still, Dad was by his wife’s side as she endured the many facets of cancer treatment.
Tough choices lurked on the horizon. “I can take care of Mama-Judy or I can take care of Wade, but I can’t do both,” the strong man said, bending beneath the God-size load. He wondered how long he could hold up.
“Why are you taking her and not me? Wade needs his mother more,” Dad argued with God, reminding Him that she had been Wade’s caregiver since birth.
Feeling as though God had turned a deaf ear, Dad continued to pray for wisdom, strength, and a miracle. He sought help at the Department of Human Services, but with a waiting list of 4,000 unplaced clients, hope was slim.
Mama-Judy fought hard against the disease claiming her life. Others fought beside her, bringing food and taking her for treatments. Her church and community offered up petitions for her healing. Once a hairstylist, the loss of her hair from chemotherapy was especially difficult, yet she endured with great grace. She worried most about her family. Would her husband survive the pull? Would God answer in time? She watched the impossible become possible—a door opened that wasn’t supposed to—and this mama’s boy was placed in a home for the disabled.
When the inevitable came into focus, Mama-Judy voiced instructions for her funeral, as well as how this family would move on after she was gone. Dad should remarry—he need not be alone. Oldest son, Brad, and new bride, Amber, should not attempt to be Wade’s caregivers. She knew too well the strain it would put on normal family life. And Wade—Dad must promise that he would always be cared for.
“Death is swallowed up in victory,” declares the treasured Bible promise, yet somehow it doesn’t feel like victory. The empty chair at the table; the eerie silence of a house once filled with life; sitting alone on a church pew—such pain must be endured by faith in the One who conquered death.
Some rocky years passed before Wade found the place made especially for him. A home here, a home there—none quite suited for this man-boy who had only lived with a loving family. Nonetheless, God and Dad remained faithful. Wade eventually moved into a group home hand-picked by God Himself. Wade’s caregivers, Randall and Peggy, respect their clients as valued members of society and encourage them to live life to their fullest potential.
Wade is best suited to a life of routine, so change can be difficult. However, he can be coerced to accept most anything with a promised visit to the ice cream store or a piece of his favorite step-mother’s homemade pumpkin pie.
While visiting the hospital after the birth of twin nieces, Ruby and Sara, Dad carefully placed Ruby in Wade’s arms and asked, “Do you have anything to say to her?” Wade gently put his small bent finger on Ruby’s tiny check and said, “Welcome to the world.”
In a moment, like quicksand pouring in over something caught in its grasp, death was overtaken by more life—it simply succumbed as new life emerged. And just as promised, the preciousness of two new lives somehow swallowed up the pain of loss.
Wade had attended church his entire life, but surprisingly had never asked what would happen to him when he dies. Dad wasn’t sure Wade could process such important issues as sin, forgiveness, and salvation. His caregivers had honored Dad’s request to take Wade to church regularly, and one day it happened—the understanding of this man-boy was opened. Wade cried out, “Lord, save me,” and He did.
“Wade, do you know what sin is?” Pastor Frank questioned hard.
“Yeah, sin is having a fit,” he said, ducking his head sheepishly to one side. He gave the right answer to every hard question and was baptized in the church where he grew up.
Today, just an ordinary day in December, Dad and his son are once again making their way over Jumbo Mountain, this time to deliver a Christmas gift to Wade’s Aunt Priscilla. The graveled road winding up and down through the pine trees is a trip they have made a thousand times before—but this ordinary day is about to become extraordinary.
The noise of truck tires pounding against the gravel is broken by Wade’s words. “Hey, Dad, I had a dream last night.”
“Really? What about?” Dad asks, not making too much of it. He knows his son is a person of few words, unless it is to his advantage to speak.
“I dreamed about Papa Buddy. He was in Heaven with Papa Junior,” Wade’s paternal grandfather, “and Mama-Judy; she had brown hair,” he said, explaining that she didn’t have hair when she died. “But she does now.”
Wade has Dad’s full attention. “Oh? What else?” Dad asks.
“There were mansions and streets made out of gold. And I saw Jesus.”
Trying not to appear too anxious, Dad questions his son, “So what did Jesus look like?”
“He had a crown, and said, ‘Welcome in.’”
Dad pulls the pickup truck over to the side of the road and parks. He doesn’t want to miss one word his son offers to tell. “What else did you see?”
“I saw Bob Hope and Merle Haggard,” both popular entertainers from Wade’s childhood.
“Anyone else?” Dad asks.
One by one, Wade calls the names of those he saw in heaven: America Mouser, a delightful 101 year-old lady he had met in a nursing home; Mr. Rogers, host of Mister Rogers Neighborhood; Carmen Taylor, his special education teacher; Leila Williams, an adopted aunt; and Dennis Williamson, his great uncle.
“Did you see others?” Dad presses for more.
Wade names others: Cousin Ed; Aunt Ina Jo; Cousin Daniel, his Aunt Camilla’s son who lived forty-five years overcoming his own disabilities; Granny Grace, his great-grandmother, and Granny Ruby, a beloved family friend.
“Did anyone else say anything?”
“I don’t remember.” Wade’s voice trails off. “Oh, and Jesus said, ‘Welcome in,’” telling Dad for the second time as if it were the most important thing to remember.
“Is that all?” Dad asks, sensing the end is near.
“They were happy to see me.”
“Anything more?” Dad makes one final attempt.
It is over as quickly as it began. Dad doesn’t know why the Heavenly Father would give a vision of heaven to a man-boy with a missing 4th chromosome, but he does know that his son is at peace with life—and with death, too. Wade fully believes his family will be together again—all in the presence of a loving Savior who says to each one who enters: “Welcome in.”
You just never know when an ordinary day can take a turn and become extraordinary. ~Janie Kellogg