I grew up in government subsidized housing in Jacksonville, AR. I was chosen as an elementary school student to be a part of a program for disadvantaged kids put on at a local elementary school by some former professional athletes from the area. I was 1 of probably 75 kids running around in an old gymnasium with a rippling wood floor, and dilapidated goals and bleachers, wondering what was going to be passed out for snacks, and if there would be a “recess time” where we could go play on the rusty playground equipment I saw in the fenced back lot. Instead we were gathered into smaller groups where we talked about our dreams for the future and what we thought it would take to achieve those dreams. Future astronauts, NFL players and doctors all shared their own visions of the future. Mine was to be a fireman or a policeman where I could help little kids like me, who lived in scary places, to feel safe.
One of the athletes, whose name I don’t remember, began to talk about his dreams of playing in the NFL that eventually came true. He talked about a God, who he now realized had been watching over him from his earliest memories, and who he credited with giving him his ability to play and a path to attain his dreams. I was familiar with this God, as my maternal grandmother frequently spoke about Him to me, reminding me often, that there was someone watching my every move, even if she wasn’t there! He spoke about Eternity, and how the choices we make in this life will determine where we get to spend eternity. Will it be with our loving Father, with no more tears and no more pain? Or will it be an eternity with the evil one, the great destroyer, the devil himself forever in torment? Now this was big stuff to a little kid, but it was even bigger when he presented eternity to us in a way we could understand.
He gave us each rolls of toilet paper, and told us to go and hang the rolls of toilet paper end to end, covering the walls with the paper, as high as it would go wrapped around the court. It took some time, but with the assistance of some helpers with masking tape, we eventually got our toilet paper hung around the wall, reaching from the floor to about 3 feet high up the walls, across the bleachers and across the door ways, a continuous wall of toilet paper gently rolling with a breeze coming through the doors.
He walked slowly around the group of kids sitting in the center of the gymnasium floor, and began sharing how the toilet paper was a symbol of time…it represented eternity, and the time we would get to spend in heaven with God. He described wonderful mansions and gold streets, and jewel covered walls. Marvelous meals, and endless sunny days playing catch with friends. That single line of paper seemed to go on forever on those walls! He then took out a marker, and walked over to an area under one of the goals, and approached the wall. He swept his arm in a big arc, and said, “these white walls represent all of eternity, and this”…here he took the marker and put a single pin point mark on the huge white canvas. From where I was at, I couldn’t even see the mark, but I knew it was there… “This represents all the years you will live on earth. Your whole life, and in fact all of creation’s total existence, fits in that small pen mark. The brief moment we are here,” pointing at the mark, “decides where we will spend all of this time,” sweeping his arm around the gym. “So that’s why you need to choose carefully. Choose your friends carefully, and choose what you do with your time carefully, as those decisions will affect an even greater decision to come. ”
I think I was 8 or 9 years old, so I have had 35 years to think about what was shared with me that day. I’m sure I’ve left details out, and I know the speaker was much more eloquent than I have represented. But, the message is still as relevant to me now, as it was then. I have a greater understanding of the details in what was shared, but it is with a childlike innocence my Father calls me to Him, and that I continue to long for those days walking the golden streets, and breaking bread with my brothers and sisters.