LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

What is heaven like?

LaReeca Rucker:
The Clarion-Ledger

Amy Lemmons, 38, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia four years ago and given little hope that she'd recover. She had a bone marrow transplant last year and spent almost 100 days in the hospital.

"There were times when I was terrified, when I didn't know if I would live or die," she said. "It was during those dark times that I really reached out to God."

Lemmons also began to ponder what heaven was like, a vision that brought her courage and comfort.

It's the ultimate destination for the faithful, but what exactly is heaven?

The Rev. Jay Richardson of Ridgeland's Highland Colony Baptist Church plans to resurrect the topic in a six-part sermon series that begins at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

He first tackled the subject five years ago after reading Heaven by Randy Alcorn, founder of the Oregon-based Eternal Perspective Ministries, a
nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching biblical truth and drawing
attention to the needy.

"Alcorn talked about things that really cleared up a lot of misconceptions
that I think people have about heaven," said Richardson.

"I try to let them know we are not going to be sitting on clouds strumming
harps for all eternity or even in a worship service 24-7," he said. "We will be involved in meaningful service and works, and we'll continue to grow."

Richardson realized this week when he welcomed questions from church youth that people have many thoughts about heaven. "They didn't have a clue I would be preaching on the subject, and about 30 of the 50 questions were about heaven."

They included:

Will celebrities still be famous in heaven?

What does heaven look like?

Will I know my family and friends in heaven?

Will we be the same people, or will we be complete strangers?

Do you have a body in heaven?

When I die and go to heaven, will my mom and dad remember me?

Will we start over as babies or stay our age for eternity?

Will we get to see our dogs and pets in heaven?

Richardson plans to broach some of the questions during the series.

Several authors have written recent books about heaven from different perspectives.

Alcorn said he spent three years researching and writing Heaven because he wanted to debunk misconceptions that it is a nonmaterial realm where souls will live in a disembodied state

"We're made to live as physical beings, not just spiritual, and on a real Earth, which is exactly what the Bible says we'll do after the resurrection, and after the millennium," he said, explaining his perspective. "Somehow we've failed to grasp this clear biblical teaching, and our view of eternal life has been distorted and impoverished."

Author Steve Hemphill, 52, wrote My Search for the Real Heaven, detailing the Abilene Christian University graduate's biblical exploration after his dad's death in 2000.

Hemphill believes there will be food, animals and a face-to-face relationship with God.

He believes his dad is there learning new things and having a family reunion.

"He's visiting cousins and ancestors," he said. "He's eating. He's resting. He's got a cabin in the woods. That was his dream. He's doing the things now he didn't have time for."

Jack Wintz, a Franciscan friar who edits the Cincinnati-based St. Anthony Messenger, is the author of Will I See My Dog in Heaven? released in April.

"Many Christians believe that nonhuman creatures have no place in heaven," Wintz said. "When you consider the story of Adam and Eve before their disobedience, as well as the animals, the birds, the trees and plants in the Garden of Eden, they all seem to have found happiness in that first paradise. Why then would God or anyone else want to exclude them from the paradise that is yet to come?"

Trudy Harris, a retired hospice nurse from Jacksonville, Fla., published Glimpses of Heaven last April, chronicling things she heard patients describe about heaven during her 24-year career.

"I found it interesting that no matter what their background, age or denomination, they were having similar experiences. What I saw was God's hand, wooing his children back home. It was an insight into God's love and forgiveness.

"I think heaven is the reflection of God's intense, all-encompassing love for his creation. We cannot even begin to understand how he loves."

Lemmons said she felt that love when hundreds of people she didn't know reached out to her after her diagnosis.

She is still fighting leukemia. After the bone marrow transplant, she did not reach remission, but she is undergoing donor lymphocyte infusions.

"My numbers are going in the direction they should be," said the North Brandon Church of Christ member. "The doctors are happy.

"The fact strangers reached out to me really showed me God is there for us no matter what, and it taught me that even if I didn't make it, I didn't have to worry so much."



The Journalism Portfolio of LaReeca Rucker