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When I was 17, I belonged to a musical group that was preparing to go on tour in the US. But I hadn’t been to rehearsals for a while, so the group leader pulled me aside a few weeks before the group’s departure and told me I couldn’t go with them. I remember feeling an unreal feeling, as if this wasn’t happening to me, and that at any moment the leader would burst out laughing and yell “KIDDING! Of course you’re coming with us!”, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I was unceremoniously escorted to the door, and that was that.

Two weeks later the group went on tour without me.

I was left behind.

I could go into details about why I hadn’t gone to rehearsals for a while, but let’s just say that some things were beyond my control, and some weren’t. The long and the short of it was that I wasn’t prepared for the trip. I didn’t know the music. It wouldn’t be fair to the other people, the leader pointed out, if they worked so hard to go and I didn’t work as hard (or even at all) and still got to go.

It wouldn’t be fair to them, was the argument.

I was well aware that I wasn’t prepared, but I figured I would get a break. I always got a break. I was used to getting breaks all my life to that point, and frankly I counted on them. I expected them. Exceptions were always made for me. Even if I lagged at something, I got pushed through. People vouched for me. Room was made.

But not this time. In fact, this time set the tone for the next 19 years until my rebirth. I had grown up being made an exception, but I had finally hit the wall. Very few exceptions were made for me from that day forward.

We will all die someday, and after that comes the judgement. We can’t avoid either, though we can prepare now, like the five wise virgins who had enough oil in their lamps. But there are those (and they are the vast majority) who think they are somehow the exception and that even if they’re not prepared, they’ll get pushed through, rules will be bent for them. And so they continue to live as if they have every right to go on tour, even though they haven’t rehearsed and don’t know the music.

Heaven is a reward that is so far above and beyond our greatest expectations that all we can really do when we talk about it is grunt and point. Anything we say is just filthy rags in comparison to the beauty and perfection and unspeakable joy that awaits those who go to rehearsals and fill their lamps ahead of time. There will be no exceptions when, as Johnny Cash puts it, the man comes around. We will be judged not on our expectations but on what we did or didn’t do with the very great privilege of time and space and talents and free will that God so graciously gave us, though we deserved none of it.

You can imagine that I did not learn my lesson about preparing when I was kicked out of the music group. I got angry instead, and the anger grew and grew with each subsequent kick to the teeth. In the final moments before my rebirth 19 years later, I was so full of anger and resentment and outrage at how people treated me, I died from it. Yes, you can die from misplaced pride. I know, because I did. It never occurred to me in all the years leading up to that physical death that I was in fact to blame for every problem that hounded me. Not one thing had been done to me that I hadn’t earned, including getting excluded from the music tour all those years ago.

I know now that when things get uneasy, I need to look at the choices I’ve made leading up to the unease and rectify any wrong ones as best I can. This is a process I’ve learned since my rebirth over 20 years ago. I take nothing for granted now and expect no exceptions to be made for me, any more than they were made for the foolish virgins with no oil in their lamps. Some things are serious and real, and going to Heaven (or not going to Heaven) is the most serious and real of them all.

I pray to God that you won’t be called aside one day and told you can’t go to Heaven because you didn’t do what you were supposed to do when you had the grace of time to do it, and that no exceptions will be made for you.

I pray to God that I won’t be called aside, either.