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Beauty,  Community,  Faith,  Friends,  Grief,  Life

Keeping Myself Out of Heaven

I came to the world clutching God’s dream of family in my fist. We all come with some part of the big hope and vision and knowing about the glorious, terrible place we’re coming into.

We come with bits of innate wisdom in our tiny hearts which we’re meant to put together to make “Earth as it is in Heaven.” This is the piece I got: God is always trying to get the kids back together. To remind us that we’re all members of this thing; seen, known, loved just as we are.

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Photo by Helena Lopes on

And the wisdom we get can bless us or ruin us. It’s the nature of magic and milk – use it well to nourish or let it spoil and get botulism.

I can be grateful and eager and relentless in my pursuit of family. Trusting what I came knowing: that it is possible to experience this with people right here and now who can reflect God’s seeing, knowing, loving to each other.

I can also feel sad and frustrated and lonely because I know we’re meant to love each other – to be really known by one another and accepted like we belong, but it doesn’t seem to last with the same people. If I’m not careful I can grow bitter and cynical.

Heaven Breaks Your Heart

I don’t have to trust blindly anymore because many times now I’ve formed tight bonds with people who called me sister or daughter, shared my heart with people who wanted only good for each other, learned to pray in communal ways by leaders who would never claim the title. People have fully seen and known and loved me. They opened up their hearts and let me into the universe of them. We shared daily rhythms that made us family and made plans about a future forged together by our love for one another.

Earth as it is in Heaven.

Yet whenever I have thought I found it, I can stop looking, things change: people move, theology shifts, people get new jobs, birth babies – life happens. And the plans I set my heart on turn to dust. Heaven ends and my heart breaks.

With the wisdoms we came clutching, my husband and I have made deliberate attempts at cultivating community for something like a decade. More often than not we feel like failures. I think maybe this bit of wisdom came to the earth with the wrong person.

I have found people with whom I connect easily, people I could not imagine daily life without once. And when that possibility dwindled and vanished, I felt like I lost heaven. It felt like God’s Dream was just a fantasy. It was painful.

Grieving the Losses

Loving people involves loss. It just does. Even in my marriage, where we are committed to staying family through whatever, there is loss. People aren’t static.

What I know about loss is that you have to grieve it. If you don’t, there is a price. Always. I suppose that’s like magic, too. I once met someone who avoided her grief for 20 years. She had become an alcoholic and when she finally decided to face her loss, it was no less acute and fare more painful with the years piled between.

“The only way out is through” – that is what they say in grief counseling. I didn’t mean to, but I have avoided grieving my losses in family-making. It has cost me. I have guarded my heart and stopped believing we could find anything as good as what we’ve found before.

I’ve been so afraid of never finding Heaven again that I have locked myself out.

Barn Raising

My friend Sarai and I were talking recently about how “back then” if someone needed something done they had a community of their neighbors to call upon. Farmer Joe needed a barn built so the Smiths, the Carsons, the Thomas families came and made it happen. Dads took up tools and Moms took up baking so that at the end of the day they could celebrate a job well done together.

I think the Amish still do this.

photo of beige and gray wooden barn house on green grass
Photo by Jesse Zheng on

Sarai and I lamented the fact that so many people are so isolated now – from their own neighborhoods and even their own friends. Aside from COVID, American culture is long steeped in a strange romanticism of the nuclear family and relentless individualism. I love my nuclear family members and of course we each need to take responsibility for ourselves, but the fact that I don’t have reliable babysitting that doesn’t cost me a small fortune is certainly lament-able (especially after a long week).

I thought about the times when I have had a barn-raising community and I thought maybe we’ll have it again someday. It felt brave to merely hope.

Heaven Help Me

On Labor Day just a couple weeks ago we had a wind storm. It knocked down a few trees in town including the dead one right next to our house. Luckily, the wind direction and the tree length were both just right and no serious damage was done. It was, however, blocking the road. We needed to clear it quickly.

For a moment I thought, what are we going to do? but before the shocked laughter wore off my husband was on the phone with Sam, Mikel, Ted and Sara. Our very own Smiths, Carsons, and Thomases came over with chainsaws and trucks and work gloves and I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see that the road was clear within an hour of that tree falling and within two we had wood neatly stacked in our backyard for future fire pits.

We raised a barn.

And it helped me remember that when my mom died, people from past shared lives took time from the ones they were building to clean my house and bring me food and take my kids. People I’d known for years as well as ones I had just met brought flowers and walked with me down my street on the 1 year anniversary to remind me that I’m not alone.

When I was going through Hell I didn’t have the community I thought I would, but I was not alone. Maybe I had the community I needed.

On Earth as it is in Heaven.

No Gates to Heaven

The truth is, it’s here. And the only reason I ever feel outside of Heaven is that I am so focused on something else – what I want, what I used to have, what could be. I neglect to look around me where it only ever is.

All these years later, we still get to keep those people we called family then. We don’t spend every day together, but when babies are born or loved ones die or someone buys a house, or a tree falls down we show up for each other. Letting go of what I thought we would have allows me to be present and grateful – so grateful – for what we do have.

And in a cosmic case of having cake and eating it, we also get to forge new friendships and gather up more family. People to share the day with and borrow eggs from. When I am not obsessing over finding Heaven, I find it right in front of me.

We are all here clutching some part of God’s Dream, some bits of Heaven we brought with us to match up with the rest of it. Justice, Peace, Rest, Mercy, Kindness, Beauty… We will find them and lose them, we’ll experience new depths and then wonder if there is any more left. But what if we trusted that there are always new depths coming? That Heaven stretches into eternity, never ends, and that what we find here is no mere reflection, but the Thing itself?

That it can be here on the dusty earth as it is in the heaven we carry in our broken hearts.

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