I can’t stop thinking about Vivian, and I can’t stop thinking about Heaven.
I can’t stop thinking about this girl, her dark poetry, her nuanced eye for composition and photography, and the fact that, as a little girl, she was the most adventurous eater on Planet Earth.
I even wrote about her (sadly misspelling her name) in my toddler book, “See How They Run”:
A week ago, she attempted to take her own life, and four days later she succeeded. After days of praying for a miracle, Vivian was received into everlasting arms, safe, beloved, home. It was not the miracle we wanted, but a kind of marvel and wonder, even so.
She was 17, and attended my kids’ school and grew up at our church, although I had not seen her there in awhile. My boys, 15 and 18, were not close to her, but we love people who were.
Kids are crying in the hallways, holding their heads in disbelief on the front steps. Their friend, classmate, peer is gone. My social media feeds are a blur of tears. Everything has changed, for those who knew Vivian.
Of all the posts and emails and conversations that have swirled around this tragedy, one shines for me. It came from my friend Cheri, who used to babysit Vivian when she was little. Cheri lost her own cherished child, Nathan, just six and a half years ago, in a car accident when he was 19, so Cheri thinks a lot about Heaven.
Cheri spoke of Vivian’s tender heart, how, though she was littler than Cheri’s five boys, would stomp around in the creek and swamp by their house with them, catching frogs, getting muddy, childlike and carefree.
Cheri imagined that Nathan was part of Vivian’s greeting party at Heaven’s gate, and that Nathan was Vivian’s tour guide, showing her some of the wonderments, the marvel-ous creeks and swamps in Glory. She pictured Nathan and Vivian remembering the good old days in her back yard. Surely, they would agree that those memories were a sliver of what they were experiencing now.
I thought of my friend Marv Besteman, whose astonishing preview of Paradise was documented in “My Journey to Heaven.” (I got to be his co-writer–such a deep honor!)
I tried to get Marv to relate what he saw in Heaven to our earthbound experience, as if that were possible, as if he could. But this prodding did yield a few comparisons, images in Heaven to images on earth. This helped me and our readers imagine, though imperfectly, what the Other Side might be like.
“Lights and Colors and a Love Story” is my favorite chapter, as Marv tries to wrap his head around the staggering, otherworldly beauty of Heaven, our future home. Marv’s home. Nathan’s home. Vivian’s home, now.
Marv described the color bursts in the sky to swirling cotton candy, ever changing, to fireworks on the most festive holiday
“But,” he said with that grand, vintage, Marvian smile, “not even close.”
He also compared Heaven’s ever-shapeshifting light show to my favorite natural phenom, the Northern Lights:
“But,” he said again, throwing his hands up helplessly, “not even close!”
And when we talked about the bluest of blue skies in Heaven, he struggled for a mortal likeness until finally his eyes lit up. He thought of a tropical lagoon he had seen once, on vacation:
And we both laughed, because I knew what he would say. “Not even close,” he grinned. “Not even close.”
So while I had never contemplated swamps in Heaven, Cheri’s words planted an image in my mind, of lush, verdant splendor, exquisitely explorable, and impeccably suited for catching frogs and butterflies.
Maybe a swamp like this one, in Seychelles:
Or this swamp in The Pantanal, which borders Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia.
Or what about this creek in Tennessee?
I pictured the two old friends, Nathan and Vivian, exploring, sightseeing in the Land Where Joy Shall Never End. Swamps! Creeks! Fireworks! Lights in the Sky!
I knew they would tell us the same thing Marv did.
They would tell us that the most crazy-gorgeous swamps and creeks on earth, teeming with color, life and abundance, were nice and all, but compared to those in Heaven?
“No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, never so much as imagined anything quite like it— What God has arranged for those who love him.” 1 Corinthian 2:9 (MSG)
(I know the thought of Heaven doesn’t make it all better. I don’t mean to tie a big, fat Christian bow on top and call it good. But for me, as a member of a grieving, heartsick community, this image gave me a spark of hope, of joy, even.
And I just wanted to share, for whoever might need it.)