Guest Post: Meet Me in Almost Heaven

by Vandalia

Empty chairs.
Heaven will be full of empty chairs.
All that loneliness, just waiting for us beyond the veil.

Well, no. Not us, exactly.

Our more righteous, diligent, never-wavering family members and neighbors. They’re the ones who get to go to Sad, Empty Heaven.

But us? People like us? We’re the reason Heaven is Sad. Because we chose to ask questions, to mention out loud that perhaps equality would be nice, even though we are women. Because we chose to love gay people or — you know —  be gay people.

All those empty chairs and Heaven still won’t take us.

We do get to go to one of those lesser heavens. The more-crowded-but-still-kinda-sad Heavens. Meanwhile, the ones who begged for us to get it together already and come back — our very valid questions be darned — get to sit in their shinier heaven, knowing they were right the whole time.

I’m not afraid of being wrong. I know the stakes are high, but I’m not afraid of a lesser Heaven. The Heaven that isn’t quite Heaven. The Heaven that’s almost Heaven.

Almost heaven. That has a nice ring to it. Someone should use that as their motto. Like a state, or something.

There were a lot of messages this General Conference telling the faithful how they should deal with the ones who leave or approach the ones who never came in the first place. Ignore their wishes to not be contacted. Call them to repentance. Tell them that time is running out and they’re going to miss the big sale on salvation. If they don’t hurry, remind them, they might end up in that scary second-tier Heaven.

Almost Heaven doesn’t scare me. I’ve spent nearly a decade on the borders/edges/margins/gray areas of the gospel. That’s most of my adult life. The fear of losing some great eternal reward just doesn’t terrify me the way it used to. Letting every other part of my testimony crumble has allowed me to know my Heavenly Parents and the Savior in a new, clearer light. I’ve learned a lot about black-and-white thinking during this time. It might feel secure to look at the world as though your perspective is the only correct one, but man, do you miss a lot of beauty and complexity that way. When it comes to the light our mortal eyes can see, the only place colors exist is in the space between black and white.

Forget gray areas. This is the whole dang rainbow.

I know, I know, I’m mixing metaphors. But hear me out — I want to live in the places that have bright colors, places where the chairs are all filled. Maybe it’s a little noisy, but look how lively it is there! This is the only life we get. Losing the colors and the people in this life for a promise of some great reward in the next doesn’t really seem like a fair trade. I don’t think I can limit the love I have for the world, for the diverse, complex people in this world (all of whom were created by Heavenly Parents, by the way). Eternity without any color, excitement, and love would not a be joyous one for me.

I don’t want a heaven with limits.

I see Heaven as this big, expansive place with room for everyone. This place where our imperfections and differences are not disqualifying, but holy. If I am wrong, and if the path I’m on right now is the one that leads to this Almost Heaven instead, I’m OK with that.

Honestly, I’m much more afraid of empty chairs in this life. It is crushing to think of seats that should be filled with people I love, but they’re gone. Maybe by the tragedy of life cut short. or by their own choice. Either way they are not at the table with us. Surrounding oneself with conditional love is soul-crushing, after all. They left because a life inside rigid rules and coerced conformity isn’t really much of a life. Maybe they left because we sent them away. Maybe they realized that there is a whole world out there full of people who are ready to love and listen and celebrate every part of them.

Maybe empty chairs and almost heavens don’t have to be Gods’ will.

What if there is more than one test of this life? Perhaps, like Eve, we are presented with conflicting directives. The first, to be obedient to the commandments. The second, to love and love and love until our hearts are bursting with so much compassion for humanity we can barely breathe. If we cannot possibly do both all the time, how do we choose?

As for me and my heart, I am going to love. I am going to ask hard questions. I am going to speak up for kindness and fairness. I will look to the world with wonder and pray to have a heart filled to the brim with empathy for my fellow man. That’s what God has asked of me and that’s what feels right in my bones.

I have chairs to fill in this life too. Not those hard, folding metal chairs from the cultural hall, either. Cozy ones, by a fire, with blankets.

As long as Almost Heaven has fuzzy blankets, I think we’ll be just fine.

Vandalia is a mountain child who approaches the world with a sense of cautious curiosity. The only thing she believes for sure is that food should be the 6th love language.

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15 Responses

  1. Maree Belen says:

    Jesus Christ descends through all our imperfections. I do not believe in the notion of empty chairs. I do know that in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, sin is sin, but who are to judge. Only Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ can do that in the mean time, we can love everyone like the Savior unconditionally. This is the Lord’s work not ours. As we strive to keep the commandments and the Holy Ghost guides to who we need to minister too, and know at that very hour what we should say. My children do not believe or come to church but I choose to see that they are very special beautiful children of Heavenly Father, who knows them better then I. I love them unconditionally and do not judge them. You seem to have the most loving soul so that is what matters, its ok to love how you love that is how we should, you have a gift to see the rainbows, the beauty, I am sure that is how Heavenly sees the world too.

  2. Ziff says:

    I love your take, Vandalia. It’s a heartbreaking idea that the way to get into the best heaven is to *not* ask questions, *never* think for yourself, and (if you’re LGBT) suppressing a huge part of yourself as “unworthy” in the hopes that God will “fix” you. I am not a fan of Russell M. Nelson’s view. Not to mention the polygamy. Your almost-heaven sounds much more heavenly to me.

  3. Julia says:

    If Almost Heaven is the Blue Ridge mountains and the Shenandoah River (minus mosquitoes and humidity), sign me up.

    • rtmtbc says:

      I love this 🙂

    • Em says:

      I’m assuming Almost Heaven will also involve road trips through beautiful rural countryside singing at the top of your lungs. I served part of my mission by the Maryland/ West Virginia border and sang that song every chance I got. It really was a beautiful slice of heaven, with starry nights and lightning bugs rising in the fields.

  4. Allemande Left says:

    Your thoughts about the choices in the garden are thought provoking. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Chiaroscuro says:

    out with the old testament god who coerces with threats of punishment and brimstone, in with the new testament god who tells us we are beloved. heaven is here and now when we feel beloved and act in love

  6. Carol Gardner says:

    I love love love this!

  7. Violadiva says:

    There is some serious truth to something like the Medium Place. But I have a feeling that’s where everyone will be after all, so maybe that’s where it will be truly good?

  8. Annon says:

    This has been taken out of the transcript on LDS Tools for Russell M Nelson’s closing talk. Erased.

    Here is what he said that is now erased:

    “I do question the efficacy of proxy temple work for a man who had the opportunity to be baptized in this life, to be ordained to the priesthood and receive temple blessings here in mortality but made the conscious decision to reject that course.”

    Hmmmm. Weird.

    Also, there is no video when all the other talks have video.

    Also other large chunks of what he said is deleted.

    • Ziff says:

      FWIW, as of this morning, I still see that paragraph in the talk on the church website, and the video appears to be still available.

      https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2019/04/46nelson?lang=eng

      I’m not sure if the app and the website are out of sync, but if they did choose to remove that paragraph, I wouldn’t miss it.

    • Merry says:

      Annon, that part is now included in the talks available on the Gospel Library app and on the website. It may be that it wasn’t originally available because that part was ad-libbed. If that was the case, maybe they made his original, planned words available and then had to update it to what he actually said. This is quite common with conference talks and the speaker gets to choose if they want to keep the planned wording or go with what was actually said in conference. But like Ziff, I really wouldn’t miss that paragraph either.

  9. ElleK says:

    This is so lovely and reflects my thoughts, also.

  10. arganoil says:

    Annon, that is really weird indeed! Maybe because of the fact that his talk caused quite a stir?

  11. Brooke Booth says:

    That was Beautiful, with a capital B.

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