Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.
It was Saturday and we were in church. A big city church sat back on one of Portland’s wooded corners.
Imago Dei. Image of God.
Two years of Latin and I still had to look that up, just to be sure.
The woman with the sophisticated and expertly coiffed gray hair stopped me as I approached the Ladies Room. She called me by name. We met, she said. Remember? I’m the woman whose son died in war.
Yes, yes, I said, hugging her once again. We met at another church, on another day, that meeting time not nearly so emotional as this one.
Did you know Mindy? I asked.
Mostly her husband, Jordan, she said. I have known him since he was a little boy. He and my son, the one who died in war, they were very good friends.
Oh. So, so sad.
Yes. I lost a good friend to breast cancer.
Me, too. I miss that Redhead, too.
It’s a difficult thing to be on the receiving end of fathers and sons dying at war. It’s a hard, hard thing to lose cherished friends to the ravages of breast cancer. It seems such a personal betrayal, having one’s breasts, that source of nourishment and intimacy, turn so. I looked it up. Only 1 percent of all breast cancer is Metaplastic Breast Cancer, that kind that attacked Mindy when she was so young, so full of life.
Mindy was a doctor. She probably looked it up, too. Pastor Rick said she told him she was probably going to die of cancer. She wasn’t angry about that, he said.
I come from Appalachian stock of Irish & Scottish mix. Hillbilly, in other words. Fighting back with fury is my go-to-sport. How could she not be angry about leaving behind Lana only 4? I asked my husband on the drive east through a darkened river gorge. We sat in silence, unable to know the secrets of such things ourselves.
Mindy was an abundant giver, said the friend who spoke for all her friends. Above the pulpit where this friend spoke is a wooden etching of sorts. Like one of those German paper cut-outs that my friend The Redhead use to make. Scherenschnitte they call it.
It was the transfigured Jesus. Hard to make out the intricate lacework of wood carvings sometimes, but that’s what it looked like to me: Jesus Rising. People on earth like to say that when someone dies they have become one of heaven’s angels. Why do they say things like that? I asked my husband, he who knows Greek and Hebrew and understands the deeper things of God. But the ways of man often confound him. Hard to know why they say things like that, he said.
Do any of us really believe that heaven needs more angels than earth does?
Mindy was no angel. She was a living, breathing, all-consuming woman of great intellect, wicked humor, pure passions, who served and loved and bore witness to miracles, who was herself a miracle of laughter and infectious joy walking about in fancy shoes and white overcoat.
On the day after Christmas in 2011, just a few short weeks after the test revealed the cancer, Mindy penned these words:
What cancer cannot do…..
Invade the soul
Steal eternal life
Conquer the spirit
Looking all dapper in that dark suit with green tie and bright red hanky, Jordan stood before the crowd who filled that corner church hugged tightly by deep-rooted rhododendrons.
Imago Dei. Image of God.
Jordan spoke haltingly of the woman who loved him, dearly.
She taught me how to love people better, he said.
Wow. Wonder, will anyone say that of me one day?
I found that if I looked up at Jesus Rising the tears slowed.
On the year anniversary of her initial diagnosis, Mindy wrote:
Last night as I rocked my daughter and said prayers, I was so, so thankful and happy for having this year behind us. I am excited to be alive and be cancer free. I am so thankful I get to grow old with my husband and watch my Baby girl grow up. I am so blessed by the gift of life, and my health.
I remembered because when I first read that, I, too, exhaled a heartfelt prayer of thankfulness for Mindy, for Jordan, for Lana.
People say it all the time and it is true, Lana looks like a blond-headed Shirley Temple. Only so much darn cuter. Her grandpa carried her to that place right beneath the Rising Jesus. I had to look up a lot then. He asked the crowd to do this one thing for Lana, so that she would have this one memory of this day to hold on to.
Lana and I are going to turn our backs to you, he said. And when we do we want you to clap and holler and whoop it up for Mindy. When we turn back around we want you to be even louder than you were before.
So as Lana in a ruffled red skirt and red-and-white striped leggings and glitter shoes, held one-arm tight around her grandpa’s neck, turned to the Rising Jesus, the weepy-eyed crowd broke into raucous applause.
And, moments later, when her grandpa turned her back around, the whooping and hollering sounded like victory shouts at a game the Blazers were winning. Sweet Lana broke into giggles and lifted her hands overhead and started clapping wildly herself.
Heaven isn’t a place overpopulated with angels. I rather think of it as a place where time is not a ticking crocodile, chasing after each of us. A place where children never have to say goodbye to a parent nor a parent to a child.
Heaven is an ever, ever land.