September was long. It took most of October, too.

I haven’t really written for a long time. It feels like my brain is constipated. That will be funnier….well nevermind. That analogy won’t be funnier later, but it might make more sense if you keep reading.

In which I talk a lot about my husband’s butt…but not in the fun way.

A little over two and a half years ago J. had surgery to correct a perianal fistula. In layman’s terms, infection from inside his colon caused a hole to form and, um, burrowed its way out. It was bad. Like, we know our marriage is secure because I have shaved my husband’s butt when he needed it kind of bad. And that was a fairly short fistula that was easily repaired, comparatively speaking. So a couple of months ago when he started complaining of a little pain in that area again, we both knew where it was headed. After a couple of weeks it started to get worse (it didn’t help that we attempted to night wean S. because SLEEP), so on September 13th we went to see Doctor Whatever. (In retrospect, sometimes it is worth waiting for someone who doesn’t always have an appointment open in their schedule…) Dr. Whatever did an exam and found a 1 cm opening on the side of his rectal wall, confirming what we suspected. A fistula was forming, or had formed. We weren’t sure which. Dr. Whatever scheduled J. for a surgical consult and mentioned casually that he should probably see a GI doctor at some point because it seemed like he had “Crohn’s Disease or Something”.

We elected to cancel with the surgeons in favor of finding out if there was an underlying issue before just cutting with abandon through his gluteal muscles.

Through a wise friend we found Doctor Calm Down. He came with the highest recommendations which also meant that he didn’t have an appointment available until end of September. During that time I did a bunch of online research on “Crohn’s Disease or Something” to see if there was anything we could do that would help my husband without the risk of lifelong fecal incontinence. A lot of times the course of treatment for an abscess is trying antibiotics before surgery; the idea behind a fistula and an abscess both is that there is infection trying to find its way out of the body. So sometimes if you clear up the infection, the abscess can heal. J started taking Oil of Wild Oregano supplements (an antibiotic, although Dr. Calm Down did not recognize it as such when we saw him. He said, “I don’t care about that but it probably didn’t hurt”), turmeric tincture, and a soluble fiber supplement. We decided to make his food very easy to digest and eliminate anything that could possibly be a trigger for inflammation in his body. No fruits with peels on or dried fruits, no raw or crunchy vegetables with peels (except carrots), no whole grains, no seeds, no fried food, no spicy food, no cheese or dairy of any kind, no alcohol, very little coffee, no soda, no red meat. Luckily this was a very temporary arrangement, just to see if it would help. Night weaning also went by the wayside. Sounds crazy, right? We didn’t go to many dinner parties during that time.

We didn’t talk a whole lot about it publicly. Because we don’t attend services anywhere, there wasn’t a “prayer chain” or anything like that, though he did end up on one at my parents’ church, I think. I called some friends who I specifically wanted praying for us, and left it at that.

We ended up with a colonoscopy (referred to euphemistically as “the diagnostic procedure” on Facebook) scheduled for October 9th. At that time, when they did the scope, Dr. Calm Down diagnosed my husband with a “completely normal colon.” Not IBS. Not Crohn’s. Not colon cancer (I couldn’t even bring myself to say that during the whole time we were waiting to find out, though it was a possibility). A month after being told he needed surgery and possibly had a serious disease he was, and is, completely fine.

The closest we can figure is that Dr. Whatever drained the abscess enough that it was able to heal because we were treating it with diet and natural remedies. In less than a month, which Dr. Calm Down and all of the nurses working with him found very surprising. At this point, we are still being super careful with food (Thanksgiving, the butteriest day of the year in our family, should be interesting). We’re pretty sure he can’t have dairy, which is ok because S. seems to also have a dairy protein allergy. Now that we’ve cut out dairy the little guy has started to sleep through the night and almost completely resolved a weird diaper rash which our pediatrician misinterpreted as herpes. The cold sore kind, not the sexy kind…still, there’s nothing quite like spending a few days waiting to hear back from the lab about a herpes culture for your two year old–did I mention September was LONG?

In which I am in kind of a weird place, but it’s ok.

Ten years ago Katie would have jumped up and down and proclaimed loudly to everyone who would listen (and at a few people who wouldn’t) that all of this happened because of the goodness of God. Jesus healed my husband because of Romans 8 and because “every good and perfect thing comes from the Father of Lights.”

While I do feel glad (not cancer is, in my experience, better than cancer) unchecked jubilation doesn’t quite fit me right now. It feels wrong, somehow. Not false, just….wrong. I know and love too many people who are still torturously suspended in mid-air. They hang on fiercely even though their hands are cut and bleeding; waiting to see if the threads will be snapped above where they can reach. If I think God is good to me because my life has good things in it, then what is God to them? What about the next time something bad happens to me? What is God to me then?

The other morning, we discussed All Saints Day. It’s where our Unschooling took us naturally from Halloween. Elizabeth took all of her wooden train set people and set them around a platter, then brought it over to tell me it was her decoration for All Saints Day. I said I liked it because the people look lots of different ways and that’s good because a Saint can look like anybody.

She spun it around; we both watched it slow and stop. “Mama, I like it because you can spin it around, and each time it lands on a different person. That’s like All Saints day because when people die, each time it’s a different person too.” Sometimes I am out of my theological depth with that girl. I just wanted to make some pancakes and talk about her Great Aunt Fran.

There is this part of me that is afraid sometimes that the spinning platter is really how it is. We’re all just waiting to find out what God is going to do to us. Ten years ago Katie would put me on the prayer chain for having Serious Doubts.

Ten years ago Katie would be wrong. Not unlike smug new married couples who dole out relationship advice for challenges they have not yet faced. Or when people who don’t have kids yet blithely pass judgment on other people’s children. It’s not intentional, but that doesn’t make it helpful, either. I have reached the place in my marriage where questioning is ok; we’re not afraid of disagreeing sometimes, or of asking each other for some space when we need it. I think the idea that we should only focus on and express good feelings about God is unrealistic in the same way as the idea that a healthy marriage has to be one where no one ever expresses bad feelings. The same could be said of true friendship. If the underlying relationship is strong, then it can and should be able to handle all of our imperfections, quirks, and misgivings. A faith that we’re unwilling or unable to question may be, in reality, no faith at all. 

So I submit that there is a kind of doubt that is truer than some kinds of faith. Whatever is going on, whatever questions I have, I feel a freedom to ask them which I have never really felt before. My friend C. said that once when she was going through a really hard time, she just felt really angry at God and that the thing that got her through it was the idea that God can take it. That idea comes back to me, often when the platter seems to be spinning and I am somehow able to look beyond it.

This season of my life, I think, is about not clinging so much to my ideas about God to the point of saying heartless things to suffering people. True things and false things and true things so wrapped up in Christianese as to be indigestible, disagreeable, and even harmful to most people. Things like, “This is happening to you for a reason.” Even if the suffering person in question is asking things I used to be so sure I had easy answers to. Even if the person in question is me.

Spinning Platter of Saints

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