The Things I Can

Got some really great advice from an ER nurse this weekend. This is heavily paraphrased, as I was pretty overwhelmed and don’t remember exactly what she said, but she really helped me a lot.

Nurse: Don’t try to do everything at once. Do one thing at a time.

Me: But sometimes there are too many things. Like right now. My husband is on this side of the ER and my friend is bringing my daughter to the kids’ side. I can’t be in charge of both of those things! Who do I go with? I want to be both places.

Nurse: That’s true. A lot of times it does seem like everything comes at you at once. When that happens you just have do something about the thing you can do something about.

Me: I guess you have a lot of experience with having to prioritize stuff like that, in a high stress environment like this.

Nurse: Yes. I’ve never been through AA or anything, but a lot of times I just say the Serenity prayer anyway, because it’s really helpful when you’re overwhelmed.

Me: Yes! That’s really concrete and helps me a lot. I can’t make my husband ok, and right now he’s drugged and sleeping anyway. So I should go get ready to do the best I can for when my bleeding kiddo gets here.

I would also like to add that I mentioned during that conversation that it must be a tricky part of her job to deal with people who are often at their worst and that she was being really kind and clear and helpful when I was certainly not at my best. 

ER nurses and staff in particular and medical professionals in general, I salute you and thank you for that graciousness.

 

serenity prayer

**I found a lot of these graphics online…and mostly they seemed to favor the serenity, wisdom, and courage. Those are good things, but I’m more about verbs than nouns, solution-wise. A personality thing, I suppose.

 

Just for my own running reference:

Some things I can’t control

~whether or not my husband experiences pain

~whether or not my kids experience pain or sickness

~whether my family and friends (or their kids) experience pain or sickness or even death (oh, it hurts my heart to write that)

~whether other people will assume the best or the worst of my intentions and actions

~what other people learn about who God is because of their suffering

 

Some things I can control

~Learning as much as I can to help my family to live well and pain free

~asking for help when I need it, and accepting help when it’s offered

~cutting myself a lot of slack when I am not at my best

~cutting other people a lot of slack when they are not at their best

~assuming the best of other people’s intentions and actions

~letting other people know when I am not at my best; not so they can cut me slack necessarily (though that is nice sometimes), but so they don’t think that whatever social or relational sins I commit are about them

~what I choose to think about God amid (and because of; or at least taking into account) my own struggles and doubts, and those of the people around me

~Doing the dishes (though if 3/4 of my family is injured or in the ER over the weekend I’m gonna go ahead and give myself at least until Tuesday before I even think about it!)

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Failed Western Prayer Formulas

Last New Year’s, a lot of people I know were very excited and relieved to ring in 2014. “We made it! Take that, 2013!” my friends exalted. At the time, I could not shake this terrible sinking feeling not unlike the one you get when you’re only half-way through a horror movie and all the characters turn to each other and say, “Whew! Glad THAT’S over…”

I am profoundly sad about apparently having been right about that.

A couple of Sundays ago, we were invited to spend time with some friends in a crisis. We had (and still have) some of our own kind-of-intense-but-not-life-threatening stuff going on, (in addition to several distinct intense-and-life-threatening things one or two or three rings out from us) and I did not feel up to the task of walking into the room with a clear head and heart to be present with my friends in the way I wanted to.

So I reached out to a priest friend of ours and said, “I need you to come say true things to me so I can try to remember them tomorrow.”

And he did. He said a lot of true things to us, some things in ways I hadn’t thought of before, some things I have written about myself here and other places. One thing that really struck me was the idea that in Western religion, we tend to think that praying is about entering the right formula to get the result we want. If we ask in the right way, if we have behaved the right way, we will get what we ask for from God. I was raised in a tradition that can point to many places in the Bible that seem to corroborate this view (if you read the Bible in other specific ways, you can corroborate the ideas of forced polygamy, stoning women -and only the women- for adultery, and slavery as ‘Biblical’ too…I’m coming to think that the “broadly prescriptive” approach may not always be the best way to read the Bible).

But to be completely honest, I like this formulaic method to a point. It’s simple and clear and I know what I’m supposed to doThe problem with that method is that right now anything I try to write about God makes me sound like either an angry hard-line agnostic, or one of Job’s friends. “God’s ways are not our ways.” and other such platitudes only serve to fuel a growing rage and despair. Or I consider Job. Awful things are happening to him, and his friends are convinced that it is somehow his doing because God, being perfect, wouldn’t do anything to Job that wasn’t perfect. Their conclusion is that God must be punishing Job for something. They can not see another explanation. It must be his fault.

Left with only those two dismal options, everything feels too hard and mean and confusing. Lots of the things people keep saying about God sound like things which are ‘acceptable to such as do not care to know him.’ If popular theology is to be believed, either God is pulling puppet strings in order to make the best show possible (mean), or God is not fully in control and is really more of a cool uncle type (confusing–who’s driving this thing? Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?).

When I get into this place, it goes badly with me. I start to wonder what point there is to anything. Somehow George MacDonald is always there to speak truth to me through his books and sermons (when I remember to read them), and somehow he never fails to make me able to see the goodness of God again, even if it’s just a glimpse. Even when that seems impossible.

So I will not try to show my own work here any more. It’s not getting me anywhere. Instead I will try to read and incorporate the words of my “Uncle George,” as many of his devoted readers call him. Even just my excerpts are a little lengthy, but I am posting them all because I find them life giving in some way and I need to read them. I will be bookmarking this post for myself.

 

Some excerpts from “The Voice of Job” by George MacDonald

He feels he has not deserved such suffering, and will neither tell nor listen to lies for God.

Job is nothing of a Stoic, but bemoans himself like a child–a brave child who seems to himself to suffer wrong, and recoils with horror-struck bewilderment from the unreason of the thing.

From a soul whose very consciousness is contradiction, we must not look for logic; misery is rarely logical; it is itself a discord; yet is it nothing less than natural that, feeling as if God wronged him, Job should yet be ever yearning after a sight of God, straining into his presence, longing to stand face to face with him. He would confront the One. He is convinced, or at least cherishes as his one hope the idea, that, if he could but get God to listen to him, if he might but lay his case clear before him, God would not fail to see how the thing was, and would explain the matter to him.

God is not a God to accept the flattery which declares him above obligation to his creatures. His [Job’s] faith is in truth profound, yet is he always complaining. It is but the form his faith takes in his trouble.

He uses language which, used by any living man, would horrify the religious of the present day, in proportion to the lack of truth in them, just as it horrified his three friends, the honest pharisees of the time, whose religion was ‘doctrine’ and rebuke. God speaks not a word of rebuke to Job for the freedom of his speech:–he has always been seeking such as Job to worship him.

It is not at first easy to see wherein God gives Job any answer; I cannot find that he offers him the least explanation of why he has so afflicted him. He calls up before him, one after another, the works of his hands. The answer, like some of our Lord’s answers if not all of them, seems addressed to Job himself, not to his intellect; to the revealing, God-like imagination in the man, and to no logical faculty whatever.

It is through their show, not through their analysis, that we enter into their deepest truths. What they say to the childlike soul is the truest thing to be gathered of them. To know a primrose is a higher thing than to know all the botany of it–just as to know Christ is an infinitely higher thing than to know all theology, all that is said about his person, or babbled about his work.

To deny the existence of God may, paradoxical as the statement will at first seem to some, involve less unbelief than the smallest yielding to doubt of his goodness. I say yielding; for a man may be haunted with doubts, and only grow thereby in faith. Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to rouse the honest. They are the first knock at our door of things that are not yet, but have to be, understood.

One great point in the poem is–that when Job hears the voice of God, though it utters no word of explanation, it is enough to him to hear it: he knows that God is, and that he hears the cry of his creature. Even if Job could not at first follow his argument of divine probability, God settled everything for him when, by answering him out of the whirlwind, he showed him that he had not forsaken him.

Some Thoughts on Christianese

Once upon a time I had this friend at work who identified as Christian. That was cool, because I did too. We would talk about Christian things and had a lot of common ground, and could share a lot about Christian culture, God and people, and other things of that nature. It was nice to have short hand for discussing some of those things. We spoke a lot of Christianese.

I think Christianese is great. It is good and important to have a shared language to talk about things that are important to you. For crying out loud, Klingon can be studied at the Klingon Language Institute in Flourtown, Pennsylvania (I swear I’m not making that up) and as of 2008, about 25,000 Elvish words have been published (okay, Quenya, not Elvish, but I nerdgress). My point is, people come up with shared language to talk about things that they care about with groups of people who care about those things too. And that’s a good thing.

BUT. It’s only useful to a point. Please allow me to illustrate something quite on the other side of that point.

Once upon a time, later, my boss was asking me about one of the ways we live the life of Jesus in the world. It had recently come to her attention that I am Quite Religious (it is worth mentioning that this was only after I’d worked there for 2 years and had been asked repeatedly to talk about my beliefs in ways I preferred not to and so had declined), and so she was asking me what we do. At that time, we had a big family-style dinner at our house every Friday, and people would come. Most of them would be Christians, though not all. It was a chance for us to connect and share and be encouraged by each other because living the life of Jesus in the world can be HARD.

Anyhow, I was explaining all of this to my boss (who is Jewish) in front of my friend. I said most of that and then at some point she rolled her eyes, leaned in front of me, and said “That’s when she has her fellowship time.”
And I realized: ohshe feels like she is explaining something clearly that I am not. Though from the confused look our boss gave her, I would say that was not true.
The point at which Christianese becomes unhelpful is when we are talking to someone who is not part of American Christian Subculture (though arguably, there are many Christianese words that need a thorough redefining for a lot of us if Christians are actually going to do things that Jesus says to do; but that’s another post altogether). If you are discussing atonement, sinfulness, fellowship, sanctification…or any of a number of very important issues, it is important to have a way to talk about those things that will reflect their importance (it is also important to make sure that when you are speaking Christianese you agree or at least are clear about someone else’s definition of a word). But you wouldn’t go into your average local restaurant and try to order in Klingon or Elvish (although if you find a place where you can order in Elvish please let me know because I want to go to there). Or if you did, you probably wouldn’t expect everyone there to know what you were saying. Why? Because that would be nonsensical. Context matters.
It is worth noting that Christians are not the only subculture to come up with a shorthand that leaves other people in the dark. Tech-speak, music speak (classical, jazz, funk, pop, etc….many different ways to talk about music in there), medical jargon, foodie talk, sports-talk; I could think of countless examples. Here’s one.
Soon after J and I got married (or maybe even a little bit before), we were at a family party with a bunch of his relatives when this conversation happened:
Fun Relative: Hey! Good to see you! How are you doing?
J: Fine! You?
FR: Good! Good!……..
J: Did you hear about the decision?
FR: Yes! Oh, man, can you believe that?
J: I know, right?! Well, anyway I think whoever they get in there is going to have a really hard time this season. I mean, look at what happened last year.
FR: That’s a really good point. Hey, I’m going to go get another beer. It was great talking to you!
K: Um, what just happened?
J: What? Oh…we were talking about sports.
K: Yes. That much I got. But what sport? Baseball? Football? Basketball? Were you talking about a coach? A quarterback?
J: I don’t know. Whatever. There’s always some decision that everyone’s upset about, last year was always bad, and we’re always hoping to turn it around this year.
It is useful, then, to be able to recognize when other people are speaking a subculture’s lingo so you can choose to participate, if you know enough words. My husband is one of the best people at this that I’ve ever seen (see above). So having a shared language as a subculture is not the problem, then. Expecting everyone else to speak your lingo and then start agreeing with you about everything is.

God, Creation, Evolution, Nuance, and Hubris

I have a confession to make. Going to the Natural History Museum totally stresses me out.

When I was growing up, I considered going to a museum or a science class a test of my faith. When my biology teacher told us in the 9th grade that we were descended from apes, I looked at her and said, “Well, maybe YOU were.” You know. For Jesus. (Mrs. Butts, I doubt you’ll read this. But if you do, I’m really, really sorry.)*

The thing I remember most about the natural history museum was walking past all the signs that said things like “5 million years ago” and thinking yeah frikkin’ right. Morons. Everyone knows that the Bible is Very Clear about how long we’ve been here.

But then, at some point, it occurred to me that a lot of people say things like “5 million years ago”. And that some of them are probably actually really smart. So things started to feel a little less clear.

And then I started to meet other Christians who believed things like “5 million years ago”. What the what?! Don’t you know that if you don’t take the first three chapters of Genesis absolutely literally, your faith has no basis? Poetry? Prose? No, no, the New American Standard Bible doesn’t bother with that nuance. Nuance is how the devil gets you.

Still, it kept getting harder and harder to disregard All of the People as morons. Especially as people I consider to be heroes of my faith were “outed” as not-necessarily-seven-day-creationists. Very notably C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien; these two men, between them, constructed the backdrop of most of my childhood imagination. It is very hard to pin down what they actually believed about evolution, and maybe there is a lesson to be learned from that in and of itself in this day and age when we are all reduced to either “Tea-baggers” or “libtards”.

Watching Ken Hamm and Bill Nye debate each other last night made my stomach hurt. On one hand, I had all this nostalgic defensiveness about the dogmatic positions of my youth. Well, yeah, sea fossils on mountain tops. What’s that about? It was also painful to watch the audience clap and cheer for Ken Hamm and stare in stony silence at Bill Nye. Don’t you guys know? He’s the Science Guy! He’s saying something charming and being funny! You’re allowed to laugh at the fact that the big bang would have been silent. It doesn’t mean you’re becoming an atheist.

Sometimes I miss the comfort of being Very Sure of All the Things. But mostly I am very glad for the loss of my hubris.*  I am able to have conversations with people now and actually learn from them. I remember in college once I spewed the four spiritual laws all over a poor fellow undergrad just because she had offered up that she thought she understood something about who God is because of her relationship with her husband. What she offered me was real and experience-based. What I offered her was memorized out of a pamphlet. I was presuming to claim status as an eye-witness about something that I hadn’t even taken the time to internalize yet. I wish I could say this is the only cringe-worthy moment I had in college (wouldn’t it be nice if we could all reduce that pile to one?). But if you know me at all, you know it wasn’t.

All I can say about that now is that I am very glad for the relative anonymity of not being famous so that I can work this out without being skewered publicly by thousands of commenters every step of the way like some of my famous Christian brothers and sisters who say stupid things and then come under fire for them. Anyone who knows anything about the science of education will tell you that is a very, very unproductive way to learn anything. As I thought about writing this out I could hear in my head derision from my right for compromising and allowing the World instead of God to direct my footsteps. And from my left, I could hear derision for not being progressive enough. The pressure is further intensified by the fact that I am now responsible for the cognitive development of two people who, if the internet is to be believed, will either turn out to be amoral heathens or bigotted bumpkins if I make the wrong choice about which museum to go to over Thanksgiving (The Creation Museum is close to my hometown, as is the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History). Why do I have to be either Godless Bill Nye, or Anti-scientist Ken Hamm? Why can’t I be something in between? Oh, wait, I can. Just maybe not on Facebook. 

I suppose this post will end the way this conversation usually ends for me these days. That is to say, I don’t know. It’s a cop-out, I get that. But it’s the best I’ve got right now. At the end of the day, whatever happened at the beginning of the world thous…wait…mill…wait…bill…well, a very long time ago, anyway…has very little bearing on whether I should be kind, generous, and loving. I’ll take comfort and direction from the words of George McDonald (another hero of my faith, someone who was alive when Darwin was, and who was thoughtfully and intentionally silent about this entire debate). “I have enough to do in trying to faithfully practice what is beyond dispute.”

*Please don’t take my explanations of my experiences growing up as descriptive of Creationist Doctrine as a whole. I can not and would not claim to represent that. My experiences, thoughts, and pride are my own and no one else’s. Christian teaching, including Creationist Christian teaching, says that we should be humble (which by extension means to not assume that people are morons) and the hubris of which I spoke, while certainly not rare, is certainly not an inherent trait of Evangelicalism, Creationism, or Christianity any more than angry atheism is a necessary part of accepting evolutionary theory.

Additional reading:

A middle ground? Some wouldn’t think so. Thanks, JE, for sharing this.

Bill Nye’s motivation for debating

Ken Ham’s motivation for debating

Taking medicine, sharing gummy bears, and locked doors.

Sometimes things happen that remind me, in heartbreaking ways, that one (and only one) of three things is true:

God doesn’t exist.
God exists, but is horrible.
God exists and loves us more than we can possibly begin to understand.

I have my own conclusions about this which inform my thoughts about our sufferings as humans, although I understand why people come to a different conclusion.

I suppose I think suffering is for the shaking off of everything that is shakeable (note: people themselves are never “shakeable” or expendable. God loves us, our friends, our spouses, our parents and our babies even more and better than we do).
The thing that is so hard and confusing is that we only see small bits of what is true. Like when my toddler thinks it’s the end of the world or that I’m torturing him on purpose when I have to give him medicine because he’s sick. If we can, out of love for our children, do things they don’t understand for their own good, I don’t think it’s impossible that God could do things like that with us.
Apparently, I can accept this for myself much more easily than for people I care about. It is a hard thing for me to trust God with someone else’s crisis or tragedy when I so little understand all that is happening in the world.
One day I offered E. some gummy bears during S.’s nap and she declined because she didn’t want to enjoy them without her brother. What I feel is a little like that.
Sometimes I wish I was still the kind of person who had easy answers for every problem.

C.S. Lewis on this topic, just after his wife’s death:

“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask–half our great theological and metaphysical problems–are like that.”

A princess worth mentioning: Rosamond

wpid-20131204_084615.jpg

This is an excerpt from my favorite book, The Lost Princess (also titled “The Wise Woman: A Double Story”), by George MacDonald. I don’t think it needs much more explanation than that.

~~~~~

All at once she jumped to her feet, and ran at full speed down the hill and into the wood. She heard howlings and yellings on all sides of her, but she ran straight on, as near as she could judge. Her spirits rose as she ran. Suddenly she saw before her, in the dusk of the thick wood, a group of some dozen wolves and hyenas, standing all together right in her way, with their green eyes fixed upon her staring.

She faltered one step, then bethought her of what the wise woman had promised, and keeping straight on, dashed right into the middle of them. They fled howling, as if she had struck them with fire. She was no more afraid after that, and ere the sun was up she was out of the wood and upon the heath, which no bad thing could step upon and live. With the first peep of the sun above the horizon, she saw the little cottage before her, and ran as fast as she could run towards it, When she came near it, she saw that the door was open, and ran straight into the outstretched arms of the wise woman.

The wise woman kissed her and stroked her hair, set her down by the fire, and gave her a bowl of bread and milk.

When she had eaten it she drew her before her where she sat, and spoke to her thus:– “Rosamond, if you would be a blessed creature instead of a mere wretch, you must submit to be tried.”

“Is that something terrible?” asked the princess, turning white.

“No, my child; but it is something very difficult to come well out of. Nobody who has not been tried knows how difficult it is; but whoever has come well out of it, and those who do not overcome never do come out of it, always looks back with horror, not on what she has come through, but on the very idea of the possibility of having failed, and being still the same miserable creature as before.”

“You will tell me what it is before it begins?” said the princess.

“I will not tell you exactly. But I will tell you some things to help you. One great danger is that perhaps you will think you are in it before it has really begun, and say to yourself, ‘Oh! this is really nothing to me. It may be a trial to some, but for me I am sure it is not worth mentioning.’ And then, before you know, it will be upon you, and you will fail utterly and shamefully.”

“I will be very, very careful,” said the princess. “Only don’t let me be frightened.”

“You shall not be frightened, except it be your own doing. You are already a brave girl, and there is no occasion to try you more that way. I saw how you rushed into the middle of the ugly creatures; and as they ran from you, so will all kinds of evil things, as long as you keep them outside of you, and do not open the cottage of your heart to let them in. I will tell you something more about what you will have to go through.

“Nobody can be a real princess–do not imagine you have yet been any thing more than a mock one–until she is a princess over herself, that is, until, when she finds herself unwilling to do the thing that is right, she makes herself do it. So long as any mood she is in makes her do the thing she will be sorry for when that mood is over, she is a slave, and no princess. A princess is able to do what is right even should she unhappily be in a mood that would make another unable to do it. For instance, if you should be cross and angry, you are not a whit the less bound to be just, yes, kind even–a thing most difficult in such a mood–though ease itself in a good mood, loving and sweet. Whoever does what she is bound to do, be she the dirtiest little girl in the street, is a princess, worshipful, honorable. Nay, more; her might goes farther than she could send it, for if she act so, the evil mood will wither and die, and leave her loving and clean.–Do you understand me, dear Rosamond?”

As she spoke, the wise woman laid her hand on her head and looked–oh, so lovingly!–into her eyes.

“I am not sure,” said the princess, humbly.

“Perhaps you will understand me better if I say it just comes to this, that you must NOT DO what is wrong, however much you are inclined to do it, and you must DO what is right, however much you are disinclined to do it.”

“I understand that,” said the princess.

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