Saturday, March 22, 2008

Granny, God and a Wishing Star

Granny, mother of my mother, could seem harsh. As in "Judith Marjeanne" (jeanne was usually pitched somewhere around high C) "you march your sorry parts in here and clean up this mess!" As in "Judith Marjeanne, mark my words, trouble is going to land slap down on your head." What usually landed "slap down" was a hard thwack from her thimbled index finger. But you had to know Granny. Or maybe you had to want to know her. She also rubbed my back on demand, taught me how to wish on a star and sometimes surprised me with what I wished for. Best of all, she took my side when Muddy said it was my turn to feed the chickens and I said it was not. Granny wore a corset and smelled of talcum. I adored her.

There are times when God too has seemed harsh. My own story, hard and painful as it has been for me and mine, is not the stuff of tragedy. In my case cancer had the civility to wait until my children were grown with families of their own. But Wayne just buried his young wife, Cheri, and will raise their two small boys without her. Six year old Alisa has flat lined three times this week, her tiny body riddled with cruel looking tubes while doctors consider a heart transplant. Young Christopher took a stray bullet while sitting at his piano lesson - a piano lesson - and may be paralyzed for life. Too many nightmare stories and no star on which to wish them away. 
What are we to think of God and his love in the face of such tragedies? How does a Christian remain intellectually and emotionally honest without succumbing to cop-out religious sounding niceties and pat answers that can choke the life out of our already broken and fear-filled hearts? I'm incapable of answering that question for friends in pain and wouldn't even try. ("Like one who takes away a garment on a cold one who sings songs to a heavy heart." Proverbs 25:20) No, those are times to come alongside, to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). But in the long and dark and cold hours of my own confusion and fear an answer begins to take form. As with Granny who had to be known to be understood, so too with God and the clearest way to my understanding God is through his incarnate Christ.

"If the night is bad and our nerves are shattered and darkness comes and pain is all around and the Holy One is conspicuous by his absence and we want to know the true feelings of the inscrutable God toward us, we must turn and look at Jesus." Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust
It is not phony God talk when Ann Graham Lotz said "the times when you and I can't trust his hand of purpose, we must trust his heart of love." Trust. It's a big word that gets bigger with each additional chemo treatment. And it never seemed bigger than when our daughter lay in a hospital bed from a brain aneurism. Perhaps the reason I could bear Granny's thimble raps was because I knew her and in knowing her I had learned to trust her love for me. But it can sometimes be easier to trust our grannies than our God. I have found it helpful to remember that Jesus didn't give workshops on the whys of pain and suffering. What he gave instead was himself and I don't think that can be more eloquently described than by C.S. Lewis from Miracles.

"In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in midair, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to color and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover. He and it are both colored now that they have come up into the light: down below, where it lay colorless in the dark, he lost his color too."
When I was little I wished on a star. Now when fear and confusion and pain can suck all color from my hope and confidence, I cry out into the dark night and to the degree that I have learned it is safe to trust who he is, I can mostly trust what he does...mostly.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Big Why

Affliction. A disease, disorder, complaint, sorrow, torment, scourge, trouble

And you thought it was going to be just another day. The alarm went off, coffee was perfect, the shower did what it was supposed to do and you're out the door. It's not until later that you can mark that very day as the one in which life as you knew it screamed to a stop. Affliction picked the lock and moved right in. Up became down. Down became inside out. And inside out has remained just that.

For me it's breast cancer. Stage 4. "But why you?" my friend exclaimed with tears. I hadn't thought to ask. And now that the question was raised, I didn't much care why. Try as I might, I couldn't think of one thing so special about what my Granny might refer to as my "sorry parts" that I should be spared what is happening all around me. Is there anyone who does not know someone with cancer? "Maybe the better question," I said, "is why not me?"

But I was grateful for my friend's tears and her Big Why argument on my behalf. It felt like love which I sorely needed. Maybe the Whys, big and small, are ways of trying to get our hearts around what our brains cannot comprehend. Perhaps at best, as Tony Snow wrote, they "are designed more to express our anguish than to solicit an answer." And who of us is not affirmed by someone's anguish on our behalf, someone's prayer offered in those cold and lonely hours belonging neither to midnight nor morning? It was not said for nothing that we are to weep with those who weep.