I fear that today’s post is rather rambling. I couldn’t make it seamlessly flow.
Today I cried.
When I was growing up, my church sort of taught that it was wrong to question God. It was taught in a spiritual-sounding way: Questions were doubt and doubting God was sin, so trust God and don’t question. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed many times over the years. It sounds good, sort of. Who wants to doubt God? However, in my teens, it occurred to me that God already intimately knows what I am thinking and feeling (Ps 139)–including my doubts, fears, and questions–so I might as well be honest with Him. How can God help me if I refuse to acknowledge when I’m scared or in pain or, yes, even mad at Him?
So I began to respond to God as if He was real (which He is) and as if I were really in a relationship with Him (which I am). Relationships can be messy. At times I’ve utterly enjoyed God’s nearness, delighting in His creation, overwhelmed by His love, laughed at His humor. However, I’ve also cried on His shoulder when I was hurting, ran to Him when I was scared, gotten angry at Him when He’s done something that didn’t make sense to me. I’ve asked Him questions and wrestled with His answers…or silence. Sometimes I’ve stamped my foot in a bratty tantrum. I can totally relate to Tevye’s honest relationship with God in The Fiddler on the Roof, one of my very most favorite movies.
There are times I’ve tried to pretend I had more strength than I really did. Then it always seemed as if God said, “TJ, get real” as He punctured my pretense. Like when the counselor asked,”How are you doing?” when I told him about losing my baby in a miscarriage years ago. “I’m doing well. I know God has a reason for this. I am trusting Him,” I said piously. “So how does it feel to be a mother who has lost her child?” The question stunned me and broke through my facade as I began to sob and wrestle honestly with grief and questions. I came out the other side, wounded but deeper. On my last day of counseling, the counselor said: “You are the most real person I have ever met.” A real gift. I had asked God to make me real….like Pinocchio.
“Get real, TJ.”
I’ve since discovered from my studies of Hebrew that the Jewish people have always been a concrete-thinking, action-oriented, and passionate people. Their language reflects this. They don’t talk their faith, they live it. They confront God honestly, questioning wrestling, bargaining with Him. They cling to Him even though He cripples them. I love Psalms 77, written by Asaph:
My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud;
My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness;
My soul refused to be comforted.
3 When I remember God, then I am disturbed;
When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. Selah.
4 You have held my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I have considered the days of old,
The years of long ago.
6 I will remember my song in the night;
I will meditate with my heart,
And my spirit ponders:
7 Will the Lord reject forever?
And will He never be favorable again?
8 Has His lovingkindness ceased forever?
Has His promise come to an end forever?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious,
Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? Selah.
10 Then I said, “It is my grief,
That the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
Wow. Asaph honestly questioned–what we might even call doubted. Who knows how long he struggled before he could continue:
I shall remember the deeds of the Lord;
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
12 I will meditate on all Your work
And muse on Your deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy;
What god is great like our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
You have made known Your strength among the peoples.
15 You have by Your power redeemed Your people,
The sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.
Through questions and doubt, he found a new depth of trust. He wrote several psalms. Each one a gem to me.
I also love the story about the rabbi who came to substitute teach a class at a yeshiva. As he lectured, the students were silent, not asking any questions. So he deliberately said something controversial. Still, they said nothing. Finally, in frustration, he roared, “How can I teach you if you refuse to argue with me?!” So different from the sit down, shut up, and memorize style prevalent in our society.
Years ago, in the church I grew up in, a woman’s son was convicted of a serious crime and sent to prison. I’m sure the woman must have suffered and cried, but her face was always smiling. Time passed and a new woman started attending the church. Her son also was in prison. One day the second woman learned about the first woman’s son. She went to the woman in tears, or so I heard, and lamented, “Why did you never tell me about your son? I struggled so much, and you could have been such a comfort, but you said nothing.” I’ve never, ever forgotten that.
I think we are all different. I think that God designs us for different purposes. No doubt people express their faith in different ways. I cannot say how people “ought” to express their faith. I can only say that I can’t not be real. I mean, I can for a while, but not for long. I’ve sometimes told God that I asked Him to make me “Real” and He made me to bleed all over the pages of my writing describing my fear, my tears, my strengths and weaknesses, my good days and bad days. I write about my problems that are sometimes too big and many and overwhelming for me. Sometimes I want to hide under the blankets and wish the monsters away.
This morning I saw the pots of tender plants on my window sill that I am hoping to keep alive through the winter. I thought, “This blog is turning into a different sort of blog then I intended.” I was going to just write about my garden and day-to-day life. Now I am writing about my son’s battle with cancer. Yet, he feels to me like a tender little plant that I am trying to keep alive. I’m still writing about my garden, but now my garden is my son.
Today I cried because I felt overcome by the hugeness of this Unexpected Journey my family is on. I feel like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, dragged off on an Adventure that he didn’t expect, didn’t want, and wasn’t at all prepared for.
I feel clueless about and overwhelmed by having to decide on a cancer treatment. Some people choose to have chemotherapy and some say that natural methods are the only way to go. I don’t know who is right. I don’t want to gamble, either way, with my son’s life. It just seems like a confusing maze to me. I just want Jared to be well. I don’t want to lose my son. I don’t know what is best for him.
The nurse called today. She said, “The pathology report is positive.” “Oh, good!” I exclaimed in huge relief. Positive means good. The nurse replied, “No…It’s positive for cancer.” Oh. I just got educated. Of course. Positive means good….unless it’s cancer. I felt so stupid. She must think I’m an imbecile. I told EJ about it, and we laughed a shaky laugh.
My friend called me soon afterwards. She let me cry for a bit, and she gave me a gift of comfort and laughter. She also mentioned her sister’s friend who works in a cancer center in California. She wanted to know if I would like her to ask her sister if her friend would call me and prepare me for what to expect. “YES!” A bit later, the woman called. She was so nice. She explained what was happening and told me what to expect in the days ahead. She also said, “Keep a pen and paper near you at all times. Write down all the questions that come to mind so you can ask the doctor.” She also said, “It’s important to understand that you are your son’s advocate. You are fighting for his life. Be a Mama Bear and fight for your cub. If you don’t understand something, ask. If you aren’t comfortable with something, confront it. Be a Mama Bear.” I told EJ that maybe I will have to start practicing my Mama Bear growl. Meanwhile, he can practice his Papa Bear growl. The truth is, I think I’m a pathetic bear. I’m not a confrontational person. I need a Bigger Bear to roar for me.
I must say this: I am not a stranger to suffering. I’ve lost a baby to miscarriage. I’ve had a difficult second pregnancy and almost lost my son and myself when he was born. I’ve struggled with the sorrow of infertility. I’ve struggled through years of painful rejection from a dysfunctional family who refused to forgive me for not being able to live up to their demands–and I finally have had to say a heartbreaking “no more” to their presence in my life. I’ve suffered from chronic illness. I have a husband who suffers debilitating back pain–and several other health problems. There have been many times when we’ve had to live on little. And there have been many other sorrows and struggles. Now here is my son afflicted with cancer. And even my dog is sick.
Through all the struggles, I often been scared, and heartbroken, and overwhelmed. Each new journey is different and challenges my faith in a different way. However, I also experience my God in a different way. I see His love in a different way. He reveals His faithfulness in a different way. I experience His provision in a different way. I think sometimes He weeps with me. Already, God is showing us in awesome ways that HE IS HERE. We aren’t alone.
I’ve discovered an interesting thing along the way: When I share my journey, there are probably people who think I am a total mess, which I am. However, there are also people who say, “I came to me because I knew you struggled with… infertility.. miscarriage.. rejection… and I knew you’d understand because you’ve been there.” I’ve also been comforted by others who understood my struggle because they have “been there.” Today I cried at Facebook, and found people around the world who hugged me with love and prayers. Many are praying for JJ. I think we all need each other, and we can’t help each other if we don’t share.
So, I will share my journey with you, if you want to come along, as honestly as I can. Because, who knows? Maybe my journey will help you. Or maybe your journey will help me. But be forewarned: My faith isn’t always pretty. I will be honest about the joys and sorrows, the strengths and weaknesses.
Sometimes I will cry.
Sometimes I won’t.