I have been talking to God lately. Sometimes, you know, life just brings you to your knees, and this has been such a time for me. All the regular problems and heartaches are there, and then some other things added just for fun. Today is the 16th birthday of my little miniature pinscher, Spike. We are going to celebrate with cheeseburgers for all the dogs, and French fries, because such things are a few of the items we can still get Spike to eat. He is old and sick, and I’m just keeping him hanging on because it is so hard to see the spark of life extinguished. This is true for me even with bugs and spiders, but endlessly more so with this sweet little dog, who has been my companion and comforter through so many difficult years. But I have already spoken to a friend of mine, and the time will come soon that she will come to my house and put Spike to sleep, here, in my bedroom, our safe haven.
There are people out there who won’t understand how difficult this has been for me, but most of you will. You let a dog into your home and heart and they will take up residence there. They will love you, defend you, follow you to the bathroom. In the last few weeks, we have been especially close. I don’t leave him for long periods of time. I carry him around when he is not sleeping. I have to coax him to eat even things he loves, and I have to break them up into tiny bits and hand feed him. I have to give him pain meds and antibiotics, which he hates. But just take my word for it, it has been a devastating emotional strain watching him suffer, almost as bad as the emotional strain of deciding whether he wants to live or not when he can’t speak for himself.
In addition to that, one of my oldest daughter’s good friends and former roommate had her son diagnosed at the age of three months with biliary atresia, a terminal liver disease. He’d had surgery to try to keep it in check until he was older and stronger, and that had failed. The only option at that point was a liver transplant, and he was unable to leave the hospital in San Francisco, several hours away from his home, until he had one. So he and his mother, along with his two year old brother and his grandmother, have been living at the hospital for four months. His mother has been watching her baby slowly dying. She was asking for prayer, and so I prayed, right there while reading her most recent facebook post. No big conversation, just, “God please give Kingston a new liver this week.” Just a few days later they learned that a baby in Southern California had died in an accident, and his family had donated his organs. His liver was going to Kingston. Then came the waiting for surgery, which finally happened very early this last Saturday morning, at 2:00 am actually. It was a long, long surgery, but ultimately successful. Kingston’s new liver is working perfectly, as he recovers from this major surgery.
And while all this was going on, my 25 year old daughter was very, very sick. Not life threatening sick, but painfully sick. She and her very active three year old son live with me. So I was worrying about Spike, Kingston, my daughter and my grandson, and also actively taking care of all but Kingston. I suffer from depression myself, if you didn’t know, and I was just emotionally overwhelmed. I honestly haven’t talked to God for awhile, but I started talking. And I went on social media, and asked for prayer, because what else do you do when you are helpless and broken?
And honestly, God answered those prayers. Spike improved long enough to have a brief reprieve. I know it’s not long, but I had made an appointment to take him to the vet and I had honestly believed it would be goodbye. But he rallied the morning of the appointment, so the vet gave him meds and I have been able to have a few more days with him. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to take him home from the vet that day, to sleep nose to nose with him that night, whispering to him, “you are still here, you are still here,” when I thought he wouldn’t be, to see him eating again for a few days, and trotting around the yard. It was a brief reprieve, but it was so gratefully received.
Baby Kingston did get his liver, and got it that week. As a transplant patient he will have medical issues to deal with all his life, but he will live. He will not be sick and getting sicker. He will be well.
More than that, I just honestly felt God working in my heart, tapping me on my shoulder, pouring faith into me. There are those who will question this, and I question it myself. Wishful thinking, grasping at a floating piece of wood when you think you are going to drown. But it was pretty real to me. And it was accompanied by a lot of little things, small messages and large.
Anybody who has been reading my blog for long knows very well about my struggles with Christianity. It is a continuous tension in my life, because I am a full fledged political and social liberal. My heart just bleeds all over the place. The whole and total reason for my liberal ideology is empathy and compassion for the suffering. I don’t want anyone to hurt. I don’t want anyone to be in need. I don’t want anyone to suffer. I want to hold them all, heal them all, help them all. Of course, I can’t do that. I can barely do those things for my own self and my own family. To me, this takes more than an individual, more than a village. It takes an entire nation. It takes the world. It takes the leadership of our nation putting people above all else. It’s just as simple as that. The needs are too great and too varied for churches to meet them, as some have suggested. It honestly takes taxes and social welfare programs of many sorts. I want us all to take care of each other.
I have to tell you, I have an old debt to the IRS. The IRS is not as terrible as people make out, and they have kind of given me a hardship pass recently, because of my medical problems. But we have been revisiting it again lately. Maybe they would give me a pass; maybe they wouldn’t. But I came to the conclusion that I actually want to pay this tax debt. Paying taxes is part of my ethos. I want to give what I can to contribute to the good of the whole. I know that a lot of our taxes are used for other stuff, including some bad stuff. But I see it kind of in the same light as giving money to people begging on the streets. If I give to them and they misuse it, then that’s on them. But if there is a real need and I don’t do what I can to help, then that’s on me. If you are going to talk the talk, you have to be willing to walk the walk.
There are still a lot of issues I have to struggle with, and I don’t know where I will end up. I’m just not going to go into it here, because it does no good. I’m just going to say that I believe Christians are called to love and care for one another. I am very fond of citing Matthew 25:33+ to people. I’m not going to quote it here. You can look it up. Google it if you don’t have a copy of the Bible lying around. And Leviticus 19:34, the command to love the alien among you as yourself, for you (Israel) were aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. And I also like to bring up the feeding of the 5000 and other passages about God’s provision, for those who are fond of saying that we can’t afford to help others because we have to take care of ourselves. Anyway, enough said. I know very well that there are a whole lot of liberal churches that go right along with my philosophies. But I have been to them, and I don’t feel I get what I need from them. This too may be revisited, but right now I am trying to be a square peg in a round hole, and it’s hard. I’m open to being wrong, and about some things I may be, but not about everything.
Church for me has been a real refuge in times past. When I am really hurting, I am always drawn there. I want to crawl into it like a warm blanket. Even when I am not a part of the social milieu of the church, which is usually the case, the worship (singing time for those who don’t go to church) just draws things out of me. There are so many songs that speak to my heart. Even when I’m not being particularly Christian, I love to listen to it. And so often in those sanctuaries I have felt my wounds being drawn out through my tears, being bound in spiritual bandages. When it feels like the world and life are against me, I feel that I am not alone. I just long to be held when I am hurting. I want suffering to be explained to me again, even though I have found those answers for myself, time and time again in the past. I just don’t get that in the liberal churches I have been to. But I don’t necessarily feel welcome in the ones where I do. I have been told, if people know you are part of us and they know what you believe, they might think we believe it too, and we don’t.
I just don’t know.
My very favorite Christian writer is Sarah Bessey. She writes from the place of her doubts and struggles with faith, and yet there is no one in the world who has ever made me want to believe as much as she does. The first book I read of her was Out of Sorts, about her losing and re-finding her faith. She has a new book being released tomorrow about some of her recent struggles, and I am so anxious to read it. But recently, she wrote in her newsletter that she had parted with the church she loved and had written about so often. My memory is faulty, but it tells me that she was asked to leave. Sarah Bessey, best selling author and sought after speaker, who has brought faith to the hearts of thousands, was asked to leave her very own church. She spoke about it obliquely, or again, my memory of it is amiss, but I believe it was because she was in favor of allowing gays to be who they are and love who they love.
If Sarah Bessey is unacceptable, then what can I expect?
I keep asking God my questions. I ask God to tell me which path to take, to shine a really bright light on it, to talk really loudly because I have so many voices in my head. What I really want is for him to send someone to me to tell me what to do. That hasn’t worked for me in the past. It has generally required some effort on my part. But honestly, it would just be nice for people to just tell me yes, we want you here, or even no, we don’t. A blocked path also helps in finding which way you should go.
This morning I did that thing where you open your Bible randomly to see what God has to say to you. I have been a Bible reader for decades. I get them, I read them, I highlight them and write in them, and when I have it all marked up, I start over in a new one. I recently picked up an older NKJV Women’s Study Bible I’d used during one of those times when my faith was strong, and it was interesting to look through it and see what I’d highlighted, the comments and quotes I had written in it. So this morning it opened to Isaiah 61, where I had highlighted verses 1-3:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion; to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
This verse is talking about Jesus, as I knew, and yet it was speaking my own heart. Could God possibly allow me this privilege of serving in this way? Then I put aside my old study Bible, and picked up the little ESV I am currently reading. I opened it to the bookmark where I was reading in Luke 4. It said, Jesus, teaching in the Temple, unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and read aloud:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
Oh I know this could be a coincidence, but could it be, really?
More to the point, what does this mean? Exactly. What does it mean for me. What do I do with it? Prophets of God, can you tell me? I will take it simply as a confirmation that God shares my concerns.
One of the reasons I have been absent from this blog for so long is because I have just felt so generally unacceptable. I am offensive on the right hand, and I am offensive on the left. I am too liberal for the Christians, and too Christian for the liberals. Christianity just will not lose its grip on my soul. I can leave, I can yell and scream, I can push and pull, but this struggle just resides in my heart and soul, and it makes me crazy, crazy, crazy.
One thing I have never tolerated well is not knowing. But I have spent the greater part of my life forced into living in that place. My daughter was kidnapped 30 years ago and has never been found. I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t know if she is alive, or if she is dead. For awhile I took some comfort from the Rumi quote about loving the questions themselves and thereby living one day into the truth. But it’s been a long time. I will be 66 years old in December, and I still don’t know much of anything about anything. Like I said on Facebook the other day, it usually sounds like I think I know everything, because I am quite passionate about even my warring sides. But I don’t. I am very much stumbling in the dark.
I just know that I love people in general. In specific, I can honestly get annoyed with them. (Insert quiet laugh here.) But in general I want to take all people, and other creature for that matter, into my arms and make them well. It is beyond my ability to do that, however. So what do I do? Pick up one starfish at a time on the beach and toss it back into the ocean? All the world may think I’m wrong. It may offend and I may not be accepted. But that starfish will live. How about the matters of what to believe in my head? How much does that matter, or is it my heart that is most important? I don’t know. I’m struggling. But I kind of think God is there, because God kind of makes his presence known in my life, and kind of speaks to me. And I kind of have a hard time ignoring that.
Someone posted on facebook last week that it was sad that when something was wrong, people asked every believer they know to pray for them. Then God answers the prayer, and then the person who asked for prayer just goes on and does nothing for God in return. I commented that I thought only God knew what anybody did for him or didn’t do for him, and the post was taken down. But it’s stayed in my mind. I don’t know if it was about me, but it could have been. (Although I ask everyone to pray for me.) I don’t know what the definition of doing something for God is. But I think it is probably more important to ask what God is doing inside a person when those prayers are answered, and we can’t know that. God wouldn’t answer them if it wasn’t within his purposes.
I also talked to my older daughter this week, the one who is close friends with the mother of the baby who had the liver transplant. She said she wished she could have faith, but she can’t. She said almost every time she has prayed for something, it has come out the opposite of what she asked. She prayed for my biopsy to be benign, but it was cancer. She prayed that baby Kingston’s first procedure would be successful and it wasn’t.
But on the other hand, she prayed and asked for prayer when I had a PET scan after my mastectomy. I was afraid myself at that time. It seemed to me that every time they had looked for cancer in me they had found it. In the mammogram. In the ultrasound. In the MRI they discovered it was much larger than they had thought. In surgery, they found cancer in every lymph node they had removed, even the ones that they had thought looked okay. If it had shown up in the PET scan, that would have meant it was incurable. But the PET scan was clear. I had chemo and radiation therapy, and I have now been cancer free for a little over two years.
If baby Kingston’s first procedure had been successful, it would have bought him time, but he still would have had to have a liver transplant at some time in his life. It failed, so the transplant became necessary now to save his life. But he got the transplant. He will live, and won’t have to have a transplant when he may be older and stronger, but at a time when he will feel afraid, when it will live in his memory. As it is, he will only know about it because he will be told about it.
My daughter brought up the fact that I would not allow them to attend church with their friends when my kids were young. Yes, I said. For years I couldn’t even say the word “God.” I’d just say “the G word.” But I’d prayed some really really important prayers, and as far as I could see, they had not been answered. I felt deeply betrayed, because I had prayed for my daughter to come home when she was kidnapped, and she hadn’t. I felt she had been betrayed, because she had trusted in God, and God had failed her in her greatest need. Many years have passed since then, and I have come to see this in a different light. First, we don’t know what God did or did not do for Michaela. We don’t know that God did not send angels to minister to her, that he did not personally allay her terror. We don’t know that God didn’t just transport her to a truly better place. In the many years I have lived, I have come to know that there are worse things than not being here on this earth.
Even more was that moment when I found myself talking to a friend over coffee, so surprised as the words poured out of my mouth, that I could see Michaela and me sitting together in eternity, looking back on what happened to us in this life, saying, oh that, that was such a small thing in the grand view, because we could see that this was just a small thing in the vast picture of thing. We would be able to see not only our suffering, but the ripples that had spread out from it, the people whose lives were touched somehow by what happened to Michaela. I could never tell you what that is, but people have told me that they have been touched, that somehow they have been helped. If you are reading my words here today, there is a really good chance that you are reading them because of Michaela. She is the only reason anybody even knows my name.
I have had a hard time in life transcending the ego. Many religions teach that you have to transcend the ego to become one with God. Me, I was more concerned with a more personal destiny, and becoming the person I was meant to become in this life. Those grand ideas have kind of gone by the wayside over time, because becoming your best self is usually an uncomfortable process, and I am getting really tired of being uncomfortable. But I have reached one point of ego transcendence, because I have come to know very well that IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT ME. It’s about the whole of the world. If something bad happens to me, it just might help someone else somehow, might change a world or a mind for even one person, or a handful of people. I used to worry, when I had cancer, that I would die without having fulfilled my destiny. “I don’t want to die a caterpillar” kind of summed it up. But I no longer have that fear. Honestly, one day I realized that if the only thing I ever did in my entire life was to be here to hold my grandson Theo when he was sad, that is more than enough fulfillment of my destiny. Who needs more?
I will hopefully proofread this now, and then I will post it on social media. I hope that at least some of you will read the entire thing. Usually when I do this, people post a ton of comments on facebook, and that is nice, but I would like to ask if you would instead post your comments here, on this blog. Facebook is here today and gone tomorrow, but this is a more permanent place. Your words mean a lot to me. Well, as long as they are nice.
Meanwhile, I am sorry if I offend. It is really all only ever done out of love. If you look beneath even my harshest words, I hope you can see that.
Gonna go cuddle my little Spike now.
Love you all,