God’s Got This, Part 2

My family has been muddling through a pretty tough time for about 18 months now, and I have been waiting for it to end, so that I can craft the perfect inspirational blog post (“3 Things I Learned From My Time In The Pit!”, “Feeling Crappy? Here Are Makeup Tips to Hide Your Tears!”, “How To Plan A Homeschool Lesson When All You Want To Do Is Stay Under The Covers!”), but it has dragged on and on, long past the length upon which I thought God and I had agreed that any bad time should last.

So here I am. I’ve missed writing, and I’m tired of waiting until I can check “Learn Valuable Lesson” off my to-do list, and I’ve missed connecting with you readers out there. So today, you get a big ol’ dose of transparency! I hope you’re ready…

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Until about eight months ago, my husband and I were the Children’s Minister and Assistant Children’s Minister at our church. We were there for three years; those jobs afforded us a flexibility of lifestyle, schedule, and finances that we hadn’t had before, and we were blessed and challenged by our time there. However, it became clear over the course of our employment that, as much as we loved working with the children, and as much as we cherished the freedoms we were granted because of those jobs, we were not the right fit. We left our positions just a couple of weeks before our fourth child was born.

My husband first made the announcement that we would be leaving those positions about 18 months ago, right after we found out that I was pregnant. At the time, we were filled with the hope and expectation that our next step would be a fairly easy one. I was nervous, yes, to be leaving a stable and basically doable job with a stable and basically adequate salary, but we’d always managed to find something before, and I knew we would this time, too. I believe my husband felt much the same way. He began to look for jobs in ministry, human services, and non-profit (the trifecta that makes up 99% of his fantasies) with an air of expectation.

Months went by. Dozens of applications had been submitted. Dozens of follow-up phone calls had been made. Dozens of friends had been asked to “keep their ear to the ground,” or “mention my name.” Thousands of prayers had been uttered. The baby’s debut was getting closer and closer as my husband’s prospects, one by one, came back empty. I began to wonder what would happen to us. My husband had never had trouble finding a job before. I know I’m biased, but he’s likable, personable, intelligent, polite, hard-working, and–as the father of four–he is extremely motivated.

I forget who broached the subject first, but my husband decided to broaden his search to include other fields. He looked into education and then, finally, business. Business was a last resort for him–he has a minister’s mind and a minister’s heart, and he did not see a way to remain true to himself and dive into the world of making money for money’s sake. But there was nothing left to try, and so he sent in an application for a position as an inside sales rep at a local company.


Six days before our son was born, he got the call: he’d gotten the job! We were ecstatic! He’d seen during the interview process that he’d be selling a valuable product at a reasonable price alongside people he liked and respected. Something came upon him when he talked about this new job that I’d never witnessed before: enthusiasm. He was absolutely bursting with ideas about how to sell the product, to whom he could sell it, how much money he could make, how much he could blow our budget out of the water, how long before he would begin to rise through the ranks of the sales department. Even in his preferred field of human services, I had never seen him enjoy a job so much. For him, there had always been too many anxieties, too many unknowns, too many opportunities for him to fail. But suddenly, in a complete twist, here he was, a businessman! And he loved it!

Boy, was I relieved. My father had made a good career as a salesman, and it was a lifestyle with which I was familiar and comfortable. Finally, I could really devote myself to staying home, taking care of the house, teaching the kids, and not worrying about my husband. Four kids, a tense relationship with our landlord, no minivan, and a new adventure in homeschooling seemed like enough to deal with; thank God that He was at least taking away the stress of an unpleasant job and too-tight finances!

As my husband’s training period ended, it became clear to both of us that the road to a successful sales career is a long one. He still likes the product, and he still enjoys his co-workers and the company itself, but he and I saw very quickly what it means to live mainly on commission. About three months into his new job, we hit a wall, and he took a part-time job at Kroger, where he now works weekends and most evenings. The final blow to our egos came in late-July, when several things came to a head, forcing us to move in with my parents.

As I write this, our baby is eight months old, we are roughly three months into our first year of homeschooling (so much harder than I ever thought it would be, and for entirely different reasons), and we have lived off of my parents’ and in-laws’ largesse for the better part of five months. My husband works about 75 hours per week and brings home just enough to cover our expenses. He barely sees his children, and he barely sees his wife. He is tired, he is angry, he is anxious, he is burdened. And so am I.

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So why do I choose today to write about this? Six months from now, God willing, he will have found a way to be successful, and we will have moved into our own place, and I will be able to write an uplifting post about what I will have learned through our travails. Why not wait until then? Reading this must be kind of a bummer for you; writing it certainly is for me.

Quite simply, I am compelled. The only reason I can think of for that is that maybe one of you is dealing with a situation like mine. Not like mine in the sense that you’re struggling in the same way. But maybe your situation is also making you feel hopeless. And tired. And burdened. And scared. And angry.

If that’s true, let me break it to you gently: I. Know. Nothing.

Except, right now, for this:

Life is really really really hard. And, God is still good.

This kind of chaos and disarray is not supposed to happen to people like us. We have always worked hard. We have always asked God for His guidance in our life. We have always wanted good, noble, modest things–a big-enough house with a yard for the kids to play and enough flexibility to enjoy time together as a family.

But as much as it hurts me to admit this, God did not send His Son to die on a cross and save me from my sins so that I could live in a big-enough house with a yard for the kids to play and enough flexibility to enjoy time together as a family. Jesus came so that I could have life, and life abundant (John 10:10). Right now, the abundance part seems like it’s all being collected in IOUs, but what if what He’s really talking about is the abundance of a relationship with Him?

Frankly, I don’t like that possibility. I like for things to be neat and square and predictable and orderly. That’s why I was such a good Jew. As a Jew, my concern was being good. And I was very good at being good. In Christianity, I have come to realize, being good doesn’t cut it–the underlying point is the relationship that we have with our Creator (the Father) and our Savior (the Son) and our Helper (the Holy Spirit). And when the relationship is hurting, God is not above messing things up to get our attention.

Here’s my problem: when something happens that I can’t control, I devote all of my energy to grasping what little control I have left. As I grasp more and more tightly, life spirals farther and farther out of control, causing me to hold tighter and tighter, and so on and so forth, forever and ever, amen. People tell me to “let go and let God” and that “true freedom comes from relying on Christ” and that “the more tightly we close our fists, the less capable we will be of catching God’s blessings as He rains them down upon us”–people tell me these things, but I don’t listen, because I’m too busy, trying to maintain control. Because–and here is the kicker–if I am not in control, that means someone else is, and that someone does not know me as well as I know me.

For a woman who wholeheartedly believes that God is kind and merciful and tender and gracious, this obsession with control is a disappointing and humbling thing to face. How can I be so afraid? Don’t I tell people all the time about how God ministers to me through my depression and how He’s used every one of my babies to show me a different facet of His character and how He’s been wooing me, in ways that would only work on me, since I was a child? Haven’t I been listening?

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Whatever I think or whatever I feel or whatever I want, the undergirding truth is that God is still good. Believe me, I don’t always feel this way. Even now, as I write this, I know it’s true, but boy, I don’t feel like it’s true at all. I feel like, if He were good, He would give my husband success in his job and enough money to make me happy. (If He were really good, He would have done that when we first started asking for it, over a year ago.) Doesn’t He want His children to be solvent, to be financially responsible? How could He want us to be living this way? Why isn’t He honoring our hard work and our diligence and our continued prayers?

Hell if I know.

Yes, I’m angry, and I’m scared, and I’m hopeless. But I cannot stay there. Because, no matter what war is being waged on my spirit, God is good anyway. I have no stinking idea why He’s keeping us in this situation, but I do know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-5) Do I live that out all the time? Not even in the slightest–you have not seen entitlement until you’ve seen me on some of my most recent days.

My work right now is not to figure out what we have to do in order to convince God that we’re serious, or to hurry up and learn the damn lesson already so we can move on, or to magically hit upon the single combination of words in my prayers that will flip some cosmic switch and make things suddenly go my way. My work is to figure out the answer to this question: Do I love God for who He is or for what He does?

When He isn’t being nice–when He allows me to stumble and fall into the pit–is my faith so shallow that I turn my back on Him? I’ve been painfully convicted lately because, if I’m being honest, I don’t know. Some days, my faith feels strong, and I can look the Devil right in the face and say, “Get thee behind me, you piece of [insert that day’s favorite curse word]!” and some days, there is a clawing and a tearing inside my chest between what I know to be true and what I feel to be true, and I can’t say for sure which side will win.

If we’re being honest (and let’s, shall we?), God might never give Dale financial success. He might never make it possible for us to live on our own. He might take my husband or my children away from me tomorrow. I might only have begun to scratch the surface of the pit into which I could fall. These thoughts terrify me, but I have to consider them. I have to look them in the face and let their reality wash over me and sit in the grief they bring until I find that I can stand again under the burden of all that pain.

Under the burden of all that pain, God is still good. I don’t understand it, but I know it, and in the pit, I can cling to it.



So Saith the Lord

Recently, a group of friends and I were discussing the times in our lives when God had revealed to us a piece of His character. (I know–my friends and I are a real laugh riot. I can tell you’re jealous.) It brought to mind a moment from almost seven years ago, when my oldest child was only a few weeks old.

If you’ve read much of this blog before, you know that I dealt with many many months of untreated post-partum depression, a holdover from the many many months of untreated normal depression. This beast appeared in all of its disgusting and insidious glory within hours of my daughter’s birth. (If you’re feeling a little too cheery on this beautiful day, you can read more about it here.)

Often an episode of depression will announce itself in the form of anxiety bordering on the unhinged, balanced ever so precariously with the belief that I can plan my way out of trouble…if only I ever figure out the right plan. Add the care and keeping of a tiny new appendage, and I was a real gem in those days.

Enter the book Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, by Tracy Hogg. I inhaled this book. Hogg affirmed all of my instincts and made motherhood seem so much simpler than I had made it in my mind. She was famous for getting babies to sleep through the night within a handful of nights, before six weeks. The book outlines her method:

Lay the baby down, drowsy but awake. When the baby cries, pick him up and calm him and then put him back down.

This is supposed to reassure the baby that he is not alone but also provide an opportunity for him to learn that he is capable of soothing himself. In the book, Hogg gives several examples of clients to whom she’d taught this method; they all have stories of picking up the baby 88 times the first night, 43 times the second night, six times the third night, and zero times the fourth night (and ever after). This seemed like magic to me. If I could get my daughter to sleep…everything else would work. I could be a good mom, if I could only get her to sleep.

So, my husband and I decided to try it out. She was somewhere around three or four weeks old, certainly in the right age range to start this training, according to Hogg. We picked a night and spent the day psyching ourselves up for what we knew would be a serious test of our fortitude. We were prepared not to sleep at all that night, placing all of our hope in Hogg’s experience: by the end of the week, we’d have a baby who slept through the night.

Knowing how intensely mercurial my emotions were at this time, and how susceptible I was to stress, we decided to pray before putting her down the first time. Did we pray for peace, for strength, for discernment? No, nothing that spiritual. We prayed that it would work, that she would sleep, and that no one would kill anyone else in the process. Then we put her down and stood back to watch what would happen.

She started screaming. My husband picked her up and started making cooing sounds. She stopped screaming. He put her back down.

She started screaming. I picked her up and started making cooing sounds. She stopped screaming. I put her back down.

I think I can spare you a detailed account of the next eight hours and just tell you: the plan didn’t work. She didn’t sleep, my husband didn’t sleep, I didn’t sleep. Nobody slept. This was worse than I’d feared. I’d stopped marking our progress after the 50th time we picked her up–and that had only taken an hour or so. My body was tired, my mind was tired, my baby was tired.

And yet.

There was one unbelievable moment of grace, sometime around three in the morning, when the mind ceases to work rationally and is open to things like that.

I was holding, for the thousandth time that night, a crying baby, bouncing up and down on sore legs, trying to keep her quiet so that my husband–sprawled on the other side of the room–could maybe at least sleep for one minute, when it hit me: I was not upset. I wasn’t angry, or crying, or feeling anxious, or feeling disappointed, or even feeling particularly tired. I felt good. I felt useful. I felt like I was doing exactly what I should be doing. I was helping my daughter learn how to do a hard thing. I was being a mom. In that moment, I thought about how many times that night I had already held her and how I would gladly have held her as many more times as she needed me to. I thought how remarkable it was that she had cried eight trillion times for the same exact reason, and I hadn’t gotten tired of her yet. I hadn’t given up on her. I hadn’t even gotten annoyed.

In that moment, in that tiny quiet private moment in the midst of the middle of the night, I heard God speak. He spoke into my fears, my insecurities, and my unshaking belief that I was incapable. He said, “This is how I love you.”

This is how I love you.

How many times had I cried out to God for the same reason, over and over again? Hundreds.

How many times had I thought that I couldn’t do what God was asking me to do? Thousands.

How many times had I been angry with God for making me do a hard thing? Millions.

How many times had God picked me up, and held me, and made soothing noises in my ear, and then, when I was ready, put me back down so that I could try again? Every. Single. Time.

To God, I am that red-faced, shrieking, helpless three-week old, and He is the parent, so full of perfect love that He will pick me up again and again and again, through the long sleepless night that is my life.

I am His child, and He is my parent. He will never not pick me up.

People, I don’t know how to say this clearly enough: what happened that night (and what didn’t happen: the hissy fits and self-pity) was not from me. In almost seven years of being a parent, and with four children for whom I have an obscene amount of love, there has not been even one single night in the middle of which I was glad to be awake. I hate being awake in the middle of the night. Middle-of-the-night feedings and soothings are to be trudged through, with as little anger as possible. That one night, that magical night of grace, was a miracle. God used a sleepless night to reach down and reveal something to a tired and scared and lonely new mom: His unending patience, and His unfathomable love.

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After such a mountaintop experience, we decided to try co-sleeping the next night.

That worked much better.



God’s Got This, Part 1

I recently finished a book called Restless Virgins, based on a sex scandal at Milton Academy in 2005 involving a sophomore girl and multiple hockey players. The scandal was supposed to be the crux of this book, but it only took up about fifteen pages. The two writers (both graduates of Milton Academy) focused the rest of the book on the culture of sex that was prevalent at Milton in the early 2000s (and is prevalent on many campuses today).

Disclaimer: The two women writing this book did a great job writing objectively and dispassionately about a horrific and sometimes heartbreaking year in these students’ lives. I commend them for their work. That being said, this book was, at times, disgusting. 50 Shades of Grey probably wasn’t any more salacious than this book was. I ached for a long, hot shower when I was done.

The writers wrote from the points-of-view of a handful of students with whom they’d had over 200 interviews over the course of two years. The students were all seniors at the time of the scandal, and they were remarkably forthcoming about their priorities and personal lives. Most of these priorities and personal lives were based on sex, drugs, partying, and drinking. To be honest, the sexual foibles and victories all started to blend together after a while, and by the end, I had trouble keeping the characters straight, but this much I do remember clearly: there was the girl who regularly cheated on her boyfriend because “he’s ugly and doesn’t deserve me to begin with.” There was the boy who believes girls deserve to be respected and treated to nice dinners and exciting evenings…only to abandon that belief the first time he finds a girl who’s willing to debase herself for his benefit. There was the girl who was admired by everyone for her brilliance and wit, who allowed herself to be used by a “hockey god,” so that he could satisfy his lust and she could gain a little notoriety. There was the girl who was known by younger students for her sympathy and understanding but spent years jumping to meet the sexual whims of a boy who refused to call her his girlfriend or acknowledge her in public.

I understand that much of this narrative may have been exaggerated; the entire book is based on the self-disclosure of horny adolescents, and who knows how honest they were being? However, assuming they were being even mostly honest, it is a damning and heartbreaking portrayal of what seems to be a pervasive mindset among adolescents.

The way I understand these kids’ psyches, after reading over two hundred pages of their inner monologues, is this: the girls believe they are only worth the popularity of the boys who want them. Therefore, it is in their best interest to climb the social ladder as efficiently as possible, and what better way to do that than to advertise that you are open for business (so to speak)? High school guys aren’t known for their nuance or their impulse control, and it’s understandable that they would find it hard to resist such persistent – and willing – temptation.

On the other hand, the boys believe that they are only worth the number of girls they “hook up” with (whatever that term means to them at this particular moment in time) and the entertainment value of the stories they can then broadcast to their friends. Therefore, it is in their best interest to take as many girls up on their offers, and to do it as quickly, as possible. High school girls aren’t known for their self-esteem and positive body image, and it’s understandable that they would find it hard to resist such desperation for a good story.

“He chose me!” I can hear the girls thinking. “He can have anyone at this school, and he chose me! Does he – could he – love me?”

“She said yes!” I can hear the boys thinking. “She doesn’t even know me, and she said yes! I must be the man!”

It’s hard for me to be sympathetic to the boys in this portrayal, all of whom believe that a hook-up is a one way street. The girl pleasures him, and there is no expectation of reciprocation. But these boys – boysare sympathetic. Look at them. They are so young, and they have been poisoned for who knows how many years, by who knows how many false gods, into thinking that they have the right or even the duty (to their buds, at least) to treat these girls like scum. (They even come up with a charming little nickname for these girls that involves the word scum. I’ll let you figure out the rest of it for yourself.)

The girls are just as sympathetic, although there were plenty of times I wanted to wring their necks, just to get my point across. Most of the girls who are portrayed are even younger than the boys – many are even still in middle school, and they are so deluded. They have bought into the lie – hook, line, and sinker – that they will only mean something if a guy (ideally, the right guy) says they mean something.


Here’s the problem, as far as I’m concerned: we have replaced our inherent worth as children of God with the wishy-washy worth sometimes bestowed upon us by people whose only endorsement is that they’re popular. No wonder there are so many unique kinds of addiction among humans! We humans will sell ourselves to anything, won’t we? Imagine living your whole life, believing the lie that you are responsible for creating your own worth. Wouldn’t you want to escape that pressure with some kind of addiction, too?

God wants us to know that there is nothing we can do to earn His love and there is nothing we can do to lose His love. Gave five guys blow jobs, just because they were popular? God’s got this. Drank too much and did something you never thought you’d do? God’s got this. Sold your body to the highest bidder? God’s got this.  Cheated on your boyfriend a dozen times because you thought he was ugly? God’s got this. Spent your life doubting yourself, your achievements, your gifts? God’s got this. Gained sixty pounds because you can’t stop eating and you don’t believe you’re worth a healthy body? God’s got this.

Here’s the thing, though. We have to ask Him to take it.

We look at this hook-up culture stuff all wrong. The problem is not that no one takes girls seriously, or that boys are being raised to be monsters, or that girls are taught to fear their bodies, or that there aren’t enough sensitivity seminars on school campuses, or that we’re in a misogynistic and patriarchal culture, or even that teens are drinking too much (which I definitely think is a big part of the problem that we all underestimate). These are all symptoms of the problem. The problem is that we are throwing ourselves away. If we allowed ourselves to feel the full power of God’s love for us, nothing – nothing – would be able to destroy us. Yes, there would be hard days or times we would feel alone and in despair, but if we lived fully in the power that God has already given us, those days would lead us straight into His arms, instead of to the nearest boy, girl, bag of chips, bottle, empty relationship, or what have you.


Of course, this has all been said before, and in much better words than I could ever come up with. Here is a favorite example of mine:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39, emphasis mine)

Hear that? Nothing. Neither sex nor drugs, nor despair nor fear, nor sin nor hopelessness, nor rape nor violence, nor laziness nor selfishness, nor anything else you could possibly think of, can ever separate us from God and take away the value He has already given us.

But if we want to live in that value, we have to ask Him to show it to us. And then believe it when He does.

Dear Lord, I don’t know what to say.

For those of you who know me well, you know that I am more conservative than liberal, more Republican than Democrat (although lately, I’m more Libertarian than anything else), more believer than non. And for those of you who know me really well, you know that, even when I don’t know what to say, I say plenty anyway.

This past week has me at a loss.

A confession: I did not take the fact of racism seriously until marrying a man whose family has lived in the South for generations and who has seen, or whose family has seen, firsthand, the kind of thing I’d only heard about on the radio or read about in history books.

A confession: Six-and-a-half years after moving to Virginia, I still don’t quite get it about racism. At the risk of sounding cheesy, why can’t we all just get along? Is it really as bad as people say? Can’t we all give each other the gift of believing the best about each other?

A confession: I have a hard time accepting as truth examples of racism that I hear from others. I have a handful of anti-Semitic slurs, broken synagogue windows, and mind-boggling ignorance in my past, too. I have, oh…about five thousand years or so of universal hatred of my people to fall back on. Despite that, and thanks to the wisdom of those who know me and love me well, I make conscious decisions to believe that the people who have hurt me in the past either didn’t know what they were doing, or they aren’t worth the effort I would need to expend in order to keep being angry. In either of those cases, why on Earth would I waste my time getting angry?

A confession: I have been angry. I have been told that Mainers hate black people because there aren’t any black people in Maine (patently false, on both counts). I have been told that Virginians hate black people, because they stare at them (dude, that’s called making eye contact, and I get it — we Yankees aren’t used to it on the street, with strangers. But Southerners make eye contact with everybody. Yes, it’s disconcerting at first and hard to get used to, but it certainly isn’t racist). I have been told that I wear my privilege like a second skin and that there’s nothing I can do about it (well…okay, fine. But it hasn’t gotten me anything that anyone else couldn’t get, too — trust me, I’ve been broke, desperate, unemployed, hopeless, in despair, all that good stuff — and anyway, if there’s nothing I can do about it, why worry?) I have been told that, by merit of being white, I am racist, whether I think racist thoughts, feel racist feelings, or commit racist acts (um, isn’t there a word for judging me based on the color of my skin?).

So, yes, a confession: I did not mourn the passing of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, or any of the myriad of young black men who have been killed in our country in recent years at the level of many of my peers. I did not watch the videos, or read too many of the commentaries, because all I could see or hear were slurs and accusations.

But when five police officers were targeted and murdered in cold blood, at the hands of a vengeful sniper, I was furious. Five men, doing their jobs, protecting those who were taking advantage of their right to peaceful assembly–slaughtered. Five families–shattered. Five lives–ended. Where were the op-eds, the tearful pleas for mercy, the hour-long specials on NPR, for them?

In church today, our pastor listed the names of those who’d been killed in the past week near the end of his sermon, and for whatever reason, I felt released to mourn. I was overwhelmed by the loss of life. The foolishness. The anger. The brokenness. The men who died–all of them–were my brothers, my countrymen, and now they’re gone.

Now, readers, before you get too far ahead of yourselves, know that I believe that police officers have increasingly difficult and dangerous jobs. I cannot comprehend the discipline it takes to put on your badge and go to work, knowing you might be killed for that badge, day after day after day. I commend the police for fulfilling their duty, which is, after all, coming into situations that no one else can handle. Police officers are not paid to make people feel better. They are not paid to be social workers. They are paid to defuse situations that, otherwise, cannot be defused. When we encounter a police officer on duty, we never know what he has just witnessed, and he never knows what we are planning. I certainly don’t mind bending over a little backward, if it helps reassure him that I mean no harm. I still believe that people are innocent until proven guilty. I still believe in due process and in our legal system.

But the fact remains: whatever are the details of each circumstance, it is absolutely true that these are tragedies, worthy of grief. Dozens of lives have been lost in the wake of these deaths, sadness and despair have been compounded, faces have turned inward, distrust has run wild.

Listen, I have no idea what it’s like to black in America. I know firsthand what it’s like to be a minority and to be hated by the majority. But I do not believe that the past–either for white people or for black people–should be an excuse to mistreat each other. I do not believe that the past should have the power over us that we so freely give to it. I do not believe that black people see nothing but a privileged, closet racist when they see me, nor do I believe that white people see nothing but a lesser-than when they look at a black person.

This past week has been painful and has revealed some deep deep scars in our collective American tissue, but I ultimately believe that good will come. Love will win. Light will triumph. I don’t know what to do, how to pray, what words to say. But, holy Lord, I do know that.

After cancer

[Thank you to my friend for allowing me to post this and for correcting some of my timeline and medical errors. Any errors that remain are completely my doing!]

For the last nine months, I have led a mothers’ Bible study at my church. I have been touched and blessed by each of the women in this group in different ways, but this post will focus on one woman in particular.

This woman is currently in remission from lymphoma–a particularly deadly form of lymphoma. She has undergone experimental chemotherapy, radiation, a bone marrow transplant and has come out the other side, a cancer survivor!

Our bumper-sticker-and-meme mentality (and my own naivete) would say, “Great! She doesn’t have cancer anymore! All is well; move on.” And that is exactly how I thought until this past year. People like to mock fairy tales for ending at the wedding and not telling us what the marriage is like; it turns out that cancer fairy tales end at the cure and don’t tell us what the recovery is like.

Recovery, at least in this case, has been a bitch.

This particular friend was pregnant with her third when she found out about the cancer (her older two were one and three), and she decided–after considerable research with a variety of doctors–to try a safe form of chemotherapy. It was safe for herself and her baby; it turned out to be safe for the cancer, too. Her cancer was alive and well when her son was born (also alive and well) five months later.

As soon as her baby was born, they began radical treatment. What the cancer, and the treatment, did to her body, I’m only now beginning to understand.

I was just getting to know about her ordeal when she had her transplant, so I read her email updates as someone trying to piece together all of the missing information. As far as I could tell, after the transplant, she was given a cautiously-clean bill of health. She sent one of those mass emails, talking about all of the things she hoped to do with her family: vacations, birthday parties, and simple things like movie nights that she hadn’t been able to appreciate in years. Her tone in this email was optimistic and excited and full of faith, love, and gratitude for her Savior who had sustained her through this trial.

When I finished reading, I thought, “Great! Glad that’s over!” It was as if I’d drawn a big box around “cancer” and now I could put a check mark through it. I–to my shame–kind of stopped paying attention after that.


Fast forward several months: I am leading this Bible study, where this woman is a faithful and consistent participant, and every week she is asking for prayer. We pray for her hair that is not growing back, her fingernails that are peeling, her skin that is prone to rashes, her immune system that makes her as susceptible to colds, and worse, as a newborn in Target. We pray for her wits every time her husband goes out of town on business, and she’s left to care for three young children who all sleep in their parents’ bed and can’t easily be left with a baby-sitter. We pray for her parents and for her in-laws, who come in from out of town several times a year to help when and how they can. We pray for her husband, who recently–and miraculously–survived a car accident that no one should have survived, without a single scratch; we pray for his leadership and for his encouragement, and we praise God for blessing their family with a man like him at the helm.

We pray, we pray, we pray.

And still, things are not better.

She has gone from Roanoke to New York to Durham to Charlottesville and back and back again so many times, it makes my head spin, and I’m not even the one doing it. Every trip requires plans for childcare (usually that means one set of grandparents coming in), lodging, time off work for her husband, extra prayers, sleepless nights, waiting rooms, and finally sitting face-to-face with yet another expert, all of whom (so far) have told her the same thing: “I have never seen anything like you before. I have no idea what’s going on.” No one can agree on how to safely treat these issues, and no one knows why any of this is happening in the first place–why, when she’s never had health problems before, and the cancer is gone, would she have all of these problems, months after chemotherapy ended and years after her transplant?


There is always the temptation in a situation like this to lose faith, isn’t there? Yes, she’s technically in remission, but she is not well. We’ve prayed for her to be healed and she isn’t healed, so God must not be hearing our prayers. If He isn’t hearing our prayers, how can we believe He would hear any prayers? And if He wouldn’t hear any prayers, how can we believe He is a good God?

And yet, we know that He is a good God.

So what do we do with what feels like a contradiction about God’s character? Why did she get cancer? Why was the cancer healed, only to have all of these new problems crop up? Why can’t anyone give her a definitive answer?

Here’s the secret:

I have no idea.

Nobody knows. People have written really beautifully on this question, bestowing their wisdom, and it is helpful, but it is not an answer. God lets crazy things happen sometimes. Scratch that. God lets shitty things happen sometimes. Really good people are screwed over, and really really bad people are glorified. I don’t get it. I don’t have an answer for you. I do have a few tidbits I’ve picked up from watching my friend:

Cancer is not of God. Ongoing illness that doesn’t show any sign of resolving itself is not of God. Chronic pain is not of God. Respiratory problems are not of God. Confusion in the face of terrible circumstances is not of God. Fear and instability in a child’s life are not of God. Impossible choices are not of God.

Yes, He sometimes lets them happen, but: He. Does. Not. Cause. Them. 

Sometimes, God uses something He hates in order to bring about things that He loves.

Some things He loves that come about: Surviving a cancer that very few people survive. Surviving a full-on bone marrow transplant, which (as I understand it) consists of emptying out your body of all its stuff and then putting new stuff back in and hoping you don’t die in the process. Walking away from a car crash that leaves state troopers and bystanders shaking their head in wonder. Knitting a family together in the midst of illness, travel, uncertainty, and fear. Clinging to faith when doctors are giving you numbers and statistics. Deciding to focus on positivity and optimism in a world that would tear you down without skipping a beat. A community that goes beyond sex, age, religion, geography, and race calling for–no, demanding–a miracle that will make people’s mouths drop open and their hearts turn to God. For Pete’s sake, hosting a Pampered Chef party in the midst of trials, medications, tests, ER visits, school field trips, and business trips!

All that junk from two paragraphs up? That’s what the Enemy does (I know, I’m one of those freaky-deeks who says things like ‘the Enemy’).

You want to know what God does?

God restores.

God clarifies.

God loves.

God laughs.

God holds.

God shows.

God guides.

God listens.

And, absolutely, without a doubt, God hears.