Monday, June 14, 2010


Well. It seems that people are out there. Who knew?

I started wondering a few days ago whether I should re-open and rename this blog: Desert Year and A Summer Later. I suppose that's too much of a hassle; besides, at the moment, I like how the title looks. I think that we can just accept that the first year or so of grief does not much resemble a calendar year.

I have a whole jumble of things to explore over the next whatever time. Maybe some of them, here or there, will be meaningful to someone else. I know that a number of the names I see in the comments to the last post represent people reeling from unfathomable losses. Let's see . . .

Still dealing with the, ummmmm (how can I put this charitably?) . . . oblivious I mean unformed among us:

Those reading my new, non-anonymous blog, know that I took a class on theologian Miroslav Volf this past spring. One evening before our weekly meeting, I emailed my professor, described the specific ways in which the reading assignment for the next day had tormented me, and asked him to please leave me alone if I had nothing to say in class. He responded with a compassionate email of his own. As it happened, the class the next afternoon moved along without incident until about the last twenty minutes. At that point, one of the young men began to talk about the issues to which I had referred in my email the previous night, and proceeded to pontificate about God opening a window whenever God closes a door, and about our obligation to help those who are suffering to focus on the window rather than the door. It was quite a lengthy soliloquy, going on for several minutes. Obviously this young man has not experienced God's slamming, bolting, and gluing a door shut with no window distributor in sight. The professor stole a look a me, but I was absolutely silent ~ mostly because the only response I could think of was to knock the guy out cold. Since our primary class topic was reconciliation, I thought that I should restrain myself.

I am working on this matter of how to teach people to respond appropriately to the pain of others without being too pathetic myself. It's a challenge.

Yet another transition:

This business of having finished my M.Div. is tough. Lots of questions. I have been wondering a lot whether I went back to school too soon. I still think that it will be years before I understand what it might have meant to be in seminary during this period. I continued to pile up the As, but I certainly could not appreciate what I was learning as I might have had I been in another frame of mind. Does that mean I appreciated it differently, and will use it differently, in ways that are meaningful? Or should I just have stayed in bed? That's where I am right now, and it seems like a good place to be.

And now what? Given the Presbyterian call system, no one is pushing me into the next thing. As far as I can tell, despite all of the time, energy, effort, and money that have been invested in my theological education, I could simply drop off the radar screen without anyone uttering a sound. We have committees that are supposed to keep track of us, but the initiative is entirely with those of us moving from one hoop to another. It's a bizarre process and a surreal situation.

The challenge of a child's death by suicide:

I have read and been the recipient of an awful lot of advice to the effect that God is always present, God strengthens you through suffering, God can transform even the worst into . . . something, blah blah blah. I could believe all of that about most things, at least if I were the only person concerned. Although I have at least two good friends who have had cancer whose response, and I believe I am being accurate and precise here, would be, "Bullshit." And even if I am correct, the cost is too high. As I said in one of my classes one day in which the discussion centered on what we gain through suffering, I probably became a far stronger and more independent and resilient person because of the early death of my mother than I would have otherwise. But ~ and leaving my mother's own well-being out of the equation entirely ~ I would be glad to have been able to trade the aforesaid strength and independence and resiliency for the chance to grow up with a mother.

All of the above, however, fades into complete irrelevance when one is faced with the death of a child by suicide. Where was God, or God's strengthening or transforming power? I am actually coming, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, to some thoughts about that, but they are not obvious or easily digested. We'll see.

Finding meaning anyway (finding God in all things):

Finally ~ sigh ~ perhaps this will be the main topic of the summer. It's a hallmark of Ignatian spirituality, this finding of God in all things. But, as that 80-year-old Jesuit friend of mine says, "First you have to find God in some things." Working on it.

It's that matter of trading, again. (Would it surprise you to know that I once made a good friend cry during a game of Monopoly, when I ruthlessly traded my way up to all hotels on the Boardwalk and Park Place side?) The truth is, I can see God in many things these days. And I would trade almost every single one of them, including relationships which are precious to me, for my son's life. The whole board, all the properties, all the cash, all the houses and hotels ~ you could have every last one of them.

It is very hard to get used to seeing God in things you would willingly trade away and trying to figure out if God is in other things that you cannot see or grasp.


I wonder how this is done ~ this survival thing. It seems that, 21 months into it, I have no idea at all.


Mompriest said...

Yesterday an Islamic woman gave a presentation at the church I am affiliated with. She said that Muslims believe that God ordains some people to "have" and others to "have not," some people to "give" and others to "receive." She has a severely autistic son (he was present) and spoke about the struggles to parent this child and yet see it as what God has ordained her to do. That God gave her this because she was supposed to or could provide.

For a brief moment I thought, maybe I would find comfort, or at least purpose, in the direction my life has gone if I believed that God had ordained it. And that by living into that which God had ordained would guarentee me a place in heaven. (I think I got it right, what she was saying.)

Mostly, I think, the only thing I am learning from all of this is how to live a life of struggle without becoming bitter and somehow continuing to believe that there is a God who cares. Of course I may ultimately fail in that. Nonetheless, I think Jesus has already guarenteed me a place in heaven.

Anyway. I look forward to reading and thinking about what you have to say and what you are thinking about....somedays this is what helps me keep on going with a little bit of grace.

Joan Calvin said...

Thanks for coming back to this.
I had written a long response, but you already know (I think) what it was and I want to listen to you and let you know I am here and love your courage in being who you are and letting us share your struggle with your loss.
(And anytime you want to bitch about CPM, you know where I am!)

Presbyterian Gal said...

I believe surviving is something that happens in spite of our best efforts. No matter how guilty we might feel for continuing to put one foot after the other.

Kathryn J said...

There is really nothing anyone can say. Yet we rush to fill the silence and struggle to find words that don't exist. I would like to be of some comfort yet know that is not possible.

In my mind, I walk with you. I think of you when I pray. I think of Josh. I don't know how you do any of it but am glad for your blog in that I can walk with you in this space.

Mary Beth said...


Magdalene6127 said...

It will be a privilege to continue to walk this path with you. Much love.

Karen said...

I always think of the Coldplay lyrics, "Nobody said it was easy, nobody said it would be this hard". Deep longings, deep questions, few answers, yet the conveyor belt of life moves forward with us on it. And we still have to get up each day and piece together a life that no longer makes sense knowing that others have it even worse. I say,
"Come Lord Jesus".
I still hurt for you all the time.

Cynthia said...

I just can't thank you enough for sharing all of this. I've wondered more than once if you hadn't already started working on your M.Div before your son's death, if you would or could have taken this path.

Gannet Girl said...

MP, I can't say that I would find any comfort -- in fact I am horrified by -- the idea that God would ordain a life of suffering for anyone. That God is present in such contexts -- yes, I can buy that, even when my experience tells me otherwise. That God offers us gifts that help us transcend such pain and, ultimately, serve others out of what we have learned, yes. But never that the God who invites us to "Choose life" would select us "to have not."

Gannet Girl said...

Cynthia, would you believe that that question never occurred to me until this morning, reading your comment?

Somehow I can't imagine that I would have gone on to start something so huge and overwhelming if Josh had died first. But once committed . . . .

MikeF said...

Still praying, GG, but you knew that...

karen gerstenberger said...

I'm glad that you are back here and wrestling honestly "out loud." I love it when you say exactly what you feel - it's so illuminating and it makes me feel less alone.

I know just how hard it can be to listen to the "bullshit." (One of my dad's favorite words, and one of mine, too.) I had an "episode" at a friendly dinner last week that has resulted in "non-speakers" with an old friend. It's just too hard to listen to people sometimes. Good for you for not cold-cocking the guy in class; I would have been tempted. I don't want to be mean and snarky, but really: I'm menopausal and grieving, and sometimes it's just DIFFICULT.