I’ve been away from blogging for a bit; really dealing with life’s other travails which have been vast of late. I have found my self yet again in the place where events are unfolding and I am struggling; again in the deep chasm that is the space between the peace of trusting god’s plan and the thrashing about place of wondering, “Why?”
When life is painful, we always ask Why? Why me? Why are people so cruel? Why is this happening to me? Why is god giving me so much to bear? We stomp our feet at our perceived unfairness of it all and scream in the middle of the night, “Why? Why do I have a deck with 50 cards and everyone else has 52?” Why do bad things happen when you try hard to lead a good life? Why?
Buddhists offer that suffering is inevitable and placidly note that if we humans could just accept that tenet instead of fighting it, our life will be a whole heck of a lot easier. I will admit that I have often found myself in a big ole giant pity party with my boys Ben and Jerry as the consummate dinner guests, but I will up the ante on the Buddhists and say not only is suffering inevitable but it is also the space where the answers and growth hides. I think it’s where god is doing his best work to be honest, but admittedly suffering is just easier to swallow along with a mouthful of Mint Chocolate Chunk.
Candidly, it’s the “while the suffering is happening” part that is agony. It is hard to get all happy and see it as a gift coming down the pipeline cause it sure doesn’t feel all giddy like waiting for Christmas. It’s hard to feel excited about the destination when you are lost in the forest and you don’t know which way to turn and it’s scary and thorns are pricking you. When we are knee-deep in the suffering and the “Why” part of it, it is hard to remember that god does have your back. They say the world is unfolding just as it should, but in those dark moments I will be the first to admit it’s tempting and easy to call bullshit on that theory. And whine. A lot.
It took me many years to understand that most events are bigger than me. I can be pretty bossy and like to think I know what’s best. In fact, I firmly believe I can make things go my way by sheer will. Consequently, I spend a boatload of energy tacking my boat and adjusting the sails. But alas, without fail, I wind up spending a lot of my time feeling like a big fat failure when my efforts result in my boat going in exactly the same direction it was to start with, despite what I thought was an infinitely better path for me.
But now, I have grown old. And I have lived through a heck of a lot of “Why” time in my life. I have indeed lived myself into at least some of the answers. Answers that may as well have been written on the bottom panel of the pint of ice cream; answers found only after that spoon scrapes the last bits of “Why” out, the equivalent of a frozen fortune cookie.
Here it is.
God has your back no matter what, and he knows better than you. He has this thing worked out long before you even thought, obsessed or agonized about it. He knows “Why.”
Because I am old, I have lived long enough and through enough travails to reach the other side and arrive at this answer again and again. I have lived to see that if A (All that shit) hadn’t happened, then B (the Because) wouldn’t have happened, and life would never have been as sweet. Abundant, tasty peace is found in that “Aha!” moment of getting it… as we swirl the last bit of the sweetest cream in our mouths and suddenly say, “Oh!” We see the answer, clear as day, at the bottom of it all; it reads, “Because.”
But yeah, the wait time is pretty sketch, the “Why” time feels like a bucket of slugs raining down on you. And it’s hard to be grateful about slugs in your ice cream. It’s okay to say it feels yucky, but it’s not okay to feel that god has forgotten you, or has some how screwed up the plan and you need to fix it. Your job is to only pray that god gives you wisdom and strength to accept and see and walk the path he lays out for you; you know, the path to finding more cream. You are merely on a stepping stone to that end. If you sit and cry here, it is harder to get up and keep momentum and keep moving.
I always pray for wisdom in these times. I have become a gal who never prays for particular outcomes, just the wisdom along the journey to do the right thing. And strength to walk the path. Being an anxious person who worries with my decisions,I also pray that the right path will become apparent. The last thing I do when I turn out the lights before sleep each night is ask God and Mary (cause she was a mom in many a pickle too) to help me make good choices for me and my kids. Before my feet hit the floor in the morning I again pray that same prayer, just a simple, “Help me do the right thing today, god, show me the right path. (And gosh darn it, please get me through the Why without gaining ten pounds.)”
It doesn’t always work.
In fact, sometimes these daily bookends of good intent don’t last more than two minutes after my feet hit the floor. But it does remind me, “Amidst the noise and haste” to quietly put my head down and listen; listen to the gentle pulse god sets as the pace for my life. God isn’t a flashing neon sign; he’s not a yeller or wave his hands in the air kinda guy. He’s the quiet, in between the noise of life kinda guy, a lot like Mr. Rogers I imagine. It’s hard to hear when there is noise, and harder yet when I am the one making all the noise when trying to speed up the tempo by banging my drum.
Last year, my son began the college search; I hoped we would find probably not “the perfect college,” but a college that would be a good fit for my outlier son. He’s a different kinda kid-very bright, very talented. But he’s like an orchid who needs a particular kind of greenhouse to thrive…no, strike that, he is more like a cactus, solid and strong needing certain warmth to thrive. So, we traveled up and down the east coast looking for that particular little desert oasis.
When I was a kid, there was this liberal arts college in Ohio that marketed to my high school. I liked it but I knew I likely wasn’t smart enough to get in, yet Kenyon has always remained on my peripheral radar through the years. So when my son went to a college night where six liberal arts schools including Kenyon presented, I was interested to hear what he thought. He said nothing, as he had his eye on another school that presented.
Time wore on and my worry grew because I have seen how this child lit up and shined in a school that fit, and have witnessed that light get extinguished in the wrong place. I continued to pray that God help us find the right path.
That fall, my son attended a book reading and signing event by his favorite author John Green. A future writer himself, my kid was delighted with the night and with the signed tour poster he brought home. John Green is a bit of a cactus himself I suspect. In the fall, my son also wrote and submitted a play manuscript to a local theater contest.
The college search wore on and applications were finished…incrementally; a Herculean task with senioritis running interference. By that time he really had his heart set on one college he had visited, and he was sure it was a fit. In fact, the interviewer for that college had loved him, and had sent me a private note to tell me so. Honest, I wasn’t really sure it was a such a great fit, but it was the closest we had seen to a hexagonal hole for this hexagonal peg. I kept thinking a better fit was out there, but we just hadn’t found it.
Now, my son is much, much smarter than me (not wiser, just smarter.) He is the kind of kid who tests well and as a result, colleges noticed him. Our mailman needed a wheelbarrow to get the slick glossy view books to us each day, but one day a simple letter came from Kenyon announcing that given his SAT scores he could apply to the school for free. This was, I swear to you just a day before the application was due. Now mind you, Kenyon is very selective, and he had not interviewed or even visited there, something we were told was essential to admission.
I vividly remember that night as he started to descend down to his man cave, stopping him and saying, “Why don’t you get an application into Kenyon tonight, its free!” He was not happy with me; but did so really, well, because I made him do it.
And then the wait was on. Let me tell you, for neurotic parents of seniors (of which I am one) early spring is an sloooowww motion stretch where you envision that in some stuffy academic, dark paneled room as the sun streams in and the particles of dust float about, a gauntlet is falling determining your child’s destiny (only you don’t know it yet.)
It is unnerving to know that they know your child’s future long before you do.
While I obsessed about admissions and prayed, my son kept writing. Well. He won that playwriting contest and had his manuscript put into production. He kept hammering away at the literary journal he created at his school, hand sewing and binding each one. He kept encouraging other kids to write and to contribute.
Finally the day came when we knew admission letters were beginning to be sent out. The very first one to sail through the mail slot was a giant white envelope with a purple “thumbs up” on it from Kenyon. He was in, and they had never even met him.
The next two weeks were a blur of Why. A myriad of admissions from lots of schools that were not really super fits, some waitlists, and a couple of polite “We regret to inform you’s.” On the last day, a waitlist notice came from his top choice. He was devastated; honest I was devastated for him….this was a very sad and hard time at the ranch, a time filled with so many Whys? Why did this happen? We were lost.
The next morning, I will admit I did call the admissions counselor at the top choice school (the one who had loved his interview) to get the info on the odds of the waitlist. I will admit too, that I secretly wondered if they had made a mistake. She asked where my son had been accepted and I told her Kenyon. Silence. I could hear shuffling of feet and her office door shutting. “Lauren,” she whispered, “I’m not supposed to say this to you, but your son belongs at Kenyon; even if he had been admitted here, I would tell him to pick Kenyon. She said, “It is the perfect fit for him and it is the holy grail of schools for writing and English.”
Because there were still a lot of choices before him and a waitlist hanging out there like a pathway if he was just able to hop over the fence, those weeks were filled with a multitude of prayers on my part that the right choice would become apparent. We sent letters to top choice school advising them that it was still in fact his top choice, and to show continued interest as we were told it helps. We went back for second visits to some, and then, we went for a first visit to Kenyon.
As we climbed to the hilltop and arrived at this beautiful oasis of a village in the middle of a corn field, I knew right away it was a place where my lil’ cactus would find his people and thrive…but the decision was his and he was undecided. I watched him come back to life that night as we ate dinner, as his grief broke and he slowly began to envision a different future and began to look “over there.”
I’d like to say the path was clear after that trip but it wasn’t. The next day, we had a not so great tour of the school to be honest, and once again the water muddied and path clouded. There were lots of other choices, lots of paths on which to proceed still out there, many closer to home; many with compelling financial reasons to attend. There were still Whys about the top choice and there was still an agonizing waitlist making it harder to commit to a new future. Even if by now it seemed Kenyon was a great fit; I worried with what he would do; what was the right thing to do if the other school admitted him now in the final hour.
I kept praying that god would make the path apparent.
And then, it started to unfold. Some schools just naturally fell to the wayside, or some pivotal thing happened that eliminated them. But Kenyon just kept bubbling to the top every time we turned around. Like a dry riverbed being flooded, it just got better and better each day with all we read about the school. I went to visit a doctor and discovered as I waited and examined his diplomas that he was a Kenyon grad, and he told me how much he loved the school. My son got his advisor assignment, the editor of the Kenyon Review literary journal. He got a great roommate assignment, and he got into an oh so desert-like-atmosphere of a pre-orientation writing workshop. I started to wonder how it was we had missed this school when we looked, how it had remained under the radar.
Finally, I kid you not, on the morning of his high school graduation I drove him downtown to drop him off for rehearsal. It was raining and we were both quite a bit sad about him leaving such a great high school with a still uncertain future. As I pulled up in front to where the volunteers for the event had parked, he told me how the other kids had decorated their caps with their college choices for the ceremony that night. As we sat in the gloom in the car, waiting for a break in the rain to go in, the wipers swooshed the blur of water away and we looked up at the car parked in front of us. It had a vanity plate that said, “KENYON81.”
That night, I watched my son get his diploma; crossing the stage proudly sporting a newly crafted purple Kenyon thumbs up graduation cap.
Later that night, another parent took me aside and told me how much it meant that my son had encouraged her daughter to write, and how he had boosted her child’s confidence…helping her find her way to who she was to become.
Days later god, like a gentle usher pointing us “this way please,” finalized the plan. The waitlist closed. At that moment, I realized that months ago, my child’s destiny had in fact been decided; not in a stuffy room of admissions board members, but by god, and that there was nothing at all unnerving at all about that notion. And indeed, my prayers had been answered with a of trail of little purple ribbons tied to trees along the way, showing us the way.
While my son had quietly gone about the course of his day, doing what he did best and helping others do their best, the world had unfolded just as it was supposed to, not in spite of these efforts but likely because of these efforts. And while I frantically worked to control the suffering and Why of what was happening over here, god was working his plan over there, completely under my radar.
Living in the Why made the Because so much sweeter.
In a warm and brilliant white-light-room, with a yellow number 2 pencil and spiral notebook paper, I imagine God in a little plaid shirt and khakis working out our plan. And he never has to use the eraser. The plan was decided eons ago, sometimes even 30 years ago when we were in high school ourselves. But that is what trusting god is all about in the Why moments.
Why, you might ask?
Because god doesn’t make mistakes.
He’s got this. More than you could ever imagine, he’s got this. When you ask, “Why?” he always answers (admittedly sometimes in the long way around it) “Because.” And when Because happens, it makes more sense than you can ever imagine and peace washes all over you; yep, he’s got this.
I have an old curled up quote on my fridge that says, “God has only three answers to prayer, ‘Yes,’ ‘Not yet,’ and ‘I have something better in mind for you.’” I think a lot of the “Why” times are answered with the last response. But I would change it to read, “Because I have something better in mind for you.”
When we simply pray for wisdom (and strength) to get from Why to the Because, he guides us; even despite our best efforts to control it and veer off course. Our part of the equation is that we really just need to quietly go about the course of our day, synching our tempo to his, and giving the world the best we have in the meantime because sometimes, unbeknownst to us our small action (such as volunteering at a high school graduation) is a little purple ribbon on another’s path.
Yes, Why is inevitable, but so of course is Because. That is what faith is all about Charlie Brown.
Gratitude, the “Oh yeah I get it now!” part happens only when we let go of our grief, when we let go of the uncertainty and Why and begin to envision a different future, and consider a new path.
Gratitude comes wrapped in “Because.”
There’s this old joke about this guy on his roof and his town has flooded. Water is rising and a rescue boat pulls up to get him and he refuses the rescue saying, “No! My God will save me!” The water is now licking his feet and a helicopter comes, and he refuses the help again saying, “No! My God will save me!” Finally, he is waist deep in water as the last rescuer comes and pleads with him to get in the boat. The man he turns him away and says, “No! My God will save me!” He drowns, and as he enters the pearly gates he come up to god and says, “God, I believed in you and was faithful, why didn’t you save me?” And god (puts his pencil down and) says, “Whataya mean? I sent a helicopter and two boats!’
One day, just weeks before he left for college my son emailed me a link to a video interview. He was clearly surprised at what he had discovered that day, and sent it directly to me. Whoever had posted the link on the internet had entitled it, “John Green is Super Adorable Talking About (his Alma Mater) Kenyon.”
And the book tour poster now hangs in his dorm room, in the middle of a corn field in Ohio.
And my cactus thrives in that oasis.
Gives every bird his worm, but He doesn’t throw it in the nest.
“And the peace which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 4:4-7