an odd both/and: gratitude/grief

It started Thanksgiving 2012. My parents-in-law’s best friend was dying; he died, too soon, shortly thereafter. My father was diagnosed with cancer on my birthday. My daughter had a mysterious hand infection that puffed her hand way out no matter what medication we gave her, and we wound up in the E.R. for overnight antibiotics, while one of my dear friends was in the hospital next door struggling for breath. She died a month later, way, way, way too soon. And that was only early January.

There were 3 more E.R. visits for my daughter. Two back surgeries and resulting recovery times before my father could get treatment for his cancer. Both are doing well now, but there was persistent worry in a corner of my mind all year.

There was complete lack of movement in getting my David and Saul novel closer to being published: no requests for a full manuscript from any agent I queried. None. No professional interest in the picture book project I’m working on with a friend. I was turned down for a job I would’ve been really good at. I didn’t get enough volunteers for a church thing, so had to scrap some plans that would’ve been good for the kids. I’ve never been rejected so many times for so many things in my life.

My children each had struggles where they haven’t before, some of which are ongoing. My husband’s heavy work schedule continues to wear us down. I’ve read maybe half the number of books I normally do; after my friend died, I just didn’t have the urge. Insomnia. Anxiety. As the year went on, my hermit tendencies have become even more entrenched.

But this has also been a great year.

When you’ve cried with people, and you’ve shared grief, you’re closer to them, so I’m closer to a lot more people than I was a year ago, even some I’ve known for a long time. We made some real friends at the new church. I’ve given some good encouragement to dear friends. I got through the Old Testament in my devotional reading (finally!) and done some good struggling with and resting in God’s promises. My faith is deeper than it was a year ago.

My children have had also triumphed, and I’ve gotten to stand up and cheer for them. My husband is doing really good work, both for pay and for fun — and he’s writing songs again! I’m taking a dance class again. A class for which I will get to perform in a recital (a phrase that makes me giggle).

The fine folks at One Faith Many Faces gave me paid work and thought enough of my writing here to want to rerun it on their site. I went to a small writer’s retreat, where I met some fine writers, reconnected with an old friend, and got some much-needed encouragement. There has been some other paid work, some guest posts on other blogs (on prayer and dance), and some wonderful conversations here. I am grateful for every person who’s read my writing — that means you. Thank you.

I’m grateful, but also deeply frustrated and sad, often about the same things. So I wrote something about Thanksgiving for my friends at One Faith Many Faces (they’re the ones who gave the post it’s awesome title) that I needed to hear — something all of us who are feeling both gratitude and grief this year.

Some years, you’re so full of gratitude that it seeps out of your pores and suffuses everything you do.

Other years, the idea of spouting words of gratitude seems so wrong as to almost feel offensive.

Sometimes, those are the same year.

A tough year can bring out your gratitude to God for being with you through it all – but lurking behind every item of thanksgiving is a great big but. The Psalmist knows what that’s like:

Please continue here to read the rest of Thanksgiving is a great big but.



Go Ahead, Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out

Good riddance to you, 2012.

Not that you were all bad. I started this blog, which (this 3-week break notwithstanding) I’ve really enjoyed. I finished the first manuscript in my David and Saul series. I read a number of really good books. I took many great trips with my family. My children are thriving. I laughed a lot.

But I also cried. A lot. This has been a year of too-soon deaths, cancer diagnoses, scary health issues, church angst, lack of success in my publishing journey, and personal issues I’m despairing of ever turning the corner on. And compared to some of my friends, I had a pretty good year.

This doesn’t sound related, but I think it is: I’m annoyed with the Old Testament. In my goal of reading the entire Bible, I got from Psalm 116 to Isaiah 37 so far this year. Lots of great stuff, but also so many promises to be faithful and all will go well with you. “Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him and he will help you” (Ps. 37:3-5).

Which sounds great. But what if you feel you were a pretty faithful servant (given your usual failings), yet things did not all go well? Was I just not faithful enough? Not trusting enough? Not delighting enough? Can I ever be faithful or trusting or delighting enough to earn things going well with me?

Phfft. Of course I wasn’t faithful enough to “earn” no strife and no difficulty and no pain. There is no such thing. I’m a New Testament gal, with New Testament expectations that I will suffer, but that God will be with me in my suffering. Also, I am living safely in the land and I am prospering in many, many ways. There’s nothing like complaining about emptiness for making me realize how full my life is.

That’s what my head tells me. But my heart has been reading the Old Testament for the last three years, and has stored up all those promises. So my head knows that it is very, very, very hard to get traditionally published, but my heart cries out, “I’ve felt God’s hand on me and on this project from the beginning, how can it not be happening yet?”

This is similar to the difference between my 3:30 p.m. brain and my 3:30 a.m. brain. My 3:30 p.m. brain can take an issue and look at all the sides of it rationally, and recognize a good course of action. For example, it can take a loved one’s cancer diagnosis and look at the current research and agree that waiting and seeing is a right thing to do. But my 3:30 a.m. brain is incapable of this, and it swirls round and round in an ever-tightening noose of fear and anxiety. I’ve been waking up at 3:30 a.m. a lot this year.

So the more I argue with myself (OT vs. NT, 3:30 a.m. vs. p.m.), and, by extension, with God, the simpler my prayers are getting. They’re more basic. Not much more than, “I’m sorry,” “Help,” and “Thank you,” with a few “Wows” thrown in for good measure. Which is why Anne LaMott’s latest book, Help, Thanks, Wow, is so timely for me.

I will end this whine with her words (from p.27):

If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.

That feels so hopeful to me, more hopeful than promises of victory over my enemies, or reward for my faithfulness (such as it is). I am so ruined. I am so loved. I am in charge of so little. Help. Thanks. Wow. And (because I cannot shake my Calvinism), I’m sorry.

I’m going to try to start the new year by nestling these terrible truths and those simple prayers in my heart and in my brain — both the 3:30 a.m. and p.m. varieties. Maybe that’ll help me stop arguing with myself and set me free to really go after my heart’s desires.

How about you? How was your year?