Sometimes believing, sometimes pretending

The sky is a black void pebbled with stars, swept with the Milky Way's belt, like a chocolate cake gilded in gleaming white sugar sprinkles. Moonless and magical. It's been a day of feeling off, just a bit cranky, from the moment I woke up to my son's UFC style cuddling in our predawn bed to the hours spent editing powerpoints for the 39 hours of lecture I have to prep for in the coming month.

The stars hanging in still life bring the chaos to a halting stop, and the last breath I took is held in my lungs for a moment as I stand, hand in hand with my two youngest children, looking up, up as far as the naked eye can take us into the question marks of the universe.

They're tired for once, these late night children I've bred from my own insomniac bones, and the house goes still. Aaron and I pop in a movie, one to match my mood, The Gray. It's one for Aaron, all action, hunting, man against nature, survival. But deep in the plot are threads that pull at the frayed edges of my own: a man with a gun-barrel in his mouth; a poem about the exhaustion of putting up yet another fight to live; the poignant flashbacks to moments with a wife who died of cancer.
I break, just a crack this time, not into a million shards of shiny glass like I might have months or even two years ago. I stutter out the words, how I know the taste of rifle bluing. How I struggle with the exhaustion. How I fear abandoning this man I love to raise our children (can he do it? How can it be possible that I would watch from heaven without tears?).

I crawl into the familiar fetal position, knees to chest, my face still in the inner panic of the moment. And he, this Lover who abandons me not, folds himself into a warm parenthesis around my ache, diffusing the sorrow that I feel all the way down to the morrow of my bones.

My list of questions flows brittle, jumpy like a Jack Karouac poem up to God, silently, questions from Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Isaiah. A prayer from Revelation (come, Lord Jesus, come!) that ever more often finds it's way to my lips. And with the doubts, I've by habit paired the words of the desperate father in Mark 9:24: Lord, I believe! Help thou my unbelief!

How can I long for life so deeply that it threatens to break me in two, yet struggle not to give up in those moments of utter exhaustion when the very last thing I can do is fight longer and harder and for who knows how long?

How can He say that these are "light and momentary troubles" (2 Corinthians 4:17)? How could Paul, watching his comrades burn at the stake, run from lions, hide for their lives, starve in poverty, rot in prison? How is that light and momentary? Does He see our family? Does He see the struggle at dinnertime with Amelia (please just eat one bite of toast, I beg you child). Does He feel the heart flipping and leaping and pounding relentlessly in my chest throughout the day? Feel the blood drop from head to feet in one giant waterfall, and see the stars and hear the thunder in my ears and feel my knuckles whiten as I hold on for dear life so as not to lose a job, or knock something over with my head, or, God forbid, stop breathing during class or clinical or in front of my dearest, beloved children? How do we grasp eternity in the face of this compelling portrait of everyday gall?

How can He say there will be no tears in heaven? How can He make life so utterly beautiful, even in it's wretched brokenness, and say that we will not miss it even enough to cry? How can He paint such a shattered and desolate backdrop to the very aching resplendence of our lives here on earth?

Does He see my daughter quaking on the floor, froth on her lips, vomit on her t-shirt, excrement and urine rising putrid from her 6-year-old jeans? Does He hear my silent prayer for her life, hear my tears as I hold her until she stills in my arms and wakes? Does He know that I know that I cannot take care of a 40 year old daughter who soils herself and cannot drive or work? Has He prepared me for this, is He preparing me for this?

There are days all I see is the sovereign. The Judge on His seat, behind the bench, the finality of that gavel ringing in my ears. There are days I see only glimpses of mercy in between the God who says He will not tempt me beyond what I can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). Why would a loving God tempt me at all? Is all this character building worth the blood, sweat, tears, vomit, poop, messiness, gut-wrenchingly hard work?

There is a moment in The Gray when the main character, desolate, alone, and hopeless, throws his head back to the heavens, an admitted atheist, and pours out his anger and his cry for help to the empty gray sky. There is no answer. He stands, and says, "I'll do it myself." He cannot wait five minutes for an answer from the God he does not believe in, trust, or wait on for rescue.

Sometimes it feels like I am calling out to an empty gray sky. But what are my alternatives? Whether He answers or not, whether I understand His will and His actions or not, I have only two choices: hopelessness and unbelief, or to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

And herein is the hard road of faith: the waiting through the long, dark night, for the next time you see your baby smile, and you glimpse God again. Those glimpses of sight that light our path like gifts doled out for the moments when we need them most, reassurance when we are about to give up and give in. For those who cannot wait for His rescue, who give up on the God who often seems distant and even not there at all, the smile of the baby is just another coincidence. But for those who have made the thousand choices to believe when all evidence is to the contrary, we see the handprint of the Great One in the smallest nuance of life. The smallest victory. The shortest moment of joy can redeem every long season of grief and disbelief. All that teetering on the shrouded path suddenly becomes two feet planted once again on solid ground.

I stare into her eyes, limpid. She doesn't know the hard path of faith. She is only six, and can barely understand seizures and brain injuries, and pooping her pants. She doesn't know she was the light today that brought me back to the path, relit the fire of faith somewhere deep inside. For her, her sisters, her brother, her Papa, I walk once more into the fray. However the road may twist or turn, however heavy the gray storm clouds are that shroud me from the face of God, I will keep putting one foot in front of the other, sometimes truly believing, sometimes desperately pretending that at the end there is a heaven where He will wipe away every tear and say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." (Matthew 25:23)

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What questions plague you in your daily walk with God? Do you find the daily practice of faith difficult? Do you struggle with disbelief?

Linked to A Pause on the Path's On Your Heart Tuesdays