Still waters run deep

Life goes on. With or without your consent, reality is reality and there is not much you can do sometimes other than accept it. While the big questions brew and boil inside your head, there is life happening all around you. The children on the lakeshore. The parents' 40th anniversary. The new niece born. The school year starting.

Busy brings quiet to the mind. It's my go-to coping strategy, and probably the root of my workaholic personality. If your life isn't great at the moment - make someone else's better. If you're down, help someone else up. If you're confused, take refuge in the things you know for sure - medical facts, how to get a whole class of students laughing, story-weaving, making time for grand adventures with the kids.

Every joy may feel stolen, but even stolen joy warms the heart. The title of a favorite song drifts through like a theme to my late-summer days: "swing low, sail high". But there’s no one who/ 
makes it all come true/ Just altars gathering dust while we bow to them.

Cancer is haunting me again. The semester is packed and I don't want to take time to deal with the bad stuff. I'd rather plow through pretending than get stopped up by the knowing. I put cancer away like a bill I can't pay and paste a cardboard smile on until I've once again turned my mind by the upturn of my lips. The doctors are threatening with scary possibilities like "lung metastasis" and "nodules on x-ray". I am ploughing through my 2nd round of pneumonia this year, brought on by a simple summer head cold, and they can't complete the testing until I am better. For now - breath deep, ignore the wet cough and bloody phlegm. Keep assuring people I'm not contagious. Keep on teaching, keep on writing, keep on keepin' on.

My counselor texts me, "hang on for those four babies." And so we travel to Lake Superior, climb haybales, have crazy family movie nights, go skinny dipping in the dark, drive to the corner store on a whim to pick up ice cream and candy. We visit parks and go to sports camps; celebrate birthdays and milestones; soak up the whole great green earth with wonder.

Doubt has settled like a cloud of mist, impenetrable. In my careful deconstruction, I have reached a point where I have to choose again, almost like a child, who I will be. Which parts of myself I will reject or suppress. Which parts I will encourage and fortify. Who am I? What do I believe about myself, others, the world and it's suffering, the God I've been taught to love and follow?

It only comes in flashes, faith: looking out over the vast blue of Lake Superior, it settles as quietly as a butterfly on a bud. Certainty. Paired right with the only verses in the New Testament addressing homosexuality, there is a clarion call for all, whether they've been introduced to the Christ or not: "ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God." (Romans 1:20)

There is a host of memories I've long cherished of how I've seen the divine hand in nature. Yet right now they all seem to end in a question mark: was it really God, or was I just fulfilling my own prophesy by seeing things from just the right perspective? I would be lying if I didn't say that I am struggling to make sense of faith right now. God, once again, seems punitive and brutal, like he seemed to me when I went through life's hardest times as a teenager. I ask myself, do I believe to make myself feel better? Do I believe because I was taught to do so? Is God so wound up in my worldview and way of living so as to be inextricable? What if I had been born elsewhere? Would I still believe in this God? Can I stop believing if I want to? Is it possible that God is much bigger than the Bible he inspired? Why didn't he stop my suffering if he loves me?

I never dreamed I'd be here again in my 30's. I thought I'd put these questions to bed in my 20's. Certainly once cancer hit. God has felt so real to me for so long! And now he does not feel real any longer. I find myself stammering as I pray the verse that carried me through the last season of doubt: "Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief." (Mark 9:24) A song whispers alongside the hesitant prayer: "I'm still alive, but I'm barely breathin'. Just prayed to a god that I don't believe in."

I long for a voice in the darkness to ring True and silence these doubts that plague the soul and spawn despair. I cling to those things in my life that I believe are right, sacred. My marriage, my children, my family, my work, my students, my colleagues. Perhaps in their shining faces I will someday once again see the very face of God.

If you knew that you would die today
If you saw the face of God and Love
Would you change?
If you knew that love can break your heart
When you're down so low you cannot fall
Would you change?

How bad how good does it need to get?
How many losses how much regret?
What chain reaction
What cause and effect
Makes you turn around
Makes you try to explain
Makes you forgive and forget
Makes you change

If you knew that you would be alone
Knowing right being wrong
Would you change?
If you knew that you would find a truth
That brings a pain that can't be soothed
Would you change?

Are you so upright you can't be bent
if it comes to blows
Are you so sure you won't be crawling
If not for the good why risk falling
Why risk falling

If everything you think you know
Makes your life unbearable
Would you change?
If you'd broken every rule and vow
And hard times come to bring you down
Would you change?
~Change, Tracy Chapman (sent to me by a true new friend) ~