I am a wisp of a girl, all baby fine hair and plastic barrettes that slip down my part, no sooner than my mom placed them, when I learn how stories help us live.
I slip from her lap, from beneath the cover of pages, the refuge of a sturdy book spine, and her steady voice spinning words I know by heart into my ears.
I know every syllable, every word, every story.
But I climb down to explore my world. I don’t want to hide behind my mother’s skirt anymore, my hands gripping her thigh, eyes darting this way and that, on watch for what might be lurking beyond the fleshiness of her body, the safety of the home I know.
The hollow of my mom’s thighs, where I nestle my hips and back into her, rest my head on the concave between her breasts and feel her breath and heartbeat like we’re one again, like I’m buoyant, amniotic. Tethered like umbilicus is my sanctuary.
My childhood books end with a remedy for the ache in the world. For the terrible darkness felt in my tender bones. My mother gathers my body, both brittle and strong, as only a child who’s faced death and lived to tell the tale could be.
She soothes me with her voice, the same one that whispered prayers over me in the children’s oncology ward.
In my books, the dragons lie slain, the princess discovers her true identity, the light wins, the darkness fades.
When the letters and syllables reveal themselves in sounds cobbled together forming words and words fashion themselves into meaning, into familiar plotlines, I spend hours on my belly, head propped in my hand turning the pages.
But it’s not long before my mom lends me dog eared novels from her bedside table. These stories keep company with sadness. They live in the sick hollow of not healed or whole or remedied with a sword or a hero or a shoe that fits. I gobble up unresolved stories that lack the happily ever afters promised me in childhood.
These tales help me tell my own. I realize it’s not only ok but necessary to have stories reside in the tension of a God who saves but doesn’t always heal. Who walks with us when we feel pierced but doesn’t always remove the thorn. A God who promises he can be known but not always understood.
We want the happy ending, we want the after story. But even as all things are being reconciled to Christ, instead of the story of Eden-like perfection, it’s another garden that brings me comfort as I struggle with mental and chronic illness.
I think of Gethsemane where Jesus was in such anguish, he literally sweat blood. The anxiety in his psyche so severe it overwhelmed his human flesh. When he prayed for the cup to pass, but loved us so fully he would obediently drink from it. In this, I saw a God who gets it, who gets me. Who knows what it feels like to cry out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
One of the greatest declarations of our faith is acknowledging when God feels horrifically absent and crying out to him anyway.
It’s difficult to feel God’s love when it feels he’s abandoned us and we’re suffering. Indeed the goodness of God in the face of suffering is one of the eternal questions. It’s left people in terror that God may be no better than us. Petty and irrational, sovereign but not compassionate, kind but impotent, withdrawn and passive aggressive. A God who has gold stars for the ones who get it right and detention for those who fall short.
But Jesus knows the lies we’re tempted to believe about him. His promise to send a comforter who will be with us forever anticipates that our lives will be filled with grief and sorrow, with confusion and cliffhangers. Why would we need a comforter unless he knew we would be uncomfortable? Unless he knew we would need comforting.
I write the reminders of God’s preserving faithfulness, his hand in the depths, never too short to ransom me. And I accept it isn’t always a fairytale ending this side of eternity.
It’s the swipe of Jesus’ sweaty brow, leaving a blood covered hand that trespasses on my sorrow. Sometimes, everything hurts. Sometimes, I have no answers. Sometimes I am living the Psalms, and God feels hidden from me.
God doesn’t “fix” me because of my faithfulness. He meets me because of his.
I bear witness to God’s goodness anyway. Some of us find this impossible because we’re looking only for Eden when we should also be looking for Gethsemane. A God who will enter the dark for us and with us. A Man of Sorrow.