Category: Theodicy

Purpose – Five Minute Friday

“It helped so much when I realized it all has purpose,” I said.

“So God destroys your life because he has a purpose?” Z asked.

“No. God doesn’t throw us down the stairs to break us into shards that He can fix,” I said. “But when life breaks us, He uses the shards to make something beautiful, if we let Him.”

“If God is all powerful, He can prevent the destruction,” Z said.

St. Mina - Coptic Icon“Yes, He could,” I said. “But He doesn’t. He doesn’t stop people from doing wicked things. He doesn’t stop nature from being broken. He rarely suspends the laws of creation to protect us from the consequences of a broken world. Our freedom, even when we break the world and destroy each other, is more important than protecting our lives and dreams.”

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“How can you insist God loves you when He didn’t protect you from all the horrible things that happened to you?” Z asked. “He could have at least given you a replacement family that loved you. You’re lovable, you know. My mother would have taken great care of you.”

I nodded, “He could have,” I said. “But that would have interfered with Siobhan’s and the minister’s freedom. God doesn’t interfere with our freedom even when we do evil things, even when we shatter other people into tiny shards. But He does pick up the shards and make them into beautiful mosaics.”

“It would be better to be whole,” Z said.

I nodded. “I’ll never be who or what I would have been if my Grandpère hadn’t been killed, or my parents, or if I had lived with people who loved me. I’ll never be the woman who wasn’t raped or abused for most of her childhood.”

“But it’s okay because God has purpose,” Z said.

“No, it’s not okay. What makes you think it could ever be okay?” I asked.

“You’re don’t make sense” Z said.

“Even though it’s not okay and will never be okay, my life is good and beautiful. When I step back, I see glimpses of the portrait God is making with my shards. I’ll never be the unbroken glass I might have been if people had chosen good instead of evil. But their choice isn’t the final word. God has the last word and my shards are already more than I could imagine.”

“So you don’t mind being broken to bits?” Z asked.

“Most of the time, I’m too busy discovering the depths of the portrait He’s making,” I said. “I still hurt but my life is also filed love and joy and the knowledge that the hurt will eventually be healed. It’s like pain management but better. The pain’s hasn’t disappeared but it’s sufficiently healed so that I can live abundantly and the pain has given me purpose, even though it’s not the purpose I would have had. I’m happy to be my shattered and reworked self.”

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On Friday (and occasionally Saturday if Friday is filled with an excess of other activities),100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

(I’ve not made a Five Minute Friday post for some time but this prompt segues into something I’ve been writing in my mind and it’s time to get it down.)

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Worth Something – Assignment 6

our-lady-of-sorrows-1

Even the painful things are worth something

“He used to say, ‘I’m doing the best I can,'” I said staring at the icon of Our Lady of Sorrows above Dr. Vogwall’s head.

“Was he?”

“I never thought so before,” I sighed looking down. “But now…” My eyes returned to the icon.

“Yes?”

“His best was deficient, but it would still be his best.” I longed to press my face into the folds of Mary’s blue mantle.

“It would,” Dr. Vogwall said.

Mary’s eyes encouraged me to say more.

“If it was his best,” a tear threatened to spill onto my face. I sniffed it away. “If he did his best,” I sniffed again, “no matter how deficient, it’s worth something. Don’t you think?”

“What do you think?”

I took in a deep breath, “I think it must have some value.”

“What does that look like?”

“I don’t know.” I scratched my head and glanced up again at Mary, “Must I be able to quantify it in some way? Isn’t it enough to know there was value even if I can’t delineate it?”

“We’ve talked about the problems with abstractions,” he sighed.

“Yes. I need to be able to see reality.” A tear ran down my cheek, splashed onto my charcoal grey skirt leaving a tiny damp spot that slowly disappeared in the knitted wool. “He saved my life.”

“Tell me about that.”

“He interfered.  When I kept trying to kill myself, he distracted me.”

“Brutally,” Dr. Vogwall said.

I nodded my head, “I was taking more and more pills. Eventually, I’d have succeeded,” I sighed. “I was so busy fighting him, I forgot about killing myself.”

“You weren’t willing to let him do the job?”

“Precisely!” I sat up straight in the chair. “I could kill myself but I’d be damned if I let him destroy me.” My eyes sought the tears on Mary’s face, “He engaged my stubbornness subroutine,” I said in a small voice. “That’s worth something.” More tears tracked down my cheek. I lowered my eyes to Dr. Vogwall’s, “Fighting him, I learned to fight myself. That’s worth a lot.”

“You think that came as a result of him doing his best?”

“I think his best was absolutely crazy and exactly what I needed.”

“But he didn’t know,” Dr. Vogwall replied.

“So?” I asked. “I get credit for so many things I do thoughtlessly or instinctively. Everyone does. Shouldn’t he?”

“Should he?”

“Yes,” my head nodded in agreement. “If I get credit, he should too.”

“So the cruelty doesn’t matter?”

“Of course it matters. It was horrible. But things can be horrible and necessary at the same time.

“Dr. Vogwall, I would be dead if not for him. He saved my life and,” my face crumpled, tears flowed, “I’m grateful to him for that.” My hand flew up, covered my mouth but the words had already escaped. “I never thought I’d say that.”

“Do you think he wanted to save your life?”

“No, he wanted to control me, to own me. But it’s like Joseph’s brothers — the minister meant it for evil but God meant it for good — my good.” I sniffed and wiped away tears. “I wish he had taken it for his good too.”

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Assignment: In words and/or images, compose a piece grounded in the possibility, distant as it may be, of hope and reconciliation.

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All Along You Were Trusting Me – Assignment 3

Beloved,

Rage. That was the worst thing. Seeing Grandpère murdered was brutal but the rage that flooded my soul was worse. Ditto Ti Eduardo’s murder. And being raped. And Marmar’s and Papa’s murders. And the neglect and abuse by the minister and his family. And all the abandonment. None of that compares to the rage.

I have so much rage. Rage against myself, I tried to commit suicide so many times. Rage against others, I tried to kill the minister.

He survived only because Charles was inept. Had I been old enough to get drugs, he would have died. But all I could do was use my voice and words to convince Charles to kill his father. When he stirred the contents of the capsules into the milk, I assumed it was a lethal dose. What does a nine year-old know? I was so full of arrogant rage, I would make the horror end.

And all along You were trusting me. Me!

All along You were trusting me to bring my heart with it’s huge load of arrogant rage to You and let You heal me. I deserved to be zapped out of existence. I’m dangerous. Look at the way I treated that security guard. He said I called him ‘a leech, a lowlife, and a non-entity.’ I didn’t call him any of those things but I made him feel that way. He crossed the line and I crushed him.

I ought to have loved him. You love me so much. I ought to have loved him even though he was being a jerk.

When Jesus is in our handsNow You have me praying for the soldiers who murdered Grandpère and Ti Eduardo. Last week, I wanted them dead. Today, I pray but I’m not trustworthy. The arrogant child who wanted the minister dead, who wanted the soldiers and whoever murdered Marmar and Papa to die still lives within me. She’s old enough to know murder is wrong but there are other ways to annihilate people. (Remember Cade?) On some future tomorrow, I will probably try to annihilate someone else. And You will still be trusting me.

You take immense risks. That’s the way You are. This is part of Your plan. This is You putting Yourself in my hands letting me choose whether to crucify You or be crucified beside You. I hate pain!

(This does make beautiful, horrible sense. You get us to love the unlovable by using what You’ve given us. You use the curiosity that has helped me survive in this crazy world. And You make me indebted to murderers and abusers because praying for them leads me to love them in ways I would never imagine.)

You shouldn’t trust me.

Please. I may not be curious about whether an enemy will see me in their children’s eyes. I may go on fuming about some slight and not attend to You showing me how I was rude and annihilating. I’m not worthy of Your trust. The ugliness in my soul is the same ugliness in the world; I so want to make the world in my image. And I only want the salvation of those who cross the line when You hold my feet to the fire. You are not safe in my hands.

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The assignment is to write about something that is both beautiful and horrifying, sustaining and devastating.

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The War Room – Assignment 2

The War Room

Litigation War Room

“What?” I asked though a congested sniff.

“I need the coatings files,” PJ asked.

I ignored the pleading in his dark eyes and shut the door. A moment later I cracked open the door, handed him the files, and shut it on his, “Thank you.”

“How is she?” Andy asked. They stood just outside the door.

“Her face is red and swollen,” PJ answered. “She’s crying.”

“What’s wrong with her?” Andy asked.

“She doesn’t say.” PJ sighed, “The war room is more than her office; we need access to the documents.”

“She gives us anything we request,” Andy replied.

“But we can’t work in there, not when she’s like this.”

“I don’t care,” I hissed. “Let them just try to find someone else who can understand these documents and reconstruct a nuclear power plant’s project manual. They need me.”

My lips and forehead pushed themselves out. A tear trickled from the inner corner of my right eye. I wiped it away before it reached my cheek.

“There’s nothing more to say,” I hissed. “It’s up to you.”

I returned my attention to locating valve coating specifications amidst documents detailing lavatories and parking lots. The image of Grandpère’s body flung against the wall. Blood oozed from the hole near his heart. I pushed it away.

“This is crap!” I hissed. “They’ve just dumped everything all willy-nilly!”

I turned my mind to sorting out case-relevant files. Blood obscured Ti Eduardo’s face as he lay in the hallway. Soldiers glared at Marmar and me as we walked to the flowery sitting room. I shook my head and pored over the pages on the screen.

My head lifted and I spoke aloud without thought, “”Why?!” My voice bounced off the table, the metal shelving and door. “Why did You let…”

I can’t say that, I thought. I know the answer.

“Why did You let me see that?” I amended. “Why? Free will is paramount, I get that. But no child should see that and You know it!”

Silence resounded in the room damping even the sound of my deep, snuffly breaths. The Voice broke through: “Your grandfather’s and uncle’s lives were worth no more to Me than the lives of those who killed them. Your parents’ lives were worth no more to Me than the lives of those who killed them. Your life is worth no more to Me than the lives of every other person I create.”

My head snapped up. I was in Grandpère’s study again, three years old and also an adult dressed in the same full black cotton skirt and green and white striped, linen shirt. I felt Marmar’s hand on my shoulder holding me back.

Grandpère said, “It needn’t be this way.”

The commander spoke; I could not hear his words.

The soldier tensed his finger on the trigger.

An infinity of seconds passed between Grandpère’s words and when the commander spoke. An infinity of seconds passed between the command and when the soldier applied pressure to the trigger. My mind flashed back to the command, to the soldier applying pressure. I looped back again. The smell of gun powder and blood filled my senses; I was caught in the loop.

My chest heaved. I took in a deep gulping breath, the breath I had so often taken after swimming the length of the pool under water. Fat tears rolled down my cheeks.

“It didn’t have to be that way,” I said aloud. “They could have made different choices.”

The loop replayed more slowly.

“They must have seen me,” I told my Friend. “They must have known a child was there. Didn’t they care?”

My brow furrowed. I tried to see inside first the commander’s thoughts then the soldier’s.

“Didn’t they realize what a horrible thing they were doing? Even if they thought Grandpère was a criminal, didn’t they realize what they were doing to a child?”

Silence replied.

“Did either of them have a little girl? What would they have wanted for her?”

Silence suffused the space.

“Oh God! they were so wrong, so foolish. How could they not see the repercussions, the hurt? How did they not see that someone might do the same to them, could shred their children’s souls? In Latin America, that happened over and over.”

My words lay upon velvet silence. The loop began to unwind again across the screen of my heart.

I winced as the soldier tensed his finger. He was so young. The child lingered in his eyes, mouth, and chin. My voice asked, “Did they ever change? Did they ever regret what they had done? Did they ever repent?”

Great longing welled up inside my chest, spilled over into tears, “Please tell me they repented? Please?” I begged. “They can’t have spent the rest of their lives so cold and hard, so unfeeling. Please, let them have become human again. They were once little children too.”

Velvet silence responded.

“Please Lord,” I begged. “If it’s not too late, please let them repent. Please restore their humanity.”

How can you pray for them? the slick voice that had once taunted me at Mass intruded.

“I don’t care!” I cried out. “I must see them again!” The fathomless well within me burst. Tears washed words from my depths, “I must tell them that I forgive them. They must know. Oh God, please don’t let it be too late for them.”

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E is for Earth is Earth

“Who would do such a thing?” Caroline demanded of me. She stooped next to the console table that held her stereo sweeping up bits of broken pottery from a small blue and white porcelain plate. The stereo was gone.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Someone broke into the house,” she told me as she chased down the remaining shards.

“How awful!” I replied. I glanced through the kitchen at the back door. “Where’d they break in?”

Caroline stood up and pushed heavy red waves of hair off her face, “I left the door unlocked so the girls could get in.”

E is for earth is earthThank You, I mutely told D’Abby. As much as I loved the dark polished floors and gilded furniture, I was thrilled to have moved into an apartment that though it required renovation had locked doors.

Sneaker clad footsteps sounded in the hall overhead. Farrah clomped down the steps as she announced, “My TV’s gone. Adhita’s boom box and camera are missing too.” She halted in the dining room doorway, “Ma! Why didn’t you just lock the door?”

“You girls lose your keys. I get sick of you breaking the windows.” Caroline espied more pottery shards and bent to corral them.

Thank You, I prayed again.

“Who’d do such a thing?” Caroline demanded looking up at me.

“Burglars,” I told her with a shrug.

“But why would burglars come into my house?” she asked.

My initial response remained unvoiced, Because the door was unlocked. I said, “That’s what burglars do,” Farrah nodded in agreement.

“I need my things,” Caroline whined. “I don’t have money to replace them.”

“Burglars rob poor people too,” Farrah said. I shrugged in agreement. “We should just lock the door,” she added.

“When I was a girl…” Caroline began.

Farrah interrupted her, “You never locked your doors. No one ever broke in.”

“That’s right,” Caroline told her. “That’s the way a neighbourhood is supposed to be.”

Farrah eyes caught mine. I let out a low, controlled sigh.

“Ma,” Farrah answered. “We don’t live in the country. We live in New York. There are projects four blocks away.”

“I shouldn’t have to lock my door. We’ve never had any trouble before.”

Farrah sputtered. My eyes widened.

“I thought you’d been robbed twice in the past,” I blurted.

“Well, yes…” Caroline began.

“And didn’t you rent to that man who was wanted for burglary and rape? Wasn’t he convicted?” I demanded of her.

“Yes,” Caroline admitted and then brightened, “But he didn’t rob us.”

I quashed a snort.

“Burglary was his job,” Farrah told her. “He didn’t work at home.”

Caroline looked up at me. I nodded.

“It’s earth,” I told her.

“What do you mean, ‘it’s earth’?” she insisted. “You say that but I never know what you mean.”

I released a sharp sigh. “Neighbourhoods aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. There are burglars and children who lose their keys and unlocked doors. So bad things happen.”

“But I didn’t do anything to the robber,” she whined.

“Robbers rob,” Farrah replied. “They don’t say,” she continued in a low, hollow register, “‘I won’t rob Caroline and her kids because they’re good people.'” Her voice returned to its accustomed contralto, “They look for houses that are easy to rob and just steal.”

“But I’m a Christian,” she insisted.

My forehead wrinkled. My head shook, “It doesn’t work that way.”

“Ma,” Farrah interjected. “Robbers don’t care if we’re Christian.”

“They should!” Caroline seemed about to stamp her foot. Farrah and I exchanged another glance.

“You mean everybody else gets robbed?” I asked. “But Christians get a free pass?”

“Why not? What good is that… What do you call it?” She waved the broom in the air as if she could sweep the words onto her tongue. “Abundant life,” she nodded. “What good is it if there’s no abundance?” She held the broom and dust pan before her like a sword and shield.

“You only get abundant life if earth is earth,” I said. “When some stranger has invaded your home and your stuff is gone, abundant life means the losing doesn’t define you. Mistakes don’t define us. God does. And you know you’ll be okay because Christ holds you and the whole, crazy world in His hands.”

“I want my stuff,” Caroline insisted.

“I’m sorry your stuff was stolen,” I replied. “It’s horrible. Why not call the police?”

“They’re no help,” Caroline said. She shook her head. “I need to make dinner,” she said carrying the broom and dust pan to the cupboard. “Why don’t you stay?”

“Sure,” I replied.

Help her D’Abby, I prayed.

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Answered Prayers

In 2005, Beth Holloway’s daughter, Natalee, disappeared while on a school graduation trip in Aruba. Holloway traveled to Aruba to search for Natalee and

[o]n her fourth morning …found a taxi and asked the driver to take her somewhere to pray. ‘He pulled over and there was a large white cross, and he told me to get out of the car, and as I did, I walked to the cross and just fell to the cross on my knees and just started crying and begging and praying to God to give Natalee back,’ she says. ‘I got up, and I went to next cross, repeated my same prayers and dropped to my knees and kept praying and crying and begging for God to give her back.’

“After days of searching for her missing daughter, Holloway says she was in unbearable pain. Though she was unfamiliar with the Catholic tradition of the stations of the cross, she instinctively went from cross to cross, each time seeking an answer. Finally, on the fifth or sixth station, she found one. ‘Complete peace blanketed me, and in that instant somehow I then knew that Natalee was with God, and I knew that he had cared for her through whatever ordeal she had encountered that night, and that’s when I became at peace,’ she says. ‘When my grandmother was always saying, ‘Lay your burdens at the cross,’ I got, at that point, what she was saying. I laid the burden of caring for Natalee at the cross. The work to find out what happened to her had to be done, but the burden was taken from me.'”

Nearly two years ago, a reader asked me “how could God be loving and let Helen die?” Helen is Phronsie’s friend in Margaret Sidney’s The Five Little Peppers Grown Up. When Helen contracts diphtheria, Phronsie prays that God will heal her and is convinced He will. After Helen’s death, Phronsie determines “it wasn’t nice of [God]” to take Helen away. She tells her sister, Polly: “‘Helen was happy here …And she never–never would want to leave her mother alone, to go off to a nicer place. Never, Polly.‘” Phronsie is right. Helen was happy with her mother and never would want to leave to go to a nicer place.

5th station

Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry The Cross

Natalee Holloway loved her family and never would want to be murdered even to be with God. And certainly, God did not want Joran van der Sloot to murder her. Van der Sloot chose to commit that evil. Yet God did not stop Him. God allows an enormous amount of suffering and pain both natural and man made. And when we pray for relief, He often allows evil to continue though Jesus promised, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” If He wants us to believe in Him, ought not God keep that promise? Isn’t John 14:13-14 is a simple equation?

Request + In Jesus’ Name = Jesus gives us what we ask so that the Father will be glorified.

Except “in Jesus’ Name” is not like π. It’s not a constant Christ gave us so that we’d be able to avoid the evils in this world. Nor is it a talisman that wards off the van der Sloots or tsunamis or disease. Instead, “in Jesus’ Name” is a promise that we will pray as Jesus Himself prays, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Less than a day later, Jesus was crucified because His crucifixion and all that followed glorified the Father.

We have been given the grace to pray as Jesus, our King, prayed. But we’re like infants, making much noise and still unable to speak for ourselves. We nearly always pray from fear and anxiety, in blindness and desperation. But when we pray in Jesus’ Name, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.

When I prayed to go home, pleaded for the return of my family, begged God to undo the horrors that had overwhelmed my life, I didn’t know I was asking Him to remake all of reality just for me. It never occurred to me that I could never be whole or free unless I was willing to be whole and free in a world that can be horribly painful. If He must rework the world to make me happy, then I don’t love Him, I only love what makes me feel happy. God becomes my fantasy, my story that I can manipulate and rework to my own liking. If God is God, then He must be faithful and worthy of my love even when He doesn’t do as I want, as I know I deserve. Margaret Sidney knew that and so Helen dies. Natalee Holloway remains murdered because God is God.

But Beth Holloway has peace because Natalee is with God who “had cared for her through whatever ordeal she had encountered that night.” And I have happiness and am learning to accept an experience of home that is not what I knew when my family lived; God cares for me through my ordeals and will continue to do so even when the final one culminates with death.

He is the God of answered prayers, prayers that the Holy Spirit refines and utters in a language very few ever learn this side of heaven. Even when God does not give us what we want, He answers our prayers. The losses are real; we don’t go skipping away wreathed in smiles after being lashed by the evils of this world. We do walk on able to live in a world that too often feels like hell. We walk on knowing that the answers Jesus gives us heal us and glorify the Father. Those answered prayers help us carry our crosses as we walk on to heaven.

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Why: Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

John C. Wright’s Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus is a heart wrenching, joyful tale that has little to do with the original and everything to do with God’s answers to our prayers even when they include pain. It is worth a read and worth sharing:

Why is there pain in the world? If I could bring God here, and find a judge to judge between us, and force him to answer  — then I could punish him for all this pain!”

He raised his hand. “Touch the hem of my robe. Come, and see.”

Why?

The assignment this week asked us to use an excerpt from a previous scene and “write a new and rich description of the world that surrounds this text.” I took an excerpt from “Good Times,” my assignment from last week.

persian carpetMmmph. Mmmph. Mmmph. I drag heavy feet across the reds, golds, and blues of the Persian carpet. My head is down but my eyes don’t see the multi-sided, geometric patterns that so neatly fit thick-soled Mary Jane and then the other. I stop when I reach Papa and place one of my small, tan hands on each of his knees. His breath smells of warm, spicy tobacco. Peppermint too. His trousers exude the fragrance of tweed that has only recently dried.

I try to grasp one of the pale, beige cilia in the fabric under my fingers. Head down, intent on the elusive fiber I ask his knee, “Why did my Grandpère die?”

Papa places one strong index finger under my chin and raises my face until his icy blue eyes meet my dark brown ones. He flinches at my pouting, quivering mouth.

The rustle of silk fills my ears as Marmar flies from the grey wing chair leaving her embroidery on the table under the floor lamp. She sits next to Papa, reaches over his arm and places her hands on my shoulders turning me until our eyes, identical in their darkness, meet.

“He died because it was time for him to go home and be with God.” She places equal stress on each word. She uses the voice that says, ‘I want you to understand.’

My mind sees a soldier in a stiff cap, another in an olive green cap with a bill, a gun. My nose smell hot, metallic sulfur; my ears hear explosions that deluge Grandpère’s white study and fling him against the dark, polished, wood chair rail.

“No,” I shake my head. The words spill out, “God didn’t take my Grandpère. Soldiers shot him.”

Marmar pulls me against the soft hazy blues of her dress; I breathe in the comfort of her musky perfume.

“Yes. They did,” she tells me, her voice soft, singing, as if she must speak this awful mystery in the cadence of her native Portuguese. “But when he fell, God was right there to catch him.”

My lip quivers. Tears puddle in the corners of my eyes, spill down my face. Papa pulls me onto his lap. My lips, pressed tightly together, struggle to dam the words.

Words burst out, “I don’t like God.”

Papa pulls me close against the softness of his yellow, ribbed vest. I bury my tears in the strength of his chest; he holds my shaking body and murmurs softness into my heart. Marmar’s gentle hand strokes sleep into my short curls.

Good Times

Though I planned to post my work from last week, writing the same scene from two different perspectives, I want to give it another pass. In the meantime, this week’s assignment asked me to write of characters who remember the same experience(s) differently. Your comments are desired:

picnic in Bristol“We had good times when Mummy was alive,” Claire mused as she lay out two rows of honey wheat bread. She took ham, sliced cheddar, mayonnaise, and mustard from the refrigerator.

“Yes,” Eve responded dreamily one elbow leaning on her mother’s old Formica kitchen table. “But then she got sick… and died.”

“Mel,” Claire turned from a kitchen drawer holding the small spatula. A wide smile lit her face. “Do you remember the swings? I used to push you and you’d call out ‘Higher! Push me higher!'”

“I remember,” I told them. “There were picnics with olive loaf sandwiches and potato chips.”

“Weren’t those good times? Remember the zoo in Bristol? And the grape vines and olive trees in Gard?” Claire sighed, “We had the best picnics there. That was the best summer.”

“We should’ve stayed in Bristol,” Eve said. “We could’ve lived in Bristol with Mummy’s cousin. We’d have been happy but…” Eve’s voiced trailed off.

“But she wouldn’t leave. And even when she did, she didn’t take us.” Unshed tears highlighted Claire’s hazel eyes. She scooped out a shiny blob of cream colored mayonnaise with her spatula and spread it on the bread.

Eve stood, retrieved a six-box, shrink wrapped package of raisins from the cupboard and placed them in the basket. “Mel, when were you happy?” she asked.

“Me?” It was a squeak. “Never.”

“But there were good times,” Claire insisted her voice raising almost an octave.

I shook my head, “No. Not one day, not one moment when I was happy.”

“But you were happy when I pushed you on the swings,” Claire insisted.

“No,” I shook my head again. “Sometimes I escaped for…” My forehead rumpled. “A few seconds? Maybe a few minutes? But it was always there.” Tears threatened to leak out; I blinked them away. I hid my face, looking down at the scrubbed, yellow table top, where we had all learned to peel potatoes, helped to make biscuits, picnic sandwiches, and birthday cakes.

“What?” Claire asked.

“The hurt. I always hurt,” I said softly.

“Don’t you remember anything good?” Eve pleaded softly.

“Swimming, dancing, horseback riding, books — those help. But, no.” I shook my head,

“Nothing?” Claire asked.

I did not answer. The small kitchen grew silent except for the soft sounds of Claire arranging meat, cheese, and pickles.

I looked up at Eve, ​”I remember when he beat you. Your blood was all over your blue uniform blouse. Blood everywhere. So much blood…” I closed my eyes against the red tide.

“Why did Grandpère die?” my fingers picked at the roughness of Papa’s brown, herringbone tweed clad knee.

Marmar leaned over and placed her hands on my shoulders turning me to face her. Her dark brown eyes gazed intently into mine, “He died because it was time for him to go home and be with God.”

“No,” I shook my head. “God didn’t take my Grandpère. Soldiers shot him.”

He flung his hand out towards me, towards Marmar. Marmar’s hand gripped my shoulder. I was all eyes, absorbing a world that had changed with a thunderous Pop-Pop-Pop-Pop-Pop in the hallway; Marmar’s grasping fingers had prevented me running to see. Soldiers lumbered through the dark, wooden door of Grandpère’s study. The first wore a stiff cap, the second an olive green cap with a bill. Grandpère spared a rapid glance at Marmar and me standing on the raised area in front of the built-in bookshelves.

The first soldier spoke. Grandpère spoke. My forehead wrinkled at the rushing sound; their lips moved but I could not hear their words. The first soldier spoke again. The rushing sound still filled my ears. Voices had been sucked out of the room. The soldier in the olive green cap took a dark grey gun from the holster on his belt. He pointed it at Grandpère. His finger pressed a lever. Two immense explosion filled the room with the smell of rotten eggs. Grandpère’s back slammed against the white, plaster wall. He slid onto the floor. Blood gushed from his chest. His pale blue cotton shirt grew red with the hot, thick…

“Yes, they did,” Marmar’s replied in her soft, singing tones. “But when he fell, God was right there to catch him.”

My lip quivered. Papa pulled me onto his lap. I buried my tears in the softness of his grey wool sweater. My shoulders trembled as Marmar’s fingers stroked my curls.

“Mel!” Claire demanded.

But how could there be so much blood? It’s supposed to be inside.

I shook my head, “Huh?”

“Where were you?” Her tone was accusatory as if she’d caught me doing something shameful.

My forehead creased, my eyes narrowed. The image of blood across pale blue cotton, the scent of damp wool, slender fingers caressing my hair receded behind the dark, rubbery barrier. I shook my head again.

I blinked in the sunlight streaming through the sheer curtains. “The sun’s out,” I told them. “We can go for our picnic.” I stood and began placing wrapped sandwiches in the basket.

“The sun’s been out for five minutes,” Eve told me.

“Oh,” I shrugged.

Eve and Claire shared a glance.

“You know,” Eve told me, “It wasn’t that much blood.”

I blinked at her, my forehead crumpling again, “There was blue cotton soaked with blood, so much blood.”

Eve’s face was puzzled. Claire looked as if she longed to tap the side of her head and tell me, ‘You’re crazy.’ As I packed, silence again descended on the room.

“That’s why you don’t remember any good times?” Claire blurted out when I had finished with the basket.

“No!” my voice was an angry squeak. “I don’t know. I hurt. I always hurt.”

Tears welled up and threatened to spill. I sniffed and ran to the bathroom, fumbled with the handle, and made it inside before the tears broke free. I rinsed my eyes and face with warm water, then cleaned the tear stains from my glasses. Before replacing them, I looked at my swollen red face in the white-rimmed mirror.

There was blood, I told my Friend.

Image source: http://www.westcountrycottages.com/tag/national-picnic-week/

Sin – Five Photos, Five Posts – 3

Ice cracking Photo-by-Jerry-DaykinNot too long ago, I found myself complaining to God because other people’s sins had cost me a great deal of money. A young friend of mine took on the responsibility of raising her nephews and niece and needed an attorney to help her gain custody. I had the funds and offered to help. As the months passed and the bills mounted, I became frightened and a little fractious: Why should I bear the cost for the sins of people I don’t even know?

One day, when my friend was visiting, a breath of sanity blew through the room. I looked at her and realized that she is the one who is really facing the cost of these sins – she and the children. She will be caring for her nephews and nieces for the next 20-plus years, long after I’ve recouped my expenses. Those kids will bear the scars from neglect, abuse, and abandonment, scars I know only too well. My meager contribution was tiny compared to the cost of the fallout from sin that they each would pay. I remembered that I had offered to help precisely because I too have born the cost of sins committed by others.

That’s the way sin is. Its cost is enormous and affects more people than we can imagine. Sin is like the first crack in the ice on a pond that branches out until the solid surface is a mass of small islands that can safely support no one.

One lie makes it easier to tell another and then another. When we are bombarded by lies, we no longer know the truth or who is trustworthy. We find ourselves on shaky chunks of ice, floating farther and farther apart. Buying drugs keeps the dealers in business. More crime is attracted to a neighbourhood. Eventually, it destroys the quality of life for everyone. How many children are killed in drive-by shootings each year? Adultery destroys families, unsettles the foundations of children’s lives, destroys trust, affects future relationships. Every sin is like that with perilous branchings and breakages. My sin overlaps yours, together, we break and cannot mend.

At times, I find myself in conversation with atheists, anti-theists, those who are fed up with God and am often asked, ‘Why is there so much suffering in the world?’ Sin is the answer. We don’t see the patterns of destruction sin traces in our lives. We don’t see how one sin leads to another and then to another. But I have long believed that my childhood was filled with opportunities for people to choose something other than sin. The soldiers who killed Grandpère and Ti might have chosen not to commit that sin. What other sins did they go on to commit? The man who took me from the park sinned. When he raped me, he sinned again. Had he not committed the first sin, would he have committed the second? What madness did the minister invite into his life when he chose to claim me for his own rather than follow the law and call the police? What does it mean to decide that another person is an object for the taking? And what of the sins I have committed, do commit? How do they make it easier to go on sinning. (I can certainly attest that it was hard to break myself of lying or hiding out because I was afraid to face someone. Choosing sin makes it easier to sin.)

Christ forgives our sin if we repent and I do hope to meet those who sinned against me in heaven one day. But forgiveness doesn’t repair the cracked ice. We break it and usually we can’t fix it. Often, we have no idea how big the crack is or how to repair it. Sin gets passed on. Those affected by sin must choose whether to accept it as an opportunity to obey God or to disobey. We can open our hearts, wallets, and homes as my friend is doing. We can turn away or push someone else off a chunk of ice that seems bigger and sturdier so as to ensure our safety; we can either obey or disobey Christ’s commandment to love as He has loved us. But God is never to blame because our “tiny” actions have far reaching consequences.We are more powerful than we realize. Obedience is more powerful than we know. And disobedience is devastating. We need only look at the many places in our lives that ought to be solid but are constantly being broken apart. My choice to obey won’t heal everything but it will heal some things and is part of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

* Image source: http://thehockeywriters.com/the-winter-of-discontent-hitchcocks-precarious-throne/

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