A week ago, I thought I had things under control. My blog post was up on Monday and I’d jotted down thoughts for another two; my upcoming classes with senior executives were planned; my beard was trimmed.
On Tuesday, I ate lunch with a friend I’ve been out of contact with for a while. He gave me inscribed copies of his two most recent books, which I started reading that day. Then, it all changed.
We brought our eight year old, Jopa, to the MD’s office that afternoon. She’d been showing signs of what we thought was an infection. We were wrong. It was Type I diabetes.
One day her pancreas was producing insulin. The next it was not. Her life, and ours, changed forever with the mysterious shutting down of her relevant cells.
She and my wife went to the hospital, where they remained for three days. And, that was the least of it. She’ll be pinpricking her finger and giving herself shots for as long as she lives.
Something similar happened to a parishioner who was healthy and living a normal life on Friday. Saturday, he slipped on the ubiquitous ice, cracked his skull, and underwent emergency brain surgery. He is in critical condition, fighting for his life.
Over the course of my own life, I’ve noticed that God often sends heavy crosses to his especially beloved followers. I used to watch it happen, and wondered why I was lucky enough not to deserve His divine caresses. I assumed that God saw my weakness and decided to spare me His special favors.
What I could never understand, though, is why God would work that way. In the deepest, darkest corner of my trembling soul, I feared that my God was a sadistic lover. He even wanted his own son to die. Why, for heaven’s sake, would He arrange for our salvation that way?
Having been struck with an autoimmune disease three years ago, that has no known cause, no cure, and only the hope of remission, I’ve given the question of why He works the way He works lots of thought.
By faith, I knew that if God wants something, it is good. Consequently, I know that my disease, and now Jopa’s—though an evil, being a defect in the good of health—is, in some larger way, good.
But to know a formulaic answer and to know the truth of it in one’s bones are two different things.
Fact is, I don’t appreciate the way God works, sometimes. I don’t get mad at Him for it. That would be stupid—infinitely more so than getting mad at the snow or the wind, but in a similar way.
Wanting the good the way I perceive it, though, I do get weary.
I imagine that God looks at our questions and reactions to His gifts the way I look at my children when they moan about eating green things, or taking medicine. (Happily, Jopa has been reacting to the new normal like a champ.)
I’ve passed through the “If God only knew what I know, He’d see it the way I do” phase.
What He has granted me through my own illness, and what has prepared me for Jopa’s, is the firm conviction that He knows the grain of sand of reality that I do, plus the meaning of the infinite beach in which it is contextualized.
If only we knew what He knows, we’d know the goodness of what He sends us. We just don’t have all the information, or even the capacity to glean it. We’re like tube radios in a Wi-Fi world.
With respect to our illnesses, and the heavy crosses He sends, generally, I still don’t like His idea of the good—or, alternatively, that His bigger perspective is not available and evident.
Candidly, I don’t want asthma, vasculitis, edema, prednisone, injections, and more side effects than I care to mention. I don’t want Jopa (and my wife) to be burdened with carb counting and shots all of her life. But, knowing that they are good in ways that I don’t comprehend makes them bearable, maybe even lovable.
We probably won’t know how sickness and other crosses are good in this life. Though, I suppose, He might give us intimations.
The lice permitted them to pray, and thus become agents of light in the darkest of circumstances. After the war, Corrie became a world-renowned apostle of reconciliation and love.
In reality, even the lice in a concentration camp were good. Carrie could see that, though the camp claimed the life of her beloved sister and, but for a clerical error, would have taken hers as well.
With this in mind, you may understand my response to a friend who is visiting the Holy Land. She offered to lay special intentions before the Lord at the holy sites while there.
But, God knows that I want to be cured. I’ve petitioned Him a million times, including at Lourdes. Even if I hadn’t, He’d still know. Moreover, so many good people have asked on my behalf.
He knows that I don’t want my daughter to have Type 1 diabetes, or for my wife to be chained to the requirements of caring for her.
He knows that we didn’t want these diseases in the first place. Yet, He sent them for His own reasons, which are good in ways that He understands, but we don’t.
So be it. I will serve. Paraphrasing St. Josemaria, I want whatever God wants, because He wants it, however He wants it, whenever He wants it.
We will raise our daughter to serve (though I’ve started encouraging her to serve in another way: by becoming a research physician who works to cure these diseases).
I sent a note back telling my friend that I’d just like her to tell Jesus that we love him.
Now that I think about it, I should have asked her to tell Him that we accept, and that we pray especially for those friends who pray for us.
In reality, we never have things under control. All of our lives hang on slender threads—on temperamental immune systems, or slippery ice.
We may not understand how it is good when the thread snaps. But, we needn’t be befuddled about why: because it’s good in ways that we’d understand if we could capture more of REALITY, and will when we can.
All things considered, I’d rather face that unperceived reality like Betsy Ten Boom, than the minuscule sliver of what I can see, like an ingrate.
How about you?
Postscript 2/26/14: "Ken passed into the arms of Jesus. His funeral will be Saturday 1:00 at Christ the King. May the peace of Christ be with the family during this time of grief and loss."