God and I have a strange relationship. I don't call often; he rarely returns my messages. We exist as any other dysfunctional family, estranged parent and child who seek each other only in times of great need. Sure, we get together on special occasions: holidays, funerals, global crises. We exchange polite pleasantries interspersed with uncomfortable pauses in the dialogue, the quiet thick and heavy like the morning fog. I don't know how things ended up this way. We were close—once.
We grew apart. He lost interest, tired of me always calling upon Him to satisfy my every whim and fancy: Please, God, let him call me. Lord, help me lose these last 10 pounds so I can fit into my jeans. God, if you help me get this job, I promise to never ask for anything again. Dear Lord, let the plane take off safely. I'm not ready for the end. These pleas seemed innocuous, harmless requests for my maker, yet time and time again, He met my requests with a blank stare. He refused to answer. I waited, paced the years searching for His response. The line between us screamed with silence; He just wasn't there.
In my early years, I believed in the miracle of God. Each night, I knelt in reverent prayer, my tiny hands clasped at my chest, eyes upturned to the ceiling, whispering my devotion into unseen ears. I imagined His domain existing just beyond a blazing horizon, meadows filled with smiling sunflowers stroked by fingers of sunlight, crystalline waters tumbling from hilltops crusted with diamonds of dew. He sat atop His throne of thunderheads, white hair flowing, folds of his golden robes unfurled like the ocean's endless waves. Souls congregated at His feet, seeking passage into Heaven. He obliged all who came to Him, drawn from the weeds into the warmth of His love, fulfilled their every prayer, if they followed the rules, professed their devotion, welcomed Him into their heart—how absurd.
God is no hero. He's fallible. He works too many jobs in order to make ends meet. He forgets His children's names, buys birthday presents two weeks too late, forgets it's His day to carpool. Like any other overworked parent, His ability to meet all needs for His family falls well short of their expectations. In turn, his children resent Him, defy His rules of the home in an effort to gain His attention, fill their hearts with hatred for Him. The relationship deteriorates. He hides Himself away from the animosity while the children indulge in every desire He warned against in their early years. They spew words of discontent and aggression that find their way to Him: "He's a terrible father. He's never here for me. I raised myself while He remained absent from my life. I never really knew Him." He lost control of His family long ago.
I, too, cursed His name. Suffering through a difficult adolescence and an unfavorable start to my adulthood, my faith deteriorated at a continual pace. Where I once held God in the highest regard, by the time I reached my thirties, He existed as little more than a passing thought. I went through the motions of "proving" my devotion, attending church on the obligatory holidays, saying grace before meals, wearing my grandmother's cross around my neck, but these acts of faith were nothing more than empty promises to a false idol. I had more important things to do than waste my time talking to someone unwilling to listen. I stopped searching for God, certain he abandoned me.
How could I trust an entity that allowed havoc to reign: food bank shelves empty as Tutankhamen's tomb, Catholic priests subscribing to Man Boy Love Times, wooden boxes entombing soldiers' shoveled remains,fourteen year old runaways sitting in tarred shadows, violated in every way, animals crawling down from desiccated mountains in search of food, severed clitorises of Afghani girls bathed in acid, angels clinging to tall buildings, choosing jump or tinder. I was convinced He was a charlatan who preyed upon the weak, using their need to find good amongst the ruins as means to ply their affection. He was nothing more than a snake oil charmer peddling vials filled with empty promises and lies to leagues of unfortunate souls gullible enough to believe in the smoke and mirrors.
More importantly, how could I find trust in one who continually turned away from my pleas? I knew He watched with indifference while I stumbled about in my search for a perfect life. Did He chuckle when we filed bankruptcy? Did He enjoy watching me sit by my father's bedside after suffering another heart attack, the bleat and whine of the machines my only companion? Was He chastising me when my husband and I moved our family to Arizona for a new job, only to return to Colorado a month later, tails tucked between legs, after realizing we made a huge mistake? What about when my husband couldn't find work and we lived off of our maxed out credit cards for months, selling almost every possession in an effort not to end up on the streets? I spent endless days begging for His mercy, a release from the hardship and pain. Forget about the suffering of others, what about mine?
Never did I feel more forsaken, however, then when I discovered the truth about my eldest daughter, Kamy. After years of struggling with unseen demons that stole the light from her eyes, she was finally diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and Bipolar I disorder, offering us an explanation and validation for our struggles. The feeling of satisfaction was fleeting, however, as I faced the prospect of caring for a chronically ill special needs child for the rest of my life. This was my proverbial last straw. How dare God burden me with more adversity? Had I not already seen my share of strife?
I took to the streets in protest, absolving my faith for all to see. Why should I adhere to the tenants of belief in a god who had no use for me, an erroneous spirit who demanded so much but gave nothing in return? My family and friends encouraged me to cling to my faith: "God will help you through this, Janna." "Pray for strength." "God does not put upon us that which we cannot handle." Bullshit, I thought, what do you know of my pain? I'd heard this montage of vacuous phrases too many times. Obviously they were not as familiar with God's dabbling in the dark side as me. I lived His deviant behavior. He fashioned a voodoo doll from my hair, nail clippings He fished from the waste basket in the bathroom, and fragments of my broken dreams, whereby He then ceremoniously shoved stickpins into my heart, destroying my soul.
Determined to manage the situation on my own, I embraced my heresy, developed my own prayer:
My father, who aren't in Heaven,
hollow be thy name.
Your kingdom's undone,
you never come
for wayward children consumed
with anger, guilt, and shame.
My faith flat lined. Bitterness blasted my heart, a black zephyr spit from His creation. How dare He treat me as a nuisance? Wasn't He always supposed to be there for me? I hated Him, His promises nothing more than words, words...words. I choked my devotion; with a muffled cry and final gasp from its throat's ruby corridor, it died.
As I watched my daughter deteriorate further into the depths of her illnesses, so did I alienate myself more from my faith. Resentment burrowed deep within me, a parasite in search of blood. I relinquished my expectations of motherhood. Gone were visions of weddings, graduations, soccer tournaments, homecoming dances, replaced by the reality of the daily occurrences endured living with a special needs child. I spent my days trying to rationalize her uncontrollable behavior: temper tantrums, phantom voices, obsessive compulsive tendencies, violent outbursts, a complete disregard for others. Her apathy frightened me; she cared little for interacting with those around her, instead consumed with inanimate objects: toys, movies, computer games. We existed as phantoms in her distorted world, entities to which she gave little thought except in passing. How could one be so indifferent to the living? My younger daughter, Jordan, could not understand the erratic behaviors exhibited by her older sister; how was I to explain maladies of such a severe degree? Friends and family distanced themselves from our odd little brood. Her diseases isolated us from humanity.
Now, in this instance, many may turn to their faith even more, looking for comfort from God, a sense of love and belonging purportedly provided to all those who serve Him—not me. My defiance grew more like a bindweed creeping into my garden, suffocating nourishing light needed to flourish and grow. I cried constantly, when I wasn't dealing with Kamy and yet another of her outbursts or erratic thoughts which sent her spiraling into a panic. My husband, Steve, and I fought continually. We both searched for a reason for our pain, an explanation for our devastation. Unable to assign blame to anyone or anything, we turned our aggression toward each other. My marriage, once playful and exuberant, now existed on a diet of animosity. I no longer recognized myself when I caught a glimpse of my shadow in the mirror. Hollow sockets gazed back from a face drawn and sallow. My spirit withered. Blooms of possibility that once burdened my vines shrunk and died, siphoned of happiness from vampire cynicism; paper petals drifted away in the wind. Where was God now?
In order to escape my sorrow and stress, I exercised. When a day was exceptionally bad, my method of exertion was running. I doused my negative thoughts in music pouring from the earphones of my IPod, my feet flying across the terrain. On one particular day, as I ran through a maze of sandstone and scrub oak brushed amber and gold with the early stages of fall, my life changed. I wouldn't call it an epiphany, or even an awakening, but more of an awareness. My eyes darted about, surveying my surroundings. I looked for an animal, a lone hiker or jogger just beyond my line of sight; I saw nothing. I slowed my step and turned down the angry music pulsating in my ears. Silence greeted me; a lone towhee scratching the earth beneath a bush in search of a midday feast the only sound. My heart slowed, and my stomach, usually twisted in a series of ulcerated knots, calmed. In this moment I knew, God stepped into my world.
There was no booming voice, no burning bush, or great winged angel descending upon me, nothing so Hollywood. Instead, a sense of peace enveloped me in an embrace: simple, comforting, and warm. A soft breeze swept across my skin, brushing tendrils of hair clinging to my forehead wet with perspiration away from my face—God's hand. I know it sounds so corny and trite, but in that moment I knew He was with me, always with me, forever by my side.
I continued my run, renewed with a sense of strength and resiliency. I no longer feared my life. I knew I couldn't continue to live in this manner, denying a truth that would never relinquish its grasp on my soul. I had to accept the existence handed to me. No, I did not ask for these burdens placed upon me, but who does? I understood my life was no more difficult than thousands, millions of others who deal with great adversity every day. My daughter and her illnesses, as odd as it seems, were a gift provided to me, a test of my fortitude and endurance. I stared the devil in the face and survived. I fought my way through the hurricane, through the tears, the dirt, misery and shame, through the mud and spit, hopelessness, shit and sorrow, I found my way to the eye of the storm. Though it was not over, the chaos and turmoil still swirling about me, I managed to find a place of calm inside the fury, a means to quiet my soul. A timeless phrase echoed through my mind: That which does not break us makes us stronger.
This great feat was not accomplished alone; God guided me. He saw me through so many times I wasn't even aware of his presence. Each time I cursed His name, questioned His purpose, doubted in His existence, He remained steadfast, dedicated to my preservation. I waited for divine revelation, disappointed when my soul did not resonate with His voice. Little did I realize He revealed Himself to me in the simplest things: Kamy's fleeting smile, a crisp autumn day, Jordan's laughter, a warm meal in my stomach after a long day, Steve's hand in mine, the first robin of spring making its appearance in my front yard, so many tiny moments, instances we deem insignificant that signal God's love. Temptation, illusions of false grandeur lured me away from His light. I excused my self-righteousness with blame. He invited me to sit and talk, provided me a seat next to Him to rest my tired heart; I refused. Only through my absence in our relationship did His love grow stronger.
I made an inventory of all the times I felt weak, frustrated, helpless, and alone: endless battles with the demons plaguing my daughter, night's huddled in my bed weeping with guilt and shame, when life seemed unbearable. In each memory, tucked in the corner, hidden from sight, He stood, watching over me. I looked for Him in an explosion of trumpets and light, descending a stairway of stars to comfort me, answer all my prayers left forgotten. It's in the most living moments, a whisper, a tear, an open door, when He arrives.
My faith still waivers. Each time I endure another of Kamy's manic episodes, when I watch her kick and hit Steve as he restrains her to prevent an all out assault, or listen to her continual rambles about her latest obsession, when I consider a future spent caring for my chronically mentally ill child, or think of the judgment and indifference doled out by those incapable of understanding our situation, I wonder why He placed this insurmountable adversity before me . What use is a god if He does not quell our misery? In these moments, when I falter, I ask for grace. It's a simple request, not a car, a career, or a cure for cancer, but one that makes such an impact. Through grace I find acceptance, strength, and gratitude for a life, as flawed as it may be, that I call my own. I thank God for my blessings: family, health, my unwavering spirit, and the notion that someone still believes in me. We don't talk often, we disagree, we lose track of each other, but when He does call, His voice carries me through another day.