* This is a refurbished ANNIEGRAM, from my One Out October Project of 2018, where I wrote a blog and released a song video every day for the month of, you guessed it, October.
One summer, when I was about ten years old and staying for a week at Girl Scout sleep-away camp, I awoke my counselor after lights out with my desperate, stifled, sobbing.
“What’s wrong?” she whispered. “Are you homesick? Do you miss your family?”
“What if… ” I gasped, tears streaming down my face, “what if God’s not REAL? What if we’re all going to DIE and there’s all this PAIN and nothing means ANYTHING?”
Friends, sometimes I still feel this way. I still feel like a young, terrified child, begging an adult to tell me that there is a hope I don’t feel, that there is a truth I don’t have any certainty of.
Each year that passes I pray to gain some clear wisdom—maybe a direct download from the Infinite Up There—that our lives have meaning and everything will turn out alright in the end.
But that would be too easy, dammit.
Instead, we have to keep on mucking through this existence, suffering barb after barb of WTFs, cheering each other on like dejected cheerleaders whose team is behind 560-7.
We do this because we DO experience good things (often), and we DO have hope (occasionally), and we DO believe (sometimes), and because, well, this is the price of admission we pay for our human being-ness.
My holy friend Jen lost her first husband to a drunk driver when she was pregnant with their first child. Then she remarried and had two more children. Then her second son, Blake, died of a brain aneurysm. Then her oldest son, Michael, got cancer. If anyone has reason to want to tell God to GTFO, it’s Jen.
But I call Jen my holy friend not because she’s pious or unaffected—she’s brutally vulnerable and honest about the sucky parts of life—but because she somehow so vividly holds hope and joy in her heart amidst the anger and sadness, and I think that’s a divine, holy thing.
When I spend time with Jen, I feel completely ok being pissed and bitter…yet somehow still my spirit lifts. There’s something about spending time with people who see life as it is and love it the same, because in turn they see YOU as you are and love YOU the same.
There is story after story like Jen’s.
My friend Scott makes beautiful art that blesses many, and he is watching with uncertainty as his young son’s eyes move toward degenerative blindness. “It’s both, isn’t it?” he said. “The shit and the good. The sorrow and joy. It’s what existence is. And you really can’t taste the deep joy of life without the sorrowful hunger that comes through suffering.”
My friend Gretchen has a light like no one I’ve ever met, and went through a deep darkness when she lost her daughter Bella in late-term pregnancy. We wept as she showed me each item hanging in the closet in the baby’s room, one after the other, pointing out every bit of lace and every onesie her daughter would never wear. “She’s not here. She’ll never be here,” she cried. “Why? Her little body will never wear this dress. Why? Why?”
My friend Hannah has a voice like a frickin’ angel and belongs on the stage singing, and a year and a half ago had a major brain surgery that still makes it hard for her to handle bright lights. “We don’t know how you’re still alive,” the doctors told her. “You should be dead by now, but we still have to wait 2 days to do the surgery.”
WTF, I say again. WTF?
Still, my faith has the story of this Jesus person-god? And as sad an angry and bitter and eye-roll snort-y I get about Fatha God “loving us like his sons and daughters,” and as gray and flexi as my understanding of religion and spirituality and the Great Good Beyond become, I remember the concept of an immortal being that experienced our pain with us, and promised to always do so.
I think that’s why I get emotional during this song. I remember that I’m not alone in my sorrow, that we have each other, that we can be heard and understood and known and seen, that we can be with and for each other.
Emmanuel, it means God with us. I get angry at Head Honcho God but I can hang with Jesus God. I can hang with the idea that we’re all here, experiencing pain and holding out our arms to each other, like it says Jesus did, saying “I’ll do what I’m here to do. For you.”
P.S. Want a super special SECOND and sort-of-sassy Good Friday song (Is that possible? Yes, yes it is) about Jesus being like “Seriously though Dad? Well, you’re in luck. I wrote a new one yesterday and I’m gonna share it with my VIP subscribers next Wednesday, so sign on up, little sweeties!