Good Will Come

Posted by on Nov 4, 2015 in Parenting | 65 comments

Copy of Good will come(1)

 

Almost four years ago, when my firstborn, Dominic, was five months old, my mother in law was carrying him down the stairs of our house in Northern Laos. She slipped and fell. Dominic’s knee hit the wood. His femur broke.

Luckily, the one X-ray machine in town was working that day. Luckily, the one X-ray technician was also working. Unluckily, by the time we held the film up against the sunlight and saw the sharp angles of that small bone in all the wrong places, the one flight to Bangkok that day had already left.

Even with good emergency medical insurance—which we had—the soonest we could get Dominic to the nearest decent hospital was more than thirty hours after the accident.

Even now, I find it very difficult to think about all of this. I can write down some of the details—how we splinted Dominic’s leg with cardboard and ace bandages, how we put him to sleep on the change-table mat to help keep him still, how I lay beside him on the floor, kneeling to breastfeed every time he cried out. I can write this down now, but I still shy away from thinking too deeply about how I felt during the long dark hours of that night, or while I sat alone in the hospital waiting room the next afternoon as the leg was being set and casted. My husband had to hold Dominic still through that particular anguish, because I couldn’t face it.

I tried to talk about all of this a couple of months ago during a speech I was giving to forty young mothers on post-natal anxiety. In retrospect, it was perhaps just a little unwise to wade publically into this territory for the first time on a stage. In retrospect, it should not have surprised me that I could only get out a few sentences before I found myself faltering. Stopping. Stuck. Teetering on the brink of an incoherent, tear-soaked, free-fall.

But it did surprise me. I’m a psychologist. I’ve worked as a trainer for more than a decade. I’ve traveled around the world to speak with groups about stress, trauma, and resilience. My words had never deserted me before, not mid-presentation.

And Dominic’s accident was four years ago. After all, all’s well that ends well, time heals all wounds, and everything happens for a reason, right? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.

Right?

Years ago now—back when I was still the imagined star of this universal play called life—I believed these things. I believed that my trials were personally addressed and divinely hand-delivered. I believed the adversity I faced was specifically designed to refine me, purify me, and equip me. I basically believed that life was a nobler version of the Hunger Games. I was Katniss and God was the head gamemaker.

Then I started to train as a forensic psychologist and a crisis counselor. I began working in a maximum-security men’s prison. I served on a child death review team and worked on child sex-offender cases. I landed a job with a humanitarian organization and moved to the Balkans.

In the face of all this violence and suffering—feeling simultaneously helpless and responsible for having some answers—my neat little formula about adversity being a set of holy hurdles designed to strengthen us to run the good race in all triumph fell completely apart. And the superstructure of my faith sort of fell apart with it.

I was drowning in questions I couldn’t answer. Why was there so much suffering in this world? Why did humans have such a talent for violence? How could I reconcile the divine omnipotence I was taught to trust in as a child with lives torn apart by an earthquake, a famine, or other people? If God existed, if he were paying attention, why did he often seem so slow to act and so silent? How could he possibly choose to hold back and watch the bad unfurl alongside the good in the wilderness of freedom and choice? And why had I been given so much while others had so little?

Some changes in our lives and minds happen suddenly, born of formative moments. Others are long, slow pivots. With these, the gradual change in direction only becomes clear when you check your rearview mirror or raise your eyes to see a different vista stretching out in front of you. This is the sort of incremental existential shift that has unfolded in my life during the last dozen years.

I look back at my younger, anguished self now with the same odd hybrid of recognition and puzzled wonder that ambushes me whenever I see photographs of myself as a teenager. In those photos my face is unlined and softly rounded. I want to reach into those images hanging on the walls of my parent’s house and pinch my own cheeks.

I have to work to remember ever being that young.

I have to work to remember how unmoored I felt during that long season of relentless questioning.

And now? Now I find myself in a different place.

My very definition of faith has changed. My younger self counted faith as some combination of believing the right things, knowing the right answers, and keeping the right rules. Now, my ideas about faith inhabit far messier territory at the intersection of awareness, attitude, action, and intention.

My tolerance for sitting with mystery and living with paradox has increased, too. I still don’t have any answers to those questions about suffering that really satisfy me, but that somehow matters less. I no longer fear that my confusion completely undermines my belief in a God who loves us.

Finally, I’ve mostly stopped wrestling with these questions about suffering on that deepest of levels—not just because I’ve given up on nailing down satisfactory answers—but because continuing to churn over those questions didn’t help me. And during the last six years I haven’t had a lot of energy available for things that weren’t helping me.

In this first six years of our marriage, Mike and I have moved four times. During our five years in Laos we had two little boys and an unfortunate number of serious medical dramas. Dominic broke his leg. I broke an ankle and contracted two cases of cellulitis. Mike picked up a nasty case of staph and needed two different spinal surgeries for a herniated disc. We were beset by post-natal anxiety, depression, and chronic sleep deprivation (our wondrous boys, whatever else they might be, are not overly skilled sleepers). And, as the coup de grâce, four months after our second son’s birth, Mike was diagnosed with cancer. We had to leave Laos on 48 hours notice and decamp to Australia again for five months of tests, surgery, and three grueling rounds of chemo.

The one-year anniversary of Mike’s cancer diagnosis found us preparing to move from Laos to Vanuatu. Two and a half weeks after Mike took up his job as Country Director for a non-profit here, Vanuatu was devastated by the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the Pacific. Cyclone Pam impacted more than two thirds of the country’s population and caused damages estimated at half the country’s GDP. Seven months on, a severe El Nino has triggered a major drought. Most of the crops that were replanted after the decimation of the cyclone have died, the wells are running dry, and this drought is just beginning.

In some soul-deep sense, I haven’t really caught my breath since that terrible day of Dominic’s accident.

When I see these sorts of hands (and far worse) dealt to other people I’m still tempted to wonder why certain things have happened. But as this torrid season has been unfolding for us, those why questions have seemed largely irrelevant. It’s taken too much energy to keep trekking on through the valleys to leave much left over for wondering why we were in the valley in the first place. And hanging onto those questions felt fruitless, anyway. I couldn’t hold those questions close and still reach for many the lifelines we encountered along the way—lifelines that offered respite, levity, and light.

When Mike was diagnosed with cancer, a friend, herself a survivor, sent a card.

“Good,” she wrote, “will come from this.”

That is what I believe today.

Bad, terrible, tragic things happen. Because… life. And these bad things are not usually letter bombs that are specifically addressed to me. They do not happen to teach me a certain lesson, to force me to pray more, or to deliberately place me under the sort of pressure that turns coal into diamonds. They generally just happen. Sometimes these trials won’t kill me, but they will cost me, weaken me, or break me in important ways. Ways that matter. And sometimes they are absolutely more than I can handle, at least for a season.

But.

This I also believe.

What is happening and how we respond to wicked tricky curve balls in life still matters, even if those curve balls aren’t being hurdled specifically at us by holy pitcher.

And good can follow in spite of these things. Even, often, from them.

This good might not come quickly. It might not be anywhere near the “amount” or “type” of good that I would judge justifies the suffering. It may not be good that benefits me. I might never even learn of it.

But good will come.

Some of it will come easily. Sometimes sunshine will catch the clouds above me just so, temporarily cloaking the grey in a celestial riot of color. But sometimes the good feels far harder won and far less glorious. It is true that our deepest struggles can birth deep honesty, empathy, and compassion, but (just like actual birth, I might add) this process is neither easy nor fun. It takes effort and courage to choose gratitude sometimes. To be vulnerable. To take someone’s hand instead of pushing them away. To ask for, and accept, help. To stare down and name pain and loss. To chart a new path for yourself when the road you intended to walk gets washed away. To let go of regret and anger. To hang on when there’s not a single silver lining in sight. To search out and take hold of hope.

At this point, it would be narratively and psychologically convenient if I could point you towards all the good that’s emerged in the aftermath of our physical frailties, Mike’s cancer, the Cyclone, this drought, Dominic’s accident.

But with this last, in particular, I still struggle. The initial break has long healed, and all seems to be progressing well. But because the bone snapped just above the knee–in the growth plate area–we will not know for sure until Dominic is well into puberty whether that bone will continue to grow straight and true.

Some good has come out of that day. That crisis only deepened my respect and affection for my husband, for example. But I would still unplay these grace notes in a heartbeat. I would undo that fall if I could.

That choice, however, has never been mine to make. All I get to choose is where I focus and how I respond.

Four years on, that is still a work in progress. Clearly, there are memories and feelings that I still need to unpack, name, and sit with. There are probably still tears to be cried, words I need to write, and things I need to say.

And the time for that will come.

But it will not be today, not when I am still so sleep deprived. It will not be this week, not when I am mothering our two children alone while Mike is traveling again, trying to help other mamas access enough safe water to drink. It will probably not be this month while the temperatures rise and the drought drags on.

And that is alright.

Because, right now I can celebrate the fact that, finally, I am learning to acknowledge and appreciate the good that can emerge from hardship without feeling that this good needs to outweigh or negate the pain.

So, today I will pause and point to the scattering of wildflowers that that are peeking up from the dry and battered ground. I will draw a deep breath and mark their vibrant defiance.

I will sit awhile with the beautiful, and the good.

 

 

Related posts:

Family Planning
Practices of Parenting
The Courage To Say Yes

65 Comments

  1. Amen, Lisa!

    • Thanks for reading, Denise!

  2. This is utterly beautiful Lisa.

    • Thank you, Lisa

  3. You have just described life!!!! Beautifully.

    • Did you remember/guess that the card came from you?? 🙂

  4. Lisa, this is so powerfully written and lived. May good will come. Wildflowers in the drought.

    • Thanks, Nancy. I miss our working connections, and I hope you’re well.

  5. I must agree with Bibbie’s comment, Lisa. We do grow up and it’s a rough journey. Please go to my Fb page and watch the 3 minute Legacy video of my own journey. It’s my way of saying you are in good, if tragic, company. I believe some combination of tragic and marvelous is normal, even under God’s (barely) sufficient grace. With love and a warm hug, Sandra Auer.

    • Oh, Sandra, some losses just never leave, do they? I well remember when we first met talking over this enormous loss of yours. It’s so inspiring to see you walking with that loss the way that you are.

  6. My favorite thing you’ve ever written… and I read as much of it as I can. This is beautiful and it is exactly where I sit, too.

    • Thank you, Richelle. This means a lot coming from you.

    • I agree with Richelle!

  7. Touching our hearts with your beautiful writing and honesty is definitely one of the good things that came out of it. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Corrie. That is so lovely.

  8. Lisa – this is wise, true, and beautiful. Please use this on A Life Overseas. People need to read this. Thank you

    • Thanks so much Marilyn. I was already thinking this might be a good fit for ALO, so thank you for that confirmation.

  9. I love this post – so much truth here!! And your book – My Hands Came Away Red – still remains one of my favorites!

    • Thanks, Jessica!! It’s always lovely to hear that your books live on. It’s only been eight years since that novel was published, but in some ways it feels like 80. I’m JUST starting to feel glimmers of wanting to write another novel. So stay tuned for that in, oh, another 23 years or so 🙂

  10. Lisa … I wandered here from Sarah’s synchroblog … my heart resonates with yours as my littlest grandchild just died 2 months ago, 2 months after my dad passed away. Being a counselor and all that doesn’t spare us from life’s tragedies, and I see the need to live out personally all that I’ve lived out with my clients and their pain.

    It’s always good to connect with another counselor who blogs. This has been a treat …

    Blessings.

    • Thank you for sharing. And, oh, I’m so sorry to hear of your double loss. Peace to you in the midst of the storm, and to your precious child/children as they also grieve their child and their father.

  11. This is so rich and true. Thank you for sharing this! I just finished reading Miroslav Volf’s book “The end of Memory” and one of the ideas that has stuck with me so strongly his idea that we don’t have to weave every traumatic incident into our life story to give it meaning. As Christians, our identity and meaning is found in Christ, and so some dark things are not meant to be totally incorporated into a happy life story- one day they will be driven out. He talks about some suffering beign redeemed and incorporated, and some just needing to be driven out and overcome and healed totally (like when Jesus was on earth and he healed sick and drove out demons). He says it much more eloquently than I do! But I really resonated with that, because while there are some things that you can say, “Ah, this was hard and sad, but it was needed and it’s all good now” other things- nope. Can’t see the point, and don’t think I will see the point, and there doesn’t have to be a point. Anyway, thanks for sharing!!

    • You’re welcome, and thanks for sharing your own thoughts in response. I’ll go and search out that book… it’s definitely an interesting (potentially freeing) thought to not have to fashion deeper meaning from every single bad thing that happens along our path.

  12. So glad Erika shared this post. I appreciate more than I can say, you putting into words something that I have struggled with and not been able to quite define. Romans 8 tells us that our transformation *is* one of the good results we are promised but I so appreciate the perspective of humility that everything is not specifically directed at and for you personally. Each of us is just part of a larger design. Thank you for this.

    • Kate–just as an aside, Lisa is a great author and you should check out her books too! Plus, subscribe to this blog. She is filled with insight and laughs too! So happy that you found some peace reading this post, I know I did!!

      • Aw, Erika, shucks. Thanks.

    • Thanks so much for reading and sharing your own thoughts, Kate. And the first (or the fifteenth draft) of this piece actually referenced that verse specifically. I cut it out in the end in efforts to not burden you all with a 4000 word piece, but that verse was definitely on my mind.

  13. This is beautiful, and resonates so deeply within me. I love this line “And these bad things are not usually letter bombs that are specifically addressed to me.” Yes!

    • Yes, I’ve found it really freeing to let go of that belief that my trials WERE letter bombs. Thanks so much for reading.

  14. Thank you!! It is so interesting the common threads I’m seeing in these Out of Sorts stories. How much what we believed at one time has been unraveled by tragedy or suffering. Your words are encouraging and refreshing! I especially like this: “I would undo that fall if I could. That choice, however, has never been mine to make. All I get to choose is where I focus and how I respond.”

    • I’m just sitting down now with my cup of coffee and decided to answer comments here before starting through the OOS lists. I cannot wait to read about everyone else’s thoughts. I really loved this prompt. It cost me a lot of tears and time to write this, but it was so good for me.

  15. Beautiful, raw and honest. I resonate with so much of this. Thanks for sharing so honestly about your journey.

    • Thanks so much!

  16. Amen. I love this so much. And having lost a parent young, can empathise in how pain can shape us, and hope can come from it.

    • Thank you, James. Great pain certain does shape us, doesn’t it?

  17. I loved your insights and transparency. I love how you honour BOTH sides of the coin: the good that emerges from hardship AND also the pain that we must work through. My 3 year old had an accident this summer that placed me right in the middle of that dichotomy. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thank you, and I’m so sorry to hear about your own little one’s accident. Hope healing (physical and mental) is well underway.

  18. My lovely friend, Rel, shared this with me. What beautiful perspective. Thank you! I really needed this today.

    • Thank you, Tamara! It’s so lovely to hear from other writers here on the blog, particularly writers whose work I’ve already read and enjoyed. I’ve so enjoyed some of your stories.

  19. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for that refrain: good will come.

    • Thanks, Beccy!

  20. Deeply, deeply moving! I am challenged to find the words..You so beautifully tackled the tension held in the midst of suffering. Tears!

    • Oh, thank you!! It’s so moving to see this piece find it’s way to others who are identifying so deeply.

  21. Remarkable. Beautiful. Powerful. Thank you..

    • Thank you, Bonnie.

  22. Years ago I read this in Yancey book: “I learned a long time ago not to confuse God with life. Is life unfair? You bet. My life has been unfair. What has happened to my wife, what has happened to my daughter, the accusations within our church… it’s all unfair. But I think God feels exactly the same way. I think He is grieved and hurt by the cancer, by what that drunk driver did, and by the breakdown of personal relationships as much as I am. But don’t confuse God with life.”.

    • Thanks for sharing this quote, Bob. I’ve gotten a lot out of Yancey’s books over the years, too.

  23. You know, I was so excited to link my blog post up to Sarah Bessey’s blog linkup challenge, and thought it was such a good idea. I still think that, but not so much because of my own post anymore but because it meant I found your blog and was able to read -your- post. Thank you for writing it. I know what you mean about having to find a place where faith is and can be and -must be- messy and hard and that’s okay.

    I’m going to bookmark this so I can read it again and again.

    • Oh, Katie. Thanks so much. Your kind words have made my morning (a morning which started at 4:30am with my youngest).

  24. Such potent, powerful writing, Lisa! Rolling in the deep. Thank-you for sharing! I really admire you so much! You have the most poignant way of keeping your chin up. Amber. xo

    • Aw, thanks Amber. I miss you guys. Wish we all lived closer. Give my hubby a huge extra hug for me over in Thailand this week. You guys have a blast and share some deep thoughts. XO.

  25. I have been reading your blog for a couple years and then read both of your books. You have such an amazing gift….several pieces of your words have given me lots of food for thought. Thank you for sharing this post, it’s another one I’ll be reading over again.

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Annette, not to mention sharing our journey(s) over the course of years. It’s startling and wonderful to know that there are people out there who have never met us, but care about us nonetheless. Thanks again.

  26. Beautiful post I can relate to on so many levels, especially the anguish over pain and suffering, loss and living without answers. And like you, Lisa, I can attest to this: “My tolerance for sitting with mystery and living with paradox has increased, too. I still don’t have any answers to those questions about suffering that really satisfy me, but that somehow matters less. I no longer fear that my confusion completely undermines my belief in a God who loves us.” as the position I find myself in after a messy, meandering faith journey. Bless you for sharing so deeply and personally. It’s a pleasure to have discovered your blog via the synchroblog link up.

    • Thanks for coming to visit, Joy. Love to connect with fellow messy meanderers. Spell check is telling me meanderers is not a word, but I’m going to let it stand, because… before 6am on a Sunday I’m willing to meander linguistically as well. Thanks again.

  27. This is just incredibly beautiful, Lisa. Thank you.

    • Thanks for visiting!!

  28. Lisa, this is beautiful. Thank you for writing.

    • Thanks for visiting, Megan.

  29. Beautiful. Good will come. I believe that too. It always has. Not for every individual and every circumstance. But for all of us, all intertwined humanity, good keeps coming, despite everything.
    Thanks for sharing this beautiful post.

    • Thanks, Bill!

  30. Powerful, Lisa. What a powerful, beautiful, strong and freeing post to read. Thank you!

    • Thank you, for writing the book and hosting the launch group that nudged me to get back into writing on this level. I really appreciate your work and I’m grateful for your perspective on life and how you share it.

  31. Oh yes. And it is in those things you absolutely cannot handle, at least for a season, that we find him best. Lovely and true.

    • Thanks for reading, Jill.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Fridays are for Favorites #5 - […] link up in honor of her new book release — there were many great posts about the prompt, but…
  2. I used to think I was alone but now I know I'm not. (#OutofSortsBook synchroblog wrap-up) - Sarah Bessey - […] Lisa McKay – Good Will Come – When I see these sorts of hands (and far worse) dealt to other people…

Leave a Reply