Fruit of the Mystery: Love of Neighbor
Life isn’t Always Good, but God Always Is
by Jeannie Ewing
I didn’t want to let anyone cross the threshold of our home in the weeks following Sarah’s birth. The convoluted mixture of emotions was too intense for me to sort through, let alone express, to anyone. It seemed safer to tuck myself away in the island I’d created. I presumed people would respond to Sarah the way I would have, if I had been anyone other than her mom⸺with discomfort, aversion, even pity.
The jarring realization that I could not accept my daughter’s craniofacial condition of Apert syndrome plummeted me into great despondency. I felt unworthy of love. All I could do was hold her and cry, too desperate and apologetic of my struggle to accept and even embrace her condition.
I’d never felt so far from God until the moment Sarah was born. It never occurred to me that I might give birth to a child with one of the most complex genetic conditions known today. If I would have known prenatally, the news would have devastated me⸺not to the point of entertaining the idea of abortion, ever, but to the brink of despair. You see, I wanted a normal life. I wanted a comfortable life. But God had other plans.
When my friend, Julie, stopped by unannounced as I convalesced from my cesarean within the first week of Sarah’s birth, I hesitated to let her in. My eyes were bloodshot and puffy from hours of crying alone. Julie knew that. She saw beyond my contrived smile and greeting.
She didn’t force her way in, but she held out her hand. In it was a basket full of goodies⸺“a care package,” she’d said⸺and at first I was irritated by yet another person stopping by to drop off a token that would never replace or reverse my daughter’s condition.
“I brought you some lemon curd from the farmer’s market. It’s fantastic. And your favorite dark chocolate,” Julie continued. I decided to invite her in, if only out of courtesy, and she hugged me for the longest time. After a few seconds, I collapsed into heavy sobs and heaves. I could barely breathe.
Julie didn’t say a word. She never dismissed my pain with some worn-out cliché, like, “Everything happens for a reason” or “Everything is going to be okay.” Because she knew that, at least in my eyes, the reasons everything happens seem unfair and cruel. And everything was clearly not okay. And that was okay.
“I won’t pretend to understand what this is like for you,” Julie shared softly. “I just want you to know that I love you and that I’m your friend.” I nodded and then went into the tirade I’d kept to myself for over a week. “Why did God allow this? Why our family? Why Sarah?”
“I don’t have answers,” Julie said with honesty. Her authenticity was a welcome reprieve and truly refreshing after having to bear the canned responses from so many well-intentioned
neighbors who’d tried to soothe my wounds. “But I know that God is good, even when life is not.”
She visited with me for maybe thirty minutes, maybe longer. Time wasn’t the relevant factor. It was the gift of her presence, a powerful declaration of charity. Many people flocked to our house with casseroles and offers for babysitting and house cleaning, gift cards to cover medical costs and travel arrangements. All of these I welcomed, but they wearied me. They appeared as band-aids to merely conceal the raw pain others did not⸺could not⸺bear with me.
But Julie was not afraid of my woundedness. She accepted me in my postpartum mess of tears and snot and wails and dark undereye circles. Her gesture⸺such a simple but profound one⸺transformed me. From that moment onward, I believed God’s grace had touched me through her loving kindness. And in that graced encounter, I was able to move through my loss and toward healing.
Sarah is now eight years old, and we have moved to a neighboring city not quite as close in proximity to Julie. But she has remained a dear friend, and I have never forgotten the example of Christian charity she offered me in such dismal and bleak times. From time to time, when Sarah’s care becomes too overwhelming for me to bear alone, I call her and she gives me the space to rant, to vent. She does not ignore, deny, overlook, or bypass my emotional intensity. She simply allows me the room to process my life as it is, in that moment.
I have repeated, to myself and others, the words of wisdom Julie shared with me the day she brought me the basket of thoughtful goodies. Life isn’t always good, but God always is. He never changes, though we do. And we tend to shape God into this being that makes sense to us in light of our personal experiences or how we imagine Him to be⸺even what we want Him to be.
The truth is that God is vast. He is beyond our imagination, more than our desires, but also Mystery. The only truth we can glean in the mystery of our own human suffering is that He is good. That is the unchangeable, unshakeable reality of who God is. And Julie, my dear friend, incarnated God’s love the day she came to me and allowed me to suffer without judgment or dismissal.
About Jeannie: Jeannie Ewing is a Catholic spirituality writer who focuses on helping women grieve their losses. Find her books and connect at jeannieewing.com