Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bawl: Genesis 21:13-21

It's a lot easier for me to relate to Sarah than to Hagar. Even now, when I am pulling myself together after a pretty big Not-Getting of something I wanted, badly, I have to -- feel committed to -- acknowledging my privilege. I'm bad at that. I forget that, of the worries I've had and the things that I have lost, I've never had the same kind of desperate Hagar is having, here. I'm starving and I can't feed my child; I'm in the desert, about to die of thirst, and I can't even ask for help. She doesn't even ask to be relieved, or for her son to be saved. She just cries.

So I get torn, here, and start thinking about the mothers and children who I could be helping. I could do God's work and help these hungry, thirsty, homeless, traumatized people. Isn't that what He wants? Instead of feeling sorry for myself, shouldn't I be grateful for the things I have and recognize how much better than everyone else I have it?

I don't think that's what God wants, no. Because how hard is it, really, for God to fix this seeming Deep Shit, right? He "opens her eyes" and there the water is. He seemed to handle it without me running an after school program or giving them a shelter or finding water for them.

That's not to say that we shouldn't do more to help those in need -- that I, in particular, shouldn't get over the disappointment of losing this baby and look for where I can love others, where I can be of use. But I think it is to say that actual service, the kind tat makes life better and brings you closer to God, to those you serve, shouldn't beging with a socioeconomic analysis of whose life is harder and whose privilege is more significant. It should begin with this: the recognition that I am broken, that me, in relation to other with more or fewer concrete benefits, matters less than me in relation to God. And that, with respect to God, I am infinitely broken. I can't even ask for what I need; I don't even know. It's larger than water or a job or peace. In the moment where the thing you need is keeping you from living, that thing becomes a universal signifier -- it's everything. And, unable to proprose a solution to God, you can only turn your head up and cry.

I don't need a new job or a new attitude or to serve more or to care for myself more. I need to recognize that I am lost and broken. That the act of restoring me is no less a miracle than that of restoring a homeless person, a refugee, a cancer patient. That I deserve to be healed as much, and need healing as badly. That my role isn't actually to fix the world's problems for God -- aren't You proud of me? Didn't I do good? -- but to recognize that every single thing I do, I do because of His grace. To experience that grace, and to allow that experience to diret my life, so that I'm not serving because I have and others don't have; I am serving because I have been given so much and the logical conclusion is to give as abundantly as I have been given to. Recognizing that everything I have and am now, also points to everything I had done, and was, before.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Entitlement: Genesis 21: 8-13

Before I even get into the intensity of my identification with Hagar in this passage, I hve to deal with Sarah, again. It's such an old story, cathartic whenever you see it, in PT Anderson movies and in bio-movies-of-the-week and in Disney and in chick lit. You start out from this place of insufficiency, and that lack makes you human, and likable; anyone could identify.

And then the good things everyone wants for you, happen. And you turn ugly, turn entitled. Look at your servant -- a single mom whose baby dady comes home to you and your kid every night, whose adolescent son is cut out in favor of an infant, and you don't see the ways in which your life is made better, and easier, at her expense, or that while you were the one who brought her into this, she never asked to be part of any of it. And you say: get her out. Fuck her.

And what you're not doing, is giving other people the hope you were intended to give -- or, at least, are capable of giving. I don't think the point of praise is to let God know how awesome He is, though I guess I do have a sense that when you praise God, things are as they should be, they way they are when a theorem is employed in reaching an elegant conclusion, or when justice is served, or when I am caring for a human being who needs what I can provide. Besides that rightness, though, I think praise is essential for us, so that we can see the world as it is -- a good place, a place with possibility, a place to respect and appreciate and revere. I think that praise, that bearing witness to what you have been and what you are, now, is essential because it allows people who have lost things to see that their loss is a loss -- not an indictment, not a failing. It lets them see that their pain is part of something universal and temporary.

Once, I was fifteen, and smart, and loved, and so unhappy that I thought swallowing all the pills my family had was the next right action for me. Once, I could not get through a day without sleeping with a stranger, cutting myself, or throwing up a hundred dollars' worth of food. Once, I hated myself enough that I could not find a single word to say to stop a random friend from ejaculating into my eyes while I passed out. Whether because of my own weakness or stupidity or failings, or because life is what it is, and not what I would have special-ordered, my life was painful and asinine and unproductive and lonely.

Now, it doesn't hurt like that. It doesn't always feel awesome, but I have been restored in a way that I should, by rights, be worshipping God over every day. Because it felt so shitty before that the only kind of comfort I could imagine was to be violent to myself -- and now I can see, even when I am hurt, that I don't need to starve or be hurt or die to correct what hurts me.

And the proper response to that, I believe, should be this conclusion: that life is essentially good, and that I know it is, because I have experienced it. God is good, all the time, because look: I wake up and I want to live. I can work, and love my husband and family, and be useful, and give to others, and I did not think I could do anything besides eat and throw up and hate myself. And to the extent that this is only my life that is this way -- could there be a greater opportunity, privilege or obligation than to find a way to help along this transformation in others?

But I forget that. I forget that moment where I realized that I didn't have to live that way, when I realized that I was comfortable in my skin, that my life was something I wanted. We forget that we would have done anything for a child, and then we have one and now we just want everyone to do things our way, because who are they, compared to us? What is what they have, compared to what we have? So what can they be worth, when we have everything and they have... nothing as good?

And God, here, is like, listen to Sarah. She's right about this; Isaac's the son I intended for you. But it doesn't change this: that Sarah, here, is small in the same way I, Amanda, am small. That she is missing the entire point of Isaac, which is: All nations will praise Me because of you. And so this chapter ends, not with Sarah -- the miracle God promised -- but with a miracle that basically eclipses hers, even though hers is the point.

I mean, who do you remember, here? Who makes you remember what God is? Not Sarah, who has already forgotten how she begged and planned and threatened to get her child, who already thinks this is just one more thing she deserves. The chapter moves on: she didn't get it, really, even after her son was born. Fail.

It's Hagar who's the mom, here, and it's Hagar who God delivers and with whom the story ends. She ends up with nothing except her son, alive, surprise watar, and this: that, Sarah having missed the boat entirely, God turns his grace on her, and she gets it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Oh, Right: Genesis 21: 1- 7

Okay, so Sarai/Sarah's story can read a million different ways. There's reading it before you've ever been pregnant, or thought too much about being pregnant. There's reading it when you are, unexpectedly and joyfully, pregnant. There's reading it when you have just found out that your baby died inside you, that it never could have lived, anyway, and when you are going in later to have it suctioned out, and when you are waiting to be Ready to Try Again.

God gave me something, see, and I thought -- like people do -- that I deserved it. I want a child, badly. I thought it was My Thing, the thing I would have to justify my existance -- where I don't know, day to day, why I am here. It was a less destructive Thing to have -- maybe -- than an eating disorder. But you will see that, having lost it, I went right back into bulimia. Furiously. Resentfully. Meanly. If God couldn't get with the fucking program, well, I'll just make my own life, make my own fun. Find my own way to wake up and believe I should be awake.

And I feel like I'm going crazy, and I go to all this therapy, and it's because of one fundamental thing that I fail to get. Which is: you don't make your life. You don't have to make your life -- as liberating as that possibility can seem. You -- I -- have been given a life, with a million things that could be wonderful and painful and disappointing and incoherent and surprising and comforting and sublime and correct. And you take and do and experience the things that seem like the best idea at the time, and, for God's sake, try and be there for them rather than looking for the next thing.

Right now, I don't have a child. I may believe that God wants me to have children, or adopt them, or not have or adopt them and do something else, but I'm just reiterating my own ideas of what my life should be until or unless I actually shut up and stop moving and trying and actually listen. If God wanted me to have had this child, I would have had it.

Maybe He didn't because I am supposed to go to this foster orientation thing and find my child there. Maybe He didn't because I'm supposed to go to nursing school, first. Maybe He didn't because I still need to get over myself and accept that things don't happen because I want them to. Maybe God wants me at CAMBA for the rest of my life and that is something to praise Him for, not resent.

I don't know. I keep thinking I know, but I don't. And that is, for me, the lesson that keeps me creeping through Genesis, because it is so hard for me to get. I have wonderful things for you -- not things you choose and order out of a catalog, but things of a value you can't yet understand. What you would choose for yourself, and what I will choose for you, can't be compared. So hold still, stop coordinating your husband's paternity or your career or your family planning, and notice the things you've been given. Notice that I want to be close to you -- and remember that once, before you got what you thought you wanted, that was what you wanted.

If, through losing my baby, absolutely nothing changes except that I understand something about God, and life, and loving others, that I did not understand before, then that is still a gift. And my responsibility, as sorry as I feel for myself now, is not to try and interpret what happened in a way that I can accept. It is to accept that I am not in charge, that God doesn't need to seek my approval before my life changes, and that enjoying what is, is actually a more valuable skill than envisioning and then forcing what is not.