Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Miracles, Prayers and an update on Fred

Does anyone remember Fred? The story was told more than a year ago, so if you’ve no time to read the link (which is actually something I read from time to time in an attempt to amuse myself), I shall summarize. I met a man online, had a date with him, was overwhelmed by his desperation to obtain a wife, didn’t see him again, but kept in sporadic touch via email. I sent books to him on his first tour in Iraq. I ordered a wedding gift from amazon when he – on his third engagement – obtained the wife he so desired.

The couple has, in the few years that have passed, been trying to have a child. Fred’s utmost desire is to be useful. He wanted to be a solider and joined the army. Doggedly patriotic, he serves to the best of his ability. In his last email, he reported that he was part of the team that unloaded pieces of helicopter wreckage from a vehicle and the sense of loss of his fellow soldiers as well as the enormity of the danger that exists was difficult for him. It’s the first time he’s voiced a word of unhappiness or fear to me.

Fred mostly sends forwards urging action against people or companies who aren’t completely conservative and “Godly.” Since my interpretation of faith differs from his own, I generally delete them, more than happy to drink Pepsi whether or not they put “Under God” on their special cans, refusing to sign some petition in support of our President. I do look at the pictures he forwards to a group of friends – I know not who the others are, nor do I particularly care. It is more out of lingering curiosity that I sometimes answer his emails. His outlook is so different than my own that I continue to wonder how life is for him. He always looks happy – whether on a retreat with his wife or decorating their new home on base or standing next to some impressive piece of military equipment. A broad smile creases his round face and reveals crooked teeth. And I find myself smiling too, pleased that he's so happy.

His bride, conversely, looks sullen. A large woman with various medical problems, she had surgery the week after they married to correct some ailment. Perhaps she loves him – I very much hope so since he clearly dotes on her. I also hope she’s happy, though I was a bit offended that when I asked for their address to send a wedding gift, she asked him to send multiple emails inquiring over when it would arrive. I decided that she wanted to be home when the package came and happily sent along tracking information. I successfully fought my impulse to send email asking after the thank you card I never received. It seemed catty. Mentioning it on my blog is clearly the way to go.

The cause of my answering his most recent forward was that his wife had – after more than a year of trying and with medical assistance (of what type I’m not sure) – become pregnant. I reminded myself to send a gift as her due date approached sometime in February, and offered a prayer that she would be well when Fred left for Iraq again. They’ve tried so hard for so long and he wants a child so much, but has remained completely confident that they will have one. After each failed attempt in the past, he sent reports that they were struggling, but continued to try.

God will provide.

I smiled when she successfully conceived about 2 months ago. Fred was thrilled, lamenting that he’d be abroad when she grew heavy with child, but eager to meet his offspring when he returned. His last email reported that his wife, at her first ultrasound, was told the baby’s heartbeat could not be found. Her doctors attempted to schedule a DNC which she firmly refused. The baby was a miracle from God and she would allow it all the time it needed to grow. Fred embraced this attitude, deeply saddened he was not with her, but profoundly proud that she believed a miracle would occur.

He wrote to ask for prayers for their child. That his wife would hear the heartbeat when she returns to the office for another ultrasound tomorrow. That her doctors would not insist on a DNC when one couldn’t be found. They want God to save their precious child, and Fred continues to speak to her belly on speakerphone when he calls from overseas. He tells the baby how hard they worked to create him/her. How long they’ve waited and how much they want this. How the baby should grow and become strong.

But, I thought, reading his words, the baby is gone. Doctors would not have suggested the procedure if they thought there was hope. And so I prayed for comfort and strength. I find I can’t ask for a miracle. I’m terribly sorry, which is what I wrote, and I know how badly he wanted to grow their family. He replied that they were firm in their belief that the baby would be healthy and wonderful. Again requested prayers for a good result tomorrow. And sent me hugs as his sister in Christ.

I keep puzzling over it. Because in my mind, the baby is gone. And it’s sad and awful and I hate that it happened to this couple. But it did. There will not be a heartbeat tomorrow and so I cannot ask God to provide one.

So is it that I don’t believe in miracles? I certainly think God could provide them and has done so in the past. I know He listens when we pray and guides us as much as we allow. I also know there is a limit to my understanding and that sometimes there are terrible events and circumstances. I don’t think it’s punishment or even necessarily a lesson. It just sucks sometimes and it’s beyond me to truly comprehend it, though I’m aware of theories that provide at least some satisfaction.

Given that I believe God can provide a miracle – even a heartbeat at a sonogram tomorrow – I also believe He won’t. I’m not sure why. Because there are people and things I wanted desperately – to the point of aching at the very thought of losing them – that I have been denied? Because I’m exposed at work to suffering via both disease and treatment? Because I loved someone and believed and hoped and let myself think that I’d be able to start my own family, only to see that I never had that particular man in any substantial way and that any fantasies of happily ever after were just that?

It was after that point that I reminded myself that “Your will be done.” Isn’t just a line in a prayer. Expecting that if God loves you, His plans will align with your own desires strikes me as immature. Wanting something doesn’t make it right – be it a job or relationship or publication or new car. And though a baby is – to me – a whole other level of utmost importance, sometimes terrible things happen. And wanting something – even something you think is good and right and wonderful – plus believing in God does not necessarily equal one getting what one wants or even deserves. I don’t know why. But I do see that as being true.

I want desperately to get married. I don’t see it happening though, so I feel rather silly whining about it. I’m lonely though, miss feeling affectionate toward someone, long for flirtation and smiles when I think of someone I hope is thinking of me.

“You’ll get married.” Dr. Counselor said many times when I was still seeing him. “God didn’t put that desire in your heart to deny it.”

I shook my head at him each time. “You don’t know that.” I’d reply. “People want all sorts of things that – if obtained – would be bad for them. I might have other things to do here. And though I wish you were right – that my longing for a partner means I get to have one – I think that’s a rather foolish way of thinking. Plus, if one says, “God made me want this, and won’t let me have it.” then how does one not get angry with God? Frustrated and withdrawn and sulky? And that’s not good. It seems there should be trust – faith – and trying to predict His will is a good way to mess that up.”

He would frown and nod, then brighten. “Well,” he’d decide, “let’s say that until we know differently, God wants you to find someone and get married.” And when I think of those moments, I’m glad I don’t see him anymore. Dr. Counselor could be one frustrating, little creature himself. Though likely right about my decent into pessimism.

I guess I don’t know if I’m envious of Fred’s faith or think him a fool. Probably more the latter. But I do wish – just a little – that when things look darkest, I was able to know that God loved me enough to provide something that was attributable to no one but Him. That He would reach and shift reality just for me.

But I try to keep my requests reasonable. Please help Mom not be so sick. Please be with us as she gains her strength. Guide me as I’m figuring out where to go from here, and please demand my attention when I forget to give it freely. I’d like You to bless my church, for those people have given me a warm, safe place to worship and a Pastor who I love. Please provide comfort and peace to my patients and those I see in the hallways. Give them rest and energy in the appropriate proportions and lead them to people who will listen and help. Watch over those of us in danger – regardless of what form that might take. I’d like someone to love, but You know that...

I do not think the universe is evil. Nor do I think it is particularly kind. People help each other, but can also be inexplicably cruel. I choose to recognize the duality – that to gasp with joy sometimes means that other moments will find me sobbing in despair. And so I didn’t respond to Fred’s last email, not wanting to do a single thing to change his hope, but not able to participate in it. It hurts too badly to be disappointed, I think. I prefer to be realistic and practical, but I sometimes miss the moments when I was brave enough to ask for miracles and expect that my friends would offer similar requests on my behalf.

I pray that God is with Fred and his wife tomorrow. That much, at least, I can do with all sincerity.


rented life said...

This is a good post. I have relatives and friends who hold the same thought line as Fred. I find it immensely frustrating. Remember that joke with the man stuck in the flood and praying for God to save him? Boats and planes came but he said "no thanks, I'm waiting for God." That's what these sort of people remind me of. Yes God provides--he gave us all brains so we could sort it out.

And I agree with you that we don't always get what we think we want. I thought I wanted a certain job, but I ended up here and with the way other things have unfolded in my life, it just makes more sense. To say that I didn't get it because God doesn't love me enough...well that's not the kind of God I believe in.

Image Goddess said...

Even though sad in many points, I enjoyed reading your post. You make the comment that you wish you had Fred's faith. But why, you seem to have faith in God even though you struggle with many of the same issues that other Christians struggle with.

And yes, I completely agree, just because we pray for something, want something desperately, it may not be in God's plans for us. We may not understand why but I beleive that even though it may not seem that way at the time, and we may never understand over time, that he does what is best for our lives.

As for the the baby, it is incredibley sad. Almost beyond words. My sister had a miscarriage shortly into her marriage. It was an extra shock because she didn't even know she was pregnant until she lost the baby. So she found out she was pregnant, and lost it, at the same time. It retrospect, perhaps that was better. She didn't have the time to dream of what it would be like. Though I know she did anyway. And several years later, not that something like that can ever be good, we learned that it just wasn't the right time for her. She ended up having a divorce, going back to school, and moving in with our parents. She still lives at home.

The problem I have with what counselor said is that I beleive that God gave us free will. That's why so many bad things happen. Even though he has a plan, we can choose to go the wrong way. So just because we have the desire, doesn't make it right.

Even though we may not be understand, I beleive that God doesn't give us anything we can't handle. Though often I must admit that I often wonder if things have to be as hard as they are. But I try to remind myself that I have faith and if I pray and keep my heart open, the chances are better that my life will unfold the way He wants.

H said...

Ever since I become old enough to truly think about things I have had a hard time with the idea of praying FOR things. I cannot make it seem sensible. I parse it out as follows:

First I assume God is omnipotent and omniscient.

I) If God controls the details of who lives and dies and there is a reason for everything and a great plan for all then if you pray for something and get it, then it was part of the plan anyhow. If you pray and don't get it, then it wasn't part of the plan. If this is the case why pray for it in the first place and why assume faith alone will make God give us what we want... with our limited understanding. Or if God DOES go against what God knows is best because of what someone with great faith wants, then that is just not good. God is willing to make everything be less good because of the limited understanding of the faithful?

II) In fact their is no set plan, no set fate, and free will and chance set things in motion, and God, who set everything in motion eons ago mainly watches with hope and love for humanity, capable of interfering, but rarely doing so. If this is the case and the faithful pray for something and don't get it, then God seems capricious. Terrible things happen to good people, and good things to bad people as often as the reverse it seems (hardly scientific, but you know what I mean). I have known very faithful people who lost their faith over something bad happening to good people when they believed so in the power of prayer. Why would that be in God's interest?

I also dislike that God would pass judgments based on whether something is being prayed for hard enough, or by enough people.

The scenario of praying for things and God truly answering some (but only some) prayers only seems to work if God does not have a detailed plan and isn't truly omnipotent, only having the resources to grant a few such requests.

That doesn't work for me.

Also, I think that one should do one's best to take care of oneself and others, and deal with things as they happen as opposed to counting on a higher power to step in and solve problems.

Prayer should be in praise, I think, for what we have and the world around us. There is great beauty in it, and kindness and wonder. Better to stop and recognize that rather than focusing on what is bad or what you haven't succeeded at, particularly if you cannot do anything about it.

ppb said...

What a poignant reflection. I'm sure I'll be returning to it.

post-doc said...

Thank you for writing out your thoughts on this one. It gave me some insight and some new directions to ponder.

I haven't much exposure to those who are quite as radical in their conservative beliefs as Fred, so he always surprises me. If things don't look as he expects, they must be wrong, which worries me for him. But he always ends up OK.

I agree - it's a common struggle to understand and figure this out. I'm so sorry about your sister's baby. I'm sure it was terribly difficult for her.

Having seen people who are deeply depressed, I wonder sometimes if we're sometimes given more than we can handle. I guess I'm not convinced either way, which describes a lot of things for me.

I agree with much of what you said, but respect even the parts that don't work for me. I'm OK with asking for stuff - if Christ did it, then I'm cool with it too. Plus, there are times I can't find much to praise. And - for me - going to God with complaints is better than not speaking at all.

But I do think it differs for everyone. And while my beliefs are, I suspect, closer to yours than Fred's, I do appreciate that both of you do what works for you and I hope it continues to provide what you need from your spiritual life.

I very much enjoy your blog and have read some of your posts many times over. Thank you for the comment.

The Contessa said...

Katie, this was really touching. I have a friend who lost her baby in the 8 month of pregnancy and it was torture for her, and really tested her faith which was always unswerving - she was very much the female "fred". I kept thinking of her as you described him.

His faith works for him. Yours works for you. Your post, as usual, is beautifully written.

I, too, don't like hearing that "someday you'll meet a nice man and get married" line much. Because I am not entirely confident that that is in God's plan for me, though it is something I wish he would include.

Pray for whatever reasons make you happy.

I Pray for the things that I want, but I have a pecking order. I pray first for those people i n my life who are ill, dying or need some kind of prayer, Then I pray for general things in the world, and lastly I pray for all the things that I WANT. It's usually 1 or 2 tops.

I found everyone's comments here very interesting. I have family like Fred as well. it's challenging.

You do what works for you - as long as you are comfortable with your method of prayer, God will be comfortable too.

Anonymous said...

thank you for this post. it is so good to read. i know what you mean though, though I know He can do miracles, I would believe as you do, that's it's too late. and the joke rl mentions is something that I think people forget when they pray, that God doesn't work in the ways we expect him too.

Post a Comment