Saturday, January 9, 2010

Something I grapple with

Jacob Wrestles with God -Gustave Dore

The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob's thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." And he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then he said, "Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked him, "Tell me, I pray, your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. Genesis:32

I went on a walk the other day with one of my closest friends and at some point during the walk and the talk of husbands and children and life and movies and books and weight and exercise and Sophie, I said something to the effect of how Sophie's life had lifted and enriched mine in ways that I couldn't always articulate. I think I said something like I'm not sure what sort of woman I'd have turned out to be if I hadn't had Sophie and, specifically, the troubles (a phrase I'm especially fond of with all its understatement -- I believe it's how the Irish referred to the Catholic/Protestant issue so I usually say it with a faux Irish accent). I'll say right now that I'm plenty aware of the grappling with identity that comes with motherhood. I've got three children, two who are as typical as can be. But this is a different sort of grappling, a different sort of identity thing that is probably best understood by those who've experienced it or something similar. And what I meant by that is NOT that Sophie's life, her seizure disorder, the fact of her existence has meaning only in and of itself -- that she was sent here by God for a specific purpose and that I have successfully figured that out. I don't believe that Sophie's seizure disorder has any meaning whatsoever. I think bad things happen, all the time, to most people. I don't believe Sophie's life's purpose is to show me or any of my friends or family anything at all.

I believe in the randomness of fate.

I do believe her life has purpose but that purpose is her own.

This is what I grapple with (and please allow me to be presumptuous enough to compare myself to Jacob wrestling the Angel Michael or God or whomever).

Jacob was alone, in the dark, wrestling with God. That's a pretty damn intimate thing to do, to wrestle with one's spirituality, in the dark. and to come out blessed.


  1. This is so interesting. As I don't have other children, I have often wondered if the struggle with identity was the same as, similar too, an exgerration of, the struggle with identity when raising typical children.

    I also find with Dimitri's disability, that I believe it just "is". These things just happen, if it hadn't been Dimitri and my family it would have been somebody elses (although I'm not a spiritual person so this maybe is to be expected?).

    I'm comfortable with this way of thinking, as I don't believe Dimitri, or anyone else for that matter, needs to have a purpose (ouside of his own) to be here. Although I think that my life, my thinking has been enriched by Dimitri, this is not his purpose.

    This post gives me a lot to think about.

  2. A great post Elizabeth. I grapple with this too and can't articulate it very well. Oscar's presence has definitely enriched my life and changed me and I often wonder who I would be if he had not been born with PWS. But I feel almost a certain anger about this -- because I feel so strongly that his purpose in life is not just to enrich mine or anyone else's. Sure he touches us, challenges us, and expands us, but his life has meaning beyond us and to think otherwise would say that he was born with PWS for a reason and I just cannot believe that. It happened, a genetic accident, that's all.

  3. Ah, goosebumps, at the end.

    And I really like what you said about Sophie's disorder not having any meaning whatsoever and too that her life has purpose but that purpose is her own.

    Your whole thinking about this is so rich and interesting.
    You hear so much of that kind of "God doesn't give us more than we can handle" nonsense. I like what you said about how it's a different sort of grappling and itentity thing. It sure is.

  4. This is beautiful, Elizabeth. I agree with you- and in fact, I think it is presumptuous beyond belief to look at anyone else's life and to try and make of the purpose of that life a reason for one's own growth or whatever. It is a blessing when that life DOES make you a better person because of the way you deal with it in grace but trying to make sense of the senseless with that sort of tortured thinking only serves to make me angry.
    It is NOT presumptuous to imagine you wrestling with God or with St. Michael. You do that every day. With the grace you have inside of you, with the strength you have earned from this struggle. But neither that grace nor that strength is Sophie's purpose on this earth. Well. That's what I believe.

  5. When Katie was little I felt very strongly that my daughter had died. And she had, my dream child died when Katie was diagnosed. I think the death of my dream child made me a much better nurse.

    But in real life, Katie made me a much more stressed and bitchy person than I might have otherwise been. But who knows? She taught me patience and acceptance but it came at a high price, chronic headaches and a feeling of being worn down to the very nub of my existence.

    I had a patient last week, a man of 54 who has had MS for the past 32 years. He can't move anything other than his head. He laughed and made jokes the whole time I cared for him. I asked his wife if he was always like that and she said yes. He told her that he couldn't do anything about having MS but he could do something about his own attitude. He chose happiness and life.

    I think that's what Katie has taught me, that there are awful things that happen in life but it's up to me how I choose to live.

  6. You articulate this so beautifully. I have so many things that I want to say on this subject, but don't know how!

  7. I have loved this Bible story since I was a child. I love that you are seeing in it. You've named exactly how I feel about cancer, "natural disasters" and all of the "brokennness" in the world. Thank you for your courage to tell us how you feel, and for the beautiful way you say it.

    I'm grateful that you have friends with whom you can have that sort of rambling conversation, musing and picking over any and every subject, as if you were going over a bush of luscious summer berries. What a gift.

  8. Well said, Elizabeth. Grace is a kindness we don't "deserve" and can't be earned. More often than not I think that pain, disability and illness is the flip side of grace. Not deserved and not earned. Sometimes I am struck by philosophies that are very different and perhaps beyond our western way of thinking (why me?)...but rather "why not me?" It is hard to grapple (wrestle) with this and for me acceptance and grief can vary from day to day. You have written a beautiful post. Thank you, as always.

  9. Emily - I really believe the identity issue is completely different when you have a child with special needs -- the one with typical children pales in comparison -- at least in my life.

    Mary - Yes.

    Bethany - Thank you.

    Ms. Moon -- You've expanded my post with your beautiful comment. Thank you!

    Deb -- Exactly, especially your last sentence.

    Julia - Try to say them. I miss your writing.

    Karen - I wish that you were one of those friends that I picked raspberries with...

    Cinda - I like the thought that pain, disability and illness are the flip side of grace. So interesting

  10. Not only did your latest comment on my blog make sense but it also gave me an analogy that I had not thought of. As for your post, it was one of those beautiful outings that you can only marvel at. Your coherence, your logic (yes, I'm still in Logos land :-D) and your passion are admirable. Many, many thanks for the image and text.

    Greetings from London.

  11. Speaking of randomness, you may want to check out this episode of Radiolab:

    In a very kooky and creative way, they try to discern as scientifically as you can get on an indie-progressive radio program whether or not things "happen for a reason."

  12. Things are what they are and they need no reason to exist, no justification, no purpose. Each one of us look at the same object from different points of view. The romantic would think that is beautiful, the scientist that is complex, the cynic that is not worth it, the humble that is humbling, and the child will simply say: the emperor has no clothes. I tend to agree. We find purpose and reasons for wars and yet we still have not found purpose and reasons for peace valid enough to stop wars. We are our own ancestors and that is the ultimate responsibility and our purpose. We reproduce systematically and the species are safe for as long as someone does it. The rest is all philosophy and faith. Not bad, but never enough to make a lasting peace with our minds.

  13. I think that grappling is the point, sometimes.

  14. again your words have touched me... and again i admire you even more...

  15. This post really resonated with me. For a long time I struggled with the "why" of my son's condition. In some ways, it was more terrifying to believe it was a random "mistake" at conception --which it was -- than to somehow ascribe a cause to it. In some bizarre way it was easier to feel guilty that I had somehow caused it than to feel that it was completely random and I had no control over it and we had so little control over what could befall us in life.

    I have often had similar feelings that I have been blessed with the ability to grow and develop into the person I am precisely because of the challenges my son has had. And yet I certainly don't feel that my growth is the "reason" or purpose for my son.

    I remember once early on telling a relative about how much I'd learned from my experience with Ben and she responded: "Oh, so when he grows up and has all these problems, he can say: 'it's okay because my mom has learned so much!'"


    Do you ever think there is some kind of larger picture that we are not privy to?

  16. I can't tell you how much I love this.
    I keep reading it. And the comments.

  17. yes and yes

    yes especially to God's purpose and plan for Sophie - uniquely her own - as we are ALL of us so privileged. And why should anyone "get" what it is - as if it belonged to anyone but her?

  18. I think I would feel terribly, terribly alone in the universe if I accepted that my purpose in life was solely my own and that I had no intertwining lives in which to develop my purpose and assist others to develop theirs...and that I had to wait for totally random events in which to carry out that for which I came.

  19. Truth, all of it.

    I don't believe in divinity either, except the divinity of nature and life and love. We're all single grains of sand on an infinite beach, our only connections those we forge with others.

    Sometimes that understanding is harder, knowing I'm tiny and alone. But I know who, what and where I am. And there is no agonizing about why.

    The church of cosmic coincidence.

  20. beautiful. I agree with you. Queen Teen has disabilities simply because sometimes things happen. I don't believe it's a plan or a punishment. But what we learn from them, what she does with her life while living with them and what I do with mine while helping her, is what matters.

  21. What an amazing post, Elizabeth, and wonderful comments. I know I've said this before, but I'm so thankful that you are grappling with these issues here on your blog so that we can all be a part of the discussion.

  22. "Jacob was alone, in the dark, wrestling with God. That's a pretty damn intimate thing to do, to wrestle with one's spirituality, in the dark. and to come out blessed."


    thank you for re-posting this...

  23. Thanks for pointing to this one. I love it. I can't even articulate how much I love it, but I love the point about Sophie's life having it's own purpose. I always have to remind myself that my son's relationship to the universe is his relationship.



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