Friday, October 26, 2012

You Don't Even Smell Like Smoke

It was a Wednesday in late September last year. I was newly pregnant again and it was still possible that the first lost pregnancy had just been a one-off genetic fluke. I had gone to sleep the night before with a worrisome pain and growing anxiety and had woken up to an increasingly clear confirmation that this pregnancy would not result in a baby either. I woke Todd up, made phone calls to the doctor and my office, took a shower. Todd eventually fell back asleep while we were waiting for our doctor's office to open and the panic wouldn't let me sit, made me want to crawl out of my skin, so I drove to Panera to bring us home breakfast, because that's what my people do when the sky is falling. We feed people, we bring casseroles, we eat jalapeno-cheddar bagels.

Back in the car, with the bagels and the decaf coffee, I started to pray. I expected to articulate the groans of my breaking heart with pleas for this baby's life, offering God various bargaining chips if only, but what came out of my mouth, my fists clenched around that steering wheel and hot, angry tears making the drive difficult:

I believe. I believe.

Eight months before, before the first pregnancy, before the floor of my expectations for my life had fallen out from under me, I didn't know if I believed. I was married to a pastor, I would have told you I believed, I would have told myself I believed most days. But the previous ten years had wrung my faith into tatters. I had seen people who professed to believe do horrible things. I was neck-deep in a graduate program about poverty and the faces of women trying to feed their children were wrecking me, surely more real than the God I mostly believed in. I was dragging around heaps of baggage, crammed full of well-intentioned but devastating teachings about God.

And it was in my car, driving home from Panera, on that Wednesday morning in September, losing again a life I was desperate for, that I realized something I never saw coming:  I believed. 

I have been haunted throughout this excrutiating struggle for babies by the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel. They are Jews in exile in Babylon and when the king declares that everyone must worship an image of gold, they refuse, despite the king's threats to burn them alive in a furnace. They respond like this to the king:

"If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:17-18).

It's the but even if he does not that haunts me. It's one thing to believe that God can save us; it's quite another kind of faith entirely to believe even if he does not. That's the kind of belief that I knew that morning. It wasn't intellectual assent. It wasn't something I felt. I just knew in that moment, in my gut, in my bones, that I believed. That this was the Really Real.

After my third miscarriage in May, in the ridiculously illogical bargaining phase of grief, I told God often that I would walk through infertility as long as God was glorified. I begged God to make this pain purposeful, to draw us and anyone he'd allow deeper into this mystery that what is truest at the center of the universe is Love.

We, inhabitants of this broken planet, drowning in grief and tragedy and mess and stupid, people who want to rip the face off someone because they disagree about which of two Presidential candidates is better, when we see the glory of God, we have to speak it. We have to whisper it into someone's ear real close or shout it at passersby. Look, glory! 

So here, look, glory:

I was sitting outside the other day, drinking wine and seeking wisdom from a woman I love like crazy, and she said to me:  you don't even smell like smoke.

I had forgotten the rest of the story in my hang up about verse 18. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are thrown into the furnance, where a fourth person "looking like a son of gods" joined them, and they are all just walking around in there. The king, freaking out, calls them to come out and when they do he saw "that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hear of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of smoke on them." (v. 27)

They didn't even smell like smoke. 

I have no idea what the end of our story is. I do not know if God will save us from any more fires. But I know this, I know this: He can bring us through so we don't even smell like smoke.

Look, glory!

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