There is a Taoist tale about an old farmer whose horse runs away. 

Upon hearing the news, his neighbors say, “I’m so sorry.” 

“Maybe,” the farmer replies.

A few days later the horse returns with three other wild horses. 

“How wonderful!” the neighbors say.

“Maybe,” the farmer says.

Awhile later the farmer’s son tries to ride one of the horses, gets thrown off, and breaks his leg.

“What bad luck!” the neighbors comment.

“Maybe,” the farmer replies.

The next day, military officials come to the village to draft all the young men into the army. 

Because of his lame condition, the son is left behind.

“You’re so lucky!” the neighbors say.

“Maybe,” the farmer replies.

This story is often told in the context of suffering — that everything happens for a reason. I used to believe that. I was comforted by the notion that God sat above us with a set of puppet strings choreographing our every move, even if we didn’t understand the dance in real time. 

I don’t believe that anymore. Not after my experience as an intern chaplain in an inner-city hospital. Not after six months of rounding the Burn Intensive Care Unit. 

There is nothing logical or spiritual about a man who is making grilled ham and cheese on his stove one minute and — because of unsafe gas pipes in project housing — the next minute is intubated without a limb and barely recognizable to his kids. There is little to say to a young mother who is told her burned child has enough lung capacity to breathe for one more hour.

My chaplain training and clinical work gave me plenty of opportunities to wrestle with the problem of evil and suffering: Why does bad stuff happen to good people? Of course, I’ve asked the question a few times in response to my own struggles, as well: “What the hell are you thinking, God?” Or as Austin Powers and many of the Old Testament writers would say, “A bone! Throw me a fricking bone!”

A Silver-Lining Spirituality

While I don’t believe that things happen for a reason, I absolutely do believe that God uses everything for good and that there is a silver lining of hope and grace in every piece of bad news, even the most horrific of circumstances. I have seen that in the hospital over and over again, and I know it to be true in my own life. 

We can break apart into a thousand pieces, and although we many never regain our wholeness as we once were, we exist as a new elegant creation, cracks and all. God is the ultimate potter, holding us together, especially in those moments of vulnerability when tragedy strikes and we lose the foundations (our health, a loved one, a job) on which we stand. 

In an episode of the BBC series “Call the Midwives,” Nurse Jenny loses her boyfriend in a fatal fall from tall scaffolding inside a building. She is at Nonnatus House, home to the Nuns of the Order of St. Raymond Nonnatus and headquarters of midwifery, when she gets the news. Sister Julienne tries to comfort Jenny and asks her to join her and the other sisters at chapel.

“Chapel?” Jenny snaps. “I don’t see where God fits into any of this.”

“God isn’t in the event, Jenny,” Sister Julienne replies gently. “He is in the response to the event. In the love that is shown and the care that is given.”

In other words, God isn’t in the breaking, but is in the glue that is used to repair the break. 

Not Getting Stuck

While time does contribute to healing, I think a lot more is required to propel ourselves from the quicksand of trauma and disillusionment. We have to keep hoping and trusting even when there is absolutely no reason to – to continue to open our hearts even when the anguish blinds our vision so that we can’t see anything beyond the bleak picture in front of us. 

If we are brave, the rubble from an implosion can serve as a sandbox where we learn what we’re made of. 

I think of Joni Eareckson Tada, who led an active life until she dove into a shallow section of the Chesapeake Bay when she was 17 and suffered a fracture becoming a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down. The years after her accident, she was pierced with rage, depression, suicidal thoughts, and religious doubts. She relied on her faith to persevere, learning to paint with a brush between her teeth and write using voice recognition software. Today she is the author of more than 40 books, including an international bestseller, the founder of an organization helping others who live with disabilities, a singer, and an inspirational speaker.

Grace in a Blank Page

This blog emerged as a silver lining. The idea for “the second pilgrimage” was born from a desert experience that involved its share of challenges, and the infrastructure is a result of my old site being infected with malware. At one point I thought I had lost all my content and panicked. I soon came to view it as an opportunity to start over and create something new, which I have been wanting to do because I am a different person today than I was when I wrote my earlier blogs. 

There was grace in the “white screen of death,” the WordPress term for that ominous blank page you see when you type your URL. I don’t think God hacked my site. I think God has better things to do. But I do think God was there, in the response to my distress, in the angel he sent to deliver me from technology hell and in the people around me who encouraged me to follow my instincts and build something new, to put myself out there again.

So here I am. A new site. A new perspective.

Things just happen. 

But good always comes.

Image Credit: Angels Hells Beliefs Religion Sky Cruz El Salvador. Creative Commons Zero (CC0 1.0 Universal).

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16 Responses
  1. Katy White

    Dearest Therese, this really spoke to me today and was yet another reminder both of how wonderful your writing is and how God continues to speak through you. Love this new journey you are on and can’t wait to hear more and more!! xo Katy

  2. Lisa Hillman

    Hello Therese. I read this word by word – and come away so happy to hear your voice, again.
    Yes. It’s a different voice.
    But you’re always been someone others need to hear.
    So, please, keep speaking in this “new” voice and sharing your hope and wisdom with us.
    With love’
    Lisa

  3. Pat Schwimer

    Dear Theresa. I am so delighted that you are back. And your reflection today touched me deeply as I am embroiled on a family conflict. Thank you for finding your way back to blogging as you travel your new journey, Pat

  4. Lori

    Sorry, but I have a different perspective. In 2020, I lost my brother who had a massive heart attack on his way to work. He died laying on the hood of his car on his way to work, on the George Washington bridge. He was 60.
    My mother died from Alzheimer’s in August 2020. We had her in her house on Hospice, so we could be with her. No visiting allowed in a hospital due to Covid
    I sat by her bed for28 days in which she had no food or water. This was her request as per her legal agreement.
    In April of 2020, I lost my son to mental illness. He was 34 , and Ahmad a degree from Wharton and from Harvard Law school, both top of his class. We were allowed to have 10 people at the funeral, and after that we were alone for months due to Covid…..and to make things worse our daughter was in a mental health unit in California, and we had to tell her on zoom. She was crushed….no other siblings. There is no silver lining in any of this.

    1. Ann

      Dear Lori, Your feelings and pain are so understandable. When horrible trials test us, we cannot understand why. I have had a strong faith my whole life. In 2006 I experienced an incredibly painful year. My dear brother got lung cancer and I was with him as he died after only 2 months from being diagnosed. A week later my father was hospitalized with damaged lungs and 2 months later died. During those 2 months, my mother who had middle stage Alzheimer’s was my responsibility while I still worked full time and had my handicapped daughter to care for.
      Sleeping at my mom’s house she would wake me up repeatedly at night, asking me, “Where is your father?” Not remembering he died. One month later, after finally placing her in an assisted living home, my son’s wife left him after only 15 months of marriage. My son was struggling with his pain. I think I just pushed through each event with prayer. I was sad, distressed, anxious but I knew God was with me. Yes, I was in pain. I still wonder how I got through that year. I am not a strong individual. But I got through it and it had to be because God was with me. The following years have had their troubles, but I know that I got through that awful year and can live forward. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

      1. Lori

        I’m so sorry for all you have been through. My brilliant son suffered horribly for 17 years. He/ we tried everything possible to help him. Watching your child suffer for so long without being able to get any relief was almost as unbearable as losing him. Every single day of his life as unbearable. We had him try every medical intervention possible without any success. And…..insurance paid for very, very little of it. I don’t even want to discuss how shitty the mental health system is in this country. That is a different conversation. Let me say that we spent more money trying to help him, than most people see in their lifetime, all for naught.. And I would do it all over again if I had to. I’m glad that you believe in God to help you through your trials. That is a blessing for you. Seeing your brilliant child who suffered for so long being put in the dirt, was unbearable for me, and no amount of prayer will ever comfort me or get this vision out of my head.

  5. Ira Rifkin

    It’s wonderful to read your voice again; strong and, as always, so darn articulate. I look forward to more. Be well.

  6. Frank Hulse

    Hi Therese,
    I am so glad to see your Second Pilgrimage show up unexpectedly. I wish you all the very best and will hope to experience each of your posts. Again, all the best to you!
    Frank

  7. Julie

    Thank you so very much for including me in your “new” journey! I have been following your blogs for decades.

    I have always been touched by your experience, strength, hope and your skilled writing. God knows that I need it more now than ever before. I hope you are well!🌷

    ~Survivor of a life-threatening & altering cerebral vascular accident (CVA) ten months ago (2021) leaving me with severe brain damage due to hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes at the age of 49 years-old. I have had to relearn everything from swallowing to walking again. I am currently working on debilitating vision impairment alongside innumerable challenges ahead.

    God may not have “spared” me this horrific and unpredictable outcome, but simply receiving this email from you, God brought “you” and your inspiration back into my life. 💕

    Warmly, ~Julie

  8. Anonymous

    This is coming at a very important time in my life. Been suffering for awhile, and being left with nothing else other than to “offer it up. A lot of times it feels like a “dark night of the soul” and I don’t know where He is in the suffering. Thank you for reminding me that He’s in the glue the mends the brokenness.

  9. Susan Sklar

    What a blessing today to recieve this. You are one off the few people I trust around faith and God.
    So very sad to read of the sufferings of people.

  10. Nobody

    These last years have been the worst of the worst. I’m done. God has become a joke to me. I’m putting things in order.

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