Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Good God or bad God or no God?

Before I begin this post, I want to state that there are a lot of things I don't know, a lot of questions for which I am still seeking answers. Anybody who has been reading my blogs for any length of time knows that I have struggled with my faith as a Christian. There are many reasons for this. There are some good reasons, and there are some bad reasons.  But there is one thing that is not a cause of my struggles, and that is what happened to Michaela.

Recently I saw a post on Instagram, and on Facebook, about how if God does exist he is a petty tyrant and doesn't care about people or what is going on in the world, and that if he was real, the writer would rather go to hell. What was really disturbing about this was that it was posted by my son. My son who was once training to be a youth pastor. I remember when my little boy grew into a young man, and I would sit a few rows behind him in church. I would see his hands, grown so large to fit his 6'3" frame, raised in worship, and it would literally move me to tears of joy. I watched his spiritual growth with delight for years.

Then came the time of leaving.

I left first. It had been one of the very worst seasons of my life. Jaycee Dugard had been found, and I had so earnestly believed that finding her would mean finding Michaela. When my husband woke me up early that morning to tell me about Jaycee, I leaped up and told him, "We have to get the kitchen painted before Michaela comes home!" That had been followed by over a month of the most intense search for Michaela, as our investigators moved in on the property where Jaycee had been found and literally tore it down looking for any evidence that Michaela had been there, as they brought in search dogs and dug possible gravesites. It had also been physically exhausting, as I spent many days traveling out to the property to watch the efforts of our investigators. The story of Jaycee's recovery was huge, and yet Jaycee was not talking to the media. The media therefore, turned to me, and I was called on to do the early morning New York news/talk shows, and the late evening west coast shows. I'd be picked up at 3:00 in the morning to go to a local studio, often arriving at a building that was closed, locked and dark, and I'd have to find a way in. In the middle I'd travel in the heat of the day to the Antioch property where the investigation was being carried on, and where media camped out. It was all worth it. It is a large part of why Michaela's case is so well known today, 27 years after her kidnapping. But it was completely exhausting. And in the end, it yielded nothing, or at least not what I'd hoped. Having been really convinced for the first time since she'd been kidnapped that I might actually see her alive again, it was a devastating, devastating let down. I fell into the deepest depression of my life. And in the midst of that depression, I woke up one day and said not that I was angry at God, not that he had let me down in some way, not that he had let Michaela down in some way, but rather that suddenly Christianity didn't make any sense. There were some things in the background of my life, like flies that were hard to see but easy to hear buzzing, that added to this fall from faith. But regardless, I fell.

I left church, but my son was still there. At first he was shocked, and asked me questions and gave me answers, which I kind of laughed off. Yet one thing I knew was that I didn't want him to lose his faith. There were times I actually wept over the possibility of my son losing his faith. I remember at the time asking myself why this was. If I honestly thought that Christianity didn't make any sense, if I honestly thought it was wrong, then why on earth would I want my own child to be involved in it? And yet I did, very deep down in my heart. Even as I fell, I recognized this as significant. I recognized this as an indication that perhaps I really did believe.

But my son left, too, about two months after I did. He will swear to you that my leaving church had nothing at all to do with him leaving, but I know that is not true. I know that there were other things at play in his decision, but if I had not put those cracks in the foundation, I think it would have held against those other things.

I have since returned to my faith, dragging along with me a lot of those questions that I accumulated along the way. If I am a wave tossed on the ocean, they are strands of seaweed tied to my ankles. I am kicking and swimming despite that. Will they drag me down again? It is my intention to get to solid enough ground to be able to cut them away. Believe me, I am in search of the truth. There is so much in our world today that gets wrapped up with Christianity that just doesn't belong there. It is a religion, a faith, a state of heart, it is love. It is not politics, and it is a grave mistake to allow what the world has made of Christianity to dilute its true meaning.

The pertinent question is, why did I return to my faith? The answer is, God called me. God calls me, and tugs on my heart, and I resist. Why? Well, that's a completely different subject, which doesn't really fit in this blog entry. But God is difficult to resist when he really wants you, and I melt into his heart. God doesn't just call me, however. He answers me. I have had so many prayers answered. It's funny the way he does it. Sometimes it's just a big, direct answer, but even then it will often take me a minute to recognize: "Oh! Look at that! That is exactly what I prayed for!" So often, though, something will happen in life, and because I am slow on the uptake it may take me a little while to realize its importance, and how it ends answering a prayer of mine in a way I had never imagined. Yes, I'd love to give you examples of all these things, but honestly they involve other people whose privacy I have to respect. It has been more than sufficient for me to believe that God does hear, and does answer my prayers.

That leaves the big question, though, doesn't it? Why didn't God answer my prayers about Michaela? I can't tell you the definitive answer to that right now. One day, when the story has reached its conclusion, I think I probably will be able to, but at this moment, I just don't have the information. I don't even have Michaela's side of it. Did God answer her prayers? I don't know. Just because the prayers were not answered in the exact way I thought they should be does not mean they were ignored. And is there some great, high purpose in it? This morning in my Bible study I happened to be reading the story of Joseph, one of my favorites in the Bible, for obvious reasons. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, who then told his father that he had been killed by wild animals. His father grieved for many years over the loss of Joseph, who had been his favorite son. Meanwhile, Joseph had been highly favored by God and had risen to become the overseer for the entire land of Egypt. Having interpreted Pharaoh's dreams to mean that there would be several years of plenty, followed by several years of famine, Joseph had been put in charge of the land in order to set aside enough food to weather the famine. Joseph's brothers traveled from the land of Canaan to Egypt to buy food for their families, and eventually Joseph revealed to them who he was, and asked them to bring the whole family to live in the land of Goshen so that he could provide for them during the five years of famine yet to come. The evil thing that had befallen Joseph had turned out for good, as he was able to save the lives of many, including his family. Meanwhile, Joseph's father, Jacob, was told that his son was alive, and his heart stood still. I can never read this without it bringing tears of joy to my eyes. Jacob's son, who he thought was dead, was alive, and he went to him, and the Bible says they fell into each other's arms and wept. (Genesis 45-46 if you want to read it yourself.)

What great good could be accomplished by God allowing Michaela to be kidnapped and by not answering my prayers to bring her home? I don't know, any more than Jacob knew in all those years that his "dead" son was living in Egypt, building up stores of grain that would keep Jacob and his family alive during the famine. That I don't know doesn't mean it cannot be true. When I say that God "allowed" Michaela to be kidnapped, please don't confuse that with God "causing" her to be kidnapped. We live in this world, and we co-exist with evil, and all parties possess free will. The Bible tells us that "we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purposes." (Romans 8:28) We know that not all our prayers are going to be answered. There are some things that must be. We all must die, sometime, some way. Because of that we can't all be healed always. We can, however, have faith that death is not the end, that there is something better. I can have that faith for Michaela. I can believe that we will ultimately be reunited, and in the span of eternity our suffering here will become small, but perhaps the good it may have done will become great, even if that good amounts to the touching of just one small, hurting soul, and bringing about healing and reconciliation.

My son concluded that his faith had been based on nothing but "emotions." To that I say, yeah? So? On the basis of "emotions" you believe in another person sufficiently to commit your entire life to them in marriage. On the basis of "emotions" you invest your heart and soul into a child. Through "emotions" you create great art. And if God reaches out and touches you, it will generate "emotions" for sure! It will also generate change in your life. If your faith is weak, God will provide what you need to make it strong. In the end, a lot of our questions are probably dumb and not really questions at all. They are just things we hang onto that would be better left behind. Because of my nature I am still pursuing them, and if I get answers I will share them, either here, or on my other blog, at www.just-sharon.com. But in the meantime, just as I have never fully understood how the internet works yet I continue to post blogs on it, I will continue to seek God's will.

To those who doubt, just look at the night sky. Does it go on forever? And ever? And ever? How can that be? How can that not be? Think about time, this moment you are in, with moments stretching out before and after, endlessly. Our minds cannot begin to comprehend these things, which must be so. Look at all that exists and wonder, how could this all have come from abso-frickin-lutely nothing? All our questions about the existence of God pale in comparison to the questions that must be asked about existence itself, period. Just be willing to ask the questions, and then be willing to hear the answers. I would include my son in this challenge. Don't assume you know things you don't know, even if they are questions. Our brains are limited. Our hearts are infinite.

Michaela, when you were a child I told you that if ever you needed help and I was not there to help you, you should ask God, and he would help you. My greatest desire is to one day hear how he did that.

I love you forever, baby girl. I feel in this moment the first time I held you in my arms, and I feel the next time I will hold you in my arms. God bless you, my love. If you are still here on this earth, remember that God has never stopped loving you, and neither have I.

mom

Room

I just saw the movie Room. If you haven't seen it, you should. It is a beautiful movie. The little boy in it was excellent, and reminded me so much of my granddaughter Shylah I had to love him.

But of course, it made me sad in a way that was beyond thought. It made me realize that there are so very many possible reasons to be sad that I haven't even considered.

It's funny, because lately I have been missing my imagination. I got a drawing pad, pencils and chalk pastels, but I haven't touched them because all I can see is the blank page, and I can't think of what to put on it. In my writing, I have to fight against rushing through, instead of stopping to dwell on the details, where the heart lives. But tonight I realized, of course my imagination has packed its bags and run away. Not knowing what happened to my daughter leaves too many possibilities open, too many things I cannot begin to entertain because they are too horrible. Not having the answers, any answers, all the possibilities wander around the edges of my consciousness. I cannot allow myself to imagine them, so I turn off my imagination as protection.

I am amazed at how much of a mess I am. It has been over 27 years, but in all this time, there has been no healing, at least in part because there is no resolution. It keeps happening, it keeps piling on and on, it never ends. It has robbed me of so much. It has robbed me of my daughter, my first child, but it has robbed me of pieces of myself along the way as well.

Still, I have lost nothing in comparison to what Michaela has lost. The movie tonight reiterated some of those themes I have heard about before, the feeling that the victim had of being unworthy. So I just want to say, again, for the thousandth time, that there is nothing at all that could ever change my love for you, Michaela. I love you. I know you. I know your heart and soul, and I have nothing but respect for you, no matter what may have happened. This is a safe place for you. If you are still alive out there, please contact me. I just want to hold you in my arms.

I love you forever, baby girl. I like you for always. For always and forever. No matter what.
mom

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Happy Birthday, Michaela

At this moment 37 years ago, Michaela, you were an hour old. All of the years of infertility, the difficulties in pregnancy and in labor, had melted away in that hour, as I was finally able to hold you in my arms. There has never been a child born on this earth who was more wanted, and more loved, than you. I had no idea of what the future would hold. I was young then, and there was so much I didn't know. I had never lost anybody I had really loved. Loss and death were shadows that haunted the dark edges of my conscious. Had I understood their absolute reality, would I have had the courage to enter a love like this?

I am not sure I even understood how deep my love would be for you, Michaela. But I learned fast. When I was pregnant I'd paid lip service to the notion of going back to work after you were born, but once I held you in my arms, I knew I could not do that. No paycheck, no money, no things, could ever be worth it. To leave you and go to work would be like ripping out a piece of my heart and leaving it behind every day. And you were so innocent, and so completely vulnerable. It was my job to take care of you. Nobody else could give you what I could give you: just plain love.

I sometimes drive by the house we lived in when you were born, Michaela. I am not blessed with an excellent memory, but I remember your infancy and toddlerhood very well. When these memories pass through my mind, they are often followed by an involuntary shake of the head. All that sweetness, innocence, all the good times, all the promise.... It feels like we were cheated, like a bad joke was played on us ... haha, fooled you. You thought you had happiness and love in the palm of your hand, but look! It is an illusion, something that can be snatched away in a moment by some stranger with long greasy hair and a pock marked face, who for some reason believed he had the right to take you. He didn't! He did not have that right! You were not some wild flower to be picked. You were mine to love and care for.

But he took you anyway, away to somewhere I could not see, I could not find, to somewhere where I could not hear your cries, I could not come to your side. When you were a baby, there was not ever once a time when I let you cry yourself to sleep. When you cried, I always held you and comforted you. Always. So how could this man come along and take you away where I could not comfort you?

Now ... so much time has passed. Where are you now? Did you ever just stop seeking comfort because you knew it wouldn't come? Or did comfort come from somewhere else? This morning when I was praying, I prayed for God to heal my broken heart ... broken in ways beyond sadness and grief, in ways even I can't grasp. They tell me to have hope, but for what am I to hope? Am I to hope that you spent the last 27 years suffering, in order that I might perhaps be able to see you again in this life? When people tell me that, to have hope, to believe that you will come home again, do they really understand what they are expecting me to believe? They think that it is somehow not hope to think it would be better for you to have spent the last 27 years in peace, in paradise. Is it not the best I can hope for, that when I was not able to help you, that our God stepped in and put his arms around you and carried you to a safe, happy place where there were no tears or suffering? I do not have to hope that I will see you again. I know that I will see you again.

But I don't know where you are. And for that reason I have to keep searching, reaching out to you. For that reason my mind and heart can never, ever just rest peacefully. As long as I don't know where you are, always in the back of my mind you will be crying out for help, for comfort, that I cannot give you. If that is true, Michaela. If you are alive somewhere, please let me know. Please let me know if you are okay, if you have made a life for yourself, or if you are not. If you are crying out for comfort, let me hear your cries! Let me comfort you. I want only to hold you in my arms and rock you until you are at peace.

And if you are not alive in this world, Michaela, I just pray that someone who knows what happened to you will tell us, and tell us where to find you. I think maybe I am ready to hear that now, if it is the truth. The not knowing, the endless imagining, has become more than I can take.

Wherever you are, Michaela, I celebrate your birth. You were one of the best gifts I have ever received in this life, and nothing that happened to you could ever change that. Not all the grief in the world could make a dent in the strength of my love for you, or the joy that you brought to me.

Love you forever, baby girl.
mom

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry Christmas

Dear Michaela,

This is our Christmas tree this year. The round dark spot you see is your "Baby's First Christmas" ornament, which has been on our tree every year since you were born.

I'm feeling sad this season.

I miss you.

I miss Christmas as it used to be.

I love you forever, baby girl. Wherever you are, Merry Christmas.

mom
(xxx)


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

New Life: A Respite

Last Thursday my youngest daughter gave birth to a baby boy. And for a few days now I have not been anything but a grandmother in love with her new grandson. I will get back to other things in awhile, but for the moment, they bounce off me as I am enveloped in the happiness of new love. People want to engage me about things going on with the search for you, Michaela, and I want to shrug them off. Leave me alone. Let me have my island of pure joy please. I don't want to hear about searches or digs. I don't want to hear about death. I only want to embrace life. Just for a moment. Please.

This is not to say, Michaela, that you have been forgotten in any of this. You were even there in the labor and delivery room, as I suffered along with my daughter through an unmedicated birth, as I wondered if you had given birth in the time you have been gone, and I grieved that if you had, I had not been able to be there to hold your hand or rub your back, as I was doing with your youngest sister, the one you have never met.

But for now, for this moment, I hope you don't mind if I take a few days off from the grief, from the scratching and clawing my way through the frustration of trying to find you. I hope you don't mind that for awhile I will cast off the blanket of sadness and I will fully embrace the joy of this season of new life. I will get back to the business of finding you, but this is like finding a small garden with a padded bench on which to rest in the middle of a decades long climb up a mountain.

I love you, Michaela. I love you forever. Wherever you are, rejoice with us, and with little baby Theo. Life affirms life.

mom

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Never letting go

Yesterday, a young woman I knew only a little passed away. She was approximately the age of my daughter, Libby, went to the high school when I worked there, had been in theater with my son in college. She'd had lymphoma for three years, and I had watched her battle through Facebook, had talked to her occasionally but not about the battle itself. She'd had her days numbered at one time, but had outlived that number. I personally had begun to believe maybe she would win the battle. But she didn't. I'd seen recent test results posted. I'd seen that she had been admitted to the hospital, was in the ICU, but that had happened before. Then posts started appearing on her Facebook from people telling her how much they loved her, and my heart literally grew heavy within in chest. Her mother posted the simple words, "I love you daughter," and my own heart broke. In those words, I could hear the goodbye, and I could hear the "don't go."

I am not Cherise's mom. Her mom has her own broken heart, her own feelings, which she expresses so beautifully in so few words. "I am broken. I will never be whole again." I feel almost as though I should apologize for even having these feelings in what is not my life, and yet I couldn't help it. It is experienced a million different ways, but once grief has made its home in you, it is there, always ready to make you feel. And this is what my heart, soggy and heavy with grief in my chest, felt, a mother's cry. "No, don't go! I cannot let you go!"

If my daughter has died, I was not permitted to be there, not permitted to offer her comfort, or love, or to try to hang onto her. Had it happened differently, I would have railed and cried and howled against letting her go. I would have lain down with her, would have held her heart to heart, and my heart would have reached out to wrap around hers and give her my own life, the beating of my own heart, to keep hers beating. I don't know how I could possibly have ever let go. Perhaps this is why I never had that chance.

But even now, even now I want to hold onto her. Recently I was talking to someone about the subject of digs in search of my daughter's body, and I told her that if there was a dig I would want to be there. I just have this feeling that if my daughter were to be touched by sunlight for the first time in 27 years, I would want to be there for that moment. But I also had to admit it was not unlikely that I would want to throw myself into the grave and wrap my arms around the little bones, to hold her and never let go, even though I would know her spirit had not been there for a very long time.

This morning I was talking to my very dear friend and soul sister, who lost her daughter at age 17 in a car accident, and the question arose of why God didn't heal her and bring her back to life. I brought up the idea that perhaps she got the better deal. If heaven is as great as they say it is, perhaps she was just saved having to go through the heartaches that this life inevitably brings, and went right to the good stuff. And maybe this is true. But even if I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was true, I would nevertheless claw and fight against it. I would hold on, with my heart, with my arms, with the last shred of my will. Even for my child who I love more than life itself, whose happiness means more to me than my own, I could not let go although it was a 100 percent certain guarantee that they would be walking down streets paved with gold under skies filled with diamonds. As Dylan Thomas says, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light!" ... even when you know that it leads only to a brighter light.

Cherise, the young woman who passed yesterday, was a beautiful singer. I have heard people say heaven sounds boring, hanging around and worshipping God, but I'm guessing those people have never attended a good worship service. Lifting my voice in songs of praise to God is one of life's truly exhilarating experiences, and I can't even sing! I can't imagine how much someone like Cherise would revel heavenly worship. So maybe we shouldn't grieve, but we do, for the warmth of holding the ones we love, for the light in the eyes, for the sound of a voice, for the purpose in the movement of their hands, for all the things small and large, we grieve. And grieve. And grieve.

I will, at some point, write about the anniversary, but my heart is too heavy right now.

Michaela, wherever you are, I love you forever.
However far apart we may be, one day we will be together.
One day I will hold you again in my arms.
Until then, I will hold you in my heart.

mom

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Another dead end

For months now I have been walking around, looking and acting normal. But behind that normal was a knowledge and an anticipation that I couldn't share. Some months ago a site was was discovered where it was thought Michaela might have been buried. I'm not going to go into all the details, but a few things converged to make this likely. At any rate, the wheels of justice moved slowly on, interrupted by some drastic current events within the investigating department, and I waited.

Today I received the call from our detective, letting me know that the site was finally investigated yesterday, and nothing was found there.

What do I say to that? What I wanted to say is, how deep did you dig? How wide? Are you positive it was the exact right spot? In the end, however, I was left mute. There are some things in life there is no point in questioning, I have learned. The FBI, which conducted the dig, is one of them. So I just said, "Thank you for letting me know."

It has been less than an hour since I heard that news, so it is still settling in with me. It is just at this very second that the tears are starting to fill my eyes. This is a first for me. There have been a number of times when it seemed possible Michaela's remains might be found, and every single time I received the news that this hadn't happened, I had been overcome by relief and elation. But that is not the case this time. It will probably take me awhile to sort out how I am really feeling, but honestly I had been hoping for an answer, for some resolution, for some relief from this exquisite torture.

Awhile back I found a meme on Facebook that gave me an aha moment. It depicts the stages of grief in a horseshoe, the stages leading down to the bottom and then the ones on the climb back up. I looked at it and saw myself stuck, like a marble rolling back and forth in the bottom of the curve, between searchings, guilt, loneliness, isolation and depression. I posted the meme with this statement and as one of my friends said, this is pretty obviously due to the fact that I have been robbed of the opportunity to process my grief, because Michaela is still missing. I cannot go through the stages and move on. Sometimes the marble bounces higher. Sometimes I move back up to numbness, anger, fear. I try to claw my way up to helping others, and occasionally an upswing will lift me there. But always that marble settles somewhere near the lowest point.

I cannot think of Michaela dying. Those thoughts are just too awful. I cannot think of Michaela living. There are too many awful thoughts there as well. I can think of Michaela as the little girl I knew and held in my arms, but accompanying that is a sensation that is difficult to describe. It is a sense of the injustice, although that word doesn't begin to encompass the magnitude of it all. I was given the gift of this beautiful child to care for. Michaela was given the gift of life. But it was all a lie in the end. It was all something that could be stolen away in a moment. The other day I saw a lightbulb fall against a wall, and when it hit it exploded, shattered, the light instantly extinguished. That is kind of like what this was like, the moment of impact on November 19, 1988. Well, for me anyway. The awful truth is that moment on November 19th might have been the least of it for Michaela.

And again, the torture of those thoughts. Even hope is not really hope. Hope exists only in the midst of a huge bundle of fear.

So I don't know what to think right now. I don't know how to feel. I'm just going to let these tears rise for awhile until they turn into that wet cement feeling I am so familiar with. The only thing I can really say is to you, Michaela, if you are out there somewhere. I am the mother. You are the child. It is my place to save you from suffering, even when it causes suffering for me. I have acknowledged that it could be possible that you might be alive out there somewhere and be unable or unwilling to come home for any number of perfectly valid reasons. But my heart is in a vise, Michaela. If you are there, if you are reading this, if you could please please please just let me know. You can post a comment here, and nobody will ever see it except for me, because I have to approve all comments before they are published. If you can identify yourself by our family code word or by something that nobody else would have a way of knowing, and let me know you are alive, I would be so grateful. If you are in another country and unable to leave because you don't want to leave your children perhaps, tell me. I just need to know that you are okay. Please. Please. Please. When you were kidnapped, along with your own fear and terror, I know you thought about me, and how it would hurt me, because that is just the kind of person you were. Please, Michaela. I am hurting. Please.

Love you forever, baby girl.
mom