Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thoughts On Grief, Balance, and Jealousy

Today the nephew's wife's sister and her husband are laying their 5-year-old daughter to rest.  She died suddenly of pneumonia.  There are no words for this level of sadness and loss.  All of us with daughters who are now or were once laughing, vivacious, creative, adorable 5-year-olds are feeling the magnitude of this, the heaviness, the emptiness.

And yet, it was them and not us, and this is their terrible journey to walk, and not ours.

I hope they have people who will sit with them and just let them hurt for a long time to come.

*     *     *

I've always felt handicapped by an ability to see both sides of an issue.

Other people always seem so sure of themselves.  OF COURSE gun control is a good idea.  Contrast the murder rate in the U.S. vs Canada!  Why would anyone need guns, especially a cabinet full, and especially assault rifles?  Seriously.

Or:  Gun control is a TERRIBLE idea.  If you're going to live in the country and deal with nutria and all kinds of other pests, you need a gun for economic reasons.  And what about the cougar prowling around your friend's field, endangering all the kids in the neighborhood?  And what about all the responsible, careful people who enjoy hunting and target shooting as a sport?  Seriously.

On this issue and many others, few people seem to be somewhere in the middle, and ones I know and love are convinced they're utterly and completely right, and they're firm and solid in what they believe.  Meanwhile, I understand both sides equally well so can't take a stand either way, which in some cases is a good way to go crazy.

[Or maybe those in the middle are just quieter.]

It's the same way with Christian/church/Biblical things.  God's sovereignty vs. man's free will, for instance, also known as Calvinism vs. Arminianism.  If you run in Christian circles, you've talked with people on each side of this who would die for their view and who have a neat and tidy explanation for all the verses that give some weight to the other.

Naturally, I can understand each side all too well, which always made me feel like an immature Christian who couldn't make up her mind.


We had a speaker at church recently (Ernest Witmer from California) who had a perspective I've never heard before.  He said that we have very Western mindsets in that we are big on logic, a systematic progression of ideas, and tidy answers.  If A=B and B=C, then A=C.  That makes us happy.  We are good at geometry.

The Hebrew mindset was different, he said.  They were all about balancing and even embracing two opposing truths at the same time.  The resulting tension was not something to be avoided--it was actually intentional.

So, he said, the seeming contradiction of so many truths in Scripture is intentional.  God's judgment vs. his mercy and love.  It's not either-or.  They're both true.  God's sovereignty and man's free will can both be true, however improbable, and we find meaning in striving for the balance between.  We don't have to choose one or the other to be a mature Christian.

It's ok to believe that both can somehow be true, but not to understand quite how.

Parenting is all about that tension between love/acceptance/affection and discipline/toughness/boundaries.  Church life--hugs and warmth and welcoming sinners while also challenging people to holiness and discipleship.

Finding a balance is never easy, but it helps if you think of the tension as having a purpose in and of itself.

I find it freeing.

*     *     *
The other day I overheard a woman say, " 'Sadie Gingerich'* is my favorite blogger!"

[*edited to add: I put Sadie G in quotes because she's a euphemism for a name I didn't want to state here, to protect everyone involved.]

And I felt an immediate stab of--yes--jealousy.

Thankfully I had the good sense to quickly take it to the Lord instead of mulling over it.

"Ok, God.  I am jealous.  What do I do with this?"

An immediate reply: "If you're No. 1, you have to maintain that position.  Do you really want that pressure?"

[Sometimes the Holy Spirit sounds a lot like Paul.]

I thought: No.  Shudder.  I most certainly do not need or want that sort of pressure.

 The Oregon Ducks are hovering toward the top of the rankings recently, which you already know if you follow football, and today they're number 2 in the CFP rankings, the newspaper says.  There's an intense pressure at the top, it seems, and especially at No. 1.  It's hard to maintain your footing there.  Everyone is trying to take over your spot.

But even knowing that, it's hard to want someone else to do better than you.

Jealousy goes with the territory, author Deborah Raney said at a writers' conference I attended this year.  You have to deal with it coming and going, both with your jealousy of others and others' jealousy of you.

I've certainly been on both sides of this.

Writers live and die by numbers.  Book sales, blog hits, fan letters.  But asking flat-out is like asking someone how much they weigh.  So we listen hard and do math in our heads.  "I lost 6000 readers a month when I had the baby and wasn't blogging much," a fellow blogger says, and you can just about hear the abacuses clicking in our heads as we wonder, well, was that 25% of her readers?  And if so, she was getting, what, 800 hits a day?!!  Unreal.  Not fair.  It's all because of those cute pictures of her kids.

And then you say that you decided to order 3000 copies of your new book, and non-writers say, "Hmmm. Cool," and other writers squint a bit and you can just about hear the whir and see the paper spooling out of the adding machine.

[If this is too honest for you, you can always go read Sadie Gingerich's blog.]

Deborah talked about being invited to a publisher's conference and having reason to believe that she was one of the featured authors.  So she arrived, all excited and full of herself, and there were other authors' photos on the flyers, the billboards, and even on the sides of buses going around town.  And not hers.

She was headed back to her hotel room to spend some time crying and feeling sorry for herself when she happened to be in the elevator with a ten-year-old boy.  Who was blind.  And who was so happy to learn how to push the right elevator button.

Deborah was thoroughly chastened.

But back to having favorites.  I went off about this last night to one of my patient daughters.  "Why do you have to announce who your favorite anything is?" I said.  "In fact, why do you have to have a favorite at all?  And shouldn't you have the decency to look around and see who might overhear--either in real life or online or anywhere else--before you just say it and hurt someone's feelings?"

The patient daughter disagreed.  "No.  That's being way too sensitive, and it's asking way too much of people.  You seriously expect them to think, Ok, who else might see this and get jealous, before they say who they like best?"

Well, yes, maybe.  At the very least when you're right there.

I can't tell you how many times people have come up to me at an authors' event and said, "Ooooh, you and Bob Welch are my two favorite columnists in the Guard, but I have to say I like Bob just a wee bit better."

And I think, "No.  You do not have to say it, actually.  I can live just fine not knowing that."

Then there were the times my fine husband was right beside another minister and someone came up to Paul and raved about his amazing sermons, implying if not actually saying that he was their favorite.  And Paul thought, "No.  Please.  Don't do that."

I liked what Joanna Hendricks said in her book review this week, not only the nice words about Footprints but also the thoughts about having favorites.

As I was reading Footprints on the Ceiling, enjoying, musing and plotting my review, I kept thinking, "This is my favorite, wait! This one is... Oh, just a minute, definitely this one..!" In other words, the whole book is great and I never really did decide!

I believe this is okay, for life condensed down to only one favorite is a bit boring and overly-simplified, you might say!

In a world of great chocolates, need I select just one? In a world of great hymns, who would want to sing the same one over and over again? In a world of great people. why have only one friend? In a book full of great essays, why pick only one favorite when, one after the other, they make a real treat to savor as one would a delicacy chosen from behind the glass at a specialty bakery.

So.  It's ok if you like Bob Welch or Sadie Gingerich better than me, really.  I like them better than me, too.

Just don't share that little piece of information with me--is that asking too much?

Quote List of the Day:
1 sock
hot sauce
MP3 player and cords
hand gripper
African Pride Olive Miracle Anti-Breakage Maximum Strengthening Moisturizer Lotion
Lipton citrus green tea
--what Steven left in someone's car after a road trip


  1. Honesty is good for our souls! Those were good thought on jealousy and favorites!
    I always enjoy reading your blog. You are one of the few that I follow regularly. I'm always happy to see a new post. (Now I need to go check out Sadie Gingerich! ;-) )

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  3. Never heard of Sadie Gingerich, but I love everything you write, Dorcas. And I really identify with what you said about seeing both sides of an issue. My current opinion on anything is often determined by who I last talked to!

  4. Favorites have always puzzled me, as well. I prefer to think of my favorite things- writers, blogs, books, hot beverages, woolen socks, retro music, and such things, as well-loved and dearly appreciated and even perhaps a bit dogeared from overuse. But a favorite author becomes that way to me for one reason: I can identify with what he or she says. It is just that simple.

    Perhaps I am so blunt and my memory so vivid and my vocabulary so alarmingly present and sharp, because I am sleepless on the sofa at 3 a.m. for reasons I'd rather not remember.

    At any rate: I thoroughly enjoyed this blog. And I shall spend the rest of the short night grieving with the parents of the five year old who is no longer with them.


  5. I love your wisdom. You have all the genius of my mom but in an orderly fashion (sorry, Mom).

  6. I laughed out loud when you said that the Holy Spirit often sounds like Paul. Also the list of stuff your son left in someones car, hilarious.

  7. About seeing all sides of an issue, apparently Bill Watterson had the same problem :)

  8. I completely get that about jealousy--seeing how many 'likes' other authors' book pages have, how many comments other bloggers get--all the ugly reality is true! I back you up about not saying the truth when we're around. =)
    Also, not needing to have 'either/or' but 'both/and' is very freeing. Maybe balance isn't what we need so much as....something else, like surrendering the need to understand???

  9. There was SO much about this post that I loved. In fact, it might be my most favorite Dorcas post ever, probably because every inch of it resonated with me.

    Your nephew's wife and her sister are cousins to my late brother's wife and I can hardly stand the sadness of that story and all the pain that particular family has had in the last years. Why does tragedy seem to come in waves?

    And balance? Oh man--I couldn't agree more! (and I think the "middle" people ARE quieter, bless them.)

    As soon as I read what you overheard someone saying about their favorite blogger, I whipped over to "Sadie Gingerich's" facebook page because I had given her a birthday wish that said something about favoritism. But I was off the hook because I had written "ONE of my favorite writers". The thing about the favorite issue is that favoritism is so fickle. I get blog crushes that last for a time and then I get tired of that voice and move on. But with true favorites, you come back because there is something that draws you to them. Like Jasmine said up there. Kind of like your favorite dress or sweater.

    I am a competitive person and struggle a LOT with jealousy. Being online has actually helped me with some of that. In my own small world, the twinges came once in a while and lasted long and hard. Anymore, I see so much talent and so much that is superior to anything I might attempt that somehow living with the "unfairness" comes more naturally. Having said that, it doesn't mean that I don't get jealous of the witty Smucker conversations that seem everyday for you. Or your book sales. Or "Sadie's" blog popularity or your other nephew's (?) BEAUTIFUL wife. ok. I am just plain saying too much here and this comment box is ornery and doesn't show either the original post with it-- or the entirety of what all I've written, so I think it's time to stop.

    I love this post and am sad that all your book giveaways only ship to the US--or the ones I checked did, at least. But I'll be a true supporter and buy the proper way. :) -Luci Martin

  10. Luci again. I agree so much about being careful about saying stuff In Front Of people. Like you don't tell someone how wonderfully thin they're looking in front of the stout person, right? Or don't tell one blogger in a group of 3 bloggers that theirs is your favorite. But I've done things like this without thinking and later felt terrible!!

  11. was Steven's moisture lotion for his hair or his skin?
    and why was it only one sock?
    oh my the story behind that list!

  12. I tried to view the blog you mentioned with three separate google searches and couldn't find it, but your blog was linked in two of the three searches.

  13. Rosy--I put Sadie Gingerich in quotes because she's a euphemism! Since I didn't want to name the real person.
    Julia--that is comforting to know that someone else's current opinion is determined by who you last talked to!
    Hope you got some sleep, Jasmine!
    Crystal, you made me laugh out loud.

  14. Lydia Jo: :-)
    Lauren--very cool C&H strip. thanks for sharing.
    Anita--a big Yes on "surrendering the need to understand." Thanks for supplying the words for something I couldn't quite articulate.
    Luci--it is wonderful thing to have someone GET what you're saying, so huge thanks. And I think I GET what you're saying there as well.

  15. Tabitha--as I told Rosy, I put Sadie G in quotes so you'd know it was a euphemism for someone I don't want to name so that the person who said she's a fave won't recognize herself, if that makes sense.
    And yes, Steven's left behind items could tell quite a story if they could talk. I think the lotion was for his hair. And isn't there always just one sock??

  16. Love this post! But I really liked what you said about seeing both sides of the issue. I am reading a book right now that talks about how Jews considered it a good thing to talk and discuss and argue over scripture. They didn't view scripture as a set in stone rulebook. Very fascinating to see you write very nearly the same thing.

  17. When someone says that"so and so" is her bff, I wonder what her other friends feel. Maybe they thought they were her best friend. I think we can have many friends and one should not be "best".