short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Sensing a Presence that I could not deny, I became angry. I was angry that I could not free myself from this Presence. I was angry that this Presence occupied my every thought. When I found that I could not flee the “hound” at my coattails, I turned, like a trapped animal, and fought. That is, after all, what I knew how to do best. I fought, as usual, not from fear but from anger. In my anger, I argued with and questioned this Presence—and even blamed It.

Never before had I questioned why I bore children with birth defects. Since I did not consider that there might be a God whom one could expect to intervene, I just accepted the fact that Donnie and I did not have the most felicitous combination of genes and for that reason 50% of our children suffered from multiple defects. My question, when confronted first with Noelle’s birth defects, then Doah’s, was not “Why?” but “What do we need to do to keep them healthy and prepare them to lead worthwhile lives?”

Only now, with this Presence occupying my thinking space day and night, did the errant thought finally come to me, “Why?” If a deity existed, then I could accept these birth defects and the myriad other tribulations that we had experienced with some degree of equanimity only if that deity were effete. But I knew from teaching social philosophy that the fearsome God of the Jews, the loving God of the Christians, and the almighty albeit gracious and merciful God of the Muslims was anything but effete. Bewildered and hostile, I wanted answers, and I demanded an explanation. I did not conduct a trial and find God guilty as did the senior Jewish leadership at Auschwitz during the Holocaust of WWII. No, my response was much simpler. I asked God why.

Job! Read the Book of Job. More than a thought but less than a voice, the words slammed into my consciousness. Still entranced by a surreal sense of a divine Presence fully occupying all my faculties and even directing my thinking, I accepted these quietly compelling words at face value as an answer to my demand to know why bad things had happened to my family, people whom I considered to be essentially good, even moral. Not only did I surprise myself by accepting these words, but also I reacted to them instinctively, without examination of what I was doing or why, so strong was the Presence in and around me.

While the response to my asking why took less than a minute in coming, the answer took days to understand. From my childhood Sunday School classes, I knew that Job was somewhere in the Old Testament, but I did not even have a Bible. In this case, as in so many other cases where I have needed general research, the Internet rescued me.

I found the Book of Job and read it. Ah, the patience of Job! That is an expression everyone knows. I did not think, though, that the message I was supposed to be getting had anything to do with patience. After all, how does patience explain why children might be born with handicaps?

So, I read the Book of Job again. I read about all the torments and testing, about how Job remained faithful through all the tests. I did not think that was the message I was supposed to be getting, either. That, too, did not explain why children would be born with handicaps. My children were not torments. They were delights.

So, I read the Book of Job a third time, paying attention to how Job’s friends exhorted him to turn his back on God, but instead he turned his back on their advice. This, too, did not seem to be the message I was supposed to be getting for I neither blamed God nor believed in God at the time of my children’s births.

The reading of Job was becoming rather frustrating, and I began to think I would need the proverbial patience of Job to ferret out whatever meaning I was supposed to be getting from it. So, I read the Book of Job a fourth time and began to feel much empathy for him, especially in the loss of his children. I noted well that I had been spared such pain even in the case of SR whom doctors refused to believe would live. An understanding was beginning to emerge but not one that I could articulate. Just one more time and perhaps I would understand!

I read the Book of Job a fifth time, and then I finally got it. It was not the concept of patience that I needed to understand, nor was it a test whose requirements I needed to meet. No, it was the concept of unconditional love that I needed to develop. No matter what was taken from Job or what he had to endure, he continued to love God. That, I think, is a message that is not often preached. More frequently preached is a panoply of "benefits" of coming to Church, being holy (whatever that means), and exercising patience. I don't need to be promised wealth in order to give to God. I don't need to be promised the avoidance of eternal damnation in order to obey God. Nor do I need fear of reprisal to walk along the path that God has laid out. I don't even need to be promised salvation in order to love God. I do all of these things because I want to not because I have to or fear the consequences of not doing them. Love for God is not a selfish love, looking for something we can get from it. It is an unselfish love, like God’s love for us, full of desire to give back to God by modifying our behavior to be worthy of God’s love, serving as God’s instrument for good, and being open to whatever it is that God would have us do.

What the message of Job says to me is that God's presence in our lives and what happens to us and those we care about are separate things. God has promised us to be with us if we allow it. What happens to us, on the other hand, is often a result of free will with which God is determined not to interfere although sometimes God does intervene. Love of God must be unrelated to what happens to us, and our love of God must be as unconditional as is God’s love for us. It took five decades, but I do finally get it. What happens in life—the bad things and the good things—cannot be conditions for whether or not we love God. They are tangential. These things generally come from our own misguided actions allowed by free will, the free will of others that encroaches upon us, the sometimes infelicitous combination of genes as people marry into various gene pools (i.e. the free run of nature), and even perhaps as in the case of Job with the interference of Evil. Just as God’s love for us is unconditional, not depending on whether or not we are always “good” (an impossibility, anyway), so, too, our love for God must be free of conditions. I understood that God was not to blame for any of the bad things that happened to Job or to me, but God has been omnipotent at turning the bad, once it happened, into good.

The reading of Job took care of my question as to why there could be a God and my children might be born with birth defects, why God might not want to intervene, or why it might be better to allow the birth defects to occur. My children’s lives are not defined by their birth defects but by what they do with their lives, how they help others, what they contribute to the world. It is defined not by what they cannot do but rather but what they can do and do do.

There was one more thing, though, one that seems to be overlooked frequently. God protected Job. It did not seem that way to Job because Job was not in on the agreement that God had made with Satan. Satan could take things away from Job and then, later, God even allowed Satan to torment Job physically. Job, however, was never in danger of dying. His life was always in God’s hands and protected by God, as so many times have been my life and the lives of my children even when I, like Job, could not see that anything good at all was transpiring.


This excerpt comes from my book, Blest Atheist (MSI Press, copyright 2009), prior to copyediting and publication. There are some minor variations between this version and the final print version. The book is essentially my conversion story with all the gory and glorious details.


  1. Elizabeth:
    God told us he'd never leave us or foresake us. Our only son was a spina bifida child. He has a time when he looks for work. They always look at what he CAN'T do, rather than what he can. Right now, he's unemployed but he is here with us. He is a big help with doing errands when I don't feel like it.

  2. I happen to be in Job, too, in my nightly reading. Thank you for your insight. It's such a powerful testimony.

  3. It is amazing what employers are missing when they take this attitude. I hire handicapped people with no hesitation. They are often my best employees! They have had to overcome so much that usually they have great problem-solving skills and great team attitudes. (There are, of course, exceptions, but they are rarer among the handicapped population than among the general population.) Good luck to your son! (I guess you know that my daughter, Noelle, has spina bifida, as does my granddaughter, Nikolina, along with OEIS Complex, which does include spina bifida. We don't get to stop fighting for them even when they are grown.)

  4. Grace & Peace, you are welcome. Job is indeed a difficult book if you do more than read the surface story. Enjoy!

  5. I love the book of Job. I love the truth that you have so articulately voiced hear, and I love how it reveals how BIG God is. Bigger than all our pain, all our understanding, all our futile struggling. I look forward to following how this great God does great things in and through you.

  6. Thanks for sharing this - this helps.
    Years back it seemed God wsa not answering a certain prayer. I prayed first, then I railed at God. Finally after many months one day this thought came to me, "Grayquill if I never answer a prayer of yours ever again, will you still worship me?" I grapled with that for quite sometime. I never whole heartedly said yes.
    This post is very insightful and hard but really good.
    Kindest Regards, You are appreciated!

  7. Welcome to A Life Uncommon. Your quite an amazing feisty Woman. I was over at the other blog and read a fair amount of the journey of HIS Presence . I am built up within knowing the love that is shown to you girl. Just love it!

  8. Donetta and Prairie Chick, thanks.

    Grayquill, I have your longer email and will respond when I get a moment to breathe.

  9. I ordered your book on Amazon this afternoon. I can't wait to get it.

  10. I hope you enjoy the book. I have enjoyed our back-and-forth conversations -- and I still plan to answer your longer email when I can catch my breath from all this chasing the wind that has been going on with the (grand)kid(s).


About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.