Tuesday, November 25, 2008


This post is going to be long, and it's going to be a downer. So if you're short of time or already in a bad mood, I suggest you stop reading now.

I have an odd mind. I'm kind of a type-A personality, and I'm a worrier. Sometimes, I find myself obsessing about certain things, and it's very hard for me to forget/disregard them. So I'm hoping that today, by writing all this down, I'll purge this demon a bit and reclaim some of the real estate in my brain.

For the past week or so, I have been unable to stop thinking about this. I'm sure you saw this story in the paper. This poor little four-year-old boy was basically starved to death by his grandmother and his aunt. This kid weighed 19 pounds when he died. (To put it into perspective, Clay is 16 months, and he weighs 24 pounds.) These types of stories have always affected me, but they seem to bother me more now that I have a little one of my own.

I've thought about what things must have been like for this little guy. How hungry he must have been. How he must have asked for food, and they told him no. How surely other people in the house were eating sometimes, and he smelled food or begged for some, and they told him no. How he must have found things - paper, odd bits of string - and ate them because he was so hungry.

And the cruelty of what these people did is not the only thing that's gnawing at me. It's all the things that the existence of such cruelty mean. I am a Christian, and I believe in God. But when I hear about things like this, I doubt Him. I struggle to understand how the painful death of this little boy can fit into some larger plan.

For example, IF perhaps this death is meant to teach someone somewhere a larger lesson, or prevent other deaths, etc., why couldn't the same objective have been accomplished without having a innocent suffer for it? And if God is benevolent, and He loves His children, how can He let a four-year-old starve to death? Is He asleep at the switch up there, or what?

I am a proponent of the idea that Christians are supposed to be God on earth. What I mean is, instead of moaning and groaning about how God should feed the hungry, we, as God's children, should get off our butts and help feed the hungry. We should do God's work in the world; it's part of our job as Christians. So maybe there were people near to the situation who could have/should have acted, and because they did nothing, this boy died. (Boyd's Life had a really interesting post a while back, talking about how man could be both God and Satan on Earth, how it could all reside within us. It's an interesting idea to chew on, especially since we do so many awful things to one another that the case can be made that we are our own enemies on Earth.)

BUT, if we're the only safety net, if God isn't stepping in when things go horribly wrong, then who the heck are we praying to? If it's all up to us, then what are we bothering God for?

I understand that part of faith is just that - faith in the face of puzzle pieces that don't fit. Faith that there is a larger design, even though we can't see/comprehend it. But it is difficult, difficult for me to see a story like this and not doubt, especially when I know so many people who would be GREAT parents, would be ecstatic parents, but are unable to conceive or carry a baby to term. Good people who have not been blessed with a child. Why withold a child from those people, and then give one to these monsters?

I think it would help me work through issues like this if I could find a church where you weren't expected to check your brain at the door, too. I have visited many places. But I am not looking for a congregation that accepts whatever should come down from the pulpit without question, without dialogue. And when bad things (like this) happen, platitudes about the Lord's mysterious ways are not sufficient for me.

What I would really appreciate is a church (or maybe a really good Christian Bible study group?) where it is acknowledged that horrible things happen. Evil happens. And we don't know why God allows it, why He doesn't stop it. And we probably never will know, because we don't have the answers. And that it's almost inevitable that, at some point, most people are going to resent God and wonder what the crud he's doing with his time, while we're all down here trying to keep this thing running with string and chewing gum. So far, I haven't had any luck finding a group like that, but I'll keep looking.

And in the meantime, I guess I'll pray a little bit harder, hug Clay a little bit tighter, and hope for the best.


Jenny Redmann said...

Hey Nicole,

We don't get the paper here, nor do we have a t.v... and sometimes I'm REALLY thankful for how much "news" I'm spared. What an awful, tragic story.

As for religion... in short, my story is that I was raised Methodist, fell away in college for various reasons, and when I finally got the "call" to come back (again, for various reasons... I really hit bottom in grad school), I felt like Methodism, having been too weak to hold me in the first place, wasn't where I was being called to return.

I did a lot of reading--intellectual reading, not feel-good new-agey self-help stuff, and wound my way around to the Catholic Church. I couldn't get past the intellectuals who converted for purely rational/intellectual reasons--not for a feel-good everything's-hunkey-dorey faith, but for a faith that is proven, real, reasonable, seeable, rational, and on and on.

I would HIGHLY recommend that you investigate Catholicism; there are some real answers there. I'd look at the Catechism (online searchable version: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm) and at the Compendium of the Catechism (online: http://www.vatican.va/archive/compendium_ccc/documents/archive_2005_compendium-ccc_en.html) which is a sort of short-cut or re-cap of the (much much) longer Catechism.

I've also found the conversion story of Thomas Merton (Seven Storey Mountain) very compelling, as well as the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux ("Autobiography of a Soul"). Also--for the English major in us all--the Joseph Pearce book "Literary Converts", which tells the conversion (to Catholicism) of 20th century literary (largely English) greats.

Further (or, perhaps, first) is the blog of a woman who converted from atheism to Catholicism in her adult life, after having been raised atheist and never having believed in God. She has many, many posts of interest--and more book recommendations, too. Her blog: http://www.conversiondiary.com/.
If you scroll down a little on her homepage, in the left-hand margin she has a heading "My Conversion Story" with links to two posts, one specifically titled "Why I'm Catholic".

Anyway, having converted nearly five years ago, I find myself being drawn deeper and deeper into the Church, into faith with God, and into understanding what I'm called to do with my life each day. I find Catholicism very freeing expressly because the Church is so clear about her beliefs, expectations, requirements, and rules. There is freedom in submission to the Truth, in acknowledging your part--small, but vital--and in seeing the graces that follow.

If you'd like to talk more, please email me or call; I'd love to. I'll also have to look up the titles of some other conversion stories I found particularly compelling--I read a few collections of women's conversion stories that were very interesting.


Kayra said...

I've been extremely upset over that same story Nicole. How can anyone treat a poor innocent child like that? I have struggled, just as you have.
A while back, a friend of mine and I were talking about life/religion, etc. She had read a book from Silvia Brown (she is on Montel Williams' show sometimes). Anyway, she suggested I read it, and since I love to read, I said "sure".
Long story short, in the book she talks about her belief that we "chose" the life we'll have here. Sounds crazy when you hear it out of context, why would anyone choose to die in a horrible manner, or be abused? But she said that many times, the person who goes through that is such a highly evolved soul that they are willing to suffer in this life to help others grow in theirs. She believes we have a choice as part of our spiritual path, and God will allow us to go through that path if it will help us or others. Her explanation makes it a bit easier for me to deal with things like the death of this boy. Perhaps he is an angel who came to touch lives like yours and mine. I don't know. It has always been hard for me to accept that the God I worship allows these things to happen. But now I see it differently, I guess. I guess I have been evolving in my own faith.

Anyway, rambled long enough. btw, I am Catholic, raised in the Church but have wandered off in the past, searched, questioned, and found my way back to it. I ditto the sentiment that Jenny shared. I have now fully embraced my faith.

HEATHER said...

I was going to tell you about Sylvia Browne as well. Reading her books and hearing her talk has helped me to understand so many of the things that used to torment me as well.
When you said "And we don't know why God allows it, why He doesn't stop it.", that is because we are supposed to. We are our brother's keepers.
The bigger failing that I see in the case of this poor child is that of the Social Services to check on this family. Wasn't anyone doing their job?
Did you see the child's mother HAD AGED OUT of the foster care system. How e'ffed up is that?
You know with them having custody of all of those kids they had to be collecting Food Stamps & Welfare. This is America-it is incomprehensible that a child has starved to death.
Nicole, this is a heartbreaking story, I hope that you are able to find peace.

A. Boyd C. said...

Sometimes our minds travel in the same circles and you always lead me to see what I need to see. I've been wanting to write about this very thing for some time now and you're piece moved me to get started.


Don't despair because of what happened to this boy. Your love for him has already lasted longer than his suffering.

Nicole Bradshaw said...

Thanks so much, guys. Jenny, thank you for the links. I've started reading, and I am already finding some interesting things.

Sylvia Browne - I will head up to the library next week and check her out as well.

And Boyd - I love you, dude.

Thanks most of all, though, for just letting me know that I'm not the only one who despairs sometimes.

Style Expert said...

Growing up, I looked forward to watching Sylvia B. on the Montel Williams Show. She was a regular. It was scary how accurate she could be. There is a book entitled, Why Bad Things Happen To Good People? I haven't read it, but I remember my dad had it. I know I have it packed away in the garage. If I get a chance, I will look for it and try to read it and pass it on to you. As I was reading my research for my thesis, I came across a statement by Erik Erikson in his book, "Young Man Luther". The quote is "Religion, on the other hand, elaborates on what feels profoundly true even though it is not demonstrable: it translates into significant words, image, and codes the exceeding darkness which surrounds man's existence, and the light with pervades it beyond all desert or comprehension" (Erikson 22). I just felt it was befitting of your post. What are your thoughts on this quote? Then I will share mine.