Charis is 4. She has white-blonde hair and a will of iron. I like it best when she dresses herself and everything is inside-out and backwards: her hand-me-down shirt is too big and falling off one shoulder, her shoes on the wrong feet, her little tuft of a ponytail askew, and she beams with pride because she did it herself. She doesn't talk so much as sing, as if she's a calliope whistling a tune on an old Carousel, high-pitched, merry, relentless, heard for miles.
Erin, her mother, is my friend. 4 years ago, she had a miracle or a series of miracles, it's hard to say, all of which was Charis.
For a gloomy 8 months, Erin heard from a raft of different specialists, "you have a partial molar pregnancy, you must terminate," and then "the baby looks good, but the mass is still growing. We don't know what it is, it's not in any of the textbooks, you must let us run all these tests and you must let us take all these pictures of your insides," and then, "baby is perfect, but the mass is still growing. It might be vascular. It might be cancer. It might be in your lungs. You could die. Is she worth your life?"
Erin's mom died of lung cancer when she was 7. Erin was near her age while she was pregnant with Charis.
Erin's bottom line, through all the uncertainty, impossible decisions, and terror, was "God is good."
I remember the day Charis was born, I remember sitting by my phone just waiting to hear. In my mind I played out what happened if it was vascular and Erin bled out on the table and we lost her, if it was cancer and Erin needed help caring for her kids and the new baby while she underwent chemo. I imagined the worst.
Then I stopped to think about her bottom line: "God is good."
"I plead with you. I trust you. You are good. You are good. You are good," she prayed.
God is good.
When I finally got that text, it said, "Erin and baby are doing great. THERE IS NO MASS. It's a miracle."
Somehow, a thing that measured the size of 2 grapefruits on countless ultrasounds and MRIs was just gone. Not there. Everything looked normal. This was the closest to resurrection power I've ever gotten--Erin was supposed to die, the baby wasn't supposed to make it and yet here they were. Perfect. Whole. Irrepressibly alive. The doctors at Emory called Charis the "Miracle on Peachtree" that day. Later, Ashlee and I went to see Erin, and we were all searching for words, a little confused, stunned, ecstatic. Very tired.
4 years later and I'm still searching for words.
Ashlee and I threw Charis a Miracle Day party, it's been a month at the Denny house—stomach bugs going around, end of year madness, exhaustion, marathon birthdays. Ashes and I got hot pink balloons and flowers, teacups and wine glasses for lemonade, we dumped cheese and crackers and peanut butter sandwiches cut into little fingers on our wooden cutting boards for the kids. We spread blankets under big oak trees at the park and watched the kids play.
For a moment, Charis held my gaze and said in her sing-song voice, "Why you do this for me?"
"Uhm, well, uhm, because you and your mom are here and I love you and I wanted to celebrate that you're both alive?"
I wasn't exactly sure, honestly, I was still in the middle of the place of confused delight. Still trying to wrangle out the why, why them, why this miracle, why not all the miracles. I could use a miracle or three too.
She shrugged and ran full tilt after Josie who was chasing a baby robin that just learned to fly across the field.
"So, Kate, you wanted to talk about how arbitrary God seems to be in healing people, right?" Erin looked at me shrewdly. "I have your text here somewhere, the things you text are ridiculous sometimes, you know that?"
"Yeah, I mean, why you? Why her? Why not Connor's arthritis or Nora's osteogenesis imperfecta? Why not your mom? It doesn't seem to have anything to do with our virtue or our pleading or how strong our faith is. It feels arbitrary and I don't understand."
Erin gathered her legs underneath her and began explaining how she wrestled with God, what she read, how she thought. She talks with her hands when she gets passionate, she looked like she was conducting an invisible orchestra. Ashlee and I leaned in and listened. A few minutes later, she said, "ok, look I'm just going bottomline how I think about it for you—we were made to know and enjoy God and God is love. He is good. Anything we go through will point to that truth, to the truth of his nature. That's it. The only thing I know for sure: God made the world, we were made to enjoy him and what he created. We humans messed up and sinned and his perfect creation became broken and imperfect, but he still uses it. He is love. He is good. Anything that happens will ultimately illustrate his nature of love and goodness and draw us to him. He even uses the hard things, I don't think he wills them, but I think he uses them. He is good and He is love. That's it. That's all I know and it's not much. I don't understand his reasoning at all and I'm don't think I'm supposed to. I guess it's not exactly 'why' so much as 'who'."
Josie and Charis wandered back over to us then and started eating watermelon. Their flushed, dirt-smudged faces became streaked with watermelon juice and they giggled and talked to each other, they enjoyed each other like friends do. Ashlee snapped pictures.
I imagine God watching us enjoy each other and his creation the way we watched the girls enjoy that watermelon. I felt buoyant with delight and satisfaction, the joyful innocence.
I've resolved to stop asking God "why" so much, and begin asking him "who"—"who are you?" It's a very different kind of prayer.