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On Missing Miracles and Steel Magnolias. | Bethany Suckrow

On Missing Miracles and Steel Magnolias.

It finally happened. All this time I’ve been writing online, four years now, I’ve never once received a nasty comment from anyone, or even a mildly negative one. But a few weeks ago I wrote an article for RELEVANT Mag exploring the issues raised by Angelina Jolie’s op-ed for the Times about her choice to undergo a preventative double mastectomy, and lo and behold. A nasty comment. About my “leftist” politics and my “unChristian” ideas – and my favorite part – my willingness to “take up the mantle of worldliness and unbelief.”

I’m a sensitive soul, but generally speaking, I can discern the difference between honest criticism and asshat commenters unleashing their fundamentalist fury. I’m not here to talk about why that guy was wrong, although can we take a second and have a good laugh over the fact that there is someone out there that can make my conservative evangelical family seem progressive, and my writing downright provocative?

But, moving on…

That comment has proved to be a great example for some of the hard questions I’ve been processing as I grieve, write a book about it, and be near to some friends who are carrying their own heartbreak. It’s had me thinking about faith and miracles and healing and comfort and hope.

It can be as blatantly hurtful as a person telling you that your mother died because she and your family lacked the faith necessary for “true healing.” It can be as confusing as a misappropriated Scripture tweeted in the middle of a tragedy or a hallmark philosophy plastered all over Facebook. It can be as well-intended as someone hugging you at your mother’s wake and reminding you that this is all just part of God’s plan. It can be as subliminal as using war rhetoric to describe terminal illness, using words like “survivor,” “battle,” “fight,” “lost.”

I’ve heard these words. You’ve heard these words. And if we’re being honest, we’ve probably said them to each other at one wrong moment or another. Whatever their form, whoever has uttered them, they incite pain and fear and confusion. Nothing makes a grieving person feel more hopeless than being told that their healing hinges on their ability to hope.

I was reminded of that on Sunday morning, laying beneath a pile of blankets and watching Steel Magnolias. I had intended to do something far less pathetically indulgent and self-pitying than ugly-crying alone on my couch at 10 a.m., but the words wouldn’t flow and I was in too dark a mood to be near functioning human beings, so I skipped church and brunch with friends and watched Shelby die instead, holding my breath for the cemetery scene, letting my tears fall where they may.

I know. I sound like an emotional eater. Some days that’s exactly what it is. I haven’t watched the film since before mom died, not wanting to be a glutton for punishment, because I’ve insisted so desperately on pulling my shit together and most of the time I tell myself that I’m “good” at it. But some days. I just can’t. And paradoxically, it was this very act of allowing myself to feel my feelings and cry with M’Lynn that gave me the hope and gumption I needed to sit myself down and work on the book proposal.

And I think that’s the point of this rambling blog post, of Steel Magnolias, of my book, and these stories of grief and faith.

I grew up in a faith tradition that, looking back, was full of Anelle-like theology. I was told growing up that God had a plan, that I just needed to pray for a miracle, that good things come to those who wait, knock and the door will be opened. There’s a little bit of truth in all of that, sure. And I was told to be glad that mom had died, that she was with her King, I should be rejoicing. For a little while, I did. I even meant it. It’s hard to be honest about the relief in knowing that she is no longer suffering, but it’s real. But after awhile that wears off and what I’ve really needed is to explore those concepts of healing and wellness and God’s will. I’ve had to ask hard questions and cry about all the missing miracles in our lives and wonder whether God and I operate under different definitions of healing. And I’ve had to get angry about that, angry enough to want to hit something or someone until they feel as bad as I do, angry enough to utter the words aloud, I guess I’m a little selfish. I’d rather have her here.

I had to get angry enough to finally be honest with myself and with God. 

Some days, I’m able to laugh about it. Some days, I’m able to be around people that can help me find my joy again. Some days, I just can’t. And that’s not a weakness or an emotional binge, it is heartbreak, and it is ugly and hard. It is the “work of grief,” as Freud called it. Joan Didion’s “the vortex.” And it is teaching my heart that hope doesn’t hinge on the outcome.

We won’t survive heartbreak and loss by denying that it hurts, or waxing philosophical about the future, or trying to pray our way out of our mortality. We don’t survive by walking away from grief, but by walking straight through it, crying when we have to, laughing when we can, speaking honestly about how we feel, listening to each other’s sorrow.

The steel magnolia is the one that weathers the storm.

[Image.]

  • http://www.cross-platform.org John Hanan

    This is perfect and beautiful. And I’ve never even seen the movie.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thanks, John. The movie is definitely geared toward women, but it’s also incredibly wise and the acting is superb. And there are so many one-liners in it, which gave my husband reason to enjoy it. :)

  • http://www.thechurchofnopeople.com/ Matt Appling

    Bethany, a very thoughtful post. I think it’s easier for well-intentioned people to say that suffering is a part of God’s plan when they haven’t experienced it so acutely. I look at the world and I see a tidal wave of stuff that was never part of God’s plan. Cancer is not a part of God’s plan, as with all of the other pains people feel. Genesis is God’s plan. But in the end, God will make things right. That’s what gets me through pain and loss, at least.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thanks, Matt. I think you’re right that we don’t often know how hurtful our “words of comfort” can be until we need some ourself. It’s easy to see everything as God’s plan if it looks exactly like our own plans, but it’s when the plan gets ruined that we really begin to pay attention to what He actually means when He talks about His plans for us. Thanks again for reading, and for your words of encouragement. I appreciate it.

  • emmillerwrites

    Oh, the nasty comments! I deal with them all the time at the newspaper, and they don’t phase me much when they are in response to my articles. But on posts in which I’ve shared my heart and experiences? Yeah, that stings a little more.

    I’m very thankful you share your heart the way you do, even if a commenter might come along and hurt it, because I learn so much from you, especially how to better grieve with those who are grieving.

    How is the proposal coming?

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Eh, comments shmomments, right? I know better than to take it personally, but it was a reminder that there are people in the world that really do think its okay to say things like that to the grieving. Thanks so much for your always-encouraging words, friend.

      The proposal is coming along! Got a good chunk done this weekend, despite my Steel Magnolias weep fest on the couch. Haha. Hopefully I’ll have it done by the end of the month. How’s YOURS coming? ;)

      • emmillerwrites

        It’s done! My goal was to finish it before Renew and Refine so I could get some feedback. So far it’s been surprisingly positive. Want me to email it to you?

  • writetobeyou

    “We don’t survive by walking away from grief, but by walking straight through it, crying when we have to, laughing when we can, speaking honestly about how we feel, listening to each other’s sorrow” This quote encapsulates so much, Bethany. Your words always raise me up. You are teaching your readers what vulnerability truly looks like, and it’s a very painful and beautiful lesson… thank you

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thanks so much, Rory. I always appreciate your comments and support. Much love!

  • http://hopefullyknown.com/ Tamara Rice

    This is so beautiful, Bethany. You are so, so right. Sometimes you just have to admit that it hurts and “heavenly reunions” seem a little too far off to be comforting. Thanks for sharing your process of grief here and giving others a safe place to express their own grief too. (And boo hiss to the nasty commenter.)

    • http://hopefullyknown.com/ Tamara Rice

      Oh, dear Lord, I just read your wonderful article and those comments. I don’t even know what to do with myself. You spoke well. Wise not to re-engage the crazy. You’ve inspired me to finish my post I started a few weeks ago … titled “This One Time I Defended Angelina Jolie.” :) I, too, have encountered the crazy.

      • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

        “Don’t re-engage the crazy.” May have to plaster that one to the wall above my desk. Such a good reminder, and not just for comment sections.

        Thank you SO much for your encouragement and support, Tamara. And yes – please finish your post about Jolie! I need more people to discuss this with… it’s not a topic my peers (millennials, that is) are eager to discuss, and it’s something I would have discussed endlessly with my mother, but alas… Anyway, I’m just eager to hear your thoughts. :)

  • http://clairikine.blogspot.com/ Claire Webster

    YES. This. Thanks for putting words on this. (Also, notwithstanding the amount of time I spend on Tumblr – where “I can’t” is use for everything – I love the eloquence of that phrase.)

  • Rachel

    Hi Bethany!
    After reading your very sincere post, I can’t help but want to leave you a comment! Your words deeply touched my heart. I sympathize with the heavy weight of your pain over people saying well-meaning things about faith-healing, and actually hurting you even more. After years of having a severe chronic illness, I have also heard many of the same things. I empathize with your grief, and am so very thankful to hear you have continued to reach out to God and to others throughout this. I cannot imagine anyone feeling there is a lack of faith in your heart, because I can already see it so radiantly after just one post of yours. You are brave and strong to continue seeking God despite your sorrows, and I am certain He recognizes that faith as beautiful and plentiful. As He said, faith as small as a mustard seed can bring forth miracles. I cannot imagine the ways you must have struggled with this loss, but I pray that you will continue to heal and hold your mother’s memory dearly. Your loss matters, your pain is significant, and so is your story. Please, keep telling it!

    Thank you for sharing your words! You are brave, genuine, and wise. I’m certain you touch many hearts.

    Peace to you,

    Rachel