My daughter was strapped to a stretcher, the paramedics lifting her into an ambulance. Through the pulsing sensation of shock and the pounding of my heart, I had a fleeting thought. Who will I cry out to, now that I don’t believe?
It was my first potentially life-altering experience as an ex-Christian, and it began with the misdiagnosis of a rash. A nurse practitioner prescribed her a cream for scabies. Even though my motherly instincts warned me that there was something deeper going on, I complied with the treatment. I cleaned the house like never in my life, washed pillows, blankets, and towels that I’d forgotten we owned. I would later learn that what was causing the purple spots on my daughter’s body was actually a rare and sometimes complicated disease called Henoch-Schonlein Purpura, or HSP. When I picked her up from school the following day, the rash had spread. Her joints were the size of golf balls, and she could barely walk.
Doctors came into the urgent care room, where I’d rushed her straight from school. They wore masks and examined her rash. They talked quietly in the hallway amongst themselves and stopped talking if I peeked out of the room. I waited, holding my daughter’s hands in mine, so nervous that I could feel myself forgetting to breathe. At last, a nurse informed me that they had spoken with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. I was still sorely unprepared for what I was about to hear. “We’ve called an ambulance. She needs to get to the emergency room very, very soon.” I felt my hands go numb. I reached for the doorway to catch myself, as if the floor had fallen from beneath my feet.
I drove myself to the hospital, somewhere behind the ambulance. The 40-minute drive morphed into what felt like hours. I thought about my daughter, adventures we’d lived together and so many that were yet unlived. I wondered how stark and empty my life would feel if I ever lost her. I worried that she felt alone or wanted me near, and I was so far away from her. I looked at the speedometer; 90. I slowed down. Get through this safely, for both of us.
Two years ago, I would have turned to God and prayer immediately. How would I fill that space? Like a dreamer flying in a lucid dream, I listened to my own thoughts, curious. Would I hold fast to my new concept of a universe that is run by nature and science and chaos? Or would I throw disbelief out the window and beg God for forgiveness? If I did, what would that make me? I wouldn’t be a decisive and rational ex-Christian. I would just be a bad current-Christian with wavering and lackluster faith, the kind of Christian that only believes in God when she needs him.
Breathe. Check the speedometer; 75. The GPS, eight minutes. Scan the highway for the ambulance.
Was he punishing my lack of faith? Was this his way of proving himself to me? Scaring me straight on a dark highway? Threatening, if only briefly, to take away what I love most? If I went back to him for fear of losing her, what would that make me? A manipulated lover or an abused wife, the loyalty forced from her by cruelty. Would I be a good example to my daughter, if I loved a god like that?
But would a disbelief in heaven, in the worst of cases, in that darkest possibility, mean that I would have no more reason to live?
Breathe. Next exit, make a left. Speedometer; 65. I Made a right. Make a U-turn.
Then I remembered why I left him. The God that had crept in to haunt my thoughts was the same God that had held me captive for so long, in fear of his capricious behavior, his punishments and threats. With God, I wasn’t allowed to be resourceful. I had to trust, have faith, beg, plead, question myself, bare my soul, beat myself up for what I might have done wrong to bring his anger into my home.
You have arrived at your destination. Where’s the parking lot? Where? Where?
I glanced up to the stars and thought about my new god (the universe, my place and time in it). This was a god that was far above petty things like jealousy, rage, and revenge. This god (preparation, skill, scientific advancements) was on my team. I could call on this god (my own actions, research, strength) to get me through this crisis. This god (nature, science, medicine) was orchestrating healing in my daughter’s body, and healing in my soul. And whatever happened, whatever was behind that hospital door, I would stay true to myself and to my daughter, true to what we believed and cherished in this life, our love for each other and our diverse human family. I’m okay. I’m okay. I breathed in the night air, a deep, deep breath. I was still afraid, but I felt…held.
I parked and jumped out. My legs were still trembling, and I didn’t know exactly where I was going, but now was not the time to stop running.