Friday, March 20, 2009

Will the Storm Ever End? Chat Today with Stormy Writer Rene Gutteridge on Words to Go.

Rene Gutteridge has had an interesting writing career that includes playwriting and even novelizing a major motion picture—The Ultimate Gift. She wrote the Boo series, showing off her gift for humorous writing and will release another co-authored novel in June, Never the Bride that is also a movie. She is an avid weather watcher and has written her share of stormy stories. But when you read her own stormy life, you’ll understand why she’s become a veteran of traversing life’s storms. Rene Gutteridge, welcome to Words to Go!

RENE: I’m glad I’m finally getting my turn today.

PATTY: You’ve been very patient. Like our last two chat guests, you’ve had to overcome personal physical illness too, haven’t you?

RENE: Yes. And it took time to diagnose, a trial in and of itself. From the time my symptoms started, it took about two weeks for me to get the diagnosis of Interstitial Cystitis. I had never heard of it and was so confused about what was going on. They ruled out bladder cancer and MS and this is what they landed on. I remember they handed me a laminated sheet with about ten different foods on it and I said, "Oh, these are foods I need to avoid?" And the doctor said, "These are foods you can eat." I knew then that my life was changed.

PATTY: My friend, Lissa Halls Johnson, has a condition that only allows her to eat a very small list of foods. It’s a real challenge in a culture that runs on a rich diet.

RENE: For months I did a ton of research on the disease, trying to figure out how to win against it. One day I was standing in the kitchen and this overwhelming thought hit me: You are chronically ill. You are not going to beat this. It was one of the most sobering moments of my life.

PATTY: I think that we tend to think that only loss of a family member sends us into these steps, but it’s the loss of anything that’s become part of our life.

RENE: Up until that point, there was nothing in my life I felt I couldn’t overcome. I realized I wasn’t going to beat this and that I had to find a way to live with a significantly altered lifestyle. My quality of life had lowered. But my faith had really held strong. I had this feeling, "Well, why not me?" I knew that God had never promised a life free of problems. I was in horrible pain, but I never felt closer to God during the worst of it. I was terrified and was mourning the life I had to leave behind. But there was peace.

Then, with no warning at all, my son became very ill. And I’m just being honest, I was so mad at God. I felt it was too much. I was just climbing out of my hole, trying to get my life rebalanced. It’s one thing to get sick yourself. It’s like you can handle it, because you know how much you can take. But it’s a whole other level of pain to see your child suffer. I would lay out in my back yard, on the patio, in the middle of the night and want to scream. I couldn’t because I live in a neighborhood, so I would cry and cry and ask God how He could do this to us.

It challenged my belief in God for sure.

PATTY: The most freeing truth I got once in a fellowship group was that we all have a crisis of faith—just like the heroes of the Bible. As a young Christian—baby Christian for far too long—I thought that only the weak had a crisis of faith. That’s why Bible study groups are so important.

RENE: I had to come to terms with the fact that deep down inside I questioned whether or not God was really good. He felt so mean to me, so cruel. As much as I suffered, now my child was suffering as well. Beyond that, medical bills were piling up. And to add to all of it, this all took place during a time when my husband and I (both of us had been Christians for over thirty years) had made a commitment to give sacrificially. So all this money we were giving away could have been used for the medical debt that was accruing.

PATTY: It was your time of testing.

RENE: Those were dark days. I never gave up on God. I never turned my back. But I fought him and I fought him hard.

PATTY: I love it that we continue to see the same patterns to final surrender in all of these personal stories. There is thequestioning and then the wrestling match.

RENE: My heart was broken.

PATTY: . . . and then the brokenness.

RENE: I felt like my heavenly Father had decided to put upon us a severe test that we were sure to fail. I didn’t know what I was striving for, beyond keeping my head above water.

PATTY: But then, even though your circumstances weren’t changing, the real breakthrough came inside you, didn’t it?

RENE: Slowly, though, I began to calm down. I began seeing the ways God was working in our lives. Not mighty, all-healing miracles, but small things, like putting certain people in our path. I began realizing my faith had some major problems in it. I realized I did not fully trust God. Yes, I trusted him up to a certain point, as long as, like you said, I could come up for air. But at the point that I felt like I was drowning, my belief was that God’s hand was upon my head, holding me under.

PATTY: It does feel like that. I’ll admit it.

RENE: It took not weeks, not months, but years of dissecting all of this and allowing God to heal the part of me that doubted him. It has been a long road to realizing that my weak body has betrayed me and let me down and that this is the very path God laid down for me to find true strength.

PATTY: The big debate among fellow sufferers who are also believers is how they come out of it trusting or not trusting in God's sovereignty--or redefining it.

RENE: Well, for me it has only caused me to understand this: I must fully trust. I will never understand his nature. I can only take small glimpses of it. For example, I understand that I must cause some discomfort in my children’s lives for them to grow.

PATTY: Parenting and marriage—the ultimate object lessons for grown-ups.

RENE: So on a basic level, I understand that suffering is the only way to grow. I truly believe that. I know that if my life was cushy and without problems there would be nothing pushing me to change. But I am still often left wondering where he is and why he isn’t answering.

PATTY: Yes. I always feel like he’s nudging me toward an end. And I’ll argue with him and say, “If you’ll just tell me where it is you want me to go, I’ll go willingly without all of this awful waiting. But the process is the beautiful story unfolding. And where would we writers be without our stories?

RENE: Yes, true. And the Holy Spirit works so beautifully in my life. He whispers and I believe. I hear him say, "I am completely trustworthy." In my human nature, I suppose I will never stop trying to figure out the "why," but my spirit is filled with the capability of being okay with not knowing.

PATTY: How has this season of suffering affected your well of grace?

RENE: I figured out something pretty quickly when I became ill. The world is not kind to the chronically ill. If you’re dying of cancer, there is grace. Otherwise, suck it up. And I was one of those intolerant people. I had no tolerance for excuses. I was not weak and expected other people not to be either. When I was forced into weakness, it was so hard on my ego and pride.

PATTY: Well, if we’re confessing . . .

RENE: Making it worse, I had people in my life who disappointed me. It took grace to forgive them. I guess I understood them more than I wanted to admit.

PATTY: We have to remember that the people who disappoint us are even used by God to get us to where he is taking us. We have to give credit to God for the way he stages our life as part of his ultimate story of mankind.

RENE: I remember one night my son asked me, "Why am I sick?" And I had to answer, "I don’t know." And then he asked me, "Why are you sick?" I was about to answer I don’t know when I was suddenly filled with this revelation: "Maybe it’s so I could understand what it’s like to be I could understand what you’re going through and I could help you better."

PATTY: And he’ll understand and pass it on one day too.

RENE: I approach his illness completely differently than I would have had I not been sick myself. And I have a well of compassion that I never had before, for those who are weak. I am now weak myself and I reach out to people who have fallen on hard times, rather than judging them.

PATTY: Yes. I can still fill out one of those spiritual gifts surveys and flunk compassion because I’m being honest about the way I “feel.” But outwardly my actions resonate compassion because my actions are Spirit-led, not feelings led. It is Christ working through me, and in spite of me. But we have to get used to the fact that not all who proclaim Christ have surrendered to his leading, right, Rene?

RENE: It does astonish me at how harshly we are judged and how harshly we judge in the Christian community. But I am now one who will reach out my hand in compassion, because I desperately need it myself.

PATTY: And this is the big story here today, Rene. That he is leading us, not to be successfully famous or celebrated in some grand public way. God wants us humbled to the point that we are useful in his hands. We are the clay. Rene, I’m so glad we saved you for Friday.

RENE: Thanks for inviting me here today, Patty. Have a great weekend everyone!

PATTY: We’re going to have an awesome weekend because a bunch of our visitors to Words to Go are going to win books by the basketful. So please leave feedback and your name is entered in the Big Straw Hat. Watch tomorrow, Saturday for the winner’s list. Then just email me with your mailing address and each author will mail you an autographed novel or non-fiction book.

Thanks for stopping by this week. We’ve enjoyed getting to know you and hearing how your stories intersect with ours. Now visit your favorite neighborhood congregation and celebrate Sunday all that God is doing in and through you as he greens your beautiful soul.