The Luxury of an Uncertain Faith

_daddy handFaith is a luxury before you lose a child. Worship … belief … salvation … they are just words – nice words – until you need specificity. I am sure of my savior. I am sure of my salvation. I am sure the Bible contains the word of God. But the exact details? What is heaven precisely? How much of the Bible is literally true? I have no idea.

Or, at least, I had no idea.

Now that a precious part of me has joined our savior, I have to be positive that heaven exists as a physical place that I can get to. That it is perfect and beautiful. That she is safe and loved. That we will be reunited. That I will see her again. I have this reoccurring vision of sitting down with Anna as a young woman. She has long ashy blonde hair and is perfectly at ease. She has natural beauty. She is telling me all about herself. And she is happy. I can see this so clearly. I have to believe it’s how our heavenly reunion will be.

Right after we lost her, I had a strong sense of Anna being held by her great grandma and namesake, Maxine Podoll. I saw her in Grandma Maxine’s arms, and my grandma, Adele, looking at Anna right over Maxine’s shoulder. They are smiling. Anna is smiling.

Was it what my brain needed to believe? Was it a projection of what I expect heaven to be? I do not know. What I do know, however, is that this vision was very clear, as are others. I see my friend Angela’s kitty with Anna. My sister-in-law’s friend Shiloh lost her brother, her sister, and her father. I can see her brother and sister there with Anna. My grandfathers are nearby, and there are other men – who I think are Steve’s grandfathers – there too. Although I haven’t seen it, I hope one day Anna finds baby Emma.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I went to the Episcopal church with my dad when we were at his house every other weekend. I remember Sunday school and being an acolyte. On the Sundays I was with my mom, I would find friends to go to church with. I mostly worshipped with the Methodists (with my neighbors) and the Presbyterians (with my friends Kendra and Kerry), sometimes the Catholics (with Jen). I don’t know why I felt so drawn to the church. My dad stopped going regularly when I was around ten years old but my faith, though immature, was already steadfast.

Throughout my childhood, I felt a powerful, loving and present God active in my life. I did not pray often but I clearly remember feeling from an early age that God answered my every prayer. Once, I think I was 15 years old, I was riding my ten-speed home from town. I was tired and still about a mile from home. I looked down the road ahead of me and thought that I would see if I was right, if God did answer my every prayer. So I prayed simply that the end of the hilly road I was on would come sooner. Then I crested the hill and felt the full force of God’s active presence in my life when I realized that I was not as far back as I had thought, and the end of the road was right there in front of me. I turned left, and coasted the downhill the rest of the way home.

I always had a sense that God was looking out for me, drawing me into his presence. (This is not to say I had a blessed life. I didn’t. It was some good, some bad, pretty much like everyone else.) I thought God probably had to work harder to reach me, because I was not raised with an active faith at home. I started going to the Lutheran church in high school and decided I wanted to be confirmed, so I signed up for adult education classes (most kids take confirmation classes when they’re in seventh and eighth grades). I was confirmed in the Lutheran church when I was 18.

Then I went to a Lutheran college. I married a pastor’s son. Looking back at my life now, I can see a bright line of faith back as far as I can remember. There is no earthly reason that I went to church with my friends when I was as young as six or seven. Why did I decide to get confirmed? Why did I keep going to church every Sunday, even after my friend went away to college?

There were many times I would go into church – both when I was in high school and as an adult (Steve sings at a different church on Sunday mornings) – and sit by myself. Worship would begin and then I would feel a sweep of air as a friend coming late sat down next to me, the coolness of the outdoors still clinging to their coat. And a part of me that I didn’t know was tense, would relax. That is how I began to surround myself with a community of faith. Because that sweep of air didn’t just happen at church. That part of me would relax whenever I came across the right person. Salty people, as one friend says.

This feeling of God always answering my prayers has never left me. Had never left me. Even as Anna was dying in front of my eyes, I thought, God always answers my prayers. And I prayed. Intensely. “Please save her. I need her. Please heal her. Please help her. Please … please.” And God did answer my prayers.

But the answer … was … no.

And in the days that followed, I was completely devoid of prayer. I was empty. I never knew what “emptiness” was until then. There was nothing inside of me worth sharing. Anna had left a gaping, endless hole. And I could not pray. What was there to pray for when I had lost my beautiful Anna? I texted my pastor: “I haven’t prayed since we lost her. I don’t know what to pray for. She is gone. Feels selfish to pray for myself.” And he sent me the most gentle reply, the exact words I will get wrong, but it was something like: “It’s ok. Your heart can pray without your head. God knows what you need. It is also ok to pray for Anna. Let others do the praying for you.”

And so I prayed for Anna. I prayed she was safe. I prayed heaven was real. I prayed we would be reunited.

Now I see that God was taking extra special care of me throughout my life. My whole life, God knew Anna was coming. God knew it would be short. God knew I needed to be prepared. So God built my faith upon a rock. And God surrounded me with a family of faith. And when the foundation of my very being was shaken to the core, I was not alone. And I am not alone now.

We will commemorate Anna’s interment in the columbarium outside Village Lutheran Church on October 10, at 10:00 a.m. 10/10 at 10. After the simple service of prayer and song, we will go back to our house to plant bulbs (in my grief, shortly after Anna was gone, I bought nearly 300!), so the yard will vibrate with color on what would have been Anna’s first birthday. We will also plant Anna’s blue spruce tree. Anyone is welcome. I know many of you will not be able to join us for that day, so we’d like to ask you to join us in spirit. At 10:00 a.m., please take a minute to remember her, pray or honor her in whatever way is meaningful to you.

Four days later, on October 14, it will be 80 days without Anna. It will be hard. We will need all the salty people we can get.


  1. Dearest Jenn, faith is such a strange friend, so strong, so absolute at times, and then moments later, so fragile. It feels a bit to me like I feel about the weather. When I am feeling the bitter wind of January against my bare cheeks, I try to remember what the warmth of the sun in July felt like, and I can almost… but not quite. The only way I can measure the difference between the times my faith is strong and the times that it is weak is the sense of “realness” (I always wish we had an adequate vocabulary for these things), the sense of solidity.

    When my faith falters, it feels wispy somehow, there is never an absolute certainty that God doesn’t exist, that there is not some kind of vast plan, even if the inner workings aren’t knowable to me, that emptiness is the natural state of being. But when my faith is strong, I am filled with “knowing,” and I wonder, how could I ever have doubted? That, yes, this is right, this is how I am meant to be.

    This feeling of knowing is so sure, so confident, so real. The knowing does’t mean that I know what all the pieces to the puzzle are, but knowing that they are there and that they are falling into place as they should. Perhaps not in the places I might want them to be, but in the places in which they belong. And that even though I don’t have the box that the puzzle pieces came in, and so I have no way of knowing how the big picture will, does, should, look, I know, and I know at the core of my being, that there IS that big picture and that for now, my job is not to worry what that big picture looks like. My only job is to worry about my little section of the puzzle, the section that includes me, and includes those closest to me, and a little further than that. That is all that I can, or am supposed to do in this short lifetime. And, even more importantly, there is a Creator who knows all of it. All is being taken care of, even if I have no idea how.

    Kind of like you on your bicycle, and the time I climbed Mt. Whitney. I didn’t have to know, and in fact couldn’t know, what the end of the trail on the other side of that mountain looked like. All I had to do, or could do, was to look to the next rise. All I had to do was make it that far; the rest of it would be taken care of as long as I focused on the only thing I was meant to focus on, just putting one foot in front of the other. That, and noticing how beautiful sometimes, and how painful sometimes, was the section of the trail I was on at that very moment.

  2. I think you’re right about faith. Faith is hard. I’m only now finally coming back to it, haltingly. But I know something is there. Somehow through Anna, whom we only know through your stories, I feel that it’s there, that Anna is evidence — not the loss of her, but her life, the palpable goodness in it.

  3. Dear, sweet Jenn,
    It is wonderful that your faith is so strong. It will protect you in your life, it has protected you. We feel it; you are radiating your beautiful faith and love for God. It will help us all.
    Thank you.
    BIG LOVE from Suzanne, Bill and Mom

  4. Today’s a day that I am especially thinking about Anna. This is how I like to think about her. I picture Nora and Henry doing something fun like coloring, watching tv, sitting outside watching the world go by, maybe playing Shoots and Ladders or snacking (which seems to be a favorite activity) and Anna is there watching. I can see her in my vision–off to the side, behind, even above–just hanging out and making sure that everything is okay. Henry and Nora don’t see her, but she’s just there making sure they are doing okay. I see her at being several months old and wearing a little hat with animals on it, because its getting cold out and she’s dressing for the weather. Today she’s going to hang around with Jenn because she knows it is kind of s special day, although all her days seem special. She’s kind of out of focus in my mind, but she’s looking over her shoulder as Jenn is working at the computer or writing at a desk and later using the stove. I feel like when she get a little older she’ll maybe start to visit others, but right now she knows that she needs to stay with her immediate family.

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