What I Wish More People Knew About Conversion Candidates

It occurred to me that this might be a good post to write.  Despite the fact that converts have always been a part of Judaism and that most communities have many, in most communities I’ve lived in, conversion remains for most people a kind of secretive process and there’s a lot of misconceptions about it.  To that end, here is what I wish more people knew about conversion and conversion candidates!

The Process, frankly, is a mess

We could debate the reasons for this for days, but it’s very complicated and it really doesn’t necessarily matter why, but for most conversion candidates, there is no real clearcut process to follow.  There have been attempts to fix this, but even congregational Rabbis aren’t always certain what process to follow when a non-Jew arrives at their door asking to convert.  As a result, it’s usually impossible for a conversion candidate to estimate how long their conversion might take.  Often, they may not even know what they should and should not be doing while in that process, beyond studying.  Sadly, it’s not uncommon for Rabbis and even some Beit Dins to even play mind games with conversion candidates, losing paperwork multiple times, “forgetting” meetings, making commitments then backing out.  I have even heard from one couple that their Beit Din put them in separate rooms and told them each their spouse had decided not to convert, just to see what they would do.

Most converts who are suffering through things like this won’t tell you.  They’re afraid of jeopardizing their conversion process.  Just know that this is someone vulnerable who may be in a very painful situation and please treat them with a little extra care.

We Just Want to Belong

Once a conversion candidate has found a community, most just want to fit in…so badly.  Little acts of acceptance can really make a big difference.  Of course, check with your Rav, but in most cases, you can invite conversion candidates over for Shabbos meals and, with a little thought to get around any halakhic issues, even to Yom Tov meals.  It really is a wonderful way to boost their spirits and help them learn.  Some of the best ways I learned how to handle Shabbos observance, kashrus, and other things was by being invited to help a Jewish friend prepare food, being invited along shopping, and being invited over.  She was kind enough to let me into her life in a way that felt welcoming and gave me the opportunity to see and ask questions and I’m so grateful.

Little things can also have a huge negative effect for conversion candidates.  I know at times, I felt kind of like I was right back in Junior High, an awkward girl on the side, not chosen as part of the “in crowd” because I’d be left out of things that most of the other women were included in.  If at all possible, please include your local conversion candidates if you can, or at least extend the invitation.  It’s a huge act of kindness to remember to invite them to your Mary Kay party or to help with a committee.  Again, if you’re in doubt, your Rav should be able to tell you what’s permitted.

We’re Going to Be Awkward

And speaking of awkward…conversion candidates can’t help but be that sometimes.  There is SO much to learn and sometimes, our efforts to quickly fit in backfire spectacularly!  Most conversion candidates will mispronounce new Hebrew and Yiddish words.  We’ll use the wrong term or we’ll talk about the wrong thing at the wrong time.  We may even be more socially awkward than we might otherwise be in other areas of our lives because we’re so nervous.  We may follow chumras (stringencies beyond regular Jewish law), for a wide variety of reasons.  Sometimes, we may even be told by those guiding us to do things differently than the rest of the community.

But, I’m asking you to not give up on us.  I’m so thankful for those people who included me despite my awkwardness and who were patient with my questions as well as those who took the time to teach me.  There were kind people who spoke to me about mistakes I might be making and helped me learn and there are people who accepted me even if some of my observance had to be different than theirs.

We Are Easy to Take Advantage Of

You don’t have to look far into the news of past years to find scandals around conversion.  Because a conversion candidate’s future lies in the hands of their sponsoring Rabbi and Beit Din and because even just gossip or rumors can impact their conversion process, conversion candidates are really vulnerable to being manipulated or even blackmailed.  Less serious, conversion candidates are often very eager to please their communities.  They need to be seen as good potential Jews.  This leads some to over-volunteer their time or try to make big donations that they may not even be able to afford.  Right or wrong, often donations do make a difference in some convert’s progress in the process.

Being someone a conversion candidate can trust can help make a huge difference, but often conversion candidates aren’t willing to come forward when abuses do happen because they fear their process will be impacted.

Little Things Really DO Matter

One of the hardest things I often run into is when born Jews actually try to make me relax my observance.  It’s hard to be an observant Orthodox Jew anywhere and it’s hard to be a Baalei Teshuva (a observant Jew who wasn’t raised observant) or a convert because we KNOW what it’s like not to have to work around observance.  We know what bacon tastes like and, believe me, the reason the Torah forbids it is NOT because it tastes bad.  Sometimes, born Jewish friends can almost be like my own yetzer hara (evil inclination) perched on my shoulder, saying things like, “Why do you ALWAYS wear a skirt?  I wear jeans now and then and we’re not at shul…no one will see you…c’mon…”  Or, “Why can’t you eat dairy out?  My whole family does and we’re still Orthodox.  How is the Rabbi going to know?  Don’t you WANT to come with us?”

Yeah.  Not helpful, unless your intention is to test our resolve.  I’ll admit, not giving in to things like this has cost me some friends and even seems to put walls up between me and parts of the community who observe differently than I must.  Maybe they think somehow that my choice to follow the guidance I’ve been given in those areas means I’m judging them, but I just don’t have the same choices available to me that a born Jew does.

Assume We Are Sincere

Are there some insincere conversion candidates?  I’m certain of it.  It’s likely, though, that most will be sorted out by the process, which can be so grueling both from a standpoint of everything that must be learned as well as everything they must go through.  It simply isn’t your job to question their sincerity unless you are their sponsoring Rabbi or sitting on their Beit Din and in fact, you may be breaking the Torah commandments regarding converts if you are questioning them.  Since conversion was never this long of a process until recent times, there are differing opinions on what applies to converts in process.

It’s sometimes tough for the frum from birth (people who were raised observant) to understand what a huge step it is for anyone who isn’t familiar with Orthodox Judaism to come forward and ask to convert.  What can seem to a born Jew to be a friendly, welcoming environment can often appear to a non-Jew to be incredibly foreign and full of hidden dangers.  Looking back, I was incredibly naive early in my process and as a result, I was probably too trusting and open.  I’m a lot more cautious now.  Anyone who has gotten far enough in the process to have moved into an Orthodox community and is attending shul regularly has already overcome big obstacles to be there.

If You Want to Help, GREAT!  But, Be Sure You’re Giving Good Advice!

Most of my Jewish learning has come from other Jews who were kind enough to teach me.  I really have never found formal conversion classes or a sponsoring Rabbi that had available time to learn with me, so being open to helping a conversion candidate learn is wonderful!  That being said, it’s important for conversion candidates to learn in a way that is going to match their Beit Din’s expectations.  For example, if a conversion candidate is planning to convert through a Chareidi Beit Din (pretty strict Orthodox), they’ll need to know how to answer questions in a way that their Beit Din will accept, which may or may not be different from how you hold as a born Jew.  If you know their sponsoring Rabbi, it might be a good idea to consult them as to what sources to use for their study.  I also have a list of resources for converts on a separate page that might be helpful.

Beware of Offering Advice on the Conversion Process Itself

I learned this one the hard way!  When we first began our process, many well-meaning friends and family offered advice on how to go about converting.  Some of it was really helpful and some of it…really not so helpful.  The problem is that few people are really that familiar with the process of conversion and that process can vary from place to place.  In some places, you approach the Beit Din first and then they guide you from there.  In other places, you absolutely do NOT approach the Beit Din…you wait until your sponsoring Rabbi contacts them.  In some places there are actually conversion classes you must go to and pay for.  I actually think that’s a good idea as long as they are priced reasonably.  In other places, you’re expected to learn on your own.

There are even Rabbis or Beit Dins offering conversions that won’t be recognized by many within Orthodox, if at all.  (My link to resources for converts has a list of those Beit Dins and Rabbi’s whose conversions are currently recognized by the Israeli Rabbinate, which is about as close as anyone is going to get to a universally recognized conversion…there’s always someone somewhere who isn’t going to accept a conversion!)

In almost all cases, unless you’re really familiar with your local process, the best advice you can give someone is to refer them to their local Orthodox Rabbi and then give them support and encouragement.  Trust me, the requirement to discourage the convert will be taken care of by the process itself and you don’t need to worry about discouraging any conversion candidate yourself!

Remember, Hopefully, This Person Will One Day Be Jewish!

Sadly, not all conversion candidates make it.  I don’t know if anyone keeps any statistics, but based on my own experience with the conversion candidates I’ve known, I’d guess that the vast majority do not make it through the process.  Of those, most don’t make it as far as moving into an Orthodox community and becoming a regular at the Synagogue, but even some of those don’t make it through.  However, those that do?  Once they emerge from the mikvah, they’re Jews and often very dedicated Jews.

Hopefully they’ll remember all the kindness shown to them, but I also doubt few forget any cruelty, either.  Why not be the one that helps teach them about ahavas Yisroel (love of your fellow Jew) rather than sinas chinum (baseless hatred)?

Menuchah and Watts

Every moment is precious and is the only thing we really have in this life.

I’ve been enjoying my Menuchas Hanefesh studies immensely.  The mindfulness that observance brings to everyday life was a big part of what initially drew me to Judaism and this study only digs deeper into that idea.

Interestingly enough, it also feeds into the work we’re doing with the Shabbat RV!

RV’s are a lot more complicated than we initially thought.  There are several different systems that help power things on the RV itself and banks of batteries that have to be re-charged and not allowed to get too low in charge.  We also have the challenge that, for now, we can only get 12 amps of power from an outlet that the Chabad house is very graciously letting us use.  The RV systems run on 30-50 amps and trying to plug directly into the 12 amp outlet means a breaker trips and we have no power.

To keep it simple, what this means is that we have to be VERY mindful of what power we are using.  We essentially run an extension cord to the RV and only plug in what is absolutely necessary.  We also need to have figured out before Shabbat what we will need to have running and get it all set up before candle lighting because we can’t really interact with any of the systems once Shabbat begins.  Even worse, if anything goes wrong and the breaker trips during Shabbat…that’s it.  No power for anything the rest of Shabbat.

We’re working on a longer term solution and planning to donate a few 50 amp circuits to the Chabad house so that not only can we plug in, but other RV users can also plug in easily.  Then, the Chabad house can charge people to RV camp there for Shabbat, so it could work out really well for us and also help them raise some money in the summers.  For now, though, we have to be mindful of every single amp and watt, which has me doing things like looking up exactly how much energy a crock pot of cholent does use versus how much energy a plata might use.  It’s important to be as efficient as possible and waste nothing.

I’m more used to my house where leaving a light on over Shabbat isn’t a problem at all and having a crockpot running for the last meal is something I don’t even really need to think about.  Now, though, I have to plan meals very carefully and make the most of natural light.  It’s a very interesting mental shift.  Also, living in the RV makes me more aware of exactly what is necessary versus what isn’t.  We don’t have extra space for things we don’t absolutely need and we also have little space for trash to pile up during Shabbat since, without an eruv, we can’t carry a bag of trash to the dumpster until after Shabbat.

It all comes down to being more mindful of exactly what is needed and what we can do without and living in that moment.  There are also wonderful things about being in the RV, too, and focusing on them can really help make the experience better than if I only focus on the challenges.  We’re so close to shul that the kids can stay and play with their friends a while after services.  There’s a wonderful cross-breeze through the RV in the afternoons when it’s warmer.  We’re so close together that having good family time is easier.  Most of all, there is the warmth from knowing that we’re doing what we can to really keep Shabbat.

Just as every watt counts, so does every moment and in every moment I have the choice to draw closer to G-d by my actions or further away.

The Power of Wonder

Shifting colors, mostly green.  First, they look like clouds, then, they take form, shifting in the night sky.  It’s so cold, just shy of the arctic circle.  Still, I’ll never forget the first time I saw the northern lights.  We were north of Fairbanks, out in the woods, and it was the kind of cold winter night where the sky is so clear and it hurts to breathe in deeply.  I don’t know what the temperature was as the world waited a pause between October and November.  I looked up and noticed the strange, greenish ‘clouds” that seemed to be moving.

Like a lot of experiences in life, pictures never really capture the aurora borealis.

It moves and is mesmerizing, a river of light flowing through the sky.  You never quite know when it will begin or end, so it’s important to stop…notice…be still and watch while you can.

And remember to breathe once in a while.

I tend to hold my breath at moments like this, or when encountering a moose, or suddenly seeing an amazing view.  It’s like I’m subconsciously afraid that if I even make the tiny sound of breath that I will scare off that perfect moment and I just want to stay there, frozen in time, frozen in awe and wonder.  I can only imagine that this must be how Moses felt, hidden in the cleft of rock as G-d passed by, giving him a glimpse of His glory.

Nowhere have I had more glimpses than in Alaska.

Standing, in the cave of an ancient glacier, running a hand along the brilliant turquoise surface, tasting the melted water on my fingertips.  Seeing Denali rise up over the tundra in magnificence.  Watching salmon run back to where they spawned to do the same…and die.

All of these moments have a power to them to make me pause and to remind me of just how small I am compared to G-d’s creation, but also how precious that in the midst of all this, we were chosen as His favorite creations, the ones He gave the gift of looking back at him, seeking him freely, free will granted.  We were given the freedom to explore and adventure and climb and conquer as well as to stand still and draw inward.

That freedom and living someplace so endowed with wonder…is not something easy to give up in our winding journey to be Jews.  I have good, logical reasons why it’s the best decision for our family even if it wasn’t required by a Rabbinic court.  Our children’s Jewish education foremost among those.

Still, I find myself wanting to capture each of those moments of wonder in time, freeze them there, preserving that feeling for when I need it in the midst of the crushing masses of humanity in the city, and tap back into it.  My Torah has been all around me here and I have climbed it, slept sheltered in it, and adventured through it, but soon there will be a day I will need to seek it not in natural splendor, but within.  I won’t be able to simply wander off into my mountains to freshen up a shiur or regain my enthusiasm for a mitzvah.  I will need to look inside for that inspiration.

It’s as if I’ve been blessed to live in a place and time of outward miracles and now I must learn to live in the world most people already live in, one where G-d is more hidden and we must work harder to seek Him.

But tonight?  I’m chasing more auroras to pack away to help me on the journey.

Of Jews and Dogs

His big brown eyes look up at mine with perfect trust and loyalty.  He’s a comfort to me whenever I’m sick, his big furry body cuddled against mine as he tries to protect me and help me feel better.  I never fear intruders because I know they’ll prefer a house that doesn’t have him waiting behind the door.

He’s not my husband…he’s my dog, Sam.

I grew up with dogs, living on a farm.  My older brothers were so much older than me that dogs were my most common companions and playmates.  My husband, however, raised as an Orthodox Jew, had no experience with dogs at all beyond occasionally petting or playing with a non-Jewish friend’s dog.  He was open to the idea of a dog, but didn’t really understand my strong desire for one.

Jews have a complicated relationship with canines, it seems.

The Torah rarely speaks of dogs.  I once was curious if there was a famous dog in the Torah that I could bless my dog by on Shabbat.  After all, there seemed to be a blessing for everything else, why not my buddy?  No, not a single dog is called by name.  There is one positive mention of dogs, that of the dogs in Egypt not barking at the Hebrews as they fled during the Exodus.  It still didn’t seem right to bless Sam by Egyptian dogs.  Surely he’s better than that.  Besides, his ancestors were in the snowy alps and Belgium, not Egypt.

The Talmud speaks more about dogs, but it’s not nearly as flattering.  They’re non-kosher animals and apparently considered pretty dirty.  There are laws for treating all your animals humanely, but dogs in particular seem to be looked down on.  In a book I’m reading about a specific area of law I need to study, dogs are even used as an example of something tamei, meaning in Hebrew, ritually impure.  There’s even some disagreement among different Rabbis whether a dog is mutzik (not allowed to be touched because they’d lead to breaking Shabbos, due to their fur coming loose).

And all this is even before we get to the common negative views of dogs caused by so many centuries of persecution by non-Jews that did often involve attack dogs.

So…it’s pretty easy to say that my husband and I had very different feelings about four legs and a tail, but given that we were kind of at a point where the choice was really more a puppy or another child and he was hoping for a break, he opened his mind to the idea of a puppy and we eventually found Sam.  I can say now that he’s just as attached as I am to our furry friend and Sam is solidly a part of the family.

It does make me wonder, though, as I absentmindedly pet my furry shadow, is everything that is impure “bad?”  I can definitely conceive of where a dog physically would become tamei.  Dogs, as much as I love them, are not the cleanest creatures and they often love things dearly that I find revolting.  Similarly, they live in the moment, not really thinking through their actions much.  I can understand the idea of a dog lacking the same sort of soul as a human in that they pretty much live their lives reacting to the moment in a combination of instinct and training, rather than having the same free will we do.

And yet, I also feel like there is so much to admire and learn from a dog.

Dogs devote themselves to each moment fully.  There is no joy quite like that of a dog whose owner just came home.  Dogs really don’t lie, their outer world matches their inner world without conflict.  They show with complete honesty how they feel and they can be capable of great empathy and loyalty to their families.  These are all wonderful qualities and remind me of some parts of how our relationship to G-d is when it is at its best.  That level of trust and loyalty and honesty…is inspiring!

I can also remember the moments I’ve had with dogs growing up that were sad and stark reminders of their animal nefesh, or soul.  I once had a dog as a child that decided a litter of kittens would be a great snack.  I was absolutely heartbroken and so enraged at the dog.  I felt betrayed!  My best friend had done something so awful and horrible, I didn’t know if I could ever love her again.  She was a cold blooded killer.  No, even worse!  She was a predator who had thoroughly enjoyed her kill.  I remember sobbing as my mother tried to explain that my dog had only done what dogs are meant to do.  She had followed her instincts to hunt.  She tried to explain to me that this was how nature worked and that my dog wasn’t to blame.

It still took me quite a while to forgive and to look at my dog the same way again.

I imagine it might be similar when we humans give in to our lesser natures.  It could be G-d looks at us with similar anger and sadness and feels betrayed, even as He realizes that this, too is a part of us.  The difference is that as humans we can choose to act against that lesser part of our nature.

We choose to keep a dog in our family, beyond just his companionship, for lessons like these also.  He can teach us about the better part of our own nature and following it as well as through his shortcomings.  He can teach us to love something imperfect and to care for someone even after they’ve eaten a favorite toy.  He brings joy and richness to our lives and, one day, he will also teach us about loss, leaving about a 100lb hole in our lives when his short life comes to a close.

In sum, I feel it’s worth having to explain to other Jews why we would want such a crazy, huge, shedding creature in our lives because our lives simply wouldn’t be the same without him.

Be Weak

“Be strong!” the world shouts, in so many ways, in so many words.
“You need to fight for what’s yours!  You need to go out and compete for what you want!  You need to prove yourself!  You need to show them you’re equal!”

Over and over again, from childhood through adulthood, voices from ads from teachers, even from my parents.  They begin outside of me, but somehow, over time, they replaced my own voice.  I picked up my sword, put on my armor, and I went to battle with life.  I was angry, militant, hard, strong.  I was woman and indeed I did roar and I laid waste to anything that got in the way of my goals.  I was celebrated for it.  They called me a leader.

Inside my armor, I was so unhappy, but I had spent so many years holding back tears I could no longer even find the comfort of crying.

I turned my anger to G-d.

How could he create me as I was and then place me in a world where I was treated as “less than?”  Why wasn’t I born a man so I wouldn’t have to fight these battles, always fighting to be heard, to matter, to be valued?  Why didn’t he fix this broken world?  Did he hate us, those who he created last, almost as an afterthought?  I raged and raged and raged, rebellious and wild, going my own way.  I would show him!

Like a child, I rebelled and, like a child, I only hurt myself, kicking walls and stubbing my toes.

G-d patiently waited, like any good parent, until my anger had eaten all the energy it could, until I finally had stilled and what was underneath the anger could finally find its way up.  He waited until I stopped raging, stopped kicking and my tears finally burst forth.  He kept his distance while I raged and gave me my space until I was ready to listen.

“Be weak,” He whispered in new voices, voices that had been too quiet for me to hear until I was ready to listen, until I had enough of the voices telling me to be strong and I could ignore them.  They were voices that had been there all along, but I’d been too loud myself to hear them.

“Be weak?” my fear argued, “But, this world you made will eat me alive!”

“No, you are eating yourself alive,” The voice whispered, “Be weak and let me be your strength.  Let men fight your battles.  Let men be your protectors.  You were never meant to march into battle.  Lay down your sword and let them and me come closer.  Let us love you.”

“I don’t want to be one of those women.” my pride protested, “I don’t want to be dependent and weak.  I’m no one’s doormat!”

“What if you have nothing to prove to the world?” The voice whispered,”What if your value lies within, not in what you build or conquer?  What if you are infinitely valuable for feeling, for loving, even for your tears?”

“But,” now my heart spoke finally, “I don’t believe that I am.  I have to prove that I’m worth something, by what I earn or what certificates hang on my wall.  I have to prove I’m smart.  I have to prove I’m strong.  Otherwise, what do I have?  What am I?”

“You’re exactly what the world needs,” the voice continued to whisper, now it was months after I’d first calmed down and began listening, “I wouldn’t have put you here if you weren’t.  Look around you, do you think the world needs more people competing or does it have enough?  Do you think the world needs more fury and strength?  Do you think it needs more fighters?”

I looked around and I saw a world armored up, people afraid to smile at each other.  I saw people afraid to be seen as weak and always having to strain and struggle to prove themselves.  I saw what I’d been in abundance.

“No,” I finally admitted, “There seems to be a lot of that.  But, then, what am I?  What should I be?”

“You,” the voice spoke to me, this time from inside me, welling up from my heart in tears that came so much more easily finally, “are meant to feel.  You are meant to cry at sad movies and hurt children.  You are meant to care deeply and love.  You are meant to be the soft place those you love find comfort.  You are meant to be protected and treasured so that others can enjoy feeling strong and capable.  You are meant to live in your heart.  Your greatest battle is with yourself, to find the humility to be what you need to be, what I want from you, not what the world says you should be.”

“You…are meant to be weak and that takes more strength than fighting.”

 

 

Safek – When a Man Becomes a Question

Note – This post was also published on neshamas.com, a really wonderful website for Jewish creative writing.

I never knew a person could be a question until I heard the words that made him one. In one sentence, decades of his life went from solid memory to fragile uncertainty. I watched, helpless, as the ground shifted beneath him, unable to help him and feeling guilty. It was, after all, my own desire to join his people that had brought this up.

“So…am I Jewish?”

It seemed a ridiculous question. From bris through day school, from never tasting a cheeseburger to his beard, how could he be otherwise? The Rabbi didn’t laugh. He smiled the half smile of someone trying to be kind, of a doctor delivering a terminal diagnosis. It was the smile of his own discomfort.

“Probably not.”

Words like “gerus l’chumrah,” previously unknown to me, fell with weight, heavy. Talk of paperwork errors long before I’d ever met him and back before he was even born, when his mother’s face had no wrinkles and she was an idealistic young woman dipping in a mikvah. A paperwork error that left a man, half a lifetime later, more a question than a man.

“This isn’t supposed to happen.”

Small comfort. He looked at me, lost and we went home to unpack his memories so he could look through them and figure out what they now meant. He folded them and set them aside, like the folded tallis he could no longer wear. His mother and I shared our guilt, her for the past, me for the present.

And yet, you can live as a question.

Like a cancer patient, once he’d mourned and let out his anger and reached acceptance of his condition, it made others more uncomfortable than him. Those who counted the minyan didn’t want to look him in the eye as they stalled for an eleventh. Rabbis avoided him, uncomfortable with the legal realities of a man who wasn’t classifiable. We worked on catching up to him and learned what it is to live with a question. Questions aren’t meant to live on for years, hanging in the air, the rise of the voice at their end reverberating endlessly. They’re meant to be answered with solidity, with yeses and nos that break the tension. For us, there is no breaking the tension and we live in ambiguity.

Like someone with a chronic condition, we learn to live with uncertainty and we learn to find hope and joy wherever we can and to leave others to their own questions until his has an ultimate answer. We learn more about faith, belief, and hope than any dusty book could teach, all by living in a question and I learn that while his world may have shifted and shaken, the man himself is stronger for it, his faith forced to grow deeper roots that reach past his disappointment in how the law has treated him to something deeper. They reach in belief that paperwork errors do not erase a relationship or define it and that mistakes are human, not divine.

A belief that, eventually, every question is answered.

Doubt

Safek can also be translated as “doubt.”  It’s most often a doubt over whether something is certain or not, that then leads to a question that needs answered.  It’s the kind of doubt that can’t just sit, that can’t be ignored.  The term is most often used when there’s a doubt about whether or not something was done or should be done under Jewish law, which creates a situation that is tricky to untangle, like forgetting if you’ve said a specific blessing or not.  On the one hand, it’s bad not to say the blessing.  On the other, it’s bad to say a blessing in vain.

It’s the kind of doubt that creates that uneasy feeling of uncertainty, that antsy, “This needs resolution!” kind of feeling that compels action of some kind.

In the time I’ve lived and loved a Safek, an uncertainty wrapped in the form of a man, I’ve learned to also lived with doubt in on an intimate level.  Doubt is a part of our daily lives and each day is lived with some sort of doubt.  I used to react to that feeling the way I always had, trying to push it away, trying to find a resolution that I alone didn’t have the power to find.  I had to learn, slowly, and over time, to embrace the doubt and to understand that the emotion that accompanies it comes and goes just like any emotion.  In the moment, it may feel like it demands action or an answer.  It may feel urgent and pressing and weighty, but, if I wait with it just a little while, it eases.  The doubt is something that can be separated from the visceral emotional experience and then you can live with doubt.

I think, maybe, it’s one of the lessons that I needed to learn.  I’ve never been a particularly patient person.  I grew up swimming against the current, determined, my head and shouldered lowered toward any obstacle in my way and I would push and strain and scramble my way through life.  I lived with an illusion of control that only something sudden and enormous could shatter.

Like my brother dying of cancer.  Or my husband becoming a question, a doubt.

Both events had an element of non-reality to them.  They were both moments where the logical mind is aware of a fact, but the emotional portion of the mind is simply unable to comprehend it.  In both cases, I was sitting down, one on the end of a telephone, the other in an office chair.  In both cases, my ears heard and yet I struggled to completely process what I had heard.  My mind doubted that what my ears had told it was actually true and it began the process of testing that reality.  Was I asleep and dreaming?  Had I misheard some important piece of this conversation?  My mind feebly attempted to find some reason to justify its doubt, some way in which this new reality wasn’t actually real.  In both cases, it took patience and time for my mind to expand itself to encompass this new world it found itself in and to feel at home in it and until that happened, everything felt alien for a while.

Doubt can really knock the mind for a loop, making up seem like down.

But, like anything else, doubt settles and becomes something manageable.  You can sift it into piles and push them aside and live with doubt, piling it up in the unused corners of life so that you can live around it.  You can, in some small ways, chip away at it and cart pieces of it off.  Often, though, you have to just wait for the wind to come through and sweep it away, no matter how long that wind takes to come.

Dealing with this bigger doubt has taught me a lot about handling smaller doubts.  I’ve grown more comfortable admitting that I don’t know something or even being ok with the idea that I might never fully know something.  Much as the way my mind had to grow larger to fit the new information of my brother’s passing, my faith had to grow to fit this doubt within it.  The process felt very much the same, like someone important in my husband’s life had died and we needed to go through all the stages of mourning until we’d reached acceptance.  Denial, anger, bargaining, and acceptance are listed as the 5 stages of grief and I think each had their time with us.

And then, finally and only recently, I made friends with the doubt.  I began to be thankful for it.  The doubt that we have lived with and through has shaped us and our family in ways even we may never comprehend.  It’s sent us on amazing adventures and brought us closer together.  It’s caused our faith to be shaken and tested and grown and it’s still the bitter medicine that we breathe in.

Without befriending doubt and learning to love it I would not be who I am.