Mexican Food and Other Exercises in Faith: In Peter I Trust

At one of our favorite Mexican restaurants (as Southern California natives, we have several), the owner greets us by name: “Tim,” “Gorgeous” and the “Kiddos.” Before we even order, Peter hands my husband a Tecate and me a margarita — rocks, salt, just the way I like it. It’s lovely to be known and cared for.

My husband always orders the same dinner: a cheese enchilada with the verde sauce and a carne asada taco. I always get the same thing too: whatever Peter brings me. In our family with four sons, I spend a lot of time planning meals, grocery shopping and cooking, and while there is something deeply satisfying about feeding my family, there is also something wonderfully relaxing about letting somebody else feed me. I highly recommend it. Along with the margarita.

A while back, some friends joined us for an evening at Peter’s, and my friend later remarked that she would never have the guts to let someone else order whatever he felt like bringing for dinner. As I recall, she used the words “control” and “risk.” The intensity of her reaction surprised me because I feel very little anxiety in letting Peter choose what to bring me for dinner. On the contrary, I enjoy not having to think or plan or open the menu. Besides, the food is excellent, Peter wants me to be happy, and he knows what’s especially good. Plus, I have a safety net. Worst case, if I don’t like what he chooses for me, I can swing through In ’n Out Burger (another So Cal staple) on the way home. It’s only dinner. It’s not as if it were my whole life, for Christ’s sake.

Which makes me think of the experience in an entirely different light.

I wonder what it would be like to trust Life the way I trust Peter?

Peter welcomes me with open arms, a smile and a favorite beverage. He prepares a spicy appetizer or a cup of hot soup on a cold evening. He surprises me with a new mole recipe. He feeds me and cleans up after my children.

After an evening in a corner booth, Peter starts to sound like the Shepherd honored in one of King David’s Psalms. My cup runneth over.

It would certainly appear that Life Divine knows the most sacred desires of my heart and has given them to me. I am blessed with the love of my life and four healthy children. As if that weren’t enough, there’s an abundance of icing (and in-laws) on that family cake, a lovely home, more pets than I deserve, a few steadfast friends and a gentle breeze. Surely goodness and mercy are following me these days.

But there was a fair amount of suffering and fear on the way here. Or more accurately an unfair amount. And that’s the part I don’t understand.

Seven years ago this month I found myself widowed suddenly, leaving my sons without their father. And while 7 years may be long enough to earn a PhD in some specialties, it has not quite been long enough for us truly to understand this whole suicide business, although each of us has developed a certain expertise in his/her own grief. Which even now lands us in a space where we wrestle with the Why?

For months, my sons insisted that dad must have fallen victim to a Dementor, a creature from the world of Harry Potter, who sucks the joy and hope and soul out of its prey. We still think that might be true. It seems more credible than what really happened.

Mental illness just doesn’t make sense. It’s not logical or rational. It cannot be reasoned or organized. And for a girl who likes logic and reason and order, sorting through this mess has been more than a little infuriating. Sam must have suffered some type of mental illness or depression (even though we didn’t know that at the time), which was just as fatal as a sudden heart attack or undiagnosed cancer. It just looks so much uglier from the outside. Actually, it must have looked pretty ugly from the inside. Like a Dementor.

Whatever voices had been clamoring for his attention drowned out the loving voices of his family and friends. I do not know what demons whispered in his ear. I do not know what he saw in his life that he feared would swallow him whole. I believe with all my heart that if he had been able to think for himself, if he had been able to find a realistic perspective, if he had been able to muster even a little faith or a few hours of sleep, that he might not have jumped to his death. The darkness must have been so overwhelming and so terrifying that he could not see a way out.

I have heard that when the devil really wants to sabotage somebody, he does not say “You can’t.” Instead, he sits down quietly, leans over gently and whispers “I can’t.”

The mental image I carry of Sam was like Moses at the edge of the Red Sea. His family and loved ones count on him, trusting him, and the Egyptians were hot on his heels. How hard it must have been for Moses to trust Life’s promise with Pharaoh breathing down his neck, a storm brewing, and his friends and family squawking. I will never know what demons were chasing Sam, what utterances voiced doubt in his ability, what darkness drowned his faith in Life. I picture Sam in this moment at the edge of the Red Sea, hearing the hooves beating and feeling the wind picking up, seeing the tired children of Israel in tears, and praying like mad for a boat.

After all, a boat would be the logical solution. And when his “boat” didn’t come, he jumped.

The unfairness of the whole thing — especially to Sam and our sons — makes my head spin. Sam would not have wanted to hurt anybody. Not his colleagues, his friends, the kids on the T-ball team he coached, and certainly not his parents or his cousins. I know that Sam would not have left me, but even if he did, he would not have abandoned his children. Never. If he could have known even a little bit of the pain his death would cause, he would never have killed himself. I drive myself crazy trying to figure it out, and all my mental gymnastics land me back in the same place: he was not in his right mind. He couldn’t have been.

But what I know to be true and what I understand are two different things.

Maybe the challenge is to become comfortable with what little I do know. To have a little faith right where I am. I cannot know all the answers, but I can cultivate trust even in the midst of the not knowing. I sift through the clamoring voices with awareness, discerning which messages bring me peace and stillness and which ones generate churning, mental anguish.

Sometimes I find comfort in scripture and sometimes in children’s fiction, and some of my friends would argue that these are one and the same. In either case, the answer lies in friendship, faith and love. I do not believe that Life sends bad stuff in our direction with an agenda to promote personal growth. But I do believe that Life brings us one another: a gentle voice that comforts through the long, dark night; a steady hand to grasp over slippery steps; a protective arm guiding through dangerous territory. After all, the promise is not that bad stuff won’t happen. The promise is that His presence will go with us, even through the dark, cold, isolated places.

After 7 years, I still don’t understand Sam’s death, but I will try to cultivate trust in Life. I will try to recognize that there is a bigger picture, to believe that the divine has my best interests at heart, to have faith that all will be well. And in the meantime, I will let Peter bring me dinner. Whatever he chooses.

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Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And just a little faith.