Living in Ambiguity: When the Story Doesn’t Go Your Way

I majored in Literature, and now I teach it part-time, and part of what I teach (on an elementary or middle school level) are the ingredients of a good story.
A clear problem is introduced early on.  There may be a subplot with sub-problems, and there will most definitely be complications, but we can expect that major problem to stick with us until everything comes to a climax near the end, when we find resolution.

I think as a Christian that God is writing a Big Story through all of history that is like that.  But I think sometimes we can expect our lives and the lives of others to work out as neatly and concisely as a basic, straightforward plot line.  And when instead we find ourselves in what seems like a random mess, it’s hard to know what to do.
We can wonder if God is still real, is He still working, what do we tell other people, how do we package this, how do we answer the most basic “How are you doing?”

Since my foot pain started in January, it’s been a month-by-month story of hope deferred, basically like this:

  • January: If Motrin doesn’t knock this thing out within a week, I’m getting an MRI to tell me exactly what’s wrong and exactly how long it will take to heal.
  • February: The MRI was normal and I still can’t walk.  This must be a stress fracture, which will heal by the end of March.
  • March: The Lyme test came back positive, which unless it was a false positive, which is possible, means that maybe I don’t have a stress fracture at all, and maybe this is all Lyme, or maybe Lyme aggravated whatever else this is, and the ambiguity is driving me nuts, so I will just take Amoxicillin and it will all go away.
  • April: Okay, it improved a little, but I still have the foot brace and this is still not great.  Am I willing to wean my baby so I can try stronger Lyme treatment?  Everyone is telling me different things.  Maybe this isn’t Lyme after all.  If I wean my baby and then find out I didn’t have to, I’m going to be so mad.  Okay, I will.  Sadness.  Cue Doxycycline and the Cowden protocol.
  • May: So I feel a little better, I think?  I can walk without my foot brace now, yay!  And it really, really hurts.  And I end up curled up on the couch crying after I try to go grocery shopping.  Is this my new normal?  Please tell me this is not my new normal.

So here I sit at the end of May, still not sure what is wrong, why God allowed it, or what comes next.  Part of me does feel like celebrating—it is so nice to walk without a foot brace and to be able to do little things I couldn’t do before, like walk out in the back yard with the kids, carry a laundry basket down the stairs, and even think about attempting a trip to the grocery store.  Part of me can honestly say when someone asks, “How are you doing?” that I am doing better, and this is wonderful.

But at the same time, it’s not a conclusive happy ending, and if this were a book I was reading, I would think, “What?!  What was all that for?  That ending really sucked.”  I can do things, but I can’t do them without pain.  Chronic pain gives this sharpness to my whole life, and I really don’t like it.  Okay, that’s the understatement of the year.  I don’t like pain.  Anybody?  I am afraid sometimes this will be my new normal, and I grieve the loss of what I always took for granted.

Last Sunday while Ben took our oldest two kids to a LEGO exhibit, I took the baby to Kohls to, incidentally, buy a really comfy pair of Sketcher shoes.  I was really excited about this trip—a month ago I wouldn’t have considered it, and here I was, being brave and bold and going shopping with my baby in the stroller just like I used to do.

I have a limp and I get tired easily, so I planned to go straight to what I needed, and then straight out.  I tried not to take any steps I didn’t have to.  By the time I left I was really sore, and as I pushed the stroller out, I walked past a big ad for some iced coffee drink at the bookstore next door.

That’s when it really hit me how much my life had changed.  I’m off sugar right now for Lyme, and the Cowden protocol I’m following means I need to take stuff four times a day without food, which means there are several hours a day when I can’t eat and am watching the clock for when I take my next dose.

The days of casually walking from one store to another and buying a Frappuccino without thinking about it are over, at least for now.  Because I think about every step, and I think about every hour, and whether or not I can eat, and what I can eat.

I got in the car and drove home, just feeling sad, wishing this thing had a timeline, wondering if I would ever get back to carefree shopping.  It’s not even that I really like shopping, especially with little kids in tow, and I think I was missing some crazy ideal that didn’t even exist.  (What?  My former life wasn’t one long afternoon wandering through Kohls sipping a Frappuccino?)

Right now I’m learning to be in the mess of problems that aren’t clear problems, and solutions that are a long time in coming, and when they do come, you’re not sure if they are really solutions or not.  I wish I could end this blog post by tying everything up nicely and talking about the great truth I’ve discovered through this.

But really I’m just finding that God is Emmanuel, in the mess with us.  He’s not scared of our mess, and He gives us wisdom when we ask.  Sometimes our outer body is just deteriorating no matter what we do, and inside we don’t necessarily feel renewed day by day, but God’s Holy Spirit is doing a work in the dark that we can’t really explain.

It’s best to be honest with each other and with Him, and realize that His stories in our lives don’t always come in neat packages with clear beginnings and clear ends and clear one-sentence share-on-Facebook truths.  I believe His ways always have a purpose, but that doesn’t always mean we figure the purpose out.

So when we ask someone, “How are you doing?” and they say, “I don’t know,” can we sit in the “I don’t know” with them?  Can we be okay when we don’t have a clear list of answers?  Because Jesus says that He is the answer, which means the answer is a Person faithful yet unpredictable, beautiful yet uncontrollable.  And He is the answer just by being with us.

P. S. If you like reading my infrequent blog, I’m honored, and wonder if you would scroll to the top right and where it says “Follow by email” and submit your email address?  You wont be spammed—youll just get an email in your inbox whenever I do happen to post.


  1. Thanks for the update! Sorry about all you're going through. That kind of pain and limitation is hard enough without having 3 little ones to keep up with too. :(

    1. It does seem like bad timing in my book ... but the comforting thing is that it will get easier from here, even if my foot doesn't get better, as our kids grow older and more independent :).

  2. Love your (real-life!) analogy of a story, Lisa. Thanks so being so honest in the midst of your less than resolved, no "happily ever after" yet story. Love reading your updates!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Courtney. I love reading your blog, too.

  3. Love this post. It is so refreshingly real!!


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