Jesse James DeConto is author of the spiritual memoir, This Littler Light: Some Thoughts on NOT Changing the World. This is one of a series book excerpts reflecting on God’s presence in the midst of his failed marriage and the aftermath. Find the others here. Each one is paired with a music video by Jesse and members of his band, The Pinkerton Raid. Below is their original song, “Lullaby, Butterfly,” written for Jesse’s two daughters.
When I look at my life — my dear friends; my parents and siblings who have followed me down the Eastern seaboard; my peaceful, loving home with Julie and my two girls — I am tempted to call it “Redemption.” I had my Lent and my Good Friday with Lily, and now I have my Easter. But no.
Throughout the turmoil of my life, one thing has remained: The moment of each day, when I am most aware of the presence of God, when I tuck the girls into bed, praying over them, thanking God for them and their special gifts, asking for protection through the night and for blessings in the day that dawns. Every now and then, one of the girls will remind me to pray for the people who don’t have anything to eat or anywhere to sleep that night. This is good: We humans were put on earth to walk and talk with God. It was good when Aurora was a toddler, when these prayers were the things that got her to stop squirming, to curl up on her little pillow, to close her little eyes, and to curl her little mouth into the most subtle, satisfied smile I have ever seen. And it is good now, when negotiating an ex-spouse, co-parenting, living an inconsistently-paid creative life, and just plain old dealing with adulthood combine to make prayer just about the last thing in the world I want to do.
My life is not good because it was bad and now it’s better. The kids Julie serves at a nonprofit youth center here in Durham don’t need to know what sinners they are so they can understand God’s love. Resurrection is good, whether you live a long, beautiful life, surrounded by people who love you, with a successful career, real teeth and a full head of hair, or you get beaten and whipped and fed vinegar and have your hands and feet nailed to a wooden cross. To be sure, there are wrongs to be righted, and that’s why God came to earth in the flesh. The Incarnation might be the most important expression of God’s presence, but the Cosmic Christ of self-giving love endures — before Jesus of Nazareth, within Jesus of Nazareth, and after Jesus of Nazareth. God is love. “I am what I am,” God told Moses from the burning bush.
The point is, God is there on our crosses, and God is there in our empty tombs. It’s too cheap to say that God took the bad of Lily’s and my marriage and gave us the good of our girls. No, our marriage was good. Let me say that again: Our marriage was good. Aurora and Rowan were born because Lily and I loved each other. All the deaths we died along the way should not obscure that fundamental truth. God created those girls out of a young couple in love. Even Lily would come to admit that she did love me once, but there was too much pain to recover it. Ultimately, we were not up to the challenge of loving each other. We tried and we failed. That just means my daughters were born from an imperfect union of love — perhaps more imperfect than with parents who manage to stay together, but love nonetheless. In that sense, they’re not any different from any other human who has ever lived. We’re all born into broken love.
I don’t know why Rowan and Aurora’s lives emerged within this particular environment of pain. I don’t know why God made humans who would deny our creaturehood, hurt one another, and reject God’s Godhood. I don’t know why there are hurricanes, tsunamis, and wild animals who kill people. I don’t know why some people hoard while others starve. If you want satisfying answers to these questions, you need a wiser guide than me. All I know is, there is good, there is bad, there is resurrection and death, there is marriage, there is divorce, and somewhere in the midst of it all, there is love, and it is good. I wouldn’t give up the good of being Rowan and Aurora’s Dad for all the perfection in the world.