“Greenleaf’s Bull” by Jeffery Dale Starr.
I call it my Epiphany. That early morning in April 2005 when I stood in front of the bathroom mirror. And the scales fell off. And I could see.
We had only been in This Old McHenry House for one week when I discovered that I was pregnant for the first time.
I was home alone when I took the test and saw the two pink lines appear in the screen. I was shocked and amazed. Two years of trying. Two years of monthly heartbreak. Two years of needles and pills and trips to the clinic. Two years of railing against the God I blamed for all of it. The God who seemed so silent. And now this?
Bursting with the news, I went to Target to find a meaningful way to tell Peter. For the first time in two years, I didn’t avoid the baby section. I walked straight there. Head held high. Tears burning hot. I lingered in those aisles. Allowed myself to melt over the itty bitty socks and fuzzy blankets. Resisted the sudden urge to buy everything.
Eventually, I tore myself away from bath toys and bottles and took my quest to the toy section where I found just the right thing. A tiny, blue soccer ball. Peter loves soccer. One of his fatherly dreams has always been to teach his children the game. And now, I was finally able to make that dream come true. I bought the ball and a gift bag and a card that said, “Congratulations.” And I went home to wait for the LOML.
All afternoon I unpacked moving boxes and marveled at the hand of God. Of course, I thought. Of course, this is what He would do. Make it impossible for us to conceive, then give us a miracle. So He would have all the glory. Of course. “Good plan,” I told Him. “I concede.”
When Peter got home, I met him at the door. Beaming. I took his hand and pulled him into the study. I pushed him into one of the wingback chairs and handed him the gift.
“What’s the occasion?” he asked, eyeing me with suspicion.
“Just open it,” I said.
He reached in and pulled out the soccer ball first. “Okay?” he said. I just smiled, waiting for the penny to drop.
“There’s a card,” I said.
He pulled out the envelope, opened the card, and read my message: “Congratulations, Coach! This is to help you train up Baby Worrall.”
“What?” Peter said, clearly afraid to believe it was true.
“I took two tests,” I told him. “Both positive. One is in the bag.”
He dug back in the bag and pulled out the stick. He stared at the two pink lines, then he looked up at me, his eyes wide with disbelief.
We both stood up and wrapped our arms tightly around each other. We stood there in silence for a long time. He kissed my face.
“Finally,” he whispered in my ear. “Finally.”
Three weeks later I miscarried.
Somehow I managed to keep my job during that period of my life. Somehow, while my faith was falling apart by night, I kept on being a Bible college professor by day. I am not exactly sure how.
That Spring semester I was teaching English Composition II. My syllabus for this course always included two of my favorite pieces of literature: C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces and Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf.”
Till We Have Faces is a re-telling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. Lewis tells the tale from the point of view of Psyche’s ugly older sister, Orual. And the whole first section of the book is Queen Orual’s complaint against the gods. Her main accusation involves the fate of Psyche, whom Orual loves singularly and obsessively. As far as Orual is concerned, the gods took her sister from her.
The book has a second part though. Orual’s epilogue of sorts. Written just days after the first section was complete. Here Orual confesses that her entire argument was in error. She has no time to rewrite it though. She is near death. So she can only amend.
Orual describes a vision in which she is asked to present her case. But as she reads her own account, she is pierced to the core. The veil that has—quite literally—been covering her face is removed. And she suddenly sees. The true nature of her own heart. The foolishness of her rant. The mercy of the gods.
“Greenleaf” is a very different, but equally powerful story. The main character, Mrs. May, is a tough old Southern widow, who has been managing her own farm since her husband passed away. Mrs. May’s farmhand, Mr. Greenleaf, is a shiftless character, but she is convinced that she can handle him.
Mrs. May has another problem though. A stray bull has wandered onto her property and is devouring everything. The bull is a Christ-figure, whom O’Connor describes as a “patient god come down to woo her…with a hedge-wreath that he had ripped loose for himself caught in the tips of his horns.” I love that.
The next day Mrs. May orders Mr. Greenleaf to deal with the bull, and throughout the story she becomes increasingly frustrated that he hasn’t effectively removed it from her property. Finally, she demands that Mr. Greenleaf shoot the bull, and she drives him to the field herself to make sure the deed is done. When the bull runs to the next pasture, Mr. Greenleaf lumbers after it. Mrs. May watches them disappear. Several minutes later she honks her horn to indicate her impatience. Then plants herself on the front bumper of the truck to wait.
A few minutes later, the bull emerges from the tree line. He gallops toward her in “a gay almost rocking gait as if he were overjoyed to find her again.” Mrs. May freezes in disbelief as the bull bounds toward her.
She could not decide at once what his intention was, and the bull had buried his head in her lap like a wild tormented lover, before her expression had changed. One of his horns sank until it pierced her heart and the other curved around her side and held her in an unbreakable grip. She continued to stare straight ahead but the entire scene in front of her had changed—the tree line was a dark wound in a world that was nothing but sky—and she had the look of a person whose sight has been suddenly restored but who finds the light unbearable.
Day after day, I stood before a roomful of English students. Discussing the meaning of these stories. Extolling the virtues of the God we saw therein.
I definitely felt the fraud.
The night after an ultrasound confirmed—no heartbeat—I lay in bed. Shaking and sobbing. With grief and fury. Peter lay next to me. Dazed and silent.
“How could He?” I kept saying. “It’s too much! What a cruel joke. How could He kick me so hard when I am already down?”
“Stop fighting Him,” Peter finally said. “He wants to be enough. When will you surrender? What is it going to take?”
But I couldn’t let go of the anger. It was the only thing I felt I had left.
Just a few days later I woke at 4 a.m. My first conscious thought was the same as it had been for the past two years—apart from that three-week pregnancy reprieve. “What’s the point of waking? This is not a life that I want to live.”
I stumbled out of bed. Trudged down the long hallway to the bathroom. Turned on the light. And looked in the mirror at my sad, tired face.
There’s no other way to explain.
In an instant. The scales fell from my eyes.
And I saw myself for who I truly was.
The first image: Myself. A stubborn, grimy toddler. Waging a two-year, grown-up, full-fledged tantrum. Legs flailing and kicking. Fists beating the ground. Angry protests screamed at the top of my lungs. All for the benefit of my Almighty Father.
The second image: Orual. Composing a foolish complaint against the gods. Ranting and raving. About justice and cruelty. But then. Ultimately. Seeing the mercy she had been given. Seeing herself finally in the mirror. Standing finally unveiled.
The third image: Mrs. May. Fiercely trying to control her life. Trying to keep God at bay. And that Bull—Patient. Persistent. Penetrating. Who pursued Mrs. May to the very end of herself. Who stabbed her through the heart since that is what it took for her to see. Whose other horn wrapped her right around and pulled her close.
Like Mrs. May and Orual—I finally saw truth.
I saw. That this life isn’t mine. It never has been. When had I taken such obstinate control? When had I forgotten that He is God? When had I forgotten that He can do whatever in the world He likes?
I stood there in the bathroom. And cried. But—miracle of miracles—this time not in anger at God’s cruelty. Rather, in humility at His grace.
Peter found me there. He shuffled into the bathroom, eyes barely cracked.
“I’ve had an epiphany,” I told him. “I get it now.”
His brow furrowed with sleepy skepticism.
“Okay,” he said. “Can we talk about it in the morning?” And he headed back to bed.
I would be lying if I said that everything was downhill from there. Certainly not. In fact, life kept kicking us in the gut. For the next several years. No, the pain didn’t go away. But in that marvelous moment in front of the mirror. Thank God. My anger finally did.
Have you ever had what you could call an “epiphany”?
In what way were your eyes opened?