reconciling things

“Allow it all to happen: beauty and terror…” Rilke

This last Sunday the Gospel reading in the Liturgy…I have been thinking about it ever since. It won’t let me go.

I have been pondering the Paralytic who laid by the pool of Bethesda, waiting for the angel of God to stir the waters of healing. We don’t know his name. In Scripture he is defined by his condition. That and the fact that he lay by the edge of the water for a long time. We don’t know how long. We do know that he had his condition for 38 years. He had no one to put him in the water. So, he just hung out there with his longing and his paralysis, watching other people be made well.

I wonder if he felt jealousy or resentment? Perhaps. I would like to think though that he could see others make it to the water first and cheer for them and say, “I am so happy for you” and truly mean it. I will persist in imagining him that way. The idea of a bitter and resentful man who had contempt for those who are healed simply because it could not be his has no appeal for me. I would rather believe he was inspired with hope than throwing an inner tantrum of “When is it going to be my turn?!?!”

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Several recent events have caused me to reflect on my parenting and the culture I am creating in my family. They may not at first appear to be connected, except that each incident has built on the previous as I have taken a mental step back to consider whether the motivations and intentions of our family culture are working out as I had hoped. (I will share these events, but will obscure or even change some details to respect the privacy of people. The spirit and tone of the interactions remain true.)

The first event was meeting a woman at a small gathering of Catholic women. We had similar circumstances to our lives, both moms with big families, making it work under unusual circumstances. I was the newbie in the group. And so there was lots of question asking and gathering of details. This lovely woman said she didn’t make many of these gatherings because, “I’m a mom, you know. I am only now after so many years of single parenting going out again. When you are a mom you have no social life. I know you can relate.”

Narrator: But, Daja could not relate. Daja actually went out frequently and made as many casual friendships as she could gather like Pokémon.

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Three years ago I wrote this, exhausted by the life I was trying to hold together. I was crumbling under the weight of the expectations I put on myself, that the world was only too happy to reinforce. I was one big paper cut and the world was a lemon. However, one night in my journal rather than expressing hurt, it was all indignation. What I felt was all the injustice of my circumstance and the expectation that I was so supposed to hold it all together with no resources except what grit I could glean from my barren heart. And this angsty little quasi-blues lyric came out.

Sister, if you are struggling with a decision right now to stay or go, remember this: the most important place for you to stay is at the foot of the cross. One thing we can take from Passion Week (last week!) is that women knew how to stay at the foot of the cross when most of the men fled. Fitting then that the first person to be made aware of his resurrection was a woman. Resurrection comes to those who don’t run from their pain.

Being present for Jesus in his Passion, uniting my suffering with his, is the only way I made it through those days—and all the days of betrayal and rejection that were still to come. Here’s the little lyric:

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It is not so early in the morning on Bright Monday, but my house is still completely still. There is a deep sleep in the air, the kind you wear like a winter coat. It’s heavy with contentment. I am sitting here drinking my coffee and reflecting on the weekend, the culmination of Lent, and what it means to be really human.

This weekend was a lot. If it were a person we would say she was so extra. She was a lot to take. She did too much.

And not going to lie, it was exhausting. You could feel the Triduum coming afar off. It loomed. Ordering extra food for the school, students almost buried in choir practices, altar servers polishing the brass for hours. Smells of all good things coming from the kitchen—but no one allowed to eat anything except the penitential soups and breads provided. When I say it loomed, it loomed.

Holy Week arrived with processions of palms, expectation in the air. Tenebrae on Spy Wednesday, foot washing on Thursday, Veneration of the Holy Cross on Friday while the Passion was chanted (the most beautiful I have ever heard it). The entire college community maintained silence from noon to 3PM on Friday. That alone was enough to make me want to find a spot to cry. Instead, I baked Hot Cross Buns in total silence, reflecting on his Passion.

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I was recently reminded through someone’s Instagram story of Galatians 2:20-21. Honestly, I haven’t thought about this particular verse in a while. However, in my youthful zeal, I took this Scripture as my “life verse” when I was just 13. I was flying high on a mission trip in Mexico. I was reading through all the Pauline Epistles during my daily devotion time. And this Scripture spoke so deeply to me. I am not sure I even knew what it meant. I just wanted to live in Christ.

Are you familiar with this verse? I know it best in the King James, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

No one warned me at that tender age what it might mean for the rest of my life.

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Recently I decided my attitude needed a severe adjustment. I had wallowed long enough. I am the kind of person who needs a good wallow. There is no “power of positive thinking” in my personality. I need to dive deep, feel it all, and then come up for air and perspective once I have fully explored the depth of the wretchedness of my human condition. I can pretty much guarantee that if someone suggests I “get over it” or “look on the bright side” I have mentally throat punched them and then dove a little deeper into my feelings.

It’s a completely different thing than someone who says essentially, “I will feel that with you. And let me know how I can support the journey back to life.” I am all about that….and the cup of coffee that comes with it.

I digress…

Recently I decided my attitude needed a severe adjustment. I was in my kitchen at work and decided that what was needed was old school praise and worship music at full volume and occasionally breaking out into dance. Stop by the kitchen if you, too, need an attitude adjustment. I don’t have any flags to wave around, but you can use a napkin.

My 16 year old son was lending me a hand when a song came on that brought him full nostalgia. He said it made him think of the Sunday mornings of his childhood, coming downstairs to a big breakfast, blaring worship music, and everyone rushing around getting ready for church. He said it was a pleasant memory. So that’s good, because if you are a parent of a large family you have probably known a few stressful Sunday mornings when you were shouting about how this child can only find one shoe and this other child just spilled milk on his jacket and this other child is moving like a snail and would those other two please stop fighting or so-help-me-God I am going to need Confession before Mass. It’s a relief when the 16 year old has pleasant memories of Sunday mornings with worship music and pancakes.

It sent me reminiscing about the Sunday mornings of my childhood, which also are pleasantly nostalgic.

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I have a complicated relationship with alcohol. I didn’t grow up with it at all. Never even had a sip until after I was married.

Being married to an alcoholic for 20 years, you would think I would despise it and never have it around. But, it’s not alcohol’s fault. And I am still a foodie and a chef, so I do keep it around. Nothing better than a mimosa on Christmas morning, a bloody Mary at brunch, or an Old Fashioned with friends. I have been drunk exactly three times in my whole life and have no desire to ever do that again. There is context and nuance to my relationship with alcohol. I tread carefully, but also joyfully. (Also, fully realizing that for some people it is too complicated a relationship and so they have to cut it out of their life. The analogy still holds.)

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I loved my grandmother’s hands. Her nails were always beautifully shaped, just naturally. My daughter has the same hands. They are lovely and I like to look at them. As my grandmother got older I used to pinch the loose skin during church and feel the softness of the aging.

She was so tactile. She loved to touch things and people. I guess today you would probably say her love language was physical touch. She had no such vocabulary. She would just say something cute like, “I love flesh.” If she was passing you, her hand would rest on your arm, just briefly enough so you would know that she was aware of your presence. She would pat your cheeks if she was pleased with you. With her kids and grandkids, she would run her hands over our bare skin if we were running around after swimming or the boys without a shirt.

She worked hard in her life, tending to her children, grandchildren, and 55 foster babies—newborns waiting for placement, sometimes going through withdrawals from drugs or alcohol. She always held the babies. In church she would always find the babies to hold, to rock and pat with those deeply maternal hands. She gave so many tired parents brief respite.

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I’ve been working through Jordan Peterson’s Self-Authoring program as a Lenten exercise. It’s been difficult at points—especially deeply examining the past. But overwhelmingly positive. When taking an honest look at my faults and virtues, I realized something rather important; that is that I am happier than I thought I was. I know, so weird, right? Life is messy, complicated, and sometimes downright ugly. But, I can find joy in really interesting and unexpected places. And despite everything, I would not change my life. I actually feel a sort of rebellious affection for the pure quirkiness of the way things have turned out and how they are evolving.

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You know that Kanye song, All of the Lights?

“Cop lights, flash lights, spot lights, Strobe lights, street lights, (All of the lights, all of the lights)”

How about the check engine light? Mine has been lit up for six months. It’s a faulty O2 sensor and not essential to my commute. Nevertheless, I just blissfully drive on with that light in my face all day. Also, my tire pressure light is on. Also, a faulty sensor on the back tire. Tires are fully inflated. So, drive on, drive on.

I guess I like to live life on the edge.

Problem is when something actually does go wrong, I won’t know, because I am so accustomed to the light being on.

Analogous to life, no? I ignore warning lights because I am so familiar with the cause and comfortable with the source of it. So, all the lights could be on and I say, “It’s fine.”

Then one day the damn thing blows up. My life, not my car, thank God.

Did you ever wish there was a “restore to factory settings” button for your life? No? Just me? Sometimes I wish I could just reset. Or maybe like a “Clear Cookies” button so I could reevaluate every risk taken and all the access given. Maybe “Manage Storage” and I could scroll down in my heart to the “Delete Large Attachments” button and offload some shite.

I have been working through Jordan Peterson’s Self-Authoring Program and thinking deeply and honestly about the past and the present. (I haven’t even touched the Future Authoring yet.) Writing out the thoughts about what happened to me, what happened by my own hand, the choices I made and the ones I refused to make, has brought a lot of clarity. It has all dovetailed nicely with my theme of “Letting Go” this Lent. Who knew though there would be so much to let go?!

The thing is, I look back on my mistakes and can cringe so hard. And yet….I am not entirely sure I would make different choices even if I could go back. I almost understand the Felix Culpa. (Oh, Happy Fault that won for us so great a Redeemer.)

I like the person I am now a thousand percent more than I liked who I was 20 years ago. I am more honest, more willing to offer my heart in truth, more loyal, way less judgmental, far more empathetic. This person I am now—well I know her. She is unapologetic and doesn’t walk on eggshells. I can trust her. You can trust her. She listens, she cares, she is tender, she feels everything, but she won’t knowingly lie anymore. And that is huge. Would I be this person without all the missteps, mistakes, poor choices, and broken-heartedness that got me here? A bigger question would be would I want to avoid all that hurt—both that I caused and that I experienced—and not arrive where I am now?

Felix Culpa, I understand it a little.

And maybe I will understand it more 20 years from now. If God lets me be that older woman, living alone in a cottage somewhere, drinking herbs and writing pages of more truth than nonsense. Maybe then I will see more fully all the missteps in the right direction still counted as stepping stones to truth, goodness, and beauty. Maybe the regrets won’t sting so much. Maybe forgiveness for myself and others will flow like a river, the way my tears do now.

My pastor once told me, ”Daja, Faith doesn’t mean you have all the answers. It means you are not scared away by the questions.”

I have so many questions, most of which I haven’t dared to ask, because maybe I don’t want to know the answers. So instead of asking them, I will just borrow this from the Psalmist, because all my questions I guess could be summed up in this:

Whom have I in heaven but you, Lord? (Psalm 73)

At the end of the day, I guess this is the only question I actually have to ask. But just for the sake of comfort, I will hold onto the whole passage, because no one could convince me this wasn’t written by a woman with a very broken heart.

21 Since my heart was embittered
    and my soul deeply wounded,
22 I was stupid and could not understand;
    I was like a brute beast in your presence.
23 Yet I am always with you;
    you take hold of my right hand.
24 With your counsel you guide me,
    and at the end receive me with honor.
25 Whom else have I in the heavens?
    None beside you delights me on earth.
26 Though my flesh and my heart fail,
    God is the rock of my heart, my portion forever.
27 But those who are far from you perish;
    you destroy those unfaithful to you.
28 As for me, to be near God is my good,
    to make the Lord God my refuge.
I shall declare all your works
    in the gates of daughter Zion.