reconciling things

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

The great thing about getting old(er) and I hope wise(r) is that you learn to accept yourself as you are at the same time becoming what you should be. When you are younger you may care about what is fashionable or what people think or find it difficult if you stand out from the crowd. At school or youth group you wonder if you should fit in with the jocks or the nerds and whether people are still tight-rolling their jeans this year. You may laugh at jokes you don’t quite understand just so as not to appear dumb (or is this just me?). Or you may pretend to like movies that are stupid or over-your-heard or simply not your jam because everyone else won’t shut up about them. (Like the time I gave into peer pressure and watched the Titanic in the theater against my better judgement. That’s 3 hours and 14 minutes I’ll never get back.)

But then you get older. You have enough life experiences that you kind of stop caring—in a good way. If you are a well-adjusted grown-up you realize you can disagree without being disagreeable and find you can own your own opinions without bending to the group-thought. (Unless you are so Hollywood that you care about being cancelled….) You realize there is a difference between style and fashion. You don’t pretend to like pumpkin spice lattes or IPAs just because everyone else does. (Aside: IPAs are to basic guys what pumpkin spice lattes are to basic girls. Change my mind.) You can lean into your strengths, embrace even your “flaws”, and find where the beauty lies in the mess.

I have been so amused lately by the things friends have said to describe me. A few weeks ago a dear friend said, “I mean this is the nicest way, but you are not a very well-rounded person.” I laughed so hard because she is 100% correct and it actually felt so good to be understood. I know what I know—which is limited mostly to the kitchen and dusty old books. Ask me about how my car engine works and I will reply with something akin to a flux capacitor. If you saw my search history you would laugh at the things I have googled to have explained to me—mostly so that I can explain them to my kids!

Another time recently someone described me as having a masculine feminine energy. I was a little taken aback, because I consider myself a rather girly girl—you know classically girly things. I wear dresses almost every day. I love lipstick and jewelry—the more the better. I drink tea out of the pretty cups. And I like flowers on my table. But she went on to explain that I am forthright and assertive, which are typically thought of masculine traits. However, I feel like they are adaptive traits in that I have learned the hard way—that being honest is better than living a lie. It has been a lesson it has taken me years to learn, as I let go of my sticky pedestal behavior and addiction to the opinions of others.

Now in my forties, I am finally just me. Not Daja the pastor’s daughter, Daja the missionary, Daja the minister, Daja the homeschooling mom, Daja the wife of the seminarian. Now I am just me. The titles don’t define me. And that is an infinitely better footing. Someday, when I see the Lord and know even as I am also known (I Corinthians 13) the titles will mean nothing. Only three things will remain—faith, hope, and love.

I would have never said it this way (but what one says isn’t nearly as important as how one behaves) but I was always on a course trying to earn love—parents’, friends’, spouse’s, God’s. I definitely behaved that way, revealing a core belief that unless I was useful, unless I could be held up as a model of perfection using some arbitrary standard of measurement, unless I did everything right and played by all the rules, I would not be loved. My biggest fear was failure, but not because of the actual failure, but because then I would lose the love I had earned. Truth be told, I have lost the “love” of many humans when I stopped being useful to them. I found the deep meaning of true love, though, the love that only intensifies with one’s utter dependence upon it.

Brenning Manning (controversial as he was, I like him) wrote in his book Lion and the Lamb, The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus: “Shortly after I was ordained, I took a graduate course at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. The professor was an old Dutchman who told the following story: “I’m one of thirteen children. One day when I was playing in the street of our hometown in Holland, I got thirsty and came into the pantry of our house for a glass of water. It was around noon and my father had just come home from work to have lunch. He was sitting at the kitchen table, having a glass of beer with a neighbor. A door separated the kitchen from the pantry and my father didn’t know I was there. The neighbor said to my father, ‘Joe, there’s something I’ve wanted to ask you for a long time, but if it’s too personal, just forget I ever asked.’

“What is your question?”

“‘Well, you have thirteen children. Out of all of them is there one that is your favorite, one you love more than all the others?'” 

“I had my ear pressed against the door hoping against hope it would be me. ‘That’s easy,’ my father said. ‘Sure there’s one I love more than all the others. That’s Mary, the twelve-year-old. She just got braces on her teeth and feels awkward and embarrassed that she won’t go out of the house anymore. Oh, but you asked about my favorite. That’s my twenty-three-year-old Peter. His fiancee just broke their engagement, and he is desolate. But the one I really love the most is little Michael. He is totally uncoordinated and terrible in any sport he tries to play. The other kids on the street make fun of him. But, of course, the apple of my eye is Susan. Only twenty-four, living in her own apartment, and developing a drinking problem. I cry for Susan. But I guess of all the kids…’ and my father went on mentioning each of his thirteen children by name.”

The professor ended his story saying: “What I learned was that the one my father loved most was the one who needed him most at the time. And that’s the way the Father of Jesus is: He loves those most who depend on Him, and trust Him in everything. Little He cares whether you’ve been as pure as St. John or as sinful as Mary Magdalene. All that matters is trust. It seems to me that learning how to trust God defines the meaning of Christian living. God doesn’t wait until we have our moral life in order before He starts loving us.”

If that doesn’t make you weep, check your pulse.

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