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.

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  • The heart can hold two seemingly opposing things at the same time and it does not have to make sense to anyone. As Pascal says, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of… We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.” I have learned to hold two truths in the last few years, such as life is fucking hard and God is overwhelmingly good. And also, one can be extremely lonely and very content at the same time. A less abstract example: my marriage should have never happened, but I would do it again for the sake of these nine children who make the world go around for me. (NEWS: My marriage was annulled this summer. There was much rejoicing.)
  • You can only ignore stress for so long and you cannot “power of positive thinking” your way out of trauma. You have to walk through it, acknowledge it, honor it, release it, lather-rinse-repeat. Because you may think mentally you are fine. And then your body will remind you—first in subtle ways. And then in increasingly dramatic ways that get your attention. (NEWS: I had an autoimmune flair that nearly killed me this summer. But, I am recovering very well.)
  • We all live with holes. When someone important leaves your life—because of death, divorce, misunderstanding, or pure malice, there is no filling the hole they leave in your life with someone else. That’s not the way life works. You may make new friends or fall in love again, but that does not mean the new person fills the role of the previous person. I mean, if you have ever loved anyone, you know this intuitively, right? Instead you just somehow learn to live with the hole, work around it, and find some kind of beauty in it. Your life becomes like lace, which wouldn’t be beautiful if it didn’t have strategic holes.
  • Which reminds me of the time my now 20 year old was about 7 years old and was following me around Target as I bought some accessories for a party I had to attend. He look at the fishnet stockings and said, “Mom, you should get different ones. These are full of holes.”
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It was right after daily Mass that I decided with an hour to spare I would feed my vanity and get a pedicure. Ordinarily I am a low-maintenance girl. My morning routine takes about 10 minutes, no lie. But a pedicure makes me happy and is really the only way I am wearing sandals in the summer. It’s vanity. I could have used a homily on modesty at that Mass.

I was sitting in the salon chair, mindlessly scrolling my phone because I forgot my book, which makes me look smarter and more sophisticated than others there and therefore feeds my ego. I joke, but it’s also kind of true. I refuse to read the fashion magazines, because I don’t need to add insecurity to the vanity I am there to feed. The only option is to feel superior reading Camus. Come on. You know you have your things that make you feel slightly better than others. I could have used a homily on humility too.

So, I sat there scrolling my phone, which rather than making me look superior just made me look like a bored millennial. Oh well. But, I was listening to the room. And it was chatty that day. It started out with some complaining about kids in general, then grew into complaining about adult children. One lady was about to go to a family reunion type function and getting the adult children to participate in whatever way she thought they should was not going well. Through the conversation it came out that she had sons. Well, she had daughters too, but apparently they had a smidge more sense than her sons. Another lady chimed in. She also had sons! In fact she had two! Back-to-back! And weren’t sons just the worst. The gallery practically erupted with tales of how difficult and stressful and just-plain-awful it was to have sons. They broke everything! They ate everything! They were so irresponsible! They needed constant supervision, because they could not be trusted to follow through on anything!

This attitude carried on to one lady’s husband. Men, amirite?! They are just so terrible. “Before I left today I had to give my husband some jobs to do. I told him he needed to do XYZ before I get home. Do you think it will be done when I get home? Probably not, but at least maybe it will keep him out of trouble.” Cue general laughter and agreement. Tsk, tsk. Men.

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As previously discussed here and here and here, life is hard. And it takes nothing away from God’s absolute goodness to say that. But, also, there are so many beautiful things in life. So many smiles from the Lord. So much tenderness. So many tiny and innumerable reasons for joy. The world is far more incredible and delightful then we sometimes feel it is when we get wrapped up in the cares of this world.

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Recently two of my young children pooled their money and ordered long desired Lego sets from Amazon. They read the estimated date of delivery and immediately started counting down the days. Every day they said, “Mom, just X more days!” I knew to what they were referring without them having to say so.

As the window of delivery arrived they asked if they could check the mail. It was 7AM. No, honey, the mail has not arrived. It’s too early.

Now can we check them mail?

No, it’s only 10AM. The mail has not been delivered yet.

Now can we check the mail?

Still no. I mean, you can check, but it is not here yet.

And so it went all day long. They sat on the stairs with the best vantage point of the mailbox. Waiting, expecting, any minute now. Every time I passed them on the steps I had to walk around them and step over them as they waited with so much anticipation.

But the toys did not arrive the first day of the estimated window. They were bummed. But, surely tomorrow! Tomorrow they would arrive. And the whole thing was repeated on day 2. At one point I got a little exasperated. “Guys! Waiting by the window will not get your packages here any sooner. Go do something productive!” Reluctantly they decided to play outside probably because 1) they didn’t want me assigning them a chore and 2) they could spy on the mailbox outside without annoying me.

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Do you remember TV from the 80s and earlier? Do you recall how each episode or made-for-tv-movie had a beginning, a middle, and an end? Whatever conundrum our protagonist faced was neatly wrapped up by the end of the show. Things eventually worked themselves out. Things fell into place. And in the most wholesome iterations, there was a little monologue moral set to gentle background music. It let you know the show was about to wrap up, lessons were learned, and the good guy wins in the end.

The grownup version of this is the quintessential Hallmark movie. Things may be messy and awkward, but around the 1.5 hour mark you know that things will fall into place, good will triumph, and everyone will smile along with the perfect montage.

I wonder if being raised on a steady and vapid diet of this has contributed to a generation or two that are just waiting for the day that things fall into place. As soon as xyz happens then everything will begin to get easier. As soon as I accomplish this one thing, my life will make sense. My life will really begin as soon as I do this certain thing or as soon as this other thing happens to me. It’s bound to, right? It’s in all the entertainment and content we consume. Shit works itself out.

Except it doesn’t.

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“It is the great mystery of human life that old grief passes gradually into quiet tender joy.”

Dostoevsky, The Brother’s Karamozov

The West calls it divinization. The East calls it theosis. It is the journey, goal, and purpose of the Christian life lived out in this world, getting us fit for the next. “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God,” to quote St. Athanasius. The whole sacramental life, one long process of healing.

Although the stain of original sin was dealt with at my baptism and although Jesus imprinted my soul with an indelible mark as his, living in the truth of this takes a lifetime. A lifetime of learning what it means to belong to him. A lifetime of learning to trust, a lifetime of discovering what it means to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4)

I am healed. I am also healing. Slowly.

Recently my body reacted so badly to stress that it has taken me two months to put the pieces back together. The alarming rate at which my body rebelled and the unusual ways it rebelled, even made one of my doctors comment, “Are you sure you haven’t been reading the book of Job?”

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I am the daughter of pastors. I am the granddaughter of pastors. I am the great granddaughter of pastors. When I got married I was a pastor’s wife. I was soon after ordained and became a pastor myself.

And now I am a Catholic.

How does this happen? Well, I have shared about it in multiple posts and this video. However, the seeds of my conversion go back to my childhood—way way way back into my childhood.

I have the most intentional parents. They do things for a reason. There is no “we do this because this is the way we do it” about them. Ask them about almost anything from why they put their TV where they did to why they chose to homeschool their kids and they could produce a paper on why. (Not to infer that everything done with intention is correct, but a heck of lot better than going through life without intention.)

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Dear children, my children,

There are some things in life that are scary. You won’t want to face them. Sometimes those things are outside in the big confusing world. And sometimes they are inside, in your big confusing heart. Wherever they are, you must not be afraid to face them. There will be a deep temptation not to face them. It is much pleasanter to turn away from them or to pretend they are not there. That can work for a little while. Alas, eventually, you will come face-to-face with them. The day of reckoning is so much worse than if you had just faced them in the beginning.

The other side of that scary however is so much fruit. Jordan Peterson says, “That which you most need to find will be found where you least wish to look.” Children, if you want to find the treasure, you will have to dig through some mess to find it. Have courage.

Jordan Peterson goes on to say, “It has been known for decades, explicitly (and forever implicitly) that self-initiated confrontation with what is frightening or unknown is frequently curative. The standard treatment for phobias and anxiety is therefore exposure to what is feared. That treatment is effective—but the exposure must be voluntary.”

This means that I cannot force you to face scary things or to ask hard questions or to dive too deeply into your own heart. That is your job—and your joy as well. Because if you ask tough questions from the world, from God, from yourself, you will get real answers. True, they may not be the answers you want. But truth is always more beautiful in the long run than a half-truth or an outright lie.

My children, never live a lie. Never say one. Because what you say and what you do must match in order for you not to lose yourself. Speak what is transcendent—true, good, and beautiful. Then, please, I beg you, have the courage to live what is true, good, and beautiful.

I was thinking of the hard questions I did not ask of myself, of God, of the world or of others who I let into the deepest parts of my heart. I am no great model of courage now, but when I was your age, I was even more cowardly. I was afraid to ask questions for which I didn’t want to know the answers. Before I got married I asked questions—about externals. Very pragmatic and outward things. I did not ask deep questions of my own motives and desires. I did not ask deep questions of your father either. I was afraid to face myself, him, my family, the world at large. I was just afraid. I let that fear guide me and I didn’t have anyone in my life to say, “Ask the damn questions! Dig until you are satisfied and until you find beauty.”

So, I am telling you now, dear children. Ask. Dig. Do not be afraid of the questions, the answers which Rilke says you may not be given, because you would not be able to live them. But if you keep living the questions you may live your way into the answers.

You’ve seen the memes. Maybe you have posted them. You know the ones that the punch line goes how you have never really been tired before you had kids. The exhaustion of new parents is the literal worst.

Except then you have a toddler. You’ve heard the jokes and maybe seen the books about how toddlers are assholes.

Then there is the sucker punch of the threenager. Worst than terrible twos, so I am told. But, just wait…soon they will be five. And on it goes. Wait until they are in middle school. But that’s nothing. Wait until they are teenagers.

And if they are girls you hear, “Oh, the drama of girls! Daughters are such a storm all the time.” But, if you have boys you hear, “I so don’t envy you all those boys around. The mess! The noise!”

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