reconciling things

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

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.

Today is the best day of the year. It’s not a holy day of obligation and some theologian or clergy needs to sufficiently explain to me why. Nevertheless, it is the best day of the year.

It’s the day of the Annunciation. The very day the Word took on flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. She is the Theotokos—the One Who Bears God. This is the day every Christian has a pop quiz: Is Mary the Mother of God? Because Jesus. One Divine Person with two hypostatically united natures. He is both man and divine—united in one individual existence. This is glorious and takes place in the womb of the One Who Bears God.

This day changed everything. Mary’s yes, God in flesh, life from the moment the Holy Spirit entered her womb, the Creator of everything in whom and through whom all things exist, self-limited willingly to the womb of a woman and expanded all creation, offering us the possibility of theosis, that is a participation in the divine nature. We can now aim at God and be made into him.

This day is too big for my heart. It makes me want to laugh, weep, and dance, all at once. I am in utter awe that God entered Our Lady and she carried him.

But, wait….I am no theologian…(I’d rather be a mystic anyway)…just hear me out….

Maybe this is a marvelous thing God has done to show us what he can do in all creation. Maybe the Theotokos is the first fruit to show us what is possible. Maybe it is one beautiful chain: Mary carried God —-> Jesus is the hypostatic union of man and divine in one individual existence —> Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist —-> when we receive the Eucharist, we get to, for a moment in time, carry Christ within us and have our created being expand to hold the whole of everything that is good.

Today, the most important day of the year, shows us a glimpse of the full redemption that is to come and a preview of the Blessed Sacrament (the source and summit of our faith!) that we get to bear within us. The Theotokos shows us how.

“From God who exists before all eternity took flesh and became a little Child. He has taken your womb as His throne, making it more spacious than the Heavens! Therefore, O full of grace, in you all creation rejoices!” (From the St. Basil the Great Byzantine Liturgy)

Today we will play Christmas music, eat waffles, go to Mass, and feel all the Christmas cheer that comes with knowing that today we remember the redemption of the world through a mighty act of surrender. A fiat.

If Our Lady’s fiat could change the whole world, maybe my fiat can change at least mine. Today is a day when all things are possible.

I was a “gifted” little kid. The kind who got to get out of class to sit in a room with other gifted kids and do special gifted things. I was a little snob.

I was a people pleasing little kid. The kind who never got corrected by a teacher and rarely by a parent. I was held up as an ideal for other young people to follow. Lest you think this a ridiculous amount of hyperbole, when I was in third grade a child in class who seemed always in trouble for one thing or another was having a moment outside the class with the teacher. He was crying, “You always get after me for everything! Daja never even gets corrected about anything! She’s your favorite.”

The teacher replied, “Daja does get in trouble sometimes. Everyone does.” I was called into the conversation and the teacher said, “Daja, please tell John that you have gotten in trouble at school in the past.”

I just stared at her with my incredulous 3rd grade gifted face. “No, I haven’t.”

She replied, ”OK, maybe not this year yet. But you have gotten corrected or in trouble sometime while you were in school.”

“No, never.” I said.

The boy cried even more and the teacher dismissed my unhelpful little self to go back to my desk. I wish I could go back to that moment and show even an ounce of empathy instead of the smug superiority I felt in that moment. If he became a villain, no doubt this was part of his origin story.

I was a perfect teenager, the kind that wouldn’t dream of rocking the boat or rebelling in any form. And yes, lest you think that a ridiculous amount of hyperbole again, a man at church with four teenagers told them he was going to make a bracelet that said WWDD—substituting Daja for Jesus, because he wanted his girls to be like me. I laughed of course—inwardly feeling rather proud that I could be held up as such a standard.

Following this trend, I was an ideal wife. Reading my older blog posts make me cringe so hard. I had all the answers to what you were doing wrong and how you could do it as well as I was. Nevermind that authentically telling the truth, not looking at things through rose-colored glasses and practicing good boundaries were not things I understood nor practiced. Walking on egg shells, people pleasing, and ignoring my intuition: those were the things at which I was really excelling.

Me keeping up appearances and perfection has died hard in my adult years. But, I hope and pray I am actually a better person—or at the very least on my way to being a better person. Mind you this may not look like being a better person, because now I am far more likely to let you down or do something you don’t like without apology. But it is actually me being a better person without the pretense. You can trust the person I am now far more than you could 20 years ago.

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I think about boundaries a lot. I talk about boundaries fairly often. I wouldn’t say I am obsessed with boundaries, but some people have accused me of being so. Maybe because I didn’t discover this concept until so late in life that it has taken a decade to get the riff-raff out of my yard and off my lawn, like hungover frat boys the morning after a house party. All these people, things, ideas, soul-ties and such really had overstayed their welcome. It has been a massive clean-up effort, during which I have also been trying to repair the boundary lines—like putting the fences back up. Or maybe it is like getting a property re-surveyed to discover what is really yours and what belongs to the neighbors.

The conversation, at least on social media, surrounding boundaries is so muddy though. People have all kinds of ideas around what it means to have and keep boundaries. Of course you can read some great books by Danny Silk or Henry Cloud, but who has the time? (I mean, I do. Because I am “obsessed”….but whatevs.) So, I thought I would just do a little brain dump of some thoughts about boundaries. I know this is the content you are here for.

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It has been a really interesting few months. God has led me through grief, through facing some things in my past and in myself and in the carefully constructed (false) narrative I had built to protect both. I found myself standing in difficult truths—some that were beautiful and some that were painful, but all were healing.

I caught up with a friend this morning and shared the nitty gritty details. It went something like, “OK, I am going to tell you some really painful and ugly things. But, don’t worry. I am already healed. All I have right now is tremendous gratitude.”

The thing is that it is not hyperbole. I actually do feel tremendous gratitude.

God has loved me so well. He has carried me so faithfully and in ways I could not imagine if I had tried. In the last few weeks He pulled back the veil enough for me to see specifics areas where he protected and carried me. And the revelation left me literally speechless.

My friend this morning said my tale brought to mind Exodus 13 where God says that when he led his people out of Egypt he could have taken them by the Philistines, which was the shorter way. But, he said if they saw the Philistines they may have become frightened and returned to bondage. So, respecting human will, he led them the longer way, probably the more difficult way—because he loved them and respected their freedom.

Yes, it was the longer way—but he didn’t let their sandals wear out.

Yes, it was the dryer way—but he gave them water from the rock.

Yes, it was not a straight shot—but he gave them clouds by day and fire by night.

True, there wasn’t much to eat on that desert path—but there was manna from heaven.

When I tell you I am overwhelmed with gratitude, I mean that as I type this I am weeping. God has loved me so well. And I didn’t even know it. I couldn’t even see it. I spent so much time being angry at him for the way he let my life unfold. I didn’t even see the clouds and fire. Yet, he kept leading me and feeding me manna.

While I am sure that my healing journey is not finished—I am not dead yet—the amount of healing that was manifest in my life in the last few weeks has been so substantial, it’s beyond measure. It’s like 40 years of hurt was lifted from me and I was suddenly able to breathe and sleep and digest food again.

I wish so much that the details could all be shared. Alas, at this time, they cannot. However, I want to tell you something clearly:

God’s default position is healing.

Trauma is not our identity. I think so often we can always be in a process of healing, but never healed. We can wind our hurts around ourselves and wear them like a badge. We can color our world in shades of grey to explain why crying comes more naturally than laughing. We can glorify the grit of our lives and forget that maybe, just maybe, we are living the great romance that we always wanted. But, we get bogged down because we are in that part of the story where we are just sure that none of it is going to work out—they are never going to find each other. But thanks be to God of all plot twists, sometimes we are one emotional sappy ugly montage from resolution.

The courage to face the things I have faced in the last few weeks was not available to me before this moment. God gives the grace we need for the moments we need—not often early, but certainly never late.

If you are in the trenches like me, if God is leading you by the long way, if you are wondering if this journey actually has a destination, same. Same.

Maybe that is the most comforting thing to hear: Same. Someone else also following the cloud and fire and drinking water from a rock and believing in a promise land we haven’t yet seen.

Gratitude is what I feel right now. I will pray God gives you that grace when you need it too. We will get there.

Life hacks. Kitchen hacks. Studying hacks. Gardening hacks. Budgeting hacks.

What’s with all the hacks? Are there really any shortcuts when doing anything meaningful? And even if there were hacks, would I actually take them? As previously established, life is inherently inconvenient, but it is precisely that which makes it beautiful. We are all called to do important hard things and sometimes that means going painfully slowly.

Ladder of Divine Ascent
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About two weeks before Lent the questions always begin. “What are you doing for Lent?” ”Got any plans for Lent?” “What are you fasting?” And parish programs promising “The Best Lent Ever” start popping up.

Someone recently came up to me smiling broadly, “It’s almost Lent! Are you as excited as me?”

I paused. Finally I said, “Well, I mean, not particularly.”

“Why?!” she said. “Lent is great!”

“Well, yes. Lent is fruitful. But it is also walking with Jesus in the desert for 40 days. So, things might get rough.”

“No way! I am already living in that Easter Resurrection,” she practically cheered.

I just smiled, not unkindly, and said, “I think you are doing it wrong.”

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