reconciling things

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

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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Anything…when idolized and leveraged for the sake of control or avoidance…can spin out of control and become addictive and problematic. Even the behaviors and attributes we consider noble and good.”

Matthias Barker, LMHC

Our family is at a new stage of healing. There is a dumpster in the yard. A big one. It’s an eyesore, but this is what healing looks like. Healing isn’t linear, tidy, pretty, or picturesque. There is no Instagram filter that will make it look respectable. There is no pithy quotes, hashtags, or sound clip that makes it fun.

My exhusband has so many gifts. You could scarcely find someone more talented. However, as with many people who have creative genius, there comes a degree or two of madness. For the past three years I have scarcely looked in my garage, attic, basement, or barns. I literally did not have the emotional bandwidth to face the madness. (Do you monitor your emotional bandwidth? Do you notice that when you are operating at full capacity, that everything runs sluggishly?) Remnants of projects never finished, dreams that never got out of the clouds, plans without possibilities—all just shoved everywhere in ever nook and cranny.

Also, as with many people who grew up under communist regimes, who stood in breadlines, whose core memories are doing without basic necessities, there is a tendency to hang onto more than is needed, more than is healthy, a visible sign of the unresolved trauma and fear. What if someday we won’t be able to find xyz? Never mind that it could just be rotting in their own hands because they have not the need for it or the means of using it.

Add to the mad genius and the childhood trauma inflicted by communism, alcoholism. There you have a perfect storm for disordered living out of a disordered mind. (There is a show on Lifetime…)

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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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