I answered the question by sharing my story, by putting my words out there, and engaging (with the internet) in an honest and authentic way.
It’s been stilted lately, though, this little blog-o-mine. And I’ve struggled to figure out why.
Last week, I enjoyed my first two days at Leadership Marshfield, a training program put on through the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MACCI) focused on enhancing the ability of potential community leaders to function effectively. It was an amazing experience and I’m really excited to continue with the program over the next 7 months… but it’s already had an impact.
On the second day of the two day retreat, we were instructed to prepare to share our personal leadership hero(es) with the group… with a prop. Naturally, on my way home from day one, I stopped at the (brand spanking new and beautiful) Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library to check out a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. (Don’t get me wrong, I own it, of course… but a Kindle just doesn’t make a terribly effective prop, in my opinion.) It was actually on the cart behind the circulation desk to be reshelved, which made my heart happy knowing someone else had recently had their hands on it, and I brought it with me the next day.
The next morning, I stood up in front of the group and talked about my two leadership heroes:
(1) Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, who changed my entire perspective about what it really means to engage in my life, my workplace, and my community. She taught me not to be ashamed or afraid of what and who I am, to value myself for my talents and my passions, and to move forward, with gusto, whenever I’m able.
(2) Ronda Kopelke, Director of the Marshfield Clinic Center for Community Outreach, who showed me what an amazing manager and leader should look like, up close and in practice. She continues to teach me (literally daily) what it means to really care about the people around you and to help them understand that you do. She’s also shown me how to be solution-oriented and engage with people in a positive, respectful, relationship-focused manner.
I sat back down, and then Shelley from Roehl popped up (sharing at Leadership Marshfield is popcorn-style… mmmmm… popcorn) and was mad/glad that I stole her thunder/had the same leadership role model as her. Again, my heart, so glad!
I thought a lot about Sheryl Sandberg that day, chatted with Shelley about her and about Lean In at the ROPES course (yes, I did the mother effing high ropes!! impressed? I am! go me!) and thought about what it was that reading that book had done for me and how it had changed my trajectory in the first place.
Sheryl Sandberg was the one who had asked me (and the millions and millions of other readers of Lean In) that question that started it all: what would you do if you weren’t afraid?
And I did those things. A lot of them. The blog three years ago. The ROPES course three days ago.
But I had never thought about the converse question:
What does it look like when you’re living in fear?
I know the answer now. Not on purpose. Not because I want to. But I look back on the last year and I can see, so clearly, what it looks like when I am afraid and I choose to live there.
I run. Literally, metaphorically. All of the above. I ran from my life and from everything that hurt and was scary. I ran and ran and ran. A marathon. Until I broke my foot (not literally, I just pulled a ligament, but it hurts like a b, so there’s that). I ate my way through Festival Foods to run from feelings and stopped vacuuming my floors. I ran from real life. I said yes to everything and anything at work to run from free time and I have ensured that I’ve had none over these past several months. No time to think or dwell, only run. From one assignment to the next. One workout to the next. One bag of chips (or box of candy, carton of ice cream, etc) to the next.
I even ran from writing and sharing and speaking and connecting. So much of me was just so tender and everything and anything could be salt in the wound without warning.
I have been afraid.
Of what, though, really? Grief after a miscarriage is one thing, but fear? I mean, fear that it would happen again would be rational… but you have to get pregnant first for that to be a possibility… getting pregnant is even less my strong suit than staying pregnant, so what then?
The what, I have to assume, is failure. That infertility wins and this is it. And “it” is failure. A life of settling because I can’t do the thing I want to do. That I felt so strongly I was supposed to do. Meant to do even. Family is the next step — love, (schoooooool), marriage… baby carriage. Even my childhood rhymes said so!
It hurts to fail. And I can do physical pain, but emotional? Nope. I hate it. It feels bad to be jealous, too. And I felt like I had replaced my rose-colored glasses with green ones, everywhere I looked ultrasounds and bumps and even literal baby carriages that weren’t mine. Might very well never be. I don’t like those feelings. I don’t like to fail. So I ran, cowered, stopped vacuuming.
This September, the anniversary of all the bad stuff came and went. The missing heartbeat on September 11th. The surgery on the 16th. The black days immediately after when I felt like I couldn’t breath… and didn’t want to. A year later, I’m still here. Still moving. And slowly recognizing a haze of fear. Recognition.
I take you back to the scene in Love Actually when Mark confesses his completely unrequited love to Juliet (yes, I’ve literally already said this) and then walks away, saying to himself, “Enough. Enough now.” It’s like that. Just like that.
Time to move on. To stop being afraid. Or, at the very least, to stop running from it. To face fear head on. Like Brene Brown and FDR’s man in the arena (highly recommend Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly). But also like Shana Niequist in Present Over Perfect (my newest and truest literary love affair) — sitting with it, even when it’s uncomfortable. Letting myself feel it and living my life anyway.
We have a lot of moments in life that are before and after type moments. Things that define us. But sometimes the moment is longer than a moment. Sometimes the moment is more like a year. For me, it was a year of fear. A year spent running, but getting nowhere. Except back to life. And that’s ok.
For my upcoming birthday, I’m building myself a library. A special little space full of coziness and books. (And when I’m in it, a big old nerd!) A space to read, think, relax, unwind or wind up, depending on the book, maybe even write a little. And I’m pretty dang excited about it. All I need is the chair — and that’s going to be my birthday present from Seth. Something big enough so that should Curly choose to join me, there will plenty of space for the both of us.
Maybe a little side table for the lamp and cup of tea I envision at my side. My set up will face the fireplace, of course, for night time reading, and soak up the sun from the big window when it’s shining. But most importantly: the books. And I’m definitely an avid collector in that respect. Physically and mentally. I just soak them up, always have, always will. 2015 has been no exception in that respect, although it has been exceptional in a million other ways and because of that — books have been even more important than usual. They have consoled me and distracted me in a way nothing else possibly could and I am so grateful that comfort like that is always, always, always available. Words are so powerful. And well-timed words are probably the most powerful thing of all. I read some spectacular ones this year.
As I moved my most special books from their stacks, shelves, and cupboards into my new little library, I thought back to the Lincoln Later El library (I think it’s maybe called Brick now?) — where I spent all my lunchtimes many years ago. Sixth grade was probably my peak of loser-dom and recess was kind of a nightmare. So to avoid it, I reshelved books in the library. It was glorious to spend my lunch that way every day — handling the books, seeing what others were reading, getting ideas about what I should read next, and helping Mrs. Van-can’t-spell-the-rest a little bit at the same time. (But most importantly, avoiding the playground.) As I looked over my laundry baskets of collected books, I thought back on those lunch times, about the Dewey Decimal System, and how I would organize things in my own little space. A story about the stories I’ve read began to emerge and it suddenly seemed like an appropriate way to sum up the year I’ve had… my mental shelves are bursting, after all. So a little recap of 2015 — in a literary context:
Even before it started, I was quite aware that 2015 was going to be a tough year. Our last round of IUI was in December of 2014 and when it was unsuccessful (again) we knew that IVF was next. I was unhappy and I wasn’t alone. My sister-in-law, Kayla, and I were both dealing with stuff, feeling unhappy, and so we thought we’d read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin together. We started and I thought the research on happiness was fascinating, but we quickly petered out — I don’t know. It just wasn’t really for me, maybe it was the rigidity? Under normal circumstances, I’m a big fan of plans and dates and times and the like, but there’s something about the beauty of evolution and letting things naturally develop over time that I guess I find preferable. Happiness is always a worthy goal, to be sure, but I guess I prefer to take a step, see what happens, and let that inform the next step over making a 12 month plan with its 12 pre-planned steps and putting checks in the boxes as I accomplish them. (Gasp! I love to check boxes! A revelation that that does not apply here.) I’m not sure what Kayla’s thoughts on the topic are (note to self: ask Kayla for her thoughts), but I think the read was worth it just to better understand the science of happiness — the idea of a set point that you can’t sway too much and the notion that little things can make a surprisingly big difference when they become part of the every day.
One of those little things that makes a huge difference for me is audiobooks. I subscribed to Audible in the middle of 2014 and started listening to books while walking, running, mowing the lawn, sewing, driving long distances, etc, and ho-ly cow, I’m so in love. While there’s no doubt in my mind that reading is a worthwhile activity, I somehow always either felt guilty for reading while I could/should have been doing something else or, conversely, while doing something else hobby-ish, I’d rather be reading. Audible has solved that problem completely — now I can do both. This year alone, I’ve listened to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Murial Barbery, Lightning by Dean Koontz, Saint Odd by Dean Koontz, One Door Away from Heaven by Dean Koontz (so yeah, I’m a big DK fan, and his books are so fast paced that they’re some of the best I’ve found for running to), The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (although admittedly, I haven’t finished this one yet — probably better for something like driving than running), The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (which I hated so much, but we chatted about that before), all three All Souls Trilogy books by Deborah Harkness (A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life), The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, and, at present, Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz (his newest — yay yay yay). I also listened to Scrum by Jeff and J. J. Sutherland. That one was not my choice. It’s a book about a business productivity technique that Seth wanted to listen to and he talked me into listening along as we drove across the UP in September. It was interesting, but not super duper applicable to my lone wolf work environment. On the plus side, however, it was in exchange for that listening experience that I talked him into listening to The Five Love Languages with me on our next drive to and from Madison. As far as self-help goes, it was ridiculously cheesy and almost alarmingly intuitive, yet, Seth and I had an excellent time mocking the self-important and overly serious author and, honestly, recognizing the primary way in which we tend to hear and speak love (me in words, Seth in action) was excellent for us both. Five hours of car time well spent! As far as the rest go All the Light was so beautiful and so hard, but so important and I’m so glad I read it; Orange is the New Black was interesting and informative, definitely a good look at the broken prison system in America, but probably not what you would expect if you just watched the show — sometimes I felt like I was in prison listening to the overly long descriptions of kind of boring things, like prison cheescake and salad bars, a thousand times over; and all the Dean Koontzes were delightful as expected, except that I’m craving so much more about the smooth and blue than the final Odd Thomas book had to offer. The others warrant special attention, however.
The Invention of Wings and The Elegance of the Hedgehog were two of the best books I read all year. They’re both amazing, thought provoking, fascinating. And, while I didn’t think of it really until now, both have in some respect shaped the way I feel about life’s unexpected turns as well as its meaning. Like, so much so, that I should really go back and read Elegance again with an eye to the point of existing, as I’ve lamented over recently. I was so annoyed with both narrators at first — the self-important adolescent and the chip-on-her-shoulder concierge. But they grew and I loved them for it so much in the end. So so much. Anyone can grow, everyone has purpose. Even if just for a moment. Oh, love, love, love! Similarly, the main character in Wings seems so naive at first — and she is, I suppose, because she’s 11 and it’s basically your job at 11 to be naive. But growth and change and heartbreak and breaking hearts, standing up for what’s right for others and recognizing what’s right for yourself, all of that. It’s just beautiful. One of my favorite, favorites. So much so that after I was gifted a second copy (thanks, sweet Ellen! you do know me well!), I re-gifted it to my dear friend Marie and then again at Christmas to my friend Deb. And now you should all read it. Because it’s so so good. (Btw, Sue Monk Kidd also wrote The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, which you know you loved, and that should be an even better recommendation for The Invention of Wings.)
Speaking of good fiction… I also devoured The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and think it was truly the best of the best that I read all year. It’s a World War II-based story about two sisters who are both simultaneously jealous of one another and insecure about themselves, in the end realizing that they’re both incredibly courageous in two distinctly different ways. It’s such a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful story. Simultaneously heart breaking and heart making. This is probably the book I’m the most insistent that other people read — when Aimee said she was reading books with bird titles I was so excited for her to get to this one, I told Erika to start here when she was looking for recommendations, I sent it to Melissa after she had surgery, and gave Marie a copy for Christmas. These are people I love very, very much and this is a book I love very, very much. Definitely my 2015 Must Read. Oh! And one more “deep fiction” winner — At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen, the author of Water for Elephants knocked it out of the park once again with another fascinating look back in time, although this time it was the Loch Ness craze in war battered Scotland rather than the depression-era circus scene. Loved.
But it’s not just prize-winning, super deep fiction that I love… I just love, love, love a good story, and twice this year, Lara Lacombe delivered, with both Lethal Lies and Killer Exposure. The biggest problem with Lara’s books is that if you have even the tiniest inkling of nerdy girl-ness inside you or potential for enjoyment of romantic suspense, you better start reading on a Friday night so that by the time you have to go back to work, you’re done with the book and ready to come up for air. I can never put them down and I think that Killer Exposure was actually my favorite that Lara has written so far. It’s crazy to me how addictive her stories are! Similarly, I devoured lots of Dean Koontz, as mentioned above, including my old hard copy of Life Expectancy, which again, proved itself to be my favorite Koontz of all time. It’s just SO good. I also forced Erika to read it. And she loved it. N = 2, must be true! I also loved One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, which wasn’t quite as amazing as Me Before You, but still excellent and a good reminder that when life is super crazy hard, we can, and should, lean on each other; Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal, a race-exploring New Orleans-based book with super likable and interesting characters; Invisible Ellen by Shari Shattuck because I’m a total sucker for stories about fat girls finding acceptance, friendship, worth, purpose, self-love, etc (a la Jemima J by Jane Green), and this book totally fits that bill — brilliant and interesting and funny and witty and super feel-good; and Lila by Marilynne Robinson, which is apparently a stand alone part of the Gilead series that I obviously need to read more of. Sadly, however, not all the fiction I read delivered quite so well and I did find myself pretty disappointed in Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin, probably because it was my understanding that Le Guin was a science fiction writer and I just couldn’t reconcile my expectations with the reality of the book — although if I really wanted to read about a woman bogged down by unreasonable expectations that had to overcome great adversity, particularly within the context of her unexpected husband, I’d re-read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (a total masterpiece) instead. I was also disappointed by The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner, which is so sad because it’s a legitimately brilliant idea for a story — I just didn’t really dig the execution, I think. It could have been such a lovely little love story wrapped up in history, but instead felt cheesy. I feel like I want to read the same story with an author like Sarah Gruen or Sue Monk Kidd instead, which seems like such a mean thing to say, but it’s my truth. Sorry, Susan.
Perhaps my two most personally important fiction reads, however, actually fall under a broader category of books — namely, those I read in the wake of grief and really helped me to cope. I re-read J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series this year, as we’ve discussed, and while I thought it was about making my maybe baby magical, it actually ended up being an important thing to have done for myself, as I learned only in the wake of my miscarriage. Interestingly, my friend Kristen also recommended to me an adolescent-fiction-slash-graphic-novel called A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and it kind of had a similar story line — a young man’s mother is dying and he calls up a monster to save her, except, the monster wasn’t actually there to save his mother. The monster was there to save him. It’s a quick read, but ridiculously profound and I loved it so much. Probably my number one recommendation in the context of grief specifically. It’s beautiful. I sobbed. So did Kristen. I highly recommend this book. I also recently finished the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness as I mentioned above. Had I read anything about them before diving in, I probably wouldn’t have even stepped a toe in the water — the vampire, witch, demon deal sounds a bit too Twilight-y to suit my HP devotee style (Hermione for life!!), but my mom’s friend and former school social worker, Linda, recommended them to me as I walked and walked and walked through IVF and I am so grateful that she did because I absolutely adore these books. History and magic and love and family and meaning and spirituality and all of the above. Love, love, love, love, love. At nearly 30 hours a piece, it’s impressive to think how many miles I must have run and walked while listening to these three books. The main character even grieved a miscarriage at one point. It was perfection.
In addition to the grief-important fiction, I’ve also read a lot of grief-important non-fiction. Early after my miscarriage, Aunt Becky sent me a copy of To Live Again by Catherine Marshall and I walked with Ms. Marshall for a good long while — in Hawaii, on my way home, many difficult nights, and she’s proven to me over and over again why I find her Prayer of Relinquishment so meaningful, it’s how she lives her whole life. It’s the place she found after the greatest of tragedies, in the wake of the most difficult situation, and she and her words are really an amazing source of strength. Similarly, and then again so completely not similarly at all because there really is no comparing the Catherine Marshall of the 1950s to the Jenny Lawson of now, I also read and loved Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy this year. We talked about the brilliant Bloggess already, but to bring the point home one more time — to move from grief into a state of long-standing, long-battled, hard fought mental illness is not a surprise. Depression is always there waiting for me and I live with it, through it, in spite of it, every single day of my life. Some periods are harder than others and I am not alone. To have collaborated with my healthcare providers to decide to use medication, to participate in talk therapy, those things are not weaknesses — they are strengths, they are good decisions, they are active participation in my own wellness and growth. Also, Jenny Lawson is freaking hilarious and for someone to fit jokes in amongst all that good stuff? Well, that just seems rather amazing, doesn’t it?
(Sad sidenote: hoping for non-fiction goodness a la Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling and Jenny Lawson and the like, I also picked up Yes Please by Amy Pohler at the Honolulu airport after I busted my Kindle on the beach. Unfortunately, I was disappointed — I feel guilty for even saying so, but it just felt so name droppy and gushy about the amazingness of her amazing friends without being particularly hilarious, except when she basically says, “trust me, we were all so hilarious”… I guess you had to be there? So sad about this… but it’s the truth, and it sits half read in a stack next to my bed. Sorry, Amy. This doesn’t change the way I feel about Parks and Rec. Promise.)
I also super loved The Shack by William P. Young and found it particularly encouraging to read Young’s super fascinating imagining of God the trinity. God as black woman, even if only as a representation, among other anti-institutional and/or anti-dogmatic sentiments, has this book frequently labeled as heresy, which I love so much because it says so much about the people who label fiction (a la the Dan Brown books) as such, don’t you think? But besides that, it’s just such an interesting read. I especially loved the way God, the black woman, greets the main character when he first shows up:
Instinctively he jumped back, but he was too slow. With speed that belied her size, she crossed the distance between them and engulfed him in her arms, lifting him clear off his feet and spinning him around like a little child. And all the while she was shouting his name — “Mackenzie Allen Phillips”– with the ardor of someone seeing a long-lost and deeply loved relative. She finally set him back on Earth and, with her hands on his shoulders, pushed him back as if to get a good look at him.
“Mack, look at you!” she fairly exploded. “Here you are, and so grown up. I have really been looking forward to seeing you face-to-face. It is so wonderful to have you here with us. My, my, my, how I do love you!” And with that she wrapped herself around him again…
… He felt the presence of love. It was warm, inviting, melting.
…and I lose it. I highlighted that passage when I gave this book to my dad for Christmas (even though he’d already read it) because I wanted to make sure that he knows that that’s what it feels like to be his daughter. I just loved the things this book made me think and feel and consider. If you’re at all interested in spirituality sans dogma, in spite of dogma, or to make you think about dogma, this is a really good read. Also, spiritually speaking, I super loved The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I started reading it right after my friend Aimee‘s mom (I love all Rathbuns so much — like, they’re basically my sports team and I should get myself a jersey to wear) pinned it and shortly thereafter, my mom bought me a copy that she then kept for herself because she loved it so much too. Brene Brown is a shame researcher, a true academician and expert in psychology, and also one of the greatest spiritual thinkers/writers I’ve ever encountered. Imperfection is all about being who you really are, warts and all, why that’s hard, and why it’s so necessary. There was so much good packed into the book that I feel like I need to have it with me at all times as a reference manual — things to constantly think about until completely internalized. Similarly, Savor by Shauna Niequist is a daily devotional, or perhaps more accurately a book of daily reflections, chock full of this kind of thing — ideas about giving yourself grace, being present in the moment, etc, that are totally worth thinking about. Beautiful things, every day. And something I think I could read over and over again every day in perpetuity.
At present, I’m reading Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America by Margot Adler as quickly as I can and tiny bits of Praying with Celtic Holy Women by Bridget Mary Meehan and Regina Madonna Oliver on a daily basis. The Moon is a really interesting historical narrative on polytheistic practices in this country over the past century, as well as where they may have come from in the more distant past. I got interested in the topic after reading about some of these Celtic Holy Women who were really fascinating early adopters of Christianity. I wish I had more time to spend deep diving into all the millions of areas I get interested in because both of these books make me ask more and more questions and want to read more and more books. I suppose that’s what my little library and all this spare time are for.
I approach 2016 knowing that we’re in for another tough year. My 32nd birthday is nearly here, which means my ovaries are rapidly approaching what the fertility specialist appears to believe is the end for me in my fertility journey. We’re doing IVF again in the spring and I know full well what that means now. In addition, I also know that even in the unlikely event of pregnancy, miscarriage is not only a very real possibly, but a pretty likely outcome. I know what that feels like too. But I’m not ready to give up on this path quite yet, so we head into the new year with our eyes wide open and our scars still red and fresh. My mental library has a whole new annex and my physical library will be a place of refuge when I need it. So back to my dear Hagrid, one more time — what’s coming will come and we’ll greet it when it does. Fortunately, for me, I can greet it like my beloved Hermione, frizzy haired and nose in a book.
Au revior, 2015! Any recommendations for stocking my shelves in 2016???
I’m about write a review of a book narrated by Satan. Incidentally, Satan appears to have taken up residence in my THROAT for the time being. Moving down into my chest. Woe. Is. Me.
More importantly: woe is my husband who ended up sleeping in the spare room last night because I could not stop the coughing. Couldn’t stop. Satan!
But enough about viral-style satan… and on to the literary version.
Remember once upon a time when I told you about the 1,001 book challenge? It’s still happening just… differently. Not exactly as anticipated, but awesome nevertheless. It kind of morphed over time and I really enjoy the Between the Covers Facebook group it turned into because it gives me a place to talk about really interesting books with really interesting people that I might never have read or spoken to, respectively, in the absence of random internet-based connections.
I hated it so much. So so so much. For almost the whole book. But only almost.
Because in the end, I loved it. And I’m so so so glad that I not only started it, but especially that I finished it. Because wow.
So, first, why I hated it.
Basically, it boils down to the fact that Satan, who narrates the vast majority of the book while inhabiting the body of mere mortal Declan Gunn, is an arrogant a-hole.
I know, it’s not terribly surprising– Satan as an a-hole. Yet for some reason, I expected Satan as the narrator to try to make himself at least somewhat likable. I mean, doesn’t everyone want people to like them, to want to listen? Even Satan?
Apparently not. And Satan the narrator was pompous and annoying and condescending and awful in every way. No better way to say it: an arrogant a-hole. I hated him so much… and I really had a hard time reading the musings of someone I hated so very much. For quite I while, I just wanted him to get to the dang point so it could be over.
However, as I endured, looking up big, fancy, literary words that I suspected were placed in the text largely to make me feel like an idiot, some intriguing themes started to jump out at me, to capture my attention, and to make me hate reading the book a little less…
The notion of not recognizing how painful a pain really is until you’ve left it.
Thoughts about the way our very human senses allow us to perceive the very human world we live in with just the slightest hint of something else… something beyond.
And then, most strikingly, most excitingly and beautifully, forgiveness.
Oh my gosh. The idea of forgiveness is what redeemed the book for me. Absolutely and completely. It was powerful enough for me to go from hate to love in mere pages and I’m generally not super good at changing my mind… so that’s something.
As I said, the premise of the book is that God offers Satan the opportunity to inhabit a mortal being for a month, as a trial run to the big redemptive offer of living out life as a human in exchange for reentry into heaven. Satan ends up inhabiting the body of a man named Declan Gunn following Declan’s suicide attempt (or success, perhaps?) and in Declan’s body, Satan uses his mortal fingers to type out a manuscript (amongst use of other body parts in rather Satan-ly ways). Satan as Declan is, as I said, a complete and total a-hole. Other a-holes love him. He has a following and friends and success. Everyone is awful. But unable to shake all of Declan’s humanity, Satan finds himself continually fixated on Declan’s former lover. The woman who broke Declan’s heart. Broke Declan himself. Shattered him. And just to spite Declan while he can, because he’s Satan, Satan decides to go do the very worst thing he can think of — forgive her. As Declan. And he does.
And then: FEELINGS.
SO MANY FEELINGS. So many feelings that all the drugs and all the alcohol could not make them go away. Feelings of every sort– good and bad and ugly and… human. Forgiveness, even in spite, came with soooooo many feeeeeelings. More than he could bare. More than he could understand. Or comprehend. Or allow. Too much.
After this powerful demonstration, Satan had the choice to go on living out Declan Gunn’s life to it’s natural end with the promise of that very same thing from God waiting on the other side — forgiveness, grace. Or, he could return to hell. And, believe it or not, from Satan’s perspective, I can see some advantages to hell… a freedom, if you will, that didn’t exist for him otherwise. I won’t spoil the end for you, but I would not have seen it coming. And just as a bit of icing on the cake, the former angel (now human, long story) Raphael took a turn narrating a bit of the book. And the tone was completely different, suggesting to me that the arrogance, the a-hole-ish-ness at the beginning was really just Glen Duncan’s way of portraying Satan, making him completely and wholly unlikable, and that’s just impressive.
Grace is something I really like thinking about. I talk about it all the time. But never like this. Never ever like this. It really was spectacular, this description. Coming from the most arrogant a-hole of all.
In this new format of what was the 1001 Book Challenge, we’re basically a disparate group of people from all over the country taking turns picking books, reading them, and then having a bitty little Facebook-based discussion, always with the option to participate or not. And dang, though this was not a book I would have chosen on my own, not in a million years, I sure am glad I got to read it… and I am very grateful to this little group for that! Highly recommend if you’re interested in something very different!
I’ve written approximately (well, exactly, actually) three unpublished end-of-lent-hello-easter-thanks-be-to-joan-for-all-the-fodder-for-reflection posts. This is the fourth and this is the one that’s actually going to get published and it’s going to be nothing like those other three. Because they were all full to the brim with words, but lacking in genuine-ness.
Delete. Delete. Delete.
We all deserve better than that.
Better than vague-eries. Something more down-to-earth, personal, relate-able.
So let’s start with this morning.
This morning I got my face chewed off. (Metaphorically, of course, I life in Wisconsin where cud-chewing cows far outnumber face-chewing jungle cats.) Right away. First thing. Hello office, what’s the message on today’s page-a-day calendar… BAM.
My attacker, which is an over-dramatic way of saying it to be sure, got POed at the end of the day yesterday, but said nothing, and had all evening, all night, and all of the early morning to whip that anger up into quite the frenzy and went all out first thing. Instant headache.
And over nothing, actually. A case of mistaken identity, in fact. But on account of all the whipping and the frenzying, there was still a lot of yelling and complaining and negativity. And not just to me. Also about me to others. It’s too much! My shoulders are basically attached to my ears. My head won’t stop pounding. And I let it get me all kinds of whipped up too.
So in my next meeting, when I had the chance to vent to someone I thought likely to be understanding, I did. And he said, “speak life! Have you heard that song?”
The message was exactly what I needed to hear. And then we discussed how we both wished my attacker (over-dramatic, again and as usual) could be happier. Calmer. More at peace.
More able to speak life, whatever that would take.
It was kind of nice.
Before Lent even began, I read a book published by the creator of the Church Health Center in Memphis, TN. I loved the book so much, and I’ve told you about it before. What I haven’t really talked about yet, although I’ve embraced it in its entirety, is the Church Health Center’s focus on the seven virtues described by Paul in Colossians 3:12-14.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, wholly and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you have a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Quite frankly, striving toward any one of those qualities hardly leaves room for allowing frenzied anger to become like a Dole Whip at Disneyland (like you don’t know what I’m talking about) and the notion of “speaking life” speaks to that whole heartedly.
Getting angry and whining about it to someone else hardly embodies compassion. Certainly not kindness or humility. And gentleness and patience? Absolutely not. Least of all forgiveness and love. Speaking life does.
And most importantly, in this Easter season, and especially today on Good Friday as we reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus, we would do well to remember that these virtues are exactly what his life stood for. (Yes, yes, yes… I say “we” like I’m being all wise, but honestly, you and I both know that I am the one who would do well to remember this fact… yes? It’s really not that wise, it’s 100% selfish, but there you have it. Anyway.) These are the characteristics that he embodied (love especially, the binding agent) and that he asks us to, at the very least, work real hard toward embodying ourselves.
No matter our spiritual tradition, or lack thereof, I think it’s fair to say that these are virtues we all admire, regardless of our color or creed, religion, philosophy, nationality, shoe size, or handedness. (Fun fact: in chemistry, S- and R- isomers are based on the Latin words sinister and rectus meaning left and right, respectively, because left handedness was considered evil and scary and sinister. Hence, the inclusion of handedness in this list here for all my readers trapped in the 1300s. Fascinating, right?) As such, I think it’s also fair to say that when it really boils down to it, we all want the same thing. Goodness and love, kindness, patience, forgiveness, gentleness and compassion. Light.
And interestingly, at the beginning of the Gospel according to John (because I skipped ahead to the New Testament for an Easter interlude), John describes God as bringer of life and life as the light of mankind. (Math math math… commutative property… if a = b and b = c, then a = c.) So, if God = life and life = the light of mankind, then God = the light of mankind. God is light, God is good.
And that leads me to my second favorite thing to think about when I think about my spiritual life… the notion that God is good. Always. No matter what. (Totally stolen from the brilliant Jeannett at Life Rearranged, which I love so much, but she seems like the type who probably wouldn’t mind and, in fact, would be likely to deny that her seemingly simple phrase completely changed my life. It did though. For seriously.) Like our common ground based on the seven virtues. I think this notion of God being good is also true no matter what, where “no matter what” can equal anything — color, creed, religion, philosophy, nationality, shoe size, or handedness. Always, in fact.
So those are the things I remind myself of every single day. Try to, anyway. I’d love for it to be a bitty little tattoo on my inner wrist, but given Seth’s opposition to me inking anything on my body anywhere and his exceptional willingness to put up with a lot of other crap, I have settled for bracelets:
I’m missing a couple virtues still, but I’m working on it. I’ll find the rest. One glance down and I’ll remember:
One glance down, every day and all the time, I will remember what Good Friday was about, and more importantly, what Easter Sunday really means. I will remember that I have goals, goals beyond those of the workplace or the home or the physical world in general– goals related to my spiritual well-being, goals related to the kind of person that I want to be. One who embodies compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love. Always.
And in those moments, when I am reminded, I can practice. Alas, I am human, so in this case practice will undoubtedly never make perfect, but it can make me better and I think that’s worth trying for. As far as I can tell, a lot of us are trying.
So when I got angry, angry, angry this morning, someone else whose giving it his best shot reminded me of those virtues. And maybe I’ll get a chance to return the favor. Or maybe not, maybe I’ll get a chance to pay it forward instead. Honestly, compassion, forgiveness, love… that stuff feels a lot better.
And as the Lenten season ends and I stop reflecting on the other-worldly and come more soundly back to earth in the hilarious (because seriously, I’m hilarious, right?) space I occupied on Fat Tuesday and before, I plan to tell you about what Satan thinks of forgiveness. Because I just finished reading his (Satan’s) book about it. And it was le fascinating.
In other words, book review of I, Lucifer coming up very shortly.
In the meantime, Lord give me strength not to destroy my insides with Cadbury eggs!
My poor husband. Truly. Sometimes I do not know how he even deals, but he always does and thank goodness for that.
This Sunday, like many other Sundays in the past (but not every Sunday, because I like to keep things spontaneous), I had a little “episode.” I can’t really put my finger on what it was that triggered it or why I got all ridiculous, but I did. I was basically, in a word, disgruntled. And I’m no fun to be around when I’m like that.
Even though most of our lives are spent doing the ordinary, the mundane, things that aren’t fun, exactly, but necessary to get to the fun bits, even though all of that is true, every once in a while, I freak out about all of that.
I throw a little temper tantrum.
I get mad about something completely stupid.
Yesterday, it was because I always having to choose what to make for dinner and then grocery shop for the ingredients and then make the dinner and then clean up from the dinner. (In reality, I do like to cook. Just not that I always have to cook.) And also laundry. And sweeping and mopping and vacuuming. And every other mundane thing I do on the regular makes it’s way onto the list and I get all snappy, “I’m fine. It’s fine. Whatever. [Silence]”
It’s so stupid really. And it’s cyclical, yet unpredictable. I do it all the time, freak out about the mundane. Get super grumpy about the must-dos and have-tos. I take it out on Seth (pretty much always because, where else, I guess? seriously love that man) and then I get over it and (thankfully, oh so very thankfully, so does he… I think) and we move on to another day.
This Sunday, as I said, was one of those days. Maybe it was just because it was Palm Sunday and the passion is so… dang… long… Who knows though. It happened, regardless of the cause. I was a brat. Seth was patient. Thank goodness for all of that.
By Sunday afternoon, I had planned out some meals for the week (really outdoing myself in the fruit-flavored water department for Seth’s sake– a meager apology, I admit) and by dinner time, I had white chicken chili simmering on the stove, bread baking in the bread machine, and a walnut pie (gluten free!) toasting up to perfection in the oven. My house smelled gooooood and I was basically over it. (Basically.)
So what did Joan have for me to reflect on on Monday?
“When the mundane things that occupy our time threaten to dull our view of the universe, it is time to slow down.” –Madeline McClenney-Sadler
Oh, for pete’s sake.
“The ‘mundane’ is certainly dull, I agree, and may even limit us — not only our perceptions but even the breadth of our questions. At the same time, there is something very freeing, very humanizing about the mundane. Doing dishes and buying vegetables get us back in touch with ourselves, give us time to smell the earth of our lives, give us time just to be. We will go on long after the big ideas fade and the profession ends. The question is, Will there be anything in me then? Will there be a me in me? It all depends on how I deal with the mundane.” –Joan Chittister
It’s true. By Sunday night, when I walked back in the house from taking my Curly girl outside for a stroll around the yard (potty break) and smelled the good smells and then ate the good food and finished chopping the veggies for what would become good food the rest of the week (and the fruit for what would become Seth’s fancy water) I did feel freed up, humanized. I don’t have to deal with any of those things the rest of the week, we’re crock pot or microwave ready. We’re eating healthfully and deliciously and as mundane as it is, that is so super worth it. Right?
Except maybe the problem is that lately, all of it, so much of every… single… day… is part of the mundane. And the mundane isn’t part of the life I imagined. So the banality of the day after day… what is there to revel in? Turns out, Joan had something to say about that too. Because I didn’t quite get this out on Monday and now it’s become a twosie.
“God makes me to lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.” –Psalm 23:2
My green pastures, still waters? A family… it all sounds great, doesn’t it? The kind of stillness, a sense of the mundane, that one could really be satisfied with.
“I have to believe this scripture fiercely right now because life does not feel like ‘green pastures’ or ‘still water.’ It feels like a living death. Everyone around me is still producing, still building, still going on. But I am cut off at the root with nothing to show for it. I am empty, useless, doing nothing, going nowhere. The speeches and the books flash and fade and I am embarrassed by my existence. So where is God in all of this? What is life without life? I feel like I am on the other side of a window pane looking in and no one sees me. No one is unkind; they are simply uncaring. It is ‘make your own way time’… and I don’t know how.” –Joan Chittister
And wow. While I sincerely doubt that my current struggle is of the same nature as Joan’s, I am seriously impressed with her ability to describe what it feels like.
Exactly what it feels like.
To live in the age of Facebook and Twitter and the blog-o-sphere and the decade of my 30s in general without the stupid pink or blue lines, the sonogram photos of little chicken embryos, the kiddie quotes and rosy cheeked pictures? It’s tough. Really tough. And after nearly four years of trying, trying, trying and tests and pills and sticks to pee on and hormones to inject, still nothing but negative, negative, negative month after month. It’s exhausting. How do you embrace this level of mundane? Where’s the green pasture and the still water in relation to me?
This sense has been particularly poignant of late as we embark on IVF. Testing, testing, testing. Counseling and drugs and prescriptions and $$$$$. The very real chance that it still won’t result in what we want. Very real chance. That even with all of the hormones and the money and the trying and the prayers it still won’t work. What if it still doesn’t work? Then what? Then how will I deal with my mundane? How will I embrace what life is to be?
Simultaneously bored of what’s current and terrified of what’s next. Or rather, what might not be next, maybe.
Oh, Joan! How do you know?!
I suppose if nothing else, the constant intake of random hormones over the next few months is bound to make life feel anything but mundane, at least for a while, eh?
Oh guys. Buckle up. I can only imagine that I’m due for temper tantrum city coming up. And without Joan to keep me company, who knows how I’ll deal. Better find something else just as constantly-insightful-and-relevant-to-my-own-life-every-single-day. Right!
As a courtesy to you, my dear reader, I chose not to rush something out last night that was only partially finished and instead saved it up for a two-fer today. It was a good call, I think. We went to our friends’ house (also family, incidentally) for carry-out fish fries with their darling and energetic two-and-a-half year old. A great way to spend the last Friday of Lent before the Good one. We had a lovely time, delicious food, and ridiculously good drinks. All around good time!
But today, on Saturday, it’s back to business…
The business of spending a leisurely day with my husband and my pup and thinking thoughtful things.
You know that super catchy song– what if God was one of us?
“It is through our human experience that we meet God.” –Elaine Ward
I guess, because how else, right?
“It takes a lifetime to really understand that God is in what is standing in front of us. Most of our lives are spent looking, straining to see the God in the cloud, behind the mist, beyond the dark. It is when we face God in one another, in creation, in the moment, that the real spiritual journey begins.” –Joan Chittister
God is in what is standing in front of us. Rather, God is in who is standing in front of us. Beside us. Next to us. All around us. Seeing God in one another.
So not “what if God were one of us…” Rather “what if God were all of us.”
Recognizing this is the real journey, but also a hard journey, because sometimes it’s hard to like what you see.
Even so, I have to believe that God is always in there. Sigh. Sometimes it would be so much easier to just not.
But then again, Joan makes another excellent point…
“God restores my soul. God leads me in paths of righteousness for God’s name’s sake.” –Psalm 23:3
“When I am feeling battered by life — sometimes even by life at its best — I take a deep breath and remember that though God is in all of it, God is also greater than all of it. Then both what I lose in the battering and what I become because of it are simply chances to be more of the real thing, to become more than the thing itself. At the end of everything is God.” –Joan Chittister
So even when people challenge us, make it so crazy difficult to remember and to see God within them, Joan reminds us that God is also above us all. Whether we succeed or we fail at seeing Him in the person in front of us, God is still there. Giving us the chance to try again and again.
To me, seeing God within a person means simply seeing the good in them. And I do believe whole-heartedly that everyone has that. Even when it’s well-hidden. Very, very well-hidden. No where is this more true than at work… because at work, I often don’t have the choice of simply walking away for good, refusing to interact. Turns out, every teacher in my entire life was right when they told me teamwork was important. And at this point in my life, I rarely get to pick my own team.
(Note to self re: life goals– work toward a position where I get to pick my own team.)
So then what? What’s a girl to do when she just cannot see the good, no matter how hard she tries? I do not have the answer. But at the moment, this is a big one and one I really need to figure out. How do you find the good, the God, that simply must be there when you’ve tried and tried and tried with no success?
Because I don’t have an answer, at the moment I’m relying on the God that’s above it all to help me out. To prop me up when the other feels just too difficult… to help me get through the week to the Friday that always comes. Because, like God, like good, Friday is always just around the corner and is inevitably followed by another leisurely weekend.
Although… on account of the other 5 days of the week, I really do need to figure out the answer to this question. How to find the good, or at least ignore the bad, so that I can enjoy my work place. While I hate to be overly dramatic (not really), I recently finished Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and I was really struck by his theories on suffering. He talks about the purpose present in suffering and how we can finding meaning in such situations. But then he makes the distinction between unavoidable and avoidable suffering, that ultimately you can walk away from. He says that to suffer those ills is essentially masochism. Am I masochistic? Or am I trying to be patient and persistent?
I suppose until I figure it out, I will just have to focus on being the good. Doesn’t really fix the problem, but has the potential to work on two fronts: 1) cancel out the potential for masochism and 2) as in chemistry, if like follows like, maybe good on my part will draw it out on the other.
Chilly, chilly, bo-billy! Temps kind of nose-dived right after spring hit and da-dang am I feeling it! Still enjoying the out-of-doors, though! Curls and I have been heading to the Hamus Wildlife Preserve every night after work for a brief walk with the retractable leash and no sling… fun fun fun! Seriously, we’re talking about a very very happy pup!!
“A wisdom still abides in the natural rhythms of the earth, if we are still and open ourselves to it.” –Kimberly Greene Angle
Natural rhythms of the earth… to be in nature…
“There is a wisdom in natural rhythm but we long ago abandoned it to technology and electricity. Now there is not stopping, no ending. Only quitting. I long ago fell prey to it and forgot how to stop and wondered how to quit. So now two unnatural rhythms try for the marrow of my soul: fatigue that is chronic and frustration that is terminal. I am determined to defeat them both.
“My God is definitely a God of the seasons. I prefer that God in spring and fall – when things emerge and mellow – but I have learned more from the God who is the heat of my day and the icy obstacles of my life. From that God I have learned the depths of the self.” — Joan Chittister
I forget sometimes, in the frigid depths of deepest darkest winter and the boiling highs and sticky humidity of summer, how nice it can be to get outside, to feel the air on your face… even stinging cold or blasting hot. To be outside, to enjoy nature, to slow down, is to feel God.
And if I ever had any doubt… here’s my niece Emma as a little bitty baby, enjoying the wind blowing across her little body on a warm fall day:
This simple pleasure of a soft wind, a blowing leaf… feeling God in the season. Even at a mere 6 months old.
That never really goes away, I don’t think, but it is harder to notice it amongst the hustle and the bustle and they everything else of every day. The phone calls and the emails. The music or books I generally feed into my ears, into my brain, even as I head outside for a jog.
But not always. And in those instances, even when it’s very, very hot or very, very cold or just very, very foreign– that’s when I feel God in nature.
At the end of this winter, for example, on one cold day in January, my friend Suma managed to coax me and Sister Doctor off the couch and onto skis (yikes!) for some cross country skiing in the school forest.
Reluctant doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt– but then, once I was out there, on that beautiful, bright blue, super crisp day, I had the time of my life. The highlight of my whole winter, despite the falls. It was an absolute blast. Quiet and calm and invigorating. Even in the dead of winter.
God was there.
And there was that super crazy boiling hot day on the Rappahanock when the water was a touch too low and the rocks were a bit too high that Jess, Stephanie, Ellen, and I kayaked 11 miles back to our camp site where we slept off our sun burn before traveling home the next day.
We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows over a fire, we laughed about my massive wipeout on the water (a strainer got me! can’t say I hadn’t been warned…), and we warmed ourselves over poor Ellen’s deep fried skin during the night, and again, had an absolute blast.
God was there.
And then, what was probably one of the very best days of my entire life, when Seth and I spent a day in Volcano National Park in Hawaii… we hiked in the hot hot heat around the top of a volcanic crater and back through the exceptionally chilly middle of it, going from steamy jungle to what might as well have been the surface of the moon (thank goodness for ponchos!).
Then we drove past the massive plumes of sulfuric acid down to the water where we hiked and hiked and hiked on the lava to see the amazing sea arches and ancient petroglyphs. Amazing, amazing, amazing.
God was there too.
God is always there, I suppose. But as Joan suggests, it’s in the extremes that we tend to take notice. But maybe with just a bit more awareness, I’ll notice even on a snowy evening walk through Hamus with Curls.
Lots of turkeys calling and deer tracks to sniff. A perfect walk for this sweet girl and her chilly mom.
And finally, as if to underscore the point, this was the message on my ridiculously inspiring page-a-day desk calendar today:
Over and over, nature has been my teacher. When I’ve let it. Silly of me not to realize that in nature, there is God. Snowshoeing to a frozen waterfall in the Keewenaw. Hiking to the top of the Multnomah Falls in Oregon. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and throwing snowballs in the Rockies in August.
Then again, even in the more mundane– picking rock at the farm in the spring, raking and bagging leaves in the fall. God is there. Always.
Perhaps a bit inappropriate on this day of springtime snow, nevertheless…
“Springtime God… we need your persistent love to disturb… our heart’s rigidity.” –Kate Compston
My heart is feeling rigid on account of it’s FREEZING and we had a mess of precipitation last night, but besides that, Joan’s thoughts are a bit deeper. (Le sigh… such is early Spring in Wisconsin.)
“I love the image of a ‘springtime God.’ Isn’t God always in the growing season in us? Isn’t everything that happens in life simply seeding something to come — and isn’t all of it God? But if that’s true, the question is, then, Are all our thoughts new seeds of life to be pursued? Because if so, then I am being called on and I am, as usual, reluctant to go.” –Joan Chittister
I suppose that everything, every seed, every thought, no matter how big or small requires a bit of coaxing on its way to growth. I’d like to thank chemistry for that basic concept– activation energy.
And as in chemistry, some things have a higher activation energy than others. Keeping with the spring theme, crocuses seem to have a relatively low activation energy… sometimes managing to peek their lovely purple, white, and yellow blooms out from beneath the still standing snow.
I actually don’t have any yellow ones, though. That’s a little sad. The daffodils the spring up right afterward make up for it.
And then there’s the late bloomers, the ones who need the earth to be not just pre-heated, but consistently warm with no chance of cool before opening up. Like my beautiful pink and white hydrangeas. Just as lovely either way!
Maybe this year I’ll work on turning some of them blue… although I do love the pink.
Flowers are nice and everything, definitely a good example. Bacillus anthracis (aka anthrax, it sporulates, and what sporulates must also germinate) would make a great example too (shout out to all you toxin folks!). But I think what Joan is really getting at is the way we let God work to activate the thoughts we have and the things we feel most deeply. Reluctance, a barrier to activation, is definitely the norm though. It’s easier to live with the status quo, isn’t it?
I think, however, that Joan is calling us to germinate! To let the sunshine in and to bloom bloom bloom like the beautiful flowers we can be. To really let God work in our lives, springtime or otherwise. To be willing to grow.
Maybe I’ll feel it better in my bones once the white stuff is gone for the season. I’m sure we’re almost there!
There’s a big book I want to read, but as with that grocery store, I’m a little scared to read it. (I’m such a chicken!) I can’t really put my finger on what makes me nervous about it, exactly, but I think it’s important that before reading the book, I at least make an attempt at finding my own answer.
And today I’d like to talk about why I am Catholic. Or at least my very best, super non-eloquent, attempt at explaining why. Because Joan suggests that it might be time.
“Keep traveling, Sister! Keep traveling! The road is far from finished!” –Nelle Morton
Unrelated side note: sisters are the best, best, best!
“Indeed we are not finished. The struggle for women is only just begun actually. But I have come to the conclusion that social change does not happen in a straight line. It’s run and coast, run and coast all the way. This is another deceleration period, perhaps. Everything has quieted, slowed for a while, no big demonstrations, no great amount of organizing. But it is precisely now that we must not stop or we will stand to lose our hearts along the way.” –Joan Chittister
Whether you agree or disagree with me, in my own personal world where the opinions are 100% and entirely my own, my struggle with my faith has often been reflected in, as Joan calls it, “the struggle for women.” Where the word “women” can be replaced with any truly marginalized segment of the population.
I am what many would call a “cradle Catholic” — I was born into the faith. My parents met as catechism teachers, for pete’s sake! (And their first date was to see the Star Trek movie and they’re so cute/gross (they are my parents, it has to be a little gross to me) and so happy even after like a million years and three wack job kids and a bad, bad dog– I love their story!)
Anyway, I was born to Catholic parents. Baptized in the Catholic church. Attended CCD once a week during elementary school, went to mass on Sundays, made my basic sacraments, and wore the pretty dresses when required (Easter, Christmas, but none more beautiful than my first communion dress– handmade by my mom, eyelet lace, and I loooooved it).
I even went to youth group off and on as an awkward teen. And oh snap was I ever awkward. It’s hard not to cringe when I even think about youth group… (I had such a crush on this handsome young man (that’s the old lady way of saying “total hottie!”) named Andrew who had gone to my school before leaving for a private Catholic school. I screwed up the courage to ask him to Homecoming my senior year. He initially said yes and I freaking flipped until he reversed his decision on account of “Saturday night hockey practice” (riiiight… i.e. I can’t go to Homecoming with a nerd at my old school! I’ll never hear the end of it) and I was very understanding (to him) and mortified (in private) and all that. Oh, so soso cringe-worthy! Although, date or no, in retrospect, I looked HOT at that Homecoming dance, so whatevs. Also, good on me for having the courage to ask!!)
[[[Dang it! I was sure I had a picture somewhere around here from that dance– lots of other dances, Homecoming, Coming Home, Prom, etc… but not that particular one. I looked good though, I promise. And even if I didn’t, I was awesome! His loss!]]]
I even went to church on my own in college. I walked up the hill from Wadsworth Hall to St. Al’s in Houghton and sang my little heart out whenever I could get out of bed in time to make it (because think what you like, I love traditional Catholic hymns– I just do). A lot of my friends were Catholic too, so it was always a social experience, and when I started dating Seth my sophomore year we had that in common. It’s always just been a thing. Albeit, a rote thing, because this-is-the-way-it’s-always-been thing. Not much in the way of thought at any point. Although, I should point out that I was not confirmed in the church along with my peers… because I didn’t really see the need, and neither did my parents who were going through their own thoughtful faith period. While it has caused me some problems along the way (marriage prep– oy), I do not regret it. It would have just been another meaningless hoop to jump through on what was already a very rote path. I have since toyed with the idea of going through the RCIA process to become confirmed as an adult and I am grateful for that because over and over again it has made me examine the central teachings of my Catholic faith with a more discerning, thoughtful, and critical eye than I would have possessed at any point earlier in my life and that has made all of the difference.
The next natural place to go as I’m writing this is, I’m sure, toward a theological discussion of what I agree with, what I disagree with, and so on. But instead, let’s just say that my concerns center largely around the way certain groups of people are treated– women, LGBTQ individuals, divorced/remarried couples, the homeless, etc. (Sigh for Catholics in San Francisco at the moment, yes? Seems as though they’ve been in the media recently for every last one of these things.) It bothers me because I feel confident that Jesus loved everyone and that as followers of Jesus (i.e. Christians) we are also called to love everyone, always, no matter what, and with no questions asked. Even when it’s hard. Lepers and prostitutes, tax collectors and pharisees. Everyone is welcome. And we even sing that, in church, some Sundays– allll are welcome, allll are welcome, alllll are welcome in this place. I really, really believe that.
So the question then becomes: why stay? Why do I still consider myself a Catholic?
Reasonable question, and one I have honestly and whole-heartedly asked myself. For a few months a year or so ago I found myself bouncing around from church to church to church. I tried them all locally, and even not so locally (driving long distances on Sunday morning was not something I particularly enjoyed, but I tried it, to be thorough). I liked the service at the Episcopalian church in town (the minister even referenced Joan Chittister in her homily! sermon, maybe?), but ultimately, even that just didn’t fit quite right. It wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t home.
In the end, I still attend Catholic mass on Sunday with my husband. I get quite a bit out of it, but sometimes it definitely makes me a bit rage-y. Mostly only when the homily gets political– even subtle politicization is enough to boil my blood. But I can listen respectfully and dissent in the car on the way home. I can do it. And I can work to change those things from elsewhere. To make my church more just. To make my spiritual home a place that I am proud of. Hence, my involvement in Call To Action.
In the end, I relate it back to politics after all. I may not always like my political leaders and the policies put forth in the US, but I’m not going to move to Canada over it. I’m sure there’d be something there I would disagree with too. And ultimately, Canada, lovely as it may be, is not my home… not the place I feel like I belong. (Granted, I have not tried living in Canada, so that’s not a super fair statement, but I’m sure you get my drift.)
When I think about this concept of your church or faith or lack thereof as a home or place of comfort, I think that my husband’s family really demonstrates how true that is. My father-in-law is Catholic and my mother-in-law is Lutheran. Neither converted or changed anything when they got married. My MIL continues to attend her Lutheran church and my two sisters-in-law have always gone with her. My FIL continues to attend his Catholic church and my husband has always gone with him. All three kids are amazing people– morally upstanding, grounded in their faith, kind, beautiful and compassionate and spiritual people. Two were raised Lutheran, one was raised Catholic, all three came from a household that values family and love and respect and hard work. The two raised Lutheran have chosen to remain Lutheran, likewise for the Catholic, and while I haven’t actually asked them why exactly, I imagine that the concept of familiarity and home would come to mind eventually if I did. Probably the same would be true for their parents– they still got married and spent the rest of their lives (to date… can’t predict the future, of course, but their also pretty cute/gross) loving, respecting, and raising a family with one another. And I think that’s what we’ll all do as we grow up– what our parents did. Seth and I will (fingers crossed!!!) have children someday and raise our kids in the Catholic church, but we’ll also raise our kids according to our own moral values and our kids will be shown that all people are welcome, no matter what, no questions asked, because that’s what we think Jesus would do. And more to the point, what we think is right. Should someday they decide to move on to a faith or religion or spiritual practice (or, again, lack thereof) in which they feel more comfortable, more at home, that’s totally cool. For me, it just so happens that that place of spiritual comfort is Catholicism.
Progressive Catholicism, anyway. Catholicism with a twist.
And that is my best answer to that question posed by Gary Wills. A long time in the making, but most brilliant works take a minute, eh? 😉
I think I am ready to read that book now. To see what Gary has to say. (True story: I almost wrote Mr. Wills right there, but then stopped myself– I never write Ms. Chittister, or even Sister Chittister… I always call her Joan, like she’s my own personal friend and never with the respect of the title she’s probably owed. Yet, interestingly, I have actually seen Gary Wills speak in person, closer to a friend therefore than Joan is, and still I initially went for the mister. Glad I can catch myself in these super anti-equality moments. Wonder how many more I don’t catch?).
As you can see, I certainly can’t defend my Faith with any kind of theological argument, but my faith, with the little f, which is the one that I practice rather than the one I necessarily subscribe to or attend, isn’t based on theology really at all. It’s based on a feeling and an ideal of goodness and rightness that really isn’t something that can be argued one way another because it’s 100% personal.So I consider myself Catholic, whether or not I’m a good one according to the hierarchical Church. (And I doubt very much that I am.) But I don’t do it for them, I do it for me and for God. And no one can come between God and my conscience. (That’s a direct quote from a Catholic priest, btw. Must be true!)
I’d be really very curious to hear about the experiences of others– not the doctrinal/theological reason for belonging to one group or another or not at all, but rather, the personal history- and feelings-based reasons. I can’t be the only one, can I? Tell me about you!
PS: Talking about that youth group-based Homecoming rejection, and even more so, joking about it– HUGE deal for me! Turns out, it legitimately no longer hurts. And I’m grateful for the story. I wonder when that happened? (But was he ever dreamy to my 16 year old self…) FREEDOM!!
There’s an Aldi grocery store in the little city of Marshfield. I shop most most often at Festival Foods and I’ve been to the Pic N Save and Super Walmart on a number of occasions for groceries, but despite frequenting the Menard’s right behind it and even the Applebee’s and Goodwill next to it, I’d never set food in Aldi.
About a year or so ago, Aldi put up a sign advertising open positions at a starting hourly rate well above minimum wage and Seth and I liked that– we thought maybe we ought to patronize Aldi to support their willingness to employ people for a living wage. And yet, month after month went by and I still hadn’t set a foot inside.
Honestly– because I was scared.
A grocery store is a ridiculous thing to be afraid of, I realize, but in addition to that bass (no treble!), I’m also all about that truth– and there you have it. I was scared to shop at Aldi.
Turns out, my fears were completely founded. I didn’t understand how the quarter-based cart release thing worked and stood there for what felt like an eternity (probably 45 seconds) trying to figure it out (think Zoolander, Hansel, and the computer), I somehow couldn’t find a pen in my purse (which contains pretty much everything else) so I couldn’t check items off my list which made navigating the unfamiliar store to find all of my items ridiculously challenging (up and down and up and down and up and down the same aisles over and over again– the store is not that big, I’m sure I looked like an absolute loony toon), and I didn’t understand how the after-the-fact bagging mechanism worked and was super confused by the ledge on the far well meant for bagging groceries after being checked out (also I dropped my bags on the floor not once or even twice, but three times– admittedly, that has nothing to do with Aldi and everything to do with me). So, basically, all of my fears came true– I didn’t know what I was doing, I was unprepared, I had a hard time navigating the store, and I looked stupid. (I did remember my debit card though– mini-win!)
Yet, here I am today. Surviving to tell the tale. The consequences of all my fears coming true? Negligible, save a bit of embarrassment, which in the grand scheme of things is pretty insignificant considering that I’m a 31-year-old woman walking around with two skinned knees and perpetually frizzy hair.
(I’m working on the frizzy hair though– I just brought the hair products that made Sister Athletic Trainer look this this!)
And after all of that, I will definitely be going back to Aldi again. Regularly. Because my grocery bill was ridiculously low AND I know that by shopping there, I am supporting a company willing that pays it’s employees a reasonable wage. But seriously, selfishly, the bill was so much lower. And the food, especially the produce, is just as good as any other store in town. (Ok, comparable to Festival, better than Pic N Save… I said it. I hate Pic N Save’s produce section. Hate it!)
All of that to say that Joan is right today. Right freaking on. Because change.
“Change is the manifestation of our ability to grow and become.” –Anne Wilson Schaef
“I am still becoming: I am becoming myself — independent, different, free. Those are dangerous, unacceptable, qualities. They violate groupness. And yet, without this kind of change, can we possibly die adults? My problem is that this kind of change came so late and more in response to rejection than to process. But whatever the circumstances, the leap was worth it. I am not the person I was before. I am changed forever.” –Joan Chittister
Change is growth. And even little changes, little seemingly insignificant changes, like screwing up the courage to shop at a new grocery store, can be a big deal. Process, rejection, embarrassment and fumbling through– whatever the reason for change, change is growth. Growth is good.
Even though change is hard… and consequently, growth is hard. Worth it though, yes?
Especially because this particular change affected not only my actions (inexpensive groceries? heck yes!), but also my perspective– I saw a lot of predatory marketing at Aldi. Off-brand everything, but inexpensive Lunchables? That bothered me– those things are horrifying. It opened my eyes. And when I walked into Festival Foods immediately after completing my shopping trip at Aldi to pick up a few things I couldn’t find (and/or did not actually need, but wanted) I realized that I have definitely spent years paying the premium for appearance and space and little conveniences that are, all in all, not necessary.
Quite frankly, I’m lucky to have a choice of where I do my grocery shopping at all. A little gratitude never hurt anyone.
I recognize that it seems small, but to me… not so small.
Hopefully, when my hair changes, it will be small. Exaggerated WINK.