Who have you become since becoming a mother, since sharing your body, your breasts with another soul so frustrating and perfect you couldn't help but change? You became an expert on linguistics reading her cues knowing her needs, An authority on jaundice and heel pricks and hiccups, On not throwing yourself off a cliff during the hours she screamed. Adept at introducing new siblings, a master at breaking up fights. No surprise you've become the Howard Dean of your home. You're now a pundit on Pokemon, puberty, the development of teeth, the soundtrack to ZOMBIES (and Descendants, duh). You can speak confidently at baby showers of spit up, eczema, allergies. And you know damned well that the time goes by so. achingly. slow. torturously taxing from one runny nose to the next ear infection. And sure the years are short. You've mostly become an expert on asserting that this shit is hard in the hardest of ways and it's okay, it's okay, it's okay to feel it that way. You're not who you were nor who you'll become. You're just a lady - a portal - through which new life keeps pouring and you've learned you know nothing at all anyway.
A dear friend sent me a note in a Christmas card and I can’t get it out of my head.
May Christmas be extra special as we celebrate our nomad Savior who was always beginning again.
Maybe it’s just my little corner of the internet, but it seems like many of us are struggling. We’re weary, wounded, numbed, and needing. We’ve been through a hell of a lot in the last couple of years and the shreds of hope many have clung to have revealed themselves to be just that: shreds, not solutions.
Progress these days might feel like one step forward, two steps back. Many of us are lonely, lying in the leftovers of relationships that didn’t ride out challenges the way we expected them to. Or maybe we’re finding ourselves in new beginnings, drowning in imposter syndrome and wondering if everything we’ve done is a big mistake. If we’re a big mistake.
Christmas brings birth. It’s not the birth of the New Year with sequins and confetti and sparkling promises. It’s the birth of sacrifice. It’s the blood, the doubt, the sweaty brow, the smells of humanity and straw. Birth is not shiny and perfect. There are fluids and animal-like noises, effort, and pain. There is an immaculate form drawn open, widening to the point of breaking, through which newness enters, the fragile newness of a slippery baby sent here just to die.
The birth offered by Christmas is raw and ridiculous. After all, who ever heard of a king being born in a barn, much less God Himself? It’s so absurd that the Creator would want us so badly, desire us so deeply that He’d take the form of a wrinkly baby with a face (most likely) like that of Winston Churchill. And yet He did.
This refugee King, working with His hands, humbly knocked the world on its ear and continues to this day.
Guys, I know things seem dark. I know that we’re all exhausted from the arguing and the anxiety. We’re worried for our countries, for our families, for our freedoms, for our faiths. We feel so deeply and struggle to understand our neighbors and to even want to love them.
But I keep coming back to the Christmas card. We celebrate a nomad Savior who was always beginning again.
If, this Christmas, you feel homeless, so was He.
If you feel misunderstood by the people who are supposed to love you most, so was He.
If you’re navigating a road that requires bone deep sacrifice, so was He.
If you’re wandering in the desert, wrestling temptation, so was He.
If you are unsettled by the way things are and the systems of power, so was He.
If you are misjudged and misrepresented, so was He.
Our nomad Savior, the wandering healer who found belonging nowhere miraculously belongs to us all.
And so we begin again.
Our circumstances may be less than ideal this Christmas. Our world is broken now just as it was at the very moment of Our Lady’s final push which thrust Divinity into our wounded world. We cannot fix our situations. We cannot wish our worries away or secure an easier path for ourselves or our families.
But we can begin again.
Every misstep, every sin, every failing is an opportunity to return to him. Every sharp word or resentful sigh is an invitation to cradle the Baby to our chests, to breathe Him in and let the soft Newborn held against our broken hearts teach us how to submit ourselves to the Father.
We begin again and again and again as many times as it takes to get us to holiness, daily chipping away at the things that rebel against Him.
We begin again and take comfort in a nomad Savior who knows all about new beginnings.
We begin again taking comfort that we already know the ending.
“I’m not looking to change your mind. I’m not trying to convert you to my way of thinking. I just want to know that you love me.”
The other day a dear friend of mine came out to me as gay. It’s obviously not my story to tell, nor is this the first time I’ve had this experience with a friend, but it is the most recent and the first time I’ve had a friend tell me they’re gay since I became Catholic.
We had a really beautiful talk. I cannot fathom the bravery and vulnerability and trauma and confusion my friend carries. Except that I can because I’ve been on the giving end of it. Growing up in Bible Belt culture made me guilty by association and complicit in the commission of many sins, I’m sorry to say. And for that I ask forgiveness.
“I’m not looking to change your mind. I’m not trying to convert you to my way of thinking. I just want to know that you love me.”
I am a Catholic, faithful to the teachings of the Church and loyal to the Pope. I accept the Church’s teaching on sexuality, but I reject the methods in which Her children carry out those teachings.
It’s Gay Pride Month. Do you know what the queer community wants? They just want you to love them. You don’t have to accept or condone every action or decision a community makes in order to love people. You don’t have to agree in order to love people.
Alienation and isolation and hate and hurt are not part of the Gospel of Christ. In my experience, “love the sinner, hate the sin” looks an awful lot like shaming and repressing. Only specific sinners are left walking away from church feeling unwanted while those of us with “more acceptable” sins sit in the cat bird’s seat.
Every person is fearfully and wonderfully made. Every person. I believe that the queer community has so much to offer the church, so much to offer the world. I know there’s a wide spectrum of belief on this, that we affirm and support our gay brothers and sisters in different ways. This is a conversation that’s hard for all of us because we’re all in different places. That’s okay.
But, guys, it’s time to get past the rhetoric and just simply love God’s people. That’s it. You don’t need to worry about micromanaging their salvation. God’s got that. I’m not saying you’re required to attend a pride parade this month. But what I am saying is that our best witness to Christ’s love is simply accepting people and loving them. It is vital to people’s very lives that we in the church show up and love them right here in the present, in the hard, confusing, uncomfortable moment right where they are. Unconditionally. The way the Father loves us all.
I honestly don’t know the best way for that to all play out on a practical level. I know I’ll screw it up and make a mess of things. But I also know that I won’t hurt me to try to understand the experience of others. Even in my failures, it won’t hurt me to listen – just listen – to the story and experience of someone who believes differently than I do.
I am called by Christ to love my brother. I am capable of listening and reading and learning. I am a recipient of God’s grace through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and that grace allows me to follow the Church while simultaneously loving the queer community. Grace does the impossible, after all.
Water into wine, deniers into popes, bread into the Body.
If He can do all that, then surely He can soften our hearts to do this, too.
The coffee’s cold, the fish is dead, and little brothers don’t appreciate the cruel irony of their snack choices.
The truth sinking into my bones and settling into my soul is this: learning is not separated from life. This school we’re creating is a boots on the ground, dirty fingernails kind of institution that takes us through every subject and every emotion every day.
The fish died and we learned how saying, “At least…” to a grieving person is never an acceptable platitude, how “at least” never takes away the hurt like we wish it would. The fish died and we learned how to rally around someone suffering while also giving them space to feel and to process at their own pace.
We’ve learned that phonics rules don’t make sense, they’re never absolute.
“Biye” follows all the rules of silent e making the vowel say its name, and yet the word is correctly spelled, “buy.”
Sometimes even when we do all the right things, even when we memorize the rules, there are times we still end up on the wrong side of things. Even though we do everything right, we somehow end up wrong. It’s phonics. And it’s Breonna Taylor and Sarah Everard and our Asian brothers and our Black sisters and our LGBTQ loved ones and I don’t understand it. It’s life and it’s hard.
We’re working it all out with fear and with trembling, learning how to be humans together in the midst of suffering and loss and intense frustration. Just being people together is hard, especially in this boiled down concentrate of humanity that is our pandemic experience.
But the things distilled reveal so much about human nature, about resilience and sin, about me. It’s uncomfortable and beautiful. The Refiner’s fire always is. Pain mingling with fury mixing with grace, as the coarseness is stripped away and we learn how to be with one another. Learn to be and stop pretending.
This education I’m getting is owl pellets and copy work, repetition of days over and over and over, days so ghastly and gorgeous I ache for them to end while simultaneously mourning their loss.
And that’s life. Life is the education, which I suppose is the point. I just desire to be a better student, to shake off my procrastination and grumbling, to look at challenge with curious eyes instead of cross resentment. I’m not there yet. I’m still learning.
I’m learning to write and trust my words to Jesus, not to worry if you understand or misconstrue my meaning. I’m learning accept the humility that comes from releasing words into the world and letting that vulnerability stand under the scrutiny of strangers and the more worrisome eyes of those who love me, those I might disappoint. I’m learning to release and let my words dissolve like bread thrown into a pond, chewed up, swallowed, and spit out by fishes pleasing to some and to none at all.
I’m learning to be more accepting of “close your eyes and hold out your hands,” learning to trust that I’ll be handed a blessing and not a snake. Why is it so frightening to trust? All is grace, after all.
I’m learning is all. I hope you are, too. I hope your studies lead to the eternal conclusion that you are loved, you are loved, you are loved.
Let’s recite it and memorize it and copy it down in cursive until we know it as a truth more absolute than 2+2 = 4, more dependable than “I before E,” more real and pure than we could ever really fathom.
I’m still learning. I hope you are, too.
I’ve been thinking a lot about pruning. About vines and branches, about dry and brittle undergrowth, about the coming harvest. I’ve been drawn into a season of pruning myself. The perfect storm of past hurt and present pain are intermingling in my heart and demanding to be dealt with. It’s hard, to be honest, but I keep trying to remember that hard doesn’t necessarily mean bad.
I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every brand in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.John 15: 1-6
How often do I separate myself from Christ, put myself at the mercy of others, allow myself to be gathered up by whomever and whatever version of “good” and “successful” comes along only to be burned again and again and again?
It seems to me that either way there is pain. Both pruning and leaving the vine guarantee a certain amount of suffering, but only one requires suffering in order to bear fruit.
The question remains, will I put myself at the service of the pain? Will I submit myself to pruning in order that I might grow? Will I trust Him?
We’re inching closer to the feast day of St. Joseph, probably my favorite saint. St. Joseph was presented with a situation which he certainly didn’t plan for, a set of circumstances that stripped him of the future he had imagined for himself and set him on a path of hardship. (It was also a path of immeasurable beauty, to be sure, but we can’t say it was easy being the protector and provider of the Holy Family.) I think we can all agree that St. Joseph could be granted a meltdown or two. One can imagine the temptation to fall into self pity or anger, especially at the outset of this journey. I mean, that’s what I usually do when things don’t work out the way I expect them to.
And yet, when given a situation that was confusing, when dealt a change that was challenging to his belief system, that required great sacrifice to his reputation as well as his physical safety, Joseph didn’t have a pity party. He didn’t lament and moan and look for sympathy. He waited. He made a plan to act out of charity. He prayed. Most importantly, he stayed open and receptive to the voice of God. St. Joseph was sensitive to the working of the Holy Spirit and he trusted that the words spoken to him from God were true. So, when the angel advised him to take Mary into his home, Joseph partnered with the problem, offered himself in service to the pain, and humbly submitted himself to God’s will, putting aside both his plans for a “normal” marriage and his plans to divorce her quietly.
Mercy, how I long for a faith like that.
So much about enduring suffering and darkness has to do with perspective. In an often isolated post-Covid world, where there’s still so much doubt and uncertainty, I find it particularly difficult to see the glass as half full. I struggle a lot with partnering with the problems in my life. I find it difficult to view the dead ends as anything but just that: closed doors and locked gates. In a season when I’ve endured more loneliness than ever before, when I’ve seen the carnage of fractured relationships and been disappointed by so many things, large and small, I’m just done. I don’t want to endure any more. I don’t want to partner with anything, I just want to be done and for things to be easy.
But that’s where my need for pruning is shown. That’s precisely why I need a Gardener to rein me in, redirect my growth, train the tendrils of my heart to wrap around Him instead of growing out and away, grasping for whatever the world tells me is sturdy.
My friend Henri Nouwen says,
…what seems a hindrance becomes a way; what seems an obstacle becomes a door; what seems a misfit becomes a cornerstone.
Jesus changes our history from a random series of sad incidents and accidents into a constant opportunity for a change of heart. To wait patiently, therefore, means to allow our weeping and wailing to become the purifying preparation by which we are made ready to receive the joy that is promised us.
And so prayers of lament and complaint being uttered, I’m left with the choice: do I look to the Lord with trust, submit myself to His hand and His pruning, or do I go my own way offering myself to whomever wants to gather me up knowing full well I’ll get burned again?
Either way there is pain. Either way there is suffering. But only one way contains the promise of joy, a joy I have seen lived out in the lives of the saints and proven again and again in the scriptures. So my prayer must become one of trust, one of offering, one of partnering.
Jesus, change my heart. Take this anxiety and anger, this frustration, loneliness, and grief and change it all into something beautiful. I cannot do it on my own. Help me, Lord, I need You. Show me how to be held in your arms, to be loved by You in the pruning. Heal my heart and reorient it toward Yours. Help me to endure the suffering, endure the pain, endure the not knowing, to stay steady and to bear it all for love of You. Help me to be your partner, to submit myself to your pierced hands. O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put my trust in You.
You are loved, my friends. Eternally adored by a Creator who thinks that you’re worth pruning, worth guiding, worth redeeming. It doesn’t matter how far we’ve wandered or how tightly our hearts are wound around the world, He’s waiting to prune and to train those tender vines so that we might bear more and more fruit for his Holy and Sacred Name. Even the wildest, most overgrown, driest, and thorniest of hearts can be redeemed. That’s where the hope lies, in the truth that the places in our lives that look like dead ends and closed doors are just odd looking ways back to Him.
The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.Psalm 23: 1-4
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
through the valley of apathy,
the valley of contempt,
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of doubt,
the shadow of distance,
the shadow of disappointment.
Even then, do I trust.
I will fear no evil, no rejection, no humiliation, no loneliness, for you are with me . Your rod and your staff comfort me. Even when they block my way, when your rod hems me in and your staff forces me on a path I would not choose, even then they comfort me. For my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways.
Though I wander through the valleys confused, unsure, worried, overcome by my own smallness amidst so large a flock, I trust that what you say is true.
I trust that your word will not return to you empty, that if I find myself despairing in a low place, it is because you are not done with me yet. I trust that our journey is ongoing, that you are calling, leading, prodding me forward toward your promise of cool water, verdant pastures, and rest.
I choose to believe that promise.
On a bumpy trail, a monotonous track of irritation when I am tempted to make my own way or out of weariness to rail against what is asked of me, I submit myself to your rod and staff. I submit myself to your guidance and your care. I will allow myself to be loved.
I will fear no evil and I will take the next step in faith, for I believe that you are who you say you are.
I believe that I am who you say that I am.
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put my trust in you.