Love means never having to say you’re sorry, right?
You’ve heard this since middle school. Love isn’t supposed to change people. Love isn’t supposed to hurt people. Love is joy and ease, it’s the romantic walks and the lazy kisses and the sunshine and the sweetness. Somewhere in the distance, an 80’s love ballad plays as you and your bae slowly sway around an empty dance floor. It’s all happy. It’s all good.
And that’s not love.
Love is not the sweetness. Love is not the shopping sprees, not the promposals, not the dancing or the flowers or the badly-written poetry. Why? Because people are people, and people cannot be all joy and light all the time. People cannot survive on a steady diet of boxed chocolates and Safeway® flowers. People are too broken for that. But modern love often ignores the brokenness innate in human beings, ignoring our nature in favor of empty promises of “forever.” It tells the beloved that no, he or she is perfect just as he or she is, that no change is needed or wanted, that the good times will be theirs forever, with no change. But that’s not love, that’s stagnation. And in stagnate waters, nasty things breed and bloom. Greed, lust, pride, and sloth creep to the surface of love that’s not willing to change. You can fill the stagnate emptiness with porn, or shopping, or hobbies, or TV binge sessions, but the emptiness remains, because human beings do have empty spaces. We are all full of chips and cracks that are meant to be painstakingly filled with virtue, and a love that says that those chips and cracks do not exist is not worthy of the name. Maybe we let them stay because we’re afraid that, without the broken pieces, we won’t be ourselves anymore. But if we let those cracks grow, if we let our sins and pet vices fester and bloom, those will destroy us. But we still cling to the veneer of love, the promises, the chocolate and flowers. To let go, and walk out into the fast-moving waters of true love, is a terrifying prospect.
People often choose the comfortable promises of forever because change is scary. We do not want to be told that we’re broken. We do not like being reminded that we have problems. It’s never fun when a loved one reminds us that we can be selfish, or lustful, or depressing. We don’t like to think about our sins, but these are the things that drive good relationships into the ground. If we ignore these flaws, if we let them breed in the stagnation of our souls, they will destroy us. We will drown, poisoned by the sins we don’t want to think about, choked by our protective shields of pretty words and fine gifts. In seeking to keep our selves safe, we will let them be destroyed. We lose ourselves, our true selves, when we refuse to change.
Love must exist with change. For love of us, Christ changed from spirit to flesh. For love of Christ, Peter and the apostles changed from comfortable workmen to wandering, homeless preachers. For love of each other, we must change, as well. Love is, in many ways, the only thing that allows us to change. Love is fearless that way– it sees the bad, as well as the good, and pushes us gently-yet-firmly towards virtue. It fights with our lesser selves, with the chips and the cracks, and for the sake of love, we have to let it win. We have to change. We have to grow. We have to keep moving.
This idea has been shown to me especially in the past year, as I’ve been in a relationship with one of my favorite people ever. John and I love each other, and because we love each other, we’ve changed. It’s not that we’ve become different people– we’ve become ourselves in a way totally new, yet totally familiar. Through the discussions, the disagreements, the cuddling, and the love, I’ve become calmer, less emotional, more open and kind. He’s become braver, stronger, and more conscientious. Our empty spaces are being filled, not just with the joy of romance, but with the abiding peace of virtue and the healing that comes from mutual reliance on Christ and each other. We let ourselves change. And we keep changing, keep becoming better, because we aren’t afraid to call each other on to virtue. We will the good of each other, the true good, not just the temporary, still, quiet comfort of romance. Loving John has helped clear away the algae and bugs of my old vices and hangups, the brokenness that I used to embrace as just being who I was. It’s a hopeful thing to realize that I’ll get even better as this goes on. I’m not afraid of change, because I know that love necessitates change.
If you’re single or in a relationship, don’t be afraid of change. Change doesn’t mean losing yourself. Change done for love, through Love, means finding yourself. It’s part of growing up and becoming who you were made to be. Remember… God loves us as we are, but He loves us too much to let us stay that way.
Look how happy he is! How cute! How adorable! How… OK, enough about the boyfriend. Gosh, I’m gross. You know what’s not gross?
BANANAS-FOSTER-STYLE BANANA BREAD! Which is what Mr. Sir here is eating. No wonder he looks so happy. This stuff is the shiznits. I cobbled it together from a few different recipes last night, and figured I’d share here for posterity.
A quick note: It’s imperative that you pour the toffee over the bread before the toffee cools– the toffee will turn goopy and hard as it cools. Liquid, it soaks into the bread and adds a chewy texture to the top. If your toffee does cool, however, you can mix in water, a tablespoon at a time, over high heat. Mix until the toffee becomes liquid again.
Hello readers! It has been a while, hasn’t it? Well, I’m safe here in my second semester at Franciscan University, and I’ve semi-retired from blogging to focus on all the stress that comes from being an English major. I have to write about two essays, from 800-2000 words, every week, so fun writing is pretty low on my priority scale. How have I stayed sane with that kind of workload? Mostly through the amazing ladies of my household, Illuminata Pace.
Illuminata Pace, translated to “illuminating peace,” is a household dedicated to Franciscan spirituality, and we center our lives around peace, joy, humility, and prayer. I’d never really considered peace hugely important before I came, and I thought the peace prayer of St. Francis was just a weird song that my grandparent’s very 70’s parish sang, with twangy guitars, to the point where nobody really listened anymore. Certainly, I never thought of peace as something illuminating. But we pray the prayer several times a week, and the more I’ve looked at it, the more it’s come to mean to me. For all of you who have forgotten, here are the words:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
I started saying this prayer as a morning offering when I became a full sister in Illuminata Pace two months ago, and it has led me to do a lot of meditating on the nature of peace and what peace can do. CCC 2304 says that “Peace is not merely the absence of war…Peace is “the tranquillity of order.” Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity.” There have been a lot of reasons this semester to not be peaceful, but the words of the peace prayer stop me, slow me down, and help me remember who I am as a sister of illuminating peace. Every line has had its place in my life.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace… We are not the creators of peace, but merely the instruments of God’s peace. As Mother Theresa said, we’re just little pencils in the hands of a writing God, who is writing a love letter to the world. We need to ask God to let us be His instruments, His paintbrushes of peace, so that He can cover the whole world in peace. We must be grounded firmly in the peace of Christ to give His peace to the world, and it’s a peace that surpasses all understanding. Being instruments of God, surrendering ourselves to the higher calling of Christ, allows us to enter into that peace fully.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love… when people are angrily gossiping, are mad at each other, or are refusing to respect human dignity, being instruments of God’s peace means gently and lovingly leading them in a better direction, and prayerfully asking Him to show you what that better direction is.
Where there is injury, pardon… when I have hurt someone, or someone has hurt me, being an instrument of peace means being the first to apologize, the first to forgive. Is it difficult? Hell yes! But oh, the graces that come from this struggle of peace are incredible. This, again, requires constant prayer while trying to do, but when you ground forgiveness in peace, it becomes much easier to give.
Where there is doubt, faith… People, even people at Franciscan University, doubt the love of God. They doubt the forgiveness of God. They even doubt the existence of God when desolation becomes strong enough. Being the light of peace means letting God shine through you into those people, in whatever way you can. It means listening, encouraging, explaining points of the faith, and doing it all in prayer and with the quiet joy of peace that allows doubts, but strives to assuage them.
Where there is despair, hope... People despair. I despair. A year ago, on October 23, 2015, I tried to kill myself. I think many people know what despair feels like. Many cannot get out on their own, and need a leg up. Peace is that divine elevator to help people out of despair. Peace sees the trials and pains of life and acknowledges them, but doesn’t let them win. Peace allows pain to be put in the right place, as something real and difficult, but not overwhelming as long as one is clinging to the cross, even if one is only clinging to their cross through the nails that are holding them to it. Peace sees all that, and reminds us that, no matter how painful the crucifixion is, there is a resurrection to come, and so we need not worry that the pain will completely overwhelm us. Being an instrument of peace here means being there for those people who are in their stage of crucifixion, being there to remind them that every Easter Sunday comes after a painful Good Friday and a cold and dead Holy Saturday. You don’t even have to say it out loud to them. You just have to pray and love as God leads you to.
Where there is darkness, light… the world is dark, but, as St. Francis said, all the darkness of the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle. We can be the light in a dark world when we allow peace to illuminate us, when we allow God to lead us in peace even as all the darkness of our fallen world seems to be sinking around us.We illuminate peace when we study the teachings of the Church and gain knowledge about God. We illuminate peace when we shine through the darkness of ignorance and lead people to the truth of the gospel. We illuminate peace when we choose perfect joy over anger at our situations, when we choose to sink into the joy of the gospel that counteracts the world’s calls to dissatisfaction and cynicism.
Where there is sadness, joy… One of the charisms of Illuminata Pace is this perfect joy, which we’ve matched to this picture:
This picture of Our Mother of Sorrows seems contradictory to joy, what with all the tears and the corpse of Christ in the middle. But perfect joy is found in perfect suffering, because suffering allows us to see clearly what choosing joy means. It doesn’t mean ignoring all suffering. It means putting it into its proper place, and recognizing that all the pain of the world cannot ever destroy the joy of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, and cannot even begin to come close to threatening the joy of heaven. Peace puts our thoughts solely on those things, puts our eyes on the lighthouse of heaven so that all the storms of the world, while they may crash and blow, are seen as what they are– changeable nature, not eternal life. When we sink into perfect joy, we create a beautiful example of peace, one that others will want to emulate. Peace illuminates, it spreads outward from the person who is peaceful and lights up everyone around them.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console… Illumination goes outward from the person, by definition. Peace isn’t really about what we’re getting, it’s about what we’re giving to the world. We aren’t seeking to be consoled be others, we’re trying to give them the consolation of God. God has no arms but ours with which to hold people, no ears but ours with which to listen to them, no mouth but ours with which to encourage. We ask for the grace to be these for Him.
To be understood, as to understand... The peace of Christ makes us as absolutely selfless as He is. We know He understands us when we are secure in His peace. Others might not feel that way, and might need human understanding to be reminded of the all-understanding love of God. We need the grace of God to be able to understand the hurts of others and to show to them how God’s understanding is even greater.
To be loved as to love… Again, peace makes us selfless. We aren’t seeking to become instruments of peace so that we can have all the love and admiration of people. We are here to love others. Everything we have been given is for the good of others, and that includes the love of God. To be peacefully secure in the love of God is to want others to be as secure, so we must prayerfully try to show that love to everyone we meet without any thought for what we are getting out of the deal. Heaven is quite enough, thank you.
For it is in giving that we receive… Mother Theresa is quoted as saying “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” The same goes for peace. However much we may give, God constantly gives us more. To wish to give all your God-given peace away is to also be giving a never-empty fountain of peace. We cannot ever run out of the love of God or the peace of God. He will always give more as long as we are giving.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned… Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, right? When we pardon the faults of others, no matter how much they have hurt us, we can be confident that God will forgive us to the same degree. God follows our lead on that point. His capacity to forgive us is infinite, yes, but He will forgive us only as much as we forgive others. So we must forgive everything, and be peacemakers to all, and seek to forgive as infinitely as we wish to be forgiven.
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life… I am going to die. It is going to hurt more than I can ever adequately describe. The thought of how painful my eventual death will be drove me to try to kill myself, that’s how afraid I am of it. But the peace of Christ takes away that sting, because no matter how much death scares and hurts, it will never be greater than the joy of heaven. The great paradox of Christianity is that we lovingly accept even the hardest death, so as to gain eternal life. Even if your suffering is so great that it kills you, if you suffer in the peace of Christ, you can be secure in His promise of heaven. And that makes it all worth it, doesn’t it?
Amen? Amen. Now, have a really pretty sung version of the prayer, and go out and illuminate!
A few days ago, Franciscan University of Steubenville put on a passion play/living stations with students filling all the roles. I went, because many of my friends were in it. My brother was a centurion who beat Jesus, my friend Joseph was the bad thief, my friend Clarke was Pilate, my friend Brian was Simon of Cyrene, Milana was a woman of the crowd who hurled insults at Christ, and my friend Salvador (there’s an ironic name for ya) was Jesus.
It. Was. Horrible.
Not the play, because that was performed beautifully, but the actions. I saw my brother kicking my friend, saw my closest friends hurling insults and condemning someone I knew was innocent, screaming like demons and sadistically kicking a man who was on the ground. I saw a good man who is always very modest and well-dressed, who gives fist bumps in the hallway and never has a mean thing to say to anyone, be stripped to a loincloth and nailed (tied) to a cross by my own brother. Yes, it was all fake. But this drove a point home to me that I’d never actually understood before. Because see, this play proved to me that all the people of the passion? Yeah, they’re all us.
My friends and I are capable of condemning Christ to death when we can’t be bothered to stand up for what’s really true and beautiful. We’re capable of insulting Him and spitting at Him when we decide to sin, knowing exactly what the cost of our sin is on Him. We’re capable of ridiculing Him for possibly thinking that suffering could be good, of laughing at His humility and acceptance even as we’re hanging on our own crosses right next to Him. Every day we nail Him onto the cross and then demand He come down from it just to prove to us that He can, demanding signs and wonders to prove that He’s real as we torture Him for not being exactly the way we want Him to be. We are every character in this grand Passion. His blood is upon us and on our children, not just on some dusty Jews from thousands of years ago.
It is easy to sin when you’re alone and the consequences of it aren’t directly affecting you. But I got to see a friend of mine be hurt, albeit in a fake way, for something that the narrator said I had done. If that hurt me, how much more should the reality of the crucifixion hurt me? How much more remorse should I feel for the actual events, when the play with actors who would shower off the fake blood and put back on their normal clothes in an hour brought me to tears? When I choose to sin, I am knowingly beating and stripping and killing my friend like the Roman guards. When I yell at God for abandoning me and demand a sign that He’s still around, I am the bad thief and the Pharisees. When I allow a friend to do what I know is wrong because I don’t want to rock the boat, I am Pilate, washing my hands of the death of Christ yet still completely culpable for it (to the point where he is remembered by name in the Creed!) And so are you. So are we all.
There is no reason for God to do this. We do not deserve this. We are so wretched, so utterly hopeless, so completely undeserving of the grace of the Passion. We can talk about how much God loves us til we’re blue in the face, but we all have to realize that, because of what we do to Him, we don’t deserve an ounce of mercy. If God were a human, He’d be within His rights to smite all of us, or to turn His back and never acknowledge us again. But God was a human, and He didn’t. He chooses to love us and chase us anyway, as completely worthless as we are. That’s what mercy means. How dare we have pride and see God’s mercy as something to take for granted, something we deserve? How dare we act like we wouldn’t do exactly the same thing as those people in Jerusalem in 33 A.D.?
This Lent of the year of mercy has been, for me, a time of intense meditation on the mercy of Christ. In order to need the infinite mercy of God, we need to realize how intensely wretched we are. We need to know exactly what we’re capable of: murdering someone who loves us and doing it on a daily basis. God’s mercy is the only thing that can make us able to live with ourselves once we’ve realized what we’ve done to Him. I’ve been broken this year, and it’s nothing compared to what Christ suffered, for all that, in my pride, I’ve thought it was as bad. But He offered me mercy, and, in that mercy, I can come back to Him.
May you all have a blessed Triduum and Easter Season!
Those of you who have been following me for more than a few months may have noticed I’ve been in a pretty sad place for a while. My hands are getting pretty bad, and I save them for academic writing above blogging. The blogging I do do is usually reserved for the blogs like Epic Pew and The Catholic Response, which I have made monthly commitments to. That leaves Surrender the Brownies with the dregs, the sad and personal things that I can’t put anywhere else, and the posts that are fueled more by passion than commitment.
A year ago, I posted about advent continuing past Christmas. I’ve felt like that for the whole year, the waiting for God, the anger that He hasn’t come yet. I found a lot of things to dread and kind of forgot to look for the good in bad situations. I was always worried about everything, even to the point of having panic attacks with alarming regularity. 2015 was a difficult advent year, but I’ve got a feeling that 2016 is going to finally be the year of Christmas.
Not that Christmas happens right away, of course. It’s a gradual process. So to aid in that process I’ve decided to start a blessing chest.
The idea is that, every day, I look for one blessing (at least) and, every night, I write it down to put into the chest. I’ve been doing it since I arrived here at Franciscan University on the 12th. It’s really helped me start each day happily; instead of dreading whatever bad things might happen, I look forward to finding the good things. Often, there’ll be so many during the day that I’ll have trouble picking just one to write down. I didn’t expect this at all. Yeah, bad things keep happening during the day- currently, I’m writing on a dislocated wrist (owch) after walking up a steep hill (owch) just to find that one of my favorite classes was cancelled (owch!) But I know that sometime today, I’m going to find a blessing worth writing down, something amazing and special, a gift from God. That makes every day a treasure hunt of goodness, thus the treasure chest I’m using.
This is how I’m going to find my joyful self again, and I encourage everyone else to try something similar, too. You don’t have to use a treasure chest, but do try to find one thing every day (especially on the bad days) that you can be thankful for. It’ll brighten your entire day, and that’s a gift worth having!
Well, it’s me. I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. It would have been your birthday right around now, you know. You’d be a chubby baby, with a head full of dark hair like all your brothers and sisters. We’d all have cuddled you and shushed your brothers when they played too loud, because you’d have needed all the sleep you could grow to get as tall as the rest of us. You’d have smiled at a week old and never stopped, because that’s what us cheery Federoffs do. Maybe you would have gone with us to the March for Life last Saturday, and I wouldn’t have felt all achy-breaky inside when I saw all of the babies everywhere and heard friends talking about new siblings.
I miss you, Gi. I never met you, and I miss you. There are a lot of resources out there for moms and dads who miscarried, but none really for older sisters who feel like someone is missing when they count noses at the store. I know that you’re happy, up with Jesus and all the saints, and you’re praying for the family that you left behind before you ever got to them. But I wish you could have been here. I wish I could have helped you draw your first pictures, read you the same Dr. Seuss books a thousand times and still laughed at the funny pictures, made cookies with you, yelled at you when you got into my books and accidentally tore one. I wish that I could see you play tag with your brothers, eat Daddy’s pizza, open years worth of Christmas and birthday gifts, learn the Hail Mary in French from Mom. There are a million memories that never got made, and I miss every one.
I was there when we buried you, up on top of the hill outside the house. It’s the best place to see our beautiful Arizona sunsets, and I know you appreciate that. I suppose you can SEE them, and even more beautiful things, up in heaven. And I know you see us, too, muddling about down here, trying to just live. You’re where we’re all trying to be, safe in the love of God, perfect and whole as you were meant to be. And, Gi, I know I’ll see you again up there. It’s hard not to blame God, honestly. You probably know I’ve already been feeling pretty distant from Him, and this didn’t help. But I know you’re praying for me, because you know now just how much God loves us and you’re just waiting for us to come back to Him, even though it hurts.
Gianna, you were unique and unrepeatable and so, so loved, and I know that I’ll always feel a little empty without you here. But you’re never really gone, now are you? You’re just our own personal saint, and I know you send your prayers and your guardian angel to keep an eye on us. I know you love all of us- Mom and Dad, and Zoe and Pavel and me and Kerian and Isabel and Noah and Liam and Thaddeus and Alexander and Isaac and Sam. We lost you in June, and I’m sorry it took this long to write. You know me, I tend to stick bad feelings down deep so I don’t have to deal. But I couldn’t anymore. Every time someone talks about me having ten siblings, it feels like I’ve been kicked in the chest, because I have eleven. Opening presents at Christmas, I kept feeling like there should have been some marked with your name. I see our pastor, and I remember the happy look on his face when we told him you were coming (one of the only people outside the family who knew) and I think about how he should have baptized you, making you even more part of our family. But even that’ll never happen. But you have something better now, huh? Keep a seat warm for me up there, you know my joints hate the cold.
This year has been full of endings. I graduated from high school and my youth group, and many of my friends left for college. My adventure with RCIA ended, and more friends disappeared into the ether, probably never to be seen again. My favorite pants got torn, and I had to throw them away (all you girls with extreme hourglass shapes will see why the loss of well-fitting pants is a tragedy!)
But back to seriousness, this year seems to just be marked with death. First, a close friend lost her sister in a freak accident. Then, my own sister attempted suicide, and I spent several terrible hours not knowing if she was alive or dead. In June, my mom miscarried a younger brother or sister that I never got to meet. Lastly, and this death affected me the most, an old family friend, Anne Schmidt, succumbed to breast cancer. She’s the one who really inspired this post, and so I’m dedicating all these words to her.
Anne was one of those people who just seemed to breathe holiness. With a face that never seemed to have any expression but an affectionate smile, she was a woman who was full of joy and love for everyone, and when you were with her, you got the feeling that she really saw you. When she sang in her parish choir, her voice sang every note tinged with the melody of heaven. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting next to her in the choir room at mass, when she would let me sing with her. She was one of the only people who was never content to let me stay in the shadow of my older sister, who has a marvelous and room-quaking voice. Anne always encouraged me to sing my best, not thinking about how good my sister sounded, and I’ve loved to sing ever since. Anne loved God, loved her family, and loved the people around her. She was always full of joyful peace, even on the last time I saw her, when she told my mother and me that her cancer, beaten once before, had returned. She never seemed that afraid. She was a woman who had faith in God’s love and God’s will.
Here at Surrender the Brownies, we’re all about trust and faith, but that kind of complete trust shocked even me. For years now, since my diagnosis, I’ve been scared and hurt about my own death. A friend joked about it, and I snapped at him. I couldn’t help it; the idea of a diminished life expectancy scares me. Heck, the idea of death scares all of us, and we spend a lot of time doing everything we can to stave it off, to buy a few more years to do whatever it is we think we need to do. We don’t like the idea of a concrete deadline for the completion of whatever it is our purpose in life is. I’ve been spending months now thinking about death, thinking about writing this post, praying for answers, and I think I understand death a little better now. Or at least, I understand one thing… we’re not supposed to be scared of it, and we have the power not to be.
Why shouldn’t we be afraid? Because… it’s a good thing. We shouldn’t be afraid of death. Ultimately, it’s what we’re made to do, the grand imperative that we’re all programmed for. We are born to die. And to say that isn’t morbid or morose, it’s actually the most hopeful, joyful thing I could write.
Let’s talk for a second about love. In parts one and two of this series, I’ve talked about how perfect love casts out fear (all inspired by 1 John 4:18.) God, being perfect love, is the antithesis of fear. And God made us to die. Yes, in the Fall, we brought terror and pain into the equation, but God always intended our earthly lives to end. Even Mary, who never suffered the effects of Original Sin, had to die. My friends, we are scared of death because we don’t really know God anymore. We’ve cut ourselves off from that source of perfect, fear-destroying love, so naturally, we’re scared of death.
But look to the people who have let themselves love and be loved by God. Look to the peaceful attitude of Saint Damien of Molokai, who, when he learned that he had contracted leprosy from the people he had ministered to for sixteen years, said “Having no doubts about the true nature of the disease, I am calm, resigned, and very happy in the midst of my people. God certainly knows what is best for my sanctification and I gladly repeat: ‘Thy will be done.” The man was going to be covered in sores, slowly lose his human appearance, become something ugly and terrible. He should have been terrified! He should have been angry at God for afflicting him with the disease! But he trusted God completely. He was happy, for Pete’s sake! He saw his descent into death as what it truly was: something natural and necessary for his salvation, a sign of love from God. And that’s a hallmark of sainthood. Saint after saint has said the same thing; that death is something we should think about daily, something we should have no fear about, something we should peacefully welcome. If that’s something that the holiest of people have agreed on, then do you think that maybe, just maybe, they’re right?
I’ve wasted a lot of time being scared and stressed in my life. (I’ve probably also wasted a lot of time thinking about why we’re scared of death, too, but since you’re all getting this lovely post out of it, you can’t complain.) I’ve gotten way too worked up about things that don’t matter, and that includes death. But this year, 2014, is the year that that ended. Here, at the end of the year, I’ve realized something… that after looking death in the face several times, a lot of small and petty annoyances don’t matter. If even the most terrifying thing we humans deal with is harmless, what are the annoying friends and small pains of everyday life? If I really love God, as I’m trying to do, I shouldn’t be worried about anything else. Like St. Damien, like Anne Schmidt, I should be able to joyfully accept everything God decides to send my way. Why be scared of the things of this world? This isn’t our home. We’re just passing through. As one of my favorite songs says, when we’re confronted with the sorrows and pains of life on earth, we should say, “all I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong.” And to get where we belong, we need to die. So stop running. Stop with the injections, the crazy exercise regimens, stop with the kale (unless you really like kale, in which case, you keep eating kale, because life is for living!)
Friends, love. The only way to stop being scared and stressed about everything in life is to love God, to let Him love you, and to share that love with your neighbor.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
As many of you long-time followers know, I am a proud and loving chicken owner.
Today, my best friend and fellow (though definitely less crazy) chicken lady, Eenie, started telling me her theory as to why God is kinda like a chicken owner. Why?
Well, let’s start with why I keep chickens. They’re my babies. Some of them, I’ve raised since they were inside eggs layed by hens that I also raised from infancy. They each have wonderful personalities, and can be sweet and loving, or flighty and scared. They’re stubborn, beautiful, each one unique and different and fun. They do minimal things to help me, but in the end, I keep them not because of the eggs they lay, but because I love them.
So how is that like God? Well, let’s think about this. God doesn’t need us. He’s totally and perfectly complete in Himself. But still, He has us, because He loves us. He sees our beauty and our uniqueness, the way each of us is different in what we like and how we act, and He loves us for it. He even used the analogy Himself, in Matthew 23:37, “…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
And we are definitely like chickens sometimes. Take the noble broody hen, for instance. It doesn’t matter if going broody and sitting on eggs is bad for her, if the season is wrong or she’s just not strong enough for what she wants to do, she will stubbornly stick to her plan and what she wants to do. No matter how much the hen may protest, the owner needs to gently but firmly break the bad broody habit so the hen can be healthy and happy in the long run (sound familiar?) Or think of all the ways that chickens fight, pulling each others’ feathers, even killing each other sometimes! They can be quite cantankerous, those chickens. Escaping the safety of the coop, messing with dangerous animals, chickens are independent buggers, and us humans are really no different.
But there goes God, day after day, protecting us and loving us and making sure we’re the best us we can be, even when we don’t particularly like Him. All those days when we fly up into trees or sitting on a bunch of eggs we aren’t supposed to be hatching, God is patiently rescuing us from ourselves and healing the wounds we inflict on ourselves and others, never loving us any less for the sake of our wanton stupidity. He’s the kind of God who would walk into a freezing night to check on us, cover us with extra warm straw, making sure we’re protected from the cold.
So, for those of us who are tired of the analogy of being sheep, why don’t we spend a while recognizing our inherent chickenness? If that mental image makes you laugh, it should, my fine feathered friends. The idea of God being like me, with a bumper sticker on his car (fiery chariot?) that says “chillin with my peeps,” is hilarious.
But hey, that’s what God does. He’s a God of almost silly love, love that doesn’t really make sense given how unloveable His beloveds can be, but still inexplicably and infinitely exists.
Oh, August. The sun is shining, the kids are mostly back in school, and summer is ending, along with that hallmark of summer teenagehood: the summer romance. Not that I actually had one this year, mind you, I really had more of a succession of unreciprocated summer crushes, but the thought is the same. There’s just something about the heat, the sunshine, and the carefree attitude of summer that lends itself well to promulgating new romances. You see that special someone, and maybe they say a word or give you a compliment, and boom, a crush is born. Amid the golden sand and leafy branches, you fancy yourself in love, and you build your castles in the air about romance and roses and happy memories to come. And when the romances inevitably end, you’re disappointed and hurt that the dreams that were only true in your head never even came true in real life. It would have been love, you say. It would have been a lifetime of candlelight and ballroom dances, a living romantic dramady. And now it’s gone, swept away by the chill of the first autumn winds and the sound of school bells. Really, what is it about summer that makes us cling to the brightly colored veneer of love, and ignore the strong, tough realities beneath?
This summer, I had a chance to visit my aunt in Boston, and while on the plane ride there, I sat next to a nice older couple. The man, Lee, was a very nice person who helped me stash my cane and carryon. He was also remarkably accommodating to his wife, even for a married couple. He was unbuckling and standing up every few minutes to open the overhead bins and get her a drink, a snack, a book, her glasses, and then put each item away as she finished with it. The woman, Sue, revealed to me while he was again opening the overhead bin to get her a drink that she was suffering from brain cancer, and they were traveling to Boston, as they had every two weeks for months, for her treatment. At one point, she needed to use the restroom. She couldn’t walk very well at all, and her wheelchair had been put away, as she couldn’t use it on the plane. So Lee became her crutch. He all but carried her to the plane restrooms, then waited to do the same on the walk back. And you could see the absolute love in his eyes when he did. His wife was no longer the beautiful, strong woman she had been when they fell in love, years before. Her body was shriveled and pale, her hair thinning and falling out, her hands shaking like leaves in the wind, her sense of balance gone. Her summer had faded, borne away in the cold sweep of illness and human frailty. But their love remained. It wasn’t a fragile and haphazard construct, built like a sandcastle, ready to be swept away when it got boring or too hard to continue. It wasn’t a forgettable summer fling. It was a strong, enduring love, that stood one of the greatest tests that life could throw at it.
And that really made me think. We glorify romance, but not love. We worship the candles and flowers, and try to forget the work and the sorrow that is a hallmark of real love. The culture thinks that love means opening your legs, but closing off your heart, holding on as long as the good feelings and good looks and sex lasts, then moving on to the next prospect. As breakups get us all practiced and ready for divorce, we get accustomed to leaving behind the people we thought we loved because the novelty wore off. So why don’t we stop? Why don’t we hold out a while, wait for the person that we can imagine helping us eat when we can’t feed ourselves anymore, the person that we can imagine carrying to the bathrooms because their mind is slowly being eaten away? The romance is secondary. True love is hard, nasty, boring work. Sure, there might be candles and flowers sometimes, but those days will be far outnumbered by days of little sleep and less good humor, and have infinitely less rewards in eternity. Real love gives up its life for its beloved. And for all that it might seem less fun… it’s something that we should definitely want more than a fleeting summer romance.