One of my new favorite things is making almond butter. It is probably the best day of the week. I buy a package of raw almonds, roast them, and stick them in the food processor. The process is magical and the taste so much better than a jar from the store. Better because made with love, you could say. Love for the process and appreciation for the gift of almonds. Though beautiful, the process of roasting is life or death. One minute too long, and they are burnt. Burnt almonds do not make almond butter. They get wasted. Yet, knowing this and loving so much this careful process of making almond butter, I do not set a timer on the oven. Every batch roasts a bit differently, but a reminder to check is definitely necessary. Pridefully, I think I will remember on my own. It’s not my first day. Many burnt batches later, it’s still not my first day. I learned my lesson this time. This time will be different. Burnt almonds do not make almond butter. I know this. But it is my first day.
“God is holy, but fallen humanity is not holy. Sin incurs, by its very nature, the punishment of alienation from God (God’s “anger”) and radical disorder, disharmony, and lack of peace.”[Holy People, Holy Land]
How do I know I’m fallen? What does fallen even mean? Does it mean I will always burn the almonds if I don’t set a reminder? If I don’t sit staring at the oven with no distractions? Doesn’t sound so bad. It’s hard to know, though, honestly. I think I am doing pretty well for myself. Being a professional soccer player, occasionally burning almonds, and all. By most standards, I’m good. What’s the big deal? What makes me fallen?
I’m not sure I would have really known if you didn’t get sick, dad. Sounds so harsh. Who is to say something else wouldn’t have happened to wake me up? Not for me to say, at least. Seems like a bigger job than making almond butter.
Our family was comfortable. You had a steady and well-paying job. Mom could go back to school to get a teaching degree and do something she really wanted to do as a career. Adam and I were well-fed and so well-taken care of. We got to play sports and go on vacations. We went to church on Sundays and prayed the Rosary sometimes. Mom had the blessing of being a convert to Catholicism and so brought a hunger for the Sacraments that maybe were a bit wanting in you, being a cradle Catholic. What were we in want of? In need of? Our family seemed like the all-American family. We had made everything for ourselves. Or did we?
What privileges did you have, dad, being a white American male, you didn’t even know of? Whose shoulders were you already standing on to provide for our family? How does the sin of slavery relate to the fallen state of our white suburban family that had no direct interaction with slavery? Are we, then, exempt from the effects? No. Because sin happens in community. The human community. JPII says, “each individual’s sin in some way affects others…” Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins, in Walking with God, expand on this reality. “[There is] no sin that exclusively concerns the person committing it.” The sin of slavery is not a one off. Something before slavery happened in the hearts of humanity for this destruction and death to come upon a whole people group. Something has been happening in the hearts of humanity for it to be seen as okay, as a God-given right even, to enslave a person to one’s self for a sense of superiority, personal economic gain and comfortability. Thus, how did the comfortability of our family rest on this passed-down perversion of the human creature and our relations with one other? How does comfortability blind us to how we got here and turn our heads from our fallenness? So often we don’t even consider the question because it might mean our comfortability was illy won. Cheated for us. Outside of our control but still subject to impact. This is the danger. The danger of being a “decent” person. The danger of “self-help.” The danger of comfortability. What are we blinded to? What are we not seeing? If something as biological as skin color can become perverted by the human heart, what other disorder and disharmony is disguised as just the “way things are”? Can I become so perverted in my thinking to consider the injustices my comfort may be built upon are worth it for the cushy life? That I can enjoy the comforts without being stained by the injustices? I know better.
I think, then, at least for me, I find a parallel between my prideful stubbornness or “it’s not my first day” thinking and my fallen nature as a human being. When things are cushy, when I have an abundance of almonds to roast if a couple batches get burnt, it is easy to justify my fallenness. Not a big deal if I forget them in the oven, though I know better. I wasn’t around when white people owned black people, so I do not share in the sin of slavery. Yet, I know better. I am part of the human race and am not exempt from the impact of the perversion of treating people as property. It is easy to not see my stubbornness and pride when I don’t have to look at them. Plenty of other things much more pleasing to the eye draw my gaze. I see being a professional soccer player. I see living in another country and experiencing the richness of another culture. I see being independent and for the most part, being able to do what I want when I want to. I have money in my bank account and choice of food in my stomach. Eating yummy almond butter. I’m good. I am not so much looking at the blessings and sacrifices, thinking of all the things I didn’t do, things outside of my control that fell into place. I do not always perceive my fallenness unless I recognize the brokenness it has fostered before me. In distress, of course, the first question I will ask is how I got here. Then, if I can guess at the answer, I will try to be mindful not to do this again. Set a reminder. How often do I fall to the spirit of pride where I see something not work out well, or am told something will not work out well but think it won’t happen this way for me? It’s not my first day. I know better than this other person, than myself, so I can keep it from happening. For pride tricks me into thinking I will be the exception. I forget my creatureliness and humanity. I forget the wasted almonds. I justify my fallenness because I consider I only answer to myself. But I know better. The sin of slavery is not a one off. Nor burnt almonds.
In those days, there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes. [Judges 21:25]
In those days, there was no King in my heart; I did what was right in my own eyes. I only answered to myself. I was comfortable. I drifted. Which seems ideal. But one day I am answering to Confidence and another day Insecurity. One day Peace and another day Anxiety. One hour Gratitude and another hour Greed. One moment Patience and another Irritability. Sometimes Belonging and sometimes Alone.
I cannot keep up. I am tossed as a leaf on the wind. Pulled this way and that as a dog on a leash. Answering to myself, I thought I was the one determining my steps. Pleasing everybody, I thought I was good. How did I end up being walked? More than this, I often do not know who I am answering to. I cannot tell what I am feeling and why. I am confused, and my heart is blurred. How do I answer to myself if I can’t even tell who I am?
In those days there was no King in my heart; I did what was right in my own eyes. I was good. In those days there was no King in the hearts of men; every man did what was right in his own eyes.
I do not know an unconditional love. Answering to myself, I’ll I know is conditional love. I can only love you conditionally according to how I feel. What else am I supposed to do? Can you blame me for loving out of Patience one moment and not loving out of Irritability another?
Now appoint a king for us like all the nations. But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. [1 Sam 8:5-7]
How many times did I ask God for a dad like all the other dads? How many times did I plead with Him to heal your disease so you could be as you once were? Not so much so you could be healthy but so I could have a normal dad. The dad who played catch in the yard with Adam and drove me to soccer practice. The dad who laid in my bed and read Harry Potter with me before I fell asleep. I loved you so conditionally, dad. When it suited my desires, I was grateful to have you and willingly helped in whatever way you asked of me. When it was contrary to my desires, I resented you for asking me for anything. I rejected you. In little ways. As my dad. But who was I really rejecting? I was rejecting God, the Father I was supposed to believe was good and perfect and faithful. The One who unconditionally loves. I didn’t have to question Him before. When you were healthy and the biggest trouble in my life was getting along with Adam. I was the perfect child, and we were the all-American family. All was cushy. And then it crumbled.
It started crumbling long before this day six years ago. March third two thousand fifteen. Nothing was left. All the pieces of my life I desperately tried to keep together as they crumbled turned to dust in my hands. How could things have been different if I hadn’t wasted so much time wishing for another dad? How many more pieces of you would I still have instead of wounds of rejection and resentment? How could an unconditionally loving God let this happen? What is so much better about unconditional love if it left me empty and hurting just as my conditional love did?
Six years later, I still ask these questions sometimes. I hear other girls talking to their dads after our games. I see dads playing with their young kids in the park. I see the pictures I have of you and I on the wall in my room. You holding me the day I was born. Not looking at the camera but me in your arms, as if I might disappear if you looked away. Us cuddled in the chair in the living room. Our family at the Zion Lodge in Utah. All with the same ever so gentle smile on your face.
Do I have an answer today? The Israelite people asking Samuel for a king “like the other nations” got one. More than one actually. Some better than others but One better than they could have imagined. One who stood to serve. The Israelite people rejected God as King of their hearts. They had forgotten His faithfulness and the blessings He bestowed upon them. Saw only their perils and despair. Only their burnt almonds. Yet, He doesn’t leave them. He goes to them and gives them His heart. He takes their cup of rejection and fills it with His unconditional love.
I still burn almonds. I still love conditionally. I still forget my fallenness and need. And I still wish you were here, dad. Yet, I am not empty. I didn’t get a healed and healthy you, when I asked before. But I do now. I have more pieces of you now than I did before. In the mystery of unconditional love, abundant life has come from death, and the less I reject my Father, the more of it I experience. And the more unconditional love I let into my heart, the more I have of you.
“Sit on the throne of my heart, O my King. Return to Your servant. If it would have been good for me to be my own ruler, You would have made me that way. But it is not, so You did not. With all of Your beloved people in mind, You created in us a desire to serve You above all. Not because You need it but because we need You. In Your loving wisdom, knowing if we only desire to serve ourselves, we will fade away into nothingness. In Your infinite wisdom, knowing if we only desire to serve each other, we will wither in vanity. In Your lovingkindness and mercy, You touched our hearts with Your life that we might long for only You. And live.
Come reign on Your throne, O King, and long live in my heart. So I may do what is right in Your eyes and be transformed by what is unconditional Love. So I may answer to my Father always and not my ever-changing moods. So I may not be walked but held. So I might extend Your unconditional love You have given me to another. So he might know there is another way. So she might know there is another way. To be a cherished son and a daughter, always protected and always held. A beloved.”
I love you dad,
Your missy babes