Beyond Eden.

9.14.2021

Dear dad,

Over the summer, I participated in a book club with the Eden Invitation and… And now I am stuck because what do I say? The best way to introduce you to Eden Invitation is not to quote from their website “About Page,” though you should check it out (I will provide the link a bit later). The truly best way to introduce Eden Invitation to you would be to shake hands with and look into the eyes of each of the individuals who belong to the community. And probably get a hug in return from most. I cannot and will not disclose any personal information about the people in my book club, but every Sunday night we met, at midnight Denmark time, I felt like I received seven big virtual hugs. I don’t think I have laughed so much in the middle of the night ever before or have had my heart swell with so much love and joy. We belonged to each other, yet there remained space for each of our unique stories. Eden Invitation, for me, is about belonging because the Catholic faith is about belonging. Belonging to God, our Loving Father and Creator (I do have to quote something from the “About Page” because it is just too good and fitting right here).

“Who I am, who you are, who we are together is simple. We are willed, loved, unrepeatable men and women created in the image and likeness of God. We are adopted daughters and sons of the Father. We are redeemed through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. By the sacramental life, we are animated by the wild abundance of the Holy Spirit.”

[https://www.edeninvitation.com/about-us]

We all belong to the “furnace of infinite love which is the Most Holy Trinity” [Dom Jean-Baptist Chautard].

I think it is easy to be confused. It is easy to look at the Catholic Church and see only rules. Or to see space for only “holy” people. Only those maybe socially awkward people who like silence more than conversation (definitely not me). Just weird. Only those rule followers who see spontaneity and run in the other direction. So boring. Only those crazy devout daily Mass goers who only speak in Bible verses when you talk to them (a bit impressive you must admit). I could never be like them. There is no place for me in the Church, whether I want to or could believe. I’m not cut out for it. For that life. It isn’t so appealing really. It’s just not me.

This is why I think it is easy to be confused. So many of us follow this path of thought and resign ourselves to the conclusion there is something within or about ourselves disallowing us from belonging in the Church or repelling us from it. It is a tragic lie, truly. BUT thankfully, Eden Invitation (and other ministries, I’m sure) are here to bust it open. The truth is it is actually not possible for you not to belong because God created you. If you have felt rejected or condemned by the Church, it is the sin of human beings, not rejection from God. God wants our hearts, which means all that we are. Though we all have picked up wounds and stains from this life, He pursues and desires us still.

The one (God) who fashioned the hearts of them all knows all their works. A king is not saved by a mighty army, nor a warrior delivered by great strength… But the LORD’s eyes are upon the reverent, upon those who hope for his gracious help, delivering them from death, keeping them alive in times of famine. Our soul waits for the LORD, who is our help and shield. For in God our hearts rejoice; in your holy name we trust. May your kindness, LORD, be upon us; we have put our hope in you. [Psalm 33: 15-16, 18-22]

“She (Dorothy Day) was drawn by the notion of being pursued by God. When she thought about her own life, she came to that—perhaps—God was pursuing Dorothy long before she ever knew it. God did it in the ways that God knew would speak to her: through poetry, through beauty, and through friendship. This is where she found real love—real love and community.”

[“The Absolutely Amazing Catholic Conversion Story of Dorothy Day,” Anne Stricherz. The Mystical Humanity of Christ Publishing]

Dorothy Day is a Catholic saint who lived a life very far from God at times. He pursued her still and through a pregnancy came “an appreciation of creation and a desire to be in relationship with God. These feelings arose in the midst of a life that had been replete with sadness, sinfulness, and misdirection. Torrid love affairs, hard drinking, and a decision to end a prior pregnancy through an abortion characterized her days. Slowly but surely she ‘came to see herself as one person in a long line of forgiven sinners. Her pregnancy helped her feel washed clean by God and able to start life anew. And in the soil of her gratitude grew the seed of faith.’”

Learning about the saints is so great because in so many of their lives, there are moments you can look and think no way this person could end up being a saint. And I would argue many thought themselves that they had no home in God, let alone a place in the Church. Eden Invitation, then, is a community for future saints because all of us have questioned whether we belong, whether there is something wrong with us, whether God could truly love us if we struggle with same sex attraction or gender discordance. The Church teaches the complementary design of a man and woman because God created us male and female. Experiencing same sex attraction and gender discordance doesn’t mean God made a mistake or made us differently than everyone else.

“The human soul is created to animate and be embodied by one particular, specifically male or female, body. A person’s sex is an immutable biological reality, determined at conception. The sexed body reveals God’s design not only for each individual person, but also for all human beings, by ‘establishing us in a relationship with other living beings.’

…the differences between man and woman are ordered towards their complementary union in marriage. Indeed, the differences between man and woman, male and female, are unintelligible apart from such a union.” [Most Rev. Michael F. Burbidge, “A Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology”]

“Man and woman were made ‘for each other’- not that God left them half-made and incomplete: he created them to be a communion of persons, in which each can be ‘helpmate’ to the other, for they are equal as persons (‘bone of my bones’) and complementary as masculine and feminine. In marriage, God united them in such a way that, by forming ‘one flesh,’ they can transmit human life: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.’ By transmitting human life to their descendants, man and woman as spouses and parents co-operate in a unique way in the Creator’s work.” [CCC 372]

“Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.” [CCC 2333]

I’ve struggled reconciling the truth of our design as male and female with my own feelings and attractions. Feeling much more masculine at times and not relating to girls around me. For a while, I was able to ignore it, but as I got older, I felt the expressions of femininity I saw were absent within me. Even my fellow “win or go home” female competitors seemed to be both athletes and women. Maybe something was just wrong with me.

“From a theological perspective, the experience of this interior conflict is not sinful in itself but must be understood as a disorder reflecting the broader disharmony caused by original sin. It is a particularly painful experience of the wounds we all suffer as a result of original sin. Every individual experiencing this condition should be treated with respect, justice, and charity…” [Most Rev. Burbidge]

It isn’t that I was made wrong. Rather the created complementarity of sexes was disrupted by sin. Relationship is disrupted by sin. How I relate to God, others, and myself is inherently wounded, and this struggle manifests itself differently in each of us. My attraction to other females isn’t biological. It is relational and due to relational disharmony. The disharmony is our relationship, dad, fostered a false and tainted view of masculinity. You were the number one role model of manhood in my life. Just as mom was the number one role model of womanhood. Not the only, of course, but as parents, the most foundational and impactful. Without really knowing it explicitly, I formed the perspective that being with a man meant being tied down, unwillingly. What I couldn’t see is mom’s willingness to serve you and take care of you in your sickness out of love. A voluntary choice and a desired one. I couldn’t see how it was mutual. It wasn’t just her giving and you taking. You burdening and exhausting her. Your love, though it may have looked differently when you were sick, filled her up. I see it now. I see it in her anguish without you. How she feels empty and alone without you.

Maybe consequently or additionally, I formed an elevated view of women. Not all women but specifically those independent and well-equipped women. Well-equipped in the sense of multi-talented. Fed with confusion, envy, and selfish desire rather than true love and admiration, my attractions toward independent and talented women led me to judge others based on what they could do and what I could gain from them. Gifts and talents, or the lack of, measured value in my eyes. Not surprisingly, then, this has become the measure of value for myself. I used other relationships in my life to bolster my own personal stock, so I could marry me. I could be good enough on my own. Not tied down by a man and fat on the high-quality status of relationships with other females. Of course, this wasn’t going to last. I couldn’t fill my emptiness and loneliness with super-charged independence or self-preserving gathering because I was made for a real and genuine relationship full of eternal life and love. One with my Father and from which all other good relationships would flower.

Disharmony births disharmony. But God isn’t surprised. He isn’t shocked or appalled. God knows our perfect and complete identity before our birth. You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. [Psalm 139:13-15] Our task is to let our identity as His child unfold, as He designed it specifically and uniquely for each of us. As a real loving Father, He helps us become a son or daughter, which is the truest, the most alive and the most loving version of ourselves.

“For those struggling (with gender dysphoria)”

“Every one of us has a struggle that is unique. But none of us should feel alone or abandoned in his or her struggles. Like many others, you may feel alienated from your body, as though you were supposed to have a different one. Please know that, although you may struggle with your body or self-image, God’s unrelenting love for you means that He loves you in the totality of your body as well. Our basic obligation to respect and care for the body comes from the fact that your body is part of the person-you-whom God loves.” [Most Rev. Burbidge]

Eden Invitation is the living, breathing truth every one of us has a struggle that is unique. Being in book club reminded me how precious all people are. How vulnerability opens us up to the connections and relationships we were made for. Hiding makes us feel alienated and alone. This is what the Enemy wants. God desires communion and relationship. Friendship. Spiritual friendship. The type of friendship embodying the love of God.

“Nothing is more sacred, more useful, more difficult to find, more pleasant, and more profitable than true friendship. Without authentic spiritual friendship, it is next to impossible to be happy in this life. A person without friends is more like a beast than a human being. Spiritual friendship, he (St. Aelred) maintains, cultivates virtue, overcomes vice, and brings balance in both good times and bad. It is a medicine for life that heals and elevates. As such, it leads one to the love and knowledge of God (nos. 9–14).”

[Aelred of Rievaulx; Billy, Dennis. Spiritual Friendship]

It is no wonder, then, the book we read together was called Spiritual Friendship by St. Aelred. Dorothy Day witnessed real love through friendship, and it changed her. In a true spiritual friendship, the love of God brings us out of ourselves. Unfolding the wholeness of our identity. And it’s true. I can confidently say after each of the six short sessions of book club, I saw my book mates and myself differently. More fully. We witnessed the joys and sorrows each of us have experienced in our lives. The many heartaches and pains along with the growth and abundant life. Though our stories are all unique, they are shared in all humility and frailty. Readily accepting the need to accompany each other through it all.

“How advantageous it is then to grieve for one another, to toil for one another, to bear one another’s burdens, while each considers it sweet to forget himself for the sake of the other, to prefer the will of the other to his own, to minister to the other’s needs rather than one’s own, to oppose and expose one’s self to misfortunes!”

[Spiritual Friendship]

In the last episode of Season 2 of “The Chosen,” called “Beyond Mountains,” Jesus is preparing His Sermon on the Mount. Matthew is recording it for Him, and they agree it needs some sort of introduction. Jesus asks Matthew what he thinks about it and tells him to be honest, of course. Matthew admits there are a lot of hard teachings (see Matthew 5-7 for the whole sermon). Jesus agrees and explains passionately to Matthew that He isn’t looking for passive followers. He is there to bring about a revolution of love. A revolution to bring His people back to God the Father. This means waking people up from comfortable and passive lives. He and Matthew decide starting with “You are the salt of the earth” is good, but there is something more to be said first. Jesus tells Matthew He needs some time to think about it. In the early morning hours of the day Jesus is to give the Sermon, He wakes Matthew and tells Him He knows how to begin. A map.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Nathaniel)

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Andrew and Simon)

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land. (Little James and Thaddeus)

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (James and John, Sons of Thunder)

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Mama Mary and Mary Magdalene)

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God. (Thomas and Ramah)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. (Phillip and Simon the Zealot)

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (John the Baptist)

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. (Matthew)

In the scene, each time Jesus says a “blessed,” a memory is shown of one or two of His disciples. Him and Matthew have been spending most of their time away from the others on a ridge overlooking the camp while preparing the sermon. Jesus needs space and time away to properly prepare the sermon, but when he looks down at the camp from the ridge, His eyes are longing for His friends, suggesting how beloved these people are to Jesus and how each of them resides in His heart in a special way. His closest followers show the way to Him.

When Jesus says the last “blessed,” He is looking directly at Matthew. This one is for him because Matthew was once a Jewish tax collector before Jesus called him to be a disciple and suffered much abuse for it. The Jews considered tax collectors traitors because tax collectors worked for the Romans, the Jewish oppressors. Matthew is intently writing on his tablet, but almost as if he senses the gaze of Jesus, he looks up. Their eyes meet, and Matthew’s face lights up. He can’t help but smile. He knows how good this is.

“Yes, but how is it a map?” [Matthew]

“If someone wants to find Me, those are the groups they should look for.” [Jesus]

Look into the eyes of Jesus and see your own life. I promise you it is there. Yes, sometimes we are confused and ashamed and rebellious and angry. Sometimes we stray and chase after things that will only leave us empty and lonely. Sometimes, because of the nature of this life, we are left empty and lonely through suffering and loss. But none of it escapes Jesus. Just today celebrating Mass online, during the liturgy of the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, I was overwhelmed with memories. Memories from after my dad’s death; some I have thought of often. But this time I saw Him. God the Father was there. He was there in the compassionate and concerned face of my TCU coach running to hug me in the parking lot of my sophomore dorm after I had just received the call from mom my dad had died. He was there in my uncle laying on our pullout coach with our dog Garth when he stayed at our house for the funeral. He was there during a spring game where I got the assist to the game-winning goal, and my assistant coach calls out my name from the sidelines and points to the sky. He was there is the three men I met at Blessed Adoration every night when I moved back home to Chicago to pursue professional soccer. He is here in Denmark in our mental coach who is wheelchair bound with no legs who meets with me and sends me morning game day texts to remind me who I am. He is here in Father Reggie, a priest who welcomed me to Mass the first time I went to His church and offered to meet with me and talk whenever I would like to after I had been crying in Mass. He is here in Mr. Kim who looks after all of us Americans on the team and told me I am his favorite player after I scored a goal, reminding me of the dream Adam told me dad had the night he died, that he had scored a goal.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. [Numbers 6:24-26]

Jesus brings us to our Father. It is the beautiful mystery of the Holy Trinity. I beg you to look into His eyes, and if you don’t see anything at first, look again. And again. And again. Ask Him to help you see. Ask Him to bring people into your life that will help you see your life in His eyes. Ask Him for spiritual friendships. Ask Him for people like His disciples who are faithful, loving, and true. Relationships that lead to your own true self. To where you truly belong.

Blessed is she, the passionate in spirit, for her loyalty is lifelong. (Taylor)

Blessed are they, the neighborhood band, for the refuge of their homes and hearts. (Jenn, Jill, and Randi)

Blessed is she, the lover of the earth and adventure, for she cares for the smallest of seeds. (Caitlin)

Blessed is she, the sister in song, for her commitment endures all time and distance. (Dena)

Blessed is she, the spirited and fiery soul, for her light will not be darkened. (Jackie)

Blessed is she, the faithful and honest, for she calls the far off and mothers the poor. (Brit)

Blessed is she, the transfigured butterfly, for she radiates and bears wings of laughter and love. (Courtney)

Blessed is he, the gentle encourager, for he fathers the fatherless and embraces the depths in his gun safe. (Coleman)

Blessed is she, the truest companion, for her love triumphs all sorrows and woes. (Michelle)

Blessed is she, the shepherd of the young, for she gathers all with her smile and shares the riches of her heart. (Makena)

Blessed is she, the seeker of joy and challenge, for she embraces adversity and rejoices! (Yenney)

Blessed is he, a fountain of life in the Spirit, for his desire is pure and his love brave. (Andrew)

Blessed is she, the humble pursuer of souls, for she gives generously and serves the helpless and hopeless with her whole self. (Heather)

Blessed are you when you suffer and cry out and fall to your knees at His feet. Rejoice and be glad, for He will pick you up and hold you in His arms and kiss you on your forehead with the kisses of His mouth. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. My love I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. [John 14:27]

If someone wants to find me, these are the ones they should look for.

“Therefore, you will not deny that he is most fortunate who rests in the inmost hearts of those among whom he lives, loving all and being loved by all, whom neither suspicion severs nor fear cuts off from this sweetest tranquility.”

[Spiritual Friendship]

I love you dad,

Lauren

[PS- my intent is not to create a “Hall of Fame” of friends. All of my relationships are special in a genuine way!]

larry_saj6Author

"Surely man at his best is a mere breath." -King David I am a mere breath God has graciously gifted to be His daughter first, a daughter and sister, a friend, an athlete, a writer, a coach. I hope to be a full-time professional soccer player, write a book or two, be a lifelong learner, work for a sports and faith ministry, coach college soccer, have a family and maybe even pick up the guitar. My dad died when I was a sophomore in college. Writing became especially important to me after his death, helping me grieve and heal. I find writing letters to him has helped me process deep emotions and pain I didn't really know what to do with. My hope is the letters will share experiences that speak to and shine a light into the lives and stories of others in some way.

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