[who]man.

6.24.2022

Dear dad,

Today is an emotional day for the country. There is already so much division, anger, uncertainty, pride, you name it. I want to acknowledge it all but especially fear. I know a lot of people are afraid. It is so fair. I am a 27-year-old female living in a time when the access to abortion has been normal. Contraception is normal. Birth control is prescribed for more than just birth control. Women’s bodies have been used and abused in many ways throughout history, so it is not a far cry to understand why we would want to take hold of them with a tight grip. We are tired. Tired of laying down, literally. We want our lives to be our own because for seemingly so long our bodies have not been. We have been wrongly subjected to the wrath of a hedonistic and commercialized culture, where happiness is determined to be achieved by incessant gratification of pleasures, especially sexual. The beautiful gift of childbearing, of giving new life, and even the beautiful gift and pleasure of sex, has been hijacked. Who is responsible?

When I was young, I didn’t think I would get married. I was far too independent. Didn’t think I needed anyone really. I was career driven even in high school. Success in school and soccer was my ticket, and I was more than happy to be on this ride for as long as it would take me. It was true then as it is now that these were also loves. I love learning, and I love soccer. Only by God’s grace was I gifted the ability to do both at a high level, and I took the opportunities to max out, especially with soccer. What it took me a long time to understand was exactly how gifts work. Sounds silly because a gift seems pretty simple, and it is. An authentic gift is born from a desire to bring enrichment and joy to another’s life. I think the part I dismissed or didn’t consider was just how much a gift could be multiplied. If I am given a gift, clearly it is for me. It is something for me to hold onto and use for myself. And this is true, but it isn’t the full truth. If my dad gifted me a soccer ball and I went out to the field and just played with it myself, I probably would have had a great time still. But I wouldn’t have been a 4-year starter at a NCAA Division I university or a player at a professional club in Europe in the Champions League. The gift of the ball presented the opportunity, and it was my choice to participate in what it could be if shared or to hold onto it myself.

Jesus alerts us to this possibility in His life. Yeah, yeah, but He is Jesus. He’s God. How can His miracles teach me? Or what do they have to do with me? Whether you believe in Jesus and believe He is God or not, it is hard to deny instances where people go beyond themselves. Reach heroic heights of servitude and selflessness leaving the rest of us partly in awe and partly explaining away why that couldn’t be us. Precisely because Jesus is Jesus, fully human and fully God, this can be true for each of us, and He shows us how.

“Those loaves were five and seven in number, before they started being given to the hungry crowds; but when that began to happen, they filled hampers and baskets after satisfying so many thousands of people. So just as that bread increased in quantity when it was broken, in the same way all the things the Lord has already granted me for setting about this work will be multiplied under his inspiration, when I start passing them on to others.”

[On Christian Doctrine]

In this story, the apostles, the closest followers of Jesus, wanted to send the people who had gathered to see Him home. It had been a long day and rightly so, they were tired. The apostles asked Jesus if He would dismiss the crowd, so the people could return home to eat. He says to feed them. If I were one of the apostles, I think I would have tried to laugh politely as possible. Like ok I get You are Jesus but I’m me. How am I supposed to feed thousands of people? I can’t. Andrew (one of the apostles), sweet and obedient Andrew, presents the few loaves of bread and fish the apostles do have. I would have been skeptical for sure. And Jesus definitely knew this. Knows this. But He shows us who we can be and what we can do when we participate in God’s design. Who He created us to be. Jesus gives thanks and breaks the few loaves of bread. He gives the gift, and it is multiplied. He knew His apostles were tired. Gosh I am sure He was tired. And that’s okay. God sees us. Chooses to be with us when we are tired and hangry. Not only this but desires to bless us abundantly even in these moments, if we let Him.

After one of my last practices as a professional soccer player, I was emotionally and physically spent. I was tired. The practice hadn’t been my best, and the emotions I held together for the weeks leading up to this point would not be contained any longer. I tried to be my calm, positive self, but it wasn’t happening. I walked off the field with one of our physios, not really wanting to talk but also not wanting to be seen walking off by myself. He gave me a good cushion and all I needed in one question. “It must feel strange?”

Yes.

I patted him on the shoulder as my eyes filled with tears. I think he understood as I started walking down the path to the grass training fields where it was just me and the guy mowing the grass. My tears turned into weeping and uneven breathing. Gasping like I was choking on all the feelings I had been trying to keep down. I walked slowly, hoping I could return to the stadium in a somewhat together state. As I got closer, I couldn’t get myself to go into the locker room. I was very much unsteady. The club was pretty empty since it was technically summer holiday, so I took refuge in the stands. Looking out onto the field I played on for two incredible years, so many memories came back to life. I heard laughter and banter, saw blood, tasted sweat, and felt the immense gratitude that comes when you know the time is right for the end. One of our team leaders, Camille, walked up and saw I was crying. She held me, talked to me, and left me when the moment was right, knowing I still needed some time alone. She heard my silent cry. Wiped my tears.

I stayed a little longer. Watching the two workers rip up the turf field in order to make it new. Break it, so it could be given to thousands of future players who would share a lot of the same experiences as I did and hopefully so many more. This filled me with a calming peace. My joys would be multiplied.

When I returned to the locker room, most of the team had already showered and gone upstairs to eat. I was grateful for the small group, not sure I could handle facing everybody at once. I loved these girls, and I was leaving them. One of the younger players came up to me and gave me a hug. She saw me. Let it be okay I didn’t have much to give. An additional bit of peace. I got into the shower and let the hot water trace the paths of my tears. I watched it run down my bruised and scarred legs and almost began to weep again. I gave my body to this game as I gave my heart for so much of my life. All in. Full go. No tackle too hard or deficit too great. And all the appreciation I could muster during the countless fitness tests and lung-busting runs up and down the field. The thing is I can say, as humbly as possible, that I love my legs. Scars, bruises, and all. They may have been painful at moments, but they will be beautiful reminders for much longer. Beautiful reminders that a gift shared brings the highest level of fulfillment, the fullest sense of satisfaction. Sharing my ability to play soccer allowed me to be the most me for so many seasons of my life. The best version of myself. Reminded me who I was created to be and pulled me beyond myself. The moments I played out of joy and gratitude and loved the people I was doing it with, I was the most free. I walked away from Denmark with more scars on my legs and greater love in my heart.

With emotions still raw and the end very fresh, I walked into St. Mary’s for the first time after returning home and noticed something about the crucifix above the altar I hadn’t before.

Jesus had scraped knees, too.

God didn’t create us as His minions. You may think so and maybe those of us who believe in Him act like it sometimes. We make people projects instead of people. That’s on us and is a part of our plight as humans. I’ve been there. But it isn’t true. About being minions. We were created to live with Him. To participate in His life. Jesus shows us this. Jesus is His Son and gives us the opportunity to be sons and daughters as well. This is how we can all go beyond ourselves. Not merely to do anything we want to do. That’s not love. We were created for so much more. Please hear me. Freedom is participation is the life God created for us because He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He loves us. We can lose our grip on our lives and entrust ourselves to Him because He also created us for love, which means we get to choose ourselves! This is the beautiful and sacred heart of the God who desperately wants to gather us all to Himself. We get to choose whether we want to participate in His life. I get to choose whether the ball stays at just my foot alone in the field or is multiplied and passed to people I had no idea existed but now will love for the rest of my life. This is the life promised to us when we trust God is a loving Father, not an impersonal tyrant who demands our worship out of fear only to crush our dreams.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

[Frank Herbert, Dune]

I think I have been most afraid right after my dad died. I was so afraid of living and losing again. I feared for the lives of my brother and mom. Thought if anything happened to them, I would break for good. I already was questioning the point of continuing to live and if I lost one of them, I was sure there would be none. I couldn’t see beyond the loss of my father. The grief was too thick. The fear too thick. Praise to God alone something more remained. The something I would add to Frank Herbert’s quote is after the fear has gone, not only I remain but love. I remain because of love.

Brothers and sisters:
…hope does not put us to shame.
The love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For Christ, while we were still helpless,
died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person
one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. [Romans 5:5-8]

I don’t know what it’s like to put my life on the line for another. It must be terrifying. I am sure some people find the courage a bit easier than others but still. There has to be an immense temptation to run away. The fear of losing one’s life or protecting one’s life in danger is so natural. Jesus struggled there too. He cried out to God in the agony of facing a cruel and unjust death for both people who loved Him and those who rejected Him [Luke 22:41-44]. To be in a situation where the possibility of new life feels like a danger to you. A woman facing an unwanted pregnancy. An unjust and cruel pregnancy by abuse. Now it is just a pregnancy, not a life, because fear, shame, and uncertainty say so. Now it is okay to treat trauma with trauma because it is my body, not a baby. These are the lies of fear. When did the genius of womanhood become trading death for death? We are the bearers of life. Abuse wounds a soul, why wound another? The healing balm of loss is renewed life. I don’t know what it’s like to be abused, to physically feel stripped of your dignity, but I do know if you’re there, it is normal to be afraid. It is normal to feel alone. But you’re not. Jesus was stripped, too. He has scraped knees, too.

“In short, Christ’s free choice of the supreme sacrifice (his free will was a subject of lengthy debate before and during the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon) is the act of love that united the death and resurrection of the Lord into a single mystery of salvation.”

[On Christian Doctrine]

What is the relationship between free choice and love? Scraped knees. It is easy and convenient to think freedom to choose alone leads to ultimate happiness. Doing what we want when we want is the key. This is false. We will spend ourselves on one pleasure after the next only to find out it doesn’t satisfy ever. The deepest love allows the fullest expression of free choice. The choice to give oneself for the good of others is the gift eternally multiplied. This is the genius of motherhood and fatherhood. Giving your life to one who cannot repay you. To a little one who depends completely on your care and cannot yet tell you thank you. To a teenager who may despise you until one day maybe he or she realizes all you have done and shares a genuine thank you. This is the genius that motivates all others. Michael Jordan was a basketball genius. Bishop Robert Barron explains if you were to give MJ a ball and a court but none of the actual rules of basketball, he would have fun on the court but the fullest expression of his gift to play would never be known. If I just had the ball on the field and didn’t know about scoring a goal, the love I have for soccer could not be fully expressed because I wouldn’t have the context to express it. The rules of the game allow me the freedom to play it well. Jesus chose to express His love for us by suffering the crucifixion. The court was there. The rules were set. His free choice to totally give himself reveals love is not contained by fear or even death. There is multiplication in giving. In giving ourselves. The sacrifice will bring forth the love we all long for.

“For in giving themselves to others each day women fulfill their deepest vocation. Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them.”

[JP II]

What will we choose now? Division? Blame? Anger? Rejection of who we are as women? Who is responsible for the tight grip we have on our lives? For our need for control? For our reduction of life to merely the right to healthcare? Who is responsible for such a dim view? We are. Men and women collectively. Not the politicians. Not the media. Not those crazy religious folk. Let us make room for grace. Invest more in hope. We don’t have to be the experts of our lives. We didn’t create ourselves. Without the Creator, the creature becomes nothing. Ceases to exist. Be a child. Be a who.

Will we permit fear, let it pass, and still choose love? It’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to be tired and weary. Love remains, and it only asks us to be willing to give. Our few loaves and few fish. Even and especially on this day, the 24th of June, two thousand twenty-two, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade, we can choose to be who we were created to be. We are not bound by fear but love. We can share in the sacred heart of Jesus that meets us humbly with scraped knees to love us and invite us into the life of the Father. The life of a child of God. He invites us into the mystery of the love of His sacred heart, choosing death so that you and your baby may not only live but live abundantly. He invites us to choose to be who we were created to be. To love and be loved. To be [who]man.

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
As a shepherd tends his flock
when he finds himself among his scattered sheep,
so will I tend my sheep.
I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered
when it was cloudy and dark…

I myself will pasture my sheep;
I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD.
The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal… [Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-16]

Maybe you can’t say yes to this all right now. Maybe the fear is too thick. The uncertainty too great. Emotions too high. Maybe you cannot say yes to God’s invitation to be His child. You can’t see how His life and His freedom is better. You can’t trust a Father to take care of you. Can’t trust He knows what is best for you more than you do. Won’t give up control.

“Even if your answer is no, you will still be the only thing I have ever needed you to be, my son.”

[Frank Herbert, Dune]

Even if your answer is no, sweet daughter, you are still everything I have ever needed you to be.

His call is always for you. His desire is always for you. Just you. His Son will always be His Son and you can be His daughter.

I love you dad,

Lauren

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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