Soccer was our thing. I knew you were proud of me as a soccer player. But I’m not playing soccer anymore. As my thing that is. I will always be a soccer player. It is forever a part of me. It just isn’t the main part right now. So who am I then? A coach? A dog mom? Would you be proud of me for getting a puppy? You weren’t crazy about getting a dog in the very beginning, but Garth definitely grew on you. You guys were buds, and Garth was never the same after you died. What would you think of Sam? What would you think of me driving all the way out to Denver to pick up a puppy to bring home? Not to mention how much I spent on him and the trip. I want to know what you would say, and I don’t. I am sure you would come around to the same sentiment as mom. Or maybe you would see it right away. Know how much Sam is teaching me about myself. Know the parts already that he is pulling out of me. The good and the ugly. I feel like I am getting to know myself for the first time. I came home to be just Lauren. But who is she?
When I went to your grave, I asked if you recognized me. Mostly because sometimes right now I don’t. I asked you what I should do, who I should be. If you were proud of me still? Proud of what kind of woman I am and could be. Whether I have it in me to be a wife, a mom. If when I was young, you saw the woman I would be. But who is she? Walking away from your grave, seemingly without an answer to these questions, the country song “Lady” by Brett Young popped into my head…
“I remember when I first heard your heartbeat
It had only been eight weeks
Standing there, starin’ at that screen
Was the first time you ever scared me
God knows I don’t know
Exactly what I’m doin’, but
Good news, we got her to get through it
I hope you look just like your momma
And love her like I do
You’ll see close to perfect patience
If you watch her every move
You can always run to daddy
You’ll always be my baby, but
Look at her, baby girl
And you’ll learn how to be a lady”
It’s funny how sometimes we hear a lot but only listen a little. Classic example is how kids don’t listen to their parents but will listen to maybe a teacher or coach or someone they look up to who is saying the exact same thing as the parents but in a different way. Though, I’d imagine parents don’t find this very funny. I am a culprit foremost when it comes to the Word of God. I’m quicker to listen to country music lyrics for life direction than the abundant treasure of stories in the words of Scripture the Creator of the world and my Father has given as guides. Stories about everything having to do with life and death. Good choices, bad choices. Literally every scenario I could find myself in, help lies in the Word of God. The history of salvation. God made man and took on our humanity, so we would believe He loves us and desires to be close to us.
I read a quote one time about how the Devil gains a foothold when we stray from the Word of God. I cannot remember or find the exact quote, but this was the message. The father of lies plants weeds. And y’all know how weeds work. They sprout up fast and furious in the darkness. One day you can have your garden seemingly clear of them and the next, it is overrun. Sometimes challenging circumstances alert us to the state of the garden of our hearts. Sometimes God permits suffering and evil to let us see ourselves.
“By accepting the sufferings ‘offered’ by life and allowed by God for our progress and purification, we spare ourselves much harder ones. We need to develop this kind of realism and, once and for all, stop dreaming of a life without suffering or conflict. That is the life of heaven, not earth. We must take up our cross and follow Christ courageously every day; the bitterness of that cross will sooner or later be transformed into sweetness.” [Fr. Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom]
“I believe that if those souls that tend towards sanctity were instructed as to the conduct they ought to follow, they would be spared a good deal of trouble. I speak as much of people in the world as of others. If they could realize the merit concealed in the actions of each moment of the day: I mean in each of the daily duties of their state in life… they would indeed be happy. If, besides, they understood that to attain the utmost height of perfection, the safest and surest way is to accept the crosses sent them by Providence at every moment, that the true philosopher’s stone is submission to the will of God which changes into divine gold all their occupations, troubles, and sufferings, what consolation would be theirs! What courage would they not derive from the thought that to acquire the friendship of God, and to arrive at eternal glory, they had but to do what they were doing, but to suffer what they were suffering, and that what they wasted and counted as nothing would suffice to enable them to arrive at eminent sanctity: far more so than extraordinary states and wonderful works.” [Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence]
How am I supposed to accept this state of life? To like it? Accept this me? Like this me? Going from extraordinary and wonderful to ordinary and blah? How am I supposed to like being frustrated all the time? Frustrated that one moment Sam is doing so well listening and then the next its like he is possessed. Maybe I am seeing myself. Seeing how inconsistent my own behavior is. Faithful and trusting in one moment and doubting the next. Hearing the Lord call me out on the water and then yelling for Him to save me the next.
How am I supposed to deal with the flames of anger that lick my insides, igniting a wildfire and raging out of control? I never desired to get drunk because I was afraid of being out of control. Afraid of what I was capable of. Now I am getting a taste, and it is a type of bitter I have never experienced before. Why did I choose this? Why did I choose something that would burst every part of me into flames of anger and frustration? Why would I leave the lovely Denmark for this? Leave a life where everyone thought so highly of me. Where I was the one who could do everything, be everything for everybody. Where I was the good one. Had everything together. Didn’t have any major issues, at least from the outside. Now I can only see the bad. And if this is only the tip, what else is there? What other darkness is lurking inside of me, ready to burst and ruin the image I had of myself?
“Hey Lauren, look at what you did, wow you’re so angry. Why are you so angry. You know good Christian girls shouldn’t be like this. So much for how good you thought you were. You want to physically hurt him. Wow what a good mother you will be. How do you expect to take care of a child when you want to hurt your puppy when he is just a puppy. How could you. You chose to be this way. German Shepherds have a reputation. Could be bad dogs. They’re dangerous. What if he turns out this way? What if he hurts someone? It’ll be your fault. On you. You could have done better. Should have done better. It’s on you. He is already hurting Grover. Doesn’t know when to stop. Pulls his tail and bites his sensitive paws. You did this to Grover. Brought this upon the dog you left home. Who is in pain from his back, which Sam bites, too. Who can barely get up steps let alone when Sam is biting his ears when he is trying to get in the house. Look what you did. Sam is a mistake. You made a mistake. You were supposed to be spending time with your mom and grandma. Supposed to come home and be the hero for them. After all these years, you finally have time at home and selfishly you pick getting a puppy over your family. Now you are asking mom to stay at home and change her plans when you are away working at a job you have to drive an hour to get to. A job that was supposed to be easy. Oops, another mistake. Another error on your part. You thought you could do it all. Be the hero for your family. For your job. Everybody wants something from you, and you continually fail to deliver. You’re failing them. And now look where you are? Spending your days at home trying to keep a puppy occupied. The same thing over and over again. 6:23am alarm. 7:00am breakfast. 7:30 outside. 8:30 crate. 10:00 outside. 11 second breakfast. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Here we go another day to keep Sam from destroying things. You are at home watching your old team play their first match of the season. Oooo it’s the first weekend of the Premier League. Best season of the year except this year you are on the outside looking in. Could you even run twenty minutes in a game anymore? You could barely run 20 the other morning at an easy pace. The once iron woman now huffing and puffing from a jog. You probably shouldn’t eat very much these days either. You’ll get fat. But this is what you wanted. You wanted to be done playing soccer. You wanted the next thing. And look what it did to everything else. Complicated, complicated, complicated. Good choice.”
To whoever wrote that quote (I am pretty sure a saint), you were right. Distance from the Word of God is asking for lies to take root. The thing is I read the daily Mass readings. I have considered it enough until now. It is under pressure virtue and vice are molded. Before, when reading the daily Mass readings, I wasn’t under so much pressure. Ever since being home with Sam, now I am under pressure. Pressure and responsibility. My expectations and standards for myself are suspended. Above are all the lies I am/have been entertaining. The lies that drive me into fits of rage and tears.
“Give our Lord the benefit of believing His hand is leading you and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”[Hallow Patience Praylist]
In suspense and incomplete…”yet led and loved just the same.”
How can this be? How can God possibly love me right now? I go from boiling over to choking on my own tears about boiling over. Then “I’m back” the next day. Then boiling and choking the next day again on what I thought was supposed to over and dealt with. Unfortunately, wounds don’t heal just by weeping. It has definitely been a major step of the process for me. Just to weep. To let myself express those emotions. But the relief afterwards is not the end. It is another step. A step of a child.
How can it be the Lord wants me? Wants me to invite Him into this madhouse that is my heart. He loves me and honors me so much to give me the space to ask Him. Not to barge in and save the day like He could. He wants desperately for me to be healed. To experience fuller life. The episode in Scripture where “God hardens Pharoah’s heart.” It is not God doing the hardening in a literal sense as we often understand. It is God as Love that hardens Pharoah’s heart. God as Love gives Pharoah the choice to repent and turn from his ways. This is Pharoah’s free will. Free choice. Like Pharoah, I can see God as shaping this situation to harden my heart. It is God that brought these circumstances. It is God that ruffled the feathers, upset the status quo of the Hebrews being enslaved under the Egyptians. It is God that has upset the status quo in my heart. Unearthed the madness.
God gave Moses the choice to go back to Egypt and free His people. God gave me the choice to stay in Denmark or come home. God offered me the opportunity to get a puppy. Have the time with a flexible job. This wasn’t Him hardening my heart. He knows the depths of my being. He knew what would be unearthed. He knew about the madhouse. The wounds that would be opened. He knew virtue and vice would be exposed. He knew the risk. Knows the risk of the freedom in loving. Knows the risk of the hardening of hearts to Him. But Love demands it. Truth and the fullness of life are meant to be experience. Are desperate to be known. But not at the cost of justice and righteousness. Th Israelites were freed from Egypt, but the weeping is not the end. Their healing from enslavement continued in the desert. God in His justice did not free them and completely heal their inner wounds. He asks us to take part in our healing with Him. To be cooperators with grace. And this takes time and often, it takes some pressure. Pressure from living life in the desert with a Promise of a better home but not yet a physical one.
Brothers and sisters: Faith is the realization of what is hope for and evidence of things not seen. Because of it the ancients were well attested. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and make is God. By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age-and Sarah herself was sterile-for he thought that the One who made the promise was trustworthy. So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore. All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth, for those who speak thus show they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come, they would have had the opportunity to return. But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name,” He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol.” [Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-19]
Abraham thought the One who had made the promise trustworthy. And he still thought that when God asked him for his only son. Under pressure. When the thing he wanted most was in jeopardy. His son, through which God’s very promise was supposed to come. The weeping is not the end. God’s promise to Abraham meant the beginning of a long journey of transformation. A journey God gave Abraham the opportunity to accept and choose still even when it all didn’t make sense. But God still did. God’s trustworthiness made sense, as Abraham’s reason reminded him when maybe his emotions were screaming otherwise.
Moses and Abraham considered God trustworthy. Pharoah did not. Pharoah only saw what was being taken away. How the status quo was about to be upset and how dare God threaten this “good” life. But the truth is the comforts may have seemed good, but they are the reason his heart was hardened. Not God. Pharoah was attached to a life of luxury and power at the expense of the unfair treatment of a whole people. This hardened his heart to God.
And so who will I be? Like the ancients who trusted God or did not? When God asked the prophet Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach repentance, Jonah fled. “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah made ready to flee to Tarshish away from the Lord. The story then goes that Jonah gets swallowed by a whale and remains in its belly for three days and three nights. He prays to the Lord…
For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea, and the flood enveloped me; all your breakers and your billows passed over me. Then I said, “I am banished from your sight! Yet would I again look upon your holy temple.” The waters swirled about me, threatening my life; the abyss enveloped me, seaweed clung about my head…but you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord, my God. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; my prayer reached you in your holy temple. Those who worship vain idols forsake their source of mercy…deliverance is from the LORD. [Jonah 2:4-6, 7-9, 10]
The whale spit Jonah out, and the LORD asked him again to go to Nineveh. This time Jonah did, and he preached repentance. Everyone in the city listened to Jonah, and the kind proclaimed all should pray and fast. But Jonah is angry. Jonah did not truly want God to forgive the Ninevites because of his “narrowly nationalistic vindictiveness.” God was supposed to be just the God of the Israelites. Of the Jews. The Jews were the chosen people. Not the wicked Ninevites. They didn’t deserve God.
So God asks Jonah, “Have you reason to be angry?”[Jonah 4:4]
Jonah then left the city for a place to the east of it, where he built himself a hut and waited under it in the shade, to see what would happen to the city. And when the LORD God provided a gourd plant, that grew up over Jonah’s head, giving shade that relieved him of any discomfort, Jonah was very happy over the plant. But the next morning at dawn God sent a worm which attacked the plant, so that is withered. And when the son arose, God sent a burning east wind; and the sun beat upon Jonah’s head till he became faint. Then he asked for death, saying, “I would be better off dead than alive.”
But God said to Jonah, “Have you reason to be angry over the plant?”
“I have reason to be angry,” Jonah answered, “angry enough to die.”
Then the LORD said, “You are concerned over the plant which cost you no labor and which you did not raise; it came up in one night and in one night it perished. And should I not be concerned over Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot distinguish their right hand from their left, not to mention the many cattle?” [Jonah 4:5-11]
I thought I had reason to be angry. I coveted God’s mercy and only deemed myself and few others worthy of receiving it. I wanted to be a “chosen” one because it would mean I was better than others. I thought I had reason to be angry when I had to grow up fast to help my mom take care of my dad. Thought I had reason to be angry when the all too early death of my father blew up all I thought I deserved and was entitled to as the “good Christian girl.” Think I have reason to be angry when all the training and time I spend trying to make sure Sam is the best dog he can be is seemingly thrown out the window the moments he rips up the carpet, chews the couch, and chomps on my arms like they’re supposed to be part of the game too. But I don’t. Having a father is a gift. Having Sam is a gift. Not my own. Letting fatherhood be the Lord’s and letting motherhood be the Lord’s is the best way for both to reach their fullest meaning. My motherhood is definitely suspended at the moment, but one thing is for sure. Two things, actually. I love my dad. And I love my dog.
The past couple days there has been a cardinal hanging out in the backyard and the neighbor’s backyard. I think it is a “he” because it is very bright red. I heard male cardinals have a more vibrant color than females. I was out with Sam one day when I noticed it sitting on a low branch of a cypress tree in the neighbor’s yard. The trees line the boundary between our yards. Massive trees, so it was interesting the cardinal picked such a low branch. It sang for a little while on this low branch, then flew up a little to a higher branch. It sang for a bit there and then went a bit higher again. Sang and rose a few branches again. This continued until I lost it in one of the highest branches of the tree. I am not a bird watcher, but I don’t know that this is typical behavior for a cardinal. Maybe it is, but it struck me because I think it was part of my answer. This bird had very well-functioning wings, and it was just moving up a few branches at a time. Like it was enjoying the gradual climb. Stopped every few branches to see the new sights and sing a little tune. Take in the moment.
Mom always said you and her were great teammates, dad. You loved each other with a special kind of love. When I was upset with Sam the other day, mom told me it’ll be okay because we are a team, her and I. And we will help each other. So now I understand what Brett Young’s song at your grave and the cardinal’s climb mean. Mom has been through the ringer and knows a lot about patience and anger. I get to be here with her, to learn from her and experience her motherly love. I get to be her daughter, while she is teaching me about being a mom. And it is not going to be easy. The weeping will go on. But she will be with me. You will be with me. Who I will ultimately be as a woman is in suspense and incomplete. But that’s okay. I can accept the anxiety knowing I’ll be with you and mom, going up one branch at a time. Maybe some days I’ll have the faith of Moses and Abraham, some days the hard heartedness of Pharoah, and some days the anger of Jonah, but I can invite my Father into it all. I actually love the ending of the book of Jonah. We are left in suspense. We don’t know how Jonah responds, but it is less about that for me and more about what the LORD says to Jonah. The LORD is stern yet gentle. Telling Jonah of His great love and concern for all people. He doesn’t okay Jonah’s anger but puts it in perspective, so Jonah can see there truly is no reason for it. Of course, the Lord knows Jonah and is not surprised. This is the beauty and truth of God’s Word. Dispelling the lies we have of Who God is as our Father.
So right now, the ending of the book of Jonah gives me light in the suspense of my own life. I feel very much suspended, but it is less about this and more about letting the Lord in here. Finding Him here in the suspense of who I will be. I know I can always run to daddy as his daughter. I can be suspended from above, suspended on a hinge to freely move in different directions, and suspended as held undetermined. But I can accept it all, knowing I am led and loved by a trustworthy Father who knows sometimes I only have ears for country music and eyes for the things of nature, and so He meets me here when I cry out.
When I’m suspended.
Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. [St. Thomas Aquinas]
I love you dad, Lauren