As long as we’ve got each other

My oldest brother got married this past weekend, and for the first time since our father’s passing my four older siblings and I were in the same place.  It’s always a bit strange seeing us together, because the time that passes in between such events is always significantly long enough for a few big changes to have happened for some (if not all) of us.

Hindsight convinces me time and time again that, had we been raised by different parents, after a certain point we might have never spoken to one another again.  All of us have always had big personalities, and while we were growing up those personalities sometimes caused family time to descend into emotional anarchy.

Yet here we are – all of us finally in our adult lives, filling out those personalities with maturity and respect for one another.  I have to point out that our sisters, being several years older than my brothers and I, made it to this point ages ago while we three younger siblings were still figuring out the basics.  But now that we have all been living in the grown-up world for several years and making our separate ways through it, perceptions have changed, and we can now see each other for who we really are and appreciate more the traits in each other that we previously took for granted.  And not only that – we have also come to see facets of our personalities that we never noticed before, both in each other and ourselves.

The night of the rehearsal dinner, the five of us recreated the sibling portrait that was photographed twenty years ago.  Looking at the two photos side by side, it makes me laugh and warms my heart each time.  We’re definitely all different, but in little ways we’re all the same.  The original photo captured those big personalities in our younger selves, and the recreation captured those same personalities expressed and handled by more mature and grown-up people.

If there is one thing that I took away from this whirlwind wedding weekend, it was the utmost importance of my siblings and the presence of each one of them in my life.

These are the first minds that taught me how to see the world from different perspectives and to think for myself.  These are the hands that slap sense to me as well as soothe my wounds. These are the hearts that love me even when I am not the least bit likable; the arms that catch me when I fall; the voices that answer late-night, cross-country phone calls.  These are the smiles that brighten up every room and the wits that brighten every conversation.

We might not always like each other, but we do always love each other.  And I know that I can count on my siblings to be there for me and to stand with me on the day when it will be my turn to bring a new brother into their hearts, and that they will help be bring a new son into our mother’s.

 Family

Seeing through the rain

Walking home in the rain from the cinema last night, I was waiting to cross the boulevard and thinking about how much life has changed in the last year.

I realised I’ve found more of my adult self in this last year than I have in all of the years combined since my twenty-first birthday, and a lot of that is down to having learned how to love and live for another person.  I’m not talking about living for somebody else in the sense of depending on them for validation and worth and purpose, but rather in the sense of being able to unite your own dreams and plans and goals with those of another person…simply because you share a love with them that is genuine and runs deep.  You open yourself up to a whole world of good and bad when you love somebody that way, but if it’s all meant to work out with them all of the good makes up tenfold for everything bad you have to experience.    You love them enough to want them to be happy, and trust that they see the same thing when they look at you.

Seeing him smile and hearing him laugh made me feel happy because it meant he was happy.  But what made me even happier was waking up every day of our relationship and knowing that I was one day further along in human plans that finally seemed to line up with God’s plans…that I was making a choice of my own discernment and will to fulfill a call to a relationship heading towards marriage and family.

I told him more than once that I love God more than him – for no other reason other than because it’s the truth.  What made me happiest about the relationship we shared was the fact that it fit into what I knew God wants for me, which meant my personal happiness was finally firmly rooted in someone eternally constant and loving.  The human heart is fickle, as we see over and over again whenever we love and lose, but God is love.

The catalyst to the breakup was a decision made in his part that caused confidence and trust to fall out on mine, thus causing the worst kind of pain initially:  a selfish one that’s rooted in pride and a false sense of betrayal.  I say it’s the worst kind of pain because its root makes it hurt even more than it should, because it makes us blind to anything else but how it makes us feel.  This kind of pain demands angrily of the human love, “How could you do this to me, after all I have endured for you?”  and, equally angry, of God, “I was doing as You commanded then, so why must I suffer now?”

While we can never truly know why people do what they end up doing, deep down inside my heart I know that what he chose to do was not fuelled by anger or spite or a desire to cause pain.  What made me feel his intentions as painful actions was the fact that loving him made me want to love God less so that I wouldn’t lose my relationship.  I was deeply unhappy and struggled in trying to reconcile the two – in trying to have both even though the more I tried, the more unsettled I felt.  But when I saw how this same conflict was beginning to manifest itself in our relationship, I felt a different pain.  It was the kind that comes not out of feeling betrayed, but rather out of knowing that what you’re asking of the person you love can’t be given to you without it being detrimental to their own pursuit of fulfilment, peace, and happiness.

To those two infuriated demands I mentioned above, I never really got an answer to the human question – though I did get an answer to the divine one through a long and difficult discernment.  I asked God why, and He replied, “Because I have commanded you to love others as I have loved you.  Because I am Love, and made you in that image.”

I am still fighting through both kinds of pain.  The first pain slows down the healing, which strangely enough motivates me to take the second kind of pain and offer it to God in the hope and trust that He can tend to all of my wounds.  I have that hope and trust in Him because through all the worst storms of my voyage so far, He offered me His hand to help steer my ship towards safe harbors.  Through every difficult and painful experience, I have come to see God’s hand in my life, and until last night I never knew how to explain that revelation in human terms.

But today I finally can, because the analogy came to me last night as I stood in the rain at the intersection of that windy boulevard.  In the same way that I can see the shape of the wind as it blows through the raindrops right before they hit the pavement, I can see the shape of God’s hand in how my life experiences sculpt me into the daughter He envisioned long before I began to take on human form.  I was made in His image, not He in mine, and if choosing to learn how to love sacrificially — as He did, on the wood of the Cross — is how I may better reflect that image, then may He heal me so that one day I may again try loving another person as He has loved me.

Snow Day

It’s Saturday, and even though it’s April there’s snow coming down and piling up. I’m pretty sick of winter, as is everyone else who lives on the East Coast, and I wish that I could just curl up on the couch under my duvet today, a book in hand or a documentary on the telly and copious amounts of hot coco on the coffee table. Add the cat on my feet or my stomach and you’ve got what’s pretty much my ideal snow day.

Alas, the cat had to go to the vet today for a dental procedure that’s going to fix an abscess in one of his back teeth, and I had to get up at 6:00 this morning to get him to the vet in time for his 7:30 appointment. Back home and fully awake now, I have until 11:00 to do what I want before heading off to my retail job. And right after that I’ll be heading to the Basilica to celebrate the Easter Vigil.

From my couch in the living room, through the big windows I can see the snow falling down. Only three days ago on my walk to and from work, I was able to see tentative green things – the crocuses and snowdrops that mark the end of winter – coming up in the postage-stamp gardens all along my street. Now they’re all buried under a cold blanket of snow again, and they’ll have to wait another week before they can continue growing.

I feel like those crocuses and snowdrops at the moment. I feel like I am constantly being reburied under snow as I struggle to grow, and I long to feel life inside me every day when I wake up. Most days that feeling takes a while to kick in, but I remember how it felt to wake up with it already there, its grip on me firm and strong the moment my eyes opened.

Healing is a tricky business. I do have my faith and I do trust and hope in God, but as the saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves.” And as much as I keep stumbling on the hard path set before me, I know I have to keep pushing through every day.

I’m looking for things to look forward to. My upcoming move into a new apartment helps keep me busy when I’m at home for long stretches of time, and I know that when I really get deep into the whole business of it all I’ll have the opportunity to make as fresh a start as possible. I signed up for a pottery class that starts in May, and there’s always work and the cat to get me out of bed in the morning.

It’s hard, though. It’s hard waking up and facing a day without somebody you love. It’s hard to look outside the window and see the snow, and feel like change really is in the air or around the corner.

But life exists, even under the snow: deep in the ground, it waits for the opportune moment. I know that deep in my heart, there’s a little bundle of life waiting to grow…I just have to hold on through every sudden snowstorm until it’s sunny again.

You are the potter, and we are the clay

Kintsugi or kintsukuroi is a sub-form of Japanese ceramic art in which broken vessels are repaired using precious metals.  Translated, respectively the words mean “golden joinery” or “golden repair.”

Imagine how it looks:  you can see the past brokenness of the vessel, because it is highlighted by the use of gold or some other precious metal.   Yet, because it is repaired in such an obvious way, it takes on a whole new kind of beauty and a new uniqueness.  The imperfections of the broken shards are emphasized, but the metal that does so makes the piece whole again.  The brokenness becomes a part of its history and a part of its beauty.  Its worth is restored, or even raised, despite the damage being so obvious and plain.

For me, this year’s Holy Week was a rough conclusion to a long and difficult Lenten season.  For the last forty days, and particularly for the last month, I have been trying to fix all kinds of brokenness inside me.  At times, especially in the last half of Lent as I have struggled to mend in the wake of breaking up, it seemed that every time I came close to have a big enough part of myself repaired to truly start moving on, a hammer blow swung down out of nowhere.  Triggered by some memory or keepsake, each swing broke me down all over again and left me discouraged, enraged, and sorrowful.

Looking into myself and seeing all the pieces is difficult.  It’s difficult because I do want to be perfect, even though I know I am only human and therefore intrinsically flawed.  It’s difficult because I often can’t see beyond the shards:  I can’t see how they fit back together and I can’t see that each piece is still there…so it’s hard to believe that I really and truly am whole, even if I am in pieces.

Sitting in Saint Patrick’s Basilica this Good Friday afternoon, during my prayers I was struck by the realization that no human action broke me.

It is true that I made a choice not too long ago that hurt both myself and one I love dearly, and I’m trying now to accept the fact that despite the love that remains I might never have the chance to love him again.  Human error and human action on either part aside, though, I did ask God to show me how to follow Him.  And for me to truly do that, my heart had to be broken.

I think C. S. Lewis explains it best in A Grief Observed when he says,

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”

I know where I went wrong and I know where I could have done better.  I know when and where I was in the right to demand more, and when I was being selfish in doing so.  I know who I trusted more and who I should have trusted most.  But in the end, it all boils down to how this experience of heartbreak and pain has brought me one step closer to Home.

If God broke me with one hand, it was so that He could mend me with the other.  All I have to do is pick up the fragments and place them in His hands, for He has the gold to put them back together.  And when I am ready, I will have been made new again and whole again.  Highlighted by the way He will repair me, my former brokenness will be proof of His love — the same love that led to the Cross, at whose foot I stand today while I await the Risen Lord.

Have a blessed Easter, and may peace and happiness enfold you.