following faith

THE PARABLE OF THE RED CLOGS

 
Rosie in the kitchen
bloomers 2
pink blanket knitting

Allow me to describe what I keep referring to as The Parable of the Red Clogs, a tale of desire and displacement. 

We live in my grandma's red brick house, situated in a town that can't sustain a new business to save itself unless it's a hair salon, of which our town has three. There is, though, one old standby that has lasted decades and will carry on in perpetuity no matter it's eventual fate: the hardware. Weathered, unchanged, too good to be true but, actually—impossibly—it is true. Fortunate to us, it is situated in a way so it is what we see out our westerly windows. Specifically, we see a vintage light-up street sign that says DUTCH STANDARD PAINTS inlaid on a red clog motif. If ever the hardware goes the way of mom-and-pop hardwares the world over, I hope I can buy the sign off of them. It is a relic of childhood, a totem of small-town survival and grit in the age of Amazon, and it's a sign with a red clog . . . and I love clogs.

I am the proud owner of a pair of navy rubber German clogs with a tipped-up toe. I live in them, even in winter. They look identical to the clog on the hardware sign, except for the nagging and obvious difference that they are not red. The company sells a red pair. Do I need them? No, I do not, except when I am going through anything hard, whereby my answer becomes Yes, clearly I do. Buying an identical product that I do not need goes against my personal ethos and feels irresponsible in a time when we are raising a baby on a single income and trying to purchase land. Yet, when I am feeling blue, unappreciated, lonely, and sometimes even when I'm hungry, I hear on repeat: You deserve the red clogs — No, you need the red clogs.

beer

What I need, I know, is companionship with humans and especially with God, not German rubber. Displacement of emotion is a curious, real thing. The mental back-and-forth over the clogs happens often enough that I use it as a gauge for how on- or off-track my faith compass is. Does that sound absurd to you? Maybe it is. But by assessing how badly I desire Stuff, I know how badly I need to express gratitude for what I do have. In my life gratitude is found through prayer. Prayer and paying attention; the former makes the latter notably easier.

A quick examination shows just how much God has put into my life; all of my wildest dreams have come true through what can only be divine intervention. I have wild dreams percolating yet, but on the whole I am blessed beyond reason. Our two-month old is growing astoundingly and I get to witness each moment of her life. My husband loves us and cares for us and makes me laugh every day. I know how to knit us clothing and, as of recently, how to sew. I can darn a goshdarn sock. Mark brews delicious libation for our whole family to enjoy. I live near family and we eat healthful food. Junk food, too. What else is there to want for? Not red clogs. (At least . . . not today.)


—S

FOR MY SISTER, THE SAINT | SO GO I

 

Last weekend, my sister, Erica, and dad came to stay at our “campsite.” We could not offer them a bathroom on-site, or hot water, and my dad would need to sleep in a tent with my husband in order for Erica and I to stay up too late talking. Goats might get out unexpectedly, and all of our meals would have to be cooked outside. We explained that we would enlist their help in feeding the goats, chickens, and pigs. In their words, it sounded like the authentic New England bed + breakfast experience and they wanted in. Everything about the weekend was restorative; beautiful. Family arrived, and with them the comfort of our Midwestern home and the absolute magic of reunion.

This particular reunion was predicated on the understanding that it would be the last of its kind. True, no reunion can ever be replicated. But when your sister is entering a convent to enter into religious life (what I mean is she is becoming a nun!) time feels especially of the essence. Where do you even begin? When you're talking about your sister—who doubles as your best friend—how can three days possibly be enough to say all of the things you want to say, do all of the worldly things you want to do, and cry all of the tears you need to cry?
Well, in short: it can't be enough, and somehow it is.

For just shy of a decade, Erica has been discerning the possibility of religious life. Some call it their calling, some their vocation, others still their True North. Entering into religious life as a priest or sister (sister = nun) is akin to marriage. It is equal, in fact. Except instead of marrying a man or woman, they marry Jesus. Yes, marry. How very complex. How very confusing, I wager, if you have not had the opportunity to speak with a priest or sister. In the case of my own journey through Erica's discernment, I have spent nine years asking questions, feeling frustrated, confused, desperate, joyful, open to it, not open to it, and finally: grateful. Recently, little else fills my mind. My sister will be a new woman as I was a new woman when I married Mark. I have given myself a long time (and I do mean a long time) to contemplate how her decision makes me feel. How difficult it's been for me to pull out those feelings that are True and unmarred by Emotion.

What is True with a capital T?

In my young-but-full life, I have stockpiled a few nuggets of understanding and translated them into deeply rooted beliefs. Some are beneficial for daily level-headedness (example: Dessert Is To Be Eaten Everyday), while others are critical if I am to avoid becoming a self-loathing narcissistic pile of a person. Every day, I work on stepping out of myself. I have found this task strenuous of late. Mentally, physically, and spiritually strenuous. It takes practice to overcome the unfortunate tendency of all human beings to succumb to sadness and self-absorption. As is true in my own life, the times that I succumb to those ill-developed and illusory feelings are the times I experience a dearth of peace in my life. Those are the times that I wail about the woes of This and That.

Throughout my teens and early twenties, I have felt the dearth I described as a result of my reaction to Erica's actions. Action: Erica is visiting convents and sisters around the country. Reaction: I'm going to lose the sister I knew and my life will never be as good as it was. 

Ah, but! Life is compromised of more than Action and Reaction. It is also the minutiae that exists between. That is where I believe Truth is to be found—in life's minutiae. In the quiet spells. As luck would have it, where there is truth, there can be peace. It is in the quiet in-between where thunderous peace can permeate your personhood. I hope you have felt this peace. In my experience, it calls us to gratitude. 

In a decade-long and very roundabout way, I am feeling gratitude for Erica's choice. I am grateful to know a person who possesses so much bravery in her heart. She is the first to tell you the bravery is God-sent and not of her own volition. I wonder if she recognizes that acting on accord of something other than oneself is the bravest of all! She, like a little flower, is sprouting forth from the soil to give to the earth her gifts. I am grateful that she is calling on our family to become more bonded, not less. Rooted, not shallow. Finally, I am grateful that Erica's choice to accept her vocation, no matter the odds, has taught me what can transpire when we surrender to the will of God. There is Truth to be discovered in the unknown; she is headed there, and so go I.

Together the four of us stared up at the night sky—spellbound by the Milky Way and the International Space Station zooming past the Big Dipper. Tears streamed down my face as I experienced the magnitude of creation. A clear night sky might be the quickest ticket to believing there is a master plan for the universe.

Where the profundity of Space once evoked panic in my mind, these days it fills me with deep peace. Curious, that “Space” thing. I can recall expressing to Erica my fear of Space. She is what I will confidently call a hobbyist astrophysicist-bioethics-theologian, and so her response was something to the effect of, “There is no real emptiness in Space, because the entire universe is full of Action and Reaction and stars that we cannot see and xyz . . . The darkness we see is not actually devoid.” At the time, I felt even more overwhelmed. Now, I use that knowledge to guide my faith in all that is to come with Erica's new life as a Daughter of Mary of Nazareth.

Inevitably, I will long for my darling "big little" sister. Selfishly pleading for her to remain as she always has been—I've already done it. Thank God, then, that mercy is our collective human inheritance.
Now then, what untold blessings lie ahead for each of us? 

“And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke


—S