I find myself in this incredibly odd and lonely no man’s land. I am a Catholic convert. I am surrounded by large and beautiful families, and yet I have a secondary infertility diagnosis. Our second child came six long years after her sister, and after surgery, and after no small miracle. This is not the only result of my body’s difficulties in this particular realm. For at least half of the month, I have not only less than desirable symptoms, I have a lot of pain. This isn’t something that I enjoy sharing, not that people ask; Mostly they assume. I’ve had probing questions about the space between our children and heavy handed “general statements” lobbed in my direction about “faithful Catholicism,” heavily peppered with NFP references. It’s alway enjoyable when people make assumptions about your personal journey.
The other side of that statement, I am a Catholic convert, is that I am living in the most liberal city in Texas. The vast majority of our long time friends have no faith at all. Sometimes, it seems that after my conversion, I’ve been relegated to life as some rare, but dangerous animal at the zoo. Something to definitely be kept at arms’ length. I feel the apartness of being Catholic in a city that scoffs at limits of any kind. I feel the sideways glance of being a homeschooler in a society where the end of summer is celebrated by parents who get their “freedom back.” I feel the dismissal of choosing to stay home with my children, from long time friends and acquaintances who have continued to climb their ladders and add degrees to their walls.
I also live this contradiction of spending most of my life with my kids (which I am so thankful to be able to do every day), and deeply wanting some adult time, but being such an introvert that just thinking about putting myself out there is enough to make me want to sleep for 48 hours. My few friends laugh at this, because I’m known for being outgoing and bathing in the limelight amongst people I know well. (On those increasingly rare occasions when we all have overlapping free time.) When it comes to new people, I find myself almost mute. I’m so afraid of saying the wrong thing or being perceived as unworthy in someway that I can’t seem to find words at all. My close friends already know I’m nuts, they love me anyway. I find this continually shocking and expect that I’ve already pressed my luck on that front as it is.
Even the cyber world can feel intimidating. I’m so fortunate to follow women (and a few men) with amazing talent, but as I rejoice in their abilities, I tend to simultaneously belittle my own. I constantly feel here, as I do so often in “real” life, on the periphery. Desperately wanting to reach out, but forever feeling that perhaps what I have to offer isn’t good enough. (Is this the place where I should insert the confession that I sometimes read the Bloggess, not to simply enjoy her hilarious wit as I usually do, but for the sole purpose of feeling a little more normal (whatever that is) and a little less alone?)
Can you hear it in every single sentence? The crushing self judgment? The desire for approval sending tendrils into every corner of my life? I’m tired. To the point that, barring that gentleman sweating blood in the garden, I can’t imagine that there has ever been anyone so incredibly ready to just let go, to just put it all down. I’d make an allusion to Sisyphus, but at least he had the respite of watching that dang boulder roll back down the hill every so often, so insert Atlas reference here.
All this to say: I bought the book. The one with the title that felt too girly to me, the one with the cover that seemed a bit fluffy and sunshine yellow for my taste. And inside there was gold. Right from the start Jennifer Dukes Lee ‘fesses up: “I’ve employed various techniques, fake smiles and witty Facebook statuses among them, to make you think I’m okay when on the inside I’m breaking.” You don’t say, Mrs. Lee? Let’s compare notes shall we? After commiserating with her over a childhood filled with the false pride of being a perfectionist, she hit me with: “You can call it perfectionism if you want. But that’s just a symptom of the bigger problem. I’ve wanted to be approved. I’ve wanted to be loved.” Yes. Yes, of course. Isn’t that what we all want? To feel accepted? To be loved? And yet as Lee points out “we fear the facade will drop and our peers or coworkers will discover the flawed us, the perpetually freaked-out us. We cringe over the threat of disapproval, real or imagined. And we feel as if we continually need to explain away any potential flaw.”
Maybe this isn’t you. Perhaps you love all that you are and all that you do. You love your body, your every choice as wife and mother, each word choice in every conversation. If so, please write a book and share the secret. I will pre-order a copy. I will pre-order TEN copies. As for me and my brain, we completely understood the words this woman was putting out there. But wait, HERE is the secret. Right here in this little yellow book:
“You can’t run away from your problems in some maddening search for peace. Peace has never been about a place. It has always been about a Person… The moment we stop fussing over the opinions of others might be the moment we start actually living for God.”
I read through each and every hurt that she shares from her life with growing recognition. Embarrassing, public mistakes; Silent, crippling insecurities; False friends, false gods, and repeatedly broken trust. How I understand these things! And how her faith gives me hope. There is only one way to escape this squeaking hamster wheel of fear, there is only One who will never betray you, never abandon you, to whom you are invaluable, by whom you are forever loved. Without conditions, without quotas to fill, without hoops to jump, without fail.
Lee reminds us that it is impossible to look in two opposite directions at once. If we keep our eyes upward, then it is impossible to get caught up looking inward. In reading, I found myself immediately adopting her morning prayer: “Dear God, help me to get over myself today.” I need to let go. I need to stop looking for approval and love from people and places that are fickle and finite. I need to stop handing my heart and ego over to these false idols. I am already loved. I am already enough. There is just One who can give me that, though I’m completely unworthy. There is only One who was willing to pour out His very life, even while I was still deep in sin.
There is no other Way.
I know I will stumble a thousand times in a hundred different ways, but it’s about regaining my footing on the correct path; it’s about refocusing on a goal worthy of pursuit. I say that I long for this love and approval, but the Truth is- it is already mine. To feel it I need only to loosen my grip, open my hands, and let all the rest fall away.
So it is with greatest earnestness that I plead again: