You know those blogs where moms post photos of cute Thanksgiving-ish crafts and autumn-themed recipes? Or season-specific, homemade throw pillows, and vintage mantle décor? Yeah, this isn’t one of them.
Truth be told, the kids and I have been fighting these ridiculous low-level colds for days now which, while nothing too dramatic, are tinged with just enough yucky to leave us without much energy or desire to do anything besides sit and sneeze and stare at the walls.
And you can’t really “pin” that.
But, hey, I’ve been reading. Oh, how I love getting lost in a good book! Partly because it’s a deliciously delightful experience (that beats cutting turkeys out of construction paper any old day), but also because it means walking away from my computer–the word computer being shorthand for “The Portal into Which I Waste Endless Hours on Facebook and Twitter.” (Okay it’s really just Facebook at this point, because years into having a Twitter account, I still am not quite sure how to use Twitter. Something tells me that lobbing random and desperate pleas into the Twit-os-phere for people to tweet to me, only to be met by proverbial crickets, is not the proper use of Twitter).
In any case, yes, being semi-sick around here = quality time with the likes of people like Mother Teresa and Steven Pressfield, and I’ve decided that I’m really more than okay with that. Snowy days, cozy sweatshirts, and cuddly kiddos are actually kind of nice every once in awhile, and life will return to its busier pace that necessitates putting thought into my clothing choices soon enough anyhow.
So I’m working my way through Mother Teresa’s A Simple Path, essentially a compilation of the sister’s thoughts on faith. And one of the things I love about her is that she believes this stuff is for everyone–not just Catholics (or more generally, Christians), but everyone. Don’t believe in God? Pray anyway! Don’t trust Jesus? Do good things! She of course makes no secret about her passionate devotion to Christ, her life-affirming values, or her commitment to the Catholic Church’s doctrines and dogmas, but she doesn’t pretend that the rest of the world believes her way. And so she demonstrates through both her life and her words that it’s possible to invite everyone into the beauty of God’s story, regardless who they are or where they worship.
And that’s not always an easy thing to do, is it? I can’t help but wonder if part of her confident zeal comes from the fact that she believes so strongly in her mission and so deeply in the saving love of Jesus, that she really, truly sees it as having universal appeal and, dare I say, applicability? I think about Pope Francis’ exhortation that Catholics go out into the margins seeking after the lost and the hurting. I think about the tendency for groups to remain shut away within the safety of their own walls and ideas. I think about what holds us all back and I wonder if more often than not it is big, ugly fear–fear of our own short-comings, of not being liked, of having someone disagree or tell us that we are wrong. Fear of not having All The Answers or knowing All The Things. Fear of causing offense or alienation. Whatever it is, it’s real and it’s there, but when I read the saints and giants of the faith I am always amazed by how they proclaimed their faith and ultimately LOVED. And the reason they so openly shared this life-changing and radical love of Jesus was because they believed it. Really, honestly, 100% believed it. For themselves and for the larger world.
One thing I’ve learned over time from the people and relationships I have forged both in real life and online is that the human condition is the human condition. More alike than different and all of that. We are, all of us, in the trenches of life where we experience joy and sorrow and love and loss regardless of our personal belief system or moral code. We seek happiness, long for success, and want Good Things for ourselves and for our loved ones. We fight to forgive and struggle to maintain relationship. We fall in love and, perhaps above all else, persevere in clinging to hope.
Created in the image of God, this is what human persons do.
I recently reflected to my husband that I don’t encounter people of other faiths or views in real-life, on a daily basis, like he does at work. We homeschool our children, belong to a Catholic co-op at our parish, and are blessed to have a pretty rockin’ community there. So while we don’t intentionally shelter our children from people of vastly differing beliefs, we (like most people, I suspect) naturally spend most of our time with the generally like-minded. Which I think is in some ways very good, because we need friends to speak truth into our lives and encourage us along the way. But it means my primary avenue for sharing my heart and my experience with the outside world is, of all things, the internet. This blog. My Facebook account. Sometimes that strikes me as downright silly, but other times it kind of makes sense.
Because you know? Mother Teresa set about doing the work God called her to do. She lived out her vocation as a nun and loved and spoke truth and worshipped her Lord, and all of that was winsome and beautiful enough to captivate a world. She “evangelized” with her actions and love, never made apologies for her faith, and yet spoke about it all as if it were true. Because she knew that it is true. And I chose the vocation of marriage which brings with it an openness to life and children, and so that is my primary vehicle for evangelization and love. Washing, cleaning, cooking, prepping, comforting, and educating. I am not in the business of professional door-to-door Jesus talk, nor do I have any sort of platform beyond the little ones in my care, and my humble online “presence”. But I wonder if great love in small things is how hope spreads. I wonder if God uses little tasks and hidden work to grow hearts and cultivate faith. I kind of suspect it does, and I kind of think the Albanian nun would heartily agree.
Somewhere along the way I stopped worrying that being home with my children somehow wasn’t “enough” for God. I’ve stopped caring that I’m not pounding the pavement with the certainly pavement-pounding-worthy good news of the Gospel. I have a marriage and eight beautiful babies, and I am giving my life in humble service to this calling–and maybe, if I do this thing well, in spite of my short-comings it can somehow serve as a testament to God’s goodness in a way that maybe a tract or pointed conversation can’t. Maybe I can connect with friends new and old–and even anonymous–here, in this space, impersonal and limited as it is. I love the written word and the relationships and connections it has the potential to bring. I love the possibilities implicit in exploring new ideas in a non-threatening way.
So I’ll tell you that my hope in participating in the faith, in receiving the Sacraments and chasing after virtue and sitting quiet in prayer and loving my husband and children and others, is quite simply, to live. To take part in the most beautiful and best-of-the-best story ever told, in the history of all the stories. It tells us of a God who loves people, orchestrates the seemingly-impossible work of redemption and reconciliation, and invites every.single.woman.and.man. into His marvelous mercy and grace. This God to be both revered and adored is there for the taking no matter your labels, diagnosis, past, struggles, doubts, present circumstances, or fears. He’s there. Really, honestly there. And I believe this is universally true, and I believe it is hope. For all of us.
Mercifully for us Heldts, we all seem to finally be getting over our colds around here because hello, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It is the annual national day of turkey and stuffing (oh, let there be lots and lots of stuffing) and mashed potatoes (lots of those too please), chased down by pumpkin pie and contented yawns and football and, for people far more ambitious than I, sweat-inducing crowd-battling for discounts on scarves and plastic gizmos and electronics I’ve never heard of. As for us, we’ll be surrounded by family and grandparents and love and small messy faces–no shortage of reasons to give thanks. But first we’ll go to Mass and receive the Eucharist, known and understood to be JESUS HIMSELF since the inception of the Church, the beginning of Christianity that began as a small localized movement but went on to captivate a whole world. It is the Christianity which gave us the there-are-no-words-to-describe Sistine Chapel, the brilliance and clarity of St. Thomas Aquinas, the blood of countless martyrs, and Mother Teresa’s love for ”Jesus in a distressing disguise” too. And what we do at Mass is not something we do because we like to be exclusive or because we enjoy a good ancient ritual–we do it because we sinners need Jesus. We need His grace and His love and, ultimately, Him.
If you’re American, I imagine that you’ll be acknowledging Thanksgiving tomorrow in some way too. Your day may look different from mine (although I really hope you at least have a heaping scoop of stuffing, because it’s one of the few days a year it’s culturally appropriate to binge on herb-flavored-bread-mush that tastes like magic). Maybe you have a different set of life circumstances, or perhaps you’re suffering right now, or maybe you don’t worship Jesus like I do, or All Of The Above. And I just want to say here from my itty-bitty corner of the interwebz that I’m so glad you’re here, reading along, and I’m glad we’re in this whole life thing together. Love (or charity, the highest of all virtues) is a profound and beautiful gift, and it’s available to one and all. We may come from vastly different places, but we also have some things in common because we’re both doing the work of life–and the reason I am open and honest about the reason for the hope that I have is that I believe it is TRUE. Not just for me, but for you too. And that doesn’t have to mean a blog or a Facebook feed or even a pathetically-used Twitter page populated by people who all look, think, talk, and live like me. Thankfully that is not the case here because that’s not real life, and if that were to happen I’d start to wonder if something had gone horribly wrong with my understanding of the beauty and attractiveness of Christ’s life-giving message.
So I hope wherever and whoever you are, that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with the love and hope of Jesus. (And stuffing.) God is the source of all love and good things, and may He bless you richly today, tomorrow and always.
And if you’re interested in spirituality, take a look at A Simple Path. Follow the sister’s advice. And then let me know what you thought.