Friday, March 26, 2010


Ed and I don’t exactly know when our anniversary is. The night we met? The day of our first conversation (and therefore the beginning of our long distance relationship)? The night of our State of the Relationship Address? Our first “date” shared over the phone? Our first reunion? Kiss? Decision to become exclusive? Mostly we just happenstancely celebrate whichever one we remember, embracing for a moment the occasions of ritual supposedly significant to a relationship. Considering how blurry they are, they can’t exactly be monumental. But they are monuments.

Certainly anniversaries are significant if for no other reason than they offer us a moment to pause and remember where we’ve been, where we are, where we hope to go. They are the recycling of time seen through a lens of recollection and prediction. We pause, see, evaluate, and—often—give thanks. In their singularity we may celebrate the passing of time. The transformation of years. The transformation of ourselves.

I’ve been thinking of anniversaries a lot this week as I have celebrated a rather significant one this past Thursday: Ten years ago March 25, I became a Christian. A decade. Nearly half my life. My decennial.

Catholics don’t usually observe their re-birthday. Catholics usually don’t have one. Traditionally, when we celebrate anniversaries in faith, we celebrate those sanctioned by the Church. Baptisms, weddings, ordinations. We even structure our liturgical year around important anniversaries: consider the annunciation, assumption, Christmas, Easter. Our conversions generally take the form of a gradual realization of Truth, a transformation that can take weeks, months, a lifetime.

Yet, for some of us, rebirth happens in an instant.

In my case, in the throws of adolescent suspicion, I had long been toying with the premise that Jesus was simply seeking the celebrity. At the time, I was the exact, living replication of Mean Girls’ Cady Heron: A hippie-school-implant-to-public-education, who had effectively hogged the spotlight enough to reach school president and, therefore, the celebrity status of assembly director. With this eighth-grade fame, I had no problem juxtaposing my self-centeredness with Jesus’ social status. I mean, assembly director is good, but to claim Godhood… the man must have been epic!

It wasn’t until I saw a reenactment of Christ’s passion that I suddenly gained perspective. The two-man show I saw that Saturday night used no props, no scenery, no special effects. Simply a spotlight, a solitary pianist, and a man with the intensity of a martyr. As the actor gave expression to each individual role and scene of the 24 hours leading up to Jesus’ death, I suddenly considered something new: Jesus suffered. The sweating of blood particularly struck me: during Jesus’ agony in the garden, he prayed with such fervor that the capillaries nearest his skin actually exploded from physical and emotional stress. His blood vessels exploded. Exploded.

That was the beginning of the end. The actor went on to describe the shards of shell and iron that were tied to leather straps and used to whip Jesus’ flesh over and over and over; to describe the way his back was flayed and then tied against a knotted piece of wood; to describe the nine inch long nails rammed through his wrists; to describe his process of breathing while standing up on the nail impaled through his feet; to describe the accumulation of saliva that would trickle down his throat until he drowned in it. With each impassioned description, I kept returning to the thought that Jesus had the opportunity to deny everything. He could have ended that pain at any moment. He could have come down from that cross. But he didn’t.

He wasn’t doing it for the celebrity.

The veil of the sanctuary wasn’t the only thing torn in two from top to bottom. Everything about my life suddenly seemed shallow, hollow, insignificant. Right there, on a pew lined with my peers, I wept myself dry. I may not have sweat blood, but I exploded with the excruciating tears of humiliation. Of humility. If Jesus wasn’t doing it for celebrity, what could his motivation have been except, perhaps, perhaps, love.

From the fertile soil of my humiliated heart grew out a realization that such a good individual had died for such a wretched one as me. I began to barter my life for his, if only to redeem the years of good deed doing he sacrificed for my sake. Over time, that bartering became a steady pursuit of the good for the sake of who Jesus had been and his divine call to goodness. Religious conviction blossomed, as did the knowledge that I was loved regardless of what good deeds I did—or bad ones I avoided. Nothing I could do would ever take back the need for that cross and that death, but I could live joyfully, invigorated by God’s great love for me.

Years later, when I read C.S. Lewis’ deduction of “Lunatic, Liar, Lord,” I suddenly realized that before all other experiences, that argument had been the one that had transformed my life. He could have been a lunatic, but no lunatic could say or do what he had. He could have been a liar—as I had always supposed— but the cross broke that line of thought. So he had to be Lord. And he is. I celebrate the ten years in which I have experienced that Truth. And I look to the next ten years I can shine in the light of God’s great and unending goodness.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


When I was a little kid, I used to pray fervently, fervently that our house wouldn’t burn down. I had this quilt on my bed that my great-grandmother had made and a couple of dolls that my dad had played with when he was a kid, the history of which incited an urgent sense of responsibility should a fire strike. I actually had a plan that if our house should be burning, I’d open my first-floor bedroom window, kick out the screen, grab the pillow atop which rested those most prized stuffed animals, throw them out the window, pull the invaluable quilt off my bed, and jump out the window with it. The greatest fear, though, was that the impending inferno would strike while I was out of the house. So I traveled with an entourage of stuffed animals and blankets.

When I got older, the possessiveness translated to family members. They couldn’t die. Couldn’t. Should God decide to take anyone of my loved ones, God would be answerable to me. I never once missed a prayer on their behalf, pleading that God would be nice and not kill anyone I loved, because I couldn’t live without any of them. It simply would not be possible. I forewent praying for anything I wanted materially because I couldn’t lose some of my credit reserved for my family members’ safety. It was my sole responsibility.

Come college, things began to take a different spin. I realized that my prayers to God were not good prayers simply because they were for others—I needed to actually have a relationship with God, one based on trust and one that understood that whatever happened to my family or friends, God loved them more than I did and God would take care of them. I had to let go of my sense of responsibility and let God take over. And I had to trust the fact that God is always good. It was the most relieving experience of my life when I finally gave God that power over the fates of the people I protected. I still remember the moment of liberation that came when I gave up my control. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted.

Then came the heartbreak. I didn’t lose anyone to death—thank God—but I lost someone to the general course of life. So much of my heart and intellect had been invested in this person, and as I watched him slip away from me, I lost all sense of up. No one else in life mattered anymore. Neither did food, school, art. I was simply a leaky balloon barely able to stay at equilibrium most days. God was a burden, but one I couldn’t completely disown. Instead, I resented God, resented the fact that God had taken this person away from me. How could it happen? How could this God, whom I had trusted so fully, renege on our deal?

I spiraled down into the muck of self-pity. God had betrayed me. Nevermind that my family and friends were all still alive and healthy, the fact that I had lost such a significant relationship was absolute betrayal. Benedict Arnold? Brutus? Judas? Piddens.

It’s taken me years to recognize the providence in that loss and the beautiful growth God has fostered through my suffering. On the far side of pain, I can give thanks for what I’ve experienced, hellish though it may have been. And my suffering was hardly a betrayal. It was simply God utilizing God’s right to turn my possessiveness on its head.

I have been considering these experiences a lot lately as I have begun to become possessive to a fault again. Somehow I never learned my lesson. And it means that I’m constantly living in fear. I’ve left too much happiness to the authority of God. What if there is this divine “gotcha” and I’m left empty-handed? What if all that I have begun to appreciate is simply castles of sand?

The best coaching I can give myself is that no matter how often I think otherwise, God really is in control. And God loves me beyond belief. If those two assumptions prove true—as they always have before—what use is there in my bartering or plying or begging for favors? What merits are there in making God an object I can control if I pray fervently enough? All I’m left with is egg on my face when the divine plan changes the course of my predicted life. And while egg-on-the-face is no fun, it’s far worse to have everything go according to our narrow-minded plans. We’re made for more than that.

Job lost everything only to be given ten times more in return. When we give up our control and feelings of entitlement, we find that everything becomes a present to be enjoyed for however long it’s in our possession. If we can train our minds to be accustomed to the unpredictability of blessing, and can rejoice even when things are no longer what we dreamed, then all matter of good fortunes will come our way. Because when our minds are formed to thank God for even the air that we breathe, then each and every breath becomes a gift. And that’s something no amount of possessiveness can ever quench.