Category Archives: religion

God, we need that from you.

jeeps

I lost a piece of my heart + soul in the back of that red Jeep Wrangler. It tumbled atop the stretch of I-95 along the central coast of Jersey. I don’t remember where we were headed that day, just that some cars hold hearts and some cars hold belongings and some cars hold precious precious cargo that feels like both.

That car felt like freedom for a little girl who often wore dresses on Sunday mornings and tripped up Sunday school stairs to find her mom chatting about Lent and the things we give & the things we give up.

That girl sat pretty and proper in the empty classroom while her mom chatted, and the other kids pushed through double glass doors, spilling into the sunbaked parking lot. They hoisted each other into caravan side doors. Cars revved and reversed and vroomed into the winding road away from God & his Lent, but she stayed. She stayed and they went, to find a chocolate frosted donut and greasy hash browns and steaming, milky coffee. Shoved God to the third row of seats, beneath collapsible dog crates and soccer cleats, while she patted her knees together and Mom kept chatting.

She was different, quiet. Other kids rubbed their faces with sticky sprinkled donuts and she held onto the taste of chocolate icing rimming her fingertips.

For her, God was a quiet man, a patient man, a man who looked at soccer cleats with grass & mud caked spikes, with dirtied Sunday school textbooks, and shook his head. A proper line, she thought. Walk a proper line and iron your skirts and never miss a Sunday school lesson and that is how you live. That is life.

That Jeep Wrangler felt free. It felt wild. It felt reckless.

Five years later, a red Jeep crashed on the side of a winding rural road, much like the ones she traced home after Sunday school. All infinities, she knew then, had endings. All rushes had to settle.

She curled back into that churchgoer self. She stayed quiet. She lost hope. She forgot that car crashes and Jeeps had everything to do with living a full live — not nothing, like she once thought. So instead, she quit things she loved. She set bravery aside. She apologized to herself, and others, for existing, for choosing silliness.

Ten years passed before she stopped walking with apologies. Ten years passed before she decided differently. Nobody, she said, nobody deserves to hold themselves quiet. We are rays of sun. We are stars at the end of someone’s life, especially if that someone dies too soon. We are bright and shiny and brave and important and God, we need that from you. God, we do.

Walking Grace’s Path

crosswalk-fall

Write about Grace, he tells me. My feet are wet with thunderstorm grass and Grace is pulling me toward the dumpster that hasn’t been emptied in weeks.

I am learning to live like this – with a slender little Yorkiepoo named Grace snuggled between my laptop and my throw pillow.

Grace, they say, is God’s unconditional love + care for you – though you did nothing to deserve it – and I cannot help but think of the first day I met her, tail spinning in circles, knees bouncing, floor wet with her excited bladder.

I had done nothing, nothing, to earn that kind of excitement – though J will tell you he had blabbed on about me, whispering about this girl he met, long before I stepped through his laundry room threshold and into his kitchen. Into the heart of his home, I stepped.

Grace was, and is, his first big love. When her legs jump and her butt shakes and she spins in circles, jumping on her brother’s knees in anticipation, it is clear to me how we fall in love with dogs.

I didn’t always know that, though. When I first took a public relations + communications job at a veterinary clinic, I was always staring down the faces of geriatric Golden Retrievers and muscle-sore agility dogs. Few of them had the energy to jump up and smile.

Much the same way, Grace used to be a mystery to me – what did I deserve, unless I earned it? What did I receive, unless I worked for it? When life happened, like it so often does, and God didn’t give me goodness just because I busted my butt and prayed closed-eyed for it, I took that as a sign to work harder. Patience was never my virtue. If I had a choice between waiting, and waiting but working, I will always choose the second option.

Grace is the little reminder that I am J’s because God loves me. God loves me and gave me so many freaking reasons to feel joyful. Grace is only one of those reasons. She pulls me into the cold on brisk fall evenings when the thunder has stormed through my backyard and muddied my path to the sidewalk. She tugs me toward the next crosswalk, the next leap in my life, and looks back on occasion to remind me she is here, here, here waiting for me, paving a path that will be fine just fine.

Breaking Grandma’s Rules

My grandmother has two rules about get togethers: no religion and no politics.

You know, of course, that it takes but five minutes after the plates are cleared and our hands are drumming on the dirty tablecloth for something big to shatter our awkward tiptoeing talks, bringing an axe down on those topics.

Growing up the oldest child, a healthy mix of introversion and curiosity pinned me to the side of the table where these taboo topics made their debut.

The kids’ table was for mashed potato castles with gravy moats. The adults, though, paid no mind to my grandmother’s wishes.

For twenty-two Christmases and Easters, I sat obediently with the adults, half-listening to the rants about presidential elections and foreign affairs, new popes and old Catholic traditions.

This year, on Easter, two months shy of the Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8, the conversation meandered down a path that, for so many years, had all but gone unmarked.

Gay marriage.

By then, I had seen the very real ache of a woman in love, raising three boys with her partner but unable to have the same benefits of a marriage between a man and a woman.

Their lives were fresh in my mind. And they were living much the same way my family was: happy, together, with love and care.

So when, emphatic, my grandfather all but spit on the very idea of a world where LGBT relationships had the same privileges as quote-unquote traditional marriages, I felt my whole body overheating. Literally.

I sat and started at the crumbs on that dirty table. I listened to him, so angry, so afraid to say anything for fear of what might happen if, for the first time in twenty-three years, I had words that didn’t fit neatly into the crayon box of matrimony.

I rubbed my neck. I strained my ears. I looked away as if disinterested. My mother threw a word or two in about how did it matter, really, what he believed about their relationship? It was the principal of it all. The equality of it all.

And finally, I said the one thing none of us had:

What if one of us, one of your grandchildren, were gay? What if we came over to your house to introduce our partner?

[Years earlier, I had been the first grandchild to bring my boyfriend around. But I was a girl + he was a guy + if he wasn’t Catholic, at least he was Christian, right?]

I cannot tell you what he said. I don’t remember. Only that the waters were forever muddied with that comment.

I went on to tell him about the women I knew who were grappling with grocery bills and rent payments and soccer cleats and hospital stays and how could he turn his head for them?

I’ll never understand. And I never want to live in fear that someone close to me opens their heart to someone only to be rejected because of their sexual orientation.

It was, for the first time, the hardest thing about being Catholic: that we were to love the world, praise the Lord, cherish our blessings, and question the equality of marriage.

She Had Won

This is for anyone who believes, or aches to believe, in Something More. This is for the girls and boys who almost died. For the ones who wasted themselves away. This is for headaches at three a.m. and hollow stomachs. This is for anyone who’s ever been held hostage by disease so badly it overtakes all the joy, energy, and love you’ve left to give and offers you a shell of a life in return.

This, this story, is a new day.

God smacked into me. I was standing in my living room, holding a remote and turning off an otherwise muted TV. I’d been sitting in the kitchen for hours, forgetting that the TV had even been on, and pressed the power button.

Before it flickered off, I caught sight of a girl onscreen.

Something told me to turn the TV back on. I needed to hear her story.

So I did.

And within 30 seconds, it became clear why.

Mariah Pulice was 19 years old. She had spent most of adolescence chained to the belief that she would never be able to starve herself enough. In high school, she lived on a slice of American cheese a day. She forgot how to love anything. She forgot how to laugh, how to sing, how to experience anything other than emptiness.

And she lost friends. She lost herself. She lost pounds and pounds.

I waited for her sister to say the words that shook me to pieces: “She wasn’t Mariah. Mariah’s always fun all the time and she’s always energetic and goofy and… she didn’t want to do anything.”

Because I knew that girl. That energetic and goofy girl who just got the wind knocked out of her and could do nothing but lie in bed and text her roommate to tell her she thought her heart was going to stop beating.

I prayed she could sing. And she did. Let It Be by The Beatles.

But what broke me clean in half was when they told her she was going to Hollywood and her sisters and her mother and her whole family came running in and smacked into her. Almost knocked her onto the ground. And they were crying because she was alive and because someone believed in her second chance the way she believed in her own life.

And her mother, through inconsolable tears, just falling over her crumbling daughter, could do nothing but thank the judges for this moment.

Because that’s what we do when the people we love make it through unconquerable storms: we get scared, downright terrified, that they will not survive. We play the scenarios in our heads, the really bad options and the good ones, when we’re able. We think about the future as this gift we won’t get to open because life has taken us down this irreconcilable path.

And then, one day, we wake up and dream. We start to let the cracks of sunlight through the slats in our dusty attic of a head. We start to be alive again.

I meant it when I said God smacked into me. Standing there, breath lodged in my throat, shoulders shaking with silent tears. Because she was alive. So am I. So are the hundreds of thousands of others who may or may not ever get a chance to see the sunlight peek through the darkness.

She had won.