Greetings from the land of dust, fumes, and noise. It’s been a while. I know. I’m sorry. It’s been a rough few months, though, filled with delays, setbacks, and unexpected problems (and lots of writing to pay for those unexpected problems). I haven’t blogged about it all because I figured you people have better things to do than listen to me whine. Today, though, in celebration of our mantles and bookcases getting installed and the picture rail going up, I thought I would do some whining with a theological point (and a few progress pictures, thrown in for good measure).
For starters: The Mantles (still in need of finishing trim, but in place at long last).
There will be more pictures later. For now, though, let’s get to that whining. I’ll begin by stating the obvious: I am not Saint Catherine of Siena.
This comes as a shock to exactly no one. Over the past couple of months, however, as I’ve worked on a new study about Catherine’s life for Endow, I’ve been reminded daily about how vast the expanse of goodness separating me from the Virgin of Siena actually is.
Consider my attitude last night, when I was washing dishes in the small pedestal sink in our bathroom. Besides the shower and the clothes washer, this sink is (and has been for some time) our only source of running water in the house. If I were Catherine, this would not have fazed me. I would just have joyfully envisioned myself washing dishes for Jesus and all His saints in some gold-plated, diamond-studded sink in heaven.
Instead, I had some choice curse words for the faucet, the sink, our contractor, and whoever made our wine glasses with such ridiculously long stems.
There also was our discovery last week that some yahoo uninformed person, had insulated the attic incorrectly, trapping all the hot air up there, and turning our house into a 3000 square foot brick oven, that gets hotter and hotter with each passing day. If I were Catherine, I would have offered up my suffering for the good of that yahoo’s uninformed person’s soul.
But I had some choice curse words for him too.
Again, I am not Catherine of Siena. With all the renovation-induced suffering there is to offer up around here, she would have helped redeem a few dozen small countries by now. Me? I’ve just developed a bad case of stress laryngitis. Who even knew that was a thing?
The kicker in all this is that I’ve lost my voice (and most of my sanity) over a stupid house. This past year, I’ve watched various friends watch cancer return, almost lose their newborn baby, lose their jobs, have their unborn child diagnosed with a heart defect, and watch loved ones succumb to mental illness, cancer, and strokes. Comparatively speaking, having a backyard that looks like an Appalachian construction circus is absolutely nothing.
Likewise, for as annoying as doing dishes in a pedestal sink may be, at least I have a sink. And four walls, windows, and a roof…leaky though it is. I get that what we’re putting up with, globally speaking, is really small stuff. We take for granted things that would be the height of luxury in vast spans of the earth. I am spoiled. Super spoiled.
That combined knowledge, however, only adds a thick layer of guilt to the annoyance, frustration, exhaustion, and constant worry about finances that I’m already feeling. Yay team.
The one good thing in all this (besides my mantles, refinished floors and newly installed range hood)…
… is that it’s helping me to understand more clearly the words God spoke to Catherine in The Dialogue: “I am that which is, and you are that which is not,”
Meaning, God is God, and I am not. He is the Creator, the source of all love, all life, all goodness, all being. I am just a creature, created out of nothing. No matter how strong, how smart, and how capable I think I am, without him, I’m nothing. I can do no good apart from him. I can accomplish nothing apart from him. All really is grace.
Technically speaking, I know this. Like a lot of people, though, I tend to get so caught up in doing stuff that I forget it’s not really me doing anything at all. It’s God giving me the grace to do. It’s God giving me the strength to do. It’s God giving me the intelligence, the skills, and the virtues to do. It’s all God. All the time. In every way.
Success can make that hard to remember. Failure, however? That makes God’s grace impossible to forget. And I am failing left, right, and center these days. I’m failing to be patient. I’m failing to offer up my suffering. And I’m failing to do the basic things I need to do to keep myself alive: eat, shower, sleep. I’m also failing to meet deadlines, remember phone calls, and pay bills. My brain is full of renovation-sized holes, and all the details I normally keep track of with ease are falling through those holes en masse.
And yet, as Catherine keeps reminding me daily, from an eternal perspective, all that failure is actually a good thing because it’s helping me to see my nothingness clearly. It’s helping me see that on my own, I don’t have the strength to breathe, let alone deal with the stress of living in a dirty, noisy construction zone, where the cost of making everything clean and safe is roughly equivalent to the GDP of Namibia.
Even more importantly, my failing is a good thing because it’s helping me to see God’s greatness clearly. It’s helping me to see the amazing Love that would give itself for a creature as weak and selfish as me, and it’s helping me to see the amazing grace poured out on me every single day.
These days my constant prayer has become an echo of Catherine’s. “You are that which is. I am that which is not. Thank you, Lord, for teaching me how much I need you.”
So too does the knowledge that someday the house is going to be finished and that it’s going to be beautiful (although, of course, now I’m worrying it’s going to be too beautiful and people are going to judge us harshly for that…it’s like I sit around looking for things to worry about). Regardless, judged or not, Chris and I have high hopes that this house will become a home that blesses many people, and that we will use it to serve our friends, family, and the Church in Pittsburgh.
And, in the twisted ways of God’s, it’s off to a good start. It’s blessing me by breaking me.
Only, please, don’t say that to my contractors. They don’t need to help God bless me any more. I’ve got a family of six showing up one week from tomorrow, two whole floors of the house that still painting, and a kitchen that’s not yet functional. Pray for us…and if you’re in Pittsburgh, feel free to come by this weekend with a paint brush. You won’t be turned away.
P.S. Last month, I took a brief respite from construction dust to go film an episode of “The Journey Home” with Marcus Grodi. We talked about my conversion and reversion, all the healing graces that came from that, and “The Catholic Table.” It airs this coming Monday, June 26, at 8 pm EST, if you’re interested.