After a morning spent watercoloring a few charcoal sketches, I buttoned up my coat and took to the dirt road near our home, which cascades down between cropland and flows between wild apple trees further on. This summer, the fields were seeded with corn. When they were at their height, the paper stalks formed castle walls on either side, green in summer, golden in autumn. Sapling maples fringe the road, bursting sweet berry-red to distract from the now-naked fields. Scattered kernels are the only vestige that a castle ever existed on this island.
As my boots were kicking up russet dust, my heart suddenly grew soft, soft enough to absorb the quiet blanketing the countryside, the warm tinge in the air, the pastel sky nestled against the tucked-away fields ahead. Another Rosary bead rolled between my thumb and forefinger, and I realized: God’s will does not always entail suffering. Sometimes it simply means resting in His presence, in His creation. Sometimes it means creating—whether a whimsical watercolor or homemaking with the thrift treasures I scavenged. Why do I often feel that to be accomplishing God’s will, I must be at least a little uncomfortable?
His will is that we love Him—but He also wills to love us. And He loves us by helping us to fall deeper in love with Himself. For me, loving Him is enjoying my husband’s company over a good meal. It is going out for lunch with a friend to share our ups and downs with each other. It is snuggling up by the lamp at night to read an enriching book. In such moments, I am drawn closer to Him through His goodness.
And then there are times when God’s will does indeed entail suffering—but only because suffering will help us to love Him more. If the cross will not lead to resurrection, He simply will not allow it—if this were not true, He would not have become the God-Man. Suffering, with Him, is never without purpose, never without fruit. And this fruit—greater love between Him and I—is only possible if I trust that, in this moment, it is better that I be more uncomfortable than not. This may mean folding the laundry when I’d rather be watercoloring, or writing rather than walking—and sometimes it means taking a Rosary walk rather than writing. It means living across the country from my mother and father and siblings, because here is where I am called to live. It means spending many hours alone, because I am called to write. It means surrendering my desire for a farmhouse and chickens and being willing to live in a city. He can foresee the path that will lead me to greater love—I cannot. And so I must trust.
God’s will, I am coming to see, is never something to be feared, not even when it requires more than mere discomfort—but pain. Even the greatest tragedy He will allow if it will draw us closer to Him. No, He is not a sadistic God who enjoys watching us crawl to Him in our suffering. He is a God who knows that our greatest good is to fall in greater and greater love with Him. And so, whether His will is that I wander through the darkness of loneliness, searching for Light—or drink Lindor-infused cocoa on a Sunday afternoon, feet-to-feet with my husband, I do it for love of Him.
of sweet you,
hidden in the haven of my womb
your little face,
smucked with raspberry jam
the wilds of berries in August
my earthen heart,
perfect it in muddy hands
this earthen heart
is already moving for you
When the future is a haze, the sky is still candy-blue over me. And in the orchard, where the branches reach to entwine their fingers and the apples smile in the sunlight, ruddy-cheeked, life is solid in my hand, sweet and simple. By the trout pond, as I slip my arms around my husband and sigh, I see that the glittering water never ceases drifting toward the river, though the trees guarding it do change, no longer green but strawberry-red. On the pathway among lofty pine and fiery maple, I look ahead only to the next bend. And even on the day when the sky is obscured by wool, and the orchard has relinquished its every fruit, the pond its rosy trimming, the pathway its dappled light—I emerge from the church to be enfolded in honeyed woodsmoke. I know, with a secret smile, that it is His promise to me: I am with you always, ever ready to give you My peace, if only you will pause, inhale the air, and find Me in the moment.
I believe He can be found also in the word, in the mind. But, for me, His most powerful word is that which is unspoken, His most tender touch felt by my heart in the breeze and the grass and my husband’s embrace.
I am but one among the countless number. I notice pregnant women everywhere now, at the store, walking by, in church—and this is only on Prince Edward Island, a dust mite on the map. Closing my eyes, I picture the telltale swell beneath a vibrant sari, an exposed black belly gleaming beneath the sun, the bump betraying a princess’s secret, or the hidden package of a frightened teenager curled up in a bathroom. Whether by surprise or not, we are all carrying what may seem ordinary, given its universality, but is truly extraordinary: new life.
When I first heard my child’s heartbeat, I was the first woman in history to receive tangible proof that another human being is nestled inside me. Diya in India, Maha in Africa, Kate in London, Jaden in America—we are all the first to be pregnant, because something this beautiful never grows obsolete or stale or banal. Like that first tender blossom on the bush beneath the kitchen window (the very bush that has been there for decades and never fails to bloom in spring), new life renews the face of the earth every time. Our breath is ever stolen by that which has lit the dreary landscape—or at least we should be so delighted.
When I look inward to my child, sleeping in my womb, I see vellum flesh too delicate yet to touch, but what I sense is the immensity of creation. Who am I that I should carry a blossom that has never before grown in the garden? I may have prepared the soil, and my husband planted the seed, but neither he nor I decided that roots should shoot forth and leaves unfurl. We merely tend what has been given to us. Yes, rain or shine, our child is gift.
We too have given a gift. Young we may be, yet we have taken part in the greatest feat we can or will ever achieve: creation. A name echoing into eternity, a handprint set into the Creator’s heart, this is what our humble love has given God—another soul to nourish with His own boundless love. This is what we have given the world—yet another extraordinary blossom.
Two little boys, like tin soldiers abandoned on the dusty road, and two little dogs bounding at their feet, one white, one brown. A wheat field to the east, smoldering in the dusk, and swaths of curing canola to the west. Above: blue ripening to rose-gold, in every direction, unhindered by mountain or forest. And a farm, autumn spinning its wreath of trees into a golden crown.
My last glimpse was one I clung to until the last moment. I suppose I feared that in letting go I would lose what I found during my time away from the island—no, not found, but rediscovered. Surrounded by the people who know me and love me best—my mother, father, siblings, and husband—I rediscovered freedom.
I think it is easy to become an island when you live on an island. The world is smaller here, the horizon closer, more mysteries unveiled than not. And yet the sky above is infinite, as it is anywhere else. Discouraged by the boundaries enclosing me, I ceased glancing up to drink of the pure air pouring down from Heaven; my eyes slipped from God’s face. And when you begin to believe there is nothing more to discover outside yourself, your gaze will turn inward, like a wounded rabbit crawling into its warren, where the world is safe and dry but utterly dark.
Big skies. Timidly at first, I poked my head from my hole and peered out. When I saw my family beneath those big skies, delighting in the blue, the breeze, the sunlight washing over them, I realized they were safe, happy—and free. And I could be too. Not strong enough on my own, their love assured me that surrendering my fear would not hurt.
No matter where God places us on this earth—no matter whether my husband, our baby, and I are called to live on an island or not—I know that so long as I look up, I will always find my freedom.
Unexpected little face at the window of my womb. Our muffin, our raspberry, a blue egg in our nest. I had hoped you would come sooner than later but dared not hope too hard—and here you are. Our island child.
I’ve written about you before, dreamed about you. I’ve seen your blue eyes, cradled your body, maybe even heard your name. But there was a time when I would have laughed had I been told you’d come into being among patchwork fields and sleepy villages, on a faraway island set like a ruby in the eastern sea. And yet you could not have been otherwise. Here is where your father came into being, here is where my heart joined to his, and here is where you, a seed gently poked into the russet earth, will unfurl your first leaves.
How I wish you could know what I myself knew as a child: the cabin hidden among evergreens, a refuge overlooking a cool, green lake where the loon cries; or the yellow farmhouse, warm and safe above a cow-studded pasture and a murky creek. You will never taste my Grandma’s saskatoon pancakes or ride in my Grandpa’s tractor—but I know you will make your own memories, sweet and bright, as I did. I pray the pattern of leaves and twigs and berries will be imprinted on your heart as surely as it was on mine.
And I pray your father’s passion for Truth will burn in you like a golden light, defying the darkness. We cannot protect you from every evil, but we can prepare you to face it. No matter how weak we may be, we promise to love you, small one, and by our love may you too come to know and love Love Himself, He who is why we are. You’ll discover beauty and goodness in this world, but remember that such wonder-filled moments are fleeting hints of what is to come. Yes, never forget that this world is indeed your home, but it is not Home.
Together, with your father and I and whoever else may join our nest, we will grow and we will become what we are created to be: a family, journeying toward reunion with our Family in Heaven.
O world, you do not know how wonderful a family truly is, because you do not know what a family truly is.
Have you ever felt your mother’s fingers comb through your hair, or your father’s arms lift you onto his shoulders? Have you ever walked barefoot through a field with your sisters or raced through the garden with your brothers? I have. I remember grinning with delight to see my parents appear at the schoolroom door to whisk me away, when other children groaned and spurned their parents’ affection. I remember stealing back my wailing brother from an old woman’s arms and soothing him as only I could. And when no other girl in the crowd seemed to understand my heart, I knew my sisters would—I knew that every late-night talk in the moonlit darkness would weave us three tighter, like a braid, and strengthen us for tomorrow, no matter our squabbles of today.
Love is flexible; it is not limited to laughter and embraces and kisses. Changing diapers and folding laundry, serving rather than dictating, biting your tongue rather than lashing out, and even rising up to be bold with the truth when you’d rather avoid confrontation—a family will stretch your heart to fit more than just yourself. No matter that I’ve grown up and moved far, far away from them, today my heart yet carries a mother and father, two sisters, and five brothers. Even when their weaknesses (or mine) threaten to shrivel my heart, they never succeed, because I know what a family is, and I know that if we but cling to the goodness in each other, we will only become greater.
For a family is the forge in which gold emerges.
A rainbow in the sprinkler’s mist, and I am happy.
Our garden is small, planted in an old flowerbed. Not every seed that we meticulously pushed into the soil decided to show its newborn face, but what did is flourishing. My plump little children. I remember hunkering down in Grandma’s garden and crunching away on carrots, rooting for strawberries in the tangled patch, and spilling peas into my mouth. Food was simple but good—and so it always can be. I am particularly enthralled with the cabbages; there is enough to supply us with sauerkraut all year long. Call me an old woman, a baba, and I will grin and nod.
After a dismal winter, the island has been blessed with eager sunshine. I find myself frequently wandering away from my writing to gaze out the window, to sneak out and check on the vegetables, to stroll down the road between furrowed crops. Already, we’ve been to the sea too many times to remember: those vast peach-colored beaches, the dunes crested with swishing grass, and the water—shimmering, creamy on bare legs, bobbing with plum-colored jellyfish. Not long ago, I sat on a sandbar and laughed as the waves came rumbling over me, filling my face with salty bubbles. Driving home, I found myself smiling sleepily, my cheeks pink, my hair curled by the water and wind. I remembered those sun-soaked days at the lake of my childhood: digging pools in the sand, collecting snails, and chasing after multicolored butterflies as big as my hand—and then, as the sun set, running up through the evergreens and across the cool, green lawn to the cabin, my wet towel flapping behind me.
Today, with my beautiful friend, I scavenged for sea glass, lunched on mussels, paddle-boarded in a basin abounding with sea life (I held a blue starfish!), and swam under the silent regard of coastal windmills. Once again, my cheeks are pink, my hair curled, and my heart nearly full (soon my husband will be home, and then it will be overflowing).
I am tempted to cling to these days of consolation, to look beyond the present moment and grimace at the inevitable return of snow and ice. But I figure it’s better to learn now, while I’m young, that seasons are simply a part of life and always will be. Why waste energy fighting them? Furthermore, they are not something to resign myself to, but rather to embrace. After all, without winter (desolation), would summer be so sweet?
Not long ago, a man might spend his entire day in the woods, swinging an ax, his senses inundated by the smells and songs of a wild world. Or in a field, alone with his horses, tilling up the layers of deep, rich soil. Or he might find himself coasting toward the horizon, white sails rippling above his head as he sank his net into the depths and drew up silver fish. Life then was hard, often too hard, but there exists many a testimony from those who discovered profound beauty within their struggles. Call me a romantic, but then you would have to call the pioneers romantics as well.
They rose and slept to the rhythm of the sun, felt their hearts swell with pride to watch their cattle grow strong and fat or the garden burst with leaf and color, and delighted in gathering around the table to share stories at day’s end. They knew the stars and could find their way home even be they leagues out on the crystal sea. And they knew intimately the land they had broken; indeed, like husband and wife, blood was spilled that they may be united and bear fruit. Pain gave birth to beauty.
Today, we fear suffering; we’ve cut ourselves off from anything that may cause us discomfort. And thus we find ourselves in a cushioned, air-conditioned, sterilized, instant, pre-made, synthetic environment where we are rarely, if ever, challenged to draw on our deepest strength, to fight and win a battle for life itself. Consider the woods and fields, the mountains and sea: beauty thrives in an unfettered, even dangerous, environment. The woodcutter fought for life alongside the bear and bird and squirrel; the fisherman alongside the fish; the farmer alongside the weeds—and every man learned to surrender to the weather. No doubt it is daunting to embrace what we cannot always control, but only ask the pioneer and he will tell you it is worth it.
Naturally, not everyone was called to a skin-to-skin relationship with creation. Indeed, there existed many a philosopher, poet, and politician—but they too were connected to the beauty surrounding them, whether to muse on it, to write about it, or to defend it. Today is no different: not everyone is called to garden, and even fewer to till a field by horse-drawn plow. No, I do not argue that we should return to lanternlight and carriages and hand-pumped water—not if we can use our creative technology to strike a balance between life being too hard and life being too easy. The cold may kill a man’s body, but modernity may kill a man’s soul. Yes, it’s no wonder this generation is crying out, “Where is God? Where is He?”
We must rediscover beauty before we can find He who is Beauty.
But beauty is not only found within suffering. As children, were we not often spellbound by simplicity—a dandelion plucked to give to Mother? What did we see in that humble little weed? Or maybe the question is, What do we not see now?
As we grow, stepping beyond our backyard into the Great Wide Open, we often become jaded—the bubble bursts and we realize that an evil witch dwells in the lovely land of Oz. Some begin searching for beauty in the cold, the grotesque, the indecent, as if childhood is mere illusion. But we cannot thrive in the heart of darkness; it is a void into which our cries echo for eternity. Like color, beauty is only present when light is present.
But even within the sphere of sunlight and starlight and moonlight and firelight, we can find ourselves crying out for more. We wonder how we can make the beauty last longer, how we can capture it and never let it go—rather than simply being and soaking it in. We’ve learned to be greedy, rather than grateful. We must remember what it was to be a child who lived solely in the moment . . .
Not long ago, a friend and I stepped barefoot into a meadow of lupins and searched for our favorites—whether magenta or pale pink or violet or cornflower blue or white-tipped. We gathered bouquets that overflowed our hands and our hearts. They wilted the next day but sweetened our lives while they lasted, and that was what mattered.
For many, beauty is not at their fingertips. While it is indeed possible to climb over the wall into a hidden garden and behold dewy roses growing rampant—need beauty be so elusive? Can it not be integrated into an ordinary day, as it once was? No wonder we grasp and cling when beauty shimmers its wings. Somehow, it has become a rare gem found by few, rather than the hearth by which every man, woman, and child can warm themselves. Every now and then I am struck deeply when I remember that this earth was given to us to be home, and yet many spend more time under a roof, suffocated by forests of concrete and steel, than among breezy cathedrals of trees where the soul is free to breathe.
Again, I do not argue that we should reject everything that is not of the old world. But we must awake and realize that the new world, for all its progress, may well be birthing the regress of human flourishing.
A breath appears as nothing more than a mere puff of air, does it not? And yet it would be a mistake to believe it is as simple as that. Just as many parts of the body must work together, in harmony, to create a breath, so must many parts work together to create a human. Like a breath, a human may appear simple, but there is much more to being human than meets the eye.
One who is truly human is noble.
For me, the word noble has at long last been resurrected from the historical museum, removed from among the rusted swords and breastplates, polished, and set on a pedestal in the centre of the world, of my being. I now understand that to be noble is to be whole and healthy in body, mind, and soul—a work of art, as Aristotle wrote.
For me, nobility can be expressed in three ways: kombucha, splurging, and prayer.
Kombucha. Within the confines of our little apartment in the countryside, I’ve delved heart-first into several traditional ways of preparing food that have been tossed out the window by comfortable, convenient North America. What a joy it is to create my own kombucha, kimchi, and sourdough; not only is it satisfying and economic, but also far more nutritious than our ancestors could have known. Yes, I am shamelessly passionate about food as it was—that is, in the days before the food industry was corrupted. Not long ago, humanity danced with the earth. But now we hear the earth crying out as we rape precisely what we were given to nurture and protect. And in betraying the earth, we’ve betrayed our bodies as well.
But even if my body is whole and healthy and I appear to be thriving, if my mind is malnourished, I am no less sick than the obese man down the street—just not in the same way.
Splurging. I have always struggled with an all-or-nothing mentality. Ah, how much easier it is to say no every time to a certain something than to repeatedly step back and discern in this particular moment if it might be better to say yes, even if yesterday it was better to say no. Contrary to what some may believe (as I myself have often believed), that is not compromise, but prudence—because nobility requires balance. And to balance a scale, one must weigh between goods. What is good for me in this moment? To splurge on cheesecake or not? Do I need to practice temperance and say no, or practice gratitude/loosen up/slay vanity/make a sweet memory and say yes? If saying no this time foments anxiety, resentment, or division (as I have experienced), my mind is now suffering, and probably my soul too—and thus my very humanity. Such is why it may be better to splurge on cheesecake today, even if yesterday it was better to say no and take a hike instead.
Maybe you are wondering: How I can be still be whole and healthy in every way if my mind is nourished but my body is not? Today, during weekday Mass, I was reflecting on the fact that Christ gave up His body for us. Being beaten, scourged, and crucified was certainly a detriment to His physical health. And what about severe fasting? What about the saints who mortified themselves?
Well, the simple truth is that everything we are—body, mind, and soul—exists for Love. Our bodies are for more than the perfect balance of muscle, fat, and nutrients, etc. They are for more than comfort. You may or may not ace a checkup at the doctor’s office—what matters is that you are able to serve Love. Maybe the doctor is right—maybe you do need to eat less junk—but this is that you may better serve Love. How much belly fat, then, is too much? Simply, that is between you and God. Consider: too much junk can lead to addictions, debilitating symptoms, and even premature death. Maybe we often fail at sticking to a clean diet and exercise because our only motivation is to lose weight and feel better—which often doesn’t hold up when faced with a choice between cheesecake or an apple and you’re asking yourself why it’s that important to have a trim waistline and more energy—but what about loving better?
With this is mind, we are indeed called to care for our temples—but as soon as we begin caring too much, we have begun worshiping the temple itself and not God who dwells within. My body is not only a receptor for nutrients, but also a conduit for grace. I am called to use my body to serve the poor, not to serve my body over the poor. Yes, we exist for Love.
Prayer. I cannot determine the balance on my own. God alone knows how to weigh the goods on the scale. He is always there, standing over my shoulder like a father tutoring his child in the family trade. If I try to proceed without Him, I will inevitably make the wrong decision—or I will not be able to make a decision at all (blasted scrupulosity). I know then that my soul is starving. Prayer—communication between the mortal and the Immortal—is the food of the soul and served in many forms. Often, God will speak to me through my beloved husband or through Scripture, and sometimes through a saint’s quote. Always, whether using words or not, He speaks through peace. I truly believe peace is the compass of the soul. If my soul is restless, I know God is urging me to add a little more this or a little less that until the balance is struck.
Like kombucha, nobility is not a thing of the past, of medieval knights and crowned queens, but of every human who desires to be who they truly are.