noun: 1. a fault, blemish, or undesirable feature.
Synonyms: defect, fault, flaw, deformity, discoloration, disfigurement; crack, scratch, chip, nick, pit, dent; blemish, stain, spot, mark, streak, flaw, fault, failing, deficiency, weakness, vice, weak point, fallibility, shortcoming, foible, inadequacy, frailty, limitation, chink in one’s armor.
My name is Lisa and I am imperfectly imperfect. The definition of imperfection and all of its synonyms describe me well, but imperfectly. In using the term “imperfectly imperfect”, I mean that sometimes there are these moments of glorious near perfection that happen through me, but I now realize that these neither start nor end with me, but rather happen despite me. And the thing is, as of this moment in time, I am incredibly grateful to embrace my imperfect imperfection. It has become an amazing gift; one that took me way too long to receive, let alone unwrap and enjoy.
I have spent most of my life being afraid of imperfection. On the worst of days, it was my most feared enemy, threatening to crush me into non-existence. On better days, I liken it to the one package left under the tree at Christmas that no one in the family wants to pick up. As Christmas unfolds, gifts are opened and celebrations wind down, there it sits, still wrapped up under the tree, near the back, untouched. It is akin to the beautifully packaged fruit cake that a certain relative sent year after year. It isn’t anything we wanted to eat, but rather something we just avoided. In it we perceived no worth other than the fact that someone remembered us this Christmas and wanted to show their care. To take a bite of it would just serve to make us sick, so we would end up eventually throwing it in the garbage, with its original packaging intact, as we took down the Christmas decorations at the end of the season.
I have always been aware of my imperfection, but was too afraid to face its presence ever lurking in the shadows, much too close for comfort. My way of coping with the fear of it was multifaceted. A few of my tactics looked like this: 1) I tried to pretend it wasn’t there; 2) When it seeped back into my consciousness, I worked extra hard to be perfect to prove I was better than it; 3) I focused on pleasing others, so that they would be distracted enough by my goodness so as to not see it in me.
For me, the worst part of imperfection was that I thought to embrace its presence within would make me unlovable. I was certain that the moment those I loved figured out the degree of my imperfection, they would abandon me. I even believed that my Creator demanded perfection from me in order for me to merit being loved. A life without love, the consequence of my imperfection, was what I feared the most.
Then one day, despite my best efforts and the tireless energy I expended to keep up the illusion of my perfection, I fell really hard. After nine months (plus a couple of extra weeks) of an incredibly joy-filled pregnancy, Jim and I welcomed into the world the baby we had planned and wanted more than anything in this life. Gazing upon Sadie Suzanne for the first time is a moment eternally engraved upon my soul. Never before had I seen anyone or anything more beautiful. She took my breath away and rendered me speechless. I praised God for using us to make her perfectly formed body for His eternal creation of a new person. Yet within hours of her arrival, my perfect world, now complete with the birth of my daughter, came crashing in upon me.
Anxiety attacks had been a part of my life since I was a child, but I had successfully been able to hide them from others. In the years before her birth they had mostly left and I had a peaceful respite from their cruelty. After Sadie’s birth however, they came back in full force. They came fast and furious, like the contractions of my labor which had been induced. There was no rest between the end of one attack and the beginning of the next. They blurred together into one ceaseless assault. All of my energy, which was needed to care for the new life entrusted to me, was instead spent trying to keep my head above the water enough so that I wouldn’t drown. Fighting the anxiety minute after minute rendered me unable to eat or sleep or even dress myself. After a few days, in the midst of uncontrollable chaos, I realized that if my daughter and I were going to survive my anxiety intact, I had to admit my imperfection to the world. I had to confess that I couldn’t do it anymore.
That day was the worst of my entire life. Just five days after the birth of my daughter, I picked up the phone and called those who loved me the most to tell them that I couldn’t do it-I couldn’t be a mom. The hardest part was telling my husband that he was going to have to pick between her or me, because I just did not have it in me to be her mother AND his wife. The masquerade of perfection was shattered. I was convinced that they would all leave me. Yet I was propelled to take the risk in order to protect my newborn daughter and give her a chance at a life better than I could provide.
This weekend my Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday. It is a day when we focus on God’s Mercy as the key element in the plan for salvation-to give His only Son for the redemption of all humanity. In my younger life of naive faith, I always thought about Divine Mercy as being mostly for other people. Since my identity was based upon a masquerade of perfection, I thought that I didn’t need this mercy as much as others did. I would pray the prayers, thinking of the lost souls of the world who needed mercy and forgiveness for their imperfection and its consequences. At the time when I was pregnant with my daughter, I prayed the Divine Mercy prayers every day as near to the 3:00 hour as possible-the hour when Jesus died and Divine Mercy first flooded the world. I am not certain as to why I did this, except that I felt led to do so. Little did I know then that I was also praying for myself and that the occasion of her entrance into the world, which happened at exactly 3:00 p.m. on the dot, became the very doorway I myself needed to walk through to enter into the arms of God’s mercy, even in the face of my utmost inadequacy.
They all gathered quickly after I hung up the phone. First my brother Kevin came, since he worked nearby. Then my parents who both left work early arrived. My husband sped to try to get home faster than the 90 minutes his commute normally took. Finally my sister-in-law Dana entered, with two very young children of her own, prepared to take care of our newborn daughter until we figured out what the future would look like. When I handed Sadie over, I wept uncontrollably. I wept for the fact that I didn’t think I would see her again-that the authorities would think it unsafe for me to ever parent a child. I wept for the way in which I had failed her, just at the time she needed me the most. I wept at how I had cracked and exposed my worst imperfections and now they all knew that I wasn’t what I had led them to believe. At the most crucial time in my life, I had failed miserably, my imperfection threatening to crush me into non-existence. My worst fears were being realized before my very eyes. I couldn’t fight it anymore.
At the moment of surrender, it came. Like a tsunami, rushing over me with a fierceness I had never known, it came. Divine Mercy, it came crashing in, surrounding me, lifting me up, keeping me afloat. Divine Mercy, in me and with me and through me. A Love completely encompassing even in the face of my greatest failing. Not manufactured by me, not earned by my goodness, not achieved by my sacrifices, but given freely because of my imperfection and my need. And with its arrival, those I loved joined together to become its vessels, day after day, week after week as I healed. No judgment, no anger, no betrayal was displayed. Only support and love and belief were shown.
It took me until I was 31 years old to pick up and accept the gift of imperfection that was sitting under the proverbial Christmas tree of my life. My girl, my Sadie, she was the one who gave me the courage to embrace it. My desire for her to live a good life, whether it was to be with me or without me, propelled me to unwrap it. Not too long after I handed her over, I received her back into my arms for good. With lots of mercy and love surrounding me in my frailty, we continued on the journey of imperfection which we remain on to this day. Her beautiful life has been the doorway for me to enter into the presence of Divine Mercy over and over. I cannot be the perfect mom I think she needs, but I can surrender to the mercy and love that frees me to be at peace with doing the best I can.
Imperfect imperfection. It has become an amazing gift. As I continue to unwrap it every day, I am led to the paradox that without it, I would not have a need for Divine Mercy. Exactly because of my imperfection, I am saved. O Happy Fault.