spirituality, vocation

La mia tartaruga

Mid-June, I decided to learn Italian. Everyday, I see my beloved green owl on Duolingo, a free language learning application. My little green owl encourages me to meet my daily goals and gives me fictional money called lingots. The lingots let me buy more language exercises and even a fancy outfit for my owl.  (I recently got him a gold tracksuit. It’s ridiculous and adorable.) Sometimes, I see my little Duolingo owl in a given week more than I see my roommate.

I tell people it’s to prevent Alzheimer’s, to expand my mind, to make a good habit, to have a hobby, to promise myself I’m going to Italy someday, etc. etc. That’s all true, but here’s the most honest truth: I’m learning Italian because it is my daily trust exercise that one day I’ll be married even though I am as single as ever.

Learning Italian leads to marriage? you ask, clearly worried about my current dating strategies. Yes. I plan to honeymoon in Italy as an almost non-negotiable place at this point. Not only is it romantic with delicious food and wine, but also the Pope blesses newly married couples at Wednesday audiences. Clearly, if someone is insane enough to marry me (and I him), we’re going to need all the help we can get. Papal blessing sounds like pretty much the most helpful thing this side of heaven. Plus, Papa Frank is a cool dude.

Obviously, being in Italy, I will need to know basic Italian. Clearly, being married and becoming a “we” instead of an “I” is going to require a lot of change. I’ll need patience, trust, dedication, and a whole bunch of other virtues necessary for the humble daily life of a good, Christian marriage, so I’m practicing those now by learning Italian.

Thing is, I am horrible at Italian, and I thought it would come easy.

I thought Italian would be easy coming from a decade of Spanish language education and continued proficiency (ish). Nope. Italian is as insane as Italians, especially those Sicilians.

Unlike a normal romantic language, Italian does not believe the letter “s” makes things plural. Come on, Italian! Even French, a language that does not pronounce 1/2 the letters in its words uses the letter “s.”

Too, “ciao” means both hello and good-bye. I thought only Hawaiians had that awkward social problem of never knowing when you can hang up the phone.

And seriously, why in the world do masculine nouns need not one, not two, but three determinate articles? (L’, Lo, and Il, which, of course, change into two different determinate articles for plural nouns that do not end in an “s” like a normal romantic language). Can you not just learn from the English language and have every noun begin with “the,” the most simple determinate article ever?

As much as I want to just say, “arrivederci” (which means only good-bye) to Italian, I find myself saying, “buongiorno” (good morning) to my little green Duolingo owl as “io mangio colazione” (I eat breakfast). As I stumble over unfamiliar words, insane spellings, and fail to properly translate silly sentences about tigers drinking milk again and again, the Lord is smiling. My daily trust exercise pleases my Heavenly Father. During my daily frustrations,  He consoles me with various terms of endearment. Most recently, He’s called me His turtle.

The Lord is calling you His turtle? you ask, worried about my sanity once again. Yes. In Italian that translates to “la mia tartaruga,” for your reference. (Also for your reference, have you noticed how Italian does not dropped the determinate article for a possessive article? That sentence actually reads “the my turtle.” Really, Italian? Really!?)

During a Theology on Tap talk on faith this past July, one of the speakers brought up an adorable picture of a turtle attempting to eat an apple (or strawberry, or some sort of fruit). He explained us attempting to fully comprehend the mystery of God is like trying to teach a turtle calculus. In both cases, we are ultimately going to fail not because it is not true but because the creature does not have the capacity to learn it. 

The turtle, however cute, however well meaning, however intellectual in its own respect, just does not have the brain capacity to understand calculus.

Does that mean calculus is not true? No.

Does that mean calculus does not exist? No

Does that mean calculus is not useful? Well, I’d debate that one since I have personally only used calculus once after two years of intense calculus learning, and that was only to show up a cocky engineering student. Still, I have (and will always) argue that calculus can be beautiful, so, OK, I get the point.

The brilliant St. Thomas Aquinas is said to have experienced the full majesty of God while celebrating Mass near the end of this life. He stopped writing his famous Summa Theologica, saying “I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.”

And this was Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Catholic Church, father of much modern philosophy, and otherwise impressively intelligent human being.

Clearly, it’s illogical that I think I can outthink St. Thomas Aquinas let alone God. As a human being, my brain capacity is closer to that of a turtle than that of Our Heavenly Father. His wisdom is infinite. My is finite. I only know so much, and He knows so much more.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9

I am working on growing in faith that God knows what He’s doing. I’m working on growing in trust that I’m walking on the right path. I’m am working on hope that marriage will happen in God’s time. I don’t know how any of this is going to work, yet God is the miracle worker and I’m not, so I’m going to play the turtle card on this one.

But it’s hard. It’s hard to wait on something, someone, who I have never met (or even have met – who knows!?) and yet who will be such a large part of my life. It’s hard to trust that things are happening outside my knowledge, and I just need to remain still and wait. Patience is not my strong suit. Waiting is not my strong suit. Trusting is not my strong suit. Uncertainty is not my strong suit. Not having all the available pieces of information is not my strong suit. Not making a plan B or even a plan A is not my strong suit.

Nothing about this process is my strong suit.

Yet, I’m very un-alone in that feeling. St. Paul had a similar struggle. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he writes of a “thorn in the flesh,” a particular difficulty or sin that he is struggling with. He begged the Lord in prayer to remove it, just as I have prayed for all this to just be done and for my future husband to fall out of a tree, or get off his butt, or whatever the delay seems to be on his end. (Clearly, I need to work on humility too. I’m sure there’s delays on my end for a reason as well, and I also need to get off my butt on a variety of things, such as my Duolingo for the day, but I digress.)

The Lord answers him, answers me, answers all of us tired of our trials,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9

It’s very much OK that nothing about this process is my strong suit. Marriage was never about being perfect. It’s about becoming a saint. It’s about becoming a better version of myself, through the gift of self, through self-sacrificing love for another person.

Marriage does not mean that I’m done with God. In marriage, I will need God more than ever. 

Christ Himself serves as the model for marriage, with His sacrificial love on the cross as a model for the love of a spouse. I am going to be called to die to myself for my spouse as Christ died for His bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:21-33). There’s no way I can live up to that goal of perfected love on my own.

So, why do I think I can wait on my own now? The fact of the matter is, I cannot. I cannot know everything that’s going on, and I have to trust that I am enough, that I am doing enough, and the Lord will do the rest.

But it’s hard. It’s hard waiting for something, someone, that you cannot know for sure will come. Yet, I have a choice in my wait. I can choose to trust. I can choose to have faith. I can choose to hope. And most of all, greatest of all, I can choose to love in various little ways, even when I don’t feel like it. So, I am choosing to put those four essential things into concrete action and learning Italian.

As Job, a man who lost everything, said to his friends who were encouraging him to abandon God,

“Lo, these are but the outlines of his ways, and how faint is the word we hear.”

Job 26:14

I am the Lord’s tartaruga. My little brain cannot comprehend His words nor His majesty nor even His overabundant love for me. I understand very little, and the little I understand is to wait in faith. Faith does not mean I know it all, understand it all, nor even guarantees it’ll turn out exactly how I want. Faith is always a risk.

As St. Paul wrote,

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11:1

For years, I pretended I did not want to be married. It was easier to pretend not to want something then to be disappointed repeatedly. But I was lying to myself. I want to be married someday, and I’m not ashamed of that anymore.

Marriage is a desire the Lord wrote upon my heart, wrote upon my inmost being, when He knit me in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). It is a desire I have because God desires it for me too.  I have no physical evidence to suggest marriage is going to happen, but I have great faith in my Heavenly Father.

Precisely when evidence suggests the contrary is when we need to have faith the most. I think of the crowd right before Jesus transformed five loaves and two fish into enough food to sustain a crowd of 5000 men with twelve baskets left over. I have the luxury of knowing the ending of the story, knowing the miracle is coming, but the crowd did not. The crowd had to sit in faith, waiting to be filled. The disciples had to trust, waiting on Jesus to work and not put them to shame. Most of all, the little boy had to give all he had, five loaves and two fishes. With that gift, that small gift, the Lord could work miracles.

I do not have the luxury of knowing my own ending to my future love story, so I sit and wait in faith. I do not have much to give, but I do have 5 minutes a day to learn Italian. Every day, I give that small gift of an extra 5 minutes in faith that the Lord will take it, transform it, and return it back to me in abundance I cannot even imagine.

Even on the days I doubt, even on the days I despair, even on the days I’m scared, even on the days I feel hopeless, I learn Italian. And just when I was most ready to give up, Duolingo asked me to translate this: “la tartaruga mangia le mele.” I smiled, knowing once again that the Lord will provide, as I typed, “The turtle eats the apple.”

I got it wrong. Mele is a plural for apples, not apple. Clearly, this tartaruga has some more learning to do, in Italian as well as in humility, patience, trust, faith, hope, and most of all, love.

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