Love & Lemonade

My very serious Beyonce fandom has been an internal struggle for me for a few years now.

As a college junior, “Love on Top” was my anthem. I owe my spring 2013 date party “Best Dancer” title to Beyonce’s 2011 MTV Music Video Awards performance, when she did a kick-ass dance number seconds before busting open her blazer and revealing her Blue Ivy baby bump. She’s got the best hair, the best voice, and quite frankly, I wish I woke up like that.

All the same, I struggled when she released her “Drunk in Love” duet with Jay Z. The explicit, graphic content bothered me. For someone with so much talent and so much beauty — and, in my opinion, so much class leading up to that point — I felt she was lowering herself by trying to take on her husband’s rapper-esque coarseness. I thought it beneath her. Nevertheless, I’ve stayed a fan.

Lemonade is art unlike any music video I’ve ever seen. It is a visual masterpiece by way of color, light, texture — a sensory marvel, I assure you. I could not believe the depth of symbolism and thought that went into every scene, every frame. It is beautiful, thought-provoking, and emotionally jarring all at once. It’s 55 minutes worth of video that seems to pass in seconds. I loved it. Truly, I loved it.

And yet, here we are again. The music is remarkable and the imagery is compelling, but the message, for lack of a better way to say it, hurts my heart. And not because I hurt for Beyonce regarding the implications she makes of Jay Z’s affair (although I deeply feel for her in that regard as well, if those implications are true), but because she took such a coarse, explicit, offensive approach to delivering it. The language she uses in more than half of the songs was, quite frankly, unnecessary. It did its job by shocking me each time the words came from her mouth, but otherwise, it wholly took away from what I believe she was trying to convey.

I’m not sure whether we should believe that Jay Z’s affair was real, and that the emotions behind Lemonade were actually Beyonce’s, or simply the masterful work of a remarkably skillful writer. It would be naive to forget that Beyonce and Jay Z have the financial means to pay for work like this — just as they undoubtedly paid for the incredible cinematography that makes this music video what it is. But regardless of whether these deeply felt emotions convey the internal dialogue of Beyonce or of someone else, Lemonade has made a comment about marriage that I am inclined to appreciate.

If you’ve not watched Lemonade, the gist is this: I am your wife, and you cheated on me. I am angry, but I love you. You have hurt me, but I love you. I feel worthless, but I love you. I want to leave you, but I love you. My family warned me, but I love you. I don’t need you, but I love you.

I forgive you, because I love you. I will stay with you, because I love you.

And as Beyonce soulfully sings about the promise of marriage, home videos of her, Jay Z, and Blue Ivy play behind it.

Do you see why it hurts my heart?

I’m both obsessed with this video and also so disappointed by it. Total emotional schizophrenia, I know.

I’m obsessed with it because I think it ultimately communicates a message that society so desperately needs to hear, and one that is so true about love, marriage, and family. But I’m also disappointed because the message was communicated by way of offensive language, explicit & graphic detail, and a mention of religion which, while wholly acknowledging God, left a bitter taste in my mouth.

There were a few acknowledgements of God in Lemonade. The only one worth mentioning was when bold, white lettering flashed across a black screen: GOD IS GOD AND I AM NOT.

Whoa. This, from a woman we’ve deemed “Queen” and elevated to an almost immortal capacity, in a video about feeling worthless and used in a broken marriage. If this doesn’t say something about the flawed way our society perceives celebrities, I’m not sure what would. In addition to the messaging about marriage, this message was consistent throughout: this “do you realize who you’re married to? I’m not your average woman” attitude, and yet: “I feel worthless; God is God and I am not.”

To tie this back to everything I’ve been saying in recent posts, we all have our stuff. Do we not all have our stuff? If this narrative is true — if Beyonce, who we’ve placed on such an unreachable pedestal, suspected that Jay Z was cheating on her and was begging God to shine a light in the shadows of their marriage (as she says in Lemonade), what more do we need to know? We all have our stuff.

I hate the abrasiveness of Lemonade. I hate the explicit, graphic language. I hate it. But I really, really think the deeper message is worth a second look — because the circumstances are real, the emotions are real, and the truth is real: that love defeats it. I’m a firm believer that as human beings, there’s good and bad in all of us. There’s definitely some bad stuff going on in Lemonade. But the resounding message is love, and there’s something to be said for that.

Christian Grit

Yesterday, I had the type of day which could only be described as “a day of people.”

It began when I ran into a super sweet (and recently engaged!) friend at noon mass whom I haven’t seen in probably 3 or 4 years. Serendipitous timing (aka I was late and sat in the back) seated me right behind her and the class she teaches at a local Catholic school. It was truly special to see her so unexpectedly and to observe her with her students—it made me feel both very old (it used to be us sitting in school masses together!) and also blessed to know such good-hearted people.

Upon leaving mass, I headed to the airport to pick my mom and aunt up after their 10-day trip to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago—the way of St. James. At dinner last night, my mom recounted the trip to my dad and me, and told us that she and her sister and brother had shared a lot with one another while in Spain—both struggle and joy.

Our meal was interrupted when a neighbor stopped by our table to introduce herself. In our 15 minutes of conversation, we learned that years ago, she’d adopted a baby girl from overseas whom she’d later discover has a significant mental disability. Now, as a 22-year-old, her daughter is thriving, and while life has had its moments of difficulty, there’s much to be happy about.

Then, on the way home from the restaurant, I received a text from another very close friend. It was a beautiful picture of her, captioned, “just wanting to send you an update! down 105 pounds as of today!” Her weight loss journey has not been one without obstacles, but what an inspiring, faith-filled journey it has been. I am so proud of her courage and her perseverance.

And in between all of this, I chatted with my sister briefly on the phone. I could hear the smile on her face from the moment she said ‘hello’ and was so happy at the joy in her voice as we talked about work, friends, and plans for our family reunion when she returns home during the month of May.

Anyone who’s read my blog in the past has likely caught on that I’m a laughably emotional person. It’s both a blessing and a curse that I’m a chameleon when it comes to feelings—I seem to take on the emotions of everyone around me at any given moment. When life is going well, you won’t find anyone who’ll be happier for you than me—but don’t ever give me sad news in public, because I’ll cry and it will be embarrassing for both of us. (JK, crying totally does not embarrass me at all.)

So naturally, I was feeling a little bit exhausted from all of the feeling that I did yesterday. It was a perfect day for it though, because the moments I shared with all of these different people gave me some perspective on a thought I’ve been mulling over for a few days now.

Earlier this week, I read an article called Is Grit Overrated? and was intrigued at what might be described as the science of endurance.

What quality in a person makes him more likely to muscle through adversity over another? Is this quality learned, or are we born with it? Can it be predicted? Can it be harnessed? The article, based loosely on a book appropriately called Grit, attempts to address most of these questions. But in reading it once, and then a second time, and then a third time, I had a thought:

For Christians, these answers are simple. Christian grit is simply persistent faith.

In a book called Love & Salt, one of the authors says that Christians don’t have the luxury of giving up, because there is always hope in the Resurrection. I remember reading this and being struck by the painful truth of this statement.

How often do we have moments in life in which we’d like to simply go back to bed—maybe forever? But Christianity, and belief in Christ, does not offer us this option. To truly accept in our hearts that Christ became man and died for us so that we might one day have eternal life, means that we must actually live this life as though we owe it to Him—because, well, we owe it to Him.

This concept—this perpetual hope in the Resurrection—takes so many different forms. It could be that we’re struggling, that we’re suffering and in the midst of a trying challenge, yet we carry on every day in hope, believing that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Or it could be that we often fall prey to a certain sin. To fall repeatedly and yet continue to stand, pick up our cross, and carry on—this is the lifelong way of the cross. This is the mark of a Saint: a sinner who keeps on trying.

And these are the moments we’re most united with Christ—when we’re taking up our crosses, just as He did, and carrying on, despite being battered, tired, and discouraged. This is the face of Christian grit.

Each of us has highs and lows. Each of us has moments that we’re lying on the ground, beneath our heavy wooden cross, and wishing for it to be over with.

But for Christians, there is always hope. We know that salvation is at the top of the hill.

Victory is in the cross.

When I was 15, I spent a summer in Michoacan, Mexico as a missionary. Something that the other girls and I would often say was “por las almas” or “for the souls.” In our own moments of weakness, when we were tired or doing chores we particularly hated or feeling homesick, we’d remind one another to offer our sufferings up “por las almas.”

It was that simple phrase which gave our low moments a purpose. We were no longer suffering in vain—we were suffering for the souls. And in this thought, there was hope. Through this ritual, we found hope in our sufferings, however small or menial they might have been. By offering our sufferings up for the souls in purgatory—”por las almas”—we found our own hope in the Resurrection.

I’ve found that my spiritual journey seems to come in themes. Recently, a theme in the lessons I’ve learned and in the life I’ve been surrounded by has been, to put it bluntly, everyone has their shit.

We’ve all got stuff. We’ve all got stuff that makes us human, stuff that makes us sad, stuff that makes us screwed up. This is the plight of each of us as human beings in a fallen world, and we’ve got the original sin of Adam and Eve to thank for that.

But we’ve got Christ to thank for the hope that gets us through it. Through the cross, we can grit our teeth, muscle through, grin and bear it.

With Christ, we’ve got our Christian grit—and there is victory in that.

God is love, and that’s enough.

At age 23, I’ve realized I’m in the midst of a moment in life in which there’s a great emphasis on love and relationships. It’s been, and continues to be, a beautiful experience to witness so many of my friends dating, getting engaged, getting married, and starting families. I’ve been blessed to know couples at seemingly every stage of love, including couples who’ve been married for years (such as my parents, who celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in January).

I write about a lot of things – religion, politics, my terrible driving record – but something I’ve consistently written about in my personal life and rarely (if ever) shared publicly is this one – the topic of love.

Love, in the general sense (by this, I mean not only romantic love but also familial love, friendship love, etc.), is a pretty profound thing. Our secular society is wholly consumed by it, which I believe speaks heavily to our innate nature as human beings to desire it. Love is a lawless beast; there are no real guidelines a person can follow to obtain it, there’s not any restriction on who can give or receive it, and there’s no special formula or recipe for predicting it. Love plays by its own rules, and the rules are ever-changing.

But there’s a remarkable, definitive truth in the midst of all of this that I really love (pun intended): it’s that people are totally, completely, utterly screwed up – and by people, I mean everyone. As a human race, we are just a big fat mess. We live in a fallen world and we’re fallen as a result. In turn, we’re all just kind of stumbling around in the dark, hoping we’ll get lucky and do something right. But even in our helplessly fallen state, we still have this amazing capacity to give and receive love.

I spent the last 24 hours with one of my best friends, her boyfriend, and their siblings (her brothers, his sister). More than once, I found myself moved by gestures of love between my friend and her boyfriend, and gestures of love that each of them shared with their siblings. These are two people who have real love in their lives. I’m so grateful to be a part of that.

So as I reflected on this during my drive home this morning, I thought back to a moment in college when a priest told me that love is sometimes not enough. In so many words, his message to me was that while love feels wonderful, it is not a lifeline. He said that while love bears relationships, it cannot sustain them. At the time, I recognized this piece of advice as wisdom. Today, I feel differently.

God is love. It’s really that simple. If this is true, and if we live our lives as though this is true, how could love not be enough? Real love is not the warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you’re cuddling on the couch with your significant other. Real love is self-sacrificing. To really love someone is to die to oneself at any given moment, if for the good of the beloved. Love, in its purest, most perfect form, is the manifestation of our Lord. Our God IS love. So how could love not be enough?

Mother Teresa once said that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love – and who’d know better than she, someone who spent her entire life loving the poor, loving the sick, loving the rejected, loving the unloveable.

So I say to that priest today: you’re wrong. Because God is love. So call me naive, call me foolish, write me off as having had little life experience, what have you. Nevertheless, I’m a big believer in following your heart. And I think the Beatles got it right when they said that all we need is love.