(image via Pixabay)
My name is Therese of Lisieux.
That’s not the name people call me, but according to the Church it’s my name. Therese of Lisieux was my confirmation saint. I didn’t want her to be my confirmation saint, mind you; there wasn’t a single moment of her hagiography I identified with. I was a bookish homeschooler nobody liked; I spent my time reading fantasy and science fiction novels, and writing terrible fanfic in notebooks. I wanted to be Joan of Arc. Joan of Arc cut her hair short, rode horses, wore armor, killed people and broke things. She was like a heroine in one of my books, up until her capture and terrible death, and I wanted to be a fantasy novel heroine. I thought of taking the name of Francis, because I loved animals and wished I had the charism to talk to them and have them understand. I wanted to find a wolf that was attacking a village and convince him to be nice. That was like something that happened in my fantasy novels, as well– the wizard character rather than the knight errant. I felt kinship with Blessed Margaret of Castello, whose shrine was in the back of our church downtown, because I was also ugly and lonely and never fit in, and because my mother was so ashamed of my looks. She was like the princess in my fantasy novels, locked away in a tower without staircase or door, and I felt that way myself.
But my mother insisted on Therese. She pronounced it “Ter-eese,” but at least she knew it wasn’t “Theresa.”
“It’s her jubilee year,” said my mother. “She’s going to be declared a Doctor of the Church this year. She had scruples like you when she was a teenager. You’re a lot like her.”
I knew that was nonsense. I had nothing in common with this ladylike young saint, and what’s more I didn’t want to have anything in common with her. I wanted to wander around the woods in jeans and comfortable shoes until I found a dryad, or a portal to Narnia. I wanted to talk to wolves.
But I listened to my mother, and I obeyed her. I told our pastor that I wanted to be Therese of Lisieux. He told the bishop Therese of Lisieux– pronouncing it “Therese of Leisure,” but at least he didn’t call her “Theresa.” The bishop said “Therese of Lisieux, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
I said “Amen.”
And I became Therese of Lisieux.
I went on with my lonely teenage years and my terrifying young adulthood. I read my books. I wandered the woods near my grandfather’s house, looking for dryads and portals to Narnia. I wrote slightly less horrible fanfiction. I went to college and majored in writing, and wrote considerably less horrible things. If anybody asked me what my Confirmation saint was, I told them Therese of Lisieux, and they said, “Ah, Saint Theresa.”
I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t despair, because my name was Therese of Lisieux. My confirmation patron had said: “If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.” I hated that, but it rung as true anyway, and I took it to heart. Perhaps I wasn’t a rose in the garden of Heaven, as Therese was, or a fiery lily like Joan of Arc, but if I was a purple clover or a tasty morel or even a speckled red and white toadstool, that would be all right– as long as God enjoyed a speckled toadstool in His garden. He must enjoy morels and speckled toadstools; He made them, and He bade them multiply.
That wasn’t as comforting a thought as I make it out to be, writing it, but it was something. I needed something. When my mother called me a pig and a bull moose; when she told my siblings I was a “psycho lady” and made it known on no uncertain terms that I always embarrassed her, when she laughed off every compliment anyone else tried to give me as nonsense, when she said that of all her children I hurt her the worst, I fell back on it. Perhaps I was worthless to other people, but if God wanted me, that would be all right. I say that too casually– it hurt much more than that and I didn’t believe it half the time, but somewhere inside of me, someone was whispering, ““If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.” My patron saint kept saying that.
I prayed to her to help me. I begged her to send me a rose.