The Hierarchy of Suffering

This meme has been going around like wildfire lately. It expresses the common idea that the way not to judge others for their struggles is to think that maybe they are not as strong as you are. On the surface, the intention is great. The idea is to encourage people not to judge others’ suffering. Every time I see it though, or hear someone express the idea it visualizes, I get so frustrated about the more subtle issue with this idea.

In the picture, one dog is smaller than the other dog. There’s nothing wrong with that, he’s a Jack Russell terrier, they are meant to be smaller than a Golden Retriever. Of course, the mud comes up much farther on the Jack Russell Terrier than it does on the Golden Retriever because the Golden is taller. In the same way, many people comfort others who compare their struggles to others saying, “Maybe God gave you this cross because you are strong enough to carry it,” “Maybe she just couldn’t handle what you are going through,” and other variants of you-must-be-stronger-than-them-because-their-struggle-is-smaller-than-yours. That’s where I struggle.

There is this idea that there is a hierarchy of suffering. My dislocated elbow is not as intense as my friends breast cancer, my post-partum depression is worse than someone else’s anxiety, etc etc and so on. It leads to a kind of competition about suffering. There are real life consequences to this competition-who gets taken care of in a hospital, who is allowed to talk about their struggles, who doesn’t get judged for being tired, who gets help from friends or the Church. To be fair, we live in a world of limited resources, so to a certain extent this can be avoided, and to a certain extent there is a hierarchy of suffering, no one would argue that a paper cut or a dislocated elbow is as bad as cancer.

However, I do think that the hierarchy of suffering is much more complicated than we might think. There are so many unknown factors that go into suffering that sometimes a seemingly small thing can be monumental and something really big can be nothing. When I had a placental abruption and ended up in the hospital terrified that my baby and I were going to die and then went through a terrifying labor, it was honestly far less terrifying than the experience I had with my dislocated elbow, as ironic as that is. Recovering from the elbow has been actually much more difficult than recovering from what should have been a much more difficult trauma.

The reason for this is that there are countless factors that contribute to how intense pain and suffering feels. Researchers are finding more and more just how many things affect how the brain perceives pain. There are whole industries and books based on all the different ways we can affect the pain in our bodies.

As far as my example above about birth vs. my elbow, there are some big obvious differences. I got a baby out of the equation, not so with my elbow. I did fear for my life in a way I didn’t need to with my elbow. However, I DID fear for my life with my elbow, because I have already been struggling with Post Partum Anxiety that has been debilitating, and I wasn’t struggling with that as intensely during labor. This was not helped by the fact that when I fell I was actively praying, and it seemed like an answer to a prayer, which felt like God was a God of wrath who hated me, sending me into a terrified circle of spiritual crisis that haunted me the whole night, while the doctors and nurses encouraged me with prayer during labor.

Another huge difference is the care I got. When I went to the hospital for my placental abruption, I had been reading Hypnobabies which works really hard on preparing women to communicate with their doctors. Because of that I was able to communicate my anxiety and physical worries in a rational way, and did not feel guilty for forcing doctors and nurses to stop and listen to me if I felt like they were rushing. On top of that though, immediately when I got to the hospital, the nurses attending heard my requests and needs and did their best to meet them, even when they were silly. When I dislocated my elbow, the nurse immediately denied every request I had, rolled her eyes at me, and communicated her annoyance to a doctor who came to help. No other nurses came in contact with me until much later.

I believe the care I got for my elbow is a consequence of exactly what I am discussing in this post. A dislocated or broken elbow is nothing in the grand scheme of things. I am aware of that. I am aware that much much worse things happen to people every day. But the care I got reminded me of that every second of my struggle. Every second I felt reminded me, “you don’t matter because it’s not your femur, it’s not cancer, it’s not blood.”

I was also dehydrated, hungry and away from my baby while breastfeeding. All things I didn’t realize until much later, but that are probably the explanation for the random cold sweats and hormonal shifts that turned into panic attacks that plagued me all night on top of everything else, and probably made the care I got worse because the nurses couldn’t see what was happening so it just looked like anxiety to them.

When I dislocated my elbow, I had a veritable cocktail of things that are known to make pain worse, while during labor I had many that are known to make it better. On the surface and on paper the elbow should be nothing. Anyone comparing the two would have said that labor was worse, but after the traumatic labor I was joyful and relieved and felt invincible; after my elbow I felt that there was no hope in life, angry, and worthless.

My point is that what someone’s suffering looks like on the outside may be nothing compared to what it looks like on the inside. The assumption that someone’s pain is not as intense as yours, or you are just stronger than they are dismisses the fact that you have no idea what is going on in their story. You have no idea what is making their pain worse or better or different than yours. I think it’s comforting to us to feel like our pain is better than someone else’s because then our needs deserve to get validated, but that’s just part of the competition. We need to feel like our pain is enough to be worth taking care of, so we have to put down other peoples because it highlights how bad our own pain is. The problem is that that affects how we take care of the other person, and how we view them, as well as how we describe their problem to others and help them to get help. Their suffering grows and our need to justify our own gets more intense too.

I want to live in a world where we recognize that everyone’s suffering matters. In the Gospel, when Jesus was carrying His cross, about to be murdered in arguably the most monstrous way possible, He stopped to talk to weeping women. He told them not to weep for Him, but for their children. I have heard some say that He is telling them to weep for sins, but the way He says it tells me that isn’t the case. I believe He was genuinely expressing compassion for the suffering that women experience, while He was on the road that we would say is the worst suffering imaginable. I would like a world where everyone does that, where everyone accepts that we are all on an unimaginably and sometimes unbearable journey, where we accept our own suffering and that of others as worthy of healing, no matter what it is, where we acknowledge that our struggles do not make us better or worse than anyone else, just different. Then, we would have a spirit of sorrow for everyone’s tears even if we didn’t understand why it was so hard. We could show the same amount of compassion for someone who had to wait at the DMV as someone who got crushed in a car accident. We could heal all the big hurts and all the little ones too.

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I’m not LGBTQ, but I don’t Belong Either

https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2019/08/18/churches-need-less-tradition-more-flexibility-welcome-teens-column/2011731001/

This article and others like it have been posted and talked about on my online and in person Catholic groups over and over again. There’s always a couple of people kindly talking about it and then the avalanche of more traditional Catholics who start mocking the author and saying, “Oh they just want the Church to be open to whatever, be ok with doing anything, anything goes, they just don’t like rules.” It’s so frustrating to me because they get so caught up on deciding that this girl is a sinner and therefore shouldn’t get to belong in the Church, in their eyes, that they forget that this girl is a PERSON, and God loves people.

Catholicism is not an exclusive club for the perfect people, though it is often treated that way. I think a lot of people like the idea that they are the people who are “right” they are “God’s people” and everyone else is wrong. There is something liberating to that, I get it, that makes you one of the ones making it through the narrow gate, as it says in Scripture, and “they” are the evil ones.

Let me just come forward now and say, I always felt like I didn’t belong. I wasn’t doing something wrong. I wasn’t a bad kid. I was a praying the rosary daily, offering it up, making sacrifices, going to Mass, and being kind kid, teenager, adult. I was M-I-S-E-R-A-B-L-E. I was terrified of doing something wrong and God would hate me, I was shunned in multiple Christian groups, once for a rumor because I quoted a sex joke on MySpace-so that all made all rumors about me true, once because I danced at Homecoming(no I didn’t grind but that’s what everyone thought), once because they thought I was on birth control, when I had really had miscarriages. I was HATED by the Church no matter how hard I tried to do things right.

I cannot tell you how many times I have raged about what a horrible place the Catholic Church is, and I am not one of the people who are just made because they don’t want to follow the rules. Stop blaming it on some public sin, or then not being good enough. The Church, as it stands right now, is not a welcoming place. There are Churches that are welcoming, there are a few groups that are welcoming, but they are few and far between and the hurt we are causing is monstrous.

The Church has a huge power, and that is to connect people with God, or to disconnect them from Him. My friends are falling away because they do not feel welcome or loved. I have wanted to fall away because I often do not feel welcome or loved. At my amazing Alma Mater, Ave Maria University, I met people who taught me that God is love, and He wants us unconditionally, and any rules He makes for us are to help us to live better lives. That God is a God who finds ways to heal people whether it is in Mass or not, He finds ways to help people, even if it’s a walk in nature. That is the God St. Paul talked about in Scripture when he talked about “easing burdens” for the people.

If it were not for that experience, and some that I am happy to be having right now, I would not be Catholic anymore. I would have run as far away from the Church as I can. Instead, I cling to what I can find of the God I recognize as a God of love, and I try to bring Him to others. I do not shame the people I know who have left because I have felt their pain, and I have seen how they have been hurt. And, for better or worse, I point out what the Church is doing wrong, because I pray and hope that one day Gods mercy and love will be what people think of when they think of the Church, and not anger and hate.

Mother Teresa, who ministered to all faiths, and saw the pain humanity is in, pray for us.

Yes, The World Needs God, But Not Like That

A couple of weeks ago, there was a shooting in Texas that just devastated me. A couple days before I watched The Hate You Give, which rocked me as well. Both of these events are on the heels of, and preceding so many horrible tragedies and fearful events happening all over they world lately. I find myself desperate for God’s love to be present in our culture. However, I immediately feel guilty and annoyed at this sentiment, which then makes me feel guilty and annoyed for feeling guilty and annoyed at that. I caught myself thinking at one point, “The world just needs God,” and immediately rolled my eyes at myself. That phrase is one I have heard a thousand times, and it’s one that makes me instantly angry and I disagree with, even though I technically agree with the sentiment.

The problem with the phrase “The World Needs God” is that most people who use this phrase mean it in a very particular way. “The World Needs God” means that the world needs people who believe the same thing I believe, teach the way I teach. Mostly, what it really means is “the world needs people who follow all the rules I believe in.”

In my experience, the people who use this phrase are often the same ones who talk about how “the homosexuals are taking over” and they are going “ruin the family” or are hateful towards mothers who are thinking about abortion, or who are unkind to a woman because her skirt is one inch too short. What they mean by “The World Needs God” has nothing to do with who God is as a person, and everything to do with who they believe He demands every person to be. These are the same people who talk about how the Church is getting smaller and that’s a good thing because all the lukewarm people are being weeded out.

What I mean when I say “The World Needs God” is something very different than the above. What I mean when I say it, is that the world needs UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. The world needs a force of love and acceptance that heals wounds on contact. The world needs tenderness, thoughtfulness, kindness, respect, and love. The world needs something that is more powerful than itself that can radically help people suffering in an unkind world. When I say “The World Needs God” I mean it in a desperate plea for an outpouring of love and mercy that can heal the hurts that are far too big for any one person to heal.

I’ve had many eyes rolled at me for making this distinction. “Oh but rules are important too.” Sure. Yes. How we act is important. But what did Jesus do when He came? Did He come down and look for people doing wrong so He could make them feel bad about themselves every day? Do you think He would’ve been invited to dine with the sinners every night if He had? He talked to people about sin when they hurt others, or when they already knew what they needed to change. Far more than that, He worked miracles in their lives, He touched people, He was kind to people when no one else would be kind to them.

What would the world look like if Christians stopped talking about who doesn’t belong and who’s not good enough and started letting everyone know that God wants them? What if we looked for the abandoned and lonely and told them they were worthy? What if we healed people, touched people, embraced people? What if we were happier with a loud bustling Church than a quiet perfectly fine Mass?

I have seen churches where this happens and it changes everything.

So yes, the world needs God, but not a God who only shames every person who comes to Him. The world needs Jesus who loves people where they are at, and guides them tenderly to their best self.

Depression and The Boundaries Book

I started to read a book called “Boundaries” a couple of months ago. I had bought it a long time before that, but I hadn’t read it. I was nervous because I have talked to several people who were very callous and used this book as their excuse, but I have also talked to others who say it changed their life. Now that I’m actively reading it, although slowly, I have to say I understand why.

“Boundaries” is simultaneously comforting and terrifying for me. Te first time I read it, I had a legit panic attack that I am such a worthless human being who does nothing but take from others and I have nothing to give and I don’t deserve to live. That’s dramatic, but honestly, it was kind of dramatic. I got so lost in the way they break down how much help to take and not take, and grew terrified that I take too much, or not enough, and I talk about my problems too much but not in the right way, etc, etc, etc.

The basic thesis of the book is that it is ok to set boundaries, and say “No” to someone who violates them. It gives Biblical support for that which is incredibly necessary for Christians especially who are taught to “Give until it hurts.” It was comforting in some ways to hear that I don’t have to just always give in, and it’s ok to take care of my needs too. I needed that. However, it is a hard time for me to be reading the book, because I hate needing help, and I am in a season on life where it seems like no matter how hard I try not to, I need more and more of it.

My senior year in college, I went through what I now know must have been an incredibly severe period of depression. I had nightmares, a weird kind of sleep paralysis, anxiety, thoughts of worthlessness, and at the same time, I lost many of my friends to a crazy whirlwind of drama. Meanwhile, I was writing my thesis about Hell, so that was great. Every time I tried to talk to anyone about what was going on, it seemed like they would stop talking to me. I had very few friends left by the end, and I still treasure every single one of them for sticking with me.

One Sunday, at a household meeting(for those who don’t know, households are a religious version of a sorority, basically) I broke down. I started sobbing in the middle of the meeting(and I was leading it so that was bad.) I ran out of the meeting and collapsed in tears on the floor. No, I don’t know why I broke down on the floor instead of the perfectly good bed next to me. Maybe the cold felt good on my body, sad people do weird things. Minutes later, a couple of my sisters came in and they listened to my story. Really listened. They heard out what was happening throughout my year. I will never forget what one of them said.

“Why didn’t you tell us?”

I will never forget that, because I DID. I told them, over and over and over again. I tried my hardest, but I couldn’t get across what was happening. I couldn’t express the magnitude of what was going on in a five minute conversation, and I was paralyzed by the feeling that they were done with me because I was talking about my hard time.

This book has brought that feeling back to me over and over again in the last few months. I will read one page and feel like a monster for talking about my feelings, while the next page, I feel like maybe I need to be better about sharing them. I just keep thinking about that moment, I felt so alone, and even though I had tried to tell them, no one knew.

I think this is a problem for mental health issues. People get annoyed if others “complain too much,” or are “Debbie-downers” or “sad all the time,” and I get it! It is so hard to be happy when you are around others who are not. There is even self-help advice to stay away from these people, and murky psychological articles accusing them of being narcissists, or energy vampires. Of course, I am not saying these people do not exist, but I do think that people who are genuinely struggling may sometimes look the same as a narcissist or energy vampire or just a downer. What happens though, when someone is just genuinely having a hard time for a long period of time? What if someone is just grieving and they aren’t feeling better yet?

The point of the book isn’t just about talking about feelings, but it is an example of the things that has been hardest for me. The author uses two images to demonstrate when to ask for help and when not to. It’s ok to ask for help when you are carrying a large boulder, but when it is just a backpack, you can carry that yourself-the backpack symbolizes daily struggles. What happens though, when the daily struggles feel like a boulder, like they do with depression/anxiety/grief/whatever?

How do we decide when someone is upset “too often” or “too long” or “too much” or “too upset?” How does someone struggling with this know when they are upset too long/too much/too often/too upset? I had a huge wake up call to this a couple weeks ago when I took a hormone balancing medicine and all of a sudden the whole world was a different place. I spoke with hope, I believed in things again, I was able to focus on other people. Unfortunately, the medicine had tons of side effects, so my search for something better continues, but it was literally a night and day difference. I felt like someone had taken a blindfold off of me. How does someone in that kind of fog for any reason figure out how much upset-ness is too much for everyone around them, and yet still express how bad what is going on is?

So, I struggle with this book. I really do. I know, and appreciate, what it’s trying to do, but I also know what it feels like to be told everything is ok and you need to handle it yourself when you are screaming out and begging for help. I also know what it feels like to swallow pain so hard you think you will die from it, and that is a dangerous mess I refuse to start up again.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you struggle with depression/anxiety/grief/sadness, please don’t hold it in because you are afraid no one wants to hear it. Even if some people don’t, some do, and you may not know who they are, so keep going until you find them. If you know someone who is struggling, please be patient with them. You may not know how bad what they are going through really is, and you may not know how badly they want to fix it.

“The Elusive Nature of God”

*title by Patrick O’Donnell

The hard thing, the impossible thing, about God, or really I guess about a true relationship with God, is that He is not physically present in the way that our other relationships are.

The philosophical question as my husband phrased it is, “Is it even possible to have a relationship with someone who is not accountable to us? Is it possible to have a real relationship if He won’t just come down and talk to us?”

I have struggled with this time and again throughout my life.

The analogy I use for my relationship with God most often is that of a Bridegroom and His bride, but to be honest if my earthly bridegroom left me some letters and ditched me with some stuff to remember him by, while he had the ability to stay with me, I would hate him for it. I would never forgive him. I would swear he did not love me. Basically, that’s what sucks about a relationship with God. He left us a book, and the Eucharist and we are supposed to believe He is present in it, and we do or do not believe that, but we still have to put that forward, we still have to believe that, and worse, we are taught that we HAVE to believe He is there or we are going to Hell for it, because that’s equivalent to not choosing Him, but again, if my husband left me alone in the midst of people who wanted to love and/or hurt me without letting me know what the heck was going on or where he was, that would be unconscionable.

It’s hard for me to write this, because this year, I have had consolation after consolation. I have read Scripture and I have felt God’s presence in ridiculously tangible ways that I know are Him, but the thing is that even in those moments, I know how crazy I sound. I joke about how God uses the GMC Acadia as a comfort for me because as we are Dave Ramseying our future I needed a visual, and it has been the symbol of the “covenant” so to speak that God has made with me this year-I know Catholics may balk at that because it seems irreverent, but a covenant is a promise, and I believe God has made promises to me from the time I was born, and I believe I am meant to believe in them, and I believe He has sent the Acadia to help me through a very difficult year.

It’s not just that either, I have a million stories of crazy things God has done in my life or asked of me or how He has revealed Himself, but there is always that question in the back of your head, “Was He really there, or did I just make that up? And if I made that up, then what about all of these things I believed in because of it?”

That is where Faith comes in, whether we like it or not. Faith is the decision to believe that the weird crazy relationship you have with God is real. In order to have faith as a relationship, you have to believe in your own experience of Him, even when it seems crazy. And my way of solving the fact that we will never know the truth for sure is that I have told God that the minute I get to Heaven the first thing I’m going to do is ask, “What the heck?!?”

A Good Friday Style Easter

This Easter was a hard one for me so far. On Friday, I saw a headline out of the corner of my eye, “When Easter feels like Good Friday.” I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

As I crawled through lent this year, my refrain was, Easter is almost here, Easter is almost here. Now that it was here it was almost harder in some ways. I felt like everything was supposed to be happy, we are supposed to be feasting, but I think I was in tears for half of this Easter week. I was exhausted from trying to reach the Resurrection and feeling like it’s so far away.

I repeated over and over “I believe,” because I choose to believe in the Resurrection and hope, but I heard myself in my head being like Martha, “I know we will rise, at the Resurrection of us all,” and then I crumble in fear for all of our struggles here. Jesus rose Lazarus after weeping with Martha when she said those words. I kept asking Him to understand where my fear is coming from and to be with me, and help me.

It feels arrogant though sometimes to ask for help when my worst problems are nothing compared to the horrors going on in the world. Every day there’s a new tragedy. Over 200 people died on Easter. How can we feast when the entire world is crying out in fear and pain? So I feel guilty for my joyful days, but then when I am caught up in my own misery I feel guilty for thinking my problems are anything in the grand scheme of things.

This Easter in particular was a weird one. How do you reconcile the birthday of Hitler/20th anniversary/national pot day with each other, let alone with Easter the next day? How do you reconcile incomparable world ending joy with unimaginable evil?

I think there was something happening this year. Something we couldn’t see. This lent it seemed like everyone was dying. Everytime I got on Facebook there was a new notification of someone dying. And these were not just any normal expected deaths, many of these were out of nowhere terrifying horrible things happening. The fire in Notre Dame was like a symbol for everything happening.

Yet there have been little moments when I have seen hope in the world. One night when the world seemed so heavy, and so many terrifying deaths had been announced, I fell to my knees(and I hate kneeling) and I just begged for mercy. The next day was the most beautiful day outside, the sun was shining and everyone was happy. So many people were talking about how the world felt so much lighter. I know that my prayers were not the only ones going up that night, but that time I felt prayer work.

I didn’t realize during lent that it was the 20th anniversary of Columbine. I found out on Holy Saturday, and it seemed only fitting. Something about the gravity of this year made sense with that being the case. I had hoped that on Easter there would be some great turn around and this year would turn into everyone’s most amazing year ever. I know that’s a little crazy, but I’ve always been known to have high expectations. I can’t help being an idealist.

Well, there wasn’t a huge immediate turn around, but I’m starting to see little changes in people and even bigger changes in me, so I don’t know, maybe it’s a battle we have to fight the long way, maybe we have to feel like we have earned it or we won’t appreciate it, or maybe it’s just too big of a battle for one moment to win, but whatever the case, I am working on fighting every little battle that is given to me, and I believe that one day we will see the battles we have won.

Easter

I have been procrastinating this post since Easter. I don’t honestly know how to write this without sounding all the kinds of religious crazy. It’s funny how much easier for me to share my spiritual struggle than to share this.

This Easter, God sent me a gift. The city we just moved to has concerts all the time, and it is so hard for me that I never have the time or the money for them. A couple of days before Easter, I got a notification that Hillsong United was giving a free concert for Easter.
Hillsong United is so special to me. Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) was the song I walked in to at my wedding and it is my comfort when the ocean feels too far away. Their music centers me and brings me hope, and you know how much I was struggling with hope this Holy Week. I was so touched that I immediately wrote to my husband begging that we go. Despite all the sacrifices it required of him, he agreed. (He ended up making a lot of sacrifices to get me to this concert, but it was so worth it-at least, I think so.)
We almost didn’t go. It was SO difficult trying to maneuver our schedules and plans for Easter and for Easter Mass around the concert, and then we got in a huge fight on the way, and got lost, and then couldn’t find parking. I was so determined though, I was praying my heart out. “God, I believe this was your Easter gift to me, get us there.”
Those of you who did not grow up Catholic probably know already what I found out pretty quickly, this was a service, not just a concert, but even though I was kind of freaking out about that(Catholics technically aren’t supposed to go to other religions services) I decided the concert part was worth it. I hadn’t’ been to praise and worship in far too long.
Let me tell you, we celebrated Easter in a way I have never seen before. The lyrics to the main song we sang were “Here I stand high in surrender, I need you now, take my heart, now and forever my soul cries out. Once I was broken, but you have my whole heart now, sin has no hold on me, and your grace holds me now.” The worship leaders talked over and over again about how through Christ’s Resurrection sin’s hold on our lives is destroyed. If He can be victorious over death, than He can win over anything else. A friend who is studying to be a pastor had told me these same things, and technically, the Church teaches the same thing, but hearing them this way, with the music, something just clicked.
I kept hearing Dave Ramsey talk about ending a family tree that is used to debt, and how “the sins of the father are visited on the son” no longer has to be true because of Jesus, and everything they were saying gave me so much hope, and simultaneously so much fear.

It sounds crazy to say hearing this brought fear, but hope is a dangerous and terrifying thing. If you believe in hope, you could end up humiliated and ashamed. Embarrassed for even thinking you were worth whatever awesome thing you have believed in. Hoping in a good God who wants to save you from anything He can is terrifying, because He won’t always save you. So there will be times where your hope looks absurd and ridiculous, and you just have to trust that there is something else going on. That’s easy to accept when you haven’t been through tragedy, but once you have, its incredibly difficult to accept that a good God who wants us to live abundantly would allow your child to die.

Over and over again throughout the service, the songs, the talks, everything, the theme was believing that God wants us to experience life and joy and love. That He wants us to let Him inn, and He has wonders in store for us. The Our Lady of Lourdes saying that haunts me echoed in the back of my mind trying to create fear and despair, “I cannot promise you happiness in this life, only in the next.” I’ve written before how this phrase has been a stumbling block for me over and over and over.

I struggled so much to maintain the hope that the concert had brought to me. I kept downplaying it because it was weird that we ended up in a service, or it was hard to get there. Even now though, I am replaying over and over in my mind the celebration, the absolute joy of living in a religion that believes in hope. The thing is, Catholics believe this too, but it is so rarely emphasized. So often we hear about offering our sufferings to Christ, and bearing our Crosses, and we have Crucifixes all over our homes, but we almost never mention the Resurrection(yes there are exceptions to this, but in my experience this is a pretty common issue.) We almost never mention the fact that the reason why the Crucifixion is not a sign of complete despair is that we had the Resurrection three days later. We are not a Crucifixion people, we do not believe that suffering is our glory, though many people treat it like it is. We believe that suffering is valuable, but only like pain is-because it does other things.

Since that concert, I have been making every effort to remember Christ’s victory, and that He wants us to have a Resurrection to every Cross. We are not meant to worship suffering for sufferings sake, though we are asked to make the best of it.
The pastors asked us, “What would you do if you believed that God had already won your most important battle?” and I have been letting that question inform my decisions. I entered Academy Nicholls because if I believe that God loves me and that He can conquer anything for me, and I believe He wants me to do film, then He can get me into filmmaking. I took a break on the night I needed to, because God would take care of the last little bit of money stress, and He did. I dedicate myself more intensely to my kids during the day and ask that God take care of my worries while I love on them.
So let me ask you, “What would you do?” And why don’t you go do it now, because He is there, and He is watching you, and supporting you like none other can or will. At least, I hope He is because I’m going to stake my life on it.

How to Church Shop For Catholics

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say some variation of “The Mass is not for us. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anything out of it.” Which, for me, basically equates to, “your feelings don’t matter, just do it.”

To a certain extent, this is true. We believe Christ is present in the Eucharist, and that we are celebrating it to remember Him. Therefore, Mass has value no matter where we are as long as it is said correctly.

However, the Church you go to will play a huge role in how you and, if you have one, your family perceive God. It will affect how much you want to go to Mass, how much you want to volunteer, or even can volunteer, how much tenderness you feel for the thought of Church, and how peaceful you feel for the rest of Sunday.

Even more than that, I don’t believe that Jesus wanted us dreading the time we have to be with Him. I don’t believe it was meant to be an awful experience ending in tears every time. If we look at the events of His life, it’s obvious that Jesus valued the feelings of the people around Him. At Cana, He made more wine. When the people were hungry, He made an abundance of fish and loaves. When the people were hurting, He healed them.

That is what His presence among us should do, and that’s what I believe the Church should look like. An encounter with Jesus should leave you, most of the time at least, feeling healed, heard, and loved. I believe that’s what He would want from His Church as well.

What does that look like?

There are a few Churches through which I have had a palpable encounter with Christ, and there is an obvious difference between them and other parishes nearby. One of the most obvious is that usually they are packed, with more Masses than most Churches even have on a Sunday, this isn’t because the biggest Churches are the best, but because in my experience, when a powerful encounter with Christ is happening, people flock from all over. Another is how many ministries they have, most of the really amazing Churches I have seen have countless opportunities for different types of ministry, with plenty of options for what type of person you are. Opportunities for different types of prayer is a huge one for me, the two that are crucial for me to see is access to Praise and Worship music and Eucharistic Adoration, that may look different for you depending on your preferences.

I want to add something for those who are feeling discouraged. After I first went to a Church that really fulfilled me, I had to leave. The next place I lived there was another one. After that, I went several years without being able to find a Church where I could feel God. I had horrible experiences over and over again, so bad sometimes that I would cry myself sick on Sundays. I truly believe God sent us to where we are now because of a beautiful, amazing Church where I feel His presence almost every time I am there(even with two toddlers and that’s a big deal.) This Church has been a huge blessing in our lives already and we have come to call it home.

How do I Find This?

Obviously, I can’t find this for you in every single town, although I do plan on creating some posts about “recommended” Churches. This will just be a few Churches I have been too that changed my life or touched me in some way. I can, however, share what my own criteria is, and you can tweak it towards what works for you.

1) Internet Search

The first thing I do is search for Life Teen Churches around the area. If there are a lot, I narrow it down to Churches with a Life Teen Mass. I know not everyone loves Life Teen, but the vibrance I have seen from communities that have it is something I haven’t seen at other parishes. As a parent of young children, the availability of Catechesis of The Good Shepherd is now a non-negotiable for me as well.

When I look at the website, I also take into account how the website feels. On one hand, a website that is crappy doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a good Church, but a good one tells me that they value the younger generation and they understand how to reach us. A great one can even be life-changing. I cried when I watched a ministry video from our Church’s website when I first visited it, and felt inspired to change how I thought about a certain issue.

I check Mass times and availability. For me, having an evening option is a huge priority, now as a parent it is also becoming important to have childcare available which is rare(our current parish doesn’t have it.) I check confession availability, Eucharistic adoration, and ministries/events, that’s how I found the Women’s Bible Study I now attend.

Once I have a pretty good feeling about a Church, it’s time for the next step.

2) The First Couple of Visits

The first couple of times I go to a Church, I think of it as trying it out. I make no commitments, I try not to think about it as our only option, because that puts a lot of pressure. However, sometimes it is one of your only options, and if that’s the case, sometimes you may need to bring a little extra grace to the experience. I pray hard when that’s the case.

Obviously, the first thing is visuals. Often I will know within a minute or two how I will feel in a Church. The people in the Church create the decorations and art. You feel their presence when you walk inside. If a Church feels dry and stuffy, often the spirit there will feel the same way. If a Church feels super traditional, usually it is(if you like that, that’s a good sign, if not, then probably look for somewhere else.) Our Church has a giant painting representing one of my favorite theological doctrines, all about Love and the second I saw it, I knew I loved this Church. To the side they have a beautiful painting of Jesus with children of every race and nationality, that told me they would welcome everyone, including my children.

Next, the people. How welcoming are they? Do they smile at you when you walk in? Do you feel like an outsider or do people make an effort to include you? I believe that when people are living Christlike lives, it overflows out onto the people around them. It doesn’t need to be everyone 100% of the time, but you will get a general sense of the vibe of a Church pretty quickly.

What kind of room the Church has available for the kids is the next thing for me. If there is no cry room, I am out. I’m sorry, but if the Church has not found a way to support moms and dads who are having a hard enough time getting to Mass by having a place for them to rest with their kids if Mass feels like Hell, this is not going to be a home for me. In the same vein, if the cry room is stuffy and uncomfortable and has no toys, this shows a lack of commitment to families, and we have left immediately before for this.(Again, we have two toddlers; don’t judge me too harshly for this.)

Our Church brought tears to my eyes. They have a “wiggle room” instead of a cry room, and they had a little poster explaining that our kids are welcome in the Church, but they want us to feel at home when they have extra wiggles. Something really beautiful about this room is that the way the chairs are done mimics the chairs in the actual Church, so you could practice being in the pews without having to be quiet.

Now, for the obvious, the Priest and Homily. It is very, very, important to me to expose myself to priests who speak about God’s love more than His justice. I struggle with scrupulosity and anxiety and depression, so lectures about Hell and how evil the world is are NOT going to help me on my spiritual journey. Ideally, although I almost never find this, I would love a priest who breaks down Scripture passages and helps the congregation to understand Jesus more. Most importantly, though, the priest should somehow radiate Christ’s love. Our priest thanked my girls for bringing up their offerings, at another parish the priest talked about reaching out to the poor, lonely, and oppressed. You know it when you hear it, and you also know it when you don’t.

3) Long Term Discernment

I grew up in Churches that were extremely detrimental to my faith and spiritual life. Because of that, I am intensely passionate about guarding my children and what view they will have of God. This doesn’t mean I am looking for a shallow, light view of A God that has No Rules, but that I am looking for a Church that remembers that everything God does comes from Love-Always-No matter what, and lives like it.

As much as I want to stick with any parish forever, I will always be keeping an eye on what it does for my family, and how it affects us. That being said, there are such thing as temporary issues that are worth working out and I will keep an eye on whether issues we have are of that nature, or whether they are non-negotiables.

Most importantly,

The most important thing is to remember that yes, the Mass is in remembrance of Christ, but because He wants to stay in union with us, He cares about our feelings, and what is going on in our lives. He wants Mass to help us grow closer to Him. If it’s a choice between no Mass and a Mass that doesn’t feel like home, the Mass that doesn’t feel like home is better than nothing, but don’t let people tell you that how you feel at Mass doesn’t matter. If you have options, find the right one for you, and don’t feel guilty about it. X

Academy Nicholls, Here I Come

I did a thing last night.

It might be crazy. It may be a little arrogant? It takes a lot of arrogance to be an artist, or at least that’s what I tell myself so I won’t hide all of my work under a rock. Yes, this writing of mine is a conscious decision in favor of pride in the face of possible humiliation-in a way at least.

Anyway, the thing I did is bold if you say it nicely, foolish if not. We have been struggling so much with money. Last week I decided that I would use my fun money that I’ve been saving for months and all of my returns for our emergency fund and debt payoff. It was more important that little rewards right? I’m so discouraged about money, maybe that is what would make me feel better.

Then I found out that I hadn’t missed the deadline for the Academy Nicholls Fellowship.

For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is the most prestigious film competition out there for new writers. But that’s not what matters to me(although it’s the first thing I tell people so they get the context of what I did.) What matters to me, is that it is the answer to all of the prayers I’ve said this year if I get it.

It is just enough money that Patrick could stay home or work part time while he finishes school, so he could have some time to breathe, which I have been begging God for all year.

It is just enough money that we could cover everything. We wouldn’t be rolling in the dough by any means, but we would be ok. I have been asking for help with that.

I would be getting paid to write MY work. I would be getting paid to do what I always wanted to do, and not on someone else’s terms. I’d have a mentor, but I wouldn’t have to write a story fitting their guidelines. It would be mine. (Not that there’s anything wrong with getting paid to write for someone else, but this is a whole other level.) I have been asking God for this since I was born.

I would have a mentor to encourage and help me to improve my work and it would be their job to help me write another screenplay. I’ve got one almost done, one done, I’d have time to do another one. I’ve been praying for that this year.

I would have more time with Patrick and more time to breathe. I’ve been praying for this since Willow was born.

This year has been so hard. It’s hard to express how hard because some stupid things don’t make any sense if you describe them, but they can devastate you if you are having a hard enough time. I’ve noticed sometimes if I stub my toe I don’t even care, but if a day is bad enough it’s enough to resort me to a sobbing mess, or a cursing sailor. This year, has made the smallest issues into mountains that make me feel completely helpless.

It took over year for me to build the courage to do this. God has been working in so many ways in my life to prepare me. He healed my trauma about miscarriage and spiritual abuse through a hellish year teaching at a Catholic school and a horrific birth that was still the most amazing thing that could ever have happened to me. He healed the trauma from that birth a little over a year later with another birth. He healed the wounds from the Catholic school by bringing me to a new Catholic Church and Bible study.

My first time at the Bible study, I hated it. I was never coming back, until I saw the back of one of the books. “I am looking for a deeper relationship with you.” I knew without a doubt it was God talking to me. Every single time I have made it to this Bible Study He has shown up for me. He has taught me SO much. He brought me back to myself through the women that I met, the readings they supplied, and the time out that I got because of the study. I am incomprehensibly grateful for what He gave me in them.

If I tried to list all of the lies and fears that God came down and disproved this would be the longest blog in the universe, but suffice it to say that He worked on me hard, and that is exhausting and hard, but it was amazing in so many ways too.

Holy Week was like that point in labor when you decide you can’t do it and you are totally ready to give up. I started to think there was no point to anything that I had heard all year. I felt myself fading away, and I was so angry. Easter was, surprisingly, even worse.

It was awful. God sent me a free Christian concert(yes I believe it was from Him because it was my favorite Christian band and I had been longing for a Christian concert and mourning that we couldn’t afford it and this was free) and I was so excited, but then it was actually a Protestant service. I was raised that you don’t go to those, so I was in a tailspin of enjoying it, and being terrified of the guilt and shame of being there. They talked about “taking your place at the table” and “the battle is already won,” and I loved it, and I heard Jesus in it, but then I became lost in sadness about the Catholic Church and the fact that I couldn’t accept their message because I’m Catholic.

I fought that, because none of what they said went against the Church. They had a message that we are supposed to be giving and arent. And sure, I believe there are things Catholics have to offer too, but Protestants have some amazing gifts. So I prayed away the guilt and shame a little bit more everyday.

And I found out about Academy Nicholls.

Part of what I have learned this year through Dave Ramsey is that I have been serving money, not making my money serve God. I’ve got a whole lot more coming about that, and how it doesn’t always look like Scrooge hoarding money, but for now suffice it to say that I was convinced I couldn’t try for this fellowship that I believed God wanted me to try for, because money said no.

I prayed every day for the money, but I was convinced it would be a no.

Then I got the money, and I fell into despair and misery because I became sure I wouldn’t win it.

Then I went home and I read the reading from the Bible Study. Ephesians 6, about putting the armor of faith on to conquer evil in the world. And I knew.

So I entered the Academy Nicholls Fellowship competition, and I probably will not win, but, I could. With the money I spent to enter it, I bought freedom from fear financially, I bought hope, I bought one of the greatest acts of faith of my entire life, I bought a new life. So wish me luck, and say a prayer when you can for my dream job. ♥️♥️♥️

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