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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Please Stop Choosing Sides

Lately, my newsfeed has been inundated with posts screaming, “YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE A SIDE.” Of course, half the time the premise also includes condescending language about how if you don’t choose a side, you are choosing the wrong side, and there is something wrong with you. I am so sick of this.

Let me tell you right now. You do not have to choose a side.

You do have to make decisions in your life based on the knowledge you have at any given moment.

You do not have to choose a side.

Isn’t there enough side choosing in this world? Everything is about how we are divided from each other, and what makes us different, and why “I” am better than “you.”

Stop. Doing. That.

For all of the people spewing religion as the reason, and promising me that God will punish me if I don’t. Name me one time that Jesus took a side when He was on earth. He did not take sides. He loved people on either side. The only time He went up against people was when they were hurting someone else.

In fact, the people He went up against the most were the ones who were constantly beating other people over the head with their words. He got in trouble for “breaking the rules” again and again and again.

Yes, He did not come to “abolish the law” but to “fulfill it,” but that doesn’t mean that He didn’t dismiss things that weren’t really a part of the law, or were legalistic things that people were using to hurt others. The Pharisees tried to trap Him by asking about helping a man on a Sabbath day. There was no right answer to that, they would have said He was unwilling to help if He said not to help, and they would have said He didn’t honor the Sabbath if He said to help. He called them out and basically said, “You would help a sheep if it fell into a ditch. Isn’t a human more important? Of course, it’s ok.” AND THEY PLOTTED TO KILL HIM.


Sometimes, I feel like the Church today has a lot of people like this. Some Catholics are so caught up in the rules that they don’t see the people behind them, or worse, they just see them as evil. The Church I grew up in was so caught up in this that even though I was a goody two shoes, I basically wore a scarlet letter “A” my entire time there.

People have argued with me about this over and over and over again, and the biggest argument has always been, “Yeah, but Jesus said, ‘Go and sin no more,'” to the Samaritan woman.” Sure. He did. He never said what her sin was, and He never shamed her for sinning, or was harsh to her at all. He offered her life, and he offered her love. Same with the adulterous woman. “Whoever is without sin cast the first stone.” Ironically, He was the only one there with no sin, and He did not cast a stone.

I am not saying by any means that there is no truth, or that there is no right and wrong. I am always being told that that is what I am doing, but it’s not. Just because there is truth and there is right and wrong does not mean that you know all of it and I don’t. It also doesn’t mean that I know all of it and you don’t. There is a lot to learn and know in this world, and it is wise to realize that you are not the only one who knows truth, and you do not know all of the truth, and neither do I. We are all doing the best with what information we have been given, and that is all we can do.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t share our truth with others. That is the point of real discussion. If we have good reasons for believing what we do, it is good to share those reasons with others. It is not good to bludgeon them with our opinion and say they have to agree because we say so and our authority is better than theirs. Be willing to share your opinion, when it is the right time, and with kindness.

There is one exception to all of this. The one thing that really riled Jesus up. We need to protect people who are getting hurt. Jesus whipped the people who were taking advantage of the poor at the synagogue, He reprimanded those who wanted to kill the adulterous woman. Over and over again He defends those who are being hurt by others. He is the protector of the weak.

Is that who we are as Christians? Are we unashamed in our protection of those who are being hurt? Even if we don’t agree with them?

Are we vocal about protecting LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination? Do we speak about immigrants with kindness and love? Do we protect women who are trying to live a Godly life but it is an unbearable cross for them? Do we make our communities a safer place for everyone, not just the people who follow our dress codes, know our rules, and speak in our way?

Because there is one side everyone should be on. The side of Truth and Love. It takes humility to do that, to not be on one side or the other, but to see both sides and love both sides. It is what I strive to do, and what I pray that everyone will learn to do, so that there will be peace on earth. (starts singing, ‘and good will to men….’….yeah, couldn’t help it. 😉 )

Pax Christi.

“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?!?”

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

We are a Resurrection People, and Hallelujah is our Song

Yesterday, I had an awful experience at Church. I wrote about it in another post, but there is one problem with the post about one instance. It is not just this one church, or this one type of incident. I have been treated this way over and over and over again at different times throughout my life, and I am not the only one. One day I will tell the story of trying to stay Catholic after a miscarriage in a pro-life environment, it was not easy. I have watched as Catholics fall away because they can’t handle fear over every single action they ever do, or they are sick of the guilt, or they feel like God hates them until they leave. Many Catholics will jump on anything to guilt you, or talk about sin, or God’s anger. It took me a long time to realize how scared we all are. Many Catholics are not being taught a merciful and loving God, they are learning about His anger, and desire for them to follow all the rules perfectly, and how they have to manage to make up for all of their sins.

This is not Jesus. Jesus cared about good works, yes. He cared about doing the right thing and following the law. More than that though, he cared about LOVE. He wanted us to be kind and merciful to each other. He did tell the adulterous woman not to sin anymore, but He also drew a line in the sand so they wouldn’t stone her.  Over and over again, He hears the pain of His people and answers them. Over and over again, He tells us to be like little children and to come to Him, and condemns those who would hurt children.

Yesterday I was also told about a church that held a special kids service with a milder version of everything that happens at the Good Friday service with some visuals and extra stimulation built in to keep them interested. It was held earlier than the actual Good Friday service, so it was not a replacement for it, but an addition. Catholics responding to the post over and over again condemned them for “dumbing” down the liturgy for the children. Over and over again they said that people don’t understand that the Mass as it is offered is good enough.



It is so frustrating for me that churches are condemned anytime they try to do anything to make people feel at home at church. It’s almost like the goal is to be as impersonal and unrelatable as possible and then make you feel bad for not wanting to participate. When did Jesus ever do this? I am not saying that the Catholic Church’s rituals and sacramentals and everything are not valuable, but Jesus did not force people to sit, stand, kneel in a hot room listening to a language they didn’t understand for an hour or more. The most common response to any complaint about Mass is that, “It’s not about how you feel.” 

But…I mean…isn’t it though? If it is meant to be a time when we are united with Christ, shouldn’t how we feel matter too? In sex, do we yell at the woman if she wants to feel good too? (Oh, wait, we totally do. That’s a whole other problem in itself.) We are so busy beating ourselves up for wanting our needs and wants to get met, and proclaiming how they don’t matter, no wonder we all think God doesn’t care about our emotions. But Jesus did. He fed the hungry people. He met their needs when they came to see Him. The first Mass was a goodbye meal with Him and His friends. 

I can hear the argument about how we are re-enacting the Crucifixion, and suffering is ok. We are not re-enacting the Crucifixion, we are REMEMBERING it. He asked us to REMEMBER it. We are making Him present to us, because He asked us to. It is not just the Crucifixion we should be experiencing, but the Resurrection, and Jesus’ intimacy with us, as well. I do believe Jesus is actively and actually present in the Eucharist, but we do not worship the Crucifixion, but we act like we do sometimes.  

My point is that Catholics have been taught that how they feel, and what they want doesn’t matter, but it does. Jesus loves us, and cares for us as people. He wants us to be happy. He allows us to suffer, sometimes, but that is not what He wants, it is just what happens sometimes. The Church is FOR us, not just for Him. He put it in place to care for us, to be among us forever, not to condemn us, not to “grasp” at perfection, but to strive for it instead.

I keep thinking of the quote, “We are a Resurrection people, and Hallelujah is our song.” Stop living like we a Crucifixion people. Yes, it is important, yes, it is part of our faith, but it is NOT the end of the story.

Let the Little Children Come to Me: Defending Catholic Moms

Last night, I had to leave the Good Friday service halfway through. I went to this particular Church because the churches nearby us don’t have cry rooms, but at this parish, we had been treated kindly by the parish priest and daily mass crowd, so I figured they would be kind and merciful to us if the kids were not great. It was my first time going to mass with them alone, and I have a one year old and a two year old, so it is not an easy feat.

Just after I got little one #1 out of the car seat, my heart sank. The doors were chained shut. There was another door nearby that was open, so I thought maybe it was to the stairs. Turned out it wasn’t, but I made it down anyway. I knew the Church was under construction and I expected that, but what I didn’t expect is there was nowhere to take the kids. The service was being held downstairs instead of in the Church which we had navigated before.

There were some very sweet people when we first came in, the usher smiled at us and waved, another older man did, and two teenage girls were right behind us and they smiled at the girls and waved too. I was so excited and grateful that we had come here.

But then the girls had a much harder time than I expected. The younger one would crawl away under the chairs and the oldest kept calling for me to read “Batgirl! Batgirl!” I tried pacing the back of the church area but the two year old kept running away. I tried going by the entry door, but there were multiple doors open with Mass supplies, making it unsafe for her to be pretty much anywhere. I found a little nook with mostly closed doors, but one open one I could stand by and listen to the service. I was exhausted, but felt peaceful, finally I could keep an eye on them, and still be present.

It was still hard managing them in the little nook, but they were at least mostly happy(okay the little one face planted and wailed for a second, but mostly happy, lol.) Suddenly, after relative peace had been accomplished, an usher came back, cast us a dark look and slammed the door. Well, the closed door made the room echo badly, which my two year old just loved. I try not to shush her most of the time because she is rarely loud, and I want to encourage her to use her voice, and not make her feel bad about it. I became a shushing machine. We were boxed in and echoing so bad, and I didn’t know how much they could hear and seeing the door close made them want out, and I couldn’t hear the service anymore, so what was the point of all of this effort. Suddenly another usher came back, cast us a glare and left.

You guys, it is already so hard having two under two, it took all of my courage to even try to come to the service, but my lent had been so hard, and I had been clinging to Christ the whole time so desperately, I just needed to be there. I hadn’t expected them to be helpful, but I had expected to be treated kindly if it went badly. I was so frustrated to be trapped in this nook and feeling so ashamed. Finally, I decided I was just going to have to leave. I tried to get out, but the door wouldn’t open. Had it LOCKED on me? I muttered under my breath, “Are you freaking kidding me?” and of course it fell open jolting me and the girls, and what felt like the entire congregation turned around and glared at us. Most of them looked away, and we made our way out as fast possible.
Once I made it outside, I realized I could still be present to Jesus if we stayed. So we wandered around outside for a little while. It wasn’t a safe area for kids at all, but my girls are really well mannered, so I was able to keep them calm. A few minutes later a mom came out looking just as frazzled as I felt dragging her 5 year old son. He was crying already and she spanked him, hard. What got me was not just the actual fact of her spanking him, but I could so feel her frustration. If she was feeling even a little of the shame I was at making noise in that environment, I could sympathize with any amount of exploding in anger.
I tried to listen through the windows as much as possible, but I ended up timing our entry for the Veneration of the Cross badly. Most of the congregation hadn’t gone yet. I felt so awkward and ashamed, and no one looked at us. Finally, when my poor two year old was sobbing and fell to the floor, my attempt at “presence” with Jesus had to change. In this moment, I needed to be present to Jesus as He lives in my little girl. It was not ok to traumatize her, and become this angry monster in order to be present to Jesus Crucified. He would rather her grow to love Him than have silent resentments because Church was torture. (I firmly believe this because I have to work so hard to overcome how much I hated Mass and Church as a kid, and I was very spiritual, I loved Jesus.)
Finally, we left. I told my littles how much I loved them, and I prayed aloud for the congregation as we went home.
St. Paul says, “They shall know we are Christians by our love.” Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me.” Not only was this church not an example of these things, but they were the exact opposite. The church we normally go to embraces children, and loves them. They have a “wiggle room” for children to go to when they need to move around a little, but they have a sign that reminds parents that they are welcome and wanted in the main church area. There is a beautiful 3D painting of Jesus holding a crowd of children. I still occasionally get a little side-eyed glance for walking around the back of the Church or letting my little one look at the statues, but more often, I get smiles and nods. I am so grateful for that Church. It is a rare, and amazing blessing, I know because I went 5 years without being able to find a Church I called home.

This Church was the absolute opposite last night, it was the example of all the reasons why I hated being Catholic for so long. I almost left the Church. I was so profoundly angry at God. Last night, because of the mercy of having an amazing Church that provides for us, and my own work to stay in the Church no matter what, I wasn’t tempted to leave, and I wasn’t angry at God, but instead, I can tell you, this needs to change. There are people who have not had the same experiences I have that are leaving the Church because of being treated this way.
So, do better.

How?

1. Welcome people who come to your church. Say a quick hello, give them a smile, something. I have been to churches where there is a moment set aside at the beginning for greeting each other before Mass begins and as a first-time parishoner there, it made a huge difference.

2. HAVE A CRY ROOM, better yet, don’t call it a cry room-call it a Wiggle Room, or something else fun, so it doesn’t sound or feel like a horrible place to be.

3. Do anything you can to let parents know they are welcome. They are forming the children that are the churches future, and they are treated badly enough anywhere else. They don’t need to feel like even God hates them. Plus, kids can pick up on the anger and frustration and then they associate that with God, which is BAD.

4. In fact, do anything you can to let everyone know they are welcome. Be love, like St. Paul.

5. Incorporate the kids in ways that take into consideration the purpose of the service, aka meet their needs without corrupting the actual Mass itself. At my Church, the children get to bring up little meal offerings at the offertory. It doesn’t interfere with any actual Mass parts, but it gets them excited about helping the poor, and about giving back to God. My two year old loves this, and it brings me so much joy. They also bring the high-schoolers who want to up to the foot of the alter during the Canon of Mass, physically manifesting “Let the little children come to me.”

6. Let go of the desire for the “perfect” service. Jesus did not command us to have the perfect ceremony. He did ask us to remember Him. He asked us to love. Sure, we could have a perfectly silent Mass, with no children there, but I’ll tell you as an ex-member of parishes that were that way, there is a heck of a lot of pain there. A lot of pain, and it wasn’t just me. Maybe if you really want to offer a really nice fancy silent service, have a children’s Mass available where parents don’t have to feel condemned.

7. Jesus first. In any decision being made in the liturgy, or any way you act during church or at church or ever, remember who Jesus was, and live like Him.

You Will Destroy Your Temple and Build it up in Three Days

Monday of Holy Week, 2019

Notre Dame burned today.

I don’t know how much. The news reports are all contradicting each other. There’s one that says it’s a total loss, another says the spire and roof are gone, but the structure is ok. There’s one that says the relics were all saved, another says we don’t know.

I heard about it while it was still burning. Then, I heard it was gone. Then, I heard it wasn’t. I wanted to cry. I prayed.

All day I couldn’t stop thinking of Christ’s promise that He would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. I begged Him over and over again.

Rebuild this. Rebuild it.

Bring us your Resurrection in this despair.

The whole world seems to have fallen apart.

Don’t give up on us yet.

It is so dark. There is so much pain. We can’t control anything. It’s all falling apart. Redeem us here in this darkness.

Look at us in all our fear and trembling and hopelessness, save us.

Save us.

Save us.

Save us.

Spare us from your wrath Oh Lord.

If You are to count our sins, Lord “who can stand?”

Have mercy on us. Redeem us Lord. Save us. Bring us to Your resurrection this Easter. Protect us as we walk the last steps to the end, Lord, save us as we walk with You. Protect us, Lord, and heal us, and our wounded world.

Embrace Your Cross

“Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabbactani
My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”

My God, My God, why did you abandon me?

I gave You everything. No matter how hard everything was.

I gave You my childhood. I gave you the feeling of being invincible that I never got to feel.

I gave You my obedience that destroyed my dreams, and my spirit for years.

I gave you myself, no matter how bad it got, and it got bad.

No matter how much I give, you always ask more.

How could you ask of me my child?

I was faithful.

I was strong.

I followed You.

What could I have done to deserve losing her?

I wrestle with any imperfection in my life before that moment.

Is this why He took her away? Was it this fight? Was it this day of work? Was it the juice I drank? Was it that I wasn’t healthy enough? Is it because I didn’t do something?

What did I do?

I thought I was following You.

What did I do? I never said I was perfect, but what did I do that was so bad that You would give me hopes and dreams I never thought I even had only to destroy them immediately after?

I can’t stand confession now, because I don’t know what my cardinal sin was.

My entire life I was afraid I was evil, and You hated me.

Do you?

Why?

What did I do?

Was it the moment that I was so afraid about the money that for a split second I wanted an abortion? I never meant to think that thought. I never wanted to lose her. I was just scared. I loved her.

Was I not motherly enough? Do I not have what it takes to be a good mother? If that’s why, am I good enough now? Please don’t take away the babies I have now. I love them. Please don’t take them away.

Why would you do this to me?

I was faithful through horrors that only You understand, and You gave me more.

“When will you make it end?”

I keep hearing you say, “when I am finished,” but God, finished with what? Is my suffering not over yet? Do you hate me so much that You created me only to hurt me?

Are some people just meant to be tortured by you, and some are just loved?

Do You know what it took me to stay alive because You said so? Because You would hate me if I didn’t? Do you know what it took me to cause pain to the most important person in my life, because my parents told me to, and you said to obey them? Do you know how much it hurt, and hurts, to have lost the life that I see in others, before mine even began? Do you know how much it hurts to hope when some dreams can never be fulfilled?

How do you even manage to grieve what is lost, when no one would understand?

I lost my wedding to the kindness I thought you asked of me. I lost my dreams to the curse of the ones you gave me. I lost my sense of self over and over and over and over and over to the One you entrusted me to. I lost my hope that You might love me.

I lost my dream of a mother who supports me and my dreams unconditionally because she believes in me and loves me, before I could even dream it. I lost my dream of a father I could trust to hold me when I cried. I lost my dream of even knowing my father at all, and the dream of having a better one too. I lost my dream of someone seeing me in pain and holding me. I even lost my dream of a husband who would hold me when I cried, what a cruel joke that is. He is amazing and healing and emotional, but I have to ask him to hold me when I cry.

I can’t bear this. It’s too much. It hurts too much for the human heart to bear. It is too much loss, too much pain, too much grief, just too much. I can’t breathe when I can feel the loss. The years and years of loss. The knowledge that I am not alone in the loss. I can’t breathe.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” CS Lewis

I had locked it up, God. You know how completely I had shut myself off.

I asked you for this. I asked you to heal my “dry bones.”

Don’t stop. Make me feel again. Make me ME again. Don’t let me close up again, I can feel my body trying to. I keep catching myself holding my breath and thrusting my tongue into the roof of my mouth to block whatever is happening in me. My body is terrified. My heart cries out to you, Oh God. Oh God, Oh God, why have you abandoned me? Oh God, Oh God, why have you abandoned me? Oh God, Oh God, why have you abandoned me?

The fear might be the worst part for me.

The fear that since You have done it before, You will do it again.

Mother Teresa felt abandoned by You for FIFTY years. How could you?

Would you do that to me?

If You did that to her, would you do that to me?

Would you abandon me for that long?

When you protect me, I am afraid You will stop, because You stopped.

When you lead me, I am afraid there is only worse pain ahead.

Miscarriage taught me how little I know of pain.

Childbirth taught me it can get even worse. Childbirth taught me pain can get so bad, that you think you are going to die, and you really don’t care anymore. It would be better than living this moment.

Motherhood has taught me to scream.

I am losing my joy to my attempts not to feel.

I am losing my joy to every moment I hold my breath so I can’t feel the hurt.

I am losing my joy to every moment I am so consumed by despair that I can’t convince myself to try anymore.

I am losing my joy to everything I already lost, and my fear of what I am going to lose.

 

“There are things we can do
But from the things that work there are only two
And from the two that we choose to do
Peace will win and fear will lose
It is faith and there’s sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive
And I will try with every rhyme
To come across like I am dying
To let you know you need to try to think”

God, it hurts so much to think. It hurts so much to be as me. I want to be me.

Redeem me here. Redeem me in the pain that goes so deep it never ends. Redeem me in this fear that You are not for me, You are against me.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”

But if God is against us?

Communion is like Sex

When I was in college, I took a class on Theology of the Body and it changed my life. A little after that class ended, I was kneeling at the Communion rail, when I heard as if from a quiet voice nearby, “Communion is like sex.” I shook it off as a temptation from the devil, because that sounded crazy, but it remained in my heart. Since that moment, it has formed and informed my relationship with Christ, my Bridegroom.

Now I know you may be totally freaking out that I would be putting those two terms in the same sentence. I think my mom thought I had lost my mind when I told her this theory, but hear me out. In sex, the man is literally inside the woman. In Communion(as far as Catholic beliefs), Jesus is inside of the person receiving him. In marriage, sex is the closest a husband and wife can get. On this earth, the closest we can get to Jesus is in the Eucharist. Sex unites the man and the woman. The Eucharist unites God and man. I could go on, but you get the idea.

This realization revolutionized my relationship with God. For the first time, it occurred to me that God wanted to be as close to us as He could possibly get. In eating His Body, we cannot get any closer to Him-He becomes a part of our body. What an intense and amazing kind of closeness that is, to be fully one with Him.

To believe in that powerful desire of God for me, changed the way I looked at everything spiritually. If God wants to be as close as a married couple, then of course He would want us to come to Him as much as possible, of course He would want us to be safe, of course He would want us to keep each other safe. Sin became an issue in our relationship with each other instead of a rule book being banged over my head. I started talking to God about anything and everything going on with me. I was able to bring anything to Him and be close to Him always.

Now, I use this relationship as a baseline for every decision I make in our spiritual life. Should I go to Church today even though I’m sick? If it was the best date ever with my husband, would I push through or stay home? Where should we go to Church? What Church furthers our closeness, does the Church harden my heart towards Him? In prayer, I bring literally everything to Him like a wife. We have even had marital spats. He yelled back and me pretty hard in Scripture the other day, in fact.

Because of all of this, He is always on my mind. He is the first one I talk to, vent to, complain to, and confide in. He is the one I tell my fears too, he is the one I hide with. He is the one who will follow me everywhere I go, and that’s a good thing because I like to be pursued. He is the one who holds me at night when everything that happened today is too hard.

If the Eucharist is that intense of a closeness with Jesus, how would that change your life with Him? How would you live it differently?

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