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.

Planning for the Future: Even When All You Have Feels like Nothing

All day I’ve been cursing at myself about how we haven’t been planning for the future. “We had one good paycheck and we used it all up. We should have saved every penny for the future. This is God punishing us because we messed up again.” Over and over again I thought of all of the things I could have done better, or should have known about.

It took my husband forgiving me for yelling when one of the little one hit me, hard, in the face with a wet swimsuit, to snap me out of it. I immediately called her out to apologize for yelling. I saw him looking at me and said, “Look, I know, I’m a bad mom now. I’m trying, it’s just been a stressful day.” He silenced me and told me that he was just letting me finish. “You are being a good mom, most moms wouldn’t have apologized so quickly.” He told me I was a great mom, and all of my discouragement came out at him. I told him I felt like there was no point to anything and we failed and nothing turns out right in the end. He told me, “What makes the difference is you keep going.”

It rang in my ear for hours.

What makes the difference is you keep going.

I kept thinking about how many times I had started something and given up, how many times I had told myself that I would never get better, how many times people told me I would never succeed. I thought about what if it wasn’t true, what if everything really is hopeless? I thought about how important my why is.

Then, I started to realize little ways I am planning for the future that I wouldn’t have before. Last month we bought diapers in bulk with extra money so we would have leftover to get things for the girls. We are learning how to plan how much we will need for groceries. We have been planning out which paycheck we will need our medicines on. Then, I realized some little ways we are planning for the future. My husband is going to school for our future. I am submitting my writing everywhere I can think of for our future, we are living with my parents for our future. Our sacrifices may look like nothing to my naked eye, but, it occurred to me, maybe they are the seeds we will reap(‘you reap what you sow’ has been on my mind lately.)

Then I thought about faith as small as a mustard seed, and how small a mustard seed. What we are sowing now in this dry and hard season feels as small as a mustard seed. It feels like it doesn’t matter, like there’s no point, but we ARE sowing. Every single day we are planting seeds of financial freedom, planting seeds of a loving family, planting seeds of hope for the future of our dreams.

I don’t know if we will get to the end and say it was all for nothing. I sure hope not. I know that I have been told over and over about how God does not promise happiness in this life. I know though that God does WANT happiness for us in this life. He wants abundance in our lives, and no matter how many people tell me otherwise, He has told me over and again who He is when it comes to that. God wants us to have abundance. I also know that I can’t get to the end and know I didn’t at least try for a better future.

Jaded

Ever since I grew to adulthood,

I hear the echoes

of everyone who told me,

“That’s not real.

That’s a fantasy.”

Most of the time, I silence them

With a wave of the hand,

And maybe a deep breath,

But then,

Sometimes, a wave of grief comes,

My heart begins to ask,

“Were they right?

Does God give us dreams to take them away?

Does He dangle hopes of a beautiful future,

Just to laugh when you are in pain?

There are times in my life when I believe them,

When the hope that God is listening grows as faint as a fading heartbeat,

The ache swells until my chest begins to cave into itself.

I cease to breathe in in terror of reality,

I force myself to breathe and anger overtakes me that God has turned His back.

But He hasn’t turned His back.

He is here when hundreds have told me He doesn’t hear me.

He is waiting for me when I can hear Him through the despair.

He hears me when I cry out in the pain of the skepticism that is our world.

Cast behind you the words of those who condemn you for belief in hope.

Cast behind you the belief that grief will win.

Cast behind you the grief that God doesn’t hear you,

And doesn’t love the real you.

There is a place for you.

Just because you haven’t found it doesn’t mean you won’t.

Use your wounds to heal others until you escape the chains,

And then free the slaves.

Sometimes God answers no, but not when it’s His promises to you.

If you are called to something, He will bring you to it somehow, I believe.

I believe.

I believe.

I believe.

Even here in the darkness.

I believe.

Finding Freedom in Motherhood

When I became a mom, I was terrified. I thought this meant I had to be into legos, Lincoln logs, and other little people toys and I was going to have to give up on everything I actually do love. The problem with this that a lot of people don’t have is that I wasn’t even into these things when I was a kid, so being forced to play with these for the rest of my life seemed like a horrifying fate. I still get the head tilt eye roll combo from some moms when I’m vocal about how much I hate that stuff.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with feeling like I had to give up and just be that mom, and it was killing me. I’m not a good mom when I try to be that quintessential mommy because it’s not me at all. This morning, though, I was reminded of how good it feels to be myself as a mother.

Yesterday, I found Useless Magic, a compilation of art and poetry by Florence Welch. I bought this for myself, to share with my oldest when she was not even one yet. It’s a beautiful red velvet art book with odd drawings and sketches, accompanied with random phrases from the wild imagination behind Florence and the Machine. She is my favorite singer and an artist I respect incredibly deeply. Willow curled into my lap and had me read it to her again and again. We traced the “Heartlines” on each other’s hands, laughed about the eye that was also a heart, and she misunderstood a song lyric to say “play dough head!”

Afterwards we scrambled to get our swimming gear on and we went to the pool to spend a glorious hour in the water and sun, which is by far my favorite activity in the world. We watched other people play, and ran our fingertips through the water, spun, and splashed. It was amazing, and the great thing is they got the active play and sunshine they needed, and I got to do something I enjoy.

Last night, I was wondering if parenthood meant giving up everything you love and becoming a shell of yourself. Today answered me that it doesn’t have to be like that. It reminded me of how much my oldest loved staring at mandalas with me when she was only a few weeks old, how much she still loves to read classic literature(at one year old her favorite book is an old copy of Crime and Punishment we let her play with), how happy her sister is when I do yoga, and how much they both love to dance and draw. All of these things are things I am so passionate about, and often felt lonely doing them alone, but now we can enjoy them together.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how hard motherhood is, and whether or not the sacrifice is worth it, and honestly, it is hard on a level that I cannot even explain, and I’ve never felt so defeated in my life, but at the same time, there is something to it, something more than happiness, something more than joy even, maybe even something just so perfect about that moment when you see your family becoming a family. That is what you do it for, worth it or not.

Ugly Cry, or, My Awakening: The Tension Between Cultivating Joy and Feeling Heard

Lately, I have been feeling like a ping pong ball in my own head. I’m learning a lot about a lot of things, but the problem is they all seem to contradict each other. I am learning how to cultivate joy, but I am also learning how to give myself space to be sad, I am learning about how to let good things in, and bad things out, I am learning about how anger is a secondary emotion, and about whether or not acting it out in some way helps, I am learning about healing, and I am learning about how much hurt can hurt, and I am learning to love and trust myself, and I am learning all of my weak spots all at the same time. I read an article that talked about how ugly real-life awakenings are, and if that’s the truth, it makes a lot of goddamn sense.

I’m so pissed off about this awakening. I’m humiliated and angry and frustrated, oh and presently actually literally sick. I am so aware of every single one of my flaws and yet it seems like every day someone thinks of a new one to add, not that they are even meaning too. I’m as sensitive as a porcelain doll right now because I feel like I’m trying to become this new person and every single move I make could change the world or end it. And to be fair, I don’t blame them, I can’t stand being in my own head anymore than they can stand what a mess I am.

I’m bouncing between all of the things I’m learning at the highest extremes of each trying to figure out who I am and where I stand inside, and just knowing I don’t belong on any of the sides I see. I see flaws everywhere on everything and everyone especially myself, but I am also seeing beauty in a way I haven’t in a long time, and for the first time in a long time, when I see the flaws I am doing something about it, or at least trying to. Sometimes I feel literally on fire because I’m so angry when I see someone else get talked down to, when I see anyone being ganged up on or feeling isolated. I’ve become, possibly a little too much, intense about standing up for the people who feel alone in that particular way.

I want to be a crusader for the lonely, and the misfits. That’s how I see who Christ was, and that’s who I have always wanted to be. I want to heal broken hearts, I want to hold those I can’t heal in my figurative or literal arms, I want to wipe away tears, I want to scream as loud as I can with people who need space to be angry, I want to pull dreams out of people who are afraid to dream, I want to answer despair with hope, I want to dive into their mud and muck and I want them to breathe again.

The problem is, I’m not big enough yet. I feel like a three year old looking at my life and realizing I’m not a grown up, and I keep throwing tantrums that humble me beyond what I thought was possible. I am so deeply angry at fate for whatever it has dealt everyone who is in pain including myself. I don’t want just answers to my problems, I want my answers to be the answers for everyone. I want to revolutionize how the world does life right now, because people are hurting so freaking bad. So the problem is, again, I’m not big enough to do all the things I want to do.

My answer to this, that bothers some people around me, is to complain. To live the truth of my struggle instead of sucking it up and pretending everything is ok. There’s been several articles out lately about society keeps giving “self-care” advice to people who really just need HELP. A prophets/artists job in life is to state the truth, and I am living that curse right now. There are things in our society and culture that are seriously fucked up. There are things in our Church that are horrifying. There are things in our world that are disastrous. I am a ball of positivity sometimes and I love to see the good in people and in the world, but let me tell you, there are some awful things happening right now, and the only space for my positively right now is my all-consuming hunger for helping to change it all, so I write, and sometimes I hate my negative confusing messy scribbles, but I’m not writing them for me. I am writing them for the little girl who wishes she was dead, so she knows she’s not alone. I am writing them for the mom who can’t stand up another day, so she knows someone else is fighting the war with her, I am writing them for the people who think the Church hates them, so they know they matter too. There is beauty in the truth even when the truth is ugly.

I catch myself sometimes feeling like I am trying to excuse the fact that I’m having a hard time. When I do that, I try to just stop writing right there, because it gets insincere real quick. Sometimes, I have to just push through it to get to the other side, and sometimes the other side is excusing the fact that everyone in my situation is having a hard time. I try to write letters for those who are struggling, or write comforting words to them, or write about their struggle, but sometimes it seems like the most powerful way I am able to struggle with someone is to stand with them and say, “Yeah, this fucking sucks. I’m here.” I catch myself defending people from themselves, other people, even myself sometimes, saying, “What you have been through is really hard, it’s ok to have a hard time.”

And ok, that is partially selfish, because when I am sad that’s all I want-my loved ones to see that I’m struggling and accept me through it, but it’s not just selfish, because I think the whole world needs that. Mother Teresa said that the people in America were suffering more than the people starving in Calcutta because they are lonely. That hasn’t changed, if anything, it’s gotten worse, and I believe one reason why is that we have this standard of perfectionism that no one can ever attain, but everyone is expected to, so no one is accepted for who they really are because everyone is so desperately trying to keep their mask on. Even the women who share their makeup free selfies are sometimes hiding how insecure they really are about it, and how scary it is to put themselves out there.

The thing is, that cultivating joy and choosing the good and all of that, do matter. I am not great at them and I am practicing, and failing, a lot, but sometimes, when someone is going through something really hard, just choosing joy isn’t enough. Sometimes the whirlwind of problems are so much that choosing joy seems completely impossible, and the litany of different medical and physical and emotional things that could be wrong with you are so overwhelming that all you know is that you are all wrong. Everyone else is happy and you aren’t, so something is horribly wrong with you. I am here to tell you, it’s okay to have a hard time. It’s even okay to have a hard time if you are STILL having a hard time. Recovery from grief is not an easy process, recovery from abuse takes titanic strength, recovery from addiction takes insane amounts only effort, recovery from anger at fate for what your life looks like seems almost impossible. It is ok to struggle.

If you are reading this, and you are not having a hard time, try to remember a time when you felt completely helpless and powerless, and if that’s never happened in your life, thank God and the people who have made that happen for you. If, though, you are reading this and you are having a hard time, know, you are not alone. We are here for you, all of the other silent people longing to be heard, we are here for you and we love you. It is ok that you are having a hard time, you will see better days. Try to get there, cultivate joy where you can, but let our love hold you while you struggle to get there. You are loved, completely, accepted completely, somewhere, we just have to find the place where we belong. Until then, we love you.

Acts 15: Christians Chill Out and Love

“Reading 1 Acts 15:22-31

The Apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole Church, decided to choose representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.

The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers.

This is the letter delivered by them:

“The Apostles and the presbyters, your brothers, to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin: greetings. Since we have heard that some of our numberwho went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, we have with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So we are sending Judas and Silas who will also convey this same message by word of mouth:

‘It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.'”

And so they were sent on their journey.

Upon their arrival in Antioch they called the assembly together and delivered the letter.

When the people read it, they were delighted with the exhortation.”

Can you imagine a world where religion worked like this?

In my life, the Church has not worked this way. Every time I have obeyed all the rules I was given, I was given more rules, and more until my head spun with all of the things I could and couldn’t do, and could and could not think or feel or want or say or not say. I HATE that.

I hate the feeling of being convinced that no matter how hard I try God will not love me, and will not want me, and I will never be good enough for Him. That is the conviction I believe that Christ came to fight. He didn’t come to find “sinners” and call them out and yell at them, He lingered with them and showed them love and talked to them like they were people too. The only times He got angry or renounced someone was when they were putting burdens on others. The Pharisees judging everyone while they themselves were just as bad if not worse, the people trying to kill a woman for sinning. Jesus came to LOVE everyone, and to teach us to love everyone.

So what if religion took that into consideration more often? What if Catholics spent less time calling other people names and talking about how evil they are and instead, came to them in their pain. What it when we saw a meme about abortion or about homosexuality or a tv show or whatever, we took a second to think about the other person and how they feel, and we approached the situation with love.

What if we took into consideration that the entire world is a huge mess of confusion and so much information about what is and isn’t right and all of the contradicting rules are too much to constantly be throwing new ones at people, and we took a second to just tell them they are loved.

What if we let go of our pride about being “right” and knowing all of the truth better than anyone else, long enough to really understand what someone else believes?

I’m not saying that the truth doesn’t matter, but what I am saying is that the Spirit we are in this letter is a spirit of seeing the suffering of others and tending to it, instead of having impossibly high expectations of people and being cruel because of it.

There is a passage in the gospel that talks about people laying burdens on others that even they can’t carry, and it calls to mind the Catholics I have heard devastated and exhausted under the weight of everything they are asking everyone, even those who don’t even believe in Jesus yet to do. Some of the most judgemental Catholics I know are Catholics who have “fallen into grievous sin,” and are imposing their own grief and shame into other peoples lives.

What if we didn’t do that?

What if we just let Jesus be love?

What if He gave us everything He did to love us, not to consider every move we make sinful?

What if “Catholic Guilt” was not a thing anymore, but instead “Catholic love?”

What if we were as joyful as the Christians who celebrate Christ’s unconditional love for them?

What if we didn’t ask for a life free of any possible even not completely perfect act, but instead asked for a life dedicated to Love and living in Love?

What if we healed others and loved others in their pain instead of causing more?

Can we Be Jesus to others in our lives, so that they can feel the love we get to feel? How can we make that effort? How can we ease the burdens and sufferings of others in this world and accept them where they are at, like the apostles did in this letter.

Can we just decide together not put “any burden, just the necessities” on each other and instead spend our time and energy loving others and taking care of them?

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