Being faithful in the midst of pain

"The Prayer" - bubug, DeviantArt
When we are in pain, it seems as if the whole world revolves around us - or should. We only pay attention to our immediate situation.

When our kids were younger, Eldest Son had a lot of problems. There was a time - months and months - where his issues seems to need all of Dear Husband's and my attention. I clearly remember thinking one day, "Whoa - I have GOT to pay attention to the other kids." It's not like I was neglecting them ... no, I was. Maybe it was necessary; we were literally trying to save our son's future, but it didn't make the realization hurt any less. And I couldn't get the time with them back.

Maybe it's a job. Maybe it's a health issue. Maybe it's caring for a child or an elderly parent. Whatever it is, we get sucked into a situation where hurt is involved and we begin to act like an ER doctor - plugging holes, clearing airways, keeping the person alive. That's it. We are keeping the situation alive.

Then things quiet down. We look around and see a dead house plant. We forgot to water the darn thing. There is a pile of mail we have not even had a chance to glance at. There is a church bulletin buried in there - from 3 weeks ago. That was the last time we were able to get to Mass. Next to our favorite chair is a rosary we haven't picked up in a while.

I'm not really sure how this works. I know that God knows when we are in "ER mode" - just trying to keep someone alive. Often, our only prayers during this period are (according to Anne Lamott) are "Help!" "Thanks," and "Wow." And those prayers are enough during a time of pain and stress and keeping someone alive.

But maybe what makes those prayers work during those times is our attempts to be truly faithful when we aren't in that swamp of pain. "Help," "thanks," and "wow" are enough ONLY when we have sort of "banked" more prayers. And I am not suggesting that God counts our prayers like some miserly banker. No, it's that we've spent time with God, seeking His will for us, asking, probing, crying out, listening, listening, listening. Margaret Feinberg:
In our greatest moments of pain, loss and heartache, God wants to anchor us to the reality of His imminence. We do not serve a God who is far off, but One who is near and draws near to those shattered by life. God isn’t only with us in those moments, but also in ALL the moments.

Sometimes, holding on to a rosary is all we can do. Sometimes, the only prayer we can muster is "help!" Sometimes the pain is so great, we feel overwhelmed, crushed, forlorn. This is exactly when we most need to be faithful. And here's the ugly truth: that faithfulness does not always have a pay-off. We are not always going to get the cure, save our kid, undo the financial mess, bring a dead houseplant back to life. Yet no matter what we feel (pain, loss, abandonment, fear, shame) God is there. GOD IS THERE. He does not back away from us in disgust. He will not leave us alone in a hospital bed to fight the pain ourselves. He will not return to a castle in the sky and pull the drawbridge up behind Himself.

God is faithful in the midst of our pain, and we must be too. Not because of some reward, or thinking that God will punish us if we forget to say our prayers. No, we remain faithful because that is what is keeping us alive - that often tenuous reaching out for God. Be faithful today. Reach out to Him who is Love, is Faithfulness, is God.

Anointing of the Sick and a mission I didn't ask for

At Mass, this past Sunday, we celebrated the Anointing of the Sick. I've never figured out why more people don't avail themselves of this sacrament, especially since it's one where the recipient really doesn't have to DO anything (other than pray and receive the grace - easy peasy!)

Anyway, "K," our pastoral associate, asked if I'd like to receive, and I said yes. (Actually, I nearly shouted "yes" but we were in church right before Mass started. I contained my enthusiasm.) She told me there were two other people, and she would seat them next to me in the front pew. One was a older lady bent over from osteoporosis, who told me she was nervous - "I've never done this." I tried to assure her that it was not only painless and easy, but quite helpful.

Father began his sermon  by announcing that we were celebrating this sacrament following the homily. Then he said that the sick - whether it was an illness of mind, body or spirit - were those whom God was asking a special mission of.

Wha??? Huh? I don't remember that. There was no cassette telling me of a mission "if you should choose to accept it." No voice from above saying, "You are sent forth" or any other obvious announcement. Nope, I just know that I'm in pain.

And the pain has been ghastly these past few days. I'm finding it hard to walk, I'm only sleeping a few hours a night and the pain reaches from the middle of my back to my toes. My mission remains unclear. I feel like one of the Jews wandering in the desert: "Where are we? Aren't we supposed to have come across the Promised Land by now? What's going on???"

It seems as if, in the realm of superheroes and paperback protagonists, that they don't often set out with a specific mission in mind. They know they cannot stand injustice or that someone needs to stand up for the Average Joe or Jill, but a specific case? No; they either stumble into one or wait until the Bat signal or its equivalent draws them out.

These past few days I've been wondering what mission God could possibly have in mind for me that required so much pain on my part. Frankly, a big chunk of me is saying, "Mission?? I do't need no stinkin' mission!!" I'm just trying to stay healthy, holy, and live out my vocation of being a wife, a mother, and employee.

Yet there I was, with my face uplifted and my hands held out, allowing the healing oil to be placed on my body, soothing my spirit. I truly don't know why God is asking this of me, but I'll trudge along, holding His hand and clinging to Mary's mantle. I've received this sacrament 3 times in the past 2 months, so God clearly has a mission for me.

Whatever it is, I'll just show up. I figure God will take care of the details of the mission.

Suffering: Not about courage

"The Crucifixion" - el Greco
I was awake at 5 a.m. this morning. That netted me about 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep, which is pretty good for me these days. I was sleeping in the recliner in my office, a common deal for me now, as the recliner is more comfortable than a bed. (One weird sidebar of this whole "tumor on my spine" thing is that my leg and foot often fall asleep if I'm in bed. Who knew?)

Right across from my recliner is a crucifix, then an icon of the Nativity, and finally a print from Assisi showing four holy places of the life of St. Francis. If you're awake at 5 a.m., and you're not feeding a baby or getting ready for work, you have the luxury of talking to Jesus for a bit. Having a crucifix there is a good conversation starter.

I was talking to Jesus about how He managed to carry that cross. Just the physical trauma of it; I know He was God, but He was just walking around in human skin. He had no Superman powers. He stilled stubbed His toe and it hurt. He got headaches (can you imagine hanging around with the Apostles and NOT getting a tension headache??) He cried and got scared and angry. "How, Lord, did you carry that piece of wood that was weighed down by my sins? How did  you manage??"

And frankly, I was asking Him, "How can I manage? How can I keep going when I'm in so much pain?" I know how much surgery hurts. I know I'm going to be sick from the anesthesia. I know I'm going to be grouchy and uncooperative. So, Jesus, do I just muster up the courage and be a "good Marine," so to speak?

And then I got my answer. It was nicely done, I will give Jesus that. No cloud descending from on high. Nope, it was ... well.

I said my morning prayers in my Magnificat. And then I turned to the meditation of the day from Fr. Bernard Bro, OP.

Basically the mystery of the cross isn't a mystery of strength but a mystery of helplessness. It is a victory, to be sure, but a victory hidden even from the eyes of the victor, a victory having every appearance and all the taste of defeat, and experienced as a defeat.
The cross isn't a mystery of bravery but a mystery of love. It doesn't consist in suffering courageously nor merely in suffering, full-stop, but in being afraid of suffering; it doesn't consist in overcoming an obstacle but in being crushed by it; not in being strong and noble-hearted but in being small and absurd in one's own eyes; not in deploying virtue but in seeing all one's virtues routed and pulverized; and in accepting all this lovingly. And in accepting lovingly to be strengthless; strength is no use, love is what's needed.
[Hats off to Fr. Bro for the use of the semi-colon there, by the way.]

So there it was: the answer to my early morning chat with Jesus. It is not courage I need;  it is love. It is a willingness to sacrifice, not to be the strongest or bravest. It is a willingness to be crushed - not for no reason, but so that God may use that in however He chooses. It is time to stop gritting my teeth and being brave, and time to let go.

Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. (Phil. 2: 6-8)

Sleeping on the floor with Jesus

artist C. Michael Dudash
I live the Franciscan life by choice - after all, Dear Husband and I are in formation with a Franciscan order of sisters, they've been our spiritual advisors and  have been for many years. I've said here before I'm not a very good Franciscan, as I own far too many shoes, but Franciscan spirituality is in the marrow of my bones.

Youngest Son and I were talking yesterday about Franciscans, and I told him about how "hard-core" the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal are. I told my son that when I went to the March for Life a few years back, I walked most of the way with some of these Friars. They were barefoot. In January. In DC. And singing joyfully the entire way.

They sleep on the floor. No pillows, no mattress. They truly don't own anything. They are in service to the poor in the radical way St. Francis was. My son thought this was crazy, and it is. Crazy in that it's radical love for Christ, and that always looks crazy to our sin-steeped world.

Little did I know while having this conversation that the same night, I'd be right there on the floor with these friars.

I had to spend a few hours in the car yesterday, and I was also feeling particularly stressed. By the time I got home, my back (which has been a source of pain for months now) was in a knot. Nothing seemed to help. By the time I was ready to go to bed, I was crying. I could not get comfortable. I finally laid down on the floor and fell asleep. (Ok, I had a body pillow propped under my left side, so I was a bit more comfortable than the dear friars.)

Flannery O'Connor, one of the greatest Catholic writers, said this: "What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe."

Given our own choice, we'd pick the electric blanket, a soft down comforter, breakfast in bed and heated towels after our shower. That's not the life of Christ, however. Nope, we get the floor.

And why shouldn't we? That's where our Savior began his life: in the dirt and animal waste, turned away from even the most rudimentary comforts of an inn two thousand years ago. He told us in the Gospel that he had no where to lay His head.

It would be nice to be able to become holier, more Christ-like, without having to actually be like Him. But there are no shortcuts. If we have the audacity to ask Him to make us more and more like Him, then we need to be prepared to sleep on the floor. Even if we don't really want to.

Learning from Mother Teresa


I admit: I never had much of a warm, fuzzy spot for Mother Teresa. I realize she's a holy woman, a saint, and I admired her work while on earth. But, you know how it is: just like we warm up to people here on earth and find our besties, we do the same with saints. I never considered Mother Teresa one of my heavenly besties.

Because of my job (which includes writing a blog post every day and finding good stuff for the company's social media), I've spent a lot of time reading about Mother Teresa, and learning from her directly via her letters and diary.

[Just let me step aside here for a moment and remind you of the world's most frightening prayer, from St. Ignatius of Loyola.]

I know in my head and in my gut that I'm supposed to do God's will. I know that if I choose this, my life will be better than any plans I could come up with. And yet ... I'd still rather do things MY way.

Heal me Lord! I'm in so much pain. Just heal me. I know you can.

Fix my kid, Jesus! He is in so much pain. Lead him to where he needs to go.

Really, God? REALLY? We finally get a little money saved up and the freakin' washing machine dies? Come on!! We are on the same team here!

Jesus, I've done everything you've asked. Could you give me a little something in return for being so good?

Clearly, I am no saint. I hope I'm a saint in progress but I still very much prefer my own plans, ideas and will to God's. There you have it.

Mother Teresa abandoned herself. She left everything behind for Christ. I'm not talking about her family or the Sisters of Loreto, where she had a reasonably comfortable life. No, she abandoned everything of herself. She made herself an empty vessel and begged God to inhabit her.

Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today, I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then, the comfort of Loreto [her former congregation] came to tempt me. ‘You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again,’ the Tempter kept on saying … Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.
I am certainly not at the point where I can wholly abandon myself, and I most certainly am not at the point where I won't shed a tear. I pray that Mother Teresa will make it a heavenly mission to pray for those of us who still want things our way and not God's.
Mother Teresa, pray for us!

So close to Jesus

Solomon Kadavoor - artist
This past Sunday, at Mass, Dear Husband and I had the great good fortune of having a dad, toddler and infant sit next to us in the front pew.

"Good fortune?" you say. Sounds horrible. Kids are so distracting. Put 'em in the nursery.

Nope. We sit up in the front pew, and always invite parents with young kids to come and sit with us. Having raised 5 hyper kids, we can pretty much ignore anything, plus kids do much better when they can see what's going on.

I have to admit, I wanted the toddler to act up a bit so I could whisper to the dad, "I'll watch the baby if you have to take him out."

Instead, we saw something rather remarkable.

Oh, the toddler (not quite 2) was a toddler. He was a bit anty. He wasn't quite sure that he liked seeing his mommy in front, cantoring, where he couldn't get to her. He whined and fussed a bit.

But during the Consecration, his enormous blue eyes locked onto the priest. That baby boy saw Jesus up there. You could just tell. You know, those little souls are so close to Heaven; they remember more than we do. That boy couldn't tell you what he was seeing, but he knew. He knew.

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them,but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” After he placed his hands on them, he went away. (Mt. 19: 13-15)

Always Faithful

We went to Mass last night, and had an older priest. In his homily, he exhorted us to "semper paratus:" Be prepared. The Gospel,...