My baby, he wrote me a letter

One of the casualties of our post-modern age is the handwritten letter. Can you remember the last time you received one? We hardly even send cards any more. I think we got 2 or 3 Christmas cards this year. No, the computer has pretty much killed the hand-written missive.

I had an aunt that regularly wrote me. Her letters and cards were never anything spectacular; they were just homey, heartfelt notes that bridged the gaps between space and age. They made me feel special.

My prayers this morning contained a snippet of a letter. St. Paul was writing to Timothy, and we have two of those letters. In the second of those letters, Paul says, "If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself." (2 Tim 2:13) Paul was in chains, imprisoned, when he wrote these letters, but he clearly wanted Timothy to be well-formed in the faith. He wanted to reach out across space and age to teach and pray.

If you're reading this, it is likely you are "sheltered in place" due to the coronavirus. That means you probably have some time on your hands. Maybe you can use some of that time to write a letter (or a note or a card) to someone today. Reach out and write a letter to someone you love.

The Best Laid Plans...

About 20 years or so ago, I stopped giving up things for Lent. It's not that I didn't find it a worthy practice; I did. It's just that God outdid  me every single Lent. I'd choose something that I thought was a good choice - something that would really pinch, like Diet Coke or chocolate. But every single year, God gave me a Lenten sacrifice that surpassed anything I could choose: surgery, a serious issue with a child, etc. I learned to trust that God would give me the Lent I needed, and that my plans often were not the best ones.

I'm assuming you get what I mean, what with the quarantine and all.

You probably gave up coffee for Lent, or thought you'd try and go to Adoration more often. Maybe you and your spouse added daily Mass once a week to your schedule or you joined a Scripture study at your parish.

And God has stepped in and given us the Lent He thinks we need.  Of course, it only will benefit us if we pay attention.

There are lots of reasons to follow the instructions regarding COVID-19 in your area. (In my state, we are on "stay at home" orders.) We need to stay healthy. We need to keep the vulnerable among us from getting ill. We need to check in on each other, especially our elderly and vulnerable neighbors, and make sure we have what we need to get through these days.

But would we be stupid to miss this spiritual opportunity. 

We now have time to slow down. To read. To journal. To pray. To think. And while I know that many of you think you are going to be climbing the walls, God has something to say to you in this time of upheaval and uncertainty and illness and Lent. And apparently the only way He could get our attention was in this very dramatic fashion. So it must be important. 

Don't be afraid to be quiet. To listen for God's voice. To ask His what it is He wants you to hear. You've got time now to talk to Him and to listen to Him. Don't be discouraged if you don't hear anything the first minute of listening, or the third, or even the seventh. He will talk to you. Just rest in His presence.  Be with Him.  He wants to be with you. 

Let us not waste this time. God so wants to be with us, and now we have the opportunity - this historical time of quarantine and isolation and social distancing - to grow closer to Him. Let's do so.

A cup of tea, a moment noticed and God

Every morning I make myself a cup of tea. Usually, it's chai or Irish breakfast. I boil the water, I put the tea in the infuser and place it in the mug. As the water is heating, I put some milk in another container along with a little sugar. Once the tea is steeping, I froth the milk. When the tea is ready, I remove the infuser and pour the frothed milk and sugar into the tea. Then it's ready to enjoy.

I try to do nothing else as I prepare my tea. It's a ritual that deserves all my attention. My morning tea warms me and wakes me. It reminds me of my mother. Since my husband makes sure that I always have tea from the little speciality grocery store nearby, it's a ritual of love. I want to have those few minutes every morning of memory, of attention to detail, of love.

We live in a world of multi-tasking. We've got our cell phones out as we make dinner. Our tv is on as we catch up on email. We fold laundry and talk to a friend. The truly bold are putting on makeup as they drive to work. With the exception of the last example, there's nothing really wrong with multi-tasking, but here's the thing: we are bad at it. Our brains aren't made for doing a bunch of things at once. Oh, we can do it, but we do it badly. We are never truly present for any one thing; we just do a bunch of things adequately.

I don't want adequate. It clutters up my brain. It causes me to forget things. When I make my tea, I don't remember that my husband buys my tea or that the tea connects me to my mom. And I really want to have those things foremost in my mind.

"The devil," the saying goes, "is in the details." But that is not right. It's God who
is the details. The intricacy of dragonfly's wing, the gloriousness of the human body, the complex system that comes alive under the eye of the microscope, the dance of human relationships: all bear the elaborate designs of the Designer. If we want to know Him, we must pay attention to His work. And we can only do that by being mindful of one thing, one action, one detail at a time.

Padre Pio said, "When you waste time, you disdain God's gift - the present - which He, in His infinite goodness, relinquishes to your love and to your generosity." I cannot say that I do not waste time, but that moment every morning, as I make my tea, is a feeble attempt to do this and to make it a part of my life, all day, every day. Be present, for God is here.

Suicide and who deserves care

I wanted to follow up on yesterday's post. I was going to write this yesterday, but I was a bit too angry and didn't want to have it come across as a scream.

Yesterday, I wrote about the tragic death by suicide of a young priest. By all accounts, he was not depressed, but had suffered horrible side effects of a medication. Those who knew him believe the medication is to blame for the suicide. Of course, his loved ones are devastated and are using this opportunity to remind others to talk to a loved one if they notice changes in sleep habits, eating, mood, etc.

All good. We should all take note.

But here is where my anger comes in: Where is my help? Where are my loved ones jumping in? Are only people who are at risk of suicide due to medication worth saving?

About a year ago, when I was suicidal, I reached out to a family member. She bluntly told me I was being a jack ass. This, in case you are wondering, is not the recommended approach to dealing with someone so depressed that they are contemplating suicide.

Depression is a long game. Family and friends can get sick and tired of dealing with your stuff. They don't want to hear about it again and again. Imagine how it feels being the person with depression, or anxiety, or PTSD. Trudging off to therapy yet again - aren't I cured YET?? I'm a year out from feeling suicidal but I'm still in therapy. Nobody but my husband asks how I'm doing anymore though.

There are people in my life that, had you asked me prior, I would have sad "a thousand percent," would have stuck by me in this journey and yet, they are no where to be found. Depression is so isolating; watching friends and family drop away is even worse. Would I be more worthy of their care if my issues were caused by medication like the priest mentioned above?

No one need ever die by suicide. Suicide is 100% preventable and we all can work together to prevent it. Every person at risk deserves our care for as long as it is needed. We can do better and we must.

Suicide and Awareness

We lost a priest this week. We lost a young priest. Worse still, we lost him to suicide.

By all accounts, Fr. Evan Harkins was a wonderful priest. He loved serving his parish, loved the sacraments, loved our Blessed Mother. He was close to his own family and his grandmother was thrilled that he had fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a priest.

What happened to this young man? What caused the spiral that ended in suicide? It seems that Fr. Harkins had some stomach issues, and had been prescribed some medication. (Some of this comes from a PDF; I'll try to link it here.) The medication, it seems, can cause anxiety and suicidal ideations, which apparently it did in Father's case. In a matter of weeks, he went from his normal self to suicide.

The change did not go unnoticed. Fr. Harkins, just prior to his death, had made a retreat with a group of Benedictine Sisters whom he knew. Both the Sisters and the chaplain noted changes, but Father left his retreat early without telling anyone, and he was soon dead. 

Dear Husband and I discussed this today. People are using this as an opportunity to talk about suicide awareness, to talk about noticing changes in loved ones. Hubby just finished a workshop on mental health as he coaches high school soccer, and my own mental health issues have made us sensitive to the topic.  Clearly, Fr. Harkins case was unusual, in that it was an issue with a medication, but it wasn't unusual in that the outcome was sadly common: a young man, feeling wholly isolated and scared, took his own life. 

Fr. Harkins had many, many people who cared about him, and (I'm assuming) those people would like to go back. They see in hindsight what they could not see in foresight: the appetite that is off, the pain behind the eyes, the sleeplessness, the great sadness. It's more than just a "blue mood" or being "off" for a day or two. It's knowing now that you should have said something, should have known that there was something wrong, should have gone with one's gut. But there's no going back.

Catholics have a bit of a storied history with suicide. It wasn't that long ago that those who died by suicide could not be buried in a Catholic cemetery; suicide was regarded a mortal sin. Now, it is viewed with more compassion - those who die by suicide are seen as suffering from something from which they may have little control. As our society's understanding of depression has improved so too has our faith's.

What should you do if you are worried about a loved one? Talk to them. Tell them your concerns and why you have them. Be specific: "I noticed you haven't been eating well" or "You seem so down lately." Ask how they are doing. Then let them know you think they need help and offer to go with them. Offer again the next day and keep offering. Enlist another friend or family member if necessary. Keep talking and make it apparent that you are not judging, but you are there to stay as long as they need you. 

I don't know if Fr. Harkins family or friends could have done a thing. I certainly am not standing in judgement of any of them. But damn, people, we don't need to lose another brother or sister to suicide. Let's be vigilant and hopeful. 

Rank and File

There is nothing that will make you feel more humble then going to a busy emergency department and getting a bed in the hall. It's too busy for you to get a room, so you are literally assigned a bed in the hallway. So are a lot of other people, most of whom seem to be dying from the flu. 

There is no privacy (HPPA goes right out the window). Need to put on a gown? The nurse will grab an aide and they will kindly hold up a sheet while you change. Can you run through your med list while everyone and their brother walks by? Thanks. Oh, you're in massive pain? Just cry it out while the world passes by.

You are not special. That's what humility reminds you. That homeless guy in the bed down the hall? He's getting the same care you are. The lady with the flu? She deserves the same gentle nursing skills you receive.

Christian writer Corrie Ten Boom is credited with saying, "Don't bother to give God instructions; just report for duty.” We are not masters of the battlefield. We are not grand leaders, men and women who grasp all the tiny details of our lives and see how it all plays out, even in harmony with the lies of those around us. Oh, we think we are, but we are not. We are in no place to give God instructions; we only can show up and do as we are directed.

We want to be treated as if we are royalty, even if it's just minor royalty. I just want a small suite in the emergency department you see. I'd like a small coterie of staff to fall all over me and my wants. I'd really like it if God followed my  directions for once, instead of failing (once again!) to heed my directions for my life. Oh, I know I'm made for so much more than the rank and file of this life.

Except I'm not. I'm just me. A small me. A sinful. A me built and designed for some purpose. Might seem a big purpose, might seem small. Doesn't matter. Doesn't matter if I get the bed in the hall or the corner suite on the top floor. I am still God's child, created in His Image and likeness, bearing His dignity in all I do. Standing in God's rank and file is still a far, far better place to be than standing atop a mountain without Him.

We want recognition. We want ease. We want glamour. We want everyone to recognize just how special we truly are. But in this life, the question is: Are we willing to do our duty, whatever God tells us that is, from our bed in the hall? 

Off In the Weeds No More

As promised, I said I'd address why I hadn't been posting much. Part of me wants to say I have nothing to write, but that is the writer's cop-out. In order to have something to write, one simply has to write.

No, my lack of writing has to do with what Winston Churchill called the Black Dog: depression. I suppose chronic illness plays into it as well, but it's depression that tells you that you have nothing to say. It's depression that tells you that you can't write anyway, even if you did have something to say. Depression kills that spark you get when you find a topic you want to write about, you start to formulate a sentence or two and then you remember: you can't write. And you're done.

Depression distorts and demeans. It tells you that you can't, you shouldn't. Even worse, if you're a person of faith, it attacks that. God doesn't care about you. Look at what a mess your life is - you think this is the result of a loving God? Over and over, that voice reminds you how worthless your ideas, your thoughts, your gifts are. And so you slowly just stop. Even writing in your journal seems to be pointless. You are no longer on a path that leads somewhere, anywhere. You're just off in the weeds, aimless, no place to go.

And you get pretty darn comfortable there.

Once you're off the path, it is really hard to get back on. It's easy to hide in the weeds. On the path, you're exposed. You have to converse with people. Depression keeps telling you to hide. Off in the weeds, it's a lot easier to nap, to drowse off. On the path, you have to be alert, to know what's going on around you. Nope, it's just easier to stay off in the weeds, hiding, being quiet, lonely, not answering anyone's questions.

Except that after awhile, you're off all by yourself - lonely. No one to talk to. Hidden. Depressed. Nothing to do or share with someone else. You realize this is no way to live.

Trying to claw your way back from the weeds is a lot harder that staying on the path in the first place. It's hard allowing yourself to be exposed again. It's hard putting your depression on display, especially when some people in your life have bailed on you because of it. It's hard speaking your truth when your voice is so soft and quivery, but it's the only way. You can't hide anymore. You have to stand in the truth, even if you're scared. 

That's why I wasn't writing much, and that's why I'm writing more now. It got hard and then it got harder and now here I am. Back on that path, a little shaky, a little scared but here. I'm here.

Healthy Bodies, Messed Up Minds?

A friend posted something from Antrim Counselling regarding the rather harsh mental health issues many of today's children face. For instance:

• 1 in 5 children have mental health problems
• A 43% increase in ADHD has been noted
• A 37% increase in adolescent depression has been noted
• A 200% increase in the suicide rate in children aged 10 to 14

These stats are for the UK, but I imagine they are about as bleak for kids here in the US.

I was reading the other day that it is likely that everyone will face one mental  health challenge in their life - grief, depression, a learning disability, coping with stress and anxiety. We all face physical challenges and when we do, we know exactly what to do, and we do not feel any shame in seeking help. We don't hide the fact that we went to see the doctor or went to the ER with alarming symptoms.

But when we can't sleep for the third night in a row or we cry every night when we get home from work and we aren't really sure why, we don't talk about it. In fact, we hide it. We brush off a spouse's suggestion that we talk to the doctor. We are FINE, just FINE. We soldier on. There is nothing wrong with us. Our body isn't hurting, so we must be FINE, right?

No wonder our kids are hurting. If we can't take good care of ourselves, how can we ever take care of them? And this lack of care is killing them - a 200% increase in youth suicides. 

What to do? I'm no expert, except when it comes to me. I know what has helped me. Talking about my mental health helps me. I see a therapist weekly. That is key. (No, I'm not saying everyone needs weekly therapy. But you might, for awhile.) But I also talk about it with others, just as I might my physical health. "My depression is better, but sleep is still a struggle" or "My anxiety has been getting better but I still have a hard time when...." It's the same as if someone might say, "My knee is still acting up" or "I twisted my ankle last week but the brace the doctor gave me helped." It's just matter-of-fact. 

Your kids are listening. They hear the words you use, the tone of voice. They hear shame if it's there. They hear progress or frustration. They hear priority or dismissal. They know whether or not it is safe to share their own concerns with you. They know that using a professional to talk to is an option in for your family.

That's the place to start. Talk. Watch your words but be honest. And it doesn't need to be your own kids, you know. Any kid you love needs this. Any kid in your life needs the adults in their life to show them that mental health is just as important as physical health. Talk and keep talking. 

Adopted By Grace

I was reminded in prayer this morning that we are all adopted, by grace and baptism, by God into His family. Christ's Sacrifice makes us all brothers and sisters in Christ. St. Paul is very clear: we are not slaves to an angry god; we are God's very children:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!" The Spirit itself bears witness without spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ... Romans 8:15-17

Now, most people would read that and think: "How wonderful! Adopted by God! Adoption is so  wonderful; now I won't be an orphan, out in the world alone." And that is true. But it's not completely true.

Here's the inside scoop on adoption: it's built on loss. It's built on relationships that crashed and burned. It's built on heartbreak, heartache and heart-wrenching choices. Please let me be clear: God's adoption is perfect, but we are not. When humans get added to the mix, we muck things up.

And that's exactly what we did when we first came into relationship with God. At first, things were perfect. We lived in perfect harmony with God and His creation. It was, as they say, all good.

Until it wasn't. We rebelled. We thought we knew best. We struck out on our own, knowing in our heart of hearts that the rules God had given us were not REALLY meant for us. (If all of this sounds like a parent and teen relationship, you are right on the money!) We broke our trust, our relationship with God. 

(I don't want to stretch the comparison too far, but you can see the similarities between our choices and how they affect our life in God, and how a rebellious teen's choices might wear on a parent, can stand in comparison to our relationship with God our Father.)

But because God is all-loving, all-good, all-perfect, He not only gave us a way to be in relationship with Him again, but a way to salvation. He sent us His Son, who by His Life, Death and Resurrection gave us new life, and also brought us back into the family fold.

In adoption, there is joy. There is also tremendous heartache: a family must "give up" a child. Another couple struggles with the loss of fertility. An adult child searches for his biological family. A mother mourns a child she relinquished decades ago. Adoption isn't "good" or "bad." It is so good, so much of the time and does what it is supposed to do: give a child in need a home. But in order to make it work, we have to be real: adoption isn't without trial and heartache and loss.

In adoption, there is joy. There is also heartache. Family might not understand why we choose to be Catholic. We mourn years spent in sin and waste. There is trial and heartache and loss. We recognize we are helpless to sin and need salvation. We need a Father and a Brother and a Mother. We need God and Christ and the Church. And they are all right there, waiting for us with open arms, in a spirit of grace and adoption.

My baby, he wrote me a letter

One of the casualties of our post-modern age is the handwritten letter. Can you remember the last time you received one? We hardly even s...