Catholic Exchange: Healing the Wounds of Rejection

It happens to every penitent who frequently seeks forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance. We trudge, once more, to the confessional door and upon our entry, lament to the priest that we are once again confessing the same sins. It’s been a week, a month, a year, and it’s the same sins. We are tired of confessing the same sins over and over again with little or no perceived progress. Those of us who write a list down during our examination of conscience, fight the temptation to keep it for next week or the following week’s Confession, since we know the sins will be the same. This would be wrong, however, since we are absolved of those sins and forgiven by Our Lord. Rip that piece of paper up or throw it in the fireplace! Progress in the spiritual life is slow going and it can feel more like back-sliding than steps up the mountain.

One of the great struggles in the spiritual life is coming to understand why we commit certain sins over and over again. There are the theological answers: pride, we are Fallen, we flee from God, we don’t trust in God’s goodness and love, we violate our own nature, weakness, etc. These are all true, but one of the greatest struggles we face as human beings is the reality that we do not truly know or understand ourselves. We are great at self-deception. We do not fully understand our motives. Many of us have been deeply wounded since childhood, which means we’ve developed habitual sins in the face of suffering. A good many of us never make the effort to try to understand why we sin in certain ways.

There are certain sins we tend to commit when we are suffering, hurt, or are under tremendous stress. Psychology is filled with explanations for why some people eat and drink to excess, turn to pornography, lose themselves in video games or social media, watch copious amounts of television, or recklessly spend money. Many of the points made by modern psychology are helpful, but what are some of the spiritual answers for why we engage in these behaviors when we hurt?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Keep Getting Back Up

I realized that my writing may make people think I have it more together than I actually do. The thing about writers is, we see great truths–especially in the grips of suffering–and want to share those insights with others. That doesn’t mean we’ve actually mastered what we write about. I am no exception.

I have officially reached the status of overwhelmed after everything we have been through in the last year, seven years, really. And when I get overwhelmed, I crash and burn hardcore. It is because I know what the end is supposed to look like that I will tend to leap out prematurely and forget that this life is about small steps forward, not giant lunges over valleys. I also have breaking points when the weight of my Cross gets to be too much and I find myself crying face down in the dirt.

Thank God for Confession! The enemy wants to convince us that we are unforgivable, that we will never succeed, that holiness is impossible, and that God cannot possibly love us if He allows this much suffering. Oh, I hear the enemy ringing in my ears. He is rather relentless. He’s the one who tells me to avoid Mass or Confession or do it later. And I said “no” to him today by going to Mass even though I failed so utterly yesterday that I wanted to throw in the towel. And I walked up to my priest after Mass and asked if he could hear my Confession today; not tomorrow or the next day when it is offered in two parishes locally. Today.

God doesn’t expect us not to fail. We are weak, broken, sinful, and wage intense battles. The point is to get back up. GET BACK UP! When we fall , we must ask Him to help us once again trudge up this monstrous mountain towards holiness. Mercy does not overlook sin. God’s justice helps us seek forgiveness and His mercy binds the wounds we receive when we sin.

So when you read my writing, I am not writing as someone who has succeeded on the path. By God’s grace, one day I will hear “Well done thy good and faithful servant.” I write to help others on the path with me. The very same people who are overburdened and hurting. Those people who are weak and struggle with habitual sins. The people who battle anger, like me. The people who want to be a saint, but keep falling. Christ helps us back up. When we fail, don’t allow the enemy to keep you down in the dust. Ask Christ to forgive your failings and give you the strength to get back up once again. St. Teresa of Calcutta reminds us that ‘we are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful.’ So if like me, you’ve found yourself once again lying face down in the dirt, then get back up, get thee to Confession, and begin again.

Catholic Exchange: When Life Feels Like a Raging Storm

There are periods in our lives that feel like a raging storm. The winds swirl up at high speeds, the clouds darken to a night sky mid-day, and rain pours down. The torrential downpour comes in unrelenting waves and we feel like St. Peter standing in the boat staring in fear and awe at Our Lord walking on the waves.

Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-36

During periods of trial, it can be easy to stand paralyzed by the storm. We can begin to focus on the crashing waves, the wind blowing so hard we can barely stand, or to shake violently in the freezing rain. In this passage from St. Matthew, the boat was beaten by the waves from the wind, but often the storms in our lives can feel like a hurricane. Suffering, pain, anguish, affliction, and struggles in this life are meant to strengthen us, but most of us battle immense weakness in the face hardships. These are periods that can be marked by doubt, fear, anger, anxiety, mistrust, and a deep desire to flee. So, what are we to do?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

A Letter to University Students in Need of a “Safe” Space from a Veteran

Dear University Students in Need of a “Safe” Space,

Today is Veteran’s Day. On this particular Veteran’s Day, university students and their professors across the nation are crying that they are traumatized by the results of Tuesday’s election claiming they need “safe” spaces to deal with the horror of Donald Trump’s election (There are dictionaries on campus to help with defining words like horror, tragedy, trauma, pain, and suffering in case they are needed.) Students are not attending classes and their professors are encouraging this infantile behavior by cancelling their classes and “protesting” with them. It is fitting in the face of this adolescent behavior to contemplate what I was doing when I was 18-22 years of age (I served 6 years, but most college students are 18-22).

I enlisted in 1999, during peace-time. I needed to pay for college, and while that was my initial reason for enlisting, that quickly changed as I learned of the real sacrifice of serving in the military. I am thankful that my military service did in fact pay for my Bachelor’s degree and it is now paying for my nearly completed Master’s degree. I am not saddled with $100,000 in debt I can never repay with a BA in Underwater Basket Weaving.

I was a linguist and my position required mainly desk work. That desk work meant that when I was 20 years old I was in charge of complex classified systems at a large government agency. I was doing work graduate students only dream of–I hadn’t even finished college at the time–but I was already fluent in a second language. You are claiming exhaustion and trauma from an election. I worked rotating 12 hour shifts for years without even knowing what day it was while entrusted–along with all of my fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines–with the task of keeping this nation safe.

At 20 years of age the unthinkable happened. A real trauma and tragedy: 9/11. Overnight we went from peace-time to war-time. I found myself standing in front of the burning rubble of the Pentagon with 400 grieving family members. We stood in front of the tomb where 184 people had been murdered. Trauma is not when you don’t get your way. Trauma is a response to actual violence. An election going as elections go in a Republic is not a trauma. It’s the electoral process of this nation.

Three years after 9-11 I found myself trapped in the pain and real trauma of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had actual, not made up, PTSD. My relief work proved deeply painful and I had to pay a great sacrifice; one that so many of my fellow Veterans pay and carry today. You don’t have any idea what the need for a “safe” space is when you’ve never woken up from nightmares in a state of sleep paralysis alone in your bed across the ocean from your family or you had to run out of a movie theater, cower in a corner, and have a panic attack at the entrance because you didn’t expect the 9-11 movie trailer. The same goes for combat Vets when they see combat scenes. Hollywood can occasionally get something right, and they are pretty good at portraying flashbacks. You have no idea what it is like to give so much and carry that kind of tremendous weight your entire life. Being an undergraduate at a school where you are coddled, isn’t trauma. War, terrorism, violence, natural disasters, abuse, cancer are real traumas. Those of us with PTSD in the military, kept doing our jobs while getting treatment. We didn’t get to stop acting like adults in the midst of that suffering and neither do the men and women battling the scars of war today.

You and your friends are safe in your warm dorm rooms whimpering about your losses and how this country is going to fall apart and all of those “racist” voters will destroy this country. It’s much easier to label people than engage in actual intellectual debate based on reality and facts. I didn’t vote for Clinton or Trump, I exercised my free right to go third party, but I accept the election results because that is what we do in a free nation. The way you are acting implies your desire for a dictatorship based on your feelings and relativistic beliefs predicated upon nihilism. I know people of all backgrounds and races who voted for Trump. Just because you want something to be true does not make it true.

While you are playing beer pong and comforting one another in response to that “awful” Donald Trump, I have friends who have committed suicide from the trauma of war. I have friends who have died suddenly from injuries that occurred in war zones or on humanitarian missions. I have three cousins who gave years of their lives to war in the Marine Corps. I have friends who have been shot, blown up, and lost friends in IEDs. I have family still serving in the military.

Today we remember the people who serve or have served this great nation and who understand sacrifice in the face of tremendous pain and suffering. So, it’s time to put your big boy or big girl pants on and accept what has happened. It’s time to be an actual adult. You have no idea what a “safe” space is or what real trauma, tragedy, and suffering is like. I do and so do countless others.

Sincerely,

A U.S. Navy Veteran

The Strange Ways God Heals Our Sufferings

**I will be on Al Kresta’s radio program, Kresta in the Afternoon, on Wednesday, October 19th at 4pm EST.**

To be a Catholic is to live paradox. We may not be consciously or intellectually aware of this fact, or refer to it as paradox. Our Faith is centered on the greatest paradox of all, namely, the Cross. It is death that brings new life. Christ’s bloody, tortuous self-gift on the Cross brings about salvation for all of mankind. Saint Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.” Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

While I study and marvel at the paradoxes of our Faith, it is only recently that I found myself living paradox at a visceral level. In fact, when the world looks at someone in my circumstances it sees either “folly”, envy, or hatred. The truth is always stranger and much more interesting than fiction or perception.

My Cross becomes heavier.

Two months ago I lost my fourth baby in miscarriage. We named him Andrew Thomas. We discovered his death on August 8th, the Feast of St. Dominic. We named the baby after my hero, St. Thomas Aquinas, on a Dominican feast day. The pain of the last couple months has been intense and filled with questions, anguish, anger, and confusion. The sorrow of this miscarriage is coupled with the very likely reality that I will not be able to bear any more children to term. The NaPro hormone treatments I was on throughout the pregnancy did not increase my hormone levels at all, and after seeing a beautiful healthy baby with a strong heartbeat twice, our baby boy died. My family and I carry the dual Cross of the death of another child and infertility. We are living proof to a world that thinks it can control fertility that only God decides family size. It should also be a reminder to Catholics who struggle with being self-righteous, that not every family with one child is using contraception.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Miscarriage Grief: No We Aren’t Going Crazy

Grief is an arduous journey for all of us to walk. It is also a process we have very little control over and we have no choice but to walk it; often only relying in trust and hope that God walks beside us. Grief is a lot like being in a dingy in the ocean. The shore is somewhere off the port side, but we can’t see it. It’s foggy and dark and all we feel are the enormous swells. When periods of peace do come, they are often not serenity, but numbness. In fact, we may have days, weeks, months, years of numbness and then some trigger will pierce through and torrents of tears fall once again.

I have been in a period of numbness for a couple of weeks. Once the miscarriage finally ended the initial intensity subsided and the numbness set in. The miscarriage itself stopped and started over a period of 2.5 weeks, prolonging the initial agony. It now seems to have completed and the numbing–somewhat zombie like–period has begun. I started to wonder why I couldn’t seem to cry. I cried for days in the beginning, but then I couldn’t cry anymore and the ache turned to emotionless nothingness. This numbness is often worse than the intense suffering. Numbness leaves me wanting to reach out, but I can’t seem to grasp anything solid.

The numbness lifted temporary in the last few days. The tears began anew. Every mother and father grieving a child lost in miscarriage has different triggers. In the past, an infant Baptism at Mass would reduce me to a blubbering mess. I battled mightily in my first three miscarriages with the pain caused by my inability to baptize my babies before they died. Years of theological study and my trust in God’s mercy finally lifted that burden. Through the direction of different priests  and theologians, I was guided to a place of trust, even if I lacked solid answers. God assuaged the pain I felt because my babies died unbaptized.

This time the trigger is toddler and infant boys. My husband and I believe our most recent loss was a son, Andrew Thomas. Named for St. Andrew and my hero St. Thomas Aquinas. This past weekend, I once again returned to tears after attending Mass where five male altar servers served with great reverence in the more traditional cassock and surplice. This is such a rarity in my Diocese that the beauty from seeing it alone would have reduced me to tears. Instead, watching the youngest boy serve with the teenage boys reminded me of how much I miss my sons Andrew and Caleb.

The youngest boy serving must have been 7 or 8. He clearly had just received his first Holy Communion this year and the teenage boys towered over him, but they treated him with great care and guided him through the Mass. This young boy followed the great dance of the Liturgy (no I didn’t say liturgical dance….shudders) beautifully. His reverence and attention were remarkable in one so young. He did just as well as the older boys.

The second time I ached for my children was while we were at a park. My family and I went camping this past weekend. On our way home, we stopped at a park so our daughter could play. There was a little boy toddling around the playground. He clearly had only been walking for a short time. He was trying to keep up with the rest of the children playing around him. He was adorable.

My husband and I sat watching our daughter and the other kids play while we discussed adoption. We greatly desire more children, but it does not seem to be God’s will that they come from us. We have been contemplating adoption for over a year, but we are taking our time discerning when to put in our application. We want to make sure we make a clear-headed decision because we are grieving so deeply at this time.

Adoption is a long, invasive, and difficult process. We have four adopted nephews, so we know it is a rough process. It is also extremely expensive. It will cost us $15,000-25,000. Yes, you read that right. That’s for a domestic adoption. We have already been through orientation at our local Catholic Charities, so our decision will be made understanding that we will have to cut back tremendously, save a lot of money, and probably stay in our current home for a few more years rather than buy our dream home, which is a small farm. It’s a matter of choosing greater goods, and a human being is always a greater good. Pray for us as we discern God’s path for us.

Grief is a long process and it never fully goes away. There is always that slight prick whenever the lost person or persons is remembered. The ache to hold my children will never fully dissipate until, Lord willing, I meet them in Heaven. My daughter’s loneliness serves as a reminder that I have not been able to give her a sibling. And I even battle the pain that my writing has expanded to wider audiences because of my suffering. Writers often expand their audience because they are willing to enter into suffering. I would give up writing another word to have my children back, but that isn’t possible. Instead, it appears that for reasons not entirely clear to me, God has called me to bring attention to the miscarriage-abortion connection. Doors keep opening that I never imagined or thought possible, even as I sit in my dingy off the shore.

If like me, you are journeying through grief, you may have moments when you feel like you are going crazy. It seems like small things set you off and torrents of tears come streaming, even in public. There may be times the sobbing is uncontrollable and the wound that seemed to heal ever so slightly is gaping wide open once again. This is a part of grief. The senses are how we understand the world around us, which means our senses will trigger memories. Seeing a baby, hearing their laughter or cries, or any other type of sensory response can remind us of the lost child we miss so deeply. All we can do is ask for God to walk with us during this time of intense suffering. We have to hope that good will come of all of this, even if we don’t understand it on this side of eternity. Know that I am praying for all of you grieving. I know that I am not alone in my pain and so you remain in my thoughts and prayers. Pax Christi.

The Wisdom of Children and Hope in Suffering

My daughter is my greatest teacher. This seems strange in a world where children are reduced to a means to an end or even viewed primarily as accessories. In the West, children are something we have on our own terms. They do not exist for their own sake; they only exist if we will it. This is of course bunk. Any mother or father who has truly embraced parenthood knows that the entire meaning of our lives is to love and be loved in return. We love imperfectly, but it is why we are here.

Children teach us to love. They remind us of how selfish we are, which is the main reason so many in the West have abandoned parenthood. Parenthood comes with sacrifice and hard work. We don’t like having to look in the mirror, and children have a penchant for lifting up the mirror to our faces each day in order to reveal our failings. Parenthood is also the intermingling of joy and sorrow.

Our children take on our worst traits first, and then some of the good. It is one of the great struggles of parenthood. It is something that takes most of us by surprise and causes great disappointment within us. The last thing we want is for them to take on our bad traits. Our child will mutter some expression or respond in a manner that reveals our worst selves and how these little ones have absorbed exactly what we wish them to avoid. It should leave us stunned and humbled; pushing us to do better. Parenthood is to go on a journey. It is to walk along with a person who can reveal the good and the evil inside of our own hearts. The hope is in the end we will both have attained holiness, by God’s grace, and our perseverance.

Lately I have been contemplating the nature of suffering. I myself have entered a period of intense suffering. It has been a month since my fourth miscarriage. The original grief started with frenetic energy, an attempt to avoid the inevitable spiritual and emotional pain, and it has now lulled into the numbness that inevitably surfaces after a loss. I am also not one of those women who bounces back quickly physically. My body is a complete mess right now and all I can do is wait for it to reset. It took a year with my third miscarriage. Hormone deficiencies are exacerbated through miscarriage and the intensity of grief adds great emotional and spiritual weight.

My daughter has responded as well as a 5-year-old can be expected to respond in the face of my recent miscarriage. She only knows what it is to be an only child and she does not have the ability to comprehend the depths of grief at this point. I am thankful for this because no 5-year-old is mentally prepared for such gulfs. That does not mean she does not suffer. In fact, she suffers deeply through loneliness.

If ever there was a child who should not be an only child it is my daughter. Since a very early age, she has demonstrated a deep and open love towards other people. She is social, kind, and greets everyone she meets. She is an extrovert to the core, which she gets from her daddy. She accepts every child she comes across as a new friend and she is deeply hurt when that friendship is not reciprocated. She engages adults and children in conversation wherever we go and she is wholly unaware of her place as a child in society. She functions as a human person among other human persons.

She greatly desires a sibling. Yes, much of it has to do with the desire for a playmate, but she also wants a sibling to love, take care of, and lead. Mommy can only fill that void to a very limited extent. She reveals the ontological reality that all people are made for communion with God and with other people. We are social creatures by nature. She intuitively knows that she doesn’t belong alone. She knows that she is made to commune, to be in deep relationship with other people. She feels her status as an only child at a profound level. As her mother, I share in this Cross with her. The Crosses I face on my own are nothing compared the level of pain I endure in watching my daughter suffer. I would take all of her Crosses on if I could, but I know that is impossible and not even what is best for her.

It is a mother’s greatest desire to relieve their child’s suffering. One of the great battles I wage right now is in realizing that my daughter’s suffering comes from the fact that I cannot seem to have any more children. I cannot will my body to carry a pregnancy to term. I could not keep the four babies I have lost alive. My grief is exacerbated by my daughter’s loneliness. I can’t take her loneliness away. For reasons that are largely mysterious to me, God has willed only one child for us. No matter how much I yell at Him or my own body, I cannot change that fact.

My daughter is very good friends with our neighbors who have four children. She plays with them frequently, but she does not understand why she can’t play there whenever she is available. She doesn’t understand their need for family time. There are many times I have stood watching her, shoulders drooped, tears streaming down her face, and wails coming from her throat, because she is not welcome to participate in whatever is happening next door. She wants to commune and come to the party. She sees that community is a part of her deepest self and that Heaven is the realization of this reality as we enter into communion with the Most Holy Trinity.

No my daughter does not understand this at a theological level. She understands it at the deepest level of experience and I see it every single day. I walk it with her as I watch her struggle with loneliness. I long to take her loneliness from her. She isn’t a play-by-herself kind of person. She doesn’t cut herself off from her neighbor. Instead, she invites others in and she wants others to invite her into relationship. She waits for others to play and then she embraces everyone she meets.

My only hope is to trust that God will use her loneliness for some good. I must trust that He gave her the heart that he did because of the mission He will give her later in life and so she can touch lives now in true charity. I have to find some comfort, no matter how difficult right now, that all of this intense grief and suffering will come to some glorious end in God’s infinite wisdom and plan. Right now, I can’t see it, and chances are, I will never understand why my body is the way it is or why my husband and I have lost four children. It is as Bishop Barron points out in his Catholicism series: I am staring at a pointillist painting from an inch away and all I can see are dots. All I see is my pain and my daughter’s suffering. I am unable to stand back to see the whole masterpiece until I stand before the Glory of God, and based on past writings of the saints, the answers probably won’t even matter. Pax Christi.