Monday, January 31, 2011

The difference.

"O my Guiding Star, the fair light of faith enlightens me to see Thee. What does it matter if I feel or do not feel, if I am in the light or the darkness, if I enjoy or do not enjoy. Only let me so fix my gaze on Thee, that I may never wander from Thy light." ~St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, from God Alone and I

A dear friend, a non-believer, wonders what the point of faith is. We struggle with depression, pain, sleep. Both of our brains are lacking this hormone, elevated levels of that neurotransmitter. We both require daily help, multiple doctors, the same medications.

And we are both committed to our children, our husbands, a beautiful home. In fact, she more so than I can resist irritability and reach out to others.

Why bother with God?

If he was such a loving Father, wouldn't I suffer less than she suffers?

If he was a Healer, wouldn't I somehow have special access to relief?

If I truly believed in the power of the Cross, wouldn't my cross be somehow lighter?

These are good questions, and I don't know the answers this side of the Jordan.

Is there any difference when it comes to postpartum junk whether you have faith or not?

Yes. But the difference is certainly not in the degree of suffering. Knowing Christ does not mean suffering less. For some time, I would have answered that knowing Christ at least gives some mental comfort: You know there's a purpose to all this. You know that He suffered more, so that makes it easier. But some kinds of suffering don't care about the purpose. Screw the purpose. Some days, I'd rather be purposeless, meaningless, and pain-free.

The Father's answer to suffering wasn't to fix it. He could have simply changed us, ended all pain, provided universal healthcare and a decent education. He could have raised up the husband of every widow.

But what he did was different: He simply came and suffered with us. He died with us.

And then he rose again.

"O grave, where is thy victory? O, death, where is thy sting?"

He had the final word. He will have the final word in me. Some pain grabs at your faith and tries to erase it: spiritual warfare. And then I learn, so slowly and painfully, that even my conviction is not my own doing. It is only Him with me, in me. He didn't take away my pain; He is in it.

So, my dear friend, we will seem just the same from the outside. And we will both come through this time of darkness. We will have the same pain, the same struggle, the same doctors visits and medications. And for all I know, the same outcome. The gift of faith is simply that I know we will not only find an end to pain, but a beginning of new and eternal life. And that Life has already begun within us, for we. are. not. alone.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blessed Mother Teresa on Abortion.

The official day of prayer and penance was this past Saturday, but today thousands are marching (in sub-zero temperatures... talk about penance!) to commemorate the tragedy of Roe v. Wade. I can hardly begin to find words that describe what abortion is... so I will let Mother speak for me.

"America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts -- a child -- as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters... And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners. Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being's entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign." ("Notable and Quotable," Wall Street Journal, 2/25/94)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It's the back talking.

I was reading a short story the other day in which a young man visits a neighbor and finds neighbor's wife tight-lipped and cross. She isn't rude to him, but he notices her snippy remarks to her husband. The husband excuses her gently, saying, "It's not her, it's her arthritis talking there."

The excuse struck me forcefully as I continue to learn how to live with chronic back pain. At least 45 minutes out of every hour, I, too, am tight-lipped and barely able to answer or respond to my children or husband. And I can read the same excuse in their eyes, "It's not her, it's her back talking."

And then I start to wonder: Is this going to be the story of the rest of my days? If, for some reason or another, this pain becomes a life-long companion, will I somehow disappear into it so that everyone I meet thinks, "It's not her, it's her pain"?

I know of--and have met--men and women suffering constant pain who radiate something else. In a way, they have disappeared into their pain but emerged free. Even as their bodies ache, their words and thoughtfulness move in almost a different sphere.

I have had moments of this. I find my laughter with my children more genuine than before, when I was comfortable. I find my husband's heroic virtue more knightly than when I was too self-sufficient to notice.

But I hope to bring those moments into every moment of the day--those long stretches of time when I can't manage a smile or when the thought of making dinner or reading a book sends me into the glumliness. Slowly, I want my heart to stretch so that all my burdens are truly light.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


In (Dis)Orientation, John Zmirak has compiled 14 essays explaining the reigning ideologies (and their devastating effects) of our time. His co-authors are among the best: Elizabeth Scalia from The Anchoress, Fr. Dwight Longnecker, Peter Kreeft, and Jimmy Akin (to name just a few). They write specifically for students (probably ages 17 through 22) as they guide them through a critical evaluation of our culture's popular assumptions and prejudices.

I really enjoyed this one: It was like philosophical candy for my mommy brain. The concepts (which I studied in the original many eons ago) are well-presented. Zmirak cross-references the essays with one another, so you can really begin to grasp the connections between, say, feminism and Marxism, or progressivism and utilitarianism, or hedonism and modernism. Because, as the collection confirms, all errors are in the end the same error.

The book is definitely written for Catholics: Almost every article critiques the culture from a Roman point of view (in fact, Akin writes his essay specifically on anti-Catholicism). This is a perfect Confirmation gift or graduation gift for the young Catholic who is hopelessly naive about the real spiritual and intellectual warfare going on out there. It's also great for parents who blithely send their offspring off to secular (and, let's face it, Catholic) universities. There ain't no room for blithe spirits in the upper echelons of the Western university, but there are ways for students--and their families--to be prepared.

I also found the essays helpful for me: I was surprised how many of these ideological attitudes (such as feminism and utilitarianism) I tend to judge myself on. In my moments of self-assurance, I tend to think I'm pretty immune to our intellectual failings, but in reading the essays I found myself nodding, "Yes, I do unconsciously absorb that attitude." It's good to have a little self-diagnosis once in a while...

Worth the price, worth the time.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company, and the reviewer received a free copy of the text in exchange for her opinion. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Disorientation. The Catholic Company is a great place for Catholic Valentine's Day gifts, too!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Batter my heart, three-person'd God.

Writing has been light of late with the Christmas visits, some editing work, and a general reluctance to commit my thoughts to cyberspace. Since early September I've also been struggling with chronic back pain, which typing exacerbates. This post isn't supposed to be a call for pity (although if pity moves you to prayer, by all means, pray!), but rather some of the fragments of thoughts that come to me in the dark hours. The intention is simply to talk about life with physical pain, which is something that happens for all of us at some point along the way home.

1. Skeleton living. How busy I was! How full were my plans! There's nothing like a little twang in the lumbar to make you ask: Is this action really necessary? What will be the physical cost if I wash the floor? Push the stroller? Write a blog post? Even more importantly, what will be the cost if I do not pray? With physical pain and, I believe, psychological pain, we are forced (lots of passive verbs, here) to put first things first. In order for the suffering to change us for the good, we must stay very, very close to God, and make empty our lives of all the noise. On the days when I try to do too much, I not only hurt more at night but I also resent the pain more, pity myself more, and vent my frustrations on those I love more.

2. Dependence and disappointing. And, oh, how dependent we become. We have received so much help from our family and friends we only just met. I don't have a problem with receiving help anymore (thanks to all those hyper-emesis pregnancies), but I still dread disappointing the helpers. "Are you feeling better?" asks yet another dear friend after Mass. "Not really..." "Oh, dear." And I go home wondering whether it's my fault, if I'm just taking advantage of her, not trying hard enough to get better. This is a true mortification: if only it will detach me more from my desire to please, to be successful at everything I attempt. I think it will.

3. Children. The girls have been so good. I rarely worry about them, because the baby won't remember this time, and the older two have become such dear friends. Miriam is truly the little mother: Bella simply asks her to get snacks, pick her up when she's hurt, or just snuggle her on the couch in the late afternoons. I can see my inability to mother being a beautiful thing for them: Somehow, Miriam's and Bella's souls are being formed for a specific mission that I can only imagine.

4. A door through which to disappear. I find myself withdrawing more and more from everything: homeschooling groups, playdates, blogs, Facebook, even conversations at the table. We are called to become less, to decrease that Christ may increase in us. "Now I live, not I, but Christ in me." Pain--pain that you can't escape or control--is not what God made us for; but through it He can make us what we're meant to be. I'm only starting to glimpse how: Suffering is an opportunity to become little and small. Dependent. Passive before divine providence. A way to shed the worst parts of me and live for the "one thing necessary."

5. "The sick alone are living real life." Ugh. Caryll Houselander wrote that in a letter to a friend, and, the first time I read it, I made a face. It's so melodramatic. But I think she was getting at something true. First, we are all sick in one way or another (we just have to recognize our infirmity, which is the real trick). But second, physical suffering forces us to put our trust where it matters: all the human effort in the world is not going to touch our need. We look ahead. This is all shadow lands, as another famous writer put it: Real life is coming up fast.

6. Clouds of witnesses. And, wow. There's nothing like a little pain to make you acutely aware of how much pain there is in the world. Weeks in several doctors' offices, and I am seeing so many elderly (and young!) sitting and suffering. And then there are those far away--in Pakistan or Haiti or the Sudan, to name only three--who are also suffering physically and have to no help in sight. Then I know how very little my pain is. The need in the world is a huge and gaping abyss, which no human effort will ever fill. But we are not alone as we stretch out our arms to the Father: "Come, Lord Jesus."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

First things first.

I have so much to write about in the beginning of this new year, as I do every January 1, but the concatenation of circumstances (as PG Wodehouse would say) is such that I can't.

Fortunately, today is a Solemnity, so I will allow the Theotokos to speak for me.

"May it be done unto me according to Thy word."

"Many, my beloved, are the true testimonies concerning Christ. The Father bears witness from heaven of His Son: the Holy Ghost bears witness, descending bodily in likeness of a dove: the Archangel Gabriel bears witness, bringing good tidings to Mary: the Virgin Mother of God bears witness: the blessed place of the manger bears witness." ~Cyril of Jerusalem