Mar 24, 2015

The Value of Suffering?

The excerpts in italics are from From Divine Intimacy, Section 127: The Value of Suffering


Suffering is No Big Deal?

What exactly is suffering? Can we only call it suffering when there is some great tragedy in our lives? Some people do not like to call the little pricks of life "suffering," but Fr. Gabriel of St Mary Magdelen, O.C.D. described it this way:
" Suffering is the disagreeable feeling which we experience when something - a situation, a circumstance - does not correspond to our inclinations, our needs, or our hopes, which does not harmonize with them or gratify them, but on the contrary, contradicts and opposes them."
So, we can call "suffering" all those "little" things that annoy us, aggravate us, upset us. We apply the "rules of suffering" to little things as well as big. We miss opportunities of love if we overlook the small opportunities and consider them unworthy of our bearing them attentively.

Suffering Is Evil, Suffering Well is Good

"Suffering in itself is an evil and cannot be agreeable; if Jesus willed to embrace it in all its plenitude and if He offers it to us, inviting us to esteem and love it, it is only in view of a superior good which cannot be attained by any other means - the sublime good of the redemption and the sanctification of our souls."

It seems to me hard to see the value in suffering because I continue to think of the value at the moment, or the value that I can foresee. It's so important to remember that we can't see all that God sees, and He looks not just in this moment but off into eternity, and not just for our individual souls, but at all souls. We have to trust that there is a "superior good" because often we can't see it or foresee it. We can only know it by faith.
"Whereas all men are subject to this misery, the Christian alone possesses the secret of accepting it into his life without destroying the harmony or the happiness which he can enjoy on earth. This secret consist precisely, for a Christian, in attuning all kids of suffering to his personal aspirations, which for him, can never be limited to an ideal of earthly happiness."

As Christians, we also are called to "look beyond" and not limit ourselves to an "ideal of earthly happiness." As St. Therese said, "...When I think that, for a sorrow borne with joy, I shall be able to love You more for all eternity, I understand clearly that if You gave me the entire universe, with all its treasures, it would be nothing in comparison to the slightest suffering."
 

What's Love God to Do With It?

"This harmony is possible for that which appears to be opposition and disagreement from one point of view, often turns into profit when seen in a different lights........Every kind of suffering can then be made conformable to the highest ideals of the Christian: eternal salvation, sanctity, the glory of God, the good of souls. But this congruity is impossible without love; or rather it will be possible only in proportion to our love, for it was by love alone that Jesus transformed the Cross, a terrible instrument of torture, into a most efficacious instrument for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind."
We cannot will ourselves, force ourselves, to accept suffering generously and graciously. We can't force ourselves to love. We usually grow in love slowly, "...our love is dilated under an increasingly generous inspiration, unto an ever greater love." This "generous inspiration" is a gift from God that we do not initiate, we merely cooperate with it. And this "mere" cooperation is the work that requires the great work of our will, our faith, our trust, our small "yes" at each moment.

 "It is the same for us : charity, the love of God and of souls, will enable us to accept any kind of suffering, harmonizing it with our loftiest aspirations. In this way, suffering finds a place, a very important place, in our life, without destroying our peace and serenity. On the contrary, our spirit is dilated under an increasingly generous inspiration, unto an ever greater love. As a result, we shall be happy, even while we are experiencing pain."

Less of Me, More of You

I suppose that if we can begin to think less of ourselves and more of others, this will help us to cooperate with God's work of love in our heart. A little way to do this is the simple offering, "I offer this up for love of You oh Lord, in reparation for sins, and for the salvation of souls, and unity in the Church." Saying this is an act of the will. Praying helps take the focus off our suffering and expand it to all the others who are also suffering, and to our Good God who suffers so greatly at our separation from Him by sin,

I have "offered up" a lot these past months. The night in the hospital that I couldn't sleep, I never ran out of people to pray for, people to offer the suffering of my pain and fear. The more I prayed, the more people I thought of to pray for. The Lord did dilate, expand, my heart. I can't say I suffered well, I certainly have had no joy in the suffering, I often lack peace and serenity. But peace and serenity are there when I stop to sit at the Master's feet, to look upon His face, to bask in His presence. It may only be for a moment, but those are really nice moments, even in the midst of everything else.

Read More:

Here are some "offering it up" prayers:

Morning Offering  or  Morning Offering through the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Prayer for Offering up Suffering

If you want to read more about "offering it up," I suggest:

Maureen O'Shea "Offer it Up"

Happy Catholic "Offer it Up? What the Heck Does That Mean?"

Bill Harkens at US Catholic  "No Pain, No Gain: Offering It Up"



Mar 16, 2015

My Story: In Honor of Brain Injury Awareness Month


More info at www.cdc.gov/HeadsUp/

The Great Snail Battle

It's now been five months since I injured my brain. In mid-October, I came home from a prayer group meeting one dark night to find the front porch swarming with giant snails (okay, it was a small swarm of about 3-4, maybe 5). For weeks we had been finding empty snail shells and slime in the mornings, and we had no idea why the little creatures were crawling (do snails crawl?) up on our porch to die.  I have nothing against snails; live and let live. But that icky slime they were leaving behind! It made a mess and it wasn't a pleasant thing to greet you each morning.

I bent down under the concrete stairwell to retrieve our broom, to sweep those evil little intruders off into the grass before they could goo-up the porch. I stood up quickly when I was out from under the lowered ceiling, eager to sweep away those messy invaders. Unfortunately for me, I'm spatially-disabled (read: "clumsy") and hadn't quite calculated correctly. I don't think I've ever hit my head with such force as when the back of my head hit that low concrete ceiling, and as a clumsy spatially-disabled person, I've hit my head plenty of times. The impact hurt and dazed me a bit, but I swept all of the enemy-snails off my territory.

My mission was a success, but I did take one for the team. That night I used ice for the pain and went to bed thinking nothing of it except, "Ouch! How could I have been so stupid!" The pain and wooziness kept me in bed most of the day and I continued to ice the back of my head. The next day I felt fine, only my typical aches and pains and headaches. Until five days later.

Help! I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up!

Five days later was my daughter's fourteenth birthday party. We had five girls over for dinner and I had been in the kitchen for hours cooking chili for the first time. To help my sore body out, I laid down on my bed while the chili was in the crock-pot - just for a few minutes to let everything "settle back where it belongs" in my body. Because I'm spatially disabled and sometimes often oblivious to my surroundings, there was a "freak" accident. Somehow part of the bedding followed my foot into my shoe and stuck there.  When I stood up to walk, my leg was jerked backwards (or at least it didn't follow along with the other leg and my body!) and I started to fall. So, basically I tripped over my own two feet. Nice. What a freak!

I remember trying to regain my balance, trying to avoid hitting a precious keepsake -  my grandfather's mirror that he had passed down to my oldest son. It's with me to "keep it safe" until he settles down. The round pecan-framed mirror was along one wall waiting to be hung. That avoidance instinct was also for a purely selfish reason -the thought of broken glass shattering onto my body scared me. I remember the feeling of fear and helplessness as I was going down.

Stumble, stumble, arms flailing helplessly, half-way to the ground...and the next thing I remember is laying on the ground, my right side to the floor, hurting, eyes closed. I was stunned, disoriented. I lay there with my eyes closed trying to figure out what had happened and why I was there. I remember saying to myself, "You know, you could open your eyes. You don't have to keep laying on the floor. You could move." Slowly, I sat up and assessed the situation. Sore elbow, wrist, shoulder, hip, neck. Nothing broken. I could move. I was just fine.

Don't Stop the Party for Me

I was still a little woozy but somehow managed to serve up all that was needed for the girls' sit-down dinner in the dining room. And I even managed to clean most of it up at the end of the evening, pushing through the fatigue and strange feeling of disconnectedness. (Except for the dirty crock-pot that I opened about a month later. We all assumed it was clean since the lid covered it, I didn't remember. At least it wasn't as disgusting as I would have imagined. God is good! )

I didn't feel right, but I was only a little dizzy. A friend came to pick up her daughter from the party and I made her do a "neuro check" on me - look at my pupils, follow her finger. I figured my brain was fine since I  didn't have any problems on the "danger list." My shoulder, wrist and elbow were aching, so I rotated ice-packs through those areas.

Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart

The fall was an opportunity to give thanks for the ample padding around the hips, because nothing bad happened to my already problematic hips. (And I'm thinking...it would be a really good idea for me to maintain a nice ample amount of hip-padding as I age, in order to prevent a broken hip when I'm older (great idea, right!) I haven't read any research to support my hypothesis, but I'm sticking to this excuse if anybody mentions weight-loss. Plump hips and thighs are a safety feature!)

It seems strange that the only bruise my body ever showed was on my inner left knee where it had landed on my right knee. My shoulder and wrist were sore for days, but no bruising. But the affects to my brain crescendoed over the next three weeks. And it was kind of scary. Each morning I woke up assuming I would feel better, feel normal, and I didn't. Sometimes I felt worse. In the beginning I didn't even realize I was cognitively impaired, it was the nausea, dizziness and unremitting headaches that disturbed me.

I do believe that my guardian angle "caught me" and the injury could have been much worse than it was. "Second impact" syndrome can kill people, and I'm still here!

To be continued....

********PRAYER REQUEST*********

Please pray for soldiers suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries.
Please pray for our soldiers who come back home with invisible wounds like TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury/Concussion), PTSD, and depression/mental health disorders. According to a Rand study in 2008, an estimated 31% of troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq are suffering from one or more of these invisible wounds. Their wounds can't be seen, but they deeply affect their daily lives and could really benefit from your prayers and sacrifices this Lent.

For more information about brain injury and concussions visit:
CDC Concussion Signs & Symptoms

Feb 24, 2015

My Fish Tail and Why I'm Glad I Didn't Give Up Chocolate for Lent

I felt a little guilty still eating chocolate during these 40 days of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. But I'm getting in plenty of penance anyway, thank you very much!

Never would I have imagined myself doing what I did today, and although it didn't take the self-discipline of denying myself every time I crave chocolate, it did take a different kind of dying to self.

The air was Florida-winter cool (high 60's/low 70's) with grey skies and not much wind as we started out on our afternoon walk. My elderly friend wasn't even grumbling about the cold and I was deciding that I could brave the brisk coolness without my left-behind jacket. As we passed his wife's car in the driveway, I did a double take. That car had been parked there for less than an hour and was covered with huge white splotches that usually mean one thing - so we looked up thinking to see an entire flock of type of huge evil birds roosting in the tall pines that towered above the driveway. Nothing up there. Upon closer inspection, the mess was unlike anything either one of us had ever seen before. And we live around sea gulls known for their...profusive digestive system. We continued our walk, debating what might have been the cause of such a mess so quickly.

As we made it to the end of the street and worked our way back home, the clouds broke letting the clear sky-blueness peek through to smile at us. Heading up the driveway, I looked down to check our path for anything that might trip up the wheels on my friend's walker and saw what at first looked like feathers and maybe bird guts - did some little bird get eaten by a big bad (but beautiful!) hawk? No, it looked like feathers but actually it was - a fish tail about two inches long. Just the tail. And a bunch of what was probably fish guts all over the driveway and dripping off the car. Oy!

I never have liked to get dirty. My gag reflex is so sensitive that I sometimes wore a surgical mask while changing my own children's dirty diapers. During my 20 year marriage, it was my husband who did any of the tasks that were heavy, dirty, or outside. Getting that car cleaned off would be all three, making it outside my normal realm of activities. But no one else was going to be home until after dark. I thought about how hard it would be to get dried fish guts off the car once it had baked a bit in our Florida sunshine (even on a cool day, the sun still has some power to it.)

If I hadn't loved that family all so much, I would have left it. But love compelled me to clean that car. The garden hose wasn't strong enough to get the guts off, so next step was a car wash. Guess "touchless" should have tipped me off that it might not do the trick, but hope springs eternal and I really wanted to be able to stay in the car while it got clean. But the touchless wash didn't do much and we still had a big sticky-looking problem.

Last choice was something I've never used. One of those self-service spray-it-yourself car wash service bays...Oy and double oy! What if I got all wet? What if - horrors!- fish guts splattered on me!!! But I would not give up. I sprayed fish guts (or whatever else it was) out of every possible crevice on that car. And water did spray on me, a fine mist blowing back in my face as I attacked from every angle. My "dress-up" black New Balance got damp, BUT no fish guts landed on me! Joy! I succeeded and did something I really didn't want to do - out of love.

My triumphant feeling was somewhat dampened when I turned on the wipers only to see a piece of fish flesh dangling. Aaarrrrgh! The fish had prevailed!

I thought about cleaning all the fish guts out of the driveway, but hey, I'm not a saint yet. I still have the image of the car's carnage in my mind...not sure my poor brain could have handled more stress at the end of a busy day. As it was, playing the Lumosity brain games on-line this evening were making me dizzy - that's a first! (That is supposed to help my brain get back to normal cognitively.)

I'm still not seeing quite straight...so let me leave you with this thought:

Whatever we do for the Lord, let us do it with all the love we can drag out of our poor little hearts. It doesn't matter what we "give up" or how we discipline ourselves if love does not compel us to "cloth the naked who we see, feed the hungry who we see," or in any other way lend a hand where we see it is needed when we have something to help console that need. After all, if we can't love God in these little things, will we ever even get a chance to love Him in "big" ways?

Wait - I have more to say....

As for me, I am just beginning to understand love...and it is definitely in the little things. Not sure I would have even cleaned up my own car without a bit of whining and complaining and trying to convince myself that the next rain would just whisk it away. But it is Lent and I willingly accept that car washing as a penance, a little gift of my love to our Lord. A fish tail wrapped in love with a bow tied to it.

May God be with you as you embrace your fish tails with love this Lent!

(And about the chocolate... The thought of chocolate and potato chips gave me great comfort as I drove home trying to get that scary image of carnage out of my mind. I do not in anyway regret not giving them up for Lent! Well, I might feel a little selfish, but hey, I'm coping with a brain injury here! Every day is still a challenge in many ways. I'm weak. God is my strength, but chocolate still has a special place in my heart.)

Feb 21, 2015

Lent: 40 Days of Love


I entered into Lent with a whimper and a whine this year. I didn't want to give anything up. I'm holding onto sanity by a thread - and that thread is Coke Zero, chocolate, and potato chips. If I give up any of those I may lose my will to live. So I thought I would instead add something...but I hadn't come up with something I felt I could commit to for 40 days, beyond getting my 14 year old daughter to agree to pray Evening Prayer with me on our matching Laudate Apps.

The day began with me whining myself out of going to Mass. I slept in trying to recover the time lost from being awakened at some strangely early and dark hour of the morning. I knew the squealing water pipes were just my upstairs neighbor turning on the shower, but it was so loud (and I am still so sound sensitive) I couldn't fall back asleep. By actual morning, I felt like a steam roller had rolled over me and there was a particularly busy day to get through. So I put Mass off to get an extra couple hours sleep, convincing myself I would go in the evening. Of course by the time I got home later, I felt like crying from brain exhaustion and didn't want to leave the house, even for Mass. Driving is one of the most tiring activities for my brain, I had done much more than usual out of necessity, and I just couldn't push through to drive anymore. And of course, it's not a holy day of obligation any way, so no sin in being absent. (Just a spiritual disappointment breaking through the brain exhaustion.)

Although I knew it was Ash Wednesday, I forgot that also meant it was a day of fast and abstinence. Lunch would not have been a chicken sandwich picked up via drive-through and eaten in the car if I had remembered. It was a disappointing when I remembered mid-afternoon. At least I was able to abstain from meat for dinner and ignore the siren call of a new box of  The World's Best donuts. And blame my post-concussion syndrome that I forgot to fast/abstain the entire day.

There was finally a breakthrough in my Lenten grumpiness when I read a post guest-written by Fr. Aiden Kieren over at Faith In Our Families and called "The Little Way of Fasting." That title caught my eye and I knew I had to read it, even though I was trying to quickly scan through my email before I began to do some writing. (Like maybe work on those forgiveness articles that stalled out when they overwhelmed my poor concussed brain?)

This excellent post by Fr. Kieren reframed Lent for me, and did so with the words of one of my favorite saints: 
"St Therese of Lisieux teaches us that the “Little things done out of love are those that charm the Heart of Christ… On the contrary, the most brilliant deeds, when done without love, are but nothingness.” These words made me realise that the way I had been approaching the Lenten fast in the past was wrong. Lent is not a test of endurance. It is not even a test of discipline (even though we gain discipline as a by-product). Lent is a little test of LOVE. It is quality the Lord is interested in – not quantity."

How could I have forgotten the heart of the Little Flower's message to us? Even Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:2 wrote, "...if I am without love, I am nothing." I have not been considering Lent out of love. I have looked at it as one who is clinging to dead things, feeling as though so many good things have already been taken from me that I don't want to give up anything else. Clutching these dead things to me as false comfort. Instead I need to look at it again in love, rather than "a test of endurance." I might feel at the end of my rope of endurance, but I'm not at the end of my rope of love. I may not be able to give up all those dead things I'm clutching, but I can remember that they are dead things. I can remember that there is One who loves me and to whom I want to return love for love. The love is in the little things. The love is in the intentions, not the endurance. 

I will sacrifice what I can in my current condition, not looking at the "amount" as being too little or unworthy of being a "good-enough" sacrifice. I will sacrifice with love, lots of love, even if it is a very small sacrifice. My love won't even be a delightful feeling, it will just be my decision to open my heart to the One who has given me so much, in gratitude for the unearned love He has for me. And those things that "give me the will to live" - my Coke Zero , chocolate, and chips (which I still won't be giving up this Lent - at least not for an entire 40 days.) - those I will choose not to love more than I love God. It will be in some little way. But it will be a choice made in love.

Thank you, Fr Kieren! This Lent will now be 40 days of love for me and I will give up my burdened feeling of beginning an exhausting journey. 

Jan 27, 2015

The Prison of Unforgiveness




The Illusion of Control

"I don't want to forgive! Not forgiving makes me stronger!" I can still see her sitting there wearing unforgiveness as a mantle of protection, a look of distaste on her pinched face, a stiff manner contradicting her polite smile. She was like a turtle stuck during the vulnerable process of pulling itself back into its shell: not yet fully protected by the tough shell, but now unable to move away from the danger.

Sometimes we may feel the same way - that forgiving will make us weak. We may hold onto anger and bitterness because they give us the illusion of control over the uncontrollable – other people. The surge of emotion that comes from nurturing our anger, dwelling on our humiliation, or plots of revenge can make us feel powerful. We create a wall of negative emotions around ourselves like a hard shell, protecting us from further harm; keeping us safe. So we think.

That hard shell of protection distances us from others, not just the one we who did us wrong. In his book Forgive and Forget, Lewis Smedes wrote, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” When we lock ourselves away from hurt and vulnerability, we also lock ourselves away from love. Our hands are so full of bad feelings towards the perpetrator of our wound that we cannot reach them out to receive God's love and mercy into them. He longs to pour Himself out for us, but we have to approach Him with empty hands in order to receive such a precious gift.


It's Eating Us Up Inside
Holding on to unforgiveness poisons our souls. Even our secular society is realizing that unforgiveness really can "eat us up inside." Modern psychologists have studied both the positive effects of forgiveness and the negative effects of unforgiveness on physical and mental health. The Mayo Clinic website even has an entire article devoted to forgiveness. They report that forgiveness can lead to: healthier relationships; greater spiritual and psychological well-being; less anxiety, stress and hostility; lower blood pressure; fewer symptoms of depression; stronger immune system, and improved heart health. 
See, God in His infinite Goodness has so much to give us in return for what we are willing to give up and hand over to Him! He won't send us away empty handed when we surrender our pain to Him and forgive. 

Ummm…God Kinda Says To
At every Mass, we pray the Our Father. At least once a week we are asking God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Jesus taught this prayer to his disciples, it is a gift from Him to us. Shouldn't we try to live it in our daily lives by forgiving those who hurt us?
Jesus was kind of big on forgiveness. Even from the cross He forgave those who had crucified Him and those who were mocking Him by praying, "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34) What better example of forgiveness could He have given us to follow?
Forgiving others is part of how we live our faith. It is one of the ways we try to imitate the One who gave His life for us; a gesture to return our love to the God who loves us so abundantly; a token of our affection for our Creator, Father, and Savior. It's a little thing, but it can feel like a big thing when we are the one who has been done wrong! It can feel impossible, but we must remember that all things are possible with God who loves us. He wouldn't ask us to do the impossible.

We Wanna Be Like Jesus!
I've had a lot of time to think about forgiveness while I've been home recovering from post-concussion syndrome. We all have a choice. God gave us each the gift of free will and the power to forgive or not to forgive. We can choose to wear unforgiveness as a mantle, to withdraw into a protective shell isolating ourselves from God and love or we can choose to wrap ourselves in God's love and forgive.
We love God; we want to please Him. We want to respond to our Lord's admonition, "You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) We are created to be like Him - perfect. Jesus wouldn't have said it if it wasn't possible. He wasn't laughing behind His hand at the impossibility of our perfection. No, He was informing us as of our incredible calling, the calling to love as our heavenly Father loves. Forgiveness is part of this love. So although the words have sometimes stuck in my throat, not wanting to come out in prayer, I say them anyway. I choose to surrender my pain, indignities and hurt feelings to God. We can choose to forgive, even when it's hard to give up that mantle of imagined protection. We can choose to set ourselves free from the prison of unforgiveness.

In my next posts I will talk about the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, common objections to forgiving, how to forgive, and moving deeper into forgiveness. I'm no theologian, so have no fear of treading too deeply into theory; we shall just continue walking together along the way.