Suffering Sucks

Recently, many friends have approached me with hearts full of sadness. So this is my response to them. It is not a letter of advice because I do not think I am qualified to give that, but merely a personal narrative.

There have been times in my life when I have woken up everyday to the dreaded feeling. That feeling in your heart, like an anchor is strapped to your chest. It has many causes: an awful job, relationship troubles, or just plain old human pride. It also comes from wanting what I am not ready to receive, grasping for what does not belong to me, or thinking I am entitled to what I am not… and I have lived long enough to know that suffering comes almost exclusively from within (almost).

What do I do on those days? The days that I wake up with my heart in a knot? The days that I feel a stone hanging from a string from my chest? I fight it of course. I fight with myself, I fight with God, I fight with people who annoy me… I just fight. That is my reaction. I am a fighter. In the good ways and in the bad ways.

Why? Because suffering sucks. No one likes to suffer, me the least of all. I’m the one who prays to God to “just rip off the band- aid” and get lessons I need to learn over with. Now, I do have a pretty good pain tolerance… just ask the dentist who thought he numbed me when he yanked two teeth out of my mouth (he didn’t). Or the poor nursing student who, when drawing blood, went through my vein. Twice. I, of course, did not whimper. (Mostly because I felt bad for her) However, there is a catch: my pain tolerance only lasts for short periods of time. This is why I was a sprinter in track, and why I was a rower. I can do anything… for about seven minutes. Then we have problems.

The problem with heart pain is, it doesn’t just go away. Not without making us suffer just a bit longer than we’re comfortable with. In my experience, pain does not go away until I accept it. I have to lean into it, I have to be grateful for it, but most of all I have to discover the lesson that God is trying to teach me. Only then will I have grown.

2 Corinthians 7:9-10 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

There is always a reason. There is always a reason why we are being stretched, sometimes tortured. That restlessness which lives within us is not something to be fought but must be harnessed. My mother always told us that my Abuela had a saying, that we must control our minds before our minds control us. I find this to be true with my heart as well. It must be kept under control, despite well meaning friends imploring, “You can’t help what you feel!” “You are feeling that way for a reason, don’t fight it!” I have said these things as well, and to a point they are true, but we must harness our emotions as well as our imaginations, and we must look at suffering for what it is. It is a training for the obstacles we have yet to overcome, it is an alarm clock alerting us to what is wrong in our lives, and it is the tug of our Savior, drawing us close so that we may rest in him alone.
1 Corinthians 10:13   No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Peter 5:9-10   Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Pain is a kindly, hopeful thing, a certain proof of life, a clear assurance that all is not yet over, that there is still a chance. But if your heart has no pain — well, that may betoken health, as you suppose: but are you certain that it does not mean that your soul is dead?  ~ A.J. Gossip

God bless you, my brothers and sisters in Christ! Fight the good fight, and fight well.
 

 

 

If God Hasn’t Revealed His Plan, Keep Asking

Today we are going to talk about prayer. More importantly, we are going to talk about the way God responds to us when we pray. Recently I have heard people say, when asking what God has revealed to them when praying abut a certain situation, “ Well, God has pretty much left the decision up to me.” (Insinuating that God supposedly doesn’t have an opinion one way or another). I mean, sure, God does leave pretty much everything up to us- its part of the whole “free will” thing. But God also has his own will. I am going to attempt, as well as I can, to not describe God as if I (or anyone) truly can- but when it comes to whether or not there is a right or wrong decision to be made (This is concerning something important, not what toothpaste to use or which type of burgers to buy at the grocery store –> that answer is always BUBBA BURGERS!)… it seems, biblically, that God has a road on which He would like us to go, and pretending not to see that road when approaching a fork usually means that He is telling us something we don’t want to hear.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. “- Jeremiah 29:11

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”–Prov. 3:5-6

“And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”- Isaiah 58:11

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” –Psalm 27:14

In the Christian walk, there are certainly times where it seems the Lord is utterly silent and distant and you have no idea where He is or what He is doing (this is part of our purification process and it is good, even though it stinks at the time!) (“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthian 10:13) However, this lack of response or distance from God doesn’t seem to be the constant. (“Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24) It may be so for particular periods of difficulty, but it always seems that God’s will is revealed in the end.

While there are thousands of various ways to pray, prayer, in the Christian sense, is meant to be a conversation. A conversation is where one person speaks and the other responds. (“At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved.” Daniel 9:23) There are two parties to a conversation. God speaks to us in a multitude of ways, indeed, however it pleases Him. He speaks most especially (according to the testimony of various Saints) through hardship (“If there be a true way that leads to the Everlasting Kingdom, it is most certainly that of suffering, patiently endured.” — St. Colette), but also through adoration, other people, music, books, realizations, apparitions, and visions; as well as direct dialogue while journaling or in quiet prayer, or in the silent places in the depths of your heart, where the Holy Spirit reigns and where you feel His presence.

God wants communion with us, He adores us, and He wants us to know him, even as He knows us and was willing to lay down His life for us. Will we make the attempt to truly know Him? “‘Many cry to God, but not with the voice of the soul, but with the voice of the body; only the cry of the heart, of the soul, reaches God.’” –St. Augustine.

It was once shared with me that God is the perfect combination of the masculine and the feminine. We can see His masculinity in the strong sequoia trees that rise solid and strong above the earth, masking many in its shade. We can see His femininity in the beauty of a field of wildflowers, delicate yet glorious and moving. How many times have hikers climbed up to untraveled heights, encountering breathtaking scenes of beautiful landscapes? Who sees that? God delights in decorating the Earth and showering it in his majesty, the way women enjoy making each part of a house a home- even if it seems hardly anyone will see or appreciate it.

While I am not an expert in prayer (or much else for that matter), I could say that I have enough experience in being a woman to be somewhat of an expert in that. The thing about women is, deep down inside, in the deep recesses of our hearts, we want to be known. And even more than that, we want to be delighted in. (Boys, let me know if this resonates with you). God has this quality. He wants us to know and delight in Him.

“Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.” –Psalm 43:4

May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD.”- Psalm 104:34

“…then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’ The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”-Isaiah 58:14

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,”- 1 Peter 1:8

In prayer, in communion, adoration, mass, or any other time that we spend in the worship of our Creator, we are learning more about who He is, and we are delighting in God our Savior. Yes, this can include petition, intercession, supplication, etc- but it could also include mutual sharing and loving and delighting in one another. A Priest once advised me, when I was in a particularly anxious time of my life, to simply sit at the fountain of Jesus’ love and mercy; and to allow myself to be filled with His love for me.

That’s all. He told me to just sit and let Jesus love me and to love Him back.

While this is often much easier said than done, it is my prayer that each of us experiences this type of communion with the Holy Trinity. Let us be open to knowing and acknowledging Him with all of our hearts and let us be patient in waiting on the Lord to reveal Himself to us.

Becoming a Father at 17

I am so honored to feature this blog article from my friend, David Schonacher. David and his beautiful family are an incredible example to all of us about accepting what life brings you. Thank you for being such an amazing testimony for life!

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Am I Pro-life? Sure. Pro- Derek? Absolutely.

When a 17-year-old boy is faced with the news that his girlfriend of less than one year is pregnant, time can stand still. In those moments, he and everyone around him find themselves reciting every moral conversation, scripture or advice they’ve ever been exposed to. Without the benefit of a sound spiritual upbringing what could one possibly use to begin to make sense of the decisions before him? Decisions need to be made, not only for himself but for the future mother, her family, his family and now this new being we know nothing of.

Where did this story begin?

I was a junior in high school, defensive captain of the varsity football team, spending most of my time in the gym, on the field and finding myself wanting nothing more than to dominate anything between the tackles. This is my ground, my turf, and I’m in control. I’m an average size, below average speed middle linebacker who has a well above average heart and desire. I make up for what I lack physically with smart decisions, efficiency and overall effort. Prior to this, I had never faced any major obstacles I would consider life changing or path altering. I did however face larger pulling guards and stronger blocking backs. After short struggles with each I found a way to create success.

Shortly after Christmas break our senior year my girlfriend and I were faced with the news that she was pregnant. All the hours of training, college prep, studies, college visits and fantasies of my future stood still. All of those moments seem to pale in comparison to the news we’d just received. None of those moments on the field seemed to any longer have significance. None of my trophies provided certainty that I was capable of handling what I had just been called to. The intimate details of the moments, hours and days shortly after are foggy at best. I’m not sure my brain has ever struggled so hard in computing the problems that just fallen before us.

I’m the oldest grandchild on both sides of my family. The pressure to succeed and the self-assumed pedestal I stood myself on was crumbling beneath me. In hindsight it would seem almost as though I was losing, in those moments, the very identity I had worked so hard to create. Every decision in front of us seemed to have little to do with where we were headed prior to this information. I can recall the individual moments in front of each of our parents, the awkwardness, the uneasiness, and the shame. My father, as he often did, made jokes of it helping us bring a smile to a seemingly hopeless moment of our path in life. His efforts were effective to a degree but could not help us escape the reality of what was to become of us.

In almost an instant the relationship became no longer about her and I; but immediately a soul we had yet to meet started to chart our course. I do not recall any specific moment in any conversation where anything other than how to move forward with this child was discussed. I don’t recall any pressure to do anything but the “right thing”. But I’m a 17 year old college bound, non-spiritual boy. I am by no means qualified to make the right decision here, or am I? The conversations are mostly a blur, faded memories of supportive family counseling us, expressing their disgust, but still opening their hearts and providing even the faintest confidence that we are capable of handling the burden we’ve brought upon ourselves. I can’t recall any specific moment where the final decision, if any, was made. I cannot recall any singular moment where aborting the child was discussed. I can only recall my desire to take the burden, the struggle before me and show them all I am capable. I subtly recall the frailty we suddenly seemed to possess. I recall the sadness, perhaps a result our own insecurities. Certainly we were not qualified for what came next. I don’t recall much in the moments following about concern of what people thought. I don’t recall any friends or extended family giving any negative thoughts towards our decision to have this child. If anything, my only memory is that of a slow fade into the ocean. We became instantly not like everyone else, we instantly became different. We became that couple that was destined for something no one around us could comprehend at such a young age.

After the initial shock and emotion of the first week or so we moved slowly towards regaining the life we had. We attended functions, studied for tests and planned out our college future. It all seemed normal and possible, yet each decision now had a different and unavoidable reality. Visiting Tulane University in New Orleans made so much sense, but the reality of leaving the support of family behind made such a dream impractical, but not impossible. Our hopes and dreams were by no means crushed, but inexplicably altered. Our future, once clear and wide-open, now seemed like patchy fog at best. Our future may involve these hopes and dreams we once desired, but they were now bound by this very concrete reality.

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Fast forward 18 years, I’m now a 35 year old father to a 17 year old man. He is talented, joyful, funny and nothing like me. He has the heart of a lion, he’s three inches taller and will never play middle linebacker. He may soon become an Engineer like his father, but he’s mechanically inclined, a talent I do not possess. He’s a mess, a burden at times, but smiles like his mother. He is imaginative, creative and produces his own version of comedy while his father is calculated, dull at times and only recently found an imagination. He speaks Spanish fluently, English poorly and can recite more science facts than many museums. He played sports most of his life, perhaps only to please his father, but he is clearly charting his own course in life. He listens, strives to be a good man, but finds himself combative in talks of morals and justice. He is his own man.

I’m now a practicing Catholic for 13 years. We have a 13-year-old daughter as well. She’s an angel, the perfect combination of her Mother and Father with her own unique beauty mixed in. Until just recently I had not studied the Church’s pro-life position in any great detail. In fact, prior to this, I studied intently John Paul II and his “Theology of the Body” discussions. I spent hours upon hours reading and reflecting on the magnificence of our creation. I spent time understanding the amazing uniqueness we were each made with. I’ve spent three years now looking out at friends and family with a new perspective. Because of these revelations I’m now able to see the beauty in each and have begun to learn finally how to love and to be loved.

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At 17 years old, with little to no spiritual direction, perhaps I was intent on having this child because I refused to fail and I saw an abortion as a failure. But now I know different. I now know our gut feelings, our conscience would never allow us to consider anything else but to meet this beautiful creation of ours and to do the best we could with what we had. We were fortunate to have family support. Everyone played a part in our journey. Parents babysat for us. Grandparents sent supplies and money when needed. Friends, albeit rarely, offered time and tender support. We even found decent assistance from the local, state and federal government.

Not a day goes by that I don’t get up and go to work and genuinely desire to succeed, but no longer for myself nor for the approval of others. I knew the second I saw Derek what my purpose was. I was a father. Every step I took from that moment forward was to provide for him and to ensure his protection and salvation. Just like I failed to make the right decisions as a teenager, I have failed at times as an adult. I have had more periods of sin than purity, more episodes of shame than exalting, and more times of struggle than success. But, with Derek around I find victory each day. He is our creation shared in God’s touch. He is beautiful, unique and has no clue yet how great he can be. I suppose I am now officially “Pro-Life”, but before that I was always Pro-Derek.

Princeton Mom is Still Wrong.

This is an email I received in response to my blog on “Princeton Mom” the other day.  I wanted to share it and my response to her because many people do not understand the difference between finding a husband, and being open to the Lord’s will for your life. I hope I clarify my position. For what its worth, I agree with much of what “Mom of Seven” says below, and admire her for doing what is best for her family despite the economic impact.

(Disclaimer: Email below has been edited for privacy)

“… She does not at all say that the purpose of college for a woman is to find a husband.  She merely points out that during your college years, you are surrounded by eligible young men and she doesn’t say, but should, that you also have more free time than you ever will after graduation.  It behooves a young women (sic) to not squander that opportunity.  After graduation, typically, a new grad finds employment with multiple age groups.  She might not even work with many adults, or with eligible bachelors.  So her time in which to find a man to marry is now restricted to those hours that she isn’t working.  If finding a husband is truly important, it needs to be at the top of your priority list.  I am not saying that you need to be married by 22 or 23 or risk spinsterhood.  I am saying that the success of achieving one’s life goals is maximized when one takes advantage of the available resources. 

When I was in college, the great lie was that a woman could have it all – career AND motherhood.  I did date my future husband all through college, and we married when I was 24.  I earned an engineering degree and had a very nice career.  I earned even more money than my husband.  I didn’t want to wait until I was 30 to have children, but we were in debt, having gone to expensive private schools.  I had my first child, and returned to work.  I hated it.  We worked so hard for the next 2 years to pay off the school loans so I could stay home when my 2nd child was born.  We weren’t quite there, but I did stop working, and we lost half our income.  Money was tight for many years, but it was worth it to be home.  I learned that we can’t have it all.

It is easy to think when you are young that finding a good husband won’t take much effort.  It is easy to think when you are young that men will always find you attractive.  The older you get, the greater the chances that the men who are available have already had sex, and may have already been married, and may even have children.  You may even find men who fail to mention the reality of still being married while beginning a relationship with you.  This is just life in the big bad world. 

I have 3 daughters.  I also have 4 sons.  They are all under the age of 18.  I stress that right now is the time to focus on your education and sports and other recreational pursuits.  We do not permit dating before adulthood.  But I will tell them all, when they head off to college, that although an education is the primary reason to go to college, they need to keep their eyes open for a special someone.  Would I want my 20 yo getting married?  Probably not.  But I will not lie to my girls and encourage them to pursue a career first and a husband second.  I don’t use that engineering degree much, and probably never will again.  But I use my brain daily in the management of my home, I have several small business endeavors, and I have plenty of ideas about what to do when I really grow up and have no children to tend.  Careers can be pursued at any age.  But a woman can only bear children during a particular window of her lifetime.

-Mom of Seven

My Response:

I completely agree with your position, except for the phrase “find a husband”. I made this clear in the following quote from my blog, “What I am NOT all for, however, is the phrase “finding a husband”.’ This is what I took contest with when I read about “Princeton Mom”.

I am so blessed to be a Christian, to experience the peace of a life that is found with Jesus Christ. I thank my parents for raising me with these values.  As a Christian woman, I know that I do not need to find a husband. If I want to get married, I can certainly place myself in the position of meeting men, be open to men my friends recommend for me, and I can live a healthy lifestyle to ensure that I am at the peak of my attractiveness, but most importantly I need to cultivate a relationship with the Lord and trust in him to send a man my way, and I need to be open to receive him.

I did not, “find” my boyfriend Michael, a good friend introduced him to me. I have set friends up over the years. This is usually how these things go. I am certain you did not “find” your husband, I am sure the good Lord placed him in your path at the opportune time, you both felt attraction, and things blossomed from there, and the only thing you had to do was be open to the Lord’s will!

I am certainly not of the camp that believes you need to have a career and travel and buy a house before you get married…  However, the mindset of having to “find” a husband is similar to the mindset of having to “build” a career and a life before you get married. Both involve having a timeline for our lives that is man made, not God made. Yes, I agree that college is a unique time where we are surrounded by people of our age, but it is also apt to remember that a significant portion of the population has only recently started attending college immediately after high school. Somehow, all those generations before us managed to get married, and far more successfully, as the current, dismal divorce rates would suggest.

I am glad you do not let your children date before adulthood. I also like the phrase you used in closing, “Keep their eyes open for that special someone”. I feel this is much closer to the Christian worldview. Keep your eyes open, but also, “… do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6: 31-33)

I hope this helps clarify my opinion, thank you for writing!

Readers, please feel free to comment with your thoughts below!

I am Traditional, I am Conservative, and I still Disagree with Princeton Mom

            In case you haven’t heard, here is what is trending on today.com: “A member of the class of 1977, Patton advised women currently at Princeton to seek a mate on campus, warning that they would never again be around so many “worthy” men.”

This “Princeton Mom” (formally known as Susan Patton), goes on to describe a college campus as a haven for dating, where like- minded, single men of your age group are all gathered at one place and available for the picking!

My question for this mother, who proves that you don’t need common sense to go to an Ivy League school, is this, “What is the purpose of going to college”?

Call me crazy, but I thought it was to further your education.

Listen, I am all for marriage, I am even all for young marriage.  Heck, if a woman wants to stay at home with her kids instead of working and maybe never even go to college, I completely respect that! I am feminist enough to respect the decisions a woman makes for the well being of her and her family.

What I am NOT all for, however, is the phrase “finding a husband”.

What is this? A scavenger hunt? Are we supposed to be on the lookout for clues? It’s a purty darn expensive scavenger hunt if you ask me!  By the time this is all said and done, I will end up paying many thousands of dollars for my college education.  Money that I will be paying back for at least a decade to come. BUT WAIT, its totally fine! I’ll have a boyfriend when I graduate! THANK GOD that money didn’t go to waste!

Give me a break.

Ladies, ladies… if you choose to go to college, you are choosing to do so because it is an intelligent financial decision for you, your future, and your career choice. If you are trying to “find” a husband, I suggest eharmony.com.

Also, if you are raped, no matter what the situation, report it. It’s not your fault. (I don’t care to expand upon Susan’s remarks on this situation…) read the rest of the article here: http://www.today.com/books/princeton-mom-who-advised-students-find-husband-campus-scores-book-6C10584675