On the Christian Meaning of Suffering

Mists4
Photo Credit: Isaiah Eyre Photography

BE NOT AFRAID. I decided to return once more to the 1984 Apostolic Letter written by St. JP II titled Salvifici Doloris: On the Christian Meaning of Suffering that addressed the ever present question of suffering: why, what, and how? God transformed even something not part of His original design for humanity (suffering, pain, death, dying, etc.) into a means for transcendence: faith, hope, and charity.

We fear suffering. I can emphatically state in my greatest moments of suffering and the  suffering of my loved ones, I felt closest to heaven- the veil was lifted. Our suffering, united with Christ, can become salvific. “Suffering seems to be particularly essential to the nature of man. It is deep as man himself, precisely because in its own way that depth which is proper to man, and in its own way surpasses it. Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense “destined” to go beyond himself (3).”

We fear weakness. Weakness means vulnerability & lack of control. Christ chooses weakness as the vehicle for salvation. “To Suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God . . . In [Christ], God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering . . . and wishes to have his power known precisely in this weakness and emptying of self (74).”

We fear the acquisition of virtue. Striving is the key word when acquiring virtue. Virtue acquisition takes hard work and doesn’t always “pay-off” in this life. “Suffering contains a special call to virtue . . . and this is the virtue of perseverance in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintain him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity liked to the awareness of the meaning of life (75).”

We fear purgation. Purgation leads to heaven. God calls you and I to redeem ourselves and the world in our little way. “The Gospel of suffering is being written unceasingly, and it speaks unceasingly the words of this strange paradox: the springs of divine power gush forth precisely in the midst of human weakness. . . The more a person is threatened by sin, the heavier the structure of sin in which today’s world brings with it, the greater the eloquence which human suffering possesses in itself (89).”

We fear true compassion. Our culture & society throws around the term compassion. What is compassion? Compassion comes from the Latin root com (with) and pati (suffer). Together compatior means “to suffer with.” Compassion means “to suffer with” another person. “We could say that suffering, which is present under so many different forms in our human world, is also present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one “I” on behalf of other people, especially to those who suffer (92).”

In the Gospels, Jesus repeats dozens of times, “BE NOT AFRAID.” It’s time to let go of the fear associated with suffering, death, & dying. And focus on living. Life is beautiful in all its forms & functions. It’s time to relearn how to suffer with each other. In the words of a man who understood and lived suffering: “In the messianic programme of Christ, which is at the same time the programme of the Kingdom of God, suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a “civilization of love (96).” Let us go forth and build a civilization of love . . .

Catholic Match Blog Post

Please. check out my latest blog post published on Catholic Match Institute’s Blog. I’m hoping this article helps provide a Catholic perspective on relationships, marriage, and high risk pregnancy. Please, enter into a very personal and important topic that has touched my life and many other women. May God bless and keep you all!

Real Talk: How to Discuss Sex and High Risk Pregnancy While Dating

Humanae Vitae- 5

Life & Love with Chronic Illness

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Photo Credit: Isaiah Eyre Photography

As the years of my life unfold, my medical record lengthens and complications arise. My life isn’t over. My ability to love isn’t less. It may be even more. There is something to maturation with age. Young enough at twenty-seven to not accept the status quo, challenge the system, and fight passionately for my goals, dreams, and desires, but I have matured in many ways too. I’m much kinder to myself than I used to be and more at peace with who I am. The real person who I am. Not the person I could be if most realities in my life changed. I bargain less and embrace more.

Learn to recognize what you can change and what you cannot change. Are there days when I wished I woke up minus a few health conditions and the symptoms I experience? Sure. That is an understandable response. But, at the rising or end of the day, I have no real control over my diagnosis. What I do have control of is being as healthy and whole as possible. I eat better. I exercise. I avoid allergens or irritants that may aggravate symptoms. I stress less or at least attempt to. I seek professional help when needed. I relax. I have a clean and healthy living space. I engage in mental and physical activities that are enjoyable. I spend time with family and friends. I work. Take each day by day. Slow down and smell the roses, feel the breeze brushing your cheek, and laugh when snowflakes land on your nose.

Don’t beat yourself up when you can’t live up to your own expectations, others, or the culture’s expectations. If you have one or multiple chronic illnesses like me, you can’t be someone else or wish you were someone else. You are just you. And that is good. Many days, your physical, mental, and emotional health will dictate your day, the activities you engage in, and your daily priorities. Don’t feel inadequate because you stayed home while your friends went out for a drink. Don’t apologize for eating or drinking or doing whatever you need too differently in order to care for yourself. You aren’t less of a person because you have “limitations” and “weaknesses” or “special circumstances.”

Don’t compare yourself to others, “should haves” or “could haves.” This mindset is detrimental to anyone, but a killer to a person with chronic illness. Whether you’re perfectly healthy or not, you are beautiful, lovable, and good. For years after I graduated from college, I beat myself up because I couldn’t be and accomplish how I imagined or in the manner my peers did. My mental aptitude was there but the physical was more elusive. Four years out of college, I learned my worth isn’t tied to my accomplishments. Life is a beautiful and challenging surprise.

You are lovable. Worthy of love and being loved. My love life has been tumultuous. I seethed or cried when men said rude, shallow, shortsighted, and uncompassionate comments regarding my health and worth. It hurt badly. Then I realized it was more about their issues and less about mine. Then I changed my dating approach. I stopped apologizing. I stopped justifying. I stopped tolerating dumb, mean comments. Yes, this thinned out my prospects and good riddance. Yes, a good man did come into my life. A man that loves me even more for what many men fear not less. Again, don’t compare your love life to others. You aren’t less of a couple or less loving because you can’t or shouldn’t appear in a certain manner, go to certain events, etc. Don’t do yourself or the one whom you love this disservice.

Daily Motto: You are beautiful. You are lovable. You are good. You are enough.

 

An Honest Letter About Creighton NFP

PSALM 73 (1)Dear Creighton Model:

You totally kicked me in the keister. Learning about you has been one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my life. The more I learn the more that learning curve and the knowledge acquired affirms and heightens my belief that there IS A GOD, and I’m not God.

Wholly smokes! My body is complex, intricate, and beautiful. My reproductive system is like the almost nigh unbreakable encryption machine Enigma and Creighton the machine that broke Enigma. The point being is that the code can be broken and interpreted even if it seems rather complex and overwhelming at times. As a woman, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. When my system is working in harmony, it’s like the restored, gleaming Sistine Chapel. When my reproductive tract falls into discord, it’s like the Sistine Chapel with loin clothes added and years of grime and gunk covering the paintings. Being a woman is always beautiful, but sometimes that vision is easier to recognize some days than others.

When I started pulling out my hair over “essential sameness” and yellow stickers, you never failed to frustrate me even more. I thought I might go insane comparing today to yesterday, two days ago, three days ago, one week ago, etc. But after beating my head against the wall, I’m eternally grateful God lifted me up and gave me the strength to tackle “essential sameness” mastery. Now I feel accomplished and knowledgeable and  . . . well humble too. Essential sameness is actually awesome.

When my naprotechnologist ordered the 25 day hormone assessment panel that involved blood draws on 10+ specific days of my cycle, I never imagined how involved the process would be. I underestimated the hours my Dad,  Mom, and I spent in the ER, outpatient clinic, or the hospital cafeteria waiting for the blood to be spun and processed. I never purchased dry ice before shipping the vials to Nebraska. Dry ice burns. Duly note. I promise I took Honors High School Chemistry.

When my napro doctor explained my test results and how multiple hormones weren’t just off but precipitously off, I felt cold and numb. Then I realized this knowledge helped explain the bizarre and taxing symptoms I felt. But a sense of hope surged that a treatment plan could heal the underlying issue(s).

When I picked up my first progesterone oil and inter-muscular injection needle set, I struggled to keep a straight face while the pharmacist explained injecting myself into the tush or thigh. The other part of me felt as though I had entered into an alternate reality. Really, God?

Since last August, you and I embarked on a long and arduous journey. We knew it wouldn’t be easy when we started as a naive Creighton newbie 10 months ago. I realize now some woman have less complicated cycles and others make ours seem manageable. This recognition has taught me humility. I’ve learned a new language about how to express an intricate part of being a woman and relating to a man. Trust me. My conversations with my special man friend are epic. This method teaches perseverance and endurance. You have taught me ownership of my body, pride of ownership. Pride in all its wonder and awe. Pride also in its flaws and complications. Creighton, you teach me lessons each day. The most important lesson learned thus far is to see myself as God sees me. Beautiful. Whole. Enough. Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. Made in His Image.

With All Respect and Admiration,

Hannah

P.S. Thank you for kicking my keister. Now simmer down a little, please. Jesus, I trust in you.

 

An Illustrated Guide to Lenten Fasting And Abstinence

Yesterday, Ash Wednesday began the 40 Days of Lent. A period of prayer, alms-giving and penance in preparation for the Eater Triduum and Easter. It’s our 40 days in the desert preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ and Salvation. Part of that process is acts of penance and purification through our words, deeds, actions, etc. Lent is a full body experience.

For many of us with chronic health conditions, Fasting isn’t a healthy nor viable Lenten practice. A practice that the Catholic Church excuses some of the faithful from. “Those who are excused from fast or abstinence besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment, manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.” Instead those excused including myself practice other types of fasting, prayer, charity, and penance.

I wish you all a blessed Lent.

lentguide

Published by FOCUS.

 

Getting Real with the Reality of High Risk Pregnancy

love beads
Photo Credit: Pinterest, Love Beads

Imagine vibrant hues dancing off placid waters while sand squeezes between your toes and water laps upon your bare feet as rest in your dearly beloved’s arms watching the sunset. But before he and I ride off into the sunset, real, potentially life changing conversations must take place.

Pregnancy, and delivering babies are beautiful, self-sacrificial, and life-giving moments in a woman’s life, but what about those of us who peer into the possibility of marriage and family knowing great love comes with great risks. During navigating her high-risk pregnancy, my friend quoted her fetal medicine doctor, “Every woman takes a risk being pregnant and having children. We just know more upfront about your risks.” Amen.

Well intended Catholics respond to my anxiety and concern with probing questions: “Are you sure you shouldn’t become a nun?” “Consecrated virgin?” or “I knew this lady who had three kids and was a high-risk pregnancy.” Part of me wishes I felt called to those vocations (would have made my life “easier.”) On the latter comment, I’m grateful for this woman, but life experience has taught me to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Baring a miracle healing multiple chronic and confounding conditions, my high risk pregnancy reality won’t change. After years of hoping, praying, and exploring, I closed the door to religious life or consecrated virginity. And now an unlikely, surprise of a man in my life challenges me to own who I am, wrestle with the risks of marital intimacy, and have the courage to discuss the real topics with a potential spouse:

1.) Tell Him:
Discuss the reality of marriage and family. Be honest and direct. Convey your feelings and emotions. Ask open ended questions.
2.) Don’t Apologize for Your Limitations:
You are Beautiful. You are Enough. You are Made in His Image.
3.) If His Response Leaves You Feeling Used, Confused, Anxious or Unloved, End the Relationship:
This won’t get better with time.
4.) Get Comfortable Discussing Intimacy:
Become comfortable discussing intimacy in a respectful and honest manner in order to set realistic expectations and boundaries regarding all types of intimacy in your dating relationship and within marriage. Watch & listen for red flags and warning signs.
5.) Discuss How You Will Grow A Family:
Will you attempt having a biological child? Explore adoption and/or fostering? Discuss expectations or the lack-there-of. Better to know now rather than learning too late. Your life could depend on it.
6.) Discuss How You Will Express Intimacy in Marriage:
If you are making love, babies could be in your future. God, two people, and the marital embrace create babies. The only 100% effective way not to conceive a child is not to engage in intercourse. For a woman dealing with the reality of a high risk pregnancy, this could involve refraining for significant amounts of time depending on the complexity of her cycle. A future spouse should not only respect this but advocate for this and cherish his wife for this. Discuss, learn, and utilize Natural Family Planning (NFP.)
7.) Ask the Tough Questions. Be Specific:
Let’s say a woman has a complex cycle or serious reasons for avoiding pregnancy are present, how will intimacy be expressed during extended periods of refraining from the marital embrace? Will those three days per month or every couple of months not only suffice BUT build deeper intimacy between spouses? Will he turn to masturbation, sexting, pornography, or adultery (or other counterfeits of love) when his sexual “needs” aren’t met? Will you? Will you love the other person not for what you can get from each other, but for who each other is ‘til death do you part?

“How Are You Today?” GIF Response Guide

This is an interpretive guide to the many colorful verbal and non-verbal responses a person with chronic health conditions may respond with to the seemingly non-threatening inquiry into their health and well-being: “How are You Today?”

1.) Rolls eyes & no verbal response:

photo credit: tina fey
photo credit: Tina Fey

Said individual heard, “What is your problem?” instead of, “How are you today?” He or she may feel physically poor or not, but their mental and emotional state is complicated. Struggle or exasperation is apparent. You may want to leave us alone.

2.) No verbal response, glassy eyes, & unresponsive:

slow lorisThe person either is in-pain, entered a medication induced haze, or is experiencing significant mental exhaustion. In my house, this response prompts further inquiries and occasionally, neurological testing. Please, be patient with us.

3.) “Hmms,” “Mhmms,” & other Guttural Sounds:

photo credit: Gilmore Girls
photo credit: Gilmore Girls

I acknowledge your effort and consideration, but presently I’m annoyed and potentially confused about how to answer. Bugger off.

4.) The Shoulder Shrug:

photo credit: The Devil Wears Prada
photo credit: The Devil Wears Prada

Oops. Oh no, I didn’t, but yes, I just did. The shoulder shrug translates into, “Who cares how I feel?” or “Why do you always ask me questions I can’t answer?”

5.) “I’m fine.” + sarcastic tone:

Photo Credit: Star Trek tokomia
Photo Credit: Star Trek tokomia

Today, I’m cognoscente enough to acknowledge and respond, but I have no real desire to discuss my personal health and well-being. Next topic.

6.) “I’m fine.” + pleasant, slightly flippant tone:

Photo Credit: Pirates of the Caribbean
Photo Credit: Pirates of the Caribbean

Today isn’t such a bad day. I still don’t want to discuss my health and well-being. Next topic.

7.) “Good.” or “Doing well.”

frozen gifThis non-obligatory statement either is expressing a better stretch of health or hiding/covering personal suffering or struggles.

8.) “Okay.” or “I’m okay.”

Photo Credit: House
Photo Credit: House

This is one of the worst responses a person with chronic health conditions can respond with, because these statements cover anything from a near death experience to life is good. Usually, “okay” refers to a peaceful or resigned mental state despite the actual circumstances, but can indicate great suffering. When I was hospitalized at 15 years old in pediatric oncology/ hematology, my doctors forbade me from answering their questions with, “okay.”

9.) “Today is a good day.”:

Photo Credit: Enchanted
Photo Credit: Enchanted

Break out the party hats and plan a fiesta, because this is a rare response that may actually indicate what is entailed.

10.) “I feel bad,” or “I don’t feel well.”

Photo credit: Lord of the Rings
Photo credit: Lord of the Rings

A rare glimpse of honesty that smacks of sheer concern or desperation. Be prepared for a long day that usually involves a change of plans anywhere from calling 911 to increased medication for coping with concerning symptoms or canceling that dinner reservation . . .

Some individuals are better at expressing their emotions and state of being, but many people with chronic health conditions learn to cope by shutting down or minimizing our struggles. We assume, “Who wants to talk about that day after day,” or “What is the point?” Usually, we will risk expressing certain concerns or frustrations, and react with surprise when a person interacts with sincere empathy and compassion. If you are just going through the motions and don’t care, we can tell and vice versa. We prefer discussing others’ health and well-being versus our own. And tend to be acutely attuned to the suffering around us, especially those silently suffering. So I ask, “How are you today?”

Beautifully Flawed

In the 2011 movie October Baby, a local Mobile, Alabama police officer shares his wife’s saying: “To be human is to be beautifully flawed.” Hannah, (not me but shares my namesake and some similarities) the recipient of this wisdom, understands being human means being flawed- physically, mentally, emotionally, developmentally, etc. As the Jesuits or Society or Jesus like to say: “life is a journey.” How many of us make it through life without flaws, imperfections, scars, or brokenness? No one I know. Certainly not myself. For many of us these “flaws” or imperfections seem ordained and despite ourselves. What now?
Even Christ in the Gospels experienced suffering, death, loss, pain, and grief. But Christ also experienced profound life, love, joy, hope, and faith.  Being human means experiencing both. I know moments when I experience the deepest compassion is in the midst of the worst suffering. Peace and calmness rise in the midst of death and dying. Or the simplest awareness of joy and life in the midst of uncertainty. Sometimes the nitty gritty develops, shapes, challenges, and forms us by fire, but on the other-side, we could gleam with the luminescence of a divine love forged in pure trust, mercy, and abandonment. But each of us are faced with a choice to embrace our crosses and help our neighbors or not. Some days are easier than others. But one thing is for certain we all have are beautiful flaws or brokenness. Some types are hidden to others. For those that hide their brokenness, like me, a term invisibilities or “invisibilities” can describe many forms of mental, physical, and emotional health conditions that make day-to-day living extreme to challenging.
I understand and desire confidentiality. Not everyone needs to know everything, every little detail. I’m not one to overexpose myself or my loved ones. For a person that suffers is fundamentally vulnerable on various levels. I fear being taken advantage, trod-upon, misunderstood, and ostracized. But I fear less each day . . . Thank you to all with, especially the youth and young adults, invisible and visible disabilities for your silent, steadfast testimony. You keep the world afloat and filled with hope and light! We are beautifully flawed and broken, but undeniably valuable and treasured in the sight of Heaven and those of Goodwill on Earth!