Thursday, October 16, 2014

Yikes! I mean, yay! or maybe both. definitely both.

Received a few more emails from our mission director today.  Apparently there was no delay.  The emails from the contact person at our site were simply in very jumbled English.  Our director finally figured out what he was trying to say AND received our work permits.  Now, barring disaster at the visa office, he can go get our passports stamped with visas, and we can leave.
That's what my face looks like now.  

"Oh, yay, we're leaving!"  

"Oh, holy crap, we're leaving!"

Alternate every 30 seconds.  So fun.  Not exhausting at all.  Haha.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Peace interrupted, but only briefly

So, we’re, um, still waiting to leave for mission.  We anticipated a departure date sometime around September 1.  And we still do not know when we will leave.

Waiting has not been terrible.  We have enjoyed spending time with our family and being able to celebrate weddings and a new baby we thought we would miss.  We are admiring the vibrant autumn leaves and studying our new language for mission.  We are packed and ready to leave at a few moments’ notice.  Our visa is simply taking fo-eva-eva.

I felt all these lovely feelings until this morning.  Things had started to move forward with our visa, so we thought we would get to leave this week.  Then I woke up to an email that informed me of a slight delay.  Cue discouraged freakout.  Probably the best analogy for how I felt will be understood best by anyone who has ever prepared to battle very fine, very tangled hair.  You look at the knot(s) and think, “This is impossible.  I don’t want to do this right now.  Someone get me some scissors.”

I began to wonder why I felt so discouraged today when I had experienced peace for so long. 

One major problem I discovered was that I had given God a deadline.  Until this point, we had expressed hopefulness that our visa process would be completed quickly for a variety of reasons.  Yet, when it was not, I still felt peaceful.  I knew that God was the one who asked us to go on this crazy journey, so I left Him in charge and tried to make the most of each day.  That penultimate email had given me something of a timeframe, and I locked on to it.  My peace left when I closed my heart to God’s timing.  I still feel a little uneasy, but I am actively working to remember that I do not have to do everything by myself since God didn’t meet my deadline. 

Trusting God during these uncertain times has not been easy.  How do I do it? 

I have awesome friends who say awesome things.

Exhibit A: Shortly before orientation, I visited my friends at the pregnancy center where I have volunteered.  I may have mentioned it before, but I can hardly say it enough.  My friends at the PRC are incredible.  They strengthen my faith and make me feel like I can do anything.  On this particular day, I spoke with a volunteer who is all too acquainted with my spiritual battles.  She asked how I was doing.  Better, I told her, but…it still hurts.  She nodded. 

“Open your heart to God with every breath,”

she said.  Pondering these words allowed peace to rush into my heart.  Finally, someone understood that taking things a whole day at a time and feeling like you have to have life figured out could be overwhelming.  Such a little thing.  Not complicated or grand, but deeply profound.  Her sweet words remind me every day to renew my tiny trust in God.  Giving Him my heart does not mean I am required to know where I am going or feel ready to face the world like an Amazon warrior.  I must simply say, “Here I am, Lord.  I want to be yours in this moment.”

Exhibit B: When our mission site was switched during orientation, I felt completely unsettled.  One of our leaders, who spent four years in South America, had shared that she felt terrified and overwhelmed upon her arrival in her mission country.  She had not particularly wanted to go to that country.  She had other ideas about where she might like to go, but this ended up being where God called her.  After her initial shock wore off, she had an incredible and life-changing experience.  When our site was changed, I sought her counsel.  We shared a long conversation about my fears and her experiences.  Everything she said comforted and helped me, but one sentence stands out and I remind myself of it daily. 

“Approach each day with gratitude.”

This might sound like something cute she could say to give me warm fuzzy feelings, but nay.  She really backed up her claim.  She encouraged me to place my trust in God and simply thank Him for the blessings He had prepared for me that day.  This simple act of saying, “God, thank you for today” enables me to see Him working in my life in ways I did not expect.  I am more willing to let Him lead me and trust that I am where I am supposed to be.  It reminds me to rejoice.

I hope not to repeat this recent kerfuffle.  Yet, if I do, it will only afford me another opportunity to marvel at the abyss of God’s mercy and thank Him once again for the amazing friends He has sent me.  Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!

Also, you should definitely check out the latest blog posts by the other SLMs.  They are fabulous.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A practical guide to the care and keeping of a suffering friend

I’m so glad you are here! Thank you for your desire to comfort a sorrowful friend.  I hope this list gives you some direction in this all too often awkward endeavor. 

The content of this list is:
- Learned from experience
- Meant to help, not to shame.  If you have ever uttered any of the “do not say” phrases, no worries.  Consider this a fresh start. 
- Not exhaustive
- Not just for female friends.  Typing “he/she” and “friend/family member” every time gets old.
- Not a step-by-step guide.  This is a big list, but don't let it overwhelm you.  My hope is that you learn one thing that helps you be an even more awesome friend.

Compassion/compatible/patience: from the Latin Compati – to bear, to suffer with

Watch this first, please. I did not create it and own no rights to it, but I would like to share it with you.

Great!  Okay.  Ready?  Deep breath.  Let's begin.

1. Do not attempt to offer verbal comfort that begins with any of the following:

“At least…”
“Why don’t you…?”

or ends with:

“…God’s will”
“…meant to be”

2. If it rhymes, don’t say it.

3. Do not try to make what your friend wants seem less appealing so she feels better about not having it.

4. Do not tell her horror stories of people in similar situations who are worse off.

5. Some people like inspirational stories.  Some do not.  Ask your friend whether she would like to hear such tales before telling them.

6. Try not to be offended when your friend does not feel or act like she used to.  Do not make her feel guilty for having changed. 

7. Respect your friend’s mixed or even negative emotions regarding what appear to be positive events or announcements.  Deliver news privately and sensitively.
 Ex. Weddings, engagements, pregnancies, promotions, holidays, traveling, etc.

8. It is not your responsibility to solve your friend’s problems.  Many times, there is no solution.  Do not offer advice unless you have been asked.*

9. Most people are uncomfortable just being sad with others, but sometimes, you have to embrace the awkward.  Your friend needs to know she is not alone.

 10. Tell your friend how much you care about her and what you appreciate about her.

11. Celebrate small victories.

12. Pray for your friend, and let her know you are doing so.  Better yet, pray with your friend. 

13. Continue to extend invitations to your friend, but don’t freak out or take it personally when she says no.

14. Avoid saying, “Let me know if you need anything.”  If you see an unmet need, just do it. 

15. Write her an encouraging or silly note.

16. Ask her how she feels, and be prepared for the truth.  Give her a safe place where she can be honest about her feelings, because she may be ashamed of them.

17. Let her know it is okay to feel sad and angry.  And sometimes angry, happy, sad, hopeful, distraught, and content all at the same time.

18. If you know of something that might help your friend, and she has asked for your help, tell her about it without promising results.  Give her information, but let her decide freely what to do with it.

19. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?  God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle?  #inspirationalsayingsthatmakemewanttobarfonyou

20. Listen.  Let her tell you her story.  Silence is not the enemy.  Don’t talk until she is finished.  Even then, proceed gently.

21. Acknowledge that what your friend is suffering is difficult and painful. 

22.  You cannot predict the future.  Do not try to tell her how things are going to work out.  You do not know.

23. Let her know that God is with her always, crying with her.  It might feel like God has abandoned her, but gently encourage her to give Him another chance.  He loves her like crazy and is faithful to His promises.  (What has God promised us?  Check out the Gospels and letters of the New Testament.  There, Christ speaks plainly to us. “I will sustain you…be with you until the end of the age…never leave you or forsake you…etc.”)  Read for free here.

24. In times of great sorrow, she appreciates your comfort, but she is still going to be sad afterward.  Do not resent her when your help is not enough to erase her pain.

25. Stand up when others gossip about her.  You don’t have to reveal the gory details, but let others know she’s going through something and could likely use their prayers and support.

26. No need to get poetic.  Make your words sincere, not cute or philosophical.  Your friend does not want pity.  She just wants you to be her friend.  “That sucks” is generally more helpful than “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.  You’re so strong.”

27. If you really can’t imagine what her pain must be like, do some research.  Ask your friend where you can learn more about what she is enduring.  So many people who offer “advice” have zero knowledge about the subject. 

Ex. “Why don’t you just adopt?”  Uhh, because I don’t have $25k.  “Whaaat?  It costs that much?  Oh, you should do international adoption then.”  Yeah, that costs more like $50k.  “Really?  Oh…..”

Ex. “Can’t you do IVF?”  Also no.  God has asked us not to for some very good reasons, and it literally cannot help our physical situation anyway.  It’s not a miracle fix-all for infertility. “~blank stare~”

27. Your friend does not need to “get over it” or “just not think about it.”  What she is experiencing affects every aspect of her life, and she probably has little choice in whether she thinks about it.

Ex. If she is trying to conceive, she may need to monitor her fertility symptoms 24 hours a day so she can correctly time the baby-making attempts.

Ex. If she has a health condition such as a severe food allergy, she must remain vigilant in making sure she is not exposed to dangerous foods.  Do you know there can be traces of shellfish in canned pizza sauce and artificial coloring in pickles?  She does.

28. Do not try to explain away her suffering.  Some things are awful.  That is all.

29. Avoid steering her toward spiritual practices that promise specific results.  Instead, invite her to sit quietly with God for a few minutes each day.  Encourage her to tell God how she feels (however terrible) and to be bold in asking for what she needs.  He’s a big God.  He can handle it. 

30. She may have to completely rebuild her relationships with God and other people.  Let her know it’s okay to take shaky steps whenever she is ready and that you and God aren’t going anywhere and will be beside her all the way.

31. It can be very difficult to pray at all when you feel terrible.  Let your friend know that God treasures every tiny effort she makes at spending time with Him.  She doesn’t need to try to impress God.  He only wants to be with her.

Let us run to Mary, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence. —Saint Francis de Sales

 32. Be patient.  Do not pressure her to take on more than she can handle.  Saying no is painful for her, but she has to take care of herself.  Do not expect her to recover on your schedule.  Many times, even after she begins to feel better, she will feel sad again unexpectedly.  Patience.

33. Consider giving her a small, meaningful gift.  You might learn who is the patron saint for what she is suffering and find a medal or prayer card for her.  If this isn’t quite your style, paint a picture, cover her car in sticky-notes, bake a cake, pick a vase full of dandelions, get a $1 rosary blessed for her, buy a cd from her favorite band.  The dollar amount literally does not matter. 

Ex. My friend emailed me these comics when I was feeling pretty terrible about being unable to conceive or adopt or figure out what the heck my life meant.  This little gesture meant the world to me.

~Here’s a list of major patron saints.  Note, when we pray to saints, we are not asking them to take the place of God.  We are asking them, as friends in Christ, to pray for us – just like we ask our earthly friends to do.  The people on this list are canonized saints because they are excellent examples of how to lead Christian lives, and miracles have been attributed to their intercession.

34. There are certain things people say in everyday conversation that simply should not be said.  One should respect the sensitivity of such matters and remember that they do not know what others might be suffering.  We don’t like walking around worrying about who is next going to ask us when we are getting married/having kids/stop having kids/etc.  No one needs to feel constantly on the defense about her life.  You do not know her story.  You do not know where it is going.  Do not ask when what you feel should come next is going to happen.  Gracias.

35. Sometimes, she just wants to be alone.

36.  Laughter.  ‘Tis a beautiful thing to share.

 Infertility-Specific – what not to say to or around someone who cannot conceive (or adopt)

- Just relax!  It will happen.  If you try too hard, you won’t get pregnant.
- That’s great!  Now you can have sex whenever and not worry about accidentally getting pregnant.
- I get pregnant if my husband looks at me!
- She’s a good Catholic girl.  So, I’m sure they’ll have lots of kids.
- If you’re pro life, where are all your adopted kids?
- Which one of you can’t have kids?
- Ugh. My kids are so annoying.  Are you sure you want children?
- Wow!  Everyone we know is pregnant.
- You know, if you adopt, you’ll get pregnant right away.
- You’re young.  You’ve got plenty of time.

Chronic Illness-Specific
 - You look fine.  I think you’re making this up.
- That shouldn’t hurt you.  You’re being a wimp.
- At least you don’t have something worse, like cancer.
- Can’t you just go to the doctor, get some medicine, and get better?
- I wish I could be skinny like you!
- You should get more exercise.  Then you'd feel better.
- You're too young to have all these problems.

 - (miscarriage) Don’t worry.  I’m sure you will get pregnant again soon.
- You know, the person you lost wouldn’t want you to be sad.
- Everything happens for a reason.
- That person died a long time ago.  Aren’t you over that yet?
- I guess God just needed another angel in Heaven.

Recommended Reading

Best description of depression.  Ever.

Spoon Theory and why I have to say no sometimes

How it feels to grieve the loss of someone you never got to meet

All you who hope – Catholic Infertility blog (Just read everything in her archives pre-2010)

Vatican documents regarding marriage and procreation

Comparison of success rates of NaPro Technology vs. IVF

What is NaPro Technology?  Hint: It’s wonderful, worthwhile, and respects the dignity of marriage and human life, but it’s not a fix-all either.

*Sometimes, things are more serious than we can handle.  If your friend mentions possibly harming herself or others, contact your local emergency personnel immediately.
**never been good at citing properly.  found all the images on pinterest.  Check 'em out there.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Goodbye, little box. Don't come back now, you hear?

The other day, we received an email from our mission director.  Our work permits have been approved by the government in our mission country.  We should have our visas in hand and be able to buy plane tickets around October 8th.  I need to keep in mind how I felt when the husband read me that message.  I smiled, high-fived the husband, and felt genuinely happy and maybe even a little excited.

I need to keep this memory fresh, because now my doubts are taking over.  There is quite a bit going on in my family right now.  Am I okay with leaving everything during this crucial time?  Perhaps this is God letting me know that He will handle it all and I need not worry.  Then again, our foreign mission is a ministry of presence.  Is my presence there more important than me being present to my family?  Is it really a matter of one being more important than the other?  

When I play out these two scenarios in my mind (staying home vs. going on mission), I feel more at peace when I think about leaving.  I am honestly not sure why this is.  I have written before about discerning whether what I hear is God's voice.  According to my research, God is asking me to trust Him in a radical way.  

During our retreat with the SDBs (Salesian priests and brothers), we had an opportunity to go to confession.  My tendency to hold back a little bit of myself in serving God and others had been weighing heavily on my heart.  I told the priest that I did not want to keep doing this, but I was scared of letting go completely.  He smiled as if he knew exactly what I meant and encouraged me to jump into the arms of God's mercy.  "You can do this," he said.  "You've done it before.  You guys got married young and probably didn't know what you were doing, but you trusted God and jumped in.  You have a wonderful husband and a beautiful marriage.  Don't be afraid.  Be bold for God.  He's got you."

In that confession, God blessed me with the grace to let go of that last piece of myself.  Before, it felt as if I kept a little box sealed tight in my chest.  Now, that box has been flung open and tossed into the wind.  I feel free.  Yet, even with this incredible blessing, I still battle fear and trepidation.  I have said yes to God, but I am a little frightened to find out precisely what that means.  I hope I continue to open my heart to God and not to seal up that box again.

I thank God with every breath that He has blessed me with my husband.  This man shows me every day what love is, who God is.  I am blessed to have someone to encourage me along this uncertain path and to remain firm when I try to stray from what we both know to be right.  By simply being himself, he teaches me how to love God.  I must trust his goodness, love him without reserve, and rejoice in his presence beside me.  

Now, don't sit there and think, "Wow, I wish my marriage could be perfect like that."  Allow me to dust the stars from your eyes.  Our marriage is far from perfect.  We have to overcome our own faults every day to create a loving home.  Many conversations begin with "AAAARRRRGGGHHHH," and end with, "I'm sorry."  Yet, he is my vocation - my road to Heaven.  I am better with him than without him.  

Thank you to all who are praying for us as we prepare for mission.  Please keep all the other SLMs in your prayers as well.  We are all facing unique challenges in this journey.  Let us pray also that all people may discover their vocations and that God may bless them with peace as they find their way.

Friday, September 19, 2014

When Jeremiah 29:11 sounds like a cruel joke...and then maybe not

So many times during our infertility journey, people said to me, “This is God’s will” or, “God has a plan.”

These statements do not comfort one suffering like the speaker might hope.  Really, they create a rather confusing image of God.  If I tell you I feel as if I am drowning and may never be happy again, and you tell me that this is what my supposedly loving, merciful Father desires for me, I feel somehow less inclined to lean on Him.  How can I trust someone who wants to hurt me?

“Offer it up,” you might say.  Excuse me while I go throw up.  I have met few people who actually understand what this phrase is supposed to mean.  Unfortunately, most people who have said it to me have meant it as a sanctimonious “Get over it.”  What I finally discovered is that in offering our sufferings to Christ, we say to Him, “I know you have already borne and redeemed this pain.  Let me walk with someone who also feels this way so they can feel your love.”  As a rule, this is a dreadful thing to say to someone who is suffering acutely.

For months, I felt abandoned by God.  I could not understand why He would not let me serve Him.  Everything I attempted was snatched out of my hands with no explanation.  I felt exhausted.  It took all my strength just to keep breathing.  Yet, somehow, I knew I could not abandon my faith.  I told God, “I’m really mad at You, and I don’t even like You right now.  I hate everyone, and I don’t trust You.  But for some bizarre reason, I don’t want to leave You.  I guess I will stay.  I love You, but I am not sure why.  Whatever.”

Yeah, that is what my prayer life looked like a year and a half ago.  Pretty terrible. 

Then, one day, I knelt in our parish’s adoration chapel.  I was doing okay that day.  Just enjoying God’s quiet presence there.  A mother and her three young children knelt down next to me.  Actually, the mother knelt and bowed her head in fervent prayer.  The little ones remained very quiet, but they wiggled and climbed on the pew in front of us.  I smiled a little at seeing this beautiful family, but of course, my heart ached. 

Another woman sat down in the pew in front of me.  She laid down a book beside her.  The Grace of Motherhood.  Now I felt angry.  There God went again, taunting me.  Every time I felt the slightest hint of peace, it seemed He would dangle what I painfully longed for right in front of me – always out of my reach.  “Why?!,” I demanded.  “I can’t do this.  How can I stay on your team if all You do is wreck my heart with pain and then just sit there?!”

Suddenly, light glared into my eyes.  Bright, yellow light.  In my experience in the chapel, the stained glass windows appeared dark or evenly lit.  Confused, I looked up to see from where this light was shining.  Above the altar in the chapel is a large window depicting Christ welcoming the little children.

The woman in yellow, holding her tiny infant, was brightly illuminated.  The rest of the window appeared as it usually did in daylight hours.  The light from the woman shone directly in my face.  I gazed at her for a few moments.  Then, deep in my heart, I heard these words:

“I know your pain.”

Tears welled in my eyes as a deep peace settled within me.  God cared about my suffering.  He had not left me to figure this out on my own.  He had heard me, and He cried in sadness with me. 

After just a few minutes, the clouds shifted, and the window was lit evenly again.  My pain still sat heavily in my chest, but I felt different.  Like this agony was finally wrapped up in something and could not dig its sharp spikes into my lungs so easily.  Those short moments left me with the fragile hope that this might all be part of something greater, and it was okay that I could not fully understand it. 

I can hardly explain how those few words resonated in me.  God had not been where I thought He was during these terrible days.  He was not sitting stoically atop His Heavenly throne, doling out instances of character-building suffering.  He had been beside me, holding me, crying with me.  He did not will this awful pain.  This was never part of His original plan.  How it got here is kind of a long story, but the important part is that this and all our pain has been redeemed through the cross.  Jesus bore every pain in the history of the world.  While bleeding and dying, He thought of me by name. 

Knowing that God is with us does not take away our pain.  I did not suddenly feel like rainbows and glitter when I recognized His presence.  My pain does not appear to be leaving any time soon even though I have healed considerably and often feel happy now.  Sometimes, for no apparent reason, I suddenly remember that we will never have children.  I fly into a mental rage and have to fight back tears in public.

Attaining knowledge of a divine blueprint offers little comfort.  We can, however, rest in the knowledge that suffering has not won the day.  The battle has been fought.  Love has won.  We are not capable of dealing with life’s struggles alone.  We should not hurt ourselves by trying to do so.  We have not been left to “figure it out.”  We are called simply to rest in the arms of God and cry when life hurts.  Because it does.  And God knows that. 

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
John 16:33