Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Daily Mass and Death Wishes

We are all survivors of something, whether big or small, simple or tragic. An earthquake, a heart attack, an algebra exam, and sometimes all of the above. Surviving is hard—not the action per se, for remaining in existence does not occur through our power, but its effects can be brutal.


People used to tell me how lucky I was to survive the near-fatal car crash of 2007, and I never knew how to respond. I did not want anyone to know how much I resented my existence, how bitter I was in the belief that my freedom and joy had died in the collision, that the only thing surviving was a blob of flesh unknown to me which was trapped in an existence of nothing but suffering. To say the least, I felt far from lucky.

A few years into my suffering, as I came to believe in the Truth of God and His Church, I started to pray, and I started to receive the Sacraments more regularly. This did not trigger a dramatic change in my circumstances. Some people think that, once you decide to believe in God, that everything becomes easy, that all efforts are successful. That is not the Gospel I read—nor is it the life I have experienced.

I have at times been graced with feeling God’s Presence—but not always—and certainly not at the beginning of my journey. (I do not mean to imply that the feeling is something earned—it is only ever an undeserved gift. I know many who were initially drawn in through an experience of feeling God’s Presence, but God knows my skeptic heart, and He chose to lead me to trust Him first.)

My journey started out quite separated from a perceived consolation. I remember walking through campus to the Newman Center for Daily Mass—and hoping that a car would hit me on the way there. I did not intend to take my own life, but I still longed to be released from it. Despite my choices to do that which was Good, I felt suffocated by my personal sufferings. Because I also had some notion of the misconception that everything would just get better, I thought that there was something wrong with me. By some miracle, I did not give up on God.

You have likely heard stories from my journey since that time. I have been very blessed. Praise God. I have lived to experience incredible things I never would have imagined possible. I have been learning true freedom. I have embraced the everlasting joy and peace that penetrate deeper than circumstance. Love. Strength. Healing. I would not change anything that has happened in my past, but I still have to ask God for the grace to persevere as I continue to move forward. I am no longer bitter or resentful—I am filled with immense gratitude for the countless blessings in my life—but I will still never consider myself lucky. (It is true that I may have been spared from a worse fate—only God knows—but, even if so, I was not spared by luck.)

It is still hard. Residual sufferings from the crash, additional traumas, broken relationships, lost loved ones, etc. I am still surviving. I am still learning how to embrace this second chance I have been given. Even after years into forming a relationship with God, even after experiencing a miraculous healing in my back through receiving Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist, even while I served as a full-time missionary, even as I have prayed daily and frequently received the Sacraments, there have been moments I have hoped my life would be taken.

I have never considered myself suicidal, but there were definitely times I was afraid that my thoughts meant I was. I never wanted to open up about how I was feeling, because I was afraid of how anyone might react. We can be so afraid of mental health and suicide, and that just makes the problem so much more isolating for the one who is struggling. This is a serious topic that I have no qualifications to speak about beyond my personal experience, but if more personal openness is what we need, I am willing to be sharing.

I am grateful to my friends who listened to me last summer when I was deeply struggling and confused about my thoughts. It was not even during a time that I wanted my life to end—on the contrary, I was somewhat paranoid and afraid I was going to die at that point—but I was feeling attacked by my former wishes for death, and I feared that it was a place where I would again be trapped. Praise God, no one panicked. People listened to me and hugged me and let me cry and ate Chipotle with me as I calmed down enough to get back in my car and drive. They loved me for the person I am, and that shattered the lie that there was reason for me to be afraid of myself.

This post might make you concerned that I am currently battling a desire to die, but that is not the case. Granted, Heaven is the ultimate goal, so an earthly death is always hoped for on some degree, but I do not have any particular desires to leave at this time. To be transparent, my shin hurt really bad, I became overwhelmed, and I started crying. I was just intending to write a short reflection for an Instagram post, but then this happened, so here it is.

I do not know what you are struggling with right now—or how hopeless you might feel—but do not be afraid. Regardless of whether or not you feel God’s Presence, He is with you, and He will never leave you—no matter what. There is no image that you have to fit—whether of the world, the church, or your own mind. You are Good, you are Beautiful, and you are Loved. There might be problems in your life, but you are not a problem. You are not trapped in your sufferings. Hand them over to God, and open up to someone. Please. You are worth so much more than you could ever know. I urge you to not give up. It might never be easy, but I promise it is worth it.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Deep Breaths in Polluted Air

A year ago, I was feeling suffocated by the weight of tragedies forming the timeline of my life. To say that I felt hopeless would be an understatement. I felt like a failure, and I thought I had nothing to offer the world but sorrow. (You can read a reflection from that time here: “Shattered Beyond Repair”)

Five months ago, I was again a wreck. I felt guilty for my existence, and also paranoid that it would be taken from me. I did not trust myself, and I was afraid to present myself before anyone else.

Just a couple weeks ago, I was incredibly terrified. I sprinted away from the church after Mass. I sobbed on the sidewalk. I locked myself in my apartment with all the blinds closed. As you might be aware, I absolutely love where I live—but a collection of experiences had built up, and I was tempted to pack up my stuff and move back to North Dakota on the spot.

This morning, I was struck by the awareness of the freedom and joy that overwhelms me. My peace has not come from a lack of trauma, but from allowing myself to be supported and loved through all of these messy circumstances. It is as if the air around me remains polluted, but I am able to take in deep breaths of fresh air.

Vulnerability has been required. The response of others has been necessary. Thank you for allowing the Lord to love me through you—whether it was a prayer, a smile, a hug, hearing out my struggle, not abandoning me in my tears, welcoming me with my weaknesses, unknowingly inspiring me, etc. When we allow the Lord to move, by simply being who we are, even the smallest of actions can be monumental in someone’s life. Do not underestimate what God can do through you. Be His beacon of light in the darkness—His glimmer of hope in the suffering—His gift of joy in the sorrow.


“Two are better than one … For if they fall, one will lift up the other;
but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.”
Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10

Who is God calling you to love today? How can you reach out more intentionally or listen more intently?


Who is God calling you to be loved by today? How can you open yourself up to receive their support?

Friday, December 1, 2017

Body

I once nearly died—but I did not experience nearly dying—I only experienced waking up. I was told by many that I should be grateful for not remembering such a traumatic experience, and I believed them. I thought I was wrong in wishing to better understand what happened to me—at the moment of the crash and throughout the following week. My fears of driving seemed to have no validity—I silently hesitated at every green light, and I quietly wrestled panic attacks when I was passenger in another’s car—but I did not speak acknowledgement of my fears. As I had not experienced the trauma, I did not feel I merited such struggles—I felt unworthy of the resulted suffering.

Despite my efforts to overcome the situation, I felt plagued by the desire to remember—to understand. It was a year before I was given an account of what happened that night. It was five years before I discovered I could have access to my medical records. Some people have graciously shared with me their sides of the story—whether of how they found out, or an encounter they had with me in the hospital during my memory gap. These moments have all helped immensely—and I still crave for more—but I know nothing can replace an actual experience.

It has bothered me so much that I have been so bothered, but I am finally starting to understand why. I do not remember the crash, and that is my traumatic experience. I suddenly woke up to a completely different reality! From my perspective, having no memory of anything that happened, that was it—NOTHING HAPPENED. Yet, there I was: broken.

Failing to understand how my life could so radically change without my awareness, I more or less checked out. I felt like I actually had died in the crash—I thought the only thing left of me was a body, and the body was not mine. It could not have been mine—it had weird scars and lumps, and it could not move like mine could. In my efforts to regain physical strength and get my body back, I became hopeless—I could not do what I could before, and as a result, my body became less and less recognizable. I hated it, and I blamed so many of my problems on its lack of perfection (not to imply that I was pleased with my body before the crash).

Over the past several years, I have been learning to accept my body, but that is all it has really been—an acceptance. I was not embracing it as part of me, but a problem that should be hidden—and for this I had multiple reasons. I do not know what happened, but this past week has been incredible. I started crying at two different times when I looked in the mirror. It was not like all of the times before when I have sobbed in disgust at my reflection. For the first time in over ten years, I recognized myself. It was not just an acknowledgement of becoming healthier since the healing of my spine four years ago, but I could see hints of the freely awkward child I was before I became restrained by wounds. I saw me, and I saw myself as lovable and good—not because my appearance was worthy, but simply because that is how I was created.

My body has not returned to how it was before the crash—it is not the same size, and it still has strange scars and irregularities—but it is the same body—it is my own. Over the years, I have had different revelations about the goodness and beauty of my body, but this was an experience. I cannot express how healing this has been already, and I know it is only the beginning. Body image has been a struggle for me beyond associations with the crash, and I know there are many areas that have now been opened for further healing—praise God!


Monday, November 27, 2017

Risking the Heart

I have lately been pondering that I must be the most weak and fearful person in existence—and it was finally something in which I could find delight. I am so in need, but God comes to meet me—He is my strength, and I desire it to be no other way.

For so much of my life, I have been afraid of my weaknesses—fearful to be limited by them—and paranoid of their exposure. I felt very deeply, and my emotions posed as a risk. They filled me with pain, and I thought it made me weak to show my hurt. I began to hide my feelings from others, and eventually from my own self.

I became numb. I clung to lies, and I trusted no one. I believed myself incapable of being loved, and affirmations agitated my spirit. God placed more and more people in my life who challenged my perceptions through loving me. Love conquers all, and God was able to again pierce my heart.

These past several years, I have been learning to feel again—learning to love and be loved. God has been showing me my heart. It is very broken, and all of the repressed pain can be tormenting, but once it is felt, it is released, and I am free.

I still often hesitate to feel and fail to express—resist to be known. I struggle to recognize the validity of my heart—that I am more than just a body—that God intended for me to be loved for all that I am—and to give love with all that I am.

When trying to accept my soul, I sometimes get confused and reject the goodness of my body. Instead of hiding emotionally, I hide physically. I might share reflections, but I run from encounters—I fear to be looked at. I know the truth, and I believe the truth, but I do not always see or feel the truth.

I do not wish to hold back anything I am meant to offer. I desire to be me—as God intended me to be. I am weak, and I am fearful, but I am loved, and I am good.


"..let no one think that I am a fool; but if you do, then accept me as a fool.."
2 Corinthians 11: 16

Your heart is worth the risk mine takes in being vulnerable. In what ways do you hide? How can you, too, accept your goodness?