To Be Useless, To Be Used

Next week we begin Advent, which is almost impossible to believe. This has been the longest shortest year I think I’ve ever lived. With so much lost and gained this year and Advent upon us, I’ve felt very introspective.

…if you come in touch with the experience of being used or the experience of being useless, you might in fact be close to a true Christian experience, or closer than you sought.

Henri Nouwen

I read this Henri Nouwen quote the other day and began to ponder being used.

As a mother, it’s easy to feel used. Used for sustenance from the moment of conception all the way up to the current demand for another snack. Used for entertainment and education. Used as a bandaid, comforter, referee, and umpire. Used as personal assistant, personal chef, personal trainer, laundry service, life coach, and living jungle gym. Much of motherhood and parenthood is thankless. I’m told that I’ll get my thanks later, when their own children give them a taste of their own medicine, but that’s certainly not guaranteed. I know I have plenty to thank my own parents for that I haven’t ever mentioned to them.

Regardless of promised future gratitude, parenthood is thankless and selfless in a way that I had never experienced before my first baby was placed at my breast to tear my nipple to shreds, to make me blister and bleed, all the while demanding more and more and more of me until I almost broke.

You don’t have to be a parent to understand this deep feeling of being used. I have a dear friend who has no children of her own due to infertility and life being stupidly unfair. She may not be a parent, but she knows the profound experience of being used in equally deep and nuanced ways. A recent employment experience in education has left her stripped the same way I’ve been stripped by mothering. Used by students, taken advantage of by faculty, abused by administration, dismissed and disrespected, she’s poured herself out over and over and over again for a mission she deeply loves, only to have her work labeled unnecessary or expendable by the higher ups who clearly have a different set of priorities. I cannot speak for my friend, but I think it’s safe to say her soul feels as raw and ripped as my breastfeeding nipples. I realize how weird a metaphor that is, but I stand by it.

I read that Henri Nouwen quote and began to ponder what it means to be useless.

Which of us has not deeply felt smallness this year? Who among us has not felt useless to some extent? Unable to affect change, weak, powerless, unable to understand or regulate our own emotions let alone those of others, we’ve all floundered a bit with uselessness. Perhaps we’ve lost jobs, lost elections, lost followers, lost hope that our little lives are able to make much difference in this big world of hunger, hurt, and hate.

I believe deeply in the power of the human soul, that each of us does truly matter, that little actions have huge repercussions…but these feelings of uselessness are real and valid. Part of the human experience, the feelings of uselessness are side effects of living in a society that values productivity over people. If we are not of some use to others, what good are we? If we have nothing of value to offer, do we even matter? This explains our willingness to ignore the unborn, the alien, the elderly, the ill. They cannot contribute in the world’s valuable currency of usefulness, so we turn away and leave them to fend for themselves.


But what does Jesus tell us of being used? Of being useless?

Surely Christ was used by many. How many people were healed in scripture who never returned to offer their thanks? I can imagine that there were many more healings besides those mentioned in the gospels that went unnoticed by anyone other than the Lord and the one he healed.

And on the subject of uselessness, there’s nothing more “useless” in the view of the world than a baby. Babies have nothing to offer, no contributions to make. They just take what they need and scream when they’re uncomfortable. (Could it be that we are more like babies than we’d care to admit?)

Perhaps the only thing more quantifiably useless than a baby is having claimed to be God and then being unwilling to remove oneself from a cross. What use is being the Son of God if you refuse to use that power when it counts?

For Jesus, this uselessness is everything. For us, it should be everything.

Being useless in the presence of the Lord strips us of everything we think we bring to the table: all the skills, talents, gifts, all the accolades and lessons we’ve collected from the School of Hard Knocks that we think make us valuable, all empty. Being useless in our relationship with Jesus requires us to acknowledge that everything we’ve placed our hope and personhood in is nothing compared to the man clinging uselessly to the cross that costs him everything and grants us eternity.

Allowing ourselves to be emptied out, to become useless and used is the crux of the Christian experience. We must learn to accept that there is nothing we can do or bring forward, nothing we can lean on of our own creation that will make us more valuable. There is nothing we can make, do, or offer that will make us more lovable. Just like a baby who does nothing to earn the love offered it, we are cradled against the eternal breast of a God who willingly breaks himself open for us again, and again, and again.

When we recognize this inherent value in ourselves, we are better able to empty ourselves for the other. When we pour out from the truth of our identity, we are free to be used by others, not expecting anything in return, not requiring thanks, praise, affirmation, or acceptance to confirm our worthiness.

Let me be clear. I’m not advocating for us to stay in situations and relationships that are abusive or that don’t honor our innate dignity. Knowing our identity in Christ allows us to recognize those times when others don’t. Accepting our identity in Christ grants us the ability to set boundaries and walk away when necessary. The distinction I want to make is that so often we cling to the thanks, we cling to the affirmation, and the comments, and the likes holding them up to the light and admiring them as jewels that define our goodness, but they don’t define a thing. They turn to dust in our hands and leave us feeling emptier than before. We’ve twisted our identity so that we think we are useless without these jewels the world offers us, but in reality it is our uselessness that makes us worth loving.


My friend and I both recently gained a new nephew and niece within days of each other. We’ve been sharing news of our sisters, showing off the new babies to one another. They are two of the most beautiful babies that have ever been born and we are not biased at all, thankyouverymuch.

As I’ve walked through days of heaviness and worry, these strings of baby texts have been a joy. Sharing pictures of new little humans smirking in their bassinets, speculating on their long term hair color, and which parent they favor most has been such a precious way for me to escape my own glum days and be overjoyed with new life.

As conversations usually go with this particular friend, our texts rambled through the agreement that gosh we’ve needed these babies: “babies are exactly what this world needs,” wandered through sharing our current struggles and worries about upcoming holidays, and ultimately circled back to Jesus.

At the end of our conversation about holiday worries and postponed family plans my friend said, “Jesus is born no matter what. What this world needs is babies, and one specific baby most of all.”

Babies are exactly what this world needs.

We need the weight of them against our chests to remind us of the heaviness of Love that leans into us, just longing to be close not because of what we can do but because of who we are.

We need babies screaming in the night, reminding us to cry out for our Father, reminding us to keep calling on him with persistence, screaming into the darkness until we are held in the strength of his embrace.

We need babies in our lives to remind us that we can love someone simply because they exist.

We need babies to remind us of our own uselessness, of our own dependence, our own frailty. We’re all just one diaper change away from sitting in our own mess again, aren’t we?

We need babies to remind us that time is irrelevant and, in the big scheme of things, schedules are unimportant. Degrees, trophies, books sold, career goals met, cakes baked, toilets cleaned, spreadsheets balanced…none of it impacts a baby.

You know what impacts a baby? Being held skin to skin against the heart of the one who protects them. That’s what impacts a baby. Babies gain security from being swaddled up and held tight by the ones who broke themselves open, body and soul, to deliver them into the world.

As we enter into Advent, we need babies.

We especially need one baby.

We need the baby to remind us of our uselessness, of what it means to be used. We need him to point us back to dependence and humility, to sacrifice and surrender. And in the great paradox of our faith, we need this baby to save us from ourselves.

We must become like the baby Savior in order to love and be loved in this wild and wicked world. We must find ourselves worthy in our uselessness, offering ourselves to be completely used up, wasted, and poured out for love of a King who comes to us as an impractical infant in a no-name town, born to an unassuming family that became little and lonely, unremarkable and undistinguished in order to change the world through far-reaching, radically humble love.

Used and useless is the space where we must dwell this Advent, swaddled in the paradoxical love of a weak and useless baby in a manger, resting there until he is completely used up for us all.

The Blind Will See

Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me. Have pity on me, a sinner.

The cry of the blind man in the Gospel of Luke is ringing in my ears today. Ringing in my heart, too.

Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.

The blind man was healed:

…”Lord, please let me see.” Jesus told him, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.” He immediately received his sight and followed him, giving glory to God.”

Luke 18:41-43 (excerpts)

Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me, a sinner. Lord, open my eyes. Relieve me of my blindness.

I realize now that when Jesus made the blind see, they weren’t just healed to see goodness and beauty, to be dazzled by sunsets and to see the faces of their mothers and to view the intricacies of the world around them, but that their new eyes would also see pain, witness injustice, view in an undeniable way the hurting of others. Their new eyes would see the blindness of others in an entirely new and nuanced way. The blind would see.

To whom much is given, much is required.

Today my prayer is that Jesus would break down all of my blind spots so that I might see and be converted by the suffering of others.

I pray that I would be granted the grace of vision, that I might see injustice and be moved to push back against it.

I pray that my faith would save me and grant me eyes to see poverty and to look at it with the gentle eyes of my Savior, gazing not with judgement, but with love.

I pray that I might be granted the grace to view these troubling times, this weight of history, the things that worry me, people who hold views that scare me, that I would be able to see it all through eyes that seek first the Kingdom of God and not my own comfort or my own understanding.

I pray that my heart would be transformed by the Son of David and from that transformation, that I would see, not only through my own lens of defensiveness and dismissal, but through eyes made clear by the One who sees us all purely and clearly in the light of eternal love.

Jesus, meek and humble of heart make my heart like unto Thine. Make my eyes like unto Thine.

Personal Litany of Truth

I stumbled upon an Instagram post the other day that was especially great, greater even than the posts of cats being scared by cucumbers or those people I watched doing a frantic mini trampoline workout, believe it or not.

The writer, Lauren De Witt, introduced the idea of writing your own litany of truths. Apparently she learned about it from a Moms in Peace workshop, which I know nothing about, but I’m determined to give credit where credit is due because girl power is a thing and I am here for it.

The basic premise is something that I preach to my doula clients all the time, but oooobviously neglect to practice in my own life. I’m real good at offering sage advice to others, but real sucky at taking it myself. C’est la vie.

Any time my clients are feeling worried, doubtful, or afraid I always tell them to remember what’s true. It’s so easy to let our worry and anxiety snowball until it gets bigger and bigger and buries us completely. But we can stop that shiz right in its tracks just by naming what’s true. Once you start naming what’s true, it’s amazing to see how many falsehoods you were starting to believe.

What reminded me of the idea of making a personal litany of truth is that yesterday I ill-advisedly watched an Insta-stories post by someone detailing their homeschool work load. Y’all, is there anything that’ll make you feel like crap more than accidentally stumbling upon someone who’s doing “life” better than you? (Clearly I need to take a break from Instagram, that’s what.)

Here’s the thing: the homeschooling mom I saw is doing an incredible job with her kids. She wasn’t even pretentious or ass-holey about her homeschooling success. She was really lovely and genuinely proud of herself for homeschooling for the first time ever during the time of Covid and ain’t nobody going to fault her for that!

But for some reason her post just hit me right in the most sensitive spot in my jealous gut, the place where I’m already predisposed to feeling like a failure or at least a fraud. Y’all, this woman could’ve chronicled her own clean laundry mountain and I’d have felt like mine wasn’t good enough (and we all know my mountain of clean laundry is the best, duh).

So, as I felt myself spiraling into a pit of comparison and negative self talk, I remembered the litany of truths! For once in my life, I genuinely took my own advice and that of wonderful Lauren from the internet and wrote down a list of solid truth.

I ended up breaking it down into sections because I can’t not be verbose. Here’s what it looks like:

Parenting/Home Relationships

  • My children and my husband are not my report card.
  • I am not responsible for making everyone happy, but rather I am responsible for loving well the souls left to my care.
  • My parenting and homeschooling are mine alone. I am not competing or comparing, not better or less than, just walking my own path.
  • I am not solely responsible for how my children turn out. I am a guardian and a guide on their way, but I am not ultimately in control of who they become.
  • My children are not a product I am turning out. They are people with their own free will.
  • I am not responsible for other people’s emotions. I can see their emotions and try to help them, but I am not responsible for the speed at which they process or whether or not they accept my offer of help.
  • Most things are not about me anyway.
  • I am one person. I cannot do it all. But I can ask for help and accept it.

Mental/Emotional Health

  • My body is the dwelling place of the eternal God. When I abuse it, I abuse His temple. When I protect and care for it, I am worshipping Him.
  • My anger cannot overcome or overpower me because it comes from me. Like a labor contraction, I can see it coming and ride it until it ebbs. It will subside just as quickly as it rises.
  • I do not have to give space to frantic, worried thoughts. When I feel them I can stop, be still, and know that He is God. I can do this through Christ who gives me strength.
  • Being a good steward of my gifts means I am allowed to devote time to my talents without feeling guilty.
  • Discipline is an act of faith.

Fundamental Faith Truths:

  • I need Jesus in the Sacraments to be whole.
  • When I am weak, He is strong. My growth is found in humility.
  • I am beloved, created by love, for love, with the mission to love while on this earth. Nothing I can do or accomplish can change that truth.
  • The forces of Resistance cannot overpower the One who is in me.
  • Every moment is an opportunity to choose love, to die to myself and my will, to step out in faith believing that while I am not in control, He is.

So, that’s my personal litany of truths. I’m going to keep it and maybe put it on my white board and probably sleep with it and tattoo it to my face. If you see me looking like Post Malone, you’ll know I just really need to remember what’s true, mkay?

I’ll probably add to and take stuff away, but I’m pretty jazzed about how good it made me feel to just write all that out. I highly recommend it as a simple, concrete way to feel better about life. This has been my PSA, please go write true things down and be good to yourself.

You can find Lauren De Witt’s original post on Instagram @thecontemplativehomemaker…she’s a real good follow and her own litany is just beautiful.

As always, I hope you know how wonderful you are, my friends. You’re really important and even more loved. So go put that on your own list of truth. That’s an order!

It’s Fine, We’re Fine, All Good, Definitely Great

Hey, gang! It’s been awhile…things are great here, why do you ask??

Look at this idiot. Just over here carrying the team, surrounded by piles of half packed away Halloween decor, shuffling through tangrams on the floor, blissfully unaware that laundry is falling out of the basket, just hoping that she’ll make it to Mount Unfolded that’s just out of frame.

Mercy, what a state.

Spoiler: Mount Unfolded consists of four other baskets of clean laundry that’s probably not clean anymore because of the amount of time it has been sat upon. And jumped upon. And stood upon. And rooted through. Pillaged and plundered, really. At this point, it’s just part of the furniture…like the pictures leaning against the tv stand that were taken down for a painting job and have remained leaning there for an eternity and will so remain until the Lord returns in His glory, amen.

So anyway, how are y’all, team? Everyone faring well? Are you fine?? Everything’s fine, I bet. I bet you’re great. You’re definitely not preoccupied with anything or carrying any tension in your shoulders at all. Probably not at all. You’re good. You’re great. Nothing to see here. Move along Mary Susan, we’re fiiiiine.

I’m just here to take a hot second to remind you that you really are great. Like, maybe not on the surface level, or even the mantle (that’s how it goes, right? Crust, mantle, core? Your girl needs to brush up on the layers of the earth, not gonna lie), but deep at your core you are truly great. You are. You were created out of love, to love, to receive and give love, and you are beautifully great.

You are great, especially in your smallness. You are good in your grubbiness and your anxiety. You are wonderful just as you are, just where you are, in all your fear, your hurt feelings, and your lumpy body parts.

You are great, do you hear me?

Let your identity sink in today, gang. Let yourself dwell for a little while in that space deep in your core that houses truth. Sit there and listen to the voice of truth reminding you that you are loved and you are good and you are wanted. Because, despite what the world may say, despite what the media is shoving down your throat and forcing through your eyeballs, that is the truth. You matter. You are precious. You are good.

And every mundane moment of butt wiping (your own or others’), or dish washing, or report filing, or shelf stocking, or paper submitting that you do today matters. It matters deeply because it is your opportunity to live out these little moments as acts of sacrifice, giving of yourself and your talents, offering the gifts you’ve been given to a world that may not understand or appreciate them. That is beautifully difficult, no? But it’s what Christ has called us to. He calls us not to be understood, but to be faithful. He calls us to love, not because others are deserving, but because they’re not.

Show up in faith today, darling friends. Show up even when you feel misunderstood, misrepresented, and miserable. Show up even though things are not perfect. Show up because others need your unique brand of light and beauty. Show up because we need your goodness in this world.

And if you’re really struggling to keep showing up, please know that you’re not required to show up in any one kind of way. Showing up can mean being a light on social media and it can mean quietly stepping back to tend to your own heart. Showing up can mean staying deeply invested in our world while establishing boundaries that protect you from people/profiles/media that prevent you from feeling peace. Showing up can mean retweeting and making calls and advocating and it can also mean watching cat videos and finding all the babies laughing on the internet. Gracious, we need all of that.

At the minimum, showing up means loving your neighbor and tending to the hearts that are entrusted to your care, not excluding your own. How that plays out in your own life is up to you.

Be gentle with yourselves, guys. Be gentle with the people around you. Rest in the truth that you were made good. You matter. I see you and I love you. And more importantly, so does He.

I believe in you and I’m rooting for you!

-Mary Susan

May Auld 2020 be Forgot

We’re on the cusp of the holiday season.

Don’t shoot the messenger, y’all.

I’m thinking we’re divided into two camps here: those who are burying their heads in the sand and avoiding all thoughts of holiday celebrations because they’re certain to be decidedly not normal and those who are chomping at the bit to get to the new year.

“Just get through the year” has been the rallying cry for so many as 2020 has dumped load after load of challenge, pain, injustice, and illness on us all. I mean, obv it has been a doozy.

It is completely normal for us to want to embrace that feeling of “just get it over with” and wish the rest of the year away. But I worry that this mindset is misleading us.

While I think it’s important to find ways to mark the passage of time in a dismal year, I also think that we can’t delude ourselves into thinking that the moment the clock rolls over at midnight on January 1, 2021 everything is going to be fine. I mean, it’ll be fine, but it might be this kind of fine.

https://www.theverge.com/2016/5/5/11592622/this-is-fine-meme-comic

So, what’s the game plan then, team? How can we avoid putting all our eggs in the basket of the new year and transition into 2021 with better(ish) attitudes?

Obv I have *all* the answers so here’s my official 2020 Holiday and New Year Survival Guide Trademark Forthcoming.


Acknowledge that we’re in now now.

It’s fine to look back and it’s fine to look ahead, but we’re in now now and that’s all we’ve got. Carpe diem, live laugh love, etc, etc, all we have is this moment and y’all should probably print that out and hang it on your bathroom wall.

Like it or not, this moment that we’re in is 2020 with all the trappings of chaos and craziness that come with it, but wishing our lives away will not change any of that. No new year is capable of providing the happily ever after we might be wishing for, so we’ve got to do our best with what we’ve got.

Decide how you want to handle the now that you’re in. 2020 has been hard. How do you want to spend the last months of it? How do you want to enter into 2021? Do you want to spend this time jumping into bitterness, envy, remorse, and fear like Scrooge McDuck jumping into his vault of gold? Or do you want to spend this last bit of the year cuddling up to gentleness for yourself and others? (I did a little exploring along this vein over at The Living Person if you’re interested in that little tangent.)

You’re not required to figure everything out, but I’d venture to suppose that the rest of the year won’t feel so empty and wasted if we circle the wagons and put forth the effort to guard our hearts. (Shout out to all my fellow bible college graduates who were told to guard your hearts in every chapel message ever of all time but kinda didn’t know what that meant.)

What this looks like is setting boundaries and identifying which things we want to give space to. I don’t weigh myself without checking in with myself first to make sure I can emotionally handle whatever that number says. (Haven’t weighed myself in months for this very reason.)

So, guard your heart. Check in with yourself before you look at the news. Are you willing to give head and heart space to the potential negativity you may find there? Check in with yourself before you read the comments, before you entertain that potentially intense conversation, before you head into that zoom call with that one person. Even if you can’t avoid the conversation or the meeting, you can set boundaries within it and make sure you’re giving space in your life to people and things that matter and respect you. It’s totally fine to say, “I’m sorry, I just can’t talk about (fill in the blank) right now. I’ll feel more peaceful if we stick to other topics,” and then you take a sip of your OceanSpray and move along down the road.

You’re not required to consume all of the media. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to read it or watch it or engage with it in any way. You’re allowed to step back. Odds are you’ve already developed your opinions and your mind isn’t going to be changed by a stranger on the interwebs. Odds also are you’re not going to change anyone else’s mind. (Insert cringy face and also please keep not shooting the messenger.)

I’m not saying we shouldn’t engage in challenging conversations and discourse with people who think differently than we do. What I am saying is that we’re not required to do that if we’re not up for it emotionally. If you walk away from a conversation, account, news outlet feeling furious, depressed, or hopeless, maybe don’t engage with that shiz in the future.

Curate your social media feed to be a place that fills you up and reminds you of the decency of humanity. Mute, block, snooze, unfollow until you achieve a peaceful scrolling experience. I suggest anything having to do with the Hebrides and/or following this guy. You’re welcome.

Don’t fall victim to the pressure of turning lemons into lemonade. I predict that there will be a ton of reflecting on “what we’ve learned from 2020” and “what the year from hell has taught us.” While I think it’s great to look back and see how we’ve grown, it’s also important not to put too much pressure on ourselves. It’s okay if all we accomplished this year is survival. It’s okay if we look at 2020, take stock of how we’ve coped, and realize that we struggled hard and are still struggling. We’re not required to come out of this year battered, bruised, but carrying earth shattering self-knowledge and a kickass sourdough starter. We’re allowed to come out just plain battered and bruised. We just are. The sooner we give ourselves permission to welcome the uncomfortable truth of our own unique experience, the better able we’ll be to heal.

Also I threw my starter away because sourdough is too much work and I’m not sorry.

Send 2020 out with a bang. Do something drastic and fun you’ve been wanting to do for no other reason than you can and it’s 2020 and I’m bringing YOLO back. Dye the hair, get the tattoo (Mom, don’t comment on that or I’ll send you a video of how far my eyes are rolling), run the race even if you have to walk it. Decorate for Christmas whenever the hell you want to and wear an old bridesmaid’s dress to eat Papa John’s on the couch and maybe also paint your front door orange? Surprise yourself by having a stupid amount of fun just because life is short and you should. Spontaneity is fun and it’s still a thing we can do even if things are weird or kind of hard.

It’s not about you. 2020 has been a year of isolation which has led a lot of us to do some serious introspective thinking. A little self evaluation can be helpful at times but can also result in us becoming a little too preoccupied with ourselves. We can all agree that we have been personally victimized by 2020 and if this year had a name it would be Regina George. But it’s super important to remember that it’s not about us. Anything we can do to draw ourselves out of our own self-focus is a win.

Make New Year’s resolutions, but not shitty ones. One way to remember that things are not about me is to make some New Year’s resolutions. Now, I’m no fortune teller and I’m going out on a limb here, but I don’t think 2021 is going to be the year that I start drinking all the water, or lose the weight, or whatever. But, it can be the year that I make it a priority to love others more! Here are some fun resolutions I came up with to remind myself that it’s not about me.

  • Adopt someone to love each month. Send them coffee money, mail a card, or text an inappropriate gif that will startle them into laughter when they’re hiding from their job in the bathroom.You don’t even have to know them! You could just pick a random residential address each month and send flowers to that house. Or send flowers to a nursing home with instructions that they be given to a resident who needs some happy. Whatever you decide to do, just pick one person each month to reach out to and remind that they matter.
  • Donate to a different nonprofit each month. Doesn’t have to be a lot of money, fam. Even $5 is helpful and will make you feel a little less helpless in this big bad world. I suggest checking out Beauty 2 The Streetz and Abide Women’s Health Services as good places to start.
  • Invest in a service industry professional. Maybe you feel guilty about getting a pedicure. Guess what? You’re allowing a person to provide for her family by paying for her services. That’s a gift. Maybe you feel weird about paying to have your house cleaned. Same thing. Perhaps you see the same cashier at WalMart every time you go. Guess what? Working there probably sucks some of the time (lots of the time) so do something nice for that person. Take donuts to the Aldi on a Monday morning. Bring coffee to the post office staff. Jump on public transportation just to pass out balloons to the driver. Challenge yourself to see the people who slip beneath the radar and show them some love.
  • Participate in the new challenge I just invented. I’m calling it Random Acts of Silly and I we’re gonna have a hashtag (#randomactsofsilly) and go around spreading silliness. I’m starting by ordering a giant pack of googly eyes to keep in my purse so I can stick them on stuff when I’m out and about.
  • Take up a new devotion. Set aside time to pray for others. This could look like making a list of intentions or just praying for general ones (local, national, and world leaders, those suffering in other countries, etc). I’ve recently been praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy (a devotion I’ve avoided because I’m too hip to do the thing that everyone else is doing please roll your eyes at me) and it 100% lives up to the hype.

That’s all I’ve got, gang. What would you add? How are you planning on handling the transition from 2020 to 2021? We didn’t really tackle the intricacies of holiday celebrations in this post, so if you’re at all interested in the ramblings of yours truly on the subject, just let me know and I’ll take a stab at it.

Either way, friends, you are loved. However you’re feeling about this last bit of the year and the idea of a new one approaching, you’re loved. You’re precious and important. You matter so much. We need you, just you remember that.

Nothing New Under the Sun

When I was a young student bright-eyed and optimistic, naively reading my bible on the quad at the Baptist university I attended Ecclesiastes never did much for me. It was too cynical a view of the world for my nineteen year old taste. But as I’ve aged and gathered a more full experience of life (particularly this year), the famous words of Ecclesiastes are an absolute vibe.

All things are wearisome, too wearisome for words. The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor has the ear enough of hearing.

Ecclesiastes 1:8

What my younger self deemed too depressing a sentiment, my mid-thirties self reads and thinks, “That’ll preach!”

All things are wearisome, too wearisome for words. Amen and amen. The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor has the ear enough of hearing. Like, did they have smartphones in the Old Testament? Because I swear this speaks directly to our plugged in culture.

Obsessive scrolling, consumption of media, furiously worrying thoughts, search bars, Twitter feeds, deep dives into subreddits. It’s never enough to quench our thirst for more information, more proof that we’re right, more evidence condemning the other side, more statistics, more people agreeing with us, more proof of approval, proof that acquits us of being in the wrong and places responsibility on others. We are weary, but we won’t stop. We are worn out and worn down, but we will not rest. An unceasing quest for justice is necessary, but I wonder if our collective search is actually for justice or for more compelling proof to throw in each other’s faces.

What has been, that will be; what has ben done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun! Even the thing of which we say, “See, this is new!” has already existed in the ages that preceded us. There is no remembrance of past generations; nor will future generations be remembered by those who come after them.

Ecclesiastes 1:9-11

Immaturity or lack of experience leaves us surprised when we repeat the sins of our fathers, whether those our forefathers or the fathers of our faith. It’s depressing to think that we’ve made so little progress as humans that we’re still struggling with the same garbage that they were wrestling with in the Old Testament. Though our world has changed and morphed through history, human nature remains unchanged. We have always struggled with jealousy, greed, pride, and envy. The powerful have always exploited the powerless. The Man has always kept the little ones down, there have always been struggling minorities, the least of these crying out for someone to step in and change things.

There is nothing new under the sun.

In the midst of these reflections, my house is being worked on. The basement walls in our hundred year old house are crumbling from water damage, the slow movement of time and water taking its toll on the structure holding us all up. So there’s a guy named Pee-wee down there scraping away the old and reinforcing it, cleaning away the debris and strengthening our walls. It’s all very metaphorical I’m sure, but for a guy who goes by Pee-wee, he’s seriously lacking a sense of humor and in its place is the most Ecclesiastical attitude I’ve ever seen. Upon meeting him, you can just tell that Pee-wee has seen some shit. There’s nothing new under the sun and literally nothing could surprise him.

I feel so heavy under all my observations about the world, that there’s nothing new, humanity and original sin will be wrapped up together embracing and struggling until the end of time. Plus, it’s hard to get excited about teaching children math facts and grammar rules in a house full of extra noise and chemical fumes.

And yet, I found out this morning that Pee-wee is a poet of all things. He wrote a book of poetry for his children in the 90’s, self published it, and signed over the rights to his sister who used all the profits to go to medical school.

Lord, you have been our refuge through all generations. Before the mountains were born, the earth and the world brought forth, from eternity to eternity you are God.

Psalm 90:2-1

To be fair, Pee-wee’s story has undeniably cynical undertones. He is a poet…and also he is apparently a former Army ranger who was shot by the drug cartel in Columbia and then discharged under strict command to never speak of what he saw (but that was over thirty years ago, so Pee-wee says what he wants). Pee-wee is estranged from most of his family, it seems, and he curses like a sailor, but not around the kids. I really like him.

And Tom, who is working on the upstairs bathroom, poked his head in to ask if the kids and I wanted to place the first tiles in the shower. He gave us his pencil and had us write our names on the backs of the tiles, each of us leaving our little invisible mark that I’m sure will go completely unseen when someone new rips it all out in the future.

There is nothing new under the sun. Humanity is still grappling, frustrated and angry that there is still injustice, still abuse of power, still hurt, and lies, and abuse.

There is nothing new under the sun. People are complicated and complex. Their stories still surprise us, there is still beauty in the most unexpected of people and the most unlikely of places. There is still kindness, still goodness, still the gentleness of men giving of their time and talent in microscopic ways that give us a glimmer of hope when everything else feels awful.

No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide you a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

Pride Comes Before the Fractions

We’re deep into the weeds of homeschool around here. I mean, we’ve been at this for a week and a half, and it feels like a lifetime. Now obviously I’m a newbie and I’ll be the first to say that I’m no expert, but…like, at what point in this homeschooling gig will suggestions and gentle corrections not be met with eye rolling and/or aggression from the pupils??

Asking for a friend.

J/k, it’s me.

I’m the friend.

I’m trying real hard lately to pay attention to my strong emotions and trace them back to their roots. It’s this new thing I’m doing called self-awareness. I highly suggest it, but also it sucks.

The situations that get my blood boiling most these days (aside from medical atrocities being investigated at the border and general worldwide awfulness) stem from semi-regular moments in instruction with the kids. (I’m not naming names here because the team is getting older and I think they deserve their privacy.)

It feels like there are moments when literally everything I say is dumb and every gentle correction is a personal attack. It also doesn’t help that their father can do no wrong. Dad is brilliant! Dad is funny! Dad is cool! Dad explains so much better! Dad buys us fruit roll ups!

Dad teaches them the exact same math lesson that Mom attempted (but cut short due to tears and theatrics) using the exact same examples that Mom used and they listen to him as though his words drip honey and claim they’re hearing them for the very first time.

If I sound like I’m jealous, it’s because I am.

I admit it, I am horribly jealous of the camaraderie the kids have with their father, especially when it comes to school. If I’m not careful I start believing the lies my jealousy is telling me so the jealousy grows into anger, then resentment.

It hurts that they don’t listen to me the way I think they ought to. It hurts to feel misunderstood and second rate. It hurts when the message I’m receiving from the kids is that what I’m offering is garbage.

I recognize that this sort of thing is a completely normal facet of the mother/child relationship. I grated against my own mother when I was their age. Shoot, I still do it if she offers me a suggestion! It’s growing pains and tough transitions and I get that. The kids are stuck in a house with me all dang day. Of course a different voice is easier to listen to; it’s literally the only diversity in teaching they’re getting so it makes perfect sense. Of course they resent my criticisms. No one likes to be told they’re wrong, especially by their mother.

But I’m still resentful. I’m still jealous.

When I dig even deeper, I see that there’s a part of me that struggles with what I can only identify as the “moms are dumb” vibe. Culturally, it seems like moms are always the butt of the joke. Moms are the overlooked, overworked ones and it feels like dads get to sweep in and have the fun and be exciting. Dad is novel and Mom is humdrum and I resent that a lot. I want to be fun. I want to be exciting. I want to be the one that everyone is thrilled to see. I want to be special, and listened to, and loved.


Just writing that out and stepping back is so helpful. Again I’m tracing these feelings back to their root and remembering what’s true. Upon further reflection, it’s easy to see how hollow that “moms are dumb” argument is. It’s just as culturally acceptable to present dads as the useless, bumbling ones. I mean, watch any sitcom dad ever, right?

I also have to recognize the other side of the coin, to give weight to the fact that my husband sacrifices time at home to provide for us, purely so that I can stay home and have the opportunity to teach our children. He is a novelty to them precisely because he’s not able to be here all the time like he’d rather be.

And honestly there are plenty of times that the kids do prefer me. My sweet husband has endured literal years of babies refusing to be comforted except by me, fed by me, cuddled by me. They come to me with their emotional wounds and worries while they connect with him in different ways. It’s completely fair and right that there are times when I’m not the best person for the job.

He can have math and video games, I guess, and I’ll take my heart to heart bedtime chats and book reading snuggles.

The truth is, these children need both of us. I am not enough on my own because I was not designed to do this alone. I have been gifted a partner who loves us all and who shows up daily to do this soul wearying work alongside me without complaint. What an absolute gift he is.

So the problem is not the children or the husband, but my own disordered desires for control and approval. This thing that’s causing me grief, these little moments in my day that cause me to boil over in frustration are mirrors into my soul, opportunities for me to examine my motives.

Am I teaching my children so that I will be liked or so that they grow in intellect and holiness? Am I allowing myself to believe a lie that pits me against my children and my husband? Or am I noticing the places in my heart that lack holiness and taking these as opportunities to do better? Am I quick to anger when my children push back, or am I leaning in to learn a new way to connect with them? Do I receive their contrary attitudes with my own eye rolls and impatience or do I view their pushback as a barometer of where they themselves are feeing inadequate and vulnerable? Am I praying for my family as I ought to be?

I’m not going to nail it every time. I think the desire to be approved of and appreciated will always be a struggle for me. Yet, motherhood is sanctifying. My ultimate goal and deepest desire is to get my kids, my spouse, and myself to heaven. If that requires less of me, more of my spouse, sharing the spotlight, deeply appreciating the souls in my care, and heaping lesson upon lesson of humility, then so be it.

Yes, this vocation is sanctifying me, but only if I let it.


When I’m particularly struggling with the sin of pride, I like to go over the Litany of Humility. It is hard to pray and even harder to pray with true sincerity. I often find it necessary to add, “Lord, help my unbelief,” to the end. You can find the prayer here. You are so loved my friends, even in your pride and your jealousy, even in your less than pretty moments, you are indescribably loved.

No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide you a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

Reentry

We recently got home from a week of camping. We were completely off the grid, no cell reception, limited chargers. We spent our days taking long hikes and our nights eating too many s’mores and trying to scare the kids by pretending to be the Wood Booger (my husband’s new favorite term for Sasquatch).

We watched meteors and consulted our nature guide to identify plants and critters, lost two footballs and almost one frisbee to the poison ivy infested border of the campground, and ventured out once to get soft serve from a place that had 25 flavors that all sort of tasted like banana. Bummer for the kid who ordered peppermint. It was heaven.

Coming home from camping is always so hard for me. There’s the depressing tasks of cleaning and putting away all the gear, tackling the laundry, bathing the filthy children, and getting back in touch with the “real world.” It’s really kind of awful any time we do it, but this year I’ve been particularly tender. 2020 on brand, for sure.

As we exited the winding, hilly roads and headed back toward the highway, one of the kids got carsick. He just felt so gross and got sick a couple of times, poor buddy. I felt that way emotionally. The farther we got from camp and closer to civilization, the more icky I felt. Plugging back in after spending a week away from social media and news headlines hurt my heart, but not in a way I’d have expected.

Two years ago we spent a week in Shenandoah National Park and I cried when we left because my heart was just broken for love of the place and I hated leaving such beauty. This time, I could literally feel my heart tighten up as the text messages and Instagram notifications started rolling in. My heart hardened into bitterness, comparison, judgement, anxiety, fear, and despair as I registered each new bit of communication that came at me: a friend’s mother-in-law passed away, pals in a group text tried to make sense of the requirements for returning to our Catholic school, a close friend updated me about an awesome estate sale that I missed. I was tagged in a ton of homeschool giveaways, targeted for ads selling books all the good homeschool mamas have to read. There was more rioting in Portland and Seattle, my sister is moving, my mom has feelings about that. I was inundated with examples of how everyone is setting up their homeschool rooms. My kids’ scout leaders need to know asap if we’re going to be part of the troops this year, some are in-person while some are virtual, so I need to sort through that, and also plasma might help fight the pandemic, and politics still suck.

It just all rolled in at once and I immediately curled inward like an angry, spiteful hermit crab who just found a bigger, stronger shell to haul all the negativity around in. Y’all, I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to be hardened by the world, spending my time feeling defensive, worried that I’m not measuring up, that I’m not doing enough, and withdrawing into harshness and judgement as a defense mechanism when I feel threatened and overwhelmed by the world. That’s no way to operate and that’s certainly not what God has planned for me, for us.

Because the truth is, when I allow myself to become hardened like that, I’m choosing sin over grace. Every time I let myself settle into the comforting embrace of quick anger, harsh language, judgement of the other, dehumanization, and despair, I’m choosing my humanity over the mercy of a Savior who died for it all. I’m choosing to put my eggs into the basket of fear, to spend my time compulsively checking to see if I’m measuring up to the standards set forth by a broken system, and offering my life on the altar of social norms rather than allowing Christ to sustain me.

Behold, you desire true sincerity; and secretly you teach me wisdom.

Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.

You will let me hear gladness and joy; the bones you have crushed will rejoice.

Turn away your face from my sins; blot out all my iniquities.

A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.

Do not drive me from before your face, nor take from me your Holy Spirit.

Restore to me the gladness of your salvation; uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:8-14

A friend asked me how our trip went and I confided in her how overwhelmed and tender I felt upon coming home. She immediately reminded me to ease in, not to do too much too fast. I think that’s so wise.

We need to give ourselves and each other the benefit of gentle time. There is so much to care about, so much hurt in our world, so many atrocities and injustices demanding our attention. All of those things are indescribably important. We’re called to care, to speak up, to pray, and to work for justice, but we’re not going to do anyone any good if the change we’re working for comes from a place of bitter, hard-heartedness.

My prayers today were for the Lord to soften my heart, that He would give me a heart of flesh in place of my heart of stone.

Lord, work great transformation in us, Break us, crush our bones, and build us ups again to glorify you. Break our hearts for what breaks yours. Open our eyes to your truth, to the beauty we squander when we forsake you. Reveal yourself to us and make us new creations through the living sacrifice of your Son.

When I went out to replenish groceries after our trip, I randomly visited the Adoration chapel. It was the first time I’ve been there since March. I was completely alone. The Tabernacle was closed so that the Precious Body wasn’t exposed before an empty room and I stood at the back of the chapel for a split second before I practically ran to open the doors to see Jesus. I knelt before Him and just sobbed for everything and nothing, offering my broken heart to Him and reveling in the experience of being with Jesus after such a long time. I honestly struggle to find the words to describe it. It was a real “water in the desert” experience, a feeling that I’ve never encountered before, a profound sensation of coming home and having permission to just be held by the One who knows me and loves me anyway.

So, I’m back home. I’m home and broken by the beauty we left behind, broken for the world we’re living in, and broken by gratitude for the God who breaks my humanity in order to build a stronger foundation in Him. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like yours.

I’m an Addict and So Are You

So, addictions are fun, huh? It’s so interesting to me how things that seem innocuous can somehow sneak into our hearts and set up shop. Whether it’s alcohol, shopping or, in my case, social media and food, these things walk right in and start selling their wares.

I’ve been struggling with my consumption a lot lately. I can’t stop myself from taking in garbage, compulsively filling my body and mind with substances that don’t nourish and ultimately leave me feeling dissatisfied and emptier than before.

They really sell it, though. My addictions are so compelling when they tell me that they hold the secrets to finding peace and comfort. The dopamine hit that I get from scrolling Reddit and Instagram combine with the hit I get from secretly eating three pieces of cold pizza after everyone else is in bed and it is comforting…for a moment.

And then the moment passes.

What my addictions hide in the fine print is the immediate shame, regret, and hunger for more that comes like tsunami completely wiping out the comfort. But then the cycle repeats because it’s just so easy. I know feeding my addictions won’t ultimately satisfy my needs, but gosh they’re so tangible and approachable. Scrolling for hours or stuffing my face with garbage candy are tangible things I can do and those things are so much easier to approach than taking time to wrestle with my confusing emotions.

I’m such a slave to the quick fix. I want results now. I want answers now. I want conflict resolution now rather than waiting and giving myself time to accept my reality, take stock of my emotions, trace them back to their roots, and consciously identify next steps. That crap takes forever and I don’t have time for it (read: I won’t take time for it), so I scroll and fill my mind with unhappy news, angry comment boxes, and fuel myself with comparison. And when that makes me feel like crap (because it always does), I root through my son’s leftover birthday candy or eat a half a jar of olives and hope it does the trick. Spoiler alert: it does not do the trick. Ever.

And y’all, I don’t know the answer to all of this. Lots of people have studied addictions and written amazing books and I’m working on reading some of them. I think the answer is as individual as the addict and I think that for me it’s a combination of prayer, self-awareness, doing hard emotional work, therapy, grace, conversations with people I love and trust, and lots of do-overs. Also taking part in the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation help, too.

Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV on Pexels.com

I was journaling and praying about all this this morning and I remembered an old quote. It’s the one that gets used a lot with school kids usually in reference to thinking before you speak. There are lots of versions, but the one that came to my mind goes like this:

Is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve upon the silence?”

Sai Baba

It occurred to me that this list of questions isn’t just a good model to follow regarding our speech, but also in how we conduct ourselves, how we treat our bodies, how we use our time, how we treat our earth, etc. So let’s take for example my struggle with food addiction.

Is it Kind? Is this thing I’m about to put into my body kind? Is it going to support my performance, help me grow in the ways I want to grow? Is this food/drink chemically supportive of my body or will it hurt me? Is this a treat that will genuinely hit the spot or is it a treat that will cause me to feel shame later? Just like I learned in college, any relationship you have to keep a secret is probably not a good one…and that goes for food, too.

Is it Necessary? Am I really hungry right now or am I eating for another reason? If so, it is more necessary for me to take care of the real root of my hunger than to numb it with food. Is this food necessary for my body to work properly, or is it an unnecessary snack that will hurt me? Is it really necessary for me to eat the appetizer/birthday cake/have the second helping or is this an opportunity for me to find a different way to celebrate or find contentment and peace elsewhere? Conversely, am I waiting to eat for a good reason? Am I pushing my body into deep hunger because I’m “busy” or punishing myself for yesterday’s choices? Would it be wiser to take the time to fuel my body now rather than pushing on and potentially making poor choices later?

Is it True? Is this food what it claims to be? Is it secretly full of junk or hiding stuff in it that doesn’t align with my goals? Is this food telling me that I’ll feel better after I eat it, even when I know that that’s false? Have I made this food into a false god or am I consuming it for what it is, just a food that exists. If it causes me to fall into a place where I am harming my body/mind and putting my confidence/comfort into that food, it’s not true to my morals, so best to skip it.

Does it Improve Upon the Silence? Will eating this food or at this particular moment improve my life? Will I truly benefit from consuming it or will it cause me to stray into a place that I don’t want to go? Is this desire to fill myself up with something come from a place of physical hunger or do I need to check in with myself or someone I trust to deal with the real hunger I’m feeling?

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

This is all easier said than done, obviously. But, guys, we’re all addicted to something. We’re all guilty of using something to numb the pain or uncomfortable feelings that inevitably come from life. These things usually aren’t dangerous in and of themselves (But sometimes they are…I mean, porn and drugs are pretty much never going to be helpful). However, it’s our relationship to these things that makes them dangerous. It’s so easy for us to fool ourselves and pretend that the thing we’re abusing isn’t as bad as all that. But if we’re dependent upon something other than God for comfort or coping, we need to be very honest with ourselves about what that says about the state of our hearts.

Maybe you think I’m overly sensitive or projecting my own stuff onto you and you’re welcome to think that. That may be the case…but I kind of doubt it.

If the only thing you post on social media is “funny” memes about how much you’re drinking or how much alcohol you need to “survive” your regular life, maybe you need to take a look at whether or not those jokes are actually funny or if you’re using humor to deflect a real problem.

If you’re buying yourself an extra treat at the grocery store and scarfing it down in the car so your family doesn’t know you ate it, you need to examine why that’s a behavior your engaging in.

If you’re spending too much money on Amazon and blaming it on the pandemic, you need to ask yourself what it is you’re trying to cover up with all those boxes on your porch.

If you’re secretly surfing porn at night and can’t stop yourself, you need to figure out what’s at the root of that void you’re trying to fill.

If you’re spending hours and hours staring at your phone, closing and reopening the same apps over and over, maybe it’s a good idea to examine your heart and see what it is that you’re trying to escape from.

This work is hard. It’s a long road and it’s lonely at times. Confronting our addictions forces us to confront ugliness in our hearts and that’s never pleasant. I’m no expert and I certainly don’t have my own addictions whipped, but I do know that being open and honest about who I am and where I’m at takes away the power that shame tries to wield over me.

At the end of the day, I struggle with food and social media addiction. That’s just the truth of it. But the other more important truth that I cling to is that I am beloved by my Lord. My addictions and struggles are an opportunity to grow in holiness. They can sanctify me if I let them. My addictions are actually crosses that can lead me to Christ if I allow them to transform me rather than control me.

One day at a time, my friends. You are loved exactly as you are exactly where you are.

A Light Read: Sobriety, Codependence, and Coming Back From the Edge

The fifth of July is a really special day for our family, but not one that usually get’s a lot of pub. This is mainly because July 5th conjures up some pretty painful memories and not all of it is my story to tell.

However, it’s a story that’s worth telling because it is an example of perseverance, answered prayer, and an incredibly faithful God. July 5th is my husband Vinnie’s sobriety anniversary. This year marks two years sober for him and I could not be more proud or grateful.

I checked with Vin before I wrote this post because I really wanted to make sure that he was okay with me sharing and that he read it all before I pressed the publish button. It’s really important for me to make this distinction because being vulnerable about alcohol dependence – or dependence upon any substance, for that matter – is hard. Really, really, hard. I’m incredibly grateful that my husband is okay with me sharing publicly. Because, here’s the thing: I know we’re not the only ones and it would be such a gift if we could be an encouragement to someone in a similar spot.

I’ve learned so much in our two years of sobriety. I could probably write and type and talk all day about the things I’ve learned and am continuing to learn on this side of alcoholism. But I’m going to try to reflect a little here and see where we get.

Vinnie is probably the smartest person I know. He is so clever and quick. He’s one of those guys who can figure out how to fix just about anything and we always joke that he knows just enough about enough things to bullshit his way through the rest and come out on top. I’ve never seen someone who’s able to turn nothing into something like Vinnie can.

When we moved to Cleveland from Florida, we were pregnant with our second baby, jobless, with few prospects. It was a low point to be sure, but Vinnie managed to find a job as a deli clerk at a grocery store and worked his way up from there. He became a journeyman meat cutter, then snagged a spot on the opening team of a new upscale grocery chain, then became the head butcher at a high-end steak house in town. Eventually, he worked his way up to sous chef at the restaurant and has since moved on to become one of the most highly trained butchers in the area. He’s really great at what he does and I’m so proud of him.

But what most people don’t know is how deeply dangerous the food industry can be, especially for people who are predisposed to depression and/or substance abuse. Vinnie checks both of those boxes off, so while he was succeeding and growing and advancing at work, it was in a toxic environment.

Restaurant life is brutal. The hours are abysmal. Employees arrive early and leave late. The pace is hectic and stressful. Good restaurant crews are able to create amazing food for countless tables, simultaneously balancing special requests, cook times, miscommunications, and endless complaints from obnoxious customers. The pay is low, the thanks are nonexistent, the hours are shit, requiring employees to work holidays and weekends, and success or failure is just one bad Yelp review away.

If you’re scheduled for late service “late” means 2 am some nights. And after you’re finally done with service, the party culture restaurants are famous for leads the crew out to drink either celebrate a good night or drown their sorrows. It’s common for staffs to leave work, party hard, then stagger back the next day hungover just in time to do it all again.

I only understand a shred of it because I’ve never personally lived it, but I have seen what it does to people and I know I’d never make it. No chance.

The restaurant industry chews people up and spits them out only after making sure they’re mentally, emotionally, and spiritually stripped bare and broken. It’s no surprise that the people who making the industry tick struggle mightily with mental health and turn to numbing behaviors to get by. It’s no way to live. We’ve seen friends deep in the cycle of drug and alcohol addiction and have lost some, too. People are dying, literally dying, and yet the industry gets no breaks. (If you want more information on this, check out this article that references some interesting studies and work being done to support people working in the food industry.)

Our story unfolded somewhere in the middle of all of that. When I look back at what we got through, what Vinnie survived, I am just floored by how lucky we are. We dodged the bullet in a lot of ways and all by the grace of God.

Man can fly from everything in nature, but he cannot fly from himself.

Venerable Matt Talbot

We’ve been married 11 years now and a lot of that time was spent in denial. We both knew there was a problem, but neither of us wanted to address the elephant in the room. Add to that the fact that we had four babies in five years, lots of stress and job changes, and the grinding culture of restaurant and retail work, and you can see how we became more and more dependent upon our addictions. His was alcohol, mine was food.

During the worst of it, I was deeply struggling with codependency, something I’m only now fully realizing and continuing to work through. It was really easy for me, the non-alcoholic, to feel smug and self-righteous because I wasn’t doing anything “wrong.” But the more things spun out of control for Vinnie, the tighter I tried to control it. I micromanaged and nagged and obsessed and stalked. I compulsively checked his text messages and looked for any excuse to catch him doing something wrong. I obsessively talked about it with my best friend in Texas, rehashing arguments and airing a laundry list of worries, complaints, and fears. Weirdly, this behavior made my husband pull away from me.

The one thing I got right in all this was that I prayed. My prayers may have stemmed from a place of fear and control, but the deep desire of him being stripped of dependence on alcohol and falling into dependence on God was real and pure. I became good friends with St. Joseph and St. Monica. I prayed novenas and rosaries, offered masses, and begged the Lord to deliver us, to heal our relationship, and to save Vinnie’s life. While I frequently feared for his physical safety, I was desperately afraid for his soul and my deepest desire was for Vinnie to see his own worth, to be known and held by the Father.

I need to let you know, though, that my prayer life wasn’t perfect. There were plenty of times when I let my resentment, pride, and anger stop me from praying for him as I should have been. My heart has been hardened and broken too many times to count. While this is a story of Vinnie overcoming an alcohol addiction, it is also a story of me being humbled over and over and over again, learning to listen and to surrender it all to the Lord.

Eventually, I started going to therapy. Y’all, every damn person needs to go to therapy. Yes, that means you, too. If you haven’t tried it, you are seriously missing out. Self awareness can be harsh and hard, but it is so healing. We can’t expect to effect change in our relationships until we identify and take responsibility for our own negative behaviors.

In the darkest part of this journey, I was so worried about controlling my children and husband so that we could check off the boxes to show we were doing things “right” that I wasn’t taking care of myself. I became a person who was only as happy as others were with me. I blamed myself for everything. It was my fault that the children didn’t behave. It was my fault that he had to work such long hours. It was my fault that he was drinking so much. If I were a better wife, he wouldn’t do that. If I were a better mother, they would act the way they were supposed to. I was caught in a cycle of self loathing and self pity, and it wasn’t pretty. I was desperate to control everything and furious that it wasn’t working. I was murdering myself to make everyone else happy and then completely filled with resentment when they weren’t miraculously joyful.

My therapist taught me the mind-blowing truth that I’m not in control. Then she took it to the next level and told me that I’m not responsible for anyone else’s emotions. And then she told me that I can only control the way I choose to react to situations and that maybe, just maybe, not everyone else processes things as quickly as I do. It was revolutionary.

I did a lot of hard work to stay in my lane and to take responsibility for myself. Allowing others to make their own choices and letting them experience the repercussions of those choices has been the number one game changer in how I approach parenting and my marriage. I will struggle with this for the rest of my life, just like I struggle with my own numbing behaviors and unhealthy relationship with food (a post for another day), but just being able to name the thing has been life altering. It’s hard to fight a battle when you can’t articulate the thing you’re fighting.

And that was when we had the breakthrough. It was the ugliest, most depressing July 4th of all time and I won’t go into a lot of detail on the particulars, but at the end of that day I put it all down and told him he got to choose. And he chose us. On July 5, 2018 my husband signed up to receive emails from Alcoholics Anonymous and started the process of getting help.

And then we lived happily ever after…in an alcohol saturated culture where it’s almost impossible to go against that stream. Vinnie decided to get sober while he worked in a place that kept whiskey on hand for the sole purpose of staff drinking. He decided to get sober in a country where it’s culturally expected that you drink under all circumstances. Celebrating something? Have a drink! Having a tough time? Have a drink! Want to have fun? Have a drink! It’s more fun! Want to relax? Have a drink! You’ll be more chill! Want to be hip and masculine? Have a drink! This one has a beard on the can! Are you the mom of small children? Rosé all day, mamas!

During his first few months of sobriety, we had to navigate a lot. Birthday parties held in bars, holidays, explaining over and over again that he quit drinking and then dealing with the absolute weirdness that comes from saying that to another human. Fam, if someone tells you they don’t drink, please don’t feel awkward. Just say, “Cool!” and move on. They probably don’t care if you drink. They’re well aware that other people don’t have the same problem that they do and they don’t expect the entire world to stop drinking just because they did. Alcoholics live with this unfairness every day. You’re nothing new. If you do want to abstain around them, that’s incredibly kind and we thank you, but don’t make a big thing of it. Maybe just congratulate them and then talk about something else. It doesn’t have to be weird unless we make it weird.

In all of that, Vinnie just went cold turkey. We got better at communicating and giving each other permission to feel how we feel. I started fighting my own addiction demons, which kind of made us feel like we were more on the same team. We started making our faith more of a priority together and we have scraped and crawled and grown so much in the last two years.

Obviously the struggle is not over. There will always be days when Vinnie wishes he could drink. There is often a feeling of being left out of the club and sometimes the awkwardness takes us by surprise. But he will be the first one to tell you how awesome it feels to not be hungover on July 5th (or any other day, for that matter). We’re going to be working on this for the rest of our lives and that’s okay. We know what it looks like now to look our ugliness in the face and give it to the Lord. We’ve confronted a lot of demons and are living witness to the fact that God is faithful. He loves us, He hears us, He pursues us, and redeems anything.

Our story is not over. God is still healing and working on our hearts. I can only say it is such a privilege to have been chosen to be Vinnie’s wife. I have seen him look his demons in the face and fight for life. I have seen him grow into the husband and father I knew he could be when I first fell in love with him. I have seen him come back from the absolute brink and I have been generously given back the husband that I lost to alcohol. I pray that I may be made worthy of my vocation as his wife and the mother of our babies. I pray that we would both be given the grace to carry our crosses well for the greater glory of God and I am so thankful that God can use even this to reveal His love to us.

If you’re in the middle of a dark place, take heart. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an expert and I obviously realize that your story won’t necessarily play out like ours has, but regardless of how things are resolved, you’ll never regret pursuing God first or taking responsibility for yourself. If you’re struggling, keep going. Things won’t get better overnight, but healing does come. Fight for your spouse. Hold them accountable and hold yourself accountable, too. On this side of alcoholism and codependence, I can assure you that the benefits are worth every single minute of struggle.

Yes, in all my striving, He is both the rest and the restoration I seek.

Megan Hjelmstad for Blessed is She

Resources: If you’re a book person and want to dive into addiction and codependence I suggest starting with The Book of Waking Up by Seth Haines and Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. Even if you think you don’t personally struggle with either, I’d be willing to bet that you’ll identify with some of what you find in these books.

You can also hear Seth Haines featured on the Fountains of Carrots podcast, which I highly recommend.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

You are loved, you are loved, you are loved. You are deserving of the goodness that comes from a life free from addiction.