Labor Day

So, tomorrow’s Labor Day. Holla for a day off of work and a nice chance to celebrate the end of summer! But also, can you give me the history of Labor Day? I mean, if you can tell me something beyond, “It’s about labor unions and workers rights, right?” then you get gold stars. But I’d venture to guess that most people don’t know much beyond that. I honestly don’t.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

U.S. Department of Labor https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history

So, there’s that. Doesn’t honestly tell us much, but there you go.

Obviously, my chef/butcher husband is working on Labor Day. That’s our normal and I’m used to it after him being in the food service industry for so long. It’s never unheard of for him to work weekends and holidays, whatever it takes to make sure everyone else’s celebrations go off without a hitch. We’re cool with having a flexible schedule around any holiday.

What I will never be used to is the number of unkind, entitled, disrespectful fools who he encounters that treat my husband and his staff as though they’re lesser life forms. I have a real hard time knowing that my husband is working 12 hour days so that people can tell him the work he does isn’t good enough, speak to him in a demeaning tone, and complain that the offerings aren’t up to snuff for their party, and then waltz out wishing him a happy Labor Day.

I’m sure many of you reading are as incensed as I am over this sort of thing. But that’s just all in a day’s work for people in the food service industry.

Customers think that they’re allowed to speak down to staff, send food back, complain about imaginary issues, and weaponize Yelp reviews so that they get what they want. Businesses are held hostage by the expectations of customers and employees suffer.

So, what does that mean for your Labor Day? I certainly don’t mean that you shouldn’t enjoy your day off or that you should feel guilty (unless you act like an asshat to people serving you, then you sure as shit should feel guilty).

What I mean is that we have an opportunity. We can observe Labor Day as a fun day off and end it there, or we can make it a day of remembrance. Our family is going to take time today to remember and pray for all of the people we’ve know and loved in the food industry that have been lost to suicide and substance abuse. We’re going to pray for change and donate some money to a charity that promotes mental health resources and offers monetary support to food service workers. And we’re going to enjoy ribs and chicken together once my husband gets off of work.

Labor Day is a chance for you to check in with yourself. Do you see people in the service industry? Do you really, really see them? Do you treat them with respect, humanity, and dignity or do you take out your frustrations on them because they can’t talk back? Do you honor them by fighting for fair wages, health benefits, and mental health support, or do you just take for granted that your meat is cut the way you want it or you dinner can easily be dropped off on your step via Door Dash?

Obviously, this goes for other industries, too. Do you slow down in construction zones or do you have a bad attitude when you have to wait on a road that’s being repaired? Do you take time to actually engage with your cashier at the grocery store or do you micromanage how they bag your groceries? Are you as quick to give grace to the customer service rep on the phone as you are to lose patience? Do you take time to pray for the workers who harvested your food or do you waste the fruit of their labor?

There are a lot of invisible middlemen in our country, people who sacrifice their very lives so that the rest of us can live comfortably and enjoy our time. I can’t speak for every single person working in the service industry, but I can speak for the man in my house. He gets up and goes to work because he believes in the job that he’s doing. He is motivated by creating quality products that enrich lives. He wants to be a small part of your Labor Day celebration and your weeknight dinner. He shows up early and stays late because he believes in the importance of wholesome meals and family dinners. Ultimately, he’s doing his best to provide for his family just like you are yours.

That’s the goal of every industry employee we’ve ever met: to provide for their families as best they can. The job is grueling, physically and mentally draining, and thankless. So, this Labor Day, do me a favor and be a decent human? Take a minute to see and value the work that’s done to benefit you. Challenge yourself to see more and do better, to hold other shoppers accountable, to be a light in a world that so quickly undervalues folks who aren’t working the “good” jobs in the sexy roles. They’re people, too, wildly deserving of our admiration and appreciation. Even if they get our order wrong, even if they’re tired or slow, even if the service isn’t perfect. Even then, especially then, they’re valuable and deserving of grace.

Happy Labor Day, friends…you are so incredibly loved!

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.

Decisions, Decisions

Well, everyone on the internet is talking about it. Everone’s plan for educating their children this school year is taking up quite a bit of bandwidth these days.

And as with everything 2020, this shiz is super polarizing.

Like, if you are considering homeschooling, you must obviously be anti-public school, and anti-teacher, and you probably don’t even appreciate what schools do for everyone, and guess what, now you have to fight Ms. Frizzle in a cage match because you’re such a horrible human.

Also, if you’re sending your kids back to school, I don’t even know how you sleep at night knowing that you’re offering your children up as actual sacrificial guinea pigs in the science experiment of life and you clearly don’t love them, you monster.

I am happy to say that, as for me and my house, we have come to a decision.

And because everything is so polarizing and high stress, I almost feel like we’re required to make an official announcement like LeBron did when he decided to take his talents to South Beach. Like, this is so high stakes clearly a serious announcement on tv is the way to go.

Do y’all remember when this happened?? It was maybe the single most awkward television interview I’ve ever seen. There was so much build up and it was so anticlimactic and disappointing for everyone in Cleveland and just indescribably cringy all the way around. Shudder.

So, obv I want to duplicate that in my own life.

Unfortunately for all of you lovely people, I could neither secure a television deal nor a Boys and Girls Club of America from which to film said tv special, so the ‘ol blawg will have to do.

Ahem.

I am pleased to announce that the Delagrange family will be taking our talents to……..the basement. And maybe the kitchen table. The backyard is also a possibility, weather permitting.

Yep. We’re going to homeschool for this school year and guess, what? Our reasons for making this decision really don’t matter. I mean, I’m happy to share our reasoning with anyone who genuinely cares, but y’all, it really does not matter.

You are not required to agree with me and I’m not required to agree with you. Our families are different, our needs are different, our hearts are different, and I guarantee we’re both doing our best. And that is enough. We do not need to agree with each other to love on and support one another.

Lemme say that a little louder for the people in the back: We do not need to agree with each other to love on and support one another.

I got this text from a friend the other day, and I 100% stand by my response. Mainly because she told me I’m smart, but also because I think I’m right and I’m not afraid to toot my own horn.

I hope y’all have a friend to text vent to…this is one of our less spicy text threads, I can assure you, and it is so delightful to spew my vitriol to a pal who won’t judge. So clearly my friend and I get a little heated when we’re texting. She does not hate everyone (all the time) and I don’t think everyone is dumb (all the time). But I think our strong feelings pretty accurately depict where we’re both at right now.

It is beyond frustrating to feel like every single decision is the wrong one. It is irritating and annoying to feel like every move we make regarding our family decisions are fodder for the judgement of others. It is exhausting to be constantly worrying, worrying, worrying about making the right choice only to open up to someone and have them poo-poo it like it’s the dumbest thing they ever heard.

I deeply believe that most people share opinions and advice because they’re seeking validation of their own choices. I see this with my doula clients all the time. People tell expectant mamas they absolutely must get an epidural or should absolutely never get one because they want someone to affirm that their own decision was the right one.

Guess what, that’s bull slaw.

Guys, there is space for all of the decisions.

I mean, if your plan is to lock your kid in the attic with a tablet and some Lunchables, I’m probably going to say maybe rethink that one. But otherwise, you need to do what’s best for your family. Your family. Not your neighbor’s family, not your cousin’s family, not your old maid aunt’s imaginary kids and family. Yours. That’s it.

And here’s another strong opinion to shake things up: If someone makes a decision that’s the opposite of yours, it does not mean your decision is wrong. It just means it was wrong for that other person. And newsflash, you can still be kind to someone who is making a choice that isn’t right for you. You can. I’ve tried and it works.

Guys, every single parent in the United States is feeling some sort of way right now. We are collectively stressed, worried, tired, and terrified we’re going to ruin our kids. It’s like a regular day of parenting only with the added perk of a global pandemic. We are all doing our best. My best is probably not the same as your best, and that’s okay. It matters much less how many people agree with my decision to homeschool than how many people feel seen, loved, valued, and supported.

I have friends who are planning to educate their kids in all sorts of different ways this year. I actually know one other person who is homeschooling for the same reasons I am and every single one of my best friends is doing something else. I’m pretty sure my very best friends all disagree with me on some Covid fundamentals, and we’re still friends.

It is pure foolishness to expect other families to make the same choices as mine. We’re all working with a supremely shitty situation and shaming, judging, and vomiting opinions at everyone will not help one single bit…

…which is why I’m done spouting my opinions all over the internet. Y’all, go be a good human. Do what’s best for your kids and give others the space to do what’s best for theirs. We’re all going to be just fine as long as we remember to treat each other with dignity and love. No matter what shape our kids’ education takes this school year, let’s let it be rooted in love, okay?

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.

For Such a Time as This

I had a really rattling experience the other day and I’ve been trying to decide if it’s worth sharing because it’s so layered and nuanced. I’m going to go ahead and share it with the caveat that I don’t have the answers, y’all. I don’t usually share too much political or potentially political stuff on this platform but I want to share this story because it’s important. I need to start by saying that I don’t expect you to agree with all of my feelings about this situation, but I ask that you disagree with charity. Also, this is going to be a real long post, so hang on to your butts.


So the other day I was driving my eldest to piano lessons and I had all the kids in the car. We were traveling down a street and I looked over and noticed that there was a man kneeling on the ground about a block ahead of me. As I got closer I saw that he was a large black man on his knees on the sidewalk just sobbing. Like, absolutely wrecked, entire body shaking, full on sobbing.

Y’all, it was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. And I couldn’t just leave him there. But also, I had all my children in the car which always makes me nervous any time I’m tempted to interact with strangers on the road because you just never know. So I wasn’t 100% comfortable with stopping, but I was 1000% not comfortable leaving him.

So I turned around and tried to get back to him, but the streets in that area are all wacko and weird about where you can turn so it took me a minute and I ended up only being able to turn left and approach him from the turn lane. I rolled down my window and called to him, “Sir, are you ok? Do you need help?” and he just looked up at me and didn’t reply. I was pretty certain that he had been drinking since he was swaying a lot and was uncommunicative. I couldn’t stay in the turn lane much longer so I tried to turn around again all the while desperately wracking my brain to figure out who to call.

Normally, I’d just call the police, but that felt all wrong. (This is where you might disagree with me and that’s ok.) As far as I could tell, this man was committing no criminal activity (aside from possible public intoxication), he wasn’t causing a disturbance, hurting anything or anyone, and I just really feel like if you’re in a place in your life when you’re drunk and sobbing on the sidewalk, the last thing you need is a ticket for being drunk and sobbing on the sidewalk.

And honestly, I think that the police in that part of town would probably have been incredibly helpful. However with the current climate in our country, I just didn’t really want to risk things escalating when this situation didn’t necessarily warrant police assistance. I have never felt so stuck, so unable to find a solution, or so helpless. I was crying and praying and circling back to pull over again when I saw that someone else beat me to it.

I pulled up to a stop sign and looked over to see that there was now an older white man holding the black man in a deep, deep hug.

While I was turning around, this older white couple (who could’ve been poster models for the “Boomer” generation) got out of their car and approached this wounded black man on the sidewalk, picked him up, and held him. And it was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a long time.

To be clear I’m not sharing this to say, “hooray for white people coming in and saving the day for this poor black man.” This isn’t one of those situations where you get extra credit for doing what you’re supposed to do in the first place. However, in a world where a lot of what we see is the ugly and the nasty, it was really wonderful to see humanity show up in a positive way. It was such a blessing to me to see such opposite sorts of people be so vulnerable with each other and it showed me a new layer of my own privilege and prejudices.

The entire thing left me feeling shaken and upset that I felt unable to help this man. That morning before all this happened I had made an Instagram post about how everyone at home was crabby and I was girding my loins by wearing a shirt that says “Perhaps you were made for such a time as this,” and my Stella Maris medal. If you’re not familiar, the shirt references the book of Esther and Our Lady Stella Maris is the Star of the Sea, symbolically guiding and pointing our ships to Christ through the storms of life.

Later, after piano lessons, I got a message from my friend, Meredith, who wanted to share with me a piece that she wrote for her church newsletter. In it she talks about the very scripture in Esther that my shirt references. I’m going to just go ahead and share Meredith’s piece with you because it is just so good and I can’t bear to choose just one quote.

So, here’s Meredith:

Esther was living in tumultuous times – the Jews were in danger, rulers were corrupt, everything felt risky, and she, a single individual who felt very unqualified, chose to be brave and stand on the foundation of her faith.  I’m sure in that moment, when she went to stand before the king, she felt like I often do – stomach in knots, shaking hands, and that nagging feeling that none of her efforts would make a difference, anyway.  But for those of us who are sitting here in the summer of 2020, we look back and we know: it made all the difference in the world.

“For such a time as this.”  What relevant words!  Throughout the ages, the saints of God have been standing on his promises, declaring the truth, standing up for justice and mercy, and proclaiming the gospel to the next generation.  They did it in the book Acts, as the early church spread like wildfire.  They did it during the early years of this country, as they helped each other to freedom on the Underground Railroad and did not give up hope.  They did it during World War II, hiding Jewish families in their homes and risking their lives for what was right rather than what was easy.  They did it in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis, as they cared for the sick despite the sacrifices involved.  And they did it in all the times between, in the uneventful years, when wars were ceased and times were calm, as they pointed to Jesus in the everyday living.  

It has struck me recently that we are the saints chosen for “such a time as this.”  We are part of this enduring story that started with those early Christians and has passed along down generations of families.  We’ve had our faults and our failures, but the truth of the gospel has remained steadfast, and throughout wars, famines, disease, and unrest, the saints of God have stood firm on his Word and proclaimed the truth that we have hope and that all will one day be made new.

And here we are. We are living in a time of sickness, political unrest, and racial disparity. We are holding the torch – we are carrying the baton in this moment of history.  How will we, like Esther, stand firm, despite our shaking hands and nagging doubts?  For me, I will tell my children about the good God that I serve.  I will encourage others.  I will not stop standing on the truth that I know brings healing.  

One day, my great-great grandchildren will look back at this time, and it will seem like vague history – that’s ok. But I hope that these great-great grandchildren will be carrying the torch of faith with them as they face whatever trials they are facing.  I hope that my choice to stand firm on the promises of God will be the link in the chain that makes all the difference.

Meredith Priset

Guys, I don’t know the right answer to heal our broken country. I have a hunch that it’s a billion little answers that are nuanced and complicated but equally rooted in the Truth of love. I am never going to be a political mover and shaker. I will never be a lobbyist or a pundit. Just like Esther, Meredith, and so many before me, I most certainly am going to be unsure and hesitant about my role and will most likely feel ineffective and helpless again and again just like I did the other day.

But I am clinging close to the truth that we are building a cathedral. Each small act of justice, every whispered prayer, all of the tough conversations with children, the letters written to law makers, each and every interaction of love between strangers is more brick and mortar building us all up to heaven.

We were made for such a time as this, to bear witness to the Light. And when we see Light shining in the darkness, it is our responsibility to illuminate it further and to keep laying more foundation like all those who have come before us, one brick at a time.


“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household fo God, built upon the foundations fo the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

Ephesians 2:19-22

Healing

In light of current events, I’ve been overwhelmed with emotion. I’ve often felt frightened, anxious, ashamed, convicted, angry, resentful, and confused. I’ve had a hard time making sense of things and have prayed for cunning eyes and the grace to see Truth amidst the many voices and headlines that seem to assault me every time I glance at my phone…which is basically every spare second of my time because I’m an addict. Working on it.

In response to that, I’ve been trying to be more disciplined about reading Scripture. Every day I try to start my morning by reading the day’s readings and devotions I subscribe to. I’ve been opening up my bible to read the scriptures in deeper context and to take time to really meditate on them instead of just reading them on my phone. It has been a life-giving practice.

I rarely have a hard time finding a way to connect with the day’s readings, but today the readings just gutted me. It was like they were written specifically for this very moment in history.

My eyes are spent with tears, my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground at the brokenness of the daughter of my people, as children and infants collapse in the streets of the town.

They cry out to their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” as they faint away like the wounded in the streets of the city, as their life is poured out in their mothers’ arms.

To what can I compare you – to what can I liken you – O daughter Jerusalem? What example can I give in order to comfort you, virgin daughter Zion? For your breach is vast as the sea; who could heal you?

Your prophets provided you visions of whitewashed illusion; they did not lay bare your guilt, in order to restore your fortunes; they saw for you only oracles of empty deceit.

Lamentations 2:11-14 NAB

Gracious, if that isn’t relevant. I’ve never really spent much time in Lamentations, because honestly it’s not very pleasant. I’m definitely guilty of seeking out scriptures of hope and promise and avoiding the uncomfortable ones. The introduction to Lamentations in my bible says, “…the reader is not so much engaged by the Book of Lamentations as assaulted by it.” I feel the same way about the news every dang day. “But with its unsparing focus on destruction, pain, and suffering the book serves an invaluable function as part of Scripture, witnessing to a biblical faith determined to express honestly the harsh realities of a violent world and providing contemporary readers the language to do the same (emphasis mine).

I think that’s where we are, friends. Or at least that’s where I am. I feel assaulted by the pain, horror, injustice, and evil in my country and overwhelmed by the fact that it comes from all sides. But I’m learning that I have to lean into the uncomfortable parts of life in order to grow. I have to examine my own heart, to identify my personal responsibility, look my sin in the face, and make it right. I’m heading to confession today.

I don’t understand the world. I don’t have all the answers and I have failed so many times. I feel pinned and inadequate, ill-equipped to grapple with the things going on in my country and paralyzed by the fear that whatever it is I do, it will never be “right” or “good enough.”

But here’s what I do know. Racism is a horror, an unequivocal sin, and a blight on our culture.

I also know that there’s a difference between justice and vengeance.

I know that we are all sinners and we are all deserving of mercy. Everyone.

I know that nothing will heal us but God, and that we’re not all called to fight injustice the same ways. But just as with the book of Lamentations, I am called to look sorrow and pain in the face and to listen. Everyone is allowed to feel their feelings, even if those feelings aren’t easy for me to understand or agree with. The only way forward for me is to push into the pain and to pray.

Cry out to the Lord from your heart, wall of daughter Zion! Let your tears flow like a torrent day and night; give yourself no rest, no relief for your eyes.

Rise up! Wail in the night, at the start of every watch; pour out your heart like water before the Lord: lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who collapse from hunger at the corner of every street.

Lamentations 2:18-19

Right now my heart feels like the Centurion in today’s gospel (Matthew 8:5-17): “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” I know that I am unable to heal anything on my own, unable to affect change without first being healed myself, without being radically transformed by Christ.

Healing is the central theme of the gospel and healing is what our world so desperately needs. Today in Matthew, Jesus heals the Centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and many more:

When it was evening, they brought him many who were possessed by demons, and he drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick, to fulfill what had been said by Isaiah the prophet:

‘He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.’

Matthew 8:16-17

He’s here to heal us, friends. We’re never going to conquer evil or injustice or pandemics without looking into our hearts with humility and honesty, taking responsibility for our place in the world, and opening ourselves to the healing light of Christ.

We have to boldly seek truth, realizing that political leaders and organizers of movements may not be completely rooted in gospel truth, regardless of whichever cause they serve. We have to develop open hearts and cunning eyes, constantly checking in with Jesus. He must be the only one we serve, not politics, parties, or movements. To be clear, I’m not advocating that we take no action but rather that we carefully discern which organizations and individuals we support rather than being swept away by every social media post we see that has an eloquent quote (something I am guilty of). We have to do our research before we align ourselves with anything or anyone.

Healing starts with recognizing the belovedness and inherent dignity in each and every person, even those who seem the most evil and ugly to us. We are called to serve justice with mercy and reconciliation. We are required to take responsibility for our actions, even if that means admitting we were wrong. We have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, leaning into the discomfort and hiding ourselves in the wounds of Jesus.

Here is the prayer of my heart:

Lord Jesus, you know our hearts, where they are aching, consumed by anxiety, gripped with fear, where they are hurt, wounded, and hardened. You know all the places we store up little hopes. You know our wants and needs and all the false gods we turn to. Give us the grace to turn to you today. Lord, bolster us where we feel weak, weary, and worried.

Jesus, heal our hearts. Bind up those things in us that rebel against you. Purify us and give us hearts of flesh in place of our hearts of stone.

Father, give us eyes to see you at work in our lives, hearts that break over what breaks yours. Give us ears to hear you speaking directly to us and the humility and obedience to serve you.

Reveal yourself to us, Lord, in every person we meet. Remove our blinders that we might see belovedness all around us.

Jesus, this world is broken. We are broken. Draw us to you and comfort us at your breast. Help us to recognize you offering yourself to us and give us the grace and fortitude to offer ourselves back to you.

Amen

Motherhood: The Maximum Threshold

Hey, gang…how y’all doin’? I hope you’re well. I wanted to talk to all you mamas about something that I’ve noticed many, many times in my years of motherhood, but that I was recently reminded of in a Facebook comments thread.

Here’s how it usually goes: Someone will post something about struggling with motherhood and it’ll get a chorus of “me too’s.” Inevitably, somewhere in the comments, one of those sentiments of solidarity carries a caveat, “I feel that, too, but I only have X number of kids.” It’s got that unspoken sense of comparison and failure that says, “It’s okay for you to feel that way because you have more children than I do, but if I also feel that way then I must be doing something wrong because I don’t have that many kids. I must be failing.”

Y’all, that is straight up bull slaw and I will not have it.

Listen to me. Your personal max is just that, the maximum threshold of challenge you have ever personally navigated. Struggle doesn’t discriminate based on family size, experience, age, or any other variable. This shiz is hard regardless.

We do this comparison/failure thing all the time with all sorts of things. You’re allowed to complain about being sore after running because you’re an ultra marathoner. I however, should shut up and stop whining because I can only run six miles, never mind the fact that I’ve only recently taken up running. You’re allowed to struggle with exhaustion after your work week, but I’m “only” a stay at home mom or I’m “only” a student without a “real” job so I should have nothing to complain about.

Guys, this is not only completely untrue, but it’s also unhelpful and unhealthy. When we’re talking about this issue as it pertains particularly to motherhood, I think it’s even more dangerous. Motherhood is intrinsically connected to the depths of my identity in a deeper way than being a runner, or an employee, or a student ever could be. My identity as mother defines me to my absolute core, so a sense of failure as a mother is felt far more deeply than any other failure I can think of. I think this is true for most moms I know.

We all know that comparison is as unhealthy as it is a natural response to being a human. We’re constantly tempted to check where we are in relation to the herd. Are we behind? Ahead? Keeping up? Holding people back? It’s human nature, which makes it that much harder to resist.

Mamas listen unto me. Hear my voice and take a second to really think about this. You are currently working at the maximum level of motherhood you have ever experienced. Of course your experience of parenting feels like it’s pushing you to your limit because it is. The number of children you have does not dictate the level of difficulty you are allowed to experience. I have friends with one child, friends with five kids, even a pal who has eleven. Each and every one of them is allowed to feel the magnitude of what they’re being asked to do on a daily basis. It does not matter if you have one child or fifteen, you’re allowed to feel the weight of that responsibility. You’re also allowed to be annoyed by the noise, mess, and sacrifice and also to laugh about it all. Numbers simply do not count here.

We wouldn’t expect a novice runner with shin splints to suck it up and stop complaining just because she’s never run a 10K or a marathon. Shin splints hurt no matter who is experiencing them. We wouldn’t tell a student cramming for finals to shut up and work just because she’s not currently a lawyer. Intellectual exertion pushes us to our limit regardless of the level of work we’re doing.

Mamas, you are allowed to take up space. You are allowed to admit things are hard and frustrating. You’re allowed to say, “me too,” and laugh at the absurdities of motherhood right alongside your sisters who are juggling more or fewer children than you. You are allowed to be there in the comments section, taking up space, and being part of the community. You’re allowed to be there, because here’s the thing. We want you there.

Comparison wants to whisper shame and tell you that not even your struggles are enough. Comparison wants you to be small, and insignificant, and alone. But in my experience, the right group of moms, and honestly the group that I’ve worked hard to cultivate and attract to my posts and writing, is the kind of group who wants you. If you don’t show up, we’re missing out on another voice validating us. If you don’t show up, we’re missing out on a chance to love you. If you don’t comment or say, “me, too,” we’re missing out on another voice in the herd reminding us that we’re all in this together regardless of family size, experience, or ability. We need you to show up. Desperately.

Now, I know that not all comments sections are kind. We obviously have to be wise and share our hearts with people who are safe and can be trusted, but that’s true no matter if we’re sharing on the internet or in-person. The other side of this is that we need to be on the look out for mamas who are making those comparison comments, the ones we can see who need a little extra validation. Those are the friends (or strangers) we need to speak up for, offer a hand and a reminder to that they’re important and loved. We need to take care of those mamas. Odds are, we’ve been on the receiving end of another mother’s kindness, too, and it’s our responsibility to pass that on.

Motherhood is such a gift. We get to experience creation, sacrifice, and intimacy with another human in ways that are almost inexplicable and then we get to have that person puke on us, and make us laugh, and walk away. It’s hard and it’s funny. Motherhood pushes us to our absolute maximum threshold every single day. The silver lining is that we also get each other. We get to be part of a community of sisters who gets us and sees us right where we are. We come in all shapes, sizes, numbers of kids, types of jobs, different cleaning styles, religions, ideologies, and so on. There are infinite differences, but we can all agree that this is the toughest, most rewarding gig we will ever have the privilege of holding down and navigating it alone is just not an option.

You belong here. You are wanted, and needed, and necessary. I hope you know that, my friend.

xoxo,

Mary Susan

Transition

The other night one of my kids was acting weird. She just wasn’t herself and I could tell that something was bothering her. When I prodded a little, she completely and theatrically melted down. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” she kept repeating. “I don’t KNOW what’s wrong with me. I don’t KNOW what I’m feeling, if I’m happy or if I’m sad. I don’t know what to FEEL. My life isn’t turning out the way I wanted. Like, who am I even??!?”

Did I mention we have a flair for the dramatic?

I tried to cover my grin as I calmed her down. Poor kid was just so frustrated with so many things and having such a difficult time articulating her emotions, so I leaned back onto something that I’ve used with the kids for a long time now. It’s just a quick check in that reminds them of their identity and consists of three simple questions: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? Being reminded that she was created by a loving God who made her and made her good was enough to settle my girl for the night.

And the whole situation seemed hysterical to me until I was having an identical breakdown like two days later.

I’m feeling rather adrift if I’m honest, having a difficult time finding my place in things. Without Easter to look forward to or Lent to keep me disciplined and no solid end in sight for the stay at home order, I’m having a hard time coping. It’s like the “day after” feeling I always get after holidays, but amped up a few hundred notches.

Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you?

Today’s Gospel reading from John (20:11-18) shows us Mary Magdalene encountering Jesus and mistaking him for the gardener. When she fully recognizes Him, it’s obviously a moment, but eventually Jesus says, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. but go to my brothers and tell them…” and gives Mary that incredible job of being the Apostle to the Apostles.

In today’s Blessed is She devotion, Kendra Tierney writes:

She can’t hold on to Him as her friend and teacher. She needs to let go of Him as a Man so she can embrace Him as God. She can’t get caught up in her expectations for the moment and for her life, because Jesus has a new and different love for her to experience. And an important job for her to do.

Kendra Tierney, Blessed is She, 04/14/20

“She can’t get caught up in her expectations.” Man, that gutted me. I think that much of the reason I’m struggling to cope these days is that I’ve been caught up so tightly in what I expect my life to be like. I have a vision for how I think things ought to be, what Lent should look like, how I want Easter to be celebrated, how frequently I think I should be able to receive Holy Communion.

“…Jesus has a new and different love for her to experience. And an important job for her to do.” I think it’s only human nature to cling to what we know, especially in difficult times of transition.

I’m a birth doula, so I often see the world through the lens of childbirth. I always say that life is like labor, transition is the hardest part. Transition is the part in childbirth that seems to take the longest, when a mother’s body is completing its final preparations to deliver her baby, it’s an eternity of seemingly unstoppable intensity. This is the point when mothers frequently begin to doubt themselves, when they say they can’t go on any longer, beg for it to be over, many times searching frantically for any “out” they can find. Alas, the only way out is through, as we all know. In order to get through transition in childbirth, a mother must push through the intensity so that she can push in a more literal sense to bring her child into the world.

And as I’ve seen time and time again in childbirth, the women who cope with labor the best are the ones who submit themselves to the experience. They don’t try to control or manipulate the situation, but surrender themselves to the waves. Laboring women who do fight their bodies get panicky, tension making the pain more intense. Labor oftentimes takes longer and is more of an ordeal that they survived than an event they took part in.

We’re in transition right now. Just like the experience of a laboring woman, it feels that there’s no end in sight. Our current reality feels like some sort of endless in-between where we’re promised something good on the other side, but it feels like we’ll never ever get there.

The only way out is through. The only way to cope is to refocus our lives on the One who is calling us to a new and different experience of His love. In order to progress, we must let go of our expectations, lay down the ideals we’ve been clinging to, the preconceived notions of what “normal” is or what our lives “should” look like, and submit ourselves to the experience, however difficult it may be. It is only in surrendering to labor that a pregnant woman comes to deliver her child. It is only in surrendering ourselves to our present circumstances that we will encounter new ways to experience the Risen Christ and, like Mary Magdalene, receive a deeper sense of what we are called to as His disciples.

Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you?

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

He reached down from on high and seized me; drew me out of the deep waters. He rescued me from my mighty enemy, from foes too powerful for me. they attacked me on my day of distress, but the Lord was my support. He set me free in the open; he rescued me because he loves me.

Psalm 18: 17-20
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing is my all time favorite hymn. I sung it to all of my babies and still sing it when they (or I) need a little extra comforting. The entire song is just so good, but my particular favorite phrase is in the second verse: “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come; and I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.”

Many sermons have been preached on the meaning of the word “Ebenezer” so I won’t try to do it justice here, but it comes from 1 Samuel chapter 7. The Israelites are about to do battle against the Philistines, things were looking bad and the Israelites beg Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, to save us from the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:8) and so Samuel offers prayer and sacrifice to the Lord. In turn, God “thunders loudly” which throws the Philistines into confusion, allowing the Israelites to have the upper hand and win the day. And then here comes the Ebenezer:

Samuel then took a stone and placed it between Mizpah and Jeshanah; he named it Ebenezer, explaining, “As far as this place the Lord has been our help.”

1 Samuel 7:12

I love that this tiny little snippet of scripture finds its way into my favorite song, because it’s so remarkable, right? Samuel takes the time to build a monument to God, a physical reminder that in that specific place, God showed His faithfulness to the Israelites. He did not leave them abandoned. He heard them and He rescued them. Moving forward, they could look back at that place, see the huge rock that Samuel placed there, even touch it with their hands and remember that particular instance of God’s presence and grace.

If you look for them, these Ebenezers are all over scripture. There are many monuments built to glorify God and the Psalms particularly serve as reminders. Skimming through, we can hear the voices saying, “Remember when God was faithful to us? Remember when he showed up? Remember that specific time He answered our prayers?”

I often tell my doula clients (and friends, and kids, and myself, and anyone who will listen) that in times of trouble, anxiety, or worry, it is imperative that we remember what’s true. Part of that is remembering who we are. It is imperative that we, like the Israelites, have a strong sense of identity. It is so important that we really own and take on the knowledge that we are the chosen children of God, beloved before all creation, created in His image, out of love, for love. The other part of remembering truth is that we must remember who He is. We need to revisit our own Ebenezers.

When I take the time to look back, to recount God’s work in my life, like the Israelites, it is clear that I have been rescued over and over and over again. God has constantly met me in my loneliness and my uncertainty and given me sure footing. He has redeemed countless desperate situations and dismal mistakes, and revealed Himself to me in undeniable ways. He has been present, a comforter and faithful guide. He has met me in my sorrow, my misunderstanding, my frustration, and my fear. He has steadily loved me for my entire life, slowly revealing Himself to me in a myriad of quiet little ways, gently leading my heart to His.

I know without doubt, that God will redeem our present suffering, that He is working it all for the good of the world and the glory of His name. In this moment, we are like Martha and Mary, wrecked because our brother is dying and wondering why the Lord isn’t moving in the ways we expect Him to move. But I truly believe that, just like Martha and Mary, we will see God’s glory in much bigger ways than we could ever imagine. Tombs will be emptied, we will be pulled out of our graves; new life is coming.

If we take the time to revisit our own Ebenezers we’ll find hope to keep moving forward on to the next battle, hope to sustain us in the war to come. Soon this present suffering will become for us a new Ebenezer, a place where we will erect an even bigger monument, continuing to point heavenward, saying, “Remember that time? Remember God’s grace?”

Corona Virus Got You Down? The Antidote to Fear is Faith

I gave up social media for Lent, so naturally my defense mechanism has been to compulsively check the news every five seconds. I’m working on it. The headlines are just saturated with Super Tuesday and ugly politics, but the biggest story of all is corona virus. I cannot escape it. The dread, the worry, the state by state analysis of its spread, the death toll, the potential vaccines, the worry, the worry, the fear, the panic.

It has been fascinating to watch it all unfold, fascinating to experience it playing out in my own heart. I’ve tried to check my emotions because I know that the media is fueled by clicks and site visits and there’s money to be made by inciting panic. And yet. Every now and then I find myself gripped by a fear that I can’t shake, my mind walking down the road of what if’s and could be’s. As I watch the internet reinvent headlines over and over, as I listen to people talk about it on the radio and see the numbers on face mask sales soar, I see an entire world that has been shaken to its core by something that has been here all along.

It’s our mortality and we don’t like it one bit.

Corona virus is new and scientifically impressive because of its characteristics as a disease, but perhaps more so because of how it sheds a light on our privilege. Most modern day humans living in the developed world have no concept of the imminence of our mortality. Even a hundred years ago, people grappled with death on a more daily basis than we do in the year 2020. 

Even as I type this, I find that last admission laughable. While we’ve got the benefit of modern medicine, disease control, better living conditions, etc, we’ve also got a whole slew of things out there that our ancestors didn’t grapple with. Lock down drills, active shooter warnings, chemicals in our food/water, and global warming are all things that our distant relatives probably never worried about. Sure, we’re not necessarily worried that our children will die due to scarlet fever and our dinner (usually) isn’t dependent upon what we grow or catch, but the fact remains that death is a part of life, like it or not. Always has been, always will be. 

The difference between us and our ancestors is distraction. We fill our minds and our schedules with invincibility, controlling and scheduling every moment of our days. If we’re allowed any free time at all, we fill it with scrolling or gaming or texting, anything to keep us from sitting alone with our thoughts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sitting in silence sucks. It’s uncomfortable to be confronted with ourselves. Our humanity, sinfulness, regrets, and discontent are difficult and its so delightfully easy to avoid them. Our mortality even more so. 

However, distracting ourselves doesn’t change the fact that some day we will die. No amount of internet research or hand washing will ever make our mortality go away. We can’t control it, or anticipate it, or make it fit into our vision of how we want things to go, so we ignore it. 

The trouble with that is that by ignoring and trying to control, we attempt to make ourselves into God and we all know that will never end well. I’m not saying that we need to live in fear, constantly looking over our shoulder for the Reaper ready to mow us down. What I am saying is that we need to befriend death. We need to remember that we have each been created by a loving God whose deepest desire is to know us and to draw us into His heart. All of life is an opportunity to grow away from the worldly things that tie us down, our selfishness, pride, greed, power, all the things that separate us from that love and to move forward toward Him. It is only through death that we can move on to the next stage of knowing and loving God. 

I know this is easier said than done. I am as desperate to live a long and happy life as the next guy. Stepping out into the unknown requires vulnerability and trust, both of which are incredibly scary. But when we get caught up in the fear, when the loss of control taunts us, I think it’s important to remember what’s true. I ask my kids this set of questions all the time when I see that the enemy is speaking lies to them or I see them struggling with fear: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? He made you good and He made you for good things. Christ conquered sin and death and if we make of our lives a daily offering to Him, constantly offering up all that we have, all that we’ve been given as gift to the Father, then death has no sting.

I realize that this is too simple an answer for some. It is for me some days. Living life to the fullest doesn’t erase the fear of death or the unknown. However, I do think that there’s merit in looking our mortality in the face. It gives us the opportunity to ask hard questions of ourselves. Why am I so afraid to die? What is it that I am afraid to lose? Who or what am I holding onto? Am I willing to give those things to God? What unhealthy affections am I more loyal to than to Christ? What sacrifice is it that death would require of me?

These aren’t fun questions to ask ourselves. They aren’t enjoyable dinner conversation starters. However, if we truly seek to serve God, if we truly desire to be held in the arms of our Savior, to give our lives to His provision, these are questions that must be asked.

For me, the thing that I’m most afraid to lose is my children. The thought that a disease could come along, sweep them away, and there would be nothing I could do to stop it is a horrifying realization. But what I have to remind myself if that they’re not my children. They’re God’s. They are eternal souls given left to my care. If I am frightened by my mortality and theirs, then I need to be making sure that I am doing my very best to honor their eternal souls, to teach them love, and to bring them as close to Christ Jesus as I possibly can.

And that’s what fear can do. It can either paralyze us or give us purpose. Pope Benedict XVI famously said that we are not made for comfort, we are made for greatness. Greatness requires sacrifice and self-awareness. Any suffering that life could possibly throw at us can either isolate and ruin us, or be a channel through which we encounter the Lord. 

We’re not in control, but we do have a choice. At the end of the day, we have no say in who contracts a highly contagious disease and who doesn’t, but we have a choice in how we respond. While there’s certainly no good time for a global pandemic, Lent does happen to be a particularly good time to contemplate our mortality. We live in the shadow of death, it’s true, but what that means is that we live in the reality that each moment is a gift. Each moment is a grace and we get to choose whether we live our moments in fear, or make the conscious decision to live our lives running to the Father in thanksgiving. And when we struggle with the trust, struggle with having enough faith, I think it is enough to pray, “Lord, help my unbelief,” and to step out in faith anyway.