Surrender the Brownies

YOU WILL LEAD ME BY THE RIGHT ROAD, THOUGH I MAY KNOW NOTHING ABOUT IT

What It Means To Illuminate Peace


Hello readers! It has been a while, hasn’t it? Well, I’m safe here in my second semester at Franciscan University, and I’ve semi-retired from blogging to focus on all the stress that comes from being an English major. I have to write about two essays, from 800-2000 words, every week, so fun writing is pretty low on my priority scale. How have I stayed sane with that kind of workload? Mostly through the amazing ladies of my household, Illuminata Pace.

Here's most of us. I'm in there somewhere!

Here’s most of us. I’m in there somewhere!

Illuminata Pace, translated to “illuminating peace,” is a household dedicated to Franciscan spirituality, and we center our lives around peace, joy, humility, and prayer. I’d never really considered peace hugely important before I came, and I thought the peace prayer of St. Francis was just a weird song that my grandparent’s very 70’s parish sang, with twangy guitars, to the point where nobody really listened anymore. Certainly, I never thought of peace as something illuminating. But we pray the prayer several times a week, and the more I’ve looked at it, the more it’s come to mean to me. For all of you who have forgotten, here are the words:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

I started saying this prayer as a morning offering when I became a full sister in Illuminata Pace two months ago, and it has led me to do a lot of meditating on the nature of peace and what peace can do.  CCC 2304 says that “Peace is not merely the absence of war…Peace is “the tranquillity of order.” Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity.” There have been a lot of reasons this semester to not be peaceful, but the words of the peace prayer stop me, slow me down, and help me remember who I am as a sister of illuminating peace. Every line has had its place in my life.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace… We are not the creators of peace, but merely the instruments of God’s peace.  As Mother Theresa said, we’re just little pencils in the hands of a writing God, who is writing a love letter to the world. We need to ask God to let us be His instruments, His paintbrushes of peace, so that He can cover the whole world in peace. We must be grounded firmly in the peace of Christ to give His peace to the world, and it’s a peace that surpasses all understanding. Being instruments of God, surrendering ourselves to the higher calling of Christ, allows us to enter into that peace fully.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love… when people are angrily gossiping, are mad at each other, or are refusing to respect human dignity, being instruments of God’s peace means gently and lovingly leading them in a better direction, and prayerfully asking Him to show you what that better direction is.

Where there is injury, pardon… when I have hurt someone, or someone has hurt me, being an instrument of peace means being the first to apologize, the first to forgive. Is it difficult? Hell yes! But oh, the graces that come from this struggle of peace are incredible. This, again, requires constant prayer while trying to do, but when you ground forgiveness in peace, it becomes much easier to give.

Where there is doubt, faith… People, even people at Franciscan University, doubt the love of God. They doubt the forgiveness of God. They even doubt the existence of God when desolation becomes strong enough. Being the light of peace means letting God shine through you into those people, in whatever way you can. It means listening, encouraging, explaining points of the faith, and doing it all in prayer and with the quiet joy of peace that allows doubts, but strives to assuage them.

Where there is despair, hope... People despair. I despair. A year ago, on October 23, 2015, I tried to kill myself. I think many people know what despair feels like. Many cannot get out on their own, and need a leg up. Peace is that divine elevator to help people out of despair. Peace sees the trials and pains of life and acknowledges them, but doesn’t let them win. Peace allows pain to be put in the right place, as something real and difficult, but not overwhelming as long as one is clinging to the cross, even if one is only clinging to their cross through the nails that are holding them to it. Peace sees all that, and reminds us that, no matter how painful the crucifixion is, there is a resurrection to come, and so we need not worry that the pain will completely overwhelm us. Being an instrument of peace here means being there for those people who are in their stage of crucifixion, being there to remind them that every Easter Sunday comes after a painful Good Friday and a cold and dead Holy Saturday. You don’t even have to say it out loud to them. You just have to pray and love as God leads you to.

Where there is darkness, light… the world is dark, but, as St. Francis said, all the darkness of the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle. We can be the light in a dark world when we allow peace to illuminate us, when we allow God to lead us in peace even as all the darkness of our fallen world seems to be sinking around us.We illuminate peace when we study the teachings of the Church and gain knowledge about God. We illuminate peace when we shine through the darkness of ignorance and lead people to the truth of the gospel. We illuminate peace when we choose perfect joy over anger at our situations, when we choose to sink into the joy of the gospel that counteracts the world’s calls to dissatisfaction and cynicism.

Where there is sadness, joy… One of the charisms of Illuminata Pace is this perfect joy, which we’ve matched to this picture: our-lady-of-sorrows

This picture of Our Mother of Sorrows seems contradictory to joy, what with all the tears and the corpse of Christ in the middle. But perfect joy is found in perfect suffering, because suffering allows us to see clearly what choosing joy means. It doesn’t mean ignoring all suffering. It means putting it into its proper place, and recognizing that all the pain of the world cannot ever destroy the joy of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, and cannot even begin to come close to threatening the joy of heaven. Peace puts our thoughts solely on those things, puts our eyes on the lighthouse of heaven so that all the storms of the world, while they may crash and blow, are seen as what they are– changeable nature, not eternal life. When we sink into perfect joy, we create a beautiful example of peace, one that others will want to emulate. Peace illuminates, it spreads outward from the person who is peaceful and lights up everyone around them.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console… Illumination goes outward from the person, by definition. Peace isn’t really about what we’re getting, it’s about what we’re giving to the world. We aren’t seeking to be consoled be others, we’re trying to give them the consolation of God. God has no arms but ours with which to hold people, no ears but ours with which to listen to them, no mouth but ours with which to encourage. We ask for the grace to be these for Him.

To be understood, as to understand... The peace of Christ makes us as absolutely selfless as He is. We know He understands us when we are secure in His peace. Others might not feel that way, and might need human understanding to be reminded of the all-understanding love of God. We need the grace of God to be able to understand the hurts of others and to show to them how God’s understanding is even greater.

To be loved as to love… Again, peace makes us selfless. We aren’t seeking to become instruments of peace so that we can have all the love and admiration of people. We are here to love others. Everything we have been given is for the good of others, and that includes the love of God. To be peacefully secure in the love of God is to want others to be as secure, so we must prayerfully try to show that love to everyone we meet without any thought for what we are getting out of the deal. Heaven is quite enough, thank you.

For it is in giving that we receive… Mother Theresa is quoted as saying “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” The same goes for peace. However much we may give, God constantly gives us more. To wish to give all your God-given peace away is to also be giving a never-empty fountain of peace. We cannot ever run out of the love of God or the peace of God. He will always give more as long as we are giving.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned… Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, right? When we pardon the faults of others, no matter how much they have hurt us, we can be confident that God will forgive us to the same degree. God follows our lead on that point. His capacity to forgive us is infinite, yes, but He will forgive us only as much as we forgive others. So we must forgive everything, and be peacemakers to all, and seek to forgive as infinitely as we wish to be forgiven.

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life… I am going to die. It is going to hurt more than I can ever adequately describe. The thought of how painful my eventual death will be drove me to try to kill myself, that’s how afraid I am of it. But the peace of Christ takes away that sting, because no matter how much death scares and hurts, it will never be greater than the joy of heaven. The great paradox of Christianity is that we lovingly accept even the hardest death, so as to gain eternal life. Even if your suffering is so great that it kills you, if you suffer in the peace of Christ, you can be secure in His promise of heaven. And that makes it all worth it, doesn’t it?

Amen? Amen. Now, have a really pretty sung version of the prayer, and go out and illuminate!

Love to all!

-Tani

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Diminished… or Completed?


“It grieves me to see you so diminished.”

My dad says that sometimes, when I’m having bad days with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and I’m in too much pain to move. I understand exactly what he means. Before I got sick, I used to be able to life huge weights and carry them around, to walk for miles, and to build with him these huge creative projects. I’ve lost much of my ability to do any of that these days, lost so much potential, so much of myself. It’s a good day when, by seven P.M. or so, I’m not actively trying not to pass out as I limp to my dorm, occasionally needing the help of both my cane and a friend to keep me upright before finally collapsing into bed. I feel diminished. I feel as if everything I did and everything I was has been torn away from me, like all my strength is useless and dead. I have felt like many of my friends, especially those who have known me since before I got sick, have seen this diminishment and have run from it, unable to deal with the fact that someone who used to be identified by physical power now is identified by her lack of it. I’ve felt lonely and, yes, furious at the coldness of fate or allowance of God that let me be afflicted and diminished by this disease. I’ve begged to be healed and tried to come to terms with the fact that it might not happen. I’ve grieved the me I’ve lost.

But is this really the end? Am I really diminished as much as I’ve thought?

I am learning something, readers. I’m learning that God never takes away our strengths, only edits them to bring them closer to His strengths. Nothing good is ever lost when we lose ourselves. It’s merely having all the impurities burned off of it.

I still lift and carry, every day that my head feels too heavy for my skull and I continue to hold it upright and every day that I consent to carrying this cross forward and singing about it as I go. I still walk for miles, every day when each step feels like running a marathon and, yet, I don’t stop walking as long as I’m talking to Christ about His Via Crucis along the way (the hill of Franciscan has taught me so much about Jesus, guys!) I don’t stop building, but instead of building barns and walls, I’m building people every day that I accept God’s calling for me to be a writer and a friend and a minister to the people He’s given me. My potential isn’t lost. It’s perfected, just like these strengths have been, with all the nasty brokenness burned off of it through suffering and loss. They’ve been brought into line with what I was truly called to do.

I never lost an ounce of the strength I had. I’ve just learned what I was really given it for.

Love to all!

-A very feverish and probably babbling, but definitely sure that you needed to know this, Tani

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I Am Killing Christ Today


A few days ago, Franciscan University of Steubenville put on a passion play/living stations with students filling all the roles. I went, because many of my friends were in it. My brother was a centurion who beat Jesus, my friend Joseph was the bad thief, my friend Clarke was Pilate, my friend Brian was Simon of Cyrene, Milana was a woman of the crowd who hurled insults at Christ, and my friend Salvador (there’s an ironic name for ya) was Jesus.

It. Was. Horrible.

Not the play, because that was performed beautifully, but the actions. I saw my brother kicking my friend, saw my closest friends hurling insults and condemning someone I knew was innocent, screaming like demons and sadistically kicking a man who was on the ground. I saw a good man who is always very modest and well-dressed, who gives fist bumps in the hallway and never has a mean thing to say to anyone, be stripped to a loincloth and nailed (tied) to a cross by my own brother. Yes, it was all fake. But this drove a point home to me that I’d never actually understood before. Because see, this play proved to me that all the people of the passion? Yeah, they’re all us.

My friends and I are capable of condemning Christ to death when we can’t be bothered to stand up for what’s really true and beautiful. We’re capable of insulting Him and spitting at Him when we decide to sin, knowing exactly what the cost of our sin is on Him. We’re capable of ridiculing Him for possibly thinking that suffering could be good, of laughing at His humility and acceptance even as we’re hanging on our own crosses right next to Him. Every day we nail Him onto the cross and then demand He come down from it just to prove to us that He can, demanding signs and wonders to prove that He’s real as we torture Him for not being exactly the way we want Him to be. We are every character in this grand Passion. His blood is upon us and on our children, not just on some dusty Jews from thousands of years ago.

It is easy to sin when you’re alone and the consequences of it aren’t directly affecting you. But I got to see a friend of mine be hurt, albeit in a fake way, for something that the narrator said I had done. If that hurt me, how much more should the reality of the crucifixion hurt me? How much more remorse should I feel for the actual events, when the play with actors who would shower off the fake blood and put back on their normal clothes in an hour brought me to tears? When I choose to sin, I am knowingly beating and stripping and killing my friend like the Roman guards. When I yell at God for abandoning me and demand a sign that He’s still around, I am the bad thief and the Pharisees. When I allow a friend to do what I know is wrong because I don’t want to rock the boat, I am Pilate, washing my hands of the death of Christ yet still completely culpable for it (to the point where he is remembered by name in the Creed!) And so are you. So are we all.

There is no reason for God to do this. We do not deserve this. We are so wretched, so utterly hopeless, so completely undeserving of the grace of the Passion. We can talk about how much God loves us til we’re blue in the face, but we all have to realize that, because of what we do to Him, we don’t deserve an ounce of mercy. If God were a human, He’d be within His rights to smite all of us, or to turn His back and never acknowledge us again. But God was a human, and He didn’t. He chooses to love us and chase us anyway, as completely worthless as we are. That’s what mercy means. How dare we have pride and see God’s mercy as something to take for granted, something we deserve? How dare we act like we wouldn’t do exactly the same thing as those people in Jerusalem in 33 A.D.?

This Lent of the year of mercy has been, for me, a time of intense meditation on the mercy of Christ. In order to need the infinite mercy of God, we need to realize how intensely wretched we are. We need to know exactly what we’re capable of: murdering someone who loves us and doing it on a daily basis. God’s mercy is the only thing that can make us able to live with ourselves once we’ve realized what we’ve done to Him.  I’ve been broken this year, and it’s nothing compared to what Christ suffered, for all that, in my pride, I’ve thought it was as bad. But He offered me mercy, and, in that mercy, I can come back to Him.

May you all have a blessed Triduum and Easter Season!

Love to all!

-Tani

 

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A Tale of Two Brothers and a Father Who Loves Them: The Lukewarm Brother


Welcome to Holy Week! It’s that greatest week of the Church year when we must confront ourselves in all our capacity to reject God, and then overcome that rejection and run back to Him even as He comes to us. With that in mind, I’m bringing in a dear friend, Kyle George, to give us two guest posts on the parable of the prodigal son to meditate on this week.

A Tale of Two Brothers and a Father Who Loves Them: The Lukewarm Brother

 

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

 

The Story of the Prodigal Son is one that always speaks to my heart not because of the typical interpretation of a wayward son squandering his inheritance on sinful ways of living only to be forgiven when he returns home to his father. It speaks to my Catholic Faith. Especially, concerning the two brothers. I will concentrate this writing on the older brother who is consistently seldom talked about, yet he can teach us so much about our Catholic faith.

The next writing will be on the younger brother and his father.

 

A prodigal is a person who recklessly spends their money on lavish ways of living. Like the younger brother, the older had all that he needed to be happy, yet he neither spent it recklessly nor appropriately. He never took advantage of the good that he had from his father for his benefit. He toiled and labored on his father’s land. He followed the rules, but took his good life for granted becoming lukewarm. The oldest brother is the Catholic who knows the goodness of the faith. They know the rules. They know the teachings enough to take them for granted. At least the younger brother could be given some benefit of the doubt for not really knowing the good that he had or how to use it well. The older brother knew very well, but never used it for any reason good or bad. It’s a horribly grave tragedy to know you have a gift and squander it because you don’t know how to use it well. It’s an even worse tragedy to know you have a gift, know that you can use it, but never even try to use it at all.

So, often in my Catholic life I have heard stories of my fellow Catholic brethren not taking their faith seriously. I have seen so many fall into complacency in their faith. I did not become Catholic to watch my people, who I chose to participate in this faith that I love, squander this great gift of being Catholic because they do not know the beauty of it! The Catholic Church is the greatest means of salvation. The Catholic Church is the fullness of truth. She, and only She, is completely united to the Son and guided by the Holy Spirit to lead us to the Eternal Father who spoke us into being from the dust through the Word (His Only-Begotten Son) and breathed life into us by the Holy Spirit so that we can have eternal life through following the fullness of truth (the Catholic Faith) to get there. If any Catholic actually fell in love with the faith because someone convinced them in their heart that they should care about knowing what She offered in Her truth, then they would be a Saint.

The sin of the older brother is that while he had all that he needed to be happy, he never took advantage of it. He never loved His father enough to use what his father had for his good. God has so much for us to use for building up the good in ourselves enough so that by our holy living we can in turn help others become holy. Each of us is uniquely gifted and God gives us the Church, Her Sacraments (especially, Confession and the Eucharist), Her Saints, and Her Doctrines to become perfect as Her Heavenly Father is perfect. Her goal is to make us more like God. That is why the Son became man. By His taking on a human nature while still maintaining His Divine Personhood we could one day have a perfect human nature well enough to participate in the Divine Personhood of the Triune God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 460.) Her goal is that we can embrace the Father, because He is our Father too. We must be bold enough to ask for His graces (His gifts) using it for the benefit of becoming Holy so that the world may know the love and goodness of God. That way no one can possibly take their faith for granted like the older son nor squander it like the younger son in wayward living.

For I became Catholic to become Holy. I became Catholic because I love it. So, love it. She is the truest means of salvation. All the Father has given through His Only-Begotten Son is yours. So, take advantage of the grace of the Holy Spirit to do good things in this life so that you can be supremely happy in the next.

 

 

Kyle George is a Seminarian for the Archdiocese of New Orleans studying at Notre Dame Seminary. He enjoys writing about spirituality, love, and how to be a better Catholic.
Love to all!
-Tani
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The Blessing Chest


Those of you who have been following me for more than a few months may have noticed I’ve been in a pretty sad place for a while. My hands are getting pretty bad, and I save them for academic writing above blogging. The blogging I do do is usually reserved for the blogs like Epic Pew and The Catholic Response, which I have made monthly commitments to. That leaves Surrender the Brownies with the dregs, the sad and personal things that I can’t put anywhere else, and the posts that are fueled more by passion than commitment.

A year ago, I posted about advent continuing past Christmas. I’ve felt like that for the whole year, the waiting for God, the anger that He hasn’t come yet. I found a lot of things to dread and kind of forgot to look for the good in bad situations. I was always worried about everything, even to the point of having panic attacks with alarming regularity. 2015 was a difficult advent year, but I’ve got a feeling that 2016 is going to finally be the year of Christmas.

Not that Christmas happens right away, of course. It’s a gradual process. So to aid in that process I’ve decided to start a blessing chest.

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How it looks on my desk right now

The idea is that, every day, I look for one blessing (at least) and, every night, I write it down to put into the chest. I’ve been doing it since I arrived here at Franciscan University on the 12th. It’s really helped me start each day happily; instead of dreading whatever bad things might happen, I look forward to finding the good things. Often, there’ll be so many during the day that I’ll have trouble picking just one to write down. I didn’t expect this at all. Yeah, bad things keep happening during the day- currently, I’m writing on a dislocated wrist (owch) after walking up a steep hill (owch) just to find that one of my favorite classes was cancelled (owch!) But I know that sometime today, I’m going to find a blessing worth writing down, something amazing and special, a gift from God. That makes every day a treasure hunt of goodness, thus the treasure chest I’m using.

This is how I’m going to find my joyful self again, and I encourage everyone else to try something similar, too. You don’t have to use a treasure chest, but do try to find one thing every day (especially on the bad days) that you can be thankful for. It’ll brighten your entire day, and that’s a gift worth having!

Love to all!

~Tani

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2015 blogging year in review


And here we are again! Another year has flown by, and it’s been a year full of changes and growing up. Goodbye, 2015!

 

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,800 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Be Not Afraid, For I Bring You Glad Tidings of… Confession?


 

What? Confession? Glad? If you’re like so many Catholics, even otherwise orthodox ones, the idea of confession can often fill you with dread. You need to talk to another, powerful, person about what a failure you’ve been, about how much you’ve fallen short of the glory of God, and that’s absolutely terrifying. Yes, you’re receiving grace from the sacrament, but is it worth the panic and the mortification?

Get out your Bible study hats, brownie-bites, it’s time to dive into a Bible story that suddenly jumped at me today as a really super-good reason to never fear Confession again. And it even has to do with our present Advent season!

You might guess from the title of this post what the story is, or you could just click the embedded link above. Either way, let’s take a close look at Luke 2:8-20 and the incredible story of Christmas night.

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Let’s start with those shepherds. Shepherds were outcasts, for the most part. They wore weird clothes, they were dirt poor, and they smelled like sheep. They were weird and, if they went into the city, it was immediately obvious to everyone what they were. So here they are, alone, for the most part. Weird-looking. The least important people in the entire country… until that night.

Boom, crash! Giant angels appear in the sky! Now, everything the Bible says about angels says that they are terrifying. Literally every time they appear, they have to tell people to calm the hell down and not be afraid. And they appeared tonight, not to kings or to wise men (who just had a pretty star) and not to celebrities… but to stinky shepherds, shivering their way through another arduous night shift. The glory of God’s most beautiful creatures filled the sky, singing all together, and telling these seemingly worthless outcasts that God had come to earth and they were the very first to know; the VIPs of salvation with a meet-and-greet-pass to see the King of Kings! And not as a powerful, shiny, terrifying judge…. but as a baby.

Fragile, pink, whimpering, and as non-threatening as they come, the God of the universe had become a human, and the first humans He wanted to meet were the ones who thought themselves completely unworthy of human contact right then. He didn’t call for them to put on royal robes and bathe first, and He didn’t wait until they were perfect to call them to Himself. No, He sent His messengers to them when they were at their most normal, most awful selves. He wanted them to come to Him right then, even though it meant walking through the city. He had no judgement or shame for their state, because He had joined that state expressly for the purpose of meeting them and forgiving their sins, turning the outcasts into sons. He didn’t ask for grand gestures or sweeping bows, but delighted in the simple praise of a bunch of uneducated animal wranglers.

Adoration of the Shepherds.jpg

And you know what? It’s the same Jesus now as it was then. The same unthreatening, loving baby waits in the person of the priest as waited in a manger, for all of us outcasts to come to Him and see firsthand His humble glory. For all of our fears, our worry that we’ll be in the confessional too long, our terror that Father will get impatient with us for confessing too long or too much or not enough, we’re still called.

We doubt, we fear, and we stink of sin. But the angels still call us to come and see Christ, and give glorious testimony to the fact that He’s here to save us from that sin! Padre Pio testified that angels gather around the altar at Mass and the tabernacle, giving witness to Christ’s coming in the sacraments. So don’t fear! This is the good news of great joy, and it’s time for us to get up and go to Him who is waiting for us.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to those upon whom His favor rests!

Love to all, and Merry Christmas!

-Tani

 

 

 

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When I Say I Understand Your Pain…


take-up-your-cross

When I say I understand your pain…

I’m not saying that our pains are the same.

I’m not saying that your pain is less than mine.

I’m not trying to one-up or compare myself to you.

I’m not trying to be condescending or pitying.

What I *am* doing is trying to give you what I really, really wish people would give to me, and that’s love. I don’t want people to say they exactly understand my exact pain, but I want to hear that I’m not alone in being in pain. I want to know I’m not the only one who’s vulnerable and scared, not the only one who knows what it’s like to beg God for death and yet beg Him to let you live, that I’m not totally lost in the dark of suffering. I want to know that I’m still lovable and connectable even when I feel totally dark and scared and hurt.

Pain is isolating, precisely because it’s so unique to its victims. And that isolation can sometimes drive people to do awful things, so I try to not be alone with it by trying to make sure nobody else is alone in it. And ultimately, I want to point people to the one person who can understand exactly what pain we’re in, because He knows everything about us. Thankfully, He also understands what it means to suffer. I understand the state of pain, but Christ understands the exact particulars. So I’m not saying I’m just like you. I’m saying He’s just like us.

A lot of people think of the words “take up your cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24) as a scary abstraction. They find the idea of a cross terrifying, because crosses are rightly seen as instruments of torture and despair. Even Christ begged to be let out of His passion! Crosses are scary, and following Jesus means more than even just a crucifixion. It means being crucified even after intense suffering, like the icing on a particular awful cake. It means carrying a cross on a back that’s been torn apart by whips, with bruised knees and a broken nose and absolute exhaustion in body and soul, and then STILL being killed on it. Crosses seem so hopeless. But they still have a small hope in them, that after the way of the cross ends, there’s always a resurrection. We’re not called to not be afraid of our crosses, especially those of us whose crosses are more literal, because crosses will always be terrifying. We’re called to have hope, even in the middle of that fear, that the cross is what’s going to get us to heaven. It’s a scary road, but it’s the only one we can follow if we ever want to be happy.

I don’t want to understand your pain. I don’t want you to really understand mine. I want all of us to understand His, because He’s the only one who understands ours. And, if we can understand His, we understand that all pain eventually leads us to somewhere painless, if we follow Him on that road. My love is imperfect, and selfish, and weak. His is not. But if my pitiful love can get someone, anyone, to understand His a little better, then it isn’t totally useless.

I have a lot of thoughts about suffering, and those thoughts shouldn’t be discounted merely because I haven’t felt literally every kind of suffering the world has to offer. But my own experiences do give me the ability to speak about pain in general, and especially about the One who makes all pain worthwhile. No, I cannot claim to know exactly what you’re feeling or why, but I can offer to share what little hope I’ve found on my way of the cross. That’s what I’m saying.

(Note: This is going to be the first in a series in which I respond to three things I hear a lot. The first is that I can’t say I understand other people’s pain, the second is that I’m too happy to really be hurt, and the third is that people think they can’t talk about their problems around me because mine are so big. These all require answers so that I don’t hurt anyone, and nobody hurts me. So keep your eyes open for more!) 

Love to all!

~Tani

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The Man Who Taught Me To Pray


“For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.” -St. Theresa of Avila 

This is Bill.

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He wears green in front of green things.

Bill was my youth minister for Life Teen all through High School. Bill is the stepfather of one of my best friends. Bill is the husband of the lovely lady who makes the best macaroni and cheese in creation. Bill drives a big truck, he can’t really sing (though he tries) and he always commands absolute respect by his mere presence in a room, though he never acts pompous or mean about his role as leader. He’s well-loved by just about everyone in the entire world. He’s a pretty awesome guy.

But the best thing about Bill is that Bill is also the person who taught me how to pray, without ever even meaning to.

I already knew what to pray, of course. I knew the basics, how to say a Hail Mary, how to ask God for what I wanted as my family sat together during morning and night prayers. To me, that was prayer- the scheduled, formalized, and phrases that I oft-repeated until they became almost meaningless, sure that that was how one talked to God. At Life Teen, all prayers followed a pretty regular outline of Hail Marys and St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle-s. Sometimes, someone would ask for a particular intention, and everyone would nod and say “amen,” and maybe shake the person’s hand afterward and promise their continued prayers. In that comfortable state of spiritual complacency, I felt that my prayer life was solid and didn’t need to improve any more at all.

Then came the Virtuous Reality Life Teen in March of 2012. I wrote an overview of it then, but the whole learning to pray bit was at the very end of the retreat, in the last two hours, so I really didn’t mention it. When we left the retreat center, I ended up in the truck with Bill and a few others. Since retreats are exhausting, the other teens pretty quickly fell asleep in the back. I had my headphones in and was dozing in the front seat when, in the space between two songs, I heard Bill quietly talking. I turned down the music, and heard him having a conversation. He spoke chattily, like he was just talking with an old friend. It was only when I heard him thanking the person for a green light that I realized he was praying- but praying like I had never heard anyone pray before. He spoke to God like he knew Him; not with bored familiarity, but with joy and security in the presence of the Other. He thanked God for even the tiny things around him, like the view, and for the success of the retreat. He was talking like there was nobody in the world besides Bill and God.

St. Alphonsus Liguori once said that:

Your God is ever beside you—indeed, He is even within you. “In Him we live, and move, and are.” (Acts 17:28). Not only is there no need of an intermediary through whom He would want you to speak to Him, but He finds His delight in having you treat with Him personally and in all confidence. Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears—of everything that concerns you. But above all, converse with Him confidently and frankly; for God is not wont to speak to a soul that does not speak to Him.”

Since that day, that quote has always reminded me of Bill, and every time I read it (and, since it’s one of my favorite quotes from one of my patron saints, I read it a lot) I say a quick thank you to God for blessing me with this incredible role model. I pray like he does, now, too, and gosh does it ever make a difference in life to not feel like you have to say thees and thous in order to make God hear you. God loves us and is interested in us, and so it should be the most natural thing in the world to just talk to Him like a friend. I can talk to God in the good times and the bad times and the bored in-between times, and He’s always as new and interesting and involved as the very first time we talked. That’s the cool thing about having an infinite God. He’s infinitely interesting and eternally available.

Bill had to move to another parish recently, and so I probably won’t be seeing him very often at all. But, on the off chance he ever reads this, I thought he and the world should know that he completely revolutionized my prayer life, and I’m incredibly grateful to him. Also, I owe him some peanut butter cookies, so there’s that.

Love to all!

-Tani

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