joy

Blessed are Those Who Suffer

“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). This verse has brought me consolation amidst the trials of my life for a long time. At the age of four-and-a-half, I was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer. It was a huge shock to my family. I did not have a normal childhood, to say the least. I am very blessed to have had the support of my family, friends, and doctors to help me through my treatment at such a young age. After going through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and physical therapy I was prognosed to be cancer free. Yet, I still deal with the effects of battling cancer at such a young age. I have some physical limitations, and I still deal with the reality of being robbed of part of my life by a serious illness. Throughout the years, I have revisited the reality of suffering. Below, are some of my reflections. Though I have spent time thinking about this topic, I still struggle with embracing suffering each day. I hope my thoughts can deepen some of your own reflection on the problem of pain.

Suffering, toil, and death, are the price of the fall of man in Genesis. God tells Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you! In toil you shall eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you, and you shall eat the grass of the field. By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19). Adversity comes in all shapes and sizes. People experience it at all stages in their life. It can be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Often, we feel alone in our suffering because we think that we are the only one experiencing such hurt, that no one understands what we are experiencing, and we do not see a purpose in our suffering.

Thankfully, Christ is a mend for all of those concerns. He comes to carry our crosses with us; He took all of our suffering upon Himself on the cross; and, He gives meaning to our suffering by giving it an eternal purpose it through His passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus’s life is a model for us to “deny [ourselves] and take up [our] cross daily and follow [Him]” (Luke 9:23). Throughout the Gospels, he sacrifices his public image and personal comfort, embracing the more humble and selfless path. Ultimately, it is his submission to this way of life that leads him to fulfill the Father’s will. Through his suffering and death on the cross, He redeemed all aspects of mankind, including our own suffering. Our adversity can participate in His salvific mission and His sacrifice. St. John Paul II advises us that, “Jesus Christ has taken the lead on the way of the cross. He has suffered first. He does not drive us toward suffering but shares it with us, wanting us to have life and to have it in abundance.” We can give our daily sufferings to Him, that they may participate in His cross. Better yet, we can offer them to Our Lady who can perfect our gift, and present them to Jesus more perfectly that we can.

Blessed are they who suffer well. I have been reflecting on this phrase recently. It seems to fit well with the other labels in the Beatitudes: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5:3-12). Suffering is to live out the Beatitudes in this world because they are a humble, uncomfortable lifestyle. In our society, suffering has become very taboo. Ironically, we lament the suffering of those less fortunate than us; yet, we flee from it, whenever it comes our way. Nonetheless, there are those who bravely accept the suffering in their life, knowing that it is actually good for them. St Teresa of Ávila tells us, “we always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials.” In the same paradoxical way that true love is the giving of oneself for the good of another, welcoming suffering is the way by which we become detached from our pride and selfishness, and are formed more perfectly into who we were made to be. St. Mother Teresa echos the words of St. Teresa of Ávila when she said, “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.” I often find that when I encounter a homeless person, they seem to be some of the most grateful people that I have met. I believe that their suffering helps them to see the world more clearly because they have fewer comforts and distractions to blur their understanding of who they are.

I have witnessed a similar effect in my own life. As I mentioned, I still deal with some physical limitations from the brain cancer that I survived as a child. For example, some daily tasks are a bit more difficult for me to accomplish than for other people to complete. Often, I deal with bitterness towards and jealousy of others who do not have to deal with the same struggles. But, when I try to be thankful for the many abilities that I do have, instead of focusing on the few crosses that I bear, I am able to find meaning in the midst of my suffering. Similarly, Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, wisely noted, “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Many things do not cause us to suffer of their own power. Rather, we perceive them as such. I am not trying to say that certain things do not cause harm to us. There is a difference between causing actual detriment and causing temporary discomfort. For example, a weapon surely causes harm; but, a short sickness, or a stressful time at work, cause discomfort. When we encounter challenging circumstances in life, we should not run from them just because they are difficult. We should accept them, knowing that Christ redeemed our suffering to lead us and others to heaven. We should not choose to see these challenges as suffering; instead, we should strive for joy in the midst of our trials. It does not come easily; but, with dedication to taking up your crosses daily, you can begin to better see how Christ is using those sufferings as a part of His eternal plan to bring you to heaven.

I would encourage you to take some time to meditate on what crosses you have in your life, how you deal with them now, and how you can unite yourself more with Christ. Then, he may help you bear them; and, he may show you how they are there to help you become more like you were made to be.

It's Always the Nice Ones

She was so pleasant when I met her.  She laughed politely in bed and stated that she, “Didn’t want to come to the ER, but the vomiting and dizziness had become so bad over the last two months that I had to come here.”  I asked her a few more questions. Her vomiting was worse when she moved from sitting to standing positions and with any kind of motion…maybe she just had vertigo?  She was also dizzy, which further pointed me in the direction of this benign diagnosis.  Her bowel movements were regular.  However, her history also included profuse right quadrant tenderness and night sweats.  She had lost over 40 lbs over the last three months.  She attributed the weight loss to her inability to keep food down and was actually pleased with the results.  Aside from confirming the existence of profuse upper right quadrant tenderness she had already reported, the patient’s complete physical exam revealed no clues to her condition.

I hoped her condition would be benign.  However, her symptoms affected almost every system.  Over the course of the evening, my preceptor ordered labs, an ultrasound of the patient’s abdomen, and a CT scan of her abdomen.  Things happen quickly in the emergency room, but they also happen slowly.  The process of ordering and interpreting all her blood work and resulting imaging took 4-6 hours.  She was quite sick, so I needed to check on her several times through my shift.  She was always positive and became a vibrant presence for most of my shift.  She was 60, with a daughter who was 27 who had just graduated from nursing school. 

Her CT scan came back showing masses consistent with cancer that had metastasized to her liver, lungs, spine, and bones. When my preceptor saw the CT scan, he asked me, “Was she nice?”  I responded, “yes.”  “It’s always the nice ones,” he replied.  I’ll never forget his question or his response.  He did not express disappointment that such a bad thing could happen to someone so good.  He said, “It’s always the nice ones.”  He continued, “I swear anytime someone nice comes in, they have cancer.”

After receiving her diagnosis, my patient asked for some chap stick and a blanket.  As a student I had the time to bring them to her.  When I brought them to her, she smiled sadly and told me her 27 year old daughter would be devastated by the news.  Then, she started describing her cross necklace that she wore daily.  She talked about how it encouraged her to be kind to other people and reminded her of the importance of God in her life.  She said that she forgot to wear it today, but that when she heard my name, “Christian,” she felt immediately comforted.  She laughed and wished me luck in my future.  She thanked me for caring for her that night.  How could she be grateful?  She had just discovered that she had cancer. 

Bad things happen to good people.  Life is not fair, but that night this patient reminded me that we have a choice to react joyfully to even those dark moments of our lives with kindness, joy, and laughter. 

How to Respond to People Entitled to Give Their Opinions

Quite often, when people see that I’m young, married and pregnant, their eyes flicker over my rounded form with incredulity, followed by a succession of questions and opinions.

 

 

“So…was this planned? I can’t believe that you’re already married and having kids so soon. You’re so young. Wow. I don’t think I’d ever be ready to have kids. I don’t get along with kids.”

 

“Oh, you’re religious? You must be crazy and intolerant.”

 

At first, I was baffled when I received these strong, unsolicited opinions out of the blue; then I began to feel indignant.  Why did people feel the need to show their disapproval, or ask extremely personal questions, when my life in no way interfered with theirs? It’s not like I was pushing my personal “agenda” onto them. They were the ones with the unsolicited comments and questions.  I would come home and rant to my husband, only to find out that he had similar experiences with his own friends and coworkers he barely knew.

 

What I hated the most were the assumptions that because I’m a young Christian living in an “outdated” manner, and because I’m open to life, that I’m going to fail. That I’m going to end up miserable, unfulfilled and dissatisfied because of my life views. That because we chose to get married and have a child young, I’m giving up on having a career, on being successful, on doing “more.”

 

I had always realized that our society views life, love, commitment and religion in a negative light, but I had never received backlash for it in my own life and wasn’t sure how to respond. Should I be defensive? Sarcastic? Ask an impertinent or intimate question on their family planning myself? I began to feel embarrassed when people looked at me, and dreaded their questions. And I hated that I felt that way. And the fact that I was shying away, and letting the opinions of others get to me made me feel even worse.

 

One day, I was working on a project with a coworker I had just met from a different department. Like the others, he glanced at my protruding belly. As he began asking me the questions about my family planning, my plans after having the baby and why I decided to get married after college, I suddenly felt calmness and security spread over me. I realized that the best way to answer these questions was joyfully, with calmness and honesty. I realized that my life was a model for Christ, and the way that I respond should reflect peace, joy and deliberation. We are the hands and feet of Christ in the world; we are His face that people see, and we need to be living examples of Him.

 

I answered my coworker honestly, with short reasons why I did what I did. My husband and I are open to life, which is why we are having a baby so “early” in our marriage. We fell in love with each other and wanted to commit to each other, which is why we got married. No, I don’t think children will ruin my life and I’m going to do my best to keep working on myself as well as raise our child well.

 

A few weeks later, I opened my Bible and found the following verse from Apostle Peter: “Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good? But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ my themselves be put to shame (1 Peter 3:13-16).”

 

As Christians, the way that we live our lives is really shocking to the outside world. Society views us as anomalies bound to fail, and members of society feel entitled to ask us questions on why we live our lives so differently. When faced with incredulity and criticism, it’s easy to withdraw; to become bitter, shy and elusive. I realized that as a Christian, it’s important to never shy away from giving answers to what and why we believe in our faith, even if we’re considered the biggest fools in the world.  And if, Lord willing, I managed to succeed in my life, I can be a living example that faith, love and commitment are not cruel, binding farces, and that there’s something more than a self-centered, secular, road to success.

 

Dance!

Boat, I will stay in the boat

Though the water glistens.

There is no shade,

And the sun is hot.

 

Land, one day I will see land.

The one I love is waiting

On the shore.

Quietly, over the water, he calls.

 

I think of him there,

Standing on the shore.

But the sun is so hot

And the water is sparkling.

 

River, it is a river.

The current runs far and wide,

Now fast, now slow. The water

Sparkles, and the sun is so hot!

 

But I will stay in the boat.

There are rapids ahead.

Magnificent they rise,

Deadly and mesmerizing.

 

The sun is so hot.

The one I love, still so far away.

I yearn. I feel so dry

And the water glitters.

 

Bored! I am getting bored.

In the sun my boredom

Is dry! My tears are wet

And so I let myself cry.

 

Parties! Oh we have parties.

They seem to me all the same.

And talk! I am tired of talk!

It is dry, and the sun is hot.

 

The water is full of promise,

Shimmering in the sun.

Lapping against the boat,

I almost long to jump.

 

Alive! I want to be alive

While I am living—for myself

And for the one I love.

Dance! He whispers across the water

 

Fear! I am afraid.

The people here do not dance

The whisper is getting louder

But I have not seen anyone dance.

 

but Stay! I want to stay.

Even though it is hot, the boat

Is going straight to the man I love.

I am weary, but I will stay.

 

Dance! The voice of my beloved

Pulses in my veins. It has long been gaining

Strength. The sun is so hot.

Afraid—I am afraid!

 

Through the rhythm in my veins

I hear the deck groan.

The boat seems to ache from stillness,

It appears a stage made for me.

 

Fire! I am on fire!

And my hips are beginning to sway.

For mercy I am on fire, I overflow!

And how I yearn for the man I love!

 

Tingles! My skin tingles

With every thought of the man I love.

My fears are dissipating, I do not

Care what anyone thinks.

 

Dance! I will dance

And the fire will blaze bright and free,

Refusing to be quenched by water,

Satisfied only on the shore.

 

Yearning! I am yearning

And the fire moves deep inside.

Hot, the burning fire in the sun 

But I do not care, I am alive.

 

 

Eyes. Quiet eyes. Unfamiliar eyes.

Peer across the deck, a shivering

Woman climbs aboard and

Asks to dance with me.

 

Cold? The water was cold?

And it did not sparkle underneath?

Please, come near the fire.

Catch all the heat you need.