To Be Useless, To Be Used

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

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

Henri Nouwen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Babies are exactly what this world needs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we enter into Advent, we need babies.

We especially need one baby.

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

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

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

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Personal Litany of Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parenting/Home Relationships

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

Mental/Emotional Health

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

Fundamental Faith Truths:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercy, what a state.

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

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

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

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

You are great, do you hear me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Mary Susan

May Auld 2020 be Forgot

We’re on the cusp of the holiday season.

Don’t shoot the messenger, y’all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Acknowledge that we’re in now now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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