You are not dead. You are waiting.

One winter vacation when I was in college, I went with my mother to a charismatic healing Mass. You could say that I had been “struggling” with depression, but that’s not really the word. I lived there.  I was being swallowed whole by it, day after day, and I could not get out. Wherever people led me, I would go, whether they liked or loved me, hated me, or just found me useful. So I went with her to ask for healing, not with hope, but just because it couldn’t hurt.

The service was emotional—tacky, to be honest— and while the priest was fervid, the scattered congregation sounded sheepish and forced as they softly hooted and called “Amen!” into the chilly air of the church.

We lined up and the priest recited some words of healing—I forget them utterly—over each of us.  Then he gave every forehead a firm shove, to put us off balance in case the Holy Spirit wanted to overcome anyone.  A few people crumpled and passed out, snow melting quietly off their boots onto the tiled floor.  Most of us just staggered a bit under the pressure, recovered, stepped around the fallen, and went back to our seats.

Well, I thought, another dead encounter with dead people in a dead world.  I slid into my pew.  Nothing had changed because nothing could change.  I was dead, and everyone else was allowed to be alive.  Why?  Who knows?  Someone had been sent for help, but help would not come.  Help was not for me.

And then I heard these words in my head, “You made Me wait.  Now you can wait for a while.”  They were not my words.  The tone was warm, a little sad, with a small vein of humor.  I think I was being teased, chided for taking so long to send for help.  You like games, talitha?  All right, I will play.  Now, wait.

Then I went home. Nothing happened, that I could see.

Years later, I thought of that day as I read Tomie dePaola’s The Miracles of Jesus with my four-year-old daughter.  She listened attentively, but I could see that most of the wonders didn’t impress her much.  In these short narratives, some kind of grown-up problem is introduced—and then poof, God solves it, The End.

I think she saw Jesus acting more or less like all adults act:  making good things appear arbitrarily, making sick people feel better, occasionally being cranky and strange, and wishing people would say “thank you” more often.  It was cool, but it didn’t mean much to her. They were miracles, not the kind of thing that happen in real life.

Jairus’ daughter, however, really got her attention—probably because it was about a child, and also because it was a full story, with suspense, despair, and a happy ending, plus the hint of a full life to come.

Jesus hears the news that the girl was sick, but He isn’t teleported to her bed. He walks, one foot in front of the other, on His way to her.  And when He gets there, it’s too late. Her family is weeping; the girl, the poor little thing who wanted to be healed, is already dead.

My daughter got very quiet at this point.  We read on:

“But Jesus said, ‘Do not weep.  She is not dead.  She is asleep.’
And the people only laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.

She looked at me with big eyes.  They laughed at Jesus!

Jesus took her by the hand and said, ‘Child, arise.’
And her spirit returned and she got up at once.  Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.”

At this point, my daughter hurled herself at me and gave me a big, squeezing hug. She got that part!  She knows about being sad, needing help, waiting far too long, being rescued, and then having something to eat, because all these ups and downs make you hungry.  And then life goes on, once you have been saved.  Here was a miracle she could appreciate—the kind that’s part of a story.

I got it, too, because I knew that story. I had been that girl. And I had heard that voice. It was a long time, and a lot of steps, before my slow rescue from the dead came up to the speed where it was recognizably healing, recognizably a wonder. But I never forgot the words I heard, telling me that help was on the way. That I wasn’t really dead; I was waiting.

If you have ever lived inside a black hole; if you have moved about the world enclosed in a dome of sound proof glass, with no voices but your own voice, which you hate above all other sounds in the world; if you have felt so bad for so long that you don’t even want life to get better, you just want it to be over—then you will understand that it was very, very good to hear this voice that simply said, “You are not dead. You are only sleeping. And I am on my way.”

I was not merely sitting in that cold pew, it told me. I was sitting and waiting.  Someone was with me; or at least, someone was on the way.  I was happy to wait.  I was happy!  This was new.

That was how I began to be healed, more than twenty years ago.  It was a long road of waiting, after I began to be healed.  It is a long road.  I’ve been in therapy for over three years, and now I’ve started spiritual direction. I don’t know what is next. The road keeps getting longer, to be honest, and every time I think I am finally healed, I see that I am not, not yet. But I can see Christ better and better as He approaches, step by step. My healing started when I asked Him, without hope, for healing.

That is what our breath is for: To call out for help. As long as we still have breath in us, we are not dead, we are only sleeping.  We are not alone; we are waiting for Christ to arrive.

Can you wait a little longer? You are not dead. You are waiting.

 

***
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Related reading: I thought good Catholics didn’t need therapy. Then I went.

Mindfulness, meet my bumper

Don’t shoot those helicopters down

Ten things about therapy

Passing through the moor

When you are sad, cry.

Don’t you realize comedy is a matter of life and death?

Faith, reason, depression, and help

A version of this essay originally ran in the National Catholic Register in 2011.

 

 

 

Suicide and abortion stem from the same lie

Those looking from the outside can readily see that severely depressed people do not actually need or deserve death, no matter what they say. Instead, they need and deserve to be rescued from the dark lies that call death their only choice.

There is no easy answer to intense human suffering, but one thing is sure: We do not show love by enabling despair, by affirming the lies that make death attractive, by keeping other humans in a dark hole. Love is truth, even painful truth. Love never affirms lies.

But if we see this so clearly in the case of senseless, tragic suicides, why do we hedge when it comes to abortion?

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image by Thom Chandler via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Passing through the moor

This impulse, this drive to name, categorize, and find meaning in every experience, is the hallmark of a rational creature. We do not want to be like witless crickets, singing and leaping our way through the world, taking seasons as they come and then one day mindlessly coming to an end ourselves. We are made in the image of God, and that means we know there is meaning; and so we want to know why things happen. We want to know what our lives mean.

But sometimes, we can’t. Sometimes we are passing through the moor, on our way to a strange and new life we would never have chosen for ourselves. We cannot name what we see in that great expanse of dark. And it is normal to, like Mary, simply decide we do not like it.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

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Photo by Dan Cook via Flickr (Creative Commons)

How to thaw a frozen heart

Ever have frozen pipes?  Us hardscrabble New Englanders are used to dealing with them, but 2017 is shaping up to be colder than average, and soon people all across the country may discover the joy of waking up, heading to the sink, turning on the tap, and getting a fine, rushing stream of nothing at all.  Bah.  I suppose you should have checked the weather report last night, and you should have left the cabinet doors open and left the faucet running just a trickle. Or gosh, you should have invested in some pipe insulation or heat tape when the home inspector said it would be a good idea.  But you didn’t, and now here you are.

Moreover, you need to do something about it quick, before the ice in your pipes expands and bursts and floods your basement and walls.  Then you’ll have more than no water to worry about — you’ll have water damage, corrosion, mold, and alligators.  Basement alligators.  Take it from me, a hardscrabble New Englander:  when my pipes freeze and I have to send my husband, who is from Los Angeles, down to the basement to deal with it, you do not want any part of those burst pipe basement alligators.  They do not fool around.

So, your pipes are frozen.  What do you do?  Oh, it’s simple.  You dedicate the next several hours of your life to one of the most mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly tediously activities known to man:  you sit there with a hairdryer, heating up the pipe.  You could use a blow torch, which is hotter and faster, but then you will hot and fast a hole in your pipe, and your pipe will no longer be frozen, but it will no longer be a pipe, per se, either.

You sit and you sit, and you heat up that pipe.  Is it working?  Who knows?  If you are in the basement (which is where the frozen part probably is), you will be haunted by the fear that you are not aiming the heat at the right spot.  Somewhere in there, up in the cobwebby shadowland of joists and timbers, there is the spot of evil, the point where everything is getting held up, the coldest little nubbin in the universe, which is making everything miserable, unworkable, intolerable, frozen.  You think you are probably heating it up, and making that little gob of ice smaller and smaller, but what if you’re not?  What if the real trouble spot is icing itself up more and more as you speak, and you’re sitting there like a moron, concentrating all your time and effort on a bit of pipe that is fine?

Do not switch tactics.  Do not move.  Take it from me, a hardscrabble New Englander who has done this at least once, several years ago, and then realized that, even if your husband doesn’t want to do it, he kind of has to, and so it’s his turn from now on:  stick with the spot you picked.  Sit there.  Blow with that stupid old hair dryer.

And eventually, it will happen:  WHOOSH.  The water will come on.  I promise you. Just when you are about to give up — or maybe when you have given up, three or four times already, and then glumly, grudgingly, hopelessly gone back to the dreary task, it will happen.  It will work.  The blockage will clear, the ice will melt, the water will flow again, and life can go on.  You will have running water again.

Oh!  You thought I was talking about the pipes, didn’t you?  Yes, well, that too.  But I’m talking about prayer.  I’m talking about suffering and pain, and despair, when everything is blocked up and impossible, and the water won’t run, and the day can’t happen.

I’m talking about the seemingly foolhardy effort we put into fixing our lives, sitting there in the dark, wishing and praying and hoping with all our hearts that our stupid little hot breath of air is actually going to make a difference. We’re not even sure if we’re aiming it in the right direction. What if I should be doing something else, instead? What if all this effort is wasted?  What if I’m not having any effect at all, when I go, “Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary?”  Should I try something else? Should I even bother?

Take it from this hardscrabble Catholic, who cannot, after a certain point, palm everything off on her husband.  Do not move. Do not switch tactics.  Keep on praying, keep on pointing your feeble little stream of air at that invisible clump of ice.  It will melt, I promise you.  It will give way.  And the water of life will come  rushing back, WHOOSH.  And life will go on.  And you won’t have to even think about the alligators again.  Not until next time.

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This essay was originally published in the National Catholic Register in 2014.
Image by Lara Danielle via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The Fishers’ Shmedifying Guide to Van Maintenance

Drips, smells, rumbles, squeals, groans, blinking lights, shudders, tremors, mice, hiccups, spasms, heat that won’t turn on, heat that won’t turn off, heat that smells like dolphin meat, the unpredictable squirting of fluids, and the occasional refusal to acknowledge who’s in charge here. This is just what it’s like having a car that you aren’t making huge monthly payments on, and if you can’t live this way, then you’re overdue for a fancy pants check, Mr. Fancy Pants.

Read the rest at the Register. 

At the Register: True Suffering Isn’t Photogenic

Don’t add pain to pain by expecting it to “hurt so good.”

PIC emo tears and mascara