4 years ago

Catholicism for Grown Ups: Shaking Off My Inner Little Girl (she’s got a good grip).


So there I was, all revved up to have a life-changing Lent.

And you know how perfectly that went for me, because the only thing I’m good at being consistent with is Instagramming.

Property of C. Svellinger

Each Sunday of Lent, Mass with our children became sweatier and thrashier.

Then Lent was basically over and Holy Week had begun.  All in all, I counted “make it to confession” my one and only success for Lent 2014.
Holy Week is my favorite –my most favorite!- week of the year.  I was looking forward to fully immersing my emotions and thoughts into Christ’s Passion, to feeling the sorrow of His crucifixion, to feeling Jesus’s pain, His sorrow, the weight of the Cross, in order that I would more deeply appreciate the joyous Easter vigil celebration.  I couldn’t wait to be lost in prayer as I inhaled the incense, and the sounds of piano, flute, and trumpets echoed through my ears.

None of that happened.  Absolutely none of that happened.

The last two weeks of Lent undid me to a tangle of nerves rubbed raw, zapped of energy and time.
My prayer life resembled weak whimpers, dry emptiness and exhaustion.
Aside from some personal matters that I won’t blog here (sorry guys! Really, I would spill my guts out, but I gotta draw a line somewhere.), anything that required my attention suddenly suffocated me. And oh, indeed I was required every waking-and-sleeping minute, which I admit is the stuff of parenthood, but for many reasons it was more intense than usual.

Why I didn’t take this as a hint that attending Easter Vigil might not be the best idea, I can only attribute to sheer derangement. Cutting out a thrilling tale which involves my husband’s sudden manspiration in the middle of the day to begin a carpentry project, we fine-dined on ye olde Mickey D’s in the Wendy’s parking lot and found ourselves amply on time for the Vigil Mass, to my disbelief. I might go as far as saying we were early.

Property of C. Svellinger
Boy, oh, boy. High on the punctual train.

And that was the high-point.

From the moment we shuffled through the church doors (I was shufflin’, because my tights somehow made my feet extra slippery, which caused my flats to flip off at my heels with each step, which is, you know, just superb when carrying a child), it was whine city.

We wisely chose to sit in the transept, behind the choir, underneath speakers which hang from the ceiling.  I looked up as Collin was shaking my poorly thought-out choice of a necklace like a maraca, and wondered how acutely those little puppies pick up noise from above. SHAKESHAKESHAKESHAKE …  mmm-hm.

Property of C. Svellinger
Just trying to add that pop o’ color to my otherwise funeral-themed garb. I promise no premeditated percussion intentions were had by me.


Mass began, and I was so excited to be there aaaand commence trip number 1 of 1,000 to the bathroom with Drink Guzzler Number One (pictured above). Then back out again to the foyer with Sir Collin, loudly asking to “NURRRRH?” while shoving his entire arm (to his armpit) down the top of my dress, while playing the maraca necklace salsa with his free hand. Then it was Craig to the foyer with Emmett who’d escalated his babbling to a distracting level.  Then switcheroo who gets to rest and hold the sleeping child. Then the other calls “mommieeeeeee” loudly until he gets his turn back.

Before I knew it, we were preparing to receive the Eucharist and I hadn’t had a single chance to participate in the celebration at all.

I half-knelt in the pew (Wait, how did I get back to my seat? Good timing, though.) blindly looking up to the ceiling, with Collin balanced in my lap: batting my necklace, climbing over my shoulder, pulling my hair at my temples (the best place for hair-pulling, let all mothers everywhere tell you), and I whimpered in prayer “God, this is awful.  This is just awful.”

And the words “…do this in memory of me.” rushed to my ears as I glanced down and saw Father hold high the Eucharist.

“How great it is to be Catholic” were my next thoughts, in spite of the simultaneous temple-hair-pulling:

It doesn’t matter how empty my spiritual life might feel.  It doesn’t matter how much I’m struggling to concentrate.  It doesn’t matter that the choir didn’t sing my favorite song (seriously, why not!?).  It doesn’t matter that I barely got a chance to meditate on Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice and really feel all the feels.  None of these things matter, because no matter how spiritually dry I might feel, the Mass is always here.

Jesus knew He needed to leave something for us, after He’d been resurrected.  He knew we’d still need Him to sustain us, before He comes again.

And I stood up as Collin lurched backward in frustration of his limited access to nursing zone, readjusted him on my hip, looked at Craig who had a babbling Emmett on his, and a fidgety Lexington at his heels, and we walked up to receive Jesus in the flesh.


End of Part one.  Go get a glass of water.  Bathroom break if you need.
Are we good now? Okay.  Part Two is quicker. Promise.

We attempted the after-Mass-partay, cause that’s what all the cool Caths do.  This is where I remembered something else kind of important:  Emmett has Autism.

We found ourselves in a crowded cafeteria, no place to sit down, full plates in our hands, and Emmett, his little face contorted in pain: in pain of being suddenly overwhelmed with an ocean of voices he didn’t recognize, of faces he did not know.  His only way to communicate this to us was to scream and kick and arch out of my Dad’s arms, who was trying to lead him to a seat at the time. I felt eyes on Emmett, felt eyes on me.  I felt all the shame of a parent who clearly can’t control her own child.  I pushed the shame away, and strode toward Emmett so that he could see a face he knew.

We left.
Not out of embarrassment, but because it’s the only way to help Emmett.

Property of C. Svellinger
Clearly overcooked, too, was Collin.

Emmett was socially overcooked by Monday morning after such an Easter Vigil combined with a very active Easter Sunday with our families. Yet, I made a rookie mistake that morning, thinking we might enjoy a leisurely stroll through the toy aisles of Target as I nursed my socializing hangover with a Venti Pikes Place + caramel flavaflave.

Screams at every turn, as I grab random toys off the shelf in vain to pacify Emmett in the shopping cart, while Collin and Lexington voice their own concerns over the toys, or spills of juice, or dropping various items. Sweating, prickly red mother bolts out of Target and drops precious pink cake pop on her way out.

And back in the SUV we were, with the car running idle in the parking lot. Me belting out tunes along to the Frozen soundtrack (I’M SUCH A FOOL I CAN’T BE FREE, NO ESCAPE FROM THE STORM INSIDE OF MEEEEE! *sobs*), in between mindlessly horking down my dirty cake pop, and scalding, harried slurps of my coffee, in attempts to calm the nerves and the body exhaustion, interiorly crying “God, will we ever be able to just go somewhere and have a normal time, ever again? It’s never going to be normal ever again, is it?”

Property of C. Svellinger
Yup, Carolyn. It’s a hard knock life for you in your little flowery scarf and coffee. Sure is. (this selfie was taken post singing Elsa’s part)

Later that day, I was standing in my kitchen, rehashing to my mom how difficult it’s been with the boys in these recent weeks (Oh, okay. I promise you, I completely understand that every other mother has it so much harder, but please humor me and go along with the verbose mommy woe.  Lemme roll in the deep.).

I told her of my mini epiphany during Mass, but still I was frustrated that there seems to be no end.

As Mom spoke her next words, I broke into a maniacal laughing-cry as I processed a well-known fact about Christianity, which my mom reminded me:

“If Christianity was all warm and cozy, and happy, and clappy all the time,
A. We’d be in Heaven already, and
B. Everyone would be Christian.”

This is the stuff saints are made of.

It’s the saints who felt  years of silence from God, yet sought Him out still. (Mother Teresa, St. Thérèse of Lisieux)

It’s the saints who, like Jesus, embraced their cross, their pain, their suffering, their loss, their emptiness, their illness, and thanked God for it.  How does that make any sense? 

It doesn’t,  it’s ludicrous.  It is a narrow way, and the suffering endured makes absolutely no sense until we look upon the Cross and see our God there, crucified: hands, feet,  and side pierced, wearing a crown. Of thorns. How could we rationally expect to live life on earth in a warm fuzzball of spiritual euphoria and perfect happiness, when Jesus Christ did not?

This is where my Easter Vigil epiphany came full circle:

It’s hard to persist in loving Christ when you’re not feeling any sort of consolation for your suffering, no matter what kind of suffering, especially when rough days are dragging on and on, and you see no end to it.  It’s easier to be angry with God and demand to know how He could allow pain and suffering to happen to His children, especially if He sent His son to die to save the world.

The suffering we do on earth is holy work, if for Christ.  It is the embodiment of God’s love for you and I: pain and suffering, and spiritual darkness.

It’s difficult to grasp. It’s not comforting to hear. By choosing Jesus, nailed to the Cross, in spite of our yearning for rest, we grow holy by having faith that God will grant us eternal rest, especially when we aren’t getting any respite here. And Heaven is that eternal life we are promised beyond the reaches of this world.

As much as I’d like to tell you how excellent that is, my piddly little cross certainly doesn’t feel holy, or noble, or valiant.  It feels a lot more like coffee grounds mixed in diaper ointment, mixed in my mascara, and smeared on my purse straps (Happened. Easter morning. Coffee grounds. Coffee grounds everywhere.) with sides of Autistic tantrums, hospital bills, and bloodshot, baggy eyes.

These are the trenches my husband and I face of late (and shallow are they, when we look upon the Crucifix!).  Jesus knew that even His death and resurrection would still leave me feeling spiritually dry and desperate at times, perhaps years (Please no.), so he left us the Mass and the Eucharist to fuel our faith weekly, and daily, if we wish, to armor us.  It’s the one Constant in this world that remains, regardless of the people or places or events surrounding which leave us crying out “WHY, God?!”.
“Do this in memory of me.”

Isn’t that great?  Isn’t it such a privilege to know it and participate in it?

So I cry and I laugh in delirium because this hurts like Heaven.

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Mt 28:20




Okay, quit trippin’, my Coldplay people.  I know.

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  1. Thanks for sharing honestly how life can be so difficult. I read your words and feel your underlying strength. Thanks also for reminding me of how we are supported by God’s love for us.

  2. LOVE & NEEDED THIS! Though we don’t have littles to wrangle at church…its so so true! Spiritual dryness, suffering, waiting all are tough.stuff at times. What an awesome reminder to whatever we struggle/suffer with…and why we really NEED the Eucharist weekly! thanks momma:)

  3. *APPLAUSE* This is so what I needed to hear today, from trenches even shallower than yours. There’s some truth to the old joke “sleep when you’re dead.” I’m putting on my big girl panties and bundling my baby and me off to daily mass in the morning. Might be just the thing to shake the 3-day funk we’ve been living in. Thanks for your honesty, and for your challenge to focus on what’s important, what can actually sustain us through this crazy season!!

  4. So, I don’t have kids yanking on me at Mass or any other time of the day, but I can relate to this in the way that ALL THE THINGS are yanking my mind and heart away from it all. Spiritual dryness sucks. It just sucks. And I have to keep reminding myself every day that we were not made for comfort, but for greatness. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…

  5. Oh Carolyn. This is all so true. It’s so hard to keep going when everything is tough, tough, tough. Whenever I feel this way too, I try to remember that God understands my feelings even when I don’t and even when I don’t understand Him. It sorta helps, it’s still tough though. Deep spiritual insights I’ve got right?

  6. Thank you for your honesty and openness to talk about your own hardships and spiritual dryness. It is nice to know I am not the only one. I had a similar Easter- wanted to feel something extraordinary and experience the incredible-ness of this feast day but I instead felt nothing special. I have been dealing with spiritual dryness and mental illness on top of that for 7 years and it is hard. It is very encouraging to be reminded that Chrisianity is not for the faint hearted and consolation on this earth is not a necessary component of Christianity. Thank you for the encouragement today!

  7. Girl, I love you! This was just what I needed to hear/read. I’m facing more medical issues after a surgery result last week was inclusive and my every waking moment has been fraught with worries about what will happen, and what the results will be after my next set of tests are done, and being afraid to go the bathroom because of the ouchies. It’s so hard to not crawl into a hole and cry, whispering, “why me, Lord why me?” It’s me because God is always with me and therefor I can handle it. it’s not rainbows and happy sunshine time, but that’s how life goes, that’s how Christ’s life went. And with God by my side there is nothing I cannot handle.


  8. YES!!!! Oh my goodness.. yes. All of it.. I really wish we could hang out again, and talk, again. Maybe I’ll text you. Because ALL OF THIS!!
    I’m sitting here at my laptop crying.. because YES!!
    I lived that vigil Mass last year, without a diagnosis, and it was only marginally better at the Easter Sunday Mass this year.
    I should stop here before my comment becomes a blog of it’s own.
    But.. I lift my coffee cup to you, my friend!!


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