Easter: Finding Joy in the Suffering

A couple of years ago, I was asked to portray the Blessed Mother in a drama about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Every year at Easter, I always recall that experience to mind. I really threw myself into the acting. I tried to see everything that happened through Mary’s eyes—I prayed that she would give me insight into what she felt and saw and knew in each scene, and through that experience and by the grace of God I gained a little window into the passion of Christ that I could go back to year after year as a great meditation for Holy Week—until last year.

Last year, God gave me a similar yet different experience of the sorrow of his passion and the hope of his resurrection that would leave a mark on my thoughts of Holy Week—one that I never in my wildest dreams expected.

Last Wednesday marked a year since my mom passed away.

I had been serving with a missionary group for about 8 months and we were in Los Angeles at the time. My mom was pregnant with her 8th child. She had had complications with high blood pressure for her last pregnancy, but this time around it was going really well and we weren’t really worried. I got a call around midnight from my mom saying that her blood pressure had gone up and they went to the hospital. She said after they got there, it went back down and they gave her the option of inducing labor or having a C-section. My mom HATED C-sections, so she chose labor.  She said she would keep me updated throughout the day while I was working a retreat for some middle school kids with my missionary team. Then we said a quick “love you” and hung up. After I hung up—something inside me said that that would be the last time I would talk to my mom. I pushed it out of my brain, and went to sleep, but that whole night I had dreams about getting “that phone call” telling me something had happened. I woke up to an update that she was only a few centimeters dilated and still had a ways to go so I carried on with my day. Around 10am I got a text from my dad of a picture of my new little sister, and god-daughter– Jennie Elizabeth—and I was so excited! But something gave me pause—that was a really quick labor. So I called my dad and he told me that my mom’s blood pressure had spiked again while he had gone to grab some food. She had a seizure and after it was over, she woke up and told the nurse that she was in pain. The placenta had ripped from the uterine wall and Jennie was without oxygen. They quickly put my mom under and did an emergency C-section.

Jennie was fine but my mom never fully regained consciousness after that.

What happened to her was essentially the perfect storm of pregnancy complications. My mom had DIC, which only happens to a small subset of women, where your blood loses its ability to clot. There was also a bleed in her abdomen that the doctors could not locate, so my mom began to bleed internally after the C-section. They had to put her on a ventilator because she could not breathe on her own anymore. A few hours after all of this happened, it was decided that I needed to leave my missionary team and fly home. I spent the night in the airport and caught a red-eye flight home. They said that during the afternoon my mom would occasionally open her eyes and was vaguely lucid. She seemed aware that she was in the hospital and would look around the room. I think at one point she tried to move and they had to restrain her arms after that. That night, my mom’s best friend told her I was on a plane home, and my mom squeezed her hand, and just like that she slipped back into unconsciousness.

I arrived early the next morning and the next 48 hours was an emotional roller coaster of life or death medical decisions and helping my dad take  care of a newborn baby for my mom who couldn’t. When I walked into the hospital room, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My mom was normally 115 lbs soaking wet. The woman couldn’t gain weight if she tried, but the woman I saw in the bed with tubes coming out of every possible place was swollen beyond belief with eyes that couldn’t open. She was barely recognizable. They had to do a surgery on her that morning to drain the blood from her abdomen and they decided to pack her and leave her open for the time being with a draining tube. Her kidneys began to fail and they also had to put her on dialysis. The doctors said her blood needed to clot before they could take care of anything else and that the next 24 hours would be critical. I remember praying the entire next night “Jesus, let her blood be your blood.” I said it to myself over and over again and hoped for a miracle.

The following day, nothing had really changed, and my dad and I decided it would be best if I took Jennie home. When I got there, I took a shower, and tried to take a nap while she was napping. Around 3pm, I got a call from my dad. After all the hope and the prayers of those 3 days, it was time. He told me to come back to the hospital, so I left Jennie with family friends and when I got there he explained that my mom’s blood was starting to clot, but it was clotting in the dialysis machine which was making the toxins from my mom’s kidneys rush to her heart. They could thin her blood, but then she would just continue to bleed. They had already revived her twice by the time I got to the hospital. There was no longer anything they could do. Her heart would continue to stop. A few days before, my mom had posted on Facebook:

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalm 73:26

I don’t think she realized how true that statement would be for her life in just a few days.

My dad then asked me, “Should we let her go? Should we tell them to stop reviving her?”

I can tell you with absolute certainty that what came out of my mouth next was both the easiest and hardest thing I had ever said.

I told him we should let her go, and in that moment I knew it was right and I felt peace for the first time in 3 days.

I was so sad, but I was so at peace because something in me knew for the first time in my life with absolute certainty that this was God’s plan. Sitting around her bed with my family, waiting for her heart to slow to a stop, I began to know, though not completely,  the sorrow, the hope, and the strength the Blessed Mother felt watching her son die on the cross.

Mary watched her son be beaten until he was unrecognizable. She watched him suffer as he walked with the cross up to Calvary. She watched him labor to breathe as he hung there. She felt the sadness and the sorrow for the pain of her son. She wished there was another way, but knew there wasn’t. She knew that she would miss him, but I believe she also knew that the suffering was worth the cost. She knew of her Son’s great love for us and she knew this was necessary in order for Him to gain salvation for those He loved. She knew that there was hope in this. She knew that there was hope, and that gave her strength.

In the same way, I knew of my mom’s great love for her children. I knew that if there was any way that she would want to leave this world—this would be it. Doing something she loved—being a mother– Giving that final piece of her heart to the world. I had hope and strength because my mom’s death was one of the greatest acts of love I’ve ever witnessed.

Bl.Mother Teresa once said

“ Love, to be real, it must cost– it must hurt—it must empty us of self.”

Her self-giving love was such a powerful witness of Christ’s sacrifice for me— and for all of us– one that will leave an indelible mark on my heart for the rest of my life.

After my mom passed, though, I began to feel the same confusion the apostles felt. After Christ died, they didn’t know what to do, so they hid. In the same way, I felt just as lost. My mom was my rock. The one who I turned to for comfort, for faith, for her opinion, and her advice. For the first time, I had to look at my world standing on my own two feet instead of leaning on her. I moved home to help my dad take care of Jennie and the rest of my siblings, and let me tell you— there were a lot of times this year that I hid just like the apostles. I hid from the people in my life that I cared about, from my own emotions, and even from God.  There were a lot of times when I wasn’t strong, when I couldn’t feel the peace that I felt that first night quite as strongly—But God was still there in those moments too. I don’t know what I would do without my brothers, my dad,my family, my friends, my church community. The outpouring of love that I and my family have received from our community in this year has constantly reminded me that I was not lost, and that there was no need to hide. Through the suffering, the doubt, and the pain—the hope of new life breaks through. The promise of the resurrection and salvation of God permeated even my darkest times. All I had to do was grasp it and hold on. When I miss my mom, I always remember that because of the great love and passion of Christ, my mom has found salvation, and that always brings me joy.

Joy—true Easter joy—is not just about being happy.

Joy is the fruit of our faith, hope, and love. It’s knowing that God is working and is close to our hearts in the good and the bad. It’s knowing that God works for the good of those who love Him, and that the trials of this life are nothing compared to the eternity that is waiting for us in heaven.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor she has sorrow, because her hour has come, but when she delivers the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, because of the joy of knowing that a child is born into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
John 16:20-22

This is my prayer for all of you this Easter—whoever you may be– that you would know the true Easter joy and let NO ONE or NOTHING take that joy from you. Whatever battle you are facing, big or small, be assured that Christ has already won. Know that He is and will always be victorious over suffering and  death. YOU belong to Christ, who has purchased your salvation with His unending love.So when you are suffering, walk with Christ and his mother up to Calvary and share in his cross, but always remember that his suffering leads to the hope of new life and there is always a reason to rejoice!

HE IS RISEN!

Happy Easter!

-Hailey

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In Memory of Gwen DeLaune
Jan 10, 1972- March 23, 2015

Let’s talk about the D-word!

Ha. No—not that ‘D’ word. The other one.

Discernment.

If you’re Catholic/Christian and in your early to mid 20’s you have probably heard that term ad nauseam. I feel like I hear it on a daily basis but I feel that a lot of us use the term too flippantly.

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What I mean by that is, a lot of the time I hear the word used as an excuse to avoid making a decision.

“I can’t really do that right now… eh heh hem… I’m … Discerning…”

Or a lot of times I hear the word only reserved for the use of describing someone’s never ending battle with God  about whether they are going to join the convent, go to seminary, or hold out to see if Mr. or Mrs. Right is ever going to come along.

“Well.. I’m kind of discerning my next step in life righ…”

“WAIT–  You’re going to be a priest?!”

But, I’m here to tell you friends, discernment is not just for those big ticket items on the list of our lives. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he says, “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophesying, but test everything. Hold fast to what is good and abstain from what is evil.”

Test EVERYTHING. Everything in our lives needs discernment. Paul told us not to quench the Spirit who thirsts to be a part of our lives. God wants to be a part of ALL of our decisions. He wants to permeate our lives. I am not saying take an hour to pray about what you’re going to eat for lunch, but we are, on some level, supposed to take our decisions to God and ask him to conform them to HIS will—not the other way around.

But the big question is—how do we discern? There have been tons of books written and many talks given, but I will spell out a few pieces of discernment advice I have found helpful  for all aspects of life.

  1. God is most likely not going to call you up on your cell phone to tell you what college you should go to, who to date, what to give up for lent (Netflix. It’s a struggle, y’all.), how to find a new job, where to live, or how to remove or change a negative relationship in your life. I do not doubt God’s power—He can do whatever He wants, but His preferred mode of communication from the beginning has typically been in ‘the whisper’ and not in ‘the earthquake’ and delaying decisions for long amounts of time while waiting for Him to come down in a big booming voice and hand you the answer is probably not the most practical thing to do.Don’t get me wrong–we can’t discern impulsively either (Applying for a missionary year a few days after your boyfriend breaks up with you—probably not a prudent decision. Lucky for me, God works all things for the good those who love him, am I right?)
  2.  Adopt a spirit of detachment. 

    Imma let my girl St. Teresa of Avila spit some truths on this one–“We can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can—namely surrender our will and fulfill God’s will in us.”

    We have to know ourselves as children of God and we have to surrender our will to the father who loves us.I heard from someone once about a father who wanted to give his 3 year old son a cookie, and how instead of having his hands open to receive what the father was going to give– he jumped up and down and grasped at the cookie jar.

    When it comes to our plans, why are we so hell bent on grabbing the cookie jar for ourselves? God wants to give us every gift possible in this life and for eternity but how can we receive that if we are trying to grasp at the things we only think will make us happy? — because let’s be honest, we never really know for sure. We have to detach from what we want and trust that our Father in heaven will give us what we need.

    In discernment, we have to take to prayer the intention of conforming our will to God’s and also for the grace that we need to detach from what we may think is right and stop grasping at it. If you’re still holding on to something tightly in your life, you are not ready to discern what God wants for you because you have already made your decision.

    Detachment takes trust. We have to trust that God isn’t going to force us into something that we absolutely do not want to do. He doesn’t want to fill his seminaries and convents with people who hate the idea of that vocation just for the sake of filling them. He’s not trying to trick you into doing his bidding at the expense of your happiness. We just need to take our blinders off to allow God to bring clarity into our lives. His clarity won’t affect us if we’re not going to see past our own plans. We have to detach first to be able to discern anything.

  3. Once we detach, we have to move.God can’t guide someone who is standing still.
    For those of us who are in/have gone to college – you know that you have to walk through the door to figure out if you’re in the right class or not on the first day. Sometimes, you have to sit through the whole thing before you realize…). I can’t give you an exact blow by blow of discernment because it is different for everyone—but I can say that once you move, God is better able to open doors for you or shut them. You will begin to either have a sense of peace or a sense of discontentment or anxiety. You may see where God is leading you after a few hypothetical steps forward, or you may need to go even farther than that before you realize, but be assured that God has you where you are for a purpose, even if He doesn’t allow you to see it all the way through.

    At the end of my junior year of college, I began to work on getting into Grad school for counseling. That was always the plan. I registered for the GRE, bought the practice book, and then a few months later realized I had absolutely no desire to do it and it wasn’t just senioritis kicking in. I took it to prayer and realized I was filled with this huge anxiety—I was trying to shove my life into this little tiny box labeled “My plan” and I didn’t want to let any of it go, but it was exhausting to hold on to it all. It took me a while but I eventually realized that God’s plan for me was a lot more freeing than my tiny little box. I could look back on it from where I am now, and say that I wasted my time getting a bachelors in Psych only to become a youth minister with no plans of pursuing counseling, but I know that God brought me through that stage of my life for a purpose. It was necessary.

  4.  Take a step back and analyze what is happening. Do you have peace, or not? Is what you are doing bringing you closer to God, or not? If it doesn’t feel right, chances are you need to go back to the drawing board and make adjustments. But eventually, as you detach from your will, and move, and pray, and reflect – God will get you where you need to be. In His time. Not yours.
  5. Whatever you are discerning, big things or little things, do not fear making the wrong decision. Fear is not of God. 

    “The goal of all of our undertakings should be not so much a task perfectly completed as the accomplishment of the will of God.” – St. Therese of the child Jesus and the Holy Face 

    If we place Christ at the center of our lives, we no longer have to rely on our imperfect nature but Christ’s perfection, and His perfect love casts out all fear and doubt.If we bring Christ into the center of our decisions and act WITH him rather than without him, we don’t need to worry— He WILL make straight our paths.

 

Happy Discerning!

— Hailey

{Morning Reflection}

“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart.” {Jl 2:12}

“Even now” He says. Even when you are feeling at your messiest. Even when you feel your weakest. Even when you feel everything is out of control. He says {Now}. Right now. Not when you have your life cleaned up, under control, and presentable. He says {Now}.
“Return to me with your whole heart.” Not just the pretty parts, the ones you have perfected. He wants everything, the wounds, brokenness, and messiness as well as the good, clean, and strong parts. Your {whole} heart.
Your mess is His…

What is Magdalene House?

Magdalene House– You may be wondering ‘where did that name come from?’

Well, we do realize that it is kind of a strange name for a blog but it has a special meaning for us.  I can pin-point  the night that the sisterhood of these women who contribute to this blog began. We were all friends, of course, but driving home from an Audrey Assad concert the Holy Spirit moved and we began to talk about our desire for intentional relationships in our life.  We began to talk about finding a place for all of us to live together in community, so that not only could we help each other grow in our relationships with God but we could welcome others into that home to find a place of rest, of comfort, a place to be and to be loved. We decided that we would name the house the Magdalene house—partially because the girls humored my (Hailey’s) obsession with Mary Magdalene, my patron saint, and partially because of the example that she sets for us. She was a woman who was welcomed back into the arms of the Lord despite her brokeness, a woman who left everything to follow him to the ends of the earth, a woman who proclaimed the good news of His resurrection, and who lived in community with his apostles and the Blessed Mother. What a great example of a powerful woman of God!

We decided to pray a novena to help us find this house, but through much prayer and a lack of affordable houses we began to see that it was not God’s will for us to live in this ‘Magdalene House.’But instead of the house, the Lord began a greater work in us instead. This group of women, small at first, began to seek out intentional relationships with one another and were then empowered to welcome others in. Over the course of the last two years we have grown not only in size but in love. Through our little intentional community we have been able to love each other in good times and in bad, to pray with one another, to seek goodness, beauty, and truth together in all things. And here we are.

At this moment.

Two years ago, it was not time for us to have our Magdalene House, but now we feel the Lord has called us back to the idea in a different way. We decided amongst the 5 of us to start a blog–to share the beauty, truth, and goodness that we see in our daily lives with the world. To welcome the stranger, not into a physical home, but into the home of our hearts and our community. To carry out the basis of the mission of the Magdalene House that we originally came up with that night in a car on the highway. And the Lord has been so faithful to preserve that desire in us over the last few years. We can’t wait to see the plan that He has for us through this little blog, but we dedicate all of it for His glory through the Blessed Mother and St. Mary Magdalene’s intercession.

And on behalf of all of us from the Magdalene House, I say—

Welcome to our home!

— Hailey