I recently got a request from a blog follower to say something about being grateful for our trials and tribulations because they make us stronger. It was a fair request, but one that I cannot honor. One thing I learned in my Clinical Pastoral Education training for Chaplaincy was to BE with people in their pain — not try to define it for them, or tell how it should be, or try to fix it. Just be with them. When people are hurting, sometimes the last thing they want to hear from another person is that this will make them stronger. And because I have no idea who all the people who read this blog are or what they are facing in their lives, I hesitate to say that what they are facing will make them stronger. It’s just not a given.
But today, I want to tell you about my dearest of all friends, Sr. Christine Mulready, CSJ, or as I called her, Chrissie. Chrissie was my best friend, my maid of honor, my son Geoff’s godmother, and a guiding light in my life. She was, in a word, a saint. Not a one dimensional, solemn, never-do-anything-fun kind of saint. She was a fully alive, funny, deeply faithful saint who loved God immensely and loved God’s people more, especially the poor. And Chrissie knew a lot about trials and tribulations. She was born into a large Irish Catholic family, the oldest of six children. When Chrissie was just eight years old, her mother died of cancer, leaving behind six children under the age of eight, including two year old twins and a three month old baby. Chrissie’s family had the cancer gene, and she, too, was diagnosed with cancer at age 46. She died six years later.
But in her short life, she did amazing things. Chrissie lived her life as a nun in the Community of the Sisters of St Joseph. She worked tirelessly for the poor and the forgotten all her life. She travelled to Iraq during the first Iraq war and brought Iraqi children who had been injured in the war back to the United States for treatment. She traveled to Bosnia during the Bosnian War on a fact-finding mission and advocated back home for an end to the atrocities there. She travelled to Haiti to help bring attention to the profound poverty of the Haitian people. She performed multiple acts of civil disobedience to protest nuclear weapons. She did all this with a lightness of spirit and an infectious joy. She was a person who just sparkled. She loved life, despite her own suffering and the suffering she witnessed all over the world.
Chrissie had a great saying. She used to say: “There are two kinds of suffering: Redemptive… and crap!” Sometimes our trials can teach us things and make us stronger. But sometimes things happen to us that are just awful — that are just crap. There’s no other way to describe it. And not everything we experience in life necessarily makes us stronger. Some things can really level us, make us feel more vulnerable. Sometimes we come out of our trials feeling fragile, not stronger. And that is ok.
But here is what I do believe, in the midst of feeling fragile and vulnerable; even in the midst of the crap. I believe in a God that can bring us back to life even after those kinds of trials. I believe in a God who can redeem any situation, no matter how dark. John’s gospel put it best: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not put it out…” I don’t think all our suffering makes us stronger. But I do think God can bring us back to life even when we experience profound suffering and are weakened by it. Everyday we are offered more life, another possibility, another chance. Sometimes we can run toward that invitation. Sometimes we limp toward it. But however we get there, the invitation always stands. We are loved.
So, for my last gratitude post, let m say that I am deeply, profoundly grateful for God. For a God who never forgets me, even in my darkest hour; for a God who created masterpieces like Chrissie, whose light still shines in my heart; for a God who is able, as St Paul says, to do immeasurably more than we could ask for or imagine. I am grateful for a God that everyday offers us new possibilities, no matter where we are in life.
And I am grateful to all of you who have faithfully followed this blog all month. I hope it helps you feel more grateful during the bleak months of winter. Blessings.