On Seasons and Suffering

There’s a meme floating around Facebook right now that makes me happy every time it pops up in my newsfeed.

Set against a backdrop of gold and crimson trees, it features a quote from everyone’s favorite Edwardian redhead, Anne of Green Gables. “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

So am I, Anne. So, am I.

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I’m particularly grateful I live in a world with this October. Not because of the turning leaves, turtleneck sweaters, and advent of all things pumpkin—although I am grateful for those things. On a normal year, I can get my fall on with the best of them. But this year, I’m grateful simply because the arrival of October means the Summer of 2015 is over and done with. Goodbye. Good riddance. Sayonara.

As far as seasons go, I’ve had worse than this past summer. There were still lovely visits with friends and family, lots of fun outings and evenings with my Christopher, and even a trip or two.

But, despite the good that was, most of the summer felt like one of those anxiety dreams, where you can’t quite move fast enough…or move at all…where some event is spinning wildly out of control and no matter how hard you try, you’re powerless to change anything.

These past few months, I’ve been caught up in an awful vortex of anxiety, work, and pain: a book project I just couldn’t seem to complete, no matter how much I worked; house projects, with which I needed help that I couldn’t find; surgery, which caused more complications than expected; and one mysterious pain after another, which no amount of medical testing or voodoo witchery (aka naturopath doctor) could explain.

If you’re familiar with the temperaments, I’m a classic choleric, with just enough melancholic in me to make me bearable. Which means I’m a doer. Planning, working, bringing order to my world and sticking to a schedule—all of that keeps me sane. It helps me feel like I have some measure of control over my life. Or, more accurately, it allows me to live in the illusion of control.

Normally, I can live in that illusion quite comfortably. Very little stops me. I power through stress and power through pain, gaining energy as I tick off items on my to-do list. Six years ago, after I had major open abdominal surgery, I was walking laps around the hospital less than 16 hours after they wheeled me out of recovery. A few weeks later, I was hosting a sit-down Thanksgiving for two-dozen adults and their children.

That’s me. At least, that’s normally me. But not this summer. This summer, I couldn’t power through. I couldn’t catch up. I couldn’t wrestle everything under control. Order was always just out of reach.

So, first blogging stopped. Then, dinner parties stopped. After that, cooking stopped. Eventually, just about everything, save for writing and being with the boyfriend, stopped. By the middle of September, movement itself stopped. A walk to the kitchen for a drink of water left me in debilitating pain. I couldn’t shower without tears.

It was horrible. Humiliating. And humbling. For all that I can wax poetic about the power of suffering, I’m awful at actually doing it. I didn’t want to offer it up for the salvation of souls or the state of the world. I didn’t want to accept it. I just wanted it to be over. I hated having to ask for help. I hated feeling like a burden. I hated every moment of it. I didn’t feel like me anymore. Without my ability to do, I didn’t know who I was.

Which, of course, is part of the gift of physical suffering. It’s also part of the gift of aging.

Injury, illness, old age—all of it strips us of the things we think are “us,” the things we think make us valuable, important, and worthy of love. What remains after that stripping is the real us, the unique human being created by God, loved by God, and alive because of God. In suffering, in weakness, we find ourselves. We stand naked before our Creator and have to look on ourselves as we truly are—the good, the bad, and the shockingly ugly.

It’s a frightening task, but it comes with the most necessary reminder we’ll ever receive: the sheer fact of our existence is a gift, unmerited and unearned. We don’t matter because we cook or write or run fast. We matter because we breathe.

In our moments of greatest helplessness, God shows us that. If we let him, he helps us see ourselves in relation to him and him alone. And as we do that, we realize that none of the rest really matters, even the good stuff like golden leaves and pumpkin spice lattes. It all falls away, having served its purpose of bringing us closer to him.

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For most of us, those lessons are learned in passing seasons of pain or sorrow. Some—those with special needs or chronic illness—live in that season always, reminding us more than themselves of what makes a life matter. But again, for most of us, the suffering passes, health or calm returns, and we move on into a different season of life.

I think I’m moving on now. The book is off. The house projects are almost done. And the pain, although not gone, has significantly abated. We still don’t know what causes it. Frankly, my money is on stress.

Regardless, with the change of the seasons, a new season for me is here as well. I’m cooking again, taking pictures of what I’m cooking, and even have plans for a little party next week. I’m thankful for a new season, just as I’m learning to be thankful for the season now past.

All of which is to say, that barring acts of God, The Catholic Table is open for business once more.

Yes, I know. I could have said that by simply posting a recipe.

Regardless, if you’ve made it to the end of this rambling, reflective, decidedly un-foodie like post, I leave you with this parting (and somewhat relevant) thought.

For as much as this blog sings the praises of hosting and hospitality, if you’re currently in a season where cooking a meal or throwing a party sounds like a fancy pipe dream, the stuff of fairy tales or fantasy stories, don’t worry. Don’t fret. Don’t feel guilty. This is the season you’re in. There are other lessons to be learned now, other tasks to be carried out. Someday, this season will pass, new seasons will come, and with them, new recipes and new excuses for showing others your love.

But, for those of you who are in a season where hosting and cooking and drinking are possible, don’t let it go to waste. There are people out there who need you to invite them in. There are people who need your time, your energy, and your pumpkin soup—people who can’t take care of themselves right now, some who aren’t even sure they’re worth taking care of. Show them they’re wrong.

And with that, I’m off to walk…slowly. I’ve got lots of new recipes in the queue, and will be featuring autumn favorites for the next several weeks, starting (later this week) with Pan-Fried Gnocchi, tossed with Butternut Squash, Bacon, and Brown Butter.

Oh, it’s good to be alive.

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21 thoughts on “On Seasons and Suffering

  1. emlunsford says:

    So glad that you are feeling better. I will be keeping you in prayer as I anxiously await the gnocchi recipe! God bless you, Emily. Thank you for sharing your life, struggles and joys, with your readers.

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  2. Margo, Thrift at Home says:

    so glad you’re back! I was worried that something big/bad was happening.

    Your reflections on pain are very helpful -I’m sending your post on to some friends because it’s something we’ve tried to “figure out” before.

    Love your exhortation at the end – we all have a space to fill in this world – “They also serve who only stand and wait” (one of my favorite poems/lines). My hosting these days is very stripped down because of busy family life, but we always have a good time so I keep reminding myself it’s not fancy food that my friends want, but just time and space to be together.

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  3. Erin says:

    Missed you! Suffering is just.so.hard. Thank you, Jesus, for making us suffer so we know we are not You. This has been my prayer so many times! It is so human to recoil at pain and suffering. May you enjoy this Autumn season.

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  4. Ree Laughlin says:

    So happy you are back. I missed you. Offering prayers for complete healing. I’m of similar personality and this summer was like hurricane season, yet not as intense as yours. I’m parting ways with one huge obligation after 11 years. A hard decision to make because I am much older than you and having purpose means a lot to me. I have admitted that “this gray mare she aint what she used to be” and needs to figure out where to apply the remaining energies. God bless!

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  5. octoberrose says:

    Oh, this has been my summer too. (Well, not the physical pain. But the being forced to confront yourself as you are, etc.) Prayers for you that the pain eases, or that you find it’s cause … and it is good to “see” you here again!

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  6. Jonas says:

    I’m with everyone else. Glad to see the blog back up. It takes lots of willpower to offer up suffering when most of us act like Jonah and seek the next ship out of town. As for me, the whale waited for me. A priest said in his homily that when we’re down and out, God can be God and help us, instead of us powering through everything. In the end, I needed the whale to change my life around.

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  7. Robin says:

    Oh Emily,

    So wonderful to hear from you again! Your writing always touches something deep inside me and causes me to really THINK and PRAY; Iron sharpening iron! So much humility and love come through. I will continue you to pray for you.

    Robin

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  8. Barbara says:

    I followed a link on FB and am so glad I did. I can totally relate. My summer was much the same with chronic pain and anxiety (minus a surgery). We had a wedding, which was wonderful, but quite something to recover from. Now we’re back in the school season and I have one to home school, a family to feed and take care of, and grown children to nurture at Sunday dinner. I think I just need to get outdoors more, even just to sit by a fire and knit. Best to you on your journey this fall.

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  9. fairweatherpaddler says:

    I’d only just found your blog and then you were gone. Glad you’re back and coming out the other side. Sometimes when God takes the steering wheel, it is hard. Really hard. I try to look on my own suffering recently as God breaking me in like a leather glove. Painful at the time, but once done the leather glove – me – will move more fluidly with the hand – God’s plan.
    Looking forward to seeing more from you.

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  10. RachelM says:

    I’m right there with you; after almost 15 years of intense and nearly constant fibromyalgia pain, I’ve also been diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia–the “suicide disease,” so called because the condition is widely thought to be the most painful disease there is. 2 months and 3 different doctors haven’t yet brought any relief. Eating and drinking–even the Eucharist–are painful enough to make me cry hysterically in public. (::wince::) St. Faustina’s diary has been terrifically helpful–would love to hear of any books you’ve found helpful. Meanwhile, I’ll offer up my pain for your healing. I’ve plenty to spare. 😉

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  11. Maureen Farris says:

    Thank you, Emily, for this very meaningful post!! It helped me see the blessing and purpose of what I’ve been going through – bringing me closer to God. I love your very engaging writing style too!

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  12. anneieb says:

    Hi Emily, I had the pleasure of hearing and meeting you at the Courage conference this summer. This post really resonated with me. I am typing my comment with my left hand since I shattered my right wrist on September 2nd. I have tried mightily to “offer it up.” I find this is much easier to do with pain than with the frustration of having to ask for help. I guess that is what the Lord wants me to work on….. Be well and at peace.

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