How am I doing?

You should be pleased to know that I’m doing quite well. I woke up two days ago and swept the apartment. My mom couldn’t even get me to do that without threats or guilt trips. I just woke up with the desire to work, so I did. I studied, did homework, cleaned, and sent the gazillion emails I’ve been meaning to send. I swept again yesterday morning and even did some cleaning in the evening. I worked too, and didn’t feel miserable doing it.

What changed? Well, my doctor added something new to my medication. It didn’t do anything for the first two days and I felt discouraged, but once it kicked in it worked like magic. I still feel depressed, but it’s different. I don’t feel the crushing desire to do nothing but I still feel down and I can cry at the slightest provocation. It’s basically depression without the physical side effects. I can function. For that alone I am very thankful.

With these new changes have come a new friend – fear. I’ve never been one to worry (before the last three weeks, that is) because I have a technique for dealing with fear. When I have a problem, I do what I can about it, tell God that the rest is his responsibility and forget about it. That makes it easy to get through each day in peace. But I’ve been worrying incessantly about my grades this semester (no more than other semesters, though) because I’ve not been doing much studying – or anything really. Now that I feel better, I’m doing a lot more. So, what happens things change again?

My technique only works with things I can forget and my mind keeps coming back to this issue. I push it away (sometimes with a prayer) whenever it tugs at my mind. I’m sure God will take care of it. There’s nothing I can do that I’m not already doing.

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The Day Love Died

Good Friday
Good Friday (Photo credit: mtsofan)
Note: This short story is unedited and written in the space of a few hours, so bear with the mistakes. In addition, whatever theological conclusions you draw from it are yours, not mine.

It was my second mission and I was sent, this time, to a young woman. I tried to glean as much information as I could from Mamoud. How old was she? 25. How long had she been his? 2 years. How long had she been held? 3 months. I paused at that. If she had lasted three months, she was unlikely to give in now. Unless… Any family? A little girl, barely over five.  My heart sank.

“You can do it”, said Mamoud.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to, and my fear must have been evident because when I met his eyes, it was full of compassion.

“The Lord be with you”, he said and disappeared.

I found her in a small, dark cell, a tiny thing curled up in a corner. The room smelled – a consequence of a chamberpot in another corner, which may or may not have ever been cleaned. She was fast asleep and from her posture, I could tell that she was cold. I approached slowly so as not to disturb her and covered her with my coat.

Quick as lightning, she was awake and screaming. Her eyes went wide, signalling fear. When I reached to steady her, she shrank back. She looked like a cornered animal, I realized, which was bad. I backed away slowly, arms at my side so she could see that I was unarmed.

“Don’t be afraid”, I said in my calmest voice. “I’m not going to hurt you. You were cold, so I covered you up. You can go back to sleep.”

I would have put her to sleep, but I was certain she would scream again if I took a step forward. She stared at me and said nothing. Her distrust was evident, but she clung to my coat rather than throw it back at me. She must have been very cold.

I sat as far away from her as I could. When she didn’t close her eyes, I continued. “You asked for help. The Lord has sent me. I can’t take you out of here, but I will help in any way I can. I can put you to sleep if you like. You must be tired.”

At first she just stared, silent. Then she started laughing. Softly at first, then progressively louder till her voice echoed off the stone walls.

“Do any women actually fall for that?” she asked

I hadn’t expected her to believe me right away, but her response was confusing.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean you’re a coward. The others just come in, take what they want, and go. You have to make up stories. I suppose it makes you feel better, makes you feel like the women want it. Or maybe you’re just not strong enough to subdue a woman.”

The derision in her voice stung and I must be slow because it took me a few moments to understand what she was suggesting.

Good Friday at Pyrgos
Good Friday at Pyrgos (Photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis)

“I swear, I have not come to take advantage of you or hurt you in any way. I am sorry that other have done that.” Sorry, and hurt, and angry, because her reaction now made sense. “I know you don’t believe that, but I won’t come near you if you don’t want me to. You’re safe.”

She made a sound which, though it was familiar, I was certain expressed disdain.

“You should hope your plan works before morning”, she said. “because the warden comes to see me then. And he doesn’t like to share.”

With that she went silent and closed her eyes. She was still for a long time, but still quite awake. I soon realized that she might not sleep while I was there, so I made myself invisible. It took a while, but she was soon asleep.

I prayed, calmly at first and then with desperation. Here was His child, weak, hungry (it was obvious) and left in isolation to be abused by evil men. “Save her”, I prayed “please, save her”.

Time passes strangely in their realm. It is no wonder they sleep so much of it away. It is strangely exhausting to let it pass. Two hours passed before I heard another sound – the door being opened. She heard it too and awoke and in the smallest of movements, wrapped my coat around her like a cloak, looking like she could disappear into it.

The man who had walked in was definitely not one of His. He was burly, dirty, and unshaven and I could see his intent clearly on his face. I clenched my hands into fists. He locked the door and approached her.

“Let me stop him”, I prayed. There was no response. “I will not hurt him. I will only restrain him. He should not – He cannot-“. The words got stuck somehow as my thoughts got scrambled. The silence jarred me. “He’s going to hurt her.” I said finally, desperately.

Nothing.

So I stood still and watched. I must have become visible at some point because she was looking at me. The man glanced in my direction once, but saw nothing.

Mercifully, it was over quickly. She sat where he left her, naked and crying softly. As I approached, I met her eyes and saw shame mixed with her pain. I gritted my teeth, fighting the urge to find the man and make him pay. Instead, I picked up my coat and covered her up.

“Do not be ashamed. You have done nothing shameful. He can hurt you, but only for so long. And he will never get away with it. No one does. But you, I see Him in you, and because you are His, you will see him someday. That day, he will make all this nothing – mere dreams, dreams that have lost their potency. He will make it right.”

She did and said nothing, so I had no idea if this helped, but I went on anyway because I could do nothing else. “Every day he holds little ones like you who have suffered much and when they leave his presence – nothing can describe their joy. And they will tell you, that they wouldn’t trade this”, I gestured to the walls enclosing us, “for anything. I don’t know what he tells them. But he makes it right.”

Her sobs changed to weeping then, and she threw herself into her arms, partly, it seemed, to keep me from seeing her shame and partly for comfort. I could not see how much she hurt, but I could imagine it. And I hurt with her.

I don’t remember how long she cried before falling asleep, but I held her the whole time. It was irrational, but I felt like I could protect her – from everything – if I just held her tightly enough.

****************

Day came soon enough. There was no more light in the little room, but I could tell. For her, it might have seemed that the sun ceased it cycle. I had heard of those who suffered for his sake and were filled with joy and contentment, but she was just scared. She had moments of peace, when the Lord let me give it to her, but they were few.

A guard was making his rounds, throwing small plastic bowl into each cell as he passed. She woke up at the sound. I brought her the bowl. She took one look at it and sighed.

“They say you eventually get used to prison food. If so, I have a long way to go. I don’t suppose you could turn it into something better.”

I shook my head, “I’m Sorry”

“You’re useless.” she sighed.

It was only the second day and I was already starting to dislike her. “That’s rude and untrue”, I protested.

“Not in my opinion.”

She drank whatever was in the bowl in one try – I suppose for the same reason that a bandage is ripped off quickly. Almost immediately, the door opened and two guards came in. One threw a dress at her and commanded that she get dressed. The rag (because that was what it was) was filled with holes, but kept her mostly covered. Once she was dressed, they led her out of the room and into a bigger one – the interrogation room. And on the floor in that room, bound, was a little girl.

“Mama!”

“Maya!”, she screamed “Let her go!” She tried to rush to her daughter, but was quickly restrained. A man, the warden, appeared.

“We’ve been here a long time”, he said “And you still won’t listen. I don’t want to hurt you – or her. But I will.”

One of the men began to tie the little girl to a chair.

“We’ll start with her teeth”, the warden continued “And then her finger nails. We’ll make it last, I promise. And you will give in in the end – unless you don’t love your daughter”

I heard a strangled sob – hers. Pleading eyes turned to me. “Please”, she sobbed, “Please, help her. I’ll do anything. I’ll give anything. Just please help my daughter.”

I stared at her, helpless, knowing that this was why I was here. The girl was going to die. It was her time. The only question was whether her mother would hold out. But I didn’t say that. I held her face and looked into her eyes. “You know what is right. You know that they will hurt her either way, but that you can spare her some suffering. I only beg you to make the best choice. Your daughter will soon be safe, far away from any who can hurt her.” I wiped the tears from her face, but more fell to replace them. “But I don’t want them to have you. And they will if you turn on the Lord.”

I was asking a mother to watch while terrible things were done to her daughter, but I had to. I was the strong one; the one who hadn’t been starved, beaten and raped. And it was my job here to share that strength with her. I held her right hand, squeezing as I prayed for strength for her. the torture started.

If I live to a billion years, save God’s mercy on me, I will never forget the screams of the girl, her pleas and her mother’s. I will never forget the look on her face as she told her captors over and over again. That she could not renounce Christ. That she would if she could. That they could do whatever they liked to her if they let her daughter go. All that fell on deaf ears. It must have felt like an eternity to her. I held her the whole time, murmuring what comforts I could, praying and encouraging her to pray.

Mamoud visited once and I told him what I knew. She was strong, but she wouldn’t hold out much longer. A mother can only bear so much. Eventually, the girl’s cries grew weaker. I don’t know if they got tired or discouraged, but they eventually left her to die. It was the first time they had left her alone and the mother crawled towards her child, to comfort her perhaps. I restrained her.

“If you hold her, you will do anything but let them touch her again. All she has suffered will be for nothing. She will soon be at peace.” I held her much longer, until the child’s breathing grew silent. She wasn’t dead, but she was almost there. I freed her from her bonds then, and placed her in her mother’s arms. Then I said the words of the rite, entrusting her to the Father’s care. I said them mostly to comfort her mother, but the words might have been hollow because the pain in my chest did not relent. I just found myself holding two little ones, yearning to take away their pain but unable to do so.

He died a little after midnight. When I could coax her out of the arms of her mother, I wrapped her in whatever cloth I could find and left her body for the men. I was glad the mother did not resist much. The bundle of flesh was not her daughter, but it was all she had left.

We were led back to her cell at some point. Food was brought, but she left it untouched. When two more meals came and she did not eat, I thought she had decided to die. But I only had  to feel the warmth of her skin to understand that she was merely sick. I did not disturb the silence by speaking to her. It was good for her to grieve and I grieved with her. On the fourth day after the child’s death, I judged that it was time to speak, but what words can give consolation to a mother who (however unjustly) feels responsible for the death of her child?

So, I sang. I sang of God’s power and justice and mercy. I sang of the comforts and justice he offers the bereaved. I sang of his wrath on the wicked and of his steadfastness. The songs comforted her for a time, but by the sixth day, she would hear no more of it.

I had forgotten how rude she could be until she spoke up “Shut up. I don’t want to hear any more of that.” she turned on me and I had never seen her so fierce. “What mercy did He offer Maya? She had done nothing wrong, but He let them hurt her, over and over again. He could have stopped them.” Her voice got progressively louder. “Why then did he have to do that?! Was I lax in my service?! Did I not keep his laws?! Did I not confess his name over and over no matter what they did to me?! Whatever you may have been told, mercy is the one thing he does not have. All I have seen here is cruelty.”

I let her blasphemy slide. She was in pain. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”

She scoffed. “You’ve never had to watch your child suffer. Be glad.”

Pictures washed over me as I recalled a day I have tried so hard to forget. I spoke like one in a dream.

“He often leaves us wondering too. When he sent the divine son into the womb of a woman, we were all astonished. We wondered what it meant, but he did not reveal his plan to us. We watched him grow and live like one of you. We watched him fall and cry and could not understand how he should be subject to such things. But we trusted the father. He loves the son more than you could ever love anyone. He would do anything for him. And the son would do anything for his father.

“But when he cried in the garden, he looked so scared. We were certain then that the father would let us help him. We asked, but he refused. It got even more confusing. The precious son was treated like a criminal, beaten, humiliated.” I pinned her with my eyes. “You must understand. The son, the father’s love, the one whose glory fills the heavens, at whose feet all men should crumble, was being beaten by those same men.

“We were outraged. Every angel was ready to fight, but we had gotten no command. Finally, Michael was summoned and we were told what was to be. The Father was making a trade. The son for all of you. The enemy could do whatever he wanted to the son, and in return, he must cancel your debts. It made no sense. If all of you were combined into one, you would be worth nothing compared to the son. The whole universe is worth nothing. But the father was giving his most prized possession for you. He was consenting to turn his face, to harden his heart to the cries of his son, to save you. You think you know pain? You know nothing. We saw the father’s pain. His child, even more innocent than your Maya, was beaten and stripped and nailed and hung to die.

“It was no wonder the father did not tell us. It killed us to watch, to stand back and do nothing. We begged. We offered to take his place. We tried to reason with the father. We told him you were not worth it, that the son was too precious. We courted blasphemy that day. But we soon remembered that what we felt was nothing – nothing compared to the father’s pain. If you had seen his pain… He could have killed you all – every last one of you. He wanted to, but he heard the son’s plea. So he turned his face and let them kill him.

“He asks much of you, but he asks a lot less than he has given. You and all your possessions are his. He made you, and then he bought you with his son. Yet he asks as if he has no right to it. And what’s more – whatever he takes from you he will give back in abundance.”

Her anger must have dissipated at some point and she was crying now. I was crying too, I realized.

“He loved you, little one, you have no idea how much. And your suffering hurts him too. He will not rest till he makes all this right.”

She is with our Lord now and she knows the joy that I spoke of. And  want you to share this with your charges. Let them know that they are loved.

Nature or Nurture?

Nurture versus Nature
Nurture versus Nature (Photo credit: Dave77459)

We’re going to play a game. So, if you don’t usually comment, I would appreciate it if you participate. I’ll call it Nature or Nurture. It goes like this:

I give you a characteristic found in human beings and you respond by telling me if it is as a result nature, nurture or both. Now, I might not be using these words in the way you are used to, so you want to pay attention to the definitions.

  • Choose Nature if the characteristic is a fundamental part of the person’s genetic code and therefore set at birth and which cannot be permanently changed without modifying the person’s biological functions in a way. e.g. hair color.
  • Choose Both Nature and Nurture is the characteristic is affected by the person’s genes, but also modified by the person’s environment – parental upbringing, nutrition, physical environment, etc. For instance, height has a genetic component but is affected by the type of nutrition a person get during their growth periods. That’s why identical twins can have different heights.
  • Choose Nurture if the characteristic has no correlation with genetics or if it has very little correlation and is mainly affected by a person’s environment
  • You can also say Neither and I Don’t Know

Here’s an example:

Skin color: Nature or Nurture

Identical twins are born with the same genes controlling skin color, but if one of them spends more time sun than the other. She’ll probably be darker (or sunburnt). Since identical twins would have the same skin color barring outside influences, but different skin colors if raised in different environments, the answer is BOTH.

Accent: Nature or Nurture

Identical twins often have the same accent. But this does not mean that it is nature because it does not rule out environmental causes. Think. What if two identical twins were placed in different families: one in Britain and one in the United States. Would they have the same accent when speaking English? Of course not. Accent is something that does not exist apart from environmental influence. The answer is NURTURE.

Preferred career: Nature or Nurture?

Identical twins often have similar likes and dislikes. Often, but not always. Cultural pressures can have a huge influence. A twin taught that you should do whatever makes you happy and a twin thought that you should do  whatever has the best chance of giving you a good life will choose differently in certain circumstances. However, since identical twins are often raised together, this difference should not be very pronounced. Also, the fact that they have similar, but not the same likes and dislikes points to something beyond genetics. I’m thinking the answer to this one is BOTH.

Ready? Here are a few guidelines.

  • Do identical twins always have it the same or very similar? Then it is strongly genetic.
  • If identical twins were separated, what is the probability that they would differ sharply The higher the probability, the stronger the impact of the environment
  • The fact that something can differ between identical twins does not mean that there is an environmental component. For some strange reason, identical genes can act differently. So, this isn’t an exact science. Be prepared to speak in probabilities.
  • You might come across something that does not seem to be biologically influenced which also doesn’t seem to be significantly environmentally affected. I can’t help you there.
  • Things influenced by nature tend to be physical traits: skin, hair, eyes, IQ. Things influenced by nurture tend to be behavioral: manner of acting, reasoning, response to stimuli (e.g. emotional reactions) and things influenced by our beliefs. Think: being vs doing. This is probably because, as far as we can change ourselves, we tend to become more like those around us.
  • Things influenced by both are sometimes emotional: likes, dislikes, wants, needs, etc.

Okay, here we go. Nature or Nurture?

  1. Preferred foods
  2. Idea of beauty
  3. Traits preferred in romantic relationships
  4. Eye color
  5. Personality
  6. Values
  7. Pet peeves
  8. Susceptibility to cancer (hint: read the linked article)
  9. Sexual preferences
  10. Body weight

Trusting God for Another Semester

Spring Flowers
Spring Flowers (Photo credit: NixBC)

For me, every semester goes through a number of stages. In the beginning, I’ve organized all my textbooks, supplies, and syllabi and I’m pretty confident about my chances. As the semester wears on, I get into a panic, not because I’m not doing well, but because the material seems difficult or demanding. The next stage is where I convince myself that I’m going to be just fine. The final stage comes at the end of the semester, where I panic and pray really hard that I did well. Then, the grades are posted and I did just fine.

This happens every semester like clockwork: confidence, panic, self imposed relief, panic again, and then actual relief. But each semester, it feels different. Every semester, I’m certain that this is the semester that I’m finally going to crash. My classes are harder this semester, I have worse teachers, I’m less prepared, etc. Those things are often true, but just the same, at the end of every semester, as surely as spring follows winter, my grades are perfect.

This pattern has not been lost on me but sadly, it has produced little confidence. My prayer every semester is “God, please, please, help me pay attention in class, and do my work and remember all I read. Help me prepare well for my tests and make the best use of my time. Let me not disgrace you while doing that. Help me understand the material”. Each time I say the prayer, I say it as frantically as if I would fail. Each time, I don’t know what to think. Sure, God has answered my prayers every semester since I began school, but what if this is the semester in which he has other plans? What if he doesn’t like the classes I’m taking. What if he thinks I’m too complacent. What if he wants to teach me something to the detriment of my grades. Spring came last year and every year before that, but what if it doesn’t come this year? It’s possible, right?

I realize now that the fact that it is possible for thing to be different this time is no indication that they will and no reason t0 fret over them. But the fear feels valid every time. This semester, I’m still dealing with depression. I have three classes requiring group projects and I’m working a little on the side. “What if I can’t do it?”, I think. But then I remember that God is faithful and regardless of what happens, I’ll be just fine. Spring always comes. But even if it doesn’t, God will still be there. And I’m always safe in him.

Related Post: The Faith of a Child

How am I doing?

This image was selected as a picture of the we...
This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Czech Wikipedia for th week, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I made myself breakfast this morning: pancakes, eggs and chocolate milk. It’s really simple, but I wasn’t able to do even that for a long time. Everything feels almost normal again. I clean regularly again, so my apartment looks presentable. I do the dishes. I’m still lazy and it takes some effort to get out of bed in the mornings, but I do it. I still don’t feel right. I can function, but I’m still depressed. I want to be able to cook more than one meal a day. I want to feel like doing my schoolwork. I have a test in three days that I haven’t studied for.

My counselor asked me if I could live with this; if I never return to full blown depression, but I don’t get any better than this, can I handle it? I told her that I hope it never comes  to that. But after a few days of thinking, I’m not so sure.

Don’t get me wrong, it hurts. But sometimes, when I can think clearly, I see the benefits. I’ve grown to know and love God more during this period. I’ve learned to trust and rely on him. I can see how much I’ve grown. I remember thinking, for a few minutes, that maybe God should leave me this way. But that’s only when I’m sensible. Some other times, I’m like a child getting a vaccine. I don’t care how much it helps, I just want it to stop hurting. Right now, I’m kind of torn between the two.

I remember reading somewhere that in our life God gives us ups and downs. During the down periods, we grow and during the up periods, we recover from the downs. The downs help us grow, but if we can’t stay there forever because it hurts so much, it takes a toll. But if we had the ups all the time, we wouldn’t grow very fast and we would probably get the wrong picture about God. We wouldn’t learn about suffering.

It is not a lie, what they say, that suffering is good for us. But apparently, you can have too much of a good thing.

Do Contraceptives Reduce Abortion Rates?

Pro-abortion march
Pro-abortion march (Photo credit: American Life League)

So the previously bold statement that “contraception reduces abortion rates” must be reconfigured to reflect the truth. Contraception reduces abortion rates primarily in regions that already use abortion as a primary method of family planning, and thus already have extremely high abortion rates. […]

Contraception has been shown to decrease abortion rates primarily in countries with already high abortion rates. These represent a minority of countries. Contraception has been shown to increase abortion rates primarily in countries with already low abortion rates. These represent a majority of countries. Contraception has been shown to slightly reduce abortion rates after its initial increase of abortion rates, but has never been shown to reduce abortion rates back to pre-contraception levels.

This is what Marc argues on his blog (Bad Catholic).

He continues that for countries with low abortion rates

An honest look at the data shows that in virtually every country that increased the use of contraception, there was a simultaneous increase in that country’s abortion rate. In England (Rise in contraceptive usesimultaneous rise in abortions), France (Rise in contraceptive usesimultaneous rise in abortions), Australia, (Rise in contraceptive usesimultaneous rise in abortions), Portugal (Whose abortion rate only began to rise after 1999, after oral contraceptive methods were made widely available), Canada (Whose abortion rate only began to rise after the legalization of oral contraceptives in 1969), and, as the Guttmacher Institute shows, Singapore, Cuba, Denmark, the Netherlands, and South Korea, to name a few.

And of course, we saw this rise in the land of the free and home of the brave. Contraceptive devices gained popularity throughout the 1900′s, and were “legalized” in 1965. The widespread proliferation of contraceptive devices followed. The abortion rate began to creep up at this same time, after 1965, from 0.02 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 in 1965 to 16.33 in 1973, when abortion was legalized.

and also;

The Guttmacher Institute claims that in non abortion-culture countries, “after fertility levels stabilized…contraceptive usecontinued to increase and abortion rates fell.” They do not mention that these abortion rates fell and stabilized at rate far higher than the abortion rate before the introduction of contraception.

(Funnily enough, this was seen in Turkey, one of the three countries the Guttmacher Institute cites to support their claims that weren’t Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan, and Bulgaria. In the study The Role of Contraceptive Changes in the Decline of Induced Abortion in Turkey – which Guttmacher cites – it is shown that in 1983, when contraception laws were first liberalized, abortion ended 12.1% of all pregnancies. As contraceptive used increased, the abortion rate increased, until 1988, when abortion ended 23.6% of pregnancies. Thanks to the improved use and availability of contraception, the rate then began to decrease, until, by 1998, abortion ended 15.7% of all pregnancies. Here the abortion rate dipped, rose, and leveled, and by 2007, abortion ended 17.0% of all pregnancies in Turkey, representing an overall increase in abortion.)

Go here to read the whole post. Please, don’t criticize the article in the comments section until you’ve read all of it. I’d hate to have to readdress criticisms she already addressed.