On burdens

I’ve started going to church again.  I know, friends from home may be appalled to hear I ever left, but the truth is I had a really bad experience when I got sick last time.  I grieved, and I cried, and I wondered how a good and loving God could let me get so sick and maybe even take a mother away from her babies, the little one just a few months old.  I railed, and I studied, and I questioned.  And I called my minister, the minister of the church I’d attended for years and years, and he had no answers.  He talked to me for 20 minutes, for which I’m grateful, and then he said, “I have to go, I’m leaving on vacation.”  “Will you call me when you return?” I asked.  And he agreed, but he never did call me again.  I called him when he returned, and again a week after, and again the week after that, as I got sicker and sicker and scared-er and scared-er.  And he never called again.

People from the church did call, months after that, and they put me on the prayer list and on the (gah!) Angel Tree, and I appreciated it, but I never quite let go the fact that I had been faithful and a churchgoer all my life, and when I needed my church most, when I needed my pastor to come visit and sit with me while I questioned, or reassure me where he could, or even call me back, he wasn’t there for me.

And I left the church. 

I never left God.  I never stopped believing, I never stopped praying, I never stopped teaching my children the stories of the Book, but I stopped going to church.  In fact, I only went there once after that, and nothing happened, and that was closure.

But this spring, something called me back.  I can’t say that it was any one thing exactly, but a confluence of factors.  A friend sharing her faith in Book Club, and talking with her — really talking — about the historical foundation of our beliefs and how they were reflected (or not) in The Red Tent.  Another friend sharing how much she loved her child’s kindergarten, and inviting me to a social event at the church.  I didn’t end up going, as I got sick instead, but I was touched by her thoughtfulness.  Our kindergarten plans falling through, as the public school we’d anticipated attending for years didn’t hold up under the scrutiny of a simple visit.  And then I got cancer.  Again.

And we needed — I needed — to be 100% sure that my children would be raised in the faith as I was, and that they would be surrounded by a supportive community if the worst happened, and I was no longer there to guide them.  My husband is strong and supportive and always there — but he would need support too.  We talked about looking again for a faith community, one with people who talked to each other as they passed, who banded together to support the elderly and those in need, and one where we could use our gifts and help others.  One that loved children, and had throngs of children on Sundays, and supportive parents who looked out for each other’s little ones.  One where we felt closer to God instead of farther away.

We found one.  On our very first visit, we found one.  We found a church with a service where children were truly welcomed.  Where babies were walked in the aisles and toddlers asked questions of their mamas and preschoolers held hands as they walked up to communion with their daddies.  Where children were not an afterthought or noises to be tolerated, but welcomed and loved as children of God.

We fell in love, and we found our church.  I signed up for new member classes, and we enrolled our children in the school.  We volunteered for the open house committee, for the Halloween party, and for lunch duty.  We’re all in.

And this Sunday, I join the church. 

I told you that to tell you this.  Last night, at Bible study, my friend Santa Maria (isn’t that a beautiful name?) asked a question about a verse she’d read that has always been one of my favorite verses. 

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whosoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.'” – Matthew 16:24-25

In this simple verse, I was reminded of something very important.  (And my atheist friends, and friends of other faiths, thanks for hanging in if you’re still here — I love you. You know that, right? I just need to work this out in words today.) 

Having faith doesn’t mean that we will never encounter evil.  It doesn’t mean that we’re so blessed we’ll never get sick, even very sick. It doesn’t mean we’ll never get depressed, suffer from post-partum depression, or be hurt by others.  It doesn’t mean that at all.  We all have our burdens, our difficulties, our struggles that we must find our way through.  (I can hear one of the adults from my youth saying with a sigh and a Southern accent, “We all have our crosses to bear.”)  Is it hard to leave it behind and persevere?  Sure it is.  It’s hard beyond words.  And maybe, just maybe, that’s because some struggles are so big that we can’t just leave them behind and walk away. 

As hard as I try to pretend I’m healthy, I still sleep every afternoon so I can be awake to put my kids to bed at night.  As hard as I try to move beyond illness and talk about other things — anything else — with my friends, the cancer is still there, and still eating away at me even as we laugh or cry or chat about kindergarten drama.  But maybe that’s the point.  Maybe — and I’m no priest, so please bear with me as I work this out in my head and heart — maybe the burdens are still there.  But instead of focusing on them and wailing over what has happened to us, we are to instead take them up, sling them over our shoulders, and follow the path that He has laid for us. 

And with this post, I know I risk losing readers.  But I promised to always tell you the truth — my truth — about how cancer is changing me, and keeping that promise means more to me than pageviews.  Today, I’m taking the risk, slinging the cancer worries over my shoulder, and trying to return to the right path.  Thanks for listening, and for all the prayers that have been said on my behalf over the past few years.  I don’t deserve it, but I appreciate it with all my heart, and I wanted you to know that it’s working.


69 Responses to On burdens

  1. Sarah says:

    Susan- thank you for telling your truth. Sometimes it seems easier to write what we think others want to hear- I’ve struggled with that myself. But your truth is your story- and that is the reason I read. You are amazing. Just sayin’ : )

  2. Susan,
    Glad you’re back. Not always an easy road, this religion thing, but I think it’s a good road to be on. I also think that more people than you think have been back and forth, especially during tough times. . .


  3. Cassandra says:


    I think that your posts frequently inspire readers to question and contemplate many different issues, ideas, challenges, and assumptions. This is one of those posts. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Sylvia says:

    As someone else said “it is easy to say what you think others want to hear”, being true to yourself and others seems to be who your are. I’m glad you found somewhere where you and your family can pracitce your faith. God Bless you and your family. Keeping you in my prayers.

  5. Melanie says:

    Don’t worry about losing readers. Those who really love and care for you will still be here because they respect your beliefs even though they may differ from their own. I am so glad that you’ve found a faith community to become a part of again. They will give you love and support and pray for you in those times when you don’t think you can pray for yourself.

    The pastor you mentioned at first, the one who wasn’t there when you needed him, well, I’m afraid he’s on the wrong road himself. I feel sorry for his congregation.

    Anyway, I just stumbled upon your blog about a month ago and have become a regular reader and another of many, I’m sure, that are already praying for your healing.

  6. jenn kirby says:

    Susan, I’m so happy that you found a great group of people to share your faith with. And I’m pissed off at that first minister. What kind of Christian, let alone pastor, does that? As Melanie said, I feel sorry for his congregation. (If I lived nearby, I would’ve brought you many, many casseroles.)

  7. Amelie says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Susan. It really touched me, also with respect to my own struggles (not cancer, fortunately, but nevertheless painful).
    And I’m glad you found a church where you and your family feel welcome.

  8. Elaine says:

    I attended a Catholic chuch in Rochester, NY for the two years when I was in grad school there and it was the absolute most wecoming place I’ve ever been in. I didn’t have kids at the time, but it was so refreshing that they were absolutely a part of the community. Your post took me back to those days, when kids would run across the aisles looking for their friends to give “peace” to, when the priest or whomever was giving the homily would make a point of saying how wonderful the cries and questions and interruptions from kids were, because it showed that the church had a vitality – a life force. And really, that’s something everyone in the pews needed. It was such a contrast to my church growing up, where kids were hushed in the nursery. People look for different things when they go to worship, but your post really took me down a pleasant memory lane.

    I hope the prayers keep working.

    • whymommy says:

      A life force! I love that!

      My prayers have been answered. I’m here. I’ve gotten my oldest to kindergarten. That was my first goal.

      And I’m feeling so good today. I’m good. Thanks.

  9. Margaret says:

    Our old priest, who suffered from crippling chronic pain himself, once gave a homily in which he pointed to the crucifix behind the altar and said, “Jesus didn’t come to remove suffering from the world. He came to be with us and hold us up in our own suffering.” You’ve come to the same conclusion without having to go to seminary first!

    • whymommy says:

      There’s no flip answer to this. Why would a priest have to live in crippling chronic pain? Why would God let that be?

      Perhaps to allow him to teach others, and to comfort them in their own suffering?

      A week ago, I could have never seen that. Even so, part of me rejects the explanation, and questions. Part of me will probably always question.

  10. Marcia Chang says:

    Thank you for another beautiful and inspirational post. Suffering is part of this life, and as hard as it is to go through it and experience it as young moms, handling it the way you have been handling will provide strength and guidance to all those who love you and know you through your blog. May this Church provide you with the spiritual strength and peace you need to face your challenges. And remember this life is just the beginning.

    Love and hugs,


  11. 🙂
    Love you Susan.

    • whymommy says:

      Back at’cha Michelle. And Jessica, and Becky, and all the friends who are commenting.

      Love is what makes things happen. Love is what holds us together. Love.

  12. Andrea says:

    “Pick up your cross & follow Me…”

    Sounds like you’ve slung your cross over your shoulder & are following Him, as He said to do. Thank you for the beautiful example & the inspiration for all of us to do the same. If you can sling that big heavy cross of yours, over your shoulder, then why can’t we?!!

    Prayers~ Andrea

  13. Florinda says:

    I just wanted to thank you for writing this, and I’m glad you and your family have found a church that feels like home. I’m currently unchurched, but as you said, that doesn’t mean the same thing as being a nonbeliever…and, as usual, you’ve given me more food for thought.

    • whymommy says:

      Unchurched. Interesting word. I guess that’s what I was, wasn’t I?

      Sigh. It’s still hard for me to face what happened. I didn’t mean to leave entirely. I just sort of … drifted.

  14. Colleen says:

    This mystery of suffering in life — we all struggle with it to greater and lesser degrees. There is our own suffering and also “vicarious” suffering — watching those we love suffer. In both types of suffering, we have a Divine Model, a helper, and a fellow traveler. I am so glad that you have found a place where others can (and want to) help you walk this road. We love you.

  15. Becky says:

    Amen! Never apologixe for being authentic – for being truthful!

  16. planetnomad says:

    I think that we do have to carry burdens, but that God has said he’ll walk with us and help us. We’re never promised no burdens. We’re promised grace to help in times of need.
    And while I happen to agree with what you’ve posted, I read lots of blogs written by those I don’t agree with. I think your regular readers can handle a bit of religion. And I thought this was an excellent, thought-provoking post.

  17. JavaMom J.J. says:

    What a lovely, heart-felt post. I’m astonished at the pastor who wasn’t there for you.

    Having a falling out with your church/faith community is a terrible feeling, especially if it happens at a time when you most need it. I’m so glad you ended up at a place that feels more like home.

    Never be afraid to speak your mind – your real fans love you exactly as you really are.

  18. Steph says:

    This is exactly why faith is a beautiful thing, Susan. And you shouldn’t ever worry what others think of that.

    I don’t believe in God. But I would never wish that on anyone else. I’m glad God comforts you and I’m so glad you’ve found your church, and your community, again.

    • whymommy says:

      Thanks, Steph. I think that’s a really insightful comment, and I will take it to heart.

      • Jayne says:

        Gosh. Susan’s post coupled with Steph’s comment is easily the most meaningful exchange that I encountered today. Thanks to both of you; these are such tough issues.

  19. Connie says:

    I’m praying *with* you, Susan. And I’m truly happy to know that you’ve found your church.

  20. Jennifer says:

    Love you, and thank you for inspiring me.

    • whymommy says:

      Hey, Jen, remember all those times we spent together at Christ United? OMG, we spent a lot of our middle school years in that gym! I always wished I was part of that crowd – you all seemed so close. I found mine a little later, over at Covenant, but the CUMC crowd was TIGHT.

      Do you still see anyone from those days?

  21. Stimey says:

    First, I think you do deserve those prayers. Second, although I am not a believer or churchy-type person myself, I am really happy that you have found a community and comfort in your faith. I imagine that’s a very cozy thing.

    • whymommy says:

      It is. And there’s an acceptance. Kinda like how we hang at Moms Club, ya know? We know that we’re all trying, and we admit how we all fail, in attempts to do better next time.

      That describes a big part of any church service, actually. Stating publicly what we believe, that we’ve made mistakes, and that we will try to do better next time.

  22. I love this quote: “maybe the burdens are still there. But instead of focusing on them and wailing over what has happened to us, we are to instead take them up, sling them over our shoulders, and follow the path that He has laid for us. ” I’m going to think about this some more.

    I’m a self-titled “critical thinking Catholic” and I’ve been back and forth a lot of times. Sometimes I go back and forth in one day !

    I’m lucky now that we have a church where children cry out, mamas breastfeed during mass, and where the priest regularly says how glad he is that we are there and how much he enjoys hearing the sounds of babies and children. When we miss for a couple weeks in a row, I really, really miss it.

    I’m glad you found a place for yourselves. Really, really glad.

    • whymommy says:

      Thanks, TSM. It sounds like you’ve got a great place too. A family place.

      There are so many really supportive and thoughtful comments on this post. Thank you all.

  23. NYFriend says:

    I’m so very happy for you that you have found a community that is so warm and supportive. It sounds truly wonderful and a lovely fit for your family. I am very grateful for that.

  24. I am so happy to read this. I have my own struggles and back and forths, but my faith has guided me through my darkest times. I’m so pleased that you have found a spiritual home.

  25. Oh Susan, I am so so very happy that you have found such a wonderful faith community! I don’t think you will have lost any readers with your honesty. Faith is a wonderful gift and a great blessing – I don’t have it myself but I see it in others and often wish I could share it. May yours buoy you up in the hard times, and amplify your joy in the easier ones.

  26. Catherine says:

    Susan, wow, another beautiful post in spite of the exhaustion and pain you are dealing with. It’s so good to hear about your community and your spiritual journey. Thank you for writing and sharing such personal thoughts and feelings.

  27. Amber says:

    Susan, you amaze me. I read your posts and think how strong you are. And knowing what you need from a church and making sure that you find it rather than walking away… it takes a lot of courage as well. My husband and I went through a similar search for a church (he’s Catholic and I’m Catholic-turned-agnostic). But this church feels like a home to us which none have since we moved.

    Keep your spirit, even through it all. You have readers who love you.

  28. JoC says:

    I am very glad you found a church that is welcoming all of you just as you are. Wonderful!

  29. Nor says:

    As I struggle with mental illness, I think sometimes about finding faith… I despised the Catholic Church as an entity, but perhaps there is something else.

    • whymommy says:

      Nor, there is always something else. Always.

      What are you seeking? Comfort? A reason for the suffering? Understanding?

      I am learning that suffering can bring us closer to God. I had never thought of that before, but I’m seeing it. Heck, I’m living it!

      Do you have a friend nearby you can talk to about this? I’ve found that talking about your desire to find something more helps. It helps a lot.

      • Kay Lynn says:

        I am learning that suffering can bring us closer to God.
        So true! One bad experience destroyed my faith as a child (my mom died of breast cancer when I was 10) and I struggled through life for the next 14 years. Another bad experience (divorcing my ex-husband) helped me regain my faith as I suddenly realized that I could not do everything alone and I needed help. Going back to church was one of the best things I’ve ever done, but it took a long time for me to work up the courage to ask God for help.

        • whymommy says:

          I understand completely. It is one of my fears that my recurrence and further events shake my children’s faith, so I am trying to reinforce in them how much I still believe in the goodness of God, and I hope that their immersion in faith and in a community of faith will help them cope with whatever lies ahead.

  30. Ruthie from California says:

    Thank you, Susan, for your honesty and transparency. I very much enjoy reading your blog.

    My sister in-law has had two bouts of breast cancer (the type that is familial). She is almost 5 years out since her 2nd diagnosis. Her 16 year old daughter has a breast lump that was oozing. She didn’t tell her mother for a month. They are in the midst of getting it diagnosed. Everyone needs to be able to talk about breast health openly. No more taboo!

    • whymommy says:

      Yikes! You’re totally right. We need to be able to own our bodies and speak up when something’s just not right — particularly if something’s gone funny in one breast but not the other.

      Thanks for sharing your experience — I hope that her diagnosis is swift and the treatment is as easy as it can be.

  31. Hi Susan. I’m just stopping by to say that I’m thinking of you on this Sunday as you join your church. I am so glad that you have found a faith-based community that is so wonderfully welcoming to your entire family. All my love!

  32. jodifur says:

    I see no reason why you should lose readers. This is your blog and your story and your journey. Finding a church and your faith is part of you and part of your journey, I see no reason you shouldn’t blog about it. (And I say that as a Jew.)

    Much love, always.

  33. Kirsten says:

    so glad you have found a good, welcoming faith community for you and for your family. I have had a similar experience as you did in the 1st case, and I still struggle with a lot of anger and resentment about that. Yet, faith is more than one flawed human, and your witness on this blog has already helped many people, including me. Praying for you during this grueling time, and wishing you strength, courage, and hope.

    • whymommy says:

      Thank you, Kristen. I am learning, every day, that institutions are bigger than one person’s actions — but mostly that people are good, and when good people talk about the things that are important to them, good things happen.

      I so appreciate your support and friendship.

  34. […] been an incredible week over at the WhyMommy house.  Last week, I became Catholic.  No, really!  I followed my heart and joined the church of over a billion people throughout the […]

  35. And the tears roll down my cheeks.

    I am so grateful that you have found peace and a place that fits. I have struggled with the concept of faith and organized religion for so long, but I believe in the power and peace that comes from faith.

    • whymommy says:

      Thanks, Amie. I’m not in it for the “organized” part, but for the faith that is in my heart, and the fellowship that I’m finding with new friends and believers.

      When good people come together, good things happen. I believe that.

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