I never know what to do with the Catholic junk mail.
It isn’t really junk mail, I know. All those requests for help are real. There are legitimate needs all over the place, and the organizations trying to meet those needs don’t have enough money. When the letter describes someone with a brain tumor who can’t work to support her three kids, how can I complain that I don’t have enough?
But I don’t have enough. I can’t give to every organization that sends me an envelope with a dime and a nickel in it, asking me to return that money with a donation.
Sometimes they send “gifts.” Calendars. Stickers. Notepads and address labels. The donation slip looks like a thank you note, but with a choice of dollar amounts for me to check off how much I’m enclosing. Thank you, Sister, for the beautiful calendar. I’m enclosing a donation to express my gratitude for your generosity and to help the starving children in Somalia.
I never know what to do with them. We already give money to our parish and to Catholic Charities and to Catholic Relief Services. I usually end up throwing the rest of the requests away, but I always feel guilty. I have a low-level anxiety about those envelopes. Sometimes they sit on the counter a few days before they go into the trash, and I always wonder if I should do something else with them. Yes, it’s junk mail. But it’s from missionaries, priests, nuns…how can I casually put it into the garbage?
Because I’m not settled on how to handle the flow of envelopes, I usually just feel irritated when I see them. That’s why I was so surprised when a piece of Catholic junk mail forced me to change my attitude.
I had been having a miserable day. It was raining. My kindergartner was resisting every request and tormenting his sisters. The almost two-year-old twins were in full destructive mode, tearing things down, ripping things up, gleefully pulling all the toilet paper from the rolls and running down the hall with it, squealing. I was fed up.
The slow walk to the mailbox is one of my coping strategies, something I do when I need a time-out. When the twins were infants, I sometimes did that walk four or five times a day. I’m sure our neighbors thought I was losing my mind. (“Doesn’t she know the mail only comes once a day? Poor overwhelmed woman, doesn’t she remember she already checked it?”)
That grumpy afternoon, I strapped the twins in their high chairs and sat their brother at the table, handing cheese, crackers and juice to all of them, then slowly walked down the driveway to the mailbox. As I went, I inhaled deeply, soaking in the brief minute of solitude as the rain poured down onto my head and shoulders and bare feet. I didn’t even care what the neighbors were thinking. When I reached the mailbox and opened the door, I found a soggy pile of envelopes. Frustrated, I flipped through the bills and an envelope from the Special Olympics asking for money. Then I saw that envelope. Another piece of Catholic junk mail. How did I even get on their list?
When I opened the padded envelope from Mississippi, I was surprised to see the little face of Jesus staring up at me. The “junk mail” envelope held a small wooden crucifix with a metal corpus on it. The enclosed letter encouraged me to pray for help carrying my cross and to remember that some people’s crosses were too heavy for them to bear on their own.
Jesus was in my mailbox.
I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed that I had been about to throw him into the kitchen trash can with the morning’s wet coffee grounds. Embarrassed that I had been rolling my eyes just seconds before at this, another request for money with a “free gift.” Embarrassed about how much whining I’d been doing that day.
For love of me and of the whole world, Jesus carried his cross. He didn’t roll his eyes at me while he did it. He didn’t resentfully wonder why I wasn’t helping him. He didn’t moan and groan about how hard he had it. He embraced the suffering before him because of Love. Yet even Jesus needed help to carry his cross…and when Simon of Cyrene stepped up to bear its weight for him, Jesus welcomed his company.
Sometimes being a parent is a heavy cross. It isn’t easy keeping up with the demands of small people who rely on us to meet even their most basic needs. The job of parent comes with its fair share of difficulties and challenges and sacrifices. Often, the hardest part of it is how isolating it can feel, as if I’m the only one in the world struggling with the tiny and unimpressive work of changing diapers and washing dishes and tending to the needs and feelings of little ones.
If we believe that parenting is our vocation, though, then it also comes with built-in help from the One who calls us to love and care for our children…children that are His children first, children that He loves even more than we do. Jesus understands that our work is hard. Jesus hears us when we cry out in frustration and exhaustion. We are not alone on our path. We do not carry our crosses in solitude.
There are many of us walking around today with heavy weights on our shoulders. Some of us are so burdened that we can hardly look up to find help. Jesus wants us to turn to Him and ask for help so that He can lighten the load a little bit. We aren’t expected to do it all alone.
Sometimes, in the middle of what seems worthless, something of great value is hidden. In the pile of junk mail, in the middle of my mundane and difficult day, I found a reminder of the One who is always with me, the One on which I can rely.
He’s offering to help me with my own struggles. And looking at the little crucifix in my kitchen window, I’m going to remember to ask for help in my weakness and try to whine a little bit less.
I might even send some money to Mississippi.
Copyright 2013 Abbey Dupuy