Pick Up Your Cross

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"Pick up your cross" by JJ Johnston (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2017 JJ Johnston. All rights reserved.

“Everyone thinks you’re crazy.”

My husband’s hurtful words replayed in my head. I placed my hands around my protruding belly as I watched Adam drive away.

I closed the door and slowly made my way up the stairs of my brother’s split-level house. The emptiness inside of me made my legs feel heavy and each step seemed like a small mountain.

When I reached the top, I turned to the living room and met the eyes of my eight children. I knew they had heard the fighting. They had been so wonderful while we had been displaced, these past two months, while we waited to close on our house. All they wanted was to get back to the town they called home and to reunite with their dad, who had to stay two hours away, at the restaurant we owned to keep it running.

Unfortunately, after learning that my husband had spent a third of our closing money on drugs, and then finding text messages of infidelity on his phone, made this an unlikely reality.

They waited for me to say something, but I had nothing to say. I had no words of hope to offer. I just turned away and walked like a zombie to the back bedroom and closed the door. I fell to my knees and began to sob.

I cried.

I cried hard.

I cried so hard it hurt.

I needed to pray, so I started a rosary. I couldn’t think on my own and was thankful for prayers I could repeat over and over with barely a thought. I did have to recall what mystery I was to be contemplating. I remembered it was Tuesday. The Sorrowful Mysteries. I continued to cry and feel so very alone.

I cried and prayed with such passion, all my muscles tensed beyond my expectations. I wanted the hurt to stop.

You’re not alone.

Suddenly, the first mystery of the rosary became as vivid as a movie in the theatre. I saw Jesus in the garden, praying so hard he sweat blood. He prayed to be spared of what he knew he had to do.

I understand and I’m here.          

I began to cry harder as I started the second decade. As I prayed the Hail Mary with my words, my thoughts were concentrated on my woes. “I can’t take it anymore! Just when I think things are at their worst, Adam finds a way to hit me harder! He just keeps hurting me and hurting me!”

Again, flashes of the second mystery burst into view. The scourging of Jesus at the pillar. The guards whipped him and beat him. When it looked as though it couldn’t get any worse, it did.

I understand and I’m here.

As I started the third decade of the rosary, I recalled the comment Adam made about how everyone at our restaurant believed me to be crazy. Embarrassment blazed within me. I never wanted to show my face there again. “I feel so stupid, Lord. I bet they’re all making fun of me now.”

I understand and I’m here.

Jesus sat before me broken, as the guards covered him in a purple robe and crowned him with thorns. They knelt before him and mocked him, then got up and spit in his blood covered face. My heart ached for him.

“Lord, what do I do?” I asked as I started the fourth mystery. “I don’t have the strength to carry on. Sometimes I think I do, but then Adam knocks me back down. I just want to go live with my parents and move on.”

Pick up your cross.

“I don’t deserve to be treated this way.”

I understand and I’m here.

Jesus fell in front of me. The crude wooden cross he carried clanked on the cobblestone at my feet. The guards whipped him as he struggled to stand. He looked up at me, exhausted and covered in blood and dirt. “Pick up your cross!” the guard yelled. Jesus grabbed the cross with new determination and continued on.

Pick up your cross.

My weeping had reached new levels that I had never achieved before.

“Why?” I yelled. I began the final set of ten Hail Mary’s. “He doesn’t even love me! There’s no way he still loves me!”

I understand.

Jesus hung on the cross, dying. Dying for everyone, even people who didn’t and never would love him.

I finished my rosary.

I love you and you are mine.

That moment, everything changed. It was as if God’s Spirit of wisdom breathed life into me. Everything he wanted me to know was crisp and clear like a pool of water you can see to the very bottom. This wasn’t about me. The world was telling me to go and make sure I was happy, but that was wrong. So very wrong.

We are called to live like Christ. When had I ever read in the Bible that Jesus took a personal day to make himself happy? At any point during his passion, he could have said, “You know, this isn’t fair. Don’t I deserve to be happy? Why should I die for a bunch of horrible people? They don’t deserve salvation.” But he didn’t. He picked up his cross and carried it with such love and died a horrible death…for me.

I had to go against the world. I had to pick up my cross and die to myself. I had to stay with Adam and continue on. I had to pray, not for myself, but for my husband. I had to love him, even if I hated him. I knew the world would see me as weak, but inside I felt strong.

I wiped my wet face and smiled. “Thank you, Lord for loving me. I will pick up my cross for love of you.”

I stood, took a deep breath, and made my way out to my children to tell them that eventually everything would be all right.

Copyright 2017 JJ Johnston

JJ JohnstonAbout the author: JJ Johnston is a wife and stay at home mother of ten (ages 2-17). She and her husband speak about the beauty of family and overcoming hardships with God’s grace. JJ is also the acting Treasurer for St. Davids Christian Writers’ Association, because she is one of a few writers unafraid of math.

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1 Comment

  1. Judy Tarcson on

    Jess, this was so utterly heart-wrenching and yet so beautiful. You exposed a deep wound in your life to share with the readers, but you also showed your great love for Jesus with the acceptance of your pain. I hope those bad days are well behind you and that God will gift you with only joy and contentment in your marriage. Thank you for the beautifully written article. You are a true treasure to those who know and love you.

    God Bless,
    Judy Tarcson

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