Enter into the Suffering of Others - A Letter from Maddie Black

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Dear Friend,

Never underestimate the healing power of empathy. 

Amid suffering the pain of a broken heart, I experienced a deep joy and peace because the women in my life unselfishly chose to enter into my pain with me instead of trying to take the pain away. 

When I was crying my eyes out and did not feel like getting out of bed, I know it would have been much safer and easier for them to tell me: “At least you still have your dream job, snap out of it” or “at least you guys were not engaged yet, you really need to look on the bright side”. 

But instead they took the more vulnerable road by validating my pain and saying things like: “That must really hurt, I can’t imagine how you must be feeling” and “I know I can’t take this pain away from you, but I am going to be here with you in it”. These types of empathetic phrases, instead of shutting me down, allowed me to grieve, in my own time, the great loss I was feeling in my life. 

The loving empathy these women showed me gave me permission to openly express what was going on in my heart and mind and allowed me to see that I was not stupid or dramatic for feeling the way I was feeling. And because I was given the freedom to just be, I could experience the joy that God had in store for me, even in the midst of the greatest suffering my heart had ever known. 

These women, my dear sisters, mother and friends were God’s instruments as he slowly, but surely brought peace, joy and healing to my heart.

Just as Veronica, when seeing the great suffering of Jesus, silently allowed herself to enter into his pain and bring him some small comfort by wiping his face – the women in my life, entered into my suffering, by letting me cry all over their shoulders, listening to me talk and process, bringing me tea and flowers, stroking my hair and silently praying, (Page 2) making me smile and laugh, studying with me and reading to me and living life with me even when I was a straight up mess. 

These women trusted that God would make all things new in time, and that it was not their job to heal my pain, but it was their job to walk beside me. 

 

These women trusted that God would make all things new in time, and that it was not their job to heal my pain, but it was their job to walk beside me. 

 

Standing by someone you love and seeing their pain and knowing that you can’t fix it, is itself heart breaking. I am so grateful to the women in my life who were not afraid to suffer heart ache for love of me.

A year removed, my sometimes still aching, but very joy filled heart is thankful for the healing power of empathy and the gift of selfless, trusting women and a unconditionally loving and faithful God. 

Heartbreak and pain are a natural and unavoidable part of life – the key is learning what to do when the storm hits. 

I pray that we can all be women who are not afraid to suffer and to suffer alongside - women who trust in God’s timing and healing hand - women who experience joy in the midst of suffering.

Thank you, Jesus, for the healing power of empathy. 

Love, 

Maddie


Get to know Maddie

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Hi! My name is Maddie Black, I am a single, (nearly) 24 years old, who is just embarking on new life adventures! I graduated from Franciscan University this past May, packed my bags and moved from my family’s home in the good old state of Wisconsin to the greater Cincinnati area. I work for the Dynamic Catholic Institute – which means I get to go to work every day and help re-energize the Catholic Church in America! What more could a young professional like myself want? While I miss my mom, dad, and 7 younger siblings – God has given me a great peace that I am right where He wants me to be.

One random fact about yourself. Go!

My favorite insects are Honey Bees. Those little creatures have so much to teach us, plus, they spend a lot of time around flowers. Female worker bees only live for an average of 21 days, but they make the most of their short little lives. They work their wings off for the good of the hive - doing “small things, with great love”. Honey Bees always remind me to be faithful in the small things, and to make the most of each precious day.

How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?

My Catholic faith has shown me in a very tangible way that I am loved and from that love springs a beautiful freedom. In the Catholic Church we have so many concrete ways of experiencing and coming to know God’s unshakable love for us. The Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist have transformed the way I see myself as a loved daughter of God. Every time I receive Him in the Eucharist – I know I am loved because Jesus is transforming my heart into a heart that is just a little bit more like His. When I speak my sins in Confession and hear the words “your sins are forgiven, go in peace” – I know that I am loved because I hear Jesus tell me that I am forgiven and free. This deep peace from knowing I am loved by God no matter what, has given me the freedom to live my life as a confident, faithful and joyful woman.

From one Catholic woman to another, how have you discovered your sense of belonging in the Church? 

Being raised to know and love my Catholic faith, I have always, in my head, known that I belonged in the Church. But it wasn’t until the year after high school when I served as a Catholic Missionary that that sense of belonging was made clear to me. The relationships that I built with the 5 other women on my team allowed that knowledge of belonging I had always had in my head, to move, and become deeply rooted in my heart. These women challenged me, loved me, laughed with me, suffered with me, cried with me, rejoiced with me and showed me that there was not one right way to be a Catholic Woman – that God loved and created each of us in a unique way and that He was calling each of us to holiness. They showed me that not only did I belong, but that we all belonged. God had given us as a gift to each other to help the others become the women He had created us to be. I am so thankful for their dear friendships and for all they have taught me.

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What’s the most empowering piece of advice you’ve been given as a Catholic woman?

I remember I was going through a time in my life where I was having to make some pretty big decision and I was stressing hard core about what to do and I was very afraid to make the wrong decision. I was having a little chat with my pastor about how I was feeling about these looming decisions and the advice that he gave me has empowered me to live in love and freedom. He told me “Maddie, stay close to Jesus, and He will show you what to do”.

Tell us about a woman who inspires you. What lessons have you learned from her? How has she influenced your life?

My mom is the woman who most inspires me. My mom is the strongest and most selfless woman I know, and I am so proud to be her daughter. I am so thankful that my mom taught me how to express my feelings, and not to be afraid of them. There is so much freedom that comes from being able to openly and honestly share what is going on in your heart and mind. I am thankful to my mom for instilling in me the importance of empathy. I am thankful that my mom always pushed me just far enough out of my comfort zone that I was uncomfortable but still safe enough to thrive. I am thankful that my mom has modeled for me how to suffer and go through hardships with grace. I am thankful that my mom has taught me not to take myself or others to seriously. I am thankful that my mom is a woman who prays. I am thankful that I have a mom who is not afraid to show me she is weak sometimes too. I am thankful to have a mom who has never forced me to do anything, but who has allowed me to make decisions for myself and to learn from natural consequences. I am thankful to have a mom who has instilled in me and given me the tools that I need to succeed and to live my life as a Catholic woman.

How is Jesus challenging you to greater love in your current place in life?

I tend to worry about what is going on in my current life and then to worry about what is to come. Then because I am worried, I start to control. Because, in my head, then I don’t have to be worried because I already have a plan for what is going to happen. And holding onto control is exhausting and not how God calls me to live and love. So, right now, Jesus is calling me to live my life in the JOY of the current moment and in JOYFUL ANTICIPATION of what He is going to do. I once heard Joy defined as “The unshakeable sense of well-being that comes from knowing that you are known and loved by God” – basically because God knows me and loves me – I don’t have to worry or control - but instead live in joy because I can rest assured that He is caring for me and always will.

What’s the best smell in the world to you?

My favorite smell is that fresh, clean, flowery, earthly smell that comes after a nice warm Spring rain. I love nature - and God often shows me He loves me through things in nature – and I love the sense of a new beginnings that Spring and rain bring.

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What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday off?

My favorite way to spend a Saturday off in my current state of life, is to not set an alarm and instead wake up when the sunshine on my face gets too bright, to then eat a nice breakfast and tidy up my room and my apartment and chat with my roommates. Then because of course it is a beautiful day outside, I would pack up my bike and go for a nice long bike ride (16+ miles or so) on a sweet and gorgeous bike trail about 30min from where I live. Then I would maybe grab a late lunch with a good friend – Thai food would be nice. Then I would call my family on the 30min drive back to my apartment to see what was going on. That evening I would have some of my dearest new friends that I have made in the greater Cinci area over for some pizza, beer, games and a grand old time

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A typical day in my life looks like…

I wake up to my alarm, roll over and think how good of an idea it was to hang that blue and green tapestry on my wall, I say “Jesus, this day is for you. Help me.” Then I get my butt out of bed and workout for about 30min. I get ready for the day and head to work with my two awesome roommates. (We often carpool – which is very economical of us.) Then I say hi to all of my co-workers, because I love working with them all, and prepare myself for the day – responding to emails and such. I spend a lot of my day talking to people on the phone, answering their questions, resolving problems and so on – I also get to ask people what they would like prayers for and I am honored to be entrusted with the prayers of complete strangers. The Church is wonderful! My co-workers and I laugh a lot – re-energizing the Catholic Church is serious, but also a joy filled Mission! Some days I get to go to Mass at work, and I am doing my best to spend at least 15min of my lunch break in the chapel chatting with Jesus. After work I go home, (workout if I was not feeling it that morning), make and eat dinner, chat with my roommates, maybe do something with friends if I am feeling social, text my mom goodnight (if I remember) and hit the hay!

My favorite quote is...

“If you don’t like something, change it, if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” (I don’t actually know who said it – but is has really helped the way I approach my life.)

I feel most inspired when…

...I am on a nice peaceful walk in nature – I do my best thinking, dreaming and praying when I am walking in God’s creation.

The Catholic Church is…

...where I find joy, peace, love and freedom.


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