Learning Vulnerability with Muscular Dystrophy - A Letter from Angela Maccarrone
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Vulnerability is something that has been on my heart and something I have struggled with for years, as I’m sure so many of you struggle with as well. I know that opening our hearts up to others and exposing the most tender pieces of ourselves takes courage and trust. My hope is that sharing my personal experiences will inspire you all to open your hearts, accept help from others, and experience how beautiful vulnerability can be.
As a 23-year-old young woman with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, being independent is key for me. There are many things I am not able to do on my own such as lifting objects above 10 pounds, getting up off the floor, breathing at night without respiratory assistance, going upstairs, and traveling outside my home without my scooter. Because of this, I take pride in every ounce of independence I have. When I don't physically or absolutely need others to help me, I won’t ask for help and be vulnerable. Over the years, so many people have said to me, "you are so strong", or "you are so brave." In an effort to constantly keep up these characteristics, I haven't allowed myself to be vulnerable emotionally and let others into my brokenness. No matter your unique situation or what season of life you are in, sisters, I understand your struggle. Just like so many of you, I was afraid of being vulnerable and allow myself to depend on others.
I've always been involved in ministry over the years, but I hung back at my university. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to participate with my disability, and that I just physically wouldn't be able to be a part of the community. It sounds silly, I know. After speaking to one of the directors of a retreat about my concerns, she said, "Christ welcomes everyone. If you let us help you, we can make this work".
It hit me. I had to let others carry me (literally by carrying me up the retreat center's huge staircase) and let them be close to me in order for me to participate and experience God's love and grace and the beauty this world has to offer. I had to physically be vulnerable (and emotionally vulnerable too) in order to experience these wonderful and beautiful relationships my university's ministry department, and my faith journey had to offer. I was so afraid of losing independence that I guarded myself from new and amazing experiences and the authentic love my fellow classmates had to offer. (Page 2) Even Christ, during the Passion, let Simon help carry his cross.
It hit me. I had to let others carry me (literally by carrying me up the retreat center's huge staircase) and let them be close to me in order for me to participate and experience God's love and grace and the beauty this world has to offer.
Sisters, can you imagine how much courage, humility, and vulnerability that took? This shows just how much power there is in human relationship and letting others help you. I have so much gratitude for my experiences from campus ministry. Some of my favorite memories and people are from my retreat experiences in college and has significantly influenced who I am today. Please don’t let yourselves miss out on these wonderful experiences I was fortunate enough to experience.
Wherever and whoever you are reading this, I hope you understand the beauty of vulnerability means that no one is able to handle life alone, and that everyone, no matter their ability, has something to offer- authentic human relationship and love. Ladies, being vulnerable not only allows you to form authentic and loving relationships, but it allows you to become your best self and serve as disciples of Christ, giving your beautiful light to the world. I hope my story and thoughts can encourage you all to be vulnerable, and to let others help carry your crosses. The best is yet to come.
Get to know Angela
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Hi! I am Angela Maccarrone, I’m 24 and I am currently a first-year graduate student at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA studying Clinical Mental Health Counseling. As part of my program practicum, I am a counseling intern at Catholic Charities of Spokane. I am from Kirkland, WA and some things that make me happy are Labrador Retrievers, drinking endless amounts of tea (and coffee), listening to country music (I love Lee Brice and Thomas Rhett), laughing with friends, and enjoying a good book out in the sunshine.
How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?
My Catholic faith affects the way I live my day-to-day life in many different ways, but lately it has changed how I view living my faith in my actions. I’ve really connected to St. Therese and Saint Mother Theresa in the fact that something small like a warm smile and or simply listening to someone struggling can have a lasting impact on that person and can be a path toward holiness. You don’t necessarily need to something grand like start a non-profit to end homelessness, but small things with great love can be just as meaningful.
From one Catholic woman to another, how have you discovered your sense of belonging in the Church?
Even though I have been born and raised Catholic, I truly didn’t feel like I belonged in the Church until college. As a young woman with a physical disability, I am often labeled as being “different” by others but my experience as an undergrad at Gonzaga significantly changed that. I felt loved, accepted, and valued as a woman of God, especially during the masses, faith-sharing small groups, Thirst Christian Worship, retreats, and by the many men and women of God I met in college. I never exactly strayed from the Church, but my experiences at GU changed my heart and I had a passion for my faith like never before.
What’s the most empowering piece of advice you’ve been given as a Catholic woman?
The most powerful piece of advice I’ve been given as a Catholic woman has been….to always trust the process- beautiful things take time to grow. We may not understand God’s timing, call, or answers, but the best is yet to come.
Tell us about a woman who inspires you. What lessons have you learned from her? How has she influenced your life?
A woman who has inspired me is my best friend, Michaela. She is probably the most genuinely kind soul you will ever meet. We met on the first day of 9th grade and were fortunate enough to attend college together as well. She has taught me so much about the beauty of authentic friendship, kindness, vulnerability, and joy and she challenges me to be the best version of myself.
How is Jesus challenging you to greater love in your current place in life?
Jesus is challenging me to greater love in my current place in life…here in Spokane, WA. Returning back to my undergraduate university for grad school has been incredibly difficult for me, to the point where I’ve thought about transferring to another school. I’ve recently realized that maybe I’m being challenged to “be ok with not being ok” and to trust I’m where I’m supposed to be, even though may not see why yet. I think I’m being challenged to love those around me and be still and open with where I’m at.
What’s currently your biggest stumbling block in pursuing the Lord?
My biggest stumbling block in pursing the Lord is…putting my desires and longings first and allowing my wants to prevent me from listening to His still voice in my life and where He is guiding me.
What’s a dream you’d love to achieve in the next 10 years?
A dream I’d love to achieve in the next 10 years is…to become a clinical psychologist to provide hope and work with those struggling with chronic illness or other difficult diagnoses. The ultimate dream would to be a clinical psychologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, getting married and raising a family, traveling to the many places on my bucket-list such as London, Ireland, and the Holy Land, and integrating my love of my faith with my love of inspiring others with neuromuscular diseases. The Lord works in mysterious ways, so we’ll see what He has planned for me!
Fill in the blank
A typical day in my life looks like…
Attending grad school classes at GU, counseling clients at Catholic Charities, making dinner and prepping meals for the next day, watching Netflix (I’m currently watching Friends right now), and between the busyness of studying, settling down with a cup of tea and my prayer journal and chatting with God.
My favorite quote is...
”Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything” -Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.
I feel most inspired when…
I am in mass or adoration. This past semester since starting grad school has been filled with lots of anxiety, doubt, loneliness, and longing. Each time I have gone to mass or spent time with the Lord in adoration, I have felt peace and reassurance that everything will fall into place.
The Catholic Church is…
where I find hope, beauty, and meaning in my life.