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How to Face 3 Crosses in Your Life: A Lenten Reflection

rosary, Bible, and roses

I was reflecting on the personal crosses of the past decade+ that led me to where I am now. While I do not claim to have sagacious insight, I found myself better able to face the trials that presented themselves and move through the arduous healing process as a result of what I will soon detail. Each basic scenario below is taken from my own life, and, as such, none of these suggestions or strategies are hypothetical, but, rather, impacted me in a very real and profound way. As a result, I have also included song lyrics and poetry that I have written over the years that provide a parallel to that journey.

It is my hope that these strategies and reflections may be of use to you (or, if previously employed, find some degree of relatability).

May you continue to have a blessed Lent. Pax Christi.

1. Facing Unexpected Evil in the Real World

It isn't just the stuff of movies. If you find yourself the target of another party that may intend you evil and not good, that seems to have the ability and will to destroy your path, St. Patrick's Breastplate is a go-to prayer.

I remember walking out of the car every day to face a trial I dreaded, that threatened my peace of mind with the fear it invoked. And so, one morning, I walked from the car, a scapular around my neck and these words from the prayer below shielding me and providing the strength I could not have on my own:

"Christ with me
Christ before me
Christ behind me
Christ within me
Christ beneath me
Christ above me
Christ on my right
Christ on my left."

(Full prayer available here.)

I also found myself looking—really looking—at the "little" things around me, my faith deepening as God provided that which allowed me to better face the trial at hand.

On that aforementioned day, a rose was given to me in seemingly the most random of circumstances.

🌹 On the scapular that I wore was the image of Mary surrounded by roses. 🌹

My difficult day was suddenly filled with hope.

I thought briefly of the "rose" scapular that I had started to wear that very day . . . but thought of it even more in the days that followed.

For, in the days that followed, roses—whether a "real" rose or in some other form—began to appear right around when things got especially difficult, when I was feeling especially discouraged or upset. The timing was impeccable. And, eventually, the rose reached full blossom.

One of the moments, however, that will forever remain with me came at the most desperate. There is only so much that we mere humans can accomplish on our own. Yet, as difficult as it may seem, total trust and surrender contains a depth and importance that cannot be overstated. 

Give it all to God. Tell Him, “I don’t know how to fix this, but You know much better than I do. I put this situation, I put my life, in Your hands. Do with it as You will.” And mean it with all your heart and soul. Pray it silently or aloud, alone or with a family member or friend to help guide or accompany you. Just pray with all that you are. Remember Our Lady’s “Fiat.” Don’t hold back.

It was soon after a moment of surrender similar to the one above that I was delivered from a seemingly impossible situation.

St. Patrick's Breastplate and a rose scapular led to Beauty, Beauty led to greater Trust, and Trust led to a strengthened Faith. 

And, through any inhumanity, we might remember the humanity that God calls upon us to show to others and not forget ourselves. The counter-culturalism that is goodness, noble principles that are timeless, a compassion that is earnest, authentic, and true. For, through any trial, our own identities must be fully enshrouded in Truth.

by Gina Marinello-Sweeney

I fall to the ground
In the chaotic clashing of darting shapes
The final act of a pageantry
In which I never knew I had a role
My knee stinging
As the brightness of my costume
Bedecked in butterflies and marigolds
Turns mechanical cold
An android you would have as a toy.
I struggle against the transformation
As your words bite against my skull
My heart is torn apart in whispers
But, for them, it is much more
And so I remember them, and who I am
And suddenly a metal arm throbs and is no more
I will not be a machine
I will not be your toy
I will be human
And, with this, strength unfolds.

2. Healing from Abandonment and Heartbreak

Whether romantic or platonic, there is no pain that can be directly compared to losing someone you once trusted the most. It is a different sort of pain to be intentionally left behind by another, a loss distinctive.

Immerse yourself in the arts. If you write, write. If you paint, paint. If you’re not an artist, you can still participate in art. Try not to think about whether it is your magnum opus and simply express yourself. Authenticity and sincerity will still give it worth. Listen to songs about your story, and cry along with them. Allow yourself to face the pain head-on. Allow yourself to better understand it, to slowly but surely shape it anew. Allow yourself to heal. 

Forgive the person quietly in your own heart. Should you choose to deliver an "I forgive you" note à la October Baby, know the right time—and whether it should be delivered at all. While it may be instinctive, it will likely require thoughtful meditation, prayer, and discernment. The reverse is also true: It may require thoughtful meditation and consideration, but you may also just know—"know" in a deeper spiritual sense.

You may need to learn to live in peace without closure. This enables you to move forward regardless of what may follow later, for it is counterproductive to assume that such closure will occur. Yet time will tell. You may write many letters that only you will see, but know that it may be five or ten years before you write the note or leave the voicemail that provides a sort of closure you thought you'd never have. Allow it to be so in its own time . . . even if it's the hardest thing you've ever done.

When you feel too weak to stand, collapse on your bed, and look up at the ceiling . . . lean over and grab a flashlight, the metaphor in Hunter Hayes' beautiful song manifested into concrete form. Point it at the ceiling, and look at its small reflection of Light. As you stare at it, devoid of coherent thought, remember it. Remember it, even if now all you can do is hurt. Remember that, one day, you will be ok.

And, if the time comes when you feel that the bed is sinking to the ground, that you are lost there and content to remain that way forever, stand up. Hold onto goodness and beauty and Light, even if you cannot see it. Even if all you have is the memory of a flashlight.

Remember that a single pool of light still reaches the Greatest Eternity.

Remember that you may be little like The Little Flower, but never small, in spite of any insecurities (or even persistent doubts that you know are not true) that developed as a result of traumatic experiences. Lean on God, and align your cross with His. You’re not alone.

Remember that one day your broken heart will become a beautiful mosaic.


Lyrics and Music by Gina Marinello-Sweeney

[lower keys on piano]

When you walked away
Did you stop to see
If I was still alive?
When you walked away
Were the words from the past week
In the back of your mind?
I remember you said
That you'd sooner wear black forever
Than lose me in your life
But a rain of cold words
Left that moment in the dark.

You haven't been a dream wanderer
For quite some time
I forgave you
Moved on
To the entrances
Of new light.
But that's not the point . . .

This isn't a love song
This isn't about you
It's about the moment
When I began
To feel small inside.
You're a ghost
From the past
Whose love doesn't haunt me anymore
But there's still a thorn in my heart . . . [hold onto last note]

As the seasons changed
There came another
He honored the code of chivalry
But was not meant for me
And, so, with idle curiosity
As I looked through the tear-stained glass
I wondered, "Would you have thought he cared too much?"

This isn't a love song
This isn't about you
It's about the moment
When I began
To feel small inside.
You're a ghost
From the past
Whose love doesn't haunt me anymore
But there's still a thorn in my heart.

[instrumental; faster pace]
I pulled the thorn from my heart
It's almost all the way out
I'm not small at all
I'm not small, no, no . . .
I'm a little flower
That will shine so bright
Over every empty and callous word
I'm a little flower [hold onto last note; intense]
[quieter] And a thorn won't hold anymore.

[pick-up of instrumental speed]
This isn't a love song
This isn't about you
It's about the moment
When I began
To feel small inside.
This isn't a love song
This isn't about you
It's about the moment
When I began
To feel small inside.
When a thorn was placed
In my heart
But it won't hold anymore.

Long ago, before the thorn
Someone said "I love you."
I wonder when I will hear it again
But there's no rush today . . . [more uplifted, but quietly so and peacefully resolved]

This is a love song
But it isn't about you
It's about the time
I began to feel alive again
There's no room for a thorn
In a heart that's meant to be whole
And so I'll leave it behind.

When I drove down that road
In the afternoon light
I knew, in that moment,
That, at last,
I was ready to love again.
One week later, he appeared
In a glance from Heaven above.
I took the thorn from my heart
And he closed the wound.
He is my home and my rock.

This is a love song
But it isn't just for me
It's for the love that
I found beyond the thorns
With a gift from the One
Who was nailed to the Cross
With a crown of Thorns
I found the one that I sought.

[quietly, more slowly]
The Prince of princes
Brought a knight
Who was worth every moment of the thorn
With him, I found more.

[more loudly]
Let the rain pour . . .

[tempo increases; violin/guitar riff]

This is a love song
[Let the rain pour]
Let your heart learn to heal
[Let it flow]
No cross or barricade
Is too much
[Flow over you]
Let the thorn in your heart
Fall away
[Over you]
As the pieces
Of its refuge
Form anew
You are worth so much more.

[slower, more quietly]
Let the thorn in your heart fall away.
Your mosaic is enough.

3. Waiting for the Answer to a Prayer for a Long Time 

Even when we have found the greatest of blessings, we may be impeded in some way by the world from moving forward. Waiting could be a matter of months or years, and we must find a way to persevere as much as it would be so easy to give in to despair. Perhaps it is a competitive job market that prevents you from beginning forever with the love of your life. Or maybe it’s finding the love of your life in the first place, or the answer to your question of vocation. But keep trusting in God no matter what, no matter how bleak the situation may seem. I have seen so profoundly in my own life how His timing is always much better than our own. And, despite any pain that we may face along the way, that transcendent reality is not only best, but beautiful.

When disappointments and even promising, heartbreaking "almosts" pile up and you feel almost at a breaking point, simply say, "Jesus, I trust in You," and know it with every inch of who you are. Hold onto it. Never lose sight of it. Once again, allow your prayers to become those of trust and surrender.

Consider also the Novena of Surrender to the Will of God, a wonderful series of prayers recommended by a friend. It is especially relevant to those of you who currently find yourselves worrying and seek greater inner peace and closeness with God.

While we must always remember the path that we endured, the time for rejoicing will come.

Along the way, however, we may allow "the little joys" that beg entry to come into our lives. There are moments when we need art that expresses our sorrow, worry, and pain, yet we also, at times, need an "intermission." Not the sort of "intermission" that is a mere distraction, but fuller. Deeper. An intermission in the truest sense of the word. Yet it can also be as simple as a new, seemingly nonsensical inside joke or listening to a song that releases tension and inexplicitly brings beauty and pure joy into that moment in time.

Cry and listen to sad music, gaze at poignant words and paintings, when they call to you. But also capture the afternoons, the evenings, that glisten like fireflies in the midst of “treeless” Christmases . . . and become, in their own way, a moment of Christmastime.

Sometimes, even in the most difficult, heartbreaking of years, you can find these "little things" that help you get through it. Little divine gifts. Each is a blessing.

Sometimes it is concrete, such as students at the end of a quarter saying that they will miss your class and have learned a lot.

Sometimes it is more ethereal, such as walking out into a foggy night. 

Mist over Nottingham

Lyrics and Music by Gina Marinello-Sweeney

[harp and faint sound of chimes gradually transitioning to piano]

I walk from the door
By your side
Ethereal mist
Shrouding the night sky
In a playground
Of gossamer swans
Moon-kissed and silvery silk
Like stepping into another world

[hint of violin]
Camelot couldn’t look more beautiful tonight.
Cool air caressing my face
I know you can feel it, too.
Its ballad whispers in the wind
Years younger, yet ancient
Somehow all the same
Your eyes
A reflection of my own
And for now
The thieves of the night cannot touch us.

[brief interlude of harp and flute]

If you were here now
You’d look at me and smile
And say
Do you remember
From where gossamer comes?
Are you sure you want
To pick that word, my wordsmith girl?
I’d bite back a grin
Feigning indignation
I’d say
Spider Slayer
Are you saying I can’t accept the glory of the word
Without approving its origin story?
And you’d gaze at me in that way
Like a million chocolate strawberries
Turned to specks of silver
Falling, falling to stay
And stay and stay
Like I’m Ali Baba’s golden endgame
Ohh, shipwrecked on an island
But you’re my Ferdinand
And the thieves of the night
Are suddenly far away . . .
Far, far away.

Can you feel it now?
Oooh, ooh, ooh.

Down in Nottingham
Oh, take my hand
Down in Nottingham
No one I’d rather
Steal through the forest with
In a scarlet hood
The wolves are not far behind
But our eyes are cast ahead
Farther than they can find [backing vocals]
Ohh, my love
Stealing, stealing
Stealing back from the thieves
Down in Nottingham.

I’d rather cry in the rain
Months-long tears intermingling
In freshly-minted air
Tragic sonnets and balconies
There’s always been more than a bit
Of Marianne Dashwood in me
But it’s been long
Since Willoughby knocked at my door
[faster pace]
And now I have you
And forever ocean air
And now you’re here [backing vocals]
And for this moment tonight
Let’s forget the thieves of the night . . .

Oh, I’ll cry tomorrow
But, for this moment, let’s forget the thieves of the night . . .

Down in Nottingham
Oh, take my hand
Down in Nottingham
No one I’d rather
Steal through the forest with
In a scarlet hood
The wolves are not far behind
But our eyes are cast ahead
Farther than they can find [backing vocals]
Ohh, my love
Stealing, stealing
Stealing back from the thieves
Down in Nottingham.

Statistics say
Now would be a good time
To lose my mind
But with treegoats circling in my head
Befriending albino wombats and pingüinos
And you with your riboflavin keyboards
I’m fighting for the rights of commas
While you’re sending them to prison
Everyone knows the Oxford comma [backing vocals]
Should have a voice. [backing vocals]
I suspect
We were always crazy enough
To make it out ok.
My darling, my love.

If you didn’t know me so well
If I loved you less
This could be easier
I know
It could [higher note]
But you’re the lost archive
Of an ancient city
The secret vault of a library
That I’ve given a lifetime to collect
And, so, I’ll take your hand and . . .

Down in Nottingham
Oh, take my hand
Down in Nottingham
No one I’d rather
Steal through the forest with
In a scarlet hood
The wolves are not far behind
But our eyes are cast ahead
Farther than they can find [backing vocals]
Ohh, my love
Stealing, stealing
Stealing back from the thieves
Down in Nottingham.

[violin/harp/piano interlude]

[faster pace]
There are wolves and thieves
And God knows what else
Steals through this night
But there’s one thing
They can’t steal away
They can’t touch us [backing vocals]
As long as I live
’Til my dying breath [backing vocals]
No, longer still.
Even that queen with a deck of cards
Up in Wonderland
With her cunning machinations
And cruel games [backing vocals]
Can’t take it away
Because it’s yours [slower]

So, take my hand
And run with me
We’ll make it past the forest
The wolves will be held at bay
‘Till we make it to the shore
On this mid-lit day
Oooh, ohh.
Mist over
Mist over Nottingham
With you.

Gina Marinello-Sweeney

Gina Marinello-Sweeney is the author of The Veritas Chronicles, a contemporary YA trilogy that has been compared to the writing of L.M. Montgomery. The first book in the series, I Thirst, received the 2013 YATR Literary Award for Best Prologue from Young Adult Teen Readers. Gina lives in Southern California with her husband, where she is at work on a fairy tale novel and short story collection. Visit for more information.
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