St. Jude: Patron Saint of Chaos and Impossible Causes

I’m in Hawaii, sitting next to an olive-green painted stucco wall on the concrete deck of the Kona Brewing Company drinking a half Lavaman Lager / half Hula Hefeweizen overlooking a Chevron gas station. The ocean is on the other side of the highway somewhere — probably — and my beer is nearly gone, very warm, and totally flat. Still delicious, though, because low standards for the win!

I don’t know why it always feels important to tell you where I am when I write to you. Maybe because I’m always asking myself that question both literally and figuratively; where the hell am I? Am I where I want to be? Where I meant to be? Is where I am OK anyway, even if I’ve veered off track or didn’t have a well-mapped plan?

We’re here on Oahu dropping our oldest baby off for college which is impossible to believe and still true, and, from the articles I see online, I notice I’m supposed to be doing things I haven’t done — like prepare for drop-off day with a measuring tape and garbage bags and a tool kit — and feeling things strongly instead of not being able to make sense of my feelings at all. I see I’m supposed to want to make her bed and unpack her stuff and we’re supposed to argue about that — her staking out her turf and me trying to “help” without asking how — and I wonder whether this is another Mom Thing I’m Doing Wrong because I have no real need to do any of those things, nor to wash her new sheets or worry whether she’ll do well in this new life. I don’t know whether I’m cocky, but I feel like I already know; she’ll do well in this new life and she won’t, like all of the humans throughout history — happy and well-adjusted, and also struggling and wondering where she fits. Where the hell is she, anyway? Is she where she wants to be? Where she meant to be? Is this place OK, even if she veers off track or doesn’t have a well-mapped plan?

This is a strange season, and I know that’s not true just for me or for our family. This is a Strange Season, friends.

  • Our kids are getting older and the Parenting Game changes its rules constantly these days. We practice flexibility like it’s our profession, the way doctors practice medicine; years of study, followed by internship, followed by residency which nearly kills us with its dangerous lack of sleep, followed by either actively working or being on call 24/7. Relentless, right? Relentless.
  • Our church denomination is trying to decide whether there’s room for LGBTQ people at the table, and we had more meetings this summer with no decisions again, which were agonizing to everyone and which make all of us on all the sides wonder whether there’s a place for us here.
  • Our oldest boy-child is suffering. We’re seeking more help for him (always), and we don’t know if we’re doing enough (also always).
  • And our U.S. presidential election … just… what the holy ever-loving fuck, friends?? I know I should put that differently, but OH DEAR GOD, HELP US, and, honestly, given the number of times I’ve prayed using the words “what the ever-loving fuck,” I trust Jesus to know that’s a sincere prayer.

This is just a Really Strange Season, is my point. Very Strange. Exceedingly Strange. Like standing on shifting sand. Or on what we thought was solid ground which turns out to be a thin crust of earth on top of a giant sinkhole that gives way so we freefall in perpetuity like Alice headed to Wonderland. DUDE; where the hell am I? Am I where I want to be? Where I meant to be? Is where I am OK anyway, even if I’ve veered off track or didn’t have a well-mapped plan or am in utter freefall??

In recent years, I’ve claimed St. Jude as my family’s patron saint. He is, after all, the patron saint of Chaos and Impossible Causes and Things Almost Despaired Of. I could think of no better fit. We’re not Catholic, except in the sense that we believe in a Universal Church that unifies, rather than divides, us. And I had no theology of saints or sainthood except to notice that American Protestants reject them as idols. So I have no idea how many good Christian people I’m offending in claiming a patron saint for our family, but I find that with age I’m less and less inclined to pay attention to who’s being offended and more inclined to pay attention to the things which seem Deeply True and lead me to Love God, who’s other name is Love, and Love My Neighbors As Myself. The saints, it turns out, aren’t idols but advocates who intercede with God on our behalf, and, while I can why see this is offensive to protestants, believing, as we do, that we need no intercessor between ourselves and Love since that’s what Jesus (aka, Love Incarnate) came specifically to change, I find the concept not at all offensive that may dialogue directly with Love and ask a saint to intercede alongside me.

In other words, I’m probably mucking it all up.

No doubt, the Catholics and the Protestants are both dismayed at this point.

Nevertheless, I’ve claimed St. Jude for our own.

Patron Saint of Chaos and Impossible Causes and Woolseys and Things Nearly Dispaired Of.

And so I’ve searched and searched for quite some time to find a pendant of St. Jude to wear around my neck and remind me that in the midst of all the mess and madness it’s OK to ask Love for help.

In the midst of the chaos and splendor, it’s OK to ask Love to hold my hand.

In the midst of impossible darkness, when I can no longer pray on my own because I have no words left and despair has nearly overtaken me, I can hand my prayer to another who will bear them on my behalf.

I found my pendant, finally, in a stall in the middle of a market in Mexico, and it doesn’t matter that I don’t know whether I believe St. Jude is real. It matters that he might be. And it matters that there’s a symbol for carrying what’s impossible and jumbled and full of despair to a Love that’s bigger than us all.

IMG_1309I found my pendant, finally, and I snapped it up along with 4 more for you, though I wish I could’ve bought EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US a pendant and a necklace to put it on and a respite trip to Mexico with sun and sand and sympathy, which, FOR THE LOVE, we all need. Still, like I keep reminding myself, I did what I could when I could do it, and, at the time, it was buying 5 pendants — one for me and 4 for 4 of you — in the hope you’ll know to the depth of your bones I meant them for all of us, with our prayers sent on St. Jude’s wings regardless of who hangs the metal around his/her neck.

Friends, if you’d like one of the pendants, I’ll do a drawing eventually, picking randomly from the comments on this post using a random number generator. In the meantime, I’m praying, along with St. Jude, that Love will attend us during the Strange Season, and befriend us in the Chaos, and make our Impossible Causes possible, and lend us some of what it takes to not despair.

With love to every one of you,

SignatureIMG_1308

P.P.S. Here — FINALLY (now that it’s DECEMBER) — are the four winners of the St. Jude pendants, chosen by the Random Number Generator:

  1. Stefanie who wrote: “I could not agree more Beth! Dear GOD “what the ever-loving fuck,” and please intervene for the sake of us all! Prayers to you and your children during this season, and all others. Thank you for keeping it mucky and messy. xoxox”
  2. Kathy who wrote: “Beth, you have a better understanding of Saints than many Catholics do! Saints with a capital S are canonized, officially deemed to be holy. But like one reader said, they were regular human beings, who screwed up a lot, and just kept trying. Like all of us. We are all called to be saints with a little s, when we die and meet the Divine, who is Love. I just got my Masters in Theology from a Cathloic University, and when someone asks me what I have learned, I say this: “God is Love.” I like your personal theology and philosophy. And, well, just love you. Your stories and honesty are inspiring and oh so real.”
  3. Ellen Murphy who wrote: “Upon reading this post, I thought that as a mother of three loud boys, all born in a span of 3 years and 10 months that St. Jude should be my family’s patron saint as well. Then I read the comments and random number generator be damned the mother of 5 with the refrigerated kindle needs this medal. As a Baptist in Texas, I would approach the St. Jude medal in a similar way- it could be true and it seems helpful, asking for St. Jude’s prayer is probably the spiritual version of people asking for a selfie with a celebrity. I hope you are basking in the tropical, exotic beauty of Hawaii while you are there.”
  4. Melissa D who wrote: “I, too, am in need of a patron saint of chaos, for myself and my family. Tomorrow I am supposed to be bringing oldest child back to college to begin her junior year. But she is sick – as in, got blood work for mono this morning sick – and her college is 3 hours away, so I am trying to do as much as I can to help her while she is still here for me to help. And hubby is in search of a cardiologist who takes our insurance and will do the procedure that he needs instead of only giving him meds and telling him to lose weight. And the house is a mess and the kids need school supplies and things like sneakers and underwear and I don’t know how I am going to take care of all of that. So, yes. I am all cool with asking St. Jude, to intercede for me and my family (and you and yours!) and to help me find my sanity, which I seem to have misplaced, and my floors, which I could swear were around here somewhere. PS. As someone who worships in a Catholic church, I also like to turn to Mary. One of the many names that the church has for her is “Mother of Perpetual Help”. I figure her life as a mom was pretty chaotic, and so she knows a thing or two about that. And I really do need “perpetual help”.”
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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
68 comments
  1. I am not even religious, but I could really do with some help from St. Jude. Loving your post and keeping you and Abby in my thoughts. From what I know about her through your blog, she will do just fine, or even great!

  2. 50 COMMENTS? crazy. So I’m a Catholic, chiming in before reading anyone else. You ask your reads to say prayers for you and your family? That’s the same thing we do with Saints! “Hey there, St Jude – things are really crazy right now, would you mind saying a pray to the Big Guy for me? Thanks!” We’re just asking another friend to pray on our behalf. Not worshipping the saint. And do you have Christian friends whom you feel really live the life right, and you’d like to be a little more like them in some ways? Dude! Just like the saints – great examples of how to live for God! I swear to you, we are not voodoo wild idol worshippers!~ And I’ll be sending up a little prayer to ask St Jude’s prayers and intercessions for the Woolsey family. Blessings!

  3. It is a strange season. For all of us. God help us.

  4. Listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast “Generous Orthodoxy” about a Mennonite pastor who officiated at the wedding of his gay son….I think you will find it heartening.

    And, I had an interesting experience. Way back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, I went back to college and found a St Dymphna medal in my mailbox. THe patroness of those with depression, mental illness etc. She couldn’t have come at a better time. And no, I don’t know why she was sent to me. I was Baptist-ish then, and ost certainly not Roman Catholic.

  5. Beth, you have a better understanding of Saints than many Catholics do! Saints with a capital S are canonized, officially deemed to be holy. But like one reader said, they were regular human beings, who screwed up a lot, and just kept trying. Like all of us. We are all called to be saints with a little s, when we die and meet the Divine, who is Love. I just got my Masters in Theology from a Cathloic University, and when someone asks me what I have learned, I say this: “God is Love.” I like your personal theology and philosophy. And, well, just love you. Your stories and honesty are inspiring and oh so real.

    1. Hey, look! It’s December and I’m FINALLY choosing winners! KATHY! You won! I’m sending you a message now… look for it in your inbox.
      Beth

  6. I also have five wonderful, mind-sucking, energy-draining kids….enough said.

  7. No need for medals/pendants here. I “make” my own bracelets and aways have little stones from visited beaches or places around my neck – they do give me strength, they do, just like any saint would too. Thanks for the waving/post, always appreciated.
    Also: as and where you are, you are where you meant to be: home, in a most beautiful body with a most beautiful heart and head; at this very moment, all the time.
    Hugs and waving to all who need it.

  8. Yay! Jude is one of my patron saints too! I would take a picture of the one I have in my pocket, but I have no idea how to show it to you….

    I am Catholic (thus the Jude in my pocket), and the best way I’ve found of explaining praying to saints is that it is like asking your mom (or sister, or friend, or grocer) to pray for you. Nothing weird in that right? You are asking them to storm the gates of heaven on your behalf as their is only so much storming you can do yourself (what with all the tiny humans requiring food and clothing and such). So obviously I can go straight to God (and often do), but I can also ask my friends to pray for me. By the way, I’m no scholar, so nobody start quoting me or anything.

    Right now I’m asking four different saints to help out – St. Jude (because I’m a lost cause obviously), St. Gianna (who sacrificed her life for her child), St. Peregrine (the patron of those with cancer), and St. Monica (who was the Mike Tyson of prayer warriors).

  9. Well, you’re take on this election season about sums up how I feel about it, too. In fact, I was talking to my dad about it today. He is trying to convince me to vote, but I’ve pretty much decided to sit with Facebook on this election – we don’t need a president this year, I think we just need some time to be single and find ourselves. Or something like that. Either way, it offends my conscience to vote for either of them, so I’m just not. And I think it’s pretty ridiculous that we (as a country) spent exorbitant amounts of money in order to whittle down to these two horrific excuses for human beings and now we are going to pick one of them to be our leader. So “what the holy ever-loving fuck” about sums it up.

    On another note, when I was a little girl – 11-years-old – that’s little, right? Anyway, at that age, my dad’s half-sister, my Aunt Betty, came to visit. I’d never met her before that, and I haven’t seen her since. But during that visit, we forged a bond. I think she was a nun. Or she had been a nun. Or, maybe, she had thought about being a nun. Anyway, she wore a pendant of St. Jude. I’m not Catholic (although I considered becoming Catholic around age 14). Anyway, I liked that pendant. A lot. Aunt Betty said she would leave it to me in her will. I don’t know if she will – I mean, that promise was made 39 years ago, and we haven’t spoken since. But your post reminded me of her and her pendant.

  10. You may be far, far from me, but hearts reach out. I have struggled with anxiety all summer and now, finally, I am treading water. I learned this summer that being just ok, well, that’s OK! Remember that light can be put into darkness, but you can’t put darkness into light. So even if you have a flicker of light, you’ve got hope. I held on to that flicker all summer. Through it all. I survived. I am an overcomer thanks to He who gives strength. And birds of a feather, well, ya know, so I know you’re an overcomer too. 😉 Waving to you from the deep but at least my head is above water now. ♥

  11. I love reading about how messed up some of the saints’ lives were. They aren’t fairy tales of perfect people, they are stories of survival and hope amidst suffering. Deeply flawed people who Just. Keep. Swimming. That’s a message for all of us.

    You don’t have to be Catholic to find peace in her truths.

    St. Jude, pray for us!

  12. As my therapist says after an EMDR session, “Deep breath. And let it out.” This post was a tiny slice of respite in itself.

  13. Trying to be at peace with the chaos is my constant struggle. Thanks for waving in the dark. We are not alone, that helps when I’m really scared.
    Blessings

  14. St. Jude. My new patron saint, as chaos and impossible situations is all I’ve got. 2 teens, one who is adopted, black, and bipolar. One who is biological, a surprise, white, and pulls his eyebrows out when he’s stressed. Married for 22 years, battling Sjogren’s syndrome–an autoimmune disease. Raised protestant, now a party of the Episcopal faith–so protestant sort of, but all I can stomach related to church. My husband is now an atheist. All chaos, all impossible. I’m always waving in the dark…hoping there is done light to come, and hoping it’s from God, not a freight train.

  15. Love this. Love you.

  16. I don’t have kids, but I work with teen interns and volunteers, and I think the Saint of Chaos is very appropriate. Really enjoy these kids, want to smack them upside the head a lot and say “what were you thinking!?”, but we love having them on board.

  17. I, too, am in need of a patron saint of chaos, for myself and my family. Tomorrow I am supposed to be bringing oldest child back to college to begin her junior year. But she is sick – as in, got blood work for mono this morning sick – and her college is 3 hours away, so I am trying to do as much as I can to help her while she is still here for me to help. And hubby is in search of a cardiologist who takes our insurance and will do the procedure that he needs instead of only giving him meds and telling him to lose weight. And the house is a mess and the kids need school supplies and things like sneakers and underwear and I don’t know how I am going to take care of all of that.

    So, yes. I am all cool with asking St. Jude, to intercede for me and my family (and you and yours!) and to help me find my sanity, which I seem to have misplaced, and my floors, which I could swear were around here somewhere.

    PS. As someone who worships in a Catholic church, I also like to turn to Mary. One of the many names that the church has for her is “Mother of Perpetual Help”. I figure her life as a mom was pretty chaotic, and so she knows a thing or two about that. And I really do need “perpetual help”.

    1. Hey, look! It’s December and I’m FINALLY choosing winners! MELISSA! You won! I’m sending you a message now… look for it in your inbox.
      Beth

  18. I am not Catholic, and finding the Baptist Church less and less “me” (and sometimes less “God” as well depending on who is soeaking), and I always feel as though I’m mucking it up but I keep holding tight to the God I know, whom I live, who loves me. And that’s all any of us can do, aside from sharing that Love.

    I too have dropped one at college and wondered at the absence of the feelings I expected to have. And then had them all at once like an avalanche so there is a little warning from one to another.

    I too have one who has hurt, and sought help, and got help, and so I offer hope.

    I love the idea of an intercessory saint – and hope I’m one of 4 because it’s been one of those years.

    1. You’re the first person other than me who I know of who shares my feelings about the Baptist church. I am so disillusioned right now, and my daughter (she’s 18) and I are actually considering visiting other churches. It really bothers me!

  19. Hi Beth!!!!
    I do not need to be in the running for a medal. I just wanted to wave again across the water and say my last baby went off to college last fall and wow does life change. I still ask myself “where the hell am I” pretty frequently but these days I care so little about the answer. The sun is shining, the coffee is strong and if I can just take 4 more loads of stuff to Value Villiage without getting lost today will be a success.

  20. Beth!
    You’ve been on my mind lately! I love the idea of the Saint of Chaos being your patron saint! And I love love love the way you described it, knowing that the Catholics and Protestants might both disapprove. I don’t. I love it, and thought, “Yes! I need that too!”

    Also, I had no clue your church was trying to determine that now. “My” denomination (that I no longer really claim, for this reason among others) doesn’t even discuss it. So, maybe you’re a step ahead. I hope it goes well. I know it’s complicated, but, my heart just hurts for the people excluded from our churches because of their love. And you’re right, it makes me feel like I don’t belong too.

    Anyway, I wish we could sit and chat somewhere with coffee (a parking garage, perhaps?)!

    Love you!
    Kristi

  21. Strange season resonated with me for sure. (As an aside, my 3 yr old is on the iPad right meow, and I swear it’s saying, drunkin likes to eat sardines on his spaghetti…it’s making me giggle) My 18 yr old boy child has decided not to begin college right now. So while I was onboard with all the other mommas preparing for this time, now the momentum has halted and he doesn’t know what he wants to do. And is not looking for a job, and is feeling lost and hopeless. And once again I’m fighting the deamons that say I have failed because this beautiful boy of mine was all but lost (which he now seems to be) while I tried to find myself. My middle child turns 13 today, and can find it nowhere in his being to respect anything about me. Which hurts, but I understand actually. And in looking at my beautiful two year old girl, praying to God that I don’t mess her up! We’ve lived in our new home/city since January and the novelty is beginning to wear off. Added to that is the fact that the closest city to us is flint Michigan, currently a cesspool of dispair. I try to be the light, but sometimes the heaviness of the area is too great for me. But I do believe in love – so somehow I can never fully dispair, hope is always hanging out somewhere. I have been taking in a great deal of new to me knowledge these past few months, and that feeds my soul. I am oh so excited for your daughter!! I wanted to contribute to your sons wall, but I read the post so very late. But what I have been saying to myself is…..Be brave today. I like the “today” part, because I need the reminder DAILY. In Jesus name, via St. Jude, Amen 😉

  22. Upon reading this post, I thought that as a mother of three loud boys, all born in a span of 3 years and 10 months that St. Jude should be my family’s patron saint as well. Then I read the comments and random number generator be damned the mother of 5 with the refrigerated kindle needs this medal. As a Baptist in Texas, I would approach the St. Jude medal in a similar way- it could be true and it seems helpful, asking for St. Jude’s prayer is probably the spiritual version of people asking for a selfie with a celebrity. I hope you are basking in the tropical, exotic beauty of Hawaii while you are there.

    1. Hey, look! It’s December and I’m FINALLY choosing winners! ELLEN! You won! I’m sending you a message now… look for it in your inbox.
      Beth

  23. You are a brave and strong soul. Your posts always give me strength to plug on. Oh and you always bring humor in the midst of the pain which is amazing. On the saint note… I’m a Protestant and my son is named after two saints. My husband and I pray that their example of strength in faith and love will be a good example to him as he grows up.

  24. As someone how is catholic, I can tell you the saints are real. Whether you believe in their power to intercede with God on your behalf is up to you. Personally I’ve always felt some comfort appealing to someone who lived a life so much Godlier (is that a word?) than I do yet was still a flawed human like all of us.

  25. I understand the confusion about praying to/alongside the saints. I, too, am a Protestant. A Catholic friend helped me understand this. He said, “Of course, we can directly pray to God through Jesus. But don’t you ask your friends to intercede for you? We just ask the saints to intercede for us as well!”

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