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I’ve Had a Difficult Life, and That’s Okay

Lizzie-VelasquezLizzie Velásquez is a 24 year old American woman who was born with a very rare disease (shared by only two other people in the United States) that doesn’t allow her to gain weight. She has been bullied most of her life, including being labeled the “World’s Ugliest Woman” in an internet video that received over a million views and thousands of vile comments.

That’s enough to break anyone’s spirit. But instead of giving in to negativity and despair, she overcame hardship and ridicule to become a successful author and motivational speaker. Many of you may recognize her from a video of her TEDX talk in Austin last year that immediately went viral.

For the most part, her speech is a motivational pep-talk for those who have been bullied or with low self-esteem. But it also sends a powerful message to the culture of death, specifically those who justify killing in order to spare someone a lifetime or period of suffering from some disease or disability.

“I’ve had a really difficult life — but that’s okay” -Lizzie Velásquez.

Parents of unborn children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome and other genetic diseases are told horror stories about how awful their child’s life will be and encouraged — often bullied — to abort. Lizzie herself was born with a disfiguring disease and her parents were told that institutionalization would be the best option since she would probably never have a “normal” life.

Speaking as a disabled person, myself, I will be the first to tell you that the past fourteen years of my life have not been easy, to say the very least. But that doesn’t mean they have been “too hard” to take, or that joy has eluded me. I’m still a human being, I’m still alive, and my life still has meaning and infinite value despite my challenges and limitations. In fact, in many ways, my injury has made me a stronger person and value my life even more.

Of course we should never want anyone to be sick or live with terrible disabilities and incurable diseases. Nevertheless, there is a lot of good that can come from facing our fears and accepting and overcoming life’s hardships. These are the things that help build our character and strengthen us as persons. Experiencing adversity provides an elite (and extensive) education in the practical living-out of those valuable virtues: humility, patience, courage, and perseverance.

Suffering is a great spiritual teacher, as well. Reminding us that we are creatures and totally dependent on God, it teaches us humility and self denial so that the power of Christ may more easily dwell in us (2 Corinth 12:9-10).

What defines you as a person?

This is the crux of Lizzie’s talk. She asks the audience to consider what defines them: their backgrounds? Friends? Families? She reminds them that if they can find happiness within and be the drivers of their own lives, the bullies will always lose.

There is a cult of normalcy in the world today that asserts its power over the weak — deciding who gets to live and who must die — by defining people largely based on their abilities or lack there of. Those judged to fall short of their arbitrary, utilitarian standards are defined by those differences and cast aside as having lives not worth living.

This is why we are seeing the systematic slaughter of disabled children in the womb. This is why “suicide prevention” seems to apply to everyone except those who are sick or disabled.

“Only God can judge.” We hear that phrase thrown around so much from pseudo-Christian progressives (often to justify all manner of perverse and sinful behavior). Thankfully, we know God doesn’t judge human life in the same utilitarian terms as the cult of normalcy.

In fact, in her forthcoming book Theology of the Body Extended that I had the privilege of reviewing, Susan Windley-Daoust reminds us that, Jesus Christ the messiah, God incarnate Himself, “has consented to a way of limitation, of embodiment that can be bound, injured and killed as the way to define ‘the man.’” Therefore,

“When we see or experience limitation, even impairment, we should not think, ‘behold, the monster,’ but rather ‘behold, the man’ (John 19:5). The incarnation of Christ and his passion is the ‘norm,’ not anything defined by the cult of normalcy.”

We are human beings not human doings. Our lives are defined not by how we look or what we can or cannot do, but who we are. And who we are, all of us, is children of a loving God. A God who loved us so much that he became a man himself, suffered and died, showing us that every human life, even when it is subject to pain, is infinitely blessed and valuable and worth living.

Pain and suffering should never be used as an excuse to end someone else’s life…or your own. What the cult of normalcy fails to recognize or accept is that these things are part of “normal” human existence.

As Windley-Daoust put it, disability is an “open minority” that we will all join someday if we are not there already, because human beings are limited. If nothing else, we will all age into “limitations of expected function.” But even before then, most people will experience illness or some form of temporary impairment.

A culture that expects life to be lived to its fullness must be able to embrace and make peace with—even find joy in—the normalcy of human suffering.


Chelsea Zimmerman is the editor-in-chief for Catholic Lane and a managing editor at Ignitum Today. She often writes and speaks about life issues and Catholic spirituality. She has been featured on EWTN's Life on the Rock. Her website is Reflections of a Paralytic.

  • Soliloquized

    I’ve seen Lizzie Velásquez on video and in articles elsewhere. I really appreciated this article, many good points were made.

    I think America has been unduly biased by the media, so that the “cult of normalcy” is actually something more insidious than that, it’s a cult of sex suitability. Over the years I’ve seen pretty women, facially, physique, or personality, that don’t receive the attention that they should from the opposite sex, too heavy, too big in the posterior, not attractive enough, etc. I’ve been incredulous about some things other men have said. I’m sure the same applies to men ignored by women.

    Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but too often, that perception of beauty is not one of the person’s own creation, but one we have been conditioned by the media to expect. Often travelling a main highway in Maryland I would literally see an attractive young woman whose car had broken down, and 3 to 4 cars with men in them pull over to offer their assistance, but have seen older women and at times women with small children in cars that broke down from similar circumstances and not a male in sight. Too old for these men to be attracted to for sex, or the presence of the kids breaks the illusion of that potential gratification.

    I once saw, during winter, in pre-cell phone days, two women broken down on the highway. I stopped, it turns out they were sitting there for some time. One woman gave me a phone number to call her husband, so I travelled to the next exit, called from a McDonalds, got some basic sandwiches, fries, and drinks, returned to the women (I had to drive past and exit, reentering in the opposite direction) and told them I had contacted her husband and gave them the food. They were from West Virginia, and of course, when I tell the stories, some guys make fun of them, sight unseen.

    Folks, see the spiritual being in others, not the transitory physical person. If you are going to judge others by their looks, consider what measure God may judge you by. Beauty may lost instantly in a fire or from an accident, if that’s the only way you can relate to another, you’re not relating at all.

    Again, thanks for the wonderful article and thanks to Lizzie Velásquez for being the courageous person she is, I’m sure providing encouragement and relief to many people.

  • lynda

    Thank you Lizzy, that was beautiful. When we see others as God sees us, we are very beautiful indeed (and I don’t just mean on the inside)! And our sufferings can bring us Joy because they are the very things that are our treasure in Heaven.

  • Amy

    This is beautiful. Our Sydney Opus Dei community is suffering the loss of Lauren Langrell RIP to suicide. Your article is so timely and helpful.

    • Loved As If

      I am so sorry. Your community and the Langrell family are in my prayers.

    • Soliloquized

      I hope my words are not misconstrued, but the juxtaposition of my findings about the recent tragic loss of Lauren Langrell and this article bears some additional words. Before I continue, allow me to say that my prayers are with Lauren and her family.

      Originally, her name reminded me of another, so I researched it on Google for clarification. I was surprised to quickly find a Lauren Langrell as an Australian budding actress, it was from an article in Catholic Weekly. Of course, the name may have been the same, so a little more research appears to confirm that the Lauren Langrell of my research is the one that had recently passed.

      http://www.catholicweekly.com.au/article.php?classID=3&subclassID=9&articleID=9422&class=Features&subclass=A%20conversation%20with

      http://www.starnow.com.au/laurenlangrell

      Lauren appears to have been a courageous soul, something at least ostensibly rare these days. There is no doubt Lauren was a beautiful young woman, and this is the basis of my comment.

      Being a wordsmith, and listening to words often more in depth than others, as I have heard coworkers at various times describe the loss of a young woman thus: “It’s too bad, she was so pretty”. Other than letting it pass a few times without comment, I rail against it every time I hear it. I made some of my coworkers sensitive enough to it that they stopped using it and they now chide others when they use it.

      The tragedy in the loss of a fellow human being should not be equated to their appearance. Spiritually, the essence of our existence, we are all the same in God’s eyes. The original article on Lizzie shows the value of a person independent of their worldly appearance. How many blissful and meaningful friendships and relationships do people miss out on as a result of their valuation of others based too simply on appearance?

      God Bless All, and may we all pray for Lauren Langrell and family and give thanks to Lizzie for her courageous willingness to help others.

      • Jinx

        I was a fellow patient at the hospital with Lauren. I was so sad to hear the news, but seeing the intense amount of support at her memorial was inspiring. More than 750 people attended and were lining up to get in.

        • Colleen

          Why isn’t Lauren having her funeral in her parish. St Martha’s Homebush is so far away from where she lives. Also, what hospital was Lauren at when she passed…

          • Liza

            Why not???

      • Soliloquized

        A reply to my own post. Strange.

        I was going to use the abbreviated greeting for Hello Jinx. Then I realized that adding Hi to your screen name would actually be a word. Your post is on hold with no reply link at this time.

        I appreciate your comments. I’m not surprised she had intense support at her memorial, she seemed like a person of well defined values that touched many in her life. Thank you for information, please take good care of yourself.

    • Blissful

      Oh my suicide? Are you positive that this Is true? Lauren seemed so happy and constantly speaking of things in regards to her faith.

      • kateolsn

        Praying for Lauren and her family. I too am wondering what happened to her?…such a beautiful soul.

      • Liza

        Dear Amy, I think your post is not sensible at all especially for Lauren’s family. Your post is like an announcement about what happened about Lauren. Facing this tragic experience is hard enough for them. We don’t know about the reason behind that. Even if you know exactly, don’t invite people to judge. It is only God who can judge people. I can imagine how they feel knowing that you all have discussion about her lovely daughter and sister and it is in open media. I don’t know them in person, just by chance know the family from school. Put yourself in their position. If your family member is the victim of suiside, do you want people to talk about it? Please just pray and shut your discussion, it is hurting enough for the family to face this difficult situation.

        • Anon anon

          No I think Amy had a right to tell the world how Lauren died. I don’t think it’s fair that people should blindly offer up prayers for her without knowing the cause of death. Her family are suffering now, and they need our prayers and support

          • Anon anon

            Nobody is judging her anyway! We all know God is the judge. There should be more suicide awareness for people, practically the youth

        • Lia

          As someone who has also lost a family member to suicide, I think it’s important that these losses are not hidden. So many lives are lost this way, and we need to pray for each other, and support each other. We are remembering Lauren, her family and all who knew and loved her in our prayers. Lauren is and always will be a child of God.

        • Soliloquized

          If they read Catholic Lane, it could be sensitive. But parents that loose children to crime have to hear over and over again the news of their loss, or to read same. At work one day, a homicide in my city was announced on the news, the person was yet unidentified. Imagine my horror when I realized it was the son of a woman coworker and that I had spent the workday with her, hearing and reading about the homicide but nor knowing it was her son.

          Many things in their lives will remind them more of their loss than an article here. They also have the option to avoid Catholic Lane, or to avoid this article.

          I think your advice is well meant, but not likely to cause the concerns you expressed. As a Catholic myself, as is my wife, we found it disconcerting that a fellow Catholic would commit suicide, even more so a young ostensibly health woman. As a parent, I would be interested in learning the circumstances since we would be able to look for indicators in our own children to help prevent a similar tragedy.

          Lastly, the story is about the hardships Lizzie experiences. Lauren’s parents have been thrust into a true tragedy, and these will be their hardships, sheltering them won’t change what happened.

  • Michael Domingo

    For those mourning the loss of a loved one, may I suggest enrolling them into the world-wide novena of Masses known as the Friends of the Suffering Souls. After losing my sister on the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows last year, our family received much peace and many signal graces from enrolling her in this wonderful apostolate. http://www.knocknovena.com

  • kateolsn

    I have been reading about Lauren for the past few days, and though I never knew her personally, some of my friends did. I’ve noticed that no one has said how she passed away and I wondered why. After reading about all of the wonderful things she did during her life, I’m so shocked and saddened to see that some think it may have been suicide. Obviously only God can judge and it means that we should all pray even harder for her and for her family.

  • Anna W

    I think for the sake of the Langrell family, a bit of sensitivity is in order in this discussion of Lauren’s death. It has only been 1 week, and I don’t think it is an appropriate topic for an open online forum such as this.

    • Soliloquized

      Do you have reason to believe the family frequents Catholic Lane, and if so that this particular article would garner their attention?

      Decorum would maintain that explicit details are not discussed, not merely that the incident happened because of ………?

      IMHO.

      • Mike

        With respect to all, I think the problem is that those posting are doing so under the assumption that this is relatively contained discussion. The reality is, a link to this very discussion appears when anyone does a Google search (of the deceased name, with the word “death”) – making it a very public forum.

        • Soliloquized

          You are correct about the search engines, this article is already returned as a search result when using her name, but why would the parents masochistically try to discover how often the topic was discussed?

          No one is discussing anything to be ashamed about. By discussing it, in an abstract sense, other parents may benefit insofar as knowing what to watch for in their children to try to prevent such a tragedy affecting their lives.

          It’s a cruel world, sheltering them will not change what happened. I remember being at the doctors years ago after the Tsunami in Indonesia. Somehow the topic turned to the Tsunami and I broke down in tears. 100,000 people died from that Tsunami, how much more cruel can it get? Not talking about it won’t change it. As a matter of fact, the ocean pulled out from the shore before the area was hit. A young girl from England had just learned in school the significance of the ocean pulling away from the shores and was able to save the lives of the people at the hotel where she was staying by bringing it to the attention of her parents and hotel staff and getting everyone to shelter.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilly_Smith

          Again, just my opinion, but I see the possibility to save the lives of other children as more important than sheltering the parents from vague discussion of this tragedy.

          Best regards.

  • Zoe
    • Soliloquized

      Thanks. It seems to clarify several things. The article broached a sensitive topic in a way commensurate with helping others. It was a courageous thing for the author to do.

      My prayers to Lauren and family.

  • Chelsea Zimmerman

    Early on, a comment was made on this article about the tragic death of Lauren Langrell, a comment that we have since learned was not true. We apologize for any hurt or confusion this may have caused.

    For those who have found this article by searching for information about Ms. Langrell, we encourage you to read the beautiful homily that Bishop Anthony Fisher delivered at her funeral: http://www.parra.catholic.org.au/bishop-of-parramatta/most-rev-anthony-fisher-op/the-bishop-s-homilies.aspx/2014/homily—funeral-mass-for-lauren-mary-langrell–st-martha-s-parish–strathfield–tuesday-25-march-20.aspx

    Chelsea Zimmerman,
    Editor-in-Chief, Catholic Lane

    • AmericanCatholic

      Thank you for posting this update. I was hoping that Catholic Lane would be thoughtful about the comments that were previously posted. This was a good and honorable way to right that wrong.

    • Soliloquized

      Bad decision, and a false one at that. Prey, tell me why the following was included on the site linked here earlier today.

      http://www.parra.catholic.org.au/news—events/latest-news/latest-news.aspx/a-woman-of-faith.aspx

      Such conditions, like cancers, can take young people very quickly and so Lauren says to us today: if anyone here is hurting, depressed, consumed by self-doubt, self-hatred, dark temptations, know you cannot conquer this alone. You must get help. Lean on God and His angels and saints in prayer. Talk to your parents, priest, religious sister. Call a helpline or CatholicCare. See your GP or uni counsellor. Lauren’s life and death calls upon each one of us here to redouble our gratitude for the gift of life and our commitment to use it well; to persevere in the spiritual struggles and never lose hope. And just as we don’t blame Lauren, so she tells us not to blame ourselves, not to engage in the endless “if only I had/we had/she had”.

      The author is alluding to suicide, clearly. Catholic Lane took the cowardly way out of the topic, disregarding the chance to help others realize that outward appearances may not be commensurate with inner conflicts. The Catholic Diocese of Parramatta used her unfortunate tragedy to try to help preserve the lives of others.

      If Catholic Lane so capriciously removes such an extensive line of comments, it’s rather evident why so many people abstsin from same. Flagged posts are to be used for truly offensive material, removing on the objections of a few commenters, ignoring the commenters that saw merit in a civil discussion, and not substantiating your assertion that the original premise was a fabrication is truly poor judgement.