How LifeSite staff endure much difficult news and stay sane and reasonably at peace
March 28, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) - Many people ask questions about what we do everyday and how we can endure the heavy grind of reporting on so many disturbing stories. I was invited to give a talk at a pro-life conference in Cleveland recently and during that 50-minute talk and then Q&A at this large conference, listeners were given an overview of all that LifeSite does, some of our history and answers to the question about how we manage to persevere.
The audience appeared to enjoy the talk, gave a standing ovation at the end and afterwards some had a lot of questions for me. If you have been reading LifeSite for some time, or are just new to this service, I am sure you will learn a lot of helpful information that you were previously not aware of.
Note: I made a few factual errors while giving the talk that are corrected in the full text of the talk below.
Talk given at large Bringing America Back to Life Conference Saturday, March 12, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Original title of talk was, “How to Survive What Seems to be Lots of Bad News and Stay Sane and Reasonably at Peace”:
I am really honoured to have been asked by Molly Smith to be here today with all of you. You are a very special, chosen people – the salt of the earth. In many ways you are a remnant of truth and civilization at a time when there is an historic cultural decline.
You are the people that we love to write about. In our LifeSite reports we are determined to promote your newsworthy efforts which the mainstream media, and even many religious media, do not give sufficient, if any coverage or fail to cover or distort.
LifeSite exists to serve all of you.
Back in September, 1997, there was John-Henry Westen, who spoke at this conference last year, and myself. And that was the extent of LifeSite at its beginning.
We stumbled along trying to make something out of this new Internet thing. For the first several years few people read our reports. That was because not too many people had Internet connections or proper computers, the software was difficult to use and if anyone had an Internet connection it was painfully slow and unreliable. It required much patience and determination.
Now all that seems like 100 years ago. However, those who did read our reports every day in those early years were mostly leaders in the movement in many nations. So it was well worth doing.
Then, more people got computers at home, the Internet became much faster and easier to use, we hired more staff, and we learned a lot about how to develop a first-class international news service on life and family. It has been a constant, steep learning curve with many trials and tribulations.
Now, we have about 25 staff in several nations and were visited last year by over 30 million individual users. In the past month alone almost 7 million LifeSite pages were read by those who came to our website. Interestingly, the large majority of readers are now using mobile devices – smartphones and tablets. That has been a massive change in just the past couple of years.
No more comfortable christianity
Recently, we experienced a very unexpected, moving recognition of our years of dedication to this work. We are not used to getting such recognition.
John-Henry and I were both presented with the Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award by the large Catholic CEOs and executives organization, Legatus, on January 29 at their annual Summit in Orlando, Florida.
A few other pro-life leaders, including David Daleidan of the Center for Medical Progress, Dr. Theresa Deisher, a leading biotechnology developer of “moral” stem cell treatments, and Professor Robert George were also honored during the Summit. It had a timely theme, “No More Comfortable Catholicism” that could have been more generally stated, No more comfortable Christianity. The theme dominated the conference talks.
In his powerful opening night speech Professor Robert George, (who we all call Robbie) said, “It is no longer easy to be a faithful Christian, an authentic witness to the truths of the Gospel For Catholics, and Evangelicals in America. “it is now Good Friday.”
And you know what, he got tremendous applause for saying that. Finally someone was admitting what we have been seeing for some time.
Robbie advised his audience, “One thing alone will matter: let me say this with maximum clarity—whether we stood up for the truth, speaking it out loud and in public, bearing the costs of discipleship that are inevitably imposed on faithful witnesses to truth by cultures that turn away from God and his law. Or were we ashamed of the Gospel?” (That is the kind of cultural situation we are in now)
“If we deny truths of the Gospel, we really are like Peter, avowing that ‘“I do not know the man.”’
Bobbie added that if we fail the test, as Peter did when he three times denied Christ, “let us remember that Easter is coming.” We will experience fear, just as the apostles did. … “but do not be ashamed of the Gospel.”
At the end of that talk Robert George received a standing ovation.
It is time. We can and must now say these things that most would have been offended by even just a few years ago.
What Robbie said also applies all of us here regarding our now politically incorrect views on the sanctity of life and the family and the need for a moral culture to maintain a healthy civilization.
Do not be ashamed of being pro-life, of being for man-woman marriage only, of warning people against the harm of pornography, the great danger to children of explicit, amoral, sex-ed programs, the evil of euthanasia, of the physical, emotional and spiritual dangers of homosexual behavior.
All of the authentic, traditional Christian teachings on these are teachings of Jesus Christ’s gospel of love. Do not be ashamed of them. – as too many now seem to be.
Getting back to LifeSite, it seems almost impossible to explain to you what we do every day and all that is involved in running LifeSite. It has been an incredible, intense, always unpredictable experience:
Notes for comments on some examples of the amazing developments that we could never have predicted would be involved in:
* - Rome - 2014 LifeSite started annual Rome Life Forum in Vatican City (LifeSite later co-founded Voice of the Family with SPUC and other pro-life groups which now runs the Rome Life Forum), we covered full 2 Synods on the Family;
- Steve and John-Henry went to india – John-Henry spoke to 10,000 people in Kerala retreat center two years in a row. Helped to convince Kerala bishops to first time in history appeal to Kerala Catholics to have more children because of alarming decline in their birthrate.
- Mexico - Steve Jalsevac and Matthew Hoffman presented a day of talks to a large number of pro-life leaders from across Mexico.
- Brazil - Matthew Hoffman spoke twice at a number of conferences in Brazil
- John-Henry has spoken in Russia, Georgia, England, France, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Ecuador.
- We have been intensely covering Marches for life in Washington, Ottawa, Canada, Rome and now many other locations.
- And much, much more.
* 3-year long, $500,000 lawsuit from “pro-choice”, pro-euthanasia, pro-homosexual rights Quebec priest requiring us to travel to French language only court in priest’s diocese in which he was very popular and influential. Cost us one-quarter million dollars before case ended because of death of priest from cancer and desire of his lawyer to end the case 2 days after priest’s death.
* David Daleiden – Center for Medical Progress - Feb. 4 was day that David was required to turn himself into court in Houston over criminal charges against him instead of Planned Parenthood being charged as a result of clear evidence in David’s videos
- LifeSite’s Andy Parrish flew to Houston from Minneapolis, Minnesota to help coordinate press conference for David, coordinate our reporting and do live video of David moving from one courtroom to another.
- LSN Journalist Lisa Bourne flew to Houston from Des Moines, Iowa to take photos, write reports, speak at press conference and present our 106,000 names petition (now 123,000) to the Harris County district attorney's office, demanding that charges be dropped against David Daleiden and PP instead be charged.
- Dustin Siggins did intense media and PR coordination for the event from Washington, D.C.
- U.S. Bureau Chief, Fr. Ben Johnson, quickly wrote up articles on the developments during that day as they occurred from his home office in Ohio
- Editor Patrick Craine edited and posted the reports and accompanying photos as the day went on. Worked from home office in Barry’s Bay, Ontario
- John Jalsevac pushed articles and videos through social media during the day from his home office in Millbrook, Ontario
- John-Henry Westen and myself constantly communicated with all above staff during the day via Skype - myself from Toronto, John-Henry from Combermere
- Event was very successful in getting David coverage from numerous media that were there and many who linked to our videos and reports of the event.
* Our new Faithful Insight magazine has just published its sixth monthly edition.
13 Hours movie and LifeSite
A few weeks ago I saw the movie 13 Hours. It’s the true story of the attempt by 6 heroic ex Marines and Navy Seals hired as security operators for the CIA in Benghazi, Libya, to save the lives of US ambassador Christopher Stevens and his staff in a nearby diplomatic compound.
I have to warn you, it’s a rough, realistic movie. I was shaken by it.
The security resources for the ambassador were pathetic. When the six operators first visited the ambassador’s compound, they saw it was dangerously vulnerable to an attack from Islamist militants.
But, no one would believe them. Everyone shrugged it off and said things would be ok and that the operators were being too negative, too pessimistic, too sensationalist.
However, they were being realistic, based on their years of experience and what they knew, what they could see as people whose job it was to know and see these things, and to warn people about what was likely to happen.
Well, you know the story. The ambassador’s compound was overrun by a large group of heavily armed Al Quida militants. The hired operators were located a mile away and repeatedly ordered to "stand down" while they saw this disaster unfolding. Despite lacking sufficient numbers and firepower and any US military support, they eventually ignored the orders, risked their lives and did what had to be done.
However, it was too late for ambassador Stevens and an assistant. In the end, those six brave men, all with wives and children back home, saved the lives of 36 Americans from both locations. Unfortunately, two of them were killed and one was severely wounded.
Now why did I tell you all this? Believe it or not, I was overcome by how, in so many ways, this mayhem felt just like what we experience everyday doing the work of LifeSite. In my mind I was there with these men trying to do what is right, regardless of opposition and personal threats.
At LifeSite we are also in a vicious daily war, but we don’t use military weapons or engage in violent fights or use profanities. Our weapons are prayer, truth and professionalism.
However, we do confront terrible evils and violence, every day, all day. This work is not for the faint of heart.
These dramatic news stories often happen suddenly and must be quickly responded to so others can take critically needed action. We don't have anywhere near the resources that our opponents have, but we do battle anyway with what we have and often achieve surprisingly spectacular results. However, some of our team have become wounded by stress and exhaustion and have had to leave the work.
The LifeSite team also reports many heroic and inspiring actions of selfless life and family heroes – that most people would otherwise never hear about.
Our long experience gives us an unmistakable, often unique view of the implications of most of these developments that we desperately try to warn others about – just like those operators in 13 Hours.
LifeSite sees far more than Benghazi
The killings and threats to life and to our Christian civilization now are far, far greater than what happened in Benghazi. We are daily observers of horrible obscenities, the killing of millions via abortion, euthanasia, infanticide - and the deliberate corruption of cultures by pornography, abusive sex ed programs and more to facilitate all of this - and of a worldwide, historically unprecedented demographic collapse.
We publish reports that are essentially documenting the collapse of our civilization. But, just as those Marines and Navy Seals experienced, despite the solid evidence we always provide, many do not believe us, say we are "too negative", we need to be "more positive", we are "sensationalizing" things, we are being "disrespectful".
How I wish that were all true. We would gladly take that blame.
The reality is that we put our whole heart and soul, at considerable personal cost, into this mission to provide the truth about the most crucial developments in the world today. It is often the truth that no one else, or few, will take the risks to report or have the freedom to report.
Many think everything is fine. We’ll be ok. They do not want be disturbed by the articles on LifeSite or a talk such as we heard from Robert George.
Facing uncomfortable truths is obligatory, in our view, so that we can make the best decisions to protect our families, our faith, our freedoms and our nation.
If you read LifeSite everyday for many years, like NFL great Matt Birk who revealed that fact to John-Henry recently in Washington, you will be especially well informed and able to determine what you must do.
We love our work. We love it because we believe it pleases God. We are doing what He inspires us to do.
Who could wish for anything better, regardless of all the crosses that come with it? We embrace those crosses. That is how Christianity has always changed the world. We offer our very lives to this.
How do we keep doing this work?
The most common question I am asked when I personally meet LifeSite readers is, “How do you keep doing this every day?” The question is asked emphatically, with marvel, and a strange look in the eye of the person making the comment. They might as well be asking, “Are you crazy or what?”
The obvious reason the question is asked is because they can’t see themselves enduring daily, month after month, year after year, the task of reporting on so many difficult and disturbing developments and enduring all the flak that comes after the reports are published.
The implication is that they would go crazy, or get totally stressed out or depressed.
From daily news subscribers, a frequent comment, which is often not a criticism, is that they can’t cope anymore with reading LifeSiteNews, and they have to unsubscribe or not read the news at night before going to bed. For many, it is often too emotionally draining and anxiety producing.
We understand. However, interestingly enough, most of them seem to eventually come back because of the quality and importance of our reports. They find they can’t get such consistently reliable reports elsewhere on all the issues that we cover.
Michael O’Brien is a Canadian author of Catholic fictional novels, often dealing with apocalyptic themes. Michael’s very popular 28 novels and other books are read all over the world and have been translated into 14 languages. He is also a LifeSite board member and sometimes contributes articles.
During his comments at the beginning of LifeSite’s 15th anniversary gala in Washington, D.C., Michael stated about reading LifeSiteNews reports, “My temperament, being of the melancholic Irish sort … tends to say, (he then put his face down into his hands) ‘Oh, I don’t think I can read everything on LifeSite today’.”
Everyone laughed. We all understood only too well. There are days when even I can’t endure all the LifeSite reports.
Although I admit it is indeed increasingly stressful and often seems humanly impossible to do this unique work for God, there are reasons why most of us have been able to persevere and, reasons why a good number of our readers are able to continue reading and using our reports.
Let me tell you more about the how and why and this is where we get into the title of this talk.
"Would it help?"
Highly recommended is the recent movie, Bridge of Spies. Tom Hanks plays the role of the American lawyer assigned to defend a Russian spy caught in this cold war era true story.
At their first meeting, the lawyer asks the spy why he does not seem to be upset that he will likely be executed after the trial. The calm Russian responds in a sincerely questioning manner – “would it help?”
Hah! That is very interesting I thought. Of course, what help would it have been for him to get all fearful and anxious? It would achieve nothing and only harm him. Great anxiety would prevent him from thinking clearly and living the best that he can with the time left to him. The spy gives the same response a couple more times in the movie when he is in danger.
So, I often ask myself now when I get anxious and upset (and unfortunately I still do), “Would it help?” Amazingly, every single time, the obvious answer is, no, it does not help at all. It is self-defeating to respond to difficulties with those draining emotions that hurt me and those around me.
In our home, some of us have recently been saying that phrase to each other, reminding ourselves of its wisdom. Among staff, some of us are saying the same thing to each other.
However, it can be healthy to vent some anger or to let it all out and have a good cry. But what is not good is dwelling in fear and anxiety. Do you believe in God or not?
At times, our fundraising campaigns seem to be going badly. That is no small matter for us because we live right on the edge financially, usually with hardly any funds left before each campaign starts.
But, “Would it help” if we got all stressed out and fearful. Nope. Not at all. We need our wits about us, not choking fears and anxiety, to finds ways to hopefully resolve this and other situations that appear threatening or are just plain terrible to endure.
We relate our concerns and needs to our readers so they will understand the situation we are in. Then we leave it up to them and God.
The need for a daily prayer life
But let’s get deeper into what has maintained us for all the years of LifeSite’s existence.
First of all, we have learned that we must all pray. In the past couple of years LifeSite staff have been praying more than ever. We also often ask others to pray for us. Prayer calms the mind and opens the heart and mind to inspiration.
Every morning we start the day with a staff prayer conference call. Without the sustenance of that on-going relationship with God, we could never survive this gruelling daily task of confronting many of the world’s greatest evils head on.
Prayer helps us to realize that the outcome of all of our work is ultimately always up to God, and not our skills and efforts, as important as they still are.
We are not in charge. Failure and success are not terms we should often use. We just have to be certain that we are always faithful and that we are doing our very best.
The battle on the issues we focus on is God’s battle, not ours. But, we are nevertheless obliged to put our whole heart and soul into this work on the most important issues in the world.
Michael O’Brien, in his talk last March at an event in the home of one our board members in Fort Worth, Texas, summed up this crucial lesson when he stated,
“The deeper work that God does in all of us, regardless of our circumstances in life, is to take us to a more profound level of dependence on him. It can lead us to a condition of spiritual childhood, to become very little and trusting in God's hands, to do our part and to let him do the rest.”
He went on,
“We cannot measure — this we must keep in mind always — we cannot measure what the success or failure of our efforts is. It is not our task to measure them. That is God's business.”
I have found that to be very true. We often hear, weeks, months or years later about major impacts our reports have made in individual’s lives or on important situations. It is always amazing. We had no idea. And it usually does not really matter if we did. That’s God’s business, just using us very faulty instruments.
I have found that those who tend to have the most difficulty enduring pro-life, pro-family work are professionals who are used to getting consistent results from professional planning methods. They are used to being in control.
However, in this work, many of the techniques of the business or professional world just don’t work the same. We are opposed by Powers and Principalities that manifest themselves in many ways, such as unexplainable equipment and Internet failures, sudden sickness, several times very life-threatening, among our staff and their families, service provider breakdowns, serious miscommunications and much more. We have experienced some days and even weeks that defy rational explanation.
We are also daily confronted with deceptions, outright lies, manipulations and shocking corruption or weakness of influential persons and institutions, including clergy at all levels, law enforcement, court and legislative authorities. This causes the professional control persons severe bewilderment.
They usually don’t last long and sometimes not even a few weeks.
But they do last if they have a strong spiritual life. Then one learns to accept wherever things take him/her and to go with God's inspirations and plans, rather than on our own, humanly limited strategies.
Learning to trust "absolutely"
Now let’s go to another necessary understanding of how to cope with developments or personal failings that could cause fear, anxiety and inner meltdown.
In his book, the Second Greatest Story Ever Told, Fr. Michael E. Gaitley writes,
“the sin of Adam was necessary” to bring us our “great”, “glorious” redeemer, Jesus Christ. “The sin is called ‘O happy fault’. And its evil is ‘destroyed completely’ by the Savior. This is the wonder of wonders of Divine Mercy. It has the power not only to bring good out of evil but an even greater good….Truly, as St. Paul says, ‘where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.’ (Rom 5:24)
This is absolutely crucial - ‘where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.’
Fr, .Gaitley qualifies this however, in stating,
“Of course, as St. Paul explains, this does not mean that we “continue in sin that grace can abound.” By no means! But it does reveal an amazing secret of Divine Mercy, something that proves God’s ways are not our ways. After all, how, in human terms, can loss be gain? Yet in the realm of Divine Mercy, it can be so.…if we repent and trust in the power of God’s mercy, then nothing is lost when he brings an even greater good out of our evil.”
“Our evil” might simply be not trusting in God for everything.
Fr. Gaitley was also one of the main speakers at the Legatus Summit. In his talk he presented a spiritual plan to help everyone present to be prepared for, “what is to come in the near future.”
Recently, we have been reporting especially alarming developments about Planned Parenthood, the Obama administration’s assault on religious freedom and conscience rights, the advance of euthanasia, hateful, oppressive actions by gay rights activists and an alarming rise in influence of the anti-human, freedoms and rights threatening climate change movement.
Most disturbing of all to our readers is the confusion and high level efforts to change traditions and seemingly even doctrines related to core moral beliefs in the Catholic Church.
The temptation to discouragement is now greater than at any time that I can recall since we started LifeSite and in the over 35 years that I have been doing this work.
Remember, ‘where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.’ That is, no matter how dark things seem and maybe are, the reality is that the power of God’s grace is ALWAYS greater. He is always in total control. He sees all, knows all and has a plan.
The defeat of evil is always certain, although in the interim we may have to endure great hardships and suffering while God’s plan of creating greater good from these trials continues and eventually concludes. We can be certain that there is such a plan for everything that happens, and that our prayers and fidelity are recognized by God and can have a role in limiting the suffering and advancing the good.
Evil is not only eventually defeated, but the end result is that God confounds that evil and transforms it into an even greater good than before the evil occurred. That is, the greater the evil is, the greater will be the later miracles of God’s grace in response. We are certain of that. This pattern has been occurring throughout history.
Michael O’Brien reminds us,
“It was a very important lesson for me, looking back in hindsight, to see that we must never lose hope, and that if we are given a particular grace or calling, we must be willing to persist through, at times, very dark waters, understanding that there will come temptation for false relief from trials.”
All of us at LifeSite are people of hope. We keep doing this work because we are certain that we are on the right side, and that in the end, all will happen as it is supposed to happen. Everything ends up being to the good. Everything.
The temptation of lukewarmness
There is another temptation I have too often seen people give in to. That is, in response to disturbing developments, many take the road of generally ignoring the evils presented to them, ridiculing or reviling the messengers and rejecting their own obligations.
They turn to a comfortable, don’t rock the boat and don’t upset my life response of looking after themselves. It is a deadly temptation – this lukewarmness, if not cold-heartedness.
“Some temptations are obvious. But there will come an alternative kind of temptation—to simply pursue a good life, a good faithful Catholic life, but to leave unfulfilled the particular calling and path that God has given you. Technically, no sins have been committed, but something is lost, some fruitfulness for souls is lost to the world.
Our task is to be faithful to the inspirations, guided by reason and discernment always, but at the core is going forth in the face of the culture of death, in a dark time, with the light of Christ within us, in Christian hope. That willingness, the Lord can work with.
Michael continued, “anyway, I could go on and on and on. I would say, above all else, we must trust in the Lord in all circumstances. Trust in him absolutely.”
Remember, “would it help?”, and "trust in Him absolutely."
This is how we survive at LifeSite, stay reasonably sane and how we continue to grow to be able to endure exposure to even greater disturbances with a relatively peaceful disposition.
Mind you, it is an up and down process for most of us. I have good and bad days, but the growth in the good, the ability to endure what was previously unendurable and to still laugh and enjoy life and family continues and is a wonder.
It is a wonder of God’s grace. He gives what we need, if we continue to always ask and then trust.
Nothing is worth losing our peace for an extended time. “Would it help?”
It is useless to be down on ourselves for our natural, human weaknesses or personal failings as long as we are making our best efforts. “Would it help?”
Other ways of lessening stress and gaining inspiration
There are also other things that we should do such as regular exercise, quiet down times, getting out into nature and time for simple enjoyments with others.
I love to watch inspiring movies and read inspiring fictional novels that take me out of the day to day war that I am in every day.
There are some excellent movies that have come out in the past year or more. My wife and I, after many years of child-raising have started going out on Saturday night dates again for dinner and a movie. It’s thankfully coincides with a time when some exceptionally good quality movies have been coming out.
You may want to write down these titles, if you haven’t seen some of them.
I highly recommend Risen (the story of a Roman Tribune in Jerusalem after he sees Christ dead on the cross – well done and very different),
33 (Chilean miners – true story),
The Finest Hours (true story of 1950s coast guard rescue),
Bridge of Spies,
The new Cinderella (lots of virtues, touching family relationship scenes – real people, not animated, except for some items),
McFarland (true story of how a teacher inspired a group of students in a poor Spanish American town to become leading runners),
Woodlawn (A true high school football story and overcoming of racism at a time when black students were not welcome in sports),
War Room (a wonderful movie about the awesome power of prayer and the role it can play in healing broken or damaged relationships)
Miracles from Heaven (true story again, this one about a young girl miraculously healed from a seriously life-threatening digestion disorder)
For the past several years I have gotten into reading western novels by Louis Lamour, Max Brand and Zane Grey
Great stress relief and change from the brutal daily routine
- lots of redemption, self sacrifice, full of heroic virtues, good always defeats bad at a cost and the hero always gets his girl and the girl gets her good man. Fascinating real history woven into the stories as well as descriptions of awesome nature at real locations.
Now I have this strong desire to ride a horse through the Grand Canyon and the rest of Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Kansas, California
I hope that this talk was in some way helpful to you to persevere in doing God’s work for Life and Family. I also hope it will help to endure reading our daily news reports so that you and those around you can gain maximum benefit from them.
The purpose of LifeSite is to change the culture.
We research, write and publish the stories. Our readers are the ones who actually cause the culture changes to happen. And they have been amazing in doing so – especially those who fully trust in God.
God bless you all.