Faith, Trust and a Long Road–Part 2

Faith, Trust and a Long Road–Part 2

YouWereMadetoGrow

January and February were a blur of snow, ice, and bone-chilling cold, the kind of cold that makes you wear layers of wool socks in your boots, that requires scarves wrapped around your face so the skin doesn’t turn raw at the lightest hint of wind.

Even in 2014, when spring seemed like it would really never come, it came.

After a lot of worrying and prayer and tears, I decided to take a step, and to leave my job, temporarily, in preparation for applying for early retirement. I knew there was no way I could care for my body and give it what it needed while continuing in my current job. I couldn’t do it. But if I left….that was going to be a big leap of faith. I was going to have to Trust God like I had never done before, and pray that I was doing the right thing.

Leaving a job is a big thing for anyone….but when you need insurance, like I do, it becomes almost foolhardy to consider. But I couldn’t stay where I was.

So in March, I worked my last day, turned in applications for short-term disability, and started a new schedule. This one involved pulmonary rehab three times a week, radically changing the way I ate, and making a commitment to exercise, to being healthy, to treating my body well. I was also able to write–really write–write my memoir, which I’ve talked about here before, and take time to get back to a solid prayer life.

In March, Elizabeth Foss’ Restore workshop started, and I am so grateful for that. Those six weeks of lessons in getting back to basics–to establishing a good prayer life, eating well, exercising, taking care of what matters most–are still echoing my in my day-to-day life (in fact, I was just now going through my binder of workshops from the class and making notes. It’s going to come into 2015 with me in a big way). God truly gave me a gift in this workshop, and the women in it.

In April, I went on a silent retreat. I try to make one every year, but I really needed it this year. I needed to get in touch with God, to hear Him speak to me in silence, to fall into His arms and trust Him, to believe what He says in Scripture. He will give me rest? I can lean on Him? Really?

How do I know I won’t fall?

On Saturday, at lunch, there were memory verse cards on our plates. I didn’t realize that until I’d already taken my seat, pulled out my chair and placed the starched and ironed white napkin on my lap.

This is the verse:

Romans verse

I smiled. How I smiled. Big, face breaking smile that probably led the other women to think I was a bit crazy.

That was the first, big moment when I realized He was really with me. That I wouldn’t fall. I just had to trust in Him.

I left the retreat feeling buoyant. Feeling like this was all going to work out.

The week after the retreat, I turned 32. I was losing weight, I was getting stronger, I was feeling better than I had in a long time. I wrote pages and pages daily. I recommitted myself to prayer, and every day I walked a little further in trust with Him. Somehow I felt like this was going to be OK.

Spring that year felt so warm.

It turned into summer, and Dad and I made another trip to the Happiest Place on Earth.

IMG_2335

Music Man rehearsals began when we got back. I kept working out with Amy, my pulm rehab therapist, whom I adore. I had a blast with my stage family, and met new people. I celebrated my ninth transplant anniversary, and my PFTs were up. It seemed like things were on an upswing. I was doing things right. And God? He was probably laughing at me.

See what happens when you just trust my plan?

But there were some hurdles coming. Because my plan didn’t just depend on me. It depended on other people, too. And that was when I really, vividly saw the power of prayer–and how to ask people for prayer for the big things.

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Dark Nights

OK, normally I don’t write about this stuff. But:

If you are depressed, have bipolar illness, schizophrenia, any sort of mental illness–this is not your fault. You are not a bad person. You are not cursed by God, or punished by God, or damned. You are not a bad person.

I’ve seen a psychologist since I was about 17 years old, for anxiety and sometimes depression issues. Yeah. I don’t usually talk about that. It doesn’t make me a bad person. It means that I have a lot of crap that I deal with in my life that I don’t share except with my therapist and I’m super glad I have her and the low dose of anxiety meds I’m on. Without the meds, life is not happy. I’ve tried to scale down my use of them, but it hasn’t worked so far. I’m only on one, and no, I don’t hear voices or see things or imagine that I’m SuperMan.

This did not happen because God hates me, or because I’m cursed, or because I haven’t prayed enough. This is just like physical illness–there’s something wrong, medically, that needs addressed. If you think that illness is caused my the wrath of God, you are wrong. If you think that these things happen because you are not a good enough Christian, you are wrong.

I’ve had people say to me that I must not have issues because I’m “so happy.” You know why I’m happy? Because I have a therapist I talk to and a med I take so I can stay even keeled and happy. Without them, trust me, it’s not happy. It’s no sleep, it’s freaking out about the smallest things, it’s huge waves of self-doubt and questioning self-worth.

Depression and mental illness, in general, affect everyone differently. It can be incredibly hard to regulate brain chemistry, and it’s not just your body–other meds can mess with this. I’ve experienced this first hand.

Find a safe person to talk to–someone who will listen. If someone is talking to you about these things, you are a privileged person–you are trusted. Treat this as a sacred trust. Don’t try to pooh-pooh the illness. LISTEN. If a person seem suicidal, get them help–talk to another person, a medical professional, whatever. But please, please, please do not make it seem like this person “caused” their illness. They did not, no more than they caused epilepsy or CF or cancer or whatever. You wouldn’t–I desperately hope–tell a person with these and other things to “pray away” the illness. Do not do it with depression and mental illness.

There are few things better than a good psychologist. Try to find one. There are multiple kinds of therapy–look for one that works for you. You may need medication. If you do, take it. Do not feel like you are a bad or weak person, because you are not. You are getting help.

Yes, God can help. Prayer helps. Mass helps. Many things help. But sometimes, you will not feel like it’s helping. You could be angry at God. You might yell. You might not want to go to church. If you yell at God, that’s OK. He can handle it. Jesus in the garden of gethsemane was definitely afraid. He felt forsaken on the cross. If Jesus, who is God, can feel that way, so can you.

Do not stigmatize people with mental illness. Do not stereotype them, and do not say that this is their fault. Provide support. Get them help.

If you are a person with mental illness–please take care of yourself. People love you. Find a good therapist, a trusted friend, someone to talk to and who can help you, or lead you to professional help.

 

Also::

What the Church and Christians need to know about suicide and mental health 

 

 

on self hate

Yeah, bet that got your attention, oui?

Don’t worry, I don’t hate myself. This isn’t going to be a 90s emo post (for those of you who remember the 90s emo days).

I have a friend who had a chronic illness, diagnosed later in life, and recently he was talking about how he wrestles with hating himself for being this way. And, me being me, this made me think, and this is basically a longer version of what I said to him.

I don’t hate myself. I’ve never hated myself. Hating myself for having CF would be about as sensible as hating myself for having blonde hair or blue eyes or freckles. It’s part of who I am, and I’ve never seen a reason to hate that.

Now, does that mean I hate some of the things it does? Well, yes. Do I hate the stress it puts on my family? Yup. How it impacted my siblings’ lives? Yup again. Do I hate always having to explain and sometimes wrestling with my body? Well….I don’t hate it but, but it’s darn inconvenient.

This is the way God made me. I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and yes, that includes my really screwed up genetic code. But that doesn’t make me hate myself. It gives me a different perspective, yes. But I’ve often pondered what my life would’ve been like without everything. I wouldn’t be the person I am, and most of the time, I like who I am.  God made me this way for a reason, and part of my being on Earth is to use that reason for His greater glory.

In my first grade class, we teach the kids this at the beginning of the year:

Q: Why did God make you?

A: God made me to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this world, and be happy with him forever in the next.

This is how I come to know and love and serve God.

I know some people have come closer to God because of me. Well, OK, not because of me, but because of my situation. The man I almost married had almost zero religious upbringing, but when I was in the ICU and almost dead, he went to a Roman Catholic church and prayed the rosary. He went to Mass with me, and he carried a rosary with him most days. I don’t know if he still does this, or if he ever became Catholic (I wasn’t going to make him convert, by the by), but I do know that he knows about these things now. He knows about prayer and its power.

Now have I been angry at God? On occasion, yes. But not because of being the way I am; it’s usually because I’m frustrated with the way things are currently going. Why did he give me the desire to be married and have children if that’s not going to be fulfilled (at least not yet)? I dunno. But I try to channel it in healthful ways.

I know people with CF who hate their bodies, hate the way their made. There’s a desire there to punish themselves for being “weaker”, or “less than” other people. But I’ve never been one of those people.

 

 

An American Tale

Once Upon A Time….

There were two families in Southern Italy. They didn’t know each other; even in the sparsely populated area of Calabria, it was possible to not know your neighbors. But they had the same dream-to make a better life for themselves and their children in that place called America. 

The passage would be hard-through the Mediterranean, and then out to the wide Atlantic, until they reached New York City and the statue they’d heard so much about in letters from friends already there.  

***

There was a man in England, who, even though he was born in England, thought himself to be a Scot, because that’s what his family was; his birth in England was somewhat incidental. He was young and filled with ideas, and he wanted to be free of the restraints English society, free to make his own way. He knew that he could do that in America. So he began to prepare for the journey. 

***

There was a family in Germany, and while they weren’t doing poorly, they wanted something more. And they, too, began to dream of America. 

All these families set off for America, reaching Ellis Island within a few years of each other, in the early part of the twentieth century. They were all Catholics, but other than that, they had little in common. 

The Italians settled in Little Italy, and a girl was born to one of the families on Mulberry Street. The Scotsman, and the Germans, headed to Pennsylvania, to the steel mills and thriving industry of Pittsburgh. And eventually the little girl born on Mulberry Street ended up there, too, and she got married and gave birth to her own little girl, Elizabeth. 

The other Italian family had a little boy, Carmen. 

The Germans had a trio of children: one girl and two boys. 

And the Scotsman married, and had three children: two girls and one boy. 

Time passed, and things for the families didn’t go exactly as they thought. Carmen’s father died, and he went to work in the steel mills. He grew up and got married, but his young wife and child died. 

The German family saw their boys go to war, and potentially fight against their own family. But fortunately, the war ended before either of them were sent abroad, and one of the boys, Francis, headed to college, where he pursued his dream of studying music. 

The Scotsman’s family did well. The children excelled in school, and one of the girls—Patricia—went to Duquense University in Pittsburgh, to study music. She was a talented pianist. 

At Duquense, Francis met Patricia, and they were married after he received his degree in music education. 

Carmen met Elizabeth, and married her, and they had three children, who grew up in an Italian area north of Pittsburgh. The third child, a boy with his father’s name, came 17 years after the first child was born.

Frank and Patricia had eight children, six girls and two boys, German/Scots-Irish wee ones. All of them had the gift of music, and a love of athletics. 

This love of athletics—especially football and baseball-led their third daughter, Michele, to a college football game one cold autumn afternoon. In that huge stadium, she sat next to Carmen—the youngest of the Italian family. And nine months later, they were engaged. 

The couple moved down I-70 to Columbus, Ohio, where Carmen had a job with Bell Labs. There they raised three children in the suburbs, surrounded by interstates and cornfields and Scarlet and Gray. 

From the early twentieth century, when their ancestors dreamed of a better life, to the early twenty-first, those dreams have come true. Their ancestors received a better education, had opportunities they never dreamed of back in Europe. Were there bumps? Yes. The family’s Catholic faith lead to some to discriminate against them, and for the Irish sides of the family, it was compounded by their heritage. 

I am the oldest daughter of the Italian/German/Scots-Irish blend that is my family. My father is all Italian, and my mother is German/Scots-Irish. Italian/German/Scots-Irish women are not to be trifled with, let me tell you. 

My siblings and I are not so far removed from our European roots. In fact, we’ve barely been  in America for 100 years. But the same hope and promise that lead our families here is still possible, and tangible, today. 

I can’t imagine the courage it must have taken for my ancestors to pull up their families and go somewhere unknown to them. How many of them even spoke the language? And yet they did it, and their descendants thrive here, because of their courage. 

This isn’t a unique story; all of us here can tell you the same thing, from Mayflower descendants to people who became citizens last month. Somewhere, at some time, a person made a bold move to head into the unknown for a better life. And it happens here, everyday. 

10 years…

10 years ago today, I was 19 years old. 

I was engaged.

I was a sophomore in college. 

9/11 had happened a little more than a month ago.

We were fighting the war in Afghanistan. 

And I was in the PICU—and doctors had given up on me. 

Well apparently, the “giving up” part was yesterday, according to my mom (who has a strange brain ability to remember all these things). 

They were a little wrong, eh? 

The CF docs were in Orlando for the annual CF conference. I imagine frantic calling back and forth. 

But it wasn’t until my doc—AKA, God—came back that we made progress. 

The crazy bacteria I had? ONly the second person in the entire world to get it. 

The drug of choice? Bactrim.

Yup. Plain old ordinary boring bactrim. 

(Which my sister couldn’t have had, because she’s allergic to those. I often say it’s an excellent thing she’s not me) 

I do not remember any of this. 

I vaguely remember coming to on All Saints’ Day. My engagement ring was gone—my fingers were swelling, so the nurses took it off my finger, put it in a plastic bag, and gave it to my fiance. 

That had to be some major, major suckage, right there. 

He was there every day. If I had known that, I would’ve given him a verbal tongue lashing. He had school to attend to, for pete’s sake.

And even though we didn’t get married, I am grateful he was there. I am grateful my family was there. 

I wasn’t alone, ever. Even though I had no idea there was anyone with me. (Go drug-induced comas!) 

I was released from the hospital about the same time the first Harry Potter movie came out. Thanksgiving.

My parish got together and bought my family a massive Thanksgiving feast, which was delivered to our house as we watched my brother and the PHS Marching Tigers in the Macy’s Day Parade. We were completely surprised and very grateful. 

(And yeah, Matt Lauer cannot pronounce “Pickerington.” Sigh.) 

I took the rest of the semester off.

When I came back in January, I was so happy to see everyone—and they all seemed so happy to see me. One friend yelled my name out his dorm window as I walked into the residence hall for a meeting. I didn’t realize how many people had missed me until that moment. 

I took two additional classes that semester, and made up the entire last semester.

For the first time in my life, (only time) I got straight A’s. 

(And no, I didn’t get to fudge it. I had to do all the reading,all the papers, all the tests. I wrote a paper on Satan as anti-hero in Paradise Lost while the Super Bowl was on.) 

If you’ve known me since then, I’m glad we’re still friends!

And if I’ve met you after that—I’m glad to have met you. There are lot of people I wouldn’t know if I hadn’t made it through that ICU trip. 

I still have the IV scars on my wrists, along with the chest tube scars on my rib cage. I still remember having a chest tube put in when I was on the regular floor, the feeling of Fish Out of Water-ness. 

But I’m still here.

I am very, very hard to kill. 😀