The Double Edged Sword of Looking Good

Appearences aren’t always indicative of reality. A conversation after Sunday Mass with my friend’s family reminded me of the deceptive nature of appearences. We can exude a reality that doesn’t exist. Easily.

I cringed when she said, “You look great!” People need to understand appearances can be deceiving. A smile can mask a multitude of ailments. Supernatural joy can hide deep rooted pain and distress. We are masters of distortion for a variety of reasons, usually either selfish or selfless reasons. All the world is our stage and we act out our illusion of control.

For a person with multiple chronic and complex health conditions, acting the part of a healthy character has become an artform, a tool of discretion, a mask of fleeting normalcy, and a shield from narrowmindeness and hurt. This act can come at a heavy price- the double edged sword.

A smile can hide a multitude of ailments. When the doctors banned me from replying I was “okay” to pertinent medical questions, I wasn’t being coy or manipulative. My internal joy of my miraculous pediatric stroke survival trumped any discomfort and uncertainty I faced. Therefore, I was okay in the grand scheme of God’s plan. Maybe I wasn’t medically okay, but I was providentially okay.

Occasionally my loved ones or I haven’t received the medical care we needed in as prompt of a manner because we’ve smiled or laughed in the ER or Urgent Care. I’ve had clinicians diagnose me as a healthy young women when I was only a few hours away from severe metabolic imbalance and potentially cardiac arrest. This is an extreme example that illustrates my point.

Appearances of a person’s physical, mental, and emotional state of being may not be as it seems. I may smile and engage while looking healthy and vivacious in-person. But I may go home and curl up in a fetal position in a cool dark room moments later dead to the outside world for the next week.

I take for granted the fact my parents and immediate family are intuitive and perceptive people. A subtle change of skin tone, subtle change in breathing patterns, a distortion of posture, or the sheen in ones eye can be enough to alert them of a medical concern. Learning the subtleties of the other produces a keen sense of awareness, a responsibility to others wellbeing, and an avenue to break from selfishness.

Strength and defiance of visible weakness can become an extension of pride, a mark of valor, and a mark of extrodinary courage on the battlefield of chronic illness. The real battle is not to loose our ability to feel and express emotions, allow others to serve us in our moments of weakness, and honestly share the reality of our precious lives.

I guess either I need to practice acting ill or others need to practice being perceptive. Or both.

Free Will: Freedom & Consequences

I wonder if how I feel presently about living with the free will choices of another mirrors in any minute capacity how God feels? Except God wouldn’t feel helpless or hopeless because He is the Alpha and Omega. The I AM. But I wonder if God feels a profound sadness and sorrow when He must live with and navigate our detrimental free will choices? If the Gospels indicate anything about God and God’ s love for us, my answer is “Yes.” The Diary of St. Faustina indicates the expansive mercy and pure love yet overwhelming sorrow the Divine Mercy feels towards us too.

A recent situation with a close, dear friend sparked a greater degree of introspection. Pain, heart break, confusion, and anxiety of the unknown and undecided future surfaced. Two people faced with choices. Two people moments before besotted now distant. All the tendencies towards kicking, screaming, pleading, and manipulating still don’t guarantee the desired outcome. Why? Because at the end of all my desire for control or influence, I’m incapable of making the choice for another.

In many ways, my sad scenario mimicks aspects of humanity’s relationship with God. Presented with better and healthier options or even just a different way of living topped with support and grace, we can still reject that reality and chose the opposite or a lesser variation. For all God’s grace and guidance, we can choose “no.” And God isn’t going to kick and scream or manipulate us back into place. That defies our human free will.

Love upholds freedom. If you truly love someone, you allow that person freedom. The free will to choose. This doesn’t include condoning or tolerating bad behavior. If I manipulate the free will choice of another especially for an intended result, I’m no better than enslaving them. Guidance and encouragement are different than manipulation. So I will love and let live. And pray. And hope. And attempt not worrying.

 

When You’re Tired of Fighting . . .

snowflakes
Photo Credit: Isaiah Eyre Photography

“. . . Chained by your control. There is freedom in surrender. Lay it down, and let it go.” This is a poignant line in Casting Crown’s song “Be Held.” A song with a message that came into my life two years ago.

A recent conversation with one of my best friends prompted this post. Both she and I are facing potentially radical life changes or challenges. The common thread was the idea of being held. Both she and I have been instructed by priests to be held and stop grasping at and controlling life. My priest, a Jesuit on a retreat during the sacrament of confession, further warned me of the dangers of this illusion of control. Sure we make free will choices about what we think, say, or do, but the real ticket items of life are out of our control.

You can be the healthiest and most active person but still experience a health crisis. You can be the most competent driver and still end up in a car accident. You can pray and do all the right things at the right time and still have a crisis of faith. Praying that perfect novena might not get you the spouse you want or deserve in a timely fashion. Grace downpours upon us, but grace doesn’t equal control. Only God has authentic control, I.e.., He is the alpha and omega. Moreover, God isn’t about control. God is about a divine, merciful, and loving plan for us and our world working with our free will choices.

My Jesuit retreat master warned me of the dangers of control. He explained I was chained by could haves, should haves, and would haves. I was playing God. Not only were my two hands chained behind my back, my freedom was becoming more limited and constricted. I was chained by my control, and in the process I had lost an innate and inalienable aspect of my humanity- freedom.

His solution: BE HELD. For any reader who may be scoffing, “dude, that is easy,” either you have achieved a level of sanctity many of us are working on or this concept really hasn’t sunk in or been practiced. Allowing Christ to hold you in complete and utter abandonment like an infant in a parent’s arms is no small feat especially as a modern adult. To back away and tell God, “I can’t handle it. You handle it.” Or “I rely more on you than myself or anyone or anything else.”

Be Held . . . A lifetime of practicing this reality awaits. I look to my neice and nephews as examples running into my arms with arms stretched wide, face joyful, and eyes scrunched closed. Once in my arms, the dead of weigh of their love and trust almost cripple me. I hope and pray that one day I will approach Jesus in this manner.

Too Mas

# St Francis #lightFr. Robert Spitzer wrote a book entitled “The Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life.” Contained within the chapter exploring prayer, my former university president suggests certain forms of spontaneous prayer. Every moment of every day is an opportunity for prayer. Particular prayers that ring true recently include “Help me, God!” Or “help!” Or “you take care of it!” God understands and hears our pleas. Intent is more eloquent than words.

Sometimes life feels heavy, very heavy. (Que me humming Heavy.) Sometimes there is no answer but Trust in God. Sometimes there aren’t feelings of consolation. Sometimes life just stinks. Life can feel physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Life can feel like all is too much.

In these moments, like today or the past couple of months, my only advice to myself and others is be honest with God about how you feel and where you’re at. He already knows, but I’m sure He appreciates the honesty. A priest friend posed the question recently of choosing between confessing the sin of anger or another emotion towards God or the sin of being dishonest about how we felt. Oh snap. God deserves respect and Holy fear, but God also deserves honesty and love.

When you feel burdened and crumbling under the weight of life’s challenges, God wants to know how you really feel. And he wants to extend a loving,  reassuring hand to support and guide you or I. When you can’t handle life anymore, God can.

Jesus, I trust in you.  Amen.

Forgive and Forget? My brain wasn’t designed for that.

Real forgiveness doesn’t equate to the secular quip, “Forgive and forget” which by the way is cognitively impossible unless major brain trauma exists. Real forgiveness is an act of the will, an act of love not a feeling or emotion. “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” – Corrie ten Boom.

Psychologist believe about 90% of hurts inflicted are unintentional, leaving room for 10% of intentional wounding and maiming. But people still feel 100% of the hurts whether intentional or unintentional. When a person feels threatened (i.e., someone is about to learn something that they don’t want as public or private knowledge,) they react. As you approach a wounded dog, even with the best intentions, the dog either runs away (flight) or snaps at you (fight.) People “act out” too, in various methods and manners. Except, with our God-given intellect and cognitive capabilities, humans can be crueler and more calculated in inflicting hurt. This is where forgiveness come in.

Forgiveness acknowledges wrong-doing or bad behavior and does not excuse it. Uncover the wounds by listing “who?” and “how?” Articulate the “how,” “why,” etc. This knowledge is followed by evaluating whether your personal behavior needs to changed or boundaries set in-place. Make decisions. Sometimes this step involves seeking professional counseling or pastoral care. God didn’t request us to be doormats. He did ask us to turn the other cheek, but then what?

My counselor describes: “Your friend is sitting next to you and keeps poking your eye. You shouldn’t let your friend keep poking you in the eye (if you do, that is a a deeper issue.) You have a few options. 1.) Tell your friend to STOP! and your friend stops and can remain sitting beside you. 2.) Tell you friend to STOP! but your friend still pokes occasionally. You request they move across the room from you. 3.) Tell your friend to STOP! but your friend keeps poking whether next to you or across the room from you. You need to ask your friend to leave the room. I.e. BOUNDARIES.

To achieve forgiveness you don’t need reconciliation or an apology. Why? People apologize all the time without meaning a word. A sincere apology is rare. Sometimes apologies do more harm than good. For example, A women or man who has experienced intimate partner violence does not need to reconnect with their abusive partner to gain an apology. Reconnecting could be dangerous and harmful to the wounded person. Reconciliation requires repentance. Repentance is a free-will choice, and even God can’t make a person choose reconciliation and repentance. So neither can you or I.

Embracing an attitude of forgiveness frees the wounded. And allows for healing. Forgiveness, the person it frees, is yourself. Authentic forgiveness allows people, like you and I, to make a choice in a bad situation. A choice that will either free us or shackle us. To take responsibility for my sins and transgressions but to embrace mercy and compassion. To forgive myself and others as Christ forgave. We are all sinners. And God loves us all. In the end, God is the judge and juror of our lives, but he did ask, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Amen.

Dear Creighton NFP (1 Year Later),

Approximately one year ago I wrote an open letter about Creighton NFP outlining my hope, fears, and frustrations. One Year later, I figured I should follow-up.

Dear Creighton Model:

Not only did you totally kick me in the keister, you pushed me to the boundaries of sheer sanity. NFP continues to affirm and heighten my belief that there IS A GOD, and I’m not God.

Wholly smokes! When my system is working in harmony, it’s like the restored, gleaming Sistine Chapel. When my reproductive tract falls into discord, it’s like the Sistine Chapel with loin clothes added and years of grime and gunk covering the paintings. Being a woman is always beautiful, but sometimes that vision is easier to recognize some days rather than others.

Recently that vision has been nigh impossible to decipher. I’ve left a trail of tears and pleas in your wake. I cry out to God all the day long and all the night too begging for His infinite mercy and guidance. Though I resolutely practice and follow your guidelines, I struggle daily. Apparently, there is pain, and then there is PAIN. Who knew hormones were so amazingly powerful and important to the simplest and most complex bodily functions. Who knew you could have low grade infections not for months but for years. Thanks to NFP I learned I have a new breaking point. I learned control is much more elusive concept than before. I’m more broken than even I realized.

Sometimes I’m angry with God and disagree with His plan. As I told a priest friend in confession: “God is asking too much.” Daily I make a commitment to offering my pain, suffering, and frustration for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls. If you have to suffer, one might as well suffer well. But suffering well doesn’t make the actual suffering easier just more meaningful.

For those who are quaking in their boots by the above description, every uncertain and frustrating day is worthwhile rather than denying who God created me as a woman. Rejecting and denying having a reproductive tract that can malfunction and become ill like any other system of your body may seem like a good idea, but isn’t. Creighton NFP isn’t limiting but freeing. My heart breaks over the though of countless women and medical professionals denying their bodies and providing only a band-aid solution for serious issues. Only when you’re illuminated through the eyes of God can you see yourself for the breathtaking creation you are.

The most important lesson learned thus far is to see myself as God sees me. Beautiful. Whole. Enough. Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. Made in His Image.

With All My Respect and Admiration,

Hannah

P.S. Please, find and fix something soon. I pray for strength and courage.

Faith Should Be A Love Affair

St. Augustine 2

“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” G.K. Chesterton

After talking to my beloved I said:

Religion should be a love affair. Faith should be a love affair. We all desire love, but most of us are afraid of the greatest love and love affair we could ever experience. A love that demands all but gives all too. How many times a day do you and I verbalize our love? How many times do we tell Jesus we love him?

Deep in my heart, I know I don’t tell Jesus I love him enough. To a degree falling in love with my Faith is disconcerting. Do I dare give all to gain all? Some days yes and other days no. Usually during the blossoming stages of a serious, intimate relationship or even a mature intimate relationship, you express affection and love in various unabashed manners. What if our faith was more like our love affairs? Well, minus the sinful and ungodly tendencies.

Wisdom comes from an understanding and acceptance of the metaphysical intangibles, i.e., the undefinable and not quantifiable yet concrete truths surrounding us. What is the metaphysical? Meta and physical- beyond the physical. . . love, truth, beauty and faith to name a few. Faith isn’t just a theory filled with facts and figures, but a love affair. Sure religion is comprised of certain standards and divine inspiration/guidance, but at the heart exists a love affair.

Like a simple forehead kiss that sends tingles to your toes, faith should too. Instead of wooing the fake counterfeits present everywhere, why don’t we woo Jesus? A love affair doesn’t mean that all feelings and emotions will evoke rainbows, butterflies, and happy-go-lucky feelings. No, a real love affair withstands the test of time, the bleak and dark feelings and emotions, and the strain of sin while focusing on a profound and lasting joy and life eternal.

Medical Zebras

Today I read an article on BBC News about a young woman who competes in Beauty Pageants with a rare genetic connective tissue condition known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). An article highlighting a beauty queen with a 25 inch scar down her fused spine was worth a read. This young woman, Victoria Graham, started a charitable organization called “The Medical Zebra Network.” Why?

She explains the network’s name: “In medical school, doctors are trained to think of the common thing when diagnosing through the phrase, ‘When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses not zebras.'”So if a kid has runny nose or a cough they most likely have a cold rather than a rare form of cancer. But those rare things do happen and are often called ‘medical zebras’.

“So we say, ‘Think zebras, because zebras do exist’.”- BBC NEWS

I looked up the authenticity of the history lesson. BBC and she are correct. This was a medical school metaphor. The picture under this portion of the article shows her flexing her bicep with a hefty pick line inserted into her arm. I smiled. For those who don’t know what a pick line is think an IV but an internal IV threaded into your artery, usually with the entry point in your bicep area. This allows direct intravenous access to your artery.

Victoria transferred colleges hoping to find a program that exercised better flexibility and understanding around her medical treatment. She discussed the sad reality of loosing friends “Maybe my illness is something they can’t deal with or put up with,” she says. “I don’t know what the reason is,” or “She also describes having relationships with boyfriends suffer.” God bless she and her family as they navigate the ups and downs of their unique condition.

My best friends and I joke about how doctors should always start with the most bizarre and unlikely diagnosis and work their way down. We aren’t a medical horse diagnosis kind of family but a medical zebra kind of family. Medical Zebras tend to be great people but intimidating too. These people deal daily, hour by hour, with the reality most people avoid daily, hour by hour . . . mortality and suffering.

Like Victoria I have lost friends or acquaintances that couldn’t “deal with” or “put up” with my conditions or treatments. When you’re dealing with intense physical suffering, the emotional and mental slap of having “friends” bail adds that much more to everything. It hurts like heck, but I learned it’s less about myself and more about them. In the end, the situation becomes an opportunity for practicing intense forgiveness and healthy boundaries.

Like Victoria and others with unique medical challenges, my intimate relationships with boyfriends and male interests have “suffered.” There are NO words to describe the experience of having a practicing Catholic Christian man essentially abusing you because of their personal extreme selfishness and issues while blaming your health situation. May God have mercy on their souls. I now look at these moments as divine mercy, but at the time and even now the pain still twinges. I pray that these “practicing Catholic Christian men” who attend conferences and rallies but cringe at the site of suffering will eventually learn to love their families and children as Christ loved the Church by laying down his life. I hope they don’t abandon ship when times get tough, but instead when times get tough the tough get going.

In the meantime between doctors appointments and treatments, medical zebras oddly have a better grasp on joy than most “healthy” people. Yes, most extraordinary circumstances whether health related or not thins out the herd of friends and loved ones. The Trinity, Mother Mary, and the heavenly host never leaves your side but draw even closer in your most trying moments. Yes, people do need to understand how sick or ill a person can be without the symptoms or visuals being obvious.

For example, a former close friend now acquaintance of mine heard through a mutual friend I was on crutches. A debate ensued if my injury was legitimate. A few days later I showed up to a choir concert on crutches and wearing tennis shoes with my dress. My former friend goes, “You really are injured. So and So said you were but I didn’t believe him.” I responded, “Do I need to show up in a body cast for you to believe me?”

Enough said for now . . .

 

Life & Love with Chronic Illness

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Photo Credit: Isaiah Eyre Photography

As the years of my life unfold, my medical record lengthens and complications arise. My life isn’t over. My ability to love isn’t less. It may be even more. There is something to maturation with age. Young enough at twenty-seven to not accept the status quo, challenge the system, and fight passionately for my goals, dreams, and desires, but I have matured in many ways too. I’m much kinder to myself than I used to be and more at peace with who I am. The real person who I am. Not the person I could be if most realities in my life changed. I bargain less and embrace more.

Learn to recognize what you can change and what you cannot change. Are there days when I wished I woke up minus a few health conditions and the symptoms I experience? Sure. That is an understandable response. But, at the rising or end of the day, I have no real control over my diagnosis. What I do have control of is being as healthy and whole as possible. I eat better. I exercise. I avoid allergens or irritants that may aggravate symptoms. I stress less or at least attempt to. I seek professional help when needed. I relax. I have a clean and healthy living space. I engage in mental and physical activities that are enjoyable. I spend time with family and friends. I work. Take each day by day. Slow down and smell the roses, feel the breeze brushing your cheek, and laugh when snowflakes land on your nose.

Don’t beat yourself up when you can’t live up to your own expectations, others, or the culture’s expectations. If you have one or multiple chronic illnesses like me, you can’t be someone else or wish you were someone else. You are just you. And that is good. Many days, your physical, mental, and emotional health will dictate your day, the activities you engage in, and your daily priorities. Don’t feel inadequate because you stayed home while your friends went out for a drink. Don’t apologize for eating or drinking or doing whatever you need too differently in order to care for yourself. You aren’t less of a person because you have “limitations” and “weaknesses” or “special circumstances.”

Don’t compare yourself to others, “should haves” or “could haves.” This mindset is detrimental to anyone, but a killer to a person with chronic illness. Whether you’re perfectly healthy or not, you are beautiful, lovable, and good. For years after I graduated from college, I beat myself up because I couldn’t be and accomplish how I imagined or in the manner my peers did. My mental aptitude was there but the physical was more elusive. Four years out of college, I learned my worth isn’t tied to my accomplishments. Life is a beautiful and challenging surprise.

You are lovable. Worthy of love and being loved. My love life has been tumultuous. I seethed or cried when men said rude, shallow, shortsighted, and uncompassionate comments regarding my health and worth. It hurt badly. Then I realized it was more about their issues and less about mine. Then I changed my dating approach. I stopped apologizing. I stopped justifying. I stopped tolerating dumb, mean comments. Yes, this thinned out my prospects and good riddance. Yes, a good man did come into my life. A man that loves me even more for what many men fear not less. Again, don’t compare your love life to others. You aren’t less of a couple or less loving because you can’t or shouldn’t appear in a certain manner, go to certain events, etc. Don’t do yourself or the one whom you love this disservice.

Daily Motto: You are beautiful. You are lovable. You are good. You are enough.

 

Thy Will Be Done . . . Broken Yet Whole

After my retreat last May led me to hours of Christian music listening, I’ve heard various songs by Christian artist that I have no clue who they are, but I like the song. Recently, Hillary Scott’s single “Thy Will” stood out amid the feel good pop Christian music. I recognized a certain authenticity and grittiness to the song. A plea of trust, “Thy Will” rose from her family’s personal tragedy of a greatly desired pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. Though I’m unmarried and not seeking pregnancy, the lyrics rang true.

Every couple of weeks, the special man in my life holds my hand and walks with me through the sometimes extreme ups and downs of my internal mental, emotional, and physical struggle with my reproductive health. I’ve written about my personal journey with Creighton Natural Family Planning before. A wealth of knowledge highlighting the overwhelming certainty that I’m broken yet very much whole.

In my lowest moments, the little voice of evil whispers ill thoughts about my worth being tied to my ability to be God’s gift to child bearing or biological motherhood. In the complexities of my reproductive health, complete healing equates to achieving wholeness again, and what I struggle with now is an ancient Biblical slap on my character like the result of past sins or ancestral sin. Basically, my physical weakness makes me less of a woman. Move over prosperity theology and enter Thy Will Be Done.

When I cry to my beloved about my woes and insecurities, the reply challenges what I know but haven’t really embraced: “THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU. And the woman you are now is whole, entirely loving, and worthy of love. I love and respect all of you equally not a piece of you more than another. I love you more because of your weaknesses not less.” God works through people to reach us. Of course, my loved ones, and I desire improvement and healing, but my worth isn’t tied to how healthy or not I am.

Now I turn to Thy Will . . .

I know you’re good
But this don’t feel good right now
And I know you think
Of things I could never think about
It’s hard to count it all joy
Distracted by the noise
Just trying to make sense
Of all your promises
Sometimes I gotta stop
Remember that you’re God
And I am not
So

Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done.