Considering that today is Good Friday, I've decided it's a good time to talk about Faith and the struggles I have been having in this area since my diagnosis. This is not an easy topic for me to write about but I think that everyone has times in their life when they must battle their conscience and their faith and what they truly believe. There are many things that can challenge us and we all have a breaking point. I definitely reached mine last summer when I was diagnosed. Now that some time has passed, I find that I am not only on a journey of learning how to cope with this new life as I walk hand in hand with cancer, I'm also finally able to take small steps towards my emotional healing. And this is slowly happening through the faith and strength of others.
The loss of my faith is something that has perplexed me really, an unexpected response to my diagnosis. Whereas many people find themselves drawn closer to faith during times of hardship, I found myself turning away. It has been bothering me, but it's like that part of myself just completely shut down and I have been struggling to find a way to get it back. I think that's what happens when you become overcome with bitterness and anger. I've been having to drag myself through acres of muck to find my way back to solid ground.
Everyone approaches spirituality differently. I have always been a person who appreciates action. There is a lot of truth in the expression, "Actions speak louder than words". Actions are much more telling of a person's intentions and how they truly feel. They also strongly represent a person's character. Even though prayer is a wonderful tool for building inner strength and resolve, true change and miracles occur through our actions. In many situations, prayer and action must walk hand in hand. One is for strength, the other for results.
I have met quite a lot of "casual responders" when it comes to helping someone in need. If they can squeeze in a quick prayer for you on Facebook during a commercial break during the big game, well then... they've done their part. It's a kind of a lukewarm approach to spirituality that is disappointing. It's not sincere and it doesn't really help. I have never been able to be that kind of person. I get it from my dad. He always taught me not to be a hypocrite to what I believe. He had a pet peeve with lukewarm acts of faith. It's the one thing about my dad that has always stuck with me. I cannot go through the motions of faith if I don't truly believe in what I am saying or doing. And to be honest, it is the people who have strong faith and do acts of kindness with sincere hearts that always make the most impact on me. There is something powerful that occurs when you are in the presence of someone who gives without expecting anything in return. And, it is the best way to help guide people to a place of healing.
Part of the reason why my diagnosis hit me so hard in the area of faith was primarily the timing. I was already very angry and bitter due to some difficult circumstances surrounding the death of my mother just a few months prior. I had lost faith in a lot of people and as a result was beginning to doubt that prayer and action did any good at all. It seemed like the more I did... the more I tried... the harder I got hit. Eventually, I just shut down entirely. That tends to happen when you've been beaten down by life. Sometimes it's hard to get back up, pick up the bat and prepare for another swing. I think that I decided I was just too emotionally beat down to play the game anymore. So, once I was diagnosed I just quit believing. And, it's been bothering me. It's been bothering me primarily because there was a time in my life a long time ago where faith did save me and my family. I know there is power in having faith. And, I know that I need to find a way to get it back.
So, here comes the interesting part of my story today... my mom is definitely with me. And, she's been sneaky. Anyone who knew my mother knows that she was always very devoted to Mary and the rosary. She was in the Legion of Mary, she made handmade rosaries, she prayed the rosary often. She and my father were both very strong believers in the power of praying the rosary and made it a ritual in their lives to pray not only for themselves but for others. And guess what? She has been throwing rosaries at me ever since she passed away. I'll give you an example.
This past week has been another exhausting hurdle. I ended up in the ER with a lot of pain and a horrible case of vertigo. After all of the tests were done I found out I not only had gall stones, but some of these stones had left the gall bladder and were now lodged and causing an obstruction. So, I was admitted into the hospital where I would spend the next 6 days. Hospital stays are tough. The beds are uncomfortable, they don't let you eat, they wake you up constantly for vitals, you're being poked, prodded, evaluated... it's exhausting. And, when you have cancer it always makes everything a little more complicated and it takes longer for everyone to decide the best plan of action. But, by day 5 the decisions had all been made and I was finally going into surgery. I was ready. The days had taken their toll and I needed it to be over. But, life wasn't finished swinging the bat! As I was counting down the hours to go into surgery, I got word from my husband that he had an unusual incident of shortness of breath while doing his morning PT test that led to an EKG that was causing some concern. He was currently being ambulanced to the ER. Have you ever had one of those moments where you just hit bottom? This was one of mine. Instead of my husband being by my side where he had planned to be after he finished his PT test, we were separated. Neither one of us was able to be there for one another. It really broke me. My husband has always been there for me. I wanted to be there for him. I began to panic and of course had to make some very quick phone calls to make sure we both had someone with us. As I was sitting in the hospital bed, I was overcome with emotions and finding myself feeling very alone and scared. The tears began to fall. And right at that moment, a woman walks through my door. She was one of the hospital chaplains. She came over and asked if I needed prayer. Yes, I said... I do. I cried, she prayed... The Our Father, The Hail Mary... and she reached in her pocket and she handed me a little hand made rosary. As I grabbed that rosary and held onto it, I felt my mom there with me. I knew that she was there because this is something that my mom used to do herself. She would make hand made rosaries and she would give them to people. She found a way to be there with me in spirit even though she could not be with me in body. I felt such a profound sense of peace in that moment, and just when I needed it most. And, this woman, who didn't know who I was at all was able to be used as a vessel because of her time and commitment to her own faith and willingness to share it with others.
I know, I know... some of you are skeptical. But, I will tell you that this is not the first time this has happened to me since my diagnosis. This is the third time that I have found myself at a very low point and I have been lifted up by little signs of Mary. And, it is definitely my mom. And, it is helping me find my way back. That small moment in the hospital room brought me such a sense of peace with my faith that I had thought was gone. And, I think if I don't listen, my mom will probably continue to find ways to throw rosaries at me until I do. :) Anyone who knew her knows that she was a stubborn woman. She never gave up on anyone she loved. She isn't going to give up on me, not if she has anything to do with it!
As the day progressed I continued to be amazed by the generosity and compassion that I was shown by the hospital staff and I was reminded once again of the power of action. There were a lot of these types of people around that day in large quantities, all thinking how they could do something to make things a little easier for us both. I have always admired the doers. The people who don't just say they care but they show it in small acts of kindness. It all started with a nurse who felt bad that I was going into surgery while my husband was in the ER. She started a process to find a resolution. When I came out of surgery/recovery, I found myself being wheeled to a new room. The staff had gone through quite a lot of hula hoop jumping to make sure we were both placed in a hospital room together when they found out he would be admitted overnight for observation and further tests. And, I was so amazed that they had done this for us. We were both worried about each other and they found a way for us to be together. What a wonderful end to a very unbelievably stressful day. There were so many examples of faith going on in that hospital that day. People of action always amaze and inspire me. And you know what... those are the prayers that work. Ones backed up with action. I was not only healed of my ailing gall bladder, in many ways all of these individuals helped me to once again take another small step forward in healing my faith.
If you think that visiting people in the hospital, praying with people when they are in need and taking the time to do a small act to make someone's life a little easier isn't important, I can tell you without a doubt that you are wrong. The only way to achieve miracles is by our own actions. I'm pretty sure that God expects us to get up and do the work that needs to be done. He gives us the power, all we have to do is use it.
As we go into Easter Weekend I will be spending time reflecting on the struggles of our week. But, I will also be appreciating the small sacrifices of others that helped me once again survive another speedbump in my walk with cancer. I am learning that there are some really good and sincere people in this world. I find myself continuously blessed to continue to cross paths with some of them. Sometimes they are strangers, sometimes they are friends, sometimes they are family, but no matter who they are, the world is a better place because of these people. If you find someone like this in your life, hold on to them tight. They are a treasure to keep. And, make sure to show them some gratitude.
I am now recovering from surgery and feeling better. My husband is okay. I'm surrounded by my wonderful family who always take such good care of me. I am truly blessed and I am grateful for what I have. I am grateful for the many sacrifices people have made for me to help me survive my cross that I've had to bear and will continue to bear. I can think of nothing better to reflect on than this on Good Friday.
I hope that all of my friends and family have a very peaceful Easter weekend. I hope that you find some small miracles to help lift you up as I have. And I wish all of you so much peace and love.