Category Archives: Spiritual Journey
Sometimes I feel as though I’ve slipped into an alternate dimension. Like there’s another version of me living simultaneously while I live my own life. She’s the same age. Her appearance is relatively the same. But somewhere along my lifeline, she and I took different paths. I am living out this fate, and she is living out another.
I’ve always tried to steer clear of asking what if. It never seems to serve any purpose other than cause unneeded longing and regret. But, after the last few years, and all of the sudden changes, my mind is sputtering to catch up. I’m left with the feeling of… displacement. This what if exercise is somewhat a risk emotionally, but if played out fully, I hope it will help me sweep the shattered bits back over into my dustpan.
This past year, I can’t help but feel I’m in the wrong life. I can’t shake it. I imagine what another version of life might be now. I dive into the best and worst of my soul twin, and play out her footsteps.
I sort through the details of her life. There is hurt, longing, and regret of unfulfilled dreams that come along with playing out these fantasies. I’m afraid of going through the looking glass. But in the end, I hope this exercise will help in some way.
It’s like the movie Sliding Doors, I think of her making one different choice and living out my life in a parallel universe.
In one reality, I’m still married. I never fell down those stairs in 2004, we had 2 amazing children, and I have the career in psychology I once hoped for. She loves her work, she loves helping people in new and experimental ways, and if she ever finds time, she hopes to write a book some day. I imagine her life busily driving her children to baseball and soccer, standing back stage smiling at ballet recitals, and taking pictures at music festivals with her beautiful family. She loves her children and husband unconditionally, and they show her love and affection in return. Every couple months she sells handmade jewelry at an art fair- this is when she feels most like herself. Even though she counsels others effectively, she never had time to resolve the issues from her own childhood, and it shows now in her behavior with her parents. She empathizes well with her patients, but she doesn’t understand their suffering, and is frustrated when she can’t fix their problems. Her family stopped going to church and volunteering together- she deeply regrets that for her kids.
Maybe I chose differently after high school graduation, and followed my dream of aid and mission work. Another Mary has been living in a far-off village building wells and working with abused young women for several years. She has collected a different language for every country she has lived in, and always looks forward to her next project. She never married, and rarely regrets the decision to stay single and forgo becoming a mother. She is strong and healthy, but tired, and isn’t quite sure where home is anymore. She wishes she could fly back to the states each time a friend or family member asks her to come to their wedding, birthday…or hospital bedside. She lives a life most can’t understand, but she wouldn’t trade her life of service for anyone else’s.
There’s yet another version of me who never moved away from New York City. She stayed on the path to pursue an art career. This version of me has short, messy bleach blonde hair, and wears an old motorcycle jacket she stole from an ex boyfriend. She works at her friend’s bakery so she can pay her bills. This Mary struggles with depression, but the angst feeds her art so she doesn’t get help. The mental illness ruins her romantic relationships, so she’s lonely in a big city. She has a modest art following online, and has a large network of colorful friends who keep her very busy. She sings in an indie band for fun, writes art reviews for a small magazine, and volunteers teaching sewing classes to inner city youth on the weekends. In her heart, she hoped she would have found more success by now, but tries to remind herself, art isn’t about accolades.
I imagined my existence if I had been born into one of the many communities of the world where healthcare is nearly non-existent. Like most of the world, I wouldn’t have been born into priveledge, with affordable doctors nearby. I wouldn’t have had wholesome food to eat daily, and may have been exposed to the elements, civil war, and sexual acts of violence against girls. If I had developed the very same condition at 22, I wouldn’t be alive at 35. That version of me wouldn’t exist. I would have died a slow, painful death, like so many others with the same diseases that we in the US call “chronic,” and manage day to day, while other parts of the world call them “terminal”.
The door slides again. I step back through the wormhole.
I’m here in my life. In my own body. In my own bed. In my own reality. There is no other fate than mine. There is no other Mary.
This was a challenging exercise- it hurt! There were others I didn’t write about here. In the end, it was a success, I did shake that alternate dimension feeling.
This is the life that was set aside for me. In all of the realities I could imagine, this is the only one where I’ve been molded, strengthened, and shaped to conquer my specific challenges. I am the person whose eyes are prepared to see unique beauty only I might see. I’ll leave only one set of footprints behind when I’m gone.
There is no wormhole I’ll ever slip into. No sliding door waiting for me to step through and merge into my rightful life.
I’m not entitled to any other existence.
This is my one and only life, with all of its shortcomings, pains, privileges, hopes, and unknown future.
It’s not over yet.
We should all have a calling, right? A passion that drives us. “If you find your purpose, you will never work a day in your life”, and will be wonderfully successful, respected, admired, and make loads of money. At least, that’s what I’ve always heard, so it must be true.
What if I told you that having a “Life’s Purpose” is a myth.
We are taught by society, and modern culture that to be fulfilled, we have to find our one special calling, that career we love, and it will bring us prosperity and fortune all of our days.
Why is this philosophy problematic?
…Because we aren’t built to have only one purpose. We are each meant to fulfill many unique and diverse missions throughout our lives. We have dreams and goals for ourselves, but we are multidimensional beings and our greatest life passions and fulfillments may or may not be wrapped up in that job we desire.
Most of the time when we say, “What is God’s will for my life?” We are referring to our careers, right? But God allows purpose to thrive in so many aspects of our lives.
You can be a passionate artist, a wife, mother, doctor, friend, AND a passionate writer. You can find calling, drive, and fulfillment in multiple areas of your life.
The world hands us such an impossible task of figuring out our one and only sparkling, unicorn reason for existing, and it puts sooooo much pressure on all of us. Once we believe we’ve found our “life’s calling”, complete our degrees or training, we can finally pour our passion into the work… but some time later, there’s an itch that comes over us. We feel unsettled, maybe even claustrophobic. If you’ve felt this way before, it’s miserable. And it’s also a huge disappointment that the dream we wished for doesn’t feel like we hoped it would. You do everything you can to refresh that passion you once had in your work, however, more than likely, the feeling of displacement whittles away at your spirit.
A Life’s Purpose is not the same as a Life of Purpose.
We were not built to stay in one place. God has so many plans for each of us. Some of us are amazing multi-taskers, juggling projects and people all at once, and others of us pour everything we have into one job, person, or other undertaking, and then we are diverted to our next chapters. One season ends, and the next begins. Sometimes there are painful seasons in between for our growth, for pruning, and for us to prepare for whatever we are meant to do next. And for some of us, those painful seasons last, so we seek out purpose and meaning in the big and small moments.
Callings come in seasons. We all hear the stories again and again: Someone had a career they loved, then a crisis struck, but that sideroad somehow illuminated a new and exciting path. It happens all the time.
Like me, you might be asking, “What is God’s will for my life now?” You might feel a little bit lost in the fog, the upside-down, so to speak. Very rarely, we have these beautiful gifts of some extended time when we are just waiting to find out- what’s next? It can seem like forever, but rest assured, you are never forgotten by your Creator.
I’m not very good at being still and peaceful while I wait, because I am so impatient. It is such a comfort to know, we are always fulfilling our Life’s Purpose when our desire is to please God. When you’re seeking to do the next right thing, you can be at ease that you are living inside of your destiny.
To be thankful while you are suffering is one thing, but to be thankful for suffering….
Once in a while in the support group I administrate, there is someone who makes a statement that is so powerful, it catches me off guard and it sets my soul on fire. In truth, this isn’t a rare occurrence. I guess you could say that those suffering so deeply every single moment of the day have some profound insights to share. One thing that inspires me the most is when people say they are thankful for their illness. That is a bold statement that I believe one would never come to lightly- and no one would EVER openly say something so provocative in a support group setting among a band of individuals with severe chronic diseases, unless they truly meant it. That’s why it always gives me pause whenever I hear such powerful expressions.
It’s not unusual for those who go through a near death experience or a serious short term illness to find deeper meaning and purpose. It’s no less real, but it is more common when the storms have an end, and suffering can be left behind. While it’s not rare for those with ongoing illness to eventually find new ways to appreciate life again, to say they are grateful for their illness, it is so much more rare in cases of chronic disease. Why? Because an illness that is daily, constant, and does not see an end- is far easier to hate than to get excited about. A condition which may be degenerative, becoming more painful and physically or mentally compromising over time, isn’t easily beloved…as you can imagine. To me, it’s almost a miracle hearing that anyone would be happy or thankful that they became so sick. Others with chronic illness can find statements like these offensive, even. These ideas of “illness gratitude” certainly border on the extreme, but make one wonder where their personal journeys have lead them to truly embrace their infirmities.
I’ve heard people claim to be thankful they are in pain and chronically ill because it transformed their lives. It made them see the world in a different light. Their conditions allowed them to shake off the clutter and stress of a life that they realized didn’t have substance, and focus on a life of greater meaning and value. They once believed losing their career meant losing their purpose, but I’ve spoken to those who say that they are so thankful they became ill because now they found their true calling. Some have said that their new life of chronic illness has enabled them to be there for people in ways they never could have in their “healthy” life, so they are forever thankful for their new sick bodies, and how useful they can be to others through deeper compassion and connection. Sometimes people are grateful they are in pain because it has brought them closer to their faith, and they cherish a higher spiritual connection they never could have had without constantly being pushed to the edge of what they can endure. They are forced to cling to God instead of their own strength, and in that comfort, they find gratitude for suffering that brought them more enrichment spiritually.
Again, these are extreme statements, but thought provoking and inspiring nonetheless!
Most often, people I encounter long for a cure or pray to be healed. That’s normal, and that’s not at all unhealthy. Research in psychology equates the loss of health or a limb to losing a family member or spouse passing away. It’s earth-shattering. The losses just keep coming. With chronic illness, the grief starts over again and again. It’s cavernous, and there’s no end to the emotional roller coaster or the physical fight. Hoping for a cure, for healing, or for remission is what we all are desperate for, and that focus can at times become crucial for survival. But for some of us, restoration of health becomes a worship in itself, and begins to supersede everything else. Seeking a cure or healing can become such a focus that illness becomes nothing but a betrayal of God, of government, of doctors, and family. Nothing feels real except wellness and full restoration.
Obviously these are 2 opposite sides of the spectrum, and balance is always the goal.
When I was diagnosed at 22, I spent the first years asking God WHY? Staying up every night in excruciating pain, my leg felt as though it was breaking, nerves like being electrocuted and burning pain like nothing I could have ever imagined before. Full body spasms, tremors, the room spinning, my heart racing and palpitating, wondering how I had planned and worked so hard for everything that had lead me here, just to lose it to this “incurable degenerative” condition that no one seemed to be taking very seriously to help me try recover from. It didn’t make any sense. As much as I tried to analyze it, I couldn’t crack the code. It only made sense for me to get better, so I searched for my panacea, and prayed (demanding) that God must heal me. At the time, I wasn’t a big prayer person, but illness has a way of connecting you to your higher power. In the Bible, yes, there is healing, but there is also so much pain. The importance of learning through pain, finding ways to share strength or comfort inside of infirmities, these are scriptures that have been so encouraging to me.
I eventually felt lead to make a decision. I believed God would heal me, and I still do believe that is true. But, I decided that if I was going to spend any period of time living a “sick life” I was going to explore it. As much as I was desperate to go back in time, moving forward is all I could do, it’s all any of us can do- Even if it’s slowly, frightened, and with tears in our eyes.
I cannot go as far as saying that I am thankful I am chronically ill. I can say that at almost 12 years, I’m so grateful I made that decision to press forward and try to find myself inside of this life. If I had stayed so distracted by my past, or so focused on what I might be losing in the future, I would have missed every bit of the beauty, the miracles, the blessings, the generosity of others, the opportunities to be of use, and purpose found inside of this pain.
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18
When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. Psalm 94:19
Over the last 10 years of chronic illness, people have told me that I will be healed if my faith is strong enough, that I am being prepared for something greater in my future, that all of this pain, loss, and disability will be given a special meaning some day. But, I believe that our lives are meaningful even in the midst of the darkest struggles. We don’t have to wait until life becomes perfect to attain purpose and perspective.
In the first couple years after I was diagnosed, college friends told me praying harder would heal me, one suggested the sins of my parents or grandparents may be expressed through my illness, family members sent me books about focusing on God’s healing promises, and I was prayed over for healing at church more times than I can count.
I was so angry and frustrated at everyone! God wasn’t healing me, I was getting worse! Why didn’t they understand? But no one did… I felt all alone to face this new monster eating away at my body and taking down my dreams and abilities one by one. I had such a strong confidence in my purpose, in my “calling,” and I didn’t know why those passions would be given to me, if only to be ripped away.
I do believe God has the power to heal my body. I also believe that healing can come in other forms as well. I used to pray and pray for my body to be healed, for the horrible pain to go away, and for my life to go back to the way it was. Of course I did. Of course I want my pain to go away and for life to be easier. Everyone in pain wants that! As life became a one-day-at-a-time struggle for survival, talking to God changed also. My heart desired to be of service to others (on support groups, online, in my relationships, etc.). Over time, I realized those prayers overtook the ones begging for physical healing. I believe there are different kinds of healing beyond physical wholeness that I hadn’t thought about before chronic illness, or during my first years living with it.
In each of the instances with my friends and family, they were showing up in the only way they knew how to offer hope and support. I’ve since learned that the people who show up are the ones to hold onto- sometimes they take some time and guidance to figure it out though.
During the storms in life, it is so common to be told that when the storm lifts, we will use what we’ve learned to help someone else, or we will have a greater sense of clarity. Well, when the rain doesn’t let up, when your body is constantly beating you up, if you are terminally ill, there is no waiting for healing to make use of your life today. Loss of health forces us each to look at our mortality and time in a new way. The desire to make a difference in the world doesn’t stop just because one’s legs, nervous system, or liver is failing. For so many remarkable individuals I have met over the years, illness can even inspire a new-found purpose, passion for growing in new ways, and redefining success based on what they hold most precious vs. what society has told them is of importance.
If you feel as though your purpose has been lost, and you don’t know why your life has taken this sudden detour, please know that you are not alone, and you are still on a path that is your own. You have not been forgotten. Your life still has meaning, even now- even in the mess you feel you are going through. You don’t have to wait for the perfect body and perfect life to be useful. If I had waited for that kind of moment, I think I would be waiting for eternity! Even in the middle of your struggle, your story matters. What you are going through matters.
Oh friends, life is such a journey…. faith is such a journey. And I must admit that I get very weary at times. Like ground down to a fine powder kind of weary.
It is easy to say that God is in control. I know some who revert to that message like it is their refrain between sentences. We continue to push and plan and overcome, and then get angry at Him when WE fail.
When I was diagnosed with chronic pain in 2004, I felt like my adult life was just getting rolling, and I had big dreams. No matter how bad my pain, how bad the swelling or fatigue, I would keep focused on my own plans. My body was deteriorating from pain, I was taking so many medications to keep up, and all of my spare time I spent sleeping. No matter what walking aids I needed, I wouldn’t be diverted from achieving my original goals. I was in control. Though my body lashed back at me, I fought and squirmed and raged to keep going on my path.
Surrendering is a big one. I definitely struggle to relinquish control, so everything about the idea of surrender goes against my nature. Years ago, when I was having ketamine infusions to try to tame my RSD/CRPS pain, I would interfere with the nurses vitals setup. In my mind I was helping, but to them I was getting in the way, of course. “Do you want to do this yourself?” one of the nurses once snapped at me. Oops, I thought. But then, I knew my answer would have been “yes”.
Why? Why do I think I can do the best job for myself, even when others have my best interest in mind? Surely, my creator and giver of salvation has my very best for me, yet fully trusting that can be so tough.
Then 4 years ago, I suddenly developed a condition called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome which has changed my life dramatically. In combination with Intracranial Hypertension, my autonomic nervous system has stopped cooperating. I have not been able to lift my head without passing out. My bladder, gastrointestinal system, metabolism are out of my control. The pain in my body was never so debilitating as it is with this never-ending migraine, facial nerve pain, vision changes, and other damage caused by the abnormal csf pressure the last 4 years.
They say, don’t let chronic illness take over your life. But when your life becomes about: Breathing. Eating. Drinking. There is no “let” only “become”.
You don’t fight POTS, you don’t fight through it. You endure it. It changes your body, and you adapt. It isn’t like pain. You can push through pain- at least to an extent.
Surrender is the choice my body made for me. It tells me I don’t have a choice but to bow to its wishes. I lay here still and unspeaking, careful not to sway the already offset balance of illness. But the moment I move or eat or make a sound, my flesh laughs at me. My already swirling, screaming, breath-begging body will burst into flames and melt into nothingness. The world tells me to push, to fight, to Just. Keep. Going.
But I learn quickly that there is no push in this game. Only tricks, and cheats, and strategy. Illness owns my body. There is no free will flesh. There is no- push for one more minute. There is no- if I just take this pill. This body and brain have been exchanged, kidnapped, swapped for a rag doll.
Once, asking for help seemed an impossible exception. Now, all of my physical and earthly necessities most selflessly come from the hands of those I most admire. My body gives me no choice but to surrender to their hands, but my heart is ever humble and grateful to receive the gifts of their bottomless compassion. What better picture of mercy than this?
Control freak (of nature). My natural systems are out of control. And nothing can be done, but wait. But pray. To give into the illness and seek inner peace.
Miss plan for tomorrow. Plan for your dreams. Dream big. Don’t give up. Your body gives up.
My body forces surrender on its own schedule. Though my creator waits patiently. While my body may act as a prison, forcing the white flag of my systems, my spirit goes of its own fruition. The more I relinquish control, the more grace is endowed.
God is in control, they say. They say it like an empty cliche. Like a jack in the box toy that popped out and saw the light- once. Control is something I have owned. And something that has owned me. And God doesn’t control my will. I surrender it to Him. Child to Father. Tired, weak soul to loving Savior. In this broken body, I see freedom.
While parents are hiding eggs, my mom is stuffing baskets full of chocolates and little treats (because she still does that for her 5 adult kids), while families are shopping for new dresses and suits for church, I feel a weight. No, not because I think any of those things are bad… I have nothing against fun or family celebrations.
As a Christian, I know that Easter is a happy time, but after Palm Sunday, grief always sets in- this is the week my Jesus died.
This is the week He was betrayed by His most trusted friends. This is the time we remember Him being beaten and humiliated in public. The Jesus I love allowed Himself to be hung on a cross until his human body was lifeless…
This is a scene that has been reenacted in movies and on television hundreds of times. If you are reading this, you have seen a graphic crucifixion scene. Most people are completely desensitized to it. In churches across the globe, followers memorialize the sacrifice by putting on “Passion Plays” meant to look just like His death and resurrection. I have seen countless reenactments, and I have to say, I cannot watch. I have always cringed at the sound of every lashing, the look of agony on the actor’s face brings tears to my eyes, and seeing His pain and suffering is something I cannot look on without having an emotional reaction. I never want to desensitize to it.
Each year I mourn the anniversaries of my closest loved ones who have passed, and would never want a replay of how those I love died. Would you?
After 9/11, everywhere you looked there were images of the towers coming down. It was too much. It broke my heart every time. I grew up in NYC. In that moment, people I knew and my beloved memories tumbled down with the planes. If you are deeply connected to it, it causes you grief when you remember the loss and pain.
To me, knowing Christ isn’t religious. It is a friendship. Deeper. An admiration. Stronger. A love that is beyond all other loves. When your spiritual life is supernatural, it’s personal, ever-changing, shifting and growing.
I had considered myself a Christian for a while, but it wasn’t until I was in my early 20’s that it hit me what His forgiveness truly meant. GRACE. I didn’t need to feel controlled by sleepless guilt, heavy burdens and worry any more. Knowing the meaning of grace and being inside of God’s grace are very different. My freedom had already been paid for- understanding that gift has changed me. Allowing my life to be ruled by regrets and endless concerns for the future was not God’s plan for me- the price had been paid.
Even though I grieve His suffering and His death this week, and I wish He could have paid the toll for us a different way, it is so beautiful that He gave His life willingly so that we could finally know the bountiful love and hope of God.
When Easter Sunday comes around, the melancholy will lift, grief will turn to gratitude, and I’ll be focused on His grace and resurrection. His broken, beaten body was renewed and is waiting for us in paradise. Someday, this wrecked, fragile body will also be whole, without pain, without illness, and I’ll be able to look into His eyes and thank Him face to face for His gift of love, grace and forgiveness.
Have a blessed Easter week, and peace to those observing Passover.
Remembering “Heaven is for later” helps this writer through her journey. I deeply relate to the below piece and I hope you are also touched by this powerful survival story.
Jan 2003, Meningitis. The virus had taken itself up in my spine and lining of the brain. Journal:
At every turn of the neck, the world exploded out of stereos on max – inside my head. I could do nothing but weep driving home. Never have I known such blinding pain. I really did not want to live like this anymore.
That night, I plumbed depths of rock bottom I didn’t know were there. The pain was so great nothing mattered anymore. Not finding a job, making ends meet. I just wanted to drop everything and die.
An email from a cancer survivor:
Been processing resentment in my life. God is showing me how I’ve been building…
View original post 829 more words