Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why I Believe

There is an ongoing quandary in my head about how to explain the reasons I believe in a higher power. Call it the Universe, call it God. I call it the Divine, a force that is greater than myself. There is suffering everywhere you look in our world. It's deplorable, heart-wrenching, overwhelming. For some, seeing all the suffering makes them question the existence of a higher power. How can there be a god when there are children starving or dying from cancer? When there is war and abuse? How can there be a god, and furthermore a merciful, benevolent god when all these things exist? I am often asked how I can believe in God after all that I've gone through. Here is my best attempt at a response.

Growing up, I was not traditionally religious. My family informally celebrated Christian holidays, but the Bible wasn't a part of my life, nor was church. However, my Nana was a deeply spiritual woman, and being in her presence brought God to life for me. As early as elementary school, I would ask her to take me to churches from a variety of denominations, searching for that perfect fit. It wasn't until college that I asked her to take me back to the church she called home. The church she took my mother to as a girl and where my parents were married. I'll never forget that Sunday morning service at Unity Church of Christianity. We sat in one of the first rows, and as the opening prayer was said, Nana and I both had tears in our eyes. We were home, and I felt spiritually complete.

When I got sick 16 years ago, it felt like the skies opened up and a mighty wind blew me on my ass. My life became an obstacle course of pain and misdiagnosis. Just as I was starting my career and trying to establish myself, my illness blew the candles out. I was left in the dark, fumbling my way over long hospitalizations and demotions, frequent trips to the ER and narcotics that wrecked havoc with my body and mind. I couldn't help but wonder where God fit into the painful chaos my life had become.

I sought out a local Unity branch, and I found a great source of solace and support at a time when I really needed it. I was living in Arlington, Virginia and working in D.C. My parents would come as often as they could, but when they couldn't be there, my church family was. My minister would sit at my bedside and help me sort out my thoughts. For whatever reason, I had been chosen for that path that has lead me up until today. It wasn't a punishment from above. I held on and kept my faith as the disease took me on a very rough ride.

When the days turned into months and the months turned into years, I began to wonder why I couldn't catch a break. Every time I thought the pain couldn't get any worse, it would, and I began to drown in a haze of first medical misdiagnosis, only to be followed by a diagnosed nightmare. It just kept going, and I couldn't help but question why God was allowing it all to happen to me. What had I done to deserve such punishment? I often thought I must have been a Nazi or serial killer in a past life to reap this painful karma. I spent a lot of time meditating through my tears. While it wasn't immediately clear why God wanted me to experience the things I was, I held fast to my roots of faith I had found with my Nana as a child

Time is a powerful thing. Perhaps more than anything else, it can change one's perspective and attitude. It heals. It enables personal growth. More than any surgery, medication or therapy, it changed the way I saw things once the illness truly took over and my life became unrecognizable. My body wasn't the only thing that was transformed. My spirit grew even when my body faltered. For all the ways my body was disabled, my mind and spirit grew in ways I didn't think possible.

My empathy for others, my passion to help those with similar problems, my inner strength and faith in myself and God... those were all the reasons I was chosen to endure all that I have.  I have been able to look back and see my pain and suffering as one of my greatest gifts. Without those two things, I would not be the woman I'm proud to be today. That's part of what time has done for me. Even with my health issues, I still feel strong in spirit. When I'm writhing in pain or struggling to breathe, I have to trust in my mind and my soul to keep me focused on healing. And when my strengths develop cracks, as is inevitable in serious situations, God is the caulk that seals and keeps me together.

Don't get me wrong, I have my moments (or weeks or months.) Keeping my faith allows time to pass, and I eventually find myself in a better place. Just as I want to see the good in people, I want to embrace the goodness of this force that holds me up when I'm falling. It's not in my imagination.  Since 2009, I've been in the ICU or SICU on a ventilator four times. That's not just some scientific healing of a skinned knee or the intervention of practical medicine for a throat infection, Those were miracles. Divine intervention that allowed me to live rather than die. I don't need anyone else to believe. It's enough that I do.

Our circumstances mold our beliefs, which is why it's unfair to judge others. If you believe, use your faith for understanding and tolerance. I can't blame or judge others for not believing, because I don't know the circumstances that led them to their lack of faith. I can only ask the same of those who don't believe. Grant me the respect to trust I have my faith for a reason and don't judge me. A riddle of sorts, or perhaps a recipe. I know not how to survive my life without my faith. It brings me comfort and strength. I've lived through things that make it impossible to not believe in a higher power.

People ask how I can believe in God after all I've been through. My answer is, after all I've been through, it's impossible not to. I've witnessed things from within that defeat logic and science.  I've had experiences when I've felt a flow of warm, unconditional love from something much greater than myself. There is a calm, loving presence infused in my heart. It's something that defies an exact definition, but it's real. For me, it's real. That's why I believe. AMEN!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Truth of Spring Cleaning

While it is almost summer, I am still bogged down with the whole spring cleaning process. Whoever started this process must have had a small closet and no hobbies, and was obviously able to drink copious amounts of wine throughout the process. My closet is bleeding with my various hobbies, each stuffed in separate totes.  I can never understand that all the stuff I threw away the past year seems to be reincarnated to the stuff I need to throw out this year. How did I look at this year's trash as last year's gems? It's a never-ending quandary that will likely never be answered. I've made peace with that.

As I've started on the archaeological dig into my closet's piles of totes and boxes, I have a lawn bag ready for my former necessary unnecessariables (my word.) My first tote was a treasure chest of old journals.  They serve two purposes. I write down all my meds each day along with any medical issues that are going on. It keeps me on target. It also enables me report to my doctors exactly what's going on at any given time. It's become an empowering tool that helps me have some control of my health and helps guide my doctors and I to make the best decisions for my health. I highly recommend this to anyone with chronic health issues.

Then there is my spiritual cleansing, aka my writing. It has a Tourette's Syndrome-type personality whereby I may not write for weeks, and then one day I get a surge of ideas and I grab whatever is closest to me. I've got napkins, matchbooks, receipts, etc., but I usually grab my journals.  I write down those thoughts, keeping them safe in something I won't throw away. It's a journey through history to read those scraps of my heart in writing.

So there I sat going through perhaps the smallest tote in my closet. I often discard the medical info after a certain amount of time, and I keep only my writing spasms. The first journal I opened was from 2010  when I had a very major surgery. The words I read brought tears to my eyes. The writing was beautiful (if I do say so myself) and raw and overwhelming. I could almost feel the physical and emotional pain I was going through at that time. It took me back like a time machine, giving me a view of Jessica then vs. Jessica now.

 I read some of it to my mom, and she replied, "It's so good, but so dark.  That's not who you are now."

That was so validating to hear. The words sounded like someone I used to know wrote them. A familiar stranger. There I was digging through my closet, and I found old bones from an old me. An ancient text about things long passed. That's not to say everything is peachy keen now, but I feel that I'm in a better place spiritually and emotionally. There are changes in my life that have allowed me to heal peacefully rather than stressfully. Healing has various degrees of stress, but it's the where and the who you're healing around that can make a big difference. Different doctors are amazing gifts, too.

Healing is a puzzle that takes time. Reading about where I was compared to where I am now was so cathartic. It took the term "spring cleaning" to another level. We all go through stuff that is hard and life-changing. Everyone has different ways of holding onto the feelings surrounding those times.
You don't have to have journals or thoughts written down. There is a wardrobe of reactions and thoughts most people have within them.

Within your spirit, examine those things that no longer serve your greater good and let them go. Stick them in that figurative trash bag and toss them out. Purge yourself of that which weighs you down with negativity. It's a new day. The lessons you learned from those experiences have already been woven into your souls. Clean your mind and heart of the baggage. Eventually we all have to accept our perfect imperfections and give ourselves permission to be loved just as we are. It's not likely to happen all at once, but in pieces as we go.

 A counselor once told me not to view life as a linear process, but rather as a web-like journey. On that same note, every movement on the web will offer a time to heal past hurts and to love ourselves wherever, however and whoever we are. In truth, spring cleaning is just a convenient analogy for an ongoing process. Granted, I started writing this in early May, yet just finishing it in early June. So my cleansing is retroactive but progressing, one day at a time.