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!