On a beautiful Sunday, August 14, 2016, I made my final profession to the Secular Franciscan Order at Holy Trinity Parish with the Maximilian Kolbe Fraternity. A day full of grace and new beginnings. Pax et Bonum!
Music: “Restless” by Audrey Assad
YouTube: created by musiclyrics001
“Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise; your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning. And so we men, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you – we also carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”
~ Saint Augustine, Confessions, L1
I have been finding myself becoming very restless lately. One reason I know is the cabin fever caused by the long deep freeze we are thawing out from under. In Wyoming, we are even more restless because we know nature is only toying with us – giving forty to fifty degree weather as a temporary reprieve from arctic blasts. Soon we will be shivering – longing for the beaches of Hawaii or golf courses of Arizona, or some other warm place.
This morning I woke up, rather rudely, due to a major blow out of my permanent colostomy system. A living reminder of another cause for my restlessness – the endless waiting for a surgery to correct a malfunctioning stoma area and remove a failing gall bladder. With my twisted sense of humor, this event just added fodder for my post on restlessness.
Last week, I shared a little bit about what I am dealing with almost on a daily basis. I have chronic peristomal pyoderma gangrenosum. My current PPG activity is like the more extreme photos found on a Google search here. [Warning! do not visit if you have a weak stomach or children around.] Currently, I have four ulcers with only the smallest one still at the epidermis level of the skin. This complication is extremely painful. Literally, if one were to hold their hand a few inches above an inflamed area you’ll feel emanating intense heat. The problem is that active PPG bleeds profusely, thereby making a good seal almost impossible. There-go a blow out at 4:30 am when one should be able to sleep peacefully in their warm bed. Talk about a restless way to wake up.
But do not despair for me. Even though it caused extreme physical pain at 4:30 am this morning, I am still smiling. There might also be a little Wyoming grit in my flawed personality that helps me deal with it. Jesus is the only one who can get me up at that hour to clean up and slap another bag doomed to fail on top of bleeding ulcers. My nightgown was not even soiled because I was woken moments before it happened. Thank you Jesus and my guardian angels, amen!
Let’s get back to restlessness. For those of us who are always sick we have an intimate knowledge of that word down to the very core of our being. Many diseases and illnesses cause a physical restlessness or anxiety reaction within our bodies, that can affect movements, nerves, nerves, muscles, sleep, pain perception, and definitely mental function, . RightDiagnosis.com (here) lists over 380 medical conditions that cause restlessness and thousands of conditions that are related to restlessness. Even medical professionals classify restlessness as a natural stage of the human dying process. The restlessness we experience from our cloistered hospital beds or homes can make us feel like we are dying even if we aren’t.
These forms of restlessness I have described above are about mental or physical suffering. The type of restlessness that Saint Augustine speaks of in his Confessions is a spiritual reality of the frail human condition. (see a cool website with his PDF file Here.) OK, a little bit of heavy reading! I am feeling a bit restless, now. Lets break it down a little and learn more about Saint Augustine at the same time. Here is a FUN video about him and his experience of this type of restlessness. Warning it is a rap for Catholic theology students with some puppets, need I say more?
Music: Confessionz (St. Augustine Rap Remixed) by by Chris “MCG” Gehrz
Found on YouTube: CWCRadio (full lyrics under about tab)
Now that was a fun way to learn a little bit about a doctor of the Church. A testament for how God will use our loves and desires to pierce our hearts. Helped relieve some of my physical and mental restlessness too.
Let’s get back to the seriousness of our discussion. Restlessness is not necessarily bad. It is like a warning signal not just to the body, but to our spirits as well. Restlessness always points to a yearning or longing. When our body’s are broken it’s a physical symptom of our body crying out for wholeness. When our emotions are torn to shreds it is a emotional signal that something needs to be worked out. Saint Augustine shows that spiritual restlessness is a reaching out for God and a necessary capacity of the human condition. Restlessness is always hard and at times quite painful.
The broken restlessness of our sick bodies are actually a testimonial to the complex nature of the very creation of human life. When something breaks we have blow outs. When we experience physical or mental restlessness our body cries out for physical and mental integrity it knows it was designed for. We only get little fleeting tidbits of of body integration on a very good day.
When we experience spiritual restlessness it means that our spirit longs for God. We are being invited to engage in relationship with the one who created us and our wonderful human body. We just know deep down inside that this longing cannot be fulfilled in this life – only in the next. We just get a brief glimpse of the hope of the resurrection of the body and the perfect union with God in heaven.
Challenge for this week: Cling to the knowledge that in this life there will be restlessness and that we will all experience it in different ways and different stages of our lives. We need to learn to trust that even though this moment maybe an extremely difficult one. We are never alone. We are always loved! Think of it! At that moment when the intense gross reality of human frailty glares at you smack in the nose. Even restlessness is as much a gift as the mess and pain one faces.
I actually had a wound care specialist talk about the art of healing horrible PPG wounds. It was fascinating for me to listen to her speak on the deep wonder she had for the complexity of the human body. The absolute uniqueness of every patient she saw. No case was ever the same. What works for one doesn’t work for the other. Some cases may be similar but they are always unique.
When faced with the grossness of the reality she faces in her work, instead of running away, she is inspired to heal and ease the pain. She said she often prays as she works, praying that God guides her hands. Not surprisingly, she had the most gentle touch I have ever experienced.
More amazing, God created bodily fluids – yucky! But his ways are not our ways. He loves us more then we can even imagine. In his great love he gave us his son on the cross. His passion, as a brilliant 8th grader told me, “that was really gross, I almost threw up!” Talk about restlessness.
So are you as restless as I am?
Let us pray to be stilled as only God can!
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
The Word of the Lord. Thanks Be to God.
Need to calm down more then let us rest together below.
Music: “Be Still” by Kari Jobe
Found on YouTube: KatyeIreland
Music: “Dry Bones” by Gungor
Video found on Phil Van Eck Youtube Channel
“The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; it was full of dry bones.” (Ezekiel 37:1)
These past few months have been difficult ones and that is why I have been away from my blog. As my last post in November stated I was late due to being sick. Those daily low grade fevers with severe pain continued through mid January and I was even hospitalized for 3 days just before Christmas.
During this period I also lost my apartment and had to move into my parent’s basement. Thank you Lord for family who loves us. Thank you Lord for those who serve others in need. I still find it disheartening that the sick often face homelessness in our country. I have surely been blessed though for I have a warm bed to rest these cold dry bones.
My malaise continues but we now understand better what is going on with my body. I will be going for a surgery consult in Denver in a few weeks because my gall bladder will need to be removed. We do not know if the surgery will help ease my symptoms and since this is my ninth surgery related to complications from Crohn’s we do know it will be complex in nature. We had to wait for a while because I developed a severe case of leukopenia which is where one’s white blood cells drop really low.
That problem has reverse naturally but I had to sequester myself at home as best I could. Even a simple cold could have been life threatening because I would not have been able to fight it. But I digress on the purpose of this reflection: Cold Dry Bones.
As I prepare for what lies ahead, I’m struck by the frigid tempatures outside. Just last night it got down to minus eleven degrees and wind chills down to minus 44. It has been such a harsh winter for so many of us in the states. I know for those of us who suffer from chronic and severe illnesses, frigid temps often mean more suffering and more pain. The cold is so harsh and makes our daily lives feel endless and meaningless. I know that during this period of suffering I have been feeling very dry.
When I was younger in life and experienced dryness in physical and spiritual life I use to feel panic. I saw that type of suffering almost like a punishment. But as I have grown closer to Christ I now understand that I am drawing so close to Christ on the cross that I can not see or feel his presence. He is hanging on the cross in death. Death is always cold and dry. So how can our hearts our souls not taste a bit of the cold and dryness He experienced in his passion.
In the midst of this mystery, those who experience this cold dryness are given a tremendous grace to grow deeper into Christ. We can choose to surrender ourselves, to offer our pain and to suffer with him. I find that I have to cling to the cross I share even though my thumbs and even my heart-strings are torn and numbed by the experience.
What does one do in the midst of the turmoil of chronic illness? How does one continue the fight to cling faithfully? How does one find hope?
The answer is simple. In the holy darkness. Yes, it is as dark and dry as a closed tomb. It is even scarier then the cold or pain of the cross. In that darkness we are alone. We are invited to enter the holy darkness of God. It is beyond our understanding and comprehension. But in the midst of that darkness, if we are truly receptive, God can do his best work in us.
Many saints and mystics share with us the darkness they have experienced during their lives. We can find strength in their words during our own dark nights. Here are a few:
- Blessed Teresa of Calcutta wrote to her Archbishop in 1961 to explain the condition of her soul:
“There is so much contradiction in my soul.—Such deep longing for God—so deep that it is painful—a suffering continual—and yet not wanted by God—repulsed—empty—no faith—no love—no zeal.—Souls hold no attraction—Heaven means nothing—to me it looks like an empty place—the thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God.—Pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything. For I am only His—so He has ever right over me. I am perfectly happy to be nobody even to God. . . . “
- Saint John of the Cross wrote once to a nun during a time of great trials:
“Do not let what is happening to me cause you any grief, for it does not cause me any. What
greatly grieves me is that the one who is not at fault is blamed. Men do not do these things, but God who knows what is suitable for us and arranges things for our good. Think nothing else that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love. “
- Diary of Saint Faustina:
“Jesus says; ‘My daughter, I want to instruct you on how you are to rescue souls through sacrifice and prayer. You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone. I want to see you as a sacrifice of living love, which only then carries weight before Me… And great will be your power for whomever you intercede. Outwardly, your sacrifice must look like this: silent, hidden, permeated with love, imbued with prayer.”
- St. Louis de Montfort, “Friends of the Cross”
Be resolved then, dear Friends of the Cross, to suffer every kind of cross without excepting or choosing any: all poverty, all injustice, all temporal loss, all illness, all humiliation, all contradiction all calumny, all spiritual dryness, all desolation, all interior and exterior trials. Keep saying: “My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready” (Ps. 56, 8). Be ready to be forsaken by men and angels and, seemingly, by God Himself. Be ready to be persecuted, envied, betrayed, calumniated, discredited and forsaken by everyone. Be ready to undergo hunger, thirst, poverty, nakedness, exile, imprisonment, the gallows and all kinds of torture, even though you are innocent of everything with which you may be charged. What if you were cast out of your own home like Job and Saint Elizabeth of Hungary; thrown, like this saint, into the mire; or dragged upon a manure pile like Job, malodorous and covered with ulcers, without anyone to bandage your wounds, without a morsel of bread, never refused to a horse or a dog? Add to these dreadful misfortunes all the temptations with which God allows the devil to prey upon you, without pouring into your soul the least feeling of consolation.
Firmly believe that this is the summit of divine glory and real happiness for a true, perfect Friend of the Cross.
Challenge for this week: Search for a saint to travel with you during this time of darkness, of illness, of trial. Ask them to pray for you and walk with you. Trust that they are your friend in heaven and they want to help you on your journey to the cross with Christ. Find a story, book, or prayer that you can keep of copy of near your bed. Read these words of encouragement in your dark dry cold times this week.
Search for a saint: http://saints.sqpn.com/
Are you in despair pray this simple prayer:
Lord, I am in this world to show Your mercy to others.
Other people will glorify You by making visible the power of Your grace by their fidelity and constancy to You.
For my part I will glorify You by making known how good You are to sinners, that Your mercy is boundless and that no sinner no matter how great his offences should have reason to despair of pardon.
If I have grievously offended You, My Redeemer, let me not offend You even more by thinking that You are not kind enough to pardon Me. Amen.
~St. Claude de la Colombiere for a young religious at the point of despair.
Rest in trust during darkness by watching or listening to the video below.
Music: “Satisfied in You” by the Song Team
Video found on YouTube.