05 December 2010

Guidance

Damn it, the girls at Sunday Scribblings have done it again. I thought I could get away with hiding this in the comments of someone else's blog, but....well, apparently not. So here's the preface: my beloved marathon-running friend Ruby has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, three weeks after dropping out of the Marine Corps Marathon at mile 18 because she couldn't see well enough to continue. They can't remove it. She'll die. They can't leave it in. She'll die. All they can do is "debulk" it (take some of it out), biopsy it for the presences of cancerous cells, and radiate the shit out of it. She can no longer see well enough to type, so she dictates blog posts to her husband, who types them out. And every single one of her blog posts begins and ends not with the litany of symptoms and fears and trials, but with how God is so good to her. In her most recent post, she gave her testimony--with, it must be noted, the caveat, "I hope this doesn't annoy or offend you, but it's my blog and I have a brain tumour, so naa neee naa neeee naa neeeee." God, I love Ruby. She's the only person I know who can make you laugh about something like that.

Anyway, at the conclusion of her post--which took her all day to write, typed one painstaking letter at a time on a hugely magnified, high-contrast screen so she could see what she was doing--she asked us to respond in the comments with our testimony. And, because she is Ruby, I did what I have never ever done. I committed this to print, and put it out there for the limited world to see, figuring only a very few people I know would ever see it, and because they're my running family, they love me unconditionally and would never give me shit about it.

And then Megg and Laini came along. Again.

So, here it is. This is the most naked and vulnerable thing I have ever written. Nothing's been changed. It's as real as I can make it. And it scares the ever-living hell out of me.

Philippians 2:12. I continue to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. This probably comes as a surprise. I talk a good game. But the road for me was never an easy one, and it still isn’t. I was raised Catholic, and Catholic the rest of my family remains (I’m the one responsible for those 37 praying nuns in Chicago, y’all. One of them’s my sister.) In my later high school and college years, I began a years-long struggle with what turned out to be major recurring depression–something that went undiagnosed until I was nearly 25 (whoops) and remain under treatment for, to one degree or another, to this day. I returned to the church my last semester in college, and though I didn’t realise it at the time, it saved my life. The Catholic Center at NYU was such a beacon in such a very, very dark winter that fifteen years later, I got married in the same stone building that had been my refuge, by the same priest who had in 1993 handed me a potato masher when I wandered into the Center in the middle of a Thanksgiving snowstorm contemplating suicide and said gently, “Oh good, you’re here. We need help in the soup kitchen.”

I graduated and moved to the Northwest. Depression came and went. I ached painfully for my church home, but was happy in Spokane in a way I had never been in New York. I got my master’s and came home (crying for Spokane the way I had once cried for the ugly church building on Washington Square South) and promptly started dating a nice, Southern Baptist boy. Oh, it was a match made in….I don’t know, the writers’ room of MadTV or something. But something happened. Actually, several somethings. One was that we started taking turns going to each other’s churches. I would bring him into the city (where the choir was thrilled to have a bass) and he would bring me to his church. Each of us had some culture shock at first. Depression, though, was lowering its wings around me. I was visiting my friend on the campus of Messiah College when I had my first–we don’t know what it is, whether it’s anxiety, or panic, or a flat-out suicidal breakdown. In any case, it wasn’t pretty. He drove me to Holy Spirit Hospital in Harrisburg, where they would have admitted me anyway given my body temperature and blood pressure, which were both alarmingly low, even if I hadn’t been in such mental disarray. I don’t talk about it much, and certainly not on the internet, but this wouldn’t be the last sojourn over the years to what my father insists on referring to as “Hotel Silly” (I myself prefer the phrase “hat factory”).

But something happened the first night, as I lay in my room, which was for the moment unoccupied by a roommate. I was alone in the room, and then….I wasn’t. I knew that the spirit of God was in the room with me. What’s more–and more peculiar–was that I knew the spirit of God was over in the corner, behind the door. At that point I started to second-guess what was happening, but then I figured, what the heck. I was already in the mental health wing, I might as well go with it. Suddenly, the spirit of God was not in the corner anymore. And I knew it was in me. And then, as I watched, my rib cage opened up like a gate, and an ivy plant spilled out from my chest. (Like I said, I figured I was already in the loony bin–what better place to have a hallucination of this sort, especially one that involves God as a plant?) For those of you who’ve seen my ankles, this is why my tattoo is of a tangled vine of ivy leaves.

When my friend came to visit me the next day, I asked him a favour. I asked him to bring me a New Testament. (Being Messiah College, he and his four suitemates fought over who was going to be the one to bring in their extra copy and witness to me!) I also, from a deep-seated habit, asked the nurse to arrange for the chaplain to bring me communion. I think the plant thing had me a little unnerved.

That fall, I asked to be baptised by full immersion. I had brought up the idea to my parents, who were for various reasons less than thrilled. It broke my heart. I had heard that men would have to leave their families to follow Jesus, but I never thought they meant me. My family already knew the Gospel. Didn’t they? On All Souls’ Day of 1997, in front of my friend’s congregation and without the knowledge or presence of my parents, I made my profession of faith and was baptized….again. My feeling at the time was that the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation happened too young, and under too much duress: I was in eighth grade, and my parents were the Confirmation class teachers. There was no way I wasn’t getting confirmed, even though in theory it’s the adult profession of faith made with full understanding. At 14? Not hardly.

Anyway, six months later I proceeded to get diagnosed with cancer. The treatment and recovery process was a whole different box of squeaky-toys, but the spring they found my tumour was one of the most peaceful times of my life. People at my new church prayed with and over me, prayed for healing, prayed for cures. When I prayed, I simply said “thank you.” I told them the truth–that it didn’t matter if I died. If I had just spent the last year of my life getting to know Jesus, that was cool with me. It was a heck of a way to go. Of course, since that was almost 13 years ago, that obviously isn’t how it went down, but I meant it at the time.

That’s where it should end. I found Christ, I kicked cancer’s butt and in the process started running. We’re good, right? It didn’t end there, of course. The church had a political implosion, they ousted the pastor, my deacon resigned and we found out he’d been having an affair with someone at his office. I shut down. Again. Add to that the return of major depression aggravated by “good heavens what have they done with my endocrine system?” and you have a whopping good time. I didn’t pray for something more interesting. I prayed for peace. For forgiveness–forgiveness for me, and for me to forgive God. I was angry. No, let me say that again. I was ANGRY. For a good number of years. I stopped going to church altogether. Worse, I stopped praying.

So here I am. In limbo. A weak candle flame, trying not to gutter out with every gust that comes along. A little lost, a little cynical, a little angry (still), a lot humbled, and yet….still….still, the coming of Advent, a little hopeful.

10 comments:

gs batty said...

I only have one question...why would the frailty of others remove you from the presence of God.?

joel said...

Hmm...perhaps because when we are young (metaphorically speaking), we lean on the strength of others while we are trying to learn how to walk ourselves. Learning the strength that was an example to us wasn't so strong after all can be a terrible blow. Think of a young child whose parents get divorced. The child's most visible stability in its life, as taken for granted as the floor you walk on, is suddenly gone. It is of course true that we should learn to rely solely on God's strength and run to him when everything around us falls apart, but that's something we learn as we grow. :)

thefirecat said...

gs batty, I'm going to throw a disclaimer on the response to your question: Joel is the above-mentioned Nice Southern Baptist Boy, who it must be said maintained a steadfast faith and friendship even when I was a complete shit about him breaking up with me, so he knows a lot more of the story than is written. (hi Troll!)

And I suspect he's right, that this was the reason I felt so betrayed. Actually, I'm pretty sure he's right. He's clever like that. Too bad I don't listen to him more often, I could have saved myself years of therapy.

But, gs, your simple question had me up half the night pondering, and I can't thank you enough for that. Because I'm NOT as a child anymore. Ahem. In theory. And while Joel's answer explains my reaction then, it doesn't explain my residual anger and distrust now. Thus, the fear and trembling.

There's more to the story than the post, but I'm still working it out. Some of it's still too new....and in places still too weird for me. But that simple question points me in a direction I obviously have needed to go for quite some time now, and is frankly the most obvious of all questions to ask. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it, and its timing.

And really, now I need to go chew on it some more. Because....well, you're right. It kind of IS a no-brainer when you put it that way.

Hmmmm.

joel said...

:)

Reflections said...

Chew on it some more, but also understand that it was by human choice that we ate from the apple... leading us in directions of temptations and questions. And tho, we may feel 'ANGRY' or lost, it is still the solitary set of footprints in the sand where we have come from. It may not feel that way, but faith tells us it is so.

Flying Monkey said...

Thank you for sharing such intimate thoughts and ponderings. I really enjoyed reading about your journey and the following conversation.
One of my spiritual teachers (a Buddhist monk) once said to me during a crisis of faith: "It's good to have doubts and questions - It will make you find answers!" I find that to be very true indeed and it helps me whenever I get stuck on my spiritual journey.
Lots of love to you,
Dani

Sweetest in the Gale said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences and making yourself so vulnerable...I was very touched by your story. Life is a difficult journey and it seems at times that the questions and uncertainties never end. Thank God for that little light inside of us that always continues to shine, even if it's just a flicker.

Jingle said...

bravo,
thought provoking post.
hope you well..
Blessings fly your way,
Happy Sunday!

Jingle from Sunday Scribbling.

wicked opinion said...

I am very moved by your story. I had a similar experience with the Holy Spirit a few years back and have since had a lot of doubts and despair. I wish I could get that feeling back - that sunlight through clouds, never alone again feeling. Hopefully, praying more will help. God bless you.

junkyardsalvation.com said...

Amazing. Thanks for sharing. You're making it a little easier for me to write a little braver. Thanks, Ms. Hot Kitty. (Okay, that sounds weird, but you know what I meant.)