The Anchoress is conducting an online retreat, and the first post addresses something I have been struggling with for the past several weeks. Sometimes what you need to hear comes when you least expect it.
When I was 23 years old. I'd just started my first real job after college, and I had plans to go to graduate school to study psychology. I'd also begun to explore converting to Catholicism. I still lived at home with my mother and brother, and my mother was in no hurry for me to be out on my own.
By the time I turned 24, my entire life had changed. After several months of increasingly severe illness, I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. I had been so sick for so long, I was convinced I was dying. Getting a diagnosis, even one of an incurable disease, was a relief. Through all the pain and all the worry, I never asked why me. I never got angry with God. My attitude was always, "Why not me?"
During my illness, my mother and I had conversations about life in general, our lives in particular, and what comes after. We'd never had these conversations before and probably wouldn't have if it hadn't been for the illness. One day, my mother was cooking dinner while an Oprah show on near-death experiences was on TV in the background. Out of the blue, my mother looked at me and said, "I'm not worried about what happens after I die. I know where I'm going." Then she turned back to the boiling pot on the stove.
Five weeks after my diagnosis, my mother died from a massive cerebral aneurysm. Again, I didn't ask why me. I didn't get angry with God. Like my mother said over the stove that day, I knew where she was going. God was ready for her to come home, and she was in a better place. I didn't know why she had to go, but one day I would.
Her death also allowed me to find some meaning in my illness. My mother and I, although always close, had learned many things about each other we'd probably never discussed otherwise. I was also able to put my illness into perspective. Sure, Crohn's sucks, but there are things that hurt much worse. There is pain that can't be treated by any drug, just endured.
Fast forward 16 years. In that span, I'd lost my colon and about 2 feet of small bowel, but I had been in remission, save one mild occurrence, for over ten years. I'd converted to Catholicism but fell away from the Church for reasons I still don't understand. I finally found the man who became my husband, and we were trying to get pregnant.
I'd began to feel sick about four months ago. I had a lot of abdominal pain, and I went to the doctor twice believing I had a kidney infection. She couldn't find anything wrong, but, when she did my bloodwork, my sed rate was 90, a sure indication of inflammation. The next week, I ended up in the ER with a fever and worsening pain. Not only did the CT scan find Crohn's, it also found a small bowel abscess. That is never good.
My reaction to the news was completely opposite from my reaction 16 years before. I didn't understand what I'd done to deserve this. Hadn't I had enough crap for one lifetime? Why did God hate me? Why me? I sobbed, I yelled, I threw things.
The first retreat post from the Anchoress really hit home. I have been struggling to find some meaning in this, and maybe I just need to listen. Maybe it's time to return to the Church and fill this spiritual hole my separation has caused. Maybe it's not in God's plan for me to have children. I don't know, but I haven't really taken time since my diagnosis to just be and listen for His will.
When I was sick the first time, my cousin's son was little boy who asked questions wise beyond his years. I tried to explain to him why I wasn't mad about what was happening to me. I told him that you cannot really know joy unless you've known suffering, and, in the end, when I return to the Father, I will be made whole. No more Crohn's, no more meds, no more surgery.
I believed it then, and I believe it now. I think I just forgot for a while.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.