A Cross to Bear
September 1, 2013
In 1976, a few months after I married, I began having huge moments of time that seemed lost to my memory. The most apparent proof of that came when my husband and I spent the day walking through Torreya State Park, at least, that's what he said and the photographs documented. The problem was, I had no recollection of any of that day or the places we visited in the pictures. After a series of tests, it was determined that although there was no damage to my brain caused from a trauma, I definitely was having petit mal seizures, which in most states, is grounds to lose your driver's license unless you have documented proof of having them under control with medication.
So the beginning of treatment using medication to control seizures began.
Years later, after Allie was born, I was still struggling from time to time with a recurring seizure which caused more of an embarrassment to me than anything else, though seizure activity over time can cause damage to the brain. Joe and I had become active in St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. We had each experienced a strengthening in our faith through separate weekends in Cursillo experiences and had been invited to join a small group within the church, called Earthen Vessels, who met on Wednesday evenings for prayer and communion. I remember loving the young couples who felt so strongly about their faith. Many nights I prayed with all my heart, asking God, to remove these seizures from me. I was slowed by the medication, embarrassed by the incidents in public and wanting to have another child but afraid of what the medication would do.
As time passed and the seizures continued, I lost any understanding of why God had not answered my prayers for healing. There was no damage to my brain so the seizures seemed to come from nowhere and would not leave me.
I became frustrated and was readily willing to prove that God does not answer all our prayers. With time we left the church.
When Rick Warren from his Saddleback Church returned to the pulpit after the suicide death of his son, I heard him say, "Even though I do not understand why God did not hear my prayers to heal my son's mental illness, my lack of understanding will not lead me away from God. The devil has messed with the wrong family, now."
Faith without understanding is the challenge of a mature Christian. We wll suffer and grieve like all others. There will be setbacks and even total loss, but in those times, It is up to us as individuals to grab hold of the faith we have and to stay focused on God's love and His Holy Word. We do not have the capacity of knowing, seeing and understanding what God has in His loving will for us. The moment of loss of understanding is when we truly begin our walk in faith. We tell the devil and all his evil ways that in spite of our pain and our loss, we will not forsake our faith in God.
Twenty years after I walked away from my close relationship with God, I was working with four other Kindergarten teachers in pre-school planning. At one of those meetings, the principal explained that a five year old with grand mal seizures was on our roster and he asked, "Do any of you volunteer to take Jeremy?" After a few mintues of listening to squabbling and backing out and statements of "there's no way I can handle that!", I volunteered. I felt God fill me with peace in that moment and a confidence that not only would I be fine with him in my classroom but so would Jeremy. I understood seizures as a medical condition and not anything that defined the child.
During that year, 911 was called three times for Jeremy at school. His dad was a sheriff's deputy and had many friends working with law enforcement, fire departments and EMT services so they were always wonderful help when called. I taught the other children how to exit a room to an adjoining classroom to remove them from all the activity around Jeremy and to alleviate their concerns. On one incident in the classroom, Jeremy went into a grand mal seizure on the rug. I went to his side while instructing my little troopers to line up facing the adjoining class and gave directions to the leader to start walking across the shared kitchen area to my co-workers classroom. My classroom assistant dialed 911 and notified the office and then joined my other children.
While resting my hand on Jeremy, I saw his tongue extended and his face turning purple so I gently rolled him to his side which opened up his breathing passage. The EMTs arrived and took him to the hospital.
The following summer his family took him to a children's hospital in Miami which had excellent services in neurology, especially child onset of seizures. His seizures began to decrease in number and he began to heal. I learned so much from Jeremy and his parents and I learned a lot about myself and the depth of calmness I have in a storm. I thanked God that I was there for this child. His parents told me I was a "God send" which was far more praise than I deserved, but now I know it was not about me being anything. It was about God using me to care for another when most people would shy away from it.
In all these years later, I have finally learned a lesson. We may be given a "cross to bear". And often, it will be a cross that we do not understand. It may be a cross that no amount of faithful service or fervent prayer removes from our lives. God did not remove the cross where Christ was crucified. Jesus understood that to reach his Heavenly home in the form of man he would have to suffer and die. We will face challenges. We will have "crosses to bear". We will face aging and feel its limitations. We will experience deep grief and loss and have no understanding but what I learned from Jeremy is this. If we keep ourselves open to God's word, His love, His still voice, we will see him use our "cross" to help others in a way no one else can help. When facing a "cross" we must lose our need to understand "why" and change our focus to "how can I use this to help others?"
God used me to help Jeremy and his family get through an extrememly frightening time when he was having endless seizures and was in constant danger of physical harm. The seizures and medication were doing irreperable damage to his brain. I was placed in their lives to be a voice of calm and hope and caring because I understood seizures better than anyone else on the staff. God used my "cross" to lighten the burdens of others. God will use Rick Warren to help others with mental illness. He announced from the pulpit on his first return, "I will use this to help those with mental illness where there is little understanding and hope." Let God use you and your "cross" to help others.
In my last year of teaching, Jeremy's dad, who still worked for the Sheriff's Dept. was hired to work in the high school where I was teaching. I walked out of my classroom to hear him talking about the year in Kindergarten with Jeremy and when he saw me, he hugged me with one of those amazing hugs where you can feel God's love pass through you. Tears were in his eyes, and he said, "She literally saved my son's life." I knew I did not do it. God did. And the burden of that cross was lifted and seemed lighter than air. My 40 years with seizures and medication had served a purpose. My "cross" made a difference and I was a witness to it all.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Teach us to stop asking why and begun to start asking how. "How can I use this "cross" to make a difference in the lives of others?" Use me, Lord, in a way only you can see and know. Let me experience the joy of making a positive difference in others' lives. Use me, Lord.
In Jesus' Name,