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Monday, May 12, 2008

Suffering, Blessings, and Discernment

There's been a lot on my mind lately. A lot to sort out. And yet, it's still somehow all related.

Sister? Or Wife?

I've been thinking a lot lately about vocational discernment, what I learned from the past, and what I'm doing now. And I realize that when this all began, I wasn't ready, and may not be now, however, a lot has happened since then. I'm older, slightly wiser (not so much), and I've come to know God in a much deeper way.

I still remember when I told my family about what I was thinking, and how they weren't overly surprised. And after that, while my brother and his girlfriend just kinda let it be, each and every time Mom called, her first question was, "Do you still want to be a nun?"

Finally I told her not to ask me anymore...I didn't know, I didn't think so, I wasn't sure and that if I decided, she'd be the first to know. This time around, I haven't said a word about it to my family. I think Mom knows I went to visit the Sisters one evening but I painted the picture to seem different than it is and I haven't mentioned it since. She can learn when it's time...IF it's time. Likewise, only a few people I know are aware of this consideration, and they aren't speaking to anyone else...but they're praying for me.

I'm ready to take the next step...when my life provides me the opportunity. So it may be that I call the Sisters again to see if I can visit again for dinner and prayer (and this time I'm bringing chocolate AND my own Liturgy of the Hours!), until I can finally stay for at least the night, if not the weekend. I'm so grateful to God for His generosity; He's not asking me to go further than my life will allow. Yes, I need to make arrangements and make sacrifices, but I haven't yet reached that precipice that requires a great leap. It's not time yet.

The Blessing of Suffering

I have carpal tunnel syndrome. It appeared back in 1999, in the spring, after my first year as a ski patroller. My hands had been hurting for a few weeks, every time I skied, and I often flexed and stretched them on the ski lift, trying to relieve the pain. At the time, I thought nothing of it or the constant ache that followed. Then one weekend, I was hit hard by the viral thing going around. It was mostly aches and pains, a general feeling of exhaustion, and..well, I just felt "fluey".

At the time I was working nights, and so in the morning after my shift I took Nyquil so I could sleep. I kept waking up with numb hands. That evening, I woke up, went downstairs to get cleaned up...and nearly passed out. I had to sit down against the wall, and when the episode passed, I showered and got ready for work.

Then, suddenly, a rash appeared...all over, and it spread quickly. And again, I was light-headed and had to sit down. I realized I was in no condition to go to work, I was miserable, so I called in for the night and went back to bed. Repeatedly throughout the night I woke up with numb hands and pain in my wrists. In the morning I didn't feel better and the numbness was concerning so I called the doctor. No chance of getting in. I went to Urgent Care.

As it was, I discovered the symptoms that triaged me past the waiting room: numb hands, aching joints, general malaise, and a full-body rash. (Meningitis, anyone? Encephalitis?) The only symptom I was missing was a stiff neck. And I was terrified that was coming...that's exactly why I'd gone to Urgent Care instead of waiting. (That, and wanting relief from the numb fingers.)

The doctor told me that I had the flu, told me to go home and drink fluids (as opposed to what?). So I pressed him...what about the numbness in my hands? What's that about? He thought it was related to the flu-stiffened joints. Relieved, I went home, drank fluids, took some OTC meds and went to sleep.

But it was short lived. I woke up with a line of pain burning my hands and wrist...and my hands were numb. I shook them out and went back to sleep. I was awakened later...the burning line of pain had spread further, as had the numbness, quickly following. I got up, shook out my hands, and when I could feel them again, I laid back down. And woke up again. It wasn't long before that weird pain screamed up my arm, all the way to my shoulder. I couldn't even touch my elbow without shocks registering everywhere. I stood, stomped, shook my hands out and wept from the pain. The only reason I didn't go to the ER was that I had strong pulses in both wrists...I knew that this problem was neurological. I wasn't going to lose my hands, even though I couldn't feel them.

The next morning I went to Urgent Care, getting there as soon as it opened. I was exhausted from no sleep, but my hands were numb and I couldn't stand it! I also was seen quickly that morning, and that doctor was extremely helpful. She had me place my elbow on a table and she bend my hand was IMMEDIATELY numb. She did the same with my other hand, and diagnosed...Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. She got my history, and realized that this condition was not a result of the flu, but of a separate issue. She prescribed wrist braces, and even a wrap for my right elbow.

I wore those braces for more than six months...taking them off meant numbness. When I had to wash them, I did so in the evening and wore my rollerblading braces at night. Slowly, the lines of pain up my arms receeded, and finally, I had feeling in my fingers. But for weeks, the tips were numb, and I had trouble discerning hot and cold water. The nerve was so messed up I knew temperature through common sense but not through feeling.

You may wonder why I bring this up. It's simple; because ultimately, that suffering was a blessing. And I still experience it. I never had the surgery and it's never been suggested for me. But I frequently wake up with numb hands, I frequently experience shocks through my elbow, and often, my hands hurt.

This is actually very useful when considering the suffering of Christ. The nails that pierced Him, according to Roman torture traditions, rubbed on the median nerve, which sends shocks of unspeakable pain all the way to the spine and beyond. It's torturous to the entire body.

When I truly consider this pain, I remember that night, I remember my own pain, and I am literally brought to tears for what He suffered...and my own pain can't even come CLOSE to the agony of that nail rubbing against that sensitive nerve in Jesus' arm.

For one of my classes this semester, we've been reading about the Cross and the necessity of it, and of Christ's well as our own ability to console Him by offering our own sufferings, uniting ourselves with Him.

I now see this condition of mine as a blessing, and as much as I want to curse it, I realize that it has brought me closer to Jesus. It has given me a tiny understanding of His immense pain...suffered for me. It is only right that I not escape unscathed, without pain, without suffering.

I thank God for my carpal tunnel syndrome. Even now I am feeling pinpricks of pain, strange numbness and lately, my hands have been hurting. But it doesn't matter anymore. I'm comfortable with this condition. I'm joyful in it. And in 1999, I would NEVER have believed I could come to such acceptance.

A little faith and a little understanding really goes a long any type of suffering. We just have to be willing to embrace it.


Amanda said...

I can totally relate to the carpal tunnel. I developed it in mid 90s after working in a library shelving books. Talk about pain. Computer work did not bother it but shelving and reshelving did!

Padre Steve said...

What community or communities are you looking into? I know there are many and varied charisms and so many orders to choose from. I know it can be overwhelming... But, keep smiling! I know God will lead you to where He wants you to go! God bless you! Padre Steve, SDB

Anonymous said...

Many prayers coming your way! Please know you'll also be placed on the Altar at Mass this week.

Re: suffering - mine - Rheumetoid Arthritis & other auto-immune diseases. And yes, we are truly blessed to be able to suffer with Jesus. To offer up all of our aches & pains to Him for souls.