Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How Sickness and the Spirit Taught Me Surrender

Being sick is no fun. Being sick all the time is even less fun (that's negative numbers of fun, for all you non-math majors out there!). But that's my life, and that's been my life for four years. I have a rare disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, type 3 hypermobility, which pretty much means that my collagen, which makes up roughly 80 percent of the body's structures, is faulty and fragile. It's not at all pleasant — have you ever sprained your ankle? Imagine that kind of pain, but spread through every part of your body. Even my ribs manage to dislocate sometimes!

Me (in the center with the bad dye job), a month after my diagnosis, at the 2011 Steubenville West Youth Conference
But honestly, you wouldn't know that just by looking at me. I'm a pretty absurdly cheerful and peaceful person, considering. That wasn't always the case, however. When I was first diagnosed, I was floored. I was a bright, proud, strong girl of 14. Sure, I was lonely and awkward, still wounded from many years of verbal and psychological abuse from a mentally ill sister, but I was sure that if I could control my own life, I would finally be happy. I had dreams of becoming an officer in the U.S. Air Force, and one day a mother. I had every step of my life planned out, until a nasty pain in my left wrist drove me first to one doctor, then another. I went numb as the fifth doctor told me that my ligaments were fragile, and that the pain in my arm would slowly spread to every part of my body. And I remember the cold feeling that flooded my brain when the doctor told me that I was going to be confined to a wheelchair by the time I was 20, and that I could fully expect to be dead by the age of 60, as the disease would eventually affect my heart. I would never be a candidate for the military, and I would probably never be a mother, thanks to fragile organs. I cried out to God on the way home and for many months afterwards, begging Him for the reason why. Eventually, that turned into me begging Him to kill me, because I didn't think my life was even going to be worth living. My tightly planned life had been hit by a tidal wave, and I was being spun around, directionless.

And in the middle of this storm, I started getting followed by a relentless call to surrender. The readings at Mass, the talks at my youth group, even songs on the radio, all prodding my heart with the idea of trusting God. I didn't know if I could, but I started small. Pavement under my proverbial fingernails, I started by giving God the smallest annoyances in my life. The first and greatest was a pan of brownies that I was worried wasn't going to turn out right (you can read the hilarious story in its entirety here!), but I worked my way up. A test I was worried about. A trip to the doctor's office. An argument with a friend. With every one of those little things, I just told God to take them and use them for His greater glory, and teach me to follow His will and not mine. And slowly, a small, quiet measure of peace started to creep into my restless soul. I began to pray like crazy, almost constantly, just keeping up a conversation with God. And I remember one late night, after several straight hours of just talking to God, that I gave Him my ultimatum: either He kill me right then, or He take my life in another way and help me to be the person He made me to be. He had it all. Since I'm still alive today, I think we know which choice He picked, right?

May 24, 2014: My high school graduation, which I celebrated in a wheelchair (my youngest brother is passed out on my lap)
Peace didn't happen right away — not at all. I still had a lot of bad days and a lot of pain to work through. God showed me His amazing love, sometimes literally knocking me to the floor with it. Last year, while on retreat, while I was resting in the Spirit during adoration, He told me what He wanted me to do with my life: love. He filled my heart with peace on that retreat and promised that it would never, ever run out as long as I was with Him (Bonus to praying a lot: Eventually, you learn to recognize when God is saying things. It's the oddest feeling, like a thought you never thought that's suddenly there. I'll explain eventually!) And those two gifts, peace and love, are what get me through every single day, and they're where my joy comes from. Yeah, I've lost a lot: my health, my dreams, my entire worldview. But they're nothing, less than nothing, compared to Whom I've found.

Steubenville West 2013 (I'm the one standing, on level with the monstrance!)
It's a great contradiction, that we humans think that the way to be peaceful and happy in our lives is if everything happens the way we want it; in reality, the opposite is true. Peace and joy, the kind that lasts, is found only in surrendering ourselves to God's will. And when you have those, whatever pain you're going through doesn't even matter in the face of God's love. Maybe the peace and joy won't all come at once, and maybe the bad things in life will seem so huge that you'd rather die than face them. But that's your call to surrender. Stop fighting the will of God just because it's not the will of you. You are an amazingly loved person, and yes, I am kinda saying that because it's my job, but I'm also saying it because it's true. You, with all of your crosses, all of your amazing talents and gifts, are loved for exactly who you are. And all of them were given to you so that you could give them right back to the Creator and He could show you what you were meant to do with them. Surrender them to God, and be filled with peace.


(Author's Note: Yes, I know that this didn’t exactly stay on track about my disease. But, goshdarnit, I was asked to write about surrender, and that always turns into me talking about God's love for everyone. I should come with a warning label!)


  1. Wow. That was profound and inspiring, and may or may not have made me tear up at work. I will not admit to is, as there is still a possibility that someone is cutting up onions.

  2. Amazing. When i read the last paragraphs, talking about how praying a lot let's you know when God's talking to you - yup. I know that.

  3. Thank you, Tani! Your blog hit me right smack dab where I needed to be hit ... like a virtual smack on the side of my head, except that it was a spiritual arrow that blindsided me, embarrassed the heck out of me, yet brought me a sense of peace I did not expect. Thank you for sharing the secret of your strength! God bless you!

  4. You have written here a great blog on sickness and spirit taught you.Really a inspirational blog. Thanks and keep sharing.

  5. Thank you for sharing that. I identified with the struggle to surrender but I'm also inspired by what God's done with your life