Tag Archives: health

When You Lose Your Faith

30 Sep
Death

Death (Photo credit: tanakawho)

This is a re-post of something I wrote for Reverie Slice last October.  Just thought I’d post the full text here as well.

 

I think when we lose faith, faith in God, faith in an institution, a book, a person…it hurts.  As Gerald Sittser has said, “All loss is loss”.  No matter whether it’s a relationship, your cat, or a loved one.  Losing something you loved hurts, including your faith in God.

For me, I’ve had to come to grips that in one sense, I will never totally be over the loss.  I will always have a certain amount of unease between myself and believing friends and family.  I will always feel the loss of community that was once church.  I’ll never have what I once had, in quite the same way.  It’s gone…forever.

Loss and hurt is something we tend to avoid at all costs.  When I was younger, I imagined myself living to be a hundred years old.  My thinking was, if I could eat right, take care of myself, and live a good godly life-then I could put the inevitable loss of life on the back burner.

My faith in God was another way to try to avoid the reality of loss.  I mean, if God was just collecting all my friends and family for a big party in the afterlife, then why did I have to feel so bad about their deaths?  Death wasn’t a time of sadness, but a mere interruption of our eternal existence that was to be reunited after my own death.  I believed this with all my heart and even felt that showing emotions such as sadness or tears were signs of weakness and lack of faith.  Needless to say, for someone who was very emotional, trying to keep any emotions hidden from sight was an enormous effort, and depressing at times.  I didn’t feel safe crying, let alone crying in front of another human being.

I was only 18 years old when I got my first taste of death.

Pop-Pop

My Pop-Pop was a kind old likable soul.  He wasn’t a central figure of my life, but he was someone I always loved and enjoyed being around.  We would be at his home for almost every holiday and it was a great time to be together with all of my cousins.

Sometimes Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop would visit us on our Jersey Shore vacations and he would let me pepper him with questions about the good old days.  It never occurred to me that someday Pop-Pop might get sick and die, it was if I couldn’t even believe that death would ever visit me and my loved ones.  But like all gambling houses, the house always wins in the long run.

Sickness and the Smell of Death

I was just finishing up my first year of college when I got the news that my Pop-Pop was sick.  He had suffered severe heat attacks but always recovered to the point of drinking and smoking again, this time would probably be no different…right?

My mom called me and asked if I wouldn’t mind staying the Mom-Mom to help her care for my Pop-Pop.  I told her I wouldn’t mind and jumped in my car to travel the 15 minute drive to my grandparents home.

As I walked in the front door, I smelled it for the first time.  That smell that can’t be washed off and disguised no longer how hard my Mom-mom tried.  It was the smell of death.

Pretending Not to Notice

As I settled in for the weekend, I did what I always did when confronted with uncomfortable reality, I pretended.  I told myself to ignore the smell and just act normal.  I spent most of my time reading Utopia by Thomas Moore and being ready to help my Pop-Pop get out of bed to go to the bathroom or to go to the couch to watch TV.

At nights, I tried to sleep, but I was restless between trying to ignore the death in the air and being ready to help my Pop-pop get up and go to the bathroom.

On one of these trips he nearly fell over and I grabbed him and steadied him.  He thanked me and sweetly told me how he would have fallen over if I hadn’t been there.  I shrugged off the compliment and acted as if I did this sort of thin all the time.  A couple of days later, my time of helping out was over and I went back to my life at college.

What I didn’t know was that I would never see Pop-Pop alive after those moments.

A Funeral Without Tears

Within a week from my time with Pop-Pop, he was dead.  I don’t even remember the official cause of death.  I didn’t cry, I didn’t do anything except ask for the essential info about the upcoming funeral.  I told no one about the loss and I continued life for 2 or 3 days as if nothing had occurred.

On the day of the funeral, I traveled to my parents home and made the journey to the Catholic church 2 blocks over from where he used to live.  It was a sunny, warm fall day and I sat through the mass, emotionless.  Imagining to myself that somehow withholding my tears was an act of mature faith.

At one point I approached his open coffin, looked him in the face and stoically accepted that death was finally here.  It was here to stay, but somehow faith would shield me from the grief.  I turned and walked away as we prepared to carry Pop-Pop out of the church and drive him to his place in the earth.

At the gravesite, I played an instrumental guitar piece I had written as a farewell to a man who loved music, but never truly mastered any instrument.  Most everyone was crying and hugging me.  But I was stiff and cold towards the show of emotion.

It would be over a week before I actually cried and admitted the sense of loss that ached in my chest.

The Wonder Years

If you’re gasping at how emotionally immature I was, you’d be right to be surprised.  The depth of my emotional immaturity was great.  But I’ve overcome many my fears about loss and I’ve learned to live in the wonder of life itself, while knowing that life can not last forever.

So while loss hurts, I no longer deny that it hurts.  I no longer feel obligated to keep my tears from flowing or my heart hidden and locked away for only God to see.

And loss of faith has been no different.  It has had it’s share of hurt.  But instead of denying it, I’ve learned to embrace the loss and let it teach me about what I really find true and worthy of my time.

And here’s what I’ve found….when you lose your faith, you regain a sane perspective about life and the one’s you love.  I’ve found that I no longer feel an urgency about God and his will.  Instead of striving to know God through church and quiet times,  I strive to listen and love my wife and children.  I look at them and know that I will not have them forever.  But until that day when there is no strength in my bones and breath seems like a burden, I’m going to love and enjoy them for the wild, crazy people they are.

My hope is that when I leave this world, they will sit and weep, laugh, and curse me for the person I was and the person I wasn’t.  I hope they will feel the freedom to let their emotions flow and say to each other the things that need to be said, lay me to rest, and say goodbye with deep affection.

In short, I’ve found that when you lose your faith, you get back your life.

A life that has no guarantees and can hurt like hell, but a life full of wonder, surprises, and adventures that can only be lived with eyes wide open, instead of a life spent holding back and waiting for death to truly begin to live.

And Then He Was Gone…

24 Sep
Depression

Depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had another dream about him last night.  Even after all these years he still haunts me.  Not that I mind, it reminds me that I cared about him and care about those he left behind.

Keith-My Cousin

Keith was my cousin, but I didn’t meet him until his early teens when his Dad married my Aunt.   It was my first experience with a blended family.  Two sisters and three brothers now occupied my Aunt’s hallways when before there had only been the girls.  Those early years of visiting my Aunt’s (and new Uncle) home was filled with a ton of activity and excitement.  Of the three new cousins, Keith was outgoing, but not overly so like his younger brother.  But he could also be shy and sensitive, but not as introverted and awkward as his older brother.  He was like the perfect blend of my other two cousins; he was well liked and very talented.

The first time I ever envied him was after he was chosen to appear in a local TV ad for a very popular candy company.  In the ad, Keith was shown walking with a pretty blond-haired girl, walking and talking as the shared a tasty treat.  The ad aired during the broadcast of a local sporting event, and I was instantly jealous that my new cousin was on TV.  I grew even more envious when I learned he had been paid hundreds of dollars to appear in the commercial.  He was so lucky….I was so boring and broke.

As we grew older and went to college, I only ever saw Keith at the holidays when we would gather to feast on my Uncle’s cooking.  At these events, I’d catch up with Keith about college and other small talk.  But I sort of lost touch with him other than these few family get-togethers.  One year, he was trying to earn some extra cash by selling Ginsu knives.  I remember my family being gracious and even a few sales were made.  Keith was always so good natured and humble.  I thought he had the world at his feet.  But I was wrong….

Personal Demons

I really was unaware of Keith’s inner struggles.  I had just seen him at my cousin’s wedding.  He was handsome and looked sharp in his suit.  He was quiet, but spoke of his job and plans for a hiking trip with his brothers.  We laughed across the table at the wedding reception and had a generally good time in each other’s company.  I had no idea he was struggling.

Later that summer, my folks called to ask me to keep Keith in my prayers.  He had lost or quit his job (we never really found out) and moved back to my Aunt’s to live, at age 34.  My folks also said that Keith was struggling with depression and that my Aunt and Uncle were very worried for him.

I immediately began to pray for Keith.  I prayed that he would come to know Jesus and that the demons of depression would be bound from his life.  I prayed for him every day and even considered going over to visit him now that he was back in the area.  But I never got the chance.

Darkness

A few weeks later, my Aunt was home early from work and decided to check on Keith.  He had been staying in their basement converted apartment, while he tried to find new work and sort out his struggle with depression.

She called out for Keith at the top of the stairs…but no answer.  She decided to go down and check on him.  Opening the door to his room, she saw what no earthly mother should ever have to see.  She saw Keith hanging from the ceiling; lifeless, dead, gone.  The darkness of depression had won.  My prayers had failed.

Keith had taken his own life by hanging himself in my Aunt’s basement.

Why?

It’s been almost 20 years since my cousin’s death, and I still can’t tell you why he chose suicide over life.

Was it the loss of identity because of his job?  Was it because he was gay (something I didn’t know until after his death)?  Did he have AIDS?  Did he get fired for being gay?  Was he just a mentally depressed person by genetics? Why didn’t my prayers of protection and binding work?  Why would God allow this?  Why did God allow my Aunt to find him?  Why didn’t God do something?  Why, Why, Why!!!!????

The Dream

In the dream, we were all sitting around my Aunt’s kitchen table.  I think we were playing cards at the beach house, like we used to when we were all kids.  But this time we were all grown up.

We all seemed to be having a good time when Keith’s face appeared around the corner of the kitchen doorway.  It startled me a bit, because I remembered that Keith was dead.  But for a brief moment, he appeared around the corner and was being pushed towards the door in a wheelchair, by a man no one knew.  As he was wheeled through the kitchen, Keith turned his head slightly and acknowledged us with a slight nod.  A nod that was knowing, knowing that this might be our last goodbye.  We all nodded back in deathly silence, acknowledging his injury and his movement towards the door.

Maybe there was nothing that could have been said to stop him.  Maybe he felt like a cripple with no hope of ever rising to walk again.  Maybe the mystery man was death, a welcome friend at this point in Keith’s life….I just don’t know.

He then turned his head, the mystery man escorted him out of the house…and then he was gone.

And I awoke.

Vaccines-A Video

23 Sep

Evangelism and Disabilities: A Personal Perspective

24 Apr
English: A collection of pictograms. Three of ...

English: A collection of pictograms. Three of them used by the United States National Park Service. A package containing those three and all NPS symbols is available at the Open Icon Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last fall, I received an email that raised an important question about Evangelistic efforts to people with disabilities.  The question was born out of some discussion about Young Life and it’s efforts in this area (Caperneum).

Here’s some of what they wrote:

” I apologize if this is a long e-mail.

Well I came across your blog when I was googling YL stuff. To give you a little bit of background, I recently graduated from a faith based college but I only spent two years there. It was quite a cultural shock since I was raised Catholic. This college didn’t have you sign anything, so there were a fair amount of non-believers at the school. Near the end of my last year, I was really thinking of writing some sort of book that highlights some of the bad stuff that goes behind the scenes and Christian schools/camps.”

“I also wanted to add a little bit of my personal experience in there as well. I also was raised with a disability (cerebral palsy to be specific) but its a very mild case of it. I also came to experience a fair amount of super fake Christians at the college as well. I personally think my disability had a lot to do with it. I’m not sure how much you touched on disabilities and Christianity in your blog, but I personally think it would interesting to explore the dynamic between the two. Since moving back I’ve been hesitant to join a church because of what I had experienced with the people at my college so it’s been a little bit of, well do I still believe in the “God” they were preaching at the college, and are all Christians going to treat me this way?”

First off, thank you for sharing a bit of your story and about your disability.  It’s a topic close to my heart because I have a child with a mental disability.  If you read early on, here at the ChristianAgnostic, then you may remember a series of posts called Staring Into the Abyss.  It was a three part series, chronichling the birth of my youngest and his struggle to come home from the hospital alive.  You can read them here, here, and here if you care to know more about his story.

While all ends well and he recovers to come home with us….it’s not the end of the story.  You see, right before he was discharged, my wife and I were informed that we needed to sit down with his doctor.  We assumed it was just to go over all the relevant details before sending us off unto the sunset for a happily ever after.

Instead, we were given a quick medical lesson on the dangers of Oxygen and the possible side effects of Cerebal Palsy.  For nearly two months, the only reason our son was able to survive was because of the feeding tubes and Oxygen pumps that helped sustain him.  What our doctor explained, is that Oxygen is actually poisonous over it’s normal 22% level and can cause permanent side effects and even brain damage (Cerebal Palsy).

This was quite a shock.  We assumed that we were out of the woods, and now, just as we are about to punch out and head home, we we’re being told that our son may have permanent physical and mental disabilities.  We were crushed.

One of the issues, was pyhiscal.  He was not responding normally to the physical check ups and his legs and arms were unable to extend normally.  We were told by a nurse that she doubted if our son would ever walk.  I couldn’t beleive my ears.  We had come all this way, cheated death three times, and now I was bringing a son home who would be in wheel chair for life?  Not that I wouldn’t have done it, but it was just such unexpected news and it hit us like a cement truck.

But wait, there’s more, said the doctor…not only is it possible that his physical abilities will be limited, but there was a large chance that he would suffer from mental disabilities as well.  We had heard of Cerebral Palsy, but he explained that it was a general term and that it could manifest itself in a wide range.  On the extreme range was a vegetable like mental state, on the mild side, disabilities like dyslexia or ADD might manifest as he grew up.

We were floored and tried to digest the news.  When I got home from the hospital, that day, I dropped into my bed and wept and moaned so loud, that my other children came running started crying too.  I tried to stop, I didn’t want to upset my kids, but I couldn’t help it.  I was in too much shock and overwhelmed by emotion.

As the Years Rolled On

In his first days home, my son had physical therapy sessions and was soon able to extend his arms and legs.   He actually began to walk before he was nine months old.  Yes, to everyone’s amazement, he was developing faster physically than most children that were born without incident.  His brushes with death didn’t slow him down and he soon began to walk, run, and climb.  In fact, he is so adept physically that sometimes we joke about the original prognosis that he wouldn’t even walk.

I am amazed whenever I see him run like a deer and remember back to that day we were told that he probably never walk!!!

But on the other side of it, we did notice that he seemed “off” to us.  He was slow to speak, and then when he did begin, it was almost a compulsive monologue of quotations from various cartoons he had watched.  We had him evaluated and he was diagnosed with Autism.  We’ll never know if the autism was linked to his early struggles for life (as an aside, I do not believe there is any merit to the idea that autism is caused by vaccinations) but the warning that he might have a mental disability was coming to pass.

Autism:What’s It All About?

For the last decade, we have become well acquainted with autism and it’s many forms.  For our son, he is very functional and is able to be in a normal classroom setting for 90% of his school day.  He does have some support, but it is more on the social side of things that he fluctuates.   He can be hyperactive and was a risk for running straight out our door, down the block, and out onto the highway.  It was scary because he was both fast and unaware at the great danger he was putting himself into.  Somehow, we managed to help him learn boundaries and some basic safety.

I could go on and on about his unique struggles and talents as it relates to autism, but I’ll leave that to move on the question of Evangelism to folks (like my son) that have a disabilitiy.

In my son’s case, another effect of his autism is his extreme literal thinking.  He struggles mightily to understand metaphoriocal speech and exxageration.  Forms of speech that you or I might instinctively know were just examples, he might take as literal truth.  The other struggle, is that once he has an idea in his head, very often he can not rid himself of it without flying off the handle emotionally or having a “meltdown” as we call it.  Any parent dealing with an autistic child will know exactly what I mean by this.   It is extremely frustrating and takes great effort and patience to help him move beyond his current thoughts or expectations.

This scares me when I think of how he might try and apply the Bible and some of it’s sayings.  What would happen if someone told him he needed to read the Bible and obey it’s teaching?  How would he react to Jesus when he says to cut off your hand or foot if it causes you to sin?  

To you or I, we may try and reason though such a saying. But to my son, his disability can hamper his reasoning skills and get him stuck on a horrific thought with lasting consequences if he follows through with literal obedience.

I’ve rambled on and have many more thoughts on the subject…but I would seriously like to hear from folks that have disabilities and how the Evangelistic efforts of Christians have affected them or their loved ones with a disability.

Thanks again for the emails and the awesome question!

 

 

Staring Into the Abyss-Part 2

25 May

You can read Part 1 here

After arriving home with my wife, we made hasty arrangements for our other children to be cared for.  It was hard, explaining to our young children why their brother had not come home yet.  We didn’t lie to them, but we didn’t want to overburden their little hearts.  We said that their brother was sick and that he would be home as soon as he was better.  They seemed concerned, but were soon back to playing with toys and excited that Grandma was going to be watching them for a while.

As soon as Grandma arrived, my wife and I jumped back into the car to be with our son.  The hospital had called while we were home and reported that he was not doing well.  On the drive down, my wife and I talked some, but mostly listened to some brooding songs from the latest Jars of Clay CD.  It was cold outside and the slow, brooding, acoustic based music seemed to fit our emotional state.

We arrived back at the Children’s Hospital, parked the car and embarked to see our son.  We also were scheduled to meet the head Doctor leading the effort to save our son.

The Gentle Doctor

As we stepped off the elevator, we were greeted and quickly escorted to our son’s bedside.  I already felt like this had become my second home, having already spent the night at his side.

He was still alive, but barely.  Not only was his oxygen low, but he was now fighting a “super bug” that was very deadly.  His heart rate was up too high…..a nurse would adjust something and his heart rate would stabilize but his oxygen would dive.   I could tell that a high level of concern was occupying the nurses tending him and his many machines.

After a few minutes, the head Doctor arrived to introduce himself.  He was a middle aged man, dark skin, gentle voice with a slight Indian accent.  As we talked, he very patiently explained that our son’s condition was very common.  He then asked, in his gentle voice, if we wanted the good news or bad news first.

We both said   “Good news…please!”.

The good news was that 90% of the children that have my son’s condition will eventually recover and the recovery will be 100%.  In other words, he would go home and grow up and this event would have no long term effects on his health.  We were relieved to hear it.

“But what’s the bad news?” I asked.

The Doctor lowered his voice a little and said,

“The bad news, is that the other 10% that do not recover, die.  No exceptions, either he recovers fully or he will eventually die.  At some point, if his body does not take over the proper intake of oxygen, the extra oxygen we are now using to keep him alive will saturate and poison him.  It’s not like he can go home with a breathing machine.  Either he recovers or he never goes home.  Do you understand what I am saying?”

That is bad news.  It’s devastating news.  Even a 90% chance of life means a 10% chance of death.  Oh God, Oh God……

We asked a few more questions.  The Doctor was incredibly patient to answer us and explain what they were doing to help and why.  On another level, this Doctor had just informed us that our son might die.  But he was so gentle and reassuring.  He exuded compassion and patience, and the fact that he had been so caring towards us made us both want to cry.

The Waiting

Over the next few days, I spent most of my waking hours at my son’s side.  Some days he was stable, but other days were filled with machine alarms and nurses scrambling in and out of his room to sustain his life.  I can’t even put into words the stress filled emotions that swarmed us in those moments.

When my wife and I weren’t in his room, we would wander the large hospital campus.  It was huge, filled with children facing the most serious medical conditions.  The entry way was filled with an amazing display of colors and children’s artwork.  It reminded me of the sort of thing you’d see at the entrance of a children’s museum.  But there was a certain amount of dread and sadness that filled the air.  You’d see families, silently strolling with downcast faces.  Children in wheel chairs, others walking but with no hair and a pained expression.  Sometimes uncontrollable weeping was heard, but not as often as I expected.  Places like this shouldn’t have to exist.

Other times, my wife and I would escape to a nearby sandwich shop and just talk.  We’d talk about the what ifs.  What if he doesn’t get better?  What will we do if he dies?  What will I say to our kids?  What if my heart never recovers?  What if?

The waiting was the hardest part.  Waiting to see him again.  Waiting to touch him and sing him another song.  Waiting to hear if the new treatment was working.  Waiting to hear if they had decided on a blood transfusion.  Wait, wait, wait.  There was nothing we could do, but wait.  So we did.

Days turned into a weeks.  Weeks of life on hold.  Weeks of little sleep and lots of coffee.  Weeks of tears and of friends simply loving us, by being there and sharing the time as we waited.

There was nothing we could do, but wait.  So we did.