I was hospitalized a few weeks ago for “coughing up blood.” Talk about a scare. I knew from my experience as a “movie buff” that this was not a good sign. We’ve all seen it: once the good guy starts coughing up blood, he’s a goner. So, needless to say, I was really freaked out!
Long story short–I have MAC Lung Disease, and the treatment seems to be worse than the disease; triple antibiotic regimen three times a week for 18 – 24 months minimum. I’ve decided to not undergo treatment due to the list of serious side affects. If the disease progresses, I will have to start treatment, but until that time, I’ll take my chances and keep praying.
When I read that last paragraph, it sounds like a “bummer,” but I’m not looking at it that way. This experience has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. Can you hear the music soundtrack building as I set up the story? Well, even if you can’t, trust me it’s there, at least in my head. Haaa. So here goes…
I had just taken my oldest daughter, Kayce, to the airport. She is attending the University of Utah and is a pitcher on their softball team. That’s another great God story, but you’ll have to wait to read that one another time.
I felt fine while she was home for Thanksgiving weekend, we even made a mad dash to Birch Run, an awesome outlet mall, on Black Friday to have a girls’ day shopping for Christmas presents. I had no symptoms. I hadn’t been ill; no cough, no night sweats, no loss of weight, or any of the other symptoms.
I was closing up the house about midnight, and I coughed in the garage. When I looked at my hand, there was a large clot. Hmmmm. I didn’t think anything of it until I coughed again. This time, I held a palm full of blood in my hand, and I just stood there. I was in shock. I slowly walked into the house, washed my hand, and called my husband over, and said, “This is the strangest thing. I just coughed up blood.”
“Blood. Where? Can you do it again?” he asked innocently.
“Cough up more? I just washed my hand. I think so,” I replied. This time there was a lot of blood. We immediately jumped online and realized that every site urged us to seek immediate medical attention.
So, at 12:30 a.m. we checked into the ER. We didn’t notice how busy it was because all we cared about was finding out why this was happening. Our biggest fear was the “C” word. Neither one of us said it, but we both feared it was lung cancer.
By 3 a.m. I was still feeling fine, and I started making a fuss that I wanted to go home. I got up to get dressed and started coughing. All I could see was RED, bright red blood all over my hands. It was coming directly from my lungs. As I breathed in, I could hear the blood rattling and I knew something was seriously wrong. When you can’t catch your breath because you can feel blood gurgling in your lungs instead of air, it’s terrifying. Six washcloths full of blood later, the doctor ran in and said she was admitting me. Darn.
By 5 a.m. the doctors ruled out cancer, thank you Jesus! But they still had no idea why this was happening. I sent my husband home to get our children to school. He didn’t want to leave, of course, but I gave him that “you really don’t want to fight with me now” look, and he left reluctantly knowing I had already won that battle.
So, there I was, sitting in a hospital bed all by my lonesome. It was just me, God, and the crucifix on the wall. I felt like this might be my Garden of Gethsemane moment. I began to pray and cry. I was carrying on and on, talking at God. Yes you heard me. I was talking at God. In the middle of pouring my heart out, I could sense that God needed me to shut up and just listen. You would think I would have learned this lesson a long time ago, but my inability to just “be” is the reason he needed me to be quiet.
God, in his loving and merciful way, knows how to get me to shut up. All of a sudden, I could see myself as a child sitting on my Father’s lap, Father as in God the Father. It was like I was watching a movie. I could see my tiny little feet in bright red leather shoes swinging freely, not even close to touching the ground. His strong arms wrapped around me, trying to hug me. But I was fidgeting and trying to divert his attention to what I held in my hands. I could feel my little fingers clenching the construction paper in my hands, and I could sense how it important it was to me. When I looked down, I was shocked. It was a crayon drawing like my kids have given me a thousand times. Yes, it was a beautiful crayon drawing, with lots of vivid colors, but it was just a crayon drawing nonetheless.
I wiggled out of God’s arms and leaped off his lap. I ran over toward a group of men to my right and I kept saying to them as I pointed to my drawing, “Look! Look at how beautiful this is! Don’t you just love what I’ve done for HIM? Look!” But they all turned away unimpressed.
I ran to another group to my left. I sensed that they were my family and friends, but I couldn’t recognize any faces. I yelled, “Look! Look! Isn’t this beautiful? See what I made for him. I love Him so much, and I’m so grateful for what He has done for me. It is beautiful, don’t you think?” But again, they turned away and didn’t seem to care or understand.
I was devastated and heartbroken. How could they not care about my crayon drawing? It was all about Jesus, and Jesus had given his life for us. Didn’t they see how beautiful it was, and how awesome it made me feel? Instead, they just turned away, as if they didn’t care.
With my head down in defeat, I turned back toward God with my crayon drawing still in my hands but now lowered at my knees. I looked at God. Well, sort of. This is the part in the movie I couldn’t see–I couldn’t see HIS Face, but I knew it was God. I crawled back up onto his lap exhausted, frustrated, angry, and discouraged. He just hugged me and hugged me. I could hear Him say over and over, “I just want to love you! It’s you I love! I just want to love you!”
And then the movie was over. I sat in the hospital bed in awe, not knowing what I had seen, or why, or what it meant yet. My husband walked into the room an hour later, and I told him everything, as I often do. The poor man is a Saint for putting up with the ups and downs on my tumultuous spiritual journey.
Then a priest walked in the room and said, “I hear you’re not feeling too well, and you wanted me to come and pray with you.” I had forgotten that I asked to see a chaplain earlier that morning. He began to pray and of course, I began to weep elephant tears as I often do. Some call it the “gift of tears,” I call it job security for Kleenex corporation!
As he prayed, I became very afraid and knew that I was not where I needed to be spiritually, especially if this was my “swan song.” I had often imagined what it would be like to hear the words, “You have three months,” and I had been preparing for that moment. But here I sat, not ready–not even close. I knew I had completely missed the boat spiritually, and my fear that I had “blown it with God” was all I could think about now. This was such a shock since I had been on an incredibly intense spiritual journey since my conversion as a born-again Christian in 1998, and as a convert to the Catholic Church in 2000. What had gone wrong? I had given my life to Jesus, but something was terribly wrong.
The Priest then gave Dom and I the Eucharist and continued praying over us. In the middle of his prayer, he stopped and looked at me, or should I say he saw right through me. He cautiously said, “God wants you to know something very important.” I nodded. I couldn’t speak. “He wants you to know that you are a Human Being!”
I exploded with a sarcastic, “Really? Sitting here coughing up blood and wondering if this is my big farewell has me very aware of my own mortality. Is that it?”
He smiled and lovingly said, “Let me finish. God wants you to know that you are a Human Being, not a Human Doer! He loves YOU because of YOU! He loves you because you are His child, and it’s not about what you do for Him!”
A knife pierced my heart. I couldn’t speak. I was crying so hard that snot bubbles were coming out my nose. That’s when Dom shines. He is really good at knowing when to present the next Kleenex at just the right time, like a skilled surgery nurse!
The priest asked me if I had kids. That was not the question he should have asked me! “Yeeeeesssss,” I blubbered. “Why do you think I’m crying so hard? I have five of the most beautiful, wonderful children in the world.”
He then said, “Do you remember the day you held your first child in your arms?” I just kept nodding for him to go on. “Did she do anything significant that you can remember? Or did she just lay there? The only thing she could do was poop and cry, right?”
I didn’t get it. I said, “Right. What’s your point?”
The priest continued very slowly this time, “Did you love her?”
“Love her? Oh my God, I had never known love before until I held her in my arms! I would have died for her,” I cried. I could see her gorgeous little face as if it was yesterday.
The Chaplain just smiled and nodded. “She didn’t do anything to deserve your love, did she? And you loved her more than life itself, right? (big pause) Kelly, that’s how God loves you! He just wants to love you.”
We were all silent for what seemed like an eternity. Dom grabbed my arm and just looked at me with that look. He was blown away and knew this was God speaking loud and clear to his best friend and partner in life. He just stared at me and shook his head.
After the priest left the room, we sat in shock at what God had done in our midst. There’s a great saying I need to put on my wall: “When you can’t see God’s hand, trust His HEART!”
I now understood the “crayon drawing!” I got it–I understood why God had to step in like this. He always meets us where we’re at. My ministry, The Cross and the Light, began because I was overwhelmed with love for Jesus and grateful for what He had done for me. I wanted Him to know how much I loved Him and how grateful I was. It began with a grateful heart and all the right intentions, but now that same ministry had consumed my life and had gotten in the way of my relationship with God. I was so overwhelmed with “working for Him and creating this musical about Him” that I had forgotten Him in the process. I was stuck with an experience of God and not focused on the true goal of being with God, seeing God face to face, loving God as I am loved, and someday knowing God as I am known. Holy smokes–what a kick in the pants.
As I step back and observe others around me, I see that this is so common, especially in the United States where success and power, fame and fortune define a person’s worth. It spills over onto all of us, and if you’re not careful, it poisons us whether we know it or not. How many of us Christians, including ministry leaders, priests, and religious, are still trying to earn God’s love with more “doing” and less “being with God”?
I believe that my TRUE journey has just begun. I’m not giving up on The Cross and the Light–the musical or the concert, but I certainly know where it fits in the journey. It is just a “crayon drawing” in heaven. The real goal is God, the Beatific Vision – being with God, seeing His face, and loving HIM with all my heart, all of my mind, all my strength, and all my soul from this day forward.
The day after I came home from the hospital I didn’t jump back into work…shocker! Instead, I saw a CD case in my garage that had been sitting there collecting dust well over two years. I received it from Peter Herbeck after I was on his television show, “The Choices We Make.” I had passed by this little CD case a 1000 times. And now, I stood there in my messy garage, which just didn’t seem to bother me anymore, and I was entranced by the title, “Transformation in Christ,” by St. John of the Cross, a six-week course by Ralph Martin. I knew in my heart that this had been sitting there patiently waiting, and now it was time to start the journey.
I’m half way through the CD series, and I am in shock and awe! I have spent the last three years in “the dark night of the soul” and I had no idea! I had been feeling such pain and desolation. Nothing in this world could console me and I had no clue why!
Now I see that it was all part of God’s plan of purification. I will be writing about this next. It’s something I now embrace and praise God that He has lovingly led me to such spiritual clarity. I’m also praying for a Spiritual Director who has a deep understanding of St. John of the Cross and this spirituality. I’ll keep you posted when God sends Him into my life.
In the meantime, pray for me as I will pray for you. And don’t be afraid of getting your wake-up call. We all need a swift kick in the pants or a spiritual 2 x 4 over the head to “get the clarity we need” for the rest of the journey.
I have started my Ascent up Mount Carmel with help from God, St. John of the Cross, and Ralph Martin. I hope you can join me, if it is God’s will, as I continue to write of the adventure to come.