A continuation of my faith journey with Crohns disease.
When I was a kid, one of the priests at our parish was Father John LaTondress. He was a great priest and a good friend of the family. More importantly to me as a little kid, he had a motorcycle! What’s more cool than a priest with a motorcycle? He took me on a ride once and it was amazing. I can still, to this day, feel the wind on my face and hear his voice over the motorcycle engine.
Many years later, my brother-in-law’s father, Ralph, passed away. His funeral was the first time that I understood the sense of loss when someone dies. I had known him for years and realized that his personality would no longer grace the planet. That loss was palatable. It was at that time that I began to pray for those souls that I knew that had died.
Over the course of my life, I had accumulated six people for whom I would pray for… My brother Leo, who was born stillborn years before my birth. My oldest brother Joseph, who died unexpectedly of an aneurysm in 1994. Father LaTondress. Father Jerry, my mother’s cousin. Laura, a friend of a friend who was raped and killed on a hiking trip. And “Aunt” Patsy, a friend’s Aunt who was a great hostess on a memorable trip to California. All of them had died and all of them I pray for weekly at mass.
My health at this time had continued to worsen over two years. I had grown fearful, tired and weak. I had planned my funeral, come to terms with my children forgetting me and certain that this disease would finally get me on its fourth try.
Then, one Sunday, we all went to Mass at a friend’s church to celebrate their daughter’s first communion. When I walked in I was surprised that there was a picture of Father LaTondress at the entrance. What are the odds of that? Was he watching over me? It was reassuring to see his face.
During mass, as I sat silently in the pew and prayed, I had finally reached my end. I prayed silently and fervently when, suddenly, the memory of Shaun King came into my mind. Shaun King??? King was the former quarterback of the Bucs when they went to the NFC Championship game in 1997. I remembered that, when he was a rookie, one reporter asked him if he was afraid about being the QB during the championship game. He quoted Timothy from the Bible and said that fear and faith can’t coexist, so, no, he was not afraid.
As I sat in the pew, I realized just how afraid I had become, just how much fear had grown within my heart. And I was tired, so tired of living this sick life. And so tired of being afraid of what my life had turned into.
So, I prayed to God and said “Lord, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t handle it. I was wrong. In high school, I thought I could handle this disease… I’ve offered every painful moment of it up to you… but I can’t do it anymore. I give up. You win. I don’t have the strength. If that means I have to die, then I’ll die, peacefully. If that means never seeing my children again or holding my wife in my arms, okay. I’ll give that up. But I just can’t be afraid anymore. Afraid of passing out. Afraid of the next surgery. Afraid of missing out on my life. Afraid of losing everything… I can’t be afraid anymore. So, I give this all to you. Take it. Do with it what you want. If that means giving my life to you, then you can have it… I just can’t do this anymore.”
At that moment, the most magical thing happened to me. I literally felt six hands lay on me from behind, on my shoulders, back and head. I glanced and there was no one there, but six hands were touching me. It was at that moment that I realized that those six people whom had been in my prayers all those years, including Father LaTondress, were actually praying over me. I could feel the pressure of their hands on my body… it was amazing. My heart was moved and I was immediately filled with an indescribable peace. Tears streamed down my face. My wife looked to me and mouthed with great concern “Are you all right?” I smiled with contentment and mouthed “I’m fine.”
And I was. The insurmountable burden of fear was released. I didn’t know what that meant as far as my health was concerned, but, whatever path lay ahead of me, I wasn’t afraid anymore. Faith and fear can’t coexist. It reminded me of something my father said to me as a child… sometimes God wears us down because, only at the end, do we give everything up to Him. We are either exercising free will or following God’s will… there is no halfway point.
So, at that moment, I gave everything up to Him. And, with the help of the prayers of my six guardian angels, the chains of fear had broken loose, and I let God take over.
The next time we saw Dr. Levy, as a last ditch effort before surgery, we tried a new medication called Remicade. To everyone’s surprise, it worked… it was as close to a miracle as one can get. My Crohns went into temporary remission. Now, I get a Remicade dosage every three months. Sure, I have bouts of Crohns every now and then, but I got my life back. I was able to shoot a feature film with my daughter. I was able to coach my son’s baseball teams. I’ve been able to celebrate many more wedding anniversaries with my wife.
A few years later I saw Shaun King at a restaurant. Having worked in the entertainment industry, I am not comfortable approaching “celebrities.” But, I was moved by the Holy Spirit… he should know just how much he touched me. So, I relayed the story and told him that, because of one sentence he said years before, one sentence that exemplified his faith, it had guided me through a very dark time. And that, because of that guidance and God’s grace, everything had gotten much better. He shook my hand and asked me my name. “Peter” I said. “I’ll keep you in my prayers, Peter.” And, with that, I left him to finish his meal in peace.
Now, I thank God everyday for this gift of life… and health, even mine. I don’t know if Remicade will work forever. But, by God’s grace, I have been able to live my life again. And that is a gift for which I can only repay through living my life to the best of my ability, through my faith, everyday.
And now we’re caught up. By the time this posts, I should be in recovery from my third surgery. I’ll add whatever new lessons God is teaching me from latest challenge too.