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“Why can’t I just get a cold like a normal person?” I wailed to my husband. “Why must everything be so drastic?” It’s true. I haven’t had a simple cold in 25 years. It’s always a sinus infection, bronchitis, pneumonia — with a few oddities like cellulitis thrown in for variety. Sicknesses don’t strike me and go; they linger, dig in, build a nice home (sometimes an entire housing complex) and settle in for a good, long stay.

Which leads to today’s Catholic dilemma: December 8 is a Holy Day of Obligation, one of my favorites — the feast of the Immaculate Conception. It’s all about Mary being conceived without sin, being chosen from the get-go, a real “girl power” holy day. And I don’t feel well enough to attend mass.

Missing mass is a big deal. It’s a mortal sin. If you die in a state of mortal sin, it’s hot coals and pitchforks for you, buddy. No joke. But the church does allow for some exceptions — illness or care of a small child. But that doesn’t make the decision not to attend mass any easier.

Type “should I go to church when I’m sick?” into Google, then sit back and get ready for opinions. The answers are all over the map: “Go unless you are dying.” “Go, but sit in the back and don’t touch anyone.” “It is most charitable to stay home and not spread your illness.”

All of these viewpoints have merit. I do want to attend mass. It’s a powerful and healing ritual for me. But our church, rather than following the standard “altar at the front, then rows of pews” is rather more circular, with the pews nestled around the altar like an amphitheater. There is no “back corner,” really. People sit all over. It is not an easy place to isolate one’s self.

I don’t want to infect my pastor. I don’t want to infect my fellow parishioners, many of whom are elderly. I will never forget — much to my deep sorrow — exactly who it was that gave me pneumonia in 2014, or who insisted on passing on bronchitis to me last year. I attend church with them every week. Maybe for them it was a simple cold. But in me, already cursed with asthma and lungs scarred by previous bouts of pneumonia, every bug goes straight to my respiratory tract. What do you do when someone who has been hacking away all service long extends a hand to you at the kiss of peace?

But how can I reconcile not going to mass if I leave my house for any other purpose? I bought groceries last night. Otherwise, we would starve. But it took me out into the open, into the larger world. How was it okay to do that but not to go to mass tonight?

I am left feeling the weight of Catholic guilt (which, let me tell you, is immense) on top of my upper respiratory woes. I’m sinful and sneezy. Stuffed up and beat down.

I can only honor God to the best of my ability, which in this case will be at home, in private prayer and communion, along with hot lemonade and honey. Lord, accept me, mucous and all. I give myself to you. You won’t mind if I bring Kleenex, though, will you?

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I was standing in the pet store when my phone finally decided to tell me that someone had left me a message. Yesterday. “This is Becca. I can’t read your hand writing on the prayer request card. Can you call me with your friend’s name?”

Our church secretary was working on the bulletin and prayer list. I’d just pop down the road and talk to her as soon as I checked out.

The problem was that by the time I made it down the road, she had already printed 100 copies of the prayer list. With the wrong name. Truth be told, the version that she included isn’t a name at all unless it belongs to some wacky video game character.

“I hope you’ll tell the pastor I called you.”

I hadn’t planned to discuss it with him at all. He’d gotten the name wrong during the Sunday service. If I bring it up, it will just embarrass him. What’s the point? I’m fairly certain that when the congregation prays for my friend, God isn’t going to sit in the clouds scratching his metaphorical head. “I don’t know anyone by that name.” Clearly, I need to work on my cursive.

I finally realized she was expecting me to be mad. In spite of the fact that my phone is a slow poke and my handwriting questionable. She probably gets griped at quite a lot.

Outrage over an elaborately goofed up name? Thanks, but no thanks. I’m going to save my outrage for things that deserve it – obscenely
priced medications, homelessness and hunger. The goofed up name I’m going to turn it into a funny anecdote. She hates nicknames and gets annoyed when nurses call her honey. This is going to crack her up. Thank you, God, for another chance to help her and her sons smile.

–SueBE

Six long weeks: That’s how long I’ve been dealing with a one-two knockout combo of pneumonia and acute bronchitis. I am 90% healed now, by the grace of God, but still dealing with two minor complaints — mild pain in my chest and the loss of my upper register. My voice, my singing voice anyway, is gone.

This (mostly) has not caused me much woe. I do enjoy singing, around the house and in church. It is disconcerting to reach for a note and have nothing come out of one’s mouth. I miss how pretty my voice could sound. But I have faith that it will return eventually.

More disconcerting, by far, was the loss of my other voice — my writing voice. I’ve been absent from this blog for three weeks, mostly out of exhaustion and a need to heal. But those are not the only reasons. My illness made me lose my voice, the one I use to reach out to others, the one I need to delve into my own soul. It is difficult to feel creative when one’s life has been reduced to a preoccupation with drawing breath. Just inflating my lungs without pain was enough of a project to sustain me.

Or was it? Yes, when a person is sick, her world becomes smaller, more focused on her physical being. But it doesn’t mean her inner life stops altogether. It gets put on hold, perhaps. It gets stifled, maybe.

A good friend told me that in Eastern medicine, diseases of the lung are often associated with grief, especially unresolved grief. I have that in spades. And it made me think: Maybe that last 10%, that last push to the finish line of wellness that my body has yet to travel…maybe I need to heal my soul before my body can follow.

So here it is: Please, God, help to express what is unexpressed in me. Bring back my voice, loud and clear, so that my vocal cords might follow.

This may take some time. In the meantime, I’ll practice. I hope you won’t mind — it might not sound so good at first. Please be patient with me.

Not gonna lie; I’m kind of falling apart right now. I’m beset with a host of physical complaints — too small to dignify by naming, but taken together, quite wearying. And I’m mourning four deaths in seven months, with another looming. I’m tired and sore in spirit and flesh. The up side? I’m ripe for a resurrection, just in time for Easter.

In her book A Tree Full of Angels: Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary, Marcrina Wiederkehr writes about the voids in our beings, and how they provide God space to work within us. In other words, I may be at my shabbiest now, full of holes, but those very holes give God space to fill me, heal me, work God’s grace within me.

Sure, it would be nice to be wholly holy. But that doesn’t give God any room to maneuver, to effect change. God not only accepts us as ragged and full of holes, God loves us this way. As long as we are open to God’s presence in us, filling and patching and making us new, we have the opportunity for real greatness. And real grace.

So as holey as I feel right now, I know I’m in a good place. In fact, I couldn’t be in a better one. I’m ready for God to enter the voids and to make me whole. There couldn’t be a better time for it. Happy Easter, everyone!

“Very good care…” this was the hospital motto, and it was written on a whiteboard on the wall in each patient’s room.  They’d marker in the name of the nurse and aide on shift,  changing the date so you’d know what the heck day of the week it was.

When you’re inert in a hospital bed, your mind wanders.  Wonder why they couldn’t have aimed a little bit higher with that motto, I said to myself.  Why not excellent care?  Exceptional care?  But just very good?  Feh.

On the few channels available on the tiny t.v., I saw an ad for another hospital, and they had the even lower-aiming motto:  “Where life continues.”  Sheesh!  Hope so.

I’d come in five days earlier for an exacerbation of multiple sclerosis, and I was ready to go home. Steroid infusions, pain shots, testing, being poked and prodded had somehow lost its luster, and it was clear from the set of my face as the doctor came in.  “So I get the idea you want to head on out?” I nodded.  “Do you feel better enough to leave?”

I thought this was a subjective question. Almost an existential question.  Hospitals are where you’re sick.  Home is where you heal.  Sure, I didn’t feel like gangbusters, but I felt that they’d given me everything they could here to shore me up, and now, if I had my druthers, I’d take my meds home to hibernate and recuperate.

So I went home on crutches with my medications and various physical therapy aids to strengthen my hands and feet, and I relaxed right away.

Looking back, I had pushed too hard when I wasn’t feeling well, and then one day, I was struggling with a small copywriting project. I went to the kitchen where my son was getting a snack, and he looked at me and said, “Ma, what’s wrong?” I said I had to get three more records done and then I could rest.  He looked me dead in the eye and said, “No, Ma.  Now.  You need to lie down.”  He took me by the shoulders and guided me down the hall to my room and I realized I was in bad shape.  I called the doctor that day and she sent me to the ER.

Prior to this episode, my prayers had a feverish tone at times.  I’d say, “Please take care of this pile of bills!” or “We need a miracle for this situation!”  But now, I’ve seen the sliding scale of blessings that come in under the radar, and I know healing comes from hope and holding on, not from angst and desperation. Those prayers are really clenched fists – You must!  Help now!  No time left! –  not hands clasped toward Heaven in serene anticipation.  It sounds more like a high-pressure Ginsu knife salesman than a faithful child of God.

This is how I pray now:  “If You say I can, I will.”  While of course, I don’t speak for the Maker of all Things, I believe He replied, “Deal.”  Sometimes I feel He’s from Jersey, just like me.

I didn’t think I’d have sensation back in my feet as before, and then I walked into the wall, muttered in French and realized, “Hey!  That hurt!” And if it hurts, I can feel my feet. I’ll take it!

The first night I slept in my own bed, I started to feel warmth on the bottom of one foot.  The next day, the other one.  They’d been numb during my stay in the hospital. I’ll take it! The next day, I felt pins and needles in my lips, and my smile started to come back.   I’ll take it!

Every day is another grace, a new small healing the world doesn’t know about and the hospital didn’t document in their records.  Each time they would give me a shot in the hospital, they’d scan my wristband. At first I thought it was to ensure patient safety, but the nurse aide chuckled and said, “No, it’s to charge you.”

I’ve seen increments of joy like family and friends checking in to see if I need a ride to the doctor or a Slurpee from the 7-11. I’ve seen my son show me how much he’s grown up and how solid his character really is, as he takes care of things I normally do so that I have time to heal.  I’ll take it all.

So while I’m still hinky around the edges, I’m working my way back to wholeness.  The good thing about being home in the care of the greatest healer of all is that the benefits include peace of mind, comfort through the pain, and the promise of better days. All at no charge. Now that’s what I call a divine deal.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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