Heart Aflame

The church was in darkness.  The new fire was lit and blessed.  The Easter candle was lit and carried through the church to its place on the altar.  There it burned with a flame that forced back the darkness, a flame which for over an hour burned quite clearly in the shape of a heart.

Now you might think my eyes have really gone screwy.  I admit that was my initial reaction.  I have mild double vision at the moment so to be sure I closed one eye and then the other.  Definitely a heart.  “Mom, do you see the flame?” I asked.  “It looks like a heart!” she whispered back.  This morning after asking a few others who were seated in different parts of the church, I’m assured that I’m neither half-blind nor crazy.

The sense of wonder from last night’s Easter Vigil service has not left me.  It’s as though in breathing in the smells of candle wax, lilies, incense and my favorite, the smell of chrism oil, I breathed in wonder itself.  Rather than the usual jubilant joy I’ve experienced in Easters past, this year I’m filled with a quiet sense of being loved.  In the darkness, my Lord came to me and out of tenderness and compassion gave me a visible sign of his love for me. 

This is not the first time I’ve seen the heart.  The first time it was over the summer.  It was after a ferocious thunderstorm.  Before the lighting had totally dissipated, I had my sons in the car and headed to the beach.  I’m not a storm chaser.  I’m a rainbow chaser and that day I was rewarded with not one but three different rainbows.  As I turned away from photographing the last of the three, there in the sky above me was a huge heart-shaped cloud.  It was a sign even my younger son knew was from the Lord.

This morning, as I walked the beach and listened to the church bells ringing out the news that Jesus is risen I am reminded that while John baptized with water, Jesus baptizes with fire and the Holy Spirit.  My relationship with God has certainly changed since the summer.  Shortly after seeing that heart made of water vapor in the sky, I invited God into the darkness I felt inside.  I know now that he is there with me.  Last night, he reminded me again that no matter how dark things get, he will always be the light burning brightly in my soul.

He Is Risen!  Alleluia!  Amen!  Alleluia!

Walking the Stations of the Cross – Part 2

I’m going to do something I rarely do on this blog.  I’m going to share part of my journey that I haven’t fully experienced yet.  I’ve sort of seen some of the foreshadowing of these things but in all honesty, I’m not really there yet.  “There” being a place of understanding.

I left off in my last post recounting reflections on the first seven Stations of the Cross.   Here are the other seven, as presented by Fr Tom.

Eighth Station:  Reach Out To Others In Compassion.  Despite the pain, exhaustion and emotional turmoil I’m experiencing myself, I reach out to others as they experience their darkness.  I suppose I do this with my boys.  I try to anyway.

Ninth Station:   Fall On My Face Again.  I’m still trying to get my feet under me from the second fall and not really looking forward to another faceplant.  That being said, there is some comfort in knowing that even Jesus struggled.

Tenth Station:  Stripped.  I’ve seen a little of this so far and I dread seeing more of it.  I’ve seen the ability to do things stripped away.  Little things like handling quarters in the laundromat, picking up pieces of deli meats to make lunches or going through pages in a file can be difficult, painful and incredibly frustrating.  Reading or working on the computer are no longer things I take for granted.  Some days are easier than others.  Harder days are coming.  The old way of doing things, the old way of emotionally dealing with things and the old way of spiritually being are all being stripped away.  It hurts.

Eleventh Station:  Nailed To My Cross.  Now the cross is an internal part of me.  I can’t lay it down or run from it.  It’s more than carrying it on my back.  It is inextricably part of me. 

Twelfth Station:  Death.  Not necessarily physical death, but the death of all that has been.  The old ways are gone for good and the old me who started this journey is no longer.

Thirteenth Station:  Cared For.  Someone will come into my journey who can minister to my pain and help me as I prepare to enter into a new way of being.  There is reassurance in that.

Fourteenth Station:  Rest.  It will take time to rest and reflect for me to enter into the new way of being.  This can be weeks, months or even years but a new being will emerge after time alone in the darkness and quiet.

These stations are part of everyone’s story, not just mine.  I share what Fr Tom shared with us because he so beautifully made the Stations of the Cross so real for me right here, right now.  I know what’s coming and yes, I’m experiencing fear and dread, but I haven’t forgotten Easter is coming.  The story doesn’t end at the tomb.  It starts there.

Stations of the Cross reflection was presented at St. James Roman Catholic Church by Fr. Tom Lynch.  I am so very blessed to have been there to hear him.

Walking The Stations of The Cross

I had to re-read my last post and laugh at the irony.  I was hoping my Lenten journey wouldn’t involve falling.  Why would I hope for that when Jesus fell not once, but three times?  So let me run through my last few weeks.

The problems with my eyes have been definitively linked to the rheumatoid arthritis.  The eye specialist feels that this is very serious and that a change in my medications is not only necessary but needs to be sooner rather than later.  Okay, I’m not happy about this since all the medications have serious long term effects but on the other hand I’m rather fond of seeing.  After running through options with my three doctors, I was ready to make a move.

At this point I need to offer a brief explanation of how R.A. is treated.  The doctors use a stepladder approach starting with plaquenil, which is a fairly benign anti-malarial drug that works well in controlling the fatigue and some of the inflammation.  Step two is usually methotrexate, a chemo drug used in lower doses than used in cancer patients, which effectively suppresses the overactive immune systems in R.A. patients in the hope of slowing the disease.  Steps three and up are all drugs seen advertised on television, known as biologics they include Humira, Enbrel, Remicade and others.  I also need to explain that with R.A. there is no reverse.  The only thing to do is to attempt to shift the disease into low gear for as long as possible.

Because of the issues with my eyes, it was decided that skipping the methotrexate directly to one of the biologics was warranted.  And then the bomb was dropped.  After reviewing my file a little more closely, my rheumatologist told me that I can not take ANY of the biologics – period, end of story.  I’ve had double vision because of the inflammation in my eyes.  The biologics can cause an M.S.-like syndrome that first shows up as double vision.  The doctors wouldn’t know if the problem was from my eyes doing what they’ve always done or from the drugs.  Either way, I would never be able to take those drugs again .  What I told was this, “We’ll start you on the methotrexate and hopefully that will work for you for a couple of years and hopefully by then, the drug companies will come out with something new.” 

WHAT?!  That’s the course of treatment?!  They’ve lopped off the entire stepladder for me and are hoping for something new to be invented!  This is no longer about whether I’ll need a cane by the time I’m forty.   This is about permanent damage to my eyesight if we don’t get this disease into low gear.  And what if it doesn’t work?  The answer was a not very encouraging, “The simple answer is that there is no simple answer.  We don’t know.”

That sent me into a two-day panic.  Now what?  Okay breathe…remember the tree on the beach…remember the tree…God knows what I need…he will take care of me…but God knows I don’t like this.  I kept writing those letters to God and I kept seeing the ways he had been there for me every day without fail.  I stopped panicking but  I’m still not happy about this.  And I’ve reminded God about that every single day.

Meanwhile, as part of my Lenten journey (and before the bomb dropped) I had gone to Stations of the Cross at my parish.  They’re offered every Friday during Lent and are always so beautifully done.  This year Fr Tom offered a reflection that I’ve never heard and it’s sustained me through these last few weeks.

First Station: Life’s Not Fair!  Stuff happens in life and it’s not easy.

Second Station:  Accept My Cross.  I accept this cross that’s been placed on my shoulders, but it’s still an external, abstract kind of thing.

Third Station:  Fall On My Face.  Yup – I did that and it hurt!

Fourth Station:  Accept Support From Family.  It’s not always easy to come home and tell my mom what I’m going through.  It hurts to see the pain and worry in her face.

Fifth Station:  Accept Support From Professionals.  To allow the doctors, nurses, technicians and others to do their jobs and accept their compassion is hard.  I’d rather stay in bed with the covers over my head.  I don’t like to feel like I’m sick or I need help.  That feels…weak…and…well…vulnerable.

Sixth Station:  Accept Support From My Faith Community.  This has meant swallowing my pride, sometimes gagging and choking on it.  It means asking for rides when I need them and keeping people in the loop about the crazy developments in this mess.  Admitting I need prayers and advice.

Seventh Station:  Fall On My Face Again.  OUCH!  That second faceplant really really hurts.  Yes hurts – as in present tense.  I’m still trying to get my feet under me again.  This knocked the wind out of me.

There are seven more stations to go.  I’m not ready to walk any further yet.

Stations of the Cross reflection was presented at St. James Roman Catholic Church by Fr. Tom Lynch.  I am so very blessed to have been there to hear him.