My Faith Journey
“Show me the path I should walk, for to you I entrust my life.” –Psalm 143:8
Without my faith, I honestly don’t know how I would’ve survived the ups and downs of my adult life. Perhaps you feel similarly?
Let’s celebrate the value and treasure of faith and help others realize its awesome power to give light, hope, encouragement, meaning, and purpose to life with autoimmunity.
A Fatal Bus Accident in College
While I was raised in a Catholic home and went to Catholic school through high school, it wasn’t until I experienced a fatal bus accident during the summer of 2001 after my freshman year of college at Princeton that I began to realize how important my faith would become for me.
I was sleeping in the back row of a big tour bus, in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere in Argentina coming back from the Cataratas de Iguazu (amazing waterfalls on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay).
The next thing I knew was that I was in a dark, empty bus with glass everywhere, felt like my leg was broken, and everyone was out of the bus except me.
It was my first trip overseas without my parents and I realized for the first time how close I was to experiencing death, far away from family, modern medicine, and familiar conveniences.
Four people in our tour bus died, several of my friends in the study abroad program were seriously injured with broken limbs, and others like myself experienced more minor injuries or concussions with glass embedded in various parts, requiring surgery.
After experiencing a night in a cold, primitive hospital that reminded me of something out of Hemingway’s World War I novel A Farewell to Arms, the other students and I were flown to a more modern hospital in Buenos Aires to receive more proper medical care
It was traumatic, to be sure, and it shifted the course of my life in significant ways.
Need for More Purpose
This accident experience sparked a profound need to experience meaning and deep purpose in my life, almost to an extreme at first.
When I returned to Princeton in the fall of 2001, I jumped back into university life, continuing to run for the cross country team with my friends and engage in social rites of passage at the eating clubs.
But after a few months I began to struggle with serious depression and anxiety issues.
I felt lost in a secular university environment that didn’t seem to foster or require a level of meaning and purpose that I was now seeking.
Catholic Faith Deepened in My Final Years of College and in Law School
It wasn’t until my last two years at Princeton that I truly felt at home away from home. I attribute that to several faith-deepening practices: I became active in the Catholic campus ministry activities, began a regular prayer practice, joined the Gregorian chant choir, and began regularly attending daily Mass. I also would make almost daily visits to the Blessed Sacrament in the University Chapel, and say the rosary in my college dorm room before I began to work on my senior thesis.
I did all these things because I felt more peace, purpose, and strength when I did them, not out of any sense of obligation. In a way that I didn’t find my first two years as merely a student and runner, I learned to love Princeton and university life.
I had never considered myself a devout Catholic before this point, but when I saw the love and truth in what other Catholic students and leaders shared with me, I embraced the opportunity to participate in all these community and private faith practices.
By engaging myself in this loving, spirited community of fellow Catholics and also developing my own private prayer life, I was gifted with a sense of confidence, self-assurance, grace and peace that I had never encountered before.
I knew I would never be the same and this was a turning point in my faith journey.
My desire to deepen my faith while I continued my education led me to Notre Dame Law School, where I met my future husband, also a Catholic.
When we moved to Portland, Oregon to start our law careers and family life, our faith continued to be a crucial piece of our married life and focus as a couple.
Autoimmunity Entered, Faith Sustained Me
When autoimmunity hit after the birth of my second child about three years after we married, it was confusing and alarming but it didn’t initially stretch me emotionally to the limits.
Rather, it was struggles with challenges in our married and family life and my crappy mindset that pushed me to the edge of what I felt I could bear.
It was then that my faith became my most reliable lifeline and foundational bedrock of support to get me through tough moments or situations.
Looking back, if my mindset had been healthier, I would have been in a lot better shape emotionally. But thankfully, our local parish had and has a 24/7 Adoration Chapel, and it was here that I would turn when I didn’t know where to go.
Just being in the True Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament was a huge blessing and comfort when I felt I was at the end of my rope emotionally.
It is still hugely comforting and healing, even now when times are much, much better for me emotionally and mentally. The genuine peace I feel after spending some time before Our Lord, truly physically present, is unmatched.
It is so comforting for me to know He is there waiting for me, and I truly savor the weekly hour I set aside for it.
Importance of Support from Other Faith-Filled Christians
One hugely helpful piece of my faith journey while struggling intensely with my autoimmunity and some family challenges was the community and support of a group of older women in a charismatic prayer group of a local parish.
During my autoimmune journey, as I sought healing from as many angles as I could imagine, I had learned about and experienced the power of inviting the Holy Spirit into one’s life in a deeper way by being baptized in the Holy Spirit through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement.
I wanted to continue to nurture these gifts and my renewed commitment by being part of a prayer group with women who were steeped in the gifts of the Spirit.
This turned out to be a wonderful gift to me, as these women, many decades older than I, showed me what it was like to live with great joy and abundant peace.
If these grandmas could be so completely filled with faith, trust, and joy, why couldn’t I also?
I basked in their words of wisdom, trying to soak up every bit. Many of them smiled ear to ear while they lifted their hearts and arms in praise and gratitude through prayer and praise songs.
They also prayed in supplication for the needs of their families, friends, and the world. It was a joy to be with them, and I cried many tears of vulnerability and joy in their presence.
I am so grateful for them, especially at this time in my life grappling with autoimmunity and painful flares, among other life challenges.
When I was having a particularly tough time sorting out all my emotions about my autoimmunity, these women graciously prayed over me, laying hands on me while they invoked the Holy Spirit and prayed in tongues.
I was given the message by one with the gift of prophecy that I would eventually be healed from my autoimmunity but to focus less on my disease and more on Christ.
While I initially felt a little or a lot disappointed that I wasn’t immediately healed or informed I would be healed by a certain date (!), it was comforting to know and hear that Our Lord was with me and helping me to grow closer to Him through the cross of my autoimmunity.
Many if not most of my dear friends that are close to my age are also Catholic and Christian, and it is to them that I feel my heart is most aligned and attracted.
Spiritually, we share so much in common as we do our best to please and grow closer to the Lord; raise children to know, love and serve Him; support each other in prayer and need; laugh and experience joy together; and strive to one day meet God face to face in Heaven.
Faith Continues to Guide Me
As I have homeschooled my children for most of their elementary years so far, I have had the gift and opportunity to deepen my own faith.
A large part of the Memoria Press and other curriculum we use aims at deepening their appreciation for beauty, virtue and truth in our Christian faith and history in the Bible, through the lives of the saints, Bible memory verses or copybook and through regular family prayers.
When you teach others the faith, you necessarily deepen your own faith, I have learned. This is one of the gifts of having children to whom we are honored to have the responsibility of imparting this great gift of our Faith.
I now have the privilege of saying the rosary with other local homeschooling mothers and their kids over Zoom most days of the week during this pandemic.
We share and discuss books that deepen our understanding of our Catholic Christian faith. I also practice my own habits of prayer that help me feel grounded in a very uncertain and fear-filled world.
I am so grateful for the sacraments in my Catholic faith, including the gift of Confession, which help me encounter Christ’s mercy, love, and peace in a profound way.
Your Faith Journey
Many of my favorite faith-building books and resources can be found on the My Favorites page. If you decide to purchase any of them, I hope and pray that they help you grow stronger in your own faith journey.
I also hope that they shower you with spiritual riches that help you to see your autoimmunity as something that is helping you grow closer to Christ and the beautiful person He created you to be!
What does your faith journey look like? Has autoimmunity necessarily required you to deepen your faith? To rely less on yourself and more on your God and Savior?
Comment below and share how autoimmunity has deepened your faith and trust in the Lord!
“Persevere in the faith.” — Colossians 1:23