About a year ago, I was going through a challenging time: 2 different hospitalizations resulting in overnight stays for 6 nights total. I had 2 cases of cellulitis, and one turned into MRSA. I had a skin condition on my feet that no doctor could diagnose. I couldn’t walk because of the sores that resulted from the itching, which no scratch could satisfy. It was a form of torture that lasted for months. As the ER doc put it, “No one wants to be the interesting case.” I think I saw about 7 or 8 doctors both in and outside the hospital, but no one could figure it out. I had to go off of my arthritis medication at the time because of the infection since it could be fatal to take that medication while having an infection. That meant in addition to the cellulitis, I was in a full-on flare of my Rheumatoid Arthritis: couldn’t get out of bed or bathed or dressed without help. It was incredibly painful. We were also in the midst of a move… so it was a stressful time to say the least. My husband and I suspected spiritual warfare so we asked our priest to pray deliverance prayers over us. I think he prayed over me three different times over the span of a few months. On the final time he prayed over me, there was a line in his prayer that jumped out to me: something about the wounds of my heart being healed. I just started sobbing. And I didn’t know why.
After that experience I brought that to the Lord during my daily prayer time with Him, asking Him to heal the wounds of my heart. Many days, I would just sob and sob during my prayer time. I didn’t know why. Well, a couple months went by and within a span of a week, three different people brought up the Grief to Grace retreat to me. I was familiar with the retreat because I had wanted to attend when I saw it advertised 4 years ago, but didn’t think I could afford it or that I was worth spending that much money on. Anyway, back to last year. When G2G came up three times, I took it to prayer. I asked God, “Are you wanting me to go on this? Because you could just heal my heart right now. I don’t need to go away from my family for 5 nights and spend all that money.” I didn’t get an answer so I asked my husband who suggested I ask our priest, who is my spiritual director. I expected him to say no, don’t go. But he said, “Yes, I think you should go. Someone else from the parish has gone, and it produced good fruit.” The other thing I had told God was that if He wanted me to go, He would need to provide the money because we didn’t have it. Well, my spiritual director also said, “And we would be happy to provide the $250 down payment to reserve your spot.” I knew at that moment that God wanted me to attend this retreat. I also found out a couple months before the retreat that I had qualified for a partial scholarship, which I again saw as God’s hand in answering my prayer. It was clear that He wanted me to go.
Leading up to the retreat, my prayer was for God to “heal my heart and make me new” since in Scripture He says, “Behold, I make all things new.” I read the book that was recommended before going on retreat: It’s called “The Threshold of Hope: healing from sexual abuse.” I was not abused sexually, but was abused verbally and on some occasions physically. Reading that book was difficult. Pretty much every time I read it and did the activities in the companion workbook, I started sobbing. It was difficult to bring all these wounds up to the surface again for they had been buried for so long. I was also scared that bringing the wounds back up would put me back into a place of unforgiveness because I had forgiven my dad a few years ago. I didn’t want to go back to the place of unforgiveness. But I learned something important from the author of that book. She said that the truth will set us free. And if I made excuses, downplayed what happened to me, or said it was just a mistake, that I would not be set free. And I really wanted to be set free. I was tired of living the way I had lived my 41 years of life so far. I was tired of the anxiety, depression, relentless thoughts. I wanted to be made new. So I named it for what it was. For the first time in my life, I called what happened to me by its right name: abuse. And as I read the book and prepared for the retreat, my prayer was for God to bring up everything from my past to the surface. I wanted it ALL exposed to the light. I didn’t want anything still buried deep inside me. I really wanted to be set free. It was terrifying, but God was with me through it all. Heading into the retreat, I had this interior sense that He was holding my hand and the Bible verse that kept coming to my mind was, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me…” Psalm 23:4
I can’t reveal details of what happened on the retreat because for those who will one day attend, it is best for the retreat to unfold organically. But I can share that the first 4 days were the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and I will just say that I have endured my fair share of suffering with having severe, debilitating rheumatoid arthritis for 29 years, among other chronic conditions. But this, this takes the cake. It was very difficult to look at all those things that happened to me when I was a child. It meant I had to be vulnerable, to come out from my shell, and I was terrified. But I knew at the beginning of the retreat that God said He would be with me so I went. I did all the activities even when I didn’t want to. I really wanted to be set free. I cried so much in four days that I got a cut under my right eye from the Kleenex. In “Send Me your Guardian Angel,” Padre Pio says, “Your tears were collected by the angels and were placed in a gold chalice, and you will find them when you present yourself before God.” When I read that, I thought there won’t be a chalice big enough to hold all the tears I have cried in my lifetime.
I didn’t get much sleep that week. Memories kept coming during the middle of the night and so I would pray my way through them and process them like they taught us to do on retreat. But I was getting tired of this work. It felt like too much, like God was asking too much of me. I was exhausted every day from not sleeping at night. I wanted to just take a nap in my room instead of doing the activities. And on Tuesday afternoon, I got angry. I felt like God had abandoned me in this suffering. The feelings, the grief, the anguish, the loneliness, the betrayal, the anger, they all just felt too big for my body. I wanted them to leave me and never come back, and I didn’t know how to get them out. Clearly, crying alone was not cutting it. And so I yelled to God, “Where are you? You said You’d be here! Where are You?” I bared my soul to Him for about an hour. I didn’t receive an answer immediately. I wanted to just run away. I wanted to leave the retreat. But I made myself go to the next activity instead, because I really did want to be set free from this prison I was in. My husband was sacrificing so much by keeping the kids so I could be here. A lot of money had been spent for me to attend. So I made myself go.
Well, the next morning, God answered my prayer. He showed UP! After receiving Jesus in the Holy Eucharist at mass, I prayed the Anima Christi prayer like I always do: “Body of Christ, save me. Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Water from the side of Christ, wash me.” And when I got to the 4th line, it was as though someone turned up an imaginary volume dial inside my head and blood was rushing in my ears, and the prayer started beating to a tempo in my whole body, “In your wounds, hide me! In your wounds, hide me! In your wounds, hide me! In your wounds, hide me!” It was as though I had never really prayed that line of the prayer before like I prayed it that day, and I knew, I knew He was with me. He hadn’t abandoned me after all. It was as though He was telling me, I could hide in His wounds, my wounds could be hid in His wounds.” I can’t adequately put this experience into words, but a peace settled over me for the first time since coming on retreat. I knew He was with me.
Wednesday was a hard day. It was a day of walking His passion, of reliving my old wounds as I experienced His wounds in a profound way. It was really hard and really sad. But the best part was just around the corner. I again had wanted to skip an activity to just go sleep in my room. I was worn out from this work, but I made myself go, and I’m so glad I did, for it was on Wednesday night that God healed me. The Holy Spirit did a mighty work in me indeed! He healed the wounds of my heart that I had carried for 41 years. He made me new. He made me new. He made me new. He answered my prayer, and He did even more than answer my prayer. He healed me of my rheumatoid arthritis, too, which was beyond my wildest expectations. For years I had hoped and prayed God would heal my RA ever since I was a little girl kneeling at the foot of my bed crying out to God to take this arthritis away. Well, that journey of trying to find healing could be a novel in and of itself so I’ll cut to the chase:
Wednesday night Fr. Benedict Mary prayed over me, and it was as though the hand of God straightened my back (I was sitting hunched over) and lifted my chin. I felt like for the first time in my life I actually had a backbone. I was able to hop up out of the chair. I didn’t need my cane. I took a few laps around the room. I felt fantastic. I had a little pain in my right knee, but nothing major. I would have rated my pain a 0 on scale of 1-10 because I not only felt the absence of pain. I also felt better than any pain med has ever made me feel. I can’t adequately put it into words. I couldn’t sleep that night because I was so excited to be feeling great! I could dance and run and jump for about a week. It was amazing!
Where I am currently is this: symptoms of RA have come back. When they do, I rebuke them in Jesus’ name, praise and thank God for my healing, spend time praying & reading His word, and then I ask the Lord if there is any forgiveness work I need to do. The priest told me I had a lot of trauma in my body, and he wasn’t kidding. God keeps revealing memories that I had long since forgotten about. But my body didn’t forget. My body had been storing them all this time. So now when God reveals things to me, I process the hurt by crying or talking honestly with God about how that hurt made me feel, and then I forgive, and it’s amazing. I can bend my knees and walk when I couldn’t previously, and my pain drops significantly. I used to think all I had to do was say I forgive you. And I had done that so many times in my life. Turns out I have to be honest first about what happened and how it hurt me, add up the debt so to speak, and then set the person free by forgiving him/her.
If you are on the fence about attending G2G, Ill leave you with this: The last day of the retreat, I remember saying to someone, “I thought I’d have to wait until heaven to feel this good.” Why wait until heaven when you can feel better now?