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Invisible Pain – Invisible Illness

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

Appearances really can be deceiving.  One of my favorite comedians, Billy Crystal, portrayed a character Fernando who was accurate when he would profess, “remember it’s not how you feel, but how you look!”  When my parents first moved me to Houston, TX, in the summer of 1975, I arrived in the form of a 10-year old kid on crutches with Forest Gump-like leg braces below my knees.  In the 70’s the prevailing term for someone that mirrored my appearance was “poster child”, because I looked like all the other little children who appeared in print media or on TV when there were telethons or other mass appeals to raise funds for a debilitating disease.

The move to Houston was truly divine intervention. I was able to be treated by Dr. Earl Brewer, a brilliant trailblazer in the area of pediatric rheumatology.  The medications, surgeries, and therapies that were suddenly available to me eventually removed those leg braces and discarded those crutches.  I still would walk with a noticeable limp, but as I advanced through to high school, college, and then the private sector my life and lifestyle both improved dramatically.  I went from looking the part of poster child to becoming a young man who embraced driving, dating, dancing and living life to the fullest.  I didn’t look like a guy who at that point had already undergone close to 20 surgeries.  Appearances were deceiving.

During the nearly 16 years that I worked full-time in the travel industry, I was confronted with the frustrating reality that although my physical appearance had improved substantially from when I was a boy, I still had to battle the invisible pain of flares, fevers and fatigue.  And while I may have looked to the outside world as the same easy going, carefree, compassionate soul each and every day I showed up to work, believe me I rarely felt the way I looked.  Uneducated coworkers would occasionally confront me as to why some days I was late to work and moved slower than usual.  They saw the same me as the day before, and had no comprehension of the invisible pain I was feeling.

That same scrutiny has become a lasting part of the cross that I still carry living with this rheumatoid disease.  One rheumatologist tried to explain why my particular situation, like so many others, can be so lonely and cruel.  He pointed out that when people see someone in a cast, or a splint, or using crutches it’s easier for them to be tolerant and compassionate.  We agreed that if the invisible pain that I periodically suffer were to have a color, if others with rheumatoid disease would glow a neon green or bright purple while we were flaring that we would be greeted and embraced much more by a society that could empathize.

My prayer is that as we educate the world we live in, that more and more compassion and understanding will be extended to the multitude of people like me, whose outward appearance may be deceiving, as we keep fighting the invisible illness that is this rheumatoid disease.



Prayer Process: Get Out of Your Own Way

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016
     A cold & overcast morning encompassed those of us alumni who were fortunate enough to be at the Jesuit Retreat Complex. Our task: to pray with nature, to set aside the distractions that normally govern our minds and souls, and to focus on God’s presence in the beauty of nature around us.
     Not wanting to subject myself to the challenge of unfamiliar terrain, nor the winters elements of January, I opted to stay indoors.  I found a comfy sofa near a large tri-panel of windows. Beyond the glass I saw trees, hills, and land stretching as far as I could see.  I gazed out upon a particular tall tree, in full winter, leaves long gone, branches and limbs reaching upward and outward and reacting to the frigid gusts that randomly swept through the area.  The tree reminded me of FAITH, standing strong from wear and tear, from elements, outside pressures and time.
     I really wanted to go deeper into that tree, and message that God wanted me to hear and learn.Then the winds picked up, distracting me.  There were strong winds sweeping through the area, and my focus was broken.  Back to the tree I said!  But then two creatures, birds, with long wings stretched out, flew into my view and once more I was distracted.  I became transfixed on their flight, their pattern, and the wonderful aerial dance that they were performing before me.  Back to the tree!!  Must concentrate on God!  But then droplets of rain began a rhythmic beat on the building I was in, and this further distracted me!  Back to the tree I implored!
     And then I paused and a laugh stirred within my soul.  For in my determination to focus on the tall tree as my choice for God in this prayer exercise, it struck me that in fact ALL of the things in my experience were manifestations of God’s message to me.  I acknowledged that tall tree as the rock of faith. The wind is the Spirit constantly coming and going and flowing through my life.  The birds were the reminder of the hopes and aspirations, I had yet to realize.  And finally, that rhythmic rain represented those in my life, given by God, who repeatedly remind me that they need my prayers, love, and attention: my wife, my daughters and my family and friends!  I had inadvertently tried making this whole process harder than it needed to be.  Lesson learned: When it comes to prayer, conversing with our Heavenly Father, sometimes just get out of our own way, and surrender.  A wise priest friend of mine has pointed out, “If praying seems painful or difficult, maybe you’re doing it wrong.”