“IT IS GOOD TO GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD. TO SING PRAISE TO HIS NAME MOST HIGH. TO PRAISE HIM FOR HIS UNENDING LOVE IN THE MORNING, HIS FAITHFULNESS IN THE EVENING, ACCOMPANIED BY THE 10 STRING HARP AND THE MELODY OF THE LYRE.
YOU THRILL ME O’LORD FOR WHAT YOU HAVE DONE FOR ME. I SING FOR JOY BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU HAVE DONE! O’ LORD, WHAT GREAT WORKS YOU DO! HOW DEEP ARE YOUR THOUGHTS”. PS92:1-5
One November 4th, the time finally came. I was birthed into a family that was already established. The moment I was born I had 6 siblings – 5 sisters and 1 brother. After me, over the course of the a decade, six children – 5 boys and 1 girl – were born into the family. I am proud to be member of a family that had 13 children. There are 6 older and 6 younger than I.
My dad married twice and I am from his second wife. My wife says that my father took God to heart when he said to pro-create. Genesis1:28a says “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it….”. My Father believed in life, the word ‘abortion’ was not part of his vocabulary. Furthermore, he was truly a one woman man. He was a very devoted Catholic and we were all raised in the Catholic faith. He was an usher, a lector, and an extraordinary minister.
He was well liked by many of the congregation. My mother gave the word “servitude” a whole new meaning – she served with love. When my father and mother got married, right away she had to feed five other mouths plus her husband. Then came 8 more children. She prepared three meals a day and when my dad was home late or we got home late from sports practice she made sure to serve us a hot meal. She loved her husband unconditionally.
The education of all 13 children was private. Grade school, high school, and college.
I cannot say there was an exact time that I can pin point as a moment of conversion, a time that I proclaimed – actually said that I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and savior. The Holy Spirit is always on the move. He comes to people at different times and different places. He has been a part of my life since birth.
My dad has always told me …..he said “Sonny boy, God has a hand in your life”. Sometimes he said that rather harshly but that is something that is true of everyone here. God does have a hand in everyone’s life. He wants to be an integral part of my life for He is intrinsically involved and interwoven into the very fabric of my life. I think you will see that, indubitably, my relationship with my dad and the medical condition are key components to the foundation of my spiritual development.
U C, at the age of 2, I was diagnosed with epilepsy and there began the most exciting journey of my life. The first seizure I remember was in first grade. It was a ‘grand mal’ and I was loaded on the ambulance and wizzed away to the hospital. My dad was with me at the hospital – as he has been there over the next three decades – whether it was a seizure or an EEG. There must have been a sense of guilt on his part or maybe he was embarrassed that I was his son. I cannot say for sure but I am certain that the latter was not part of the equation. Even so, my parents had hopes and expectations for my life but they knew my life would be difficult because of the epilepsy. However, they brought me up as they did all the other children – with love and discipline. Part of that up bringing was attending church every Sunday. I learned very early that they brought all of us up with the same love for all because that was what my dad knew that God would have him do – to love us all unconditionally.
Growing up Catholic, I was baptized into the faith at a very early age . Then in second grade I made my First Confession and First Communion. Then came Confirmation and I wanted so much to be like my dad that I chose his confirmation name as my confirmation name. I really admired my dad and looked up to him. I started to serve as an altar boy and became more familiar with the different parts of the Mass. I felt very humbled to ring the bells during the elevation of the bread and the cup of wine. The erie thing about it was that the church got so quiet that you could hear a pin drop in this case it was the clanging of the bells.
I learned the concepts of discipline, priorities and commitment early in life. My priority was to live a life that was seizure free, but I had to live day-by-day always with the fear that I could have a seizure at any moment. I had to be disciplined enough to take my medication everyday, take and monitor my temperature and to not overexert myself in anything that I did. I also had to be committed to this process if I wanted to be seizure free.
The “pros” and “cons” of growing up with epilepsy. I had decided never to use the epilepsy as a crutch nor will I ever use it as such. First it made playing on the playground at school very difficult. Social Development. Children in grade school can be very mean. I was very timid as a child but living with the disorder made me very defensive trying to fend off and block insults as well as harsh and cruel words from other students. I was never one to let pride get the best of me and pick fights. Rather, I would just not tell anyone. I had a friend in 7th grade that I was really close with, we had done a science project together comparing the traditional combustion engine vs the Mazda engine. We got in an argument and he said he was going to ‘beat me up’. I got scared at the idea and convinced him that instead of using fists we go to the prairie path and throw crab apples at each other.
In high school, the classmates are more understanding of special needs students. My parents did not want me to live with that stereotype so they did not register me with the school district for special education.
While I was in high school, I had a seizure in physical education class while on the trampoline. They had to wrestle me off the apparatus.
I had a seizure walking to work from home. Work was about a mile and a half or two from home. Walking down one of the main thurough fares I had a grand mal seizure. Having convulsions and spasms on a busy street attracts a lot of attention. When I became lucid and was aware of my surroundings it was usually in the ambulance.
When I filled out an application for a job, and I came to the part where it asks about having limitations, this is what I would say: “I do have epilepsy and am on prescribed medication under a doctors care. This does not limit me to the activities in which I may engage.” I truly believed this but little did I know that it was actually a lie.
I attended basketball tryouts my sophomore year and the coach knew me and my condition. He told me that the basketball manager position was open if I was interested. So there began my career of being the team manager of many different sports. I did go out for track and field but pulled out because several times on the way home I had an aura and thought I was going to have a seizure but I did not. I realized that if I was going to “cry wolf” then what would happen if I ignore the real thing. I was manager of track and field and also baseball. There were many other “sports manager” roles I filled going on through college and my favorite was basketball. There were other seizures in college including one that took place outside the mug room doors in zero degree weather Again, my dad was there for me.
What was my relationship with God and my dad at this point. Well, God was there but He was in my back pocket. During high school I would get up at 5:30 in the morning and make breakfast for everyone. My mind was preoccupied with the impact that epilepsy was having on my life and my relationship with my dad. My dad had his own favorites out of the eight younger kids. During my senior year in high school I began to resent what my dad stood for. He never came to any of my basketball games or gave me a ride to the game like other parents did their children. He told me at the beginning that if I went out for a sport I would have to find my own way their and back. When I did call because I could not find a ride home he responded in a begrudging manner so he was not to happy when he finally arrived. What also clouded my mind was that he was a very frugal man. He was the one who held the ‘purse strings’ and I resented not getting an allowance. We got $1.00 everytime we cut the grass. Big deal! What I did not take into consideration was the fact that he was trying to provide for a battalion. When I went to mass on Sunday, it was by myself or other members of the family. Again, God was only in my back pocket. I remember praying to God to take these siezures away so I could be seizure free. I remember saying one time, “Not my will but Your will be done.” None of my other brothers and sisters wanted to do anything with me so I did my own thing. This same thing happened when I came to live at home during the summer months and after graduating from college. I would play various forms of solitaire to work on my hand-eye coordination and agility and hand strength. I had an interest in magic so I read up on magicians.
These feelings carried over into college. My dad would call often to see how I was doing and when I talked to him on the phone, it was not with any enthusiasm. When he did come to any of my basketball games I would resent the fact that they were there and would ignore him. I was not very encouraged or enthusiastic about the fact that he made an appearance to see his son. In fact, he mentioned one time that he felt I did not want to see him and that I felt embarrassed when he was around me. I tried to find other things to fill the void of an estranged relationship that I was responsible for creating. One was to go to church again. Another was joining the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
There were two summers I did not come home from college but stayed on campus to live. So with out a car, I rode a bike every where. Then I graduated from college in the fall and came home to live. My dad told me that if I did not want to live there, I could go live elsewhere. My college degree was a Bachelor of arts in Physical Education and I still had to do my student teaching so I could not do that. I would not be able to make a go of it. The student teaching was over and I had to find a job for the summer and I found a job as a cashier in the liquor department. In August of that summer after graduation from college, I went on a retreat. This was an experience. There was no perceivable, instant growth but it did give me a faith lift. This trumped them all. I believe that it was at this one, that I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I realized then that I was wrong in my relationship with my dad, and I had to have a change of heart.
In college, I took Bible Study 101 and Bible Study 202. What I got from the class was my first bible. My favorite verse comes from the Jerusalem Bible. Ecclesiastes 7:29 “For this however you must know! I find that God has made man simple. Man’s complex problems are of his own devicing.” I read it from cover to cover. I find it cool to say that I read 72 books in less than one years time. Though my opinions about my dad and the frustrations were still there I was able to deal with them. My feelings about attending mass on Sundays changed. Let me ask you – do you know where all sinners meet? At church!
I decided to be lector and then an usher and then a communion minister. Does this sound like anyone I talked about earlier?
So, for the next five years I road my bike to various substitute jobs. It was great exercise. I had a part time job also, though my expenses were non-existent since I lived at home and did not have a car. No car insurance or depreciation of value to worry about, no rent or mortgage payments, no telephone bills, all the food was bought for me. Even visits to the neurologist, EEG’s, and medication were taken care of. I did read my Bible but not on a regular basis.
WOW! The life! I could live carefree, do you think? NO. I still had two things hanging around. First, the biggest fear. That I could have a seizure at anytime and any day. Then there was the problems with my dad. I still took my phone calls where he could not hear my end of the conversation. I did not talk to him or seek to engage him in conversation like I did earlier. We used to play “Othello” or “Chinese Checkers” and see who could get there marbles to the other side in the fewest moves possible. Not anymore! We were as far apart as the east is from the west. What I did not know was that I needed to get a faith lift.
I co-chaired of a group called ‘Metanioa’ which in Greek means ‘change of heart’ or ‘broken heart’. We met weekly and put on retreats for people. Here, I got a lead on my first car. I followed up on the contact and owned my first car. Now I had expenses but it was worth it. What I also had was my ‘freedom’. Though I enjoyed very much the opportunity of meeting people, now I did not have to depend on other people to get around. Job opportunities opened up. I remember when gas was only .67 cents. There was an issue to contend with which I did not consider. My dad.
No one else who lived at home was ever able to own a car or a bike. This created real friction. I decided I would move out and now wasa good time. Then I got a phone call from one of the Benedictine Fathers who was school principal at Benet Academy in Lisle. He said there was an empty room at a little house on the property. I took it. At $500.00 a semester I could not pass it up. The car had some problems with it, one of which was the engine and the other was the left leaf spring. After removing all forms of identification from the vehicle I left it parked on the academy property in back of the house and started using my bike again.
Three years later, I was introduced to someone at a seminar who was a massage therapist. Massage therapy! Physical Education and Massage Therapy. I thought they fit like a hand in a glove. I enrolled in a certification program at the Chicago School of Massage Therapy. and my education and table were paid for through DORS (Department of Rehabilitation Services).
During the program, I did something stupid. I was picked up for shoplifting. I spent an hour behind bars until someone came to pick me up. Guess who that person was? My father. He loved his children and would help them out when ever they needed help. I am positive that to this day, no one else in the family knows about this incident and that my dad went to his grave with this secret.
While I was at my home in Lisle – on Sundays I would usher at the Abbey across the street. When I graduated from the certification program I applied for the position of a massage therapist at a fitness center in Elmhurst. I made the necessary travel arrangements.
The fitness center is where I met my future wife. After seeing my home, she said it was a dump. She was married, had 2 children, and was getting a divorce. We did get married and I had a ready made family. This boosted my relationship with God and I credit her for where I am now and for who I am now. Before we got married I made sure I told her about the stunt I pulled one night coming home from the city and she forgave me. I also let her know that I have epilepsy and was prone to sporadic seizures. I was on the same medication for years but over time it seemed to lose its effectiveness
There have been convulsions throughout the marriage. One night, picking me up from work, out of the blue she asks me if I thought about having an operation. I said ‘no’ and was strongly opposed to the idea. I told her that I believe that if you cut open the body and expose it to the atmosphere outside there was a greater chance of germs or bacteria getting into the body. I told her that the body was a temple, a vessel in which God lives. If He wanted me to be seizure free then He would make it happen. Two years later, I had a seizure that did some damage to the house. I was working in the washroom when it happened. I fell on the floor and I landed in such a way that one leg landed between the shower and the toilet. During the course of the convulsion, that leg kicked out and broke the water pipe to the toilet. Water was everywhere and I was laying in an inch of H20 and bleeding at the mouth. I was told one of the fireman made a quip “well, at least the water pressure is working”. There was water damage to the carpet in the house amongst other things.
While I was in the hospital for observation and testing, after hearing what damaged had happened to the house, I realized I could one day have a seizure that would land me in a wheelchair, making me an invalid. I could not do that to Diane. She depended on me and in a wheelchair I would be of no help to her. I told her I would have the surgery. This would be the first surgery I ever had and the amazing thing was that this was on the brain, one of the organs responsible for sustaining life .
The day of surgery was upon us. Before all this happened, my prayer life had become relational and I was eager to read God’s word. Sharing my faith was still hard for me to do but I did begin praying more. I learned that prayer was more then simply a onetime act but it was a lifestyle. It is a dialogue between two people who love each other. Starve my doubt and feed my faith. The morning of the surgery, I was not nervous for I had given it to God. On the other hand, my wife was biting her fingernails. Coming to in the recovery room, I praised God and prayed. The next morning I followed through with my prayer time and did not pass on it. While recovering at home I heard a voice say to me, “New lease on life”. About 14 months from the date of the surgery the deacons – from the church my wife and I attend – gave me a car. To this day, every time I get in the car for the first time that day, I sit and thank God and praise Him for the car. I say “this is a car I could not have acquired of my own accord”. If I pull out of the drive without thanking God then I will pull over to take some time to thank Him.(aside: the Honda in the Bible). I will not refer to the car as “my car” but rather as a Godmobile.
Two years later, a second surgery. This one was on the heart for a mitral valve prolapse. Again, when I came to in the recovery room, I praised God and prayed. Then I made sure that I read scripture the next morning. This time I heard a voice before I went into the hospital. This one recalled the words of a song that we sang at the contemporary mass in the parish hall. It said “Be a new man for life begins today. Be a new man, a new day’s on its way; with a new heart and a new song and one faith that we all belong too; one man and each man – forever.” The heart, another organ thought to be responsible for sustaining life. These two surgeries made a real impact on me and my prayer life just as battery cables make an engine rev to life. Another way to look at it is “the jump shot was to basketball as prayer is to revival”. The power of prayer cannot be under estimated. It is not merely an act but a lifestyle. Prayer is to the church as a bat is to a ball.
So for 9 years now I have not had a seizure. Praise God! For 7 years now I have had no problems with my heart. Praise God!
Two and a half years later, my dad died on 1104, my birthday, at the age of 96. From that point on I started to listen to music without lyrics and to certain programs on WMBI. Nine months later, my mother dies and now all I listen to is WMBI in the car. U C, it is not these actions that are important. They are merely physical manifestations of an internal decision. Every thing that God does in my life, regardless of the outcome, He does all for the glorification and manifestation of His name here on earth, through my life. So, the question I pose to you is “what is that internal decision?”
Again, “For this, however, you must know; I find that God has made man simple; man’s complex problems are of his own devising.” ECCL7:29