• Alexandra Borchard

What My Chronic Illness Taught Me About Being Gutsy

What does it mean “to have guts”? Well, I think I can try to explain it by telling my own story of my beautifully inflamed, very messed up, guts.

“Chronic illness,” “no cure at the moment,” “have to make a tough decision weighing the costs and benefits,” “trial and error,” “high toxicity levels of this medicine,” “cancer screenings,” “no, we still do not have an exact answer as to why you got this”.....

That last one was the real sticking point for me. For someone who thrived on order and control, this was the hardest thing to accept. At 24 years old, leading a healthy, blissfully content existence, I was presented with a disease for life (Ulcerative Colitis--yay!) and there was nothing I could have done, or could do at the moment, to change it. While I was supposed to be shopping for a wedding gown, mulling over the font of the invitations, or practicing the “first dance” with my fiance, I could not shake the feeling of an immuno defeat with no medical cure.

As I picked up medicine after medicine, all of course with the lovely “black box warning,” experienced two flares (basically the stomach flu on steroids), and bounced from doctor to doctor, all just 2 months after getting married to my prince charming, it was easy for my anger at God to boil over. My prayer was consumed with confrontations...“Why are you punishing me?” “I’ve done my best to live a good life, I go to church, I pray… what did I do wrong?” “I DO NOT DESERVE THIS!” My emotions swung on a pendulum, passing from frustration to self pity again and again as I grappled with the concept of theodicy, or wondering where God was in all this awfulness.

What I later realized, after I finally moved onto the acceptance phase of my diagnosis, is that what I saw as punishment was actually a divine gift. God presents all of us with an opportunity to be awakened from our bland, apathetic human existence to enter into a holier life. I am not saying that this “divine jostling” out of the man-made rut is a smooth ride; by its very nature, it must unsettle you, make you uncomfortable enough to drive you to seek the Truth. But it is so worth it.

At a crossroad, deciding between the culturally-popular victimization path or the harder, culturally-uncommon spiritual path, I somehow managed to limp down the path towards God. For those currently at a similar crossroad, my message is this-- I hear you. Life sucks sometimes. Yes, your burden is ridiculously heavy. But I can promise you this: by choosing His way, your load actually becomes lighter, you become stronger, you become capable of living a life with incredible purpose.

The entrance fee to God’s path is acceptance. This is a heavy cost for people like me. But God gave me a challenge that hit on the one attribute that made it hardest for me to fully trust in Him-- my sense of control. Ironically enough, by finally accepting that I had a disease and there was nothing I could do to change it, it required me to finally, fully give myself up to God. Like St. Faustina, I was able to truthfully say, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

By being “gutsy,” I have lived a life that is deeper, more spiritual, and at times, filled with pure joy. Little things that used to bother me-- how I look, what others thought of me, am I good enough?-- do not. I realize that by accepting my cross, I have been given an incredible chance to be more Christ-like. When I look at the crucified Christ in every church I enter, I think to myself, how else could I come to know my Lord without undergoing my own suffering? At first a curse, my disease became one of my blessings. Taking the first step down the path of trust, of giving up control, of realizing that there is so much I do not understand, that was spiritual bravery. And that my friends, is what it means to be “Gutsy.”

-The “Gutsy” Cowgirl Teacher

Image of The Divine Mercy, as revealed to St. Faustina Kowalska in 1931.


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