By Nicholas Praetzel
As the title suggests I work as a groundskeeper for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. Those of you who garden know how serene working in God’s creation can be, and those of you who have heard nuns sing know how soothing of an experience it can be. As such, I find myself with nearly forty hours a week where my mind can wander and reflect as I garden. I hope and pray that by sharing my reflections through this medium, I may speak to the heart of even one person who reads my words. So without further ado, allow me to share one of my recent reflections with you.
How many times have you thought “why me God?!” I know I’ve thought those words a lot. I was never the healthiest child. I grew up with a slew of medical issues, and at age ten I was diagnosed with epilepsy. For those of you who don’t know, epilepsy is a neurological (brain) disorder. When I started having seizures I thought nothing of them. At first they were small— one of my arms would spasm for a bit and then it was over. I thought what was happening to me was completely normal. However, what was happening to me was far from normal.
As my epilepsy progressed things got worse, I began to have full body seizures where my entire body would spasm. I notified my parents of what was going on, and that is when the doctors got involved. As it turns out, I had what the doctors called simple partial and complex partial epilepsy. Even stranger, I was conscious for most of my epileptic episodes. According to my doctors, it was more common for people to black out during their seizures, so the fact that I remained conscious was out of the ordinary.
Being conscious during my seizures only made them more difficult. I couldn’t speak or control my movements. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t do a single thing to get myself out of the terrible and dangerous situation I was in. I remember one episode while I was waiting for the bus with my sisters. I fell to the ground as the tremors wracked my body. My head repeatedly bashed itself against the pavement and blood began to seep out, matting my hair. I was causing myself harm but was powerless to save myself. I could hear the screams of my sisters and the other children as the bus pulled up. And suddenly I was lifted off the ground. (Side note, don’t lift someone having a seizure. It is unsafe, but we did not know this at the time). My father who hadn’t left for work yet had rushed out of the house and down to the end of the driveway where we had been waiting for the bus. His white dress shirt was not stained red with my blood as my seizing limbs and head lashed out at him, undoubtedly leaving some painful bruises. As he lifted me and carried me to the house I remember him whispering into me ear and calling me by name saying over and over again, “I love you Nick. We love you Nick.” He carried me to safety and laid a pillow under my head to prevent me from harming myself any further, waiting with me until it was over.
I remember asking God: Why? Why me? Why did I have to beat this cross? What good could possibly come from this burden? I did not understand. I did not see any grace in that suffering. I felt only pain. I was angry at God. I felt slighted and hurt and refused to believe that there was any good that could ever come out of horrible experiences like mine. At times, it even made me question if God really loved me. Then one day it hit me. That is exactly what he was trying to teach me. My father came to me when I was helpless. I was trapped in a situation in which I was causing myself harm and was powerless to change my situation or help myself. He took me in his arms, ignoring the pain it would cause him, and knowing that I would continue to hurt him, and professed his love to me, calling me by name. Is that not what God the Father has done for us? He sent his only Son to die on a cross and bear our sins, knowing full well that we will still disobey and turn against him. And even when we do, even when we are bogged down in our sin and shame he picks us up, pulls us into his arms, calling us by name and whispers in our ear, “I love you.”
Years have passed since that seizure. And with help from solid doctors and by keeping the faith, I was able to overcome my epilepsy and have not had a seizure for a few years now (Praise God)! Deuteronomy 1:30-31 reads: “The LORD, your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he acted with you before your very eyes in Egypt, as well as in the wilderness, where you saw how the LORD, your God, carried you, as one carries his own child, all along your journey until you arrived at this place.” That verse will always be dear to me. It reminds me of the purpose God has for me. My struggle was not meaningless, it served to draw me closer to God. I have been blessed with an earthly father who has reflected the love of my Heavenly Father and taught me so much. I hope that his actions and the struggle God gave me will enable others to find meaning in their own struggles. To God be all the glory for ever and ever! Amen.
Edited by: GraceAnne Sullivan