Sunday, October 11, 2015

Part Four: Peace and joy replace fear!

Read Part One, here.
Read Part Two, here.
Read Part Three, here.

The first three parts were difficult to write, because it was uncomfortable to "go back there", and this fourth part is difficult for entirely different reasons. So much good, so many fruits, so many lessons, so much excitement about what to share. If I had you cornered in a room, I would talk and babble on, full of energy and delight about the goodness of the Lord! As I said at the very beginning, the worst experience of my life is the thing for which I am most thankful -- it has changed everything.

For reference: I have always understood and believed that I have led a "charmed life", in the sense that, although I have had traumas and sufferings in the past, I have had inordinate blessings. I have never been neglected, felt unloved, or struggled with my self-esteem. I have never suffered hunger, poverty, a broken home, or a terrible disease. I have not experienced existential angst. I have been a generally and genuinely happy and grateful person who loves my life, my family, my country, and my God.

But as with everyone, dark things were lurking within, hidden things that I denied or manipulated or ignored, and those were the things that God wished to purge out of me, in order to bring me closer to Him, the end for which I was made. Among these sins and faults were my need for control (specifically, the careful way I managed and sublimated some profound fears so that they wouldn't affect my life), and the "idolization" of my mind. God had to strip me of these things because they kept me from Him.

As you have seen from my story thus far, I lost all control (which is an illusion anyway) and I effectively lost my mind. Both idols, suddenly gone. What was left? Just me and God. Just us, creature and Creator, looking at each other. Just me, trusting Him to get me through. I still loved Him, and I willed to trust Him.

That is all He needed.

What He did for me is indescribable. The most profound fruit of my suffering was loss of fears.

Let me give you just one example: my fear (phobia) of flying.

I manipulated and stuffed my fear of flying by, well, essentially not flying for 12 years. Though I flew a lot in my youth, I began to be fearful after I had children; I didn't want to be separated from them, and since I was not a pilot, I could not be in control (theme!) if something went wrong at 30,000 feet. My particular negative thinking pattern (as the cognitive behavioral therapy identified so well) fell into the "catastrophic thinking" category. I was always taking my active imagination to the most unreasonable yet disastrous outcome, thinking in headlines, always living in the future, queen of the "what ifs?", and learning how to carefully control against impending doom. I liked my charmed life, and I was determined to keep it, but that meant anticipating and fending off all sorts of conjured disasters.

So, yes, except for one anomalous trip to take my daughter on a college visit, I stopped flying for 12 years. I knew my fear of flying was irrational and that driving to the corner store was much more dangerous, but it didn't matter. Booking a flight would mean weeks and even months of anticipatory worry, dwelling on the fiery crash that was surely my fate, never able to relax fully knowing that a plane trip was on the horizon. Once I was on a plane, I was not actually anxious, but the build-up was torturous. To rid myself of that fear, I just stopped flying. No more worries, problem solved!

Well, except...

I cannot tell you how my fear of flying impacted over a decade of my life. I missed out on so many opportunities, vacations, weddings -- and getaways with my poor husband, who would have loved to have swept me away somewhere. I was not budging, and Dean and others suffered because of it. I didn't have to "worry" about flying, but I hated, hated, hated that this fear kept me grounded. And I always knew that fear is not of God.

So back to the fruit: After God brought me through my mental breakdown, I had no more fear of flying. Just like that. I was on a plane to visit my daughter less than two weeks after my re-emergence, and I had no anxiety. The freedom from fear was exhilarating! Just weeks after that trip, I was on another plane to the east coast, to visit my second daughter. No fear, and my husband and I had our first long-distance getaway in almost 20 years!

Before God healed me of my fears, I was concerned about what would happen if my gravely sick mother-in-law died. How was I going to tell my grieving husband that I could not get on a plane with him and accompany him to the funeral? How could I tell him that my fears would keep me from being a comfort to him at the loss of his mother? For the years of her illness, I tried not to think about it. About three months after I lost my fear of flying, Dean's mother died, and I was able to fly with him to the funeral, with no worries or hesitation. It was a huge blessing.

In addition to that first trip to my daughter's home in Nebraska, the subsequent trip to see my other daughter in South Carolina, and the trip for my mother-in-law's funeral in Atlanta, I have flown to South Carolina again (after the birth of my second grandchild), and I recently flew back to Nebraska. I will be flying back east this week to attend the White Coat ceremony for my son in medical school, and in less than a month, I will be flying to Virginia to give a talk to Catholic college and high school students.

From one flight in twelve years to seven flights in fourteen months... you have no idea how big that is. God freed me from my fears. I cannot describe the gift of that freedom! I don't even think the same at all. If the plane were to go down in flames, or if my children were to lose me to a terrible disease, or even if America collapsed in moral decay all around us (which it might), none of this is beyond God's control, or outside of His loving Providence. He can be trusted, no matter what, period.

Which brings me to the books: two books that God placed in my life just when I needed them, so that I would understand exactly what happened -- after the fact. That last part is so important, at least in my own personal journey. He took away my fears and anxieties by handing me a most agonizing but personalized cross, and only then, only after that trial, did He show me what had occurred, putting it all in the context that made perfect sense.

I wrote about the first book, Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen's Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Ushere ("Mind-blowing"), and then again, here ("Fearful? Surrender your will"). In the second one especially, I gave a teaser about my breakdown.

The book is short and simple and completely, utterly life-changing -- if you open your eyes, ears, and heart to the words. Over the months, the feedback I have received about it has been phenomenal. Providentially, less than 24 hours ago, I received an email from a regular reader/lurker who introduced herself and told me the following, not knowing that I was in the middle of writing this post:
I have read and re-read and shared and shared some more, the "Into Your Hands" book with many people. All have said it has had a huge impact on their life.
She added that she gives copies away (me, too!), and she made sure there is a copy in her parish library.

After God blew me away with Fr. Stinissen's book, He led me to Fr. Walter Ciszek's He Leadeth Me to finish me off! It could not have been a more perfect dovetail. While Fr. Stinissen tells the "what" and the "why" of total, trustful abandonment to God's will, Fr. Ciszek shows the "how" of it. His lived experience of total abandonment (as an American priest arrested and imprisoned by the Soviets and sent to the gulag for 23 years) was the practical application of everything I had just learned in theory from the first book! It was stunning.

While savoring the wisdom of He Leadeth Me, I received many confirmations that God had been with me during my time of suffering, but none so jarring to my soul as something I read as I was flying back from my mother-in-law's funeral. After his heroic faithfulness to the Lord while enduring great anguish in solitary confinement for those first years in a Soviet prison, Fr. Ciszek began to lean too much on his own power, trusting in his own will and strength instead of God's. A spiritual crisis ensued, a catastrophic crash into darkness, which he described this way (emphasis mine):

"I had been afraid before, but now I was afraid of myself."
[blink, blink]

My friends, I read that line and I literally gasped out loud and dropped the book on the tray table in front of me. His words were my words! His darkest suffering was the same as mine! I stared ahead, and with absolute awe I pondered what all of this meant. To me, it meant the world, and it meant something universal. So much more became clear to me, and when I finally picked up the book again to read, the story became a love story, a story of joy and peace and trust, even though Fr. Ciszek had almost two more decades to suffer, most of it aching with hunger in the frozen tundra, building cities for the Soviets with little rest. He was at peace, he had joy, and he had lost the fear of death.

The spiritual insights flooded in, and I began to understand God's grace in ways I had never understood before my breakdown.

By this time, I had already been back to the radiologist for my December follow-up scan. Although this would have previously been a huge trigger, I did not experience anxiety or panic. When I walked into the pulmonologist's office a few days later to hear the results, I met him with a smile and a handshake, nothing like the catatonic woman he had met in August. My scan looked good, but I knew going in that even if he gave me bad news, it would be okay. I was not obsessed with "what ifs" or catastrophic imaginings. God is in control, and He is my loving, trustworthy Father. Everything had changed for me, not in my body (which will inevitably decay and die someday), but in my mind and my spirit.

And that's my story. I have so much more to say, but no real way to put it into words. I can tell you that my prayer life has also improved greatly since then, as I have committed to it in a way I hadn't before.

What I want for you to know is that God loves you and desires intimacy with you. He knows what is best for you. Don't fear or fight the crosses He gives you. Be humble in total obedience, stay in His grace and pick up those crosses and carry them in trust, because they are given to you by a Father Who loves you, and Who will give you a joy and a peace that the world cannot give.

St. Peter Catholic Church, Omaha, Nebraska. Took my breath away when I saw it last month. 


Important note: All of this does NOT mean that you should not take your medication for anxiety or depression or panic or anything else that is indicted. Mental illness is real, it's a medical condition, and God has given us ways to combat mental illness and anxiety through both modern and alternative medicines. 

It also does NOT mean that if God brings you out of a panic attack or anxiety, that you will only feel happiness and joy from now on. You may feel anxious and panicked again in your life. But there can be an interior peace as well, if you trust and love God and surrender all to Him. Emotions happen, hormones happen, trust is an act of the will. Trust Him. 

It also does NOT mean that you needn't learn more about your thought patterns or learn to let go of those negative thoughts that feed anxiety. I am a huge fan of cognitive behavioral therapy. I only went to two sessions, but what I learned was invaluable. 

And to every peri-menopausal or menopausal woman out there -- if you have started having anxiety or panic, tell your doctor, as it could well be that your hormones are out of balance! If he or she dismisses you, find another doctor!


  1. All of this is tremendously encouraging and helpful! And I want to thank you a million times for the post script about the value of cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and the reality of mental illness. As you yourself discovered it can be truly crippling! But what I love about your story is the realization that once you've feared yourself, what bigger fear is there? We can laugh at the days to come.
    - from the Caroline you've Ben emailing.

  2. You could hook up with a doctor and co-write a book. Hook up the spiritual with the medical.

    Thank you for sharing. It isn't talked about enough.

  3. Beautiful, Leila! I can relate to so much of it. I have experienced a couple tragedies in my family, but I still managed to believe that if I just did the right things, was prudent, and loved God, nothing bad would happen to me. But I couldn't sustain that belief when I realized other people who were doing all those things were still experiencing tragedy. Like you said, my fears were stuffed down inside me, but they were affecting my life, especially my relationship with God. It's important to realize that even when we fall back into old habits for a time, all is not lost. We can become anxious that we are anxious, mad that we are mad, or sad that we are sad. Then it spirals out of control. Instead, we can trust God to take care of our lack of trust, just like He takes care of everything else. When St. Therese was dying, one of her fellow nuns predicted that she would falter in trust before the end. Therese was not bothered by that thought. She said that she knew how weak she was, that she could very easily fail. But God would be the same, so she didn't fear her own weakness. To know that not only what happens around me, but even what I do myself, is all covered by God's providence--that is peace!

    1. Connie,

      Love your books! I just bought more of them on I'd love to write some Catholic pro-life books, but I struggle with poor self confidence and courage. I think it is God's will for me to write books, but I am not sure how to get started. Any advice or encouragement? Maybe we can chat sometime? By the way, St. Therese is one of my favorite saints and one of my patron saints. Nice to meet you.

  4. Caroline/Sarah, you said:

    I want to thank you a million times for the post script about the value of cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and the reality of mental illness. As you yourself discovered it can be truly crippling!

    Yes! I don't want anyone to believe or think for a minute that God wants them to forego the good medicine and physicians of this world. Grace builds on nature, it does not destroy or obliterate it!

    But what I love about your story is the realization that once you've feared yourself, what bigger fear is there? We can laugh at the days to come.

    BAM! This is it! Yes, a million times!

    LizaMoore, now that is something to think about! Thank you! :)

    Connie, you said: [Therese] said that she knew how weak she was, that she could very easily fail. But God would be the same, so she didn't fear her own weakness. To know that not only what happens around me, but even what I do myself, is all covered by God's providence--that is peace!

    Yes, BAM! I have discovered the "power" of weakness! I think I should make St. Paul's words my motto:

    "...but [Christ] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me....Therefore, I am content with weaknesses ... for when I am weak, then I am strong." -- 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

  5. OH! And one other thing I wanted to mention: The day after I started to come out of my crisis was the day that Robin Williams committed suicide. I remember having so much compassion and sympathy for him. I had compassion for those who were suicidal before, but this time, because I had a glimpse of the terror and darkness and desperate need to "get away from it", my sympathy was now more like empathy. I am VERY sensitive to those who suffer from anxiety and panic and depression. Even though I never experienced despair or suicidal thoughts, I absolutely knew even then why people are driven to suicide. I was heartbroken for what Robin Williams must have been enduring when he chose to take his own life, but I was also so aware of God's goodness and His mercy.

  6. I just looked at the conference you're going to be speaking at. Wow! Quite a line-up. What an honor for you.

  7. Leila,
    I enjoyed reading this series of posts about your experience. I'm so happy you got through all of with a deeper trust and love for our Lord! I have the book , Into Your Hands, and started reading it after yoir recommemdation awhile ago. I need to finish it! Thank you for your encouagement in the last paragraph..."Don't fear or fight the crosses He gives you." God bless!

  8. I enjoyed this series of posts. I hate to admit it, but I am glad in a way that you were able to taste some of what the mentally ill go through every day, bad days, or days off our meds! And I am glad that you have been healed of it. So many well meaning "sane" people really just don't understand what it's like and lack true compassion.

    My struggles have become a somewhat accepted cross that I offer up especially for the salvation of my children. I am often not the mother I should be, but hope my sufferings will make up that.

    I will have to look into Into Your Hands, Father. I read Fr. Ciszek's He Leadeth me at the same time as his With God in Russia, it was very powerful. Now I never forget to say my morning offering!


  9. Leila,

    Giving you a big hug! Loved reading this! Thank you so much for sharing! I suffer from a lot of irrational fears and anxieties too (fear of flying, fear of driving, ect.). Glad to hear I am not alone! Your post has encouraged me so much and inspired me to read those books you recommended! Thank you! Much love, hugs, and prayers for you and your family! Love you, dear friend! Wish we could meet - I'd so love to chat with you in person and give you a big hug!

    PS. Will those talks you're giving be recorded? I'd love to hear them! I am so thankful to God for you - you have encouraged me in the faith so much and you are a wonderful friend! Thank you!

  10. Amazing series of posts, Leila. So glad you wrote these!! I have a better understanding now of why you said this experience so utterly changed you. I'm heading for a reread!

  11. Thank you all so much! I really appreciate the kind words, thoughts and insights!

    Maria Therese, You are so sweet! You know, I haven't yet asked if my talk is going to be recorded. :) I will find out.

  12. From Becky, who could not post (Blogger is annoying that way sometimes!!):

    First off--wow, how wonderful, amazing, how good God is. He loves us so much. I love stories like this, how God uses love to heal a fear. How he takes it away. It doesn't happen very often that He does this, most of the time he asks us to use it to increase in holiness but every so often he takes it away!

    I can so relate to your crippling fear. I feel relief in hearing you talk about it because I haven't been able to put my experience in words. When I have tried to explain it to people, I feel like they don't get it, so I just haven't really talked about it since.

    For me, my crippling experience happened after my heart attack. (I'm giving you the short version.) I had the heart attack, fast forward to a week of coma sleep and then waking up. This was a week of rejoicing and thanksgiving as we all celebrated my miracle of being alive. I had a very hard time relating to my family's fear of "being dead" because I couldn't remember certain parts of my "death". (That came back later.) But I took their word for it that it was a miracle that I was alive!

    Then a few days before I Was supposed to be discharged, I had a procedure done that I had agreed to for stem cell experiment. (The idea was that my stem cells from my spine would be injected into my heart to create healing.) That day, I went for my daily walk around the hall and could barely make it back to my bed. I was so weak and out of breath. I didn't think much of it and neither did anyone else. I had the stem cell procedure done, and what was supposed to only take a half hour, it turned into a four hour procedure. When the doctors went into my heart, they found hundreds and hundreds of blood clots, along with my dissection CONTINUING in my heart. They put in more stents and put me on blood thinners right away.

    When I heard this, the drs were celebrating for another miracle granted. I, on the other hand, was very shaken. I couldn't believe that they had accidentally not finished closing the first dissection and that it was continuing all that time. I was so scared to go home for fear of another dissection happening again. If I had not had that procedure--I can assure you that I would not be alive today. I would have gone home and had another heart attack, and with my heart as weak as it was, I very much doubt I would have lived. This shook me to the very core and a fear came over me that I Couldn't shake.

    You mentioned Robin Williams death happening during your crisis (or right after, I can't remember.) Well, for me, it was Brittnay Murphy. I was still in the hospital, and this was right after my second brush with death when Dennis casually mentioned that Brittnay Murphy died of "some heart condition". (Later, it was found that mold in the house was the problem, but I believe it created complications for her heart.) They found her in the shower when she died. I had also been warned that I needed someone around when I took my showers, because the heart works even harder since there is so much steam, making it difficult to breathe. I found this to be true, as I would need to nap after every shower I took. Now I heard about Brittnay Murphy dying of a heart condition, at nearly the same age I was! It made my fear turn into panic.

    to be continued...

    1. continued, from Becky:

      I will spare you many details as this is turning into a book. Fast forward through weeks of recovery at home. Like you, I couldn't be around my kids as they would cause me to panic. Just having them near me set me in panic and stress mode, because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get myself strong enough to serve them as I did before. So Dennis constantly made me go to my room--where I had the heart attack--and I would listen to them laughing, playing, crying and fighting, and I couldn't be with them. In the meantime, I was going to the hospital constantly, as my anxiety was causing my heart to go into constant arrhythmias. Pretty soon, I had drs and family questioning why I was always going to the hospital. I sensed that they thought I was trying to prolong my "sickness" for some TLC. No one seemed to understand that no matter where I went, I was in agony--either I was at home and unable to be with my family because they would "make me sick", or I was in the hospital in agony that I couldn't be with my family. I was so scared all the time that I couldn't even get dressed. For some reason, even movement would cause me great anxiety and so I stayed in my pajamas all the time. I couldn't eat without food falling off my fork. I lost 35 pounds in one month (most of it pregnancy weight). I couldn't pray to God, for fear he would strike me down again. I was truly convinced that I had done something to deserve my heart attack. It was a true agony that was all my own, as no one could understand what I was going through.

      And like you, I received a grace of healing. It started very gradually. I began to say out of pure faith (not necessarily because I believed it), "Jesus, I trust in you". And very gradually, I began to sense a small tiny light within me. The light would become stronger over the days and as I continued to say that small phrase of faith. Eventually, I moved onto the rosary, again, out of pure faith. I was so afraid of God "noticing me" and striking me down that I was afraid to pray to him at all. But I realized interiorly that I was at a crossroads in my life; if I didn't start practicing the faith I had always claimed to believe in, that I would eventually die a spiritual death much worse than any heart attack. This knowledge propelled me into a supernatural fear--but a good one--that eventually brought about the restoration of trust. I said the rosary every day, and it became my lifeline to healing. I treated that rosary more "necessary" than my heart medications that I was on, so convinced was I that It had saved me from suicide and spiritual death.

      So Leila--thanks for putting into words what I could not! I am thankful you said it--because now I got to tell my story too. No one really understands what it's like, but I know you do.

      God is so good!!!

  13. I received Leila's ok to post this; for those whose dr's (like mine), aren't fully on board with holistic treatments, a while back I found a OTC hormonal creme that helped me and some friends. So just a FYI for those interested, google Ann Louise Gittleman (ph'd in clinical nutrition), offers Progestakey; No url link to emphasize that I have no professional, or financial connection with the company/ product. (Nor am I implying that all cases can be solved without professional guidance; I checked with my gp to make sure there weren't any contraindications with other Rx or conditions.)

    That church is beautiful and so tranquil! I'm going to try to make it my screen background. 'He Leadeth Me' reminds me not to complain so much!

  14. I haven't been around much, but I'm so glad to have been able to catch these posts! It is so true about being able to better empathize and understand what so many people struggle with, once you've had a taste of depression yourself.
    Imbalanced hormones are awful. I'm pretty sure I had late inset PPD after #2, and definitely had prenatal depression with #3. It is so hard knowing it isn't logical but not being able to do anything about it, or explain it. The worst part is the spiraling. I'm so glad to hear you made it through, and have blossomed as a result.

  15. Great story, Leila! But wait... your son is studying on the East Coast? The same son who noticed my daughter's picture on Facebook? Hmmmmm.... is he still available? :)

  16. Sharon, ha ha, he is single! I'll message you...

  17. Excellent post! Thanks for sharing.

  18. Thanks Leila! This was a good read. I love Fr. Walter Ciszeck so much and of course, St. Teresa of Avila.


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