The first reading from Samuel details the story of David and Goliath. It’s a tale we all know well: the underdog saves the day! We can find this storyline emulated in our fables, movies, books, in our imaginations, it’s everywhere! And it isn’t hard to see why. It’s awesome, as in, awe inspiring that a little runt, much like you and me, could take down this giant with only a small round pebble and the love of God. Just imagine! Here is this small, ruddy and handsome boy volunteering to go up against a warrior who has been training since his youth, 9 foot 9 inches, gleaming in his armor, with a spear whose head weighs 15 pounds on its own, and he’s extending a nice offer to kill David and enslave all of his people. Delightful.
And yet, somehow, David knows that the Lord will be a refuge for the oppressed, and a refuge in times of trouble, just like we are told in Psalm 9. Even when no other man was willing to risk his life, David trusts that he is not risking his either, and that God not only wants to, but will help him, and that he will be victorious through God. That’s kind of great.
Personally, if there were a vicious Paul Bunyan type offering to use me as a toothpick, I’d be out of there. I don’t think that I would have the courage, or really the faith, that it took for David to refuse the chain mail, and run at Goliath head on, trusting that that stone would hit his foe just right. I don’t really think I’m underdog hero material.
For the most part, thank the Lord, we are not up against the Fee Fie Fo Fum of giant men or women. And I, at least, have never been faced with a spearhead that could be used for bicep curls. But we are all tested with adversity in all different ways. Through the grace and love of God, it is possible to conquer what seems impossible, because, or so I’ve been told, with God nothing is impossible.
Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of feeling this myself, this impossibility made possible, and I’d like to share my own story of divine intervention:
I am a high school graduate. I AM a high school graduate. I am a high school GRADUATE. Man is that weird. After walking the stage at the Patriot Center this Thursday, the 18th of June, with my class of 2015, I received an envelope, which contained my diploma, a record of my extensive community service work, my final report card, and a transcript detailing my high school successes. Behind the multitude of shiny gold and silver seals pasted on my diploma, and the careful calligraphic signatures, behind the 4.7 GPA I achieved this past year and my beautiful report card, behind all of that, you might find a record of my high school attendance. Here you might also find my shortcomings, and behind that, you find my very own giant enemy: this year, I only attended 100 days of school out of a possible 180 or so, most of which were half days. No big deal.
Now, I wasn’t traveling, or interning. There were no exotic cruises or exciting jobs, and no, I wasn’t suffering from the debilitating and rampant senioritis, a paralyzing condition with symptoms that include cutting class and going to Starbucks during lunch. Instead, for the majority of my time off of school, I was doing POTS.
POTS, or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, is an Autonomic Nervous System disorder classified as a form of Dysautonomia. The Autonomic Nervous System is made up of your Sympathetic and Parasympathetic systems, which are in charge of the the bodily functions we don’t think about controlling, like heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, pupil constriction/dilation, kidney function, temperature control, etc, etc.
Some of my symptoms include very low blood pressure and volume, and I suffer both bradycardia, which is a slow heart rate (~40 bpm) and tachycardia, which is fast heart rate (~125 bpm). Because, through God, all things are possible. These are the main contributors to my fainting, which some of you have seen first hand during a super long Gospel reading a couple of years ago. I also have the joy of severe nausea, palpitations, tremors, poor concentration, fatigue, migraines, forgetfulness, tingling, vasoconstriction, and a ton of other symptoms I’d be happy to share with you all at a later time, when I am not so dizzy.
POTS is also a perfect gateway for digestive problems and immune system disorders. Complications of the chronic illness can be debilitating and even life threatening, although doctors describe it as greatly reducing the quality rather than the quantity of life.
So. This was my senior year of high school, and also my junior year, and more than likely a part of all of my years back to my first memory of “blacking out” in first grade. Past that, it’s hard to speculate, since POTS is also quite adept at stealing memories. We call it potsie brain.
POTS can be idiopathic, meaning that it is it’s own disease, or it can be instigated by all sorts of things. I have friends who speculate genetics, but who knows? It’s origins are illusive, and there is a lot that the medical world still doesn’t know about this disease. It is a developing field. My mom always said I was a trend setter, after all.
When I was a kid I was sick all of the time. And I’ve always been best friends with the school nurse. If anyone needs to contact my girl Cheryl Langford from West Potomac, I’ve got her number on speed dial. That’s not a joke. She’s great. If you bring her some mixed nuts, she’ll crochet you a hat. And she makes excellent ice packs.
Anyways, I was always a little sick. Every so often, my sucky immune system would get in the way of my fun. I was suspended from my duty as a Safety Patrol when I fainted while conducting traffic on crosswalk duty. My supervisor decided I was more of a hazard to myself and others than anything else. She was probably right.
This odd behavior continued for years, and the fainting was joined by the splitting headaches, extreme fatigue, cloudy memories, etc etc. But at this point, it all seemed like it could be a part of being an adolescent. We like to take naps, school gives us headaches, and who ever remembers to take out the trash? The doctors chalked it up to the teenage existence and migraines. They told me to take an Advil and push on, but that wasn’t really sufficient.
Then, my sophomore year I was hit with the answer. I was, in fact, hit with a baseball bat that led to what turned out to be an answer. The bat gave me a pretty killer concussion that took me out for months, and that also severely exacerbated my other symptoms. My increased fainting led to more concussions and injuries in a short period of time. I have since bruised everything from my brain to my ribs to my toes and cheeks.
I used to have bad vision problems as a child, too: colors, spots, and double vision. These somewhat harmless occurrences were also worsened, and exploded into full blown hallucinations: sparkles and fireworks, figures, and shadows. It was the most terrifying thing that I have ever experienced. I have watched children huddling in dark corners and choking on spiders, and I have seen and smelt blood coming from my shower head, washing me in rust. I would become paralyzed in fear, shut down, panic, I’d even stop talking! Which just about never happens, as most of you know.
When it seemed that I was never going to get better, that there was no reasonable explanation, that no one could ever know what was happening, that maybe I was David, but there was NO GOD TO HELP ME, I was diagnosed with POTS. And I met my Goliath.
So this is what it looks like. I don’t know, maybe it looks alright. I’ve always had relatively clear skin, and easy to style hair, I try to stay effervescent and lively, and I think I can be kind at least as much as I am cruel. I’m no 9 foot 9 monster with what I imagine was greasy hair, scar face, and broken nails, with a side of knuckle sandwich.
Okay, maybe it looks alright, but it feels like death.
And so this is also what an invisible illness looks like. Right now I am faking it to make it with a smile, but I am beyond dizzy, nauseated, and my head is pounding with my heart, which I’m sure isn't happy about all of this standing.
And the worst part, for me, is that there’s nothing that I can do to make it stop. I can sit down for a moment, but I can’t stay in bed forever. I used to do gymnastics, and dance, run, swim. I liked to act and go to parties, stay out late and eat junk, but right at this moment it all seems pretty impossible.
And then I have to remind myself that, supposedly, nothing is impossible with God. And I still don’t believe it all the time, until I think of David, and I’m like: that dude was supposed to die by all odds, and he became a king. And I remember, that I AM A HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE. Despite missing what amounts to almost an entire year, I did it. And I AM GOING TO COLLEGE. If you had told me that even the morning I was accepted to my first choice, St. John’s College in Annapolis, where I will be attending in the fall, I would have scoffed.
I don’t think I’ve identified which smooth stone is going to knock it out just yet, and I have no clue what I’m doing, but I trust God will help me out with that. I trust that He is my refuge, and that He has provided that refuge in all of you. So, before I step down, because I know the sermon is always too long, no matter what, I want to say thanks. Because for every morning that I couldn’t walk, or see, or hear, or feel, for every second I’ve lost in my memories, you have all made it that much easier to build new ones. Meredith Maple helped me stick out my last years as a sidelined gymnast, with much more pep than I ever could have managed alone. When I feel too dizzy to stand, Linda and Mike help me push through for a hug at the Peace. When I was ready to put music aside, to give up for the headaches, every child and parent and director in the Children’s Choir gave me a reason to love it again. All of you, whether it’s through Lorraine Hamilton’s smile, Tracey Navratil’s laugh, Martha Beckford’s jokes, or Joe Gillfillan’s love for pumpkins— everyone should gift that man with a Spookie in October, he loves them!— have touched me. And I haven’t named nearly enough of you, but I do hope you know what an impact you have made on me. Because every time I want to put the pebble down, to back away from the fight, St. Luke’s reminds me that I’m not standing alone— there was a whole people of Israel behind David when he went to battle it out with Goliath, and I know that there’s a whole family, a whole lot of you, behind me. So thank you for that.