From Anguish to Activism

Does your memory hold a particular day when your life was changed forever? Not the date that you surrendered your life to Christ (if you have already done so), but another monumental day in your life that revealed just how badly you needed God in your life? For me, that date was April 22, 2001. On that day, a little over eleven years ago, my life was forever changed.

I was 23 years old and having the time of my life. God had been trying to reach out to me, but I ignored Him. I grew up Catholic; I was baptized, completed my confirmation and a ring with Jesus on the cross even rested on my finger. That was the extent of my relationship with God. Instead of acknowledging Him, I continued to do things my way. From the moment I woke up until the moment I went to sleep, my life was all about me; how well I was doing in college, how much money I was making at work, my relationships with men (to say they were unhealthy would be an understatement), how much I worked out and what my weekend would entail.

After ending a rocky six year relationship, I was enjoying my newfound freedom. In early April of that year, I had a dream in which I was in a horrific car accident with my SUV. The dream frightened me so much that I begged my mother to let me use her car – I was terrified to drive my SUV. After a week or so, we both decided I was being silly and I jumped behind the wheel of my own vehicle. After a day of errands and work, I was crossing a parking lot to get to my Rodeo. It was a beautiful evening – with the sun almost completely set, I walked across a large open space. I heard a vehicle enter the parking lot at what seemed to be a high speed. I didn’t pay attention to the truck until it was barreling straight for me. I tried to run, but there was no time. That night, about 20 feet away from my SUV, I was run over by a pick-up truck traveling around 50 mph.

Is This Really Happening?
One of the most amazing things about the human body is how it has the ability to block certain events or traumas from memory in order to protect us.  I only remember two specific things about the accident; first, I remember lying on the floor covered in blood, alone and terrified, crying out to God, “Please God don’t take me yet. Please let me see my mother again.” Second, I remember a moment in the ambulance, the paramedic holding my hand. “Will I make it to the hospital? Will I see my mom?” I cried. He held my hand up – we were both wearing the same exact cross ring – “I am not going to let anything bad happen to you, and neither is He,” the paramedic replied.

April 22, 2001, goes down in my personal history book as a “bad day.” I was transferred to a trauma hospital with broken ribs, a head injury, a fractured pelvis and wrist, and worst of all, my cracked floater ribs had ripped four large lacerations in my liver, causing me to bleed internally. To make matters worse, the driver of the truck, who was under the influence of drugs at the time, was my ex-boyfriend. “Will she make it?” I heard my mother ask the trauma surgeon. “Well, I have to be honest. Some pedestrians don’t even make it to the hospital. If she can hang on until the morning, I would say she has a chance,” he gently answered.

“He’s joking, right?” I thought. “If I just stay awake all night and not fall asleep, I will be okay.” With my mother in a chair next to my hospital bed, I didn’t take my eyes off of her all night.

A New Dawn
Alone in the ICU, I slept for what seemed like weeks. Hooked up to a morphine drip, I vaguely remember who came and went from my hospital room. When I was coherent, thoughts like “God, why did this happen to me?” flooded my mind.
After a lengthy hospital stay, the trauma surgeon came to say goodbye as I left the hospital. “Someone up there really likes you,” he smiled. “When I went in to stitch up your liver, you had completely clotted. I have never seen anything like it. Between the man upstairs and you being in good shape, you survived. You surprised me.” The surgeon, my friends and family were so excited that I had made it through, and all the while I kept asking, “Why did something like this even have to happen to me?”

All Aboard
My next stop on this journey involved entering rehab and relearning how to walk and put pressure on my liver. Just when I thought things were finally on an upswing, I was dealt another blow. Within a few weeks of the accident, I began to feel strange. Fevers were beginning to creep in on a daily basis, a strange rash formed all over my body, pain took over my joints and out of nowhere, I had a mini-stroke. After a few weeks of testing, a rheumatologist told me I had Systemic Lupus and that the stress of the accident on my body had made it come out in full force with all of its fury. Apparently, from the rheumatologist’s explanation, I was lucky – some people are misdiagnosed for years.
With a “deer in the headlights expression” on my face, all I could mutter was: “You’re joking, right?” Nope, she was serious.
Confused, worried, frustrated and angry – that is all I can remember feeling. “Wasn’t the accident bad , enough,  God? Now I have to have some strange disease that hardly anyone knows about and there is no cure for? Haven’t I been through enough? Are you punishing me for something?”

My mother, considered by most a “hard-core” Christian, kept praying over me and telling me “God has a plan.” I didn’t want to hear about His “plan”; I wanted to enjoy my pity party – population of one. Who wanted to hear about God at a time like this?!

Losing It All
The Lupus got worse and over the period of a year, everything that I knew as my “normal” life was gone. After spending years as a chemistry major and about to finish nursing school, my career was gone before it had even started. Any money I had saved went to medical bills or paying a nurse to take care of me. Many of the people I thought were my friends had long disappeared…enjoying their own freedom, their health.

I was alone; I had no distractions. God had me right where He wanted me – He had my full attention now and I had all the time in the world. And, even with all of my stubbornness, kicking and screaming, He began to work in my heart. It took a while, but I eventually began to see that He did have a plan for me. Even with all of the drama and trauma that had happened in such a short period of time, something good was going to come out of these experiences. If He didn’t have a plan for me, if it was “my time,” my life could easily have been taken from me on that beautiful April evening. My armor was full of so many kinks and cracks at this point that I finally took it all off. “I’m all yours,” I cried out. “I give up. I have nothing left. Take my life God; I give you full control of it at this point. I’m finished.”

A Fresh Perspective
Over the next year or so, I spent much of my time healing from the accident and getting close to God. I realized that He had been trying to get my attention for so long – way before the accident occurred. I reflected back on times when I was doing things I shouldn’t have been doing, or spending time with people who were just bad news and I remember this stirring in the pit of my stomach as if someone was telling me, “Get out of here now, there is so much more out there for you, why are you doing this!” I know now that was God trying to speak to me. He was trying to warn me of what would come if I continued down the path I was on. He was reaching out to me to show that the peace and love I was desperately searching for would come from Him, not from the world around me.

The Lupus got worse before it got better, only now I had God by my side to help get me through it. Over the next 11 years, I would endure three additional mini-strokes, a brain aneurysm, jaundice, blood clots, over 30 hospitalizations, too many heart issues to name, weekly IV treatments, a year of being wheelchair bound and a long stint in the hospital where I supposedly “wouldn’t be coming out alive.”
Guess what? I’m still here and I’m not going anywhere just yet.

When I think about life now, I am reminded of Romans 8:28 which states that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Even with the accident and the illness, God has done some incredible things. When I was bedbound, I began writing again – something I was fond of as a teenager. I fervently prayed one night, “God, what’s my purpose? What can I do for you? I want to do something that will help people , but I am stuck in bed right now – help me.” Three days later I received an unexpected call from someone I barely knew at the Good News offering me a volunteer writing position. I laughed in excitement. What started out as a volunteer writing position eventually turned into a staff writing position and then a position as one of the editors. I eventually branched out to other writing endeavors. The best part is that God blessed me with a talent that I am able to use from bed when I am sick and I get to share my experience with Him to others in a way that I never imagined. I still get to help people – but in a different way than was originally planned.
In addition to a new career in writing, I sit on the Board of Directors at the Lupus Foundation of America, Southeast Chapter. I volunteer alongside an incredible group of people who reach out to men and women all across the world and help them through what can be a difficult and frightening diagnosis. My first book on Lupus is almost completed, too.

It has been an 11 year journey, but God has taken every single horrible thing that has happened and turned it into something prosperous, joyful and fruitful. Only He has the power to do that.

A Brand New Life
During this month, officially declared Lupus Awareness Month, my goal is to reach out to those who are suffering and remind them that there is hope. It is a reality that bad days, even weeks or months, will enter the lives of those of us who are chronically ill, but it is during those times that our faith and hope in Christ will get us through. I promise you that He can bring you out of those dark days – that you will once again laugh, be thankful for the life that you have been given and see the purpose that He specifically has for you. My experiences remind me of the lyrics from “Strong Enough”, one of my favorite songs by Matthew West:

“You must, You must think I’m strong…to give me what I’m going through/Maybe, maybe that’s the point…to reach the point of giving up/ Cause when I’m finally at rock bottom, well, that’s when I start looking up.”

Are you experiencing a difficult season of your life? Are you suffering from illness or a tragic event and feel like you just can’t make it through another day? Can I reassure you that God is right next to you, watching everything that you are going through and wanting to help you? He wants to hold you tightly, offer you His strength when you are running on empty, tell you that He loves you and that He is working out something amazing for you during this time of struggle. So, let today be one of the monumental days of your life – a day that goes down in your history as the day you shifted your eyes from the things of this world and decided to focus them on God instead; a day that you gave up a life of fear, sadness and worry for a life of peace, freedom and a love like no other.  Let today be the first day of your new life with Him.

Marisa Zeppieri-Caruana has been a featured speaker on the topic of Lupus in Glamour, MSNBC, WedMD, Eating Well and South Florida Today. To learn more about Lupus or find a local support group please call 561-279-8606 or visit www.lupusfl.org.

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