The Michael Jordan dilemma

Michael jordan dunk

A problem that all people share is what could be called the “Michael Jordan dilemma”. It is the knowledge that you have worked really hard for something day after day, and now it comes so easily to you that other people start to believe that it is easy. As Jordan says:

“Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I led you to believe it was easy when it wasn’t. Maybe I made you think my highlights started at the free throw line, and not in the gym. Maybe I made you think that every shot I took was a game winner. That my game was built on flash, and not fire. Maybe it’s my fault that you didn’t see that failure gave me strength; that my pain was my motivation. Maybe I led you to believe that basketball was a God given gift, and not something I worked for… every single day of my life. Maybe I destroyed the game. Or maybe… you’re just making excuses.”

Most people don’t see the hours I spend maintaining my already flagging health—really only my immediate family does. If I appear healthy and happy-go-lucky on the outside, it is because I have worked really hard to make myself that way. Good health is a God-given gift, so please please please cherish it if you have it!

Cystic fibrosis is much more complicated than just having asthma or flu-like symptoms. In honor of MJ, the greatest #23 of all time, I’m going to give 23 cystic fibrosis related complications. They represent all of the excuses that people with CF could give…

Diabetes, vitamin D deficiency, infertility, nail clubbing, pleurisy, exhaustion, osteoporosis, dehydration, liver disease, gallstones, pancreatitis, malnutrition, intussusception, pneumothorax, nasal polyps, chronic rhinitis, pneumonia, chronic cough, anxiety, depression, hypoxemia, acute bronchitis, and bronchiectasis.

All of this is why, technically, the US government considers me a “disabled person”. They go by a definitive measurement called FEV1 which means Forced Expiratory Volume 1, or how much air you can blow out in 1 second. Any CF patient with an FEV1 below 40% is considered disabled. Here is my FEV1 from my most recent doctor’s appointment (click to see a larger picture):

FEV1

Fev1 (2)

As you can see, it is at 32% which is actually really good for me. This means a person with 100% lung function at my age would blow out 4.33 liters of air in 1 second, while I blow out 1.39.

I could collect a government disability check for about $500-600 per month, and have a nice comfortable life where I kick back on my couch and play Call of Duty all day. But, as Pope Benedict XVI put it in his encyclical Spe Salvi, “Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God.”

It is pretty obvious that Michael Jordan didn’t become comfortable after winning his first championship—he grabbed the bull by the horns and his Bulls won 5 more rings. He was motivated by more than championship rings. He wanted to be the greatest basketball player who ever lived. My motivation and fulfillment come from a higher source—the greatest man who ever lived, the Son of God and Son of Man who never made even one excuse, namely Jesus Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” —Galatians 2:20

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His yoke is easy, His burden is light

Jesus X-ray

Disease and illness are things that terrify most people, because the suffering resulting from them seems to have no “point” to it. The types of suffering that have a “point” like say, the frustrations that come with raising children or owning a car, seem to have more value because the end goal is more tangible. But, things are not always as they seem. What is the end goal of the sufferings of leprosy, cancer, or cystic fibrosis? To stay alive. And that is exactly why illness is so special, because the consolation or prize is life itself. Thus, an ill person has a deeper appreciation for life, and takes it less for granted.

Jesus wishes every person could have this appreciation for life deeply ingrained in them, because He suffered and died on the Cross so that we may again share in God’s divine life.

His Passion at the time that it was happening seemed to have no “point” — how could any good come from being scourged and nailed to a cross? The answer lies in His innocence and His genuine love for his executioners. Jesus forgives them because he sees the good in them—he knows that even they are made in God’s image and likeness. This unbelievable forgiving love is what God is. He is pure love. Every fiber of Jesus’ being is love. So, to be truly Christ-like, a sick person should love the thing that is killing him. It is only through this radical love that sin and death lose their power…and the only place sin and death have absolutely no power is in heaven.

It is a paradox, but because of what Jesus Christ did for us, the closer you are to this seemingly pointless suffering, the closer you are to the threshold of heaven. Whether or not you “cross” that threshold comes down to an act of the will— the act of loving your sufferings just as He did on the Cross.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him.”Philippians 1:29

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” —1 Peter 1:6-9

“Dear friends do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:12-13

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” —Romans 8:17

“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” —Philippians 2:14-16

“But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps.” 1 Peter 2:20-21

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” —Matthew 11:28-30

Beast Mode

A good analogy for having cystic fibrosis is that it’s like being a running back on a football team. You have to be fearless. You take brutal hit after brutal hit, and every time your number is called, you know that the other team’s only objective is to pummel you as hard as they can. The football is your positive attitude and love of life, and the last thing you wanna do is fumble it. All cystic fibrosis wants to do is strip it from your arms. The medications and machines will be your blockers, sure, but you have the football and it will only advance as far as you take it.  Some days you may only get back to the line of scrimmage, but most days you can move the chains simply by not complaining, and going about your CF treatments with joy.

The best running backs are always great in one statistic – yards after contact. Nothing can bring them down, just like nothing can bring people with CF down. Nebulizer treatments and vest four times a day? Nope. Hospital stays, lung infections, and PICC lines? Psshhh, please. Hundreds of pills, insulin shots, coughing fits, and the looming thought of a double lung transplant in the future? We are bigger than all that.

I have a huge sports crush on Marshawn Lynch because of his running style. He is known as “Beast Mode” because he is so hard to tackle. The touchdown run above has been called one of the greatest in NFL history (sorry, Saints fans), precisely because it was in the playoffs and he ran through so many tacklers, so many things that were trying to bring him down. When CF tries to beat you down physically and emotionally, you have to remember to protect that football and keep driving your legs forward. Bear in mind that if you stay in “beast mode” eventually you will reach the end zone, and at the end of your life the people who knew you will say that you had one of the greatest, most inspiring runs they’ve ever seen.

In the arena

I read a Pew Research Center poll recently that said that among American Catholics, something like 60% admit to not attending Mass on a weekly basis. This is a pretty sad fact, considering the poll also said that Americans tend to lie and say they go more often than they really do. I’d like to make this post a challenge: a challenge to myself and to my fellow Catholics to be more “on fire” for the faith than ever before. To pray harder, to go to Mass and confession more often, to put the Cross at the center of our everyday lives in a more profound way.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:  “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.” (2181)

To be Catholic means to have the fullness of the Truth and to be metaphysically changed forever at the moment of one’s baptism into the Church. Catholics in baptism are given the greatest gift that has ever been given to mankind, the gift of sanctifying grace. Their conscience will never rest until it rests in this grace. So, it is a tragedy when they don’t take their faith seriously, because they are held to a higher standard by virtue of this baptism. The responsibility then falls on devout Catholics to wake these indifferent Catholics out of their spiritual slumber, and to show them the life of grace that they are missing out on.

We are called to be zealous missionaries, as Pope Francis has reminded us countless times. The richness of our faith is not meant to be closeted or put under lock and key. Our lives should be testimonies to the beacon of hope who is Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

One Bible passage that should literally scare the hell out of us  is when Jesus says in Revelation 3:15-22: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

We cannot rest on our laurels. Jesus has no tolerance for lukewarm or “fallen away” Catholics, because if they were catechized properly then they should know better. They should know that, in the end, what is at stake is the salvation of eternal souls. If that doesn’t light a fire in them, and spur them to go out and conquer evil in His name, then nothing will.

I’ll end this post with a famous passage from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt. There is no more worthy cause than being a witness to Jesus Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and for some lukewarm souls, recognizing this fact could mean the difference between eternal damnation and eternal blessedness.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Providence and Guardian Angels

On Monday night and Tuesday afternoon of last week I was reminded of God’s Providence in people’s lives, and of His sense of humor. I had an incident with my car (a 1998 Volvo), and the more I look back on it, the funnier it gets. On Monday night, while driving to get some food I could tell something was wrong with my gas pedal. It was sticking when I pushed down on it and it wasn’t popping back up very well. I got home all right, and just ignored it as an odd thing that 16 year old cars do.

The next day, I was driving home from class on Highway 114 and I pushed the gas pedal about half way down. As I let up on the gas though, the pedal didn’t come up with my foot. It was stuck, but this time it was really stuck. I tried putting my foot under it and yanking up really hard, but that didn’t work.

I had heard of this happening before, but to experience it is a whole different thing. It is pretty terrifying to be honest. At this point I had sped up to about 75 mph, but luckily I had a clear path to exit on Esters Blvd. I switched into neutral and just let my car coast. Of course, my RPMs shot up to 7000 and 8000, because my engine was still trying to accelerate. And let me say, it was LOUD.

I got to a stop sign and thankfully was able to turn off my engine. Within 10 minutes, a Boy Scout troop from Coppell, TX pulled up and offered to push my car into the parking lot of a nearby Hilton hotel. Being an Eagle Scout myself, I was glad I could help them fulfill their duty to “Do a good turn daily.”

This is where the story gets weirdly Providential.

A cheerful-looking middle aged man walked out from the hotel parking lot, staring at me and my car. I rolled down my window as he approached and he asked in his Swedish accent what I thought was wrong with my car. He said he knows Volvos really well (Volvo is a Swedish company), and is embarrassed that my car is malfunctioning because he is from Sweden. I popped the hood and, after inspecting the throttle cable, he said it was something inside the throttle body that he couldn’t fix then and there.

It turns out he was right – there was a problem with my air intake system, which contains the throttle body, which controls the throttle cable, which controls the gas pedal.

Volvo (1)

iPod touch (VOLVO) 040

He then pointed to his own car, sitting in the parking lot about a hundred feet away. It was a 1997 Volvo 850, and it was white. My car is a 1998 S 70, which is Volvo’s updated version of the 850 that was introduced in ’98.

This mystery man knew within minutes what was wrong with my car, and he was cheerful, funny, and prompt. He made a joke about Murphy’s law (anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) or as he said in his Swenglish, the “law of Murphy”.

I don’t believe all of this was mere coincidence, because the help came so quickly and was so effective. God in His Providence warned me the night before, but I ignored it. My Guardian Angel saw me through what was a terrifying and potentially dangerous situation, and made it into something hilarious. The funny Swedish guy with a white Volvo was my Guardian Angel just showing off. I pray this novena prayer sometimes to my Guardian Angel, and I would encourage everyone to pray to theirs as well. He can act as a powerful heavenly advocate, and I’m betting that if you simply ask him to, he will show you God’s work in your life in some pretty funny ways.

“O holy angel, whom God, by the effect of His goodness and His tender regard for my welfare, has charged with the care of my conduct, and who assists me in all my wants and comforts me in all my afflictions, who supports me when I am discouraged and continually obtains for me new favors, I return thee profound thanks, and I earnestly beseech thee, O most amiable protector, to continue thy charitable care and defense of me against the malignant attacks of all my enemies. Keep me away from all occasions of sin. Obtain for me the grace of listening attentively to thy holy inspirations and of faithfully putting them into practice. In particular, I implore thee to obtain for me the favor which I ask for by this novena. [Here mention your need(s).] Protect me in all the temptations and trials of this life, but more especially at the hour of my death, and do not leave me until thou hast conducted me into the presence of my Creator in the mansions of everlasting happiness. Amen.”

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