Life, love, and grace

Just to update everyone on my condition: I’m feeling amazing lungs-wise and I’m not in any pain, but I will probably be here until Thursday or Friday. The doctor has had me on continuous suction through a chest tube since last Thursday afternoon, so I haven’t left my hospital room since then. What the chest tube suction does is it keeps my lung close to my chest wall which allows the hole in my lung to heal.

I am grateful for all of your prayers and because of them my spirits are still high. Basically now it’s a waiting game—we are waiting for the hole in my lung to seal up, which takes time and is completely out of my control. (I don’t know exactly what Purgatory will be like, but this can’t be much different!)

So how exactly did my lung collapse? Well after many x-rays and a CT scan my doctors determined that I coughed so hard that I popped something called a bleb on my right lung. A bleb is a blister on the outside of the lung that is filled with air. They are common in people with chronic lung disease. When the bleb popped, a large pocket of air leaked from my lung and rushed into the thin space between my lung wall and chest wall. My lung could not withstand the pressure put on it by this giant air bubble and so part of it collapsed and could not re-inflate.

The scary thing is that having one pneumothorax means that I am prone to having another, especially given the amount of blebs I have. The average person may have one or two blebs, but I have them all over both lungs. Practically speaking, all of this means that I am one step closer to needing a double lung transplant.

Having spent 21 days in the hospital and only having left my room about 10 times in that span, I have had a LOT of time to think. If these thoughts seem a little “off the wall” it’s because my main company for the past three weeks has been the four walls of my room.

My first blog post was 11 months ago today. It was about how if God could make graphite and diamonds out of the same exact element, carbon, then surely he could turn my cystic fibrosis into something good and beautiful as well.

I thought about that concept a bit more and so here are the fruits of my labor.

Not only are a dull black rock and a brilliant rare gem both made of carbon, but also, it is a basic fact of biology that all life is carbon-based. It would be impossible for life on earth to exist without carbon. Carbon is the main component of sugars, proteins, fats, DNA, muscle tissue—pretty much everything in your body that keeps you alive. Because it has four valence electrons, it is the most versatile and adaptable element, and so carbon-based molecules are the best suited to sustain our complex life here on earth.

It seems God has embedded at the molecular level and in the very substance of what makes up life in the universe an analogy for us all: carbon is to biological life as love is to spiritual life.

We don’t see carbon “working” in our everyday lives, but it is essential to our bodily life.

We don’t see all of the many hidden sacrifices that our family and friends make every day out of love for us, but these sacrifices are vital to our spiritual growth. They show us a glimpse of the eternal love that God has for us.

Diamonds are made only by applying intense pressure and heat over a long period of time, and love can only be proven through intense and prolonged sacrifice.

The ultimate example of sacrifice is the Cross of Jesus Christ. It’s no coincidence then that when the carbon in pure graphite becomes pure diamond, it goes from having a weak and layered hexagonal ring structure to an interconnected, three-dimensional lattice, as shown below.

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This locking together of the carbon atoms could be seen as the locking together of the two beams of the Cross on which Jesus hung—the reconciling of God and mankind. The coming together of joy and sorrow, life and death, grace and sin. Through his bodily death he became the source of all spiritual life, all grace, and all love. Through his Cross, Jesus changed pain and sacrifice permanently, and made them into something beautiful.

Accepting the Cross was both his greatest sorrow and his greatest joy. Archbishop Fulton Sheen points out in his many lectures on suffering that when Christ says, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” on the Cross, he is speaking in the past tense, as if his suffering is already behind him (and the original Hebrew is in the past tense). He knew that he would rise on the third day and ascend into heaven.

He didn’t take away pain, but gave it an eternal purpose. All he asks is that we entrust all of our pain, fear, doubt, and misery to him.

As St. Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

I could complain about basically being strapped to a wall for three weeks, and about my increased chances of having another lung collapse. Well, Christ was nailed to his Cross for three hours and he most likely died by a slow and grueling suffocation. So yeah, he knows exactly what I am going through.

Cystic fibrosis, collapsed lungs, and double lung transplants are scary, but they are no match for the community that I have around me that is built on Christ’s love. I am able to maintain such high spirits because I know on a deep level that I am loved by God, family, and friends. I have a veritable army of prayer warriors on my side, including the communion of saints.

I can turn the graphite I’ve been given into diamonds because I know that as a great Polish saint once said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures. We are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.” -Saint John Paul II