Alessandra’s faith was tested when her son was rushed to the ER with strange symptoms. As she dealt with his condition, she found her trust in God eroding away — until an insight from a saint reframed her situation.
In January 2018, I knew something was terribly wrong with my 9-year-old son. It started with him being afraid a spider had crawled up his sweatshirt, but then he lost the ability to speak — and then he was gasping for air like he couldn’t breathe. I called 9-1-1, and paramedics arrived at our home less than five minutes later. They administered oxygen to my son, but because he still couldn’t speak, they drove him to the emergency room.
The ER doctors weren’t sure exactly what happened, but they suspected he had a seizure. They administered benzodiazepine through an IV to help calm him down, and warned us it could make him feel drunk. Shortly after, my son began gasping for air again, clutching his throat, and telling us he couldn’t breathe. We ran to get the nurse, who checked his oxygen and said he was breathing fine. Yet my son became hysterical, so they gave him an anti-seizure medication and admitted him to the hospital for further monitoring.
My husband and I spent the night in the room with our son, but fear and confusion prevented me from sleeping. I grasped my rosary tight, praying to Jesus, the Blessed Mother, and every saint I could remember. As parents to four kids, we’d had trips to the ER before, but this was the first overnight stay. Neither seizures nor epilepsy ran through either of our families, so I steadied myself for this new life where I’d have to learn as much as I could about his condition.
Due to the anti-seizure medicine, our son had a very hard time waking up the next morning. When he finally did, he couldn’t stand on his own or walk — or remember his name, age, or even my husband. The pediatric neurologist ordered a CT scan to look at his brain, fearing a tumor could be to blame for his deteriorating health. My husband and I walked with our youngest as they wheeled him through the hospital to the test room, and we were told it would take an hour. I kissed our son, trying to hold back tears.
That hour of waiting in the cafeteria was torture. I’d never prayed so fervently in my life. I pleaded with God for our son to not have a tumor. I felt like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying for this terrible event to pass. Just the morning before, life had been normal. Now, a terminal diagnosis possibly loomed over our child. Without warning, everything had been turned upside down.
When our son finally came out of the procedure, we received the news: his brain looked perfectly healthy. I’d never felt so relieved in my life, but the doctors remained confused about what was wrong with him. He stayed in the hospital another night, still unable to walk or recall simple facts about his life.
The next day, the pediatric specialist pulled my husband and I out of our son’s room to talk. She explained that every test they’d done on our son showed normal results, and the team of doctors believed he might be experiencing a psychosomatic episode — that something could be greatly distressing him and his mind and body was reacting by shutting down.
She wanted us to offer this explanation to our son and see how he reacted to the news. When we told him and asked if anything had been upsetting him, he told us that since the start of the school year in September, he was being bullied by a group of students at his school. The kids would taunt him and physically abuse him. Within hours of that conversation, he gained his strength and memory back.
By the time the doctors checked on him again later in the day, he could stand and walk. He was released from the hospital the following day. I was heartbroken our son had endured bullying for months, but I felt so grateful that his condition hadn’t been caused by a tumor, seizure, or any other health condition.
Shortly after his hospitalization, I started to be plagued by an oppressive fear that one of my children would die. I suffered alone, believing that if I voiced my fear to anyone, it would somehow cause it to happen. Though my prayers had been answered and my son was physically healthy, I felt I couldn’t let my guard down for a second as we faced new complications with confronting his school and the family friends who had bullied our son.
At the end of the year, we decided to leave the small Christian school my children had attended for eight years because we weren’t satisfied with their response to rectify the bullying. Transitioning to a new school brought its own concerns and difficulties. On top of that, I lived in a heightened state of worry. I no longer felt like God was walking with me — it felt like I couldn’t trust Him. I grew convinced that if I prayed for “thy will be done” — as we do with the Our Father — something terrible would happen.
After suffering silently for months, I finally opened up to a friend who is a priest and was praying for our son. He recommended I read Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux.
When I started reading St. Therese’s autobiography, I wondered how a cloistered nun who died at the age of 24 could speak to my circumstances. But it didn’t take long for the saint’s “little way” of trusting in God’s merciful love for us to resonate with me.
St. Therese believed that too many people live in fear of God’s judgment and are unaware of the tender love He has for us. We’re so caught up in trying to do the right things — or feeling guilty for doing the wrong things — that we’re unable to love God freely and accept His love for us in return. St. Therese invites us to approach God as children: “This road is the surrender of the little child who sleeps without fear in its Father’s arms.”
My posture toward God changed. I realized that as much as I love my children and only want what’s best for them, God loves me and my children even more. I remembered that God wants to give us a future with hope.
So I approached God in prayer and said, “You know my greatest fears and worries. I give them to you along with my will.” In exchange for giving my will to God, I accepted His will with the trust that God’s will is perfect — that God intends good things for me. I felt a huge burden lifted from me. It didn’t mean that life would be easy and suffering would be eliminated, but I had a new peace knowing that even when I suffer, God gives me the strength I need to bear it.
The author, Paul Thigpen, explains that when we trust God, “we may not understand our circumstances any better, or the reasons why heaven allowed them. But the peace which passes all understanding will nevertheless allow us to rest … in the bosom of the Father.” Trusting God means adopting St. Therese’s little way and becoming like a child — not being foolish or naïve, but knowing that we are safe. It means relying on God’s providing love for us, no matter what happens.
With my faith strengthened through St. Therese’s wisdom, I’ve been able to walk through this uncertainty with confidence that God intends good things for us.