23: Tears of Joy

23: Tears of Joy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Tears of Joy

Faith is like radar that sees through the fog.

~Corrie ten Boom

When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself. My hair was thinning, I had dark circles under my eyes, I was chronically fatigued, and everything hurt from my nose to my toes. I had constant painful and limited blurry vision. I was losing my sense of taste and smell, my voice was hoarse and raspy, my ears were constantly ringing, and I developed a dry cough. My mouth was constantly dry, and swallowing was difficult, I lost my appetite and I choked when I did eat. My mouth always hurt with throbbing ulcers on my gums and I was losing teeth. My diagnosis was an autoimmune disease called Sjögren’s syndrome.

Each day my vision worsened and my pain increased. My eyes were so dry that the corneas split open. Those tiny ulcers made my eyes burn constantly and I feared going blind. I used as many as twenty prescription drops each day, but nothing worked. I wore moisture chamber goggles but they didn’t do much good and I looked utterly ridiculous in them. In fact, they reduced my peripheral vision so much that I couldn’t see people who stood beside me. I was constantly falling because I couldn’t see things right in front of me. I had to stop driving and I spent most days on the sofa unable to see anything. I desperately needed my body to produce tears, but the fact is that my lacrimal glands dried up and no longer worked.

I traveled roughly 300 miles to Johns Hopkins because they have a clinic especially for Sjögren’s patients. At the Wilmer Eye Institute, my sympathetic doctor worked with hands like a magician. But the news was discouraging: my eyes were as good as they were ever going to be. I made four trips a year to Johns Hopkins, where I received excellent care for my other Sjögren’s symptoms, but my eyes continued to deteriorate. My vision was still poor, my eyes hurt constantly, and I still couldn’t produce tears.

To complicate matters, I was trying to write my second book with limited and blurry vision. I prayed to St. Lucy, the patron of eye disorders, and while my eyesight never improved and my eyes were still dry and painful, somehow each day I made progress with the book.

When a group of parishioners from our church made plans to travel to Lourdes, France, the idea of asking for a miracle became appealing. In 1858, the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette in a grotto in Lourdes, where people were being miraculously cured after bathing in the spring water. “Why would Mary grant me a miracle?” I asked my husband Pat.

“Why not give you a miracle? You deserve one! You are doing God’s work by writing religious books and prayers.”

I thought about the truth in his words for a few minutes. “Can we afford to go to France?”

Pat furrowed his brow. “We’ll find the money!” he said. “I’m calling Father Chuck to reserve two seats for us.” When he hung up the phone, he said, “We just got the last two seats!” Pat took my hands in his. “We’re going to France!” he said. “There’s an informational meeting scheduled next week. Father Chuck asked us to attend.”

As Pat drove to the meeting, we noticed that puffy white clouds had formed a perfect white cross in the sky directly over the church. Maybe it was a sign.

Father Chuck met us inside with a welcoming grin. He knew about my declining health and poor vision. “Not everyone who goes to Lourdes receives a miracle,” he said quietly.

I nodded and sighed deeply. “I know.”

“And some people receive a miracle later, after they have returned home.” He raised his eyebrows and smiled. “You just never know, but have faith and trust in God.”

“I will,” I said. “I do.”

Pat and I had no idea what to expect at Lourdes, but we both felt Mary’s presence there. When I was submerged in the icy spring water, I felt warm with Mary’s love. I felt like I was standing before her baring my soul when I asked her to bless me with tears. I figured I could live with my other Sjögren’s symptoms, but I couldn’t live without sight. I needed to see in order to continue writing. So, I humbly asked for tears.

When I got out of the water, I felt like Mary was telling me I had to change my attitude. I needed to think and act like her.

Changing my attitude wasn’t easy, but I tried very hard to be more like Mary. When I got home, I put statues of Mary in every room of my house so they would remind me to be more like her. Each day that I was successful, I felt my heart grow.

On November 1, there was a special mass to celebrate the feast of All Saints’ Day. Pat and I made plans to attend, but I woke up with a miserable cold and started to cry when I realized I was sick. Pat looked at me as if he had just seen a ghost.

“What is it?” I asked. Pat couldn’t speak.

“Tell me what’s wrong,” I begged.

“You have tears,” he stammered. “In all the years I’ve known you, over thirty-five years, I’ve never seen you cry with tears.” He wrapped his arms around me and he shed a few tears of his own, tears of joy.

~Barbara S. Canale

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