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When a Teacher Asked Me to Look at My Life With Chronic Illness and Tell a Different Story

I remember the day I attended a lecture by Dr. Dianne Connelly, she spoke about “Words as Medicine”¬†and how the stories we tell ourselves and others shape our existence. She shared the story of “The Traveler and the¬†Three Bricklayers.” If you are not familiar, it goes a bit like this:

A man was walking and happened upon¬†three bricklayers. He asked the first bricklayer, “What are you¬†doing?” “I’m laying bricks,” was the reply given.¬†

The man then asked the second¬†bricklayer the same question. ‚ÄúI’m putting up a wall,” was his answer.

The man then queried the same¬†to the third bricklayer. ‚ÄúWhat are you doing?” “I’m building a¬†cathedral,”¬†the third bricklayer exclaimed!

Dr. Connelly¬†explained, our “bricks” are the foundation of whatever we do.¬† She challenged us to see beyond the singular “brick,” the¬†isolated act, and look at the big picture to recognize the importance of¬†what we do and say each day. She¬†encouraged us to see our “cathedral” as something that adds purpose to our lives,¬†something that drives us. And to not¬†only find our¬†“cathedral” but to¬†help and support others in finding their “cathedral.”

She also¬†tied Psalm 118:22-23 into her lesson: The¬†stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”¬†and talked about the¬†transformation of wounds into gifts.

I pondered: What parts of my life do I perceive as “just bricks” that I could be using to¬†build my “cathedral,” and was there something I’ve rejected that was cornerstone-worthy? I also wondered¬†if I could truly transform my wounds into gifts; it was a lot to take in.

At the time¬†of Dr. Connelly’s lecture, it had been more than 10¬†years since Crohn’s disease¬†burst into my life. In that time I had¬†experienced many emotions and feelings. I¬†can honestly say ‚Äúgratitude‚ÄĚ was not among them. Sadness, depression and anger became¬†commonplace. Fighting and beating¬†Crohn’s became my mission; and all that fighting, it makes you tired.

What would¬†happen if I no longer viewed Crohn’s as my enemy, as something to beat? What if Crohn’s was trying to tell me¬†something, teach me something? And I¬†wasn’t receiving the message because I wouldn’t be still and listen. What if I welcomed Crohn’s (yes you read that¬†correctly) into my life to see what it had to teach me?

I decided to¬†start by writing a letter to Crohn’s, and as I wrote, I discovered¬†something amazing. Crohn’s was not a random brick to be¬†discarded. It was to be my cornerstone,¬†and I am building my cathedral on it!

Dear Crohn’s,

We have been together for more than 10¬†years, and we’ve never really talked, so I want to start the conversation. I’m¬†done pleading and bargaining with you; I’m done asking you to go away. I’ve¬†come to appreciate that in your own way you whisper, and sometimes you¬†scream. It hurts when you scream. I need to let you know I am ready to listen¬†for the whispers.

You see, about a year ago, I realized¬†that you had become my identity, my life.¬†Somehow I lost Kelly and became you. ¬†But I saw you as a negative; there was nothing about you I would have¬†ever called “beautiful.” And oh, how I¬†hated you!

I needed to let you go, so I¬†did. While I no longer hated you, I sure¬†as hell wasn’t going to embrace you. So¬†I tried managing you.

That worked for a while, yet something¬†was still not right. I knew you¬†would never truly go away, yet I wished you would. I could feel your presence lurking in the¬†shadows, waiting for an opportunity to trip me up. Though all my doctors said you were “quiet,”¬†I knew we were not at peace.¬†

So get ready for this‚Ķ thank you,¬†Crohn’s. Thank you for the gifts you¬†have given me. Over the years, you have¬†reignited my passion for cooking and challenged my culinary abilities. You have guided me toward a more nutritious way¬†of eating. Kelp noodles, who knew? You also took me to Kripalu, twice! I probably would’ve never experienced the¬†splendor of the Berkshire Mountains had it not been for you. It was at Kripalu that I was introduced to¬†new ideas that would help us smooth out our differences. I was so inspired that I took on graduate¬†school and earned a master’s degree in Integrative Health and Nutrition.

Oh, and as for exercising, you were¬†the smart one. You knew intense¬†workouts were not in my best interest. You drove your point home with inflamed¬†joints, extreme fatigue, sore muscles and broken bones. Still, I would not yield and did all I could¬†to silence your warnings with pills, shots and braces. I was so mad at you; you slowed me down. Now¬†I see it was a good thing; I needed to slow down. I believed you were just a rough patch¬†and once I had control of you, there would be a day when I could do ‚Äúreal‚Ä̬†exercise again. I get it now, and I am¬†done waiting for that magical day. From¬†now on I will be gentle with this body.

Crohn’s, you are my North Star, you¬†guide me and keep me in check. You keep me gracious and humble. I will listen to my body, and you, and I will¬†heed the messages. I’m sure there will¬†still be times we won’t agree, but I will do my best to be a better¬†listener. I see now that we can make it¬†through this life together.



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