Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee who first persecuted Christians, until a bright light struck him from his horse on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). A voice asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” When Saul asked who it was, Jesus identified himself with his Church – “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” His Conversion is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Saul began to be named Paul on his first missionary journey in Cyprus (Acts 13:9).
I grew up Catholic and would hear countless fascinating stories about saints and miracles from the nuns in parochial school. I thought they were for the very holy and chosen few and not for an everyday good kid who didn’t even become an altar boy. But I never stopped believing in them. Fast forward 25 years and I am far from being the kid who went to mass everyday instead of homeroom. A life of substance abuse and other excesses had pushed me to the breaking point and far from the close connection to God I that had enjoyed as a young boy. I was a hollow, desperate version of myself. I hated myself and what my life had become. I was dying inside. Life was dark and not worth living.
Then, just as St. Paul was struck down off his horse, I had a stroke. I was only 42, but I almost died. It was just like being thrown from a horse, I didn’t know what happened. I knew something wasn’t right, I was immediately dizzy and nauseous. When I went to the emergency room at the hospital they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I was too young to have a stroke. After hours and a MRI it was positive for a stroke. By this time I was feeling much worse, like I had been hit by a train. I just wanted the spinning, headache, and nausea to stop. I was put into the Intensive care unit where I later found out I was rated a 1 on the scale; zero is dead. I was not supposed to make it.
The first miracle to happen was that the nurse taking care of me was extremely kind, I didn’t expect that. I had brought on this nightmare by my own substance abuse. I didn’t deserve kindness. I certainly didn’t deserve an angel. I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know how bad things were, I didn’t care. I wanted to die, because I felt so awful. After a week in intensive care I was moved up to the regular hospital where I became aware of the fact that I had trouble speaking and walking. It was incredibly frustrating. I would blurt out the wrong word, call people the wrong name and continue to spin in my head like I had the worst hangover in the world. I was not a good patient, I snapped at everyone. When they moved me to the long term care wing with the other stroke victims, where everyone was 30-40 years older than me, I couldn’t take it. I slowly shuffled my walker to the front desk and demanded my sister be called because I was checking out AMA!
I was told that my recovery would be long and arduous and that I would always walk with a limp. One hour after I left the hospital I washed my car (with a walker of course). Three months after my stroke, I shocked the medical staff by running for 10 minutes on a treadmill. The doctor insisted that I was not who I said I was. Four months after my stroke, I returned to work part time as a waiter. Less than a year after my stroke I enrolled in school to become a drug counselor. Today I am 19 years sober and a licensed therapist. None of this would have been possible if I had not survived and then healed against all odds. Today I wonder what the greater miracle was: surviving a stroke or being knocked off my horse. Whichever, I am incredibly grateful for the miracle of being given the chance to live my life more fully. I can’t tell you how many times during that challenge that I prayed to St. Jude: ‘The patron of Hopeless causes’:
Pray for me who am so helpless and alone. Make use I implore thee, of that particular privilege granted thee to bring visible and speedy help where help was almost despaired of. Come to my assistance in this great need, that I may receive the consolation and succor of Heaven in all my necessities, tribulations and sufferings.