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1987-2006, the East Coast, Texas, and Chicago
There are two ways to ask the question of suffering. The first is, "If God is good, why would he allow me to suffer?" The second is, "A good God allows me to suffer, I wonder why?" The two expressions sound similar but are one hundred and eighty degrees different. The first establishes skepticism as the major premise, while the second is based on faith. I had faith.
One of the many benefits of having St. Thérèse as my "little mother" was her Carmelite spirituality. Through the mystics of the Order, she taught me how to journey. I learned the way of perfection from St. Teresa of Avila and the ascent of Mount Carmel from St. John of the Cross. I began a lifelong journey to a distant kingdom with St. Thérèse. Along the way, I learned that St. Joan had always been at my side with St. Thérèse, even if I did not always comprehend the former with the eyes of my spirit. I learned the value of suffering through this mysticism, which is the grace to suffer with Christ. The second way to ask the question of suffering proved to be the key that unlocked the gate onto the verdant fields of my journey with St. Joan and St. Thérèse. There is no other way to the kingdom. It is the way of the apostolic fathers who went before us.
The nineteen years between bringing a rose to Our Lady in the church of St. Peter's and my second encounter with St. Joan of Arc that I will describe soon were almost opaque. In one sense, I could regale you with terrifying stories that might send chills down your spine. In another, it could be interpreted as one banal drama of ubiquitous suffering hardly worth mentioning. If not for a few highlights, I could paint the entire two decades over with a black brush.
The family business did not fare well in the aftermath of the agricultural crisis in the 1980s. With little future in Guymon, Josey and I decided to move on. I applied and was accepted for my master's degree in management at Yale University. I started the two-year program in 1990. I was successful, and this success amidst the opaqueness of my interior life began a divergence in my being that ultimately tore me apart spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. The separation was an external success on one plane with a parallel life of interior failure on another. After Princeton as an undergraduate, Yale conferred a second Ivy League degree on me as a master's and ushered in a prestigious rebooted career. All the while, hidden behind my smile, I was dying of angst and terror in my soul.
By the grace of God and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I always had the faith. Never during these awful years did I question what had happened to me on the Feast Day of St. Thérèse in 1984. I never wondered why God would allow me to suffer if God was good. I knew from St. Thérèse's Carmelite spirituality that God "is" good, and he had a reason for my suffering. Though I did not feel any joy, I knew through the eyes of faith that suffering "is" joy. Though I felt destroyed as a human being, I clung to that in faith.
We moved from New Haven, CT, to East 96th Street and 3rd Avenue in New York City. I started my prestigious new career working for the executive consulting firm Booz Allen and Hamilton. I was finally entering the big leagues, where I could demonstrate my greatness to the world. I sounded wonderful at cocktail parties. I had the right business card. Private limousines ushered me home in the evenings after long days consulting top executives at important corporations. I was jet-set. The ticket agents at LaGuardia were more familiar to me than my own family. Most importantly, I was important.
After two years in Manhattan, we moved to the suburbs in Stamford, CT. We bought a lovely home in a well-established neighborhood. The property was nicely landscaped. Not long after setting-up residence, the brightest light appeared on our horizon. Our son, Emery, was born. He was the shiniest of the few lights over the two dark decades. He was a light that broke through the opaque darkness.
I had everything now on the exterior plane: a beautiful wife, a prestigious career, a well-known employer in New York City, a home in the suburbs, and a new child. At the same time, darkness descended over my interior. I fell into repeated bouts of anxiety and depression. At times, I was losing control. At others, I had no strength to control anything. My behavior was erratic. Josey was obviously concerned. I smiled and waved to the neighbors while mowing our beautiful well-manicured lawn, but depression and anxiety imbued my soul.
I changed jobs. Shortly after that, within eighteen months, I changed again. Then, I was working for the management consulting arm of PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC, another prestigious firm. Fortunately, I kept the high income flowing steadily over all these years. However, my inner darkness prevented me from advancing in my career. I kept the faith but did not feel the faith. Darkness overcame me but never overcame the faith. Even so, I could not sense the power of the faith. It was simply there, and I held fast to it, dry in spirit and not tasting a drop of its running waters. I was in spiritual, mental, and emotional chains. My health was declining.
I received a call from a former classmate at Yale. His company had just acquired a significant foodservice brand from Colgate-Palmolive. They needed an operations executive for the manufacturing and distribution center in Texarkana, TX. We worked out a deal, and I accepted the position. Josey, Emery, and I were off to Texas.
I was very successful in my new position as Vice-President of Operations. I now made more money than I did in New York and was living in an area with a much lower cost of living. My worldly prestige continued to rise, as did our bank account. We had a lovely brick home on several acres, including part of a large pond. We had a dock at the bottom of our backyard where we often fished. We no doubt appeared to neighbors as young and successful. Amid the exterior happiness and success, my interior misery increased: uncontrollable behavior, anxiety, and depression. By the grace of God, I held fast to the faith.
The corporate CEO and the Board of Directors in Greenwich, CT, offered me the position of Division President. My interior life had yet to impact my exterior performance to a significant degree. Our results in Texas were impressive, and corporate liked me. Fortunately, they could not read my soul like the quarterly operating results. The division head office was in Des Plaines, IL, a suburb of Chicago. Off we went. Josey and I celebrated with dinner at a famous steakhouse on the Chicago River downtown. After dinner, we walked to the nearby bridge in the middle of the city and, in full view of the world, popped the cork on a champagne bottle we had kept sealed from the time I received it as a gift from Booz Allen and Hamilton in 1992. The year was 2000. We saved that bottle for eight years.
We moved to a brand-new home in Gurnee, IL, in the far northern suburbs of Chicago. I was now President of a worldwide brand and making even more money. More importantly, I was continuing to be more important. We bought a Jaguar, our first luxury car. However, interiorly, I continued to fall into ever greater darkness. By the grace of God, I held to my faith. No amount of darkness could black out the bright night of the Feast Day of St. Thérèse in 1984, the moment I received the faith.
Finally, at the height of my career in 2003, I collapsed: mentally, emotionally, and nearly physically. I was hospitalized in a mental institution for a month and diagnosed with manic-depressive bipolar disorder. From that point forward, the thin veneer of my exterior life began crashing down slowly and steadily. For years, I had felt that a new trap door would open whenever I thought I hit bottom. In total collapse and sitting in a mental institution, I sensed a concrete floor at my back, far down a very dark chamber. I was in Hell. The Beast of the darkness that had haunted me for two decades was finally victorious. However, by the grace of God, I kept the faith. The bright night of the Feast Day of St. Thérèse was present even in the pit of Hades. Our Lady and St. Thérèse, through the power of the Eucharistic Lord Jesus, were present, even there.
The Lord and Our Lady were not done. They had prepared another moment for me, a great event on par with my conversion on the Feast Day of St. Thérèse. It was the Lord's time for Joan of Arc to save my life.
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God bless you for sharing your story.