Carol Gravante testimony
I was a conundrum as a child… My mother hardly knew what to do as the doctor, making house calls, gave penicillin shots to me, Day after day, her precious 18-month-old, listless baby in the crib…Full of fever …and would leave quietly. My mother never knew that he thought I was going to die… Then the day came when he walked in the house and found me sitting up happily, giggling in the high chair, eating oatmeal and he burst into tears. Thus began the journey… I began fainting upon surprise…..at the age of five I had my first and only minor seizure… After a horrific overnight stay in Children’s Hospital with full memories of the entire event with the spinal tap and all …The doctors concluded they did not know why I’d had the seizure but they put me on an anti-seizure medicine… 5 complete years …I have very few memories between the age of five and 10 when they finally took me off the medication… I grew to be a very fat child during that time.
I do have lots of memories before the age of five. Some of my favorites were becoming a champion crawdad catcher… Building forts in the woods and naming every lizard I could catch while camping all summer long. Playing ball in the backyard and climbing trees were amongst my favorite activities.
One of the few memories between age 5 and 10 were the cookies mom would give me when I would come home crying because the neighborhood boys were calling me fatty… no one else in my family was fat…
I remember staying home from school sick a lot with a sore throat and eating half of loaf of sugary cinnamon toast while my mom was working… Yes …freedom to eat as much as I wanted but secretly hoping that she would not know a half a loaf of bread was missing…
I remember standing out in the school hallway waiting for my parents during their conference with my teacher, overhearing the words “she’s not working up to her potential”
I remember my first-grade teacher’s humiliating reaction to a very simple situation and her spanking me all the way down the hallway in front of all my friends.
I remember the cat fight with the girl in the hallway and we both got suspended
That’s it …that’s all I remember.
I remember just a few years ago, as an adult, getting into a canoe, and knowing how to steer from the back but I was confused as to how I knew what to do… I asked my mother and she said, “don’t you remember all the float trips we took with you?”
I wish I had memories of being a Girl Scout… Of the float trips, my mom would tell me about… Of the outdoor ice skating rink, we would go to on a cold Friday night.
I grew to be a very self-centered, rebellious, socially insecure, teenager. I wanted to be accepted at all cost… I know you all know what I mean by those words…no boundaries! I didn’t know I could or should set them. The extraordinarily bad decisions that I was making continued throughout my high school years. In those years I hurt a lot of people! The memories and regret are something I wish I could have avoided.
I attended church every week and joined children’s choir. I went to youth group and was part of an extraordinarily wonderful choir that performed Godspell with Jesus being played by none other than Scott Bakula. I attended confirmation class and fulfilled the obligation of taking notes during the sermon… I can visualize those papers now full of scribbles of the love that God has for me… That he loves everyone… that he died on a cross… That he was the son of God… I stood up and told the congregation that I believed what I had learned… I continued lying to my parents at every turn… I didn’t want them to know what I was doing because inside I knew I was doing the wrong thing but I was so self-centered and didn’t want to have to tell my friends that I couldn’t do something for fear of losing their friendship … I also have to admit I was having some fun getting drunk with them… until the age of 16 when the boyfriend that I had at the time began abusing me and my parents found out and sent me to my aunt and uncle’s house for the summer to help me get away. My cousin, unbeknownst to everyone, actually got me involved in even more trouble.… That’s when drugs entered my life. Many would say it was minor… Just a little weed won’t hurt…
My aunt and uncle attended a wonderful charismatic catholic church, though. They got me involved in their youth group and I went on a mission’s trip with them. I felt such love and acceptance from these teenagers… Something so different… I didn’t know why they loved me unconditionally… they didn’t even know me. I remember hearing more about Jesus at the church and how he loved me personally. I also attended a young life meeting where I know I heard something extraordinary about knowing God personally while sitting on those steps looking down into the living room… I can visualize it to this day… I heard a story of hope… That he had died for me to pay the penalty that I so severely deserved… so I could have a relationship with him. But I couldn’t get it wrapped around my brain and ignored the message…
I decided to go into the Air Force. I went on a crash diet and upon graduation, I was sworn in… with my hand in the air, I said, “I promise to do my duty to God and my country… No that’s the wrong one… That’s when I was a Girl Scout ….no I said …… I solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.
During air traffic control school I had, what felt like, a huge cotton ball compact my brain… I had been a straight a student during the lecture part but as soon as they put me in the tower to practice what I had learned, I fogged up… I could not perceive reality anymore. I could not concentrate as there was nothing beyond 5 feet around me… All I could do was cry and declare “I can’t do it.” After two setbacks the Colonel came to me and said “what is the problem? We know you can do it! “I said “No I can’t” and he said, “that’s your problem ….say to yourself you can do it 10 times a day… “. I followed his instructions and I did perform perfectly for two weeks. During this school, I also continued being rebellious and a wild child… I was now free from the shame of lying to my parents and I was free to do what I wanted with no limitations or restrictions. My new friends and I went to Mardi Gras… It was there, upon getting lost at three in the morning, drunk as a skunk, that, when looking for my friends in the dark parking lot, I was approached by a man who asked if I was OK and I cried … He took me to his car… The man put me in and shut the doors and yelled through the windows “don’t leave until the morning and then go look for your friends… just go to sleep.” that’s when the miracle began. When I woke at seven in the morning I gasped with the awareness of the danger I had been in and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that God has saved my life… The God that I believed was
When I woke at seven in the morning I gasped with the awareness of the danger I had been in and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that God has saved my life… The God that I believed was real but very unreal in my life… had done that for me. I determined at that moment to go looking for the God who would care enough about me to send, what I believed was an angel to me. The very next weekend I was invited to a chapel retreat where I heard people telling stories of how they “met” Jesus… They told stories of their crazy and hopeless life before Jesus …how they had met Jesus personally and what their lives were like now totally transformed… The stores were mesmerizing. I knew I had never met Jesus …how could you meet Jesus??? He was dead!!!!… But I knew I needed to be transformed… As the stories were being told, hope, plus confusion stormed my brain! Is this what I was missing all those years?? Could it be that this relationship with Jesus was what I was missing…? That the big hole in my heart could be filled by him? Thoughts began pelting my heart… How could I have missed it…? I didn’t even know I could have a relationship with him… I didn’t know I was supposed to love him back… I didn’t know I was supposed to ask him to help me make decisions big and small… Eventually, it was my turn and they asked me “How did you meet Jesus?” I declared fervently “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve never met him. How can you meet him? He’s dead!”
They shared with me the wonderful story that God loved us so much… that he loved ME… But that the Bible said that the bad things that we did, that come from our sinful heart, the sin nature we were born with, kept us from having a relationship with God. That God, in the Bible, had said that all had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The Bible said that the wages/payment of sin is death but the gift of God is life eternal in Christ Jesus… that basically I deserved death because of my sinful heart but he took my place and died, paying the penalty that I so deserved, and further in the Bible I learned that God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him should not Perish but have everlasting life… they said that if I confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in my heart God raised him from the dead I would be saved… I asked, “Saved from what?” They said total separation from God when I died…The Bible calls it “Hell”, But also separation from him in this life. I knew immediately He was the missing ingredient in my life… I had believed that he died on the cross but I had never made him “Lord” or boss of my life. I had never asked him for any direction in life at all and I actually felt quite discouraged about what I perceived as all those lost years and bad decisions where I could’ve had his direction and saved myself from those feelings of shame and regret… My self-centeredness melted away as I prayed and asked him to be Lord of my life… I met Jesus that day …He became very real to me and JOY flooded my soul in a way I’ve never experienced before. I could feel his presence! At that moment I knew I was created by him for purpose… That I was loved unconditionally… That he was with me and would never leave me… I also learned he had always been with me and wanted to get to know me and have me love him back… That was a concept I’d never learned.
I loved being in Biloxi Mississippi… My spiritual birth place… I got baptized in the Back Bay of the Mississippi River… I graduated Air traffic control school. They sent me to Tinker Air Force Base Oklahoma.
WHERE WAS JESUS?
I tried attending a church there but the lifelong insecurity and bad decisions continued… where was Jesus? I had no one to help me learn about the wonderful love that I had accepted. Actually, that’s how I felt but I am almost positive there were people there… they were trying to reach out to me to help me… It must’ve been, but again, I don’t really remember much… I was immediately drawn back into the world and its ways. The fog came back in my brain while working in the tower… where was Jesus? I actually directed two planes to head towards each other on the taxiway ….when my supervisor grabbed the microphone and yelled “Redirect! Redirect!” It was then that I knew that I could not do this job anymore… where was Jesus?
I was sent back to Biloxi Mississippi for retraining into personnel… on the plane, I got more and more excited knowing that I was going back into Jesus land… That I was returning to Jesus… I felt such peace come over me as I knew I was passing into Mississippi airspace… I reconnected with Jesus and was filled with extraordinary joy. I told everyone about Jesus in those six weeks…I exuded joy! Everyone I told was a man… There were nothing but men pretty much in the Air Force… In The first four weeks, I got six proposals of marriage. I was very confused and very upset with the fact that they loved me. I hadn’t even kissed them! Why didn’t I love them??? What was wrong with me??? So I decided to marry the last one. I got to know him for two weeks and I allowed him to kiss me before we separated to our different bases after graduation and began to plan the long-distance wedding. My mother kept asking me “Are you sure?” I realized soon that I wasn’t sure but she had already spent $1000 and I felt obligated to fulfill the promise to marry… Long story short, the marriage only lasted three months but the stress again found my brain and I couldn’t perceive reality. My head was full of cotton again… My boss saw the changes… I gained 30 pounds…He convinced me to go to the doctor and they put me in the hospital… Where was Jesus? It was there at the hospital that I determined I needed to divorce… I remember being given a pass from the hospital to go with my husband to tell him about the divorce… riding on the back of the motor cycle going one hundred miles an hour because he was so mad and I was sure he was trying to kill us both… where was Jesus? Again more regret to live with!
I moved into the dormitory and began eating at the chow hall… The fog retreated… I began to be ok again… but where was Jesus?
I met a very cute guy at the chow hall… Joe and I were married a year later… where was Jesus? 18 months later we had a beautiful 8-pound boy… The fog came on me again… Baby blues were horrible… I was sure our son was going to die at any moment… Panic… depression… Delusion… Fear… Crying jags… he had severe colic… Where was Jesus?
My husband and I discussed the fact that we would like to raise our children in church.… We attended church services together for the first time and I remembered my promise to make Jesus Lord of my life… And I thought to myself… I don’t think I really understand what that means… I had forgotten the truth about the fact that I could ask him for complete direction my life. I knew I really I hadn’t done that… at least not in a long time. How do you make Jesus Lord? I started talking to him more and reading the Bible ….more and more and I found answers to my everyday challenges in the Bible… I met people who “knew” Jesus and they helped me to learn more about him and the joy returned as I again surrendered my will to Jesus… Yes, I learned that I needed to put him first in my life… I gave birth to two more children. Life got crazy!!! I had many years of ups and downs.
Knowing Jesus took me through many years of challenges… many years of severe sickness… when the despair and hopelessness thoughts were ravaging my mind… Where I would cling to Jesus. I learned that I could hide under the shadow of his wings. I learned that he is my strength in my weakness. That he was my fortress and refuge and deliverer… That I could put on the armor of God that the Bible had talked about when I was being onslaught with the lies of the enemies of depression.
As I laid awake, every night for 10 years, 95 pounds more than I am right now with a high cortisol syndrome called Cushings (moon face) My back hurt so badly and depression thoughts were overwhelming. I had the cotton of anxiety in my head constantly for 10 years.. Where was Jesus? Many of those years the depression had caused me to lack interest in everything including Jesus… I tried many antidepressants… All they did was make me weird… I became quite mean at times and did not treat my husband right… He asked for a divorce and we received Godly counseling and God saved our marriage… where was Jesus? I now knew Jesus. Yes …I knew about Jesus as a child and I had met him in Biloxi Mississippi but I really needed not to just know him but to trust him to be the boss of my life… and eventually realize that, as the Bible says, his ways are higher than my ways and his understanding no one could fathom.” I was never going to understand everything God had planned for me but the Bible says “in this world, you will have trouble but do not despair I have overcome the world… “The Bible had many promises and I learned to read them as often as I could and memorize them… That was amazing for a woman with a Swiss cheese brain full of holes… I have the MRI to prove it.
In 1998, after the first six months of antibiotics… That worked better than antidepressants for sure… I began fighting for my life…the real Carol existed!!! I didn’t have to believe the depression thoughts. They weren’t real! They were symptoms like a fever with the flu! Now I knew that my entire life I had a bacterial infection of some kind, especially between 1988-1998, undiagnosed and untreated… years before I had lost faith in medical doctors. Actually, because of the depression, I had lost the ability to advocate for myself. With this new understanding… Thus began my quest…. Interest in holistic medicine… To the chagrin of my husband because of course… it cost money! At all cost, I wanted to feel better… I would feel better for a little while and then it would all comeback… In those years Jesus helped me to teach 4500 children. I couldn’t have done that without Jesus. I became proficient in praise… children love it when they are praised but I also learned that husbands are loving it when you praise them.
I was properly diagnosed in 2011 at the age of 53… The doctor said that I had had Lyme disease my entire life and many co infections. Testing proved it even though it is a clinical diagnosis. I felt relief and vindication as I explained to my husband that at least now I knew what I was fighting… now I could help my family understand I wasn’t a hypochondriac… That I wasn’t crazy… The problem was I didn’t know what Lyme disease was so I began to study with the help of Facebook groups specific for Lyme disease and people came out of the woodwork to help me learn… I read medical journal articles and scientific studies. I attended medical conferences where I met an amazing advocate. She has over 200 IQ and photographic memory that is helping people, for free, in the area to get diagnosed. She has helped diagnose about 1000 people in the last 10 years just in Tampa… people that had been diagnosed with all the other autoimmune disease ended up having Lyme disease as the root of their health issues.
There are many ways God talks to me today… I love him with all my heart and I know that this journey that I am on, that I don’t necessarily like, is part of his plan… His will …his way …is always the best. I began journaling my prayers and having time during the day where I would just talk to Jesus… that grew into just talking to him all day long. I was always surprised that he talked back to me… I began listening for God’s direction… But didn’t always listen because I would forget to ask. Like the moment, when faced with a pan of brownies, that was calling my name… I had gotten sugar crazy at Christmas and gained a whole lot of weight one year… Sugar I had always been my enemy… The cravings were crazy!
God continued to try to reach me in my rebellion. I knew I had been spoken to very clearly on my way to the doctors that day as I was facing a 286 cholesterol level and 45 lbs overweight, and I was praying and saying to God, “I know what the problem is but I don’t know why I can get started on my diet again Lord… I know nutrition back-and-forth but I can’t get started… I went to turn on the radio and I heard in my head “Turn on Proverbs 23 in the Bible on my phone… ” And I was amazed it was God’s answer to my prayer… Proverbs 23 begins with “If you sit down to dine with a ruler, pay attention to what you’re eating, put a knife to your throat if you’re prone toward gluttony. Don’t crave his delicacies for that food is deceptive.” At the doctors, after she gasped and told me I needed to take medicine, I assured her that I had heard from God and I would have 40 pounds off within the next few months… I fulfilled that promise to God…
At one point, after gratefully receiving even more spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit, I began to seriously pray for people and amazingly God began working miracles… Knees especially were healed. I had always admired prayer warriors but now I had become one…
I began to realize I could hear from the Lord… that He was alive… In the Holy Spirit… It would amaze me when the things the Lord said would happen (it was not audible, at least not most of the time… It was a very clear thought in my head. But things I would not say to myself.)…But I needed to follow his leading and not go my own way… My friends taught me how to give Jesus first place in my life… where was Jesus all those years? He was right there beside me waiting for me to turn back to him and talk to him and love him and ask for his direction again.
Fairly often, the Lyme disease flares up and I can easily fall into a pity party of hopelessness and despair… That’s when God will step in and show me “It’s not about me!” He shows me that I have been allowed to experience this so that I can learn, experience it, and then empathize with others and help them in their journey… I’ve become an advocate for others who suffer… I give them hope. As the Bible says there will be trouble and that we will suffer but where is Jesus? He is right there beside them waiting to get to know them. Waiting for them to accept his love and forgiveness, waiting for them to trust him and him alone; waiting to fill them up with joy, peace, comfort, assurance that they are never alone and they can ask him for anything in faith and it will be given to them.