Steph Catudal: Love That Carries Us

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How do you think about faith and hope when your prayers aren’t answered? What about when they are?

Steph and her husband, Rivs, have the kind of story you might see in a blockbuster movie. Rivs was a professional endurance athlete who was suddenly put on life support with a mysterious lung disease. But then a confluence of shocking events occurred to get him the care he needed to survive.

Steph grew up as part of the Church of Latter Day Saints, a faith that believed that if she prayed hard enough, miracles would happen. But then her dad died when she was 14. So how does she understand faith and hope and miracles after Rivs’ survival?

In this conversation, Kate and Steph discuss:

  •     How do you talk to kids honestly about life and death and hope?
  •     How pain is a conduit for empathy
  •     How to allow things to just suck and not feel pressure to find any brightsides
  •     How to think about faith, hope, and miracles without idolizing certainty

Steph is someone who knows intimately that life sometimes just happens and that we have to learn to live alongside all of that pain and that joy and that love that somehow coexists.

CW: cancer, death of a parent

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Watch clips from this conversation, read the full transcript, and access discussion questions by clicking here.

Follow Kate on InstagramFacebook, or X (formerly known as Twitter)—@katecbowler.

Transcript

SPEAKERS

Kate Bowler, Steph Catudal

Kate Bowler  00:09

I’m Kate Bowler, and this is Everything Happens. So one sort of strange and real fact about my life is that I have spent a lot of my adult life researching televangelists and mega churches, and like big kind of spiritual gatherings. And one of those kinds of gatherings is like a miracle health service, where people who are really desperate for a cure of some kind, will go and they will pray and hope and sing and expect that something will change. And, you know, well, there’s so much to say about that. But there was one form of miracle rally that I never quite got over. It was one that started really in England and popped up all over the United States and Canada. And I visited when I was a teenager, one of their big churches in Toronto. And I continue to follow that church for like the next wow, almost like two decades, they had actually been in perpetual revival, which is to say they got together every day since 1994. And they were a part of this movement called though it started at the Toronto Airport church, so named because it was, you know, near the airport. And one of the things they were famous for was dental miracles, miracles, where a cavity in particular might turn to gold. And that if you’re not familiar with, like, very dramatic, spiritual expectation, that might be like the weirdest thing you’ve ever heard. But for people who are like, into this kind of thing, or in the know, they may be like, oh, yeah, that time where people believed in dental miracles. And I was very curious, as an adult researcher, to go back to this place that had been in revival for decades then, and ask the people who were there, hey, what happened to all that expectation? What’s it like to hope for, like a miracle that you want, like a physical manifestation of, like something so intense that you can prove? It’s there or not like a, you know, like a dental miracle? So I went and interviewed the pastoral staff about what that was, like, they said, oh, if you want to know that, you should go and talk to our usher. He’s been there since the beginning. So I was like, hey, like, what’s it been, like, expecting God to move in these really specific, visible ways? And he said, The sweetest thing. He was like, well, at first, we used to try to film it. And you know, we’d have these cameras, and we’d sort of try to sort of put it against people’s mouths, but you know, people’s mouths are sort of dark inside, and it was, it was hard to like, capture on camera. So, you know, here’s what I learned. And he’s one of these, you know, those like when men get to a certain age, and then they start kind of putting everything in their belt, like, like a Uh, you know, like a pocket knife and the cell phone holder. And he reached into his belt and he pulled out this little pin flashlight. And he’s like, you know, the cameras couldn’t, you know, see inside people’s mouths. So I, you know, click click, he turns the light on. And he gave me a little wink and he was like, so I guess that’s what I’ve always learned about miracles when it comes to God, you know, he just always kind of carry a flashlight. Whether I had like any access to what really happened, I really found that that kind of stuck with me. What does it mean? Like what is it like to live in expectation? What happens when you don’t get the miracle that you prayed for? And what happens when you do? My guest today is someone who thinks really carefully about these two questions, because her life and faith have been fundamentally changed by miracles. And by their absence. Steph Catudal is the author of a gorgeous memoir called Everything All At Once. And no seriously, like my entire office passed it around until everyone had read it and wept and each tear stained page had been shared and joined by other people’s dear stained feelings. She is a beautiful writer and an even more spectacular person. Staff is also not coincidentally Canadian so obviously, we’re soulmates, even though now we both live in the US, with our families. And dear listeners, she is one of us. She is someone who knows intimately, painfully that life sometimes just happens, and that we have to learn to live alongside all of that pain, and that joy and that love that somehow coexists, Steph oh, my word, it is such a joy to be talking with you today, finally.

 

Steph Catudal  07:02

Oh, my gosh, thank you so much I’ve been so looking forward to this. I was actually hoping I would get the email that you wanted me on your podcast. I’m so excited to be here.

 

Kate Bowler  07:11

Ah, well, I’m so excited. I wondered if we could start with your husband ribs does a ridiculous sport like he’s an endurance athlete, which means so I’ve recently began running so I can run for 12 to 21 minutes. So obviously very similar to know that you’re about to describe to me. Tell me then really, what does it mean to be an endurance athlete?

 

Steph Catudal  07:35

Yeah, the he is, he is the epitome of an endurance athlete. I mean, he is it’s not something he does, it’s who he is, you know, he wakes up at 4am. And he’s out the door so he could run two to three hours before he gets the kids to school. And then if after drop off, if he still has energy left, he’ll get on his bike and bike for a couple hours. It’s really his way of making sense of the world movement, you know, and being outside.

 

Kate Bowler  08:01

It sounds like to that contract, the sort of contract between you as the he goes on these incredibly long runs. But then he always comes back until one day, he just couldn’t finish his run. Would you mind taking me back to that season? And just telling me what happened?

 

Steph Catudal  08:19

Yeah, it was late June of 2020. So kind of the height of the pandemic. And it was kind of awesome for endurance runners, because they could go out on trails, and in the Grand Canyon, and no one was there. So they kind of had this freedom, you know and so he and a friend decided to do what’s called the rim to rim to rim run, which is I think it’s 54 miles, where you drop down into the Grand Canyon, run across it, run up it, and then run back down and out. Yeah, it’s pretty incredible. But it was kind of a routine run that he would do you know, you could even do it once a week during you know, the spring and fall when it’s not too hot. So he went down on one of these runs with one of his friends. And he kind of felt off along the way. But he didn’t think much of it. He just thought maybe his electrolytes were off or something. The black down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon by the Colorado River and his heart started to race and he couldn’t catch his breath and he felt that he was seriously in trouble. And he didn’t know what was happening. And he just laid himself on a picnic bench and thought he was going to die down there. I’ve never seen him panic and when he came back out the next day, he was in a state of shock because though his body had failed him which his body is his greatest ally. You know, he’s, he’s an athlete he’s a professional athlete. So yeah, he made it out of the canyon, but that was the start of everything.

 

Kate Bowler  09:51

That’s so interesting to describe it like that, like his ability to trust his own body as being like, key to who he is and you, you’re learning to trust your own intuition on the day where you left you know, a sick and claiming to be constantly recovering, insisting he was fine ribs behind when you went on a picnic with the kids and some some friends, but you had this intuition.

 

Steph Catudal  10:19

A couple of weeks after that, that canyon run roofs, like continued to decline he, he got more and more ill, he lost weight, he couldn’t get out of bed. And I was on my way to a picnic with my kids and my sister in law. And I was halfway there halfway to the mountains. And I had this basically just it felt like an awakening. And it was almost it was like a whisper and a shout at the same time. And it just said, go home and check on Ribs. And I, I pulled the car into a gas station, and I had my sister in law follow behind me. And I just got out of the car and I said I need to go home. I know it sounds crazy, but I need to go home right now. And she helped me and she said it doesn’t sound crazy, that sounds perfectly logical, rational and true. And so I went home and that’s when I found him passed out. And that was the first time that I learned to listen to myself. That was kind of the beginning of my awakening so to say.

 

Kate Bowler  11:23

When he didn’t want to go to the hospital? Was it just because it was just such a scary time to be in hospitals? Was it was it mostly because of that or was he just like, had confidence that whatever he was going through, he could just kind of muscle through it.

 

Steph Catudal  11:39

I think there was a lot of things. The main was that we live adjacent to the Navajo Nation. And they’re a demographic that got hit the hardest by COVID. Because they their lack of accessibility to resources and stuff, sadly, and so that the Flagstaff hospital was just like a hotspot, and he didn’t want to take a bed from someone he felt needed it more. And that’s the truth that was his main reason. He’s like, you know, I’m otherwise healthy. I, you know, I’m a physical therapist. So I know, triage, I know, the body and so I feel like I could do this at home, and then save that bed for someone who actually needs it, who doesn’t have the resources that I have. And then on top of that was the fear of if what he was experiencing wasn’t COVID, the likelihood that he would catch COVID in the hospital was very high at that time, too so there’s a lot of things going into it. That made him feel like I could just do this at home.

 

Kate Bowler  12:36

Ah, within the state you found him in it must have been just terrifying to see him that way.

 

Steph Catudal  12:42

Yeah, he was, yeah, he was he looks, you looked alive when I saw him, and it was really traumatic. But then he muscled through and I finally convinced him that evening to get to the hospital.

 

Kate Bowler  12:56

To give like a sense of context of your like, the way you must have been thinking about it. I mean, you grew up Church of Latter Day Saints, like what some people might know, as Mormon. And I wonder then what was the faith of your childhood like?

 

Steph Catudal  13:15

As a child, church and faith were easy to me, you know, it was it felt warm, it felt comforting, my mom would bring us and we get cookies in church. And then, you know, my dad would have dinner lunch waiting for us when we got home because he wouldn’t come with us to church. He was never a member of the church. But they had a really beautiful understanding relationship where that kind of religious, I don’t know, difference didn’t conflict in their marriage at all. It was really beautiful but so I loved being Mormon as a child, it was easy, it was straightforward, and but when my dad got sick when I was 13 years old, is when I started to deconstruct and question what I truly believed and what was true and what wasn’t for me, yeah and a huge part of that was this notion of faith in miracles. I was led to believe that if I prayed and had perfect faith, that my dad would be healed. You know, this very childlike XYZ equation of, you know, faith and obedience equals miracle. And I really believe that because that’s kind of what we’re taught, we’re taught that and, and when my dad passed away when I was 14, I, I kind of said, well, if, if faith and prayer and miracles aren’t true, then none of its true. None of it and and that’s when I kind of started on my decade of rebellion.

 

Kate Bowler  14:53

It’s actually one of the first things I ever taught my kid when he was little was an evil laugh. Like he was like a two year old who could laugh like Vincent Price.

 

Kate Bowler  15:11

We’ll be right back

 

Steph Catudal  15:20

Our stories are so compelling, like the seamlessness of the stories that we live inside are so compelling, and to have a dad with stage four lung cancer, and then no framework for people who get sick and don’t get better. That must have been like a totalizing world like you either live inside that world or you don’t.

 

Kate Bowler  18:28

Yeah, or conversely when he did pass away the rhetoric was well, he was called back to heaven and it happened for a reason and you know, God needed an angel and all of the things that I know people say with good intentions and they weren’t trying to, you know, be malicious or vindictive. But those words those platitudes killed me. Because I thought what better place could my dad be, and then here with me, and you know, my mom and my brother and sister and so that I think that kind of made me really, have resentment towards religion, and the church because it was all kind of encapsulated in this kind of telling me that I didn’t have to grieve because my dad died for a purpose. And so just don’t don’t be sad, you’ll be with him again. You know, don’t be sad, and oh my gosh, that was just that was really difficult to hear as a 14.

 

Steph Catudal  19:26

Yeah, that’s a very particular kind of poison. It is a very yeah, and it lasts and lasts, you know. Yeah, stays in the body.

 

Kate Bowler  19:41

You wrote this. There are so many things that I highlighted in your book. But one of the something you said about that was I was full of hope, when I should have been stealing myself for death. I lived on one end of the pendulum oblivious to everything in between I like to like the feeling the feeling of just like, well, how see how stupid, how stupid do I feel when I like don’t when no one prepares me then when I have like nothing but my own sweet, unknowing.

 

Steph Catudal  20:17

Yeah, and I felt I blamed, misguidedly blamed my mother for that for you know, believing me to believe in this chance of a miracle. But then interestingly, when, when my husband became sick, and I had to lead my own children through brief, I realized what an impossible task it is to talk to kids about death and the possibility of death and illness. And I, it was this beautiful reckoning with her of realizing that she did within the context of what she believed she did the right thing. And it really was a yeah, it was just beautiful to see and empathize with what she had to go through, and all the things that I blamed her for, as a child, I kind of understood better where she had been coming from, you know, and in having to deal with the same things with my own children.

 

Kate Bowler  21:17

Like, like the just trying to think of the, like, just the desire to reassure, like, where does the edge where are the edges of how we reassure the people around us?

 

Steph Catudal  21:28

Yeah, yeah, exactly, and where, where is the meeting between hope and reality? You know, where? Where do those meet in the middle? Because I, I felt like I was constantly walking that tightrope with my three children when it looked like my husband wasn’t going to live. And do I let them live on the edge of hope only to be obliterated by reality, like I had been, and then live in resentment, like I had done or, you know, do I? Do I say, he’s going to die and then they blame me when he does live, you know, I feel like there’s there it’s impossible. It’s an impossible task. And then we’re just kind of clamoring our way through in those moments.

 

Kate Bowler  22:14

Yes, right. That’s such a step you think about that. So clearly, I love your brain on this. Because it’s the precision of what you’re trying to, like, do there is my I find my brain breaks on it sometimes. The language of certainty, I find to be really painful, totalizing ignorant, you know, sometimes, like, if it’s just used as a weapon, this is exactly what’s going to happen when none of us can predict the future, right? And like, a lot of the language that I used to have for faith doesn’t feel at all like certainty anymore. But when like, you can say the same thing almost like the exact same sentence, like it’s going to be okay or, you know, and, and that kind of that just be a language of love, like, and a prayer, please, God help us be okay. And hope okay, well, whatever this is going to be we’re gonna we’re gonna figure it out as we go. Like, it’s it’s so hard when the exact same thing, can like take us right to the edge of hope but we’re just trying not to let it push us beyond it.

 

Steph Catudal  23:21

Yeah. Well, that’s so interesting, you say that because it’s true. I think what I realized is, we’re all saying the same thing. It’s just semantics and it’s just the intention behind what we’re saying and what you know. I have a really hard time with certitude just like you I’m like, please, don’t you who how do we know? But I think the most closest I felt to faith or spirituality was when I could accept the liminality of all of it and accept that nobody knows and how beautiful that is. Because it means that anything’s possible. You know, good or bad, positive or negative. I love living in that space of possibility. And when someone tries to pigeonhole or be myopic about truth, that to me is a is a total I can’t trust you when you say that you found the truth, you know, because it means that you’re not open to the rich realities that are around us and the varying realities, because anything is possible.

 

Kate Bowler  24:28

Well, they in between, this is so so painful, and so and so beautiful, for like a second for like a second. You can ever seek the landing I find, but like yeah, I just wonder, I think the language is like Grace, when we can extend to others like a kind of, like compassion that we can’t totally imagine but we can see love inside of and when you talk about your mom. It feels like there’s such a grace there for how her or desire to? Will your dad into perfect health was a was a form of love. It wasn’t yeah, it sounds like it was a painful form of love.

 

Steph Catudal  25:15

Yeah, everything that she did was out of love and that’s, that is something that I’ve realized over the years that every, every prayer every you know, family circle prayer of every fast on Sundays we’d fast for his health. I, in my teens, I saw those as just those those things, those made me mad because I felt like they were just like false, false hope that was just more false hope, and we were just doing this pageantry to try to, you know, save my dad, and that it was all false. But now I see it all as acts of love. And then, in my grief, in those years of grief after my father died, the freedom she offered me to express my pain and sadness the way in the destructive ways that I chose to maniacal laugh again, ha. That was love, too. I think she looks back sometimes and feels like she gave me too much freedom and or did she abandoned me or, you know, just let me go but that’s exactly what I needed. And that was that she loved me enough to be able to, to explore my anger and my grief in the ways that I needed, which I think is very hard to do is now that I have a teenage daughter, I’m like, how did you not just lock me in my room? And you know what I mean? Like, how did you let me just go and be what I needed to be. And that was one of the greatest acts of love that I’ve ever, you know, witnessed, truly, and all of these things, there are only things that I’ve seen now, in the past few years, these aren’t things that were clear to me, you know, as a teenager, or even as a young mom, it’s only in, in going through something similar, very similar to what she went through, that I’m able to see all these things. And that’s been one of the greatest gifts of this whole experience, you know, if I could pick out the gems, this is one of them is, is really seeing my mother in her fullness.

 

Kate Bowler  27:22

There’s this one line that I underlined a million times that you said about you said, um, what a blessing and a curse to learn in an instant that pain is the intercessor of empathy. And I know there’s all kinds of like people in complicated relationships in this lovely listening community that we have that like confined a lot of hope in that that like, sometimes there’s just a doorway we haven’t walked through yet in which we then maybe on the other side can see each other’s love more clearly.

 

Steph Catudal  28:02

Absolutely.

 

Kate Bowler  28:04

Would you walk me back to that first moment where you take ribs to the hospital? And you have to leave him there because they didn’t let anybody stay. But at that moment, you have to imagine it would just be like, a little bit like that, like, I’ll see you later, as opposed to what it became.

 

Steph Catudal  28:23

I never really thought anything could seriously be wrong. And when I dropped him off at the hospital, I really did think it was going to be a couple days I thought you know, we assumed he had COVID because that’s what all signs were pointing to, he had a cough, he was tired, he cold chills, all those things. So I dropped him off thinking I pick them back up in a few days not knowing yeah, I think it was. Well, I saw him a few weeks later, but I wouldn’t see him awake again for like three and a half months. Yeah, he was in there for two weeks and they didn’t know what was wrong. They kept doing different tests. I thought he had the bubonic plague at one point. They thought he had a fungal infection. And they really couldn’t understand what was happening because he’s 35.

 

Kate Bowler  29:16

Healthy, yeah the world’s most athletic person.

 

Steph Catudal  29:18

Yeah, I mean, yeah. And other than he had no platelets and a weird white blood count but other than that everything looks pretty good. But two weeks after getting to the ICU is when he started to go into true lung failure. And after that, things went downhill really fast. That’s when he was put on the ventilator and sedated and I kind of feel like what without the conscious fight that he has innately in him is when things started to really go downhill because he was just, you know, asleep and then things were being he was being acted upon. But he he wasn’t consciously aware and able to advocate for himself or anything like that.

 

Kate Bowler  29:58

So what was the specific diagnosis that he ended up getting.

 

Steph Catudal  30:02

It was NKT cell lymphoma, which is really rare. But it’s even more rare. I think only 10 people have ever had the presentation that he does, where it’s only in his lungs. So usually people have it in their nasal or in their larynx or in their faces these tumors, but his were just only in his lungs. Yeah, which is such a weird, you know, cruel irony is what we keep saying, so it’s like, you know, you built your whole life on lungs and breath and running. And somehow the cancer finds its way there.

 

Kate Bowler  30:39

Was there like a surreal familiarity with it coming back to cancer? I mean, you’d had so much, you just had so much cancer in your life by that point.

 

Steph Catudal  30:51

Yeah, yep, my little brother leukemia when I was six, and he was three. And then my dad, of course, and then my older brother had testicular cancer, but didn’t tell us because he didn’t want to scare us. So every male in my family has had cancer. When I finally got the diagnosis, of it being cancer, it did feel familiar. And it almost felt in some way, a comfort. because, first of all, I had done cancer before I knew what to expect, more or less, I knew what it looked like. It felt familiar. And then on the other hand, it was just, I was relieved to get a diagnosis at all, because it was looking like he was going to die without a diagnosis, which really felt it didn’t feel fair. I hate the word fairness to it didn’t, but it didn’t feel like how could you? How could you? How could they not figure out what’s wrong with him because then it would mean that there’s no hope at all, because they can’t treat him. So once we at least had a diagnosis, even though they said there was no hope. I felt there was a chance for a way forward. And that’s when it kind of kicked into action.

 

Kate Bowler  32:04

It does sound like you like found your footing in that in a way that. I mean, very few people would have rallied the way that you did. It sounds like he had amazing nurses, but also that it was going to take a I mean, an uphill, steep sprint, in order to even get any other medical options on the table.

 

Steph Catudal  32:29

Yeah, well, we were really, really fortunate that he because of his career as an athlete, he had a lot of people around the world that were aware of him and and so I kind of battled with this guilted privilege of being able to access resources to medical facilities and doctors when I knew a lot of people around the country were dying of COVID and not getting a bed and not getting a ventilator and but I did I reached out online and asked if anyone was able to transfer my husband to a different hospital because the one he was at wasn’t able to treat him they said they were done with what they could do for him. And because of this collective love and collective support from really around the world, we were able to get him to a new hospital gave him an entire team of doctors that believed in him that nurses and respiratory therapists and it all did feel very serendipitous in some way, which again, I hate, I’m like, oh, did you just say that? Yes, I did but it did. It felt as though like things were unfolding in a beautifully. I don’t know, I still can’t put my finger on it and I’m very hesitant to say again, going back to the certitude of what was it? I don’t know, but I do feel like there was a collective love and a collective unfolding happening on our behalf. I was aware of it in the moment, I was aware, to be grateful I was aware to recognize all of the love that was pouring in. Because I really feel like that’s what was saving us you know, it was I acted and I was the advocate but I couldn’t have done it without everybody else. It was definitely a collective collective endeavor.

 

Kate Bowler  34:24

I’ve always thought it’s like the language of music it’s so perfect. It’s like I because I I’ve always thought of like that worst stretch of my life as like a divine group project and I’ve always really hated group projects one person usually do all the work but the feeling that like you’re somehow being carried by all of these sort of visible and invisible hands is is a surreal and incredible, yeah I there’s there’s just nothing like it.

 

Steph Catudal  34:53

There isn’t and it’s something I never believed in before to which was added an extra layer of surrealism because I I really didn’t believe in, I mean, I believed in love, of course, but not in the power of love. I don’t think I believed in this collective energy that could actually be transformative. And I think part of that is because it didn’t happen for my dad. And I wanted to be very clear also, in writing my story that it loved doesn’t always save. And if someone passes away, doesn’t mean you didn’t love hard enough, or you didn’t have enough love in your life, or because my dad had all the love in the world. And you know, he still passed away, things still happen. But for reasons I can’t explain this collective love, did lead to my husband survival. And I am grateful that I have both those examples so I can kind of see a little more clearly and empathetically to be you know, I have I have a tragedy and and then I have a triumph in in these two men in my life, you know, so I can see that anything, and everything could happen and everything and everything is possible and, you know, it just happened to work in our favor for this one.

 

Kate Bowler  36:08

I think that is I think it is so confirming for people to hear. When you say very briefly, like with some some pain is entirely tragic, like looking at what ribs went through some, some was entirely unnecessary, and cruel. And took things that you can’t get back.

 

Steph Catudal  36:28

Absolutely, yeah, no, it might it’s I mean, no I mean that was mostly in reference to him watching him wake up from sedation, and then the ICU delirium and just the torment that that was, and I remember thinking, this, this just sucks, there’s no, I’m not going to try to pick out the gems or the silver lining here, let this let this be horrible. And that’s another thing I learned is to allow things to just suck and be terrible and be painful and not try to grope for the deeper, more beautiful meaning in it. Because it really just sucked and I didn’t learn anything from that it was purely traumatizing, I am broken from that and, hey, that that’s okay. And then there’s other events that happened during his illness that were truly beautiful that I was able to learn from and grow from and, that’s partly why I called it everything all at once because it really it was it was it destroyed me, and it felt me at the same time and, and just allowing both of those things to exist was truly liberating for me.

 

Kate Bowler  37:35

Yeah, if only you’d written your book eight years ago, yeah, I would have learned a lot.

 

Steph Catudal  37:42

Oh, my gosh.

 

Kate Bowler  37:46

We’ll be right back.

 

Kate Bowler  37:49

Tell me about Ribs’ recovery. What was that? like? It’s such a sorry for such a stupid question but like what was that? Like it was like? I’m sure it was like it was a mount, it was a mountain we nailed.

 

Steph Catudal  40:54

Well, yeah, I mean, I feel like it’s still going on, he’s what three years out, I think, two, almost three years out from a clear skin. And I feel like he’s still recovering, and parts of him will never recover, his lungs are damaged permanently from the tumors and from being on the ventilator for so long. So he can never last never say never because again, anything’s possible. But the likelihood of him being able to race at the same level that he did before is quite low. But what I love is that it doesn’t stop him. Like he’s still he’s currently I had to wait to start our conversation because he was getting ready to go on another run. And he had already been out this morning and he just, and he’s doing it at a pace, probably three times slower than he’s he used to run. And it doesn’t stop him. You know, he’s still doing it but it was slow going because he didn’t only have to recover from the chemo, but also from he lost 75 pounds when he was sedated. So he woke up basically in a skeletal state., and so he had to learn to walk again, he had to learn to eat again, all of those basic things that I think we are getting take for granted. He had to relearn and that that was grueling, that was really difficult to see someone who’s normally a superhero. have to struggle to you know, make it to the bathroom. I mean, I’m sure you know, in some ways, you know, and yeah, but here he is. He’s stronger than ever. You if you saw him, you would never think that he went through what he did you know, which is? Yeah, but that’s all, that’s all him. You know, he is wonderful.

 

Kate Bowler  42:41

He does really sound amazing.

 

Steph Catudal  42:44

Oh, he’s gonna hate that. Like, oh, my God.

 

Kate Bowler  42:49

I don’t really, yeah, but that’s everyone I like everyone, I like to get me stop it. Makes me love you more.

 

Steph Catudal  42:58

I know, you’re so humble. It’s so.

 

Kate Bowler  43:00

Oh, my gosh, I love it. Steph, I had one, I had one question I really wanted to ask you because I, I’d love to ask you about miracles. Because Ribs is story is one where you just immediately imagine the blockbuster movie like a confluence of your advocacy and nurses and a medical team that put together these impossible plans and his own body’s history of endurance training that lets him live longer than most people could survive. And then a treatment that worked, and then a PET scan that reveals no evidence of disease. And then so I know a terminal, incurable disease, and then a miracle.

 

Steph Catudal  43:48

Yeah.

 

Kate Bowler  43:49

And you and I are delicate on this topic. So it makes me really want to ask you of all people. How do you think about hope and miracles now?

 

Steph Catudal  44:03

This one is yes, like you said, I think we share this, oh, really? I don’t want to say what I really feel because I don’t know if I truly believe that it was a true miracle. Because I, I really have a hard time with that word , really. But what I do believe is that the miracle wasn’t his actual survival. The miracle was this, the confluence of all of the love that went into his survival. So it wasn’t this blind faith or this just childlike obedience that led to his healing it was the fact that I was able to find my voice and be an advocate, as someone who is very passive and quiet, that I was able to find my strength in this dark time. And then that there was so much if there was a team of doctors willing to take his case, with love, I feel like all of these and then the online community that rallied and supported our family with love, that was the miracle. And if I can reframe a miracle away from prayer and faith, because I have to, I didn’t pray once during his illness. And I think that’s okay, I communed with him on a spiritual level. But I didn’t have I didn’t have the middleman in there. And so for me hope now isn’t an expectation. It’s not, it’s not if I do this, then hope means XYZ will happen. It’s just that a feeling of love, I think, an occurrence of love that will carry us to whatever destination awaits us. And that could be the one that we hope for, or the one that we don’t, but acknowledging this current of love that surrounds us all, and accepting it and allowing it to me, that now is hope. And you could put, I think you could put, you know, divine or religious rhetoric in there, and what I’ve learned is that we’re all again, we’re all saying the same thing. We’re just kind of defining it in in different ways. But I can’t deny that the miracles did unfold for him to survive. But they, they were love, you know, they were love in each of us that kind of collectively contributed to his survival. Yeah, but it’s tricky, it’s very tricky for me.

 

Kate Bowler  46:38

No, you nailed that stuff. No, you nailed it.

 

Steph Catudal  46:41

Oh, well, thank you but it’s yeah, it’s again, and you know, what’s interesting, and I know you resonate with this, the further I get away from, from his illness, and from the experience, the less sure I am of what I actually believe, or, and I think that’s okay. You know, I think it’s okay to question did I really feel that deep spiritual, you know, experience? Or did I really, I think it’s okay for me to leave myself open to questioning what I went through, but if I really sit with it, and I’m honest with myself, and kind of dispel the skeptical brain, that is me. I can really say that it was a truly divine and spiritual experience that whole year, and that’s huge for me to say, I’m like, oh, again, I’m like recoiling with saying that, but it’s true, and I can’t deny it, and I’m glad I wrote it down when I did, because I think I would have tried to shimmy my way out of believing that had I not put it in print, you know, if I waited a few years to write the book.

 

Kate Bowler  47:47

I am familiar with this problem.

 

Steph Catudal  47:49

Yeah. I did write that down, yes, I did […]

 

Kate Bowler  48:00

Thank you Steph,, that was really beautiful. I just love your intense compassion you have about bits of yourself. Even when you’re like, I don’t really know how this broken piece is going to ever connect with anything else I mean, you have really found a way to put things together while still showing us the cracks in between and that feels so honest, and so beautiful to be up close to you so thank you, my dear.

 

Steph Catudal  48:26

Thank you so much for your time thank you.

 

Kate Bowler  48:44

Steph is refreshingly honest about what she now knows, and what she might never understand. The strange way pain became an intercessor of empathy toward her mom. The unexplainable ways that love carried her and Ribs through such a difficult season. The way miracles and healing don’t always look how we hope they will, on the timeline we imagine they should. So here is a blessing for living between between miracles, between answers between formulas. Blessed are you who live here, this space between simple categories and easy answers. You who wonder why this is your life? Why you got this diagnosis, or why you still struggle with infertility? Or why you haven’t found your birth parents or why you can’t kick the addiction or why your kids haven’t come home. Bless it are you who built a home on uneasy ground? Who despite you’re trying you’re asking you’re searching, haven’t found the satisfying feeling of discovery and bless it are you who never will. This is not an easy place to live outside of certainty, outside of knowing outside of the truth. And bless it are you who realize that love and beauty and courage and meaning live here to amid the uneasy, and the frustrating, and the sleepless nights, in the way love and courage to show up through people through presence through laughter. May you be surprised by your capacity for ambiguity for the way it makes you a great listener and a good friend, for you are someone who knows how to feel your way around in the dark, and squint for the stars. I wish it were easy, my love. I wish I could just hand you the answers. But for now, may you find comfort in the fact that you are not alone. We are all learning to live in the uncertainty of the unknowing. So bless it are we who live here together.

 

Kate Bowler  51:23

Hey, and if this discussion about miracles, things that come true and things that don’t really resonate with you, we had another really great conversation, a few episodes back maybe a couple of seasons back with Sarah Bessie, about her book called miracles and other reasonable things. And she had us kind of a story where one amazing thing happened. And then one really did. So if this is interesting to you, then you might want to catch up on that episode. Alright, my dears, guess what? Advent you know, I love it. Advent start soon and my team put together the most gorgeous Advent guide. And it is totally free. And it is available now. And you can access it at Kate bowler.com/advent. If you want to do it by yourself, if you want to do it with your family or a friend. If you just want to feel slightly more spiritual this Christmas, it’s all yours all right, and this is the part where I could just say, oh, my word, thank you. Thank you so much, especially to the Lilly Endowment and the Duke Endowment. Your kindness and real intellectual investment and support of this podcast have really meant the world to me, thank you. Thank you also to my academic home, Duke Divinity School, and our new podcast network limonada where their slogan is when life gives you lemons, listen to Lemonada. And, you know, there’s my team, who really make everything happen.

 

Kate Bowler  52:55

I think everything happens, everything happens. Jessica Ricci, Harriet Tubman, Keith Weston, Gwen Higginbotham, Brenda Thompson, hope Anderson, Kristen Bowser, Jeb Burt and Catherine Smith. Thank you and hey, guys, we love hearing from you. So leave us a voicemail, and we might even use it on the air. Call us at 919-322-8731. And for those who have left a message and shared with us, just please know it really means a lot to us. Okay, my love’s next week, we’re talking to talk with the absolutely fantastic and hilarious Comedian Iliza Schlesinger on the power of laughter. She is hysterical and witty, and you are not going to want to miss this one. And in the meantime, come find me online at Casey bowler. And this is everything happens with me, Kate bowler. Oh, wait, I forgot to say, hey, if you’ve liked this conversation, could you leave us a review on Apple podcasts or on Spotify? And what’s so annoying, but if you just take a couple seconds, it really makes a huge difference to help people value the podcast and make sure you’re subscribed while you’re there so you can stay in touch. Okay, thanks so much, see you soon.

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