“I grew up in the projects in Newark, NJ in the 50’s. That city doesn’t have an ideal suburban… “atmosphere” I guess you could say. I come from a family of seven kids, six girls and a brother, and I was number three in the lineup,” Linda shares.
As kids, she went to Church on Sundays, did four years in Catholic school, and had a fairly solid faith foundation entering adulthood. In her early 30’s, Sayres hit a rough patch. A divorce left her with 3 children to raise on her own, and as anyone in that position would, she did some questioning. “There were times when, because of the kids, I had a hard time holding down a job. There were always issues with daycares, issues with babysitters… I would just say to God, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ I just couldn’t handle it.” But rather than collapse in on herself, she did the one thing we’re all supposed to do (and only do it about half the time). She fell back on her faith.
“I just started to connect more with my Parish, St. Francis of Assisi (in New Jersey). They actually took the actions that were real to me. They helped with my kids when I needed it most, and just like that, I decided to pay it forward. The more involved I got, the more I grew in my faith. There’s a quote that relates to this phenomenon, like, ‘When you serve others, you do more for yourself.’ That is something I really believe.”
We rely on God more completely when we are weak. This is the same lesson Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” taught him (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Paul wrote, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong”. Yes, this paradox seems to make little sense, but adversity shows us where we are spiritually.
When we are living in faith, the most catastrophic event will not disturb us. When we’re living in fear, we can have no peace. Linda’s life was not without difficulty, but her connection with the Franciscans that ran her Parish in New Jersey changed the way she looked at her faith journey. The Franciscan order has generally been characterized by rigid poverty and the collective ownership of few material possessions. But they also dedicate themselves to work with, and service to the poor. Luckily, Linda lives in faith.
“Twenty-three years ago I was diagnosed diabetic, and as a result of that I developed kidney disease – renal failure – which has gotten progressively worse over the past 4 years. Over the past year, I’ve had to start dialysis.” For the past three years, Linda’s been on a kidney transplant list, but as part of the stipulation of the transplant, she had to have a heart catheterization to ensure her heart was strong enough to withstand the trauma of the surgery. Additionally, the anti-rejection drugs can make a person very weak, and a strong heart is necessary to bear the burden.
None of these procedures are a walk in the park. During a heart catheterization, a long, thin, flexible tube called a catheter is put into a blood vessel in the arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck and threaded to the heart. Through the catheter, doctors can diagnose certain conditions. In Linda’s case, they used a special dye that flows through the bloodstream to the heart. An x-ray is taken in what is called coronary angiography. The dye can show whether a waxy substance called plaque has built up inside the arteries. Plaque can narrow or block arteries, and restrict blood flow to the heart. In fact, Linda did have a major blockage, which was found a year ago during a catheterization. As a precautionary measure to the potential transplant, she underwent a quadruple bypass surgery to remove the blockages.
Linda had always been an avid biker, walker and swimmer, so in preparation for her surgery, she stepped up her exercise regimen and took her game off road. Unfortunately there are things like roots of mahogany trees off road, and Linda’s ankle found one it couldn’t quite avoid. “I tripped over this tree root and blew out all the ligaments in my ankle – the day before the surgery! Surgery postponed. The week before the second date, I developed bronchitis. Again, surgery postponed,” Linda recalls with obvious disbelief. “Finally on May 17th, they did the surgery. I had a wonderful surgeon, and a wonderful cardiologist – Dr. Fedec (a BPJXXIII Parishioner).”
“Even as a kid I was accident prone. I’ve had my share of broken bones. When I was in my early 20’s I was in the hospital for 33 days with gallbladder complications. I had to have the old fashioned surgery where they slice you from the middle of your stomach to half way around your back. I was thrown from a horse when I first moved to Florida, and had severe back issues… fractured ribs, herniated discs that ended in a spinal fusion. There’ve been shoulder surgeries along the way. It’s just been constant.”
This sounds like the story of someone who’s bedridden, in a body cast, and just… all out of energy for other people. But Linda is far from that. She grew up in a home that taught her nothing is owed to her. We all have responsibilities in life, and those don’t end at having your bills paid. Over the years, she lived that philosophy, and that philosophy became an axiom that she now lives by. Maybe there needs to be clarification on the aforementioned truth about suffering and pain. It’s not enough just for bad things to happen, we have to respond in positive ways in order to grow as people – in faith. And we grow when we take our experiences, good and bad, and become better people in spite of them.
On her evangelization philosophy: “I try to bring people from outside to our events at Blessed Pope (John XXIII). I try to carry messages from the Mass. I try to open my home to people in need, and I just try to listen to people and stay open to what people are going through.” And she doesn’t stop at talking a good game. Linda actually has one of the longest ministry rap sheets at this Parish. It’s hard to find a ministry she’s not involved in – probably just Men’s Gospel Forum and the Knights.
“When I first got here I joined the Women’s Guild and jumped into preparing for one of their annual fashion shows. Once I came down here permanently, I started helping out with Social Justice, Angel Tree, Soles for Souls, the food pantry at the Villas… I’ve come to love those people over there as much as they love me. I help out with the High School Youth Group on Sunday nights. I usher at the Saturday Masses. And I just really have enjoyed getting to know the Parish Priests on a personal level. That’s something we never had growing up.”
Linda was afraid of losing her ability to become fully immersed in Church when she moved to Florida, but she’s found her place at this Parish and is a constant inspiration to people in the way that she continues to serve during her medical misfortunes. It’s a way of getting out of herself, and focusing on others – which is where I suspect God wants us anyway.
“I am grateful that with the obstacles He has tested me with, I am still able to enjoy a full life with friends, family and my Church… and my faith! It’s my faith that gets me through. It’s my faith that helps me remain positive and hopeful. We ALL have difficulties at some point in our lives. I think it’s just a matter of choosing to make something positive out of our adversities that makes the difference in the quality of our lives.”