‘Stepping Up’: Caitie Crowley chronicles post-accident suffering, hope in Christ

"Stepping Up: How Christ Turned My Pain and Suffering into Hope and Joy," is the first book by Caitie Crowley, a member of St. Jude Parish in Peoria.

Caitie Crowley never thought she would write a book.

But then the 26-year-old member of St. Jude Parish in Peoria never anticipated how her life would change in an instant on a sunny May afternoon in 2019 when, during her routine drive home from work, a car suddenly came directly at her traveling the wrong way on the interstate.

The ensuing accident, Crowley’s long road to recovery, and especially the role her Catholic faith has played in her unexpected journey are the focus of “Stepping Up: How Christ Turned My Pain and Suffering into Hope and Joy,” soon to be published by St. Louis-based En Route Books and Media.

“This isn’t just for people that have gone through a traumatic car accident,” said Crowley, describing her hopes for the book in an interview with The Catholic Post. “Whether it’s cancer, divorce, a sick child — you can take themes out of my book to help you during your crosses and to say, ‘Even when it seems hopeless, there’s hope.’”

“The point of the story is to direct people back to God and to let them know they’re not alone. I hope readers can connect with my story and say ‘This girl went through some hard things. She made it through. Maybe I can.’” Caitie Crowley

“The point of the story,” she continued, “is to direct people back to God and to let them know they’re not alone. I’m a random girl in a random town, but I hope readers can connect with my story and say ‘This girl went through some hard things. She made it through. Maybe I can.’”

LIFE CHANGED IN AN INSTANT

“Stepping Up” begins with a riveting description of the accident, including Crowley’s thoughts of Jesus and prayers for forgiveness as her car was rolling, she felt excruciating pain and expected to die.

“I hoped that Jesus knew I tried so hard to live a life for Him,” she writes. “I thought about how much I would miss my family. I was saddened that I was never going to get married as I had so greatly longed for.”

By what Crowley considers a miracle — she credits the protection of her guardian angel — the accident did not end her young life. But it did change it, leaving her with multiple injuries, perhaps most seriously to her knees. And the pain and suffering endured in the ensuing months of surgeries and therapy would test and eventually deepen her faith.

For 10 months the former competitive dancer and physical fitness enthusiast could not walk. Crowley takes her readers through the challenges — physical, mental, and spiritual — as well as the victories of her recovery, with faith a constant presence as she seeks to find meaning in her suffering.

For 10 months the former competitive dancer and physical fitness enthusiast could not walk.

The book’s title, “Stepping Up,” reflects her motto of having to take the recovery one day, one step at a time.

“I literally could not plan my life anymore,” said Crowley, a summa cum laude graduate from Northwestern University with a master of science degree in information design and strategy. She now works for a Fortune 100 company as a human resources communications representative.

But for her recovery year, “I had to basically live for that day and take my baby step forward.”

“A WHOLE NEW LEVEL OF FAITH”

She credits the examples of her parents, John and Christine Crowley, and grandparents for her strong Catholic faith. Prior to the accident, Crowley regularly went to eucharistic adoration as well as Mass. But “a whole new level of faith” was required when, for weeks, “everything was stripped away but my mind. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t sit up. I couldn’t work. Everything was gone.”

Sometimes her prayer was as simple as “Jesus, help me,” or “Jesus, take it away.”

“I still tried to pray even if it was weak or barely there,” she said. “I think God can work with that.”

Crowley said the experience gave her a “comprehension of suffering I did not have before.” In her book, she shares lessons learned from the pain and offers encouragement to those now in “dark places.” She quotes from St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter on human suffering, “Salvifici Doloris,” and in one chapter advises business owners and individuals how they can make life easier for persons with physical disabilities.

Writing a book about her experience was as unanticipated as her accident. The idea came from her grandmother, Marilyn Ryan — “She’s played a very pivotal role in my life,” says Crowley — and was reinforced by Deacon Roger Hunter of St. Jude Parish, who with his wife Linda were her CCD teachers in eighth grade.

“They were real rocks in my recovery,” said Crowley of the Hunters. “Every Sunday they brought  the Eucharist and prayed with me and really lifted my spirits when they were not real great.”

Deacon Hunter told her “You have a story to tell. You need to tell it.” When she finally sat down to write it, the majority of the book came out “in three days, non-stop, day and night.”

Caitie Crowley’s story continues. She still lives with daily pain in her left knee, making stairs difficult, and a partial knee replacement is in her future. She misses dancing, but is grateful to be able to walk, bike, swim . . . and drive.

“Lots of pain, anguish, and tears have turned into radiant joy,” she writes in the book’s conclusion. “Thank you, Jesus. My life is Yours.”

PRE-ORDERING AND BOOK SIGNING: “Stepping Up: How Christ Turned My Pain and Suffering into Hope and Joy” may be pre-ordered from Lagron-Miller in Peoria by calling (309) 681-9171 or online from En Route Books and Media. Lagron-Miller will host Caitie Crowley for a book signing from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25. The author can be reached at caitiecrowley@gmail.com or via Twitter (@CaitieCrowley).

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