PITTSFORD — By the time she was a young adult, Liz Pearson had already endured a lifetime of pain and discomfort.
Arthritis and other ailments beginning in early childhood had worn down her body, resulting in several surgeries, including hip replacements at ages 19 and 21. Her physical difficulties also taxed her mentally and emotionally.
“I was pretty mired in ‘woe is me,’” she recalled.
In 2008, Pearson — then 25 — became godmother to her nephew, Zach. With that happy occurrence came a major attitude adjustment.
“Knowing that I was his godmother, and I was responsible for helping him have a relationship with God, made it seem like I had to turn my outlook around,” she explained. “I started looking at the positives and being grateful. And as time went on, that became a habit.”
For the past several years, Pearson — who turned 40 on Aug. 23 — has risen above ongoing health difficulties through extensive volunteerism: “God just kind of threw stuff at me.” Of special note is her work with people in crisis, through which she draws on her counseling background and strong Catholic faith.
Town of Greece native carved out a new mission through volunteering
Pearson is a native of the Town of Greece and graduate of Roberts Wesleyan College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s in school counseling. She spent five years as a guidance counselor in the Churchville-Chili School District. But in 2014, declining health forced her to go on disability and move back with her parents.
She had been diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis after kindergarten, and later with systemic lupus erythematosus and Sjogren’s syndrome. All are autoimmune diseases that cause the immune system to attack the body — including joints (JIA), body tissue (SLE) and glands (Sjogren’s syndrome) — instead of fighting off germs.
To ease the disappointment of leaving her beloved job, Pearson said, “I made it my mission to determine ways I could still help the community.”
Since then, she’s built a network of former students and others who “just fall into my lap,” lending them individual support. Operating mostly from home via Zoom, Pearson helps people develop coping skills for such difficulties as family discord, depression, anxiety and trauma. She also maintains a weekly and monthly mail ministry, sending each recipient a picture she’s drawn along with an encouraging message and a Bible verse.
Supplying large doses of optimism and humor in her efforts, Pearson thrives on the social contact: “I’ve always been like that. Even as a child, I’ve always loved being around people, being very chatty.”
Woman maintains happy life despite health difficulties
Pearson has served as a faith-formation instructor and music minister at her former parish, Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, and at Church of the Transfiguration, which her family joined after moving to Pittsford eight years ago. She also has worked with incarcerated women as a member of the Mercy Associates, a lay organization that supports the Sisters of Mercy and their ministries. And she serves as a board member and works with youths through St. Michael’s Woodshop, a ministry that equips inner-city teens with work and life skills.
Yet her favorite activities of all involve Zach, now 15, and his sisters Abbie, 12, and Carly, 8, who live a half-mile away. They are the children of Pearson’s brother and sister-in-law, Ben and Kelly; that family belongs to Church of the Transfiguration as well. Godmother to all three youths, Pearson leads faith formation for her nephew and nieces every Sunday at her home, and also involves herself in their school and community activities.
“I’m obsessed with them. I love them,” she said with a big smile.
Pearson acknowledged that it’s getting tougher to keep up her busy schedule due to her health. She’s had 11 surgeries in all, including one this past July to repair an artificial hip. All of her joints and many of her organs have been compromised. She currently takes 14 different types of pills daily — 10 in the morning and four at night — and receives drug infusions twice a month. She struggles with fatigue, requiring 12 hours of sleep per day. She takes daily walks when able, but requires a wheelchair at times and can only drive on a limited basis.
Yet Pearson maintains a sunny outlook, saying her supportive family and Catholic faith are “the two things keeping me going. They’ve gotten me through all the real hard times.” She also has built a strong resolve over the years, noting that overcoming so many obstacles “helps you realize you can get through more than you think you can.”
“Your life can be happy. It’s what you make it,” she said. “I’m very content with my life.”Tags: Profiles in Faith