About a year ago, I reluctantly sat in Mass, upset that I was spending my Saturday afternoon in a church when I’d much rather have been doing something “fun.” After all, who wants to spend time with our Lord and Savior when there’s television to be watched, shopping to be done, and mundane tasks to be avoided? Unfortunately for me, our pastor requires that all First Communion students attend Mass regularly, and my oldest son was in this group. We actually had to prove that the kids attended weekly Mass by signing in, and although it crossed my mind a few times, I was not about to lie about going to Mass. Not because I wasn’t a total heathen, but more because I was afraid of actually being struck down by God Himself for being deceitful in the church.
I had no animosity towards God or His Church, I actually spoke of God and faith to the kids often. But, I was a hypocrite. I didn’t really believe the things I taught, and I thought Mass was boring. As the priest spoke of the upcoming Lent season, the realization of my hypocrisy was stifling. I couldn’t breathe, and I was absolutely ashamed. I wasn’t leading by example; I was telling the kids how to live, without actually showing them. I knew I had to change; I wanted to be a better mother. Our church offered two weekday Masses that were at a perfect time for me; I had no excuse to not attend. The husband and I also decided to take back our parental reins and bring the boys to Mass on Sundays, instead of continuing to let my parents take on this responsibility. I was never expecting my life to change the way it did.
I was born and raised Catholic. My family never missed Mass. It didn’t matter if you were sick, on vacation, or had a really great invitation to something “better”…you had to attend Mass with the family. Personally, I had a very deep faith. God was my sanctuary. I was bullied my entire childhood; being overweight, having red hair, and donning plastic baby blue glasses didn’t really earn you a lot of friends. I might as well have had a huge target on my forehead.
Let’s face it, I was a bully’s dream come true. But, regardless of how I was treated by people in my school, neighborhood, or family, I always felt loved by God. I found solace in everyday beliefs like, “everything happens for a reason…God has a plan for me…God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle…etc, etc, etc.” I desperately clung to these mantras. I needed to believe that there was some purpose; surely adulthood would be better…right?
Fast forward to my adult life, when in 2004, after months of trying, the husband and I conceived our second child. Nine weeks into the pregnancy, I began to cramp and bleed, which brought us to the ER. After an ultrasound, the doctor told me, “We found the heartbeat. Your baby’s fine.” My first moment alone, in the hospital bathroom, I leaned against the cold wall and began to cry. I thanked God for not taking my baby, for sparing me that pain.
I spoke too soon.
That night, at home, after about 10 hours of labor, I miscarried. I actually delivered the baby at home, and I saw things no one should see. I instantly felt empty. I believe that I actually felt the soul of that child leave my body–and I was alone. Not only did I feel physically empty, I felt emotionally empty. I felt abandoned. It was as though God was punishing me for something, and it seemed unfair. Though I knew I was imperfect, I thought I had (mostly) lived my life the way God wanted me to.
In my youthful ignorance, I felt that if He had loved me, He would’ve spared me from this devastation. I felt completely abandoned, unloved, and hurt by God. Suddenly, all of the beliefs that I held for so many years seemed like nonsense. I felt those beliefs were true for other people. I still knew God existed; I just figured He didn’t love me. Instead of turning to Christ in my time of pain, I turned away. I failed Him…miserably. Over the next few years, I slowly realized that I lost that baby for some unknown greater purpose. For one thing, our youngest child was conceived a few months later. If that baby had lived, he wouldn’t be here today. We also found out that our oldest child was mentally challenged soon after the miscarriage, which makes me wonder if that loss was one of mercy. That baby may also have been handicapped. I don’t know if I could’ve handled 2 special needs kids. And, although I came to these realizations, my faith never returned. My love for God was never the same.
Life only got harder. As I mentioned, we found out that our oldest son is mentally challenged, we were constantly in financial ruin due to medical bills, the husband worked insanely long hours, and I was always exhausted from running an at-home business (usually with the kids in tow). To say that “life was stressful” would be a huge understatement. Throughout this time, there were certain beliefs that I held as far as my faith was concerned, but I never felt like a true daughter of God. I still felt forgotten by Him. We never officially left the Church, but instead just slowly drifted away from it.
So, my decision to attend Mass 3 times a week was more about setting an example for my children, rather than growing spiritually. I couldn’t tell my kids to be good Catholics, when I wasn’t even being a bad one. I wasn’t being Catholic at all. And I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. Almost immediately, the Holy Spirit intervened. Often the readings would mirror my life in some way, and it seemed as though the priest was talking to me directly. (This same priest actually played an intricate part in bringing me back to the Church; we eventually became good friends.) Too many things were happening in my life, and they were happening quickly–it was too much to be a series of coincidences. I knew it was the work of God, and I was constantly amazed by Him.
The first changes occurred within me. I was given the gift of faith, and I began to heal on the inside. Things began to hurt a little less. I began to realize that Mass was quickly becoming my favorite part of the day. I became hungry for more knowledge on the Catholic faith, and I could never seem to get enough information. Even though I attended Catholic school and grew up around devout family members, it was as though I was seeing things for the first time. And, as I grew in my spirituality, it seemed to spread to those around me…especially the husband. In no time at all, we had done a complete turnaround in our spirituality, and it was a beautiful thing.
I was then blessed with something amazing…God proved His existence to me. Miracles were happening in our lives. We began to get unexpected financial blessings, the husband got a job with banker’s hours, and most importantly, my special needs son began to heal. HEAL!!! After six years of trying to find answers for him and making very little progress, he began to finally advance. And, he was progressing quickly. There’s no explanation for this; it had to be from God. I am continually amazed and in awe of Him. And, although the years away from Him were terribly hard, it was all worth it to be able to find Him again. I’m in love in ways I never thought possible.
My life is more fulfilling now than I could have ever imagined. I have since closed my at-home business, and I now spend my days doing volunteer work. I’ve traded in dreams of money and success for a life of simplicity and service. I spend my time volunteering for local organizations, and I have found great satisfaction in this. It’s simple and unimportant, and I’m completely happy.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have heartaches and struggles. Life is hard. I have a feeling it always will be. I still fall into the same sins (repeatedly), and I’m still learning.
But, I’m listening.
And, every once in a while, I’m blessed with an invisible embrace, a whisper of love, or a warmth in my chest that could only be the presence of God.
And that makes it all worth while.