These past few weeks, something has changed in me.

I’m happier.

Maybe happier isn’t entirely the right word for it. Happier, yes. But moreso, significantly less anxious. About everything. There’s a level of calm I don’t remember ever experiencing. Which in turn translates to happier. 

It would be hard for anyone else to appreciate the enormity of this change unless you had any idea how uptight I tend to feel at any given time. Uptight is just a part of me and I’m used to it. I don’t know exactly when I started to feel as if I just worried enough, that I could have some control over any problem. It was probably always there to some extent. I see it within my extended family in varying degrees. But I have a feeling it seriously escalated when I became a mother. And even though I never had a chance of knowing or controlling the future, over the years, I’d developed a habit of holding on too tightly. Such unrealistic expectations inevitably lead either to relief that things turned out the way I’d hoped – or to disappointment and bitterness.  Really, I didn’t even understand how much I normally allow things to brew inside of me and how often I think and worry and rethink any situation. Until something changed for the better.

And the irony of it all, is that this ability to start letting go came when normally, I would have been least able to cope. Without getting into too much detail, this shift happened just after I learned that some of my loved ones are going through a really rough patch. (No one is sick or dying, and in the grand scheme of things, it is the kind of thing that happens, and life goes on, one way or another. But it’s hitting close to home right now and it’s really hard.) I spent a few days crying here and there. There were days when every hour brought an aching over the fact that there was not a single thing I could do to steer things in the direction I want them to go. It took me a few days to realize that with or without my painful emotions, the situation is going to play itself out as it will.

I mentioned recently that I’d been reading a particular book that had stirred a significantly positive shift in ideas that had been cemented in my mind for years. My goal in wanting to read this book was to ease my guilt over my church-going habits, or more accurately, the lack thereof.

I’d started reading Jesus>Religion with only a mild curiosity about what the author had to say. After all, in comparison to me, the guy’s just a kid. What could he know? But he’d made an impression on the friend who loaned me the book. I wanted to see what she was all fired up about. And the impact on me? Ended up being profound!

I’d had a somewhat strict religious upbringing and in all my years of practicing the faith, I’d always felt out of sync. I just didn’t get it and never felt like I quite fit the mold. I couldn’t find the peace and connection I thought I was supposed to feel as a Christian. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong and why it was so easy for others, but always seemingly just out of my grasp. My struggle as an adult was that I’d quit practicing my faith, but wanted to find the place where I belonged, either with a church or just within myself. But going to a church of a different faith, or getting comfortable with not belonging to one at all meant going against the teachings of my upbringing, which incurred tremendous guilt. Even though I’m a well-seasoned adult, I know how disappointing it would be for me to acknowledge any of this to my dad. So I tried for a while to get myself right without finding my place, and now I’ve done almost nothing for years, always with the thought that I’ll figure it out eventually or get comfortable with going back to where I started. How? I didn’t know. Not surprisingly, I spent a long time going nowhere and doing nothing where my faith was concerned.

The book fell into my lap. The ideas in it filled in so many gaps in my mind. I was flooded with a sense of relief so big that I wanted to share it with others. But I didn’t know how to describe what exactly had happened. I’d read a book. So what? But something was different. I couldn’t quite put it in words just yet. The book felt like a launch pad in my life to something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

So I was in the midst of this book, and very pleasantly surprised at the fact that I was absorbing something that felt good and important when I came to know that certain someones I love were really struggling. I couldn’t fix it and I found myself frequently distracted from my daily routine. Tears were coming often while I reminded myself that this situation might play out happily in the long run, or it might not. And nothing I could do or say could fix it. And normally, something like this would make me angry and sullen inside at the unfairness of life. Not that anyone outside of my immediate family might know this. I can put on a pretty good face for the world when I have to. But I knew what to expect in the face of a tough situation like this and I wasn’t looking forward to it.

The thing is, those dark feelings with which I’m pretty familiar didn’t continue to overshadow every minute of every day as I’d expected. Something was different, and ironically, in the midst of a situation I was certain would continue to pull me down until it righted itself. Some people are naturally glass-half-full kind of people. I’m just not. I recognize this and have worked hard to deal with it for years, and I guess I’d let myself get comfortable with this aspect of my personality. Acknowledging it seemed the best way to combat it, so why not?

But I’d read that book. And while doing so and since finishing it, I’ve noticed a huge shift. I was thinking differently than I used to and recognizing that my thoughts have power. I always knew they had more power than I wished they did when it came to negativity. Suddenly, the idea began to sink in that they might have power in a good way. I know there are others who have always firmly believed in the power of positive thoughts. I did too, as long as my mood was right. If it wasn’t, well then it was all just a nice idea but not very realistic. This world is an ugly place sometimes.

Now though, something’s different. I don’t feel like I’m enduring this alone and I don’t feel like I have to fix it. I’m still sad about not being able to fix it. And although I wish I could pray and obsess over it enough to influence the outcome so that everyone is happy, I know that’s impossible. I now see that it might work out as I hope and it might not. If it does, maybe it was a learning experience meant to make those involved stronger. If it doesn’t, maybe it was meant to be a gateway to a new road for all involved. And I no longer feel so impossibly tightly wound over the fact that I am not in control. This is such an unfamiliar feeling for me. For the first time, I recognize that crap can be going on all around me, but that I don’t have to dissolve inside into a total emotional puddle because of it.

Ultimately, I am a person who wants God in my life, but I’d had these preconceived notions of how I was supposed to know him. And since doing it that way didn’t seem to work for me, and doing it some other way was “wrong,” I was stuck. Suddenly, something began to click and I realized I was free to seek God wherever and however I could find him. The trickle-down effect was that I didn’t have to try to know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t have to tie myself in knots until everything works out as it’s going to. And if I’m not finding God in the place where I’m “supposed” to find him, then maybe I should just be open to him wherever he finds me. And everything is just a little bit … actually a lot easier.

My 21 year-old daughter seems to have a much stronger handle on all of this than I ever did. I was telling her yesterday how as a mom… even as a mom of adult kids, I always want to protect them from hurting. I wish so much sometimes that they never had to feel sad.

She sort of laughed at me (in a gentle way.) “Mom,” she said. “I get that as a mom, you wish you could control this stuff. But sadness is a part of life and we have to deal with it sometimes. We can handle it.”

I wanted to hug her, but I was driving.

I feel like this is the tip of the iceberg, that it took something that really shook me up to make me recognize that there’s a better way to face and embrace life. (Also? Feeling a little silly that it took me this long to get here.) I realize that the old me used to think the only way to empathize with someone was to really embrace the sadness and hurt until I was aching inside myself. And how much this all held me back from really embracing everything else the world has to offer! How did I not see this?

Weirdly, I wake up each morning lately with a new ambition. Not because I’ve distanced myself from difficulties and not because I think everything is going to be all sunshine and roses now that I’ve learned a new way of handling problems. It’s because I’m anxious to keep strengthening this new attitude. I want to test it out (but hopefully just a little bit at a time!) and see how the new me deals with challenges. There are some that I know will continue to challenge me. That’s okay. If not, how else will I learn what I’m supposed to learn from it all?

It feels a little bit strange to share something so personal as this and I’ve been debating it for days.  I got this email a few days back – one from a daily subscription to which I’ve begun to pay closer attention. I kept going back and rereading this particular message which said:

What if, Terri, happiness didn’t have anything to do with what you had, where you’ve been, or who you were, and arose entirely from what you chose to think about, yet nobody knew this?

And what if changing your thoughts, so that you could feel happier more often, would entirely change what you had, who you were, and where you’re headed, yet nobody knew this either?

Do you think if we told them they’d choose to think differently?

The part of me that said “its weird” to share this thing lost out to the part of me that believes that message was right and I was supposed to do something with all of this.

So there you have it.


God’s not in the mailbox

As it often does, the lunch time conversation turned to religion. We each talked about the different ways we were raised in our faiths, our pitfalls along the way, the different beliefs we’ve held over the years. I mentioned my disappointment over the fact that I couldn’t recall having one of those big faith moments that so many people have experienced. You know the ones – those moments when someone clearly hears God speaking, or sees Him in the everyday surroundings, or simply has a defining moment when His presence is undeniably felt. I said that maybe it’s a failure on my own part that I haven’t had one of those moments. Either way, it contributes to my struggle with religion.

I wanted to lighten the mood, so I relayed an experience I had just last night. I was reading. Mark was watching t.v. and opening mail. I hadn’t been minding my husband, but he caught my attention when I heard him say, “Oh that was freaky! This is freaking me out! Look at this!”

I looked up to find him holding a sheet of paper in front of me that looked like this:

“Just stare into His eyes,” Mark told me. “Stare at them for a few minutes and you’ll see them open!”

So I stared.

And I stared.

And I stared some more.

I could literally feel my heart sink. His eyes didn’t open for me. I was sure it was a sign of my failure to be strong in my faith.

“His eyes aren’t opening for me,” I sort of whined to Mark.

“Just keep looking. They’ll open.”

I stared more. I knew what this was. I’ve seen plenty of optical illusions in my time. I couldn’t make this one work.

“I can’t see it,” I said to Mark, feeling defeated. And then I Googled the image to see what my failure said about me.

I explained to my coworkers that I was relieved to see that according to Google, this illusion was unanimously seen as a scam. The picture comes to you by mail. When you see the eyes of Jesus open, you are amazed and filled with awe. And this will make you want to follow the enclosed instructions and send your prayer requests (and some moolah!) to the designated church, which only exists as a P.O. box. Some “pastor” is getting rich off this scam. But he’s getting nada from me because the miracle failed to materialize for me.

My coworkers wanted to see the image that had me so bothered, so after lunch, I passed on a link. Thus ensued the following instant message conversation:

I’d like to think God has a sense of humor. I sure hope so because this had me laughing harder today than I’ve laughed in … I don’t know … a long time! And I’ve really been feeling like I could use a laugh lately. My coworkers sensed my feelings of worry over a silly mailing and took it upon themselves to make me see the lighter side of it. And anyone who has coworkers like mine would surely feel blessed!

Have I learned anything from this experience? Yes. I can find God wherever I think I might find him. It doesn’t have to be where others tell me he should be found.


It’s been a long time since I’ve been to church. I think the last time was in May when Kacey was confirmed at the Cathedral in St. Paul. And I think that by that time, I had long since fallen away from any sort of regular habit of going to church. I don’t know why I do that. I get in a good habit of going to church, and then I let circumstances allow me to fall out of the habit. I guess because sometimes I think too much and let the complications of life dictate my desire to go visit with God.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a subtle little nagging feeling of wanting to go back to church. I ignored it last weekend, but this morning I woke up and knew that I was going to go. I knew if I tried to get the kids to go with me, one of them might join me, most likely Kacey. But it would probably only be out of some sense of obligation to me that she might go. That’s not what I wanted to be on my mind when I went to church today, so I knew I would go it alone. My subconscious did a good job of trying to sway me. It kept telling me how much I hate going to church alone. I always think people are staring at me and wondering what my story is. I answered back to my subconscious this time and told it that my life would be a LOT easier if I’d quit being so damn concerned about what I think other people think about me. No one cares if I show up to church and sit alone. No one is wondering about me. Lots of people show up to church all alone. Yes, lots of them come as couples and as families, and with friends. But lots of people come alone too. No one cares. My subconscious went off to sulk or something and my positive attitude and I went off to church.

I’m so glad I went.

I have another ongoing struggle about going to church and that is the fact that I have lost my desire to worship in the faith in which I was raised. This causes me a lot of guilt, because I was raised Catholic. And if the Catholics are known for anything, it is guilt. And even though I am clearly an adult… have been one for a long time… and I can make my own choices, my subconscious has a tendency to step in on this issue too. It tells me I should be in the Catholic church. It tells me I’m deeply disappointing my family by exploring other places of worship. (And I know that I am.) But after forty years of feeling like I was just… missing something… in the Catholic mass, I think I’m entitled to go in search of it elsewhere.  In fact, I think I’m more than entitled. I think I’m obligated. So when I’ve gone to church willingly over the past couple of years, I’ve gone to a particular non-denominational church where I feel very comfortable (once I get past being there alone! )

It was good for me to go today. As so often happens when I attend this particular church, I felt as if the message was directed right at me. In this place, I feel as if I can hear God speaking clearly to me, answering all of the questions I’ve been asking of late, through the voice of the pastor. I know God speaks through all of his people. I know.  I can almost hear my dad, the Catholic deacon, trying to convince me that God speaks just as clearly, maybe more so, through the Catholic priests. I’m sorry, Dad. When I go to mass, I try to hear God. I really do. It’s just that when I’m there, it feels like I’m trying to tune into a radio station that only comes through fuzzy and staticky at best. When I go to this other church, I hear God in surround sound! How can I ignore that?

Today, the pastor spoke about praise and celebration. Ironically, he even touched on a habit of Christians living in Western Civilization. He said we have a habit of thinking it’s ok to let our moods decide whether or not we’ll worship on any given Sunday. (Ahem…Terri?) He cautioned that it’s a bad habit to let yourself fall into; and that even when you least feel in a frame of mind to worship, doing so can completely turn you around.

Duly noted!

But the main message was about how it is important, at times, to let our worship be a celebration. Other more traditional faiths might frown on the raising of hands, shouting in praise, dancing in worship and displaying sheer, uninhibited joy for the Lord. They say it’s not becoming. The pastor says it IS becoming. We’re allowed to cheer and shout in celebration of an athlete or team’s success. We’re expected to display excitement, sing and dance when we hear our favorite musical artists perform in concert. Our outbursts are a sign of our support and belief in those people. Why wouldn’t we do the same for God?

Why wouldn’t we?

He talked about how this kind of worship can often change the entire atmosphere in a faithful gathering. He described times when he has actually felt a change in pressure, or a physical change in himself, like an electrical current running through his body, but in a good and positive way. I wasn’t sure I could ever be capable of feeling a physical change during worship, but I believed it had happened to him and could happen to others. I figured it’s all in your frame of mind and what you’re open to. A lifetime of leaning on the somewhat reserved side would probably prevent me from ever experiencing God in such a physical manner. I think God had other ideas today.

When the pastor finished speaking, the band began to play and sing. The music was joyous and grew louder and louder. I just listened and felt the words within me. Out of the corner of my eye, I was aware of a young girl sitting on her dad’s shoulders, waving her hand above her head in praise. All the people surrounding me sort of faded from my vision and I felt a sense of peace falling over my shoulders, like a blanket. I took a deep breath and just felt my heart fill with serenity. I didn’t jump or shout or dance. That’s just not me. But it was amazing. And it was physical and tangible and I want more of it. How can that be wrong?

…Think I’ll try this again next week…

Life is Good – July 24, 2009 – Our Transplant Anniversary

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a whole year. Last year on this day, I was a patient at the Hennepin County Medical Center. So was my dad. I was donating my kidney. My dad was the recipient. After several years of dialysis, he finally had hopes of surviving on his own again.

My dad and me, just before our surgeries

It was an amazing time for my dad and me during the weeks preceding and following our surgeries. I was gathering information trying to learn all there was to know about being a kidney donor. I was connecting with people in the online community who had donated a kidney too. Michael, better known as De-I is one of those people. He supported and encouraged me from the start, shared his own story and has remained a cherished friend ever since.

My dad was preparing for a major and difficult surgery and what I remember best about him at that time was how hopeful he seemed. After several years of dialysis, feeling sick and tired and as if he was missing out on a big chunk of life, he was ready to get back to the business of living.

I also remember being surprised at how so many people seemed, I don’t know… I guess, kind of… awestruck… at what I was doing. Maybe it’s because I was doing it for my dad and once I knew I was a match there simply was never a question as to whether I wanted to do it. I certainly never felt like I was doing something amazing, and I still don’t. It was just something I had to do. The decision wasn’t really a decision at all. It was merely an understanding that this was something I would be doing. And it was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. It really was. There was some pain after the surgery. True. But once I was home, two days later, healing happened quickly. Aside from being a bit tired for a few weeks, my life returned to normal; you might even say, better than my previous normal, very quickly. Afterwards, I had a new appreciation for the body and began to respect my own a little better than in the past.

As for my dad, he is doing phenomenally well. I know as well as anyone that an organ transplant doesn’t always have the happy ending that is anticipated. Not true for my dad. I think he is doing infinitely better than anyone ever expected. Just a few months after surgery, my parents were able to move to their winter home in Arizona. Although I kept in touch by phone and heard things were going well while they were away, I was still amazed when I saw my dad for the first time when they returned home to Minnesota this past spring. He had energy and spunk. He wasn’t so sleepy all the time and he was back to his old self and getting on my mom’s nerves again! ;-) It was one of the simplest things that really solidified for me the reality of my dad’s recovery. He was able to mow his own lawn again. Seeing my dad zipping around on his riding mower made me incredibly happy. I can see my parents house on the next block from my own driveway. I’ll often stop to just watch my dad as he putters around in his garage. Such a simple thing, and yet so significant to me, considering all he’s been through. He’ll celebrate his 69th birthday in September and I’m sure many more in the years to come.

Jake & Grandparents by you.

My mom, Jake and my dad, last month

I don’t think much about the surgeries anymore. Life is back to its normal routine. I do however, pause when I see my reflection in the mirror and the scars that remain from my incisions. A couple of those scars are pretty ugly, but they don’t bother me at all. Rather, they symbolize a miracle; the miracle of my dad’s life.

Life is Good – May 22, 2009

IMG_0042 by you.Life is good.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that fact, especially when the world seems to continually crumble around us. Sometimes I get so stuck on the negative that it’s almost impossible to look away. That’s why I write these posts. They serve as a reminder to shift my focus to all of the positive things in my life.

And I do have to consider myself lucky. It became abundantly clear to me this week when my company announced the first round of layoffs. Even though none of us were surprised that it happened, it still felt like a blow. We’re a small company and the people there are almost like family. It hurt to see some of our coworkers have to go. Some of them have young children. All of them have families. They were our sales staff. There is no product left to sell at this point and they were the logical choice for a first cut. And while our hearts ached for the ones who were let go, we all thanked our lucky stars that it wasn’t us, yet.

Going to work each day, hoping for good news and hearing none can take its toll. I have to remind myself that my life is so much more than my job. And my life is full of good things. Brad is home for the summer! Anyone who has visited here for a while knows how much I look forward to having my oldest son at home again. His return from his second year away at college brings with it a realization. He’s making it easier for me not to miss him so much when he goes away! ;-) It seems he’s become quite comfortable with living on his own and answering to no one. Having Brad home again has been an adjustment for all of us and not always a pleasant one. But that’s a good thing. It means he’s growing up; becoming an independent adult; and that was always the goal. And overall, I LOVE having him back home again. He makes me happy.

And then there’s Jake. Jake is nearing his high school graduation and this is a major victory for him. He has had to fight so hard for this and he’s almost there! He’s breaking out of his shell. He landed a fun job and is finally starting to realize that he has gifts and talents of which he can be proud. He makes me proud.

And Kacey…IMG_0067 by you.Kacey received the sacrament of Confirmation on Tuesday. And while this is an accomplishment for her and the service was nice, and she looked beautiful and sincere and I was overwhelmed with pride in her…there was something more about this event that struck a chord with me.

I have been on somewhat of a faith journey for a while now.  This journey has been a little bit about having a place to worship that feels right and fulfilling. But more than that, it’s about feeling at peace inside, no matter what is going on outside of me. I am often filled with such self-doubt. So often, what I feel is not peace and contentment, but emptiness. I don’t mean to imply that I’m never happy. It’s just that I feel like I’m spinning my wheels much of the time. I have this need to control everything and seem to think I can take care of it all. And I can’t. And then I feel like a failure because I can’t fix everything that’s wrong. Sometimes I wonder why I want and need an unshakable faith when many others manage to get by without it. But I have come to accept that I just do. I’m sure it has a lot to do with my upbringing and now that need is just a part of who I am.

In the last couple of weeks, I found a new blog. Or more accurately, Sam found me. When I found her blog and read her words, I connected with her feelings immediately. She knows that same dark cloud that seems to trail around after me at times. She knows that same questioning feeling; the one that makes me wonder, “What am I missing?”  And she’s ready to take charge and shake it off.  The title of Sam’s blog is modeled after a scripture passage  which I read with interest but without recognition because… well… I was raised Catholic and everyone knows that Catholics don’t actually read the Bible. So I’ve been reading about her journey for the past week or so, connecting with many of her feelings and internally cheering her on as she described a potentially life-changing experience which seemed to solidify her faith like never before. I sat there thinking, “If she can do this, I can do this.” But I haven’t done this…not really. Not yet. Maybe it’s a work in progress.

And so there I sat, in the St. Paul Cathedral on Tuesday, participating in the Confirmation mass with my daughter. I was trying really hard to feel God’s presence. It has become increasingly difficult for me to feel God’s presence in the Catholic church. (Hence, the journey.) I was trying really, really hard to maintain focus and not let my mind wander. One of the lectors was reading a scripture passage and a sudden wave of recognition came over me. I knew this passage. I found it ironic that I knew this passage because as I mentioned, there’s that whole not reading the Bible thing. It wasn’t a typical reading that I might have heard at mass over the years. If it was, I wouldn’t have realized it anyway because of that whole unable to stay focused at mass thing. It was the passage from Sam’s blog. I felt a jolt of electricity go through me. Maybe it was nothing. I chose to believe it was God, telling me not to give up. I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that it wasn’t just a coincidence. And I don’t really want to.

Contemplating worshipping…again

Yesterday was my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary. There was no formal celebration. My sister and I are planning instead to host a party in the early summer after she has moved back here. However, in honor of  this anniversary, my dad invited his children, whoever might be available, to attend mass with him and my mom on Saturday evening. And so it was that I found myself at mass in the Catholic church for the second time in two weeks. My dad would find it appalling that I state this fact as if it were some kind of feat.

The invitation came last minute and caught me off guard. I had been planning all day to go to my “new” church. I didn’t mention this to my dad, but simply accepted his invitation. For those who have been reading here for a while, my dad is a Catholic deacon and very staunch in his beliefs. I still find it difficult to openly go against anything he believes in this regard.

My enthusiasm about attending mass with my parents was tainted by the fact that there was an argument between my dad and my sister last week about what is acceptable when it comes to where and how one worships. My dad probably doesn’t know I am aware that this argument took place.

I believe I ventured away from the Catholic church long before my sister did. I have just not yet been forced to discuss the issue with my dad. Last weekend, the discussion became inevitable for my sister and after hearing about it, makes me that much more apprehensive about broaching the subject with my dad. I would prefer to continue on with the attitude of what he doesn’t know can’t hurt him. I am 42 years old and still struggling to admit to my dad that I can and do make my own choices; choices that may conflict with what he has taught me. I would, however like the chance to explain that I am merely exploring different avenues at the moment and do remain open to the fact that in the long run, I may end up in the very faith where I began.

From what I understand, the discussion between my dad and sister boiled down to my dad’s assertion of  his belief that worshipping in other faiths is not wrong. We all need to be accepting of our brothers and sisters in Christ. But for those of us who were raised Catholic, we should know better than to worship elsewhere. He is a man of great faith. He just can’t understand a desire to explore other faiths or forms of worship. I truly believe at the bottom of his viewpoint is a deep love for his children, his unwavering faith in a belief that has been a solid foundation in his family for generations and a fear of anything different.

So I know that this argument took place and am aware that there was a lot of hurt on each side of the argument. This knowledge hasn’t changed my mind that I need to continue on my own faith journey, but it has saddened me to know that the lack of acceptance I feared from my dad does, in fact exist. As we made our way into the church, these thoughts intermingled among the feelings of familiarity with the rituals of the faith in which I had grown up. At the same time I felt as if I were coming home, I also felt a bit out of place; as if everyone around me could see that I had “run away” and were judging me.

As the mass began, I realized how much of the ritual was ingrained in me. No matter how infrequent my attendance at mass lately, it all comes flooding back. There are both pros and cons to that. On the plus side, no matter how long I’ve been away, I will return to something comfortable and familiar. On the negative side, it is so familiar that I find I have to work very hard to maintain focus and not simply go through the motions. This is the very reason I made the leap to exploring something different. I had become complacent. I would often leave mass completely unaware of what I had just heard. There was no fire in my soul.

As I sat through mass last night, I found myself alternately trying to remain open to the Holy Spirit and struggling against feelings of skepticism. This weekend, the Catholic church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday. In a nutshell, Jesus revealed to St. Faustina His desire to flood us with His graces on this day. “The soul who will go to confession before this day and receive communion on this day shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins.”

My skepticism arrived when the priest specifically noted that we should go to confession within two weeks before or after this feast day in order to be flooded with Jesus’ mercies. I am having such a hard time believing that God would lay out such specific guidelines to receiving his forgiveness. Hasn’t he already offered His forgiveness without this set of requirements? What about those who are unaware of this feast day? What about those who are without the opportunity to worship in a Catholic church? What about those who  become aware but die before they have the chance to receive communion on this day? Are those people denied forgiveness and mercy?

I think it was at this point that my sweet, eleven year old nephew reached over and squeezed my hand for no apparent reason. I relaxed and smiled at him and squeezed his hand back. He then allowed me to just hold his hand for the next several minutes.  Was my nephew’s sign of affection a mere coincidence? Maybe. Maybe God was trying to tell me, through my nephew, to relax and not worry so much.

As I sit here this morning contemplating all of this, I realize that I am trying to see everything in a black and white fashion when everything in this world has some gray area. Maybe this feast day is a way to forgiveness for those who need to do things “by the book.” Maybe there are those out there who have to be able to follow a specific set of guidelines to feel comfortable in the fact that they can now be forgiven. Maybe this is for them. Deep down in my heart, I can’t accept that only those who go to confession before this day and receive communion on this day are offered this gift.

The whole experience leaves me struggling to know more, to keep learning, to keep fighting.  It confirms that I haven’t given up, and for that, I think my dad would be proud.

Church, Faith and the Grand Poo-Bahs

My phone rang not long after I had rolled my lazy butt out of bed this morning.

It was my mom. She wasn’t feeling well enough to go to mass today, but my dad still wanted to go. His vision is compromised enough that he can no longer drive and so if he were to make it to mass, he would need someone to escort him. My mom wondered if one of the boys might want to take him. (I momentarily wondered why she hadn’t asked me to take him first. She must know more about my recent visits to a non-Catholic church than I thought, but I figured that was a conversation for another time, so I didn’t ask.)

I told her it wasn’t likely that either of the boys could take him as they were still sleeping and I volunteered to go instead. I told her that if I were going to make it in time, I would have to get in the shower and get cleaned up pronto! She was, of course, very grateful.

I was completely unenthusiastic about going to church and I felt guilty about that. I’ve grown accustomed to the energy and excitement in this other church I’ve been attending and would have much preferred to be going there instead. I reminded myself that if nothing else, I should be happy to do this because it was important to my dad. Once I realized that, I stopped feeling so selfish and felt better about going.

I picked up my dad about ten minutes later than he would normally want to leave, but I wasn’t given much notice, so it was going to have to do. He mentioned that maybe there wouldn’t be as many people in church as usual due to the holiday, but when we arrived we found that was not the case. The church was full, but we found a spot near the back and settled in before mass began.

It’s been many months since I’ve been to mass. In fact, my attendance has been sporadic at best for a couple of years now. But once in church, I realized all of the routine and ritual of the mass is still well ingrained within me. A lifetime of those habits is not quickly, nor easily forgotten.

The music was as slow and lacking in energy as I remember. I missed the guitars, drums, keyboards and passion of the music at the new church. As I sat listening to those around me singing, but not singing myself, I remembered how as a child my parents would insist that I sing along at mass. I don’t remember why I wouldn’t. Probably because I never thought I COULD sing. My refusal to sing became a heated issue at one point. I still remember my dad threatening to find a microphone and hold it in front of my mouth so that everyone would hear me. Since I didn’t sing today, I realized I must still be hanging on to that rebellious nature that was so evident back then. (Not to mention, my singing ability hasn’t improved much.)

As the mass continued, I contemplated my continuing departure from the Catholic Church. At first, there was a tremendous amount of guilt. Catholicism has been deeply rooted in my family for generations. I worry about disappointing my parents and as is somewhat typical of my family, this has become one of those topics we simply don’t discuss. I don’t bring it up and if they are aware, they haven’t said anything. Sometimes it’s easier that way. Maybe someday, we’ll talk about it, but not right now.

I think there’s a reason I ended up at mass with my dad today. I found myself listening, truly listening to the readings and to the priest’s homily. Even though I have been traveling in a different direction lately, it’s obviously opened my mind to hearing the message, no matter in what form it is delivered. Whether it’s because of the changes I’m making or in spite of them, my faith is growing. And that, after all, is the goal. I hope that my parents will understand, but even if they don’t, I know I’m doing a good thing.

P.S. The Knights of Columbus were at mass, I believe as part of the celebration of the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. They were dressed like this:

All through mass, I kept glancing at their funny hats and thinking, “The Grand Poo-bahs are here!”

No, but I really DID pay attention…. MOST of the time!