Secondly, although I have never said it, our current priest is responsible for:
1.) Keeping me sane (Oh, 1999, you were not good to me)
2.) Keeping me Catholic.
There was something about his humanness that was shown to me, and shared with me, that made him easy to talk to.
Now, keep in mind, prior to me showing up (at the insistence of my mother) on the doorstep of the parish office, I had not been attending my church, the church of my childhood. I had been going to a Catholic church a little closer to my home.
I felt then, as I do now, that continuing to find a relationship with God was imperative. I had done all the steps, went through all the motions, but something, Catholic guilt, my own anxiety....something...was keeping me from feeling the peace that I had always heard about. In my life, I had never known that peace.
I first remember having an actual anxiety attack at the ripe old age of ten.
I remember sitting on the floor of the house that my parents had just bought and while furniture was being moved in.....I sat there and watched, trapped and unable to do anything else but try to "appear" normal - that is if you can appear normal while you are sitting in the floor with your legs pulled up against you consumed with your own worry.
Weeks went on and I remember once when I tried to vocalize my fear. It came out all wrong. I just didn't know how. I knew that my worry had to do with God, my inadequacies and my guilt.
And yes, I was ten.
All my mom knew to do was to encourage me strongly to come out of it....or else take me to go talk to a priest.
Of course, this was not going to happen. I remember thinking...."A priest?" "You have GOT to be kidding me! I only think I am going to hell now.....after talking to a priest I will KNOW it."
Needless to say, I got myself together and went on. Well, at least as "together" as I knew to be.
I don't remember a time in my life when I didn't worry about something or somebody. If a time came where I felt like I was "too carefree" I would actually stop myself and think, "There HAS got to be something I am supposed to be worried about."
I still can't believe I started this cycle at such a young age.
In 1999 I went to a friends church to try and see if maybe what I was looking for was somewhere other than the Catholic church. I attended a revival and ended up going on - coincidentally or not - the night that they preached about hell. I remember hearing the preacher yelling about how is OWN mother was going to hell.
He just knew it.
She wasn't saved.
Of course, being Catholic, the whole saved notion was a little different to me. To be honest, it still is. I believe that what you believe in your heart is more important than a series of words you are supposed to say in a prayer.....
That night instead of finding the relationship with God that I was searching for, all I found was more anxiety and worry. I was a person who needed concrete facts. Why did I believe what I did? Was it wrong? Was it right? How will a person ever know until it is too late?
With eternity at stake, there was NO room for error.
After losing my appetite, ten pounds and my ability to go through days without being all but crippled with worry, it was again my mom who "threatened" me with a priest.
As it would be, this time I didn't resist.
My home church had just gotten a new priest. He was younger than the priest's we had before and that was only one of the differences. Having been attending the neighboring church I didn't know much about him.....but my mom was sure that he could help. He had, after all, his own counseling office. And lets face it, that is what I needed wasn't it? Counseling.
On a Friday night during Lent, after the church's fish fry, I walked in the rain from the church basement, to the door of the office and knocked. When he answered the door he told me to come in....and we could talk.
I remember wondering where in the world I would start, and how I could convey my deepest worries and thoughts, without making me look like a crazy woman. A 22 year old CRAZY woman.
I think in the two hours I was there I covered everything from Kindergarten up until the eighth grade and as I made an appointment to come and see him again, I thought (laughingly) to myself that next time I would cover everything from the eighth grade until the present time.
So much for not looking like a crazy woman.
For over two years I met with him. Sometimes weekly, sometimes bi-weekly...maybe at times only once a month. To be honest, I can't remember.
What I do remember is the comfort that I had with him. And by comfort I mean that I was more comfortable with him than I was with most any other male. Males, high school age to eighty, made me uncomfortable. I always felt uneasy and clumsy and my words and actions never came across as I meant for them to.
Granted with him I was still clumsy, awkward and said all the wrong things. But I was able to tell him that I was clumsy, awkward and that was a start. My nervousness and awkwardness was no secret.
Not that I would have had to tell him.....I mean, it was pretty obvious.
I remember him asking me what I believed. About God, faith and religion. As I began my statement with a disclaimer stating that what I believed, or thought I believed, didn't really hold any relevance, I then began to speak.
After I finished he looked at me and said, "You are so very Catholic". And I was relieved. However, what would he have said? "You are definitely Baptist.....you need to change faiths."
I don't think so.
This was the beginning of me finding out what being Catholic meant for me. And it started with me realizing that first off, priests were people too. Yes, I knew this.....but when you step into a confessional (which I haven't done since I has eighteen..Father forgive me for I have sinned..... ) and confess your sins, it doesn't feel like you are telling them to someone who can relate to you, much less sympathize with you.
Secondly, I was amazed at his acceptance of my acceptance of other beliefs. Christian and not....
Although at that point I was scared of God......the God that I wanted to believe in and felt that should be, was a God who understood all of us, our shortcomings, the reasons behind choices and our heart of hearts. This God could hardly judge us when he knew the VERY reason we did the things we did and if we had reason (bad childhood, mental illness, life struggles) then what was there to be judged? We are all broken.
If that God, the one I would call "my" God, was indeed God.....then why was I scared?
However, who was I to place my expectations on God? Because, obviously I was screwed up. What did I know?
Many conversations later I began to trust myself, and my heart, more.....and this time I was armed with reasons why I believed what I did. Some he helped me with, others he just helped me uncover.
Over two years later we had discussed many aspects of our faith and many more of our lives. His and mine. I knew him better than any other "person of faith" and was comforted by his humaness. To some people this may not make sense, but to me it completely does.
Although in those two years I got to know him very well, I was still an awkward, clumsy person who stumbled on words and when the words finally came out, they came out all wrong.
Because of all the information that passed between us in those two years you would think that we would be very close even to this day. That, however, isn't the case.
One could speculate, and believe me, I have, why when we were out of the informal setting of his living room....(yes, our meetings moved to the rectory), the relationship between us became very formal.
When I would enter church I would offer a shy, "Hi" and go on. After church most times we wouldn't even speak. I struggled with what to say. Superficial conversation after baring your soul at your weakest most vulnerable moment seemed out of place. But what do you say?
I knew that he was probably responding to my distance and to be honest, I don't know why it existed. Or, maybe he was pretending that he didn't know me any better than he knew the rest of the congregation, so as to keep it "confidential". Or maybe, it was just his personality (and mine).
I think it was all three.
In fact, as open as I was about my shortcomings, he was open about his. The persona that he turned "on" when up in front of the church was different than the person he genuinely was. He was like an actor on a stage. Not that he was dishonest or pretending to believe something he didn't, but rather turning his back on what was (as my dad says) his nature.
He was shy. An introvert. One on one was fine, but he would rather be on his own than in the middle of a room full of people, or much less be the center of attention. In a way it was that very thing that made his choice of "profession" so odd. Someone that was for an hour every Saturday night, Sunday morning and two weekday masses the very center of attention.
Being the accountant that he went to school to be would have much better suited him.
But if he would have done that, where would I be?
He married Steven and I.
He baptized my two children.
However, Steven, Miss L or Mr. B never even got a glimpse of the man that I knew. And truthfully, for the last eight years, I haven't either.
That being said, now that I am faced with his leaving, and the likelihood that I will never see him again, I am filled with a desire to let him know what his counseling.....and his friendship...meant to me.
My anxiety isn't gone. Neither is my awkwardness which is probably why it has taken him leaving to prompt me to tell him what those two years did for me.
After having two children I feel closer to understanding the unconditional value of God's love. However, I still feel like I am searching for a deeper relationship with Him and maybe that is what we are all called to do until we are no longer. That being said, I am now well enough to do this and in large part it is because of my priest and his understanding, forgiveness and guidance. His giving me a glimpse of God at work in this world. And for that, if for nothing else, I want to thank him.
I was broken and now I am not. True, there are still cracks showing, and sometimes you can see how they didn't all fit perfectly back together, but when you look at me, you see me, cracks and all......but it is still me. I am still here and at times I wondered if I would be.
For that, and for him, I am thankful.
But how do I tell him that?
And no, Amy, I am not going to make him a mixed tape. I feel compelled to do something. Face to face is too hard eight years later and I know the words wouldn't come out right. A letter? Yes, probably so.
But what do I say? And how do I say goodbye?
Even though I haven't called on him to be there for me like he was in the beginning, in the back of my mind I knew he was there if I needed him to be.
Now I know he isn't going to be.
Deep down it scares me to think about the me that is "pieced together" and what would happen if something shattered me again.
(Amy, have you practiced "Jesus Loves Me" lately?)
I know this is all over the place. It is, however, what is on my heart right now......and usually putting it down on "paper" makes it clearer to me.
This time I am not so sure that clearer is better.