Thursday of last week, I really was really tumbling off the lighted path. I had spent the better part of the week upset and spiraling downward for various reasons – some everyday stresses, misbehaving children, financial worries, frustrations with my mom, all of the latest news about the HHS mandate and all of the commentary. But, I’ve been on this road before so I know what it feels like when I mis-step – or when I purposely go out of my way to take the long way around sometimes to nowhere. I’m finding that when my mind is getting filled up with despair inducing drama and something happens external from me but still affects me in some way, i.e., the current defense of the Church, all sorts of stuff happens emotionally with me and pretty soon I’m looking for something, anything, to grab onto as truth. The proof I seek sometimes lead to profitable knowledge. Other times, not so much. Other times, it leads me down a path to places I need not ever go, but do. This time things got a bit more scary because the negative thoughts were winning the war in my mind, the thoughts that convince me that my family is better off without me, I’m not worthy of this life, I deserve damnation, and oh won’t I have a grand funeral Mass, and oh everyone will be so sad but they will totally “get me” now.
"They published your diary. And that's how I got to know you. The key to the room of your own and a mind without end."By Friday morning, I was still in the throes of it and after a few tearful phone conversations with Hubby and encouraging words from my dear Priest, I had to get out of the empty house so I went to Mass (more on that later) and then some errands, picked up my girls and kept busy until hubby returned home and I felt safe again. Even with Mass that day, by Friday night and early Saturday morning, it was getting dark again. I continued on my search for answers and some sign that I was winning this fight, but alas, I wasn’t finding any. I was trapped, or at least I felt trapped.
A few events over Sunday and Monday would start to turn things around, thank God...literally.
The people that love me and know me best were providing much needed tender loving care and ever gentle direction. Sometimes being stuck is worse than even moving backwards. After the March for Life I was on such a high – I felt like I could do anything – but the feeling faded. I was getting to the realization that I didn’t believe this journey would ever end – but I was missing the fact that it doesn’t have to end, it might just have to change course. I didn’t know how to declare victory over all of “this.” For 20+ years I lived with this deep, dark, torturous secret and now for the past 2 or so, it’s come to a bit of light, but I don’t know what to do now.
I know how to be postabortive and depressed. I don’t know how to be postabortive and happy. But postabortive and happy, joyful even, was what I was that day in Washington, D.C. But, it didn’t last because I didn’t know how to maintain it. Who am I to preach about being postabortive – all with a smile on my face and joy in my heart? That just didn’t add up for me.
Fine, I’m forgiven. Fine, I’m not eternally damned, but I’m not going to be happy about it – or am I? What could possibly make me happy for the long haul and fill my heart with the joy I felt after my Rachel’s Vineyard retreat, the joy I felt at the March for Life, the ridiculous joy and all encompassing love I felt that night in adoration when I heard His voice.
I started to reflect on some of the things my dear "advisers" were pointing out to me. I started to think about how far I’d come in the last couple of years. I started saying “stop” to the negative thoughts for a few moments and things began to get a bit clearer.
I was given a copy of an article by Father Dwight Longenecker, Finding Forgiveness, wherein the Good Father provides some specific, practical direction for participating in the Mass with all of one’s burdens and sorrows, angers, doubts and fears. Reflecting on the Mass I had just attended on Friday - since it was in the chapel – it was an intimate experience, one that could really lend itself to just the kind of action Fr. Longenecker describes. Which led me to some more realizations…I had so enjoyed that daily Mass. I'm not even sure if I have ever attended a daily Mass before in my lifetime. It was so beautifully simple. I love my big, Gothic churches, the more incense the better, the more music, the more song, the more whatever, but that day, I realized that yes, all that is good, but this simple, uncluttered, Mass was just what I needed to feel close to Him. I read and re-read Fr. Longnecker's directions on “liturgical therapy” and began to think about how I could start to use them somehow and maybe, just maybe, it would help.
Later that day, my own dear Priest posted a piece on his blog that was just as illuminating for me. In his discussion of the Sacraments of Rconcillation and Eucharist, the Good Reverend Father talked about how they are tangible manifestations of God's presence for his children and how these manifestations become material signs for all of the senses. I was aware of this before, but I don't think it really ever sunk in. Or maybe I thought they were tangible manifestations, but not for me. He continued on as to how our faithful participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice brings us to God in that place in particular, but also allows for the finding of God in every place, everywhere.
As I sat and read through my journals and other writings, some from years ago, I realized that over the last couple of years of my journey, I have spent more time in Church, at Mass, in Adoration, in confession, in contemplation, on retreat, in prayer, in witness outside of abortion clinics – than ever in my entire lifetime. I have always longed for a better prayer life, more involvement in the Church, more understanding, to be more than a lapsed Catholic but, I didn’t know how to get there. There are many journal entries and writings that express my frustration over not achieving any of it of never taking a step towards what I really wanted, what I really needed, and what was available to me at the very moment I chose to move forward. There were times expressed when I thought maybe the Church is not where I need to be - maybe I need to be something else.
This is the gift that Grace has given to me. She has been showing me how and so has He, but they were waiting until I was ready. While acknowledging and mourning Grace, I have been growing in faith and strength all the while because of all of the things I've done and places I've been because of this journey. I have been searching for tangible proof, some “sign” that it’s over, some spoil to show for my victory when spoils abound and amass by the day. I’ve ached for just something to touch, to see, to hear, anything to help my unbelief. The proof has been all around me and right under my nose.
When I prepare for confession, a recurring theme is not loving God with my whole heart. I’ve been under the impression that I haven’t been doing that – when now I think that maybe I have been, at least since this journey of mine began. I’ve loved Him through loving my Church that I’ve come to know more intimately than ever before. The Church is Him. And my love for His Church doesn’t have to fit one description for me because now I’ve come to find out that I love my traditional Mass, but I love a youth Mass, and I love a daily Mass. I love it in the singing and the silence. I love it quiet and contemplative and I love it with children who tap my arm incessantly throughout and more so during the consecration than any other time.
Any why do I love this Church of mine so? Because it, and therefore, He, loves me back. From the goose bumps I get from the music, to the tingle in my spine at the sound of the bells, to seeing His face in the faces of the good and holy priests I’ve come to know and love on this journey. And the best part – the Church is everywhere, and therefore, He is everywhere. Yes, I keep Him within my heart always, but that tangible presence I crave so much and need, at times, even desperately, is available everywhere, in every Church, with every Sacrament.
I was then reminded to recall the rest of the passage … You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Who’s my neighbor? My husband, I’m reminded, is my neighbor and if loving my husband means that I’m loving God simultaneously – then I’m so in.
And in all of this love that I find so much happiness in – even though clouded at times by my struggle – a God that loves me like that has to have forgiven me. So, where now can I look for proof of that forgiveness when I'm in need of it? In all of the same places that I’ve mentioned, in my Church, in every sacrament, in every confession, in every adoration, in every priest and sister. All of which provide me with proof that I can see, touch, hear, smell, taste – whenever I need it.
And I can find it in the love of my husband. His love is in His love. It's in his embrace. I can feel it in the nape of his neck when I cling to him for my very life. It's in the strength of his arms as he holds me up. The proof of His love for me is ever tangible in this man he sent to me and who saves my life every day.
And in His ever merciful providence, He has sent me tangible proof of Grace, whom I can’t touch, or see, or hear. That proof lies in those little hands that tap me incessantly at Mass, in those big blue eyes that see right through to my soul, in the long, blond hair that smells so delicious. Grace is a part of me and a part of them and with them and through them, she loves me.
I think I'm beginning to understand.