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Monday, August 28, 2006

Conversion Story Chapter 5

Was it really this hard to really come home? Was it really worth the sheer mountain of words being slathered upon these blog pages just to say, in the end, "I'm a Catholic revert"?

I will leave that to you to judge.

After my Confession, I knew I was home, but I also knew the battle wasn't over...God had won a huge battle for my soul, but I was still the slipperly little sinner, the shrinking violet...the rebellious convert.

I knew it wasn't over, and I agonized quite a bit because I could not step out of my lifestyle. My boyfriend returned home from Afghanistan, and I pretty much lived with him after that.

It didn't help that I was laid off from my job with the Fire Dept-- due to my injury. I left with references from a couple chiefs, including THE Chief...but that didn't really matter when I couldn't even get to the point where I'd be able to provide my references. So I searched and searched and I began writing again. A couple things got published that summer, but nothing of much consequence.

Finally, in August, I got a job with my current employer, and I went to Arizona for training. Most of the new hires were maybe in their low to mid 20's, but there were a few of us who stood out like non-traditional students at a college...and naturallyw e gravitated toward each other. Two of the new friends I met were guys from engaged, the other married and pining after his family.

I had reverted to my pre-conversion stage, largely, and was still involved in the New Age practices. We spent some time at Sedona, AZ a couple times and for those who don't know, Sedona is a New Age Mecca. I loved it, but more for the scenery than for the "religion" which I found to be tacky, but interesting. It was a great temptation to purchase various crystals which were supposed to bring certain "powers" into one's life, but in the end, I just purchased some Native American artwork..some horsehair pottery, among other things.

But I longed to spend more time there, and on one trip, I actually DID visit a psychic, telling my friends it was "entertainment". I paid a lot for that "entertainment", and to be honest, I really was seeking answers...I really was using it as an idol. I need to post on this seperately.

Anyway, I returned to Minneapolis after my 2 weeks in Arizona, and went to the boyfriend's house. The next morning he came in after work and headed out to the base as he had Guard that weekend (military). I figured he'd go out with his buddies for a couple beers as was his usual habit, so I took the dogs to the park, hung out, and returned home when I figured he's be back, cleaned up, and ready to go out to eat as we'd planned. I'd even gotten my photos developed so I could show him how cool Arizona was.

He didn't arrive. I was hungry, but figured I'd wait. I tried to reach him but the cell phone rang and then went to voice mail. I left him a message and went back to watching TV and waiting. It hit 9, then 9:30, and I realized something...that he didn't even think of me. I thought of my new friends from Georgia, and how they looked when they spoke of their fiances, or their wives. I considered the look in their eyes when even THINKING about the women in their life, and I realized that my boyfriend NEVER looked at me that way...and certainly, then he never had that look when THINKING of me. It was clear he didn't consider me at all.

So I gathered my few belongings, kisssed the dogs goodbye, and I walked out the door.

He barely even noticed that I'd gone. I wasted about 3 1/2 years with that man, and to think I thought I wanted to marry him!

This was a turning point in my conversion...I returned back "home" to my apartment with my roommate, and by then she had a boyfriend...and I couldn't stand him. That's another story.

I'd broken up with the boyfriend during the fall...and the following spring, I was getting closer to returning to the Church again, attending Mass most Sundays, and often logging on to my computer in the mornings before work to read the Bible readings for the day. I'd found Catholic websites and was slowly educating myself.

But I was restless. I wanted to get away, so I began looking for retreats, hoping there was something out there for people who wanted to come home. I found nothing but New Agey stuff, stuff for middle-aged women with grown children, and stuff for confirmation students. There didn't seem to be anywhere to go.

For awhile, I had been wanting to return to one of my earliest loves--horses and riding. My roommate kept paying lip service to the idea, saying she'd go...but she never wanted to go when I could. Finally, one Saturday morning, I got up and decided to find a place and go horseback riding. I seemed to be drawn to a particular ranch and called for a reservation. That day I went on 3 hour-long rides, and returned nearly every Saturday for about 6 weeks.

There was something about riding that helped me to connect with God again. I began to enjoy life again...I watched eagles soar overhead as we descended into the river valley, I swayed with the familiar rhythm of a walking horse, and I gloried in a nearly out of control gallop on my first day back in the saddle.

One of the guides had a friend who was leasing a horse...she couldn't afford the horse but didn't want to give him up so was willing to share him. I was introduced to the horse and agreed to the montlhy fee and deposit.

And it was riding that brought be back to Church, every Sunday, again. I got up early to get to Mass so that I could go riding, and I really wanted to give God his due...after all, horses could be unpredictable and it only took a hoof to the head, or a particular fall..and I'd be meeting God face to face.

I was back to my old thing...I was in mortal sin, but going to communion. I wanted to return to confession, but I was also back to my old questions, and my old fears...but they had intensified.

The very thought of Confession reduced me to tears in a major way. I was nearly phobic at the thought.

But I kept praying anyway, asking Jesus not to give up on me, not to turn His back, and to help me come home again...for good.

Well, as it turned out, I was sick of my roommate's lifestyle as I was working at becoming a serious Catholic (her boyfriend was ALWAYS there, she was out until 2 am on weekends, drinking, when I wanted to be sleeping, if I went out I was stuck out until then, etc.). She was sick of me, too. So I found a realtor and bought a townhome, having begged God for guidance.

God answered.

I am only blocks from a Catholic parish, a very large one, and when I first walked in, I asked God, "Are you sure? God, you KNOW how I hate large churches!" It's a modern style, wheras I prefer two rows of pews in a rectangular nave with a large crucifix up front. Well, I was struck by the HUGE crucifix greeting me in this parish, so I gave God my grudging agreement that I'd try this out for awhile. Besides, it was close...I might as well try to get cozy.

Then I met some women who happened to be near my age and shared a wall with me...and I learned they attended this parish, also.

God was making himself known in very small ways.

At first, feeling like a fake, I went to Mass most Sundays (skipped sometimes) and sat in the back. I was afriad to approach Jesus, who I began to understand was truely present on the altar. I was an official "Confessoin Avoider", yet of course, I continued to recieve Jesus at communion.

But God's grace began to work on me...and so I began to stop recieving communion...I wanted to force myself to go to Confession. I knew I needed to go.

Around this time, I found and I joined the forums, and discussed my fears of confession..and learned that I was not alone. There was much encouragement there.

That spring, "The Passion of the Christ" came out, and on they day before Palm Sunday, I was preparing for my family to arrive the following weekend so I was cleaning. But something told me to go...I'd already scoped out the theatres and had one picked out. Suddenly I made a decision, threw on a coat, and left.

I was in awe throughout the movie, and as I drove home, I nearly had to pull over. I couldn't see through my tears. I nearly drove to the church and called a priest, even though it was about 9 at night.

It was months, though, before I went to Confession. Months.

I met a few of the priests at a party at a parishioner's home that summer, and really liked them...and then that added to my fear of going back to Confession.

But I knew I needed to go, and finally, more regular deprivation of the Eucharist was beginning to straighten me out. I picked a day that fall, took that Friday off so that I would be without distraction, and resolved that I would go to confession in the morning.

That Thursday evening, I got off work early and made it to evening Mass. When I arrived, shaking and nearly crying (the Lord was really working on me), I thought I saw a friend sitting in the front row, so I went up to join her. I'd never sat in the front row before, and since I intended not to recieve communion, I really preferred to be in back...but I kind of wanted to see a friendly face. So I went forward and it was only upon genuflecting that I realized that the woman was not who I thought she was. But I would have looked silly turning around to go back to a different seat so I hesitantly knelt down. The priest of the ones I knew. I liked him, but as I was already crying even as Mass began, and standing there right in front of him in the small chapel, I feared he would pull me aside after Mass and ask what was wrong...and I was embarassed.

Overall, I managed to reign in my emotions, but then the consecration happened. The miracle on the altar.

I don't know how to explain adequately what I "saw" that evening. I'd never had such an intimate view of what happened at the altar during Mass but that evening I was riveted. As Father spoke the words of consecration, as he stood in persona Christi, of course I saw him on the altar...but he was not alone. There, beside him, stood Jesus himself. I knew, at that moment, without a doubt, that Jesus was truely present on the altar, that he was serious when He said, "This is my Body" and "This is my Blood". I was not hallucinating, for I didn't really see Jesus with my physical eyes...but it was like a veil parted and I saw something that He wanted me to see but which no words on earth can describe.

I could not hold back my tears any longer...I understood in that moment, of what I had deprived myslf for so long, and how much Jesus loves each and every one of us. I understood that He was really there, He was really present...and that in my state, I could not recieve Him, for I was not pure.

I could not bring myself to attend Confession that night...I was completely out of control of my emotions, but I really wish I HAD gone that night..I'm pretty sure that's what Jesus wanted me to do, but of course, the adversary was fighting hard in his corner.

I went home that evening, and set my clock, asking my Guardian Angel to make sure I got up on time to go to Confession. During the night, I woke up..the light was all wrong for the time shown on the clock, so I checked my watch...and found that my clock had been reset an hour BEHIND...not AHEAD which is what happens when the button is bumped.

There was NO WAY my clock could have been reset 11 hours AHEAD to put me one hour behind.

I would have missed Mass, and confession.

I reset my clock, prayed, and went back to sleep, made it to Mass on time.

I did go to Confession that morning...and it had been 3 years. I was shaking, I was crying, and I went behind the screen in the confessional...but I made a complete confession.

I resolved that day to go more often, and in fact, I did and have continued to do so. It hasn't always been easy, but I no longer suffer the weird, irrational terror which used to overcome me.

Then one evening, I went to the Saturday evening Mass and knelt, praying. I was sitting near the front...I really had come a long way by God's grace. As I settled into my pew, I studied the crucifix above the altar...and the tabernacle with the perpetual candle lit to signify the presence of Jesus...and I realized that I was really Home.

Praise the Lord, I was last.


Unknown said...

Thank you Adoro. That was beautiful. I had an experience with a Trappist monk where I realized that he meant what he said when he pronounced before me the words "The Blood of Christ."

It was a key moment in my return to the Church. Although, as with you, it took time.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: I'm starting to believe that in many ways either you and I were "seperated at birth" or perhaps all revert women have a similar story.

Girl, when I read your paragraphs on your boyfriend I almost fell over in shock. I spent 5 years in my 20s with a man who gave no more thought to me and my welfare then your man did. The day I finally realized we were going nowhere and he did not care, ugh, I still can't adequately describe how I felt. Other then I felt: low.

Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it.

Adoro said...

Thank you, RAy.

Cathy, yeah, I agree...I actually felt like complete trash. And do you know that 4 months later the guy was ENGAGED?! I found out via a mass e-mail. That afternoon my roommate and I watched "When Harry Met Sally", and that scene where she's crying, throwing the kleenexes and trying to figure out why he wouldn't marry her...yeah. I used to find that scene funny. Now it breaks my heart every time..and you know what!? I'M GONNA BE 40! ....someday... *sniffle*

Here's to knowing there are actually good men out there and the "bad" ones only serve to show us in clear resolution why the Theology of the Body was written...because we need help!

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

What a beautiful story.