Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself

This past weekend was the yearly trip to Mariapoch in Burton, Ohio. For those not familiar with what this is, it's an annual pilgrimage made to pay homage to the Dormition of the Theotokos (i.e., the passing of Mary, Mother of God). It's a sister shrine to the place in Hungary where there is an icon of Mary that first wept tears in 1696. The last recording of the icon weeping was in 1905. There is an old looking icon at Burton of Mary, but I don't know the history of it or if it has any connection to the Mariapoch in Hungary.
The grounds and buildings at the American Mariapoch are absolutely beautiful. I was fortunate enough to be able to make it there for both Saturday and Sunday. The weather was so hot that it limited how much I was able to look around and all the statues and groves dedicated to Mary. I plan to go up at a later date (and to not forget my camera on both days) and spend more time looking at everything and taking pictures.
There were several services over the weekend, including Vespers, Liturgy, and an Akathist service, as well as a campout for the Eparchial Byzanteen group. On Sunday, they were supposed to recite the Jesus Prayer at 2:45. There was something being broadcasted over the loudspeakers, but it didn't sound like the prayer. So I went and checked out the new gift shop and bought some things. The Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was the main reason I had went up on Sunday with our church priest and his family. I was present at two liturgies that our bishop had celebrated in the past, and had enjoyed listening to him speak. The gospel for this Sunday was from Matthew 18 23-35. It's the parable about how a servant of the king asks for more time to pay his debt, and the king absolves him from it. Then, this servant admonishes his own slave for the same thing and has his put in jail. Now, this was the fourth time I had heard this passage in as many days, and it was haunting me. It started the previous Thursday with a video I watched on the same subject, and then continued with an mp3 program I had downloaded and listened to that afternoon. The ironic thing was that this is the very subject I had been wrestling with, forgiveness. I had been questioning why I was having such a hard time forgiving myself for my past, when God had forgiven all. The things I were beating myself up over weren't even things t hat I needed to go to the person and ask for forgiveness, and there weren't amends that I could make, it was just me. Forgiveness had already been given. I talked about this subject on Facebook, and a friend there told me to get over it, and she was right.
The next morning, I finally realized why it was that I was having such a hard time with forgiving myself. As much as I had thought in my own heart that I had forgiven wrongs that were done to me, I truly had not forgiven them. I said the words during liturgy, but it was said in my head, and not my heart. The hurts that I thought were finally in my past were still there. I don't think I need to forget them, but I need to forgive so that I can move on from this point. One of my favorite quotes is that "Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself." And I was refusing the gift.
At the Friday night vigil for the feast, I was told to mentally put my hurt in a box, place it up there on the altar, and offered it up to God. And while it wasn't all gone, I made the promise to try to forgive.
Being at Mariapoch on Sunday, and listening to the message once again from the bishop, it was hard to hold resentment inside of me anymore.  After all, if Mary held no resentment whatsoever toward those who had crucified her son, who I am to hold anger and hurt toward those to have wronged me?  Maybe this is just the start of what may be an ongoing process, of me placing my hurt up on that altar until the last of it is finally gone. 
I wonder a lot why people have to go through the things that they do.  I believe that there is something to learn from every experience, good and bad, although the reason may not be obvious to the person at that time, or it may not be understood until many years have passed.  I do know that in the end, it makes us stronger people.  You can be bitter about what has happened, or you can use your experience to help someone else.  The choice is theirs to make. Their life can be ruled by love, or fear.  My fear of being hurt again is keeping me from being able to fully forgive.  And I need to learn to let go of it, and to fully trust God.
So I pray that this is the true beginning of my hurt being gone, and that I've been made a stronger person for having gone through it.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Getting out of my own way

I pray weird. I pray every morning while I am taking a shower.There are a couple of reasons for this. One, I take a shower first thing in the morning, and two, it’s a place where I know I won’t be disturbed for some time. My first prayer usually goes something like this: “God, I probably messed up something yesterday, let’s try this again today, shall we? And I promise to try harder to get things right today.” My second prayer is to pray for everyone that I know needs to be prayed for, and my third prayer is to open myself up to let Him work through me whatever way He sees best.Sometimes, I end up being late for work because I spend too much time in the shower JAbout 2 weeks ago, I started writing an article called “I am Catholic.” I only intended it to be a one-blog piece about how I came to join the Catholic Church. But as I wrote it, It seemed to take on a life of its own and ended up being 3 blogs long.After I finished the first part of the article and posted it, I was asked if I would mind if it was included in our church bulletin the following Sunday (tomorrow). I said yes with no hesitation. Half of the reason I write is because I hope it can help someone who struggles with the same issues that I do, besides helping me to think out loud.But as I started writing the second part, I had to include some subjects to show how I got to where I did spiritually. There were other things that were happening before and after the time that my nephew lived with us, not of my own doing, just circumstances in other’s lives that had a profound impact on me. I don’t know if it was the subject matter of the second part, but I started to feel really uncomfortable with my decision to let my story be published. Saying I was uncomfortable is putting it mildly…. I’ve been so worked up that my stomach has been in knots for days. I know I have been driving a few of my friend’s nuts with my insecurities. I didn’t write anything horrid, or untrue, but I haven’t been able to put my finger on just why it’s upset me so much. Maybe it’s just the dredging up of unpleasant memories that I’d rather not think about. I thought of asking that it not be included in the bulletin, and then just deleting the blogs and forgetting that I ever wrote it. But that wasn’t right. Everyone kept reassuring me the article was good and that they thought it would help a lot of people. This didn’t console me much. I don’t know what it was, and maybe I will never know.Regardless of the reason, the time has come to let go of what happened in the past. And maybe writing is a way for me to work through this.Before February of this year, I never wrote, I never felt a need to. I have a blog on Livejournal that I’ve kept for many years, but I’d just assume no one read it :)But since this past February, writing is all that I seem to want to do. It’s like something takes over my hands, and the words form themselves. It’s like it’s all bottled up inside of me, and I can’t rest until it’s wrote down. Jim and I went to the liturgy this evening. We sat in the back of the church. I opened the bulletin, and the entire article was there. I took it out, and put it aside. I was glad it was there in its entirety instead of three parts, better to get my agony done and over with instead of dragging it out over the next few weeks. About halfway through the liturgy, I had worn one of my fingernails down to a nice scoop shape from picking at it so much. I kept staring up at the icon of Jesus, and suddenly realized that my prayer, the one asking Him to work through me as He saw best, had been answered. He’s been doing it the whole time, and here I am, fighting it because I didn’t particularly enjoy the subject matter of this article, even though it will help others. Truly, I am at peace with it now.Sometimes, I need to get out of my own way, and let God do the work that I asked him to do.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I am Catholic, part 3

There were other things that happened right around that time that contributed to what I was going through. I didn't believe that I was ever going to be able to pull myself out of my depression and get back to the person that I was before all this happened. I guess if the truth were told, I didn't really want to go back to being that person anyway.

The other night, a friend of mine said that if you are not feeling close to God, ask yourself which one moved. I know God never went anywhere, it was me to chose to turn my back on Him for all those years. This past February, I was accused by a former friend of something I did not do. My simple prayer that morning was "God knows me, God knows my faults, and He knows the truth about me." And I got an answer immediately. Yes, God knew me, God knew my heart, He knew the truth about me….and He wanted me to follow Him again. Imagine God dope-slapping you upside your head, and that's about what it was like. I never looked back.

Afterwards, I told Jim that I wanted to find a church to attend, a Catholic church. At that time, the only rite I had heard of within the Catholic Church was the Roman rite. Jim had attended a Byzantine rite church two years prior for a brief amount of time. He would come home and tell me about it, but frankly, I didn't pay much attention to him. He told me what the liturgy was like, and it sounded very confusing. Then he remember ed that this Byzantine church broadcasted the previous week's liturgy on Thursday mornings on cable, so we taped it. Once I watched it, and also studied some on just what Byzantine Catholicism was, we decided to find a church to attend. It only made sense to start with the church we had watched on TV, especially since it was so close to our home. The priest looked like a kind man, and the choir sounded awesome. But just in case this wasn't the church for us, we wrote up a list of all the Byzantine church's in the area, and made up our minds to check them out until we found one that felt like home.

We both knew our search was over by the end of the liturgy, and we joined St. Nicholas Church a couple of weeks later.

And now I am back to the question I asked at the start of this article, why join the Catholic Church? Why was I so attracted to it over the course of so many years?

I believe with all my heart in the undivided trinity, that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, and that confession is a gift from God (even though I have a hate/love relationship with it).

Catholicism is the church that Jesus founded. Byzantine Catholicism hasn't changed a whole lot over the centuries, and I love the tradition of it. Being Catholic isn't easy, especially in today's world. I could have chose a denomination of Christianity that didn't come with the discipline of Catholicism, or one of those mega churches that are popular now.

But God called me home, to the Catholic Church.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I am Catholic, part 2

On that night in the church, I cried my heart out to God. Why was this happening to us? I thought that all my years of dealing with children would have prepared me for the challenge of this one child. I started babysitting kids when I was 10 years old. I had been a glorified traveling nanny for a few months after I graduated from high school for a group of doctors who were trying to recruit residents for the new Barberton Family Practice Center. When my children were little, I ran a daycare in my home for several years. I was a Girl Scout leader, Room mother, lunch lady, and had worked with children who had fetal alcohol syndrome at a local daycare for parents who were in treatment for addiction problems. We raised our own children well. Children were my life. Surely I could straighten this one child out.

I put everything I had into my nephew. I enrolled him in a school for children with Asperger's syndrome, found him a new therapist, and placed him in a school for karate that was also designed to help with self-esteem issues. I even went from full time to part time work so that I would have the time20to get him to where he needed to go, and to be home when the construction work was going on. My children were really starting to resent the intrusion their cousin was making in all of our lives. I really believed that I could"fix" him, and hoped that they would eventually understand why I was trying so hard.

But my attempts to help my nephew weren't working. He had learned very well how to control my in-laws during the 6 years that he had lived with them, and they couldn't see through it. My nephew also has Neurofibromatosis type II, and there were some small shadows of tumors on his brain. And while this could possibly make him prone to headaches, they always seemed to conveniently appear Monday through Friday at 8:00 a.m., before we were supposed to leave to drop him off at his school. I don't mean to make light of his illness, it's a very serious one. He will have to be monitored the rest of his life to watch for tumors. Nevertheless, he knew how to use it to manipulate those around him.

On the mornings when he would attempt to get ill in our bathroom, I would ignore it, and make him get in the car so I could take him to school. I was becoming someone I didn't know anymore…this wasn't me. I had never treated a child like before. I had learned to put up a wall of emotionless expression whenever dealing with him so that he couldn't see that I had any amount of sympathy for him anymore, because if he saw me crack, he would use it to manipulate me. I didn't like the person I had to become when I was around him. I felt like a robot, not being able to give him normal reactions to things he would do or say. He would say cruel things about my family, and make up things one had said about the other that had no basis in truth, in his attempt to pit us against each other.

A couple of years ago, we were told that my nephew was incapable of feeling how other people do. His doctor said that he had severe attachment problems, and that he would probably always be this way. As long as he was placed somewhere where his basic needs were being met, it was the best that could be hoped for. But we didn't know this at the time that he lived with us. He had been abused in various forms during the first 3 years of his life, before he lived with my in-laws. But I was going to fix him. In hindsight, I understand this now; that there wasn't a whole lot I could have done to help him. At the time though, I felt like a failure.

So, on that night in the church, I was on my knees, praying for an answer. I was at a loss for what to do next. I expect that there was an answer to my outcry, but I didn't hear it on that night.

The breaking point with my nephew came 6 months after he began to live with us. It was a horrid day. He started in on Katie and me from the moment he opened his eyes that morning, telling me things she had said about me, and then would go to her and tell her lies too. By 4 o'clock of that afternoon, I'd had enough. I called my in-laws, and told them I was moving all my nephew's belongings out to our front porch, and that they better come and get him right now. And while this finally resolved the issue of him being out of our home, my severe guilt was just beginning. I had failed.

After my nephew was gone, I didn't go back to that church for a long time. I do know that it comforted me whenever I was there. But I chose to walk away from it. My guilt from kicking him out of our home was eating away at me, and I couldn't make it stop. I stayed trapped in a Hell of my own making for the next 3 years.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I am Catholic, pt. 1

I am Catholic. Not only am I Catholic, I am Byzantine Catholic. How wonderful it is to say those words! I thought that my journey to the Catholic faith was a recent beginning, but after writing this article, I realized that I have been heading toward it for many years.
Of all the different denominations of Christianity out there, why would someone choose to become Byzantine Catholic? When I was growing up, I went to different sects of churches. My family did not attend church, and they had no problem with me going where I wanted. So, if friends or extended family members offered to take me, I'd go. I went to a Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Non-Denominational, and a Roman Catholic Church. The church that had the biggest impression on me was Holy Trinity Church in Barberton, Ohio. There was a Hungarian family that lived behind me, and they would go to the Hungarian mass on Saturday evenings. Sometimes I would go with them. I didn't have a clue as to what was being said by the priest, and I wasn't allowed to receive communion. But I loved sitting there and watching everything that was going on around m e. I loved smelling the incense, and looking at the candles and watching the 5:00 p.m. sun shine through the stained glass windows.
The extent of my knowledge at that time of what Catholics did consisted of them crossing themselves a lot, kneeling in the pew, genuflecting, and going up to the priest to get something to put in their mouth after a lot of praying was done. Oh, and confession. I had heard stories from my friends about how you had to go into a little boxed room, with the priest on one side, and you on the other, and a little door between the two of you. Supposedly, your parish priest didn't know who you were, or so one of my friends had told me. Knowing what I now know of confession, I find that hard to believe.
So while I visited many churches during my early teenage years, I never became a member of one. I had a faith in God though. I was baptized in 1989 at a local church. I felt the Holy Spirit in me after that, but that church just was not the right one for me. I eventually quit attending, and I didn t go back to a church for 14 years.
Five years ago I was experiencing a great deal of upheaval in my life. I had literally gone to bed one night one night a few days before Thanksgiving in 2003, healthy, and woke up at 4 a.m. with double pneumonia and was hospitalized for 4 days.  It took me several weeks to recover.  A few days after Christmas, my nephew, who has Asperger's Syndrome, as well as other issues, was placed with us through Children Services. It looked like it was going to be a permanent placement. We started construction work to build an additional bedroom, as well as other projects that needed to be done on our house. My life, as well as my family's, was in an uproar. My nephew doing whatever he could to cause strife between my children and me didn't help things.
About this time my husband, Jim, had started going to a local Roman Catholic Church to pray the rosary at noon, and occasionally I would go with him. Some evenings, we would go to the church and just sit. I think Jim knew that I needed a break from the tension in the house. I never thought that I would be sitting in a church again, praying to God. I was convinced that I had committed blasphemy of the Holy Spirit many years before, and that God would not listen to me again. Praying seemed pointless, but I tried anyway.
One night, after a really bad day, Jim and I went to the church. I remember getting on my knees in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary, and sobbing.