Every day I have a million thoughts running through my head. I used to journal but oddly felt guilty. Is that even normal? Who feels guilty for writing down their own thoughts? I guess I do because I have always felt guilty about my feelings on some deeply ingrained level. Like I should always rise above my anger, fear, dejection, humiliation, sadness and should not boast about my happiness or successes. But why do I feel that way?
I always circle back around to my faith. I was raised as a devout Catholic along with all of the stereotypical old-fashioned Catholic guilt that went along with it. I am not trying to get anyone’s panties in a twist. I am just explaining it the way it happened to me. Warts and all.
My family belonged to the same church since my grandfather came to America from Italy all those years ago. Most of my family was married in that church and one was even excommunicated from there, but it was as much a part of my family as the people who were born into it. I was baptized, had my First Holy Communion, my Confirmation, and then went on to assist/teach catechism classes at that very same church. I’d spent countless Saturdays in catechism and then the confessional booth and almost every single Sunday in church sitting in a pew with my sisters next to my devout grandmother, God rest her soul. I can still fondly remember the feel of my grandmother wiping a non-existent spot of something off my face with a wadded up tissue she’d pull out of her purse and spit on, as the oft sparsely padded hassocks dug into my knees and caused me to squirm uncomfortably as a child. I was quite literally brought up in the church.
But then a funny thing happened. I grew up and had a baby out-of-wedlock at the tender age of twenty-one. My son was born prematurely with many health issues, which he has thankfully outgrown, but at the time I was told by hospital NICU staff that if I wanted to get him baptized I needed to do it right away because he was very sick. I immediately called my church and asked them to do an emergency baptism.
My church. The one I had been raised up in. Well, my church basically shunned me. I was informed that because I hadn’t “registered” as an adult when I turned eighteen and been paying tithes I wasn’t actually a member. Can you imagine? Who knew you had to register as an adult? Certainly not me. I tearfully tried to get around the parsonage secretary and left message after message for the priest to try to arrange a meeting. I finally got my answer. I would not be granted an audience with the priest unless I consented to do church marriage counseling with my child’s father.
We are married now, all these years later, but nineteen years ago that was the furthest thought from both of our minds. My child was sick and I just wanted him baptized. Many tears later I explained my situation to the visiting nun at the hospital who always stopped in to visit me when I was on bed rest during my troubled pregnancy and then again when my son was admitted into the NICU. She agreed to speak with her priest to see if they would be able to do an emergency baptism. I may not remember her name but I remember how she made me feel. The wonderful nun made good on her word and they came to the NICU and performed the emergency baptism on my baby.
I will never forget how grateful I felt towards that nun and how defeated I felt towards my own church. How my life was altered by the church’s rigid standards that I’d failed to meet. Years of wonderful memories were now tainted by this new and damaging memory. My grandmother convinced me to come back to church a few times after that, and of course I brought my son along with me. But I never felt connected to them again. Even though the priest who had shunned me had long since passed away, I could not get past what I felt was a grave disservice that had been perpetrated against me. Yes. I took it very personally. It was personal to me. I had based my whole life around what I’d been taught in that church. And to me they mocked the very doctrine of what they preached when they slammed the figurative door in my face.
After that I dragged my son behind me from church to church for years trying to find a new church home for my battered soul. I wanted my son to know the feelings of inclusion and love that I had mistakenly thought were limitless. Over the years we did not find a church home, but instead we found derision, alienation, and a few shysters along the way, but nothing that said you are home. That is until I found a bible based church literally right down the road from where I lived. I must have passed it hundreds of times and had never noticed the nondescript building set back from the road. Believe it or not I found it online. And when I went there for the first time I remember sitting in the chair (yes, they had chairs and not pews) with tears flowing silently down my cheeks as I listened to the young pastor speak. I felt a sense of belonging and unity. I felt as if I could hear my soul sigh with appreciation. I did not know these people and scuttled out quickly after each service the first few weeks. After convincing my husband to join me, he felt the same sense of encouragement and spirit when he visited. Sadly my years of dragging my eldest son around from church to church proved to cause him to pull away from the idea of church but he still believes in a higher power. Just in his own way. And as much as I would like to have had him join us, who was I to force my religious beliefs down anyone’s throat after what we’d gone through? My youngest son took to the church like a bird to the air. He blossomed and grew in love.
Over time we started going to church less and less. But no matter how long I have been away, I still know in my heart that the little nondescript church that sits back from the road will always be my church home and would welcome us back with a hug and a “how have you been?” when we walk through those doors again. As much as I love that church, I do not believe that I have to give my entire self over to the degree with which I was raised in order to agree with the words, emotions, and beliefs that emanate from those walls. My love for God is as bright in my heart on my good days as bad. I can pick up the bible when I need encouragement and sound advice just as easily as I can get in my car and drive to the church. I now know that being a part of something bigger does not have to mean sacrificing everything else. Including myself.
I have been going through so much in my personal life recently and have felt so lost. I question almost everything on a daily basis. My mind whirs with eclectic ramblings that never quite ceases. No, I do not journal anymore but maybe this blogging thing might help. I look back on the title of this blog post and wonder if it’s truly possible to have a daily existential crisis when the true definition is purported to be brought on by one significant life changing event.
One event, like marriage, death of a loved one, psychological trauma, turning the big four oh… but in the same definition states it is also a dissatisfaction with one’s life, a sense of feeling isolated in the world, a newly recognized sense of one’s mortality and searching for the meaning of life. How can these be one in the same yet not the same? It’s almost like a checklist of my life. But isn’t it for most? We all experience things differently but some of us don’t bounce back as fast. Some of us let the hurts and the stressors all build up until they are too heavy to carry and the burden flattens them to the ground.
It is difficult to find our center when we are trying in vain to carry our load in life, but not impossible. Though the night may be dark, it is said that the light is always brightest in the morning. And the morning always comes. Whether it be on this side of the realm or another. I know that the light in my heart will illuminate my path and the path of those around me who choose to walk through this journey with me in this thing we call life.