Thursday, January 12, 2017

"What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?"

I find the show, "Sister Wives", fascinating. Now, I think the husband/father is kind of a dorky guy and makes me wonder how 4 women married him. But, seriously, the show is like being in a sociology class. The family is a polygamist fundamentalist Mormon sect. What really draws me into viewing is how liberal they seem. They are so far from Warren Jeffs and his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with the women in "Little House on the Prairie" dresses and braided hair.

Anyway, the last two weeks have been about the coming out of one of the oldest children as a lesbian. She has always been one of the more religious of all 18 kids. She went to religious schools all the way through college. She was also one of the kids who at one point considered living polygamy. She talked about how she had thoughts and feelings that she tried to push away because of what the church she was a part of had to say about homosexuality. But, she came to a point now that just freed her to be herself and therefore come out to her family. Watching the reactions of the family to her news really touched me. People were supportive in a way that I wouldn't expect from their religious beliefs. Her biological mom had a tough time with it, but even in her struggle, she was far from showing anger. I cried while watching it, not that it takes much for me to do that, but because I found myself relating to it on a certain level.

So, here goes a post that I've gone back and forth about writing. It's a tough one and I've written a lot of really self revealing shit on this site. I'm not even going to say that this post "might" bother/anger/offend some people because that seems like a guarantee. Should I apologize in advance? I'm supposed to be sorry for my life, my reality because it doesn't match up with what others may expect? I just can't do that, so here's my story.

I come from a Roman Catholic family with 5 kids. I'm the fourth. Starting at a young age, I was pretty much the most conservative Catholic of the 5 of us.

When I was really little, I was the only one of the kids to go with my dad to weeknight mass. As I grew up, in junior high, one of the sisters told me she thought I'd make a good nun someday. Then, I went on to the expected Catholic high school. I got really involved with peer ministry, a group of kids at the high school who organized retreats and masses and other religious activities. And, as soon as I was old enough, I became an eucharistic minister so I could distribute communion. I started to go to weekday morning masses at my parish before heading to school. I would distribute communion at those masses. I was also involved with a retreat group at a neighboring parish where I would give "witnesses", which were talks about personal faith experiences.

Then, I went to college, the only college to which I applied. It was an all women's Catholic college. It's where I started to meet with one of the sisters of the community of sisters who were the sponsors of the college. They were the same sisters I had at grade school and high school. While in college, I went on a trip to visit a couple of the sisters at the Diocesan Mission in El Salvador.

After college, I went on to get a job at a legal publishing company. But, I continued to be active in the Church. I got involved with helping to run a youth group at my parish. I also became a member of a board for the Diocese that was focused on social justice. At one point, I made another trip to El Salvador for the commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the rape and murder of 4 churchwoman. Then, the second half of the trip was spent with one of the sisters at her mission site. My conservatism did cause a little trouble between me and one of my brothers. He and his girlfriend got engaged and were not actively practicing Catholics, but wanted a Church wedding. This pissed me off and I stopped talking to my brother. The priest they were meeting with for pre-marital counseling was a friend of mine. He told me that I should not shut off my brother and that I should see this time as a possibility for my brother to return to actively being a part of the Church. So, after about a month of not speaking to my brother I went to his birthday party and renewed our relationship. Through all of this, I was continuing to pursue a life with the religious sisters. The day after my 28th birthday, March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, when Mary said yes to being the mother of Jesus, I entered the convent...

In the first few days in the convent, I lost over 5 pounds. Things were tough and I was struggling, but I was doing what I was supposed to do. Then I stopped running after work. I'd go to my room, see my running shoes, see my bed, and opt for the bed. I kept trying. The sisters who were my head contacts were doing their thing to work with me. Someone gave me a copy of Who Moved My Cheese?, a self-help book about adaptability and facing fears. It asked, "What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?". The answer came easily, but it surprised me all the same. "Fall in love." Fall in love? With a man? Not a common aspiration for a nun. But yes, the desire was clear. I wanted to fall in love.

Of course, I ignored it as with many things. I really tried. Time went on. Things got more difficult. I was at my parents' house for a visit. We went to Sunday mass. At the beginning of the mass, the little kids are called forward to be lead out to hear the readings and the Gospel at a child's reading level. As the kids were walking out, I watched them and got this sadness about them being lambs' to the slaughter. I turned and walked out of the church and walked home to my parents' house. I was a mess and my mom drove me down to my spiritual director. It was an awkward meeting and I don't really remember the exact details. I ended up back at the convent.

I went on another week; trying and trying through each day. I was cussing out the crucifix in chapel. Then, I went to my parents' house. I got into my old bed, in my old room, with blinds and curtains closed. Then, my mom came in and told me she made an appointment for a psychiatrist. He was an old, Irish, Catholic, retired military, FOX News in the waiting room, psychiatrist. Sounds like just the guy I needed to see. That very first visit, he said that I needed to get out of the convent as soon as possible and got me started on some meds.

I let the sisters who were leading me know that I was leaving. My mom and I went and moved me out ASAP. The shrink got me going again. I was addressing my mental health issues. My Dad is quite silent when it comes to really emotional matters and I had to talk to him. With all that was going on, there was something with my dad that was also in the back of my mind. When I was in junior high, one of my cousins told me that my dad only wanted three kids, I'm the 4th. I said to him, "I am sorry if I am the biggest disappointment of your life" and he looked at me with so much shock. He said to me something like, "No, I can't believe you would think that. All I want, ever want for my kids is for them to be happy." I was free. I was an atheist.

After about a month, I went to see the sisters that were my leaders. It was just a kind of final meeting to end things. In that meeting, one of them pointed to the crucifix and said that that was real suffering and nothing I experienced could compare.

That sealed the deal. I was finally where I was supposed to be. I was at peace. I was an atheist.

As I continued through therapy and looked back upon my life, there were a few times when my faith doubts popped up and I just tried to quash them:
  • Making my First Communion, I remember being disappointed that something magical didn't happen after I received Communion and that disappointment would show itself at other times
  • Listening to all the retreat talks from the groups I was a part of in high school and wondering how these people had such deep experiences
  • Taking a Philosophy of Religion course in college that really rocked my faith to the point of taking one of my books to a priest with whom I was somewhat close. He gave it back to me with a message like, "Yeah, I don't know. I have nothing."
  • Other here and there twinges
  • The entire convent experience I wrote above
The shrink, once I was out of the convent and medicated for the depression and anxiety I had (of which, once I looked over my life, I also could find examples of), wanted me to try things I had never done. He thought I should try dating. So, thanks interwebs, I started to go on some dates. WOW, what an experience some of those evenings were. 

Then, October was creeping up and that meant my BFF's wedding. My psychiatrist was like, "Weddings are good places to meet people.". I was like, "Yeah, whatever."

Then October 10th, 2003 brought about the wedding rehearsal; a good place to meet people. All of the bridal party was gathered in the church. --- "What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" --- There was Shawn. ---  "Fall in love."  

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