Archives for November 2012

Going Catholic, part 5

I wasn’t going to stay. It was just going to be through Christmas. Then, through Easter. Then, well, where else was I going to go all summer? Then, in September 2011, I started RCIA classes (Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults), just to see. My husband, bless his heart, came with me, even though he had no intention of converting.

By the way, John Willome (aka John who is Baptist) should get an award for Husband of the Year. Most women who go through a midlife crisis just buy shoes or read trashy novels. I left the entire Protestant world with absolutely no warning.

The classes were both beautiful and hard. Beautiful, because the people — the leaders and participants — were loving, faithful seekers of God. Hard, because Catholicism is more different than I thought. One night (the night on apostolicity and purgatory, if you’re wondering), I ran out at the break, crying.

One of the leaders, a woman who became my sponsor, followed me. “What’s wrong?” she said.

“You don’t know how hard this is,” I told her. “You’re a cradle Catholic. I have no one in my family who is Catholic, except for a couple of people who married in. There is some real prejudice against Catholics in certain corners of my world.”

She didn’t understand, but she didn’t reject me, either.

So, why did I stay?

As often happens in my life, I found my answer on NPR. Specifically, “Fresh Air with Terry Gross.”

I downloaded an interview with Carlos Eire, a professor of history and religious studies at Yale University. He was one of 14,000 children evacuated from Cuba in the Pedro Pan Airlift when Fidel Castro came to power. Eire talked about the graphic nature of the iconography in Cuban Catholic churches — really gruesome stuff. When he came to live in the USA, he found the American Catholic church to be quite different.

“American Catholic churches were kind of cheerful, compared to the Spanish ones. They had a limit on their iconography, not just in terms of the numbers but the types of images that they had, especially in Miami, where everything was new. The fearfulness gradually began to disappear and began to be replaced by an awareness of the fact that it wasn’t religion that was scary; it was life that was scary. It wasn’t those images that were awful; it was life that was full of awful things, and those images were actually there to comfort. And give you some kind of feeling that God has empathy for you.”

—Carlos Eire, “A Cuban American Searches for Roots,” November 22, 2011

Yes, Carlos. That’s it. Life is scary, but when I’m in a Catholic church, I feel that God has empathy for me.

My mom often used words like “overcome,” “victory,” “deliver” and “conquer.” They were words that she found helpful to describe her battle with cancer and her life as a prayer warrior. It’s taken me a long time to realize that as much as I love my mom, our experiences—both spiritual and just life experiences—are very different.

I knew I was doing the right thing one night at RCIA when we talked about the sacrament of anointing of the sick and human suffering. Every person in that room acknowledged some amount of suffering in their lives. Every person had either found comfort in leaning on God or they repented of not leaning on Him.

That’s when I knew for sure I was home.

Going Catholic, part 4

A few thoughts on my mother dying and why that event propelled me into St. Mary’s at 7:30 on a Sunday morning in December.

My mom died of breast cancer in 2010, 29 years after she was first diagnosed. I never quibbled with God about her dying. I knew she would die of cancer from the time I was 10 years old and she was first diagnosed, back in 1981. She didn’t die then. She didn’t die in 1984 when she became Stage 4, and the radiologist fell to his knees in the lab after looking at her films and said, “Oh, my God.” Her oncologist thought that with a complete hysterectomy (at the age of 38), he could buy her up to 18 months. The cancer did not reappear for the next 23 years.

My mom, Merry Nell Drummond, was a walking miracle. She was also a Bible teacher, the first teaching leader of the evening women’s class for Bible Study Fellowship International in Austin, Texas. I can’t tell you how many women have told me, “Your mom taught me to study the Bible.” One woman said, “I got saved in college. I was like, ‘Now what?’ Everyone told me, ‘Call Merry Nell.’ I did. She changed my life.”

That, friends, is a lot to live up to.

When my mom’s cancer reappeared in her liver in 2007, she expected that God would heal her, just as he always had. Her oncologist suspected that since this would be her first round of chemo, he could buy her some more time. The end, though, was not in doubt.

I stopped going to church in 2008, when she started chemo. I drove to Austin once a week, whenever she had a treatment. I’d be a wreck the next day. On Sundays, I’d go for a long bike ride. (Sundays are the best days for long bike rides.)

It wasn’t hard not to go to church because since moving to Fredericksburg, we hadn’t found one and not for lack of trying. Our kids were getting weary of the whole thing.

I started going to counseling — spiritual direction, actually. About nine months after Mom died, on the second Sunday of Advent, I was ready to try the unthinkable, something I’d been considering for months.

I knew my family would expect me to be on a bike ride, so I left a note saying, “Gone to church.” Left my bike at home. When I got home, my husband asked, “What church did you go to?” He was absolutely floored when I answered, “St. Mary’s.”

Poetry of Running

Last Sunday I posted the video from my daughter’s band competition at state. Two days earlier, my son ran at the cross country regional meet and had his best day.

He wouldn’t like this poem. He’s already working to beat his time.

CROSS COUNTRY: REGIONALS

Sixty-four degrees and the wind

is shifting north when you

take off in your flame-colored

shoes. I follow you from checkpoint

to checkpoint around the course

my teeth grinding my hand slapping

my thigh urging you on ever faster,

while I forget what you said last

night, set aside the things you’ll

never forgive me for, simply cheer

for these 17 minutes and 44 seconds

in which everything is right.

Going Catholic, part 3

Father Enda has a teeny, tiny calendar that he carries in his pocket. It fits into the palm of his hand. I could never write small enough or neatly enough to use one of those things, but he can. Every space is filled, even going up the sides. He pulled out the calendar one Sunday as I was leaving and asked if I’d like to meet. This was late March 2011.

The parish office is in an old house, so it’s very homey. We met in something like a sitting room.

“So, I’ve noticed you’ve been visiting us. Do you know what compelled you?” he asked.

“The short answer is that my mother died,” I said.

“I’m so sorry,” he said.

We talked for about an hour. He asked about my previous church experience, about how I met my husband, about our kids. He told me a little bit about his life in the priesthood.

“I don’t know what you’re looking for, and maybe you don’t yet either,” he said. “It may be Catholicism, it may not. It may be St. Mary’s, it may not. I don’t know.”

He asked what I’d liked about the service. I told him the crucifix, which surprised me. I said that when I’d been at a family member’s church that didn’t have one, I missed it.

“Why do you think that is?” Father Enda asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Perhaps you should pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you why you found the crucifix so meaningful,” he said.

He asked if I had any questions. I did. I told him that I knew I couldn’t go forward for Communion but that some people, especially little kids, did this thing where they crossed their arms and received some kind of a blessing. He explained how it worked and that it was open to everyone.

For the next year, that’s what I did, crossed my arms over my chest like a little kid and went forward to receive a blessing.

Music is Poetry

Hi, y’all. I’m not posting a poem today. On Friday, I ran into a friend who mentioned she never got a chance to see the Pride of the Texas Hill Country Fredericksburg High School Band’s performance, which won second in state on Monday among 3A schools in Texas.

If you have eight minutes and 52 seconds, be amazed.

Go, Pride!

P.S. My daughter is on marimba, to the right of the drum major in the middle. You can see her ponytail bobbing.

Going Catholic, part 2

Here’s an old joke that Father Enda’s brother, Father Peter, told one Sunday. (Father Peter always tells jokes.)

A man gets off a plane in a new city and hails a cab. He says, “Take me to church!” The cab driver pulls up in front of the first church he sees, and the man says, “Wait here. I want to make sure it’s the right one.” That church had a gorgeous-sounding choir. The man got back in the cab and said, “No. That’s not the right one. Take me to church!” The cab driver drove to the next church, and the man got out. At this church the minister was giving a wonderful sermon. The man got back in the cab and said, “That’s not the right one either. Take me to church!” The cab driver pulled up to the next church. The man got out, and as he walked inside, he heard a voice from the pulpit say, “Today, the second collection will be for …” And the man said, “I’m home!”

The first time I walked into a regular service at St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Fredericksburg, Texas on December 5, 2010, I felt like I was home.

Having grown up in the Episcopal church, the service was not tremendously different. Even the Bible readings were the same (usually). When it came time for the Eucharist, I knew I couldn’t go forward. I’d always thought that would bother me, but that day it didn’t. I knelt there in the pew and sobbed silently. I prayed, “Lord, I know I’m not worthy to come forward. But I’m just so glad you let me in the door. Thank you that I can do everything else.”

That prayer and those tears sprung to my mind for the next four months, until I met with Father Enda.

When Trees Go Bad

Sources speculate that the cause of the blackout may be traced to one errant tree.

News outlets report that a tree limb dipped too close to a power line, then caught fire.

“It was horrible,” said a tree who saw it all. “The bark just exploded.”

Neighboring trees saw trouble coming long before the tragic events .

“Those young saplings are nothing but trouble,” said a deciduous source. “Those whippersnappers never stand straight and tall like growing trees should. They lollygag around all summer, laying their limbs where they may, not caring who might get hurt. Well, this time more than a few leaves got burned.”

Friends of the accused tree offered a different explanation.

“We didn’t mean to hurt anyone. We just wanted to have a little fun before our leaves fall and we shut down for the winter.”

Unnamed sources report that games of “Touch the Wire” have become common rites of passage for young trees.

Parents of the tree in question could not be reached for comment, though they expressed their most sincere regrets that so many homes lost power.

a little tea candy