Self-Care: Stop Striving, Start Trusting

(This is the final entry in Laura Lynn Brown’s summer blogging project at MakesYouMom.com.)

On April 8 our church welcomed a one-woman performance of “St. Thérèse: The Story of a Soul.” If it comes to your town, go! I knew vaguely who Thérèse of Lisieux was, and I’d read some of her autobiography years ago. I decided to reread it after the show. It has been life-changing.

FYI, Thérèse was canonized (declared a saint) five years after Joan of Arc and the two women are co-patron saints of France. Thérèse is one of only four female doctors of the Catholic church, meaning her writing matters. She died at the age of 24, and the main reason we know about her is because of her autobiography, “The Story of a Soul.”

Thérèse was not who I thought she was. She was tougher. Wiser. Troubling at times. She trusted her Lord as most clearly revealed in the Child Jesus in ways I’d never heard.

Here’s an example. She imagined that the Child Jesus might play with her as he would a toy ball, and if he wanted to play with her for a while and then leave her on the ground, she didn’t mind.

“The beautiful feast of Christmas dawned; still Jesus slept. He left His little ball on the ground without even glancing that way.”

Here’s another of her favorite images: Jesus asleep in the boat. Do you remember that story from Mark 4? It’s always bothered me, just as it bothered the disciples who lived through it. Thérèse loved the story.

“Jesus, as was his wont, slept in my little barque.”

She could trust, knowing Jesus was with her, albeit asleep.

When’s the last time you heard that one preached? “Hallelujah! Jesus is asleep! Have no fear!”

And yet, reading her words has had exactly this effect on me. I don’t need to strive. I can trust. He’s here. He’s asleep. He doesn’t even need to glance my way.

for Good Friday

As I said last week, I’m posting some early reflections on Holy Week, written last year when I came into the Catholic church. There’s more below, in the “Going Catholic” tab. Hope you enjoy!

Good Friday, 2012

Another service at St. Mary’s that is both the same and different from all the Episcopal services I grew up with.

Since it’s a Catholic church, you look at that big, giant crucifix every day—except today. Today the figure of Jesus was draped in red cloth. In every other Good Friday service I’ve been to, the cross was draped in black. Not here. Red.

We did the Passion readings again, where the priest takes the voice of Jesus and we take the voice of the crowd, and there is a narrator and another voice in between. What struck me from the reading from the Gospel of John was that Jesus knew. He knew everything. He knows all that has happened and will happen in my life, too.

When that was over, Father Enda gave a short homily, and then he led us in a spontaneous, acappella rendition of “Amazing Grace.” That made me feel more at home.

But just as quickly, everything was different. Father Enda said, “Viva Christo Rey.” And all the Spanish-speaking voices shouted out with gusto, “!Viva Christo Rey!” I looked it up when I got home. It is a reference to the martyrdom of a Mexican priest. Apparently the Mexican government has a history of repression of the Catholic church. Who knew? It only resulted in a very Catholic country and many people who remain Catholic even when they come to America.

Then we started the Veneration of the Cross. I thought it would just be some people going forward, like in the washing of the feet last night, but it was everyone. Father Enda took my hand. That always makes me cry. I wanted to touch the “hem” of the cross. Of course, I got nervous. I knelt and touched as low as I could. Suddenly, it was all real.

While we were processing forward, the choir sang. One of the songs I didn’t know but really liked was called “O Silent God.” Of course, I knew and loved “What Wondrous Love is This.”

I thought we didn’t have communion on Good Friday, but I was wrong. The altar was stripped bare. It’s actually wood. I liked it better that way. I got a blessing instead of Communion one last time. I actually sort of, kind of fasted (for me, anyway), going from 3 p.m. until after the service ended at 8:30 p.m. And afterward I only ate a granola bar. It felt right. I just wanted to try.

Then we sang “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.” But we didn’t “lay Him in the tomb.” That’s tomorrow.

for Maundy Thursday

Yes, I know I’m early. But I want to spread out my reflections on Holy Week.

These next three entries were written last year, when I was coming into the Catholic church. The posts about that can be found down below in the “Going Catholic” section, if you’re interested.

These describe the services of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, as well as the morning of the Great Vigil of Easter, as I was getting ready for the Big Event. Hope you enjoy!

Holy Thursday, 2012

It’s a good thing I went to the service. I knew I was supposed to go, but I thought it was just “recommended.” No, I had a job to do. I got to be one of the people to go forward and carry one of the newly blessed oils to the altar.

Guess which one I got? Oil of the sick. Figures.

I’m sure it was providential that I got to carry the oil used for healing and last rites because those are my two lifelong issues—healing and death. And the oil I carried will be used for this whole next year for everyone going into surgery or about to die. It was a privilege.

The service itself was joyful. Father Enda wore white with a stole of many colors, every color of the liturgical year. A friend came and sat with me. I told her I hadn’t seen the stole before.

“The kids call it the Happy Stole,” she said. She teaches second grade at St. Mary’s.

One way the service was more joyful than usual was they used the organ, the one that’s over 100 years old up in the balcony. There was also a choir. Who knew we even had a choir?

Many people went forward to have their feet washed. I stayed back and watched. I saw the men and women come forward, old ladies with their wheeled walkers, toddlers—running, a woman with the cane, a teenaged girl in a floral dress that was way too short, another teenaged girl with a Boobies belt, a high school boy with a hoodie. Come one, come all. This was one ritual everyone could participate in. No one asked if you believed in the Blessed Sacrament or not. No one asked if you’ve been baptized or received first Communion. Come if you want to. Come.

After it was over, we turned to each other in the congregation and blessed each other by making the sign of the cross on each other’s foreheads. I did this with the woman in front of me and with the woman who is the teacher.

“Did I do it right?” I asked.

“You did fine,” she said.

When it came time to bring forward the oil, I had no idea what to do other than walk with it. Father Enda motioned to me to hold it up high so everyone could see it, so I did. Then I was supposed to turn and put it in a stand in front of the altar, but I didn’t hear that because the deacon telling me was on my deaf side. Eventually Father Enda pulled my arm and gestured. At least I didn’t spill it.

After the service was over, they processed outside, over to the chapel, where they would be holding Eucharistic Adoration until midnight. They sang all the way.

I had a question for my sponsor. I was still worried about the oil. “Did I do it right?” I asked her.

“Of course!” she said.

But that wasn’t good enough. When I saw the deacon, I apologized to him. “I’m so sorry I messed it up. With the oil. I didn’t know what to do,” I said.

“I don’t think you can mess it up,” he said. “See you tomorrow.”

 

Going Catholic, part 6

This is the last post in my series, and it’s airing almost two years to the day from when I first visited St. Mary’s.

Traditionally, converts come into the church at the Great Vigil of Easter service, held on the night before Easter Sunday.

My friend, Deidra, told me to “pay close attention.” So the first thing I noticed was an insect struggling on the floor while the kneeler was still up. The insect had wings. It belonged outside.

After they extinguished the lights in the church, we went out to the courtyard to light the Easter fire. St. Mary’s is next door to Altdorf, a restaurant and bar, and the band was playing, “My Way.”

I can’t make this stuff up. A struggling insect and a Frank Sinatra standard.

As we were walking back in, I caught my son’s eye, and he said he wanted to sit with me. I was shocked because he was not looking forward to a two-and-a-half hour church service.

This was my third night in a row at church. I’d cried all through the Maundy Thursday service and through much of the Good Friday service. That night I was dry-eyed. Clear-headed. At rest.

There was a long prayer sung by Father Enda. Then the readings — lovely, but they skipped Ezekiel and the dry bones. I love that one!

The homily was super short. He asked us to consider where we are encountering a stone that seems impossible to move, especially a stone of fear or worry. Father Enda reminded us that the women didn’t need to move the stone; the Lord took care of that.

Then, the baptisms. All Latino boys and girls, dressed in white. White dresses for the girls, white dress shirts and white pants for the boys.

Finally, it was time for me and the other boring, adult confirmands. I was the first one to be anointed with oil. I had been warned, “Do not wear your best shirt,” and that was good advice because Father Enda did spill a little on it.

They had said something about a marriage, too, and I looked around for a bride. I was shocked when a husband and wife from our group stepped out and renewed their vows, right then and there. Father Enda said, “In sickness and in health? And breakfast in bed every morning?” Their daughter, who is my son’s age, was also being confirmed, and she was just standing there in her black shirt, jeans, sandals and blue toenail polish, with tears running down her cheeks. I don’t think she knew they were going to renew their vows.

From then, we zipped on through the rest of Mass. I had been told that Father Enda would serve us, but he stepped aside. I was actually the first one to go forward because of where I was sitting. My sponsor, the sweet woman who talked me down that night at RCIA, was one of the servers. I asked her with my eyes, “Can I go to you?” and she nodded. I can’t think of any person I would rather have my first communion with than with her.

And it was done. The recessional was “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” sung as multiple “alleluias.” It’s my husband’s favorite hymn. It’s also the same song we had as the recessional at our wedding.

What shocked me was the love and support. Before the service, my daughter Googled “Catholic symbols for dummies” and made a card, and she also gave me a Catholic bracelet she randomly found in her locker. I had emails from family and friends. My dad came. After the service, a woman handed me a card with a booklet of prayers.

A few months later, Father Enda asked me if I was going to help with RCIA this year.

“Oh, no. They don’t want me,” I said.

“And why not?” he asked.

“Because I’m not exactly 100 percent on everything.”

He laughed—this man who has been a priest for 50 years—and said, “You think I am?”

Yep. I’m home.

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.”

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.

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.

Going Catholic, part 1

More than a few of you have asked, so I thought I would take a few weeks here to explain. This is my story—no one else’s. The people I know who have left the Catholic church have very good reasons for doing so. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind.

The first time I ever walked into St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fredericksburg was for Katie Stevens’ funeral. It was January 2010. I would go to my grandfather’s funeral that next week, and my mother’s that March.

Katie was 15 when she died in a car accident on the way home from an ACTS Bible study. The student who was driving was not drunk, just reckless. This was the second funeral for a teenager from St. Mary’s that school year. In September, 13-year-old Quinn Kott died following a football game.

The sanctuary holds about 750, and it was packed an hour before the funeral started. They opened up the St. Mary’s School gym across the street and broadcast the funeral to a standing-room only crowd.

Steve Wiggins gave up his seat for my daughter and I to attend Katie’s funeral. My daughter wanted to go because she knew Katie’s younger sister. I’d been to a Catholic wedding before but never to a Catholic funeral.

While we waited for things to begin, I just looked around. There’s a lot to look at. Maybe that’s why all the kids weren’t too noisy.

St. Mary’s is one of the painted churches in Central Texas, built by German (or, in some cases, Czech) immigrants and intricately painted. The main colors are salmon, sage, forest and sienna. There are the stained-glass windows, most of which feature Mary. Plus, there are lots of statues. There’s a painting of Jesus breaking the bread at Emmaus and another one of Melchizedek blessing Abraham while Lot looks on.

I’d never heard the priest, Father Enda McKenna, and I couldn’t be sure of his accent. I’ve since learned he came from Ireland. He’s spent his 50-year career mostly on the south side of San Antonio and in northern Mexico. His accent is Irish-Mexican-Texan.

The service was in a slightly different order from what I grew up with in the Episcopal church, but it wasn’t exactly foreign. I knew the “Hail Mary” prayer—no idea where I picked that up. I knew not to go forward during Communion.

My daughter was shocked that I seemed to know my way around the service.

“Are you Catholic?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

Two years and three months later, I would be.