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Today, 16 October, is the birthday of Elisabeth Leseur. Here is something she wrote the day after her 39th birthday in 1905:
How plainly visible is Providence in the history of my soul and of my life! It must be the same for all, if one knows how to discern its beneficent action; when I look back, in spite of misfortunes and tears, I can only bless and adore. I begin this new period of life–long or short, calm or sorrowful, according to God’s will–with these words from the depths of my soul: I believe, I adore, I hope.
I too can clearly see God’s Providence when I look back over my life, and especially in the past five years. Years of so much sorrow, grief, pain, and battle. And like Mme. Leseur, I can only bless and adore God for it all.
Happy and blessed 2nd Sunday of Advent. Today’s readings, and our pastor’s homily thereafter, were so beautiful and comforting. And I needed them so very much. I’ve been feeling like I’ve fallen into a deep ravine and can’t get out. Just as I was feeling so ready to move forward with my life, I’ve been brought down with a lot of grief. Such grief as I have not felt in a long while now. It’s hard not to panic a little. To wonder whether I will ever make it back up and be able to continue on my journey. And honestly, it’s hard not to feel a little forsaken. Does God care? Will He help me? Will anybody?
And what do I hear at Mass today? From the Old Testament:
God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,
that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.
And from the New Testament (a quotation from the Old Testament):
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
From the Psalm:
Those who sow in tears
shall reap rejoicing.
Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.
And from the Epistle:
I am confident of this,
that the one who began a good work in you
will continue to complete it
until the day of Christ Jesus.
See what I mean? I like the parts about depths and gorges being filled, and about coming back rejoicing. One line from the Baruch reading says that the people are “rejoicing that they are remembered by God” (Bar. 5:5). These are people who have suffered captivity, exile, diaspora, and other tragedies. People who had probably suffered more than me. And God did not forget them–he will never forget any of us, no matter what. He will rescue us and lift us up. We can have complete confidence in Him, as St. Paul does.
Looking at my life, I know that God would not bring me this far just to drop me in a hole and let me rot there. Thinking about it like a rational person, I can see how absurd a fear that is. But, because I’m irrational sometimes, and stubborn, and a bit dense, I just need to be told over… and over… and over again. And God and the Church are very good about that. They never get tired and impatient. They know how I am made. They know how we all are made.
I have to say though, I have no doubt that the Advent season is working its wonders in me. Father said that Advent exists to shake us from our complacency, to make us realize what we are lacking, and to fill us with an intense longing for Christ and Heaven. That’s definitely going on with me!
I’m so happy that my parish is offering extra opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration during Advent. That really has filled a great need for me. It’s like a fresh oasis in everyday life.
And we get a Holy Day of Obligation this week, and for once, it’s not transferred to Sunday! I always consider that a bonus. It’s 8 December–the Immaculate Conception. I look forward to that!
So, anyway, I’m feeling happier and much better now. I hope it’s a happy and blessed week for all of you!
I attended my first High Mass in the Extraordinary Form (EF) this morning. It was glorious! I’ve been wanting to attend one for a while now, but there’s a story behind why I went today.
Basically, I did something really stupid last night, such that I really, really needed to go to Confession before Mass! The only priest I could think of who offers Confession before Sunday Mass was our FSSP chaplain. So I dragged myself out of bed before 6, and mustered up my courage to go to a new place, for a new kind of Mass, and to confess to a new priest.
I got to the monastery chapel where the Sunday EF Masses are said, and I got there in plenty of time. But I couldn’t tell where the confessional was, and I had not seen the priest around. I finally asked a young man sitting behind me, and he told me I needed to go outside to an adjoining building. Well, by the time I got there, there was quite a line. And about 20 minutes until Mass was to start. The priest had to cut us off.
I stood there, crestfallen and uncertain what I should do. The young lady who’d been in line ahead of me told me that Father also hears confessions after that Mass. That was well and good, but I felt I would have to refrain from receiving the Eucharist if I confessed after Mass. I thought about going somewhere else, in hopes of possibly finding a priest to hear my confession.
But I felt oddly compelled to attend the high Mass. It was something more than interest or curiosity that compelled me. Something much more powerful… something supernatural, which came from within me and from without at the same time… if that makes sense. The phrase I have long used for it is a gravity upon my soul. An ineffable, external force which also ignites a great longing within my soul, a willingness and eagerness to respond to the force.
So I walked back over to the chapel, which by that time was standing-room only. I stood in the doorway, not sure where I should go or whether I could possibly find a seat. I was feeling very uncomfortable and hot and self-conscious. Honestly, I just wanted to disappear, and in fact, I was about to turn and slink away when a young man came and told me there was a seat up front. I didn’t like the idea of having to refrain from Communion in front of the entire chapel (as if it were all about me, right?). But I also didn’t want to be ungrateful for the consideration shown to me. I hesitated, but again, I felt that compulsion.
I followed the boy to the empty spot, sat down and tried to pray, fumbled around for my missal. All while being devastated that I couldn’t in good conscience receive Communion. I felt sort of like there was an earthquake going on inside me. I wondered if the people around me could tell–it seemed impossible that they couldn’t.
And then the music began, organ and choir. A simple hymn before Mass, but it was so beautiful that I could imagine the angels in Heaven appearing and becoming audible. Then a bell rang, and the splendidly-attired servers and priest filed in. The priest began the chanting of the Asperges Me, and the choir and congregation took it up while the priest sprinkled holy water on everybody. I recognized the text of the antiphon as a passage from that most excellent prayer of penitence, Psalm 51:
Thou shalt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall become whiter than snow.
(Angelus Press 1962 missal translation)
As I felt a small shower of water come down around me, I felt God’s mercy wash over me.
And I was transported. Transported out of my worry and discomfort, transported out of my nervousness and the internal earthquake. Transported out of everything dark and worrisome and into a marvelous light. The chanting, the Latin language, the incense, the splendor of the chapel and the vestments and the finely choreographed movements… it all transported me. It wasn’t about me at all, and yet I found myself in a most wonderful place. “It is good that I am here,” I thought, echoing the sentiments of St. Peter as he stood before the transfigured Christ, dazed but fully conscious of the blessing he had received.
Yes, of course, I found the liturgy a bit strange and hard to follow along with (I still find even the low Mass challenging at times). But it didn’t matter. I was aware of what was going on. A great mystery, to be sure, but a mystery into which we are meant and indeed created to enter, without fear or hesitation. I had been compelled to do just that, and I was now part of it in some small way. What my feeble mind didn’t grasp, my soul certainly did. It resonated with every sound, smell, sight, and motion.
And then there were the Scripture readings and the homily. As I listened, I thought and prayed: “OK, Lord, so this is why You compelled me. This is all exactly what I needed to hear, and what You wanted to tell me.” We heard Galatians 5:16-24, where St. Paul speaks of the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit and how we must live in the Spirit and crucify our flesh together with Christ. Yes… I suppose I needed that reminder. The Gospel was Matthew 6:24-33, where Christ warns that one cannot serve both God and mammon, and that if we have faith and trust in God, we will not be anxious about provisions for the needs of the flesh, for God knows us and provides for us, as He does for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field–and then some. “Seek ye therefore first the Kingdom of God, and His justice; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Yes… I definitely needed that reminder!
As part of his homily upon these exhortations, Father encouraged us to pray the Rosary. It was probably the best and most inspiring preaching on the Rosary I’ve heard! It really moved me, almost to tears. My prayer life of late has been… shall we say… a bit weak. Not because I’ve been unable to pray, but, honestly, because I just haven’t made praying a priority. (Gosh, maybe that’s why I’ve been falling to pieces lately. Do you think?)
The Mass proceeded. I implored the Lord for a spiritual Communion. After Mass came Adoration and Benediction. I once again bewailed my sins and begged for mercy. I was still painfully aware of my separation from Him. And the fact that it was I, not He, who had caused it. A hard conviction to pass upon oneself. But not a death sentence. God doesn’t hand out death sentences (despite some all-too-popular misconceptions about Him). Rather, I felt Him say to me, “My child, I know that you came here to be reconciled, and although things have not gone as planned, I have kept you here so that you might receive hope, healing, and encouragement to sustain and re-fortify you.” I thanked Him profusely and reaffirmed my intention to get to Confession as soon as possible and to do better. I marveled at how He brought that beautiful morning from the previous day’s pitiful failing.
I tried to go to Confession again after Mass, but again, there were too many penitents and not enough time. At the time, I was still disconsolate about it. But I decided that I would wait until Tuesday morning and go to Confession at my parish church, to my parish priest, my usual confessor. And in the meantime, I would trust in God’s tremendous mercy and providence.
That’s what I am doing now, and with considerable peace of mind, thanks be to God. But perhaps that raises another question: So, why go to Confession anyway? I’ll address this question in a separate post. I was planning a similar post anyway, and what happened today provides a good context for it.
Let me just close by saying:
1. Mortal sin IS. NOT. WORTH. IT. So avoid it at all costs and save yourself a whole lot of grief!
2. But if you can’t avoid it, DO. NOT. DESPAIR. Be humble, honest, and contrite before God, and get to Confession ASAP!
Happy feast day to my beloved spiritual father, St. Dominic!
Appropriately, I will be on retreat today with my Lay Dominican chapter, praying, studying, fellowshipping. What better way to spend our founding father’s feast day?
There are two things that struck me early on about St. Dominic, and still today spring to my mind whenever I think of him: courage and trust in divine providence. Probably because they are two lessons that I most need to learn! Here are a couple of quotations from Dominican Spirituality : Principles and Practice by Fr. William A. Hinnebusch, OP.
An example of courage:
With courage he traveled through the Albigensian country. At times he knew his enemies were planning to kill him, yet he continued on his way. Once they took him, but seeing that he offered no resistance, they asked: “What would you have done, had we carried out our plans?” “I would have begged you to put me to death in the slowest possible way, to cut me to pieces bit by bit so my martyrdom would be prolonged for the good of souls.” Realizing how much he wanted martyrdom, they did not kill him. He was a martyr by desire.
A martyr by desire. How many of us can say that about ourselves?
On his trust in divine providence:
The very fact that Dominic was willing to found a mendicant Order, one that owned no property and had no revenues, indicates his mighty trust in Divine Providence. He relied on the free-will offerings the faithful would give him. He so believed in God’s help, that he did not want the brethren to store up more food than they needed for a day. That is why they sometimes went hungry. But his faith was rewarded, more than once, by the miracle of the loaves. Both in Bologna and in Rome there were days when the early friars, unknown newcomers, did not get enough from their begging tours. Then they found a bare refectory. There was nothing to place before them. But the Founder had them offer the grace and take their places just the same. At Rome the angels came and distributed a loaf of bread to each friar. This was the answer of Providence to Dominic’s trust.
The sad thing about my having to constantly learn to trust divine providence is that… I know I can trust in it! I because it has come through for me time after time after time. Maybe not via the miracle of the loaves, but still in some pretty marvelous ways. And yet… I still need to work on it. Why, why is it so easy to lose sight of things like that?
At least I am in good hands. If anybody can help me master it, it’s St. Dominic.
May his prayers and blessings be with you all… especially my fellow Dominicans! :)
I’m still not having a very good time of things. My main issue lately has been worrying and stressing out about my cat. She’s been pretty sick and losing weight.
I’ve taken her to the vet, and they’ve been doing various diagnostic tests. They still aren’t sure what is wrong with her.
At first, they were pretty sure it was hyperthyroid disease, but her bloodwork and a more specific thyroid test have both come back normal. Friday I took her for an ultrasound, because the vet was afraid it was cancer. But the ultrasound didn’t show any tumors or anything alarming.
Currently, an internist is looking things over. They’ll probably report back and recommend next steps on Tuesday. Which means more waiting. The waiting has been really weighing heavily on me.
I am very glad that kitty doesn’t seem to be suffering. She still eats a lot. She never was an energetic cat, so her lying around doesn’t seem abnormal. She doesn’t cry or have difficulty getting around. She doesn’t avoid me or the other cat (any more than usual).
I’m very relieved about that, but still… it’s been tough! I haven’t been in this situation on my own before. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but it’s almost as bad as when my parents were sick! I guess because my cat is relying on me so much. She has nobody else to depend on. And she can’t speak up and tell me or the doctors what is wrong with her.
The financial impact has been pretty tough too. I just thank God I got a good-sized reimbursement from last month’s trip to NC, and my annual raise also kicked in this last month. So, I’m not hurting as badly as I might otherwise have. Plus, my parents have insisted on sending me aid… God bless them! I don’t know where I, or my cats, would be without their constant and generous support.
And then, there’s the physical exhaustion of constantly having to clean up my apartment. Let’s just say kitty’s illness has resulted in some pretty nasty messes. It can be so frustrating. I just can’t seem to get ahead. And as soon as things are clean, they’re soiled again.
I’ve lost my temper at times… not because I’m really angry, but because I just need to vent or else I feel like I’ll go crazy and/or burst an artery and die.
So, that’s what I’ve been coping with lately. And why I haven’t been blogging much. I’m just tired. Worried. Trying very hard not to worry. Praying. Still worried. Still tired. I just hope the doctors find out what the problem is… and that it is treatable.
Very dear and well-meaning people have advised me to “prepare for the worst.” No offense, but I can’t do that. For one thing, I think it’s impossible to be prepared, no matter how hard we try. For another thing, I don’t think I’ve yet been supplied with the actual grace needed to cope with that possible eventuality. Thinking about that is what worries and distresses me so much. Thinking ahead too much doesn’t help anything. I trust that God will hold me up when the time comes. But not any sooner.
Right now, I just need Him to help me with the waiting, the finances, and the cleaning. And the general worriedness and tiredness. Just for today. Just for this hour. That’s all I need. Anything beyond that is… well… beyond.
I could surely use some prayers! Thank you and God be with you.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The image of the Sacred Heart is the quintessential emblem of divine love. Wrapped in thorns, divine love suffers and sacrifices. Ablaze with fire, divine loves is ardent and unquenchable.
Today is also the first day of the Year for Priests that has been declared by Pope Benedict.
There couldn’t be a more appropriate feast day for launching the Year of the Priest? Are our good shepherds not one of the greatest signs of divine love and divine providence? They ardently devote their lives to the Church–to each one of us–in a spirit of service and sacrifice.
I pray for our priests every day, especially those close to me–those who serve my parish, those at my local Dominican priory, our local FSSP chaplain who provides the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
But I pray for all of them. I pray for those who are struggling, those have gone astray or are in danger of going astray. Those in danger of losing their immortal souls. Those who suffer in Purgatory for their failings in bearing their immense responsibilities. To whom much is given, much is expected. We may find it easy to imagine the privileges of priesthood… few of us can fathom the great responsibilities, and the great penalties incurred for lapsing in those responsibilities.
This year, let us be especially mindful, especially grateful, especially supportive, and especially merciful toward our priests! May our Lord Jesus Christ bless them and keep them close to His Sacred Heart, now and always!
Here is a prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
O most holy Heart of Jesus, fountain of every blessing, I adore You, I love You, and with a lively sorrow for my sins, I offer You this poor heart of mine. Make me humble, patient, pure and wholly obedient to Your will. Grant, good Jesus, that I may live in You and for You. Protect me in the midst of danger; comfort me in my afflications; give me health of body, assistance in my temporal needs, Your blessing on all that I do, and the grace of a holy death. Amen.
When God takes you down a peg, He then lifts you up again, sooner or later, one way or another.
I went to Confession and Mass this evening. Even after Confession, and even during Mass I was still struggling with my silly pride and discontent. I certainly didn’t receive the very noticeable consolations I usually receive after Confession. I know we can’t always expect those. But I’ve never felt so overwhelmed and still so caught in the heat of battle after Confession. It really threatened to get me down… way down. I was even tempted to doubt the power of the Sacrament.
I was distracted will into Mass. The harder I tried to focus and pay attention, the more viciously the distractions and temptations vied for my attention.
Things got better when Father gave his homily, though. He spoke about Christ’s mandate to preach to the ends of the earth and told us that that mandate is still in effect today, for each and every one of us. Naturally, of course, this was very near and dear to my Dominican heart! It rallied and helped to re-focus my spirit. It helped me remember what my life is all about–all of our lives, but mine in a special way. As happens rather frequently, I heard God speaking through our priest. And today, I felt that He was reaching out to me in a particular and special way.
But what really got to me was Communion. After I received Communion, I felt like my sense of gratitude was restored. My heart welled over with gratitude! And as I always say, gratitude can heal any ill. Gratitude puts all things in proper perspective. Gratitude hammers discontent, envy, self-pity, disobedience, pride, and all other negative tendencies into the ground. Gratitude banishes demons. Gratitude calls forth the comfort and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Gratitude brings us into the company of the Saints.
And what can bring about gratitude the way Holy Communion can? What is there for which to be more grateful than our Lord’s gift of Himself?
After Communion, I felt soooo much better. I felt like myself again. Finally, I feel like I’ve been able to shake off and overcome my difficulties. But not I myself. It depended entirely on God and His providence.
All thanks and praise to God for His love, mercy, and care!
This morning I went to a meeting of my parish pro-life group. We had as our guest speaker Darlene Ellison, one of our own co-parishioners and author of The Predator Next Door. She’s a wonderful lady, and gave a powerful talk… a very brave, very open talk. She spoke of how tragedy helped her begin to truly believe and live out her faith, and how, in looking back at her life, she could see that God had been subtly building her up to face the tragedy–and to overcome it, to grow from it. He brought new life and purpose from it. He brought understanding from it.
Although my story is very different from hers, I identified so much with what she was saying. I too re-discovered my faith in tragedy, and I too can see how God was working to build me up to face it, to overcome it, to grow from it.
This might sound strange, but when I think of the time leading up to Patrick’s death, it was almost as if I had premonitions at times–without fully realizing it at the time, of course. It’s really hard to describe. A lot of little things that sort of subconsciously or unconsciously jolted me with the message, “You won’t be able to have him with you much longer… but you will get through it… I will be here to see you through.”
The biggest thing I remember was the night when Patrick pointed out the church that was to become my parish church. Part of me deep inside knew that it was going to become my safe haven, my castle keep, my second home. Part of me was poised to flee to it, and when the awful time came, flee to it I did. Amid all the shock, confusion, and anguish, I gravitated to the Church, and to this church in particular. It was like a homing beacon had gone off.
People don’t always understand how I could regain my faith and my relationship with God in the midst of tragedy. I can see how it might seem counter-intuitive. We often hear of people losing their faith and turning against God or ceasing to believe in Him at all in response to tragedy and suffering, and we can hardly help but understand and sympathize with that.
I don’t really know how to explain it. Perhaps I never entirely lost the faith of my childhood. Perhaps there was still a tiny speck of faith left in me. Faith that informed me that suffering and tragedy bind us to the Cross–and to Resurrection. Faith that informed me that God would never abandon me. When I was a child, I often looked at this plaque my grandmother had at her house upon which was inscribed the poem, “Footprints.” Maybe that memory was a tiny seed that had lain dormant in me all those years, waiting for a moment in which to burst forth in all of its meaning. Waiting for the moment at which I would really need to know its meaning.
It was a moment that had to come sooner or later. No human being alive has any guarantee against it. And God generally doesn’t protect us from it. But He does enable us to weather the storm and then to grow–even flourish. He never fails to bring forth goodness from tragedy or from evil.
It is always good to have other people re-affirm these truths and re-affirm for me that I’m not really all that strange for gaining faith from tragedy. It emboldens me to tell my own story and give my own testimony to how very good and powerful God is.
A couple of weeks before Patrick died, he visited me in Dallas. One evening, we were driving to what is now one of my favorite restaurants, Mariano’s, and on the way we happened to stop at a red light. Out of the blue, Patrick asked me, “Who was St. Thomas Aquinas?” I thought that was really odd until he pointed out a sign at the corner for St. Thomas Aquinas School. I dug up some vague memories from undergrad philosophy and religion classes as we drove on; I was really thinking only about Mexican food. And that was that.
Or so I thought.
A couple weeks later, I was zombified by grief. Shock insulated me inside a still, quiet, numb cocoon. No tears, no cries, nothing. I don’t remember much about the funeral proceedings. My dad came to be with me. We drove to Galveston, which until then had been so full of happy and pretty memories. Patrick and I had gone there for our first date and many times after. I remember that there were services officiated by some priests from St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica. I remember the gunmetal grey casket. It seemed like just an object. I couldn’t–and really still can’t–grasp that it contained the body of that man I’d been so in love with, the man I’d planned to spend a long life with. I remember that the day of the funeral was bright, and the sky was so clear and blue. I remember that as we were leaving the cemetery, I saw a small plane flying overhead and thought it must be a message from Patrick: “Don’t be sad. I’m still alive.”
In the following week, after the funeral and condolences, life and the world around me started returning to normal. People began to recede back into their own lives, and I began to feel abandoned, desolate, desperate. The beautiful spring twilight when I had encountered God so close to me seemed eons past. An impenetrable darkness began to close in around me and smother me.
I had to do something. I had to go somewhere. I had to have help from somebody. I couldn’t cope on my own. And that’s when I remembered St. Thomas Aquinas School. I thought there must have also been a church there, as well. I knew that church might be my only hope. But I was also scared and ashamed. Days passed and I went back and forth about whether I should go to the church. Meanwhile the darkness and the agony kept growing stronger. At last, I just dropped everything and went to that church!
Naturally, it was the best thing I could have done. I got more help and more care than I’d even imagined possible. Everybody I talked to was so kind and generous. Nobody cared how sordid my past was–actually, they didn’t even ask. They just wanted me back, they wanted me to find peace and comfort. I learned that there was a grief counselor who provided free counseling, and the next day, she contacted me and we began having weekly meetings. Meanwhile, I learned that the only thing I needed to do in order to be restored as a Catholic in good standing was to go to Confession.
Honestly, I was terrified! But I knew I wasn’t going to be any less terrified if I put it off. So that very evening, I went. I had to wait in line. It was excruciating. The adrenaline in my body kept building and building. By the time it was my turn, I felt like I was about to burst open! I thought that kneeling behind a screen would actually freak me out a bit, so I went to the other side, where you can talk to the priest face to face. I marched up and barged in so urgently that I think I startled the priest, and I just started talking. I can’t remember what all was said, but I do remember the calmness and patience of the priest, and his complete lack of shock, abhorrence, or anger at my life of dissolution and apostasy. Rather, I remember him saying a prayer of thanksgiving for my return and calling down God’s grace and protection upon me. I truly felt like I was in the presence of Christ Himself! Before I knew it, the priest had given me a penance, absolved me of my sins, and sent me on my way in peace!
I was so light-headed and weak-kneed with relief and joy that I just felt like falling flat on the floor, in the middle of the aisle, in front of everybody! But I made it into a pew and knelt and prayed, although my whole body was trembling. I’m pretty sure I wept. I thanked God over and over and over again for taking me back and bringing me to that place. And I remembered that Patrick had first shown me that place; I had never realized it was there before.
After Confession, I stayed and attended the evening Mass. I received Communion for the first time in so many years. I was a Catholic again. That was Thursday, 12 May 2005.
But if I had expected that the darkness would be permanently dispelled from my life, I was in for a sore awakening. The fact was that I had stepped onto a raging spiritual battlefield, without fully realizing it–a most perilous situation. I had a LOT to learn. I was not fully myself, broken as I was by my recent loss and the all-consuming work of grieving. I was earnest in becoming close to God and practicing my faith again… but the devil was even more earnest in snatching me back away. Nothing outrages the devil more than a soul turning away from him. My conversion had barely just begun, and it was not going to be easy.
Not much to say, except that I still thank God all the time for bringing me to my parish, and I’m also still convinced that Patrick really chose my parish for me! It has truly been my second home. Whenever I am in the church, I feel God’s presence and His peace. It is a true refuge, a true haven. It is still my beacon in the dark, my anchor, my safe harbor.
I’ve been wanting to write down my conversion story for a while now. I’ve found it to be a bigger and more difficult task than expected. But maybe it will be easier if I break it up into parts and just write a little at a time.
When people ask me what brought me back to the Church, my first answer is: “The love of a good man.” Many people and events influenced my conversion, but Patrick and our relationship together were probably most influential of all. Once we began planning to marry and start a family, we both naturally began to think about God and religion. I think now that that was a natural sign of how much he and I loved each other; God is love, after all. So, together, we were both slowly turning toward God and faith. He was especially interested because he regretted not having been raised in any faith. I began thinking back to the faith of my childhood.
Unfortunately, I was destined to make that journey back to the Church alone. On 28 April 2005, Patrick died in a plane crash, at the age of 25. And I, aged 28, experienced the end of my world, and an apocalypse in the truest sense of the word: an uncovering, an unveiling, a revelation.
The calamity happened long before I realized it. While I was still lying in the blue light of dawn, Patrick was leaving for his last flight. While I was pouring my first cup of coffee at work, he crashed into Eternity and was jerked out of my future. While I was laughing with my coworker about his fear of heights, so comical in an airplane pilot, they were cutting through metal to get at what remained of him, the mortal body I’d been so fond of and attracted to. I was mercifully ignorant of that.
When I got home from work, something on television reminded me of him, and I picked up the phone to tell him about it. No dial tone. I realized that my internet modem had been left plugged in. I plugged in the phone and started dialing his cell phone number, but then I decided it could wait until that night, when his minutes were free of charge. I grabbed an ice cream bar and sat down. I was half through it when a knock came on the door, at exactly 7:15 PM.
I saw a police officer through the peep hole, and became very nervous: what had I done? It was a state highway patrol officer. He asked me if I knew Patrick, and I said yes. He asked if I was Patrick’s girlfriend. “More like fiancée,” I thought, but I said yes. Then I wondered: what had Patrick done? The officer asked me to sit down. He towered over me, and I got scared. “There’s been an accident,” I thought, my mind racing. “Patrick’s been injured. He’s in the hospital. I have to get to him!”
The officer looked down at me and said, “He was killed today, in an airplane crash.” He said more than that, but that’s all I heard. I remember dropping my ice cream bar on the floor, and choking on the words, “Oh my God!” I vaguely remember scribbling down the name of a funeral home out in Midland. I remember calling my parents and my aunt who lives here locally. I remember going into the bathroom, sick to my stomach, vomiting, sick all over, tears streaming, stinging and burning. Couldn’t breathe. Wished it would kill me.
Then I was outside, waiting for my uncle to arrive. I felt tiny and alone under the sky. I thought about Patrick being somewhere beyond that sky. Separated by an entire sky, and there was nothing I could do about it! Longing and despair both stabbed through me like swords. I was all alone, and everything had collapsed around me: all my joys, all my plans, all my hopes and desires, all my future. I felt naked and vulnerable. I felt like nothing! Everything suddenly seemed so ridiculous and absurd–how could I still be there when I felt like such a nothing?
I said again, “Oh God!” I hadn’t prayed sincerely in many years. All I could say was, “Oh God.” But apparently, that was enough. That cry of misery, that cry for help, broke through all the walls I had built between me and God. The fortress I’d built around my soul crumbled.
And at that moment, the world around me became extremely clear and vivid, very alive. It was like seeing the world for the first time, young and pristine. It was like seeing through the eyes of Adam, the moment after had God breathed life into his nostrils. Everything was dazzling and full of wonder. The sun was setting and the wind was blowing. The sky was many shades of blue and orange. There were clouds spread across the sky, in a variety of colors: white, gold, gray, lavender, rose. A sweet floral smell was in the air, and small white blossoms from a tree next door floated by on the breeze. The trees whispered and swayed. Groups of birds wheeled round in arcs, chattering happily. There was a strange, ethereal, and very expectant atmosphere around me.
My desolation diminished. Even with everything torn away from me, not only did I continue to exist, but I realized I was not alone. A presence, an enormous but benevolent presence was all around me–but not too close. Just a breath away. I didn’t have to ask Whose presence it was. I knew it was God. Invisible but so palpable. Part of me thought I ought to be very afraid, after the way I’d treated Him for so many years! But I felt no reason to be afraid. It was a good presence, not threatening in the least… very powerful, but not forceful. It was as if He were saying, “Look, I am here. You may choose for me or against me. But know that I am here.” I knew that I was at a very momentous threshold. God and all of creation were waiting to know what I would do and how I would respond. Would I return to Him, or would I run? I really didn’t know what would happen to me if I returned to God. I suspected it could complicate my life significantly. But I definitely couldn’t return to the alternative. I feared and hated the loneliness, despair, helplessness, and absurdity I’d felt just a moment before.
Perhaps that fear and hatred weren’t the best of motives for my return to God. But return to Him I did. And I was right: it did complicate my life significantly!
That might sound sort of like a Road to Damascus conversion… but that was only the beginning. Just one baby step on the path to a new life and to being a new person.
Looking back on that day, I’m always taken aback. I’m amazed at how God in His providence worked on that day. He brought me to just the right moment, the right time and place, for me to be hit with that huge bombshell. It’s a shame I had to be hit with it at all, of course, and boy have I yelled at God for it at times! Sometimes, in my weaker moments, I still cry to Him, “Lord, why did You let this happen? Why didn’t You just save Patrick?” But given the way things happened–for whatever reason or lack of reason–I know that God was most gentle and forbearing with me.
I wonder what would have happened if I’d found out while I was at work, for example. I think that would have just compounded the horror and left a horrible scar on my work life. Or what would have happened if I had gone ahead and called Patrick’s cell phone? Or what kind of message I might have found on my answering machine had I not left the modem plugged in? It was hard enough to have that officer tell me, “He was killed today.” I think the alternatives would have been worse, though. More nightmarish.
And being outside on that springtime evening… I saw God’s beauty and goodness more clearly than ever before or ever since. It was the perfect time and place. What if it had been miserable and stormy or cold or unbearably hot? Might things have been very different? Could my life have possibly taken a very different turn? Would I perhaps have perceived and responded to God very differently?
Things could have been much worse, I think. Much more traumatic. Much harsher. Even more calamitous. But God knows me so well. And it’s true that He never burdens us with more than we can tolerate. He never seeks to crush us. That may be difficult to believe now and then… but we always know better with hindsight.