It was the ’60’s

The following ‘story’ is a bit of background on the person I was before I began to let God into my life.

I offer it here not to make excuses or to assign blame to anyone (but my own sorry self), but so you can understand how hard God is willing to work, how long He’s willing to wait, what power He is willing to devote just so we will know Him and allow Him to love us.

I have a strong sense that my story is not terribly unusual. As flawed as I have been, I don’t think I’m so very different from many others. So, this is not intended to be some riveting tale of unusually despicable and sinful living, but a story that, through its ordinariness, will give you hope.

God was waiting for me to finally turn to Him, to allow Him into my life. He’s waiting for you, too.

If you already know God, this story might help you better understand some other person in your life, who struggles against answering His call. It might give you hope for them.

I pray so.

Mary Adrienne
————-

It was the ‘60’s

I was in junior high and high school in the 1960’s. By the time I graduated in 1966, the country was entering what would seem to be looking back a constant state of change. The Civil Rights Act was discussed around our dinner table. Political leaders were assassinated, shocking and rocking the nation.

We were deep into the Viet Nam war by the time I graduated. Friends were being drafted. Some became conscientious objectors. Others got married and had children, possibly sooner than they might have done otherwise. Many left and never made it home.

Young women were increasingly encouraged to get a college education. And not just to get their Mrs credential. My mother encouraged my sister and me to get our college degrees. As she explained repeatedly, a college degree would allow us to teach school and support our families, if anything ever happened to our husbands.

I came to despise her reticence, what seemed to be her willing embrace of dependence on her husband. That man — my dad – had always challenged me to think and do for myself. The distinction between the two of them was stark, as I reflect back on them. (My mother will someday be the subject of her own post here. She was an awesome woman, whom I only appreciated later, after I’d found God and after having children of my own.)

They had a respectful marriage and loving, even playful personal relationship, I think. But in so many ways they were so very different. In their relationship with me, my dad, on the one hand, encouraged my independence and self-sufficiency, while my mother – a talented, capable, take-charge woman in her own right – insisted that a proper lady should necessarily be submissive to a man’s opinion and direction.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Growing up

My parents were from the South and pretty conservative. They were loving, kind, responsible, protective, and very interested in all things spiritual.

While my dad had many harsh and uncomplimentary opinions about mainstream and fundamentalist religion, he and mom were still very much spiritual searchers.

We attended the Episcopal Church mostly in the early years. Dad belonged to the Masons. Both of them joined Eastern Star and later, the Rosicrucian Society. Dad was among the first to obtain a copy of the slide program of the Shroud of Turin and invite friends over to view it. He hosted men’s weekly Bible studies in our home. And he visited with the Catholic archbishop in our area, as well as the Jewish Rabbi on some question of biblical scholarship.

Later, we all began to study the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and the Vedas and attend Tuesday night classes at the Hindu Vedanta Center. By my late teens, I was much more familiar with eastern philosophy than I was with Christianity and the Bible.

Dad would eventually learn (just for sake of knowing) to cast horoscopes, make his own deck of Tarot cards, and “chase” flying saucers. This all, I realize, makes him sound just a bit loopy. He wasn’t … or maybe he was and I was too close to see it…but to say he was “curious,” verges on gross understatement.

Still, he was an electrical engineer, who mostly just wanted to go boating and fishing and camping, listen to classical music, entertain friends one or two nights a week and raise bright, responsible children. He didn’t drink or smoke or go places without my mother. We were, in a word, normal…well, except for that spirituality thing.

It all helped shape the woman I’d become. In many ways I think I benefited. But, along the way, I spent so much time in the gray areas of religious thought, that I never really understood any of the basics of Christianity – its foundational principles – well, or much else for that matter.

I remember one particular story that paints a pretty representative picture of my early exposure to religion.

Confirmation Class
I was about 11 years old and going through confirmation classes in our local Episcopal church. My mom would take me to class each Saturday morning for a couple of hours and the priest (I’ll call him Fr. Miller…we always used last names back then to address our priests) would instruct us.

There was homework we were all supposed to do during the week, which I remember vigorously resisting. I figured, even at age 11, that offering up my Saturday mornings was more than enough about God and the Episcopal Church for one week.

One Saturday we were discussing God’s ability to answer our prayers. Another girl in the class asked Fr. Miller if God could make a couch appear, if someone prayed to Him for one.

Father said that “yes, God could do that,” if He chose. He then surrounded his answer with a lot of qualifiers that I don’t remember.

I must have donned my best ‘you must be joking’ look, because Fr. Miller turned to me and asked if I didn’t believe that God had this power.

I don’t remember my exact words (this was more than 50 years ago!), but I scoffed with some 11-year old version of, “well, He might have the power, but He’s not just some circus performer, waiting up in heaven to pull rabbits out of His celestial hat in answer to people’s prayers.”

Later that afternoon, I was recounting the story to my dad. I don’t remember his actual response. I do remember his general good humor with the whole story (he especially didn’t like the priest) and his encouraging me to question everything…always.

Well, as the weeks went by, my uninformed questions (since I wouldn’t do my homework, you recall) were intended more for tripping up Fr. Miller and disrupting class, than for my own enlightenment. I mostly learned to misconstrue all sorts of important concepts and proceed to argue my case with such brazen confidence that Fr. Miller had neither the will, nor the patience for setting me straight.

Father eventually gave me a D minus, minus, minus for the course – the obvious message was he just wanted to move me on in life and out of his hair.

Dad and high school

Like most kids, I admired my dad and his very strong personality. I looked to him for approval. It wasn’t surprising, I guess, that I ended up questioning and challenging most of what society took for granted…including, as time went by, many of those same issues that he and mom felt strongly about.

Throughout high school they enforced some pretty strict rules.

They forbade me from having friends “from the wrong side of the tracks.” In addition to those kids who were from families of the wrong neighborhoods, the list included blacks, Jews, Catholics, and anyone from any branch of the military.

I was not allowed to have a steady boyfriend, go to public dances “unescorted,” or wear makeup. Our school rules at the time took care of any question of proper dress. Girls were required to wear skirts that came to the floor when kneeling…in other words, skirts that came at least to the middle of the knee.

I rebelled…if quietly

I put on makeup on my way to school. Rolled my skirts at the waist to shorten them. Lied about where I was going and whom I was with.

It got so bad that I would lie for no real reason, just because I could. Not pretty. But, so began a prolonged period of deceit and eventual separation from my parents and their rules and direction.

When they finally caught me lying and going to an un-chaperoned party, just after high school graduation, I was put on two summer months of restrictions.

As part of my penance, we read and discussed passages from the Bhagavad Gita each evening after dinner. (I never really focus on this part of the story, but by the time the two months was over, I had actually come to enjoy the study and spiritual discussion each night.)

Still, I was pretty naive. I didn’t drink (never cared for the taste). I didn’t have a steady boyfriend (my parents thwarted those possibilities pretty effectively). When all was said and done, I was really just about everything they wanted me to be…virginal, proper, conservative, responsible…the main thing missing, outside of the lying thing, was any solid relationship or understanding of God and Christ.

Regardless, within a few weeks I was off to college, rockin’ and rollin’ from the first weekend – straight into an abyss.

It didn’t seem unusual or frightening at the time. If anything, I felt like I was late to the party…like I had some serious catching up to do.

We were all, it seemed, groovin’ to the beat of a very different drum from the one to which our parents marched. Somewhere in all the new freedoms of love and association and expression, I became untethered.

Higher education – college and life

College was essentially a community of 30,000+ people between the ages of 18 and 25. It was a whole new world for me…for all of us, I guess. It provided few guardrails for the young and restless. What guardrails there were back then – like Resident Advisors and curfews (does anyone even know the concept of a curfew anymore) – 10 p.m. weeknights and midnight on weekends – were easily overcome with a ‘little help from your friends’ and a loose window screen or two.

I made friends whose judgment and advice were at once enticing to me and self-serving for them. I dropped out of college and began dating a man who turned out to be married. Managed to lose him in favor of a man from Iran. We married and traveled to Iran a couple of times. I learned about Shi’a Muslims and their culture.

Along the way I returned to school and finished my degree in Economics. But cultural differences soon ended up overwhelming us. We divorced and I entered a prolonged period of single-hood, family estrangement, too much drinking, and unfocused soul searching.

Professional success, personal confusion

Despite a lot of confusion in my personal life, I enjoyed some early professional success as an economist and sometime later returned for my MBA. Instead of feeling gratitude for my good fortune at finding work during difficult economic recessions, this success (relatively minor in the whole scheme of things) fueled a sort of arrogance in me…a sense that I was invulnerable.

My friends became mirrors of narcissistic convenience. Who they were was not nearly so important to me as how they might benefit me. In retrospect, despite my well-practiced appearance of caring, I had developed a pretty well-honed disregard for most other people.

What about God? And church?

And God? I didn’t really think of Him much at all beyond some vague sense that there must be something or someone out there that could come to my rescue and help me be happier.

I visited church once or twice when I was feeling particularly low or introspective. I would just go and sit. I didn’t know how to pray or what to do, how to feel, how to discern what I was feeling. Heck, looking back, I didn’t really know if I was feeling.

A couple of times I tried attending an actual church service. Oddly, both times I ended up developing such a hacking, congested cough, that I left early with the excuse that I didn’t want to disturb the others around me.

I’ve since become increasingly certain that it was the devil rebelling against losing one whose soul he was so close to owning.

Journaling

More often than church, I sought my own guidance and insight. I began writing in a journal.

My goodness, how I could go on. I wrote for pages and pages, filling them with ponderous, ranting, whining attempts at introspection. On reading them later, I found it was mostly embarrassing, undirected, mindless drivel – the uncommitted railing at the lack in her life of things born only of commitment.

The whole process was like trying to look through a window into the night, where all you can see is your own reflected image, suspended in the darkness.

Years later, I would put all of my many journals to a much-deserved and fiery end, before finally getting on with my life.

A merciful God finally intervened

It was on this barren terrain that the Lord mercifully intervened in my life.

Taking the circumstances of my openness to evil, when I chose to pick up my hitchhiker, and with the help of a heaven-sent guardian angel, He managed to finally get my attention.

Like striking a match to a long-tailed fuse, He lit in me a small, but tenacious desire to know Him, and to understand why He wants so much to love me.

And like economic recessions, which can only be measured after the fact, it would be years before I appreciated the significance of His hand at work back then.

Nonetheless, it was here that my walk with Him really began.

Recent Posts

The passion of our time.

When I heard of the Supreme Court’s decision adding sexual orientation and gender identity to protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, my first reaction was: All humans deserve the opportunity to seek employment free from discrimination.

Yet, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and president of USCCB lays out the concern.

I am deeply concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively redefined the legal meaning of ‘sex’ in our nation’s civil rights law. This is an injustice that will have implications in many areas of life.

By erasing the beautiful differences and complementary relationship between man and woman, we ignore the glory of God’s creation and harm the human family, the first building block of society. Our sex, whether we are male or female, is part of God’s plan for creation and for our lives. As Pope Francis has taught with such sensitivity, to live in the truth with God’s intended gifts in our lives requires that we receive our bodily and sexual identity with gratitude from our Creator. No one can find true happiness by pursuing a path that is contrary to God’s plan. (emphasis added)

Every human person is made in the image and likeness of God and, without exception, must be treated with dignity, compassion, and respect. Protecting our neighbors from unjust discrimination does not require redefining human nature.

We pray that the Church, with the help of Mary, the Mother of God, will be able to continue her mission to bring Jesus Christ to every man and woman.

So (early warning) what follows is my way-too-long struggle to sort all this, as I talk with Our Lord.

——————

“During these times…”

I’m so tired of hearing this phrase, Holy Lord. I hear it drone out from both the sincere and the sanctimonious to initiate some monologue on masks or medicine or malevolence.

And yet, today, right now, in this time and place, You are offering us a way to sooth some of the pain and suffering of Your Son. You’re offering us an opportunity to share Your love and to find new ways that include all of Your people in Your grace.

All of us

All of us
We fallen,
We sin-filled,
Even we aspiring saints.
The ignored, the ignorant,
The neglected, the negligent,
The elite and the alone;
The famished and the fed;
The despised and the despicable.
All of us are Your beloved children, Holy Lord.

But, not all of us know You or Your love.

We, the privileged

We, who know You — we, who have been baptized into Your truth — we are the privileged ones of this world.

Through no fault or action of our own, You chose us. Just as we didn’t choose our parents or the country of our birth, or our station in life, we didn’t choose to know You, Holy Father, or Your Son. We were chosen. You found us right where we were and and called us to You.

This is true privilege.
This is the real job opportunity.
For in You is the freedom and love
That passes all our understanding.

Too often, we forget that You’re the source of everything good in our lives. We believe that our good fortune is something we’ve earned, something we deserve, maybe — through some right of birth or heritage or even our own hard work.

But, no. These are all gifts of Your grace. You decided where we were born and when. And You selected our parents. You gave us the talents to succeed in our work and the strength to awake each day to embrace our lives. And You have given us the times in which we live.

In these times

Your gift in this time for those of us who know and love You is the blessing of sharing Christ with others, those less privileged, those needing—longing, possibly—to know You and to love You, too. Our gift is the opportunity to be an active part of Christ’s body — Your hands and heart — here on earth.

It’s that simple…and that profound.

What does this mean in action in this situation, Father? What does this look like on the holy ground of Your love?

Down here amongst Your unruly children?

Surely, we must share Your love through the way we live our lives. But what if we are asked to act—or made to act publicly—in ways that defy — or even defile — Your love for us, ways foreign to Your teaching?

We learn early that we are to hate the sins, love the sinners. But in this time we are being told that in order to love the sinners, we must approve of — love, even — their sin.

How does a religious school, for example, allow into its midst individuals, who, gleefully, often vociferously, reject one of Your most basic, Your most foundational gifts — the beautiful gift of who they are as beloved male and female children of God, who they are as Your beloved creations?

How does the religious institution function within the dichotomy of You and Not You? God and not God? How do we ease the friction, act with mercy, heal the wounded, protect the innocent, help You to call the willing?

Where is the opportunity in this, Holy Father? Where—what—is Your gift that You seek to have us give?

Your Word in action

Sister Marilyn taught 2nd grade at my daughter’s Catholic school years ago. For decades she faithfully helped to prepare young Catholic girls and boys for their first communion. Our family was not Catholic at the time. I spoke with Sister once about how excluded my daughter felt from the first communion ceremony that eventually followed for all her classmates.

Sister corrected me, ‘Oh no, we don’t exclude anyone or leave any one out. Everyone is welcome to be part of the church and to participate in the beauty of what we believe.’

And there’s the nut of it, isn’t it, Father? The Church universal. The body of Christ. Living, yet unchanged and unchangeable. Broken, yet complete. Sacrificed, given away, that our souls might be sanctified through our faith in You and in Your Son.

You’ve created us to be free. You allow us to choose in what and in whom we believe. As Christians, we believe in You, Holy Father and in Your Son, Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit — that beautiful breath of love shared by Father and Son.

But so many others don’t know You or believe in Your Son. Too many have not even been introduced.

How, Father?

How do we embrace these others, Father, who reject our faith and insist that it must change in order to conform to their devices and desires.

How do we share Your love with those who have no faith and who hope only in themselves?

How do we share Christ with them, who demand that we deny You and love them first?

How do we — under the force of law — share the truth of Your love that You have shared with us?

How can we do anything good, anything pleasing to You, without speaking with love and affection to these others — these hopeless, hapless creatures whom You love?

How do we do all this, How do we do any of this except through Your grace, full of faith in You, knowing that Your hand is at work in this, as it is in all things?

You never said it would be easy

Indeed, You showed us the terrible pain of Your Son’s passion and told us to ‘follow Him.’

Even Mary and Joseph, when directed by Caesar Augustus, submitted to an arduous journey to Bethlehem in order to participate in a government-required census. Our Holy Mother was pregnant. She and Joseph were poor. But You chose that time for them to leave their home and family who loved them to carry Your Word-made-flesh to this distant place. And once they arrived, they weren’t welcomed or made comfortable. They weren’t treated lovingly. Indeed, there was no room for them — or for You.

But there, in that mean, inhospitable and humble place, is where You and Your love broke into our world.

You chose Mary and Joseph to carry Your light of hope first to the world’s poor and lowly. You even provided a bright light to guide the way of the world’s wise and kingly. They traveled their own difficult and dangerous journeys to Your Son, Jesus Christ, coming from far-away lands — from places that did not know You; from traditions foreign to Your Word. And yet, they came bearing their own gifts with which to honor and adore You.

Just as You sent the light to guide those foreigners to You so long ago, You are, even now, preparing us in this time to be the light of Your love to those who don’t yet know You. Those whom You are calling to Yourself. Those others in our midst.

And just as Sister Marilyn taught us year’s ago, You don’t exclude anyone from the beauty of Your truth. Nonetheless, like Mary, we each have to consent to Your will. When called by You, each of us has to say our own grace-filled, faith-filled ‘Yes’ to You and to Your Son.

Just say ‘Yes’

Now in this time of turmoil, my child, be My Light by how you live your life. Give witness to the truth of My love. Then, share the gift of love that I share with you. I’ll show You how.

To share and uplift other believers? Yes.

To make room for You, Lord—God’s own Word-made-flesh? Yes.

To be love for all those others among us—the least, the lost and the hopeless, the revolting, the reviled, and the wretched? Yes.

To include in our work and in our lives these other ones—forgotten for too long, ignored too fully? Yes.

For how else might they come to know Me?

Must we strengthen our resolve? Yes.
Understand Your Word better? Yes.
Prepare to share Your love with those who hate us and You? Yes.
Learn to be holy not just in our homes and our protected enclaves, but in public for all to see — to be Your light in our world’s darkness? Yes.

Are we ready?

As others scream and slur,
As they deface and disparage You,
As they have and surely will again,
Will we run away, like Peter and the others,
Will we deny You, again and again?
As they seize and distort our speech,
As they defame Your gifts,

Are we prepared? I pray so.

Will we turn our other cheek, Father,
The one of love offered,
Only to be rejected and scorned,
As You were? As Your Son was?

As others point at us with their accusations and allegations;
As they brutalize our hearts with their hatred,
And fill our world with their idols,
Are we prepared, even so, to include them in our lives,
But not give them our souls,
All for Your love of them?

Am I prepared? I pray so.

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