Age has granted me the clarity needed to comprehend something that has plagued my understanding since I was very young. Even as a six-year-old I remember watching people hurt. I remember watching those hurt people turn away and push away those people they longed to be close to.
I understood, as a teenager, that the reason for this was primarily fear of rejection. Never short on hubris, or words, I have attempted to open their eyes to the fact that they hold the power to end their own pain and the pain of others by reaching out to them. I have achieved varying degrees of success, understandably. I need people to understand that they can change everything by turning toward people and sharing their fears and passions. That by sharing our fears and passions we open the floor to others to do the same, bolstering them by our courage.
What age has finally granted me is the knowledge that reaching out to others when one is afraid requires a profound amount of courage that most people cannot summon. And, that when a person (of any age) can and does summon the courage, one must act to recognize it for what it is, no matter the outcome.
The unshakable faith and fervor of a convert is insufferable. I know, because I am one.
The reason I think the faith of convert is unshakable is that they have often been through something for which God had to intervene, personally. Faith, for a convert, is less about blind belief and more about personal experience.
I am Catholic.
I became a Catholic, surrounded by Mormons. While the LDS people I grew up around carried some of the strongest testimonies of faith, it was the hand of Christ himself who put me on the path I am on.
At 12 years old, I had already been seeking a home church. I begged every person I knew that went to church to take me to theirs. I got dressed up on Sundays and Wednesday nights and went tagalong to any services I could go to. In the meantime, I read the Bible and holy books from many other churches: the Book of Mormon, the Talmud, the Quran, and all the literature from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. By the time I was 14 I began to flounder. None of the messages I heard, none of the scriptures I read, none of the lessons I followed spoke to my heart the way prayer did. I wanted church to feel like prayer, like a connection between me and God.
I already had faith that God existed, loved me, and saw each person as valuable; no matter whether their clothes fit or not. I knew that God loved me (and everyone) and cared about what we did with our lives. No one could take that away. I had faith that there were Godly people in every church, but I could not always find them. I wanted a church where the people treated each other like God would, with love and acceptance, and I wasn’t finding it.
On the verge of giving up, I told my best friend about my search and how it was failing. We were at a bus stop on 2100 so and 500 East at 5:30 AM, like we had been every day of high school.
She pondered for a minute and said “Have you been here?” She nodded at the church building right behind us.
“No,” I replied, looking up at the unique building. It said “St. Anne’s Catholic Parish.” I blanched at the idea of anyone named “Anne” being saintly, but mused about the name and how it might be a sign.
I knew that my grandfather had been Catholic, but I had never known any personally.
“I don’t know anyone there.”
“We’ll go with you,” my friend said, volunteering her family to go with us.
We got all dressed up and met at the front doors of the church on Sunday. Crowds of people were filing into the building, and we tried to act confident as we followed them in. I was stunned to see cigarette ashtrays outside the doors. I was also stunned to see that many other people were there in shorts and T-shirts, which would’ve been far more comfortable than my long dress in the June heat.
We found a place to sit along the middle of the room and sat back to listen and watch. We knew nothing of the service. It was startling that the congregation participated in the prayers and responded to the priest, though I didn’t know that’s what he was called. Because I didn’t know enough about the service at the time, I couldn’t say just when during the mass it happened. What I can say is that I was sitting. I looked up at the suspended statue of the ascension of Christ over the altar and was overwhelmed with a vision. Instead of sitting in the church I was suddenly standing in a field, a meadow. As I spun around in the field, feeling the warm sun on my face and a breeze against my skin, looking around at paradise; I saw Jesus. He saw me and threw back his head laughing, then opened his arms to hug me. As he wrapped his arms around me, still smiling, he said “Welcome home.”
I came back from that vision, determined to join the church. It was not easy for a 14 year old girl to jump through all the hoops required. Just finding godparents was complicated. But after two years, I was finally baptized and confirmed.
Which Church (if any) a person belongs to is a very personal choice. I would never proselytize and tell others that being Catholic is right for them. For many years, being a convert was very difficult. Like being a Muggle born witch, I felt so far behind all the people who had been born and raised Catholic. Eventually, I found my footing and my place and I’ve never looked back. For me, I know I was home. It’s the only home I’ve ever really found.
((This was written as an entry for a contest. The idea is to tell of a :30 second friendship. The details of the contest are here.))
I catch the last train home.
I delay the trip as long as possible, avoiding returning to a house full of resentful strangers, but it is time to go or risk the police coming to find me later. The bright lights inside and dark night without combine to turn the windows into mirrors.
The only other person on the train is a man who is wearing too many coats. He sits at the other end of the car. The doors slide closed and I take a seat as far from him as possible.
I want to be alone.
I sit as close to the wall as I can, hugging the glass. I stare at the reflection of my hopeless tears falling onto my coat as we start to move. I am 17 and alone in the world. I have just decided to accept that my life has no meaning. I contemplate suicide, but know that I can not actually harm myself. It is not a happy thought.
Suddenly, she is there.
Behind me in the glass, her reflection looks like a middle-aged woman carrying too many shopping bags. She and her bags crowd onto the seat right next to me. I shift my back toward her resentfully, wondering why she doesn’t sit anywhere else.
I wipe my tears with my sleeves. I can only cry alone.
We ride in tense silence until she begins searching her bags.
“Look at this,” the angel says, holding out a small tissue paper envelope with the top folded over. I turn in the seat, somehow knowing she will not let up unless I do. I take the envelope, confused.
Inside the envelope is a beaded bracelet. They are very popular. I have seen the cool kids at school wearing them in a variety of colors. It is not the sort of thing I can afford.
This one is pale pink.
“It’s rose quartz,” she says. Seeing that I won’t respond, she adds, “they are real stones, not just plastic beads. Rose quartz are for love.”
“It’s pretty,” I say meekly, trying to pass it back to her.
She shakes her short dark hair and gives me a small smile. “You keep it.”
She gathers up her bags with a sense of finality, refusing to take back the gift. “Even if it doesn’t seem likely, there are people that love you.”
Her words shatter my tenuous calm and I sob openly into my hands, crinkling the paper envelope but unable to stop. I am broken by the kindness of this stranger when my own family cannot see my worth. When I collect myself and look up again, she is gone.
I stand up and turn around, searching the car. I see that she is no longer on the train. There are only rows of empty seats and that one man, who still doesn’t turn around.
The train has not stopped, we are still between stations. I look around, confused. I know there is no way to move between cars while the train is moving, she is either here, or she never was.
My angel disappeared as quickly and quietly as she appeared. She left behind her words of kindness and that bracelet made of love. I wore those stone beads for years, a constant reminder that I was loved, even if I couldn’t see by whom
I now have a completed manuscript. My memoir project is moving from the ‘writing’ stage to the ‘editing’ stage and tiptoeing into the ‘querying’ stage, too.
Nearly two years ago, I set a goal of completing the memoir that I promised myself I would write 30 years ago. Over those two years, I have had to take large breaks during the writing process. The work has been difficult. I needed time to think, heal, and learn. Despite being a capable writer, I needed to hone the tone and voice I was using. I’ve also done a great deal of learning about website creation and management, the publishing industry, and even looked into self-publishing. I have learned how to research agents, how to craft a query package, and tried to ignore the daunting statistics about first-time authors.
I know that I am meant to publish this work. I will. It’s only a matter of when.
Last month I attended an online event called the Boston Writer’s Conference. During that day I met with an agent via zoom. She liked my idea and asked me to send her the full manuscript. It was a big day and might eventually turn into something, though I haven’t heard back yet. Since sending it I have pressed on, sending the manuscript to an editor as I had planned. I now have it back, with some great feedback. I plan to revise it again as soon as I manage household logistics that have been hovering. After revising again I will look into sending my query package to new agents. (For those of you who wonder: an agent helps sell rights to publishers/media and is an invaluable partner in the traditional publishing process.)
I have chosen, at least for now, to publish traditionally because I want the reach that can only be granted when you have teams marketing with you. I know that publishing this work will lead to many opportunities to spread awareness and create positive change. I don’t know the path yet, but I have faith: I am focused on success. I’m waiting for signs from Creator about where to turn next as I work to complete yet another round of revisions.
You are what keeps me going. Though I have no set deadlines or timetables, I want you to know that I am moving forward. I want to say “thank you” to everyone following along and giving me a reason to keep working.
Throughout the process of writing and revising I have relied on many amazing people to read sections and offer advice. I want to mention both Katrina Ray-Saulis and Borbala Branch, who are amazing editors that offer useful insights and reasonable rates. Please reach out to either if you need an editor? (I can’t promise they will be available.)
Until I know more, that is all for now. Stay healthy, keep moving toward your dreams.
“The answer is ‘no’ if you don’t try” – Translated Dutch proverb.
Many times in my life being seen and included by strangers was the difference between having a really positive experience and having a bad one. Being given a ride by a stranger resulted in a short trip in a warm car instead of freezing at a bus stop. Being invited in to a party meant not being alone for a while. Being asked to stay for dinner could mean I got to eat that day.
After having lived in New England, even a smile and eye-contact when I’m out on a walk really brightens my day.
This is why I understand how much it meant to this woman that these boys noticed a her sitting alone and acted. A group of boys at a diner thought about it and made a difference (and a friend!). Here is a news report about it: https://youtu.be/xyhQyi_KrWE
Have you ever felt sorry when you saw someone who was obviously cold, alone, hungry, or excluded. What would our world look like if we were to act on those feelings and make a difference for others?
What small thing could you do to make a difference for someone else?
About a week ago I saw a woman on the side of a busy freeway. It was hot. She looked worried. She was driving a van, so I assumed she had children though I could not tell if they were with her.
I made a split-second decision to pull over to ask if I could help. It turned out she was out of gas. She had been waiting for an hour for road side assistance. She had three sweaty kids getting impatient. Cars had blown their horns at her. Thousands of people had simply rushed by. We chatted for a minute while I tried to think of how to help. I asked if they had water to drink. Then I realized that it would be complicated to drive back and forth, but I could simply go get her some gas and bring it back. It took me about 10 minutes to borrow a gas can from the station, fill it, and haul it down the road and back again to where she was stuck.
Once I’d poured the fuel I had into her tank, she could be on her way again. They could all cool off and get home. She gratefully returned the can to the station so that I could be on my own way again. She couldn’t believe that I had stopped to help. I thought that was a little sad. It should be normal to ask for and receive all manner of help from our fellow humans.
I hope you’ll join me as I continue to seek out opportunities to give a simple act of kindness to those who need it.
One of the many ways I work to heal the trauma from my childhood is through providing for my children what my brothers and I did not have.
Today is a Sunday and with everyone home, my husband and I made a big breakfast. As we sat around the table with our children, passing pancakes and sausages, orange slices, and yogurt, I felt the weight of grief that bubbles up sometimes. It begins with a lump in my throat and a sob that lingers in my chest, stubbornly refusing to move.
The grief is obviously connected to years of hunger and food insecurity, but it’s more than that.
I carry around, in my heart, the image of the little girl I was. She is thin, with short hair and clothes that are too big or too small and totally out of fashion.
The hardest part of carrying her around is not her sadness, but the look on her face. In these visions, at these moments when the grief bubbles up, I see her looking not sad but confused. Confused about why she can see a world that is full of food and other riches, but she has to go hungry.
She can see a world full of people that experience joy and love every day, yet she is alone and scared of the people that are closest to her. She just doesn’t understand and I have never found the words to explain it to her.
The best I can do is to ensure that it stops with me.
For those that don’t know, I am writing a memoir. I made the decision to write it when I was 8 years old and have even begun the writing process twice. Both attempts ended with the destruction of the computers the drafts were saved on. This time, I am saving it in a cloud, and on several devices. It will be completed.
The story will follow my first 18 years. It will not be easy for some people to read and will be a long and thoughtful process for me as well. Though those closest to me will not be surprised by the story arc, there will be details and pieces that surprise everyone.
Though I am open about my experience of abuse and neglect at the hands of my birth-mother and her sister with anyone who will listen, there are still many details I have yet to share with anyone. There are pieces of my story, details of my response to the events of my past, and aspects of the healing process that I have kept away. I have been waiting for this project. I plan to pour those things into my memoir with the intent of inspiring those who are seeking to heal themselves.
For accountability’s sake, I want to share that my goal is to continue to work steadily towards completion. I hope to have a first draft completed by my birthday in December. From there I fully intend to seek a traditional publishing contract until I am successful. I expect I will continue to revise, revision and review endlessly.
I have completed a prologue and 3 chapters so far. It’s getting real. I hope you’ll follow along with me on my journey as I work through the process of finally completing this project. I have carried it in my heart for 30 years. It is now time to bring it forth.
Because I have this website, I will share useful resources and other helpful material I have found and collected. I am an avid reader of memoirs and will review my favorites as well.
So much of my growth and healing has been part of the process of learning about myself.
As a child, my life and choices were controlled. Fear and circumstance were used to keep me from wearing clothes that fit, from feeling safe or secure anywhere, and from making even the simplest decisions for myself. When I was able to leave and control my environment, I was ill-suited to make gooddecisions. I remember watching a movie in a theater and someone in the film asked “how do you like your eggs?”
It was an epiphany moment for me because I could not answer the question. I decided that I needed to learn more about what I liked: food, clothing, hair, and any number of other desires I had never been allowed to choose needed to be something I explored and began making with intention.
I went wild with clothing, cut my hair short (I hated it), and began to cook foods in different ways to determine what I actually liked. As it turns out, poached eggs are my preference, followed by soft boiled.
There are many tools that have helped me to learn about myself and begin to honor who I am and what I want.
For those of us with remembered trauma, the ACES quiz can help you understand your experience and maintain awareness of adverse effects from our experiences. Once you have your score, this article can help you understand the study behind it, and how the results can inform your future. Did you know that people with scores above 4 are more likely to suffer from lung disease? Healthcare providers should know your score and keep an eye on issues that could be affected by your experiences.
The Myers-Briggs personality type identifier first taught me that there are types. The 16 unique combinations of Introvert/Extrovert, Sensing/iNtuiting, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving are guides to teach us about how we take in information, and how we process it. It helps to learn that each of your type letters can be understood as being on a scale: It’s not E or I, but where on that spectrum you primarily function. It’s also important to realize that we are not always functioning at our best. Our inferior functions (the opposite of our primary functioning) helps us understand how we are likely to react in stressful or traumatic situations.
The Five Love Languages quizzes have helped me to understand how I try to show love to others, how I want to receive love, and how others do the same. The results also helped me to understand the disconnect I have experienced in some past relationships that failed, and what characteristics might be more compatible with future partners. There are quizzes you can help your children take, too. Those results gave us all a framework for discussing what we each want and need, and how to best show each other how much we care. I love hugs, but one of my children really prefers words of affirmation to physical touch. This knowledge has helped our family grow in understanding and grace for one another.
The revelation in the movie theater started me on a path of self-discovery I still walk today. I learned to give myself permission to let go of clothing, food, behaviors, and other choices I did not like. I also learned to advocate for myself in situations where I was not getting what I wanted. It was OK to ask a waitress to correct something if I didn’t like what was served. It is actually important to tell others, with words, if they are doing something I don’t like. I have learned to be firm while continuing to display compassion for myself and others through my self-affirming words. I have also learned that it is kinder to be honest, even if it might change outcomes or cause others to have feelings.
“I don’t want to eat this.”
“I don’t like the way I look in this.”
“I want something warmer” “…softer,” “…cleaner.”
These changes have given me the confidence I lacked as a child. These insights have led me to deeper relationships with those I love and helped me to heal some of the trauma I will always carry.
What do you do to learn about yourself? What moments have left you with a new perspective on yourself or others? Comment below and let me know.