The Big Boy

As a parent, I found life frustrating and filled with a sense of powerlessness when I could not get my child to do something I wanted her to do. It might have been as simple as picking up toys before bed, or doing homework, or cleaning her room before company came for a visit. As my daughters got older, such challenges were more complicated. Coming home from a date on time. Going to school instead of skipping class. Attending church. I remember when I was growing up my dad used to tell me when I asked for his advice, “It doesn’t matter what I think because you’re going to do what you want to do anyway.” Ain’t that the truth. So is the fact that apples don’t fall far from the tree. I raised independent thinkers and doers. I like to think of them now as strong and successful women, because they are.

I’m learning that it’s an entirely different challenge when it’s my spouse who doesn’t want to do what I want. I lost the battle long ago about keeping the toilet seat down. I’m just thankful that he’s willing to put out more toilet paper when the old roll is gone. I wish I had won the battle about bringing in the garbage cans on pick-up day or emptying the dishwasher. Maybe I should have fought harder. I remember arguing once about something (can’t recall what exactly the something was) and my husband yelled, “Stop mothering me!” That stopped me cold in my tracks. I wasn’t mothering him, was I?

The learning moment I have right now is that my husband needs to change his way of eating or he’s going to die. Maybe not this month or next, but he’s going to die a lot earlier than he should if he keeps drinking five sugared sodas a day, eating a bowl of ice cream every night, and eating an entire bag of chocolate chips in one sitting. My husband’s doctor says he has diabetes. My husband says the doctor is wrong. This is going on year four.

About three months ago my husband got a sore on his leg, just above his ankle. The sore is still there. This week a sore showed up on one of his arms looking just like the one on his leg. He wants me to pull some magical lotion out of the cupboard and heal him. “Go see the doctor,” I have told him countless times. He doesn’t like what the doctor has to say, so he won’t go.

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with my husband and told him I wanted to do a Whole30 eating plan for the month of September. I’ve been contemplating this for some time and a few things came together to make it the right moment for me to do this. He claimed he’d never heard of Whole30 (although I know that’s not true) and wanted to know what this was going to mean for his meals. After explaining the program and showing him the meal plan I put together, he came on board too. I was thrilled!

My husband has a lot of aches and pains. None of his clothes fit right anymore. His sleep schedule is a mess, and he’s tired all the time. We all know it’s the diabetes taking hold of his body but he won’t admit that. Following a meal plan for 30 days that will allow him to reset his body makes perfect sense. I want this for him. I want to see him free of pain and sleeping through the night. I want him to have energy to go out and do things with me. I want him to live a long life with me so we can grow old together, witnessing each other’s life to the end.

He didn’t even make it past Day 3. I caught him finishing up a bottle of sugared soda and a large bag of peanuts. I was so disappointed, and hurt. The plan I put in place for this month of Whole30 eating was the best offer he’s going to get from anyone to reset his eating habits. And he couldn’t do it. I love this man and yet, I have to wonder if he loves me. Obviously he doesn’t love himself enough to try to improve his life. I can’t mother him through this. I can’t force him to eat right. I can’t take the keys away from him to prevent him from going to the store and buying these snacks.

Remorse is sitting like a big stone in his stomach today and he says he promises to not cheat anymore. Does the old adage “once a cheater, always a cheater” apply to eating habits? Probably.

I’m not going to let this derail my plans. Maybe after 30 days there will be enough of a difference in me that he’ll be more willing to try it. If not, then he will suffer the continued deterioration of his body and an early death. And maybe after all is said and done I’ll feel good enough that I can go to Hawaii with some of the life insurance money. (I didn’t say that out loud, did I?)

 

Challenge of the Ordinary

A few months ago I didn’t want to write. Everything that came to mind was a whine and I didn’t want to be that person. So I made a conscious effort to focus on living an ordinary life. It was an easy decision. Instead of fretting about how we would pay our bills that month, I walked in my backyard and took photos of my flowers. Rather than screaming in frustration from being overwhelmed, I sat on my deck and looked at the moon and stars. I thought my plan was working because life became a bore.

What I didn’t realize was that several issues were simmering and I was trying to ignore them by insisting on the ordinary, not the real. Instead of acknowledging my emotions and feelings, I was dismissing them. Had I known what I was doing (and I should have seen it), I would have changed course. Hindsight is perfect. Unfortunately, everything came crashing down this past weekend when something happened to cause hurt from nearly 40 years ago to rise to the surface. And when it did, it dragged a couple of my daughters along for the nasty ride. I’m still processing all that transpired so I’m not ready to write about the weekend’s events just yet. But I do need to acknowledge the overwhelming hurt so I can ease the pain in my heart and put myself back on my feet.

It’s always a surprise to me when something in the present day brutally tosses me back to the mid 1970s when both of my parents died. For as often as it has happened, you’d think it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore. But it is because it’s always unexpected. I’ve spent countless hours in therapy doing the “good work” all the experts told me I needed to do to live a normal life. Evidently there’s a difference between normal and ordinary.

So even though I thought I had done all the hard work, apparently there’s a lot of hidden baggage I carry around from the past. Those forty years seem a lifetime ago. So long ago that in fact I’ve forgotten what it was like to be a child, to have parents. I’ve forgotten their voices, their laughs. Without photos I would have forgotten their faces. But I haven’t forgotten the hurt from some of the decisions that were made at the time by others that impacted my life and hurt caused by the way a couple of siblings treated me then and off and on for the last 40 years.

So much time has passed that sometimes my brain plays tricks on me and I wonder if it’s created a revised version of my life. It’s as if I was plopped into this world at the age of 16, the youngest sibling in a dysfunctional family that didn’t want the burden of another member. No parents to guide us. No adult to show me the way. Yet, I had received enough teaching and training that subconsciously kept me standing tall, capable of supreme independence, driven to survive. No matter how often or how hard I fell, instinctively I found my way to getting back on my feet. And even though I thought I had conquered each dragon, the ashes of feelings and emotions still had some warm embers, albeit buried deep.

Events of this past weekend stirred the fire. I managed to stay calm and talk to my daughters so they feel a little better but this new hurt left marks on them too and it’s going to take a long time before they can put it behind them. I’m not sure I will ever be able to let it go, knowing that I’ve carried this for a lifetime already. An expert would correctly label this a core hurt, which means my current anger and hurt latch on to and dredge up every single moment of hurt I’ve felt since becoming an orphan. How is that even possible? I’m a finite being but these feelings are infinite! I’m past the middle of my life, and I truly thought I was done with all this old hurt. “Fat and Sassy” had become my new motto. So why in the world do I have to go through this again?

It was a painful way to learn there is indeed a difference between living a normal life and living an ordinary life. Ordinary is much more challenging than I thought. It requires balance. It requires that I keep an eye on the real. It requires that I feel and experience emotions. Maybe the best I can do is strive for “my normal” and put ordinary back on the shelf.

Kate Needs (and gets) a Miracle

I started writing this blog and had gotten part way through writing exactly why my daughter Kate needed a miracle, when Kate called to tell me she got it! If it was so easy to get, it couldn’t have been a miracle, right? Wrong. It was a miracle because it wasn’t so easy to get.

Over the course of the last month or so, Kate has been opening up to me about the degree of stress she’s been dealing with for the last several months—no, make that years. I’ve been waiting a long time for her to initiate this discussion, so I’m glad she finally did. But at the same time, the fact that she’s finally talking underscores how desperate she has become to find a solution for each of the many problems she is dealing with.

The most pressing problem she is facing is the physical and mental health of her husband, John. Ever since John was about nine years old, he’s had major problems with his knees. He’s had several surgeries and each has brought him some relief from intense pain but only for a few months. Nearly all of his life he’s suffered extreme pain and has just learned to accept it. Oh, and take several doses of ibuprofen each day, which has now rotted his stomach. Essentially John needs to have his knee joints replaced. But he is only thirty years old and doctors and insurance companies don’t like to replace knee joints in someone so young.

About eighteen months ago, John was in so much pain that he couldn’t even walk. After several appointments with a specialist, John ended up back on the operating table. The doctor couldn’t see anything in an MRI and had no idea what he would find. Turns out, John’s ACL was nonexistent. It was completely gone. No idea where it went. So they stopped the surgery and made plans to build a new ACL from John’s hamstring. So a couple of months later, another surgery and an extremely painful and long recovery. Almost eight months later and he’s still not better. The specialist cannot explain why there continues to be so much pain, and John was handed a bottle of Percocet and told to deal with it. John’s been “dealing” with it far longer than anyone should have to and he’s become hopeless about the situation to the point that Kate and John’s family are concerned about his safety.

A little more than a month ago Kate called me to tell me they had put their house up for sale. It’s a small house, split level, sitting on about five acres about 15 minutes from the nearest small town. It only has two bedrooms but it’s a nice house and, being out in the middle of nowhere, there are no comparable properties. So it makes it difficult to sell. Kate told me that John had reached such a low point with despair that she didn’t feel they had any choice. They must sell the house and get into a smaller house with less upkeep and no stairs. Already at 30 John needs single-level living. I was surprised that there were houses without steps located in the middle of nowhere. They found one and put in an offer but lost out to a higher bidder. They found another and again lost out to a higher bidder. The third time was the charm and their offer was accepted. But their purchase agreement was contingent upon selling their current house. And that was the challenge. The seller was willing to hold their offer for about three weeks. We all started praying for a miracle.

Kate and John were lucky in that they had several showings for their house, but no one put in an offer. It was frustrating since so many houses were being sold just days after listing. Their house sat. And sat. And with each passing day, John grew more depressed and Kate grew more frustrated. About a week ago, John’s siblings and parents did a little intervention because they were scared John was so depressed he would be harmful to himself. It was all too much for Kate. So while John’s family was trying to counsel him, I was trying to support Kate and keep her thinking positively.

Two days ago Kate was in tears. She loves John and cannot stand to see him suffer. She feels the “world” is against her because all she wants to do is save her husband and her family and have a simple life. I want that for her too, but I am not in a financial position to help them. I felt helpless and incompetent as a parent. All I could do was continue to pray. Yesterday morning Kate called to say one of her students had killed himself and their school was in mourning. It was the last straw for Kate and I could hear her emotions shutting down as we talked. She was tucking away her feelings under lock and key, putting herself into survival mode. She too was without hope that they would sell their house, even though there was one more showing scheduled for the inconvenient supper hour. It was a long day at school dealing with the tragedy and the last thing Kate and John felt like doing was taking their kids out to dinner.

I wasn’t with them, so I can’t speak to the mood. I can guess both parents were short on patience. If they talked, it would have been in short, clipped sentences. I can imagine both young kids had lots of energy and didn’t want to sit still and only ate half of their meal. The showing time had ended so they returned home and began their nightly ritual.

It was about that time that I found myself sitting at my computer, trying to deal with my own feelings of helplessness. I needed to write about it, to reassure myself that it isn’t my job to financially support my adult daughter and so I don’t need to take on any guilt or shame because I can’t. I needed to process my thoughts and start thinking about how to support Kate in the next steps, whatever those steps would be.

As I began to draft the story of Kate’s need for a miracle, she called. The couple who had scheduled the showing during the supper hour had put in an offer. It wasn’t the full amount that Kate and John wanted, but it was doable. Kate was ecstatic! As the parent, it was so good to hear emotion in Kate’s voice. I got off the phone and immediately said prayers of thanks.

An offer is just that, so the days ahead will be critical. I will continue to pray that all the paperwork gets filed in a timely manner and that everything goes smoothly. Kate sees this as the only way to save her husband’s life. I see the miracle of restoring hope and preserving a family.

When the Pastor Dies

About a week ago the calls and Facebook messages went out: Pastor Andy had died. It was a shock to everyone and yet, it should not have been a surprise. Andy was only 64 but he didn’t watch what he ate, didn’t exercise, and had been dealing with a few health issues for several years. His face often turned beet red during his sermons or when he enthusiastically sang a hymn. He made light of his weight often and admitted frequently that his doctor (and his wife) wanted him to slow down. Yet, he was driven in a way few of us completely understood. I wonder now if he knew he had to make the most of every minute because there weren’t enough minutes left.

I first met Pastor Andy in the mid-1990s. Our church membership had grown and the load was too much for our pastor, so Andy was brought in to help out mostly with the youth. I like my religion on the traditional side and Pastor Andy was anything but ordinary. Life was not black and white to him. It was every color of the rainbow, and he loved it all. He was exuberant no matter the task, always on the go like an Energizer bunny, and always singing, laughing, or telling a joke. Andy was always trying to make a buck, always trying to sell something, always full of more ideas than any of us could keep up with. He thought outside the box many times a day, so it’s not incorrect to say he “flew by the seat of his pants.” And it was all too unconventional for me.

My oldest daughter was around 10 or so when Pastor Andy joined our church. He was too much for her, even though I tried hard not to let my bias show. My second daughter understood Pastor Andy’s humor and she admired his can-do and nonconformist attitude. My other two daughters never really “took” to Andy, but they didn’t dislike him either. Rather, they were indifferent about him. And yet, when I broke the news to my daughters that Pastor Andy had died, each one’s response was the same. “How sad.”

All those years ago, Pastor Andy hadn’t been at the church very long when he did something that stirred my anger. In fact, it was the only time I’ve ever formally complained to the church. It was Easter Sunday and Pastor Andy was giving the sermon. My four young children were listening as Pastor Andy read a children’s book about Easter and when he got to the end of the story he loudly and firmly declared there was no Easter Bunny! I was stunned. I didn’t feel it was his place to break that particular news to my children. I looked around the church to see if other parents were upset, but it didn’t look like it. To this day, I have no idea if I was the only one who complained but I suspect I probably was. It was a moment I never forgot, and it created a wall between Pastor Andy and I. Over the years we grew to respect each other, but there was never a lot of love between us.

As time went on, bits and pieces of Andy’s childhood made their way into his sermons and I came to understand more about the boy who grew to be a man who became a pastor. His childhood wasn’t easy. And he carried an enormous amount of emotional baggage every single day of his life. He spent his lifetime trying to do good, to make everyone around him happy. He always had a smile on the outside, but I suspect many times he was crying on the inside.

On that fateful day last week, Andy was struck down by a massive heart attack. He never regained consciousness, but he lived a couple more days, just long enough for his family to all gather at his side and for the congregation to deal with the shock of his loss.

It is absolutely striking to read the tributes posted to honor him on Facebook. This man, despite his emotional scars and unorthodox ways, touched hundreds, if not thousands, of people. He didn’t just walk in their lives as their pastor, he was involved in their daily struggles, often knocking on the front door unannounced at the moment when these people needed him the most. He brought groceries to young families in need. He gave rides to senior citizens who couldn’t find a way to see the doctor. He helped parents mend relationships with teenagers. He counseled couples struggling with their marriage. He was anywhere and everywhere all at the same time. And all those things he was selling to make a buck, were merely a means to money to give to others or help others in myriad ways.

Despite all the demands on his time, he still made time for his wife and four children and several grandchildren. His devotion to his wife could be the gold standard for all men to follow. His two sons were so influenced by him that they too became ministers. The greatest gift his family gave was in sharing Pastor Andy with the world.

Indeed, Pastor Andy lived life to the fullest. And over the last few days as I’ve read the stories others have shared, I’ve discovered I really didn’t know this man at all. While I preferred traditional religion and planning events ahead of time, Pastor Andy, flying by the seat of his pants, had untold determination and something much more powerful. Faith. He never doubted that God would be there for him, providing whatever was needed in any given moment for any of the countless members of his flock. And he also had not one tiny iota of doubt about whether he would be welcomed in heaven. Andy knew God would be waiting with open arms. And remarkably all members of the congregation, despite the enormous void that has just opened in their lives, are celebrating this man’s passing into eternal life. The only point for discussion they have is what song Pastor Andy was singing as he passed through the pearly gates.

I am blessed for having known Pastor Andy. It is my loss that I didn’t understand him and instead placed a wall between us. Even in death, he is still teaching.

“The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

My Billboard from God

About six months ago, I was given a gift from God—a new job. It had taken more than a year to land it but when I did, I knew without a doubt it was God’s will. Prior to getting the job offer, I had had many hundreds of conversations with God, asking him to help get me out of the miserable job I was in. I told God regularly that I was “blind and cannot see” and that I would need signs the size of a billboard to know which job was the one he intended for me. The sign he sent then was in the form of a cardinal. Even so, I saw it and understood this was the job I was supposed to take. Only one other time in my life have I felt God’s will so completely.

Now that I am at the end of this particular day, I can look back to this morning and understand that the first test of whether I have accepted God’s will about this new job came when Krissy—who’s been in her job about a month—came over to my desk to complain about how the rest of the team decided to work at home today and why can’t she work at home that often and how come there isn’t any work and why does she feel like our team is about to implode? I’ve had those same thoughts occasionally over the last six months but I’ve never voiced them at work. To Krissy I suggested that we have to earn the privilege of working from home and (even though I too feel our small team is about to go down the drain) I tried to offer reassurance that everything will be okay. With each passing day I believe that less and less, but I felt Krissy needed solace not angst. A few minutes later Krissy was satisfied from venting and she went back to her desk.

An hour later we had a conference call meeting with about half our team, each calling in from their off-site locations. In that call, Ethan, our boss, asked me to take on some work and to divide it with Krissy. I’m a wordsmith and Krissy knows numbers. It was clear to me how to divide the work, but I wasn’t sure if Krissy would know all of the tasks she would have to do since she’s so new on the job.  So while we were all still on the call I asked Krissy if she understood what Ethan was asking us to do. She mumbled something about not being able to hear, so Ethan briefly highlighted the process steps that Krissy would have to follow to complete the numbers work. He asked if she had any questions and she said, “No, I got it.” But just as soon as the call was done, Krissy was back at my desk. “I don’t know what Ethan is asking me to do.” I bit my tongue and then tried my best to explain what Krissy would need to do. She went back to her desk and I started playing with words to complete my part of the assigned work.

Right after lunch our team once again gathered on a conference call for our weekly team meeting. Ethan discussed several things and then with great pomp announced that Krissy and Kayla were being awarded for outstanding work on a project they completed a couple of weeks ago. I was stunned. Krissy has been on the job one month and she’s had one project and she’s getting an award for it? And Kayla despises Ethan, regularly berates him in meetings, and tells anyone who will listen that he is a horrible manager. In fact, she’s had five interviews in the last ten days for other jobs. At that moment, a pity pot opened up and I fell in. A few moments later that conference call ended and I just sat at my desk and stared at nothing. A multitude of thoughts raced through my head and not a single one could be labeled pretty. And while I sat stewing, Krissy once again appeared at my desk. This was the second test of my acceptance of God’s will.

I congratulated Krissy on her award and she smiled from ear to ear. “I’m just one lucky girl, I guess!” Must be luck because it sure isn’t skills, I thought. I asked Krissy if she had completed her tasks for the project that had been assigned to us earlier in the day. She confidently told me she had completed her quality check and there were no errors. What she didn’t know is that I had finished my part of the work before lunch and having no other work, decided to take a stab at Krissy’s half of the work myself. And in the process, I found several errors in the data. Just to be sure, I explained to Krissy that in the course of doing my work I noticed a couple of errors in the numbers. She was caught off guard, then agreed that indeed there were some errors. She said she’d take another look at the material, but that right then she had another conference call she had to join.

As she walked away, I remembered the pity pot I had fallen into and instantly I was full of anger. Actually, I was somewhat surprised that I could be so angry so fast about something so silly. And that’s when I understood the events of the day had hit a core hurt of mine—not being acknowledged or appreciated. As I type this now I feel so silly. But the truth is this is an enormous core hurt that I’ve fought my entire life. Blame it on the fact that I’m the youngest child of eight kids or that I was sexually abused at the age of twelve and an orphan by the time I was sixteen. I could list fifty other reasons to justify this core hurt. It’s real. I know it. And I deal with it. And in that moment, as I sat stewing at my desk, I knew the day wasn’t going to get any better. Quitting time for me was still a half hour away. The rest of the team was on a conference call and would be for another ninety minutes. I bolted.

In the time it took me to ride the express elevator down from the fifteenth floor, I had an entire day-long argument transpire in my head. I was so angry at myself for being jealous that Krissy and Kayla had been rewarded for their efforts. I was mortified that I had the gall to question God’s will whether this really was the right job for me. And I despised myself for falling into the pity pot. When I reached the lobby, I was an emotional mess. All I could think about was going home and soaking in a hot bath. I walked to the bus stop and leaned against the building and waited, still berating myself. I looked down the street, hoping the next bus would be in my sights. It wasn’t. Instead, I saw God’s billboard.

In the horrible job that I left six months ago, I worked with Liz, who is the sister of the company’s owner. Liz understood the struggles I had with my then-boss, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it. Her brother owned the company and he was going to make all the decisions. A few months before I left the company, Liz suddenly quit. She went on vacation and never came back. She even sent her daughter in to collect her personal items. For a time we all thought perhaps Liz had taken ill, but over time we learned she had just had enough. Clearly I could relate. I was just as desperate to get out of that awful situation.

So the third test of my acceptance of God’s will came as I stood leaning up against the building at the bus stop and watched as Liz came walking down the sidewalk. At first she didn’t see me but as she came closer, the emotional war I had been battling was instantly gone for I knew Liz represented God’s Billboard. Clearly she was the visual reminder that I needed in that moment to remind me of all the bad stuff I had left behind in my previous job and all the good things that had entered my life since taking my new job. By the time Liz threw her arms around me in a hug, the scowl on my face had turned into a smile. Truly, God works in mysterious ways.

Behind Anger Is Loss

My bestest friends in the whole wide world are too kind. They listened to me whine and complain this past weekend (again) about how I’m so frustrated and angry with not having any money. They let me carry on and on when they should have told me to shut my mouth and get a grip.

The problem is, I can’t get past my anger. I’m still mad that I lost my job in 2008 and that we lost all our savings in the market crash. I’m furious that it took me three years to find another job that didn’t come anywhere near the salary I needed. Okay, I just nudged myself in the ribs. I need to shut up about it.

But it’s hard to be quiet when it seems the whole world is angry along with me. We’re in the throes of a nasty presidential election and candidates are struggling to appear poised and composed. Their followers prod them with chants of rage and the main networks run those scenes 24/7 to boost ratings. Protestors are breaking out in fights at campaign rallies, and others are blaming the candidates for it all. I can’t remember a time in my life when so many people were so angry.

Today I had an Aha! moment. I’ll bet many of those angry protestors are people just like me—working in a lower job, making less than we need (if we’re lucky enough to have a job), frustrated by the fact that eight years post-recession we are no better off. We just want all the bad stuff to stop!

Sure we can point fingers at the current president and the president before him. If we really want to, we can go all the way back to when Ronald Reagan was president and blame him. Assigning blame isn’t going to change the situation. It might make us feel better, but the fact is we’re angry because our dreams were shattered or even worse, they never even had a chance to come alive.

Therein lies loss. And knowing that just makes me all the angrier. I despise loss. It’s right up there with cleaning toilets and picking up dog poop. I don’t want to deal with loss anymore. I just want to leave it there in a pile and walk away from it. Let someone else clean up the mess because I’ve had my fill. Just like Howard Beale I want to yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

I’ve been swimming upstream for more than eight years trying to find the root of a small tree that I can grab hold of and secure myself. I’m tired. The water’s cold. And it’s crowded. There’s no room to move about because so many of us are treading water. How are we ever going to lift ourselves up out of this damn stream?

Visiting with my friends this weekend I learned they’re in the stream with me, furiously swimming along, trying to make ends meet, and trying to find that root to grasp. But they’re dealing with it so much better than I am. If they’re angry, they aren’t showing it. If they’re depressed, they’re hiding it much better than I can. I know they’re tired too. But what is their secret? How are they dealing so well with their anger and loss? They look composed and pulled together. I feel like a hot mess beside them, flapping my mouth, spewing words without thinking.

“Good morning, Mr. Beale. They tell me you’re a madman.”

The Mercy Year

Libraries sometimes have a special offer when you can return overdue books, no matter how long they’ve been out, free of charge. It’s a forgiveness that I’ve never been able to take part in because I always return my library books. Maybe they’ve been late once in a while, but I always pay the fine. Life is good.

Lately I’ve been contemplating whether the Catholic Church, in this Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has proclaimed, would be willing to make a similar deal. No matter how long it’s been since my last confession and no matter how many sins I’ve committed, would a priest be willing to sit down and hear my story and help me find a clean slate?

I have no way of knowing for certain, but I’m guessing my last confession took place more than forty-five years ago. A lot of water has gone under the bridge. I was a naïve eleven year old, somewhat spoiled, mostly sheltered from all the bad things in life. The worst sin I committed was likely calling my brother a name or not getting home on time for supper.

Then along came an overheard conversation about how my mom had cancer and I had to look up the word in a dictionary to find out what was going on. Even in her last days when she was in a coma my family could not be honest with me and tell me she was going to die. They wouldn’t let me see her to say good-bye. Two years later cancer took my father too. By that time I was an angry adolescent strung out on love deprivation.

How I managed to maneuver high school and college (miracles on their own) by not ending up in jail or rehab or pregnant is beyond my comprehension. Truly, I credit divine intervention. I didn’t have one guardian angel; I had a whole team. God knows, I tried my best to mess up my life and my future. But somehow I always seemed to end up okay. Maybe a few battle scars but generally unscathed.

Still, sins were committed. And I’ve reached a point in my life where I am not proud of those things and I feel the need to tell my story. I don’t want to sit in a confessional booth and go through the list, one at a time. I want a face-to-face conversation, a telling of my story, a purging of all the bad intermingled with the good things I’ve done. I want to tell my story, good and bad, and in the end find a reasonable penance.

Some might argue I’ve paid penance already in my life and yes, I agree I have. Some anyway. People might say that because I am consciously choosing to admit my sins and through confession I seek forgiveness, it shall be granted. I agree with that as well. But to me it’s not the act of confessing, it’s the complete story that I need to unleash. Why it has become so heavy to carry at this point in my life is not an answer I have. I only know it is so. I’d rather do the lion’s share of my penance while I still have time on Earth.

I know if I look hard enough I’ll likely find a priest willing to sit with me, one-on-one, and hear my story. I would hope that he would listen to everything and help me come up with a meaningful plan of action that doesn’t feel trite or insignificant, like Fr. Schultz’s “Say one Our Father and Three Hail Marys and help your mother with the dishes the rest of the week.”

I am not afraid of penance. I am not afraid of priests. But I have been away from the church for far too long, and I have not and still do not agree with some of the decisions made by church leaders. I am saddened by the bad things that have happened. I am frustrated with the greed and annoyed by the attitudes of some church leaders. Forgive me Father for I have sinned, but the church has sinned as well. I want a conversation that encompasses all of that, and more.

Pope Francis smiles and hugs and reaches out. He communicates without words. He makes the Church look so accessible. I seek a cleansing, a purging, some pain, healing, forgiveness and mercy. Is the Church capable?