Religion was something that was not a big part of my upbringing. But the idea of God was. I remember as a small child seeing a picture hanging in the bedroom of a little girl praying with the prayer that began like this:
Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray to God my soul to take.
If I should live for other days,
I pray the Lord to guide my ways.
Because that image seemed so real, I believed there was a God. When I was born, my parents were Catholic. Dad was Italian and I was told my mother converted but it seems hard to believe. She is not what I would call the religious time, by any stretch, then or now. I assumed she did it to please my dad and to raise us in his church.
My older sister, by two and a half years, was baptized Catholic and had her first communion. I was baptized in New York at the Catholic Church they attended in Long Island, St. Joseph’s, but never made my First Communion. By then, they had split up and Mom was out of the picture. Our father had custody of us and we were living back in Dayton, Ohio. My dad was disillusioned with the Catholic Church for the shoddy annulment process which was really more of a payoff procedure than one in allowing Christians forgiveness for making mistakes. He never went back to participating as a member as to do so apparently entailed paying a huge sum of money for them to look the other way. It seemed to fall in line with the times of the Church in those days. The process is unforgiving and highly judgmental.
Upon my father’s remarriage, our new step-mother was insistent my sister Terri and I reconnect with a church. I think I recall us being considered heathens if we didn’t have any proper church upbringing or understanding of God and religion. Hence, we were dutifully dropped off every Sunday at a church, possibly a Presbyterian church in an older neighborhood not all that far from where we lived. It was odd though because there was no one there we knew, none of our school friends or neighbors so we were surrounded by strangers. We would be in our Sunday dresses and our Dad would drop us off at the corner of the street. We would get out of the car door, walking to the building where classes were held for classes on Bible studies. It always felt strange walking in there because so many people were streaming in there as families and here we were, just two girls walking in by ourselves. Sometimes we caught people looking at us like we were social misfits with no parents. Or worse, they gave us looks like they should feel sorry for us and we didn't want anyone’s pity. My sister just stuck her head up higher and told me not to pay any attention.
Once the classes were over, she would meet me out front and we would go to the church next door. When church let out, we would walk outside church and go wait on the corner until our Dad arrived to pick us back up. We did this week in and week out. As we stood out there on the corner, we would watch all the families leaving church together and feel kind of sad that we were there on the corner all by ourselves. But, the lessons we were learning by being there made it worthwhile. Gaining an understanding of God’s love, its unending power to heal and his ability to give us strength through everything in our lives.
At some point, those church visits stopped. I can’t recall why but I missed going. I did not miss the awkwardness though of being there alone without family or the stares from other people. Sometimes I went to Catholic Mass with my friend Claire down the street but that service was just plain foreign to me. But it had its good points. I always learned something just by being there.
I got another opportunity to attend church routinely when I was in fifth grade and we were living in Westerville, Ohio. I had a friend named Susan who religiously went to church every week. So thus began my attending church regularly with her family. I would either stay overnight at her house and go with them or they would pick me up to attend. I don’t remember their religion but it was not either of the two previous religions but it didn't matter to me, it was still God’s house and I loved being there. I felt like I was part of a loving family where I was 100% accepted and worshiping with people who believed in God even if not exactly like me. I could tell sometimes my parents didn't think I was getting the message quite right by their comments when I would leave for church or come home but I didn't care. I still enjoyed going and kept up the routine. God was going to remain important in my life forever.
When we moved back to Dayton two years later, I began going to church with another friend, Roseanne Moore. When I wasn't going with her, I was attending with a friend, Cindy Thomas, or a friend Eileen. I seemed to always have a friend that I could attend church with. It seemed to be Baptist churches, evangelists I heard speak and loved, Protestants, it really didn't matter. In some ways, I saw them all the same. I just wanted to go there, be there. I knew I had sins that needed forgiven. I knew God loved me and I wanted to feel it more intently. Church was where that feeling came over me. I also wanted to grow in understanding and felt like I was more in his presence sitting in a holy house.
When I found myself young, married and pregnant with baby number two, I took Catechumenate classes. Being married to a catholic, I was committed to raising our children in that faith. I wanted to understand the faith my children were going to participate in and I did not want my children to have that experience I had of walking into a faith community alone. Thus I began the classes in the fall of 1980. Within months, I made the decision to convert and by Easter 1981, I was confirmed catholic at the Easter Vigil Mass.
Since that day, I have never looked back or regretted my decision to become fully committed to a church. I honored my commitment to my children’s father and to the priest that baptized them and raised them in the Catholic Church throughout their childhood so they both had a foundation of faith to build a future upon.
There are many gifts you can bestow on a child. Your love is supremely important. Education, in today’s world can make or break financial success often times. But in my mind, faith can move mountains. Belief in God can instill hope in a better tomorrow. It can make today, no matter what befalls you, grateful you are here, even if it is to feel the rain on your face, receive communion, grab or hold a loved one for that last hug.
Seeing my son and his family evolve on their faith journey ensures my own faith journey was steps towards the path God chose for me. It shows me the destination was pre-planned, needed and that I was walking the right way.
Yesterday, on Easter, I once again, attended my son’s church, Providence United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, TN. Hearing their preacher speak, Jacob Armstrong; I was awestruck, as I am every time I hear him speak. He has the ability to cut through the stress of the day, the turmoil that certainly must be on the minds and hearts of those in attendance and seize the congregation’s attention. He literally is one of the best speakers I have heard of late in a holy place. His passion shows in his manner, his enthusiasm for preaching is non-verbally apparent to all and his message is always powerfully delivered. It is just the right mix of scripture, knowledge and down to earth food for thought to take and incorporate into your lives to become better servants of God.
Reflecting on this later, watching my son, my daughter-in-law and my three grandchildren, I could not help but remember my years as a child in the church, what it meant to me. Yes, as Pastor Jacob said, "years go by quickly." Then, in a blink of an eye, I was a mom, and then my son was here and I was mentoring his faith, forcing him to go to church all the while he was resistant to attend. My goal was to give him a true understanding of God, faith and appreciate God’s unending love. And now, at all of my son’s 36 years, to see him and his wife giving this to his children, wow! God is perfect, He has made the circle complete. I am so humbled and thankful to The Father for making me that child who always pursued walking into churches just to sit in His house and hear His word.
My video is actually more of a celebration of the theme of Easter of my son’s family and also dedicated to the Autism Awareness Month April 2015 Click Here to View