Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Journal That Begins in Grief, Ends In Grace

I am posting this today because I'll be sending the February article to diocesan editors tomorrow, and I may not have a chance to get back to the blog. So, as promised, here's a portion of my journal - which captured my journey from grief to the Eucharistic Lord Jesus Christ. If you are journeying through suffering or loss, please know that my heart aches with you. God has not abandoned you, dear one. He is with you even now - and perhaps, most especially right now in your dark night. May you discover joy after the mourning...

September 2003

Dad has been suffering from a number of neurological disorders for about five years…

October 2003

Dad is in horrible pain today, more than usual.  He is going to have surgery for a herniated disk... 

Saturday after Surgery, October 2003

Dad was released from the hospital and felt good enough to go to a movie.  They went to Second Hand Lions, which I recommended he see.  It reminded me of his childhood in Wisconsin, and the love he has for extended family members who bore the primary responsibility for raising him.  He is upbeat, too, because he can tell the surgery was successful.  It’s good to see him with a little hope.

End of October 2003

I took Dad to his appointment today with the surgeon (St. Louis).  It was a follow-up to see how he’s doing.  He really should be doing better than he is...

November 2003

Dad is being released after over a week of intense physical therapy (in hospital).  It was agonizing for him.  He is still in so much pain.  The doctors never did do the MRI.  We aren’t sure why...  Dad continues to say it’s like being Job.  Nothing makes sense.  And the only explanation is no explanation…

End of November 2004

Dad had MRI. Massive staph infection. Also a fractured back. No wonder the physical therapy was torture!

December 26, 2003

Stephen (my son) and I went to get groceries today.  I’d thought about stopping by Mom and Dad’s a few minutes afterward, but decided I was too tired and wanted to get home.  On the way home I must have spaced off for a few minutes, because before I knew it, I was headed to their house.  The car just headed there almost of its own volition.  My heart nearly stopped when we arrived.  There was an ambulance in the driveway...  

December 27, 2003

This afternoon, I cleaned the bathtub in the master bath, and I wept. I cried like Dad is already gone. What’s wrong with me? It’s like he’s dead and he’s not – but I know it is as sure as if it has already happened. The lonely feeling that comes with knowing a terrible thing when nobody else knows it – and I want time to just stop. Hold to this moment. My mind says he’s not gone, but my heart won’t even let me be at peace with that consolation because it knows. Why do I know things like this?  I told John – he caught me crying while cleaning out the bathtub. I had to tell him. How else can one explain tears when there is no reason for tears… John admitted that Dad might not make it, but if he dies in four months, or four years, will I say I knew?

December 28, 2003

Tonight, we sat down to watch Seabiscuit.  The phone call came about half way through the movie; I knew immediately that Dad was gone.  I went back to the bedroom and listened for the words.  Karlene (my sister) was on the phone.  “Denise, pick up.” Her voice was terrible, tragic-sounding.  I knew.  “Denise, something terrible has happened,” she said when I told her I was there.  “It’s Dad.  He’s gone.”

I collapsed to the floor and cried, the loss so powerful, so profound I couldn’t imagine how I could speak or breathe or live another minute.  My foreknowledge had prepared John for the call.  He doesn’t understand the “knowing,” but he realizes that it’s real.  He came back to the room immediately, afraid my “knowing” had been right.

We went to the hospital tonight.  His body was lying on the bed, so still, so quiet.

Oh, God, how do I give him to you?  I don’t know how to do this.

The human pain that fills a death room surpasses all human anguish.  It rolls over each one standing there, again and again.  The chasm between here and where Dad has gone is so great, and yet so small.  I can taste it, touch it, sense it.  The space between here and there, it’s filled right now with Dad.  He spans the gap as he rests in the Lord.  It’s in this room as we look at his body, and grieve for the soul we’re losing as each minute pulls us away from him.

And we wonder what it must be like this very second for this one we know so well. And to see him again, how I want it so much, but it will mean death for me, too. And I almost think that would be okay.

December 31, 2003 – New Year’s Eve

We buried Dad today. 

Dad, how can I ever face this year, or the rest of my life for that matter?  You have been a spiritual rock for me, every time I was in doubt.  How will I know if I cannot ask you?  Who will give me answers now that you are gone?  Please remember to give me the Double Portion (like you promised – like Elijah to Elisha).  And let it somehow help me...  I am such a fickle, wayward daughter on my own.

January, 2004

Mom said I could have the rest of Dad’s library. She gave some of his books to the cousins (preachers). They picked out what they wanted. I get the rest. At least three boxes.

Mid-February 2004

I have to find some books by Evelyn Underhill.  I’ve been working on an inspirational book for the terminally ill, to help them overcome their fear of death and her name keeps coming up.*  She was quoted in that series by Susan Howatch.**  Good quotes.

March 2004

I have spent the last few months reading or skimming every book I inherited from Dad. I don’t know what I’m really searching for.  Maybe something Dad wrote in a margin that will help me through this pain....

"Let truth, the light of my heart, speak
to me, and not my own darkness.
I fell away, and I was in the dark,
but even from there, even from there...
I heard your voice behind me,
calling me back..."
This from a book I found in Dad’s library:

From Confessions, St. Augustine
“But the man who knows [all things] is unhappy, and happy is the man who knows you . . .” (94)

April 16, 2004

I began reading Evelyn Underhill’s works.  First The Spiritual Life—it was absolutely wonderful.  And then Concerning the Inner Life with The House of the Soul—and that was interesting, too.

From The Spiritual Life, Evelyn Underhill
Hodder & Stoughton
“It consists in being drawn, at His pace and in His way, to the place where He wants us to be; not the place we fancied for ourselves.”  (39)

I used to want to be a writer. What was I thinking back then? That anyone would want to read my fiction?  Look out Grisham!  Of course that’s what I thought.  And now when I read the stuff I wrote—it’s poop.  And now when I remember my confidence, I want to be a hermit and never show my face.  I need to want what He wants, and not what I fancied for myself.

Early May 2004

From Daily Readings with a Modern Mystic, Evelyn Underhill
Twenty-third Publications
“They never rest in that search for God which they hold to be the fulfillment of their highest duty; yet they seek without any certainty of success.” (40)

End of May 2004

I want more and more to be a contemplative.  If I could find a Quaker church that worshipped like my ancestors, in the prayer of quiet, I would join.  I feel strongly that the contemplative must be grounded in the faith so as not to be an easy target of the enemy who masquerades and deceives.  I don’t want to be the target of my own whims, let alone the target of the enemy’s darts. 

I love the verse in Hebrews that says we are being watched by that “Great Cloud of Witnesses.”  I want to make them cheer. 

June 1, 2004

Just days ago, while reading a book by Evelyn Underhill, I came across the name of St. John of the Cross.  Underhill had a chapter in her book which had the same title of as a book by this saint. The Dark Night of the Soul.  After reading the chapter by Underhill, I found the book by St. John of the Cross.  Secondary sources – never as good as the primary source.

June 2, 2004

My journey for meaning in Dad’s suffering has ended.  Now begins my journey in what I am to do with what I have learned and will continue to learn.

Oh Lord, be clear, clearer than you usually are because I am confused and limited in my understanding.  Am I to do something?  Am I to rest in this contemplative life you’ve given me?  Help me to get out of your way.  I know you don’t need me . . . there are so many others.  But use me; make me usable, if it is your will for me to do more.  Now my journey through phase two begins.  The question is, what now?

Lord, I deserve disgrace.  I deserve shame.  Is it possible that you have decided, instead, to give me a double portion as I asked so long ago?  I was blessed beyond measure to have the father I had.  And now, it seems, you have blessed me by making my loss into something pregnant with eternal meaning and purpose. Still not sure what that will look like before it’s all over.

June 8, 2004

The cheers of the Faithful—if you listen closely, you will hear them. That's what I keep thinking these days.

I will-my-will to faithful service.  I know you may pull back your Presence for your Higher Plan to be fulfilled, but you will never remove your Love.

I will the death of me, my, I, mine, in ever-increasing measure until it is complete, to make room for you and your anointing.

June 11, 2004

From Contemporary Edition of Theologia Germanica, Chapter 45
"Cling with all your might to whatever brings about the new birth and makes you alive in Christ, stick to that and nothing else, and renounce and run from everything that obstructs it."

June 22, 2004

I think I would like to worship you at a daily Mass while still attending the church of my youth (Protestant).  At Beckman High School, I once asked Brother Roger what everybody did in the Mass, when they took their right hand and made a motion in front of their heads, mouth, and chest.  He said it was before the Gospel reading.  That the reading would be in our mind, on our lips, and in our hearts—or something like that.  Some of the things Catholics do are wonderful, pregnant with meaning.

I don’t know why I feel pulled to check out a Catholic service. Guide me, Lord.  Let me make no decision unless you guide me in it.

The Protestant Church has inherent distractions for me.  As a preacher’s kid, I have always been on display, even as an adult.  It is assumed that I will take on prominent roles.  Wouldn’t it be good (spiritually, I mean) to simply be, explore the prayer of quiet, in obscurity?  Maybe the Catholic Church can provide that grounding I need in order to be a contemplative.

June 29, 2004

After talking with Father Larry, I realize the main difference between Protestant and Catholic is what we believe about the Eucharist, the mystery of the Last Supper.  He asked me to consider what I believe about it, to reread the scripture and see if I can say, This is the Body, this is the Blood of my Lord.  If I can say that, I think I should take the class—RCIA.

July 5, 2004

Protestants understand and teach grace and forgiveness—the atonement.  Protestants understand the power of the cross and the resurrected Christ; they understand their position of privilege at the feet of the Almighty God.

They do not explore the call to die, to give all pain, suffering, and sacrifice to God, to identify with Christ in these things.  As unbelievable as it may seem, to carry the idea of suffering all the way to calling it a gift from God.

What does this mean?  That I, at nearly 40 years of age, become Catholic? [If I remember correctly, these thoughts were sparked by a little portion I happened to watch on EWTN - Two priests discussing Purgatory...can't remember the name of that show. I didn't begin watching EWTN until August or September. At this point, it was just something I saw while channel surfing.]

July 14, 2004

Today has been a tremendous frustration.  I was certain God is calling me to become Catholic.  My heart and soul, and even my intellect feel the call.  Old doctrinal obstacles are falling away.  Arguments learned in childhood that would come against Catholic doctrine are gradually being replaced by Biblical arguments for the Church’s doctrinal stance.

Feeling the confidence of the call growing within me, I felt compelled to call my mother-in-law, the first family member outside of my husband to learn what I am considering.  I asked her a few questions and she called her priest.  Then, she called me back with the news.

I am divorced and remarried.  I am not in good standing with the Catholic Church.  Even though I believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, I cannot join the Church.  All I have come to believe—it cannot find fulfillment.

Jesus, I cry out to You.  What can I do now?  I have a deep hunger for the contemplative life, but I need the grounding of the Church to guide me.  I’m sensing new things—the new meaning of the Holy Eucharist and its relationship to the call of suffering.

This is my first prayer to a saint—

Saint John of the Cross,
I beg of you to hear my cry and anguish.  Your words have taught me so much, but what now?  How do I . . . I don’t even know what to ask.  There is a self-imposed anguish because old sin has cut me off and though I have sinned many times deliberately, this was in ignorance.  I ask for a miracle that can make things not only right, but holy.  I long to commune with my Lord at the Supper Table.  Saint John of the Cross, Pray for me.
Lord, hear our prayer.

July 14 –continued in the evening

This is, at times, torment and anguish.  Being stuck, my soul wanting to race forward, head down, full throttle.

The life of a pastor’s child has been one of being in the “in” group.  No holes barred.  I knew the Bible stories better than my Sunday school teachers.  I can write a prayer and deliver it with conviction and sincerity.  I love the Lord.  I’ve known Him since second grade, known Him in deeply personal ways. 

It is humbling to be told “No.”  It is right for me to be told to pause.

Even if I never fit, I will seek You, Lord.  I will study your loved ones’ lives, your holy people, the saints.  And I will learn to be humble.  I will seek You, knowing there is no one in my past who will be impressed.  No place to retreat to, no faith home ready to accept me.  I’ve become nobody.

July 15

I am honored to identify with St. Teresa of Avila—my new best friend.  The Interior Castle - In the introduction, she writes, “Suddenly, near her fortieth year” God descended upon her.  “The next thing she knew . . . sobbing.”  The image of the suffering redeemer “ . . . bringing remorse and longing.”

I turn forty in just four days!

July 28, 2004

Mary Beth Kremski left a message on my answering machine today while I was out.  I’ve written her via the Journey Home Network and they will forward my letter.

Lead me to the right spiritual leader.  Someone with discernment, yet an encourager.  Give me trust that there is nothing I have to do, except what you ask me to do.  I give my life back to You—even if You ask for my final breath.  Help me to say daily that my life is Yours.

August 16, 2004

Mary Beth Kremski wrote me a beautiful letter encouraging me in this journey of faith.  She helped me to understand that I can still enter the Church and receive a spiritual Eucharist, and that I might also want to do this “in reparation for all those who take the Eucharist for granted or don’t even go to Mass.”  That helps me—gives me something to do so that I don’t just sit there and worry what everyone else is thinking.  It turns my weakness into something the Lord can use.

She said she didn’t feel qualified to be my spiritual advisor, but will share what she can to help me along.  She recommended the Catechism or other good Catholic books.  Again, that is something I can do.

October 2004

We are in the new house, and I have begun RCIA classes.  I’m not sure how this will work out….there’s the annulment thing.  Father Stoltz and my RCIA leader, Shawn Mueller, both seem to think that it would bring healing to pursue it.  Not to mention that I can’t join the Church and receive the Lord in the Eucharist if I don’t go ahead with it.

December 12, 2004

In class today Shawn talked about the Immaculate Conception...  I was honest with the class.  I have a hard time with this teaching.
Find the rest of this journal entry and the full story here.

December 22, 2004

I am stunned by the gradual realization I’m having.  Slowly, I am putting together the greatest stories of the Old Testament and the New Covenant of the New Testament. 

February 9, 2005

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

I went to service tonight and was able to go forward to have the Sign of the Cross written on my forehead in ashes.  It is wonderful to be able to go forward, to do something so deliberate to show what I believe, and what I’m coming to believe.  Waiting for the Eucharist is frustrating.  I have never had to wait for much, just took it.  And what I did have to wait for, I worked hard to make it happen.  This is nothing I can do.  I can’t make it happen.  In fact, as humbling as it is, I put all the obstacles in the way.  I did that.

I’m still reduced to tears at every Mass—at the part when we say, “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.  Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.  Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”  All this is being said while the priest is holding up the Holy Eucharist, breaking it again, again, again.  It just brings the full impact down on me, that my Lord was broken for me, my sins did that to him, and he gave me mercy and peace in place of death and separation.

May 5, 2005

St. Louis Review wants to run an article I wrote on coming to a better understanding of the Sacrament of Confession.

May 13, 2005

My first column ran today in St. Louis Review

June 1, 2005

I think another article has been accepted.  The Archdiocese of Dubuque wrote me today in response to a column I submitted to them. 

June 22, 2005

In times like these, I realize that the Lord has no reason to use me for His work.  In truth, He has a work to do in me, more than through me.  That is humbling. 

August 1, 2005

I’m officially ready to be received.  The letter was in the mailbox today.***  I will call Father tomorrow and find out what comes next.  PRAISE GOD!

I think we will have our marriage blessed and go from there.

August 14, 2005

Oh, God, Thou
knowest that
I have never
desired but to love
-St. Therese
My First Holy Communion
Our Lord’s Purity and Holiness just filled me.  It was not me.  It wasn’t even quite like contemplation, and yet it was the purest form of contemplation I’ve ever known.  When I knelt down afterwards, the tears came in a flood.  But it wasn’t about the tears; it wasn’t about a flood of emotion.  It was the I Am.  Pure.  Lost in Him.  There are no words.

I think the best way to describe this morning is to say it helped me to understand what the Holy Spirit did for Mary.  Through Confirmation, I felt confirmed with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, the overshadowing.  Then, when I received The Most Holy Eucharist, He was inside me.  And I was in awe.

Of course, I am a silly, stained creature with a bent toward sinning.  I am not the Blessed Mother.  Even so, it was one more grace in my journey to Mary’s heart.

January 9, 2011

Tomorrow, my conversion story will air on Journey Home on EWTN. As of today, I have been Catholic for 5 ½ years. My joy is greater today, if that is possible. My daughter has entered the Church… My husband is Catholic, too (PRAISE GOD because that was a huge miracle for a life-long Baptist who vowed he would never enter the Catholic Church!).

I am indeed – Catholic by Grace!

*I never finished writing this book. The journey into the Catholic Church eventually took center stage.
**This series of books was recommended to me by an editor at Publisher’s Weekly when I was working on an article on trends in Protestant fiction (1995). The article ran in the United Methodist Reporter and one other paper – the name of which I have long since forgotten.
***This is the day the letter from the Metropolitan Tribunal arrived affirming that I was not bound by my first marriage. This meant I could now enter into full communion with Mother Church and receive the Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion!


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