Growing up I was raised in the Catholic Church. I don’t identify as Catholic anymore. If I’m honest, I still feel uncomfortable in a Catholic Church. It still feels like an awful lot of rules and not enough love in a very expensive building.
I am a Christian, and I do love Jesus.
I remember every Sunday my family and I would rush around, putting on our “Sunday Best” before heading out the door for church. This meant putting on a dress, and trying not to flash my underwear when I chased after my two older brothers.
To me, Sunday Mass meant a lot of sitting, standing, kneeling, singing out of tune, shaking hands with strangers and communion. Communion, that was the best part because I was so happy to get out of my seat and eat something.
When I got older I remember talking with friends about how I found God outside of a building more than inside of one. The church was about a place, not God’s people back then.
It was what it was. A part of our weekend. My parents did say grace before dinner every night. And they encouraged us to say our bedtime prayers (prayers that hung cross stitched above our beds by my Granny). That was mostly it until we got to high school.
I know my Mom prayed, I don’t think I ever asked my Dad if he did. He did always say a beautiful Thanksgiving Day grace though.
In high school my middle brother and I joined the Youth Group, and my Mom joined along with us. It annoyed me at the time. And I definitely let her know it in my bratty teenage ways. I know now that she was being a good Mom. But not then, I wanted my “space”. I used to tell her that she “already went to high school” and “why couldn’t she just let me do my own thing”?
See, teenage brat.
Really, she was making sure we were okay, getting to know our friends, and being a mom to the youth group kids who needed her- not only my brother and me. Many of the kids called her “Mom” too, and she loved them all as if they were her own. She was so good at that.
Our weekly church schedule throughout the four years was full. Sunday was for church, and fundraising. We sold donuts and hosted car washes (where my friends and I flirted with boys more than we washed cars). Wednesday was Youth Group night. We would spend the night playing games, talking about what it meant to be a Christian, and if we were lucky, it would be someone’s birthday. Birthday cake always meant a huge food fight. Fridays and Saturdays were nightly activities as a group, typically hosted at our house by my Mom.
I had a great time in my four years there. I forged lifelong friendships. I learned a lot from youth group. I learned how to treat people. How to serve the community. I learned how to be empathetic and compassionate, but not too much about the Gospel.
Every time I went to my youth pastor with something I was struggling with he would say, “Heather, pray about it.” It never was enough for me, I wanted real answers. To be honest, I used to think that “Pray about it” was such a cop-out.
I didn’t get it.
And while we were all building our lives at church, my Dad’s job took him away often. Very often. He was working hard to provide for our family. We struggled to give him the familiar family life he was used to, and needed, because we were busy. And we were teenagers.
I have a 13 year old. We are beginning those teen years, and he doesn’t think his parents are awesome right now. His friends are awesome to him, and that’s who he wants to spend time with.
I get it now, as a parent.
Fast forward to college.
Oh college… how that whole season of life rocked and shattered my sheltered, comfy little world.
I was the baby of the family. The year I went to college my parents became empty-nesters. And that’s when it happened, as it does to many families.
That year on Christmas Eve my brother and I talked about how “Dad and Mom have been acting weird.” and how “They are probably going to tell us they are moving to Germany or something.”
That thought made sense because we’d moved around the world before. And our family had been in Miami for longer than we’d been anywhere. It felt like it was time for a move. Made sense.
It also made sense because we never saw our parents fight, ever.
I had only seen my Dad lose his shit twice in my life at that point.
And so, our parents gave us one last Christmas together as the family we knew. I saw that it was an emotional day for my Mom, but I didn’t understand why.
The next day they called us into their room, sat us down and my Dad told us the news. He was leaving.
To this day I remember so many details about everything in the room. I remember the way the room felt. It was heavy, but so bright and cozy. The sun was shining in from outside, filling the room, but all the lamps were on and it seemed dark. Nothing fit. Here I was, with people I knew and loved, in a room with so many memories, and nothing fit. The things they told us weren’t making sense. No one looked like themselves. Writing this now, I wonder what I looked like in that moment. Could they see my heart breaking? I could see theirs.
I remember trying to “fix” anything I could. When the comment was made that, “we won’t be a family anymore,” I quickly said, “We will. We will just be a different family.”
All I knew of divorced families was what you saw on TV back then. I don’t think I could tell you five friends who had divorced parents at the time.
I had no idea what I was talking about. I know now that I was right. But in that moment, it was all just hope.
I also remember wanting to run. Run out of the house, get in my car and drive. I wanted to be anywhere but in their room listening to my home fall apart.
There were many tears and thoughts that were voiced there in that room where all five of our hearts broke that day.
That day was easy on no one. All our hearts were changed. Wounded. Broken.
There was so much hard stuff coming our way, but also, some great, unexpected things. At least that’s what I can see when I look back at it. I can see both now. It’s harder to see anything when you’re in it.
Eventually news of my parents divorce spread to the church and my Mom was asked not to return to youth group.
She said goodbye to her husband, the family she’d raised, and then was forced to leave her church.
Where was God in all this?! Why wasn’t he protecting her?!
And so, I walked away from the church. I walked away from religion. I walked away from anything that looked like a shell of anything I once knew. I declared that Jesus was nothing more than a man, and while I was sorry for the way he was crucified He was no savior of mine. I walked away with a heavy, grieving, very angry heart.
After all, the church, His church, threw my Mom out when she needed her savior the most.
My Mom stepped away from church for a short time. Eventually, she found a different church, and went back to mass on Sundays. How did she go back so fast?
I didn’t get it.
I became someone who called herself “spiritual”, but not religious. Because I knew that spirituality had never failed me before. Feeling as though I was connected to something bigger than myself, had never failed me before. But religion had. I knew I felt connected to something, and I knew that wasn’t Jesus.
There was a void and I wanted to fill it. I became a Reiki Healer. I had a spiritual mentor, who was a Reiki Master. I learned how to read tarot cards when we lived in a rainforest in Australia (which I am certain I be another story for another time). I trekked far from the church, and didn’t look back for a long time, because I was hurt and I just didn’t get it.
I didn’t get how the church could kick my mother out when she did so much to care for so many.
What about “deeds?” I knew I had heard about them somewhere in the Bible, though, at the time I couldn’t tell you where. Hadn’t she done enough good “deeds” to outweigh an unwanted divorce?
I didn’t get how she could go back to the church, it didn’t make sense.
But, I get it now, I understand how.
She hadn’t placed her faith in the people of the church, like I had. All those people who failed her, they didn’t matter. Her faith was in God, in Jesus.
The church is made up of broken people who fail. Daily. Just like me. No matter how much we try, we will never be perfect. We will alway hurt someone even when we don’t want or even try to. But, there, in that mess, that’s where we need our God.
What I know now, of the scriptures, and of my God, my Jesus, I know that He would never have pushed my Mom out the door. He would have sat with her at the table. He would have washed her feet. He would have dried her tears. He would have reminded her that she has never been unloved by Him, divorce or not. He would have given her a safe place to experience and struggle with those new events in her life.
I didn’t get it then. She did. It took me a long time, but now, I get it. I see it.
I see the way He loves and how He wants us to love.
My journey back to Jesus, was a long one, and I know I’ll tell those chapters in other posts, but this, this is about my walk away from Him.
I did return, and now, I do as my youth pastor told to do me all those years ago. I pray. I still pray for my heart to forgive the people who have wronged my Mom, my family. I pray for those individual people too. It’s hard, it’s unpopular, but I pray.
It still stings to put it down in writing, and share the hard parts with the world. But, I know it’s a piece of me that is begging to be shared. God has put it on my heart to share it. There is so, so much more to the story. But we’ll get there.
I understand how the people in the church can do so much harm when they think they are doing God’s will. If you were hurt by the church, I see you. I understand your pain. You’re safe here.
I love my church now, I find God there. I crave Sunday mornings because I find God there. I find Him through prayer, the Word, worship AND the people. But my faith is not IN the people. It is in Jesus.
My honest hope is that my vulnerability will help you feel connected. And one day, we’ll celebrate a piece of this beautiful life together.