If you haven’t, go ahead and read Part 1 first!
“Your love is like a shadow on me all the time…” – Bonnie Tyler
Is it wrong to start a blog post with lyrics from “Total Eclipse of the Heart?” Well, if it is wrong, I don’t want to be right. The song is very cheesy, but it’s good. And the above line, it’s just the perfect one for starting part two of my story. God’s love has always been as close as my shadow. It took me so very long to turn around and see it.
When I graduated from college, I had really started to embrace my faith. I was back to attending Mass weekly, and I had even added theology to my studies during my junior year. The last semester of college had been so bittersweet; I was going to really miss The Mount (what we call Mount St. Mary’s MD), and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do post-graduation. I thought about going for another degree, perhaps in Theology. But the truth was, I had grown weary of academia, and was itching to do something “real”.
I’d done three service learning trips during spring and fall breaks at the Mount, so the possibility of doing a year of volunteer service after graduating appealed to me. Two girls who graduated the year before me had gone on to Maggie’s Place and ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education), respectively.
I liked the idea of ACE, so I applied for the program. I also applied for several other programs that were similar, one of which through Loyola University Chicago. LU-CHOICE. As it turned out, I was wait-listed for the ACE program, but accepted into LU-CHOICE and decided to go with the sure thing, rather than wait and hope for a spot in ACE. I was headed to Chicago.
Let’s pause there, while I tell you something about me. I grew up in a small town, a small, small town. We got a McDonald’s when I was in high school, and it was a huge deal. I’m not even kidding. Then I went to a college that was the same size as my high school, and which was located in a town whose population declined by half when the 1,200 or so students from The Mount went home for the summer. I went from that to Chicago. Not just Chicago, the south-side of Chicago. You might be able to see where this is going, and add a “rut-roh” for effect. I, on the other hand, was about as ready for what was about to happen as those gents on board just prior to The Perfect Storm.
I graduated in May, moved to Chicago one month later. I’d live on the Loyola campus for the summer, have 8 weeks of training on how to be a teacher, and then be put in charge of my very own 6th grade classroom in a under-resourced Catholic school on the south-side. I spent the summer trying desperately to learn how to be a teacher, and not even beginning to realize what I was in for.
You might be wondering what this has to do with my faith story: bear with me please, you’ll find out why it’s important.
Spiritually, Loyola was a different world from The Mount. What was I supposed to think when I went to daily Mass my first week there and a woman read the Gospel and gave the homily? I was so confused, I actually thought about leaving, but I didn’t want to be rude. The Mount was the first Catholic school I had ever attended (I was public K-12), so I just figured all Catholic schools were basically the same. Not so my friends, not so.
Since I had added theology as part of my studies, I had learned a lot about my faith and the Church. I knew a lot about God’s love and grace, and all about the importance of the sacraments and prayer.
In French, there are two different verbs for “to know” – one means to know in the factual sense, “I *know* that the sky is blue.”, the other means to know in the intimate, real sense, “I *know* Paul well.” One could say that I *knew* all about God’s love and grace, but I did not *know* it.
Or, to put it another way: I knew all about God, but I still didn’t know God all that well.
I’m floundering about how to put this, but I was just so unsure. I wanted to trust that God loved me and wanted the best for me, but I did not know if I could. I went to Mass every Sunday, I prayed somewhat frequently, but it was as though I was blocked. I could not get past this feeling that if I let God into every area of my life, I would end up old, alone, and unloved. That somehow if I relinquished control, then I would never find the love that I wanted. I was afraid to believe that God could love me enough to give me something truly good.
All of this was going on throughout the summer, and into the fall, when school began. When I started teaching, I didn’t give much time to prayer, and I even slowly stopped going to Mass. I lived in a house with four other people who were teachers in my program, and weekly community prayer was supposed to be one of the things we did together, in order to support each other. Only myself and one other girl were interested, so after a while with no one else wanting to participate, we just stopped doing it.
Teaching was a million times harder and more draining than I thought it could ever be, for so, so many reasons, that really it deserves its own post. Most weeks by the time Friday came around, all I wanted to do was spend the weekend in bed watching tv. Mass and prayer were one of the first things to go.
That fall and winter, I was in a dark place. I hated my job, realizing as each day passed just how much I was not cut out to be a classroom teacher. I hated my boss and her passive-agressive, non-existent, “leadership style”. I never really meshed with most of my roommates. I was basically small, alone, and miserable in a cold city of 3 million people.
After coming back from Christmas break, I hoped things would be better. They weren’t really. Then they got a lot worse. That February, I’d had enough. I didn’t even know myself anymore, did not like the person I was becoming, the person I had to be to survive the day in that school. I did not want to quit, because it was the first time I was ever truly on my own, and I wanted to prove I could do it. Thing was, I could not do it. I was drowning, and I can remember the exact moment that God rescued me from myself.
I was sitting in my room in our crappy apartment. My room was just off the kitchen, it had probably been the maid’s room once upon a time. The apartment got broken into while we were all home the first week we lived there. One time, we saw a rat climb out of an electrical socket in the kitchen. Then there was the time we found the drunk homeless man passed out in the laundry room because the back gate lock never got fixed. It was a hell-hole.
There I was, sitting in my apartment with the bars on the windows (installed after the break-in), on the floor of my room, thinking about what to write for my suicide note, when I was stopped dead in my tracks. I could literally feel God’s presence in that shoebox of a room; He lifted me up in His arms and said, “Don’t you dare! Don’t even think about it! You have a whole lifetime of work left to do for me, and I am not going to let you throw it away over this.”
I cried so hard, the sobs shook my body. I thought to myself then, “What am I doing?” About one month later, in a turn of events both frustrating and absurd, I quit teaching. I was terrified, but I was free.
During that night on the floor in my apartment, something else happened. Yes, God set me free to recognize how much of a gift this life is. But He also finally broke through my walls. The ones that kept me from believing that He really does, always and everywhere, will only to give us love and goodness. He never wills us pain and suffering; He allows it, but He never wills it.
I always thought, in the end, that in order to have God’s love, I would need to be someone else. Someone who did not make my mistakes, and did not have my hard heart. I always feared that in order to have love in any real way, I’d have to go out and snatch it for myself, because God would not ever give it to such as myself. That night, I felt for the first time the truth that I had always had God’s love. That God’s love was the reason my heart continued to beat, and my legs continued to work. God’s love was the reason I was alive. I didn’t have to do a thing to earn it; all I had to do was accept it. I started to know God in a way I’d had glimpses of in the past, but had never grasped until that moment. It was dramatic, but it was real. It changed everything.
I made a vow that night, one which I thought and prayed about over the following days. One that I had made before, which I knew now I would keep. Despite my past mistakes, I vowed to God that the next man I would be intimate with would be my husband. And even if God saw fit for me to never marry, then I would keep that vow all my life. I had let the pursuit of earthly love, and the fear of being alone, keep me from pursuing the Love of my life. The Lover of my soul. I would never make that mistake again. I didn’t.
Two weeks later, I met Atticus. And that’s a story for another time.