This family of mine, we’ve gotten used to some pretty small spaces the past couple of years.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know.
I’m comfy with tight quarters. I know how to make them work, how to use realtor speak (“cozy” instead of “cramped”), and how to eek out another inch of room in a cabinet.
There is always room to make space for what you love.
I didn’t always feel that way, though.
It’s so easy when you’re young to keep unpopular feelings, thoughts, emotions to yourself, especially when they are about Jesus. Sometimes, you think, it’s best to just not make room for them.
And then they leave altogether.
Growing up in the Serbian Orthodox Church, it was easy to feel detached when going to church. The service was:
- the Divine Liturgy, meaning it was the same each Sunday (except for a couple of readings and the Priest’s sermon).
- two hours long,
- mostly spent standing, so you’re thinking about how not to pass out…”I can’t remember, should I bend my knees or lock my knees”….
- in another language.
So there it was. A really long service, spent standing up, in Serbian. It’s tough for a ten-year-old to connect with God when she’s distracted by the clouds of incense floating from behind the altar doors. And since I was a girl, I would never get to see what was behind the altar doors – except for the rare glimpse of my brother, the altar boy, carrying the cross behind the priest.
Even though I couldn’t understand what was going on, I could feel God there. I could feel something. Sometimes, I thought it was my Babi standing by me, who passed away when I was three. Sometimes, I thought it was Mary, the only girl I saw on the stained glass windows, looking down at me with her soft, comforting face, the only one who looked like me. Sometimes, I thought it was Jesus.
And that was enough. Enough for me to believe.
Then I grew. The college years, into young adulthood. Most of the free time in between studying and working out and deciding whether or not to go to Breakfast of Champions at the frat house next door before the football game – did not leave much time or space for thinking about God.
On top of all of this, I was seeing more and reading more and feeling more that pushed me further away from Christianity.
The Christian preacher on IU’s campus, standing by Woodburn Hall, that would tell me I was most likely going to hell on my walk from English to History class.
Reading stories in the newspaper of bigotry and exclusivity in the name of Jesus and religion.
Being told that the form of Christianity I was raised in wasn’t the right one and that I should switch and quickly so that I would be saved.
I did want to be saved. From everything and everyone that had anything to do with the above.
Jesus and I broke up.
A few factors really had my back in this break-up, all of them being unknowing supporters:
- the only church I felt comfortable attending was home in South Bend, 200 miles away, and
- every news outlet that painted Christians as extremist, close-minded homophobes.
- a run-in with a pretty hurtful person who did this hurtful thing in the name of Jesus.
There was no space for it in my life.
Life went on. I graduated from college, I got married, I birthed two beautiful daughters.
I know now there were glimpses of God in my life during that time – seeing my mother pray at the kitchen counter when she thought no one was watching, a relative healed from illness and, of course, the birth of my daughters – that now stand out. But that painful interaction in the past with a Christian backdrop, prevented me from mixing any emotional, love-filled event in my life with anything that had to do with God.
To help, daily life was so busy, so full of adulthood details, that the small magical parts where God presented himself became invisible.
Then the magical became real.
Joe and I had a house to sell. Maddie was a baby and we decided an apartment complex that doubled as an illegal drug dispensary was not the best backyard backdrop.
We listed the house with no luck. Three months it sat on the market with very little action until it dwindled to no showings in three weeks.
A friend suggested something that worked for her brother – buy a statue of St. Joseph and bury it upside down in your yard. Your house is guaranteed to sell.
As crazy as it sounded was about as desperate as Joe and I were. So off I went to find a St. Joseph statue.
I stopped by the local Catholic church, who did not have any St. Joseph statues, but they thought the new Catholic retreat center west of town might. So that way I went.
I admit I felt slightly different the moment I pulled onto the property of the retreat center. I honestly don’t know what other word to use besides ‘different’ other than maybe ‘peaceful’. I saw the chapel first, so I parked and walked in. The door was open, I peaked in, and did not see a book store or gift shop but something drew me inside. I walked in, walked half way up the aisle and sat down in the pew to the right. I sat there, in silence, unsure why I was there and what I was doing sitting in this church by myself. As I stood to leave, a wave of emotion came over me. To this day, I don’t know how to describe it. But anything I was worried about or concerned with in the moment was gone. Just peace.
I left the chapel and saw another building down the hill, so I walked down and went inside. It was the bookstore this time, and there was a nun behind the counter. She asked how she could help and I said, “I am looking for a statue of St. Joseph.” She looked at me with the most peaceful eyes and a pause that seemed to take forever and said, “Child, why are you really here?”
With that, I completely broke down.
I sat on the closest chair I could find. She came and sat beside me and put her arms around me. I cried, and I let go.
I let go of the hurt.
I let go of all of the reasons and excuses I had kept Him out of my life for so long.
I cried for trying to do it all on my own.
And the space opened up again. And His love came back in.
I drove away that day with a St. Joseph. But more importantly, I drove away with my faith restored.
A couple of weeks later, I drove to South Bend with my baby daughters to visit my mom and dad. That Sunday morning, we went to church. And I felt like I was ten again, looking up at Mary. And she looked back down at me like I was always there. She knew I would be back. She did not forget.