Posted Story #8
I'm not sure where to begin. When I received your request I felt excited and hesitant all at the same time. I was excited because I thought this would be an opportunity for me to share with someone the many incredible gifts that I have received through my faith in God. Yet I was hesitant - could I possibly find the right words to explain how blessed I feel because of the faith God has given me? Could I really be able to articulate what I feel so deep within my heart? My faith is rooted so strongly in my being. It is what brings me life as does every breath I take.
I don't remember the exact moment God gave me this beautiful gift of faith. I do know that it was nurtured within my family. I have various childhood memories of myself praying, talking to God, desiring to be in relationship with God. I heard my parents say "gracias a Dios" (Thanks be to God) everyday. They said it at the beginning and end of each day, before each meal, when we got home from school. They said it so many times. I learned to be grateful to God as well, for everything. This is a very integral part of my faith. There are so many moments in each day where I express my thanks to God. I feel blessed for each day of life he gives me and for the many beautiful signs of His love that each day brings.
My faith was also nurtured through the Eucharist. Growing up we always went to Mass on Sunday. Being at Mass and receiving communion taught me so much about God. The Liturgy of the Word helped me understand the wonderful things God has done for us and continues to do for us. The Liturgy of the Eucharist showed me God's incredible love through Jesus' death and resurrection. And receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus at communion transformed my understanding of who I am. It taught me about my own goodness and holiness. How could God want to give himself to me if I was not good? I knew I was not perfect or completely holy so why didn't God mind? I learned that God didn't mind because he loves me for who I am. I learned that God doesn't expect me to be perfect, but wants me to do the best that I can. I learned that I am special in God's eyes and loved by Him.
I have always felt God's love. I have always sensed it, known it, and believed it. And I have felt it stronger than ever when I was in deep pain, during moments of deep suffering. It's ironic, you would think that those moments of suffering would have made me feel abandoned, betrayed by God, for allowing pain to enter my life. But it never felt that way. It is during those moments when I felt God at my side, giving me strength, unconditionally loving me and carrying me through it all. That is one of the gifts of faith - knowing that you are never alone. The faith that He has blessed me with tells me that he is always at my side. It is one of the reasons I like moments of quiet; I don't mind the silence at all. I absorb the quiet, listen to God, concentrate on His presence in my life. I know God is with me; not because I am an extraordinary person but because He created me and loves me.
My faith in God's presence also helps me to trust Him. I know that everything that happens in my life has a purpose. I try to understand the reasons things happen through prayer. I can't always figure it out - that's where the trust comes in. My faith helps me make the best out of bad things and appreciate the good things. My faith in heaven helps me in this area as well. I know things can't be perfect here on earth but they will be in heaven. I know that I can't have everything here on earth and that that's a good thing. I don't need everything. I know that in heaven everything will be perfect and I will be able to see why things happened the way they did in my life. I also know that I will be reunited with my loved ones that went before me. I know that many wonderful things will happen when I die. I get glimpses of heaven every day when my daughters make me laugh, when my husband hugs me, when I see the beautiful sun or moon. The moments of joy I receive each day makes it easier to get through the tough times. And during difficult times I always think, "this too shall pass" and I "wait in joyful hope".
The trust I have in God also helps me to live in the present. I live in today. I focus my thoughts and energy on the Now. I try to pay attention to everything that is happening in each moment of the day. I feel my life is fuller, more alive when I strive to live each day as best as I can. I take time out each day to express my love to my husband and my daughters. I try to choose wisely how I spend my time each day. I pick people over tasks because I care very much about those around me. I know that I am called to be a loving person, a person of service. And I want to spend my time serving not because I "have to" but because it is what comes most naturally to me, it is what gives me the greatest joy. It is how I can best thank God for the blessings I have received through my faith.
Another aspect of my spiritual life which is very important to me is my love for the Blessed Mother. I went to school with the Salesian Sisters. They nurtured my relationship to Mary. I pray to Mary every day even more so now that I am a mother. I ask her to give me wisdom to make the right decisions for my family. I ask her to watch over us and help us grow closer to God. She inspires me, guides me and gives me strength to always say yes to God. She is my role model, as a mother, wife and woman in the church.
There are many examples in my life where I have seen my faith alive. I know that God has blessed me and I feel very fortunate. I have been around people who don't have this and it saddens me tremendously. I thank God every day for putting himself in my heart and for making me conscious of His presence in my life. I express my gratitude to God by sharing this faith with every one around me, by pointing Him out to people who might not see him so clearly. I share my joy with others and let them know that the source of my joy is God. I am nothing without God.
Posted Story #7
Growing up I lived around the corner from my maternal grandparents. Both my Grandma and my Grandpa were of Italian descent. Love was shown freely in the form of hugs, kisses, food and it was always spoken. You never entered without a kiss and an ' I love you' and you never left without the same and a full stomach. My Grandma died when I was 17 and my Grandpa joined her in heaven when I was 21. My Grandfather was a very tall and big man. He had very large hands, the kind that when I held his mine seemed to disappear inside of them. When he would pick me up I felt completely safe and loved. My Grandfather was a big man but he was a very quiet man. I have no memories of him yelling or even raising his voice. He was very even tempered and calm. He took everything in stride and never seemed to question any of the bad things that occurred during his life.
He was a deeply religious man. He prayed everyday, said the rosary everyday, went to church every Sunday and during the week whenever he could. I remember all of the statues he had on the hutch in his dining room and the candles he would light everyday in front of them. I remember a beautiful picture of Jesus that he had hanging directly across from his chair by the front window. He would sit at that chair and say his rosary as people would pass by the house and yell hello to him at the window.
My Grandfather loved me and taught me many things but I have no memories of long lectures about religion and God. Instead I remember quiet times sitting at the window with him or playing with my dolls near him and listening to him pray, hearing him talk to God. He would pray and talk to God as if he were sitting in the chair across from him and as if he were an old friend. Someone with whom he was just so extremely comfortable with. Tough things happened in my Grandfathers life, my Grandmother died of cancer and it was a long and painful battle. After she died he stayed in their home with his dog. My Grandfather never complained about anything. It was as if he knew that ultimately in the end God would take care of everything. That no matter how bad things seemed or how bad things got he knew that he should leave it all in God's hands.
I feel that my faith is the result of my Grandfather's influence on my life. What does faith do for me? I truly believe that everything will be all right. That despite hardships or challenges, God truly has given me what is important in life, and that he will continue to take care of me. I try to be like my Grandfather, calm and take things in stride. I try to allow myself to have that quiet, comforting confidence in God that will allow me to believe deeply that God will take care of everything.
Sometimes I think that some people view me as lazy or naive due to my beliefs. That sometimes I 'let' things happen instead of making them happen. I'd like to think that it's faith that lets me 'let' things happen. I'd like to think that it is my faith in God, that he knows what is best, and that he will do what is right for me at that particular time. What would life be like without my faith? Scary, plain and simple, scary. I believe that God has certain things planned for me and that helps me get through the tough times that may arise during my life. Taking my faith away would be like taking my safety net away. Having faith allows me to know that even if I stumble and fall, God will be there to catch me, help me back up and help set me on my way again.
I take care of my faith by going to church every Saturday/Sunday, by praying every night and by talking to God in the same way that my Grandfather did. Talking to him as if he is always available and willing to listen. I try to make my faith grow by sharing it with my children. I try to show them the same faith my Grandfather showed me. Not in the form of big lectures or lessons about God but in my actions and words everyday. I hope that I can give to my children what my Grandfather gave to me. A quiet, comfortable feeling that God is always there. That he will always help you, always love you. That he will always take care of you and all you have to do is talk to him, believe in him and have faith.
Posted Story #6
I want to thank you for sharing the story of your spiritual journey and also those of some of your acquaintances. I would like to share mine with you because it is my hope that in doing so I will increase my awareness of mine, and, that my story may assist others in their own journey.
I was born into a family that practiced faith, but did not talk much about it. I have faith because all of the significant persons in my young life were persons of faith. I was the oldest of three children. My parents were good people and I never doubted that they loved me and my sister and brother and that they wanted the best for each of us. My mother's mother lived with us. Since I was the oldest I was told that I had to be a good example. My parents were mostly strict with me and I mostly measured up by fulfilling their expectations of me. However, I did have my moments of doing otherwise. I liked to learn, go to school, have fun, have friends, go to Church, and learn about God. I had this idea that if I were good everything would be all right.
As a teenager I was mostly busy with going to school, participating in after-school activities, babysitting, and doing things with my friends. I was active in my church youth group. Attending church each Sunday, and even weekdays, was an important part of my life. Pleasing God and staying out of trouble were important. In retrospect, I realize that there was a cloud of fear that kept me from getting involved in drinking or relationships that might have been a bad influence on me. Being good and doing good were my understanding of what God expected of me. As a result of all this "doing" I now realize that I did not grow up with a strong sense of myself, nor a clear idea of why things were right and wrong other than that's what I had been told.
I went to college and became a teacher. I didn't give it a lot of thought. I was the type of person who basically went along with the way things were. I wanted to help others and teaching seemed a good way. I had an ability to accept and appreciate people for who they were, I wanted to make a difference, and I also thought this was what God wanted me to do. I was mostly happy go-lucky and idealistic. However, somehow I never realized that struggle was a part of life - the struggle to figure out what I really believed and why, the struggle to get along with those who were different from me, or did not see things my way, the struggle to define myself and who I wanted to become. My first principal was a person who did not have any patience with me. However, I was fortunate to with someone who was a good English teacher who took me under her wing. With her guidance I was able to get my feet on the ground and become a good teacher.
At this point in my life I became aware that my faith was not grounded primarily in my church or my religion, but, rather in my personal relationship with God. I suppose at this time I was growing up. I began to question a lot of things: Why did bad things happen to good people? Did God really know or care about what was going on? Who is Jesus Christ? I was part of discussions where I was surprised by what others believed and also by how they chose to live. I wrestled with these questions and I can honestly say anguished over some. One morning I woke up and I knew I believed because to do otherwise did not make sense. I realized that if this were so, I wanted to have contact with God and be influenced by God, and, so I decided that I wanted each day to begin and end with prayer. I can honestly say that from that day on personal prayer has started every day and ended most. I felt new energy, purpose and adventure. I realized that faith was important to me, and, I realized that it was the best gift of my life. I wanted to share my faith, and realized that I had the desire to live and work in South America. I took advantage of opportunities that I had to learn, travel, and live there. I was sure that I would make a difference and make the world better as a result.
However, living and working in another country was quite a challenge. After a time there seemed to be no common vision or mission. This presented me with the challenge to think about what I was doing and why I was doing it. Actually, I never had the leisure to truly consider these questions when faced with the daily necessities of living and working. Relationship problems developed. I was not secure in what I thought and so I took sides with what and who sounded good to me. This created more problems for me. Finally I was asked to return home. I felt that I had no choice but to do so. After four years of living and working in South America I returned home to the United States.
The next several years were the most difficult I ever faced. My father had died. I had changed and been changed by my experiences. I had expected a new world when I went to South America. What I did not expect was that the world I returned to, my family and friends, had also grown and changed. They had gone on quite well without me. I did not know where to go or what to do. I was fortunate that the teaching position I had left when I went to South America was open. Without much thought I accepted it. I did my best to adjust, but I did not know peace, joy or purpose. On the contrary just getting through each day was a chore. I accepted the recommendation from a colleague of mine, and the agreement of those who knew me best, to see a counselor. At the time I felt like a failure, not only in my mission, but also more significantly in myself. However, the decision to see a counselor enabled me to begin a long, slow, sure process of self-discovery and eventual growth.
During this time I also met Fr. Mike. I found him easy to talk with. I was able to express my feelings and concerns with him. He asked me good questions, and was kind, patient, and challenged me. One of the first things he explained to me was that a lot of energy goes into teaching. Rest was essential. I had never given thought to this before, yet I realized that he was onto something which made sense to me and was something that with some thought I could do something about. Next, he guided me to see the importance of having some time every day in which I could do what I enjoy and would look forward to doing. He reminded me of the importance of getting enough rest each night. After that he shared with me the importance of "Loving the Year", noticing and appreciating the change of seasons and the value of keeping holy days and holidays. He shared some ways that he did this. I could feel myself relaxing as I listened and I knew this was something I wanted to do that would definitely enrich my life.
I believe that I am at a significantly different place now in my journey of faith. I realize that struggle is an important part of becoming the person I want to be, and that although my struggle is unique so is that of every other person. In my previous insecurity I wanted to be the center of attention, be right, and see things done my way. Now I realize that my job is to continue to do my best. It is important to think, pray, reflect, and then let go, so that God's plan can be worked out where ever I am. I want to live well, grow, and love deeply. Thank you Theophilus, for inviting me to share my journey with you. I hope that you and I will be friends.
Posted Story #5
My journey to faith began when I was a child. My family (parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles) showed us the way by their example. Church was always a part of our Sunday. Lenten practices, Advent wreaths, etc. reminded us of the true meaning of the special holidays. My grandmother attended daily Mass at 6AM. What an incredible impression she made on me! I lost her at the age of 10, but her influence on my faith journey continues.
Having attended Catholic elementary and high schools, I was fortunate to have religion lessons every day. Knowing the history of our religion brought a deeper understanding of "the rules". Each Lent season I would give up something, but I also did something: volunteered to help where I was needed, prayed the rosary daily, attended daily Mass (6:30 AM before going to school). I can remember feeling "close to God", but only when I was in Church.
As an adult I started to pray the rosary daily and attended daily Mass as often as possible. While raising my children I could only attend daily Mass during Lent (as an extreme sacrifice because of my r-sonsibilities as a wife and mother). When the kids were grown I made it my business to get back to daily Mass. The rosary has been part of my morning prayers for most of my life.
Faith has sustained me during the most difficult times: the death of close friends and family members; caring for an elderly parent, while raising small children of my own; my husband's illnesses; sending my children off to college (letting go); my own battle with cancer; looking at death in the eyes of an angry man pointing a gun at me; supporting family members and friends during their most difficult times.
All of the above can be the story of many faith-filled persons; however, my true faith experience happened about 7 years ago. While attending daily Mass, I was overcome with a feeling of happiness. The only way to describe it was that I felt as though I were being lifted up in the air and I was surrounded by great light. I didn't see a light; I just felt it. After that nothing was the same. I saw every person as part of God's Kingdom. I felt a love that was like no other. I thought I had faith before this, but know that it was minute in comparison. On another occasion, during the liturgy of the Eucharist, I closed my eyes and felt the presence of many others all around me and the altar. They were all the people that I loved who had died. The only thing that I could think of was "the communion of saints" and I understood what it meant.
With this new depth in faith I was ready to face anything. All of a sudden I started to feel bombarded with thoughts that I shouldn't be having; thoughts that would lead me to sin. I silently "screamed" for help and God heard and answered me. This continued for well over a year. The battle continues but my faith sustains me. It is not an easy road to follow, the road to God. It seems that the stronger our faith, the more Satan tries to tear it away from us, sometimes in little things and sometimes in showers of trials, one right after another. Faith always wins for me. God is always there to help me through. I cannot imagine a life without faith. I see people every day who need it and don't know how to get it and I feel sorry for them, but I also pray for them. By helping them through physical and emotional difficulties first I can usually gain their trust. When they ask, "how do you do it?" I answer, "Only by faith". I try to direct them to a person or place (church) where they will feel comfortable and let God take it from there. If they ask me about my personal journey I tell them. Sometimes they don't ask, but I tell them anyway (I let God direct me).
Death of a loved one is the hardest thing to handle in this world. I believe that just as God is always with us, though we can't see Him, so are our loved ones. They are here in spirit, while enjoying their eternal reward. I don't know how but I do know it to be true. My dad passed away recently and one night at Mass, while praying during the Consecration, I closed my eyes and saw him standing beside Jesus and smiling at me. I didn't know why that happened or if it was just my "wishful thinking". I decided to tell my mom about it and she said that it was an answer to her prayer. She had been praying that Jesus would take Dad by the hand and take care of him for her until she gets there.
When I was young I would pray that God would take me first. I could not imagine living in this world after the loss of a loved one: Mom, Dad, or any of my siblings. When I was diagnosed with cancer, my thoughts changed. I knew that I would survive and was glad of it. There was still work for me to do here. My husband and children (adults now) still needed me to help them arrive at the faith that awaits them. Our lives here on earth are not meant to be lived for ourselves. We all interact with one another to form the Kingdom. We each have a different role to play in the Kingdom and we influence each other in finding that role. Only when our work is completed here will we go to God. When Dad died, I was ready and I knew that he was ready. This realization comes only from faith.
My journey in faith continues and will continue until the day that I enter eternity. I still have many questions and trials to bear. Daily Mass and rosary are two of the things that carry me along on this journey. Being with people and seeing them through eyes of love (not always "like"), helps me to feel the presence of God and His Kingdom. I believe that love is the key to the Kingdom. Feeling love in all situations is feeling the presence of God. I still have a long way to go and welcome the growth in faith that will come along the way.
Posted Story #4
I have decided to answer your letter by answering your questions. I hope this will give you the information you are looking for.
Was your faith the result of a discovery or change of mind?
God's presence has involved both discovery and change of mind in my life. I can recall climbing a tall pine tree at a very young age on a lovely windy day and feeling very close to God as the Person who moved the tree in the breeze. That memory has stayed with me all of my life. I recall marveling at all of the branches around me moving in symphony with the wind and feeling very glad to be one with all things living. I was deeply grateful for the gift of life, for my chance to stand on the earth and go on the journey of life. There have been countless moments of breezes since then which have gone unnoticed. For some reason on that particular day, at that particular moment I "noticed" what has always been around me, God's loving, life-giving presence.
I have found God's presence to involve a "stretching" that takes me beyond previously set boundaries and often involves a change of mindset. It seems that all I can do each day is to attempt to set my course in a direction where I might encounter God. In doing so I find that I am led down pathways that are sometimes different than my original navigational plan. I am sometimes intimidated by these pathways and doubt that I can traverse the terrain. Gradually I am starting to learn that God's grace will be with me and to try to trust that I will have what's needed in the situations that come my way. Examples of this "stretching" are imbedded in job changes, family crises, and the ongoing adjustment of my perspectives and priorities in life.
Was it the product of some sort of suffering?
Suffering has certainly been involved in the cultivation of my faith. When I was two years old my older brother was killed by a snowplow and this had an enormous long range impact on the family environment in which I grew, including my mother's lifelong struggle with alcoholism. I believe that the paschal mystery has been more meaningful to me because of whatever measure of suffering I might have known that it might have been otherwise. The mystery of the cross and resurrection in each of our lives runs deep in my faith perspective.
Is it owed to another person? (What did he or she do for you?)
The community of faith has given me a sense of connectedness to others who are trying to help each other to draw closer to God. I could recite a litany of names of individuals who at various points in my life have given me encouragement on inspiration to continue on the pathway of faith. There has always been someone beyond myself who has helped me to believe that the pathway of faith "makes sense" and that I should continue on this journey. My marriage has been a special grace in this regard.
Were there obstacles to believing you had to overcome? (How did this happen?)
Perhaps the biggest "obstacle" to belief from my experience occurs when through some crisis or other it becomes difficult to discern God's loving presence specific to the particular difficulty at hand. These are the moments when inside my feelings seem to say "My God, my God why have you abandoned me?" These are the times when one looks back on be beach and can only see one set of footprints, not two. Yet as time goes on it does seem that God has been carrying me through these tough situations and my faith strengthens. It can be very helpful to know the prayerful support of the faith community during these "dark nights of the soul." Yet I experience a loneliness about these moments, nonetheless, and feel a call to simply abandon myself to God trusting that it will all come out for the best in the long run. During these moments I feel that my perspective is very limited and that I am almost blind but that spark of faith within me nudges me to keep on trusting and gives me the resiliency to traverse the challenge of the moment.
I am also interested to know what, exactly, you believe and why-if you can say. What do you believe about God, the purpose of life on earth, death, why things happen, right and wrong?
I believe that God loves me and every other person on this planet and that this love is very personal, intimate like that of a parent towards a precious beloved child. I believe that I (and each other person) has a purpose for life on this earth. My current perspective regarding this "purpose" is best expressed in the word "charism" or gift. As I see it, God has given each one of us a "gift" which we are to cultivate and use to make this world a better place. This gift enables us to interact in whatever situations life may bring to us and have "something to give" rather than "nothing to give." Sometimes this gift may be subtle and quiet like sitting at the bedside of someone who is very ill and simply holding the person's hand without saying a word, simply being "present" (as God is with each of us). There are myriad moments for the expression of this "gift" throughout life's journey but in the end, at the final eulogy, the gift is recognized as a means by which a person gave life and showed love. I believe that death is best understood by looking at the cross. At some point the emptying out (or "kenosis") of the gift of life and love become final. There is simply nothing left to give. All has been spent. The miracle of resurrection happens through this self donation as others come to greater life and become more generous in their own loving gestures through this emptying out. Life and love only have meaning as they are given away. Accumulation and hoarding is self defeating. Through the death of self donation comes the resurrection of life and love among those receiving the donation which is a manifestation of the coming of the kingdom of God on the face of the earth. I believe that "why things happen" eventually "makes sense" in retrospect for the person of faith. Life is full of surprises, both joyful and sorrowful. I believe that the person of faith cannot predict the future any more than anyone else, other than to look ahead and believe that God will be lovingly present "no matter what happens." I believe that there is a difference between "right" and "wrong". We "do the right thing" when by our actions (or by refraining from certain actions) we give expression to God's life and love. We do the "wrong thing" when by our actions or lack of actions we choose selfish accumulation over life giving, love giving self donation.
Do you experience God? (What is this like?)
God is like a quiet breeze in a tall pine tree to me. I need to still myself from the frantic, hectic pace of contemporary life to be gratefully in touch with this breeze that blows through a symphony of branches all around me. This "getting in touch" invigorates me, gives me perspective regarding how to prioritize the many demands of life before me, and enables me to take action.
What does faith do for you?
My faith speaks of things unseen by many and gives my life a sense of direction and purpose. My faith is strengthened by being in relationship with other people of faith who are trying to grow closer to God and express God's love and life through their varied charism.
What would life be like without it?
Without faith my life would be merely a blip on the vast food chain of living organisms that are born and die with no apparent reason. Without faith the writings of Camus, Sartre and other existentialists would define my moment in the sun as "absurd." Without faith I would be "adrift" in a vast ocean- nameless, uncared for, forgotten.
What, if anything, do you do to take care of your faith and maybe even make it grow?
I try to take some time to "climb the tall pine tree" each day and get in touch with the breeze. I call this personal prayer. Weekly (or sometimes more frequent) attendance at the Eucharist brings me in touch with other people of faith and brings me into a special sense of intimacy with God. Spiritual direction sessions help me to measure the mileposts on my journey of faith. The sacrament of Reconciliation is a cleansing opportunity to wash the slate clean when things have become jumbled and self centered rather than self donating. Evening recitation of marriage vows and prayer with my spouse keeps our shared faith journey in focus.
If you share your faith, how? What do you say?
Musical composition and performance has been a vehicle for faith sharing through my particular charism. My current professional life as a catechetical publisher's sales representative also gives me opportunities to share faith within the context of workshops for catechists and parents.
Thank you for your questions. I hope you can make use of my answers.
Posted Story #3
My story is pretty simple when compared to the sad and very difficult lives of other people. I have been very blessed to have God's presence throughout my life.
My family and I were very poor in our country of origin. Sometimes all we had to eat for dinner was a fried egg and a little rice. Mostly everything we owned was second (or third) hand. Nevertheless, my parents always made sure we were clean, fed, and in school and out of trouble. My mom taught us about God and faith but didn't really push us to attend church.
My family and I immigrated to this country in search of "greener pastures". Adjusting to the new culture and language was difficult, and unlike some immigrants who seek support in the church, my parents tended to isolate us from the outside world (including church). Somehow we managed to adjust to our new life and found our place in this society.
Because I felt rejected and left out when I first moved here, my main focus in high school was to fit in. I did not care much about grades or recognizing the Latino culture in me. I went on to college believing that I was self-assured and fearless. As I encountered new people and challenges, I realized I was very concerned with the opinions of others and not sure of myself at all. Through meaningful experiences in some classes and through contact with insightful people, I began to see my life in a new light. I felt angry a lot of the time; mostly at my parents for poor decision making. I felt guilty for feeling superior to them and for being ungrateful for their sacrifices. I was confused about who I was and what I hoped to be. I felt ashamed that I had rejected my culture for so long to the point that my Spanish was suffering from lack of use. I was twenty-three, depressed and lost.
I had not been to church for many years. I felt that I was not a good Catholic and that God would reject me in my time of need. Instead of going to church, I entered therapy and after many discussions, my therapist wisely suggested that I go to church and confess to try to reduce the sense of guilt and get "permission" to go back to church (since I felt unworthy). So I started to go to my old church and I found this wonderful new priest at the altar. He was amazing and he kept my interest, which meant I stayed in church. I finally worked up the nerve to ask to speak with him in private. He readily gave me an appointment. With much anxiety and tears, I told him my story and asked for forgiveness. He gave it to me and by doing so, took so much of my pain away.
I realize now that God had never forsaken me. It was my fear and my anger that took me away from the church but never from his love. I still struggle with my anger and my depression (amongst other things), but I whole heartedly believe that God loves me and when I start to lose my way, he always sends someone to guide me.
Like I said, my story is pretty simple. But I chose to write it to give you some hope in the knowledge that God is always there, all you have to do is open your heart to Him and He will answer.
Posted Story #2
I grew up in a very religious family and attended catholic school which enforced the strong Catholic values that my family taught me. I was disciplined so that I would continue on a religious path.
However, I felt that I was going through the motions of what is considered religious. I did what I was supposed to do but it didn't make me more religious. It was only when I was able to ask the question- 'why' was when I made the connection between what I was learning and what I believed. It is one thing to be told what to do and believe and another to understand and comprehend what it is. Questioning my faith was the key to unlock the meaning of what my faith was and what it has become.
The ability to question my faith happened one day when I was in confession -face to face confession. Actually, it was more of a dialogue of my faith and what was on my mind then a list of everything I did wrong.
I felt that I was sinning because I didn't believe whole heartily in Jesus and what is in the bible. Attending mass didn't help me believe more either so I struggled with my feelings. I thought I was being a bad Christian and I expected the priest that I was confessing to would tell me to say ten Hail Marys and twenty Our Fathers and send me on my way but on the contrary I was introduced to the idea that 'only through questioning your faith am I able to grow into my faith'. What a novel approach to faith! A weight was lifted from my consciousness about my faith, here I was thinking that I was so wrong about doubting my faith that I didn't even think that by asking questions like 'why' I would be able to talk about my faith and understand it.
That was my point of discovery in my religion and it has made all the difference to my relationship with God. It was a freeing moment and the feelings of guilt about not believing 100 percent went away because I now knew that questioning my faith was okay and that was a major point in my life because giving me the freedom to put my faith in my own hands. This is a very important discovery when you have been taught to just believe and not question and just assumed to believe everything that you are told about the bible and God.
I have grown up in my faith, I have come to accept some things and continue to questions others but I feel that does not make me a bad person, because I know that I have a strong faith because I have grown into it at my own pace and through my own experiences.
I believe now God is with me at all times and that my aspirations for the next life will be one that I don't have to question and the things that I struggle with now will no longer exist.
Posted Story #1
May our dear Lord's peace be upon you and your family.
First and foremost, let me express my gratitude for welcoming me into your heart. It is a great honor to be in a place where a lot of great lives reside. Although I can't consider myself as great, just knowing that the simplest story means as much to you as the greatest gives me considerable comfort in writing you.
I was born more than four decades ago to a very good and respectable family. I am the seventh of eight siblings; boys the same number as girls. My mother and father were, as society would call it, model parents. Every single one of us was well taken cared of. And since my father was a very successful writer, we were not deprived of the average material things. I say average because they saw to it that we never became overindulged kids. I assumed that they considered it a sin for us to live like a rich family since they came from very humble beginnings. They also made sure that we were aware of that fact mainly so that we won 't look down on poor people. It was very hard for us to understand this setting since we were surrounded with well-to-do families, but we accepted it anyway without much opposition.
I grew up in a country where Catholicism is the primary religion. In a sense, I became a Catholic not by choice, but by tradition. I was baptized Christmas day of the same year I was born. It was the right thing to be a Catholic, so I became one.
From the mass media to the government to the simplest everyday life, we were surrounded by church traditions. Needless to say, a Catholic would not have a hard time being one in my country. Furthermore, contradictions from other religions existed, but not prevalent.
D-site the ideal setting for a Catholic to grow up in, my parents never encouraged us to be traditionalists. Our Holy Eucharist participations were limited to weddings, baptisms, funerals, and of course, Christmas. God was important to our lives, but in a different and very unconventional way. We considered ourselves as nice people. None of us would turn away anyone who is in need. And although we never discussed it, we believed that God would understand our shortcomings in traditional church practices if He ever considered them as such. Personally, I was comfortable with the way I was, until I met the woman who was to be my wife.
In a very different way, this special woman introduced me to the church that I thought I already knew. Without her knowing, she showed me a fresh sentiment of God I never saw before. I couldn't put my finger into it then, but now I know that through her, the beauty of a real Catholic was unmasked in front of me. She breathes the church traditions like nothing I was exposed to. I was pleased with what I saw so I asked her to marry me.
Our church activities were blessed and progressed throughout our marriage. We became church leaders through a very reputable Christian group who evangelized to married couples and their families. Without any reservations, we wholeheartedly served Jesus through this calling. It is indeed true that faith is its own reward. We strongly felt it then. We were really happy, that is, until a very dark cloud went over our heads and tested our faiths.
I just started my ninth year here in Northern State Prison in New Jersey. Including the grueling court trial and the years preparing for it, my wife and I are now in a total of twelve years of ordeal. Five to seven more years and I should be home. But the future's famous character of being uncertain constantly challenges my faith, and sadly, as well as my sanity. Thankfully, in the midst of the truly ugly process, we were blessed with a son. He is now eight years old and the reason I am still alive.
I was convicted of a crime that never happened. Being accused was already a nightmare on its own, but being convicted took everything to another level. Not to mention the physical and the mental crucible, the great toll of the emotional mayhem inside me almost caused my life. Suddenly, you are perceived as someone you are not. The few who listened to you while you were on trial slowly dissipate in number after you get convicted. D-site the reality of an imperfect justice system and that, because of it, innocent people are convicted everyday, until you have proven that you are truly innocent, you are branded a monster. In the eyes of society, I am now a monster. Because of a bad twist of fate, without much choice, I am now someone I am not: a pariah and outcast.
Anger, loneliness, confusion; it would be an understatement to say that it is hard to live out each day with multiple emotions attached to it. Sometimes I don 't even know which one I am suppressing. Sobbing while showering has been a regular part of my days. But the hardest, despite the obvious hardships I have to deal with in prison, is knowing that my wife is actually having a more difficult time than myself. Her forced smiles were too obvious for me not to feel how she really feels.
One day, one really bad day, I was so broken and in tears. I was cursing out God and blaming Him for not being with me as He promised. Out of nowhere, through my crying heart, Jesus gave me a word of encouragement that I will never forget. He said that He is nearest when we are in our lowest. His words pierced me like a sword and I cried some more, but this time with a lot more understanding of His love. I hurriedly called my wife and shared it with her. My words surprised even myself because I actually encouraged her to take advantage of our being in the valley. Jesus being closer than usual to us was an awesome feeling. It was actually a pleasant reminder to me of how good it felt whenever my mother used to caress my hair while I cried when I was a child.
A regular couple, which has nothing to hold on to, would have been broken easily. But since our loving God gave us a chance to serve Him and realize the importance of clinging to Him no matter what, He gave us the gift to "know and believe" that His love always reigns at the end.
Through the years, an invisible but tangible love inspired us to live out our disrupted Catholic lives religiously together albeit thrown apart. Our communions meant a lot more as we are aware that we are fighting for something worthwhile. Our son's First Communion last year was an undeniable proof that Jesus keeps His promises.
We still do our best to touch people's lives through our experiences. Through God's graces my wife does her part outside, I do mine here. Although I miss attending Mass everyday with her, I know that I am so blessed to receive the Lord twice a week, from two priests no less, who serve here in prison. Also, I consider merely having to practice Catholic traditions in prison as a huge gift from our Lord. I am proud to say that the house of God is my solace and I do not doubt that my wife feels the same way out there.
I also developed a broader understanding of who God is and is not. I now know that God's love is so much bigger than the conflicts between religions. He will not condemn anybody merely because he or she does not know Jesus. He does not love you more than the person next to you just because you pray more. His love is greater than that. He is not a mere mascot of a membership club. His love is for everyone, especially for the ones who strayed farthest. He asks us to love each other, not to distance ourselves from non-believers. He encourages us to follow His Word that is not limited to the Bible. His Word is created everyday; we just need His love to recognize it. Most importantly, His love can never be measured. It cannot be placed in a box for our convenience. We may pray to reach out to Him, but at the end of the day, because of His immense love for us, He ends up reaching down to us.
In this dark valley that we are presently in, seeing God's unconditional love shine through is enough for me to know that we are loved by Him. I do not doubt that more difficult days still await us and more unanswered questions can't help but pile up, but knowing that we have Jesus helping us through, who am I to fear.