Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lenten Meditations

" Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit into the desert, for forty days." [Luke 4: 1-2].

The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday, and continues for forty days. During this time, we are called to fast, to meditate and to pray.

Modern life seems so ill-suited for us to retreat into quiet time. Everywhere we go, we are bombarded with pre-recorded music in stores, with advertisements even in taxicabs, with the "ping"  of our smart phones announcing text messages and e-mails. We have become on-call 24 hours a day.

Can we ever really get away?

I remember several years ago now, being on vacation is a different country and being thrilled that the 1-800 number that was provided to retrieve voice mail messages from my office, simply did not work! Had I finally made it to the mountaintop, and really entered the desert of quietude?

Finding time -- no! making time -- to retreat can be as simple as turning off all those devices!

That is not always practical, however, given that we may have bosses or family members, who need to reach us.

But I have another solution: we can decide to use our tablets or smart phones or laptops for the constant consumption of materialistic messages.

OR, we can -- especially during Lent-- deliberately view sacred images from our personal media devices.

How would all of your meetings go, if you could silently view a sacred image on your tablet just before the meeting began?

How would your trip  to work go, if you could, when stuck on a bus, or stopped in traffic, glance at a holy image on your smart phone?

I have now placed in this space, an image of a gorgeous stained glass window. It is part of a series of windows representing Stations of The Cross. This image will remain on my blog page throught Easter 2013.

I will never delete this posting, so you can access this image from this page, anytime you want to!

Image link:

[Stained glass image courtesy of]

Lord, I pray that You may give us daily moments in which to fill our souls with the spiritual Strength that comes only from you.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

My Transformation

" Jesus took Peter, John and James with Him and went up to the mountaintop to pray. As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.  Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and two men standing with Him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to Him, 'Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three tents -- one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah.' . . . While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, 'This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.' " [Luke 9: 28-36].

I remember when I was in high school. I was a quiet, even shy student. I usually studied for hours each night and I knew all the answers to the questions spoken by the teacher. But because of the cruel home in which I grew up, I dared not raise my hand in class, even if I knew the answer.

By Senior year in high school, I was aware enough to recognize how stilted and awkward I was. I came back at the start of Senior year, announcing to all my friends that I had changed. No longer was I going to be that young, quiet student whom no one noticed or cared about. In fact, I was no longer "me". Everyone who cared to look would see that there was a new "Me". I would be bubbly, chatty and popular.

Except that I wasn't.

I thought that I could become transformed simply by wishing it were so. Simply by announcing it to the world. My transformation did not happen.

My family had always emphasized that education was the key to becoming an awesome person. I doubled my efforts on homework. I was at the top of my class. My high grades set me apart. I was still miserable.

In my childhood home, I was not fed, I was called ugly everyday, I was called a failure, I ceased to speak, I barely slept, I ate little. I thought that I could be transformed simply by leaving home. I spent little time at home in those growing up years. I would even go outside and sit alone under a bush or tree to escape. But there was no real escaping the abuse at home.

I went away to university and even farther away to graduate school. I thought I would transform by going to a different state, even to a different region. But I still had to come home for holidays. And I was still treated the same way at home.

After my schooling, I obtained a job. I set up my own apartment. I thought by having my own address and phone number, a title at work, a professional wardrobe, and a paycheck, that I would be transformed. But, I still felt as if I had no place in the world; that I belonged to no one and to nothing.

I got married. Thank You, God for sending my amazing husband, my soul mate and my partner for life. Only he did not transform me. No, no human could transform me, or could heal the deep wounds that I had endured.

We had a son some years later. I thought that motherhood could transport me to a spiritual place so special and so very soulful. And it is true, being a mother has been an honor and a privilege. But it is my son who needs ME to be there for him. I cannot lean on him for my own healing.

Then, in a one year period, my father, my best friend, my mother-in-law and my mother died. I was overwhelmed.

I never had undergone that transformation that I had been seeking since I was a teen. And now, my world was crumbling. We think that all the people around us, even those who hurt us deeply, will be there forever. When they depart, it is like experiencing a tornado. There are no ceilings left, no walls, no floor.

The structure that was my life had been leveled. What was left?

I say to you that what was left for me was Jesus. And God.

 I ran to my pastor in a panic, and told him that I was in a terrifying freefall. I blurted out that I needed to be closer to God-- and maybe I wanted to convert?

He sent me to the chapel to meditate and to pray. In essence, he was sending me to the mountaintop.

I have not literally seen Jesus, with His face changed, and his clothes brilliantly white. But I have prayed and meditated. I joined Bible Study. And ultimately, I converted.  My First Communion, I was terrified, much like the disciples Peter, James and John when they were in the cloud.

As time has gone on, and I have prayed to Jesus and have striven to follow Him each day, people have started to notice a change in me. A friend says, "You are transforming before my very eyes; becoming stronger, more confident, speaking with conviction, joining in on conversations and in church activities.And it is totally awesome to see!"

My transformation has not been without fear and doubt. Often, I still feel as if I am in a cloud. Sometimes, I am not sure of what I am seeing. Or where I am going. Still, I have times when I refuse to speak because I am overwhelmed or am in awe. By following Jesus, like Jesus Himself, we are never guaranteed a pain-free life.

St. Paul said: " Our citizenship is in Heaven. We eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His dominion, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body." [Ephesians 4: 20-21.]

I do accept the authority of Jesus in my life now. He is God's Son, with whom God is well pleased.  And Jesus does have the power to transform us, if we only will listen to Him!

[Related postings: " Transfiguration", March 20, 2011; " Transfiguration of Christ", March 5, 2012.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I Speak the Lord's Name

" The Word is near you: it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the Word of faith that we are proclaiming: That, if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord', and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For, it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. . . . Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." [ Romans 10: 8-13].

Those who know me from this space will remember that I stopped speaking when I was ten.

I was already in shut-down mode when I made the decision to stop speaking. Already, I was not showing any emotion; this, at my mother's behest, even at her insistence. This numbing of feeling was her "neat solution" to the daily abuse I received. She tried to teach me that if I showed no emotion, the bullying would stop.

I can tell you, that this did not work. In fact, what began next was the hitting.

In short order, I then ceased to feel emotions. Then, I stopped speaking. I barely slept. Ultimately, I stopped eating much at all.

Speaking is what distinguishes us from the animal kingdom. Speaking is what makes us human.

Sure, whales have their distinctive clicks and songs. Each species of bird has its signature songs and trills.

But it is only humans who possess the broadest range of  words, with some words bearing multiple layers of meaning and insinuation.

We humans each have a singular voice, as individual as our DNA. Our voice, our speech, is God-given. No one else in the world has a voice exactly like yours!

For one like me, who stopped speaking for a few years, this Scripture is stunning. I always thought that my belief in God had saved me all those years, had given me a sacred retreat from the cruelties, the abuse, the rejection and abandonment by my human family.

And belief -- or faith -- is what we all begin life with, arguably even before speech develops. For, it is written, ' The desire for God is written upon the human heart.' That is, we are born with faith in a Higher Power, in our hearts.

This Scripture states, "The Word is near you, it is in your heart. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified."  I used to fear that if my family stopped taking me to church, that they could thereby take my faith away. When I found out the Truth as an adult, that God has given us our Faith in our hearts and that we get to "keep" this gift, I cried tears of joy. What unspeakable generosity, from our Creator!

It is also by our hearts that we are "justified", that is, made right with God, despite our sins.

But to be a fully mature Christian, it is not enough to simply believe. We must also speak our faith and our belief!

A Wise Advisor has told me, firmly, that if I could learn to cease speaking, then I can learn TO speak again.

Sounds so simple, right? Okay, I am still working on my speaking. There is nothing wrong with my voicebox. There is nothing wrong with my brain or my logic. I can figure out what is relevant to say.

But after all those years of living in silence, I become anxious when called upon to speak. There are pauses in my sentences as I search for the right words. I get almost panicked when called upon in Bible Study to read a passage from the Bible. I sometimes do not speak up when I need to, or I interrupt when someone is talking.

But still, I speak. I make myself do it. And how I practice is by speaking of Scripture in Bible Study. I recite the Lord's Prayer at Mass. I sing the hymns. I speak God's name, never in vain; when I call out to God, I mean it. I speak of God in everyday conversation because He is there with me, always. I need never look very far for Him, because He is no farther than my own heart.

To speak God's name is to seek a relationship with Him. If I do not speak His name, talk to Him, offer my prayers up to Him, then my relationships with fellow human beings will never be right.

Our speech must begin, and end, with God!

I am trying not to censor myself any longer, in fear. For, if we speak to God, of God, about God, how can we embody anything but Love? And if we embody love, Our God is near us. Then, we will be in right relationship with others, and with God.

When I confess that Jesus is the One whom I follow, then I am saying aloud that I am devoted to His Love, His Peace, His Mercy, His Gentleness, His steadfast devotion. And this always roots me in the right place.

As I speak the Lord's name, He is saving me, word by word.

[Related Posting, "Courage to Speak", February 2, 2013; "I Will Not Be Silent", January 23, 2013. ].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


" Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days, he was tempted by the devil." [ Luke 4: 1-2].

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. On this day, Catholics around the world attend Mass and receive ashes on their forehead in the sign of the cross. It is a sign of our repentance, a symbol of our deep commitment to the life of Christ.

This Lenten period of forty days is a commemoration of Jesus' obedience to God, when He is called into the desert by the Spirit, to undergo temptation by Satan.

In this desert, "the Devil said to Jesus, ' If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.'  Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live by bread alone.' " [Luke 4: 3-4].

As a child, I struggled to find the nurturing that I needed from my family. On the surface, this was about the meals that I was fed: cold, thick, lumpy oatmeal for breakfast. . ."stew" made out of thick, doughy gravy, four day old gray beef ,and roasted vegetables so left-over that they were shriveled and mushy. I would not eat this, I could not stomach it.

I was told, 'Eat it or you will be given nothing else.' I could not eat this rotten food without gagging. So I learned to go hungry. Before long, I realized that this was not a meal. It was a Test. It was the wielding of abusive power.

And so, I fasted at home. I refused food from them. I would not accept nourishment at the hands of those who would break my spirit. Food was their weapon of control. I realized I needed to eat, so I found food elsewhere, at the neighbor's, or in the school cafeteria.

In reality, I needed a lot more than their bread. I needed Love.

Then, "the devil led Jesus up to a high place and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. The devil said to Him, 'I can give you all their authority and splendor. . So if you worship me,  it will all be yours.' Jesus answered, ' It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only. " [Luke 4: 5-8].

My family used to say, " We worship the Almighty Dollar." I would whisper to myself, " You mean, Almighty God."

My family threatened to withdraw tuition if I did not prepare for the corporate life on Wall Street. They painted a picture of all the power I would have, all the money and the splendors. But I did not want to become them. I dared desire to use the gifts that came from God.

To neutralize my family's threat, money had to become irrelevant to me. All the wealth in the world does not impress me. Who you are in Christ impresses me. Your life with God impresses me.

"The devil led Jesus to Jerusalem to the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God", he said, " throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command the angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands'. "  Jesus answered: " Do not put the Lord your God to the test." [Luke 4: 9-13].

The devil is saying here, 'Jesus, if you are so perfect, lift Yourself up.' My mother used to test me, saying, " Who do you think you are, that you are so 'perfect'?" I think she felt threatened that I did not seem to need her to lift me up.

Yet, despite their mockery, I did obey my parents, by studying business and finance. I did undergo this trial. While in graduate school, I was the victim of a violent crime. My parents left me in that far off city to cope alone. Heartbreakingly, it was not they who came to rescue me.

At my life and death moment, I prayed to God and He called forth His angels, He lifted me up into his arms and He healed me. Life threw me down, and it was God in His perfection, who rescued me.

Despite my wounds, I stayed in school and I graduated with honors. Right before my graduation, my mother called me a "failure".  You see how God had lifted me up and saved my life. And yet, my mother threw me down again. My prayer life with God became more important, even critical.

During Lent, we fast. I have learned to take as much nourishment from God as from earthly food.

During Lent, we give to the less fortunate. I have learned that money and power can be weapons against the humble.

During Lent, we pray. I have learned that human aid is healing, but only God can truly rescue us.

[Related Postings: " Fast", March 23, 2011; " Pray", April 5, 2011; " Live", April 10, 2011.]  

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Putting Out in Deep Water

" One day, Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around Him and listening to the word of God. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore.  Then He sat down and taught the people from the boat. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." Simon answered, " Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."  When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to tear. So they signaled their partners to come and help, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.  When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Get away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." For, he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish.  Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on, I will make you fishers of men."  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him."   [ Luke 5: 1-11].

Have you ever tried to catch a fish? Most of us find it much easier to talk about "the one that got away."  My great-grandfather was a sea captain on a deep sea fishing vessel.  It was a back-breaking -- and terrifying-- business. My great-grandfather and his men could return to home port with a hold teeming with fish-- or with nothing at all. And many men could easily be lost at sea.

This is as good a metaphor for life as can be. Exhilarating, risky, with the possibility of a big catch, or on the other hand, devastating losses.

How easy it is to believe that we are alone, and that we face daily trials with no Help. But how impossible it seems to believe God, when He calls us to trust Him.

A few years ago, my father died suddenly. The way things worked out, I seemed to be the one in the best position to move my mother near me and to care for her. She could not drive and she could barely walk. She could no longer live alone.

After a lifetime of cruel misunderstandings and harsh words from my mother, it seemed impossible for me to take her back.  She had mistreated me, she had rejected me, she had abandoned me.

But, how could I do the same to her?

I did take her back. But I found myself getting angry.  I wanted to yell at God. I would silently scream, 'But God, this is too hard!'

At the same time, I felt myself drawn closer to God. I was confused. My family had always wanted me to believe that there was no God.

Not really knowing what I was doing, I went to see a priest. I told him everything that my mother had ever done to me. I said, "I want to get angry at God, but I think it is not nice to be angry with Him."  The pastor said, "Go ahead and get angry with God. He is big enough, He can take it." I said, "I think I should pray but I don't know how. No one ever taught me." The pastor said, "Go to a quiet place and sit and talk to Him".

I went back to the priest. I said, "I think God is calling me closer to Him. But with my mother in my house everyday, blaspheming God and ripping apart Catholics, how could God call me to Him NOW? Why couldn't He have done it 15 years ago, when it was so much easier and she was not in my life?"  He smiled. I said, "Maybe God knows that I cannot take care of my mother without Him?" Then, I blurted out, " I think I want to convert."

I started to pray about conversion. Back I went to the priest. I said, " How can God call ME? I am only a wife and a mother." He said, "The disciples were only lowly fishermen."  I said, "What can I do for God? I am only a woman?" He said, "Mary said the same thing!"

I prayed some more. Then I went back to see the priest once again. I said, " You do not understand, my mother would kill me if she found out that I am converting. (I had been hiding my Bible and Catechism books when my mother came over to my house.) The priest said firmly, "Your mother has nothing to do with this! "But", I blurted out, "I am losing friends over this! They want the "old me" back." He said, " The disciples left everything behind, they left friends, they even left family, to follow Jesus. These so-called friends were not your friends to begin with." I said, "Maybe I could keep the old friends and just keep things superficial?" He said, "No, you are different. You want to go deeper."

It was then that I got very close, oh so close, to conversion. But I went back to the pastor. I said, "I don't think I can do this!" He said, "Well, you can run, but you cannot hide."  I think that I had reached the point where Simon Peter was: so awestruck at God's Power, that I could not imagine being that open to Him. I wanted a way out of this.

Yes, it was so; I felt unworthy. The pastor said, " God has been very patient with you. He has waited for you during your whole life. But He will not force Himself on you. He will simply wait."

I thought that God would back off a little, and give me some space. But, instead, His calls became even more insistent. I did not understand His timing--at all. I simply had to trust Him. Finally, I said yes. I made my First Communion only weeks after my son's First Holy Communion.

A few short weeks after, my best friend died. I was able to receive Communion at her funeral. That felt right. It was right.

And then, about a year later, my mother died. I went to church the day after her funeral, and I received the Eucharist. That was so right, too.

Jesus had called me to cast my net into deeper water. I had dug deep to take my mother back. I had relinquished my superficial friendships, in favor of going deeper into my soul, towards what really mattered, my deeper self. I had trusted that Jesus would be there for me.

Do you dare to cast out your net and put out into deeper water? Do you dare to listen when Jesus says, "Do not be afraid. Come follow me?"

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Emancipation Proclamation

" If you hold to my teaching, . . . . then, you will know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free. . ."  [John 8: 32].

In the United States, February is Black History Month. This is a month-long celebration of black Americans who have made an indelible contribution to this country. In the month of February, we commemorate the strength of African Americans, who for 200 years in America, never had a properly recognized recorded history.

Part of that history was the American Civil War, fiercely fought over the issue of slavery. On January 1, 2013, America celebrated the 150th anniversary of The Emancipation Proclamation.

Every school child in America studies this Proclamation. We applaud President Lincoln as a hero, someone who is regarded as close to sainthood, because of  his role in ensuring the abolition of slavery in America.

Everyone in America recites that "Lincoln freed all the slaves". . . .

Or did he?

There are a lot of misconceptions about The Emancipation Proclamation.

Recently, I had the honor of attending a lecture about the Proclamation, by Dr. Lois Brown, PhD, Professor of African American Studies, and Professor of English, at Wesleyan University.

I have to say that sometimes I give in to the stereotype that historians are old white men, who speak in erudite tones, but who, nevertheless, seem to be. . . . well. . . . irrelevant.

But shame on me!-- because, Dr. Brown is young AND African American AND a woman. And she makes history come alive.

She corrected several of my misperceptions about The Emancipation Proclamation.

First, she pointed out that the title of this Proclamation is simply: "By The President of the United States of America: A Proclamation".  Nowhere does it mention, "Emancipation" in the title.

Then, I always thought that this document came at the end of the very bloody Civil War (which Frederick Douglass called, " The Abolition War"; and which the British very delicately called, "The War Between the States") .  I thought that this Proclamation settled the issue of slavery, once and for all.

Wrong again.

The Proclamation came on January 1, 1863, when the Civil War was already raging. America had been a country at war against itself, since 1861.  According to Dr. Brown, the Proclamation came to be seen by the Confederacy as an Act of War.

And I thought that The Proclamation did set all of the slaves free.

Wrong again.

The Proclamation states: " On the first day of January, [1863], all persons held as slaves within any State, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward
and forever free:

EXCEPT for:   [In] Lousiana, the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans, and [in] Virginia, except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth."

In addition, history shows that four border states, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri, never seceded and so, not being "in rebellion", were never subject to the Proclamation at all.

And, all of the places that were exempt were the places with the most harsh and extreme conditions of slavery! I find this shocking and heartbreaking. . . .

Dr. Brown pointed out that, up until the last moment, no one was certain that Lincoln would even sign the Proclamation. And so, in her words, the reading of the Proclamation became like a "roll-call". Some State's slaves won their freedom; while some States were exempt.

[Was President Lincoln being strategic, not wanting to throw gasoline on an already raging Civil War? Or, was he trying to merely contain slavery? After all, he had campaigned in 1860 on a platform to simply disallow slavery in new territories out West; but to keep the states of slavery intact, otherwise.]

What strikes me as remarkable, though, is that the African American community at the time celebrated, with joy, the announcement of the Proclamation! As markedly limited as this document was, making three million slaves free, but leaving one million still enslaved, it was after all Freedom!

I think about Freedom and forgiveness oftentimes, myself. In my harsh and sometimes cruel family, I longed for freedom. I planned for it. I put aside money, and secretly read by the hour in my room, in order to make myself smarter than my "captors" were.

And yet, on the day my mother died (and she was the second one to pass on), I felt no freer than I had felt during my childhood. Surely, the door to my prison had opened. But I am still, in many ways, a prisoner inside my cave.

There was a eureka moment at Dr. Brown's lecture, when someone asked, "Did the African Americans at the time feel that Lincoln had any remorse for the severe limitations of his Proclamation?"

And Dr. Brown shot back, " If you are waiting for remorse, you will never be free!"

I took this to heart. Becoming free is not always a sudden and miraculous alchemy, where in an instant, you feel totally unfettered. Becoming free is a Walk.

Achieving freedom, at some point, becomes not about what the other person felt or did or intended, or even who he was. . . .. Freedom is about who YOU can become, despite all those burdens of past captivity!

Freedom comes from figuring out what to do about forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process of letting go. I am trying to focus now on, not only forgiving those who hurt me deeply, but also on letting go of my despair over what I have lost. Only then, can I embrace what I can become.

[Related Posting: "Celebrating My Independence", July 4, 2012.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Courage To Speak

" The word of the Lord came to me, saying, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you."   "Ah, Sovereign Lord", I said, "I do not know how to speak. I am only a child."  The Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a child.' You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you", says the Lord.  Then, the Lord reached out His hand and touched my mouth and said to me, " Now I have put my words in your mouth. . . . But do you gird your loins; Stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them, for it is I, this day, who has made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land. . . ., against its priests and people. They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you", says the Lord. [Jeremiah 1: 5-9, 17-19].

I do not feel strong. Even as a child -- no, especially as a child-- I felt crushed in spirit.

My family would not feed me, either with nourishing food; or with food for the soul, by prayer or attendance in church.  I decided to tell myself that I was not hungry, but I was telling myself falsehoods, so that I would not feel the pain of suffering with such deep emptiness inside.

If they spoke against me, I would cry, and then things would take a bad turn, and I would feel the sting of their physical blows. My anguished cries only made matters worse. And so, I buried my emotions alive. I never knew the Scripture, " The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, those who are crushed in spirit, He saves." [ Psalm 34: 18].

I gave up on speaking aloud against them. But if my mother or father stated that they "worship the Almighty Dollar", I would say silently to myself, "You mean, Almighty God."  If they refused to say Grace before meals, I would silently thank God for whatever food had been provided.

I shut down my emotions in order to protect myself physically from harm. I ceased to speak against them. I was already eating little. I was keeping watch at night in my bed, until everyone was asleep. Soon enough, I was not feeling anything, I was not eating, I was not sleeping, I was not speaking at all.

My family tried to teach me that there was no God. They believed that everything that a human  accomplishes, he succeeds in solely by human effort. It did not occur to me to pray and ask God for help. I did not even know how to pray.

I know now that, if I had been able to speak to the Lord then, like Jeremiah, I would have said to Him, ' I do not know how to speak. I am only a child.'

Even at a young age, all I knew is that, like Jesus in Luke 4: 21- 30, I had to get out of there. I was not physically safe. I had to plan my escape. In this story in Luke, Jesus goes to preach in his own home town. But Jesus is disparaged as only "Joseph's son".  And so, Jesus tells the crowd, " No prophet is accepted in his own town." When Jesus tells the crowd that, in Israel, " the sky was closed for three and a half years, and there was a severe famine", He was really speaking of how the townspeople were spiritually closed to Him.

The people's reaction was to drive Jesus out of town, and attempt to hurl Him off a cliff.

I started saving money for my escape when I was 13. I hoarded this money, not spending it on frivolous delights like candy or new clothes. By age 18, I had left an escape kit at my best girldfriend's house -- an old washcloth, a toothbrush, some pajamas-- in case I had to leave my parents' house suddenly.

I did leave home. I went to college. Miraculously, I got married.

After years of attending Catholic churches but pretending not to be a Christian, I finally decided to choose a church and  to convert. This was after my mother moved near us, following my father's death. I finally understood that in order to take my mother back, and to minister to her in her waning years, I would need the strength of God on my side. I could finally look at myself in the mirror and admit that I am NOT strong. Yet, I was no longer scared of that, because I finally understood that there is a God and I am NOT alone.

 But still, although no longer a child, I could not openly stand up to my mother. As I was undergoing conversion, my mother was all the while ripping apart Christians, calling them hypocritical losers and sinners, and gullible sheep. And my reaction was to hide my gold cross under my shirt collar and stash my Bible up in my bedroom and sneak off to the parish for religious instruction.

My mother died not knowing that I had become a Christian, and a Catholic to boot (her worst nightmare).

But, during conversion, I happened upon the Scripture in Jeremiah. I memorized the lines: " Be not crushed on their account. I will not let you be crushed before them. I have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass. They will fight against you, but they will not prevail over you, for I am with you." I would repeat this Scripture to myself and it gave me courage.

I had fought my family for my whole life. Or, rather, they had fought me. 

I had often despaired during those years. I feared that there was no God. I began, after some time, to want to believe in God. But I wondered where He was? Had He left me? Was I alone?

It turns out that God was there all along. He was at my side and He was guiding me. I had been knocked down many times.

But I am not crushed.

"For when I am weak, then I am strong." [ 2 Corinthians 12:10]. I am not strong on my own, but it is God who makes me a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass.

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