Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Transitions: Living My Paschal Mystery

Below is a beautiful reflection on "Living the Paschal Mystery" given by a team member, Liz at University of Georgia's Transitions Retreat. Her talk was moving, insightful, and inspiring!

"I am the daughter of immigrants, firmly Catholic and Portuguese in my upbringing, and I find myself reflecting back now on all that built my faith, my sense of the world. I think maybe, that by reflecting on my path, I can make sense of what happens to me in the now, and meet it with the same kind of faith, struggle, renewal, joy and trepidation I have always met life’s challenges with. I find myself later in life experiencing the Paschal mystery over and over, and the hope I share with you today is rooted in where I find myself now: unpacking the box of God’s surprises and both delighting in His ways and in awe of the long line of experiences that bring me here before you today.

I moved to Georgia from Massachusetts 13 years ago, seeking a Master’s degree and following who I then thought was the love of my life--only to find myself in six months with the promise of marriage dashed, alone with my thoughts and degree work, and, happily, suddenly surrounded by friends and community that became like the family support I longed for but was so far away. It was a difficult few years of adjustment and striving, and I did achieve my degree proudly--but not without finding out something about the nature of friendship and community along the way. The many different experiences of faith that surrounded me in the faces and spirits of the people I had come to know in some ways had influenced and transformed my view of life as I matured through my single years.

Many trials later--piecing together job opportunities, trying different angles on my hoped-for careers of teaching and writing, meeting new people and hoping for love as well as friendship along the way, I found myself strong in my identity as a woman who knew she wanted to change the world one word at a time. I found a place teaching literature and culture; found a forum to write; helped create numerous educational tools for others; and best of all, found a place in my church community, sharing and learning with others my age, and growing even stronger in the faith I had feared once perhaps I was only following to please my parents. I was firmly on a spiritual path, and there was no mistakening it for a prescribed path. I was--and am--living my faith journey.

Perhaps what I did not understand in 2003 was that God had a little something else in mind for me. I thought that I would remain single, that my hopes about marriage and parenthood would be set aside. Imagine my surprise then, when my husband--a tried and true Southerner who I would never have imagined for myself--walked into my life.

I at first did not want to accept he could be a part of my life--we were not this or that enough, I reasoned--and yet, slowly, God brought us together--of this I am sure, since I resisted the idea of getting together with him for awhile--and, long story short, we began that long talk that led to a belief, a hope, for creating something much different than what I had created, with God’s help, until then. On July 26, 2008, after nearly 5 years of courtship, Tra and I married in a joyful, weeklong celebration that encompassed all our friends and family, spanned 2000 miles and was a true jump start to what we knew would be a real adventure.

Adventure it was--so much adjusting after so much time single, and slow and careful planning. We wanted children, we had already talked about it, theorized about the ways our lives would change.

Then, finally, one day--I was pregnant.

God yet had other plans for me--and I think, aside from some of the struggles I had experienced before, I found myself in the deepest Good Friday I could ever have imagined. Just before Christmas of 2008, I miscarried.

I had always thought words could describe almost anything in almost any way, but there is no describing this--and the grief Tra and I shared created unexpectedly in us a bond forged in sadness and in support, in mutual understanding. We grew as a couple through this, and I found myself learning again: about the depth of my husband’s love for me; about the extent to which we would rely on the faith that had brought us together ; about the ways again family and friends would help me to see through the pain and guilt I felt, thinking somehow I could be at fault, thinking maybe I was not worthy enough to be a parent.

I felt my sister’s compassion, having herself experienced miscarriage--she helped me see that acknowledging our loss, naming our child, crying for him, commemorating him--these were all normal, all good things to do. Fr. Tom helped us acknowledge in the same way through a prayer service, helping us to begin to let go of what we had lost--what could have been. Sr. Margarita, during a time much later when I felt despair again at the thought of not being able to have children, reminded me that I should talk to and pray for my lost child--that there was beauty in doing so, in acknowledging that little possible life as a gift that would teach us in ways we could not now understand.

This dark hour in our lives created a new opportunity for us to wait in hope--somewhere along the line, after many compassionate discussions and sharing, after praying, after realizing we might need centering in our lives--Tra started and I followed in practicing Centering Prayer, a meditation focused strictly on God. Perhaps that perspective led us to a new place with God-- I felt like it had for me. I spent time sharing with friends at the Catholic Center Thomas Merton’s words in Thoughts in Solitude. I slowly shared my experience of faith during this Good Friday. Somewhere along the line, waiting in what had become my Holy Saturday moment, I started to see and feel things in a new way, even as I began to fear the possibility that we might not be able to have a child. My husband, always straightforward, no-hold-barred, set me straight one day with something that he said, something I knew inside but did not want to acknowledge: “You know, Liz, either we will or won’t have a child. It’s up to God what he wants for us. We have to accept that.” I knew he was right as soon as he said it, even though I did not want to believe it. Parenthood would be a gift God would either bestow us with or not, and it was upon us to choose to accept either possibility.

An answer came after what felt like a long time--nearly a year later. I am pregnant again--22 weeks along--and through the many trials of the first few weeks, concerns about health, and the frenzy of doctor visits and preparation of our home, I find myself at an Easter Moment, with much more to come I cannot imagine or fathom. I have so many questions about the possibilities for our baby--yet I know, as my experience until now showed me, that in time God reveals what could have been and what will be. Until then I wait in joyful hope and in a firm awareness of God’s role in all of this. I see the many ways God leads us through our losses, the many things we come to learn about ourselves through the grief and sadness we experience, through wondering what could have been. I see that God led me to accept many different things in my life I did not think possible, and to have hope and courage in the face of the unknown. I have learned all this from my experience, but I think, most of all, in the moment, from this little child I have not met yet, I have learned about God’s capacity to love us in spite of all odds."

~Liz V., Athens, GA

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