Saturday, July 28, 2007

Definite Differences

Thoughts of being emotionally abandoned kept me up night after night. It seemed as if a wall of isolation stood between us. Rich sought to comfort me, and I sought to comfort him -- but whenever we reached out to each other there was neither peace nor consolation. Our meaningful times of praying together were gone. Going to church became a painful chore.

Not a day passed that we did not find ourselves mulling over our differences of doctrine. Neither of us could understand why the other did not see the plain clarity of our own interpretation of Scripture. I could not comprehend how Rich’s insights could be so divergent from his past. For me, his changed perception and adherence to that change seemed as if he had closed the door on our lives at a critical level. We, who had found our greatest joy serving Jesus at church, now mechanically attended worship services. He began to voice dissatisfaction with the Protestant churches I wanted to try. I found myself in tears during the services at the Catholic churches we visited.

I grew more isolated during those months, alone in our home trying to put the new house in order and prepare for family visits. At Rich’s urging I sought out a women’s bible study at a local Protestant church and I became a member and regular attendee of the art league in town. After three months of attending that bible study, I left. Of the fifteen or so women, only one had bothered to even learn my name. I sought out another bible study farther from home. These women opened their arms in greeting at my first visit. Their acceptance of me unknowingly helped support my fragile courage, especially during the final transition in April.

But most helpful were friends from former days. Although I did not discuss our problems, I did mention the church dilemma we were facing. These women encouraged me to trust Christ. They urged me to stay connected with them. Without their constant commitment to our friendship, I could not have gone through the changes that were taking place in our home. Curiously, one challenged me to look for Jesus in the Catholic Church -- something I did not consider a reasonable suggestion at the time.

During the first months of 2005, Rich began to identify more and more with the doctrines he was confirming in his heart. He tended to have Catholic friends, and because we had just moved to a different state, he reached out to the Catholics he met at work and old acquaintances from our former home in Connecticut whom he knew were Catholic.

Rich did not discuss our problems with anyone, but he asked them for prayer for us to be able to communicate and stop fighting. Some of his new acquaintances tended to take sides. I don’t think they planned to do that, but it happened. What I perceived as their subtle messages about “how difficult Protestants can be” put me on the defensive. I thought Rich was complaining about me to his friends, something he had never done before. When I met them, they seemed cool toward me.

A chaplain he had counseled with at his job tried to instruct me by saying, “I know you are having some problems. We are all on faith journeys and this change in Rich is his responding to God’s call. You need to let him make this change.” As much as we needed help, talking with the chaplain only intensified my belief that I was being singled out and under attack. Rich had gone to her for advice. Yet, objective as I’m sure she wanted to be, she already was biased to his point of view because, as I learned later, she herself had moved with some difficulty from one denomination to another.

That meeting set a wedge between Rich and I that took several months to heal.

Although we both knew how to behave in Christ during good times and difficult ones, we found ourselves focusing more and more on our differences. Our eyes were off Jesus, the One who had held our marriage together for those thirty years. We did not know we were being influenced by the enemy of our souls. Honestly, we believed we were doing everything that was right to do. We sensed our need to find common ground. Yet the slightest problem escalated into sometimes weeks of misunderstanding. This had never happened in the 30 years we had been married.

If our eyes had been opened, we would have seen what was happening. The arguments, the days and nights of feeling abandoned, the lack of joy in our worship together in church or at prayer, the antagonistic feelings and the subtle thoughts of suspicion, anger, frustration were all part of a spiritual manipulation. But we could not see it at the time.

We had become prisoners of ugly, denominational division.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Had To Begin Somewhere

When Rich first approached me with the idea of his joining the Catholic Church, I panicked. While all that he was learning was new to him, it was very familiar to me. He’d lived his life for more than fifty years without serious thought about the Catholic Church. His only understanding of Catholicism was what he had learned in Bible College, and seminary, and from a few conversations with a Catholic priest and some Catholic friends.

I wondered if Rich knew what his decision might bring into our marriage. I tried to point out things that might be different for us, such as my exclusion from the Lord’s Table, and that we would be at odds about so many long held traditions, but he couldn’t hear me. In fact, no matter how often I pointed out those differences, I did not seem to have his attention, and I perceived his responses as negative. I came to believe he thought of me as an antagonist. He, however, couldn’t understand why I wasn’t seeing the truths he was discovering – truths he wanted to share with me as he has shared other spiritual blessings during our lives together. So, I was frustrated with what I perceived as his anger at my questions and he was frustrated at my tears and outbursts.

Looking back, I shouldn’t have tried to point out the actual and potential problems. I should have let him go about the business of doing what he felt he had to do. He was determined to discover as much as he could about Catholicism. Standing in his way only delayed the process; but I had some deep issues that motivated me.

To understand what seemed to Rich as my emotional and irrational objections to his desire to share his new understanding of the Catholic Church, and why I dared not encourage that clear call of God on his life, I need to take a moment to explain.

The foundation for panic began in my heart when I was four.

A pivotal moment in my life, one that brought years of subtle rejection, took place the afternoon my sister first became ill. My parents were not at home. When my mother returned to our apartment she was dismayed to find our caretaker hysterical and firemen resuscitating my baby sister. I rushed from my bedroom to tell Mom how I had tried to help, but the shock of the event overwhelmed her. She lashed out at me. And unknowingly she allowed that day and the days that followed to embitter her. Her focus became my sister to the exclusion of everything else. I must have seemed a burden. She went about the motions of parenting me but did not begin to recover hope and affection until my brother was born five years later.

If I had no acceptance at home, where could I expect to find it?

My maternal uncle was married to a Catholic woman, and my paternal aunt was married to a Catholic man. Their families were well-meaning toward me, and during my younger sister’s frequent life and death visits and admissions to the hospital, I spent many Sundays in one of their homes.

On Sundays, my mother’s brother, a non-Catholic, stayed home. It puzzled me that my aunt, who was always gracious and welcoming to me, and included me in every family outing, would on Sundays rush her sons out the door while I ate breakfast alone. I often asked to go with them, but she typically evaded my request by telling me my uncle was in the yard if I needed anything. So I would wander the house or watch television until my aunt and cousins returned from Mass. I assumed they didn’t take me with them because my parents and I were Protestants.

My father’s sister and her husband were both Catholic. I remember them as huge people who brooked no nonsense. The first time they took me to Mass I imitated them and knelt after we arrived at the pew. My aunt gently pushed me toward the seat and firmly whispered to stay seated. I sat there until I was told to kneel at the Elevation of the Host. At that time my aunt confided to me that Jesus was now present and they would soon go forward to receive Him. I looked very hard to see Jesus. When the family processed forward I was again told to sit. Jesus came to this church, but I was not invited to meet Him.

This, along with the definitive theological pronouncement from one of my Catholic cousins, who told me that as a Protestant I was going to hell along with the Christ killing Jews, sealed my relationship with the Roman Church. I was not angry with Catholics. I simply developed a gut level feeling that the Roman Catholic Church did not want me around, nor did it consider me of much worth.

When I returned with my parents to our Protestant church and heard again, “…Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world,” I sighed in relief. Jesus loved me.

My husband didn’t realize it, but I expected to be forever an outcast within any local Catholic church because I was not Roman Catholic. Worse, I also knew I’d be barred from taking communion with Rich. That knowledge caused me increasingly severe emotional stress. Communion was the foundation stone that was set into our lives the day we were married. We celebrated Communion as our first act as man and wife – an unusual request, our Evangelical Baptist pastor told us – but one he agreed to.

I was convinced the Catholic Church viewed my love for Jesus, and His for me, as improbable because of my incorrect doctrine and lack of participation in the correct rituals. I was convinced they believed Christ, my Savior, could not bridge that gap and call me His own. The pain of the childhood separation from my mother and from my aunts and uncles’ families morphed into a conviction that I would be separated from my beloved husband in the same way.

I began to have nightmares.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

My Life Plain And Simple

2004 started well. My husband had a good job; we lived in a pretty house on a quiet street with friendly neighbors and beautiful views out our windows. Our children were healthy and busy about their lives, and our siblings and elderly parents were active about theirs. We were involved in our church and had many new friends. Even a long desired art room was mine, and local art shows exhibited my work.

But in the mystery of life, serious changes crouched below the horizon. In fact, those changes – and challenges – were rooted in events two years earlier.

The first came with our move to Connecticut when we began to attend an Anglican church. Although we had never visited a sacramental church before, our interest was aroused when this particular Anglican church was strongly recommended by Christians we respected.

The Sunday we walked into the vestibule we were warmly greeted by the senior pastor. We felt at home with his sermon, the praise choir and the welcome from many in the congregation. But the transition from the non-sacramental Protestant upbringing of my childhood brought lots of questions from family and friends who wanted to know why we would attend a church they suspected to be non-biblical.

My faith and understanding of Christ was born and matured during my fifty-plus years in non-sacramental churches, although, as a young adult, I briefly investigated different styles of worship. I was intrigued by what I experienced at Newman Centers (special parishes that minister to the needs of college students) and for a brief time engaged in some discussions with a friend’s priest about the Catholic faith. Those experiences were more like looking through a window as an observer.

But, I became alive in Jesus the November evening I bowed my 26 year old heart before him, confessed my sins and gave Him my life – all of it. An Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Baptist foundation formed my doctrine and practice. Jesus accepted my commitment to Him and sent me to Japan where I taught kindergarten on the naval base. Within a month of my arrival, I met Rich. A short time later, we married and began our life in that foreign land. When we returned a year later to the States, Rich attended an Assemblies of God Bible college, and we began a family.

I grew in my relationship with Christ as a result of the testimonies of others, and was nurtured by the rich fellowship with godly men and women. My spiritual mentors – men and women of seasoned faith and experience – encouraged me to trust God’s plan for me, to stand firm against temptation, and live each day dedicated to Jesus. I learned to read the Bible from cover to cover, and choose books about Christians who lived totally for Christ. I attended Bible studies taught by mature Christians who also encouraged me to place my feet on the Rock, Christ Jesus.

But in time, I became complacent in my walk with the Lord. When I recognized it, I sought to be renewed in my spirit, and our gracious God sent a Pentecostal revival meeting to our town. It was a wonderful time of getting back to the basics of faith: Jesus’ death on the cross, salvation, resurrection . . . the renewed blessing of the Holy Spirit in my life encouraged me to be more active in the spreading of the gospel.

I believe I understand some of the nature of fallen man. We tend to get in a rut and that rut feels comfortable. So when we started attending the Anglican services I was forced out of my cozy rut. In time, I came to love the sacramental service, the people, and the idea that perhaps for a few moments I was touching the body and the blood of Christ. Our pastors were Anglo-Catholic in their teaching. Although the praise team led our worship, for me, simply entering the sanctuary was a time of worshipful recognition that Jesus was present there. That was not a new concept for me; that idea was held by members of all the Pentecostal and Holiness churches I attended.

The most difficult part of attending the Anglican Church was that it took me a long time to address the pastor as “Father.” I don’t know how often I would find myself not speaking to the man just so I did not say “Father.” He must have thought me a real dunce. But all those years as a child being told to “call no man father” really were hard to get past. After two years I was partly successful.

Life was not perfect but it was pleasant and even the hard places were manageable, taken one day at a time. Life became comfortable again.

I should have thought more about that as I read my Bible. Nowhere are Christians urged to sit back and relax. We are called to be salt and light, not comfy pillows on a couch. I was blinded by the thought that I was doing all I could for Jesus. I was as good a wife as I thought I could be. I was a loving mom and daughter. I attended church, helped out cleaning the sanctuary, taught first and second graders in a youth club, supported hungry and uneducated children . . . I thought I was doing all I could. I looked forward to a life of the same kind of service as I had been accustomed to for over 30 years.

What I did not know was Jesus wanted more.