Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Love Story

Several years ago, I wrote a short piece for Catholic Digest on our conversion. I've always wanted to say more because I'm a woman in love and I can't stop thinking about my first Love: Jesus Christ.

Baptism: I'm like the paralytic brought to Jesus

There's only one baby picture of me, I suspect because I was the fourth and last child of my parents, born in Khandwa, India. Although my mother was raised in the Anglican Church (her father was a priest who went on to become a Bishop) she brought me to Jesus at a Methodist Church, probably because the pastor there, Rev. Sham Rao, was a family friend. He baptized me when I was 2 months old, on the Feast of St. Patrick, March 17. My soul was marked as belonging to Jesus. I will always be grateful to my parents for my life, but especially for baptism.

And so began my life in Christ. I do not have a memory of not being in conversation with Him as a small child. He was ever present in my mind and I remember falling off chairs and tables because I was making space for him on those chairs and tables. I was already in love, thanks to all the Bible stories my mother shared. I was also aware of my guardian angel and had complete confidence of his protection. I lived without any sort of fear. My mother suffered greatly because of this. She tried to tell me cautionary tales but to no avail. I also had no fear of death because I knew that then I'd get to be with Jesus forever, just like my older brother, Arun.  

And so I grew. We moved to Bhopal when I was still an infant and there I went to St. Joseph's Convent School when I turned four years old. I loved the sisters and was sure I'd be a nun some day, a doctor-nun.

My father went to Germany to study and it was a shock to realize I'd forgotten him upon his return. I was five when he left again, to the US, and it was a very difficult time for my mother, managing everything on her own and not having any money after my other brother had a case of rheumatoid arthritis as well as several abdominal operations. I wrote about this in A Feast for Christmas. One thing that amazed me was my mother's faith in God's providence. And He did provide.

We moved to the US shortly thereafter, but returned to India a year later with my sister and mother when my parents' marriage began to fail. My brother stayed behind with my father in the US. And although I didn't know it at the time, this would be disastrous for my faith. I only knew that after we returned to India, I'd not only lost half my family, I'd also lost my best friend, Jesus. I no longer enjoyed the same closeness as I once did.

Eroding Faith: the Necessity of a Father

I was ten years old when I read the Diary of Anne Frank. I wept over what I learned was the holocaust. I couldn't believe that God would allow such carnage, and to His chosen people! This problem of suffering was one that my mother couldn't answer. She told me to have faith, but I was losing it. By that time, I was also aware of the suffering around me--the poor, the sick, the destitute. It seemed God didn't care for His creation at all, that only people like Mother Teresa, Damien of Molokai, and Albert Schweitzer did anything to alleviate suffering. They became my role models. By the time I turned twelve, I made a conscious decision not to pray because it seemed useless. I wanted to be a doer, not realizing that the great works of the saints had a foundation of prayer. But the day I made my decision, I cried buckets because I had truly lost my best Friend.

The absence of my father loomed large and I decided to rely upon myself, become self-sufficient. I enjoyed my studies and dreamed big dreams, of ministering to the sick, and in my old age, writing about the many adventures I would have. And as I grew and matured, I was puffed up with myself and missed Jesus less and less, until I didn't think of Him at all. I filled my time with studies and work and music. I think perhaps music and science are the two subjects of my curiosity and delight that still made me think, Oh how beautiful! There must be a God.

Where Sin Abounds so does Grace

I broke my poor mother's heart by being utterly willful and unrepentant of anything. She, of great faith, couldn't understand how she could've raised a child who actively chose not to have faith. I went to church, only to sing in the choir and make us both happy. I met the love of my life (now my husband) and reveled in the lust. We joked about how eager I was to be corrupted.  

When my mother died, there was no longer a reason to go to church and I didn't after the funeral. I was finishing up my studies in microbiology and was thinking about getting a job. Dreams of medical school vaporized; I was utterly alone and desolate. For the first time I felt fear. Fear of debt. Fear of failure. Fear of myself. When the acceptance letter finally came, I declined.

I spent more than a decade of my life in decadence. I didn't give a thought to the poor or suffering. I lived for myself and for pleasures. I thank my guardian angel for protecting me because surely had I died in my 20s I'd be in hell. I would've rejected God's mercy because frankly, I didn't think I needed it. I'd lost all sense of sin.

A Softening of the Heart

Michael and I finally married after ten years of pursuing our own dreams separately. That was the first step in living not just for myself, but for him too. I thought I'd given my all to him but it wasn't so. I withheld my fertility. Only five years later did we decide to grow our family. Max and Dagny taught me (still teaching :) even more about how to love, but just as quickly we closed that door, and this time permanently, with a vasectomy (we joked it was his 40th birthday present--and I write about those regrets in Contraception, Infertility and a Faith Journey).    

I quit working as a research scientist and embraced the life of being a homemaker. That old buried dream of writing surfaced. While still pregnant with Dagny, I looked into taking a writing class at the community college and as luck would have it, Peggy King Anderson was offering a class weeknights on children's writing and best of all it was offered at the local high school, just 10 min away. I didn't know the first thing about children's literature but I loved it, especially since I was discovering a wealth of it with Max, who adored being read to.

Some of the women in this writing class and the next one I took a couple of years later became my critique partners. I grew with them thanks to their many secret prayers. Molly and I would stay late talking books and faith and it was she who told me I was the world's worst atheist. She could see the little flame of God inside me, even if I was unaware.

My journey of faith is tied to Michael's. He had grown up with no faith at all and sometimes I think my loss of faith was necessary for us to be together. Tragedy struck American soil on 9/11 and it shook Michael to the core. He started examining his values and reading more conservative literature. We often talked about the things he was reading and I was writing. Our hearts were softening. 

The kids started school and with it came several bad influences, though the good far outweighed the bad. We didn't know how to counter the permissive culture, the complete insanity of rejecting natural law. I thought about my own childhood and the wonderful assurance that Jesus gave me but I couldn't be a hypocrite and send the kids to Sunday school when we did not believe. So we tried our best to love and raise the children with an emphasis on having a sense of right and wrong that is indeed written upon our hearts.

But one Christmas I was compelled to buy a children's Bible (You gotta love Amazon. I just checked on the link and it was Dec. 5, 2006 :) and Michael was so enamored by it, he offered to read the stories to the children. So began a love affair night after night as we read stories.

Church: Which One? 

But how we resisted going to church. I liked the Jesus and me theology. It was simple and uncomplicated. Also, every church we looked into didn't seem right. A group of people met to worship at the elementary school, but it felt too casual. I know that when two or three gather in His Name, He's there, but I wanted a sense of the sacred. Then there was a big church at the bottom of our hill that advertised "No Weird Stuff." What were they implying? That there's weird stuff in other churches? I went online to investigate the Anglican church, the one where I had some roots. But it was no longer the same church even. There were women priests and even homosexual priests. How could it be? It's as if people made the church in their own image. Whatever they liked in the Bible, they kept, and whatever they didn't (like the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, remember Henry VIII?), they just threw out. Finally, after much grumbling, it made sense to go to the first church that Jesus established, which was the Catholic Church.

It was Fall 2008. Max and Dagny were already in school and had begun playing organized sports. Michael thought it might be good to wait until after football season ended but that didn't make any sense to me because faith shouldn't depend upon any season. So we went one Sunday in October to St. Jude Parish, just 10 min away, near the high school.

I cried and cried because I was home. My kids had never seen me cry like this so I had to assure them it was because I was happy. Later Michael told me it all seemed very strange because the only thing he knew about the Catholic Mass came from movies like The Godfather :) 

After Mass, I tried to enroll the kids in Sunday school but Mary, the very nice lady in-charge asked about the childrens' ages and when they were baptized and I said, "never," she told me I needed to speak to Deacon Karl about RCIA. What in the heck, I thought. She said it was a Rite of Christian Initiation. Boy, I thought, why can't you just join a Catholic Church; why all the fuss? Any other church would welcome us with open arms, but not Catholics; they made it hard with all their rules. But I am glad they do.

RCIA: Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults

So I took my complaints and questions to Deacon Karl and he was wonderful about explaining everything. We enrolled in RCIA, which had already begun. We all went to morning Mass on Sunday but Michael and I and the others who were inquiring about the Catholic faith were dismissed after the homily so that we could more deeply ponder the Gospel. The kids stayed in church with our sponsors. I will always be grateful to the donut ministry that kept my kids sugared up and Knights of Columbus for keeping an eye on our kids while our sponsors joined us for RCIA. We'd go home for a few hours, then returned for the children's RCIA, led by Mary. Then it was time for Mass and this time, the children were dismissed for lectio divina. Deacon Karl worried about us burning out and suggested we do this over a couple of years, first the parents, then the children or vice versa, but I am so glad we made this journey of faith together. I now hear that it's very rare for entire families to enter the Church so but God granted us all the graces. Our Sundays automatically became reserved for Church, given we only had a few hours in the afternoon. And our conversations often revolved around the Catholic faith. But it wasn't smooth sailing at all. My health took a dive. Migraines became more frequent and vicious. I had to reverse every single position I held that went against the faith. It definitely bruised my pride but I'd rather live with Truth. It is both good and beautiful, though not always easy.

RCIA helped me to fall in love again. At any point in the journey, any of us could've dropped out. In fact, in our adult class, two Protestant women left before the Rite of Acceptance. During Lent, there were scrutinies and minor exorcisms. I almost lost it all on Palm Sunday. After reading the Passion during Mass, I felt unworthy. I knew I deserved death, not life. But Jesus drew me to Himself and showered all His tender mercies upon me. I wanted nothing more than to be in the shelter of His Cross, to be washed clean in His Blood. Our entire family was received into the Holy Roman Catholic Church at Easter Vigil--April 11, 2009, the feast of St. Gemma Galgani. I know all heaven was rejoicing, and especially my mother and brother and all our beloved dead. Many friends here on earth were also praying for us and I am eternally grateful to each and every one of them.

A New Creation

We are no longer the same. We are new creations in Christ. We might look the same, keep the same job, have the same hobbies, but we are no longer the same people and we could no longer keep on living the way we used to. Michael and I opened our marriage again to new life. We made sacrifices for the children to be able to attend Catholic schools. And thanks to The Godfather, Michael searched out the Mass of the Ages and we happily attend the Latin Mass. We prayed for more faith and God opened doors that we simply had to walk through. Our move to SC was that of fleeing Egypt, says Michael. I find myself writing about the saints or other treasures of the Church--her wealth inexhaustible. For the first time, I will attend a Catholic writing conference. I find myself returning to the childhood state of being in conversation with Jesus throughout the day. And the fire that was ignited at baptism burns so hot, I want to light the whole world on fire. This is my love story. It has no ending because it will continue through all eternity.


Mirka Breen said...

This is a love story. i didn't realize how new you were to the Catholic faith, though I knew you came to it as an adult after some meanderings.
This reminded me of a Talmudic story where the Rabbis concluded that the greater faith was the one that came after conquering doubts, not the one that never struggles.

Vijaya said...

Thank you for reading, Mirka. Struggle implies a search, a quest, and I am glad for the reward. I always tell my kids that if they ask for virtues, they will receive them. And then there are all the prayers of the faithful. I sometimes think they are what keep the world going completely off-course.

Faith E. Hough said...

This is a beautiful story AND beautiful writing, VIjaya!! I thank God for bringing you to Himself--and in a roundabout way, to me as a friend as well!

Vijaya said...

Thank you Faith. I did pray for faith :)

Anonymous said...

Welcome Home! Your writing reflects what St. Augustine says here.....

To the degree that someone loves Christ's Church,
to that degree he has the Holy Spirit.

Vijaya said...

Thank you John. I'm so grateful the Hounds of Heaven caught me. And it's wonderful to be part of the biggest family on Earth.

Meggie K. Daly said...

This is a very sweet (and well-written) story. I am sharing on my Author page. :-)

Unknown said...

What a wonderful and inspiring story, Vijaya; it's a living representation of the poem


One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.

In each scene, I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.

This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,

“You promised me, Lord,
that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”

The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”

Manny said...

Wow, what a wonderful story and journey. I was touched by the little girl who always had Jesus beside her. It's a shame you had to lose that, but from that mustard seed so much grew. God bless and welcome to our wonderful faith!

Vijaya said...

Meggie, thank you!

Ruby, I love that story.

Manny, the faith of children is so pure and I'm a work-in-progress as I return to that state and to the Source of everything. Thank you for stopping by.

Johnell said...

What an amazing story. Sounds like a book right there.

Vijaya said...

Thank you Johnell. Working on it :)

Vicki said...

Oh my, how moving, Vijaya, and how touchingly written. Have you appeared on Marcus Grodi's "The Journey Home," on EWTN? Your great witness to Christ's action in your life would bless so many. Thank you so very much.

Vijaya said...

Vicki, thank you. And it would be amazing to meet Marcus Grodi. I love The Journey Home program.

Vicki said...

Vijaya, I'll bet he would love to meet you, too -- and his viewers, me included, would love to "meet" you too! The Coming Home Network is at chnetwork.org (or: info@chnetwork.org), its number is 740-450-1175, and its address is P.O. Box 8290, Zanesville, OH 43702-8290. Please consider contacting him! God bless and keep you and your beautiful family.

Vijaya said...

Thank you for all this information and your encouragement. I will pursue it further.

JOSE said...

Thank you Vijaya for sharing your painful but inspirational story of transformation to land in the lap of Lord Jesus Christ through the Catholic faith. Your story was not only a loving but it also was adventurous journey. Best wishes.

Vijaya said...

Thank you Jose. This is what I call sweet surrender.

Vijaya said...

From my auntie Tara: Awesome, Winkie ! Much of what you wrote is true in my own life as well- except that I have loved the faith all through...but my 'love affair' with Jesus began at age 19 when the British missionaries explained the need of a personal commitment to Our Lord.and I gave myself to HIM very easily. I find HIM near me literally every second of the day,and when I sleep He is watching over me, and my humble home. Although everyone in my building have fixed safety doors, I have not,and when I go out, I lock with a flimsy lock- yet not a thing has ever been robbed !

As an activist and social worker, I often am in the courts of India,and I take that opportunity to witness of Our Lord and our Faith, esp with our name as Pathak ( Hindu Brahmin name - at the top of the "caste heirarchy" ) people are surprised,so that is an excellent opportunity also to tell them how we /my Grandfather, the High priest of the HIndu temple fearlessly embraced Christianity ( and was hounded to be killed by all HIndus- and went into hiding for 6 months!!) I also strongly believe that "faith without works is dead"- 'an ounce of practice is worth a pound of preaching"- so I try when and where I may- w/out the 'left hand knowing what the right hand does"

Long story- felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to share,with love and prayers- Your aunt/ baby mawshi- Tara Pathak

( I tried to blog it- didnt work- if you know how, you may add to the comments you got already-stay blest in the Lord )

Pringle Franklin said...

Thank you for sharing your personal journey of faith. I love the way the Lord drew your entire family into his open arms. I appreciate your honesty and desire to share so that others might likewise come to know and love Jesus Christ.

Vijaya said...

Thank you for reading and sharing my joy.

ABEhrhardt said...

For several years, before we moved to a retirement community in California, I sang in a tiny Catholic choir for Catholic students and Mass in the Princeton U. chapel - an experience which I'll always remember with love: wonderful music, a significant amount of it in Latin - with many trained music majors in the group. (I was the oldest member by a good 50 years!) The organ is magnificent, our organists accomplished musicians with advanced degrees. The chapel it the largest gothic chapel in the US, and a treasure of stained glass.

The annual celebration of the Triduum was a big part of the annual cycle, and every year we welcomed a group of college students to the Church who took time during their very busy Ivy League years to go through RCIA, and be welcomed in at the Easter celebrations. There are few things as dramatic that remind you of where you are and what you're doing.

My participation was always barely on the edge of possible - we practiced in the crypt, 33 steps down - and the campus security let me park my handicapped van right by the back door. A glorious way to share a bit of talent and an avocation of music and to spend some time with the annual crop of amazing students. Won't forget that and the Christmas masses. It kept me on my toes because we rarely had the music in advance!

I'm so glad you had that experience with your family.

Vijaya said...

Ah, to sing in a choir with music majors! How beautiful. It is truly a gift to be able to elevate the liturgy. It's why our director is exacting. Music has been such a balm to my soul. I find that I pray best in silence or song. And Triduum! I love salvation history being recounted. And to welcome the newest members in our church family. Thank you for reading my favorite story, my love story!