(This testimony is from the 20-something daughter of a couple who are regular readers here – and who I have met. It was not sent to me as a guest column, but merely as a testimony (as you can see, I get the most interesting mail!) It brought me to tears. It also touches on some profound themes we have talked about here. This young woman’s faith entered into fullness through the literal intervention of a Storm. In the midst of the terror, she underwent a profound illumination. She lost a house and found the faith – and considers it a good bargain. This so illustrates how a storm can be a profound act of mercy and is so movingly told, I asked permission to share it as a guest column.
The young woman agreed, but asked that I maintain her anonymity. For the purpose of this article, I have called her Amanda – but that is not her actual name.)
I had my son when I was 16… And so began my fall away from the Catholic Church. A heavy opening for any story, I must admit. The purpose of this story is not to evaluate my shortcomings in great detail- but rather, to share what I have learned through the course of my time as a young woman. I find the story back here, to my Catholic roots, inspiring, when I reflect. I could not help but write this story, even should it never be seen by another’s eyes.
I was born Catholic. Baptized as a toddler. I attended Catholic Church on Sundays. I was in Religious Education for as long as I can remember. I did not like going to Sunday School. I dreaded Mass.
I remember riding home from a carnival with one of my friends, a fellow Catholic. I was in the 5th Grade. Her mother pulled the Rosary Beads that hung from her mirror and passed them out, handing one to me. My friend, her siblings, and their mother, started praying the Rosary. I was completely and utterly lost. I felt more than a little embarrassed, as I did not know this strange prayer. I cast my eyes down, tried to mumble my way through. Later that week, my friend handed me a small white pouch. She had used blue glitter and glue to decorate the outside with a hand drawn cross, written my name on the opposite side. I opened up the pouch, and inside was a Rosary with pink and gold beads. Looking further in was a “How to Pray the Rosary” pamphlet. Looking back, I wish I would have thanked her properly.
That was my life as a Catholic up until I turned 16. I was Confirmed and would later have a beautiful baby boy. It was hard to go to Church when I had chosen to go against Church teaching in such a profound way. It was hard to live in a world where everyone, except our Church, seemed to condone, if not celebrate, such choices. Earthly desires. Not of God. I bought in- hook, line, and sinker.
I did not attend Mass for five years. I was happy, at times, during these five years. However, I lacked direction. Poor choices were made. I was doing good if I made it to Mass on Christmas and Easter Sunday. It was during this time that I would begin to date my future husband, who I had known the majority of my life.
When my son began school, I remember thinking that I did not want him growing up without a Faith. And so, I began coming to Mass again and only on Sundays. It was for his benefit that this choice was made and not my own. I felt out of place in Church. I struggled to get up on Sundays. I realize now that I was in the Catholic Church, but the Church was not in me.
I was married. In the Catholic Church, as I had always planned. It remains the best decision of my life. I am blessed with a wonderful husband and am thankful for him and all that he is and does for our family.
Our family moved to Iowa in November of 2010. I joined the local parish there. I continued on my mission to bring Faith to my son through the means of Sunday School and brief nightly Prayers. We would go to Church, he would go to class, and then we would forget about God until the next Sunday.
In April of 2011, I was expecting our second child. Then, as fate would have it, our house was struck by a tornado. It was late at night. The sky black. The wind howling. My husband had gone into town to see some friends. I was at home with our son. He called and asked that we go to the basement, as the storm was headed right over the top of us. He said he would be home when the storm had passed.
About 15 minutes later, the door swung open, and my husband walked in. I asked him why he was home. He said he just felt like he should be home- no reason in particular. We got out some board games to play and huddled around the fire in our basement… Waiting for the storm to blow over. Our son had become very distraught, crying. He said he did not want to die in a tornado.
I tried to comfort him, saying there was no tornado. The chances of one hitting our house were even less. Within minutes, we heard the gutters being ripped off of the house. My husband suggested we get under the stairs- to err on the side of caution. As we hunkered there, under the stairs, I heard a very faint groan. The sound so low, I could not tell if the noise was real. Perhaps, a figment of an overactive imagination? It reminded me, in some regards, like the absence of noise. Filling my head in the oddest manner. The next moment, the windows shattered up above. All you could hear was breaking glass scattering across the floor. Falling in shards.
My son was sitting in my lap. My arms stretched around him, holding him as tight as they possibly could. Knuckles white. I tried to comfort him, tell him that it would be okay. I felt like I said those words for a lifetime, “It will be okay.” I was not so sure. I braced for the impact of what was surely coming. I could not change this imminent threat. Powerless in a world we try so desperately to control.
The house was creaking above, from the force surrounding it. The furniture was moving upstairs. I could hear the scratch of our couch upon the hardwood floor. In one sweeping motion our furniture was ripped from the North side of the house to the South. The moment reminded me of a toddler, knocking down blocks, stacked on a table, with one fleeting and forceful swipe.
The stairs above us started to bounce, a slight up and down motion. Our house was torn from the foundation then. Turned inside out. The impact hurt. We were thrown from under the stairs to the concrete wall behind us. The stairs now gone. We were huddled in the corner of the basement. Debris flying around. My husband was on his feet, trying to shield us from what was airborne. The sky was angry above. The only light came for brief seconds, when the lightning struck. Quickly followed by the deafening clap of thunder. Rain poured down on us. I do not remember feeling cold, perhaps I wasn’t. The wind was so strong I thought we might blow away, get lost in the black abyss.
In that moment, when I saw our house disappear into the dark, and I felt the hard rain on my face, it was not of earthly things that I thought about. It was not the beautiful artwork that I had hung on the walls. It was not a lifetime of buying and selling; of the finding and fixing. It was not the hours put into cleaning or the blankets so lovingly sewn by my Grandmother. It was not the photo books, diplomas, electronics, or jewelry. I did not cry for my fridge full of just purchased goods, my car, or clothes. None of the possessions just lost came to mind. Not even one.
When death was as close to me and my family as it had ever been, I thought about Confession. I had not been but two times in my entire life. I saw myself clearly for the first time. I had not been doing my part. I had not said yes to God. I was afraid, spiritually. It remains the most terrifying feeling that I have experienced. I feared that I would not get the opportunity to meet God. I would not spend an eternity in Heaven. I realized that it was all my fault. I was so terribly sorry. The realization made it hard to breathe. I had not been able to hear God’s voice calling me because I had refused to listen. I had refused to look His way. I am nothing without my Savior… Just another floating soul; lost and without direction.
My son’s lower back had been crushed between my legs, sitting on the basement floor, and the brick chimney, that had run through the middle of the house. His upper body was still wrapped within my arms. I do not remember the weight on my legs- of my son, or the chimney, sitting on top of him. My husband was able to lift the chimney just enough for me to pull our son and myself out from underneath. I prayed the Our Father and Hail Mary with my son that night- out loud and clear, until help arrived.
In the day that followed, my husband tried to lift the chimney. He found that he could not, even with the help of a friend. Our capacity of strength knows no bounds when loved ones are at stake. Imagine the love God feels for us- when we, as people, have such love buried deep within ourselves.
The next morning, I returned to where our house had stood the night before. It was strange to see what remained of our home, laying there for all to see. Volunteers came to help us go through what was left. Our possessions scattered, dirty and torn. Some items were too far gone to save, put in a pile to be taken to the dump. Others, the things worth trying to save, were packed into a trailer and hauled into town.
I found the Rosary Pouch later, as I went through our collected possessions. I held it close to my heart. This Rosary and Pouch was one of two things that I owned to remind me of my Faith. The other was a decoration given to me at my first Communion. A ceramic book, with the Our Father written upon it in gold. This also survived- when everything else was broken and in pieces. Scattered to the wind. I washed the Rosary up, now good as new. I tucked them neatly into my borrowed dresser drawer. It is probably the best gift I have ever received. Though I did not know it at the time it was given. Her gesture was one that we are all called to do, to bring our Faith to others.
I spent the evenings following the night of the tornado, during the long and sleepless nights; in the quiet of the dark, examining my conscience.
It had been 10 years since my last Confession. I had to Google what to do, write down the Act of Contrition, so I would not forget. On Sunday, I arrived early. I was so anxious that I turned around once, deciding that it could wait- just another week. Alas, the need to go was much too great. I gathered all the courage that I could collect and went into the beautifully decorated Church. It was a tough Confession. I was shaky as I spoke. Afterwards, I felt so incredibly free! So amazingly thankful for having been given this gift. For having been given our Lord’s Mercy. I had taken His Mercy granted for much too long. The relief of it was overwhelming. I wept. Perhaps it was my sorrow in all that I had done to offend. Perhaps it was the fact that those sins no longer sat heavily upon my shoulders. Both, it seems, to me.
Later that morning my Mother called and told me that it was Divine Mercy Sunday. She had to explain what all of that meant. I had not known. It was a wonderful surprise. I told my Mother that I had already gone… proud of my small accomplishment. This was the turning point for me. The moment in which I really, truly, wanted to grow in my Faith. Become closer to God.
My journey in Faith is far from over. But looking back through my life, it is amazing to see the changes that have unfolded. I look forward to Mass now. I go to Confession more often than before. Though, truth be told, I need to go more. I have a Crucifix hanging by the front door and in each of our bedrooms, a Rosary hung around. I bought Psalms and Prayers to decorate the walls. I have Praying Hands and a small statue of our Blessed Mother. My son has a Prayer Table.
Prior to the tornado, my house was full of things. My Faith was not in my home. My home was not where I practiced it. I had almost nothing there to remind me of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. To remind me of the enduring love that God has for each and every one of us.
My Mother encourages my family to grow in our Faith each day. For all that I might have missed in my Faith- I have been given the opportunity to nurture it within myself and my children now. I signed up for Adult Faith Formation Classes. I want to feel capable in teaching my children about our Faith; with confidence and strength.
For the first time, I have chosen to truly practice my Faith with my own free will. I still have much work ahead of me. Trusting in the Lord and getting out of my own head is difficult. My fallen nature assures me of the challenges still to come. But I am excited at what my future holds and what our most Merciful Father has in store for me. I love my Catholic Faith. Years ago, I would not have said the same.
With little steps in the right direction, who knows what the Lord might have in store for each of us. This is how the Lord chose to call me back to my Faith. Each of us has our own story. God calls to us all. The question is, will we listen?
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.