Saturday, October 18, 2008

The People You Meet

In Summer, 2005, my step-father was battling cancer and decided after forty-plus years away from God and the Church to finally return (to both). My mother had always said if he went back, she'd go with him. She didn't care that he was Catholic and she was Protestant, she signed up for RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) -the class you take to become Catholic.

A couple states away, I, their daughter was living my little life as a devoted follower of Jesus and member of a non-denominational Christian church. But I was THRILLED that they were deciding to come back to God - I knew this was an answer to years of praying. And any bias I had against the Catholic church was smoothed over by my trust in the Lord that He had His hand in the whole thing.

I am a curious person. If, after all these years, my parents were going to commit themselves to God and to church - I wanted to know more about it. Had they chosen a non-denominational church, or even one of the denominations I was familiar with: Baptist; Presbyterian; Lutheran; Methodist; Reformed; or Pentecostal, I would have known all I needed to know. But Catholic was a mystery. All I knew about Catholicism was that many of its members leave to join the "non-denominations" I was familiar with and that they believe enough weird things to make it "iffy" whether they really know Jesus or not - that's what I thought. When I thought "Catholic", I thought "stuffy"; "Mary-obsessed"; and other unfavorable notions influenced by all the ex- or non-practicing Catholics I'd known.

For my purposes, I decided to "go to the source". I got out the phone book and called the Catholic Church in our little town of Yucaipa to see if I could take a class something like what my parents were taking. This was a research project for me, though - I had NO intention of EVER becoming Catholic. And it was also sort of a demonstration of my love for my parents and acceptance of their decision to move toward God.

If I could have been labeled mildly anti-Catholic, Kevin would have been more drastically so. But for whatever reason, (God's intervention?) he gave me his blessing to attend the RCIA classes at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church in Yucaipa starting immediately.

My memories of those few RCIA classes I attended are accentuated by the people I met. I can picture many of them in my mind, and I remember some of their stories - but only a few names stand out, probably because I later developed some level of relationship with them. From the very beginning, though, I met Pat, Wally, Veronica, Rob, and Deacon Dan.

Here's what I knew about Rob: He was married and had three boys at home. He had the exact same work attire as Kevin - I wondered if he had a similar career. He was a sponsor for one of the guys in RCIA. And judging by his answers to the things we all discussed, as well as his rapport with Pat, the leader, he was a strong Catholic with at least SOME kind of real relationship with God (imagine that, little Protestant girl!)

After a VERY significant time in RCIA (significant in that it wrecked all my prejudice against the Church and corrected my misconceptions) I quit going. I'd had GREAT conversations over the phone with my parents about what I learned. And when my step-dad died suddenly a couple months later, I thanked God for allowing me to learn a little bit more about the religion that had drawn him back after so long away.

Other than the blessings of some joyful, unifying conversations with my parents, I didn't think I was affected much by the time in RCIA. And I continued attending and being involved at our church. I was part of a MOPS group there and at Christmastime, (now in Yucaipa just over a year) I felt like I had a sort of a friendship breakthrough at a holiday party one night. This woman, Karen, talked about all the places she had lived growing up and in her adult life. She said that all the moving around taught her to "cut to the chase" with friendships. If she got along with someone, there wasn't time to take it slow - just get together for coffee and get on with it! I liked that advice, especially coming from where I was at the time - on my fourth move in three years and desperate for friends.

So I asked her for coffee. It never really happened. We meant well, but my baby was still under a year and she was getting ready to give birth so schedules didn't mesh. I knew we shared an interest in running, though, so months later when there was a 5K in our town, I asked her to join me. She did! I don't know what kind of indoctrination a foot race is for a friendship, especially when you're only about 8 weeks postpartum, but she was a trooper and because she never stopped, even on the hellacious hills, neither did I.

Next thing I knew, I heard from a friend who lived close to Karen that she was moving overseas. I called her to tell her I'd heard she was moving and she was nice enough to tell me she was going to keep a blog and give me the address. Then she left. I LOVED reading her blog. I lived vicariously through her accounts of being an American woman, wife, and mom in the adventurous world of Indonesia. Plus I just dug her sense of humor, humility, and storytelling skills.

Imagine my surprise when once she included a photo of her husband in a post and I recognized him!!! It was Rob from RCIA. It was very freaky to figure this out about a year after going to RCIA. It was fun to tell her about it on e-mail and freak her out, too. I hadn't even known she was Catholic until right before she left.

And now another two years have gone by. More children have been born, and Rob and Karen are back in the U.S. - in Yucaipa, even. Kevin and I have become Catholic (which is more of a long story and I'll write the whole thing out some day). And in the 15 months since we moved away, a new Church building was completed in the same parish where Kevin and I first started attending Mass in October of 2006. The dedication of that new building took place today. We are here visiting for it, on a whirlwind 24-hour trip to our "roots" of this new faith which has been an adventure in itself. Tonight I got to see Rob and Karen in person. Together. At church. Not just on her blog, (which I still enjoy). And on the surface, they're just a fun story of a wild connection that only God would pull off. But if you think a little deeper, like I like to - they're a valuable part of how I came to believe in this Church from the beginning. I needed to see another family who looked at least a little like us. And I needed to know that there are Catholic "missionaries". (They went to Indonesia with Catholic Relief Services.) And my faith is steadied when I read about Karen's everyday life, mothering, and attitudes in light of the fact that I now know very well she is Catholic.
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