things you learn in an ER waiting room and other stuff

I spent last night in the waiting room at the Southwest Hospital ER.

I’m fine, no worries. My dad had a mole removed earlier in the week and the doctor hit a blood vessel. He was fine until yesterday. He must have done something to agitate it, because he started bleeding really heavily. No kidding. The bathroom looked like a crime scene. My mom was concerned about the amount of blood he was losing (and the fact it wouldn’t stop bleeding), so she called 911. The paramedics came, got the bleeding stopped & told him to get to the ER asap for some stitches. A neighbor happens to be an ER doctor came down & took a look at it and basically said the same thing.

Which is how I ended up in an ER on a Sunday evening. Because hospitals make me nervous (read: batshit crazy), I stayed in the waiting room. Honestly, I don’t know which was worse: the back with all of the sick people or the waiting room with the crazy people. In the two-ish hours I was there, I witnessed an old lady screaming at her husband, a teenage girl behind an intake door for at least 45 minutes that was either laughing hysterically or crying hysterically, a homeless-looking dude wandering around and muttering to himself, and (my favorite) a guy complaining about his hernia that was SO drunk I could smell him from across the room. Since I was sitting down at a small table, writing, he thought I worked there. He repeatedly asked me where the bathroom was and then bitched that the hospital didn’t have enough staff when I told him I didn’t know. I felt I needed a flea bath when I go home.

the good news: Papa D is FINE. And he had a McRib yesterday, which made him happy.

Now I’ll turn my attention towards something else entirely.

Religion.

And, no, this isn’t going to be some preachy, you-should-all-believe-what-I-believe post. This is simply about MY faith journey and how I’m continually struggling to stay on path.

I grew up in a family that went to church, even though we weren’t all that religious. We all believed in God and in Jesus and my siblings and I all went to Sunday school, made our first communions and were confirmed. God was never an issue in our house because we all believed. We were far more likely to disagree on what to watch on TV or whether or whether or not David Cassidy was the greatest teen idol to ever have lived (and the correct answer is yes, he IS the greatest).

Even though there was no question about my belief in God, I never felt any sort of real connection to my faith. I never felt ‘home’ in a church. My family had been going to a church in my hometown for a few years. It was (is) one of the larger Lutheran churches in the area & a ton of people that I went to school with went there. It was a fairly young-ish congregation and a pretty involved youth ministry.

I HATED it there. Hated it. No question.

I hadn’t been confirmed there. I was confirmed in a church a few cities over, a much smaller congregation (I was confirmed with MAYBE 10 other people) and a much older demographic. Because I didn’t go through the program at FL (“First Lutheran”), I didn’t really know anyone. And I was NEVER asked to get involved. You would think that a church with a thriving youth ministry would see a family with 3 teenage (or pre-teen) kids & would try to get them involved. You would be wrong.

But that was whatever. My REAL issue was with the pastor of the church, Mr. Chuck Knerem. That’s his real name. I don’t care if he (or someone he knows) reads this because he should know how HORRIBLE he made me feel. Go ahead and send him “un-fan” mail (not hate mail because that’s sort of mean. but “un-fan” mail is totally appropriate).

Chuck knew my family. He knew my parents and my siblings (they were both going through confirmation at the time). Every week we would go to service and afterwards he would greet my ENTIRE family by name. Except for me. I can’t tell you how many times my parents would introduce me. And he NEVER remembered my name. If he didn’t know anyone’s name in the congregation, it wouldn’t have been an issue. But he seemed to know everyone (and I’m not exaggerating) and called them by name.

At 14, you’re already feeling pretty self-concious and weird. And if you were me, you often felt like a loser-y misfit that didn’t really fit in anywhere and that no one REALLY liked you. Church was supposed to be a place where you should feel good going to. And I never felt good going there. In fact, I dreaded going more than I dreaded gym class (and believe me, I HATED gym class).

Because my brother was such a star confirmation student (note the EXTREME sarcasm), my mom began what was a weekly phone call with Chuck, in which she would explain why E was missing confirmation classes, not paying attention during them, etc. Seriously. They spoke all the time. I’m not kidding when I say Chuck knew my entire family. During a conversation my mom mentioned to him that it would mean a lot to ME if he greeted me by name at church and that we had met numerous times.

Chuck’s response? He had FAR too many other important things to do & couldn’t be bothered to learn my name.

I’m not kidding. The PASTOR OF A CHURCH SAID HE WAS TOO BUSY TO LEARN A CONGREGANT’S NAME!

I never went back into the church again. If I meant so little to a pastor that he couldn’t be bothered to learn my name, I was obviously not welcome in the church.

Thus began my own spiritual journey, or as I like to call it. “Stacey’s Excellent (Religious) Adventure” 

It started in college. I went to a small, private liberal arts college operated by the Bretheran Church. I have no idea what the Bretheran believe, but from what I gather it’s basically baptist that really like washing one another’s feet. As I said, I grew up Lutheran. I started there, getting involved in the Lutheran Student ministry, but also trying out different avenues. I’d go to Baptist services with my friend, Betsey (who, to this day, remains one of my spiritual inspirations. She has an awesome faith in God and a connection with her faith that I can only aspire to). While they were nice, I never felt comfortable. Besides, I was terrified that Pastor Ben would randomly call on me one day in the middle of church and I’d be tongue-tied (seriously, he would randomly ask people to say prayers before offering, etc. It was like the religious socratic method). I was lost (spiritually) and couldn’t figure out where exactly I fit.

That’s when I went to mass for the first time.

My mom grew up Catholic and had been missing the Church for some time. She had agreed to raise my siblings and I in the Lutheran faith at my dad’s request, but had always considered herself a Catholic. She had been talking about going back to the Catholic church for years (I think Chuck had something to do with it) and after E was confirmed, she was true to her word.

I went to mass with her in May of 2005. And, for the first time in my life, going to church made me feel something other than anger.

St Joseph’s in Strongsville, Ohio, would become my home in in the next two years. And I haven’t looked back since.

The first time I went to mass, I cried the entire time. Not because I was sad, but because I actually felt God. One of the things I love most about Catholicism and Catholic churches is (generally) how sacred they are. Catholics take their sanctuaries seriously. It’s very quiet in a Catholic church before mass, with people kneeling and praying quietly. It’s reverential. I was used to rock bands being at church (again, true story. On E’s confirmation day, Chuck & his “band” played a Police song. In the middle of the service. Not kidding). I felt God’s presence and it made me weep.

I was struck by the order of the Mass. Everyone seemed to know what was going on. Sit, stand, kneel. Say some prayers by heart. No surprises. I liked that. And I looked at my mother, who hadn’t been a regular mass-goer in over 20 years…and she easily fell into the rhythm with everyone else. If you looked at her and the rest of the people, you wouldn’t know she was the newbie. She looked like she belonged—that she was part of the super-secret Catholic club. And I longed to be a member.

One of my very favorite things about mass is just how reverential it is. We kneel and genuflect before entering or exiting a pew. We bow before approaching the alter. We kneel before the Eucharist. And, what remains my favorite part of the mass, is when the Gospel is read. Instead of just picking up a bible, there is an entire method of bringing the Word to the pulpit. The Priest (or Deacon) holds up the book and shows it to the congregation, who stands out of respect. Seriously, just thinking about it makes me want to cry a little.

I walked out of mass for the first time, turned to my mom and said “I want to become Catholic.” Just like that. I knew it.

What most people don’t know is that becoming Catholic isn’t something that happens overnight. You have to go through an entire process called the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (or RCIA). It typically spans an entire year, culminating in the Easter Vigil, where adults are confirmed and baptized (if they’ve never been baptized before). Since it was May, the process had just ended. So, heartbroken, I had to wait another year.

It became obvious that going through RCIA during the school year was going to be really hard. I was down at school, completing my senior year. And I KNEW I wanted to go through RCIA at St. Joe’s. THAT was the congregation I wanted to be a part of. So, I decided to wait another year & continue going to mass and learning about Catholicism.

Finally, in September of 2006, I made the plunge and began my RCIA journey at St. Joe’s. Even now, when I think about that time in my life, I get a little choked up. During my RCIA time, I really fell in love with Catholicism and with the St. Joe’s community. Those people became my family and I am so grateful to them for helping me follow my path towards becoming Catholic. Mike, Karen, Laura, Todd and Doug & Debbie (plus my fellow RCIA-ers!) made that year post-college a great one. I doubt any of them will read this, but if they do, thanks. You all will forever have a special place in my heart.

Sure, there were things that I wasn’t a huge fan of (the “God walk” rings a bell. Taking a walk in the dark didn’t make me feel closer to God. It just made me nervous that someone was going to break something. And it’s hard to be serious when all you can see is the glow of a Burger King sign). And making my first confession was a little scary. But I was also running a fever & was delirious. I’m pretty sure I told Father Bob not to touch me because I didn’t want him getting sick.

And that brings me to the priests at St. Joe’s. After such a miserable experience at FL with Chuck, I didn’t hold out too much hope. I didn’t expect anything as to not be disappointed.

I, instead, was surprised with getting to know two of the finest men I’ve ever gotten to know. Father Bob and Father Barry remain to this day two of my favorite people on earth. When I think about Father Barry, it’s hard not to laugh. He was our young(ish) priest that had had an Air Force career before joining the clergy. When I met him for the first time, he was wearing a Browns sweatshirt and introduced himself as “Barry.” He was so energetic and funny and his homilies were always filled with just the right amount of humor and wit. He has since left St. Joe’s to head up his own parish and I miss him on the regular.

And now, to Father Bob. As cheesy as it sounds, I can’t help but think of Father Bob and cry a little. He is “good”, personified. Truly good. What every priest or man (or woman) of the cloth tries to be. If you’ve ever seen the show, M*A*S*H, Fr. Bob IS Fr. Mulcahy. Sweet, soft-spoken and easily the most calm & gentle man I have ever met in my life. Seriously. Beloved by everyone he ever met, always willing to help out in whatever capacity necessary (seriously, the man dressed up for the “nights on broadway” fundraiser and offered to be in the dunk tank for the parish picnic. Not afraid to get his hands dirty, that one). Fr. Bob started the parish’s bi-annual mission trip to El Salvador because he “wanted to do something good.” If every priest were like him, there wouldn’t be the terrible stigma associated with priests. He retired last month and we in the parish community miss him terribly.

I should probably also mention that both of these men never forgot my name.

I’ve always felt welcome and at home within the Catholic church. It’s not for everyone and that’s ok. However you worship (or choose not to) is a-ok with me. My only beef is with people of faith (or very much NOT of faith) that feel it’s ok to mock you for your beliefs. Christians are guilty of this…but some of the WORST offenders I’ve seen are militant atheists who feel it necessary to tell you that you are not just an idiot, but a FUCKING idiot, for believing in the “fiction that it religion.” Listen, buddy, I don’t mock you for your terrible taste in clothing (at least not to your face). I’m not bothering you. What’s it to you if I like going to mass on Sundays? but that’s whatever. This post ended up being FAR longer than I anticipated, but I think it was worth talking about.

So if you made it to the end, congrats! If I could send you a virtual kit-kat bar, I would (because, really, who doesn’t love a kit-kat?)

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One thought on “things you learn in an ER waiting room and other stuff

  1. I loved reading about your journey. That year “we” went through RCIA was one of the best times we have ever shared. I know you got a lot out of it, but believe me, I got just as much – maybe more. When I decided to raise you all in the Lutheran church, I didn’t think it would be a big deal – religion is religion. But as the years were going by, just like you, I never felt like I “fit in”. As sad as it was, when we went to the funeral for Gina, I knew I had found my new church home. But I had made that commitment to raise you all Lutheran – and had a few more years to wait. Thanks for going with me.

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