Truest self

My “Why” would have to start with my childhood, growing up with immigrant parents who kept to themselves and didn’t really venture out into the community to make friends. My sisters and I made friends in school, but we didn’t dare bring them home because of my dad.  He had a mercurial temper, and we were all careful not to disturb or upset him, but then we never knew what would set him off.  When he got angry, he was both physically and verbally abusive to my mother and to us kids.  Growing up, I was afraid my dad would seriously hurt my mother, even kill her.  I prayed feverish prayers at night that my mom and dad wouldn’t get into a fight, which always led to his hurting her.

When I was nine years old, my dad sexually abused me; I didn’t tell anyone.  He kept up the abuse all through high school.  If I thought about God at all, it was with a despairing cry of how much longer could we live like this.  The abuse stopped only after I went away to college.

I never talked about my childhood or the abuse I suffered and that my family suffered.  My dad had a stroke when I was a sophomore in college.  When he came home from the hospital, my dad was not the same man.  The stroke affected his speech so that he spoke haltingly, and his bluster, his anger, his dominant personality was severely diminished.  Yet this broken man had held such sway over my life. 

As I grew into womanhood, I felt there was something lacking in me, that I was emotionally stunted.  I saw friends and classmates who seemed much more at ease in the adult world, and who seemed much better able to navigate their way through life than me.  After years of being the quiet, compliant child, I found it difficult to speak on my own behalf.  I was intimidated by everyone, and deferred to anyone who was older than me.  It was during my college years that I stopped going to church and stopped praying.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted out of life, certainly to finish college and after that to get a job and support myself.  I had chosen journalism as my major because I liked to write, so I hoped to get a job writing.  But my path was haphazard.  I happened on a job in the corporate sector and made a good salary. In those days I was driven by my own ambition to be good at what I did, to climb the corporate ladder and to make a lot of money.  I was in my 30s and by this time, I had returned to the church and all its trappings.  I subsequently married and had three children.  In one respect, I had it all; I had achieved the American dream.  Still, there was a restlessness growing inside me, and I sought answers in spirituality and spiritual direction. 

In my mid-40s, I began changing jobs as one employer after another faced mergers, consolidation, acquisitions and downsizing.  The luster of working in the corporate world had dulled, and I was becoming increasingly aware of the compromises I had made to be part of that environment.  When I moved to Saint Paul for yet another job and subsequently lost it the following year—it was the third job I’d lost in four years, I didn’t despair.  I felt God was telling me to take a break.  And I did.  In that time, I became acquainted with “social justice.”  In the nine-month study group I joined, I began to realize how self-centered I’d become.  I had never given much thought to anyone or anything outside the family circle.  And, really, even with my family and my husband, most of my focus had been on me, on my career, on my successes or failings.  Everything else was peripheral.

That study group changed me and through it I found ISAIAH, and the opportunity to work against injustice and the chance to lift my own voice for myself and for others.  I became keenly aware of my need to re-connect with my family and to get more involved with their lives.  I wanted to be a better and more present mother.  I have learned so much about myself and my own fears and hang-ups in engaging in this justice work.  Because of it, I feel as if I’m becoming more my truest self, a self that wants to understand and learn how best to love my family and friends, my neighbors, and all my brothers and sisters in my community.  

5 thoughts on “Truest self

  1. Arline, thank you for sharing this very heartbreaking and private story. I am amazed at your resilience and look forward to sharing more deeply with you in our small group.

  2. First:
    How does it feel to tell the story, here, in this context?

    Old wounds can heal, you are a living witness to not remaining a victim. Yet, they can still hurt to remember. I’m praying for healing grace to pour out, with consolation and courage and inner freedom.

    “Part of me is drawn to the ministry of the diaconate, but I’m not sure why.”

    Here’s what I hear & what I see:

    Your father stole your voice: ” I found it difficult to speak on my own behalf.”

    And you began performing the American version of success (high powered corporate job, seemingly successful life as married w/kids)

    Until a turning point: “I felt God was telling me to take a break.  And I did.”

    You chose to be open to something new: and your life has taken a turn towards ever deepening commitment to the work of equity and liberation in the world, discovering your own leadership potential, opening up pathways to listen to God and find your voice.

    So: Why do you want to build power now?
    Power for what?

    Yes – to flip the senate in 2020 in Minnesota. Why does that matter for you? What’s it about? What’s at stake for you?

    Where do you think your father got his ideas about how to treat your mother, you, and your siblings?

    What kind of power would you need to be part of, to flip the formation that men get all around the world implicitly through a distortion that rests at the heart of our beloved Catholic Church: that man have the power, and women and children are on the receiving end of their unilateral abuse of it — leaving everyone trapped and ensnared and unfree?

    Why are you drawn to the ministry of the diaconate? Or the fight to make it a path in the Church?

    What fears or hangups emerge as you consider it?

    Why organize thousands of women in Minnesota to engage powerfully with your Bishop and all the clergy?

    If anyone can do you it, it’s you…. If it’s your why.

  3. Dear Arline,
    Thank you for sharing this piece of your story with us. There’s so much here that Casey has powerfully addressed, but one thread stuck with me: in your 30s, you felt like there was “something lacking in you.” When you discovered justice work, your powerfully shared that you felt like you were becoming your “truest self.” I want to hear more about your truest self… what does it feel like to be your truest self?

    As a side note, I love the beautiful cat in your profile picture!!

  4. Arline,
    As I read your beautiful, vulnerable truth, my heart stopped over your words about not bringing friends home because of your father’s erratic and harmful behavior. First I connected with it: for me it was the experience of having my friends silently uncomfortable with the way my dad treated them. Then, I noticed a more universal truth: the way in which abusive people can cut others off from community, isolate people, cut them off from other life sources.

    My heart rested on your experience of being fearful for your mother’s safety: an experience of deep identification with someone you loved who was in danger.

    Then my heart waited with your nighttime prayers to God. For a child it is very appropriate to pray prayers of need, but what you were experiencing was not ok.

    I really appreciated your giving time and space to this young person who is you by writing about her story, because by giving her that space you are giving her love.

    Something I wondered (not that you have to answer it, but you could ponder it or journal) is if you draw strength from your younger self? I wonder if you have an active relationship with your younger self, or if you have ever “spoken” with her. Does she help you know how to navigate situations you face now? Does her courage or do her inner convictions remind you of your core?

    Finally – was there a space or circumstance where she had control (even if it was very, very small), and when she had authority over something how did she live her authority?

  5. Oh Arline,
    Thank you for your honest vulnerable story.
    You are the heart and the most faithful drumbeat for justice in our parish. In addition, your powerful and persistent voice has changed our city and state to a more just and more healthy community. I’m excited to get to continue the journey with you and I’m deeply grateful for you.

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