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.