Looking for my spark

I think my most basic why is recalled in an incident that happened when I was 15 years old and I became aware that it wasn’t “normal” to have constant chronic back pain.  It turns out it’s not normal nor healthy nor good.  However, I got to that point because of me trying to swallow all the pain that I felt from the verbal abuse from my dad and how I wasn’t allowed to speak up, share my point of view, my desires, my wants or my emotions.  I learned to keep quiet so my dad wouldn’t scream and yell at me, which to this day, makes me tremble inside, even if no longer on the outside.  I have worked all my life to heal from those put downs and want to help others do the same.

I consider myself as shy, fearful and timid, even though many have told me that I come across as a confident, strong, brave woman.  I don’t feel that way inside.  I have spent most of my adult life trying to heal from all the trauma that I felt when I was growing up with an alcoholic father and timid mother and I still feel intimidated when someone in authority, especially men, will put me down in any way.  I find myself being very sensitive to the strong words of others and am easily hurt.  Despite the fact that I pray to get “thicker” skin, it hasn’t happened yet.

When I entered the convent at 19, I found a community of strong, compassionate women who supported me and helped to find my voice.  I grew and thrived while in the convent and learned so many different things.  I discovered that I need a community around me supporting me in order to be able to move forward and do things.  I am not a lone ranger.  I am not a brave warrior who will do things on her own. I need others, but I also want to support others.  But when I left, I became even more afraid than when I entered.  I was terrified to go anywhere by myself, feeling totally inadequate and unsure of what to do.  I had panic attacks when I had to do something new, which was often.

Very slowly over my life, I have been overcoming my false beliefs and incorrect teachings about who I am as a person and as a woman.  When I decided to enter the convent, I remember very clearly thinking that Jesus “had to accept me because he had made me the way I was.”  I had been told many times by my dad that there was something wrong with me because boys didn’t want to take me out on dates.  But God had to accept me.

Fast forward to when I began working in diaconate formation and I realized the program that was specifically geared toward men, needed something for the women.  I put together a program that would address their human and spiritual formation, especially for Hispanic women.  However, I wasn’t able to use it in the program then.  I offered it to women in a parish and they found it to be life changing for many of them.  I loved it!  It was my way of helping to bring healing to them from all their cultural wounds, especially inflicted by the men in their lives, but also by the incorrect teaching of what the church taught.  Many of them heard that because they were married in the church, they had to stay in their abusive marriages, they had to carry their cross, and that they would be blessed.  It infuriated me!  I knew that was wrong and wanted to help them realize that they had choices and that what they had been taught was incorrect.  I wanted to bring healing of past wounds, helping them to realize their worth and dignity as women and daughters of the good, merciful and loving God that loves us with a passion simply because we exist!  I want to help others, especially Hispanic women deepen their own relationship with themselves and with God.  And I want to help them come to know and love themselves as beautiful, worthy and blessed daughters of God.  It has been my own journey too.

I have been in diaconate formation for 14 years now and I have been able to bring that program I created for women in parishes to the program itself.  I have seen how for so many of them, it has been helpful, liberating and healing.  That brings me joy!

However, my present supervisor has more and more been acting in a way that takes me back to how my own dad treated me and put me down.  Despite the fact that I have been working on allowing God to heal me of my past fears and wounds, I still feel them all coming up whenever he is disrespectful to me.  Today was another one of those days…  I have been trying to find another job for the past three years with no luck.  I have prayed to God to let me know clearly where I’m supposed to go but it wasn’t until this pandemic that I finally realized that the door for me to leave is shut, glued, cemented, bolted closed and I am supposed to stay where I am.  I don’t like it here but it seems that that is how God has worked in my life.  I have had to be in places and situations where I felt helpless, weak, insecure, ill-prepared and not the right person, praying that I could get out, all to no avail.  No door opens up at all.

I feel little and weak, fearful and timid and so tired of constantly feeling this way.  But I am reminded that one little child offered his fish and loaves and Jesus was able to feed 5,000 with them.  I feel like that child.  I also feel like St. Therese of Lisieux and how she strove to become even smaller so that God would do things for her as she felt she couldn’t do them.  I bring my own small inner child to God so that I may be carried.  I offer my littleness in the hopes that God can use me to bring healing and blessing to other women especially.  So while I don’t have a passion burning within me at this moment, I hope to have it sparked again within me, hopefully in this cohort.

5 thoughts on “Looking for my spark

  1. Dear Jenny, thank you for your honest, thoughtful, and vulnerable self-reflection here. I will offer here a gentle reframe of your conclusion that you “don’t have a passion burning within at this moment” and see where it lands for you.

    As I read what you have written, I see a twin passion with an internal and external element. Looking within, I see your passion to be truly and finally free and healed from the legacy of verbal abuse from your father in order to truly inhabit your body and spirit, to not just come across as “confident, strong and brave” but to truly feel the truth of your confidence, strength, bravery (and I would add belovedness and beauty) in every part of your heart, mind, soul, body, and soul. This is a holy and beautiful passion.

    And looking outside you, I see your passion to create and nurture spaces of whole-person formation, especially for Hispanic/Latina women, and especially to call forth from them liberation from structures which have held them bound – and this is a passion you have been living out with great joy and dedication. This is a holy and beautiful passion. I thank God for the ripple effects of your ministry and gifts from fourteen years of this program! Your naming of your own journey in the journey of the women you accompany makes me think of Henri Nouwen’s phrase about how we are all “wounded healers.”

    I am sorry to hear that your current supervisor’s way of being brings up for you your history with your father, and that you feel stuck there. I’ve been in circumstances like that, too, and it’s an awful feeling. It does seem that we are given experience after experience of similar struggles in our lives as God seeks to bring us to wholeness and freedom from past burdens and limiting patterns. (Once I remember saying exasperated to a spiritual director, “how come I keep living out the same pattern with different people in different settings?!?” A wondering I have is what might it look for your prayer to be answered for “a door to open up.”

    I am glad you are here – my story resonates much with yours as I grew up in a difficult home, am sensitive and more than once have wished for “thicker skin,” and have entered and left religious life. For what it is worth, I have found Internal Family Systems approach to healing to be a helpful framework (and one very resonant with my Catholic faith and belief in the indwelling Christ as the source of healing) for working to unearth and bring before God’s healing presence parts of myself that are wounded. I hope that you find something encouraging and helpful in these words, Jenny. Deep peace to you and I will hold in prayer the image of an open door for you in your continued journey.

    1. Thank you so much, Rhonda, for your response. You have helped me clarify some of what my passion is. Interestingly enough, in the small sharing group last night, I did mention “wounded healer” as I do think of myself that way. As I have been praying over this these days, I do see myself as someone who apparently must see herself as weak and wounded because (to me) it seems God isn’t allowing me to see myself as any other way. I think I’m beginning to make peace with that, and feeling like I need to keep relying on God to continue to carry me even if I don’t feel like God is there.

      In my meditation this morning, I was complaining WHY it seems God isn’t around when I need him most. What I heard him say was, “If you think you have been alone without me when you have done all the scary things you have had to do, realize you are stronger and braver than you think you are. But even when you haven’t felt me with you, I have always had your back.” I feel like I have to do things that are hard for me to do and God looks on to see how I’m doing. Intellectually, I GET that God is with me, but I sure wish I could FEEL God is with me. Maybe someday it will happen.

      Thank you for the Internal Family Systems info. I will definitely look into it. I will also pray for you as I know that transitioning from community life can be difficult. Blessings to you!

  2. Hi Jenny, thank you for your leadership within our small group. Thank you also for the depth of this post and your trust in God. I’d like to reflect on a few sentences from your post, “I wanted to bring healing of past wounds, helping them to realize their worth and dignity as women and daughters of the good, merciful and loving God that loves us with a passion simply because we exist! I want to help others, especially Hispanic women deepen their own relationship with themselves and with God. And I want to help them come to know and love themselves as beautiful, worthy and blessed daughters of God.”

    Before you read on, I invite you to imagine your favorite Gospel passage. Try to enter into the scene and get a sense of Jesus’ presence. What does Jesus look like? How tall is he? Is Jesus’ hair long or short? Does Jesus have facial hair? What time of day is it? Is Jesus close to you or far away? Would you like to be closer to Jesus?

    Now, imagine that Jesus sees you and comes over.

    As Jesus often does, he begins speaking with a knowledge that can only come from knowing us and loving us. He says, “Jenny, I want to heal your past wounds. I want you to realize your worth and dignity as a woman and daughter of our good, merciful and loving God. God loves YOU with a passion! Thank you for helping others, especially Hispanic women, to deepen their relationship with themselves and with God. You have helped them come to know and love themselves as beautiful, worthy and blessed daughters of God. I want you to know that YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, WORTHY, AND A BLESSED DAUGHTER OF GOD TOO. We love you Jenny.”

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