My Catholic faith is something that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It has sometimes been a rocky relationship, but God and I are in a pretty good spot right now.
I was baptized as an infant wearing an heirloom baptismal gown created for one of my maternal great-grandfathers. My paternal grandmother and great-grandmother were a large reason why I was raised Catholic. They are/were quite devout. My parents are not quite as devout. They ensured that we went to mass as often as our parish offered Sunday School.
Attending on Holy days or during the summer was rare. We attended a large parish until just after I received my first communion in the second grade. The massive amount of other kids who received the sacrament with me bothered my parents, so we transferred to a smaller parish.
I don’t remember learning all that much during Sunday school. I received the sacrament of Confirmation as a junior in high school. I don’t remember being overly conflicted over the decision. It seemed like the thing to do.
I don’t remember my faith being overly strong during my childhood and adolescence. I didn’t really know enough to defend it well, so I became uncomfortable when it came up among my primarily Baptist friends.
I remember being slightly envious of their youth groups and Wednesday night activities. My parish didn’t really offer much besides Sunday School. Even if they had, my parents wouldn’t have particularly encouraged me to go I don’t think. Going to Church seemed like a chore to them that they ticked off their To-Do list whenever they could.
College wasn’t much better for the first year. I was away from home with no one to tell me to go and the campus priest did not speak English very well. I didn’t go much.
Sometime during the fall semester of my sophomore year, I prayed a particularly memorable prayer to God. I had had many crushes, but never a boyfriend. I told God that I was done with superficial crushes. That I would trust him to let me know when he was ready to send me the right person.
A month later while waiting for a friend at a restaurant on campus, I looked around and smiled at a stranger. He smiled back and then came over to talk to me. His name was Kraston and *spoiler alert* we celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary in January of 2017.
From that moment on, my faith life was different. I started going to mass more often. Kraston was attending Life Church at the time with is pretty much as opposite of a worship experience as you can get. I wasn’t comfortable there so we went to church separately on Sundays for a long time.
We received our marriage counseling from the priest at my hometown parish (the smaller one). We both loved this priest and he married us shortly after I graduated from college.
After The Wedding
After we were married, we were still going to church separately. After I became pregnant with our first child, I worked a lot on Saturdays and would go by myself to Saturday evening mass afterward before going home.
Our oldest was baptized by our favorite priest, the one who had married us. Around that time we both expressed interest in going to church as a family. Kraston had become disillusioned with some of the teachings of Life Church. He still wasn’t crazy about the Catholic mass, so we tried visiting a few other churches.
We even went to Easter Sunday the next year at a Methodist church. I still didn’t take communion anywhere else. Eventually we figured out I wasn’t happy going anywhere else.
So I joined the Moms group at the parish. I enjoyed their Moms Night Out dinners.
Then I went on a long weekend trip with them to Texas. I almost didn’t go because I was pregnant in the first trimester with our second child.
On this trip, listening to these women’s stories, I realize that there was a lot more to living life in the faith than just going to mass on Sunday. One woman called her husband every night to say bedtime prayers with him.
That was an eye-opener for me. I could probably count on one hand how many times Kraston and I had prayed together. We had an active toddler though so going to mass regularly was still difficult.
A few months later, our favorite priest was transferred to the large parish where I had received my first communion. Kraston and I didn’t immediately connect with the new priest (not sure how hard we really tried), so we started attending the large parish (along with several other Fr. Jack followers).
I felt that Fr. Jack had the greatest chance of guiding my husband to the Catholic faith. We also wanted him to baptize our second child and had to be registered at his new parish to accomplish that.
We started attending fairly regularly, but didn’t really get to know anyone. I checked out the mom’s group at the new parish, but, at that time, they only met in the mornings on weekdays, while I worked. So I kept going to monthly mom’s night out dinners.
A Life-Changing Lent
My daughter was only a few months old when Lent came along. The mom’s group at the old parish was organizing an evening Lenten small group. I had never been part of a small group before, but I remembered how fondly all of my Baptist friends had spoken of theirs throughout the years and decided to attend.
I don’t remember much of the organized discussion, but have three vivid memories from this short 6 week small group.
Older daughter was small nursling, so I took her with me. The first memory was a comment about baby noises. She mentioned that she had had hearing impairments during her children’s infancies and missed hearing all of the delightful little noises babies made. I have thought of this comment many times during my subsequent pregnancies and know I have a much deeper appreciation for those small coos.
The next memory was of her blessing her children with a prayer and a sign of the cross before they went to bed. The joy in both of their faces was indescribable. I had never known such a routine. I am not as routine with this as I want to be, but it is a wonderful practice.
The third memory was a statement about the mass. That mass is like a party that Jesus invites us to every week. Think about all of the other parties that you are invited to and how diligently you will rearrange your schedule to attend.
A sin is something that creates distance between you and God. I knew at that moment, for the first time, deeply in my heart, that missing mass without a really good reason was a sin. I went to confession for the first time since my confirmation to confess the sin of missing mass (among other various accumulated sins).
It took a few tries and a few more visits to the confessional, but for a long time now, I have gone to mass every week barring illnesses or hospitalizations in the family. Shortly after Easter, my older daughter was baptized.
While I was pregnant with our third child, I was shopping for kindergartens for our oldest. I toured the top two public magnet schools in TPS. They were impressive. Something wasn’t quite right though. We are pretty low key types and most of the parents at these schools were pretty Type A. But I had always thought our kids would go to one of those two schools. I had never considered private school before.
Our parish, though, had a school. I didn’t know much about it, so I toured it. I was also very impressed. It was pricey though, even with the parishioner discount. I couldn’t quite convince myself. I looked online to see what other Catholic schools were an option. Several required that you were a registered parishioner to get a discounted rate.
A few did not, one of which was only 3 miles or so west of our parish. We toured and loved it. We took our son there for their open house and he was immediately at ease. He marched up and down the hallway, quizzing the middle school teachers about where their toys were. He is normally quite shy. The average class size was about 12. Compared to the 28-30 student class size at the other schools, we were interested.
The aftercare was quite cheap compared to the public school, so the total cost was low enough that we decided to go for it. We ended up getting a few scholarships, enough that the cost really was comparable to the public school. This school has been such a blessing to us.
That summer before older son started kindergarten, Kraston went to a meeting about the Knights of Columbus. He was told he had to be Catholic to join. He had been consider converting anyway since older son was accepted into St. Catherine, but that was the final straw. He started attending RCIA and by November he was confirmed.
I remember that we had struggled with the differences in our faith expression while were dating, but eventually we had figured out the we largely believed the same things, we just had different ways of experiencing God on Sunday.
The next spring a woman got up at the end of mass and spoke about a new-ish opportunity our parish was offering. A retreat. I had never been on a retreat before. When she told us that if we thought we were too busy to go that we needed to go, I knew I needed to go. The spring date didn’t work however. I was still nursing younger son and the schedule was too busy to allow for sufficient pump breaks.
Between working full-time, three kids and a not particularly service oriented personality, I wasn’t very involved in any activities outside of mass. I didn’t know very many people at mass.
So that fall when they announced registration was open for the fall retreat, I was the first one to sign up. I told Kraston he should go to, so he let me sign him up as well.
The retreat itself was an amazing weekend. Indescribably amazing. I learned a few new things things as well, including the Divine Mercy chaplet.
Arriving back at the church at the end of the weekend is normally quite joyous. I felt such a high as I was ‘coming down from the mountain.’
My joy quickly turned to grief though, as I learned upon arrival that one of my husband’s grandmother had passed away hours after I had left for the retreat. Her funeral was only hours later that afternoon, on the other side of the state. We had to leave right. now.
So I missed the homecoming mass and the welcome home reception. Instead I taught Kraston the Divine Mercy chaplet as we drove west.
After The Retreat
Kraston’s retreat was amazing for him as well. And nobody we knew died while he was gone, so that was a relief. He knew pretty much immediately, I think, that he wanted to serve on the team for the spring retreat. I briefly considered it, but I was pregnant with our fourth child, so I decided not to. I had also heard that it was pretty tough for both spouses to serve at the same time.
During the spring, Kraston started having some odd things happen. You can read more about his story on the page My Husband’s Glioblastoma.
Shortly after Kraston was admitted to the hspital after his concerning CT scan, we called Father Jack and told him what had happened. He shared with the ACTS community as well as the other ministries with which Kraston was involved.
Tuesday night the brain surgeon visited us and gave us the news in plain terms.
There was a tumor the size of a tangerine.
He recommended surgery.
He could rearrange his schedule and perform it the following afternoon.
Father Jack came and visited with us before surgery. Kraston received the sacrament of the annointing of the sick. Kraston had a crainiotomy that Wednesday afternoon. Post-op, the surgeon said he couldn’t be sure what the tumor was until pathology had their results.
That Friday, the oncologist visited and delivered the verdict. The pathology report was back and his tumor was brain cancer. Glioblastoma Multiforme to be precise. An extremely aggressive brain cancer that normally affected older people.
As a young and healthy guy, he has a good chance of exceeding the average life expectancy of 20 months post diagnosis. As of mid-November, we are at 6 months and counting.
After returning home from the hospital, we received an outpouring of support from our parish family. Dinners, rides to doctors appointments, lawn mowing in the rain are just some of the service we received. Monetary donations helped us offset Kraston’s reduced business revenues during his treatments.
And last, but certainly not least, prayers. So many people still tell me that they are praying for us daily.
I know with absolute certainty, that God lead me through this faith journey according to His plan. That He has given us everything that we need. That he has given us the faith and the strength and the courage to carry this burden of this cancer.
I know this would be so much harder without our ACTS and St. Mary’s family on our team.