The Journey begins…
As with any move, especially from one state to another, the weeks flew by with an endless list of things to do. Doctor and school records needed to be transferred. There was an entire house to pack. Movers to be hired. Utilities to be turned on in one house and off in another.
The conditions of Paul’s new job meant that he was to start immediately Paul which meant that I was left to handle the move. Although he never voiced his concerns, I sensed that he was worried that my health could erode again. Since doctors could not explain my healing, and termed it a case of ‘spontaneous remission’, the word remission implied that my body was in a kind of suspended state of good health that could end at any time.
Paul called several times a day to caution me not to ‘over do’. I wished more than anything to put his concerns to rest, but to do so, meant telling him about the dream, something I was not ready to do. During our 10 year marriage, Paul had made it very clear how he felt about religions and faith.
“It’s all pure fantasy,” he would say. “Nothing but wishful thinking.”
Until I could finds a way of sharing my encounter while maintaining my validity, I would remain silent.
Within six weeks, the family was once again together, the boxes unpacked and the children thrilled to live in a neighborhood rift with kids their age. In fact, everyone had settled in nicely which meant it was time to face the elephant in the room. Was I going to seek a way to do as God had asked, or was I to just enjoy my good health and try to forget what I had encountered?
Then just as God was often wont to do throughout this journey, as soon as I expressed a need for guidance, He opened up the path with a chance meeting with a woman who attended the Infant Jesus Catholic Church in Port Jefferson. When I mentioned that I had left the Church as a teenager, she said if I was ever interested in attending, she would be happy to share a ride.
Seeing my hesitancy, she added, “You should speak to Father Frank Pizzarelli. He’s the pastor. Tell him that you might be interested in attending a Mass.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Priests have always kind of scared me.”
She laughed, “I can guarantee you that Father Frank is nothing like the priests you might have known as a kid. In fact, you’ll find him very easy to talk to.”
She wrote a phone number on a napkin and pushed it across the table.
“Give him a call. Trust me. You’re going to like him.”
A stray thought fluttered through my mind. I had asked God to show me how to start this journey. Maybe this Father Frank could show me how to begin.
Very funny, God…
The day of our meeting, I pulled my car into the church parking lot, turned off the engine, closed my eyes and gave God a challenge.
If Father Frank believed my story, then I would take it as a sign that I was on the right track and I would pursue God’s edict; however, when I was finished, if he looked at me as though I was one of those who saw images of the Virgin Mary in a tree stump or a grilled cheese sandwich, I would never tell another living soul. God would just have to get Himself another messenger.
Father Frank’s secretary said I was expected, then pointed to an office door and said, “Just knock”.
Seconds later, the door swung open and I smiled.
There stood a tall, thin man with long brown shoulder length hair, a mustache and full beard dressed in corduroy jeans and sandals. It was like looking at a modern day image of Jesus Christ.
Cute, Lord, I thought as I was invited in.
Unlike the intimidating dark paneled offices of the priests I had encountered in my youth, this room had a comfortably cluttered look that felt warm and inviting. Crayoned drawings were tacked along the walls and stacks of books were piled everywhere.
I was directed to a group of soft, cushiony chairs and for the next several minutes, Father Frank and I engaged in small talk.
I shared our family’s recent return to Long Island. He told me a about Hope House, a facility for troubled boys he oversaw. Finally, the small talk wound down. It was time to get to the core reason for my visit.
I shifted nervously in my chair. Although I had practiced this moment for weeks, now that it was here, it was if all the carefully chosen words that best portrayed the event without doing too much damage to my validity had suddenly fled. I had to make a split-second decision. Would I make an excuse and leave? Or would I soldier on?
I took a deep breath and plunged forward. I gave a quick overview of my surgery; the diagnosis of cancer; followed by the yearlong battle that ensured.
Father Frank listened attentively with an occasional nod of sympathy as I covered the moments leading up to the viral lung infection and finally, my request to come home to die.
Through some miracle, I had managed to get through that first portion of my story without turning Redcoat and rushing out of his office. But now, I was perched on the moment that I had dreaded.
For the 1st time, I was about to share my meeting with God to a perfect stranger, a story that I had secretly hidden even from Paul.
I was about to cross a line that would forever brand me as either as delusional, or someone God had truly culled out of the masses with a mission. Once these words had been spoken, there would be no turning back.
Like a diver poised above an icy pool, I summoned up my courage, took the plunge and recounted the dream.
I began with the view. How I had found myself on a very high mountaintop, poised above a valley of indescribable beauty. I recounted the moment when I felt someone stand to my left and how I instantly knew that ‘someone’ was God.
I explained how that recognition triggered a review of all the times I had neglected to act with charity and love and my attempt to explain why I had acted that way.
As I tried to convey the enormity of God’s forgiveness and the peace that flowed from His words, “You needn’t explain. Here, all things are already forgiven”. It was as if this extraordinary encounter and all its implications that I had carefully locked away for months had suddenly been allowed to surface. There was no stopping the tears. I brushed them away, embarrassed.
I concluded my story with the two messages that God wished me to share and the discovery that next morning that I had been mysteriously healed… a healing that doctors could not explain.
Father Frank sat quietly for several moments while I searched his face for any signs of doubt to the validity of my story.
Finally, he leaned forward and said with a conviction that brought a new flush of tears, “It looks like God has something important for you to do.”
He believed what I had experienced was real, not some figment of my imagination! A giant weight was lifted.
“But why would He choose me?” I wanted to know. “I’m certainly not one of the faithful. As I explained, I haven’t been to church in years. And what am I supposed to do with this?”
Father Frank smiled. “The answers you’re seeking can only be found in the journey.”
“Fine. But where do I find the roadmap?” I quipped.
He laughed, then suggested that I begin with prayer.
“You mean the Our Father or the Hail Mary?”
I may have left the Church years ago, but the prayers the nuns of St. Anthony of Padua in East Northport had ingrained in us as a child were there to stay.
“Yes, they’re good prayers. But I’m suggesting that instead of formal prayers that you talk to God like you’re talking to me. After all, prayer is really just a conversation with God.”
“But isn’t conversation when I say something and then the other person responds?” I said.
A line from the comedian, Lily Tomlin instantly popped into my head. “Prayer is when you speak to God. Schizophrenia is when God speaks to you.”
“How do I separate His voice from my inner thoughts?”
“You’ll know when He speaks to you,” he said, which I thought was a rather doughy response.
“Give it a try,” he suggested. “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover the many ways that you can learn to recognize His voice.”