Sunday, October 10, 2010

The 10/10/10 and 10:10 blog - All over the map... Wanting to be Catholic

Do you mind if I let you in on a secret?

My head has been all over the map today.  So much thinking, reflecting, analyzing, switching thought topics... so much emotion.  So here I am at my blog and if my writing is as tangential as my thoughts today, well, anyone visiting my blog and reading this post may be in for a ride.

I'm not sure if that is a secret as much as it is a warning!

I usually wake up on Sundays tired but eagerly anticipating the day.  We go to church and I hope to hear a message which resonates, which I can apply to my life, which can help make me a better person and closer to God.  For the past month, Justin has been with us during the service.  He graduated from the K-5 youth group and hasn't yet been transitioned into the middle-school / high-school group.  Our youngest son Ryan is in the 4 - 5 year old group and he always seems to have an amazing time.

For the past 6 months or so, we've sat in the same area, up in the balcony in the front row.  There's more leg room, we have a good view of the stage and the worship team and there aren't too many people around us.  There is a couple to our left who we smile at each week and exchange niceties.  They have a son a little younger than Justin but he and Justin don't really know each other.

Anyway, I've noticed during the past few weeks that it's been impossible for Justin to sit more than a minute or so without some sort of stimming behavior.  When we're up on our feet singing, it is usually flapping hands and making noise.  Although it is distracting, I believe that he should be able to "be himself" and as long as he doesn't accidentally fling himself over the ledge of the balcony and take me with him (something which I have unfortunately visualized many times) or be extremely disruptive while a pastor or speaker is talking, I sort of just let him do his own thing with some occasional kind and respectful redirection since there generally aren't too many people in our area.

When I watch him stim, I know he is trying to calm or regulate himself.  I know that there can be a lot of sensory overload in a church.  I get that overload too but I believe that the benefit of me being there outweighs the sensory inconveniences I feel.

If you've followed my blogs for any length of time, you have likely picked up that I believe in God.  You may not know what religion I am and quite frankly, I'm not sure if I fit into any particular denomination, although I consider myself Christian and was married in a Catholic church.

Growing up my parents didn't attend church so I rarely attended church.  If Grandma "A." was in town, we'd attend St. Simons, a Catholic church.  If Grandma "P." was in town, we'd attend a Protestant or Baptist church.  Each Grandma was usually only in town visiting us one week a year, so that will tell you how often I went to church.

That doesn't mean I didn't grow up not believing in God because I did.  I'm not sure where that belief developed from but I'm guessing the children's Bible I had growing up sort of lead the way with my parents and Grandmas influencing in some way too.  I don't remember my parents talking about religion much although both always showed great morals and I know that both believed.  They both had mothers that believed. Some of my "religious" role-models were neighborhood or school kids around me that went to church as they grew up.  Although they often complained about going to church on Sunday, to me it seemed very interesting.  Of course, if I had been a regular attender, I might have felt another way.  The grass is always greener on the other side thing...

I had a couple elementary school friends who were Catholic and I remember one period of time where I asked my parents if I could tag along and attend a couple catechism classes.  I remember feeling like I didn't belong among the kids my own age but that I still somehow belonged.  I felt God there.  I truly believe I had a relationship with God at a young age, although what exactly that relationship was is something that I am still trying to make sense of to this day.

I had a really hard time socially in junior high (7th and 8th grades).  Academically things came easily to me as they did in elementary school and I was always on the honor roll. This was important to me because I believed it was very important to my parents and I wanted so much to make them proud of me and think I was "good enough".

Personally, I enjoyed learning but the grade thing... that was a challenge in the respect that if I got less than an A on even the smallest class paper, I felt like it wasn't good enough and that it might as well have been an F.  Fortunately, I got lots of As but don't ask me about Sewing class.  It was my first B ever and seriously, it was a monumental failure for me.  If you've ever seen "The Breakfast Club" and remember the smart kid (Anthony Michael Hall's character) who was failing shop because he couldn't get the switch in the elephant to light up and so he wanted to take his own life... that was the kind of pressure I put on myself to succeed with grades, sports, everything.  I was so competitive and so hard on myself.

Athletically I did well playing on the junior high basketball and volleyball teams as well as participating in junior team tennis and bowling on the evenings and weekends. I enjoyed volunteer peer tutoring of special needs children at a local elementary school for one period of each day in 8th grade.  I often wonder if that was a sign from God.  I did know at that point that I wanted to be an elementary school teacher.

I was even chosen as the lead in the first school musical I auditioned for (Annie Get Your Gun.... still remember the music...)  If you were to look at it from the outside, one might think that this 12 year old girl getting ready for high school had her stuff together.

Nothing could be farther from the truth in my eyes.  It was at this age that I distinctly remember starting to have depressing and suicidal thoughts on a regular basis.  At lunchtime while other kids ate with their friends, unbeknownst to my parents, I would save my lunch money and go into the library and read, hoping to hide from confusing and embarrassing social interaction.

When I went into the locker room for P.E. and had to change clothes for class or after school for sports, it was daily torture in my mind.  Those stupid red shorts... those awkward tank tops and t-shirts.... The smells, the embarrassment, changing clothes, the perceived stares, the actual stares, the taunting and teasing from "cool" girls.  My maiden name was Pitsenbarger and at that age, I was "Pits without tits".  Ha Ha.  Of course the boys had clever names too, like "Pick some boogers" (play on my last name). Such wit... kind of like some of the bullies who have been on this blog recently...

The reason that I didn't play basketball, volleyball or softball in high school was all about the dreaded locker room.  Bowling... no problem.  Tennis?  I didn't have to do it at school, I could play team tennis at nearby Cuesta Park in the evenings.  No locker room needed.

I suppose I still have locker room issues.  I pray when Justin has P.E. later this year his experience will be a better one.

Anyway, before I digressed into that trip down memory lane, I wanted to make a point that one thing I felt I was missing in 8th grade was a closer relationship with God.  I decided that rather than go the public high school a few blocks from my home, I would apply to St. Francis, the local Catholic high school.  This was on no urging from my parents and the few friends I did have were going to Mountain View High.  Remember, I didn't go to church.  This was just a feeling I had that maybe if I went to a school with religious values that maybe I wouldn't get bullied, maybe I'd fit in better and maybe I could learn more about God.

So, I asked my parents for permission to apply and they said yes.  I would have come up with the money if need be. (Remember, I was saving up all my school lunch money, LOL and had hoarded almost every dollar anyone had ever given me as a gift up until that point.)  My parents said that if I got in, they would pay and I was SO excited.

There were multiple parts to the admissions process.  There was an entrance exam where I scored 98%.  You had to show your grades and except for SEWING, I had a 4.0. You also had to have an interview.   There were only a certain number of spots allocated but in talking to a few kids who had applied or who were already going there, my entrance score alone should have sealed it but if not, my grades and extra-curricular activities should have helped.  I guess at the time, I thought it would be a "no-brainer".  Although I was not so hip with my peers, I tended to do well auditioning for adults and I figured an admissions interview was sort of like an audition. Remember, I wasn't trying to get into college, just high school.

I remember touring the high school and being very excited about "my" new high school.  I just knew I would get in and couldn't wait for a fresh start and new beginning.

When I went into the interview, I don't particularly remember feeling nervous.  I was commended on my testing score, grades and accomplishments and the admissions counselor asked why I wanted to attend the school.  I said something to the effect that I was looking to get to know God better and that I wanted to be somewhere I felt like I belonged and maybe make a difference too.  ("Making a difference" is a theme that got into my head sometime very young and I guess it just stuck.)

I thought I was as honest as I could be in that interview but in retrospect, I suppose I forgot to add that I wanted to get away from as many of the junior high kids as possible and start over where very few people knew my name.  Wonder if she knew.  God did.

She smiled, I smiled.  She indicated to my parents that it certainly sounded like I'd make an excellent fit and then she looked down at the paperwork in front of her and a quizzical look came over her face.

She smiled and said that I had not checked the box indicating my religion.  She asked if I was Catholic.  I replied that I wasn't officially but that I had attended Catholic church before and enjoyed it.  I said I had a Grandma who was Catholic.  I said I was willing to learn.  I remember perceiving her not liking my answer although for the life of me, I don't know why and still don't. I thought it would be enough.

She asked if I had ever been baptized and even though I wasn't the best with my social skills at that point, I did read her cue and knew it was at that moment their school would never be "my school" and I was not going to ever be "one of them" either.

I replied that I had not been baptized yet but would be happy to learn about it.  I am sure I sounded very overeager.  I'm not sure what else transpired exactly in that interview but she soon asked me to sit in the hallway outside the office while she spoke with my parents.

I could overhear part of the conversation. I'm not ashamed to say that I listened.  I heard things like "amazing test scores", "extremely gifted", "lots of potential", "very polite", "sort of young" and then "BUT"...

In my head that BUT.... made me the butt of the joke once again.  I don't remember the verbiage but it felt like something along the lines of....

But... she's not Catholic. (Strike 1)
But... she hasn't been baptized. (Strike 2)
But... (she probably screwed up on her interview in some way, shape or form) - Strike 3

They thanked my parents for having me apply and let us know that we would get a response in the mail soon.  I smiled and said thank you and when I got home, I closed the door and cried my eyes out.  I knew somehow I had blown it but did not know why.  In my eyes, GOD rejected me just like my birthparents had when I was born...(an issue I was struggling with at that time).

A few weeks later, every single one of the other kids who had applied to St. Francis from our junior high was positively accepted.  I know because our junior high posted on the wall outside which schools others were going to.  Thanks, Graham!  That sucked!  I had seen the entrance exam results lists and know that I had a very high entrance exam score. I likely had the highest or one of the highest GPAs of all the applicants and I was rejected.  (I guess it was respectfully declined but REJECTION and not belonging and not being a fit was all I heard.)

I talked about my scores later with a few other applicants from our public school. I remember one boy telling another that he got 76% on the exam and that another girl had only gotten 58%. Both were Catholic, both had been baptized. One had a father who was a former pitcher for the S.F. Giants.  I'm sure that didn't hurt.

Being rejected into St. Francis High School was one of the first times in my life I distinctly remember thinking maybe I was all wrong about "God".  If GOD didn't want me in his school or church... well then... what was the point?

High school was very difficult for me in so many ways.  I suppose I still believed in God but I don't particularly remember feeling a yearning to become closer.  If anything, I often questioned my own existence.  Why had I been adopted?  Why do I feel like I don't fit in anywhere?  How come every time I sort of liked a guy, he liked someone else but the guys that were either abusive or quirky seemed drawn to me?  High school... I have many stories.  I am truly thankful to God and my parents that I made it out alive.

Close to a month after high school graduation, I met the first true love of my life.  It wasn't at church but as it turns out, he was Catholic.  He was a couple years older and had been going to a Catholic university in So. CA and was transferring to one in No. CA.  I was just starting college in the fall.

I don't believe I ever told him the whole story behind my "St. Francis" embarrassment.  I was too ashamed.  His mom seemed very involved in the church and volunteered a lot. I always wanted to talk to her about church stuff and possibly becoming Catholic but for whatever reason, I guess I was too afraid. That admissions counselor had not only put the fear of God into me but I feared that people who were used to going to church somehow saw themselves as different than me. (They were saved, I wasn't, therefore, why hang out with me, let alone love me? Faulty thinking, I know but back then, I didn't have a whole lot of alternate experiences to go on.)  I didn't really talk about it much with my boyfriend either except when it came to certain topics, rules and commandments.

I always respected my boyfriend's religious beliefs and on a couple of Easters, I was lucky and blessed enough to accompany him to a church gathering.  It was amazing but I still felt like an outsider. He was at a Catholic University and I was at a public school. He and I never talked about religion as much as I had hoped to.  Although I talked about a lot of things, most likely to the extreme and with an overwhelming amount of passion and emotion, this was one area where I sort of shied away.

I know it may seem sort of silly but I guess I felt he was sort of the expert on the whole thing or at the very least, the one I should defer to.  I always wondered if it bothered him that his girlfriend was not Catholic.  I kind of got the feeling that his family wanted him to marry a good Catholic girl and perhaps I didn't define that.  In my heart, I know I didn't define that after my virginity was taken through rape.  I could never be good enough. Could I even be saved?  I had such flawed and painful thinking during a period in my life when I should have been able to go to church and reach out for support... but I felt I'd get rejected all over again and so what did I do?  I rejected and pushed away first... and am so very sorry that I did.

Although I know he married shortly after I did, I never met his wife.  My guess is that he ended up finding an amazingly wonderful Catholic girl with great values, fell in love, had some kiddos and raised those children Catholic, probably even schooling them Catholic.  I wouldn't be surprised if he was involved with the church as his Mom was. He was just that kind of person that would have wanted to coach, mentor, help out or be a part.  God bless him and his family.  I do hope he found what he was looking for and is truly happy.

For me... my first experiences with the church other than brief Sunday school experiences with my Grandmas were of never being accepted.  I believe now that if I were to walk into a Catholic church things would be much different.  I am much older... and can cut myself some slack for my theory of mind in the past which led me to think the things I did and act the way I did.  I was human.  I was fallible.  I was a sinner.  I still am.  I'd like to think that I'm moving in a positive direction but some days, my gears feel stuck or shifted into reverse.

When I met my husband John, I found out he was Catholic too and had gone to a private Catholic high school.  (Here we go again... flight or fight...)  I don't think I really had too much time to process the whole thing.  His family lived in another state and he had just moved to California from Misawa, Japan where he was stationed in the Navy.  He asked me to marry him a little over a month after we met.  I totally wasn't expecting that, although he told me later he was ready to ask me about a week after we met.  (His best friend met and married his own wife just a week after they met.)

When he asked me to marry him, he said we'd have to get married in the Catholic church and I said yes.  Here was someone who wanted to be with me and he seemed like a really great guy to boot!  I know it may seem odd but I always felt like I got around one of their rules because I was not baptized and had not been raised Catholic.  I don't know... it was like I was a "wanna-be" Catholic.  I always felt when I was taking their pre-marital classes that I didn't belong and that I was an outsider and that I was somehow faking it.  Even on that "stage" in front of family and friends, I was marrying in a Catholic church but wasn't Catholic... so did God still see my marriage as real?  Was I just wearing a mask and putting on a performance?

God doesn't want you to fake it.  He knows your heart.

That's my whole point of this blog that I'm trying to get to and am obviously taking a long time in doing so.

No matter what you say to others, no matter what you profess or claim, God knows.
He knows if you're being honest to yourself and to others.  He knows if you're being honest to him.

Sometimes I feel like my life is a performance taking the mask on and off and that I have spent so much time trying to win favor of my parents, of friends, of romantic partners, of bosses, of clients...  that I have wasted much of my life going in the wrong direction.  I am a square peg trying to get into a triangular hole and nothing has ever fit!  Can someone really ever love me for who I am?  When I look into my boys' eyes, I see "Yes"... They are so young and pure in my eyes.

I think I have had a lot of my life all wrong somehow.  God has a plan for me and although I may not know what that is, that rejection that I experienced early on in my life wasn't a rejection of me.  It was an invitation for me to travel a different way.

The difference between where we are and where we want to be is often correlated to the level of pain we're willing to endure. 

Just looked at the clock and it's 10:10.  Got to post this now...  10/10/10 at 10:10... it's a numbers thing!

Maybe I'll talk about this more tomorrow... maybe not...
Tonight it's just me, raw, tired, sad, confused... but hopeful.

Godliness is not measured by how good you are... something that I have been mistakenly trying to "be" all my life.  Good enough for this person, good enough for that person...  My expectations were always so high, it was no wonder I kept falling short, getting myself into bad situations and subsequently feeling down on myself.

I don't want to put on a show.  I just want to be myself and be loved and accepted for who I am.

These days I'm not aiming to be a Catholic.  Don't get me wrong, Catholics are fine people.  I'm just aiming to be me, non-denominational but believing in God.

Looking for love, acceptance... and a way to be a better Mom and person.  Looking for my path.

Come as you are... (I'm here!!!) Let your light shine... (I'm trying...)
Where is that darn map?  Oh yeah.. it's in God's hands.
Trust and faith...
Eventually things will come together.

Karen

12 comments:

  1. Okay, I have to stop editing and re-editing my post! I will just let it stand... :-)

    Love and blessings,
    Karen

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  2. Seriously, I will let it stand... just one last edit. Oh never mind!

    Peace and love! Going to bed! :)
    Karen

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  3. I'm Catholic but it's not all it's cracked up to be. We're not churchgoers because although I'm a great believer in God, I don't have much belief in the church itself (and there's no way my boys can handle it). Sadly, I'm too well read for blind belief in any "organisation".

    I'm always trying to teach my children about other religions and philosophies. It's my belief that assuming that God it loving, nobody will be left out because of the way they're brought up or their background.

    I like to think that pretty much all religions and philosophies are valid and that the message of God is written in the heart. You always KNOW when you're doing something wrong.

    I feel that the right path is probably to be honest and follow your heart.

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  4. Hi Gavin,
    Thanks for making it all the way through my post. Hope you're a speed reader! :-)

    Your comments are always so well-thought out and I greatly appreciate them. I also believe that if God is loving (and I believe he is), then no-one will be left out of the opportunity to be saved or go to heaven because of the way they were brought up or their background.

    I was thinking about baptism for me and the boys about two years ago. The pastor of the church we were attending (non-denominational but with Baptist leanings) said that in their view, the boys weren't allowed to be baptized until they were old enough to make that decision. At the time, I never knew if Ryan would speak and I asked him what would happen if Ryan could not speak his declaration. I was told that in the church's view, children like Ryan and others with special needs might not ever have that opportunity. I asked if he believed they would still be saved and he said that although he'd like to think God had a special place for them, unless they were baptized, the Bible was pretty clear.

    Well, I thought that was pretty much hogwash although I didn't say anything. I knew my children believed in God. I decided that I wasn't ready to be baptized in a church that would not accept my sons and so my church search continued on.

    Our family did our own unofficial baptism at home one time. I realize that the church might not recognize it and that many churchgoers might not either, but in my heart, I believe that my children and I are saved. If not, I guess I'll find out the hard way!

    I still like the idea of baptism but unless I can find a church that will take the three of us for who we are, where we are, it will be awhile before I take that step. My personal relationship is what counts in my heart and I agree with you that being honest and following one's heart is the path to take.

    Thanks so much again!
    Hugs and blessings to you and your family!
    Karen

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  5. [I asked if he believed they would still be saved and he said that although he'd like to think God had a special place for them, unless they were baptized, the Bible was pretty clear.]

    I was baptized Catholic as an infant but became a Latter-day Saint in college because that's the way God was leading me to go. I feel like he's really found ways to use my "unique gifts" in the church even if others didn't always understand me. Still, I've mostly felt accepted and have even found a few quirky eccentrics like me who are also good Mormons. (I figure they're probably undiagnosed adult Aspies, too!)

    We believe that God would never condemn a child who is not accountable for his actions. For such people, baptism is not required. Its purpose is to cleanse us from sin, and unless you can be conscious of sin and desire to reject it, you don't need it. No loving and merciful God could ever damn an infant or a special needs person (who was not truly morally accountable for his/her actions). They can't sin; sin is acting contrary to the will of God and you have to know something about the will of God to act against it.

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  6. Your religious path has been a unique one for sure... it's amazing that our souls yearn for a closeness with God... sometimes other people can get in the way and confuse us with misguided intentions, misinformation, and sometimes a total disregard for the big picture. Catholic schools normally welcome non-Catholics because it's a tool for conversion. I always know when I feel close to God that I'm in the right place... keep searching and you'll find the perfect place for you and your children. I've rested for the time being in Catholicism because its history and ceremonies and origin work for me but my path has been a long and diverse one as well. Don't let any individual scare you from any particular faith... search for the priest, rabbi, minister who speaks to you within the faith that you feel most connected to. Does that make sense? When that is done, you'll have shalom in the home and in your heart!!!

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  7. Hi, Karen,
    I was baptized when I was 1 month old. I am Lutheran. I can't believe what you were told about Ryan not being baptized if he wasn't able to talk. In my religion, the sponsor of the child and the congregation answers the questions about accepting Christ as his/her Lord on behalf of the child. Then it is the duty of the parents and sponsors to see that the child is brought up to know Christ. But baptism is not a guarantee of eternal life either because that child could grow up to reject God. Read John Chapter 3 verse 16. There is no clause in there that says that "whosoever believeth in Him AND IS BAPTIZED will not perish, but have eternal life." Here is a link that might be helpful to you.
    http://linetap.com/trinity/trinity9.htm#BAPTIZE

    I hope you find a church home that you are comfortable with. Have you tried a Lutheran Church?
    Love ya,
    June

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  8. Here's one more site. This answers one of your questions about having to be baptized in order to go to heaven.
    http://www.angelfire.com/ok2/ourlords/baptism.html

    June

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  9. Hi Sflorman, Anonymous & June!

    Wow, what insightful, thoughtful, heartfelt responses! I am very touched and you have all given me a lot of food for thought.

    I had some stuff come up with the family today so I am sorry I didn't respond before. I want to respond to you each individually so please check back again here tomorrow evening. Your responses were so heartfelt, I want to take the time to process and think them through.

    I'm not feeling well enough to blog tonight but will be back again on Wednesday. Already have the topic.

    Love, hugs and blessings,
    Karen

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  10. Sflorman, I appreciate you sharing your experience with me and am glad that you found a place where you feel you can use your gifts and feel mostly accepted. I've actually had quite a bit of interaction with Mormons through my business and have found the ones I've corresponded with very kind and family-oriented. It was interesting hearing the beliefs of your church regarding baptism and those with special needs.

    Thanks again for sharing! Hope you'll come back to my blog again soon!

    Karen

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  11. Hi Anonymous,
    Thank you for expressing your thought that it is amazing our souls yearn for a relationship with God. I truly agree. :-)

    Even when roadblocks have come up in my life which have led me to question my faith, I have eventually found another unobstructed pathway.

    I think my rejection from Catholic high school must have been for the best although at the time I certainly didn't see it that way. Maybe I'm naive but I try to look at the real hardships in my life as tests of my faith and inner strength. Some things it's hard to pull a positive from but I trust in God and if that is true than I have to trust and have faith for the path he knows I am on.

    Although I've been hurt in a variety of ways, so has everyone in some way or another. Through it all, He has kept me alive and safe and strengthened me through the adversity. Maybe I won't ever have some of the specific dreams I thought I needed or craved but I'll keep striving and keep trying and I know there's something better out there for me.

    Perhaps it is so that I can be the mommy to Justin and Ryan, perhaps it is so that I can reach other people through Aspierations, perhaps it's these reasons and others.

    I do my best to always keep doors and windows of opportunity open. I will be blogging a little about that today if you'd like to come back.

    I am glad you have found a place which gives you peace and that you've found that within Catholicism. That's wonderful! Following your heart, following your conscience, following your soul... if it leads you to that peace, that's wonderful! I have always found the Catholic church itself a beautiful and tranquil place. I always wanted to take communion there but never felt right when I was younger. Someday I will.

    You give such wise advice. Thank you for reminding me not to have anyone scare me away from my relationship with God or finding the right place for me to practice my faith. Over the years I've grown better about being more assertive. In this one area, one really has to be!

    I have always believed that my bedroom was a very good place to be close with God. I can sit on my bed with the Bible, snuggle up under the covers and try to find a message for my life. God gave me a great gift in church a few months ago that I never expected and am still learning to understand. I've been using that gift in prayer to become closer each day.

    What you said made perfect sense to me. I may not be able to paraphrase it back the way I want to but I got it. Thank you for taking the time to share your heart and soul with me. Shalom in the home and in the heart... love it! :-)

    Please come back and share with me again!!
    Karen

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  12. Hi June,
    Thanks so much for sharing those links with me about baptism. I found them very interesting. You always go out of your way to find helpful links for me.

    John 3:16 was the first Bible verse I ever memorized. My Grandma P. taught it to me. I went back and read it again and thought a lot about what you've said.

    Sometimes I know things intuitively but then this other voice inside my head tries to shed doubts. When I send it away and follow my heart, the insecurities melt away and I feel confident in my relationship.

    I was in a Lutheran church once or twice as a child tagging along with another family but I don't remember too much about it.

    The weird thing about Washington is that they have all churches meeting all over the place but very few are in actual "church" churches. A lot meet in schools or meeting halls. It's bizarre. I don't remember that in California, but then again, my experience in Cali was quite different than here.

    I will look into a variety of different places and follow my heart. :-)

    Thanks so much, June!!
    Hugs,
    Karen

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