Thursday, February 2, 2012

Love, Happiness, Gratitude, Healing and Sometimes, Church Attendance

I lay on the couch, unable to feel my right hand and barely able to move my right arm after having undergone elbow reconstruction surgery early that morning.  I wondered at the wisdom of the hospital discharging me, but I was a charity case and the need to save money by cutting every corner possible is an ever present reality in America’s healthcare system.
It was Elizabeth, my clergy abuse survivor partner in healing, who insisted on coming to my house to stay over night.  Until I broke my elbow last year, I had largely managed to avoid having to go to a doctor since losing health insurance in the process of getting divorced.  Elizabeth, with a much larger family than mine, had seen family members through surgeries in recent years, and knew I needed care even if I did not know it.  I thought that my teenagers could handle it.  They handled me having bronchitis and pleurisy.
Elizabeth, put aside her son and three young grandsons as well as her husband, and came to my house as soon as she could after work and helped me get up from the couch and carry my nerve blocking medication bag to the bathroom and I have to explain in detail?
When my daughter noticed the large, reddish brown stain on my very large surgical bandage that stretched from my shoulder to my finger tips, Elizabeth handled the situation with grace and humor...while I used my left hand to call the hospital’s on call surgical resident to find out if I needed to go back to the hospital for emergency care.
Fortunately I didn’t, but the kids needed feeding.  The neighbor offered to bring over Popeye’s fried chicken, but got mixed up on the days, so Elizabeth took my anxious daughter for a ride to the restaurant and picked up and paid for the chicken herself.
Not that I am complaining, because the neighbor took care of the next night’s dinner.
As Elizabeth arranged a large bath towel around my throat and placed a piece of fried chicken in my left hand, I felt a surge of pure love for her.  No, I am not gay.  I loved her because of how much care was giving me.  I wonder how I would have handled that first night after surgery without her or with anyone else blessed with less humor and grace than she.
Tears come to my eyes when I think of the care Elizabeth gave to me that night only 8 months ago.  Elizabeth is a clergy abuse survivor, and I am an ordinary Catholic parishioner.  
Love and joy and peace is the reward we receive for caring for each other.
Elizabeth is paying it forward.  She always does, but she is not the only one.
Before I started working closely with Fr. Armando Lopez, a survivor came to me and asked for help with housing.  She needed a place to park her RV, her only home.  She had no income and could pay no rent.
I e-mailed the Catholics I knew who were sympathetic to survivors, which included two lawyers and one priest -- people with resources.  No responses. The survivor found her own stop gap housing.  A year later she needed housing again.  This time I asked Fr. Armando.  He gave her space for three months in the parking lot of Ascension Catholic Church.  He allowed her to run an electrical extension into the parish offices as well as a water hose from the church to her RV.  The survivor, who had left the Catholic Church, started attending Mass at Ascension.
Hey, all you in the leadership of the Catholic Church, want to solve the clergy abuse issue and increase attendance at Sunday morning Mass?  Just go ask Fr. Armando Lopez, Franciscan Friar.  He can tell you.  If you need contact information for him, I’ll give it to you.
Hey, is anybody listening? 
No matter.  I’ll tell my stories to the ether.  I am sure the angels are listening.
This summer, Fr. Armando was at it again -- helping a survivor of clergy abuse that is.  I work with a clergy abuse survivor who is a woman with a multitude of gifts, but she struggles with self esteem so she doesn’t know how wonderful she is.  This last year and a half have been very hard on her.  She has had major health problems and had to undergo surgery.  Unfortunately she lost her job.  She needed a break from all the stress of trying to hold herself together without adequate resources, so I invited her to join me on the Walk Across Oregon when we visited the Oregon coast.  Just in time Fr. Armando donated $500 to Compassionate Gathering.  I used that money to pay for the survivor to come to the coast with me.  The survivor was very grateful, and she enjoyed Tillamook Bay and the Pacific Ocean very much.
But Fr. Armando is not the only Franciscan Friar up to good.
Fr. Ben Innnes is at it too.  He gave me a book of healing rituals for survivors of abuse at Christmas time.  He also signed me up for three boxes of food from St. Vincent de Paul for three of my survivors in the Portland area trying to scrape by without jobs, one of whom is a clergy abuse survivor who lives under a bridge in North Portland.  One of the survivors was late applying for food stamps in December.  The food from St. Vincent de Paul was an enormous help for her.
So what do we get when survivors help Catholics and when Catholics help survivors?

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