Sheila’s Story, Part VII
This is one of a thirty part exposé on the Children of the Legion. This group of women, then girls, in the Regnum Christi, share their stories of abuse, neglect and the aftermath of being children in the Regnum Christi. For a complete list of stories to date, view Children of the Legion.
Remember Juanita, the consecrated woman who was always pestering me at sports? Well, she was also my housework supervisor. It was her job to come into the conference room, which I cleaned every day, and nag me to work faster. Since I took considerable pride in my work and knew I did a good job, it drove me crazy. One day, I just lost it. I was tired of humbly apologizing for not doing a better job when I WAS doing a good job, as I saw it. So I yelled at her. I was holding a vacuum cleaner with a long hose attachment, and I waved it in her face. I yelled something like “Can’t you see I’m working as fast as I can?!” She simply turned around and left the room. Later I seem to remember getting an earful about it from my spiritual director. I felt bad that I had snapped, but I also felt annoyed that everyone seemed to talk about me behind my back. If Juanita had stuck around, I would have apologized to her right away, but now there seemed no opening for doing so.
It was a wakeup call for me to shape up, though, and I did try. I got a little better at accepting criticism. But I still cried a good percent of the time. (In fact, I STILL do sometimes when someone criticizes me. I guess I am just really sensitive! But I’m a heck of a lot more stable emotionally than I was then.)
Soon, the school year was over and the summer began. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to going home … for some reason, I had started to be afraid of going home. I had gone into a panic when it was time to go home at Christmastime. It just seemed so far out of my new comfort zone. How could I be “what I was supposed to be” without daily Mass, a directed meditation, and someone to wake me up at six a.m.? How would I relate to my family, and wouldn’t I miss my companions? But the three days I spent at home ended up being wonderful … they were the days my first younger brother was born. I loved him immediately. And I got to go home one other time, in the spring, for his baptism.
So, I knew it would be nice to see my baby brother, and I wasn’t dreading the summer visit. But I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it, either. What I was looking forward to was World Youth Day, which was going to be in Toronto. We were ALL going to get to go. There was going to be a giant Regnum Christi convention! And, oh yeah, the Pope.
I had a fun time with my family, I think. I actually don’t remember it very well. I do remember “major vacations” afterward, when we went to various parks every single day and enjoyed the summer. (No, we didn’t do school year-round, even though we only had two weeks at home. The rest of the time was spent in outings and fun summer courses and, of course, the summer program.) I remember having spiritual direction with Sally at the park. I was mainly concerned with the fact that she was going to be gone for a good part of the summer, and she wasn’t going to be coming to World Youth Day either, so I would have a long time without spiritual direction. I wasn’t quite sure how I could manage without it for three weeks or whatever it was.
I have a vague memory that she said something about re-discerning my vocation. I remembered that from last year. I guessed it must be something you do every year. I told her that I would definitely pray about whether I was supposed to stay for another year, and that was the end of that.
Meanwhile I did go to World Youth Day, and had a fabulous time. I did suffer a little bit from panic attacks and claustrophobia — something that had been bothering me for awhile, but which I was told was all in my head — because of all the crowds and unfamiliarity. But other than that it was wonderful. A close friend from back home was there for the summer program and had come to WYD with us. She stuck to me like glue the whole time, and really helped me enjoy everything. She was very free with handing out hugs and grabbing my hand to lead me through crowds, which was nice. We got to camp out the night before the papal mass, in a vast crowd of young people, and I even danced a little with a group of Brazilians! We weren’t allowed to dance, but since it was little more than walking around in a circle, I figured it was okay.
There were many Regnum Christi events which we went to as well. At the end of the trip, there was a giant incorporation ceremony with a high-profile Legionary. And now I was finally sixteen! I could finally join RC! I asked if I could.
“Well, have you discussed this with your spiritual director? Normally you’re supposed to do that first.”
“Oh, ages ago,” I said, remembering that I had informed her some time ago that I wanted to join, and she hadn’t said anything against it.
“You’re also supposed to write a letter to Fr. Maciel first, telling the reasons why you want to be incorporated. But in this situation, you’ll write your letter afterward. And instead of going on a discernment retreat first, you can go on your usual retreat in the fall. That will count.” So I was given permission to be incorporated.
The ceremony was a disappointment, though. Instead of the small, intimate celebrations of a few girls I had seen before, there was a vast crowd. And instead of receiving a cross, a Bible, and a commitment card, I was told to just hold my own cross and Bible, and I would get a commitment card later. I had wanted a chance to review the commitments, but no one had a card they could show me. And when it was time to recite the promises, I didn’t have a sheet to read, so I just listened and said “Amen” at the end. It hardly felt like it counted, and I kind of wished I had waited. I never even wrote the letter.
We returned to Rhode Island, happy because we had gotten to see John Paul II (a second time for most of us, including me, because we had gone to Rome my freshman year). I tried to track down Sally, but all I got was, “Oh, you were incorporated? I didn’t expect that. Congratulations.” She said we would make an appointment for spiritual direction when she was a little less busy.
A short time after that, I got a call from my mother. “What’s this about you coming home?” she asked, very concerned.
“Why would I be coming home? I’m definitely not coming home. Where did you hear that?”
“Sally called and told us you might be coming home. She said she’d discussed it with you.”
I was shocked. How could Sally go behind my back like that? We’d never spoken about me leaving. We hadn’t spoken in weeks anyway. But then I thought for awhile and remembered our last conversation, almost a month before. There had been something about re-discerning … hadn’t there? Finally I answered my mom, “Well, she did ask if I wanted to stay for another year, and I said I’d pray about it, but we haven’t talked since then. I’ll talk to her and tell her I’m not planning to leave.” I figured that would take care of everything.
It didn’t. We had a talk where she asked me to seriously consider leaving, told me that I was just being complacent where I was, and told me that I had to be open to the possibility that God was leading me elsewhere. At least, I think that’s what she said. I was mostly busy sobbing. The very idea of leaving was heartbreaking to me. But I promised I would pray hard and really discern and ask God what he wanted.
I did, too. While writing this post, I went through my old prayer journal from the time (oh, how painful). Every night, I wrote begging God to make his will known to me, and promising that I would obey him if he asked me to leave, even though it was the very last thing I wanted. I felt that perhaps this was all because I had not been good enough, and that I needed to try harder to be worthy. But I never got the slightest hint from God that he might want me to leave, though I asked for sign after sign. All I could think of in prayer was how much I loved being there, how close to God I felt, and how firmly I believed this was my vocation.
Finally I got another chance to talk to Sally, just for a few minutes before some other activity. “I’ve really prayed and discerned,” I said, “and I really feel that God wants me here.”
She looked me in the eye. “Well, God has many ways of speaking to us, Sheila, and one of those ways is through our directors. And as your spiritual director, I’m telling you that God wants you to go home.”
I burst into racking sobs then. I just couldn’t understand! How could God call me to a place and then force me out of it again? Why couldn’t God be bothered to speak to me himself? Why did I get one feeling from God, and another feeling from God’s instrument?
She told me not to tell anyone else, because it would only upset them. And then she gave me a box of Kleenex, told me to go to the next activity when I had calmed down, and left. I cried alone in the empty room for a long time, and then finally went on with my day. Soon I let my family know, and my mother cried with me. She bought me a ticket to come home ten days later. I found out I would be leaving on the 15th of August, and on the 25th, I would be on a plane home.
Those ten days were misery. I loved my classmates so much, despite all the distance we were forced to keep with one another. We had gone through a lot together, and we knew more about each other than we ever said. I knew I’d never again have friends like those. All I wanted was to tell them I was leaving and tell them I still cared about them, but I was not allowed.
I knew people left sometimes. Some people I’d really liked had done it. I assumed it was of their own choice, because obviously they wouldn’t be kicked out if they wanted to stay! And I assumed they had chosen not to say goodbye. We’d been told not to write to them, either, because it would get in the way of their discernment of God’s new plan for them. So I never did, though I badly wanted to. I just assumed that they were happy where they were. Now I knew this was false, but I couldn’t tell anyone about it! All I did for those ten days was go through the motions and cry a lot. My main thought was, “I loved God, and he rejected me because I am not good enough.”
I did get to speak to Caroline and ask her why I was being sent home. Sally had told me she was the one to ask, so I swallowed my fear and made an appointment with her. She told me that I was too “up in the clouds,” and being at home would ground me. She said I was too sensitive, and knocking around with the “rough” people at home would toughen me up. She said that this wasn’t necessarily permanent; that I could come back next year if I made the necessary improvement. Then she recommended I read How to Win Friends and Influence People, and sent me on my way with a jaunty smile and a thumbs-up. I held on to the hope that I might return someday like a life raft. She had given me enough hope to survive on, and I felt kindly toward her for the first time ever.
The day chosen for my departure was a day of silent retreat, so no one would notice I was gone until I was in the air. Sally and another consecrated prepared me a snack for the plane and drove me to the airport. Sally finally gave me a commitment card and explained to me what I would have to do to follow my Regnum Christi commitments. She told me that my Regnum Christi section back in Seattle would look up to me because I’d had so much special training. I would have a lot of work to do to build up RC in my home town. Then the two consecrated stood and waved while I walked through security and away.
It was a big relief when I found my friend from the summer program was already at the airport, having been dropped off in an earlier van run, and that she would be on my flight. I told her everything and she hugged me understandingly. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without her. But on the long flight to Seattle, I sat alone, sobbing for the whole six hours.
When I arrived home, I was completely empty and emotionless. I felt I had nothing left I could feel. It was late already and I was exhausted. My family met me at the airport with flowers, but I felt so dead I didn’t even want to greet them, and I stiffened up when they tried to hug me.
That night, I cried myself to sleep alone in my room. And then I didn’t cry again for two years.
This story is a testimony from the 49 Weeks Blog. You can see this and more stories by visiting 49 Weeks.