I wanted to write about St. Therese of Lisieux for a long time, as a proclamation of some kind, of my unwavering love and deep gratitude for her numerous intercessions which I firmly believe began long before I knew who she was, before I was Catholic, before I was even old enough to know who I was, really.
I’ve always been fascinated by churches and obsessed with roses. I was raised by two well meaning, and loving parents in California who were Atheist/Agnostic. My mother was a physician and my stepfather was a physicist who worked for the DOD during the Cold War on “Top Secret Stuff” and retired from designing cell phones for Motorola just months before he passed away from Pancreatic Cancer this past January. He was a logical, rational, scientist, and she was also a scientist who was open to spirituality but bristles at the idea of organized religion. Understandably, they probably didn’t identify with my free-spirited, pig-tailed, outspoken, but very spiritually hungry soul who was always looking for something more. I had no idea what that something was at the time, but I knew I got it when I was in church. It was safety.
By the time I was nine, I had experienced so much trauma from my heroin and cocaine addicted, sociopathic, murderous, biological father (directed mostly at my mother) that I carried with me an overall feeling of being unsafe. To my mother’s credit, she did always made the right choice by me, when she HAD a choice, and we finally escaped him just before my tenth birthday. I was always a happy, exuberant child, to the outward observer, but even then, even through my biggest smiles, there was an undercurrent of uneasiness running through me that I had become so use to, it often lay dormant, and “normal” unnoticeable to even myself. I guess that’s what happens when you see what I’ve seen and experienced your own sense of mortality before you can even read. To this day I have trauma that my mind protects me from, that I have no memory of. During this time in my life, as a little child of God, I know now I was in His loving arms; my Guardian Angel was always there truly working overtime, but there was someone else. Someone small. Someone who remained hidden to me until late 2004, where I finally saw her face, a face my heart recognized instantly. It was in that same moment, I began to recognize rose after rose in my life.
As a child I loved to spend Saturday night at a friend’s or my grandmother’s house. Saturday nights were fun, full of movies, giggling, and all the things little girls do together with My Little Ponies, and later the telephone. I really enjoyed Saturday night. At my grandmother’s house it was homemade French fries made just for me, watering her roses which I named and we spoke to, (so they would grow better my grandmother would say- although I now know she felt connected to her garden in such a way that is a gift from God itself, that one has or just doesn’t have. I don’t have it sadly) and stories of a time and place that seemed magical. In reality, it was post Depression Canada, but those stories of winter sleigh rides and sibling fun, was well, a scene out of Disney’s Frozen really, and what little girl doesn’t like that? These were all roses showered upon me when you think about the home life I was hiding. Instead of laughter, love, and seeing the good in the world and in the people around me, it could have been depression, alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, cutting, suicide, or something else. That kind of fortitude, courage, and relentless optimism that wraps up nicely as resiliency, doesn’t come from within you, but from God. I received so many graces that as I write this, it brings tears to my eyes. I didn’t earn them, or deserve them. Grace is just given. It’s given from the unconditional love that only comes from our almighty God. I basked in it, unabashedly and whole-heartedly from a very young age. St. Therese was there too because I will never be like her, yet there I was in my pig-tails looking and finding all the little ways to not only cope, but to blossom and be who I was born to be, a flower in God’s garden.
What I really loved about a sleepover was Sunday morning. The frenzied ritual of dressing for God, followed by an exciting and hectic drive to the church, so we wouldn’t be late, was something my friends took for granted and even wished they didn’t have to do. I loved it. I loved walking into their church. I have been in a LOT of churches from Jewish temples, to Mormon wards, from the liturgical Protestants, to Baptists and the non-denominational congregation to this day I don’t understand. Even at eleven it felt like group therapy with a rock band and the Bible, the Pastor a Christian life-coach. I felt peaceful in them all. Only the Pentecostal church scared me. I didn’t go back to that one eagerly. My parents (and I mean my mother and step-father) let me go to all these services. They never spoke of their Atheist/Agnostic views to me directly. They indulged me, I suppose letting me be me. I don’t know if they thought I would outgrow, what they probably saw as another whim. I had a lot of whims. Gymnastics, piano lessons, soccer, Gem, pink lip gloss, to name a few. None of these never lasted very long. However, every time I begged to go to church with my friends and their families, Therese was there showing me how to lift my arms up to our Lord, getting on the elevator to Him, as she so brilliantly has written. I still remember my best friend’s mother scolding me for being rude, trying to invite myself to Catholic Easter Vigil in 1989.
Some of my friends were Catholics. Those were my favorite churches. They were beautiful. They had statues and pictures of holy persons that looked like esteemed family members to me. What I am saying, is that a Catholic Church looked like a really ornate living room where its family members gathered to visit one another. I felt peaceful in other churches, I felt downright safe in the Catholic Church, the undercurrent of feeling unsafe that constantly ran through my veins would disappear while I sat in her pew, in her “living room”, with “my family” and I wanted to feel safe, not just while in holy Mother Church but for every minute of my life.
So there I was in 2004, an RCIA Candidate unbaptized and ignorant, wanting more for my life, flipping through a book of Saints. I had already chosen St. Helena, mother of Constantine, as my Confirmation Saint because I admired her story and life. Any Saint who had went to the Holy Land at the young age of eighty to look and find the true Cross was someone to hold to high esteem. Not so fast, though right? You don’t choose your Confirmation Saint, he or she chooses you! So I’m flipping through this book for my own amusement when there she is- looking at me from that famous face-on photo image of her in her habit, next to another face-on photo of her as a child. I heard her speak to my heart, “why not me?” What……? I stared at her. I saw the child Therese and knew that child held my hand when I was seven paralyzed knowing my mom’s life was in danger and I felt so bad for just silently sitting there. She was the little girl who came to me and settled my fears, as I was alone in the house (until well after midnight while my mom worked in the ER) desperately trying to fall asleep. She was the confidant I thought I had invented when I sat on the curb with someone waiting for my biological father to pick me up after the daycare closed. He never did show. It was always my mom who came in breathless after a long 18 hour work day literally running to me arms outstretched, her face full of worry and guilt. Therese was with me I would skip into church with my schoolmates and their families. When I was driving with my biological father and I found his cocaine, it was she who prayed to God for me to keep me safe as he snorted it all at a red light as it had fallen all over my lap. After that incident my mom was able to have his visitation rights revoked. I recognized that she chose me so many years ago. It was St. Therese who taught me her Little Way long before I had ever heard of it. I have bouquet after bouquet of roses to prove it. I consider her a friend. I talk to her, pray her Chaplet, thank her every chance I get for pointing me to Christ, His mother Mary, and His holy Church. I am always lending her out, so to speak to people in my life who are suffering, lost, or overwhelmed. Have you met my friend St. Therese? Of course you are acquainted with her, everyone is, but do you know her? You would love her! She will help you keep your eyes and heart on Christ.
St. Therese’s Novena begins on the eve of the first day of Fall, a kick-off to my favorite season, September 22, the six month marker of my oldest’s birthday. If she wasn’t so adamant about working harder in heaven than on earth, I might feel a little bad for all the time she has intercessed on my behalf. She has chosen many of us as her little projects to pray for, its who she is. She began with an unapologetic murderer, who had a conversion of repentance, and she hasn’t ended her work with me. Look for her miracles in your life, that she calls roses. If you happen to receive a rose or see a rose, or even think you might’ve seen a rose, know you aren’t alone, she actively looks for those to pray for. I am proof that she seeks you out. She has written that she is a lowly violet small and unfragrant, but still beautiful in God’s garden, but she is my ever-blooming rose, and I am thankful to have received her gifts time and time again. I recently had the opportunity to visit the Basilica and National Shrine of the Little Flower in San Antonio, TX where I was able to purchase Our Lady of the Smile. She sits in my living room where I see her everyday. She saved a young Therese from illness and she helps me with my own mini vocation to spread a smile, but that is another blog entry.
So thank you, Therese for choosing me to pray for. Thank you for giving me your Little Way. With your help, my Guardian Angel, the Blessed Mother, and Christ Himself, I thank God I made it all the way home.
“Therese, A Saint and a Forever Friend” contributed by Dollia Lemus.