Posted March 15, 2010 in My Story:
There Is a Hope in Hell

by a staff worker.

Perhaps you have heard the saying, "there isn’t a hope in hell," which refers to an impossible situation or problem. That line was certainly part of my vocabulary.

This past year, however, I have discovered hope emerging in my life and in the darkest and most painful corners of my past. Through the telling of my personal story, I want to tell you how hope became very real for me

Last year, the theme for the summer program that we offer our guests at Madonna House was "hope" in its various dimensions. When the time came to sign up to either give a witness talk or a teaching, I declined saying that I had nothing to say and very little to offer. What could I possibly say about hope?

I am a gardener and later, as I worked in the greenhouse, I was telling myself I had made the right decision. I was not ready to give a talk.

Then suddenly out of my heart came this question, "Why don’t you want to talk about your hope in hell?’’ The question caught me off guard and I couldn’t answer it or refute it. So I went and signed up to give my witness talk.

I need to give you the context for the hell I am going to be telling you about. My hell, my personal hell, came from growing up in a family where there was alcoholism, domestic violence, and sexual and emotional abuse. I say this only so that you understand where the pain and darkness I will speak about came from.

From a very young age, I took in everything that was going on around me, and it affected me deeply. I was so caught in the pain and darkness that was within, and it was all there inside affecting everything I did.

When you carry intense pain like that, it comes out in many unpleasant ways: anger, rage, bitterness, depression, suicidal thoughts. The list is endless, but you get the idea.

At times my greatest challenge was not to give up some kind of hope and to not die inside. This pain and struggle permeated my life.

When I was eighteen, I moved from home to another province and worked there for a year. This gave me some distance from my home and family, but the pain was still bottled up inside, for I had taken it with me.

I returned home but after several months, I had to leave again. But where could I go?

A woman from my parish told me about Madonna House, and I made arrangements to go there for the summer.

So at the age of twenty, I arrived at Madonna House where I very quickly felt at home. There was a sense of security there that my spirit caught before my mind did. There was structure, three meals a day, places were clean and orderly, and there was routine. All this was a balm to my soul, and people were kind, and there was a gentleness in the place.

I ended up staying sixteen months; I couldn’t get enough of being surrounded by a loving family atmosphere.

At the end of my stay, I asked Catherine Doherty if I could become an applicant. She told me I needed to wait a year. I went away for a time, and when I returned, I asked again if I could become an applicant. Catherine told me no, I needed to wait another year. Then she suggested I just go and get married!

I was devastated and inconsolable, and I wrote in my journal that I had left Madonna House for good. They did not want me!

I moved to British Columbia, where my sister was living, and there I got a job and began living on my own. I was living a faith-life, and I kept in touch with my spiritual director at Madonna House. Periodically I would visit there, and I was always warmly welcomed, but I could never quite touch what was hurting inside.

The pain seemed to be there to stay, and there was nothing I could do to alleviate it. It seemed to me that I was destined to be angry, bitter, insecure, ugly, and stupid for the rest of my life.

Then came a turning point. One day, I was so full of anguish and pain, and I didn’t know how to stop hurting. I went into my room in a rage and looking up, saw the crucifix on my wall.

I bundled up a towel, threw it at the crucifix, and yelled, "You can go to hell!"

There was silence. Then I heard a voice within my heart say, "I did!"

I started to sob, and I cried until there were no tears left.

It was then, with this incident, that God began to lead me back to Madonna House.

In February of 1986, I returned to Madonna House just for a few weeks’ holidays. I was no longer thinking of Madonna House as my vocation. The night before I left there, I was speaking with Jean Fox, the director general of women. At one point, she asked me, "Do you want to get married?"

The immediate response coming from my heart was, "No Jeanie, I don’t." She just nodded, and I returned to Vancouver the next day.

Over the next several months, her question stayed in my heart, and I thought to myself that, though I did want to get married, what I really wanted was commitment. I wanted to belong to someone, to love someone, and to have that person love me back. Perhaps that would help heal what I was carrying inside.

It kept coming to me though, that God, through Madonna House, was all those things I desired.

I wrote Jean Fox and asked once again if I could be an applicant. She wrote me back and said, "Come home."

So I came to Combermere bringing my yellow duffel bag, a cardboard box, and a carry-on. I thought that was all I had brought with me, but it soon became apparent that my other baggage had also arrived. My anger and my pain had come along for the ride.

Over the years, with the help of those in a position to do so, I have been taking that extra baggage apart. It has been a very slow process, and sometimes I would "slip" and the contents of that baggage would come spilling out.

I could fly into rages far beyond what a situation called for. People were afraid of my anger, my words, my demeanor, and I was easily hurt. All this isolated me, and the repercussions of my actions and reactions hurt me even more.

I was labeled an angry person, but I came to realize that I was not an angry person at all but rather a person carrying a lot of pain. The anger and all the rest of what I hated coming out of me was stemming from pain.

When I finally saw this, it made an enormous difference. I began looking at and touching the pain inside, crying over it, and letting it go. I still have work to do, but it is happening.

You may ask what all of this has to do with hope, but I say that God can pierce the deepest darkness.

It is only recently that I began asking, "Why did all this happen to me?" And I learned that somehow God, for his own reasons, needed me to experience what I did.

Not long ago, we had had a day of recollection whose theme was planting, seeds, gardens, the work of God, etc.. Both the homily and the conference were in this vein, and since I am a gardener, I was sure I would get a really great word. But the only word I got was "compost"!

I wasn’t very happy with that word, but nothing else would come, so I said, "Okay, God, what about compost then?’’

During my listening, I heard God seem to say, "Compost is all garbage, refuse, things no longer good and wanted, just like those memories and pain inside of you. I can use it.

"I need the compost to make a person fertile and ripe for my seed to grow. It takes time and tending, but the time will eventually come when the seed, or soul, will be ready to produce thirty, sixty, a hundredfold. Nothing, no event, no memory, no pain, no struggle, no trauma will be left out. I need it all."

Finally I came to the realization that Jesus had been whispering to me, "Do you not want to share in my sufferings? You once said that Catherine was your spiritual mother, and Madonna House was your inheritance.

"Catherine’s life and sufferings are also your inheritance, and I want to show you how I will you to spend both your life and your sufferings.

"Catherine could only follow me because she knew she was loved by me. I loved her through her sufferings, her despair, her rejections, her disappointments, her darkness, her fears, her temptations, her anxieties, her panic, her confusions. The list goes on and never ends. Yes I loved her, and all through her very being she knew that I loved her. You will learn this, too."

I have shared with you my story because I now know that my wounds and pain are not who I am. It is what I have been asked to carry.

I believe that there is a hope in every hell. There was in mine.


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