Following the Signs

My unlikely journey of faith

When I was growing up my mother constantly reminded me that “the path to God is not easy” but as the child of an atheist father and—to my mind—an overly devout mother it was advice I ignored because I had no interest in finding a path to God.

My pragmatic father negated any possibility of a Godly existence within our world, and managed to shrink Jesus down to nothing more than a historically accurate character (he had been a history professor in Poland before we moved to Canada). My mother on the other hand, tried to save me from my father’s uninspiring certainty of realism by bombarding me with parables and tales of realms of divine existence. I chose to believe neither of them.

Total Control

Under the Communists in Poland, the government controlled virtually everything including education, income, professional advancement, even one’s religion. The church was forbidden to have any influence in social matters, and all ties between creed and politics were severed. People like my father rejoiced at this concept, but in a country where 98% of the population are devout Catholics it caused a great deal of turmoil.

The election of the first Polish pope, John Paul II, was a major force in uniting Poles and helping to bring about change but by the time the Berlin Wall collapsed and the Solidarity movement arose as Poland’s new governing power my parents were already long gone. Eager to explore new opportunitites and too distrusting to go back to their homeland, they continued forward with me in tow at age 4 through motels and Austrian refugee camps.

I wanted liberty and absolute freedom of thought; and in that freedom there was no room for faith. I had no interest in my mother’s thoughts on divinity, nor did I want to hear my father’s mathematical deductions proving that no such thing exists.

Stuck In The Middle

The last thing I needed was someone telling me how to think. The only way to liberate myself completely from my parents’ influence was to think the exact opposite. And although I didn’t know it at the time, that was the beginning of my own spiritual journey.

“The only way to liberate myself completely from my parents’ influence was to think the exact opposite. And although I didn’t know it at the time, that was the beginning of my own spiritual journey.”

My own path actually began with two years of nonstop verbal rebellion, confusion and a wandering search for some sort of solidity in my life. Neither my mother’s faith nor my father’s lack of belief satisfied my personal convictions, and I was left somewhere in between.

Though it took me a while, my mother’s oft-repeated refrain “The path to God is not easy” that I used to dismiss entirely began to occupy my thoughts more. What if we viewed our misfortunes and losses as nothing more than road signs guiding us as our journey deepens? I began to view my own struggles and others in an entirely new light.

Three Signs

Evidence of the wisdom of my mother’s words became clearer to me in three stories in particular:

  • A woman I know once told me the unimaginable story of her life. She’d had a comfortable childhood and later married and had two young children. She believed her life was almost perfect, until one rainy evening when a car crash took almost everything that was dear to her. Although her 2 year-old son survived the accident virtually unscathed in the backseat, she was tossed through the windshield 40 feet into the air, and suffered two broken legs, five broken ribs, a punctured lung, a broken back, and nearly half her face torn off. Twice she was pronounced dead on the hospital bed. And although most people would view this as a tragedy, she claims that it was the beginning of a lifelong journey to her spiritual peace. She knew very well of everything that she could have lost that day, and when it was all returned back to her she was grateful. This woman is my future mother-in-law and her little boy is my fiancé. They are both here today and for that I am grateful.

  • Another woman remembered her family in her younger years as devoutly Catholic–they went to church every Sunday, her father said Grace before every meal, and her mother sang in the church choir. Six months before the Second World War her mother died, and a couple of months later her father followed. At the time she was only 12 years old, and she was left to fend for 6 of her younger siblings with a world of terror just around the corner. All 7 children survived the War, avoided the concentration camps and outlived the Russian invasion, but she believes that the only thing that helped them survive was prayer. To her and her siblings it was the only way to be loyal to their parents’ memory. Soon their prayers were no longer just words–they became the core to their lives of faith that sustained them into old age. This woman is my grandmother and the loyalty to her faith despite of her life’s tragedy, never ceases to amaze me.

  • The last story is of a baby girl who was unable to walk. She was born with a birth defect and both hips were irreparably damaged during delivery. Few doctors offered surgical options while others suggested a wheelchair, but the girl’s parents decided to take a leap of faith before they sentenced her to a lifetime of immobility. Before the surgery, doctors warned that the success rate was only 50% and that the child may never walk again. Two surgeries and three years later, the little girl took her first steps. But her legs were weak and untrained and although she could stagger around, doctors said that she would never walk normally. A few years later, that same girl not only walked normally, she became a competitive athlete and won an athletic scholarship to college. That little girl was me.

Blessings In Disguise

To this day I wonder about all the times that I searched for God and I could not find Him. Where was my faith then? Where did all that doubt come from? In those moments my mother would remind me of the greatest gift that was given to me: the ability to walk.

My mother was right. The path to God is not easy. From the very beginning my journey to Him started off with an obstacle. But because of that hurdle that some would call a misfortune, I found the strength that I never would have known otherwise.

That’s not to say that tragedy is the only way to God but that some misfortunes can in fact be blessings in disguise if we know how to look. Perhaps the only way to truly have faith is to survive God’s faith in us, trusting that He will never give us a burden too heavy to carry.