About a year ago or so I met a young woman in a 12 Step meeting. She was struggling, in a lot of pain and asked me to be her sponsor. I have been taught to never say no to this request and so we began to work together.
Because I drive a great distance to my job most of the contact with sponsees has to be phone work. I have to be very disciplined with my time. I don't have a super amazing position but I am the supervisor for 20 people in a unit that is critical for the movement of Medi Cal applications.
I require, therefore, that the men or women who work with me keep to a telephone schedule with the understanding that if there is an emergency they can call any time. If they do not get a hold of me, however, they are to leave a name and number and time for me to call back. My pledge to them is I will return their call within 24 hours. If they are in a really tight spot, they must be willing to reach out to other people within their sponsorship family.a
I explain that I work the steps, traditions and concepts of my 12 Step program. I believe in service and I expect them to be in 3 to 4 meetings a week, one of which needs to be in a meeting I attend so I can see their faces.
I also explain that I am a practicing Catholic, a devout one who tries to the best of her ability to follow the Teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church. I am not perfect - I tell them I have a sponsor for a reason and not to be fashionable - and that I will do my best to model for them an honest and persistent attempt to live the principles of the program one day at a time.
The young woman agreed to give it a shot and thus began a journey that has been the most heartbreaking, frustrating, joyous and ultimately saddest journey of my life. I have made some sound mistakes with this woman but I can honestly say I have opened my heart and home to her, tried my best to love her with the love taught to me by my sponsor and by His Church.
I was warned by several people (my sponsor included) that there was damage here I am ill-equipped to deal with effectively and I tried to do things over the past year that would not make me one more person, in a long line of people, who have rejected her. She was honest enough to tell me that her biggest fear is being rejected and having people 'go away'.
Her parents did a number on this kid. Both of them let her down. I was blessed in that I grew up with one sane parent but I know the damage done to me by having a crazy father and I cannot imagine my life today if the wreckage of my past included a verbally abusive, paranoid and crazy mother as well as a less than stellar father.
The difference (I hope) is that I was able to forge a wonderful relationship with my Dad ("wonderful' being a relative term as he lied to me shortly before he died which sent me on a wild goose chase for a last will and testament. By that time, however, all I could do was laugh and shake my head. He got me, one more time). That was made possible by the 12 Steps, the 12 Traditions, a good sponsor and The Catholic Church. My hope for this wounded child of God was that she would find the same healing.
The past year I have attempted over and over again to restart the relationship in a more solid and healthy manner. First, I backed off as her sponsor when it became clear she needed constant attention and help. I pointed her in the direction of some other people who might be able to help her. When she told me she wanted to study about Catholicism I pointed her in the direction of RCIA at my parish - St Joseph's of Modesto, California has one of the best programs in the US for adults seeking Truth. When she asked me to be her sponsor in that program, I agreed only if it was okay'd by our RCIA Directors, John and Nichole ( a husband and wife team who are also Dominicans, like me).
I took her to meetings, I celebrated her birthday when her mother texted her and told her she considered her daughter dead (who does that to a child?). I spoke to her father when he expressed interest in Catholicism.
She would over react to something I wrote here or on Facebook and then attack. I would lose my temper - hurt and shocked that she was attacking me. After all, look at all I was doing for you? How could you go to bed telling me I was wonderful and then send a nasty text message at 0630 calling me out on a FB post that had nothing to do with you?
I never screamed and yelled (despite that accusation being leveled at me). I would raise my voice. I would demand that she stop accusing me of doing things I had not done. I would sit through the two or three days of weepy messages and declarations that she was leaving the 12 Step program, leaving RCIA, never speaking to me again, etc etc etc.
I would go to confession. I would try again with her. We would go along 4 maybe 5 weeks and then something would upset her again and I would once more be on the hot seat, trying to figure out how to negotiate these waters.
The hardest part for me in all this is that she is a charming and intelligent young woman, an absolute delight to be around. Good sense of humor, an honest desire to seek Truth and someone who has been damaged and let down by the people in her life.
I guess you can add my name to that list now, because I have failed.
And I am ashamed.
And my pride is hurt.
I am Leslie K., Central Valley Sobriety Princess and Catechist Extraordinaire - how could I possibly have failed a human being?
Why did I raise my voice, lose my temper, demand that she do something she cannot do - act with clarity and reason? She cannot. She has been so beaten and damaged by the world that it is going to take a monumental effort on her part to surrender all to the Love of God before she can stop seeing me as the enemy.
And my heart is broken.
I lost a friend. I lost a sister.
One of my Dominican sisters shared with me that Shame and Pride are two sides of the same coin and I get that - in fact it is pretty darn clear from this relationship that I was caught up in the drama myself, trying to 'save' her and be the one person she could always count on to be there for her.
What I realise is that my pride - trying to be her saviour when she already has one in Jesus Christ - led to my shame at not modeling perfect Christian behavior for this woman. I am ashamed. I fell and I wish I could have done a better job.
Yesterday was the feast day of my confirmation saint - St Cecilia - a 4th century martyr who so modeled Christianity to her pagan husband that he not only became a Christian himself but he honored her vow of virginity within the bonds of their marriage.
I failed miserably at modeling anything by human frailty to this woman and because of my failure, I may never get so witness her being brought into full communion with The Catholic Church.
People remind me that it is the Holy Spirit that brings people to Jesus Christ and I know that; however, I am also reminded of the words of Ghandi who stated (and I am paraphrasing) that he would have been a Christian himself if he had ever met one who truly lived the Teachings.
I guess, with that in mind, I am one more example of why The Church is not for perfect people. We are not a hotel for saints, we are a hospital for sinners.
Please pray for my friend, that she forgives me and moves forward.
Please pray for me, that I become a better Catholic.