That PTA meeting forty years ago required huge mustering. I had left behind a pile of supper dishes, two little boys adjusting to a newborn sister with grave congenital problems, and a husband who had just told me he longed to be on a beach alone with a woman who captivated him. I tucked my bleeding heart away and headed to the first-grade classroom.
Being the oldest in my large, Catholic family gave me ready tools for new-mom exhaustion, but none for the earthquake of infidelity. The wagons were circled from home, friends and parochial school: life was safe, marriage was forever and sex, a sacred no-no before marriage, was after marriage a glorious gift. I found it exactly so.
How—how—could our joyously conjoined selves be so suddenly and radically rent? Crazy-making, as I knew we loved each other deeply. Yes, there had been a few admissions of quickie porn machines in our early marriage. They hurt, and I was baffled—but the profound remorse which always followed lulled me into thinking all was well. But now, a real person—a watershed. I was sliced in two. We needed help.
And the God who made me one with the flesh and blood of His Son at every Mass, who wooed me in the candles and incense and mystery of sacred spaces in my growing up, whose “I absolve you” in the confessional brought instant, holy relief, whose truth had quickened my core in college theology classes, whose beauty in nature and in music lifted me to heaven, this God rushed to the rescue.
He did not come to the rescue through the secular psychologist I trusted—whose covert green light to my husband almost decimated us—but through the life raft held out to me at that PTA meeting. “I hardly know you,” came the kindly voice, “but it struck me you might be interested in a small women’s prayer group we’re beginning at my church.” Might be interested?! She was saving my life.
My dam burst during that first meeting, amidst the cautious prayers for toe surgery and pregnant neighbors. And my pain was met with the Balm of Gilead in the form of prayer for the healing of memories for my husband and for the most tender restoration in Christ of my broken heart. All new to me, but “ever ancient,” no mistaking it. I had met Jesus the Healer. My life would never be the same.
No one was talking about sexual addiction in 1973. Secular therapy branded me codependent for staying in my marriage. Marriage Encounter–style communication only exacerbated the unhealed wounds. The Charismatic Renewal with its powerful healing conferences . . . hope! But the beat went on: revelation of betrayal, abject contrition, forgiveness with the insistence of getting help, getting the help—sometimes together, sometimes separately—trust restored, and then, the next confession. And sprouting out sideways, the baffling angers, moodiness, blame and shame. Anguish amidst such good in our lives. We did “drastic,” moving to a charismatic covenant community, our five children in tow, to immerse ourselves in gospel living, only to find “shoulds” made god, transparency suffocated, wounds pushed deeper, head and heart cleaved wide apart.
God did not abandon us. Amidst this disillusionment we encountered Leanne Payne, a bull’s-eye in her incarnational worldview, and to my theological “gut,” so recognizably Catholic. The fog cleared, my own brokenness in bold relief. And the remedies: the cross, completely efficacious only in the Eucharist, Mary and the sense of being, restoration of the true self, the holy imagination, practicing the Presence. This was authentic, salvific Christianity. The ride home found me on fire with gratitude for this gift—and longing to bring it into my Catholic world.
Hanging on to such teaching was, for me, a matter of life and death. But a short-lived conference provided no Velcro for my husband, whose childhood trauma bound him in his own loop. Without brothers there was no staying power. We moved home as the community shredded. God was ever with us—and so were the unhealed wounds and their outworkings. Receiving Jesus daily saved my life. Entrusting myself to His Mother brought me directly into her womb with Jesus, under the shelter of Joseph. Nazareth was mine, but not yet my husband’s.
Enter the Theology of the Body (TOB), orchestrated astoundingly by the Holy Spirit in our lives. Aha! No wonder the bliss of the sexual union of glorious man and glorious woman—which I knew us-in-Christ to be, despite all our brokenness. And no wonder the anguish of its rupture. We’re talking real heaven and real hell here, and we had experienced both. There was such conviction, but the post-TOB sailing wasn’t smooth. This riveting teaching acted, in our case, like a can opener for the soul, exposing all the wounds as never before. But where was the hospital? I ached to have Leanne Payne and John Paul II join forces.
Forty years after that PTA meeting, that very hospital opened its doors to us in Living Waters. A lifetime of seeking gave me instant recognition—not of a subculture within the body of Christ, but of a template for authentic Christian living in which we go from glory to glory, our false selves stripped away layer by layer so the true self in Christ can emerge. Here the bare-bones gospel is preached with tender power. Here a longing Father can reach to the core of our deepest need in his Son who suffered to take hold of the whole of us, because the whole of us can be exposed!
Both as a pastoral counselor and the wife of a vulnerable spouse, I was moved by the safeties this well-seasoned ministry has put in place which allow transparency and ensure dignity, protecting both participants and leaders. The deepest of these safeties is the humility so fragrant in the air: the sufficiency of Christ is core, not Living Waters or its leaders; the leaders know their abject need for the Lord and make themselves transparent with one another; Living Waters itself insists on being put under the umbrella of the church it comes to serve. This protection of authority is so Catholic!
As a Catholic, I experienced such an innervating of the sacraments through my Living Waters training experience. With the first session, I was struck to the quick by the intactness I realized I insisted upon, and the damage this “false self” inflicted upon my marriage and my family. I couldn’t wait to confess this, both to my husband, and sacramentally. In the Eucharist, my tender Bridegroom bore away that façade and loved me in my brokenness. Eucharistic adoration, drinking in that Real Presence whom Mary had mothered, brought me a sense of being at the deepest levels. I grew in feminine receiving. With all the Holy Spirit was about in my heart, the communion of saints—official and “family”—surrounded me ever closer.
I realized at a heart level that for my husband and me our trysting place truly was the foot of the cross. He has a wife now compelled by Jesus’ love for her in her brokenness; I have a husband who now, thanks to a way of ongoing brotherhood which invites him to engage, has committed to sobriety. We are healing.
We have such riches in our tradition but are so often like beggars, foraging for nickels on the sidewalk when there is a loaded bank vault just behind us. Living Waters invites us to allow Jesus to rescue us fully, through His body, the church. Thank you, God. A lifetime is as a whisper in your sight, and heaven is coming.