Approximately a year ago on I am sure what was a cold and frigid day as today or these days, I was shocked to receive a letter and card from one of my long-lost penpal from Europe. I had not heard from her in at least a year or more. Since she became a mother herself and since I became officially biologically motherless from a medically necessary hysterectomy back in 2015, I could only imagine that our friendship would fade and fall away. Through neither of our faults, but through life happening and having to lead and live life as it keeps on going. This dear penpal of mine came into my life over ten years ago. We fervently wrote long and lengthy letters on cute stationary heavily decked out in stickers and in scented strawberry pens. We kept postal services alive and postal workers employed. We even met face-to-face on freezing night in midtown Manhattan, chatting endlessly to match our lengthy letters. Somehow, we always connected in the cold in the warmth of our friendship. We kept our friendship going even when it was clear how vastly different we were when it came to our differences on romantic relationships, marriage, children, and, above all else, religion and faith.
She was not religious out of choice, but out of upbringing. Her mother was a seemingly devout Christian who believed in prayer, baptism, and church services and worship. As for me and certainly due to my upbringing of a scientific father and overly religious biological mother, out of all the places in the world that I felt the most uncomfortable in, it was in any place of worship. Growing up, the majority of my friends were Catholics. They always welcomed me to Church services and particularly around Christmas time. I felt immensely uncomfortable and like some traitor and sinner when I sat in the pews in Church. I was told that I was a sinner if I did not go to Church and if I did not have Church friends, and there I was in the pews not knowing any of the prayers, scriptures, songs, psalms, and sermons. I was a stranger in a strange land. For the longest time when people asked me what my religion was, I said I was ‘Agnostic,’ not even truly knowing what that meant. Then, I would switch it up and say: “Well, I’m spiritual and not religious.” I was not an Atheist. I always believe in God, religion, faith, miracles, and, above all else, hope. There is always hope.
Faith changed for me in 2015 when I was at one of lowest points and beckoned to go to Church to play music on an abandoned piano. It was my time and my way of healing and helping myself. Over time, my discomfort at going to Church slowly changed into a seeker and searcher to learn about all religions, faiths, and beliefs. I began to go to all different types of Churches and read philosophical and spiritual works. I even went on a couple spiritual and relaxation retreats. I wanted to understand myself and others and what we all believed in or did not believe in and why or why not.
In the letter from my long-lost penpal, it was clear that she was struggling with faith and hope because one of her children was born with a severe and rare genetic illness. Due to the illness, her daughter could not eat on her own and her speech and physical capabilities were either non-existent or extremely delayed. In my friend’s letter, she wrote: “I can tell you all of this because you know what it is like to struggle and fight for life, and that health is the greatest gift there is. Some days are so hard and I am exhausted, but then I see that she has this light in her eyes. She is so happy.”
Without expecting a response back because of the immense stress she was experiencing, I wrote her back. I told her that there is always hope and do not give up. I told her that I would pray for her daughter.
A few months later, I received a letter response from her again. She wrote to me: “I am surprised when you wrote that you would go to Church and pray for my daughter. I was even more surprised that you now go to Church and these other places of worship to pray. I do not even know if I believe in God anymore. If there was a God then why would he let my daughter suffer? How can God let a little baby suffer?”
Reading her words brought me back to many painful and even life and death moments in my life when I was in my absolute lowest moments in my life and had questioned aloud and in writing: “Why me? Why do bad things happen to good people? Did I do something in my past life to deserve this? Why would you do this God?” I never came up with a concrete answers. I did not have the answer to give to my dear friend, but I told her this, “Life is full of pain and suffering to learn about gratitude, compassion, kindness, love, strength, hope, and so much beauty that comes out from ugly. Our faith is tested during these very dark times that we are all go through at some point in our lives that teach us about being grateful rather than resentful and to be better rather than bitter. All I can say is to try to keep the faith, for if there is not hope and faith, then what is there?”
When I sent out my letter to her, I found myself dumbfounded at how far my faith and spiritual journey had come and is still coming along. The me who was uncomfortable and even fearful of being at Church has now become the me who is the very first one to go to places of worship of all different faiths and say to others: “I go to anywhere and at anytime where there is any faith.” Spirituality is a vital part of who we are, just as our mental, emotional, and physical parts are to make the whole of entire well-being.
What is your faith? Why is this your faith? Is it because of your upbringing? Is it because of life experiences or some life-altering experience? Do you think your upbringing influenced your faith? What is the difference between faith, religion, and spiritual? What is spiritual? Are you a seeker and searcher and what is it that you are seeking or searching for?
Keep the faith, my friends.
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,