"You can't sing if you don't open your mouth."
I moved here in second grade, but other than moving here and learning the language that is about all I did for two years. After that I became more of a tomboy, hung out with the guys and played with tools and bikes instead of make-up and dolls. I attended public school for the first time when we moved to the U.S. (solely because private school was not necessary) and stopped going to church (according to the parents, solely because they did not understand mass in English). In sixth grade my mom decided that it was time for me to reconcile, get First Communion, and be Confirmed; mind you, the school I went to in Puerto Rico did those all at a young age and at the same time.
We drove up to the church that we went to on 'special occasions' (i.e. Easter and Christmas) and found the youth office, which back then it seemed like it was the size of a large closet hidden like a needle in a haystack. I was signed up for classes within an hour and as much as I said I did not want to go, Mom said I was going.
I had undeniably amazing teachers and I even made friends, but something about the fact that "[I was] going" made me not want to go. I was spoon fed my faith and by the end of the year I was able to recite the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, the Nicene Creed and the Act of Contrition; I was able to receive First Communion along with all the second graders. My parents were happy, but not enough... "[I was] going to get Confirmed". For two more years I sat in class every week, answered every question with either the correct answer or with 'Eucharist' because like my sixth grade teacher taught us, "If you don't know the answer, you can never go wrong with 'Eucharist'".
Well, it just so happens that my eighth grade faith formation leader (notice I didn't say teacher?) would not take Eucharist as an answer. She asked things like 'Why?' and 'How?' and 'What is YOUR opinion?' and I was put in a challenging position, I was never forced to answer, but I was cornered to think. At the end of the year she organized a service project for the class where we had to learn to sign 'Silent Night' and go caroling at a nursing home. Out of all the service projects she could have come up with, she chose one that would actually take time away from me and my life, and I was not the least bit excited.
When the time came I had (for the most part) memorized 'Silent Night' and was prepared to go. As much as I pleaded to my parents to let me be sick, "[I was] going". We got giant Hershey bars from the teacher on that cold December morning, which made the ride to the nursing home a little more bearable (one of the chaperones was kind of crazy and made all the students on the bus recite the rosary on the way to the nursing home...twice)!
At the home, 'Silent Night' went as planned, I had it all memorized and we sounded (or didn't sound?) great. By the time we actually had to carol, I was ready to go home. One of the chaperones on the trip also happened to be the same girl that got me registered for faith formation to begin with, I can't remember her name or even what she looked like (sometimes I wonder if it was Jessica and I don't even know it) but she softly put her arm around me and whispered, "You can't sing if you don't open your mouth."
Those were the only words she spoke to me; she swayed with me the rest of the song, stepped back and let me be me.
As far as I know, nothing changed for me that year, but when it came time to say our goodbye's my leader pulled me aside and told me that she saw something in me that I needed to let grow. That was it. She didn't tell me how, or why, or what my opinion was, she just gave me a hug and left me wondering.
My first retreat was during the last half of ninth grade and when I left for it I was as depressed as a person can get. "[I was] going" still, but inside I was dead. During the retreat things happened inside that I'm not sure I will ever feel again, but I think I'm okay with that because that one experience changed me so much, that I'm not sure it would necessarily be for the better if it happened again (although, the Big Guy has a tendency to surprise me!).
I was still depressed when I got back from retreat, but this time I was more depressed because I felt like I was back to a reality that I did not want to be in anymore. I was back in a lie and I didn't want to be. That weekend was the first time that I didn't feel the need to hurt myself, I didn't feel the need to hide the tears, I felt the need to talk to God, to honestly connect with him. When I got back, all that was gone, and I felt alone again.
I stopped talking to my family and I think that out of all the things I had said to my parents all those years, the rejection hurt my mom the worst. So one day, less than a week after retreat, Mom said, " I talked to your grandmother (referring to my dad's mom, a very devout Catholic) and she told me that when you come back and don't feel like telling us what happened at retreat it means you had a good time.... I hope you had a good time, but if you don't want to go to your classes anymore you don't have to." She never asked me if I wanted to go or not, but if there was ever a time when I asked to stay home (which turned out to be maybe twice in the next year and a half) she didn't ask questions and let me be.
I got Confirmed at the end of tenth grade not because "[I was] going to" but because I wanted to. I had been given the Truth and later the freedom to make my own reality, to do what I chose with the Truth. I had the chance and I took it; I realized that you really cannot sing unless you open your mouth.
"For as the body without Spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."