I Never Thought I’d Raise a Heathen

My handbag with Pope Francis blessed rosary.
My handbag with Pope Francis blessed rosary.

I had a near miss this week.

It was my late night at work and I was headed home. I drive this route endlessly and can do it in my sleep. I saw the road work ahead signs as I entered the on ramp. Little did I know and apparently nobody else did either that what is usually three lanes of traffic very quickly became one. There were all sorts of cars swerving, breaking, weaving as fast cars and slower cars all got merged…it could have been the Big One. Here’s the interesting part. We all miraculously merged and kept going on our way.

I am pretty sure it was divine intervention. I was saying to myself, “thank you, thank you, thank you Lord.” Was it because I had my rosary blessed by Pope Francis in my purse?

How did a rosary blessed by Pope Francis end up in my purse?

It’s a long story…

The first eighteen years of my life I attended Catholic Church every Sunday, sitting in the first or second pew with my Mom and sisters. Every Wednesday I would attend CCD with all of the other Catholic kids and we would learn about God stuff. It was tricky because there are some really good God stories, but then there are all the rules and regulations. It was hard to go “all in” because it just seemed so 16th century. But we were a tight bunch and there were some perks. In gym class when the teachers forced us to choose teams (barbaric) I would certainly have been chosen last because I suck at anything to do with catching or throwing or hitting a ball, but because of my CCD connection I would usually get chosen third from the end instead.

One time I had to miss church with the family so my Mom dropped me off to go to Mass by myself at a different time. I waited for her to leave and then walked over to my friend Elaine’s family drug store and had a soda at the soda fountain and hung out. My Mom walked into the drugstore. Busted! She just said, “Let’s go.” Everyone knew I was in big trouble. The whole day my Mom said nothing to me. And I mean nothing. Silent treatment. Brutal. I am more of a hot blooded angry person and I just let it out and everyone knows why I am mad and how it could be fixed. Not my Mom. Silence. Later that night, I went into the kitchen to find her. She was washing dishes and crying. She said to me, “I never thought I’d raise a heathen.” Ouch! I felt awful, apologized, cried and still feel bad 35 years later.

There was some kind of funny stuff associated with growing up Catholic. My sisters and I would play “Communion.” My Mom makes these really good sliced cucumbers in vinegar and we would say, “Body of Christ” and “Amen” and then place the cucumber on the persons tongue. We were weird.

I had non-Catholic friends who wanted to taste the Communion wafer. Sometimes they would go to Church with me and I would save my communion wafer and we would split it. There is nothing like the cardboard wafer being stuck to the roof of your mouth and you can’t pick at it so you wait for it to melt.

I liked other religions too. I would sometimes go with a friend to the synagogue. I remember the Rabbi and his brother Howard. Rabbi Mel did a great talk and used modern day events from Newsweek to make his point. I was impressed. Plus, we always went to Burger King afterward and since there wasn’t one in our little town… it was awesome! I still like those chicken sandwiches even though they are terrible nutrition wise.

My first year home from college I tended bar and worked Fri and Saturday nights, and Sunday days. (The dreaded 2-10 shift. Seriously people, it’s time to go home around 6pm.) Anyway, Church was kind of out and my Mom let it go.

So over the next 25 years it’s kind of been a hit or miss thing with going to Church.

I have been to a few that were kind of interesting and left a lasting impression.

I went to an Episcopalian Church in Omaha, Nebraska with some good friends. It was very similar to the Catholic Church with a modern vibe. I knew all of the songs. Plus, they still had the kneelers which I really liked. The whole kneeling thing is a great short term suffering experiment. It is both a physical fitness contest and a test of wills. My butt did not hit the pew.

When I lived in Oshkosh, Wisconsin I went to the First Congressional Church with Pastors Carol and Ralph DiBasio-Sayder. They were really good speakers. I remember a sermon where Pastor Ralph was discussing the film Lars and the Real Girl. If you get a chance, it’s on Netflix, check it out. It is a quirky little film about community, acceptance, friendship and the power of love. Plus, Ryan Gosling is in it.

Years later I would attend a funeral for a young person who had died very suddenly and tragically. Pastor Ralph spoke at the service and was very compassionate and caring. I wept like a baby. I think he is a person who really gets it.

Somewhere along the line I found a few Saints who have really helped me along the way. For those of you who are reading my blog you know I have bought and sold a few houses along the way. Saint Joseph has helped me each time. He is on loan right now, but usually he is on the shelf with Saint Rita. Saint Rita is the Patron Saint of Impossible Causes. So, of course I identified with her immediately. She has really helped me out over the years.

The icon on the shelf was given to me by my beloved Aunt Ginny in 1998, the year I bought my first home. It hung for 15 years in her home in Winthrop, WA and has a faded edge from where the sun hit it. It is the ‘Black Madonna’: Our Lady of Czechoslovakia (the original dating back to the year 1382.) It is dark in color from the years of candles burning in front of it. The slashes on her face were made by a soldier during a war. It is said that the soldier dropped dead after his sword hit the image.

Serious mojo.

Back to the rosary. I visited the Vatican in the late nineties. I wanted to get a blessed rosary but at the time I was broke and thought that it was probably a whim anyway. This past winter a retired optometrist who fills in sometimes went on an Italy trip. He came back with rosaries for the entire staff. One of the opticians is not religious in any way and thought that I would like it better so she tried to give it to me. I was very resistant because it wasn’t meant for me. She insisted. So, I accepted it and Pope Francis has been with me since. The doctor heard about the gift and insisted I keep it and also insisted the optician accept one too! We both did.

So far this year Pope Francis and I have been to a Pink concert, Mexico, a major road trip to Charlotte, NC and Atlanta, GA as well as the every- day driving I do…. I really like having him with me.

He is a cool cat. He must be driving his handlers crazy. I love that too.

My near miss occurred on Wednesday. Yesterday two dear friends of mine very narrowly missed being severely injured. Tonight is the night I say a few of my Saint Rita’s and am thankful for being alive and well.

And that is the story of Gypsy Girl Jilly and the Pope Francis rosary.


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I write stories about my life.

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