I Saw What I Saw With Catholic Eyes

Robbe Lyn Sebesta - Story


When I was a child, I moved through life as if I was on a five-lane freeway. I traveled fast, full of confidence, and feeling very secure that my lane was designed just for me. I looked forward to life. There were no obstacles, wrecks, or detours. I knew where I was headed and I had no reason to think anything would change.

But suddenly, an obstacle did appear on the road. Actually, it was more like a brick wall. The self confidence that had given me so many opportunities had now carried me to a scary and confusing place. Like a thief, life took from me, without warning, the comfort of my predictable existence. Like a victim of a crime, I had been robbed of all that was safe and familiar. And then there was the unfamiliar – the emotional pain, pure, raw, and complex. There were no bruises, no visible signs of my trauma, only an empty feeling that would not go away, and grew with time. So I sat, shaken and dazed, simply watching life pass by. I saw people who should have loved me the most with no concern, turn away from what used to be a girl, what used to be me. As a result, my fear was met by others’ fear; my longing was met by cynicism and annoyance from others. I was forced to face the future alone. This was how I learned to live in what I call “survival mode.” I learned early from my father that if you don’t like something, you can always escape; whether that escape was healthy or unhealthy did not matter.

I was thirteen years old when I lost my father to divorce. One of my most poignant memories of this time is sitting in the window, watching him drive away down our long driveway. I waited for him to come back for what felt like an eternity. He never did come back, and I remembered very little about him after that until I was much older.

As the years passed with little contact with my father, I lost trust in him, and my mother too. She was lost in her own pain and abandoned me emotionally, leaving me to raise myself from then on, facing each challenge that came along alone with no guidance. Until six years ago, I never tried to heal that breach of trust. Afraid of being let down again, I placed few demands on anyone, man or woman, as long as they showed up.

This is a terrible standard of judgment. How many people have I known who could not keep the simplest commitments? I wish my father had been there to teach me that relationships go way beyond showing up. Both of my parents should have told me (and shown me) that commitments go way beyond time and date and go straight to the heart of the relationship. By being there, they could have helped me understand the strictest commitment – namely, that the person with whom we are engaged in a relationship should be concerned for our well-being, our growth, and our unfolding. And though others may not be responsible for this process, they should do nothing to impede it.

But if my father, the first man in my life, and the very one who is supposed to emit God’s love to his child, did not love me enough to keep his commitments to me, why should any other man? Or for that matter, why should any other person?

I was never taught what it means to be loved by a man. The man who could have taught me best was not there, so I learned what I thought love was from television and movies, some very poor examples. For a long time, I thought love was this always-intense “feeling” displayed perfectly in the movie Jerry McGuire. Love to me, was Renee Zellweger’s character telling Tom Cruise’s character, “You had me at hello.” And when He tells her, “You complete me.” What poetic garbage for someone to absorb, and use as an impossible template for real people to adhere to.

Therefore, for those of us who are fatherless daughters, my heart breaks because, until we resolve our feelings about the first men in our lives, we will be disappointed again and again as we search for that man who will show up.

Fortunately, I found this in my husband of 21 years. But it is only by God’s grace that we are still together because I didn’t know he couldn’t ultimately “save” me, nor was it his job to do so. I didn’t know back then that no person ever could. But for a while, he became my everything – my comforter, my protector, my supporter, my sustainer. He satisfied a basic criterion I had established for my relationships with men. He always showed up. Not only when he said he would, but even when I didn’t expect him and needed him most. And with him, I have four beautiful children, and we have a beautiful life together, thank God.

However, throughout my marriage, I developed a drinking problem. It was slow in coming, and I never became a daily drinker. When I discovered that my husband couldn’t fill the void inside of me, nor could my children, I escaped from it through alcohol. I took a job as a teacher for special education students in 2000, and was terminated for drinking while on the job. This was one of the most painful experiences of my life, besides my parents’ divorce, and I knew then that I was seriously messed up. But I didn’t know what an alcoholic was, and so I just thought I was a horrible person. I went to two other jobs, losing both of them in rapid succession for alcohol use.

I went to rehab for thirty days and learned that I wasn’t a bad person; I was an alcoholic who was self-medicating my unresolved issues. This knowledge was enlightening and it helped, but it didn’t fix me. Around this time, the new RCIA classes for adults who are seeking to join the Catholic Church began at our local parish. This was the beginning of my awakening to the truth I so longed for. It was here that I met Father Vince Dulock, and when he spoke to me, it was as if I was hearing from God Himself. He explained to me what real love is….it’s not a feeling, not an emotion, it is a commitment.

I never knew that before, and it was a relief because I thought once that feeling of new love had gone, as it’s supposed to, that meant my time with a person was over. I never knew I had any power to control and alter my feelings. I was always so driven by them, enslaved, in fact. I never knew I had a choice to feel anything — how could I? I lived in survival mode and for me that meant living on emotion. I was always led by feelings, and learned that not only are they ever-changing, many times they should not have been trusted at all. But until I found the Catholic Church, I had no standard, no coping skills, and nothing to help me chart my course around real life. Although I had always considered myself a follower of Christ, as I was baptized in the Methodist Church, and believed everything that was taught me, it wasn’t until I came into the fullness of truth within the Catholic Church, that I could honestly call myself a Christian.

Indeed from my Confirmation, it was as if the proverbial veil lifted and everything began to make sense. I have not since wavered from it, but I still then had that deep pain left from my parents’ divorce, because I had never confronted either of them with my desperate need of longing for the unity we once had as a family. I needed validation for my feelings of abandonment from my father. So, in 2005 I confronted him. I told him how he had let me down and how, when he left my mother, he left me too. Unfortunately, he didn’t see things this way, and instead of validation, I received his anger and denial, which made me feel as though I had imagined the event of his leaving, my mother on the floor begging him not to go. I had maintained sobriety for two and a half years, had two more children, ran the Houston Conoco-Phillips Marathon, and joined the Roman Catholic Church prior to this confrontation. But because I didn’t receive the response I wanted, it was a devastating blow, and I fell back to drinking. I didn’t speak to my father for two years. I went back to rehab a couple of times, trying desperately to get back to the real me, and be the person I knew God wanted me to be.

The cloud with a silver lining came in 2009, when my oldest brother was diagnosed and died one year later from pancreatic cancer. He was a wonderful brother, father, husband, son, and only 48 when God called him home. This was an awful period, seeing him suffer like he did. However, my father and I reconciled around this time. He told me how sorry he was that he wasn’t the father to me that he should have been, and since then, our relationship has been wonderful, and I know people can truly change. That was all it took…just a simple acknowledgment of my very real heartache for it to truly begin to heal.

Even though the last 13 years or so of my life have been difficult due to my addiction, they have also even more blessed due to my faith and the continued support of my family. Throughout this time, God gave me the perfect job of taking care of 20 horses for a family who needed stable help. Horses had been my first passion in life, so it was a gift to be around their healing presence again. I did this job well for two years and only left because of my pregnancy, and then that family moved away to the Austin area. But it was also around that time that I felt called to the field of counseling because of my own struggles, and I realized I have always wanted to help people in some way. When I got accepted to St. Mary’s University I felt it was a sign that God was leading me on this path. I also became the pro-life coordinator of my parish, Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church. I started The Gabriel Project and became a jail minister. I loved going to the county detention center and talking to women who are just like me, and I still write to some of them, and it is a joy to receive their letters. I have always said that they help me more than I could ever help them.

We women, like many who are oppressed, sell our souls in order for our oppressors to accept us, to love us. We say what they want us to say, and do what they want us to do. I’ve heard it a thousand times from those incarcerated and from those in the halls of AA. We become whomever or whatever they want, in the name of love. This is the thinking I have tried, and will keep trying, to change.

I have had childhood dreams realized, and I have had unimaginable nightmares become realities. As a result, a new direction for my life has emerged, and I am embracing it.

Over the past decade or so, I have tried absolution by perfection. I have tried absolution by submission. I have tried absolution by assuming blame and responsibility for others to the point of not taking care of myself. And it has been only over the last few years or so that I’ve truly realized that everything I’ve ever needed has been within me all along, which I believe is the Kingdom of God, and that whatever debt I’ve felt I’ve owed was paid for long ago on the cross. Absolution comes when we accept it, and stop trying to earn something that has been there for some 2000 years.

I Saw What I Saw, by Sara Groves

I saw what I saw and I can\’t forget it
I heard what I heard and I can\’t go back
I know what I know and I can\’t deny it

Something on the road
Cut me to the soul

Your pain has changed me
Your dream inspires
Your face a memory
Your hope a fire
Your courage asks me what I\’m afraid of
And what I know of love

We\’ve done what we\’ve done and we can\’t erase it
We are what we are and it\’s more than enough
We have what we have but it\’s no substitution

Your pain has changed me
Your dream inspires
Your face a memory
Your hope a fire
Your courage asks me what I\’m made of
And what I know of love

Something on the road
Cut me to the soul

I say what I say with no hesitation
I have what I have and I\’m giving it up
I do what I do with deep conviction

Something on the road, cut me to the soul

Your pain has changed me
Your dreams inspire
Your face a memory
Your hope a fire

Your pain has changed me
Your dream inspires
Your face a memory
Your hope a fire
Your courage asks me what I am afraid of
Your courage asks me what I am made of
Your courage asks me what I am afraid of
And what I know of love,
And what I know of God.

I Saw What I Saw

© 2013. Robbe Lyn Sebesta. All Rights Reserved.

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17 thoughts on “I Saw What I Saw With Catholic Eyes”

  1. Pingback: Pastoral Sharings: "If We Ask, We Will Receive" | St. John

  2. God bless you, Robbe Lyn. As much as I try to love my wife as completely as possible (and I do), I know that nothing even comes close to God’s love for her; for all of us.

    May His light shine upon you and your family always! Robbie J (in Singapore)

  3. The way you shared your story — warts and all — really helped me. I felt encouraged about the “messiness” that is our lives in Christ even tho’ Christ IS at work. In the middle of discouragements, tragedies, Christ is very present.

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  5. I just read what you said about fatherless daughters and immediately started to cry. My dad left when I was 14, but instead of never been seen or heard of again, he has always lived close by and has always been verbally and emotionally abusive to me. I believed his lies–I thought I deserved it. I never thought I could ever be good enough for him or any other man. As a result, I’ve never had a healthy relationship with a man and finally gave up dating when I realized I was afraid I would end up with someone like him. After I came into the Church 4 years ago, I learned what relationships between men and women were supposed to be and I was so happy! Still, it’s hard for me not to resent the lost years of my youth where single Catholic men were more plentiful and when I was of child-bearing age. I’m struggling with being angry at God and wonder if He even wants me to hope to meet a good Catholic man now that I’m almost 48. To all fathers of daughters, please know that you shape their lives forever, for good or for bad.

    1. Dear Bibi,

      I’m so sorry for the abuse you have suffered from your father. We as children often think it is our fault when a parent fails us, and I am so sorry you’ve had to carry that cross. I too only learned what real love is when I became Catholic, and was so blessed to have a wonderful pastor at the time at my parish. And you know, it never really goes away – the pain of being abandoned – rather, it does become transformed into something I can now share with people like yourself, and let you know that you’re not alone, and I wasn’t ever alone either. It’s taken me a long time to forgive, and to realize that hurting people hurt people. I will lift you up in prayer and just know that you are loved more than you can ever imagine. Thank you for your response.

  6. Pingback: I Saw What I Saw With Catholic Eyes - CATHOLIC FEAST - Every day is a Celebration

  7. What incredible honesty and strength you have! God has given you plenty of resilience, along with a loving heart to forgive and help heal others. You are an inspiration!

    1. Thank you Mary Ann! I often questioned that saying, “God never gives us more than we can handle,” but then many people have had far more tragic lives than I have. I do not know why I am still here, but I know it’s only for the grace of God I’m able to able to share my past experience in hopes of helping others. Thanks again!

    1. Thank you Howard….it’s taken a long time for me to get to where I could share all of that stuff of which I am not proud. But if my past can help anyone, I want to share it. It truly is only by God’s grace that I am still here. Thanks again!

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