Not God’s Fault: My Life is My Responsibility

This title might be looked upon rather strangely considering I have a publication on Medium called Playing God. That publication however is not about religion but about my journey raising my autistic son. This post is about my relationship with religion, more specifically with God and how freeing myself of all that I had been taught and believed and reevaluating the way I look at life, made me a better person.

I was born in Trinidad, where Christianity is the largest religion in the country, Roman Catholicism comprising 21.6% of the the population that consists of 1.39 million people. I was baptised and raised in the Roman Catholic Church. My paternal grandfather was a practicing Catholic as was my maternal side of the family while my father was a non-practicing Anglican, having been baptised into the church of his mother. Later, by my mother’s persuasion, Dad converted to Catholicism in 1988 and started going to Mass with the family. I was at school abroad when he converted and when I was living with them again, I could see that he rather enjoyed finally choosing to be included in something that was such a big part of our lives. I believe that it was his faith that brought his life full circle. I had witnessed my father in prayer, a thing I’d never seen him do when I was a child. It was strange at first, but as I’d grown accustomed to seeing him pray, it was one of my favourite sights because he seemed so at peace even when things were tumultous. I was happy for him because when you can feel prayer strengthen you, it must be so beautiful; so comforting. I believe it was his mid-life acceptance of his Catholic faith that allowed him to accept his illness and his ultimate death fearlessly, calmly and peacefully. He was fortunate to say goodbye to his family and friends near and far before he let go of the world — happily, it seemed, on the very date he came into it. A life that had begun October 24 1938 indeed came full circle, ending October 24, 2008. In his last weeks you could see he had made peace with God for his sins, he had forgiven those who might have wronged him and after that, he lay on his death bed, soaking in all the love that surrounded him, getting ready for his departure. I think of the line from the movie Braveheart when Argyle asks his young nephew, William Wallace, of his father’s demise, “Was it a good death?” In the movie, Argyle was refering to an honourable death brought about by a valiently fought battle but in the context of my situation, that line makes me realize my father’s good life and good death. He left his life knowing he was loved and in all his struggles and downfalls, all the joys and triumphs along his journey, he had found the peace which I struggled to find in my own life until about ten years ago.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child and thought as a child but when I became a man, I put away childish things,” Corinthians 13:11.

This is me and perhaps it is many of us. When I was a little girl, I prattled off the prayers I’d learned by heart with eyes tightly squeezed shut, left lid relaxing ever so slightly so I could peek to see where the Sister was in proximity to me as she strolled along the aisles between our desks with her long, wooden ruler. Back then it frightened me a little that God was always watching me and had that same kind of weird super power that Santa posessed, knowing what I was up to in my waking hours; knowing when I was asleep. As a child, I believed that a great hand pierced the sky as it pushed it’s way into our atmosphere and from the dust, created the natural world and humankind. I was taught there was a man and a woman, she, tempted by the devil’s serpent, and in turn, tempting the man with a ripe, red apple which stained his soul forever thus staining every infant soul before we had a chance to do so ourselves. I learned we were doomed from birth and that salvation came through Baptism and devout faith. When I was a child, my probing questions were silenced by my God-faring (and fearing) mother who made me pray to rid myself of my doubt. When I was a child, my grandad Jules took me and my younger sister to church. I started going when I was almost seven, just before I made first communion. I asked my mother why she wasn’t taking us and she simply replied she hadn’t been to confession. When, at my First Communion Mass I noticed she did not join the queue to receive the body of Christ, again, she said it was because she hadn’t gone to confession. One day I asked my mother if God was forgiving, why did she think he would refuse her at his table just because she hadn’t confessed her sins in a while. That was the day she decided it was okay to let me know that my overly arguementative nature was unattractive and that it would be off-putting to people. And though I had forgiven my parents for saying such things to me as I was growing up, I’m happy to have never forgotten, because it has been those so called off-putting attributes that strengthened me and have allowed me to cope with and at times conquer the struggles in my life.

In my mother’s absence, our Grandad continued to walk to our home in St. Ann’s from his in Belmont, to take Reina and me to church and it was only after he died and after I made my Confirmation that my mother came to Mass with us. We would walk or Dad would sometimes drive us up the narrow winding road to our little church and for what seemed like another five years, she sat in the pew and let us go by her to join the queue for communion. I don’t remember seeing her go to confession (aka reconcillation) before Mass, but she must have finally, because I remember being stunned but happy when she rose with us and joined the communion queue. I was old enough to know that holding my tongue with her at that moment was the right thing to do, and I was happy she was able to cross that threshold.

As I got older, like any girl with a boyfriend, I went to Mass on Saturday with him as I thought it a smart move to show my mother that I knew that devoting a single hour to God before going out and having fun was the proper thing to do. I my mind I was killing two birds with one stone hypocrite style — be at church, wet my forehear with Holy Water onnthe way in and out, ask forgiveness what I’d done and what I was about to do, thereby securing a pass in my mind to have old fashioned teenaged/young adult fun with the boyfriend. If I didn’t go to church with him on Saturday, I would wake up bright and early on Sunday morning whether I was tired (or even a little hung over from the night before) and join my mother and sister at what had to be the dreariest of masses. Back when I was young, our church had 6 pm Saturday folk mass which was alive and joyous with guitars,drums,tambourines and up-tempo singing. I secretely referred to it as “Merry Mass”. On Sundays, there were two other masses — the 6 am service (which I might have attended twice in my life) which was extremely quiet and filled with really old people (I called that one Geriatric God Gathering) and the 8 am-last-chance-to-go Mass which was dreary, stifling hot and filled with overly strong, rose-perfumed old ladies and their subdued husbands who belted out off key versions of The Old Rugged Cross, Go Tell Everyone(God’s Spirit is in My Heart) and other downtrodden, soul crushing, guilt-ridden long-time hymns. ( I secretly nicknamed that one the “So Sad Service”) In the earlier stages of my mother’s return to church, I remember her comparing the “new” Mass to the one she attended as a child where she sang and responded in Latin. Not understanding fully what she was saying, she was raised and trained to believe that was the way to get closest to God. “That,” she would say, “was the real Mass. The right Mass. Not this modern, easy Mass”. You see, my mother can be dramatic sometimes. She is always happy to point out how much more she has suffered than anyone. From Mass back when she was a child to menstrual pain to childbirth, her suffering always trumped anyone else’s. She spoke proudly of her ability to perfectly memorize and recite all the answers to the questions in her Catechism class in school, avoiding the strap unlike some of the other girls who stumbled. She said that what we knew of church was far more relaxed and forgiving as she spoke of fasting before mass, hoping not to faint in the pew and wearing a black mantilla on her head, draped over her face during the service. Ever the challenger, I told her that it sounded like she had a martyr complex as it seemed that she either really loved the dismal torture of our religion back then or wanted awe and recognition from us for her suffering. These were the kind of comments that was kindling for the firey arguments between my mother and me. I was often perceived as someone who liked to pick a fight but in many instances I was merely trying to provoke thought to get answers to my questions. I never intended disrespect and to this day I believe that when children question or challenge their parents or teachers it is often born out of curiousity and rhe quest for truth. When it came to religion, my mother has never really explained why she stayed home in her thirties while we went to church. Perhaps she’s conveniently forgotten. Today, my mother does not miss Mass. I look at her ability to pray, her intense interest in the Bible and her understanding of the Word of God. She us well suited to her role as a bible study facilitator and upon observing her since my father’s passing, I finally have the answer to my questions about her faith when we were children. After my father’s conversion to Catholicism and her joining bible study after his death, religion gave my mother what she was looking for — the bridge between the old way of church that she grew up with and the new in which she struggled to fit in for so long. My father became someone with whom she could share her faith and the bible group gave her the opportunity to make connections with others with similar interests and she became a part of all the special events that took place in her parish. She started holding priests in high regard much like she holds doctors and she found the fulfillment and sense of belonging she perhaps didn’t find or wasn’t seeking when my sister and I were young. I appreciate that now that I am a parent. In my thirties there were some weekends when I had time to worship and others when I was simply called to be a mother. Fortunately for my mother, she found a way to fill the void left by my father’s passing. She made new friends and started diving deeply into the life lessons of the Bible. It added something fresh and I imagine, something quite comforting as she put one foot in front of the other to move forward from the day he died. I can’t imagine the pain and sadness of losing a husband. I only know what it feels like to lose a father as an adult child. Reflecting on my life with my own husband, I guess losing a spouse is more than losing a best friend or a lover…it’s like losing a part of your life; like losing a part of yourself…a part of your soul. My mother lost the person who truly understood her and shared things with her in a way no one else ever could or would again and I applaud her for moving on and I am happy it was her now deeper faith in God, a faith she shared with him,that has allowed her to continue living without him.

I am happy for my mother and anyone for whom religion has given answers, peace, direction, healing and the stability they need in their lives. My husband once said,”the problem with the world is that too many people have strayed or misinterpreted the teachings of their chosen religion,”. Religion offers many significant teachings on how we should live our lives, the most fundamental being, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you Matthew 7:12. When we got to know each other, I discovered that Tom was baptised Protestant but he did not practice any religion. He knew I was Catholic, watched me pray in his presence and even came to church with me at Christmas and when the children came along, he came to all their sacraments and to Christmas and Easter Mass. I never pressured him to do as I did and he never questioned my faith, but as our journey as husband and wife and mother and father unfolded over the years I realized something about myself that I did not like; something I had to address and change.

I never wanted to be more powerful, more successful or greater than anyone. I wanted good health for my my family and friends, the ability to care for and raise a family with Tom and nurture two good humans who would contribute positively to the world. I don’t like showing off or drawing attention to what I have. I simply wanted to fly under the radar and live a good life. But Tom and I were destined to be advocates and were tested heavily, sometimes hourly to our core and we always faced with two options — quit or persevere. We continue to persevere but back then, the relentless perseverance was making me an ugly human being. Some of the things I thought, did and said left me beside myself after having done them and yet, I felt little remorse. Every night, I prayed for guidance, I prayed for the family and my friends and I prayed for insight to help my struggling son. I left it all in God’s hands as I had been taught and I did all I could to help my son and teach him, get him whatever he needed to succeed while raising his brother, taking care of our home and working to help add to our botttom line. I had never prayed more, harder or longer and yet I was more awful than I had been the day before. I wasn’t kind. I wasn’t generous and I was selfish. I didn’t listen to what was going on in anyone’s life. I was present without being present but in the morning, after lunch and before bed, I prayed. Novenas, the Rosary and all the prayers one learns as a Roman Catholic child. I would talk to God during the day and after a while I felt like I was talking to myself, answering myself and after all that, I still could not find peace or happiness. Whenever things got worse in our lives, I found myself so confused. Why, when I was praying and doing all that I had been taught to do, were things so promising one day and so much more difficult the next ten?

I looked at my husband during all this and I was in awe of him. Here he was, this man who did not shoot down the idea that God existed but he never prayed, never went to church unless we asked him to on special occasions and who was not religious. When something difficult happened he dealt with it. When things went well, he celebrated and he just had this ease of going with the flow of life. He was grateful for all that was good without thanking any God and even if we were going through a rough time, he still found a way to make us laugh, help others, to listen to them and be kind to them. My husband is not a religious man but he is kinder, sweeter and more generous, loving and forgiving than anyone I know. He is such a good person that he was able to be a non-believer while being the morning host announcer at a Christian radio station after the mainstream station where he worked re-formatted and canned everyone but one kiss-ass announcer. Without ever saying “Praise Jesus” on the air, Tom was able to play the music and say the kindest and most inspirational words. He gave people hope while working at this new station. Through that job, he sponsored several children through Compassion Canada and made their lives better by making sure they had books, pencils, clothes and shoes for school and he even went to one of their facilities and helped build better homes for their families. He did all this while his co-workers cheated on their spouses, did shady deeds and sought God’s forgiveness on Sunday only to dive into sin come Monday morning. I don’t think I would have been able to be in such a hypocritical work environment and work from the heart the way my husband did. I couldn’t do it even though I knew I was the biggest hypocrite of all. I claimed to believe in God. I was always proud to say I was Catholic and I was always praying but I was always bitter and I always was so jealous of Tom’s ability to accept things, deal with them and move on. He was able to do all the things I was praying to be able to do and yet, with all the religious instruction I had had, with all the prayers I knew and said, all the talking to God, I was truly becoming more dispicable every day. I didn’t like myself and so, I started analyzing some things in order to change.

The first question I asked myself was if I believed there was a God. It wasn’t a question I was able to answer right away. Moving away from something you were born into is a slow process. I had questioned God’s existence since childhood. I remember looking at this big picture bible we used to have when I was young and remember fixating on the image of this mighty open hand in the sky in a beam of bright yellow light which shone on the earth below. My childish mind could not interpret the artist’s intent but as I got older and I learned about the formation of planets and the evolution of humans, I tended to appreciate the scientific; the factual over creationism. I remember reading things in the Bible and coming away with the feeling that some things seemed too magical to be true and that maybe the accounts of what happened got twisted and turned along the way before they made their way into the Good Book. I was raised to believe what was said in the Bible even if it it alluded to accepting that inexplicable things happened because it was God’s will. I also am intelligent enough to understand that nothing in the Bible is meant to be taken literally and that there are important life lessons the stories mean to convey. I don’t believe that there is nothing greater than humans. I am not sure there isn’t another entity, life force or species in the universe but I do believe there was a man and others like him who walked the earth before us trying to get us to love each other, to be good to each other and to live together in peace. Evidence of their existence has been recorded in history as has the way they were persecuted for their desire and ability to spread goodness and love.

I don’t know if there is a God and I am not sure I will ever find out. There was a time when I lived in Montreal, when I felt the presence of something greater. I lived very close to the back entrance of the St. Joseph Oratory, founded by Saint Brother Andre Bessette, who became known worldwide as a renowned miracle healer. I would walk up the hill, look at the preserved, simple living quarters where this humble servant of God lived. He was such a tiny human being in contrast to the massive symbol of the Catholic faith he founded overlooking the city of Montreal. The Oratory is Canada’s largest church and it is one of the most majestic houses of God I have had the privilege of visiting repeatedly. I always entered the Oratory through the Votive Chapel which is hot year round because of the hundreds of lit candles, glowing with the intentions of everyone walking through the vestibule. The silence is as magnificent as the heat and I don’t know if it was the significance of the place, or the millions of hopes, dreams and prayers in the flickering flames that made it the one place where I felt the presence of what was God to me at that time. In the Votive Chapel there was the presence of something more. I continued to visit the Oratory after my son Adam was conceived and after he was born, I would take him there every week, sometimes with my husband in tow. If with us, Tom would place a generous donation in the collection box and I would light a candle and sometimes place a written intention into the basket so that others might pray for us. My intentions were always the same. I prayed for the health, safety and well being of my family and friends and I prayed for peace and love in the world that I brought children into. That’s all I ever wanted. It is what I hope for today. I have never felt the effects of such magnificance in any place of worship since I left Montreal. The Votive Chapel, Mass in the Crypt Church, Christmas Midnight Mass in the Basilica under it’s impressive Dome and a stroll past Brother Andre’s preserved heart on display in a hallway was a connection with God that I no longer feel. Some of the people in my life think that if I still lived in Trinidad, my faith would still be rich. Others have expressed that they feel the hardships of Adam’s autism have turned me away from belief but they are wrong. While I have felt abandoned by God, I know God is not to blame for the difficulties in my life. In spite of my issues with Adam’s autism and other things that were tough in my life, I share a really good life with my family. We might have to do things differently or we may have to plan more than others before we do a simple outing but we have had and continue to have great experiences together. We have seen and done things that other families never will and we are healthy, have a clean, safe place to live, cars to drive, food on our table and clothes on our backs. We have a lot that we are grateful for and we do not take any of it for granted.

Someone once asked me if my loss of faith occurred because I did not understand why God made my son autistic. I never asked why me, or why us or why Adam. I mean, why anybody? No one deserves hard times. I have never wondered why bad things happen to good people. It’s life. Things happen. Good and bad things happen to all people. No one is to blame. We all make mistakes. We all can get sick and sometimes some of us recover. We are all born and we all die and things that hurt us or set us back are not fair, but we are a resilient species and often many of us find the strength and courage to pick ourselves up and move on. If God exists, I don’t see why, if he or she is an entity of goodness would punish the humans he or she created. Sometimes things happen because we weren’t careful or responsible. How is that the fault of God? I remember being so mindful of thanking God more than asking for anything because I believed it was better to be grateful than to be greedy and always praying for something I wanted. I knew that anything I ever wanted came to me when I put in the effort and worked hard. I never expected anything to be handed to me and I certainly never believed that just because I asked, I would receive. I remember wondering how it was that my first born ended up being autistic. I did everything right during my pregnancy and I prayed for a healthy baby and I got one…I got two for that matter. When I stopped praying I realized that Adam’s autism wasn’t caused by anything I did, or thought or said. It wasn’t caused because maybe I missed Mass a few times. It was not a punishment. It just happened and this is our life, our journey. This is what we got. Some people’s kids are addicted to drugs. Some people’s kids drink and drive. Some people’s kids get very ill and die. Adam has autism and we have to deal with it and help him the best we can with what we have.

I asked myself many other questions as I tried to figure out where I stood on the topic of God and religion, specifically my faith. My religion, like so many others is hopelessly flawed because it is led and managed by humans who are fallible, who are sometimes corrupt and who have their own interpretation of what God wants and who God is, that they pass on to the congregation. In religion as in politics there is a lot of do as I say but not as I do and it is our responsibility as individuals to choose right from wrong and to understand and accept that no one is incapable of wrong-doing. When I let go of what I had come to know as my religion, I realized that I didn’t have to pray for guidance, patience or acceptance. I wasn’t lost. I wasn’t floundering. I didn’t have to ask God to help me on a journey he apparently designed for me. God didn’t give me an autistic child because he wanted me and my family, especially Adam to have a difficult life. We simply have the lives we have and we have to live it and we have to work together to make our family’s life more than one defined by autism. It is our responsibility to make the most of the great days and do our best to get through the rough days. When I let go of all things God and religion, the bitterness I felt towards people with typically developing kids, drifted away. When I stopped praying for a way to make Adam’s life and our lives easier, I started to live. Instead of praying to feel whole again, I threw my whole self into being a better mother, a better wife, companion and friend and I am still working on being a better sister and daughter. God cannot help me with that, only I can choose to truly live and be kind and forgiving, generous with my posessions and my time and to listen and help others and only I can choose to accept people just the way they are. That’s on me because it has nothing to do with God. Since I let go, I am mindful of being judgemental. I know from my own life that things are not always as they seem and, as Atticus put in in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it”

In all religions, there are hypocrites and con artists, racists, homophobes, abusers and sex offenders and they know they are doing wrong. They know they are sinning and sometimes they turn a blind eye to all their dark deeds because they believe in the forgivness of God. I would rather err on the side of tapping into my own morality and doing the right thing rather than seeking forgiveness. When I am wrong, I apologize and I try to never offend again. I am content with what I have and I am content with the topsy turvy life I share with my family. I love them deeply and completely and the love that I give them is returned to me every day and I am full. I have learned that there is such a thing as enough. I do not need more than I have and I have more than enough to share. I would rather donate than re-sell and I would rather help than avoid. I don’t need God to help me be a good person becuase I am responsible for my own life. By releasing my bounds to God and my religion, I allowed myself the freedom to choose what kind of person I want to be. I have freed myself from wondering why I felt abandoned for so long. I was not abandoned, I just had to do the work myself and I had to see it through because there will never be a miracle for me and that’s okay. My life is my responsibility. I reap what I sow and I will never give up.

I take full responsibility for my life and I feel whole. (photo D. Barsotti)

I had already begun raising the boys Catholic. I knew with our Adam’s autism, everything we would do would be a formality as his perception of the world is simply black or white but, it was an hour to sit with him, watch the smile on his sweet face as he listened to the music and the often bad choir singing and a chance to give Tom some time to himself at home. Our younger, Logan, was more restless but was more engaged when he discovered that after he made his First Communion he could serve on the altar at Mass, or be “on stage” as he called it. I explained what they needed to know about God and our faith as it had been to me at their age and I answered Logan’s questions as honestly as I could and when I could not give him the logic he was looking for at times, I simply told him I didn’t know the answer. Today, Adam knows that church is a place where people go to pray in peace and that it is a place where he needs to be quiet to allow them to do so. He knows the Mass and knows when and how to respond. He knows the Lord’s prayer and like his brother, he said his prayers at night and we still say a grace at family meals because they want to or maybe they are just in the habit of doing so. It does not matter. Choosing to give them the opportunity to be exposed to their religion so that they can choose to practice or not as adults was my responsibility. The teachings of the church helped them learn about being kind, generous and mindful of others and gave them a sense of security and hope. There is nothing wrong with that but now that they are adults, they need to choose their own path when it comes to their faith. Having attended Catholic school, they went to mass regularly and would go together or alone on the weekends and when they ask me to go with them, I do because I am comfortable being in a church even though I have chosen for it to no longer have a role in my life. I support my sons’ decisions about religion in their lives. I am not here to influence their decisions in any way. Their decision to practice Catholicism is their own. If prayer brings them peace and comfort, they should pray.

If a pair of pants no longer fits, you can change yourself by losing the weight so that you can wear them again. You can also decide to squeeze into them knowing you’ll be uncomfortable the entire time or you can remember the good times you had wearing those pants, fold them up and donate them for someone else to enjoy. God and religion just don’t fit into my life anymore. I am happy for the times when they did and I am comfortable knowing that it does not anymore. I have no regrets; no one to confess to, no one to blame. I like holding myself accountable for everything I do. I apologize when I am wrong. I don’t seek forgivness from a higher power. I learn from my mistakes and always try to do better. I like working hard whether or not I receive the results I am looking for. I like not having religion hanging over my head to keep me in line. Life is about opportunities and risks, disappointments and achievements, happiness and sadness, anger and confusion, birth and death, new beginnings and ultimate endings. I am happy for those of strong faith. I am comfortable having let mine go. It was not quick nor easy to do but it was the right thing for me. I am happy for those who know how to pray. I acknowledge and accept my inability to pray. I am happy for those who believe and find comfort in God and religion. I am also happy that I am comfortable with whom I’ve become. I am happy I know myself well enough to know what I want, what I need to do and what makes me feel whole. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to experience God and religion for as long as I have. I am grateful to have been given the choice and as difficult as it has been for some of my family members to accept, I appreciate that they respect my decision to live my life free of the faith as much as I respect their decision to worship and pray. I am grateful that I have been able to take the steps to make myself whole. It is a wonderful feeling and whether it involves God and religion or not, it is a feeling I wish for everyone.



Proudly Trinidadian & Canadian.Financial Advisor. Commercial actor.2 sons. Business partner hubby. Autism advocate.Hockey Mom.Mom to Special Olympics Athlete.

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Isle Chile

Proudly Trinidadian & Canadian.Financial Advisor. Commercial actor.2 sons. Business partner hubby. Autism advocate.Hockey Mom.Mom to Special Olympics Athlete.