My Faith Journey
By Elza Spaedy
We can gain a lot of perspective and wisdom by looking backwards and reflecting in our own lives. I am privileged to be in a season of life that is affording me to give back and encourage others. I hope I can inspire you to do the same.
By nature, human beings are storytellers. I love listening to stories because stories have the power to connect us to one another more than anything else. We all have so much to share and learn from each other. Stories are the fabric of our lives and they can help us understand who we are. We shouldn’t be afraid that we are not worthy to speak His name or to share all God has done in our lives through sharing our stories.
Religion is fundamentally a study of the spiritual realm. Faith is transmitted and lived through worship and communion of the people of God. St. Thomas Aquinas, whose intellect and use of reason helped him understand and deepen his faith, had this to say about faith – “Faith is a habit of the mind whereby eternal life is begun in us, making the intellect assent to what is non-present.”
Those who proclaim to be spiritual, but not religious, are mostly using this line as a copout. The way I see it, it’s just another way to say that you have all the answers and therefore don’t need to seek God.
The opposite is true for us who are believers. We understand that we don’t have all the answers, and therefore, need our religion to show us how to best get to know our Creator, and how to best follow in Jesus’ footsteps. In the gospels, we find that Jesus is constantly teaching us. Unfortunately, in today’s anti-religious, anti-God world, many mistakenly view religion as a cold organization with rules and restrictions.
My mom grew up in a devout Catholic family, and one of her dreams was to pass her love of Catholicism on to her children. Unfortunately for us, her dream was not our reality back then because my dad was not Catholic. Not only was dad not religious, but he also didn’t like the Catholic Church. When I was about 8 or 9 years old, our weekly trips to Mass abruptly ended. I had always assumed it was because my dad forced my mom to stop going to Mass, and in recent years my suspicions have been confirmed by my mom. As the head of the household, my dad made the decision that would change all of our lives. By the grace of God, the seeds my mom had planted in me as a child were already rooted.
When I was a teenager, I remember my mom telling me to marry a man that shares my faith. She understood how important that was and wanted to spare me the heartache and disappointment that comes from being in a marriage without God at the center. I listened carefully to her wisdom.
When I met my husband, David, in South Florida (where we both lived at the time) in 2000, I was thrilled that he was a practicing Catholic. We got married in 2001 and back then, I was still very much the perfect example of what we call “poorly catechized, cafeteria Catholic”… picking and choosing what I wanted to accept about my faith’s teachings.
In God’s goodness, my gross lack of knowledge and understanding of my Catholic faith started changing in 2008, when we decided to move our young family to my husband’s hometown of Bismarck, ND to be close to his parents. We felt it was important for the kids to grow up near their grandparents, if at all possible, and my parents still live in Brazil.
The Catholic faith is alive and well in Bismarck. We belonged to an amazing and vibrant parish and made lifelong friends in the five years we lived there. We were introduced by my in-laws to a dynamic young couple in our new parish. We had a lot in common with Sara and Jerry and a friendship soon followed.
Sara invited me to a coffee gathering with other women of the parish that was held at each other’s homes every Tuesday. At these gatherings, I was introduced to some amazing women. What I was witnessing in these faith-filled new friends was beautiful. I was amazed and in awe of how beautifully they were proclaiming God’s word to me by the way they lived their lives and, most importantly, how they lived their Catholic faith.
These were not just “Sunday Catholics”- they lived their faith everyday of the week. I found this to be very inspiring, and hoped it was contagious! In a way, I was intrigued by them. Far from having perfect lives, I could still see and feel the joy in them in their families. I wanted what they had. Here I was, in my 30’s, and for the first time in my adult life, I found myself surrounded by all these faithful Catholic women my age, who were not afraid to talk about their faith and their love for Jesus. What a blessing this was!
At these gatherings, we would pray, discuss the Church’s teaching with eager enthusiasm, laugh, cry and watch our little ones play together. Being in their presence and learning so much about my faith made me realize just how starved for spiritual mentors I had been all my life.
It was through those weekly coffee get-togethers that the Lord was opening my eyes to the beauty of his Church and its teachings. The more I was learning about my Catholic faith, the more I was falling in love with it. Our creator always has our best interest at heart. I love what St. John of the Cross says- “In the first place, it should be known that if a person is seeking God, his beloved is seeking him much more.
If we desire to be good disciples and evangelize well, then we first need to learn about our faith and have a real relationship with the person who gave us that faith- Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Perhaps, one of the answers to all the confusion we see in our society today about some of the most basic questions such as identity and the nature of family, could be found in our poor evangelization efforts.
We are called to evangelize- and especially our own people… our brothers and sisters who, like me, maybe didn’t have a strong faith upbringing, were poorly catechized, and those who sadly have fallen away from the faith.
Even though we had a great community in Bismarck, we decided to move our family to a more suitable climate. With my daily bouts with fibromyalgia and our oldest daughter having pneumonia twice one year, we made the move to Huntersville, NC in 2013.
Without knowing anyone in the area, we had to rely on God to provide for us. What we have found in our new parish of St. Mark is something short of a dream for any Catholic who’s striving to learn and grow in their faith. With Fr. John Putnam as our pastor, our other two assisting priests , our deacons and the church staff, I’m always amazed and in awe at all the different ways they are helping us with our faith walk. With all the different ministries and choices on how one can serve, St. Mark has something for everyone.
In the last few years, St. Mark has launched an amazing stewardship campaign that aims to educate each parishioner on the importance of serving one another as our way to give back to God for everything he has freely and abundantly givien us.
In my own personal experience, St. Mark is where God had big plans to take my faith life to a different level. About three years ago, and guided by our beloved pastor Fr. John Putnam, I embarked on a healing journey that would change my life forever.
A bit of history- When I was about 8 years old and growing up in Brazil, I was molested and raped by a man who worked for my dad. In the aftermath of this devastating trauma, the evil one planted all kinds of lies deep within my soul, such as: God doesn’t love you, it was your fault, you should be forever ashamed and more. All my life, I believed those lies and that caused me to distrust God and people alike. It wasn’t until I met the wonderful man who would become my husband over 20 years ago, and seeing the love and compassion in his eyes when I shared my painful past with him, that I began to realize that I had been believing in lies. God was using David to get to my heart and my soul. God has loved me with an everlasting love. Jeremiah 29:11 says- “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” My brokenness caused by the trauma of abuse was blinding me to God’s love for me .
Upon completing this very difficult, but yet, necessary step towards finding full healing, I realized God in his goodness had indeed completely healed me from this trauma I had been carrying with me for almost four decades. I could see clear signs of healing, such as no more nightmares and no more sensing my abuser’s scent around me. This prompted me to share my story and give my testimony, in hopes of letting others know that healing is possible and available to all God’s children. From that night on, the Lord would set in motion many more opportunities for Him to use me and my story to heal others who are also hurting from the trauma of abuse.
In May 2020 TAN Books released the book with my story – Freedom Through Christ, A Memoir of Healing in the Aftermath of Sexual Abuse. The book has done extremely well, and I have heard from many readers how it is helping them on their healing journey. Praise God!
This past July, and the midst of all the craziness of COVID-19, I felt God was calling me to take my healing from the abuse to another level. I was being called to establish a home for young women who need healing and restoration following a traumatic event in their lives. Understanding their journey to healing, I desire to share this gift with other women in a society where human trafficking, physical and sexual abuse, and post- traumatic stress disorder are prevalent in astounding rates.
Our Mission- Healed and Restored will be a premier care home in the Charlotte, NC area, for women suffering from traumatic experiences. We are a non-profit ministry and will serve young women ages 13-30 free of charge, from across the country. Through programs rooted in mind, body, spirit and soul care, women will be transformed and experience God’s tremendous healing power and embrace their identity as a beloved daughter of the Father. Holistic programs grounded in our beautiful Catholic faith will include counseling, spiritual exercises, movement therapy, as well a multitude of outdoor experiences.
If you like to know more about this glorious program, take a peek at our website www.healedandrestored.org . On the site, you can also donate to the cause or volunteer your God-givien talents to this mission. I truly believe that together, and guided by the Holy Spirit ,we can be the army God sends to heal all his beloved daughters. It is my hope that my story will continue to encourage others to tell their own stories of restoration and to give all the Glory to whom it belongs- Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In Christ, with love and gratitude,