Life throws us these…snowballs, I’m going to say (instead of curveball), because it’s been snowing since last night. I seem to have predicted a blizzard with my story, linked in the previous post. It happens occasionally in New Mexico; we just haven’t had a good snowfall for a few years. Obviously, that is not the inexplicable.
In the fall of 2017, I started RCIA classes, which are adult catechism classes. Because I’m a baptised Christian, I needed only to procure a copy of my baptismal certificate in order to be confirmed. That sounded simple enough. As it turned out, it was not simple at all.
We could not find my baptismal certificate anywhere. It was not in my files; it was not in my parents’ files. My mom is the filing master. Even if my own system had been torn in two upon moving to Roswell, my mother’s system was still intact. Also, I checked both of my houses. I had a memory of filing the certificate away, but it was not to be found.
I called the church where I was baptised; I was sixteen at the time, and I’m not that old now. Surely, finding the record of my baptism would be easy. It was not. The man I spoke to said he would search for that year’s records and call me back, but he was not confident he would find them because the church had gone through a merger soon afterward. He never called me or emailed me back, as he had promised. Finally, I called him again, only to find that, indeed, those records had vanished. This was confounding — churches have been maintaining records for hundreds of years, but a modern church could not maintain them for more than a few years. Or return phone calls.
My parents then filled out and signed an affidavit provided by my local Catholic diocese. However, the priest did not accept it because the church my parents listed was generically titled “Community Church.” It was a Baptist church, I told the priest (it was). But the priest had no way to verify the validity of the baptism from the affidavit. Therefore, I missed my confirmation date. The class I studied with were all confirmed, everybody but me, as if I were divorced or another special case of sinner.
Months passed: we were out of town or the priest was out of town. I mentioned in one meeting we managed that my mother had a baptismal video stowed away somewhere. But I didn’t want to ask her to search for it. The whole situation was irritating me beyond measure. I was a witness to my own baptism, and so were my parents, and why wasn’t that good enough? I understood why, and yet I was upset because the only answer seemed to be to capitulate to what the RCIA director had offered as a way forward: a conditional baptism. I had been staunchly opposed due to my own memory of my baptism; conditional baptisms are for people whose baptism status is unknown. Mine was not.
Finally, I relented and told the priest I would be conditionally baptised, thinking my capitulation (I can be very stubborn) would unblock the obviously dammed up river I was attempting to traverse. It did not. The RCIA director had offered the conditional baptism as a potential option, but the priest said it was inappropriate in my case, which was what I had thought all along. He would, however — he promised — check with the local diocese to see if it was possible.
But I was done at that point. Yes, I still attended Mass — most Sundays. I decided to continue doing so, even if I never became a member. I couldn’t see another way forward. Joining a church is inherently spiritual, and God had not provided a way for me to join this one.
Unbeknownst to me, my parents had been saving old VHS tapes relevant to my life on their hard drive and were planning to put them on a flash drive for me as a stocking stuffer. However, before they had a chance to save the videos (which included my baptism) to the flash drive, their hard drive crashed. And then the baptism video went missing. Nobody could find it anywhere. Not that they didn’t try…by dragging out every humilating video of me from my childhood. I’ve never had a lot of dignity, okay? And that lack of dignity all at once…it’s a hard pill to swallow.
Even if “weirded out” isn’t an official verb, it describes how I was feeling. This was going beyond the RCIA and whether or not I should be joining the Catholic church. It was as if the evil one were stealing something he didn’t have a right to steal. Nobody can call my baptism into question as far as God is concerned, but the evil one can plant doubts in the mind: doubts as to the very relevance of my existence. And he was doing it. For the record, the day I discovered the church had no record of my baptism, my Fitbit informed me it couldn’t detect my heartbeat. Snort. I write SF, okay? Suddenly the question was not only of relevance, but of existence itself. Did I exist? Had I ever?!
Later, we did find the baptism video. My dad had carried it off. Iconically, he’s the dotty professor, only more curmudgeonly and down to earth. Kind of like me. Carrying things off and losing them is just his way. And can you guess what happened next? Yes, that’s right, the VCR one moment presented a cowboy telling another (John Wayne) he looked better with a beard, and the next, it had eaten my baptism tape.
The Polish Puzzle
When I was twelve, our church hired a new youth pastor who doubled as a PE and chapel teacher at the private school. His name was Greg Buckiewicz. His Polish name had no relevance for me at the time. I only knew I butted heads with him. All the time. He was a hyper intense jock who knew all the answers. I was a hyper intense intellectual who thought he was wrong about everything but the gospel. I can still see his face, always with a big, tight smile (he never relaxed), playing the keyboards. He wanted to win hearts for Christ. Yes, he did! He was the pastor who baptised me. The one who should have been on the tape. And for better or worse, he was an odd spiritual mentor, even if I didn’t recognize it at the time. Honestly? I did not appreciate him at all.
My parents left that church shortly after the merger and, therefore, I left behind my spiritual mentor. Sometimes, the original members of a church are beaten down under the feet of the domineering new members. That occurred here, unfortunately.
Fast forward past my dropping out of high school and ending up at Portland Christian high school: my new-found spiritual mentor was another Polishman named Mike Demkowicz. Mike was my English teacher. He also taught my photography class. Unlike my previous mentor, he was matched with me as a hyper-intense intellectual — no joke, here. I marvelled at his intellect. He could be incredibly mild-mannered, too, and encouraging to awkward, struggling students. However, he was known for the frightening face he could put on when he stood his ground on a nonnegotiable truth. He was a blond, as was my previous Polish pastor; but being fooled by the pale beard and eyes was a big mistake. His you-shall-not-pass expression could make the strongest heart quail in terror. Through his influence, I called up Greg and asked for his forgiveness for my nastiness toward him. I probably spoke to his wife, which was more appropriate. But the message was still to aGreg. Mike was my spiritual mentor up through my early twenties and early marriage, before my husband and I moved from Oregon permanently.
Fast forward to the future, and where do you think this priest is from, who is causing me such consternation in my current Catholic path? Yes, Poland. He is not merely Polish-American, the child of recent immigrants; he was born and raised there in that bastion of conservative Catholicism. He speaks with a strong accent; he writes with one. Like the other two before him, he is fair and blue-eyed. I don’t know him as well — not yet — but I’m guessing the Polish spirit in him is something to be reckoned with.
A Mystery Resolved
I became obssessed with not just becoming Catholic, but watching my baptism video for myself.
“Can we risk watching it on another VCR?” I asked my husband, after the first had eaten the tape.
He sensed my desperation. “Yeah, we can give it a try.”
He put it in: the VCR immediately ate it, once again. He unhooked it and rewound it. What we wanted wasn’t a John Wayne film, but a ten-minute baptism recorded over the top at the beginning. People used to do that, you know. They would record one event/film on top of another because buying new tapes was too expensive.
He pressed play. We held our breath. And it played. Thank God, it played. It wasn’t just a baptism, see. It was a prophecy. I remembered a man from church praying over me at my baptism, but I had zero recollection of the prophetic message he had given me. And it was obvious now that my attempt at becoming Catholic had stirred up this forgotten message. The Prince of Darkness had perhaps wanted to keep me in ignorance, but God had wanted me to hear it at the appropriate time. God always defeats the Prince of Darkness.
Has the Polish puzzle been solved? Hardly. I’m Irish-Anglo by ethnicity. There is no ethnic recognition there. Also, I’ve never lived in an area of the U.S. settled by Polish people. The Polish people in my life have been uniquely pugnacious, though, even if the priest is really just out of his depth culturally (he has no idea how American dioceses operate, let alone the minutae of American Protestant denominations — like, really, don’t you get that a community church is Baptist? No, he does not.) And a person of my pugnacious and contrarian spirit needed the big guns to turn my heart. So God provided Poles.
I wrote this post when we went out walking in the blowing snow (we always do) and ended up drinking a bottle of red at the winery. It occurred to me you might wonder what that prophecy was. It was made publically, after all. Here are the main points: I would follow God all my days, and God would eventually take me into the wilderness to preach the gospel to those who were lost and hurting. As with the first Polish youth pastor, I could not appreciate that as I can now. My young mind and ego were, well…focused on other things. Like winning arguments and being as cruel as possible to all-knowing jocks.