I didn’t really find an answer to the question I was looking for in my sleep like I’d hoped. What I did find yesterday, even as I got the least busy spot at work, that I could use a vacation. Between working 2 jobs, the unbearable heat, and people skipping out, I’m already exhausted.

My confessor had suggested I go on a retreat not long ago, when I expressed wanting to get away from everything and everyone (straying dangerously towards those darker thoughts I’m prone to revisiting). He was telling me how he, as a priest, is required (not suggested, not offered, required) to take a retreat every year for almost a week to refresh his mind and spirit, have some alone time with God. He takes little vacations here and there apart from this, but this is something he is required to do as a parish priest whose schedule is as full as someone like mine’s, sometimes more so (who am I kidding, way more so).

With all the things going on in my head and in my dreams, along with the added stresses of life, he thought I could use it. I was more inclined to agree with him, though I wasn’t sure where I’d go, or what I’d do.

I just knew I’d like to go somewhere with water. I’d looked into going to the beach in the past, and despaired at the high expense. That’s okay though; as I “saturated” my home with images of other natural sources of water than just the ocean, I’d been increasingly interested in visiting a lake, a mountain spring, or a waterfall. Eventually, I had the thought of making a pilgrimage to the National Grotto Shrine I painted for my “living room”: pick up some of the blessed water there, say some prayers, light a candle, and spend time at the beautiful nature parks nearby, almost all surrounding a crystalline river or lake. Sure sounded nice.

As I started to think seriously about making this trip, I realized it’d be the first time I took an actual vacation for myself; I’d had time off due to snow, illness (mental/emotional as well as physical), or volunteer work, but not just for myself, certainly not for a week like I’m thinking of doing. Maybe it’ll be just what I need, though. Maybe it’ll even answer some of the questions I have going in my head, or give me more peace of mind in where I am in life, with these questions. It feels like a welcome adventure, something that’ll help clear my head if nothing else.

The little breathers I take does that, if just a little; I’m blessed to have both of my jobs very close to my church, and between shifts or just on the way home, I’d take a visit. Sometimes I pray, read, reflect, or just rest my eyes in the Presence on the altar. Sometimes He’d talk to me. Sometimes He’d listen. Sometimes I’d cry, not even realizing that I wanted to all day. I almost never leave empty-handed; some small thing would be there, a grain of sand in the oyster shell.

There was one family vacation to the ocean when I think I was 8 or 9 where I found this teeny-tiny pearl in the oyster I was having at the seafood shack we stopped for dinner. I was sitting on the bar, so I showed the man behind the counter the little pearl, asking what I should do with it; since I found it in their food, I figured it belongs to the restaurant. He instead told me to keep it, and was only too glad to give me a little sauce container to keep it in “for luck”.

I was sad when I lost it during our many moves some years later. I never really believed in luck (I took old Obi-Wan’s wise words very seriously as a little one), it was too tiny to do much with jewelry-wise, but when I’d look at it…it would remind me that sometimes tiny blessings come out of nowhere, and that I should treasure them whenever they come.

That’s how I feel about visiting church, even for 5 minutes. Maybe making this pilgrimage will be that pearl, too, slowly forming in that oyster shell over the course of the year, as I was thinking this could be a nice thing to do annually, if it goes well.

Talking about pearls, and those questions going on in my head as a victim/survivor of abuse, it’s making me want to share this story I once read about God’s relationship with us, and His plan for our lives:

There was a little girl who saw this pearl necklace at the dime-store. She begged her mommy for the pearls, and her mommy said if she did chores to earn the $2 it cost, she can have it. The little girl did all kinds of chores to earn her cherished prize, and finally, she handed the money to the shopkeeper who in turn handed her the pearls.

She loved those pearls. It didn’t matter to her if they were fake; she wore them everywhere at all times. They made her feel grown up and beautiful, not unlike how I felt when I first wore pearls.

One night, as her daddy closed the bedtime storybook and she snuggled under the blankets, he asked his daughter if she loved him. “Oh yes, Daddy. You know that I love you.”

He then asked for her beloved pearls. She was horrified; “Oh, Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have Princess, the white horse from my collection. The one with the pink tail. Remember, Daddy? The one you gave me. She’s my favorite.”

Her daddy smiled kindly, kissing her goodnight. “That’s okay, Honey. Daddy loves you. Good night.”

A week later, he asked for the pearls again, and again, she offered another favorite toy instead. Another week past, and the little girl was sitting in bed with tears in her eyes. Her daddy asked what was wrong, and with a sniffle, she slowly handed him her pearls. “Here, Daddy. It’s for you.”

What loving parent wouldn’t feel moved by this sight? The little girl’s daddy felt tears in his own eyes as he accepted his little girl’s dime-store pearls, even as he reached into his pocket to hand her a blue velvet box holding a necklace of genuine pearls. This anonymously written story ended with the lines, “He had them all the time. He was just waiting for her to give up the dime-store stuff so he could give her genuine treasure. What are you hanging on to?”

Many of us, myself included, would argue that our trauma is instead hanging onto us. It’s the necklace that’s been forced onto our necks like slave’s collars, some of us being little children when it was. We have to acknowledge it’s there, that someone(s) put it there by no fault of ours. Once we realize that, I think that’s when it’s easier to then see what we took on in response, and as we work through this stuff, it’s easier to take it off. The chains loosen when I do that, when I’d realize/remember that it wasn’t my fault my abusers did what they did to me. That’s when it’s easier to see why I took up some of those trauma-driven behaviors, and why they aren’t for me as I thought they were.

For us, it’s hard to find the pearls in our lives, or if we find them, it’s hard to delight in them like that little girl did. It’s also hard to let go of the fake pearls we wear, sometimes proudly. When we find some comfort in the fake pearls we find, it’s so hard to let go of them. We’re not used to having something better waiting to us when we let go of that one thing that made us feel better or in control, whatever it is. It could be as innocent as an extra bite of ice-cream, or it could be something more painful, like I described before that many of us do out of feeling dirty, ugly, or rotten.

I have a feeling that when I make this trip, I’m going to find pearls to string into something better to wear than the painful things in my life. Maybe, maybe not. Probably still worth a try, if nothing else than to have a break.

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