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Reconciling Faith & Family: Karin’s Story

Pride Month is an invitation to celebrate and give thanks for the beautiful tapestry of God’s children and the endless diversity of God’s love. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the many ways we have navigated questions of faith, family and identity along the winding road or our spiritual journey. If you’d like to share yours, email Fr. Chris at charris@christchurchcranbrook.org  

 

By Karin Hoffecker

The last six years of the pandemic have fostered self-reflection on many levels for me. My spiritual life is at the top of the list. When I think of my journey, the word that comes to me is “powerless.” I was raised as an Episcopalian and was baptized and confirmed in the church. But my spiritual grounding in a Christian faith has wavered. The feeling of being powerless has played an enormous part in my life. The roots of it established as a child.

We were a church-going family and Easter was always a big holiday. A new outfit and Easter bonnet for me, a new suit and shoes for my brother. All were proudly worn attending Easter church services. But Good Friday 1963 changed the face of our family forever. My brother died tragically in a fire he set. He was six years old and I was seven. My church-going parents endured this devastating loss by abandoning their faith and leaving Christ Church Cranbrook. They felt God had forsaken them by taking our beloved Buzzy. Their grief was all-consuming and they abandoned me as well. I learned then, not to rely on anyone and became my own parent. Decision-making as a seven-year-old was something I learned to do well. If my parents didn’t need a God in their lives and a church to call home, I didn’t either.

I had the saving grace of my grandparents, who didn’t abandon their faith when my brother died. Eventually, I returned to church with them. There was comfort in spending Sunday mornings with them at church. It was a welcome reprieve from being in a grief-stricken home with my parents. We attended church at St. James Episcopal in Birmingham. I was active there helping out with Sunday school and was comforted by the minister whose sermons guided and directed me in embracing faith again. I was married in this church and my son was baptized there.

Unfortunately, my faith would be tested again. At twenty-seven years-old, and a mother to a one-year-old, I had to admit that I was an alcoholic and powerless over my drinking. Powerlessness was once again a theme in my life. I began attending A.A. meetings and it was here I would learn of a “Higher Power.” The second and third steps in the program became spiritual axioms for me. Step Two: Came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. Finding a God as I “understood him” appealed to me. Perhaps here, I could accept a God who took my brother away and understand why my parents abandoned me. My “High Power,” early on, was often people at the tables who shared their experience, strength, and hope with me. The spiritual program of A.A. was “the easier softer way for me.” For the first two years, I had spiritual peace.

 After being in recovery for two years, I became suicidal and was hospitalized with clinical depression and a panic disorder. Perhaps the years of numbing myself with alcohol, had left me vulnerable to the depths of a darkness I was ill equipped to handle. Where was my “Higher Power” during this time? I felt powerless again and lost without faith. Initially, I was angry that God had left me during a time when I needed his guidance most. As I look back, I was so sick that faith of any kind was challenged completely by my illness. Depression is a beast that doesn’t allow for hope and in my case a belief in a God who would deliver me from the darkness that crippled me. It was impossible to find the “Higher Power” who had sustained me during my early years in A.A. I knew what my parents had felt, when they faced the darkest time in their lives losing my brother. I didn’t trust that God would take care of me, when I too had fallen into such despair. I began to recover with the help of an excellent psychiatrist who treated me in the hospital.

My parents did, after many years, find their way back to Christ Church Cranbrook. I admired their commitment to a new faith that sustained them. I told myself I was fine in A.A., but always felt a spiritual disconnect. I have spent thirty-nine years in A.A. going in and out of a relationship with a “God of my understanding.” I was often envious of what my parents had, and how they had learned to deal with my brother’s death. I wished for this kind of healing for myself, but was too fearful of God letting me down again. I couldn’t fathom feeling powerlessness again in my life. But, I would feel it in a way I couldn’t have anticipated. 

On March 22, 2016, my world as I knew it was irrevocably altered. My only child, Kyle, died unexpectedly of a pulmonary embolism at thirty-four. I was so grief stricken over my loss, the first year, I couldn’t find God, a “Higher Power,” or any faith to hold on to. It was all I could do to make it through each day without wanting to leave this world to be with him. But, what happened to me during this time was a spiritual awakening I didn’t see coming. I began to find Kyle in my daily life. He came to me in the sun, a cardinal’s song, the Great Lakes of Michigan. He always arrives when I need him most. My ongoing love for him, has allowed a continuing bond that sustains me every day. The spiritual connection I have with him is something I can’t describe, but not unlike the bond I have sought with God. It’s been six years now, and I see that on this journey God has carried me every day since Kyle passed. I couldn’t have accomplished what I have in grieving and living without a God in my life. I’m not afraid he will take something away and abandon me. My son was taken and I am still here surviving. I know I’m not alone.

On May 23, 2019, my beloved mother passed peacefully with my father, my sisters, and myself at her side. It was an amazing time of healing for me. I wasn’t with my brother or son when they passed, but they were with me when I said goodbye to my mother. I was able to see Buzzy and Kyle with God in that moment. My Dad, having lost his partner and beloved wife of 65 years, inspired me every day with his faith. He attended church to honor my mother’s memory and to help him walk with God on his new path in life. We shared our grief and I attended church with him. It is here I found the spiritual home I have been looking for with Father Bill, Father Chris, and Pastor Manisha. I feel like I have come full circle at Christ Church Cranbrook. I’m still building my connection with God. I know for sure he is at church, in the lessons, the sermons, and the church community. It’s been a long journey. I feel like I’m finally home.


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