Spirit and I wrote this book to help bring spiritual awareness into people's lives, and to share my story of what I have learned spiritually. All the suffering I have had in my life has been a real blessing. Suffering is one of the greatest things that can happen to us, it brings us closer to God. I have learned a lot about what the Catholic Church is hiding. The biggest secret the church doesn't want you know is that finding God is an individual right not an institutional one. If you want to find God through Jesus' message it is with meditation and deep prayer. The purpose of life is to find God within yourself. We are all god's, I like to call us little g's. I hope my message will help people start their own spiritual path. I hope we can all find God together. God bless!
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Use Your Suffering to Find God
By Todd Skrbina
Balboa PressCopyright © 2015 Todd Skrbina
All rights reserved.
I was born on November 21, 1976, at Ingalls Hospital in Harvey, Illinois, at 6:03 a.m. I was raised by my loving parents, Mike and Lynn Skrbina, and grew up in Lansing, Illinois, a typical blue-collar town where the fathers worked and the mothers stayed home with the children.
I am the eldest of four boys who arrived about two years apart. We did all the typical things growing up — playing sports and games with the neighbor kids, riding our bikes into the local woods (where I got poison ivy every time; I once had it from head to toe), and constantly fighting. I don't know how my mother put up with us every day. We received a lot of spankings with a wooden spoon or from a piece of plastic from the racetrack for our Matchbox cars.
One of my favorite memories of my mother was when we went food shopping at Ultra Foods. My brother Kyle would be in the grocery cart, and my mother would have her calculator in her hand, as our food budget was $200 a month. My other brothers and I ran down the aisles, grabbing what we wanted, and our mother would yell for us to come back. Every week she bought five boxes of cereal, five gallons of milk, and six loaves of bread. We used two loaves for French toast in the morning. One of my favorite breakfast foods was farina.
In second grade I had my tonsils removed. I was always sick when I was little, and my eating habits were horrible. But once the tonsils came out, I didn't get sick as often, and I started eating just about anything. The doctor had put my tonsils in a little glass jar. They looked like little footballs, and I brought them to school for show and tell. All the kids thought they were really cool.
At thirteen I had a second surgery to remove a cataract from my left eye. Afterward I wore an eye patch, and in a couple of weeks my eyesight was much better. With cataracts, it looks like a brown cloud is blocking your vision. I had cataracts in both eyes, which was a birth defect from my mother having the flu when I was born.
Our house was always filled with animals, from cats and dogs to hamsters and fish.
Our big outdoor pool was put in when I was ten years old, thanks to our grandparents. We all scratched our names into the concrete sidewalk that went around the pool. The day we finally filled it, my brothers and I ran into the house to see who could get his swim shorts on the fastest and would be the first one in the pool. Two of my brothers were already on the diving board, but I managed to jump in first from the side.
The pool was in our second house in Lansing. I don't remember the first house, off Madison Street, but I was told it was very small and that was why we moved. I was two at the time.
My parents were Catholic, so we went to church practically every Sunday, except in the summer when we spent a lot of time at my grandparents' cottage at Indiana Beach. Every time we went to church, I found it really boring and thought about all the other things I could be doing for that hour. I heard the same things over and over again with no real explanation about any of it. It felt like I was being forced to go to something I really didn't understand. I wish my parents had stressed more why we attended church. My brothers and I made our confirmation through CCD until eighth grade. CCD are classes taught to school children to teach them the basic knowledge of their faith.
As a child, I really didn't believe in God. The one thing I am proud of, though, is that I was always a good person and never lied. Telling the truth is always the way to go, no matter how it may hurt someone. I have lost a few people in my life by being honest and sticking up for others. That is okay; sometimes friendships and other relationships have run their course, and we have to move on.
My mom was the glue of the family and taught us everything. She was your typical loving mother with great qualities everyone would love to have. My favorite thing about her was that she loved to help others. A lot of people called my mother a saint. Even though she had four children, she always had time to help others. I would say my mom was a spiritual being. She told us God has a plan for everyone, and that everyone needs God in his or her life.
Here is a letter my mother wrote to me when I graduated from CCD in eighth grade. This is one of the things I have left from her, and I cherish it very much.
As I write this letter, I realize how much time has passed since you were just a baby. It seems like yesterday that Dad and I brought you home and how happy and proud we were to have a beautiful and healthy son! We've watched you grow through the years and have tried to teach you the best we could.
Learning about God and what role he plays in your life is one of them. There will be times in your life when you're going to need guidance and just a little extra help. Prayer is always the way to go. I believe God hears us when we need him the most. I know since I've been sick this past year, all the prayers from our family and friends have helped me get through this bad time. As you make your confirmation and become an adult, it's time for you to start to be aware of the role God plays in your life. It's important to be a good person and to help other and not always think about yourself. I suppose that's all I have to say, except I hope you always know Dad and I love you very much and that we will always be there for you whenever you need us. We love you always!
Mom and Dad
My mom didn't underline "awareness," but she knew what she was talking about.
There is more to this life than we can see or hear. This is great advice everyone can relate to.CHAPTER 2
My Teen Years
I had started my freshman year of high school in 1991 when my whole world came crashing down. My mother died from lupus on August 13, 1991. Although she had been sick for a long time, no one thought she would die.
The one thing I cherish was that I got to say good-bye the day she passed. I was sitting at the dining room table eating cereal that morning, and my mother was sitting with me, shaking her legs like she always did, trying to cope with the pain. Which she never complained about to any of us. Before I left for school, I gave her a kiss and told her I loved her. It was the last time I would see her.
When I got home that night around seven, we got a call from the hospital. They said she wouldn't make it through the night. So the whole family went to the hospital.
I remember being really scared and not wanting to go into her room. When we finally went in, I saw her just lying there. How awful the experience was. My brothers and I were too young to be going through this bullshit. We all cried for an hour, with no one really saying anything.
The funeral was even worse. The line outside the funeral home was a three-hour wait. I was awestruck by how many people were there. My mom was loved by so many people. Seeing her for the last time when that casket closed was awful, and that was when it really hit me that I would never see her again.
The next morning we had a service at church. It was standing room only. Our neighbor of fourteen years, Linda Berry, gave a speech that I would like to share with you.
"I would like to tell you a few things about Lynn that will shed some light on why, no matter where you went in Lansing this week, people were talking about our loss. I viewed Lynn's life as her friend and next-door neighbor of fourteen years.
"Most people know Lynn married her high-school sweetheart. They really complemented each other in their opposite ways and in their joint beliefs and love of their children. They were best friends. Lynn and Mike had a special relationship that held them together through the last few years as she suffered in her illness. When marriages around them crumbled, their love and dedication bound them together.
"Hopefully Lynn complained to Mike of her pain and ill health. No one else ever heard her complain — ever. Leaving four young sons without their mother is a difficult concept for everyone to bear. It is not natural. It is not fair. It is heartbreaking. But Lynn would not want the boys to cry every time they think about her. Lynn would want them to smile and think of the pride and love she had for them.
"So I hope Todd and Chad and Michael and Kyle will shed their tears at their loss and then face each new phase of their lives knowing their mom is still with them. She will be at every game they play in every sport. She will be with them when they do well in school. She will be with them when they are tempted to do wrong, and she will be with them when they are kind.
"Where did Lynn learn to be such a giving, kind, happy person? Lynn learned from her wonderful parents, Bert and Fran. Lynn would often say to me that she could not imagine what it would be like not to have the support and love of a close family. Lynn felt she was blessed to have parents who were always there for her ... always.
"She was so proud of her sister, Tami. Lynn loved to hear Tami's college stories. Lynn often spoke of her brother, Rich, and his family and her gram. Lynn would not like the pain they feel today.
"The newspaper made a mistake when they said Lynn was a teacher of CCD. Lynn did not teach Christian Catholic beliefs, she lived them. Her example should be followed by all of us. Lynn was kind and considerate to everyone, especially the person others shunned. She never gossiped, so every friend felt they were special to her. Lynn was always pleasant and positive. Lynn was a listener and rarely used the word I. If you went around church today and asked people to tell something good about Lynn, we could fill a book.
"Don't get me wrong. Lynn was not a saint. She was very human and fun and capable of making mistakes. Lynn was just a very special person. No one knows a woman like a husband. No one follows a mother like a child. No one can take credit or have pride like a parent. These bonds are not shared. But every friend here today is so thankful to have known and loved Lynn Skrbina. When our tears stop flowing, we will smile each time we say her name."
The next day we went to the cemetery in Calumet City, Illinois. It was a lovely summer day with no clouds in the sky.
This was the first time I witnessed something I couldn't explain. There was a dark cloud directly over the area where we were standing. It rained the whole time we were there. Once it was over, the rain cloud disappeared. I believe my mother didn't want to see us cry because she was in heaven, where there is no more suffering. There were many tough days after that, but somehow my brothers and I made it through.
This was the start of my spiritual path, even though I didn't know it at the time.
Going to school after losing the most important person in my life felt like a joke. The first two years I barely passed; school no longer had any purpose. It was difficult because my rock, my teacher, the disciplinarian I relied on was gone. It was not fair that God took her away at that time. Your adolescent years are probably the most difficult time for everyone.
I hated God for ten years after my mom's death. I was even angry with her for leaving us and putting us in that situation. I think I was selfish to think that way, but it was my way of grieving. When you are young, you don't understand why these things happen to you.
About a year later my father began dating another woman, and they were married in the summer of 1993. I was angry about this because I felt we didn't have enough time to grieve over my mother's death.
They almost didn't get married because of me. When she was at our house I walked right by her, not saying anything at all. I was pretty rude. I just didn't want anyone else in our lives at that time. It was just too fast. Another woman was there at my mother's house, doing the things Mom used to do.
My dad had said to me, "I'm not going to stay single." But I believe he didn't realize we needed time. I think he needed to fill the void in his life.
There were a lot of times I would leave the house and stay at my friends' for weeks at a time. My father wouldn't even call to see where I was. Being at home felt like we weren't welcome anymore; the love that used to be there was gone. Mom was the one who did everything for us. I'm not saying my father didn't love us, but he just didn't express it very well.
One of my worst memories is when we went on my father's honeymoon to Walt Disney World in Florida. We had our own room, and he gave us money every morning, but we were on our own. I was sixteen, and my brothers were fourteen, twelve, and ten. Who lets his children roam around by themselves at such a young age with no supervision?
Some days we all went on our own way, because we wanted to do different things. It felt like my father didn't want to be disturbed on his honeymoon. We were taking the backseat to this new woman in his life. He didn't realize we were here first. He didn't really care we were even there.
It was the worst trip I have ever been on. I have to say that I matured so fast during this time in my life because I really had no choice. I tried to be the best big brother I could be. I made dinner sometimes, did laundry, or just tried to help out.
I was depressed in high school. I started drinking and doing drugs during my junior year. I even drank at school sometimes during class. I would drink a fifth of vodka every Friday and Saturday night in my huge plastic container with Kool-Aid. I drank just to block out the pain. I was proud of myself — I smoked marijuana only a few times. I was afraid of doing any other drugs because I knew they could destroy your life. Every time I smoked at a party I threw up. I believe that was the reason I didn't do it very much.
One night I got home from drinking another fifth of vodka. I probably should have gotten my stomach pumped it hurt so bad. I threw up that night on the hallway floor because I couldn't even make it to the bathroom. I just went right back to bed and passed out. My father cleaned it up in the morning. I didn't care that I made a mess. But it was the the last time I drank hard liquor.
During my senior year I started drinking beer. I threw up the first few times I drank it, and I hated the taste, but I eventually got used to it. Alcohol was my go-to in high school. You need to do something to try and mask the pain. I'm not saying it's the right way to go, but it was the path I chose.
I had many thoughts of suicide during that time. My depression was pretty bad some days. Sometimes I thought it would be better if I were dead. At least I would be with my mother in heaven. But I knew it was wrong to take your own life.
But God gives you free will to decide how you live your life. Your choices are yours and yours alone. One thing that helped me a lot was going to the school counselor. I went for an hour during my lunch time and study hall. I would talk about my problems. It was nice because other kids there had lost a parent as well. They knew how I felt and the problems I was having.
I wish my whole family would have gone to talk to the counselor because we would have been better off. Talking about your issues to someone unrelated to the problem is key. My dad said we didn't need to go after moms' death. I think that was a mistake.
After high school, I went to college for one year in 1996 at Southern Illinois University with a few of my friends. The campus there was beautiful. We partied a lot, and ate a lot of Papa John's pizzas. Southern at the time was labeled the best party school. They would close down the main street where all the bars were. The parties were crazy. People would break into stores, and the police would break it up with tear gas. The smell of the gas was horrible, and it really burned your eyes.
Our favorite bar was Detours. On one weekday it was five dollars to get in and a penny for a pitcher of cheap beer. Most of those nights I don't even remember walking home.
Excerpted from Use Your Suffering to Find God by Todd Skrbina. Copyright © 2015 Todd Skrbina. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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