Patti Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace series. Her latest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families and Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious. She has a B.A. in social work and an M.A. in public administration and worked in both those fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children.
Sitting lotus style, inhaling the cool lake air and listening to the serene sounds of a flowing waterfall, Jess Echeverry sought to calm her spirit. She was on a journey to healing at the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple in Pacific Palisades, California. By 2006, Jess had experienced a certain amount of healing, but there was still a hole that hungered to be filled.
Her parents had divorced when she was very young. At 10 years old, Jess was the victim of molestation and then a few years later raped. Yet, she did not imagine her life to be anything but ordinary because everywhere she looked, none of it seemed so unusual. She had a habit of surrounding herself with similar people.
Ironically, it took falling in love and getting married to someone from a world she had never known, to crack open the truth and pain of her own childhood. Charlie was from a nurturing home with happily married parents, starkly different from her experiences. “When I saw what my husband’s family was like, I began to realize how dysfunctional my own childhood had been,” Jess said.
New Age Spirituality
A few years of therapy had quelled the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome she was diagnosed with, but now she felt the need to set off on her own for the rest of the journey. “My therapist had helped me to reprocess the events from my past,” Jess said. “I had started meditating to find the peace within myself.” Up until that point, she would join her husband and three children for Sunday Mass, which they decided to attend only because Charlie’s brother was the music director at the parish. Prior to that, they did not attend regularly.
Jess began reading about Self Realization spirituality and decided to go to the Pacific Palisades temple to meditate at the lake. As a way to try and find inner peace, she embraced its message and even hung a picture of the “six prophets” that were honored as having the knowledge that leads to self-realization. Jesus was one of the six.
For months, it had become routine for Charlie to take the children to Mass on Sunday while Jess drove the 30 minutes to the self-realization center. She would go to the community center for a service of readings and chanting, and then walk down to the lake to meditate.
One Sunday, she looked up from that lake at the hexagon-shaped temple, up the side of a hill, the dome reflecting in the sun. She had never actually gone into the temple and decided to take a look.
“You are Looking for Me”
Jess walked through the door and saw that she was alone. In front of her, hanging from above, were large tapestries of the six prophets. Right in the center was Jesus. As Jess gazed at the tapestries, suddenly, the one of Jesus came out as if in a hologram. “I fell to my knees and tears streamed from my eyes,” Jess said. “He looked at me and smiled and I heard as plain as day: ‘Welcome. I see you met my friends. You are looking for me. I am who you are searching for.’” It was a gentle but strong voice of a man.
Am I going crazy? Jess asked herself. But she knew it was not her imagination. “I instantly had felt his presence and was filled with peace,” she explained. “I did not really know Jesus very well, but at that moment it was like going from not knowing to knowing. I felt filled to the brim with love.”
Before that experience, Jess said she was searching but not sure of what she was seeking. “Now, I knew who I was looking for. It was Jesus Christ that I needed!” Immediately after the words had been spoken, Jesus was gone. “I was in awe,” Jess said. “I started sobbing, but then I knew I had to go find Jesus, that he was not there.”
Jess drove home, the event echoing in her mind. “The first thing I did was to take the six prophets of self-realization off the wall,” she said. “In its place we put up a picture of Jesus with scenes of the crucifixion called Calvary. I told Charlie what had happened; that I was looking for Jesus, and that I wanted to go to Mass with him the next Sunday.”
Jess asked him: “You have Jesus in your church all the time, right? I’m going to go back to your church and I’m going to start paying attention.” And so began their family journey home. Jess described herself as like a toddler, relentlessly asking questions: “Why is the priest wearing that robe? What is he doing? Why do you do that... Why? Why? Why?”
Charlie was a cradle Catholic, but he did not know many of the answers. That triggered his own learning and deepened his faith.
Within two years, on May 11, 2008, Jess joined the Catholic Church and last year, Charlie became a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
From within the Church, Jess found healing beyond what she thought was possible. It began with the Sacrament of Reconciliation and led to a much deeper understanding of forgiveness. She came to a place in her healing to not only forgive the people who had hurt her but to love them like brothers. “I learned how to bring my wounds to God and trust that he is going to open and redeem them and make them into something new and beautiful.”
Jess Echeverry is mother of five and a speaker, sharing her testimony of violence, pregnancy at sixteen and having to give her baby up because of almost three years of homelessness on the streets of South Florida. She is a homeschooling mother as well as the founder and Executive Director of SOFESA, a 501c(3) non-profit ministry that has been serving Southern California homeless and low-income children and their families since 1999. Learn more at her website Mommaletics.