Chapter 9 – The Theology of Fun

One of the best things about Catholics is that Catholics are fun.  Cool, hipster Protestants are starting to catch up, but it’s a little like inviting freshmen to the senior party.  Catholics are seniors at merrymaking. While the prohibitionists were spewing the evils of alcohol, the Catholics were testifying to its convivial attributes with eloquent, confident, slurred speech.  While the Puritans were making sure their necks and ankles weren’t showing, Michelangelo was sculpting the most magnificent naked man that Channing Tatum wishes he could be.  And well, we all know what Catholics enjoy doing just based on the size of their families.  Not to mention that Catholics have more feast days than you could possibly keep up with.  It was probably a priest that invented the famous joke opening, “A priest, a rabbi, and a penguin walk into a bar…”

Catholics are fun, and this alone testifies to me that they grasp something about God that many others don’t.  They understand what we were intended for in the Garden, what heaven will be like, and that we were made simply to enjoy God and each other.  Life is beautiful.  It’s not a drudgery to endure.  Earth is not toxic to our souls.  What God called “good” is still “good” in the Catholic paradigm – not that sin hasn’t tainted this world, but it makes the good and the beautiful stand out all the more.  Catholics understand how to enjoy this place that God made for us.  And while not everyone may see “fun” as the same holy act that I do, I can’t help but think of all the times Jesus was criticized for basically having too much fun.  Personally?  I want to be like Jesus.

Posted in Thriving Spirits, Uncategorized |

Chapter 8 – Little Gifts

I knew a girl in high school who was so enamored with Jesus that she seemed to walk in a golden bubble everywhere she went.  Little miracles seemed to follow her around – random strangers at the local burger joint would get healed when she prayed for them.  When her car broke down it was because God had prepared a divine appointment for her at the garage where a mechanic was waiting to hear the gospel she had to share, and the big, tough guy would be in tears by the time she left.  When she was $247 short for her missions trip that would be leaving the next day, she’d get a check in the mail for $247 from someone she’d never met.  Golden.  Bubble.  I envied her.  I envied the little gifts she got from God, but not only that, I envied her unquenchable optimism, her complete trust in Jesus, her persistent faith that oozed out of her day and night.  She thought she was normal, and seemed to kind of think everyone who loved Jesus spent days fasting and praying, studying scripture, and that she was nothing special – that everyone got these little gifts.  To this day, her face seems to glow in spite of the pains she’s been through, and she seems to already be in heaven because she walks so closely with Jesus.

So it’s not fun to confess, but yeah, I envy her.  I’ve had my fair share of little gifts from God, but I want more, and yet, I admit that I haven’t walked with Him as she has.  I want to, I want to be closer to God, but I’m easily distracted and worn out by life, and I guess I just don’t have the same optimistic disposition she was naturally born with.  But I still want the little gifts – those small hints from God that He’s with you, that He’s speaking to you, that He’s happy with you.

Last Thursday night, the Thursday before Easter, all of the RCIA candidates were expected to attend the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which commemorates, obviously, the Lord’s Supper and Jesus washing the feet of His disciples.  At this particular mass, priests in every parish across the globe, following the example of Christ, wash the feet of some of the people in the parish.  Even the Pope takes off his outer garments and washes the feet of the people in whatever place in the world he’s chosen to go to that year.  Lukus and I happen to attend the cathedral of our archdiocese, a “cathedral” essentially being the mother church of a small region, which means that it’s also the home church of the archbishop of that region.  I knew that a couple of my friends in RCIA were going to get their feet washed by the archbishop that night, and while I was excited for them, I was a bit envious – not much, just a little.

We arrived at the Mass and started to sit in our seats when we saw our friends across the aisle and decided to move spots.  As we started to sit next to them (one of whom was pre-planned to have her feet washed), a guy squeezed in to our spot before all of us could fit in, so we were forced to move two rows back.  After moving seats twice, we finally settled into our spots with me sitting in the aisle seat.  When the foot washing ceremony began, it was very moving to see the archbishop remove his outer garments and in a simple, white robe prepare to wash the feet of some of the people.  Then, the lady behind me (who has been involved in RCIA and knows we’re new) leaned forward to inform me that I’d be getting my feet washed.  Oh dear, I wasn’t ready for that!  I hadn’t properly groomed my feet – you know, washing your feet so you can have your feet washed?  I was nervous and not sure if she was totally correct, except then I noticed there was a towel next to my seat.  Well, okay then.

I gotta say, having your feet washed is a combination of awkwardness, humility, and thankfulness.  But more than anything, I knew it was a Little Gift.  It wasn’t necessarily the foot-washing itself that spoke volumes to me, it was more of an “it’s the thought that counts” kinda thing – just a small sign from God that He was thinking of me, that He knew the desires of my heart, and He was meeting me in that moment.  Our little game of musical chairs had led me to a moment I’ll always treasure.

Later that weekend, I received a book from the archbishop about some questions I had asked him a couple of months ago.  It was a simple gesture, but a significant one for someone so busy to remember a conversation he had months ago, and yet still be mindful enough to pass along a book regarding a topic that’s so close to my heart.  The archbishop truly has a pastor’s heart, but I knew, too, that it was God encouraging me to pursue that passion.  Little Gifts.

But even that wasn’t all.  Saturday before Easter was the night of our confirmation into the Catholic Church.  We had a lot of getting ready to do that day, but Lukus stumbled upon a package at our door.  It was from Father Stephen – the seminarian we’d met in Rome (now a priest) with whom we’d reunited and even gotten to visit with in Alabama three years later.  Since reuniting, we’ve been able to keep in touch through Facebook, and he was aware of our upcoming confirmation.  We opened the package, and inside was a lovely wooden box with a beautifully carved cross on the top.  Inside were three necklaces, each with a medallion attached – one for Lukus with Saint Joseph’s image on it (Lukus’ chosen patron saint), and two for me with Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Teresa of Avila (my chosen patron saints – I figured I’d need two saints so I wouldn’t wear one out!).  Father Stephen and Father Eric (the other seminarian in Rome) played such a significant role in us even getting interested in Catholicism in the first place, not to mention the miracle of finding them again.  But also, Father Stephen has pastored me through Facebook when I’ve struggled with questions and doubts.  The only thing lacking from our confirmation was that they wouldn’t be there.  And yet, through such a thoughtful and timely gesture, he would be there, which meant so much to us.  Little Gifts.

One of the sponsors in our RCIA group posted on Facebook how she hadn’t had much time to focus on Good Friday and the cross.  She took a moment during the beautiful spring day to go outside, close her eyes, and pray and reflect on the crucifixion.  As she was praying the verse “and darkness covered the face of the earth…” she opened her eyes to discover that the sky had gone from bright and sunny, to cloudy and cool, and the power of that moment was awesome to her.

These Little Gifts are precious.  They keep our hope going.  They remind us that God is with us, that He’s actually paying attention.  He hasn’t forgotten, we’re not on our own just trying to make up for our sins all the time.  We’re in a relationship, where God Himself is acting as a lover wooing His beloved ever closer.  He’s already given us everything – our very existence, His own Son, eternal life, forgiveness…and yet, He is love, and the giving never ends because His love never ends.  We may not all be like my friend from high school, walking through life in a golden bubble.  We may get preoccupied and cynical.  We may not invest enough time in our relationship with God, but He’s still leaving us love notes, and surprises, and Little Gifts all over the place.  If only we pay attention…

Any Little Gifts you’ve gotten from God lately?

Posted in Thriving Spirits |

Chapter 7 – The Lady in Pink

* Before I begin this next post, I need to make a quick caveat:  I don’t go around announcing that I periodically have visions, or strange dreams that come true.  It’s not a good way to make friends unless you enjoy the company of meth addicts or patients from the local psyche ward.  Sharing this piece of myself is rather terrifying, but I’m just going to have to trust God with that because it’s true, and I can’t very well leave out the most pivotal moment in my story thus far.  So take it or leave it as you will, but I know what I felt and saw. 

The next rite in our process was the Penitential Rite.  The other rites had taken place on Sundays during Mass, but this rite was a more low-key rite with just our Tuesday night class.  I did NOT want to go to our class that night.  I even picked a fight with Lukus to keep from going.  I had plopped into bed with my pj’s on and some old reruns on-line, and was not going to budge from that spot for the rest of the night.  But something in me wouldn’t let me stay put.  I knew I had to go.  I just knew.  But I was determined I was not going to be happy about it.  I don’t always control my attitude the way I should, but regardless of how I feel about something, if I truly believe it’s the right thing to do, I cannot allow myself to walk away.  My highest value is Truth, and when I know something to be True, I can hate it all I want and put up an immature fuss, but I still know I have to follow where it leads.

So we arrived about 40 minutes late.  Our class typically begins with “Vespers” or an evening prayer time in the chapel, followed by a lecture/discussion in the classroom.  But tonight, the order was swapped, and we’d missed the lecture my own sponsor had given, and everyone took a break before chapel time.  I was not looking forward to the chapel service, or the rite…if anything, I’d hoped we’d skipped that part and had arrived in time for the lecture.  But not so.  I sat hopelessly in my chair, weak-heartedly sang the hymn, and barely uttered the prayers.

But as our RCIA director, Paul, gave his homily on the Transfiguration on the Mount, he mentioned Peter.  He happened to mention that right before the Transfiguration, Jesus had asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter responds, “You are the Christ.”  Oh how that hit me – and I didn’t hear any of the rest of the homily because my mind had taken a tangent onto Peter.

I’ve never particularly related to Peter before.  After all, Peter was outspoken and adventurous and stubborn, three things that…well, we’re not always very self-aware, are we?  But this time, Peter hit me square in the face as being me.  You see, Peter KNEW the truth.  He had been with Jesus for sometime now, he had seen miracles, he was one of the top three of Jesus’ circle of friends.  Peter pretty much thought of himself the way I’ve always thought of myself – one of God’s favorites.  Don’t worry, I’m not delusional enough to think that my boundless humility is going to get me canonized as a saint any time soon.  Hi, I’m Ellany, and I’m a hubristic smarty-pants (not to mention outspoken and stubborn).

But I’m not alone.  Peter proceeds to make an ass of himself.  Moses and Elijah appear to Jesus as he’s praying, and Peter tries to get Moses and Elijah to stay longer by offering to make tents for them (whereas God quickly tells Peter to essentially shut-up and listen).  Peter goes on to do some more stupid things, like cutting off ears to defend Jesus, then turning around and denying him three times because he’s terrified out of his mind.  He knows what’s true, he loves his best friend, and yet, he’s so freaking scared of everything changing that all the life just gets sucked out of him because he doesn’t want to leave what’s familiar and what seems to be working so well.  Peter liked the way things were.  He wasn’t ready for things to change.

I could feel Peter then.  “But being a Protestant is working so well, Jesus!  People are getting saved, miracles are happening, people are seeking you and worshipping you…why should any of that have to change or be done differently when I’m SO feeling this vibe you’ve got going on here, Lord?  Can’t we just keep things the way they are, Jesus?  I’m not feeling you here in the Catholic Church, just like Peter wasn’t feeling that whole “getting beaten and thrown in prison” part.  It just doesn’t seem like this is the direction you meant to go, so why don’t we just stay here and figure out a new plan of what Your Holy Church should look like?”  Yeah, I got Peter then.  I’ve got Christ the Son of God right in front of me, and yet, I’m wanting to put up tents for the apparitions of Moses and Elijah.  Me and Peter?  We prefer the familiar past to the daunting future.

But in spite of his jackassness, Peter knew what was true.  And he couldn’t keep denying it.  After three times of trying to, his heart finally broke, and he just couldn’t keep running away.  And eventually, Peter got his redemption – times three, mind you.

As I sat contemplating all of this, I was pretty sure of what God wanted from me, so I reluctantly decided to submit to what I knew was true, and went up to participate in the rite.

Then I closed my eyes.

And we began to pray.

Then all of a sudden, I got really dizzy, and even though I knew my hands were interlocked in front of me, I couldn’t feel them any longer, and my arms felt like they were beginning to float out at my sides like I was spreading some wings.  I was just sure that I was about to start floating into the air if I didn’t focus really hard on staying on the ground.  Then, above the circle of people gathered, with my eyes closed, I saw a beautiful lady hovering above us, kind of pinkish and yellowish light surrounded her, with her arms spread like wings, and she just stayed there for a while.  I felt that any moment, I would float right up to her – until our Deacon Paul came to me and placed his hands on my head and pushed down.  I still don’t know what he was doing in that moment, so I’ll have to ask him some time.  Yes, my eyes were closed, so I wasn’t seeing with physical eyes, but it was much clearer than my imagination, and I could physically FEEL what was happening.

For the first time since this process began, I felt it.  I felt that other world that I used to feel at my old church.  I felt like I might possibly have a place here, like I had broken through to what I’d been missing all along.  I don’t know if it was Mary, or an angel, or some other saint.  I don’t like to put names on things when names aren’t given.  What I DO know, is that my mind NEVER would have conjured up a female, Moses or Elijah maybe, but not a female, and that in itself confirmed to me that this wasn’t coming from my own imagination.  But I saw her, and she was lovely and peaceful, and I was filled with peace and confidence for the first time.  I couldn’t help but remember the story of Peter, and his three reinstatements from Jesus.  Now, after three terrifying rites, God had granted me this gift, this little sign that He’s guiding this process, and that my time to come into the Church is at hand.  God had already brought the church family together for my heart.  Over time, He had brought doctrine together for my mind.  And now, He had brought this experience to anchor my spirit.

This Saturday night is Easter Vigil, when Lukus and I will be officially confirmed as Catholics, and I have great peace and confidence that God has guided every second of this journey:  from Rome to that pancake breakfast, from who my sponsor has been to the personal revelations I’ve had.  It’s been a hard and scary road, and in the process of it all, I’ve had to explain myself to a lot of baffled Protestants.  It hasn’t been fun, and it hasn’t been easy, but I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be worth it.

Posted in Thriving Spirits |

Jesus, Drugs, and Mental Health

I’m not one to join the bandwagon on “Awareness” issues.  My mom died of breast cancer and I have yet to wear a pink T-shirt or run in a race.  I get why people do that sort of thing, but I know my mom would be angry if I chose her death to be the catalyst that I responded to to “change the world”.  She would not have wanted to be defined by cancer.

And I don’t really want to be defined by depression either.  But with all of the posts going around on social media regarding mental illness following the suicide of Robin Williams, I can’t seem to stay out of the discussion.

I remember the first time I thought I was depressed.  I was seven years old riding in the backseat of the car with my head pressed against the window.  Nothing particular was going through my head at the moment, but I had an empty feeling inside, and the words came through my head, “I’m depressed.”

I don’t even know how I knew what “depressed” meant at age 7, but I remember that moment as clearly as anything.  About the time I hit 12, the depression seemed to sink in and make a permanent home in my soul.  There were plenty of times that I was genuinely happy, and for months go without a care in the world.  But it always came back.  Inexplicably and without warning.

The funny thing is, I stopped seeing it as a bad thing.  Eventually, it became a part of my sense of identity.  It made me deep and thoughtful.  Melancholies were more artistic and intelligent.  Tortured souls were my heroes – and happy people?  Happy people were just buffoons who chose to live in oblivion rather than embrace the pain that was “authentic”.  I became quite attached to my depression – loving the depression more than I loved myself.  And the more I loved my depression, the more I hated myself, and the more depressed I became.  It was a parasite that I didn’t think I could live without.  I didn’t feel complete without it, and my whole identity was wrapped up in it’s cloak.  It made me witty, mysterious, and above the fray of the shallowlands.  And even when I was happy, I thought I could only appreciate the happiness because I understood the pain on the other side.  I was TRULY happy, whereas others were conjuring up a fraudulent happiness based upon the temporal and meaningless.

I thought about death, but not really any more than a lot of teenagers probably do.  I thought passingly, amusingly, about suicide – just the what ifs.  Thankfully, I had a solid foundation in my faith as well as a stubborn streak from my mother that refused to ever go that route.  But I did know how to wallow, and I wallowed extremely well – spending days on end in bed, faking headaches or nausea so my mom wouldn’t make me go to school.  I think a part of her knew, and yet, for some reason, she chose to trust me.  I would sleep for hours upon hours, waking up to write truly terrible poetry about my pain and sadness, and watching movies that made me cry.

None of this really bothered me until I was in a real relationship with a guy I truly loved.  I would start fights with him and say the most horrible and irrational things to him, shocking even myself.  I started to experience bouts of rage that I had never known before, and God only knows what kept me from some pretty extreme tantrums.

My first clue that I might have some chemical imbalances came when I started on birth control right before that guy decided he was still willing to put up with my crap and marry me.  While on the pill, I would cry inexplicably, daydream of suicide, and be filled with rage that I would just beat the walls until my knuckles bled.  The pain inside was positively unbearable – like a breached baby that won’t come out.  I am so thankful that I recognized that it was the effects of The Pill, and I quit immediately, never to do hormonal birth control again.

But while the rage and suicidal thoughts subsided, the depression never fully went away, and I wasn’t even sure that I wanted it to.  I’d lived with it for so long, I had no idea who I’d be without it.  Treating my depression left me with two paralyzing fears:  1) That it couldn’t be treated, and I’d find out that I was terminal and life was never going to get any better; 2)  That it was treatable, that I could be cured, but that I wouldn’t recognize myself anymore.

Throughout all of this, I blamed everything but chemistry.  I blamed my family and life experiences, I blamed my husband for not loving me enough, I blamed myself for being weak and not spiritual enough, and I blamed God for not accepting my pleas for help by zapping me with joy.  It was when I started resenting my second-born infant daughter that I knew something was more amiss than what I’d been telling myself.  This couldn’t possibly be her fault, so why was I so angry with her?

The strange thing was, my mom was dying by this time, and I felt very little about it.  She was in agony from the cancer that had eaten away at her backbone, and I had very little capacity for compassion for her.  She had been my best friend for my entire life, we had a connection that I held precious, and yet, I felt too empty to deal with her dying.  I will always live with the regret that I did not give her more in those last months, and that she did not feel from me then what I could have given her months later.

But the agony came rushing in the night before her funeral when everyone in my aunt’s house was asleep, and I crept to the dining room alone to weep uncontrollably and shamelessly until I had to clean snot and slobber off the table.  I went home with a pain that I could not bear alone, and combined with my indifference toward my baby, I knew I needed help.

I chose to see a Christian counselor – someone who would pray, but not tell me that my problem was that I needed to pray more.  We talked about everything you would expect – my upbringing, my relationships, my baggage.  And while it helped to sort through those issues that had long been saddlebags ever-present at my side, it wasn’t quite the breakthrough I’d hoped for.

Then a friend told me about a medical doctor who treated with natural supplements that had helped him.  I hadn’t trusted pharmaceuticals since my relationship with The Pill, but several naturopaths seemed like they were just trying to sell enough of their personal favorite vitamins to help them win that vacation rental in Florida.  I decided a medical professional who considered natural means legit might, himself, be legit.

He took my pee, my blood, and my saliva.  It was lovely.  Then he told me to stop going to counseling for a while.  Inside I was calling him a quack, that is, until he told me that going to counseling at that time was like trying to build a house without any tools.  I didn’t have the capacity to deal with my emotional issues when my body was, apparently, completely whack (the medical diagnosis).  I coughed up over $400, took the “vitamins” he prescribed and…

Dammit!  I had lived with depression since I was seven years old, and a few pills a day completely vanquished it.  Not that I haven’t been sad since, or hormonal, or absolutely pissed off, but Depression packed it’s bags and moved away, and I haven’t missed it one bit.

Looking back, I have a mixed view.  There were life circumstances that I feel opened the door to spiritual attack.  At seven years old, I should not have heard a voice in my head telling me “I’m depressed”.  At the same time, prayer, more Bible reading, pleading to the sky for help never worked – it only sank me deeper in fact when I didn’t receive a response.  I certainly had legitimate cause to be angry with certain aspects of my life that only a good counselor was able to help me sort out, but in the end, chemistry GOT it out.

Right now, I’m seeing arguments all over the map that “It’s spiritual – only Jesus can help,” and “It’s physical – we need to treat it like a disease.”  Ladies and gentlemen – it’s both.  We live in a FALLEN world, and some people’s spiritual brokenness manifests itself in depression.  But we also live in a fallen WORLD, where that brokenness alters our bodies, our brains, and every physical aspect of our beings.  Who thinks they can dissect the spirit from the soul from the body?  Who thinks this world is so far removed from that other, unseen world?  To the Believer, has God not created this earth and every physical thing in it?  To the Unbeliever, why has chemistry not helped everyone if we are merely animals that respond to specific stimuli?  To the Believer who thinks that I didn’t pray hard enough to receive my miracle, is a pill that finally worked for ME not a miracle or an answer to prayer?  Do you think I’d trade the healing that came from those pills to continue a more pious alternative?  To the Unbeliever who sees that I used science as a means to healing, simply put: without Jesus, I would not be on this earth anymore – period.

I’m glad we’re having this conversation about depression.  I’m glad people are starting to strip away the shame of this disease and recognize that it’s not something you just choose – that it can’t be cured with platitudes or a little pep talk.  We can’t always pray it away, but it can’t be compared to cancer either.  Cancer is an obvious physical enemy – Depression is a deceitful illusionist that attaches itself to your soul, and strums thoughts onto your neurons like a bad tune that gets stuck in your brain.  It feeds like a parasite, getting bigger and stronger, as you get smaller and weaker, and you are hypnotized by it’s voice.  Sure, you still have a will, you still have the power of choice, but it gets buried under tentacles that wrap tightly around your will until you feel utterly helpless, and all you can do is be still and wait for help to come.

Whatever “we” do as a society, we cannot talk so confidently about what depression is or is not.  It can only be vastly different for every individual, and whether it is treated spiritually, emotionally, or medically, all we really know for sure is that it must be treated individually.



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Chapter 6 – Kicking & Screaming

So I’ve noticed a trend occurring:  whenever we have a rite coming up, immediately beforehand, I have a mini-crisis.  I haven’t shared much of my personal struggles with becoming Catholic to anyone outside of our RCIA class because honestly, six days of the week, I feel like a full-blown Catholic, and it’s only one day of the week that I really struggle.  But now, I confess that as strong a supporter of Catholicism as I’ve been on Facebook and talking with other friends, it’s been a lot harder than it’s seemed.

If one wants to become Catholic, one must first attend RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), which is a 9-12 month long class about the Catholic faith.  There are also several little “ceremonies” or rites that prepare you for the Big Event: confirmation.  But for each rite so far, I’ve had a little freak-out fest that leaves everyone wondering if I’m going to require smelling salts or medication.

Our first rite that we went through was the Rite of Welcoming, of which I had nightmares all the night before, and the only thing that got me there was just sheer determination.  I was nervous, but it turned out to be a lovely experience.  We were asked several questions in front of the congregation about our profession of faith, and then we were prayed over and blessed.  Our sponsors anointed our heads, eyes, ears, mouths, hearts, shoulders, hands, and feet, then placed a pretty, carved wooden cross around our necks.  It was the official beginning of the whole parish seeing who we were so they could pray for us throughout this process.  It was beautiful.

Then there was the Rite of Sending (the ceremony at which the parish sends you forth to the archbishop to participate in the Rite of Election).  I hadn’t thought much about the rite until we were actually in the sanctuary, and I began to feel almost sick inside at the nature of what I was about to do.  When we were called to sign our names in the Book of the Elect (which forever memorializes the names of new converts), I was so terrified, I couldn’t even feel the pen in my hands.  For all I know, my signature could read “Big Bird”.  I wanted to run screaming from the building, but I somehow managed to hold it together because I knew that I didn’t want to pull out unless I KNEW it wasn’t the right thing for me, and I didn’t KNOW that.  I’m sure a lot of people would interpret my internal turmoil as a testament that perhaps this is not the right path for me, and I have had experiences where I’ve been about to do something, gotten so sick inside that I’ve almost thrown up, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to do what I was about to do.  I experienced that when I almost enrolled in community college after high school.  Instead, I got sick before I could even ask for the paper work.  A few months later, I was at a four-year college meeting the love of my life and some forever friends.

But something in me knew this feeling wasn’t the same.  I don’t know how to explain the difference between one kind of nervous nausea and another, but I kind of felt like I was being tested, and rather than turn and run, I needed to push through.  So I did.

That evening, we returned to the cathedral for The Rite of Election in which we are presented individually to the archbishop.  That experience wasn’t too bad except my sponsor didn’t show up, and I was starting to build that up in my head as a bad omen.  Fortunately, our RCIA director (who’s gotten to know me pretty well too) stood in for my sponsor, and distracted my nervousness with hilarious cynical quips (cynical being my favorite kind of quips).  When I approached the archbishop to shake his hand, I extended my hand but was still a good distance from him.  He took my hand and gave me a good, hard tug so that I had to take a step closer.  I chuckled to myself, “So this is how it’s gonna be, huh, Lord?  You’re going to tug me in, kicking and screaming, aren’t you?”

As Lukus has watched all of my inner (and outer) turmoil, he’s told me that there’s no rush, there’s no need for me to become Catholic THIS YEAR.  I can take my time.  Everyone has reminded me of that, in fact.  No one wants you to become Catholic if you’re not ready.  Unlike in Protestantism when you have that “moment of decision”, there’s zero pressure from Catholics to join the Church.  But something deep inside me has known, from the day we started this process, was that it was now or never for me.  My decision must be made because I can’t remain in “no man’s land” any longer.  I want to know where I belong.  I want to have a Home.  I need to choose, and I am NOT going to let fear make my decision.  I’d rather a floating lady do that for me…

Posted in Thriving Spirits |

Chapter 4 – The Economy of Brotherly Love

We left the church that had told me to be thankful for my mom’s cancer, and had just started attending a fairly new, non-denominational church. We’d only gone a couple of times when my mom died. Our oldest daughter was four, and our second daughter was only one, and my hormones were still all over the place. My mom had been my best friend. She and I had lived on our own out in California away from the rest of our family for most of my upbringing, and there were huge portions of my life that only she had been present for. Now she was gone, I was a young mom, and I was struggling with all the internal guilt of the ways that I had failed her. My salvation came in the form of this new church we’d started attending with our friends.

The first Sunday after my mom’s funeral, the pastor had already found out somehow and approached me with such love and compassion – and he never once told me to be thankful about my mom’s death. The worship was full of life, the pastor was excellent at breaking down the Word, but always, ALWAYS, bringing it back to Jesus. The community was close-knit and passionate, and there were plenty of places to get involved. Where had this place been all my life?! It was the first time since our church back in college that I actually felt like getting up on Sunday mornings to go to church.

But before we had found this place, we had already started looking further into Catholicism. We had a brief interest in the Orthodox Church…until we attended…and we knew it just wasn’t for us. But this new church, it was phenomenal – it just wasn’t Catholic. Through lots of reading and study, Lukus had become convinced that Catholicism was true, but in all honesty, between my mom’s death, Lukus doing school full-time, and moving to a new house, we just didn’t have the energy to go through a nine-month class to convert. So we started this new church with Lukus already convinced of Catholicism, and me just wanting to get swallowed in the warm, healing presence of this new, spiritual family. We let our pastor know of our inclinations toward Catholicism, and he was completely cool about it. They even let us lead a small group, which was much more open-minded than what we had experienced from others.

It was here that I learned to grow in my prayer life. I went to classes on prophecy that were uncomfortably challenging, but well-balanced and not wonky. I began to see images or visions during worship that only took me deeper in prayer and worship. Our small group was growing, and people began connecting in greater intimacy, sharing their insights, confessing their sins, and asking for prayer for hard things. Our marriage had never been better, our friendships felt rich, and life just felt like spring time. Well…for me it did.

Lukus was fine. But only fine. His passion is for truth, and once he’d studied Catholicism, it was where his heart was. He’d found a treasure that Protestantism just didn’t possess, and he grew more and more disenchanted as time went by. But he knew I was still too fragile to move. Every day was a small step toward healing, but he knew I wasn’t ready to take any big leaps yet.

Oddly enough, it was at an economics conference that started stirring up that old desire in me again. Lukus was getting his master’s in economics and decided to attend a libertarian economics conference held at the Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. I’ll go anywhere to get out of town, so I tagged along with him, attending a couple of lectures, but spending most of my time exploring the small town of Auburn. We got to each lunch with some of Lukus’ personal heroes, like Tom Woods, Lew Rockwell, and Jeff Tucker – all libertarian thinkers and historians who also happen to be Catholic. But the greatest impression made on me was by Dr. Gerard Casey, an Irish Catholic/anarchist/professor/gentleman.

Dr. Casey had lectured on how his faith aligns with anarchism – a fascinating and entertaining lecture – and we asked him to have drinks afterwards. We told him about our newfound interest in Catholicism, our visit to Rome, our conversations with Andrew, and our studies. Like the seminarians, the thing that stood out to me most about Dr. Casey, was his obvious and overflowing love for Jesus. Everything he said was centered around Christ, and his eyes were lit with joy. It had made sense with the seminarians, but I hadn’t met enough “average” Catholics to get a good guage on how they relate to Jesus.

But at this conference, I met Catholic after Catholic after Catholic who loved to talk about the Church, who knew scripture, and who loved Jesus most of all. What stood out to me even more was their love for one another. These total strangers were coming together for an economics conference, making new friends amongst Protestants, atheists, and Buddhists, but as soon as they discovered another Catholic next to them, there was an instant bond. I’d never seen this in Protestantism, it may exist among those who attend the same church, or a few friends you make along the way, but nothing like this. This was almost miraculous, and I watched silently in awe. These people knew each other on a level that typically takes years to develop, and yet, the scripture that played over and over in my mind that whole week as I observed them was, “They will know you by your love for one another.” THIS was what Jesus’ Church was supposed to look like! Bonded in unity, loving one another through Christ, and savoring that fellowship. Dr. Casey never really said anything about faith that blew me away – it was he himself, simply being a good witness of love for one’s brother and for Christ, and I will never forget him.

Again, those wistful thoughts began to reemerge – in spite of how much I was loving our new church, I wished we were Catholic.

Posted in Thriving Spirits |

Chapter 5 – From Puppy Love to Culture Shock

So one year after Rome, and two short years after we started attending our new church, Lukus had finished up his master’s degree, had completed a political campaign, and we had a lot more free time on our hands – so we decided we finally had enough time to look into the process of becoming Catholic.  Three years is a long time to toy with an idea, but it’s still a pretty big deal to take the plunge.  We talked with our pastors and let them know that we were ready to move along into Catholicism, and while they expressed some mild concern, I guess they figured that we were still going to love Jesus either way, and they graciously let us go.

But I didn’t want to go.  Not really.

I’ve missed my old church.  I miss the worship music, I miss the teaching, I miss the prayer times and the classes on prophecy, and I miss the people.  If we had decided to become Catholic before we’d found that church, it probably wouldn’t have been so hard, but now, it’s become the most painful part of the process.

For three years, I had thought I wanted to be Catholic.  There were a few doctrinal hurdles to get through, but over all, it wasn’t that hard – once you’ve delved enough into the realm of faith to believe in God at all, Catholic reasoning is very thorough.  So once the doctrinal issues were taken care of, I was already in love with this idea of a global family, a truly historical church.  The relational part was what attracted me most, the fact being that my own family life has never been that great, and since my mom died two and a half years ago, my family has all but disintegrated.  So those two areas were covered – doctrine, and, what shall I call it?  The global, historical family of saints.

All that was left was the actual practice of being a Catholic – and oh lord, I understand why so many Protestants looking in would think of it as “dead religion” (especially those Protestants of less “formal” denominations or non-denominations).  EVERYTHING has a special name; from the podium or pulpit being called the “ambo”, and certain articles of clothing having special names, specific colors being worn at certain times of year, feast days, special prayers…it’s like wedding crashing a ceremony in Kazakhstan where you don’t speak the language and everyone’s eating food that looks like it contains eyeballs, and you wonder how in the world you ended up in such a strange place, and oh crap, you just ate pot roast on a Friday during Lent!  Catholicism is complicated (which is partly why a nine-month class called the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, or RCIA, is required for anyone wishing to become Catholic).  Catholicism is weird and hard to get used to – at least for me it is.

In your typical Protestant church, you find your seat, stand when the music starts and you sing along with all those familiar favorites, then you put something in the offering plate, then sit quietly and listen while the pastor speaks, after which you hang-out with your friends in the sanctuary while deciding where you will all go for lunch.  Simple.  Plenty of room for your personality to express your heart’s worship to God because there’s not a whole lot of serious structure.  And if you want to become a church member, it typically just requires a few hours one Saturday morning and you fill out a form stating that you generally agree with the basic beliefs of that church.  Very simple.

Not so in the Catholic church.  You need a program guide for how to respond to the greetings and salutations.  There are certain songs you sing along with, and certain songs you only sing one line of while a cantor sings the rest.  You have to know what year of the cycle you’re on (A, B, or C) so you can follow along with the correct readings provided in the missal (also, you have to know what a missal is).  You have to know when to say, “Thanks be to God,” on the Bible readings, and when to say, “Glory to You, Lord Jesus Christ,” when to simply cross yourself, and when to cross your head, mouth, and heart, when to sit, stand, kneel, genuflect, bow, and the list goes on.  That’s just not me.  I’m sort of a gypsy-type who believes you shouldn’t need a guide for your every move just to worship God.  And while I can appreciate the concept that the external senses are stimulated toward God (via incense, sacred music, specific postures and movements, etc.), I’m a deeply imaginative person, and the external modes seem to distract me from sensing that internal feeling of God with and in me.  So yeah, I’ve struggled.

But it’s not even so much of all the stuff that’s done, so much as the stuff that I feel like is missing.  For instance, in the Catholic Church, sermons seem to be far less of a focal point.  The homilies (what I used to call “sermons”) are short and sweet, and seldom as deep as what I experienced in the Protestant church.  Man, how I miss the dissecting of the Word into rich and meaningful insights that cause you to see the Bible, and God and life in a whole new way!  I’ve had a difficult time figuring out what the role of a priest is if he’s not going to dig deeply into God’s Word and doctrine on a weekly basis.  Whenever I ask Lukus about this, he looks at me like I’ve just defiled a statue of Mary, because wondering what a priest is for if he’s not going to preach is obviously very misguided and almost profane.  Lukus has tried to explain the roles of a priest, but I guess the preaching aspect stands as a weightier role for me.

There’s no invitation for prayer at the end of Mass for anyone who has needs (something that’s really important to me).  And I miss modern worship music that has some passion and familiarity so that I can just sing along rather than having to read every word and every note (which go ALL over the place in extremely complex melodies), and I’m so focused on keeping up that I can’t raise my hands or take in the moment (not that I ever feel much like doing that at Mass anyway).  Yeah, I know, I’m starting to sound like a jerk.  A spoiled jerk.  But in all sincerity, I just haven’t been feeling it.  In fact, I’ve been miserable.  I like Catholic doctrine, I like the Catholic claims to historicity, but I don’t like Mass, and I don’t like the way Catholics practice the faith.

And I’ve made that abundantly clear – to my RCIA sponsor, to the RCIA leader, to Lukus, to our dear friends who are joining the Church with us, to my former pastor (who I thought would try harder to talk me back into being Protestant, but is actually too gracious for that)…they ALL know how much poor Ellany doesn’t like becoming a Catholic.  I, quite frankly, don’t know how they put up with me.  But then they go and tell me things like, “Don’t think about it so much,” which only irritates me more, because I’m a thinker, and I like to think about things, and thinking too much isn’t even really my problem.  My problem has really been about finding out where I fit in in the Catholic Church, and how to get what I miss in Protestantism as a Catholic?  Am I really not supposed to think about that?  When you’re used to attending intercessory prayer meetings, and leading Bible studies, and being available to pray for others after church, are you really just supposed to forget about all of that?

I get that Catholics are not opposed to any of those ideas, but it’s been incredibly difficult to find Catholics who speak that language and even know what I’m talking about.  To have to explain the particulars of an intercessory prayer group to a priest is a bit disheartening.  To explain that one of the reasons you miss your old worship services is because they were so powerful that you had visions on a semi-regular basis is not generally something you lead with unless you’re prepared to be written off as a whack-job.

So yeah, I miss my old church – a lot.  I know that God is moving there, people’s lives are being changed, and I enjoyed witnessing that.  Catholicism has been complete culture shock.  But I can’t escape what God is leading me into either.  I can’t deny the miraculous acts He’s done to get me to this place.  The fact that Lukus and I are both in this together is nothing short of miraculous…the fact that our dearest friends in the world are joining the Church with us…the answered prayers to finding those seminarians again…it’s hard to deny…

…But apparently, I’m going to try my best to deny it anyway…

Posted in Thriving Spirits |