Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Odd One Out: A Gay Agnostic in a Catholic Family


When I was three years old, I told my parents I wanted a puppy. They asked if I would rather have a baby brother or sister, and I said I wanted a puppy and a brother. When they forced me to choose, I said I would settle for a baby brother.

And so my parents, with the help of God, gave me the greatest birthday gift I have ever received: my baby sister.

On April 23, 1996, just five days before my fourth birthday, my family met Maci Janelle Long, the freshest member of our little corner of the world. I remember my mom telling me a few years ago that she was actually afraid to have a second child, because she didn't think she could ever love anyone as much as she loved me. She followed that with "But the first time I saw Maci's face, I felt guilty -- because I managed to love someone as much as I love you." My sister has been loved and treasured since the first moments of her existence, and I, naturally, was her biggest fan.

I'm the happy one.
My sister and I grew up in a home with a mom and a dad who both worked to put a roof over our heads, to put food on our plates, and to give us the best Catholic education money can buy in Southeast Missouri. My sister was a typical all-American tomboy, decked out constantly in ADIDAS shorts, Nike shoes, and a baseball cap (#CardinalNation #STLProud). She played soccer and basketball and was always one of the best players. She loved to skateboard, play with Bratz dolls, and watch Cartoon Network. We spent countless hours of our childhood playing at the neighbor's house or in our own unfinished basement, where our mother set up an adorable, huge playroom for us. For all intents and purposes, aside from a few hindrances here and there, from the outside looking in, we had a normal American childhood.

Looking back, my mom says she doesn't remember ever suspecting my sister was a lesbian. My sister, on the other hand, has known something was different about her since she was close to puberty. While her friends were developing crushes on boys and male celebrities, Maci found herself crushing on female classmates. She kept it to herself, although she didn't think much of it. In fact, she wouldn't have a word for what she was experiencing until she was in high school. She tells me she always knew "being gay" was a thing, but didn't realize that the term referred to "people like her" until relationships with boys proved fruitless and more like friendships. At this point, she came out to her friends as bisexual, but further life experiences slowly revealed to her that she was actually homosexual.

Although she has lived, more or less, an open gay lifestyle since high school, it wasn't until recent years that our mom's big Catholic family got clued in, almost by accident, to that aspect of Maci's life. While she isn't alone in the LGBT corner of our family, she was the first to be "out and proud," as the cool kids say. Since that time, our family has been on a whirlwind adventure of being....completely normal.



(The following is a conversation between myself and my sister about her experience being a lesbian in a Catholic family, her views on religion, and her answers to some of your questions submitted to my blog's Facebook page.)

Tori: The point of this piece, I hope, will be to provide an effective, if anecdotal, review of how families can maintain their Catholic identity while loving and embracing their LGBT family members. We know as Catholics that respecting and caring for LGBT persons is not in conflict with our faith, and is actually demanded of us by the Church. To that end, I hope you will be honest about whatever struggles and hurts you have experienced as an LGBT member of a Catholic family, in addition to helping me highlight the ways we can best love and serve members of the gay community who are also members of our Christian families. With that said, how did you view yourself as a member of our family growing up?
Maci: The little baby sister! I never thought we were different from any other family.

Tori: I think you should say "I feel like I was the favorite while you were crazy in high school."

Maci: I was the favorite always.

Tori: I think so, too. You've always been a favorite not only in our immediate family, but also among the Beussinks [our mom's family]. Were you afraid of losing the affection of our family when you started identifying as gay?

Maci: Yes. I thought I would be disowned. Not by Mom and Dad, but by our extended family. Well, when I first came out I never planned on telling Dad. He was never going to know. I was afraid of hurting Mom. I knew she would be hurt, but I didn't think she would disown me. As for the extended family, I knew they would eventually know. I fantasized about bringing girls to family get togethers just like any other cousin would do with their significant others. I always wanted that to be normal.

Tori: Do you feel like that is something that will happen in the foreseeable future?

Maci: Hopefully. I already brought [redacted] to Mom's birthday party, and it went a lot better than I expected. Everybody hugged her and welcomed her. Nobody stared at me like I was some freak. It was really nice.

Tori: As we've mentioned a few times in this post, Mom's family is Catholic. I think it's fair to say we're a mix of devout Catholics, devoted (but not necessarily devout) Catholics, and former Catholics with Catholic sympathies. Do you feel like those of us who are more devout view you or treat you any differently than the others?

Maci: I always thought the older and more devout people would be more judgmental or not as accepting, but it turns out they're just as accepting as everybody else. At Christmas, Uncle [redacted] had my name in the Secret Santa drawing, and I know he's a devout Catholic, so it meant a lot to me when his gift was about acceptance and being myself. It was a bracelet that said "It takes courage to grow up to be who you are," something like that.

Tori: That was sweet. Since you went to youth group as a teen and were Catholic yourself up until a few years ago, you know the Catholic Church's teaching that LGBT people should be accepted with respect and compassion, even though we don't believe in or affirm gay marriage. A concern for a lot of Catholics today is that their acceptance and love of their family members ought to be tempered with catechesis and conversations about their disapproval and rejection of gay marriage. Have you ever felt like our family's kindness and welcoming attitude toward you has communicated that they are, in some way, not "really Catholic"?

Maci: No. Some of them aren't against gay marriage, and some of them are. Everyone has their own beliefs but I'm allowed to have my own, too, I guess. I've never really thought about what their attitudes toward me have to do with their personal beliefs, and honestly I don't care what your views on gay marriage are.

Tori: Are you looking to be affirmed [in gay marriage] from your family?

Maci: I'd appreciate it if people came to my wedding, someday. I don't think it's going to be a huge deal when I get married if people choose not to come, though. For a lot of our family it will just be "Oh, another person is getting married." I don't feel like there will be any conflicting thoughts in their head like, "Oh, should I show up?" I hope they'll show up because they love me and want to support me. That's what I want at least. Besides, my wedding's gonna be cute as hell.

Tori: Can you elaborate on it not being a big deal for people not to show up?

Maci: I don't think anyone in the family will think it's a big deal. Honestly, I'd love to say that it wouldn't offend me, but it would offend me if people didn't show up to my wedding because they didn't "condone" my wedding. I don't feel a need to force anyone to agree with me [on gay marriage], but I go to baptisms and I go to First Communions. Like, I've never written off a family event just because I don't believe in it or agree with it. I go to these things because I love my family, and it's still an exciting thing even if I don't believe in it. Like going to someone's birthday party. It's not my birthday, but it's still exciting for them, because it's their birthday.

Tori: Suppose that everyone in the family attended your wedding someday. Would you take that as a signal that the more devout Catholics who don't believe in gay marriage now believe in gay marriage, or are totally cool with gay sex?

Maci: Like, if they show up do I think that means they believe in gay marriage? No. [laughing]

Tori: Suppose some -- in fact, suppose many -- of the family members didn't go to your wedding because their conscience wouldn't allow them. That's something I've personally wrestled with in my own heart and mind. You said earlier that it would offend you. Would that be something you would be willing to work through, or would it destroy your relationships with those family members?

Maci: Well. [pause] It definitely wouldn't destroy our relationship, because again everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. It would be a little upsetting that they didn't come, but, [pause] I mean, that's what they believe. I can't change their minds.

Tori: Would something like that communicate to you that they don't love you?

Maci: [Pause] No. Not if they told me their reasoning for not coming, rather than just not showing up.

Tori: My understanding is that you hope to have children someday, and you've stressed that you want to have "your own" children, meaning sharing your DNA. Do you think the family would accept those children?

Maci: I would hope so. I feel like they would be a little skeptical of it at first, but after the kids are born they'll accept them like they'll accept any other kid. I don't think it will be like, "Oh, this is the in-vitro baby" or "Oh, this is the gay baby." There are lots of ways to "sinfully conceive children" in the Catholic Church, and I plan on breaking one of those rules [laughs], but I think the family would accept children no matter how they were brought into the world.

Tori: I posted on my blog's Facebook page several weeks ago asking what my followers would ask a former Catholic lesbian in a Catholic family. Are you comfortable answering a few of those questions?

Maci: Yeah, what I thought some of them were funny.

Question from Facebook: "I know a lot of people who leave the Church because of something that was said to them by someone in the church. I have had difficulties with pastors and people in different parishes. I just sought out another parish. I would like to know if she would be willing to go "Church shopping" to possibly find a better spiritual home or if she's given up entirely on the Catholic church."

Maci: Well, it wasn't like it was a big ordeal when I left [the Catholic Church] -- I didn't leave because anyone said something mean to me. I just found over time that I'm not a religious person. I did go to a local nondenominational church for services geared toward college-aged people for a few months with a few friends, because my friends go there, so I went to support them. But, I stopped going because I didn't agree with some of the things the pastor was preaching about. He was pretty much saying that every other church was wrong -- like "We're right," meaning that every other Church wasn't teaching the right thing. It was a really loving environment and I loved all the people there. I just felt like I didn't belong there.

Tori: I think that view is pretty common for Christian churches [laughs]. I believe the Catholic Church is right and every other Church is wrong about certain things.

Maci: But you're still accepting of other people's beliefs. As for whether I would go church shopping, no, I have no interest in that. That does not sound fun. It wasn't the Catholic Church that made me reluctant toward religion, I just don't know what I believe, I just know it isn't all that stuff.

Question from Facebook: "What does she miss about the Church, if anything? Does she have a spiritual home? Does she know she is loved (by God, by family/friends/self)? Mostly I hope she knows she is loved. What does she think of when she hears the phrase "made in His Image?" And please tell her thank you for opening up. People are afraid of what they don't know, and her willingness may be what's needed for someone else to open their heart."

Maci: How. CUTE! I like that one. I definitely miss youth group. That was fun. I liked youth group, and Steubenville for sure. I don't miss going to Mass at all. I don't really feel a need for a spiritual home. I can be spiritual without being religious. I know that I'm loved by my family and my friends. I'm not so sure about by God or by myself [laughs]. I'm very iffy about whether I believe in God or not. I've pretty much come to the realization that if there is a God, my tiny human brain is not going to be able to comprehend something that huge and detailed and intricate. If there is a God, that's cool, but if there isn't, that's cool. I don't know if God would love me or not, because of my tiny human brain. I don't know the dude. When I hear "made in His image" I think of everyone looking exactly like Jesus [giggling]. I always thought that was really conflicting, because God as a being doesn't have a body, I guess? It just doesn't make sense to me. And, you're welcome. I'm an open book. Follow me on Instagram.

Question from Facebook: "I have met people that are attracted to their same sex, but they are abstinent due to believing that unwed sex between two people is a sin (regardless of who they are attracted to) what is her opinion regarding this?"

Maci: I don't care. You do you, pal. It's a beautiful thing to abstain. I have a friend who is waiting until marriage, and he and his girlfriend have the most beautiful relationship I've ever seen. I think gay people living in abstinence is actually pretty common, contrary to popular belief. I think it's possible to be gay and Christian and abstain; it's not a foreign concept to me. I don't see being in a celibate gay relationship as different than a straight couple abstaining. Just because people are gay doesn't mean they have to have sex. Not for me, though.

Question from Facebook: "Was she ever a 'practicing, Eucharist-receiving Catholic?' ... Does she hope the Catholic Church will one day change its teachings?"

Maci: Yes, I was a practicing, Eucharist-receiving Catholic. I was all about that Catholic life, yo. I'm not anymore because I'm gay and it was a very conflicting thing for me. I had a lot of different beliefs than the Church and it didn't feel right to say I was Catholic and not believe in what they teach. I don't hope the Church will change its teachings. I don't really care about that, because I'm not Catholic. If people want to be Catholic they will, and if they don't they won't.

Question from Facebook: "What's her favorite color? Ok but really.. ask if she feels the Church specifically excludes her because of her sexual orientation. Not just doctrine or "rules," but Catholic people. Has she encountered Catholic people who thought of her differently and treated her differently when she ..I guess, left the Catholic Church?"

Maci: Royal blue, thanks for asking. I do feel the Church specifically excludes me, but I don't want to be included, so it doesn't really matter to me. About Catholic people... In [our Catholic] high school, I felt really accepted, even though a lot of people didn't agree with the lifestyle. I don't think all Catholic people necessarily exclude me because we disagree. But I have encountered people who treat me differently now that I'm not Catholic and date women. There are people I just don't talk to anymore, not out of malice, but just because our lives are so different now. There isn't much common ground left. I'm okay with that.

Question from Facebook: "What is her favorite Christmas movie, and why is it Die Hard?"

Maci: I hate Christmas. [pause] I don't get it, why is my favorite Christmas movie Die Hard? I don't understand what that means. I am not trendy.

Question from Facebook: "What is the attraction of defining oneself by one's sexual partner as opposed to defining oneself in Christ?"

Maci: Dumb this one down for me.

Tori: There's a common Christian sentiment today that identifying as "gay" misses the mark of how we should identify ourselves. Some Christians take it so far as to say "there is no such thing as 'being gay', there is only being a child of God." The idea that gay people make it the whole sum of their identity. I think the question is meant to ask why you identify as gay instead of as a member of Christ.

Maci: I identify as gay because I'm gay. It's not the whole sum of my identity. Who I am is Maci. I'm really funny, and I like hugs, and I like going to the park, and I like dancing. There's more to me than being gay, but it is an adjective that describes me, so I use it. I don't define myself in Christ because I'm not religious, so that particular way of describing myself doesn't apply to me.

Tori: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule [hearty, deep laughter, LOL] to meet with me and help me write this. If there is one thing you could say to Catholics about loving their gay family members, what would it be?

Maci: Cash me ousside howbow dah

Tori: Okay. Anything else?

Maci: You don't have to compromise your beliefs to love someone. Families accept people all the time who don't agree with everything, so why should this be any different?


Monday, February 13, 2017

In Which I Address Everyone's Favorite Offensive Question To Ask About My Sex Life

As you probably already know, I got engaged to the wonderful Tyler Oswald on Christmas Eve, just a few weeks ago. Tyler is great, and we've been together for 8 1/2 years. We started dating when I was 16 and he was 18. We have been through almost everything there is to go through. He stayed with me through the worst times of my life so far, and I've likewise stayed with him through the worst of his. We are completely, madly in love and absolutely everybody knows it. That is, until they find out we don't sleep together. Then they don't know anything about either of us anymore.

For years since coming back into the Church, I have hesitantly answered many a question about my living situation -- no, I don't live with Tyler. Yes, we know we're in our mid-twenties and yes, we know how long we have been together. I have hesitantly answered many a question about my fertility -- no, we don't plan on using contraception and yes, we are aware that sex makes babies (were you aware that is, kind of, the point?). I have answered questions about what we "do" -- once people learn we don't have sex, they typically want to know what we do instead -- and no, we don't do anything "instead of" sex with our genitals together. If the point of what you're thinking of is to obtain sexual relief and/or achieve orgasm, no, we don't do that, and God-willing won't until we're married next April.

These are questions I hesitate to answer, not because they make me uncomfortable at all, but because of the response I usually get. People are weird about Catholics, and it's probably because Catholics are weird. Nonetheless, questions about sex and intimacy don't offend me. Not usually.

There is one. When people find out we don't sleep together, they become concerned, and make faces like these:

Look at these freaks. I bet they never get laid.


"What if you aren't sexually compatible?"

People who care about us seem occasionally inclined to worry about whether we will enjoy sexual intimacy together in marriage. Their concern is twofold: (1) our disappointment will devastate our relationship and (2) we'll be "stuck" with each other per our marriage vows.

Instead of hesitating to answer this question, I try to simply not answer it at all, except with a determined "I love Tyler." And I do love Tyler, so much, and that is the precise root of the offense I take to this question. The implication that I would allow awkward, painful, or boring sex to unwind everything Tyler and I have built together for the last almost-decade is, frankly, repulsive. What I hear when this question is posed to me is "Is Tyler really worth it?" Of course the answer is yes. We haven't had sex for just under a decade. I think we can survive a few hurdles of figuring things out, if there is anything to figure out.

I've had sex before, and I will say that what I have with Tyler is something I would choose over and over and over again before I would have all the sex in the world with anyone else. He is the most beautiful person I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and I can't wait to spend a lifetime getting to know him more and more. Sex is great, and it's something I greatly look forward to, but we've got a lot of other stuff going on between us, too.

For example, I trust him more than anyone else. He makes me feel safe, and he can make me laugh when I'm angry. I have never loved anyone else the way I love him, and I am amazed that a heart so darkened and weak as mine can hold so much affection. We cook together, and have yet to be disappointed with a result. We binge watch Netflix together, and waste hours picking apart shows and sharing observations no one else would care about. We talk about politics, philosophy, religion, social trends, music, and bras. We set goals together and sometimes we even achieve them.

I already "know what I'm getting myself into." I'm getting myself into a lifetime of unity and shared mission with the most important person in my life. I'm getting myself into decades of growing and learning with the man I hope will be the father of my children. I'm getting myself into the most precious title I will ever hold: Tyler's wife.

He's a human being with an endless mystery of "self" to explore. There is no need to "test drive" something we'll have the rest of our lives to practice and perfect anyway. There is no need to test drive a person. How repugnant, really.

When, God-willing, Tyler and I stand before God and everybody and profess our commitment and love to one another, I'll feel like the most blessed person in the whole room. I'm the only person who will ever be Tyler's wife. In a room full of people who held him as a baby, watched him grow, kept his school pictures on their refrigerators and in their wallets, saw him graduate high school, and still even remember getting the call that he was going to be born, I'm the one who will be standing before him hearing him tell me and God that he vows to be mine for the rest of our lives, that he vows to be open to the gift of children with me, and that he vows to love me all the days of his life.

I assure you, sincerely, that no amount of awkward or boring, which I doubt will even be a problem, will ever overshadow that moment for me.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The (Passive) Pursuit of Happiness

I'm not happy.

I don't expect my religion to make me happy, either. That isn't the purpose of religion.

C.S. Lewis wrote once that he didn't become a Christian to become happy -- he always knew a bottle of Port would do that much for him. I can appreciate the sentiment. I know what will make me happy. Sex makes me happy. Being drunk makes me happy. Getting high off pills makes me happy. There are some things that make me happy. God isn't one of them.

But still, sex and drugs and drunkenness are things I've sworn off in order to form a right relationship with God. (Well, except that I still get pretty drunk on occasion. Whoops.) Because I love God, and that's what he expects from me. Not because he needs me to be a certain way. He doesn't need anything. He only wants what's best for me. And right now, what's best for me does not include my happiness.

It's hard. Most of my friends are doing things "the wrong way." I'm not saying that in judgment of them. It's more of a mental contrast I have. I try so hard to do things "the right way," the chaste way, the sober way. Plenty of my friends live with their significant others. Plenty of my friends have sex outside of marriage. Plenty of my friends regularly drink too much and party too hard and get too high and don't have a care in the world to show for it, it seems. I can't help but notice. And that's hard.

In every chastity talk I've ever heard, in every Come To Jesus testimony I've ever listened to, doing things the right way is supposed to make me happy. But it doesn't. And I'm not really afraid to say that; not anymore, anyway. I used to be. I used to be so afraid of contaminating my own witness to the Truth by telling the truth. That's dangerous. Jesus doesn't want us to lie for him. The truth is, I have given up a lot of things that made me happy for the Truth, and in turn, have sacrificed a lot of my own happiness. I have to learn how to be okay with that.

People tell me all the tired cliches: don't compare your life to others', don't expect so much out of life, don't do this, don't do that. Okay.

So I don't. Instead of looking at other people's lives, I try to take some time to look at mine, which looks nothing like I wanted it to look when I got to be the age I am now. And I'm not happy.

So I choose to expect nothing out of life. Which, by the way, is depressing. And I'm not happy. I offer a Rosary every day. I go to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. I'm consecrated to Mary. I have a devotion to the Divine Mercy. I go to confession nearly every other week, if not every week. I am careful not to use God's name in vain. I don't have sex with my boyfriend. I don't live with him. I don't do drugs. I don't drink to excess except on the rare occasion that I forget to pace myself at a holiday party or other type of gathering. I try to be a good Catholic. I try hard.

And I'm not happy.

I am quite certain I am where God wants me to be in life right now. I think I'm observing his will. And I'm not happy. The tug-of-war that creates in my prayer life is between me and God, but most things are. I love him. I want to be his and be with him forever. I trust him, even when I don't feel like I do.

Maybe someday I'll be happy. I don't know. Maybe someday, I will feel the glorious delight of contentment and be okay.

For now, I'm not happy. God be praised in all things.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Burning

When I was a teenager I would walk up and down the streets of the neighborhood a few down from mine and smoke cigarettes. These walks were typically accompanied by conversations on the phone, or listening to music, or just watching the clouds pass slowly in the sky. I would usually leave the house within an hour or two of getting home from school and stay out until the sun started to set itself low across the trees. I soaked up the silence and the smell of a sort-of rural-suburbia, letting the sharp incense of a day too long flow slowly down my throat, burning. As I walked, the sky would change from a bright blue scattered with white fluff to a grim orange and purple, and sweat would roll down my neck as gently as I strolled along the pavement in my holey Chuck Taylors with loose, checkered laces. Click-click, inhale, hold, sigh. Repeat.

These walks were leisurely, if only for the fact that they were away. I didn't always get along with my parents, but even when I thought I hated them, I felt within me a deep eagerness to never disappoint them. And still, I disappointed them often, I think. I didn't care for school and I slept til 4PM in the summer and stayed up until 5 (AM, that is). I wore jeans with tears that revealed my sometimes-shaved legs to accompany the eyeliner that revealed nothing of my eyelids. I cussed. I didn't like church. I hung out with people who did drugs. My room was always a mess.

For everything my parents knew and disliked, I couldn't stand for them to know that I smoked cigarettes. There was a stigma against cigarettes in my home -- my grandfather had died of smoking-induced sickness and my father had to quit when his life was nearly threatened by his own body, too. It was a silent pact they knew nothing about -- I would smoke to relieve my stress, and they wouldn't know, to spare them anymore stress.

And so, there I found myself, every afternoon. Up and down the streets of a little lake community where everybody knew everybody. I was hidden, but hidden in plain sight. I somehow didn't mind this, though. I would pass by and wave an older couple with a dogwood tree in their front yard nearly every day. One little boy rode his bike back and forth along one of the streets I walked most frequently. Vehicles would come in and go out according to the same rhythm every day. No one ever said anything. Even if they had, I wouldn't have cared. They weren't my parents.

I lay on my bed tonight staring up at an image of the Sacred Heart that hangs above my pillow, remembering those scattered ashes in the wind that carried my cares behind me and away, until finally nothing remained of my antidote but the spongey filter at the end. I would toss them on the ground and watch them burn, with my hands in my pockets. After a few moments, if they didn't die out on their own, I'd twist my foot over them, checking again to make sure the delicious orange glow had stifled into a black, ashy scuff. Sooner than later, cigarettes burn out, and then the next one, and then the next four, and then the whole pack. And you have to go home and hope no one passes by too closely as you make your way to the bathroom to spray on way too much perfume, your palms nervous with sweat and your forehead burning.

The image of the Sacred Heart which hangs above my bed now hung in my room at my parents' house during those times that I would leave and come back hours later faking innocence. It belonged to my grandpa, and for years before it was my own it overlooked my cousins and me as we made a mess of the playroom at Grandma's. His face is serious, but soft; his eyes are piercing, but not threatening. He holds up two fingers on one hand while the other points to his heart, which is burning.

He watches me now as he watched me then -- and I'm afraid my imagination hasn't gone too far away. I still play pretend before his very eyes -- I still fake innocence and act dumb as I pass him by, day and night. I lay my head to rest under his watchful care, all the while pressing away the thought of how much he sees and how much he knows.

I can't cover the scent of my sins and I can't stomp out the blazing ashes I heap on my own head when I inhale the empty yet deadly promises of the world. There is no walking away from the Almighty -- but, praise God, he also never walks away from me.

So maybe I'll keep up this pattern, or maybe I won't. I pray for the grace to be alert and vigilant, and to stand back and let God fight off the temptations I struggle with. But I can't guarantee that the next chance I get, I won't find myself mindlessly wandering away, to burn up some of my soul in exchange for a few moments of feeling alright. I can try. But I can't know.

I can only hope that when I return home, and try to make my way to the shelter of my Savior, that the Light will still be burning.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Tattered

When I was in high school, every student was required to meet regularly with a guidance counselor to make sure they were staying on track and making the best decisions for their academic career. Your guidance counselor your freshman year would be the same guidance counselor all four years of high school, so that the one who helped you adjust to high school life would also help you adjust to leaving it behind.

Unfortunately for my guidance counselor, I had a lot of issues that stretched well beyond my schoolwork. Fortunately for me, she had a degree in helping crazy people like myself live life.

I don't remember exactly when, or how, but at some point, it stopped being about how messed up I was (a term, of course, she never used), and started being about Jesus. I still remember how confused I felt when she held up a holy card depicting Jesus knocking on a door, and told me that he wanted me to let him into my life. I stared blankly and wondered why this was being discussed. I thought I had far more pressing issues than a lack of religiosity.

At some point, my guidance counselor gave me her Bible from a retreat she had gone to, and told me to keep it. I did. It came to me in almost perfect condition -- with the singular exception of "MEG - Tec 128" written in blue sharpie on the bottom and right sides. It didn't stay that way for long.

It gave me something to do in class besides daydream. Its pages are lined with doodles; the front cover and title page are filled with notes of homework assignments I didn't want to forget scrambled in alongside the name of a lover written over and over (I apologize for being a teenager at one point). The O's of the printed lettering of the title page are filled in with black pen, and a red squiggle makes its way across the bottom right corner.

At some point, I stopped doodling and started reading.

The Gospel of John is marked sporadically with red and black ink; entire Psalms are highlighted. There are notes in the margins and tabs marking the start of different books. Some corners are folded and some pages are ripped. It has been used and loved in a way that other religious books I own have never been. Religion fascinated me; the Bible drew me in.

This Bible which once accompanied me to all my classes and to sleepovers and even to events and situations that were in stark contrast to its commandments now sits on my bookshelf, one Bible among several. The binding is held together by purple duct tape. Some of the ratty edges of the cover have been replaced with clear tape. Some of the pages are wearied by a spilled Dr. Pepper. It isn't pretty, and wouldn't be taken by any thrift store anywhere.

I took it down tonight to see if I could go back. Back to a time when my soul was lost, but searching -- before it was found, and lazy. When my mind was dark, but hungry -- before it was busy, and tired. When my heart was blind, but open, reaching into the night and searching with eager arms for the course hairs of a face matted with blood spilled for me; for the strong arms outstretched and the feet as dusty as the road and the face -- the real face -- of the God of the ages. When I didn't see Jesus, but I knew him, and I wanted to feel him near me. Unlike now, when I know where to find him, and I turn my face away for "more important" things.

This Bible tells a story -- a love story. Of course, every Bible tells "the" story -- of God and man and salvation. But only this Bible tells this story: the story of a battered and broken me finding a battered and broken God in the wreckage of my life. Of the word of God which would tolerate a few minutes of misuse in exchange for a few minutes of teaching. Of the Spirit of God which patiently rested between the pages while I drank or smoked or hooked up or whatever. Of an interest which became a passion.

I have forgotten that this is where much of today began. I have lost the habit of studying the Scriptures for the purpose of knowing God, rather than the purpose of writing a paper. Where the door to my heart was once left propped open, it is not only shut, but the curtains are closed.

And someone is knocking.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Precious Daughter

God is good at surprising me. I always expect one thing from him, or maybe another, or maybe even this thing, but in the end, whatever he does comes so far out of left field I know he's the one behind it -- because it wasn't even the last thing I expected; it wasn't even on the list.

It was this subtle comfort I took with me as I began a 33 day preparation period at the end of which I will consecrate myself to Jesus through Mary. I have learned through the years that when faith and fear collide, only God will remain standing at the end, and because my Father stands, I remain on his shoulders. It is not as though I have nothing to fear; it is more that I have a lot to fear, but I am learning to trust even in the dark.

And so, throwing caution to the wind and letting that be what pressed the sails of my tiny ship, I set out on this journey. The first few days were expectedly trying: I learned that consecration to Mary meant belonging to Mary, and that by consecrating myself I would be surrendering completely my right to determine who receives the graces from my prayers and sacrifices. I thought of my family members, my friends, the unborn, the poor, the lost, and everyone else I take to prayer with such a weighted heart. I would be giving them up, it seemed, to follow this call I have heard for so long to let Mary take hold of my life. I didn't know it would be this extreme; I didn't know it would cost this much.

But I kept going. One of the first things I learned at the dawn of my reversion to Catholicism was Mother Teresa's way of doing it anyway. I take no credit for this grace in my life. It was wholly inspired by her and remains entirely the work of Jesus. When I don't want to go to confession, I don't want to amend my life, I don't want to go to Mass, I try my best to do it anyway. (If only I could carry this over to daily prayer and the Rosary -- Jesus help me).

And so, I pressed on, reminding myself that commitment wouldn't come until day 34, and I should at least try to do it anyway. I am so glad I did. After learning that consecration to Mary meant such a life of surrender and what felt like loss, I learned that what I receive in turn is well worth it: in exchange for my graces, I receive Mary's; in exchange for my heart, I receive hers; in exchange for my devotion to her and God's will in her, she devotes herself to me and my concerns.

I don't have to worry about the people I pray for who will not receive graces from my prayers at my will anymore -- instead, they will receive help from the Mother of God, whose child I am and who will never brush my heart aside. Even so, I can still pray for them, and simply trust Mary to do as she pleases with the graces that come. This sounded much scarier before I knew how much she loves me.

One of the biggest hurdles in my spiritual life is the constant nagging feeling that I can't be myself. I read the lives of the Saints and, while inspired by them, can't find it in me to do the same things they did. I don't feel the sort of person to abandon all and start a religious order, or to strip naked before my family and take on a life of utter poverty, or lead an army, or spend hours in the confessional. The Saints are extraordinary. The Saints aren't me.

But Mary...I can try to be like Mary. What is there at the heart of her life but to say yes to God and take him into my life? Obviously, there is so much more, but I can start there. I can strive to be more like Mary, who in turn will show me how to be more like Jesus. And it turns out, this doesn't mean I have to veil and cover my arms and resign to a shack in Nazareth doing laundry and cooking all day. It means I will become more like me.

When I first started the process of preparing to consecrate myself to Jesus through Mary, one of my fears was that I would have to change so much about who I am. To my delight and surprise, instead, as I near the end of this 33 day journey, I find that I have never been more comfortable, never felt more affirmed, listening to the music I like and taking naps and watching Netflix even when my scruples tell me I'm a heathen for it.

I also know exactly what I want, and where I want, my next tattoo to be. Would you believe it is Marian?

I realized this shift yesterday. The guilt I feel about being myself is beginning to pale, and I have been learning, without even knowing it, how much God loves me. As soon as I realized it, I began to reflect on it. All this time I thought God wanted me to focus on what is wrong in my life, what needs to change, and how soon. Could it be that he wants me, at this time, to know what is right about me?

And at this thought, I felt a quiet but gripping reassurance from the depths of my heart: God wants me to know who I am, and to embrace it, because if I don't start there, nothing else he asks of me will make sense.

And so, here I am, in all my pink-haired, tattooed, loud, obnoxious glory -- a beloved daughter of God, not in spite of who I am, but because of it. And also, a daughter of Mary, who has already shown and given me so much, before my consecration day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Muted.

I've struggled with whether or not I should say anything about this. I am deeply uncomfortable criticizing priests or bishops without explicitly just reason (blatant heresy, or abuse of persons, for example), and even then, I hesitate. I have such a deep respect for the clergy, and the office they hold and the Person they make present in our midst. And that, ultimately, is why I feel this must be said. The more I think about the reasons I respect the clergy, the more it hurts.

I realize that priests are busy. I also realize that they are human -- and that humans forget. We are clumsy and wayward and all of us are just trying to feel our way through this dark world.

My world, and the world for so many others, was very dark on Sunday with the loss of nearly fifty lives, and the impact on countless more whose lives will never be the same, at the now well-known shooting in an Orlando gay bar. Tragedy drags my heart down often, regardless of who the victim or victims may be, but this one struck home. These were my brothers and sisters in the gay community -- targeted specifically because they were gay.

Writing this still now puts knots in my stomach. The youngest victim was 18, and had only recently graduated high school. Several of the deceased died with their partners, and one of the deceased was not herself gay -- she was the straight mother of a gay son, and she had beaten cancer twice and had ten other children (her son survived, by the way). Many were college students. Some were full fledged adults. All are loved by God.

Each of these people had a story -- one that was still being written, which was far from seeming over. Each was created in the image and likeness of God, and each was on Jesus' mind and in his heart as he hung on the cross. They loved and were loved. They had hopes, they had dreams, and they had plans for the next day.

This attack has been ceaselessly named the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. And yet, somehow, I have lost count of the LGBT people I know, in small towns and huge cities, who went to Mass or a non-Catholic church service on Sunday seeking solace from the fear and sadness only to hear no mention of the shooting -- let alone that the victims were targeted for being gay.

I know and understand that several Catholic and other Christian public figures have decried the massacre, and condemned violence. This is wonderful. And yet, it seems that I have heard very little from Christian circles -- be it clergy or laypeople -- specifically mentioning that this was a crime against gay people because they were gay.

Certain public figures -- whom I will not name -- insist on avoiding referring to the victims as gay or belonging to the LGBT community, opting instead to call them "Americans" and to state that they are mourning as Americans who have lost Americans.

This is all well and good. But why is this shooting unique from other shootings? What makes these victims Americans who need no other designation while victims of other mass shootings are referred to as students, black churchgoers, children?

Perhaps it is that people genuinely think they are doing the LGBT community some sort of service by not referring to their being members of the LGBT community. This is possible, especially in a Christian climate that fears the word "gay" and fears even more its implications.

But please -- please -- don't mute our existence. LGBT people -- my people -- were targeted by the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Not because we are American. Not because we are people. The victims in Orlando were targeted and killed because they were gay.

To say so is not politicizing. It is stating a fact. It isn't succumbing to liberal ideologies. It's recognizing the reality before us. Again:

The deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history targeted LGBT people because they were LGBT people.

It is more than okay to say so. God is not offended by the truth. Please, I beg you, say so. And once you've said so, condemn it. Condemn homophobia. Condemn violence against gay people . Condemn violence in the name of God and proclaim for all to hear that God loves gay people.

If you haven't, please do. Please don't be afraid to talk about it. Please don't be afraid to say the victims weren't "just gays" as a friend of mine was told by his grandfather. Please don't be afraid to confront this mess with the love of Jesus Christ and the compassion and mercy which the Gospel requires of us.

And lastly, if you have gay friends or family members, ask how they're doing. They'll more than likely be relieved to know you care.