Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633
So there I was, cruising down I-10 at 5 AM with my home in Houston in my rearview mirror and the great unknown of my missionary summer ahead of me. I did not feel prepared. I had spent entirely too much time during quarantine making myself as comfortable as possible. I had so many earthly comforts to keep me secure; my bed, Netflix, and my family’s food kept me safe and distracted from any real sense of purpose or responsibility. It was almost like I was sleepwalking through life. As I was driving away from all these things, it suddenly struck me just how much of my life was about to change. I was heading towards a place where I would have very limited internet access and private space. All of my distractions would be stripped away from me. The comfort of the established relationships I had with family and friends would be taken away, and I would have to invest in new friendships and form new habits. I felt as though God were taking away all the fig leaves I had been using to hide myself from Him. Rather than attempting to numb my existence with mindless pleasures, I was entering into a new adventure with Him. He was taking me to a place where nothing was certain, nothing was secure, and nothing was safe except for my dependence upon Him.
Emily shares how the Lord helped her root her identity in the God who loves her infinitely, and how it changed her life.
Ian, one of our 2020 Summer Missionaries, shares how prayer changed his life...and invites you to embark on your own journey with the Lord.
I’m named after my great grandmother on my dad’s side. While her birth certificate says “Vita Volpe,” she was always known as Rita. We don’t fully know how/why that one letter changed - and to this day I’m not sure how I feel about the alternative scenario in which my name is Vita instead of Rita...I’d probably be for it though!
While the ancestral history of my name remains a bit of a mystery, in the last few months the meaning of my name has become clearer. I always knew that Rita meant “pearl” - what I don’t know is why that word repulsed me a little. Do you remember those cards you’d see in Christian bookstores? The ones that have a name on it, with the meaning and a scripture? I don’t know why, upon finding the card with my name and seeing the word “pearl,” I felt like it was all a little...cheesy? Even though I think pearls are beautiful, there was something about my name meaning some piece of jewelry that turned me off. Until a few months ago…
In my holy hour one day, I was praying with the story of the hemorrhaging woman. I was struck that her name isn’t recorded in scripture. I started to get a little frustrated by that, when the Lord in His gentleness spoke in my heart that He knows her name. She isn’t some nameless or unknown woman. She has a name, and He knows it.
If you’ve been following us lately, you’re likely aware that we are in the midst of a special week called “Living the ECHO.” Throughout this week, we’ve been striving to live a common “rule” in our particular homes and communities, united with one another around the country and world. If you’ve watched the intro video linked HERE, or if you’ve read the breakdown of the rule, linked HERE, then you’ve noticed that we have Desert Days as part of our rule. I would imagine that for many of us, this is a new concept. Well, fear not! We’re here to walk you through the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of your Desert Day.
What is at the core of the Desert Day? Catherine Doherty, in her spiritual classic Poustinia, says the following:
“Deserts, silence, solitudes are not necessarily places but states of mind and heart. These deserts can be found in the midst of the city, and in the every day of our lives. We need only to look for them and realize our tremendous needs for them. They will be small solitudes, little deserts, tiny pools of silence, but the experience they will bring, if we are disposed to enter them, may be as exultant and as holy as the one God himself entered. For it is God who makes solitude, deserts, and silences holy.”
— Catherine Doherty, Poustinia, 5-6
A Desert Day is a day of retreat…in solitude. It’s an opportunity for you to go back to the original solitude, the original relationship, that defines you: your relationship with God. The desert day is a little “echo” of the original solitude that both Adam and Eve lived when each had their own experience of being “alone with God.” We need to spend substantial time with God to grow into the men and women that He has created us to be, and a desert day is a chance to do precisely that. It's not complicated, it's profoundly simple. Sometimes it’s so simple that we can easily get lost and succumb to the temptation to spend our entire day trying to "figure it out." So, I've done my best to break it down for you below:
A gift painted by Caroline Papa in 2018. This image has provided much healing for my heart.
Hello friends! It is a joy to have the opportunity to share this area of my story with you. Though the Lord has impacted me in numerous ways through the Theology of the Body, I felt called to share about a particular season in my life that required much healing. This is an experience that I have only shared with a few people, and to be honest,it’s a bit scary to share this area of my heart with such a wide crowd. This story has never been my own, all of this is for His glory. Welcome to sacred ground.
My identity as a good daughter has always been something that I’ve struggled to understand. Certain circumstances throughout my childhood, including the death of my father, left immense wounds that I am continuing to heal from. I perceived that love was something to be earned or bought, never freely given. As for my relationship with the Lord, I failed to see him as a good father that delighted in me. My perception of love overflowed into my relationship with God, causing me to fear failure. The youth group at the non-denominational church that my mother and I attended placed a strong emphasis on purity and living righteously. Basically, if you didn’t live the way that the pastor thought you should, you weren’t holy enough. In high school, I wore my purity ring and kept my bible in my backpack as a badge of honor, turning my nose up at anyone who disagreed with me. My identity was rooted in being the “good Christian girl,” and this was mainly influenced by a toxic purity culture within the church we attended.
That identity slowly became an act as I got into a harmful relationship. Though I desired to have a chaste relationship, the man that I was dating refused to respect my wishes. I was no longer the girl that everyone perceived me to be. However, I kept up the act and continued to pretend that I had it all together. I was in a period of desolation, and instead of looking to the person that I was dating as an icon through which I could see God more clearly, I saw him as an idol that I could find security in. A few months into this relationship, I encountered Jesus Christ in the Eucharist for the first time and decided to convert to Catholicism. Though I caught a glimpse of authentic love and knew that I deserved better, I continued to settle for a person that did not respect my dignity. Looking back, I settled out of security and the fear that no one else would care for me. I was grasping, just as Eve did. In the garden, Eve failed to trust that The Lord would give her the desires of her heart, and in eating the fruit she bought into the lie that the Lord was not trustworthy. But our Father is the God of redemption, and he will always seek out his beloved.
After months of struggling to end this relationship, I decided to attend a Theology of the Body weekend retreat hosted by Dumb Ox. Though I was adamant about staying with the guy that I was dating, all of the teachings that I was learning screamed the opposite. The Lord began to gently illuminate that I had great dignity. I sat in front of Jesus, and I began to trust that the Lord would lead me to the best of places. He encountered me as he encountered St. Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the woman caught in adultery. He saw me as a good daughter in need of healing. This was the first time that I was told that I wasn’t meant to be used. By the grace of God, I ran to the sacrament of confession and made the decision to end the relationship. The healing process that occurred was not an easy one. Due to my upbringing in which purity was emphasized in an unhealthy way, I still experienced shame and hiding. I was still tempted to get back into the relationship because it seemed to provide security. I was still struggling to understand how the person of Jesus Christ could love me despite all of my wounds. This is still a great mystery that my heart continues to unravel.
Looking back on this particular experience, it is clear that all of these things stemmed from not knowing my identity. Rather than knowing who I was to The Father, I was trying to earn His love by being good. Throughout my youth, when the issue of chastity was mentioned, no one ever mentioned redemption. No one ever mentioned that God was a good father that would pick up His children when they fell. No one ever mentioned the encounter of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery or the woman at the well. When we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, we can’t help but leave our water jugs and proclaim all that He has done for us. As I have gotten closer to Him, he has gently revealed all of the places where I was failing to trust him. I’ve continued to grasp in numerous ways, and He continues to redirect my eyes towards him.
During our formation week, the Lord invited me to be completely honest with myself about the desires of my heart. He asked me to surrender certain areas of my life, and I actually trusted Him enough to be obedient. This is something that I have always struggled with, but when you know who your Father is, you take the leap without knowing the next steps. He will only lead us to the best of places.
“For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” // Isaiah 51:3.
“I will allure her into the desert, and speak to her heart” - Hosea 2:14
Lead, Kindly Light, Simon Dewey
Hey friends! As we all know, our world is filled with uncertainty, confusion and discomfort, and maybe your heart is looking like that as well. I know for myself I have experienced a lot of that same chaos reflected in my own heart, but I also know that that is okay. We are not perfect people and nothing we could ever say or do can ever diminish the Father’s love for us. I wanted to share with you something that has been very dear to my own heart, and to speak into the chaos of our lives, the truth and peace of the one thing that is always constant in this world where nothing is constant, especially at this moment in time. It took me some time to realize how much I needed the love and peace of the Father, and to allow Him to bring me to that place of safety and rootedness in Him. In sharing my story with you, I hope that you too might be able to experience and re-encounter that same love and peace within your own hearts of a God who relentlessly pursues His children.
I grew up in a large Catholic family with beautiful parents who encouraged us to grow in our faith by their own example and the love they had for us. For most of my life though, I think I kind of took that life I was given for granted. I loved going to church, being a part of youth group, praying with my family, and really just growing in my faith. I thought I had it all figured out and for many, it looked like that too, but inside I knew there was something off and while I acknowledged it, I never did anything about it. Although I knew of the Father’s love for me, I allowed so many things to get in the way of fully experiencing and allowing Him to pursue me.
In particular, I struggled with body image and falling to the enemy of comparison. I began to look at my friends around me and say that I’ll never be like them. I was always that girl who I thought was too big, not pretty enough, was only wanted for what I could do for others and the one who no guy would ever want. As someone who has never dated, while all of my friends did for most of high school and college, I thought there must be something wrong with me. No guy ever even showed an interest in me, so I assumed that I was messed up. As I let those thoughts of being unloved and unseen by a man and even other girls consume my life, I stopped loving myself as well. I would pick out every one of my flaws and every part of me that I thought was bad and so I began to hate myself.
I was able to find a place to reset myself starting the summer of 2018 at ECHO. There I found happiness and peace. It was a space where I was reminded of my identity as a beloved daughter of God, where no one cared about how I looked or what size I was – they did not see any of the flaws that I saw in myself. They simply saw me and loved me. Whenever I would leave that place of security, things would spiral out of control again. Just when I thought everything was good and I was happy, I allowed myself to believe the lies again and again. In my heart I knew the love of the Father and that I did not need the love of a man to make me feel or be worthy, but I continued to let those lies from Satan about being worthless and unlovable remain at the forefront of my mind. It wasn’t until this past spring that I truly began to allow myself to see myself for who God created me to be.
Like many of us, being thrown in quarantine was frightening, uncomfortable, and unwanted. I had so much I could be upset about and wanted to be, yet I felt God calling me to slow down and to trust Him. During an online silent retreat that Ascension Press put on this past Lent, I experienced a radical change in my heart. We were asked to read and meditate on a Scripture passage from Hosea. “I will allure her into the desert and speak to her heart” – Hosea 2:14. This passage spoke so much truth to my heart. I felt in such a new way, the love of the Father and His desire to pursue me. God was asking me to take this time to slow down and rest in Him and allow Him to love me. I had desired so long for someone to pursue me, thinking that if at least one guy showed an interest in me, that then I would feel worthy of love. All the while, I was neglecting and denying the pursuit of Someone far greater than any man on this earth. In various ways, things that had originally been hard for me, became something beautiful and easy. For the first time ever, I was able to journal when I had previously struggled so much to journal. God was nudging my heart and continuously showing me how much He longs for intimacy with me. All of a sudden, I was seeing and experiencing so many obvious proofs of God’s love for me. Through music, various books and so many beautiful people, God has been steadily pursuing me and reaffirming my true identity in Him. One of the themes of the past few months of my life has been intimacy and romance. Such a huge desire for intimacy with the Lord has risen in my heart and I see so many fruits of that coming forth in my spiritual life and in my relationships with other people. By allowing Christ to pursue and to romance me as He has so desired, I have freed myself not only to love others but to love myself as well and to continuously desire to see myself the way He sees me.
As a missionary this summer with Dumb Ox, I have continued to grow in my relationship with the Lord, placing my identity in Him rather than what other people think of me or my own opinions about myself. Being in a community of brothers and sisters who do not see me for my failings but see my beauty and dignity as a daughter of God and constantly reaffirm that in me, has allowed me to experience the fullness of God’s love in a radical way. While I definitely do not have it all together, and there are moments that are harder than others, I have that place to go back to, where I am reminded of God’s tireless pursuit of my heart in His own unique way. Looking back now, I see how great a blessing it was for me that quarantine occurred. Without that time wherein I was invited to be still and let the Lord love me as I rested in His heart, I would have missed this opportunity to experience His love and to have the image of myself redeemed. As I was praying about what to share with everyone, the Lord put on my heart a song I had never heard before and I felt the desire to share it with you all. When I listened to this song, I couldn’t help but recognize yet another way in which God was intimately pursuing me. His love is ever faithful and He never tires of pursuing His beloved sons and daughters.
"God opened up my cage door and said 'Come on out.'"
Today, one of the Dumb Ox Ministries Summer Missionaries, Austin Tipton, shares how God used a simple invitation at ECHO to change his whole understanding of freedom...and how, as a man, that gift continues to bear fruit in his life.
It goes without saying that the 2020 missionary team has had a unique experience, and one that has been quite different from the initial plan. Typically, we would have arrived in May and would have had several ECHO retreats throughout the summer. This year, we arrived in June, and over the course of these last few weeks and months, all three of the summer 2020 ECHO retreats have been called off. It is a very different experience, but one the Lord has continuously filled with His grace. While we are grieving the loss of sharing ECHO with each of you this summer, Jesus has poured forth an immense amount of peace and joy into each of our hearts. It feels counterintuitive; we feel like we should be closer to devastation than to peace, but the Lord has called us to rejoice in the new thing He is doing, and to “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing...do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18). We are choosing to rejoice in His faithfulness, and to discern the new things He is doing.
From the beginning of this summer, the word He has placed on each of our hearts has been surrender. As we surrender our whole selves to Him each morning in our Morning Offering and learn to rejoice as each of the “former things” we had expected is taken away, it is fitting that He is inviting us into an even deeper level of surrender with our testimonies. He has been preparing us for this moment, tilling the soil and planting the seeds.
As each of you who have experienced ECHO know, there is a freedom and a reverence at ECHO for stories to be shared and received. Throughout the retreat, each missionary gives his or her witness to God’s enduring faithfulness in his or her life, and while the prospect of unveiling part of your heart to a room full of people is daunting, there is some measure of peace in knowing that your story will be reverenced by each heart who receives it. Each person at ECHO has in part removed their sandals before the sacred ground of the other (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium) and whatever was shared and reverenced is not widely reproduced outside of that sacred space.
This summer, as we move into the new thing the Lord is inviting us to do, He has also invited us to give our testimonies in a new way. Rather than sharing them in the security of ECHO, they will be available in video or written format for public consumption. Besides being more widely available, they can be received by anyone, and we have no control over whether or how they will be reverenced. We – as missionaries, and as the Dumb Ox community – cannot create the sacred space in which others can receive our hearts. We have no control. And that is precisely what the Lord is inviting us into.
On the first day our community came together, we prayed as a team and the Lord gave us the words spoken about Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “‘Is He safe?’ ‘No. But He is good.’” This idea has guided our summer and spurred us on as we come to each new level of surrender. The spaces of surrender we have been invited into do not always feel safe, but they are good. Now, as we prepare to release our testimonies into the unknown, there is a peace in knowing that the Holy Spirit is preparing the way, and all we really have to do is follow His voice and surrender. We have no control. As a world, the last few months should have inscribed this truth on our hearts: we have no control. But the greater truth the Lord has written deep within us is this: He is in control. It is not a fight; it is a surrender.
As we follow the Lord into this new thing and surrender ourselves to Him, we invite you to prepare your hearts to receive whatever He desires to show you through our testimonies to His faithfulness. These words – like our lives – are not our own. The wounds we bear, like the wounds He bore after His resurrection, are not for our detriment or shame, but for His glory. When we open our hearts and proclaim what He has done, He is glorified, and we are made free.
Know of our prayers and love for you, and of the goodness of our Lord who “works all things together for good for those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).
John Paul II was heavily influenced by St. John of the Cross -- the mystic, the doctor of the Church, and the co-renewer of the Carmelite order (with Teresa of Avila). John of the Cross is most famous for his poetry that expresses the depth of human longing for God, poetry that mimics the Song of Songs, and thus invokes the same passionate marital imagery. This depth of longing deeply resonated in John Paul II, not only in his private prayer, but also in his intellectual life. Early in his academic career, John Paul II paired the first chapters of Genesis with this ardent longing that John of the Cross knew. John Paul II began his life-long intellectual exploration of the ache of the human heart, the ache not only to see God himself, but also the heart’s ache to know and be known in personal human relationships. Much of this thought is developed in his earlier work, Love and Responsibility, and of course continues to be explored in the Theology of the Body. I say all of this only because it seems to me that to really know and understand John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, we ought to also know perhaps his biggest personal and academic influence: John of the Cross’ deep, deep ache for God. This piece considers a beautiful poem alongside John of the Cross’ way of prayer, as put forth in Iain Matthew’s book, The Impact of God (an incredibly helpful book on prayer, one that has helped me more than any other).
Let’s start by reading this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
We are beyond blessed with an amazing community of teens, young adults, priests, consecrated men and women, and families who are striving to live out Christ's invitation to authentic love and who have gifts to share their journeys through writing.