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.
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.