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Worth the Struggle

I Grew Up Catholic.

Like many of you reading this, I was baptized within a few months of my birth.  I was taught the saints, went to mass and confession, and was able to recognize general sin.  God was a reality for me.  Not by force of punishment, harassment, or pressure, but simply because my mom instilled in me the idea that He was.

In ninth grade I went on a mission trip that changed my life.  It was here that God became more than just a form of truth to acknowledge; I experienced His love.  And in that love, I suddenly saw the world in color and knew that there was so much more than just what I’d learned about Him.

Each night of the trip, I saw cool people (because status matters when you’re young and insecure) worshiping God with sincerity to contemporary music that was so much more attractive than the hymns I’d always heard at mass.  And the music was not just more attractive, but deeply powerful.  I felt the words that were being prayed in harmony with the music moving my soul.  There was a gentle warmth that transcended words surrounding and overwhelming my humanity.

Until this point, I’d never witnessed such a thing inside the realm of the Catholic Church.  I wondered where it had come from and where it had been.  I remember being remotely upset that this was my first opportunity to experience it.  I wondered that maybe I just hadn’t been aware. But upon keeping my eyes peeled, I found nothing.  As much as I wanted to know more of Jesus in that way, it was out of my control and would just have to wait.

That December I was diagnosed with depression.

It could have probably been blamed on teenage hormones, the stress that comes with being a perfectionistic high school student, pressure to maintain friends, good grades, and extracurricular activities.  I no longer got along with my parents, had body image issues, disordered eating, delved into cutting, and was regularly taunted by a small group of girls.

It was also about this time that I found my first (real) boyfriend.  While I thought he was prince charming, and we loved each other, he thought he could ‘fix’ me – at least my broken-heartedness, and I found my consolation in what he thought of me.  In short, I fell headlong, without any awareness, into a co-dependency that would completely consume me. 

[Note: Addiction is rough – especially when it begins in your youth.  Instead of fully developing into who you are, you begin to internalize lies that tie knots in your deepest being.  It breeds heavy confusion that takes years of counseling, learning, prayer, sweat, and tears to undo.  Always remember that your self-worth is found in Christ alone.  Run immediately from anyone or anything that tries to tell you otherwise.]

College was more of the same – but the roots (and issues) delved deeper.  While me and ‘prince charming’ didn’t work out, I found my way into other physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive relationships.  

And now, not only was I being abused, but I also became the abuser; I was ultra controlling.  

One after another, I caught each boyfriend looking at porn and each time I dug deeper into the relationship and held on more tightly.  I should have walked away but instead became hypervigilant.  I was caught in a cycle of shame and blaming: was it me?  My fault?  Why wasn’t I ‘good enough?’ Who or what is he looking at?  And how can I stop him?

Every step I took to hold on more tightly to control, the more I lost hold of it.   My lifestyle was spinning me physically and emotionally out of control; I can’t tell you how many times I contemplated suicide.  While I knew it was wrong for guys to treat me the way they did, I remained completely blind to the wrongs I was committing and stayed the destructive path.

So life went on and I only passively fought their behavior (and continued to ignored mine).  I stayed with them because I felt like I needed someone to make me whole; that I was worth even less without a partner.  So I never drew healthy boundaries – with my boyfriends or myself; I only played around with them, pushed back with fanatical control, and then lacked the follow-through necessary for real change. 

What’s worse was that in that place of confusion I somehow preferred the abuse and fighting to facing life alone.  

In my second year of college I began to listen to contemporary Christian music.  It was good enough to substitute for the pop or country music that I was used to, but also provided me a bit of hope in the mess I was living.  These people (the radio hosts and Christian music artists) were real and understood that life was full of struggle.  They didn’t justify it or sweep it under the rug, they acknowledged and addressed it head on – without adding shame.  I liked it and it felt safe.

[Click here to access the Modern Zealot Youtube Playlists] 

When they would discuss life matters from a Christian worldview, I began wondering if they (or anyone else) really lived out every aspect of their Christian faith.  On occasion I would even laugh about how absurd it seemed.  Did people really consider every last thing they did from the context of Jesus and the bible?  Did they literally turn the other cheek and accept consequences they didn’t deserve – under the ‘guise’ of humility?  Did these people never consider revenge when they were abused?  Never say anything negative about anyone?

[P.S. This is not the same as saying ‘no’ in situations where your inherent dignity is not being honored; abuse in any way, shape, or form, is never okay – mine included.] 

I knew of God from my childhood, but the world was significantly different from that that Jesus faced during his time on Earth – especially here in America.  It seemed ridiculous, but it all stayed there in the back of my mind – poking at my conscience all too much more often than I’d liked. 

Some time after those thoughts began to nudge me, I heard about a book that discussed the real possibility of changing others by changing yourself.

This was my lightbulb moment.  

Everyone around me needed change (yes – I really believed this), and though I wasn’t super keen on the premise of changing myself, I was so desperate to fix all those other people that I was willing to hear the author out.  I went home and ordered the book that afternoon.

I had no idea what I was in for when I opened that cover; I couldn’t put it down.  Had I known how much more heavily that book revolved around changing me (my lifestyle, thoughts, and ideals), than about changing those around me, I likely wouldn’t have ordered it.  But Jesus knew what He was up to.

The idea of truly changing from the inside out was scary and definitely not what I intended to consider or even put into action, but it was oddly compelling; I was hesitant and nervous but wanted it more than anything.

…And now my search for God officially consumed me.

I was always hungry for more of the Bible, spiritual books, and stories of the saints.  And I began to fight sin as I became aware of it – because as I got closer and closer to Jesus, His mercy, love, and grace continually abounded.  Every time I got another taste of His love, I wanted more.  

But hear me out and don’t get me wrong…I was very human and in an abyss of darkness.  Fighting sin was often done in a state of white-knuckling; I had to grit my teeth and ask God to ‘make’ me follow through. 

And this included my state of control. This was one of the last things I allowed Jesus to peel my fingers from and it took a long time – a long time for me to look my problem in the eye and acknowledge it. I spent years trying to justify my obsessive lifestyle and co-dependent habits to Jesus: ‘…If he would just stop this, get this right, or do what I asked, then You know I could make the change.’ But Jesus was like, ‘No, you got this.’

The Lord brought me the determination to leave all abusive relationships – forever.  I remember gripping a picture of Jesus and begging Him to help me be strong.  There were many times I was tempted to return to my life of sin (even though that life was torture) because it was all I’d ever known.  Yes, it’s ludicrous, but as an addict, you find that that horrible state in life is where you’ve learned to be comfortable.  Confusing and weird?!?  Yes.  But it’s a reality to those overcoming dependency.  

All that said and done I continued my stay on the narrow road.  As I did, I continued to receive grace and it eventually became easier.   [Notice I said ‘easier,’ not easy.]

And it was about this time that I found myself really struggling with my Catholic faith.

There were a few teachings in the church that I felt deeply bonded to – like the benefits of asking Jesus’ mother for her prayers, and the truth in the divinity of the Eucharist.  But there were other things I couldn’t understand – like the limits that seemed to be placed on worship music, the lack of joy in those attending weekend masses, and the disrespect I’d witnessed against accepting Christ into one’s heart as a personal savior.  

[Note: I later learned that all of this was misunderstanding on my part.  Catholic belief is not against a variety of music at mass – this is a matter of preference and is changing with time.  Nor is any one type of person or set of people with poor attitudes (or lack of joy or love) a reflection of the church as a whole; only a reflection of that person.  All of us are sinners and fall short of the glory of God.  Jesus is the only one we should truly follow or emulate.]

Too many times I’d seen Catholics full of pride scoff at Protestants who ask if they’ve been reborn.  We might not agree on all the specificities of faith, but not a single one of us is above the other and we should always treat each other with the utmost respect.  We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and according to our Lord and first brother, we must all be born of water and spirit to inherit eternal life. [See John chapter 3 where Jesus speaks with Nicodemus.]

In my difficulty to rise to any decided denomination, I went every-other weekend to a non-denominational mega-church where I would feel the Holy Spirit move and speak to me during the preaching and worship music (i.e. I felt spiritually fed).  Then, the following weekend I would attend the Catholic Church where I would physically receive the body of Christ in the form of bread at the mass.

One of these [Catholic] mornings, I came to a disagreement with the priest.  Upon speaking with him, he recommended I attend a Charismatic meeting at the parish and see if it consoled me in my state of confusion.  It was there that I found people who didn’t think my perception of the Lord ‘speaking’ to me was nuts.  

They believed, like I did, that God was a God who still worked miracles in and among the simplest of His people.

Every one of them believed that He speaks to each of us if we just give Him the time and care to listen.  They went to mass, not just to fulfill their Sunday obligation, but to be taught, fed, and grow more Christ-like.  They recognized (like I thought only Protestants did) that we are all hypocrites and need to ever evolve into the most Christ-like image of ourselves that we can.  

God had (…finally) showed me that I had a home in the Catholic Church.

I learned I could grow here with like-minded believers.  He showed me that I really can have my cake and eat it too.

[Note: Being in the charismatic renewal is not a requirement of the Catholic faith, but simply where I first found others who understood my relationship with Christ.]

In all of this confusion and searching the Lord had taught me two major things: (1) we receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism and are sealed at our Confirmation, but the gifts God has given us, along with a religious awakening experience (that allows us to know our Savior more personally), often remain dormant until we’ve chosen to be re-born in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit (see Msgr Vincent Walsh’s A key to Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church, pg 24); this must be of our own choice and in sincere surrender to the will of the Father.  (2) There is a reason for everything the Catholic Church believes and teaches.  Traditions are not made-up to suit our current pleasures; they are built upon prayer and teachings that were passed on from Christ and His original disciples – even before the introduction of the Bible.  [See writings from Sts. Ireneas, Polycarp, and Ignatius of Antioch.]   At first glance, we might not see this, but it is worth our while and to our benefit to look a little deeper.  {**More to come on this later – Check out my Why I’m Catholic Series}.

Fast-forward eleven years and the Lord has brought me to a whole new place.

I am a hard-core Catholic, (with a deep and sincere love and understanding for my Protestant brothers and sisters) but no longer abusing others, dealing with self-harm, disordered eating, or unsafe relationships.  I spent a lot of time in counseling and with Jesus and He has led me down a path that is still difficult but that I wouldn’t change for the world.  Sometimes I question the ‘wouldn’t change it for…,’ but the reality is that for each point of pain I would have forgone, I would have missed a major point of growth and intimacy with the Lord.

Why would I ever back down on that?!?

We must always remember that God did not have to create us.  He did so simply out of Love.  So much love that He suffered mercilessly and died a horrible death for each of us – personally.

Any love we chase (that is not rooted in Him), is fleeting and will eventually fail us.  He, on the other hand, will never fail us.

If He closes a door, imagine instead the great and amazing things He has planned for you. I promise He only has your best interests in mind.  And He has greater hopes for you than you could ever fathom for yourself.  But the clincher here is that you have to trust Him.  Remember He’s the inventor and no one knows better than Him what the project (i.e. you) is made for.

Ask Jesus to make Himself real.  I promise He’ll show up because He’s been waiting your whole life for you to invite Him in.  “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) [emphasis mine]

And when you hear His voice, you’ll know it.  Because it will be powerful, loving, and encouraging; never hard or condescending. 

My story, when found in the context of a personal relationship with Christ has been full of healing, hope, and consolation.  You can have it when you sincerely open your heart and surrender to His will.  [Read Born-Again Christianity and an acceptance prayer here.]

Whatever you do, don’t let the journey end there.  Like Paul witnesses to in his letters, we have to see our race to the end.  Zone in on that finish line – owning your faith with determination and charity but turning to the Lord for his love and mercy.  It is long, can be painful, and takes practice and grace but you’ll find that the end results are no less than ridiculously amazing…and worth the struggle.

You can run like you’re meant to win – because that’s what He made you for.

**If you or someone you know is suicidal, call 1-800-273-8255.  

Free, confidential help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

You are worth so much more than you can see at this moment.  There is hope and you have a beautiful future; don’t give up.


Lecrae: Tell the World (feat. Mali Music)

The lyrics for this song speak for themselves.  Once you catch the fire and love of God, there’s nothing you’d rather do than tell the world about the incredibility of what you’ve found.  

Verse 1:
“I know one thing’s true
I don’t even really deserve to know you, but
I’m a witness that you did this and I’m brand new.

So, I’m ready to go and I’m gonna tell the world what they need to know.
Slave to myself but you let me go.
I tried getting high but it left me low.

You did what they could never do
You cleaned up my soul and gave me life
I’m so brand new.  And that’s all that matters.

I ain’t love you first, but you first loved me
In my heart I cursed you, but you set me free
I gave you no reason to give me new seasons
to give me new life, new breathing.
But you hung there bleeding, 
You died for my lies and my cheating
my lust, and my greed, and Lord, 

What is a man, that you’re mindful of him
And what do I have to deserve this lovin’?

Tried to make the moments last
Holding on to the past
But like a hero in a dream 
Christ came and he rescued me…

Verse 2:
I can’t offer you nothin’
But your care and kindness keep coming
Your love is so unconditional 
I get butterflies in my stomach

I got the old me in the rear view
I get a new me, I got a clear view
And I was so dead I couldn’t hear you
Too deep in sin to come near you

But you drew me in, cleaned me up,
So take me home; beam me up
before you do, just let me tell the truth
and let these folks know that I done seen your lovin’

It’s everlasting, infinite, it goes on and on
You can’t measure it
Can’t quench your love. 
They can’t separate us from the love of God;
there’s no estimate

My face look the same
my frame ain’t rearranged
but I’m changed, I promise, I ain’t the same.
Your love’s so deep you suffered and took pain
You died on the cross to give me a new name

Ain’t nothing like I’ve seen before
I got a beaming glow
I was low, down, and dirty, but you cleaned me, Lord.
You adopted me, you keep rocking me
I’m gonna tell the world and ain’t nobody stopping me”

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