I can’t tell you how many friends wrote that in my high school yearbook. Never change. Could you imagine if I never changed? Since 1988? I don’t know about you, but if I never changed, there’s a good chance I’d be dead. Or still wearing shoulder pads.
In the past week, I have had multiple close friends comment on a change they see in me. A good change. A deep soul change. Praise the Lord for friends who aren’t afraid to call out spiritual progress. All too often we don’t recognize our own transformation unless someone points it out. But this change? This is one that I am, and continue to become, acutely aware of.
The people I am closest to don’t just see the change, they understand it. As for those who don’t know me as well, I am not so sure they understand. To protect us all from repeating conversations I was never present for (remember Sirach 19:7–9), let’s just say that the people are wondering, Where did Laura go? And not just where, but why?
It’s a fair question. Let me explain.
When COVID hit hard and the world shut down, I was already suffering my own personal pandemic. What felt like an endless doggie paddle through the raging waters of mental illness and addiction, I was already exhausted by years of treading in place before we were forced to shelter in place. I know I am not alone. I know that many of us were in the midst of fighting our own battles, only to be told to stand still. Put it on hold. Stop paddling. Stay where you are.
The problem with not paddling? You drown.
As I watched everything close its doors—doors to things that we had worked so hard to open—the church closing was the final straw. And please do not mistake this post for a debate on whether this response from the church was right or wrong. I do not have the emotional bandwidth for that discussion, and more importantly, to veer off the point here would be unfortunate. This is not about right or wrong, safe or unsafe. This is about my total reliance on God and my need for the sacraments. The Eucharist is my strength, my sanity, my food, my oxygen, my therapy, my everything. It is what keeps me afloat when sinking to the bottom looks like a far better option. And so, when the church doors closed, I did what I knew I needed to do to keep my head above water. To be a good wife and mother. To continue to bear my share of hardship for the gospel (2 Timothy 2:3). I found a church with open doors.
That’s where I went. And that’s where I have stayed.
Because, when I walked through those doors, what I found was not only the most beautiful, reverent Mass, but also a holy presence that stilled my soul and silenced the storm in my mind. At a time when the world was spinning out of fear, chaos, and confusion, the Traditional Latin Mass offered a peace and security that transcended all understanding (Philippians 4:7). So caught up in its beauty, I found that participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was not so much about me anymore but about Him. When we read that God works all things for good (Romans 8:28), this right here would be a most appropriate example. What aimed to take me down by keeping me from the sacraments, the Lord has used for me to experience them even greater; to experience Him deeper. No longer treading in my desperation, I found myself swimming in His grace.
And it has come with a cost.
Imagine going from a leader in your parish to nobody knowing who the heck you are. Imagine that one day you are co-coordinating your church’s most vibrant ministry, and the next, you are settling quietly in the back pew, hidden by your veil. And then, imagine how the enemy delights in playing with your mind when word gets back to you that the people are talking. The people are wondering, Where did she go? Does she think that she is holier than thou? Now, I am not going to lie. I would love to be holier than you. In fact, I desire to be as holy as I possibly can be! And you should too. But that’s not why you do not see me anymore. In fact, it was never about you.
I went to where I was unknown by others so as to be convinced that I am known by God.
And this is the spiritual journey, is it not? A sign of maturing faith. Nobody grows by staying the same. Yes, I have embarked on a new stretch of pavement, but make no mistake, the road I travel is the same, for its destination is eternal glory. If you crave a deeper faith—and you should—don't plan on staying comfortable. Jesus didn't command you to pick up your electric blanket and follow the crowd to Starbucks. He asks that you pick up your cross and follow Him. Not everyone will understand why you do what you do. And that is okay. Since when did being a believer require that everything makes sense? At the center of our faith is total Mystery. If you ask me, understanding is overrated. Blind obedience is where it’s at.
The Lord has been doing a new thing in my life. He has been making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19). And I am utterly amazed by His faithfulness. True, He never changes (Hebrews 13:8), but praise God, I do. So do not be afraid, my friend, when the Lord calls you to something new. If He closes a door on you, rest assured, He will open another. You just need a little more courage than fear to walk on through.
I am feeling wholly unqualified to talk about The Warrior, the final lesson in Fearless and Free -- a lesson that is all about our supernatural weapons, learning what they are and how to wield them. I do not feel brave enough to talk about bravery, nor do I feel strong enough to talk about standing firm. In fact, maybe I should bag this whole post and write my own Bible Study, titled Terrified and in Bondage. With the bird on the cover still locked in the cage. That, I could write with my eyes shut.
But God. How He loves to use me in this way. How He loves to put me in these places that force me to look at Him, to recognize where He is working, to admit that despite feeling so incredibly and unbelievably alone in my suffering, He is still there fighting with and for me. That He has provided me with the Sacraments and His Word and every weapon needed to fight, to stand my ground, to be victorious. That this suffering has value. And I guess I am grateful?
Because you see, here is the thing, sweet friends. Living Fearless and Free and being a Warrior who knows how to reclaim her ground and move forward, is not going to happen overnight. Or in a week. Maybe not even in a year. And I fear, perhaps for some of us, even longer. (I know; crushing news to a people who live in this instant-everything world.) Finding healing and wholeness is not a onetime deal that guarantees you will now live a life free of hurt. Just because you have made it to The Warrior lesson, do not kid yourself into thinking that suffering and pain is a thing of the past. Just because you have wakened and wrestled, do not be surprised if you wake up and need to be wakened again...and again...and again.
This is why I truly believe that the Fearless and Free study is not a “one and done” guide to happiness. Fearless and free? This is going to be the book on your shelf that you will reach for over and over and over again. The study with the broken bind, worn pages, coffee stained cover, and endless notes scribbled in the margins. You may even be tempted to throw this pretty book across the room when you feel frustrated, screaming, “Go ahead and freaking fly free, you stupid bird!” Or...if you have had more sleep and less caffeine than perhaps I may have had, you might cradle it like a newborn baby close to your heart, as you close your eyes and quietly meditate on what you have just discovered, on what piece of you has just been broken open, on the firehose of grace that took you by surprise and washes over your wounds. Either way, whatever your experience, know this. It is all grace. And so is your hurt. In fact, when our focus is in the right direction, this hurt of ours? It is the ticket to our victory.
I know what you are thinking. Besides the fact that I sound like an absolute killjoy, you are thinking, “Our hurt is grace? Our pain is our victory?” Yup. You heard correct. As Lisa Brenninkmeyer points out in The Warrior, God is actually being kind and loving when He allows us to feel our pain - how our God “allows one to be hurt in order to heal.” Because you see, feeling pain and recognizing our suffering allows us the opportunity to do one of a few things. We can A) rely on ourselves to fix it all, believing “It's all up to me” - which, at this point in the study, we can all agree is a big stupid lie, right? We can B) throw our hands up in the air and give up and say, “I can't do anything about this” and turn on Netflix or pour another glass of wine because clearly, this is out of our hands. And this also is yet another lie. Or….we can, C) despite whatever mess we are sitting in - a situation that feels beyond hopeless...we can still choose to say one small “yes” to God. Take one teeny tiny step forward. Nothing big. And that is okay. Because our Almighty Father? He knows that it is all that we have. Our last two coins dropped in the basket. What looks like nothing to us is actually our everything to Him. And that is enough.
I am thinking it is a good thing that I can speak to you about what it means to be a Warrior while not completely believing that I am one. It is important that we all understand that this study is not a magic potion. We do not get to the last page, pop open the champagne and say, “Thank you Jesus for removing all pain from my life!” In fact, I am in 100% agreement with Lisa when she says in her Brave Talk, that as you grow in spirituality, “the spiritual battle intensifies.” And I know...so not a selling point for our Catholic faith, right?! But it is the truth. The battle is endless. And we will need to revisit the pages of this study. We will need to accept that the wrestling actually never ends. And so maybe if you are like me, not feeling like a Warrior, maybe you need to hear right now that is okay. The seeds have been planted, my dear Sisters. Seeds that are meant to break open, lose their shells, and grow into what only God can imagine. We know that the enemy is trying to steal our identity, but we also know that we have the ultimate warrior on our side. And so yes. We will need to waken again. We will always be wrestling. And dare I say, that even when we do not feel like Warriors, we still are warriors.
While the “fearful me” would prefer Jesus to clothe me in a new Anthropologie dress and equip me with a venti iced latte with coconut milk at all times, the “just a little bit more courage than fear me” knows the real armor I need to put on. And when I am able to recall my weapons and reach for them, I no longer feel alone and set aside, but strengthened, and maybe even “set apart”; feeling honored that God has called me out of my present distress, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you, as together we learn what these weapons are, and how on earth we are to use them (and for the record, we can totally put on the armor of Christ, and still have one hand free to hold an iced latte. Just sayin'). I pray that you will make every effort to join me this week on social media as I walk us through the Warrior lesson, because honestly? I need you, friends. I need you to remind me that God is not asking me to make one giant leap towards victory, but simply, that one small step - if that is all that I have got - if that is all that you have got - may we know and believe that it will be more than enough.
In The Warrior, Lisa assures us, “The point isn't how much you are doing. It's whether you have decided to step into the battle, to make a difference in whatever way that you can. Victory is achieved when one small yes to God is followed by another small yes. Bit by bit, we move forward.” (1)
Ladies, have you decided to step into battle?
I invite you to step into it with me.
One small yes.
Bit by bit.
It is time for us to arise. Email any questions you have or battle stories you would like to share to: firstname.lastname@example.org, then join me on Instagram Live at 10 am this Thursday, as we walk shoulder-to-shoulder onto the battlefield together (bringing your own iced latte is optional, but greatly encouraged)!
(1) Lisa Brenninkmeyer, “Fearless and Free: Experiencing Healing and Wholeness in Christ”, Walking With Purpose