were you there

There’s a song that gets pulled out at church around Good Friday every year that used to give me chills. It’s lyrics lead the congregation through Jesus’ Passion in an uncomplicated but profound way, personally asking each of us if we’ve walked the journey with our Christ: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree? Laid Him in the tomb?

I heard it again last Sunday and it’s lyrics felt more personal than years before. I found myself in the same sort of sadness, but also somewhere new. It felt almost indignant. Don’t ask me where I was, Lord. Where were You? Were You there? Were you there on the nights I cried alone? Were You there for the panic attacks? For the abandonment? For the anger? For the confusion?

Were You there when I was coerced? When no didn’t mean no? When I was ignored? When I was the target of undeserved hatred? Were You there when I was made to feel less than wanted, less than beautiful, less than a woman? When the desires of my heart, the ones I begged You for, went unanswered, year after year?

Were You there when I had to hide my marriage from others, from myself? When I didn’t know how to explain the strange undercurrent of dread, dissatisfaction, loneliness? When I begged You to bring my husband back to me? Bring Your peace into our home?

When I trusted deeply and implicitly that everything would be okay-  were You listening or laughing? When I felt You tell me everything would turn out alright- is this heartbreak what You had in mind? When I prayed for him to know You and see me, did You know that would never come to be?

I think back to that pivotal morning I met with the priest. That day when we walked through the tortured turns of my marriage I was looking for advice, looking for someone to tell me again it would all be okay. Instead of something encouraging I could tuck into my pocket and casually take back home, he reassured me that, yes, it would all be alright, but no, things could not go on as they had. He said You wanted better for me, and I would need to be brave enough to step out into the world and away from my husband. It was the first time I was faced with someone confirming out loud a truth I had been hiding in my heart. I needed to leave.

Something settled over me when I finally faced that truth- a bittersweet mix of acceptance, relief, and dread. I knew what I needed, but, my gosh, the road ahead was going to be long. It was going to be brutal. Excruciating.

In the chapel afterwards all I felt was the Garden. The Garden Jesus wrestled His Heart in, begging God for the cup to pass. He saw what was ahead of Him and knew it would be Good, but oh, how terrible. The pain of a broken body and broken heart, rejection and suffering. It all lay ahead of Him, yet He still saw that the only way to the Glory of Resurrection was through Hell.

I was in my own small corner of that Garden that day. I was already exhausted and couldn’t fathom how I would be able to pull my heart into even more pieces than it had already been broken. A sense of real grief and no, I’m really not looking forward to this, let’s fast forward, let’s just not. It was easier to suffer in the silence and predictability of my life then rip it all apart completely.

When I walked out of the chapel, eyes swollen from tears, I found myself in the lush sweetness of a rose garden. A little slice of paradise. A little bit of beauty bordering my Gethsemane.

So maybe You were there. Maybe You meant it when You said it would all be okay. Maybe You were present and waiting to set me free the whole time. From abuse, from death, from sin, from fear.

It took me an awfully long time to get there, though, and I’m not sure why I found myself leaving a life I had prayed so hard to start. Why did we go this way? Why did we take this road? I wish I knew.

I’m trying to trust Your presence and grace. You’re writing a story for glory, a crown of roses from a crown of thorns. I’m trying to trust again with that same unwavering faith that You are real and You will heal. You will make paths straight and there will be life renewed. Life abundant.

I’d like to think that You are holding vigil while I hide in the darkness, in this small tomb of unknowing, and while I am waiting here You are sowing a garden. When these stones roll away there will be morning, and I will be met with new life.

Alleluia, Alleluia.

a little feminism, a little catholicism

Let’s clear something up.

Being divorced does not make me a bad Catholic.

We no longer live in a time when women are meant to be white-knuckling it through years of misery for the sake of ‘offering it up.’ We are educated, independent, and now have the resources to pursue our callings in ways that generations before us did not have. There’s no need for us to settle for the facade of holiness when, in reality, our homes are flooded with backwater. 

That being said, you’re not doing anyone any favors, not even God, when you’re staying in a relationship just for the sake of what appears to be a straightforward Christian life. Better for God, and everyone else, to courageously move into the unknown. 

I’m not saying there is no such thing as objective right and wrong. I’m also not saying that love isn’t a sacrifice or active choice. I do believe that even the best of relationships face their challenges, and there will always be ‘offer it up’ days. Please stick around when the Cross is shared in love and the promise of Easter stands above you. 

For today, let’s consider those relationships built on such gravel they could hardly survive a breeze, let alone the storm of real life. These relationships are not going to make it anywhere healthy, no matter who says they hope it’ll work it out. They are plagued far beyond that run of the mill struggle straightened out in therapy. They are fundamentally unwell. 

I had a long, winding talk with a priest about this before I left my own marriage. He was honest, reminding me that God could always work a miracle, and I could stay and hope for the transformation of grace. He also told me that as a woman with intellect, I should feel free to make my decision based on the truth of what had been shown to me in the past and what was happening in the present. 

Based on the facts, our marriage was going nowhere, and had not been God’s plan for marriage from the start. According to this priest, and, I’m sure, Christ, I was made for more. I was made for joy, and freedom, and life. I needed to bravely look at what I believed to be true- all marriages are forever- and walk instead into foreign territory. I had to shift my framework, take a deeper look, and start a new life. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Whatever you believe, please don’t tell me you think I should be back with my husband because it says so in your Christian Marriage 101 textbook. I promise, nothing about what was going on there fit the Christian ideal. None of it was meeting the life-giving, holy-growing criteria of what a mutual marriage should be, and anyone thinking I should stick around for more of that is sick in the head.

Also, for the record, asking me if I discerned my relationship with my ex feels a little weird. Of course I did. I didn’t just wander into a marriage without serious consideration and prayer. I’m still sorting out why everything ended up the way it did, but assuming my lack of proper discernment is to blame for the dysfunction somehow makes it my fault everything sucked.

I did not wind up in this situation because I didn’t pray hard enough.

Basically, this is my long way of saying that staying in a place of decay just because it looks Christian is not always the right thing to do. And anyway, when was the last time we chose the Christian life because it looked good? We choose Christianity because it embraces what is actually good.

I can tell you that since I’ve left, I feel more like myself than I have in years. I am free. I don’t have to hide my faith anymore, and I don’t avoid going deeper into my relationship with God for fear of distancing myself from a husband who resented Him. I’m at a point in my life where I am free to take care of my soul, and I’d say that’s the holiest place to be. Not trapped in a life-sucking situation for the sake of what made me a good Catholic on paper. 

Let’s broaden our idea of what good Catholicism looks like. It’s not always going to be sweet domestic bliss, because life is not always like that. A lot of us don’t have that version of the dream, and even when we have something close, there’s something else lurking in our closets. There’s drugs and depression, scandal and abuse, broken families and loneliness and sin. 

That is the beauty of real, tangible Catholicism: it is for real, tangible people. We are dirty and hungry and walking a road through the valley of death. We are clinging to a God Who is merciful. He meets us, broken and poor, and invites us to a table with Him. He doesn’t ask us if we prayed hard enough or why the heck we are broken in the first place. He didn’t look at Mary Magdalene and ask her why did she became a prostitute, ridiculous and sinful woman. He got down in the dust with her and offered her a hand. 

Sometimes what is right doesn’t look the same as what we thought before. 

It’s time to shift the framework.