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.
"Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the wilderness I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers." (Isaiah 43:18-19)
I can respond to the higher number on my scale in a few different ways. One is to joyfully say, “There’s just more of me to love!” Another is to puddle in a heap on the floor, cursing the woman at the coffee shop who introduced me to Eggnog Chai Lattes. I can look back and regret every time I celebrated the holidays with a tasty morsel. Or I can look forward, lace up my shoes, and get going with some better habits starting now.
Many of us have an awareness of all the things we should be doing better. We might have determined to start an exercise routine, to eat a healthier diet, to give more time to the people who matter most to us, or to deepen our prayer lives. These are all good goals and help us to live out Ephesians 5:15: “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise.”
Unfortunately, the best intentions can quickly become sources of discouragement as we encounter our weaknesses while trying to improve. In a few weeks, we might look back and see that false starts, failures, and ingrained bad habits have thwarted our efforts. We might feel disheartened when the very things we disliked in our parents have become so evident in our own lives. We may wonder if we’ll ever change.
The prophet Isaiah challenges us to stop looking backward. God is doing something new! The inspiration we feel to change in positive ways comes from Him. It’s evidence that He is at work within us. “For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work” (Philippians 2:13). No matter how much life might feel like a wilderness or a wasteland, God can transform it.
How does this transformation happen? Does it come from striving? Does it depend on our perfection? The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The inner change happens in us as we gaze on the glory of the Lord. It takes place as we contemplate Christ. As we sit in His presence and meditate on His holiness, we are soaking up His love. We are beholding His glory and, in the process, we begin to reflect it.
This is our hope. This is what makes us different. God wants each one of us to continuously grow more like Him, but doesn’t expect us to do it alone. “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). He is going to do something new in our life this year! What God can transform!
“Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to Him be glory!” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Praying for Christ’s richest blessings on you,
This post originally appeared on the blog in January 2013.
“Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” James 1:17
The landscape of our mind will determine the quality of our day. If our mindset is one of gratitude, contentment will follow. In the words of Elisabeth Elliot, “It is always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than resentful over what is withheld. One attitude or the other becomes a way of life.” This requires a refusal to fall into the pit of self-pity.
Self-pity causes our focus to turn inwards, and things get very dark, very quickly. When we allow a litany of our woes to run through our minds, self-defeating thoughts begin to build up and cloud our ability to see anything good. Lies like “things will never change” start to make sense, and we head down the path to despair.
The antidote is cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Even the most miserable circumstances contain an opportunity for growth. We can thank God for this. I have found that this is critical when I feel stuck in a situation I hate. Instead of asking God, “Why is this happening to me?” I ask Him, “What are you trying to teach me?”
I have begun asking God this question in the midst of chaos, and then telling Him that I want to learn every single bit of the lesson this time around so that I don't have to return to the same set of miserable circumstances to try to learn better later. This is one of the reasons why giving in to escapisms gets in the way of our maturity, and does not ultimately result in happiness.
If those hard circumstances return, it's tempting to assume that the original lesson must never have been learned and to become discouraged as a result. But this isn't necessarily the case. If you did learn the lesson- if the trial resulted in spiritual growth and maturity- then coming up against those same circumstances again means that God is doing a deeper healing. It's the peeling of an onion; the growth is going to be more profound.
Every good and perfect gift in your life comes from God. That gift may come in packaging that you don't like, but if you are willing to open it up anyway, the lessons you will learn will be life-changing. It will be the difference maker between you becoming an immature and superficial person or a person of depth, wisdom and maturity.
What are you trying to teach me right now? Help me to learn everything you have for me in my current circumstances. Amen.