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Daring to Love the Person You Used to Be
and why that shouldn't be subversive, but is
On the morning after the Super Bowl, I did a “walk down memory lane” on Instagram, reminiscing about the person I was and what my life was like when the halftime performers were the chart-toppers of the day twenty years ago during my late high school and early college years. (Big fan of that halftime show, btw.) This was not a smooth time in my life, to say the least. But I took a moment at the end to reflect on how much I have come to like and feel proud of the girl that I was back then, despite two decades of religious messaging urging me to feel the opposite. The response was so enormous from my IG community that I knew I had to write more about it. So here we are.
Once upon a time, I was a “bad girl.”
And then I became a “good girl.”
Christian circles rewarded my transition with awed reverence, requests to share publicly, and a slightly elevated seat at the table. I had a past, a testimony, a dramatic proof that God is still moving — and, equally, a story to salivate the lips of those who had never permitted themselves to run wild and silently resented that they missed their chance. We are complicated, us humans. We can secretly want what we say we hate.
After having just come out of a year of extreme loneliness in which I had hidden from the world, trying to make sense of what had happened to me, in religious spaces I found I suddenly held people’s attention. Because of my past, I had a bit of mystery, a bit of intrigue, a bit of glamour (and oh how I had missed a bit of glamour). I instinctively learned to shape my tale the way they wanted to hear it. I became an expert at spinning the story of my debauchery and conversion; knowing which parts would elicit the strongest reactions and which parts to skip because they were either too little or too much. I was asked to share publicly, in arrangements both small and large, and I beamed in the face of the attention, dutifully shaking my head at my past self for her woeful ways.
Juicy personal histories are commodified in Christian spaces, particularly those that lean evangelical (both Catholic and Protestant). Dramatic testimonies are like a currency, laid out on the table for the sake of stirring not just emotion, but fidelity. If we know what is “bad” then we can feel more “good.” If what we are “against” is made plain, then we can know what we are “for.” If the secular world is “dangerous” then the church is “safe.” And who doesn’t want to feel safe?
It seems harmless enough, but here’s the kicker: the one who is harmed is the one whose story is told.
For she is socially rewarded for pitting herself against herself. She is rewarded for weaving a narrative that dismisses and demeans who she used to be; as though there was nothing prophetic about her madness, nothing developmentally healthy about her rebellion. But guess what? Both are true.
As I creep near 40, I am finally blissfully learning to see my past self rightly. And quite frankly, I like that wild 18-year-old girl a heck of a lot more than I like the self-righteous, fundamentalist 25-year-old who came later. Was there very real pain and suffering in my younger years? Absolutely, and I don’t want to minimize that. But the curiosity, freedom, inclusivity, courage, individuality, and aliveness of my former self are nothing short of holy.
Holy, holy, holy.
I am still trying to find my way back to some of those places.
And yet, do you see what I just did? I compared one version of myself to another, saying I preferred one over the other. And I don’t know, maybe that’s okay. But maybe it’s also indicative of a new area of work that awaits me and so many of us who are decolonizing our faith. I can also like the self-righteous fundamentalist in her mid-twenties. I don’t have to approve of everything she did, but I can look at her passion, her longing for truth, her desire to help others, her love of community, her different kind of bravery — and I can say I love her, too. I don’t have to choose between them.
I don’t have to choose between them; and yet I don’t have to go back to them.
I get to love them all.
I get to carry them all.
Into whatever comes next.
What I’m Reading:
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May (This was a slow start for me but I started really loving it halfway through.)
The Defiant Middle: How Women Claim Life’s In-Betweens to Remake the World by Kaya Oakes (Just started this one and am already yelling YES!)
The Rebel Nun by Marj Charlier (Historical fiction based on real events. I’ve just barely cracked it open.)
Return to the Root: Reflections on the Inner Life by Joyce Rupp (I was lucky enough to get to spend an hour with Joyce this week and she gave me a signed copy of this. I’m a huge fan of hers so yes I’m still walking on air.)
Celebrating Black History Month:
The Black History Month merch at Target is giving me life. Eric just got our son Alyosha this shirt the other day.
Our oldest two boys both read Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (a master!!!) recently so I thought I’d pick it up too. It was honestly so good even for an adult and it felt timely to read about the toll of professional football on Black bodies as the whole country was celebrating the Super Bowl.
I just ordered Birth of a Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church by my new friend and colleague at NCR, Olga Marina Segura.
Eric watched the movie Hidden Figures with our older boys this past weekend. Black women in STEM forever and ever!
The Nap Ministry “Rest as resistance” - New Instagram follow for me! Where have I been?!?!?
Mockingbird: History Lessons for Adults on Patreon - this is an incredible resource that I have supported for about two years. A wealth of education!
Where to find me lately:
Podcast: Jesus Said Love
Cover Story: Helping Children Face Racism for St. Anthony Messenger magazine
Column: What Incarnational Theology Says about Our Body Goals for Jesuits.org
Patreon: It’s not too late to join in for this year’s series on the female mystics! So far I have written twice on St. Teresa of Avila and next up to bat is the incomparable St. Hildegard of Bingen. We will also be having a Zoom hangout night in March, where I will answer questions, get to know patrons, and host a prayer time of Visio Divina. Join for as little as $2/ month!
Eeeeeep we’re just over a week away! Are you ready? If not, grab one of these.
Within Your Wounds is a Lenten e-book I wrote several years ago that walks you through the emotional and relational wounds of Jesus to help you find the inner healing and spiritual consolation your soul longs for. Six chapters, one for each week of Lent.
Embracing Weakness 7-day Prayer Guide If you want to guard against overcommitment this Lent, this might be the option for you as it takes just seven days to complete. I didn’t write it to be Lent-specific, but the themes are oh so Lenten.
Draw Near daily devotional from Brick House in the City, written by my bestie Cameron Bellm. If you love the saints, this one is for you. (Bonus: I always appreciate how intentionally Cameron considers diversity in the saints she features.)
Luminous Consider going a different route for Lent and focus on integrating your body and soul! My 30-day guided journal makes a great tool for this.
And psssst…. stay tuned for a big announcement in my next newsletter about a Lent collaboration with this guy. We are so excited!
I am wishing each and every one of you a blessing of wholeness to love and integrate every version of yourself that you have known — and all those that you have yet to meet. May you recognize the ways in which you have been held, accompanied, and adored by God in every season of your life.
With great hope for all of us,