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asking the wrong questions

I knew when I was five that I wanted to be a writer. So I read as much as I could; I started writing short stories; I asked for a typewriter for Christmas (and got one–thanks Mom and Dad!); I studied creative writing for 4 years and professional writing for 2; and now I am a professional writer at a large credit union. I knew what I wanted to be, and I did everything I could to attain that goal.

I won’t lie to you–I rock the single life. I love the freedom to come and go as I please. I love that all my time is my own right now and so is my budget. No one eats my leftovers or moves my keys. And I have a lot of free time to read and pray and sleep; time I’ve watched close friends joyfully and willingly give up in service of their growing families.

But sometimes, it gets lonely.  I have a heart that longs to grow closer to God by pairing with another heart; and even during the greatest triumphs of being single, that doesn’t change what my heart was designed to do. Just like writing, I’ve also known I wanted to be married and a mother since I was a little girl, too. And I’ve tried to learned the things I thought would make a good wife and mother; and it gets frustrating to not see the “fruits” of that labor.

And this past week was one of those weeks where it just nagged at me. I did what I always do and I complained to my three closest friends: each married, each with a ~4 month old baby, and two with older kids as well. And my friend Ashley said to me:

I think what we need in life is to understand our call to virtue. More than our call to vocation.

Leslie pointed out all the things we can learn from one another’s journeys that we couldn’t learn if we were traveling the same path. And you already know that Jen and her husband challenged me to “burn the ships.”

It was the graciousness of these three friends and some subsequent prayer that led me to the realization I’m asking the wrong question.

My entire life I’ve been asking the question what am I supposed to be, when the question I need to start with is who I am supposed to be. Who is God asking me to be?

It’s counter intuitive to the rest of our lives. We start asking kids when they’re really young what do you want to be when you grow up? And maybe the question we need to start asking is who. To help them learn that if they live upright and virtuous lives by their hearts–the lives of people whose primary goal is to be caring and compassionate; not rich and successful–everything else will fall into place.

I answered my own “What do you want to be” with Wife. Mother. And I thought I’d done a good job figuring out what it takes to be the Best Wife Ever™. I have been learning to cook; I know about finances and retirement funds and I have spent a lot of time around kids. I’m a good listener; I give good advice; I’m present at the right times. Check. Check. Check. #WifeMaterial

Only, not. While this pragmatic approach to learning fueled my career as a writer, the more time I have spent with my married friends, the more I have realized that wife and mother are not what they are; but who.

They are kind. They are patient. They are flexible. They are people who prioritize others first; who seek Christ in all things; who challenge others to do the same. These are women who embody the persona of the wife in Proverbs 31. And it’s got nothing to do with what types of stains they know how to get out or what show they’re going to binge watch next.

All of the practical nuances of vocation are born of a heart with a sense of identity so engrained in virtue that it simply wouldn’t make sense for their paths to go any other way.

More than that, these qualities and virtues that make them the great wives and mothers they are are also the qualities that help them excel at their jobs, in their parishes, and as my close friends. When we are who God asks us to be, He will provide the what we need to be doing.

Where does this leave me? Instead of making this blanket statement that my vocation is to marriage, as I have been for years, I’m going to accept that God is calling me to be a specific person. A woman who strives to live in virtue and selflessness. Who seeks not so much to be consoled as to console, nor be understood as to understand. I am going to make sure that everything in my world lives in service to the call of virtue; and trust that wherever the path ahead leads me, that’s the what I have been prepared for. And not knowing what that will be is not going to be nearly as daunting or discouraging, with the confidence that I’ll be taking it on as exactly the person I was created to be.

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burn the ships

This is a story about a prayer God didn’t answer. Spoiler alert: there’s no twist where I realize the answer was there all along. Or that God had something better in store.

(I mean, He does, but I don’t know what it is yet so the story isn’t over.)

After my most recent breakup, I was initially glad. I knew he wasn’t leading me toward holiness, and I want someone who will. I knew this was a good thing. But as time passed, the voice of my human pride whispered that I had lost again at a game I’ve been playing since college. The “When Will You Find Love: 27th Edition.”

So like any good Catholic girl, I hit the novena circuit just in time for the St. Anne novena. St. Anne, mother of Mary, grandmother of our Savior. Now there is a woman who knows the power of a strong family life. Which is why this prayer to her has become the battle cry of single women everywhere:

St. Anne, St. Anne, find me a man as fast as you can.

Luckily for me, as most novenas do, this one came paired with a story of a woman who said this very novena and on the ninth day (the final day) she met her husband. And I knew that would happen to me, too. Because somewhere along the line, it became the unspoken fine print that if you say a novena faithfully and for the right amount of time, on the final day you will get your answer.

I prayed hard. I said my daily prayers with conviction and discipline. I asked friends to pray it for me. I was determined.

And on the ninth day . . .

Nothing.

I told you from the outset, this isn’t one of those stories. This is a story about the moment I realized that God doesn’t grant wishes. God invites us to be active participants in our own stories. And that doesn’t include Him giving us what we want when we check in with Him once a day (me).

So I didn’t get a husband delivered. In fact, I got the opposite. A text from my ex. There are many dangers in casting God into the role of wish granter but one of the most threatening is that our desires can lead us to tunnel vision that seeks only confirmation bias. Meaning that in this mentality of that we get what we want just because we asked for it, we can start to build our own narrative where we answer our own prayers.

And that’s what I started to do. I thought, Was this random text my answer? A sign that I wasn’t meant to find the perfect man but to create him out of the clay of a past relationship?

(Another spoiler: No. It wasn’t.)

I called my friend Jen and laid out my confusion. How do I determine what God is saying without His voice being drowned out by my own?

Her husband chimed in and said:

You have to burn the ships.

Which neither of us understood. He went on to explain that in order to secure the certainty of victory in a new land, Captain Cortez ordered his men to burn the ships they arrived on. Thus giving them no other choice but to stand and fight.

God won’t wave a wand to give us what we want, but He will do something much greater. He will fight for us, but we need to allow him to do so by burning the ships that give us an out. The ships that are our own voices and securities and ideas that keep us from advancing into the place God has prepared. And it’s not going to be without a struggle. But we can only choose to move forward towards our call or to run away scared and clinging to what we wish was our call. There is no other option. And if we burn our boats, the only remaining option is victory.

martha, martha, martha.

I just finished another freelance piece of writing. I finally wound down in time to tend to my own blog, and the second my fingers hit the keyboard to type this, my Fitbit alarm sounded “time to start winding down for bed.” Which is honestly a pretty perfect introduction to this post.

A few months ago, I was in the first adult relationship of my life. The world was a rosy haze of foolish decisions and pet names, until one day it suddenly wasn’t anymore. I made a resolution (and accepted a challenge from my wise, saintly mom) to embrace my single call in a way I hadn’t prior to this relationship. Instead of using my single status biding my time until love found me, this time around I was going to use the gift of time to help myself and those around me.

It helps that right about that same time, my three closest friends all had babies and I realized instantly what a gift free time is, because suddenly I was the only one left that had any.

So I started saying yes. Often. And with abandon.

I will grow my blog.

I will sell more watercolors.

I will make more watercolors to sell.

I will volunteer at my parish.

I will learn to budget.

I will call people and write letters and visit. I will donate my time and my money and my stuff. I will learn to cook and join Weight Watchers and a gym and a dance class. And when people call on me for anything, no matter the time or the matter, I will do it all!

And I did. Well, for a bit.

The problem with doing it all is that it can come with a sense of self importance. I am guilty of that big-time. Part of that is probably from my slightly controlling nature, but by and large the need to be needed is pretty universal. A somewhat “malicious” part of us wants to believe that if we aren’t involved in something, then that thing will fail. Because if it succeeds and we aren’t a part of it . . . well then what? What do we have to offer?

It’s this obsession with being constantly busy and involved that makes the scripture about Mary and Martha, sisters to one another and best friends of Jesus, so impactful in my prayer life. I think of it often. Reflect on it less than I should.

In the story, Martha is flustered, doing dishes and preparing food and doing just a laundry list of chores while her sister Mary sits at Jesus’s feet, content to just listen to him. Instead of calling out her sister, Martha does something that I think we have all done. She totally tattles.

I hear Martha say to Jesus, “Lord, can you not see that Mary’s doing nothing while I’m trying to prepare a nice day for us? Do something!” the way I can hear myself say to my mom as a kid, “Mom, Elizabeth isn’t helping me set the table even though you told her to!”

Martha and I want to get people in trouble. We want to make sure that everyone sees how hard we are trying. We want to get credit for our work. And Jesus . . . well he couldn’t care less. In fact, he says to Martha:

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.

Every time I read this passage, I actually read it like this:

Erin, Erin, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Choose the better part and it will not be taken from you.

This, of course, always troubles me greatly as I strive to figure out how to achieve the “one thing” and achieve it well. Maybe you’re like this, too. I have a feeling that it’s a trap that everyone striving for holiness falls into. My list doesn’t get shorter. It just gets . . . “holier.”

  • Go to Mass
  • Say a rosary
  • Read a devotional
  • Write a devotional
  • Read a spiritual book every month
  • No, every week
  • No, EVERY DAY
  • Feed the hungry
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Fly to another country and give rice to a kid
  • But don’t forget the stack of books you promised to read–that’s going to be a long flight!

What starts off as a decently admirable attempt at the “one thing” just becomes another way I’m not carving out the time to do what God is actually asking of me.

So this past week, my prayer was a really simple question:

Lord, what do you want me to give and what do you want me to give up?

And today’s Gospel was the story of the loaves and fishes. Where a little boy gives all that he has–5 small loaves and 2 tiny fish–and Jesus feeds 5,000.

Historically, there’s so much we could unpack in that story. The fact that women and children were there but not in the headcount, so likely more like 10,000 or 20,000. The fact that in a more direct translation, the boy had more like biscuits than loaves and more like sardines than salmon. But even without parsing the text to make this story even more incredible, we get this basic teaching from the actions of our Lord. Give him what you can. Give him as little as you have. It is enough to make miracles.

If all you have is a quiet moment hiding in the pantry from your kids, give it to Him.

If all you have is $18 left in your bank account, give it to Him.

If all you have is the hope that one day this pain will end, give it to the Lord.

He is waiting to take the smallest thing we can possibly offer up and turn it into something profound, nourishing and life changing.

(spiritual) debt

Debt is a looming part of my everyday life. When I graduated from college in 2013, I got accepted into a graduate studies program in southern Missouri, as well an assistantship program waived my tuition. I took out a student loan anyway, to pay for “food and rent.” And while yes, part of it did go toward those things, the majority of it went towards the Erin’s Glamorous Adult Life Fund. Target shopping sprees, dinners out with friends, extravagant gifts for my friends and family . . . and suddenly, I was in trouble.

In three years, I racked up a mountain of credit card debt. Despite being aware of the problem, my habits didn’t change. My outlook became, “I’m never going to get out of debt anyway–why try?” So I trapped myself in a cycle of using paychecks to pay down the cards, and then using the cards to pay for necessities like utilities and even groceries. Eventually, I had to move back in with my parents in an attempt to save a little bit of money and keep myself from going under.

It’s been a few months now and I’ve gotten a new job in a new city, moved back out on my own (responsibly this time) and I have become an avid fan of sales, coupons, bargain shopping and (finally!) budgeting.

But new habits don’t totally erase old habits, and sometimes it feels like the aftermath of these mistakes will define my future for my entire life. I often find myself falling into self-destructive talk.

If I had made better choices when I was 22 I wouldn’t even be in this mess.

My salary should be more than enough for me to live on and buy a home; if only 1/3 of everything I make wasn’t going to repay my own stupid debt.

I cannot believe how long I’m going to have to pay for those mistakes. It’s been years and I’m still struggling. Am I ever going to get out from under this water?

This last thought resounds in my mind like a gong, bouncing off every nook and cranny of my brain because it’s the same way I see my spiritual past. It’s a great trick of the devil to use our humanity against us when it comes to patterns. Habits are formed by small choices that add up to big results, like me spending a few bucks here or there and slowly erecting a mountain of debt. And in the same way, temptation and evil chip away at us slowly.

It’s just a thought here, a word there, then maybe a small action, or eventually a big one. And suddenly, our armor of God has been compromised and we feel like we may never live in the light again. There are vices and temptations I’ve struggled with in my adult life so far, and while I hope and pray that they are behind me, I find that some days my spirit isn’t as strong as others. And in those moments of weakness, the devil uses that same debt mentality to mess with my heart. It’s been years and you’re still struggling. You’re never going to get out from under this water. 

The devil works hard, y’all. But God works harder. And He can and will use this habit-dependent part of our humanity to cultivate virtue in our lives.

I tend to shy away from the word “virtue.” More often than not, I equate a virtuous life with a daily hour of silence in the chapel, no more Instagram or Pinterest or Hulu–and definitely no more sinning. I’ve never seen a holy card with a saint wolfing down ice cream, swiping through Tinder, smoking weed or stomping spiders dead on sight. And since these are things that have either been a part of my story so far and aren’t anymore (Tinder and weed) or are a current part of my daily routine (ice cream and spider squashing), I have essentially convinced myself I don’t have what it takes to be virtuous or holy. Whatever compilation I am of my past decisions means that I only have what it takes to scrape by as a barely passable Christian.

Thankfully, I’m not as smart as I think I am, and those things aren’t what it means to be virtuous. As Robert Louis Stevenson* famously said, “Saints are sinners who kept trying.” Saints understood and understand that virtue is created one moment, one decision at a time.

Weeks ago my pastor said we don’t need to make sweeping declarations to change our lives or hearts. We just need to do the next right thing.

The next right thing.

Suddenly, virtue didn’t seem out of reach.

When I’m faced with a temptation of any kind, I can just say, “Today I will not buy this.” “Today I will not gossip.” “Today I will not text my ex.” Every small victory empowers us to make another good choice next. And again, and again, and again.

Never believe the lies that you’re not good enough or you’re already too far gone to make amends now. Praise God for temptation and hardship and trial because those are the moments that your faith is being formed.

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

James 1:2-3 (USCCB)

Every single moment is a decision and all it takes it the next right thing to turn back to the Lord and keep moving on that good path.

I read once that God only gives us life moment by moment because it’s so glorious in its entirety that we would be overwhelmed to the point of nonexistence. In other words, God’s plan is so good it would literally blow our minds if we knew it. So until then, let’s just take life one manageable decision at a time.

Don’t worry about making this season of life better, or this month, or this week, or even tomorrow. Just tell yourself to do the next right thing.

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control

2 Timothy 1:7 (USCCB)

*Some people quote this to St. Teresa of Calcutta. I didn’t know either of them so I’m leaning on Google pretty hard for this one. It’s good insight regardless of who said it.

simple chore schedule

In honor of spring finally rearing its beautiful head, I decided it was an opportune moment to share another post about my favorite past-time: cleaning! A lot of the questions I get revolve not around how best to clean something, but how often it needs to be done. I have the privilege of being an introverted single woman, so it’s pretty easy for me to clean at my leisure. But most of my friends are trying to juggle their homes and families, so I broke it down into small lists for the basics.

This could mean that once a month you have a perfect storm of all of these things at once . . . but I’m going to try and give you some tips to avoid that!

Download it:

PDF Chart | Chart Image

Daily

For my schedule, it works best to do this stuff at the end of the day (except make the bed, which I do every morning). I set aside roughly an hour for chore time after I get home from work and I try to stick to that routine. For you, it may look like sporadic accomplishments whenever you get pockets of time.

Pro tip: most of these make really good kid chores, too, so it doesn’t all have to fall to your shoulders. And if at the end of the day, the only surface wipe-down you did was to clean up a juice spill, that still counts. Go you!

Make the beds

Listen, you’re not at a five star resort. You don’t need to tuck the corners or fluff the pillows. Just pull the covers up, give them a tug so they are straight, and you’ve started your day with an instant victory. It only takes 60 seconds to spend the entire rest of the day knowing you get to slip comfortably between crisp sheets that night. It’s worth it. I promise. If I could give you a money-back guarantee, I would. That’s how sure I am.

Do the dishes

If you can get to a place where you wash dishes as soon as you’re done with them, then honestly you probably don’t need this blog . . . but hello anyway . . . For most of us, though, it will be one huge task at the end of the day, or the end of our rope–whichever comes first.

Wipe surfaces

You don’t need to see yourself in the reflection, Cinderella. Just gotta keep the crumbs and sticky messes at bay. Done? Done.

Sort the mail

My mailbox is in another building in my complex, so I sort it before I get it into the apartment. No piles of unopened mail welcome here. I immediately recycle junk mail, and then prioritize the rest (and honestly, after the junk is gone, there isn’t much left). I have two stacks on my desk; one stack of “actions” which I take care of promptly, and one stack “to file” which happens monthly on the Office Refresh day.

Load of laundry

  • Morning: Load 1 into washer
  • Afternoon: Load 1 into dryer; Load 2 into washer
  • Evening: Load 1 folded; Load 2 into dryer
  • Night: Load 2 folded; Loads 1 and 2 put away

Bada bing, bada boom! 2 loads done with minimal time invested.

Weekly

These weekly chores don’t have to be completed all at the same time–in fact, it’s better if they aren’t. Studies pretty clearly show that you get more done when you take on less, as counter intuitive as that sounds. Because less work means better focus. And focus means results! So maybe you don’t dedicate your entire Sunday to this list; maybe you just make “wash all linens” a Monday chore since Mondays already sort of stink. Tuesdays could be for vacuuming and you can save the big stuff (like bathrooms and fridges) for the weekend days. You get the picture.

Wash all linens

Sheets, towels, rugs, pillow cases, blankets–grab them all up, sort them into like colors and fabrics, and start the handy laundry cycle from the daily list. You. Got. This.

Vacuum & Sweep

Okay this one is obvious. But just in case, here’s the answer you don’t want: yes, you do need to move items and vacuum/sweep underneath them. Unless it’s a massive couch or kitchen island, pick it up (chairs, toys, baskets, boxes, shoes, small tables), move it out, vacuum, and return it. And do. not. sweep. under. rugs. Use a dustpan,; you’re not an animal.

Bathroom Overhaul

My standard advice for bathrooms is to save them for the last thing you clean on any given day. Bathrooms have the grossest messes in the most places, so if you’re doing it right, there’s no way you won’t need a shower afterwards. So save it. Tackle it with gloves, Lysol, glass cleaner and a big rag. Just scrub everything. There’s no rhyme or reason here–just make it shine something similar to the color it was when you moved in. Then hop into the shower and scrub the walls before you scrub yourself. Done.

Dust and wet wipe all surfaces

This one will be easy because you have been prepping/preventing all week with daily spot checks. This time, just run intentional dust rags over your tchotchkes and books, and a Clorox or your preferred disinfectant over countertops and tables.

Clean out car

This one is so much easier than people realize. Take two things to your car: a laundry basket and a trash bag. Every single thing in your car will go into one of these two receptacles. When the trash bag is full, it goes . . . into the garbage bin. Shouldn’t even cross the threshold back into the house. When the laundry basket is full, it goes into the house and everything inside it gets put away. If that’s your job, do it in one fell swoop without getting distracted. Eye on the prize. If that’s your kids’ job, make it a game to get it done fastest!

Pro Tip: Hang a mesh bag from the headrests of the driver and passenger seat to store toys and other kids stuff easily. A car toy box, if you will.

Empty fridge/freezer

I know it sucks. But someone has to do it. And that someone is you. Throw out stuff with mold. Eat everything else. Repeat every week. And do it before you go grocery shopping for the week. That’s just good sense.

Monthly

Again, you don’t have to do all of this on one day of the month. You can spread the love across each weekend, or one day each week (cause that’s what Friday nights are for, right?)

Office refresh

Go through your files. Anything that can be shredded or tossed, or moved to more permanent storage? If you have a document that you need to keep for 7 – 10 years, it should be in another filing system. You need one for the regular everyday filing for bills and medical records you need quick access to. After you’ve cleared out the files, sort the new one you’ve been stacking on your desk daily.

Pro tip: Do this in your digital spaces too. Once a month, see if there are any apps you don’t use (your phone can help you figure out which apps get no love); emails you can unsubscribe from; or documents cluttering your folders that you don’t need.

Vents and baseboards

Grab the vacuum hose and run it along the edges of everything. Your lungs will thank you! Same money back guarantee as the bed making.

Kitchen overhaul

My suggestion: choose one piece of the kitchen each month. Because the kitchen is a beast. Don’t try to overhaul all of it every single month. One month, focus on cleaning out the pantry. One month, tackle the cabinets and see if there’s a new way to organize. One month, get under the sink and reorganize that mess! You get the gist.

Stuff detox

As I clean throughout the week and month, I notice a lot of stuff I don’t use. I keep a bin in my laundry room and I toss things I don’t think I need or want anymore in there all month long. At the end of the month, I’ll check in and if it’s something I forgot about, it stays in the bin and I take that bin right to the donation center.

Pro Tip: If you combine this day with the car clean-out, you can take the bin to the center, dump it out, and use it to collect car stuff afterwards.

Download the short version:

PDF Chart | Chart Image

 

Got your own tips? Share in the comments! Happy cleaning, gang. PS, if you have specific questions about how to clean something, or how often, I am happy to chat–just hit the contact button.

clumsy erin

There’s a question that’s been going around and around in my head lately, and it’s a doozie. Before I get to it, I will give you a little background. Two weeks ago was the gospel story where Jesus comes back to all of the apostles but poor Thomas is missing in action. He doesn’t see Jesus come back, and when the others tell him, he says, “I won’t believe it until I see him myself and touch my hands to his wounds.”

And bam. Thomas is branded as Doubting Thomas for the rest of eternity. I think about this all the time. I pray that we aren’t all defined as our worst quality or our worst moment, and I hate that St. Thomas has been. I certainly don’t want to be remembered as Lazy Erin. Or Mediocre Erin. Aside from the fact that we have this beautiful and wonderful God who redeems us beyond our worst flaw (be it skepticism or laziness), it’s also a bad rap for someone who did what most of us probably would.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of my late mentor and friend Fr. Bill Kottenstette. Fr. Bill was a profound leader of the faith who was in many ways the face of Christ to me. I learned much about the love of the Trinity through my friendship with him.

And if someone came to me tomorrow and said, “I just saw Fr. Bill. He and I had lunch and it was really great!” My first reply wouldn’t be, “Where is he? I want lunch!” it would be, “Kottenstette? The one that’s dead? Nope.” First, because it’s outrageous. But mostly because it hurt so much when he died that I wouldn’t want to get my hopes up for nothing.

And I know that’s sort of the whole point. That we are meant to hope in the Lord and hope in a big way. But the thing is, more often than not, we aren’t the disciples that are like, “Yep. Okay. I’m on board. Tell me more, Jesus. I’m 100% convinced and ready.” More often, at least for me, I’m the Doubting one that’s like, “Who me? Nah, you got the wrong guy.”

So back to the question at hand. I was talking with a dear friend and she was recounting a conversation she’d had with a struggling colleague. The struggling woman has a heart that deeply desires a child and after months of not conceiving, she defeatedly admitted to my friend, “I’ve been faithful to the Lord. And now he is not being faithful to me.”

When my friend shared that, I was overcome with sadness. My heart broke for this woman! What a difficult (and dangerous!) place to be, to be so hurt that you’re testing God. God has promised us nothing in this world, but salvation and supreme happiness in the next. Who are we to say what God should or shouldn’t do for us? It’s tempting to see religion as a tit-for-tat system. We are surrounded by it everywhere else. You read the pages, you get an A. You pay the money, you get the product. You wait in line, you get the service. And that’s when this voice in my heart said to me:

Erin, aren’t you waiting for things that you feel God “owes” you? How are you any different?

Harsh, heart.

Harsh but true. I have often felt, like the brother of the Prodigal Son, that I’ve paid my dues. I held up my end of the bargain. I go to Mass, I tithe, I’m a good friend and listener, and I say I’m sorry when I do wrong. Now where’s my paycheck?

And that’s the question that’s been making laps in my head for weeks. Why do I live like I’m waiting for God to make his move? I am Thomas, waiting for God to prove it to me. Thomas says, You rose from the dead? Show me. I say, You have a plan for me? Prove it. And when I feel that tug of helplessness, I lean into it and use it as a vessel for my sadness or my laziness. I thought I’d be married by now, or in love, or have children, or be a traveling presenter on a retreat team, or a best-selling author. And since I’m not, I’ll just bide my time until the payoff.

What a selfish, dangerous way to live. And yet, it’s where I’ve set up camp.

So much of my life up to this point has felt like ends and beginnings coincidentally butted up against one another. But what if God wants more for me? And for you? What if what he wants isn’t for us to just be open to the next thing, but so unabashedly enthusiastic about it that we charge headfirst into the unknown until we get it right?

Like Mary’s “yes” to carrying Jesus. Her fiat. When I imagine it, though the story says she was afraid, I imagine it was that kind of fear that presents like courage. The Joan of Arc “I was born to do this” style courage that triumphs the doubt. I imagine Mary saying, “Yes.” before the angel even finished his proposition. Mary didn’t need to read the terms and conditions or ask a boatload of follow up questions or talk it over with her friends. She heard God call her name, and she rose instantly to run toward it, paying no mind to the obstacles between who she was and who God was calling her to be.

I’ve been blowing through mistakes left and right lately. These questionable decisions are punctuated by profound moments of truth and understanding. I told my friend Ashley, “I am so tired of falling. You’d think at some point, I’d see the stumbling places up ahead and just pick a different path already.” But as I’ve reflected on my heart lately, and Mary’s courageous yes, I think it’s actually not possible. My heart was so moved by the idea of pursuing God’s plan instead of waiting for it to happen to me that I think I’ve just been running as fast as possible forward. I keep tripping and getting back up and my knees are scratched up and there are rocks in my hands but I’m moving faster and farther than I ever have.

If I took slow steps and I used a map and calculated my trajectory, it’s true there would be a smaller margin for error. But what I’m learning is how to dress my wounds and how to avoid the same booby traps when I come across them again. What if Doubting Thomas isn’t called that because he was defined by that doubt but because he’s defined by his divine triumph over the doubt? In that case, you can call me Clumsy Erin. Because there’s no doubt that when I finally get to the pearly gates I will have dirty hair and a lot of scars and dried blood on my shins and palms, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m headed that direction. Because I can hear the call of the finish line. And it’s my name.

the trouble with authenticity

I want to write beautiful, poignant pieces that inspire and guide people in their lives. I like to write about cleaning and organizing because I believe that when you feel peace in your space, you feel peace in your life. I enjoy sharing spiritual musings because we’re not meant to be on this journey alone, and it’s important to be to be a little vulnerable here so that you, reader, can feel less alone out there.

But the trouble with authenticity is that it’s hard. It’s hard to discern the line between vulnerability and oversharing. Between relating and whining. So pardon me as I stumble through these next few paragraphs, trying to find that line.

Life has been in flux for me lately. I have had several friends bow out, leaving me bewildered and broken-hearted. After a few weeks of tear-filled evenings and sleepless nights, I prayerfully decided that living alone was probably no longer a financially or emotionally viable option for me, so I accepted a longstanding offer to move back in with my parents. And here I am.

The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, but it rarely feels like that in the immediate wake of heartache. It’s incredible what our worldly experiences can do to our heavenly perception. In 2015, I lost my spiritual mentor and confidant, Fr. Bill Kottenstette. I saw him on a weekly basis for the sacrament of Reconciliation, and I remember him laughing once at me, saying he’d never seen anyone so giddy to come to face their sins head-on. My joy then came from the way that I saw God in Fr. Bill. I saw a man who sat with me in my sin every week, who knew my truest heart, and loved me so much anyway. I began to imagine (or understand) that God was very much that way, too.

Bonus: Read some of Fr. Bill’s strange style of wisdom in this post.

And when Fr. Bill died, I was devastated. Pope Francis wrote later that year that when our primary confessor (priest who presides over the sacrament of confession) dies, it is like our face of Christ dies in a way, too. It’s exactly how I felt. The joy that drew me so close to the Lord was gone in an instant, and I was mourning. Like I said, so powerful is the way that our worldly experiences shape how we relate to God.

Which means that in the last weeks, when so many people that I trusted with so much of my heart suddenly hurt me so deeply, my trust for the Lord was called into question. I’m a spiritual person; I try hard to figure out where I am being called–so how could I have been so wrong that suddenly it was all taken away from me? Was it possible that God was bowing out, too?

So before I could be abandoned by another being (in this case, yes, God. I am that full of myself, apparently) I decided to abandon Him. You can’t hear answers you don’t want when you’re just not listening at all.

I busied myself with other things–work, handlettering, this blog–anything to keep my mind off of my pain or my faith. Until one day it all sort of bubbled over. (That’s the thing about pain–eventually, it will catch up with you.) Lamenting this to my parents, my dad said to me, “Erin, when life knocks you down, just keep getting back up to fight again!”

I said, “Dad, I wasn’t even aware I was in the ring. I was headed for popcorn at the concession stand and suddenly I’m in the middle of a professional fight getting the crap kicked out of me with no idea what I’m doing.”

I wanted to reconcile with the Lord, but that meant visiting those wounds with Him, and going back to that heartache. Sitting back in those memories was painful. You know how when a relationship ends, suddenly even the good times hurt? It was that feeling over and over and over again.

Then a Bible study online crossed my path on Instagram. Proverbs 31 Ministries was offering a study on suffering, reading through the Book of Job. Sometimes, grief makes you blind to true perspective. So I saw this and thought, “I am obviously just like Job, so I need to read this.”

Wrong. Job experienced true suffering. His family was literally flattened by a house. As I read, my perspective began to change.

When Job’s life was tossed into complete turmoil, he didn’t curse God–which is the whole point of the book of Job–but the other thing he didn’t do was ask why. That was jarring to me because that’s all I have been asking for weeks. Why did I trust them? Why was I so foolish? Why would God rearrange my life without so much as a next step set out? 

What Job did do was cut off all his hair. He said, “Lord, naked I was born, and naked I will die. Take everything I have left.”

Now, I’m not a vain person, but I love my hair. It’s shiny and soft and vibrant like a Pantene commercial. So Job cutting off all of this hair stirred something inside me. I saw an opportunity to offer a sacrifice of my own volition. After these weeks where it felt like so many things were taken against my will (my mental and emotional stability, my friends, my apartment), here was a chance for me to willingly give something to the Lord to show Him, “Okay, I’m going to trust you. Whatever I have in this life is yours to give or take away.”

So I cut off my hair. I’ve been growing it out for a few years, and had every intention to grow it out until I finally met someone and got married (an arbitrary deadline but the one I dreamt up). I didn’t do a big before-after picture because I wanted it to be about the sacrifice. And I’m sharing it with you now, not to boast, but because I want to be transparent and genuine and honest.

What I’ve been praying about a lot in the last few days has been that we don’t deserve God’s love, but we have it. And He does deserve ours, but often He doesn’t have it. And it’s because of moments like this. These moments when I feel like I’ve checked all the right boxes and done my due diligence and prayed my prayers correctly–so I can bypass the hard times.

But that’s not how it works. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anywhere near healed. The pain of what I’ve been asked to give up is real and I’m struggling to wrap my head around forgiveness and moving on, but I’m trying to shift my perspective to this: We’re given challenging times whether we “deserve” them or not. And praise God for that, because gold is tested in fire. And cushy lives don’t make saints.

So to sum up this attempted authentic ramble: Trust is hard. Being real is hard. Finding that line between under- and over-sharing is hard. I get the feeling that life is just going to be hard.

But that brings me right back to the beginning, friend-o. Tested, we are. But alone, we are not.

How can I pray for you this week? Drop a comment below.