To Do At Last What I Came Here For

My Bio

My CV and who I am called to be are miles apart, so I don’t want to focus too much on that. But for purposes of making connections, here are some key points about my past-present.

  • Baptized in a conservative Presbyterian church (southern California) and went to Christian Reformed churches (Chicagoland) most of my childhood.
  • Attended Christian non-denominational, Catholic, and Lutheran (Missouri Synod) schools pre-college. Was always trying to understand the differences between these faith traditions and where I fit into them.
  • Studied English secondary education (and initially vocal music) at Dordt University in Sioux Center, IA and received my B.A. in 1997.
  • Moved to the Washington, DC area the week after I finished college. Worked for related non-profits in DC and NYC for four years.
  • Decided I liked Roman Catholicism way better than Calvinism and converted on Easter Vigil 1998.
  • Attended University of Virginia School of Law and graduated “Order of the Coif” in 2004.
  • Worked at Covington & Burling law firm in DC for six years, mostly lobbying and regulatory law. Got laid off when I was pregnant with my second child.
  • Got sick of lobbying and law and went into financial advising. Couldn’t support my family on a commission basis so took a job as a legal/tax consultant to a large insurance brokerage, Crump Life Insurance Services. It’s a subsidiary of the bank that was recently renamed Truist. I’ve been there almost six years, and I’m bored out of my mind with it, but my colleagues are nice and it pays the bills.
  • Married the first time at age 24: never really got off the ground, no kids, divorced less than 3 years later, got an annulment easily.
  • Married the second time for 13 years so far. Would rather not be. My husband, Matt, manages standardized testing at the local public high school (in Loudoun County, Virginia).
  • My daughter is 12, high-functioning autistic, and a beautiful dancer and person. My son is 9 and quite intelligent both academically and emotionally. I love them to pieces but I can’t stand being defined primarily by motherhood.
  • Three years ago I started a blog with a Theology PhD friend, called Beyond All Telling, just to give ourselves a platform to speak. It’s on the Patheos Catholic Channel now, but neither of us have been too active in publishing the past several months.

My Why

God is the only Parent I’ve ever really had. My mother neglected and parentified me. My father was both authoritarian and mendacious. Both were narcissistic in different ways, and made it impossible for me to form emotional bonds with them. But the one saving grace they gave me was bringing me to church and putting me in Christian schools my whole childhood, because there I was told that Jesus loves me. And I knew it in my bones that this was true, even though much of what my parents told me was not. I can remember glimmers of feeling God’s presence at particular moments as far back as preschool, and this unshakable knowledge has carried me through so much over the past 40 years.

Because my experience of God’s love and presence has been so healing and sustaining for me, I long to share that gift with others. But I’ve learned that most people don’t seem to have that direct awareness of Presence; most people experience God’s love in Christian community. God has asked us to be the hands of Love, and I have felt that call from a young age.

But I’ve never really had mentorship for answering this call in Christian community either. Despite the most basic message of God’s love piercing my heart from before I even can remember, my church communities for most of my life have been problematic in doctrine or praxis, spiritually sterile, and quite patriarchal. I couldn’t imagine being a preacher because I’d never seen a woman do that. I couldn’t identify when the “spiritual direction” I was receiving from priests was toxic because I’d never had good spiritual direction. I tried to be faithful to the call I heard, but all the voices telling me how to do that led me down wrong paths that left me feeling boxed in and miserable with my career and family life.

The past three years have been an incredible awakening to me, that I don’t have to stay in this box forever, though it may take some time to climb out. It started out with the miraculous gift of a friend who gave me the moral support and “borrowed credibility” to start blogging about my spiritual insights. Soon I realized I have the gift of preaching. Then I recognized God was calling me to ordination for ministry, and started looking into the prospects for entering the diaconate.

Finally, I came to the realization that I do not need to stay obedient to a “magisterium” that has been abusing power and misleading the faithful in the most intimate aspects of our lives for the better part of Christendom. After years of being a daily communicant, I walked out of yet another Catholic parish where I was ignored and belittled, and into an Episcopal one down the road. I was immediately greeted with open arms, and the revolutionary experience of listening to a woman proclaim the gospel, and preach movingly and eloquently, and baptize with more maternal love than all the celibate Catholic men in the world combined could ever bestow on an infant Christian.

So I see an avenue for answering my call now, but I’m still not sure where to start and lacking in mentorship. Rev. Mary Kay seems enthusiastic about talking to me at times when we interact briefly on church Zoom chats and such, but isn’t good at following through on emails or scheduling times to talk. I don’t blame her in this time of so much crisis in the world–she has a hurting flock to tend to, so fostering future vocations is on her back burner, I think. So when the invitation to apply for this group came to me, I thought it would be good way to build a support network for my vocation, not just lean on one person. I knew I had come to the right place when I read the opening poem in the participant guide, which I decided to quote for my title here.

What I bring to this space, which isn’t welcome in most groups of Catholic women I’ve ever been in, is the willingness to question authority in order to discern “la realidad,” as Cecilia González-Andrieu called it in the video we were asked to watch. I’m willing to risk being outside the “acceptable” parameters of “being Catholic” in order to foster my vocation and other women’s. I’m willing to face ugly truths about churches that DO ordain women, and consider prayerfully what relevance that has to me having poder to answer my call. I’m hoping I will make at least a few friends who can encourage and challenge me in the journey ahead, and maybe even receive some good spiritual direction for once.

Invocation

I call on Mary Magdalene as the first among the apostles. I call on Perpetua as the first Christian woman to write her own story about her mystical visions and unwillingness to bend to patriarchal authority. I call on Julian of Norwich to reassure us that sin is no-thing (so why should our churches spend so much time fretting about it??), and that the maternal love of Jesus means that all manner of things will be well. I call on Our Lady of Guadalupe who promises us her compassion, her fountain of life, and her salvation.

6 thoughts on “To Do At Last What I Came Here For

  1. I loved reading your journey to this place, Lillian, and to witness your determination to live fully within the gifts God gave you. It’s inspiring to see God’s persistent presence in your life even amid the many failures of the people around you. Seems that God fills in the holes they left. I look forward to sharing this adventure together.

  2. So my home parish is St. Perpetua in Lafayette, CA. She’s a favorite in my cloud of witnesses. I hear your story and your understandable impatience with boxes. As limited human beings, some roles and boxes we choose (freely as best we can), some are imposed. None of them define the whole person we are. Some are destructive and immobilizing. Others offer structure, creative focus and direction, making (for example) poetry different from prose, painting different from sculpture. Through this process may you begin to discern the perfect fit for yourself.

  3. Lillian,

    Your post is powerful and it speaks to my heart. I too feel called to preaching, and I would be more than happy to discuss this with you. Thank you for your openness. I was particularly struck by your feeling God’s presence at such a young age and by your love of your kids with your wish “not to be strictly defined by motherhood.” Our vocations can manifest in many ways. When we utilize the many gifts God gave us, it can lead us to make an impact in more than one area. The Spirit moves in dynamic ways, and I look forward to seeing how it moves through you.

    Your passion and willingness to challenge the Church to grow is both inspiring and refreshing. I hope I get the chance to connect with you again soon!

  4. Lillian, I was so touched by your experience of always being aware of Presence in your life. I found myself being “jealous” because as you said, many people don’t or haven’t had that experience. I have been one such. But I am learning that God was always present even if I didn’t always feel that. Blessed are you to have had such a wonderful experience! I am happy for you!

  5. I have also had the experience that most Catholic women don’t want to hear that there might be something “more” for them in our church. They seem to be OK with what the church allows them to do and be: bake the cookies, clean the linens. I started thinking I was the one with the problem because what the church offered to me wasn’t good enough. It harkened back to when I was 13, in 8th grade, and starting to think about high school. I didn’t want to go to the local public high school, it was not a good time for public high schools in NY City back then. But I knew my parents couldn’t afford to send me to Catholic high school. So I prayed and researched and bummed rides to open houses with parents of my friends, (I guess you could day I discerned, dreamed and schemed!) determined to win a scholarship. The day I got the letter telling me I had won a full scholarship to my dream high school, I ran up the stairs to give the great news to my parents. My mother’s reaction was, “Why can’t you be satisfied with what we can give you?” This sums up the way I think most Catholics, especially the all powerful and elusive magisterium, think about those of us who know we are called to do and be more.

    I will be interested to follow your journey in the Episcopal church. Thank you for sharing your unfolding story with us.

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