Readers, please welcome the author of my first guest post, Kallie Culver! I know Kallie from our high school years back in Texas. As we re-connected recently, we quickly discovered our shared love of writing. So, with no further ado, please enjoy Kallie’s story! ~ Anna H.
My faith journey with both Protestant and Catholic forms of Christianity has taken a long, circular path.
It began with my earliest memories.
I grew up in the Panhandle of Texas, the second daughter of a nine-kid family, and was homeschooled my entire childhood from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Think the TLC Duggar Family meets a Texas Cattle Ranch, and you have something close to it.
Entering my twenties brought all the challenges of adulthood, often made even more difficult due to the unique subset of conservative theological beliefs and limited social parameters I had grown up in. I spent the first seven years of my twenties being a full-time student going to college, and working on a subsequent Master’s degree in Public Administration after growing up in a world that largely taught me that a college education for girls was optional, if not completely unnecessary. After all, the ultimate goal was to be a wife and mother-at-home.
Well, I got the first part right when I met and married the love of my life at age 21. The man I married is an Air Force Pilot, which is a career that has sent us all around the world, forever ruining me with a love for international travel, city-life, and food.
In high school and my first few years of college, I was the on-fire-for-Jesus-girl, who thought she had all of the world’s big faith and doctrine questions figured out for anyone who would take the time to listen. I had done church my whole life, so I continued in that vein at first — with determination — through a series of Protestant, Evangelical, and charismatic churches. From small town churches to big city mega churches, I followed a meandering path until I found myself across the world living in Japan (thank you, Air Force) coming face to face with a Pandora’s box of faith questions, spiritual baggage, and burnout.
And so began the second half of my twenties, where I entered a perpetual state of spiritual crisis, doubt, skepticism, and searching.
For a girl who had read Protestant theology books for fun in high school, volunteered years of her life away in youth, college, and women’s church activities, attended church weekly for all of her life — and for someone who had pursued some kind of daily, personal Bible study for just as long — having all that fall apart left me feeling very lost and very much alone.
Almost five years would go by before I would become a member of a church again.
Before my first child’s arrival, I filled the void my broken faith created with meaning wherever I could find it. I was still an avid reader and writer. Running in nature and calming yoga became new forms of sanctuary. I filled my time with military spouse volunteer work and grad school.
Now I am a working mama and military spouse, sometimes still wrestling with my soul and sometimes finding faith, in the middle of this messy, beautiful life.
This shift towards healing took place particularly through a gradual re-shaping of my daily devotions and prayer life.
Growing up, I had unquestioningly believed that after my personal sinner’s prayer and baptism at 8 years old, I was saved from hell. I knew that the Bible held all the answers that I would ever need. My confidence was grounded in a strong belief that God loved me, that He always heard my prayers, and that He deeply cared. Fast forward almost twenty years, and I suddenly found myself speechless over how I could no longer reconcile my beliefs about God’s character with my understanding of hell.
As an adult, I kept meeting loving, good, and kind people who by my own beliefs were left to forever endure my loving God’s eternal damnation. My gay friends, my Muslim friends, my Buddhist friends, my atheist friends… The list kept growing, and my reasoning for why God listened to my prayers and cared about my life and suffering suddenly made me feel like Christianity was some kind of genetic, cosmic joke favoring those born into Christian families.
Reading my Bible with new eyes only made my angst and doubt worse. The violence. The complexities. The confusing and changing character of God from the Old Testament to the New. The Bible’s complicated stories and teachings about women. Suddenly, every attempt at prayer and Bible reading felt like a choking, stifling attempt at comforting myself and accomplishing nothing.
If you peeked through the 30-something journals stashed away from my growing up years, you would understand the immense role that prayer once had in my life. Or at least what I then knew prayer to be.
For the longest time, prayer for me was about asking for things. It was my go-to coping mechanism for managing any negative or unwanted thoughts or feelings –- especially fear and worry. It was how I handled the hard things of life, because I trusted that He listened and cared — until suddenly, I didn’t trust anymore. It was like a thread unraveled. Once you pull it, there’s no going back.
Suddenly my faith and spiritual practices, that once meant the world to me, broke my heart. I would sit and hold my Bible and journal and all I could do was weep. So my once daily prayer journals turned into a singular journal with entries so infrequent that I am still working to complete it years later. Prayer time became so emotional and so scary that it became easier and easier to avoid it all together. The treasured Bible got buried in my bedside drawer.
And now? Well, I’m still slowly waking up from a long winter. I recently shared my story of how I came to be a Catholic convert. It’s been a slow and beautiful work of resurrection.
I have done enough religious pretending through the years to last me a lifetime, so I am just going to be very honest here.
My Bible is still in my bedside drawer most days, but my Catholic convert class taught me a way to read scriptures known as Lectio Divina. I don’t do it often, as I am a busy working mother who catches most of my reading time in random moments throughout the day, on my phone. More importantly, though, Bible-reading is still a painful experience for me sometimes, as I continue to wrestle through my past faith journey. So I try to incorporate scripture reading into my life in a way that brings light, beauty, and peace into my soul. For right now, this is in small amounts. I find using a method like Lectio Divina is a slow and simple way to read with curiosity again.
My prayer life now is haphazard and a process of slow, fitful starts. I find myself incredibly uncomfortable, and I have no routine. I stumble over myself. I often find more solitude in reading prayers written by others others, rather than trying to pray on my own.
I have long been a fearful person. Perfectionism and people-pleasing are going to be vices for me, I think, till the day I die. Confrontation and interpersonal tension also make me acutely uncomfortable. For years, Christianity had over-emphasized to me the importance of being nice and good and sweet all the time. It was the fake kind of nice though, where you just stuff it all down to some deep, dark place and never do the real work of spiritual and emotional growth, healing, conversion, and forgiveness.
Perhaps this old way is rooted in my Protestant propensity to think instantaneous faith is possible. That one prayer or one moment gets us a scotch-free, #blessed approach to life. As it turns out, just being fine, nice, and saying I’m sorry all the time doesn’t actually do much. Being brave, being vulnerable, choosing to be kind and truthful at the same time, choosing to love someone enough to risk giving them my weaknesses and my real self, doing the often misunderstood but deeply important work of building healthy boundaries in my life — this, for me, is the deeply spiritual, real, soul work of my life that no one else can do for me.
I’ve learned that you have to go through the mess to get anywhere. Avoiding it, pretending it doesn’t exist, hiding from it…these options only work for so long.
So instead of knowing all the answers before I even ask the questions, my faith now is about living with my questions.
It’s not about the do’s and don’ts anymore. It’s not about who believes what or what church you belong to. It’s not about who’s in or who’s out.
Certainty-addicted, gatekeeper-focused Christianity broke me.
As you know, Christianity has a long and varied history of claiming to have all the answers on both Protestant and Catholic sides of the church. What has saved my faith, though, is one Catholic parish whose community weekly shows me a way to build up a simple faith, centered on the person of Christ.
It’s a realistic, meaningful, and practical faith that approaches life’s uncertainties with open hands.
Instead of surrounding myself only with other Christians who look and believe just like me, my faith and Catholic community is teaching me to go beyond the direct question Christ asked, “Who is my neighbor?” to the deeper question the Good Samaritan story asks of us all: “Who am I passing by?”
My faith today is teaching me to embrace slow, simple, and meaningful daily life.
Perhaps my most valuable but difficult spiritual work right now is learning how to be more mindful and more present to myself, my family, and my local community.
Until I become a mother, I never realized how incredibly absent I was from my own day-to-day life.
Before my baby, it was easy to always be doing a thousand things at once, caught up in my anguished thoughts about the past or my worries about the future, or mindlessly numbed and distracted by TV or social media.
Then I had my son and my world suddenly became all about the mundane. Ordinary activities became beautiful, exhausting, and necessary in the way that only new parenthood demands.
This is my daily, spiritual, holy ground now.
It is getting up at 4 AM in the dark to get myself and my family ready for work. It’s working a long day efficiently and effectively, while also preparing for the second shift at home. It’s coming home to play, clean, cook, feed, and bathe my son. It’s wrestling with the reality of being a working parent, knowing that most of my evenings and weekends are spent taking care of my family and our house — and that any leftover free time will be rare and precious.
So now practicing faith can be as simple as stopping to pray, “Breathe in God’s grace, breathe out God’s peace…” as I merely pause to close my eyes, catch my breath, and turn inwards for just a moment.
Today it was the small act of stopping with my son to notice raindrops still kissing the tree leaves as we walked through the daycare courtyard early this morning after a night of rain.
It is keeping an eye on an ever-moving, clapping, babbling 13-month-old in the back of our church on the weekends we make it to mass. My soul goes back and forth between being present to my son and it’s hunger to catch the moments of Christ’s presence waiting for me in the liturgy, in the homily, in the music, in this community we love.
It is also being kind to myself on the weekends we don’t make it to mass, and reminding myself that rest and precious family time are infused with God’s presence, too.
Christianity formed every thread of the fabric from my past life, which was torn to pieces. My faith now teaches me to see that the pieces, reworked, make an even more beautiful piece of art.
~ Kallie Culver