A Catholic Convert’s Messy Attempts at Reviving Her Faith

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

thawingout

I am a Texan-born Bostonian who wants to understand how we get through hard things in life (aka trauma) using spirituality, meaningful work, life-giving hobbies, connection with other trauma survivors, friendships with non-traumatized people, animals, etc. I am a hospice social worker (LCSW) and I have a bunny named Nadia.

13 Replies to “A Catholic Convert’s Messy Attempts at Reviving Her Faith

  1. Thank you for sharing, Kallie! What a ride life is! I want you to know that the love I had and still have for you, your family, and our close mutual friends was and is as real as it gets. I believe we all loved each other the best we knew how as inexperienced children/young adults. I got a little scared when a preacher many of us heard at a conference was basically saying that if we weren’t healed of our physical afflictions, then we just aren’t right with God. I knew it was not biblical, but as most everyone around me clapped, I was struck with fear that I would lose friends because I was chronically sick. You all still treated me the same. Your heart was still kind toward me. I don’t know what was in your mind, but I think you knew that we could disagree on things and still be friends. I was certainly willing. 🙂 My family often discussed what we believed and didn’t always set things in stone so we came away from some things we believed about God back then. God is so great that we will never be able to know all until we see Him face to face some day. God has been faithful to provide me with peace that passes understanding when I am willing to receive it even when life gets stormy and my heart is racing. I don’t have to know all the answers because God knows and will give me answers when I need them. I just have to listen. You’re a talented writer! Some of it has been difficult for me to read as my people pleasing side comes out and feels guilty for not knowing how to love better back then, but then I remember God’s grace, pray for all of us, and ask for continued wisdom from God.

    1. Jolynn, I’m touched by your kindness in this reply to Kallie. Bless you, friend! I’ll make sure Kallie sees this.

      Also, I know…our understanding of how to cope with differences in opinion and beliefs back in high school was limited. May we all continue to grow in understanding and grace <3

    2. Jolynn, thank you so much for your comment. Thank you for being gracious enough to read me through the years. Know that I started in that world of pain and mess, and so I know it came out a lot in my earliest of writing. But how life does change us right? I am not the same girl I was when we were growing up, and I’m not even the same pain filled young woman I was when I first started writing. I know you are not either. Thank God right? I hope you and your family are all well. Life has a way of bringing us beauty and hope and change even in the messiest of situations if we just open ourselves to it. Thank you again for your kindness and grace to me over all these years.

  2. Wow. So much of this echoes my own thoughts, though expressed so much better!

    Trust shattered and unraveling; the God I thought I knew suddenly feeling like a stranger. Picking up the pieces, and being unable to put them back together. Having to be content with sitting with uncertainty. I used to practice Lectio Devina as well; it’s been a while since I’ve been able to open enough with God to do it. But, I did find it to be a helpful practice when I was desperate to connect with God and couldn’t seem to find Him.

    1. Michelle, I’m glad you found some common threads in my story. I first started writing years ago because I had started finding a whole world of bloggers and writers sharing similar stories and found myself saying me too over and over. I’m glad Lectio Devina helped you. Have you found any other practices that helped you with scripture reading?

      1. I’m not sure about “spiritual practices,” but I have found that reading The Message is much easier for me than reading more traditional translations. It is unfamiliar and I find it soothing.
        It was actually a counselor who introduced me to Lectio Devina… she was teaching me mindfulness and meditation, and LD seemed to come naturally to me during those times of quiet mindedness. I’m not sure why I can’t seem to get back there. Perhaps I just simply don’t really care enough to do so. Cynical maybe? I’ve been wrestling with God for quite a while, and it often feels like He’s left me; sometimes I just can’t find Him.
        In the past I’ve journaled as a way of connecting with God. I used to blog, but then I sort of just ran out of words. My thoughts became much too personal to share with others, I guess.
        I’ve been attending a United Methodist church for the past couple of months. They seem to be willing to allow for disagreement and uncertainty, and I’ve found it a safe place to try to reduce the extreme isolation I felt after leaving my Baptist church. I’m not sure if it’s where I’ll be forever, but for now, it seems to be a safe place. Methodists seem to be very service minded, and instead of wrestling with doctrine, I am able to focus on helping meet the needs of others. It seems like you’ve found a similar focus in the Catholic church. Perhaps focusing on how we live and what we do for others is as important to God as what we believe about Him.

        1. I also enjoy the message translation, as well as the New Living Translation more than some of the older, traditional ones I used to read growing up.

          I think those old mindsets push us to look at any lack or lesser frequency of scripture reading in our lives as somehow a character or faith deficit within us — I would say the more we learn to resist that though the better. Christianity, western, Protestant, and evangelical subsets in particular far too often reduce faith and spirituality to this transactional, materialist driven experience. So the number of times we pray or read the scriptures or go to church or how much we give or serve etc…all tallies up to how good we are or how deep our faith is etc. When in reality you can be the most consistently pious person and yet also the most closed, fearful, and absolutely blind to the bleeding Samaritan on the road in front of you. (To use the example). I used to incorporate all spiritual practices from a “have to” mindset… and now instead I am flipping that and trying to incorporate slowly, mindfully, and genuinely. If it’s ever a practice that I start finding myself tallying out of guilt or performance driven anxiety — that’s my big clue that it’s not the practice I should be worrying about. The practices that push me to be less controlling, less certainty addicted, less results and metrics focused in my faith…and more focused on simply living the journey of life as it comes… those are the ones ideally that I give more and more time back to. Of course all of this is a new working, constantly evolving mess too. 🙂

  3. Beautifully written. Kallie mentions some really valuable concepts that I’ve been learning about mostly outside of Christianity. Vulnerability, mindfulness and simple meditation, being okay with unanswered questions… so much better than judgmentalism, scattered thoughts and worries and walls built around the soul out of fear. Thanks for sharing this, TO.

  4. Great post, and let me tell you that I am happy that you have addressed this subject, faith!
    Definitely, faith is what keeps us alive, faith is the fuel of our life, mind, body!
    God is there for us no matter what is the religion we follow. Religions are multiple, as they are human choices. But God is just one!!! And it will always be like this!
    May God bless you all!

  5. It is so interesting to note down the commonalities in spiritual journey despite a different faith. I am a Muslim, I went through similar play of ideals, struggle at faith. I tried to hold on to faith through prayer and reading in thr exact exhausting way. The only difference is I feel more at ground. I have the answers that most still struggle at and I feel that connection now.

    Reminds me of Paul Coelho quote, how the whole universe works towards your achievement if you really want it to happen.

  6. Kallie, thank you for sharing so honestly & yet not from a place of bitterness. I have also gone through a transformation in my faith within my 20’s, and while I didn’t step away from the church during that time, I did have to walk through some anger toward the institution itself. And God has brought me through it to a beautiful place, walking solely in His grace- but yes, I still have my human, fleshly moments of doubt and frustration. But the performance focus of my childhood Christianity is gone. And I’m ever thankful! Thank you for sharing where you’re at with Him today. You made some excellent points about authenticity and genuineness. I just really appreciated reading this today. Take care 🙂

    1. Thank you Amanda for taking the time to read it. I am grateful to be sharing from a place of peace for once. Being real about the messy parts in my writing has meant I have not always been able to do so, as I’m sure many who have read me through the years know well. But my heart has become less hurt and less bitter as I learned to just embrace it all and learned from my own pain and brokenness rather than running from it. That is a habit I think I will forever be working on, but I have come through enough now that I believe it is far more worth it to face our pain, our doubts, our questions, our hurt, our failings, and how we feel anyone or God or the church fails us as in doing that we find truth, hope, and a faith that is real.

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