Category Archives: Catholicism

Why the Immaculate Conception makes Protestants squirm {and why it doesn’t have to!}

On December 8, Catholics celebrate The Immaculate Conception. I wrote this post last year and thought it might be helpful to repost it this year. xo. EE.

Virgin of the Immaculate Conception by Pierre Puget

Virgin of the Immaculate Conception by Pierre Puget

When I was a Protestant and heard Catholics talking about the “Immaculate Conception,” I assumed they were referring to how Jesus was conceived. You know, without sex. I assumed Catholics viewed sex as dirty and since Mary got pregnant WITHOUT HAVING SEX, I thought Jesus’ conception was The Immaculate Conception.

Welp. I was wrong.

First of all, the Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s conception and secondly, it isn’t referring to the act of sex at all.

The Immaculate Conception refers to the sanctification of Mary’s soul at the moment of its creation, at the moment she was conceived.

In other words, Catholics believe that as preparation for the special role Mary would play in bearing the Son of God in her very womb, God granted her a unique grace by preserving her from the stain of Original Sin before it had a chance to blemish her soul. To understand why this was necessary, it’s important to understand what Catholics believe about Original Sin. When Catholics talk about Original Sin they’re either referring to the sin that Adam & Eve committed in the garden of Eden OR the hereditary stain of sin passed down to us.

When Catholics celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception we are celebrating the extraordinary abundance of grace that God gave Mary at the moment of her conception, preserving her soul from the hereditary stain of Original Sin.

Perhaps an easier way to understand this is that while you and I are redeemed after we are born, Mary was redeemed before she was born. Like us, she needed a Savior. God simply chose to save her at an earlier point in her life than the rest of us. This pre-birth redemption of Mary, so to speak, is what we call The Immaculate Conception.

La Purísima Inmaculada Concepción by Murillo

La Purísima Inmaculada Concepción by Murillo

To be honest, when I was a Protestant, all these Marian doctrines confused me. And even after I became Catholic I struggled for a long time with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Why was it so important that Mary be preserved from the stain of Original Sin? Why did Catholics make such a fuss about a woman who was “just” Jesus’ Mother? To me, it always seemed that venerating Mary somehow detracted from the centrality of Christ.

It has taken me awhile to understand that Mary always brings us to Jesus. I’m not supposed to try and understand her apart from Him. In the end, all the Marian doctrines are really ALL ABOUT JESUS.

In fact, I realized it was a mistake to get all caught up in literalistic questions about Mary, demanding exact chapter and verse in the Bible. The thing is? The earliest church fathers were writing about Mary’s purity before the Bible was even compiled. Whoa.

As St. Hippolytus (170-235 AD) wrote: Mary was a “tabernacle exempt from defilement and corruption.

St. Proclus (died circa 447 AD): “She was formed without any stain.

St. Ambrose (340-397): “A virgin immune through grace from every stain of sin.”

St. Augustine (354-430): all the just have known of sin “except the Holy Virgin Mary, of whom, for the honour of the Lord, I will have no question whatever where sin is concerned.

Stunner: Catholics have been writing about Mary’s purity from the earliest years of Christianity. So, if the earliest Christians believed this–even if it wasn’t dogmatically defined until much later–why was I so hasty to discount it? Did I really believe that the best and most faithful witnesses to Christianity only appeared on the scene right around the time of Billy Graham? Or maybe, if we were reeeally reaching back, the Puritans?

Ultimately it came down to an issue of trust: could I trust that the Holy Spirit had led the early church? Wouldn’t it be more prudent of me to rest on the hard work and prayer of those saints who had gone before instead of saddling myself with the Herculean task of figuring it all out for myself?

I finally rested in believing that it’s enough for me to agree with what the Church teaches–agreeing that the flesh from which the spotless Son of God was formed should be immaculate, too.

And so, like the Angel Gabriel I hail her as “FULL of grace” and answer “YES” to God just like she did.


With deep gratitude for saints’ quotes and doctrinal explanation from and to Devin Rose whose book “If Protestantism is True” helped me better understand Marian doctrines from a former Protestant’s perspective. Also, to Mark Shea and his book: “Mary, Mother of the Son: modern myths and ancient truth”. Lastly, my deepest gratitude to Scott & Kimberly Hahn whose book “Rome Sweet Home” was the first book I read that helped me in my journey home to Catholicism.


Other articles I’ve written about Mary:

How Mary Brought Me Back to Jesus Part 1 and Part 2

Putting Mary Away

Jesus Sent His Mother to Comfort Me

Mother of God, my true North Star

The beautiful chapel at The Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse in Orange, CA.

The beautiful chapel at The Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse in Orange, CA.

I’ve never once felt a kinship with Mary. All the heroes of my fundamentalist upbringing were men. We loved and exalted the apostle Paul or John the Revelator. We quoted Romans or pondered the Epistles, but I never heard a sermon devoted exclusively to Mary. We studied our Bibles backward and forward but somehow had entirely neglected to meditate on Mary’s hymn of praise to God as recorded in Luke 1:46-55. I begin to wonder if I’ve never felt close to Mary because I’ve been trained to look elsewhere. I blindly adopted the male-dominated narrative I learned in fundamentalism. Now it seems this neglect of Mary in both doctrine and devotion has cut me off from the maternal comfort I need…I need a woman’s touch, a woman’s understanding, a woman’s empathy to comfort me as I watch my babies suffer in the hospital…A crack of light appears in my consciousness. Mary understands. — from my book Girl at The End of the World, p. 177, 178

I would say my biggest “stumbling blocks” to becoming Catholic were three things: Mary, Mary and… Mary.

After one RCIA session (RCIA is like a year-long “membership class” which teaches curious seekers about our Catholic faith), I remember asking one of our catechists: “Well, could I still enter the Church even if I didn’t believe what the Church teaches about Mary?”

She chuckled, kindly. “Maybe the more appropriate question is: Why don’t you want to believe what the Church teaches about Mary?”

I already knew the answer to that. “I’m just concerned that accepting the Catholic teachings about Mary will make me guilty of idolatry. I don’t want to neglect Mary, but I’m worried that asking for her intercession or calling her the Mother of God somehow diminishes the worship that belongs to God alone.”

My catechist was very wise. She didn’t get all tangled up in a theological argument. She simply suggested I try to learn what the Church taught before I judged it. And then she suggested praying the Rosary to see if I experienced anything. GAH. What good would THAT do? I wanted chapter-and-verse answers, not experience! At the same time, I had to acknowledge I’d already experienced something while watching nuns pray The Rosary on TV. That something wasn’t something I could necessarily put into words. But it felt like relief.

And then there was that time in the hospital when the twins were born….I’d definitely felt comforted by Mary. So, why was I still so troubled?

The answer to my questions about Mary came about indirectly. It began when, a few months later, I broached a different topic with my priest. This one was about papal infallibility. I wasn’t sure I could say aloud—during the Easter Vigil—that I accepted what the Church taught because the idea of infallibility made me break out in hives. I mean, I just had this visceral reaction to any human being claiming to have that kind of 100% true, direct-from-God’s-mouth authority.

My priest engaged me in conversation—not in argument. First he explained that papal infallibility wasn’t what I thought it was. I was like: “Oh! So, not everything that pops out of the Pope’s mouth is infallible? Huh. Didn’t know that.”

SIDEBAR: The more I learned about Catholicism, the more I ended up saying “I didn’t know that” over and over and over. Cue humility check. END SIDEBAR.

Then he asked me to explain what my hesitations were about Catholic teaching in general and where they came from. He asked me explain the Bible verses I’d used to debunk “false Catholic teachings.” Eventually, I could see that I was approaching Catholic teachings through a very fundamentalist-y lens.

I was suspicious of any doctrine I couldn’t nail down with a literal interpretation of chapter-and-verse. I felt compelled to be a “good Berean” and figure everything out for myself. Furthermore, my Western individualism insisted every doctrine had to make sense to ME before I believed it. 

Ultimately, most of my fears were sourced in fear of mystery. I was afraid to acknowledge I’d experienced Mary’s comfort while in the hospital with my twins because I was afraid it meant I didn’t believe Jesus Was Enough. I was afraid experience meant I was trusting in something “extra-Biblical” (read: faulty). If I couldn’t validate my experience with Mary through chapter-and-verse, maybe it wasn’t true. Maybe I’d just been hopped up on painkillers and adrenaline?

The thing was, I’d already become convinced of the Church’s teaching regarding the Eucharist. That was an “easier” bridge for me to cross because Jesus’ own words about it were pretty clear: “…anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (St. John 6:54-56, emphasis mine).

I mean, Jesus says it three times, not to mention the surrounding verses that speak of Him being the bread of life and bread from Heaven, etc. etc. Point is, taking Jesus at His word seemed more logical than trying to come up with explanations as to why the Eucharist wasn’t His true body and blood.

So it was in this indirect way—accepting the Church’s teaching regarding the Eucharist—that helped me accept its teachings about Mary. If the Church had gotten it right about the most important thing of ALL—the Eucharist—wasn’t it possible that it also got it right about Mary? I had to admit that was a possibility.

I could see the poetry in it, somehow. In the hospital, Mary was my true North Star, pointing me home to Jesus. And now, my growing love for the Eucharist was pointing me to love and accept her.

I remember the day it dawned on me. I was in my minivan, driving to pick up the kids from school and listening to a CD about Marian doctrine. Suddenly, it hit me. It was ridiculous NOT to love Mary! It was ludicrous NOT to honor her. I mean, was Jesus gonna say: “I’m not happy with you because you just loved my Mother too much”?

It was like Jesus was saying: Permission granted. You’re free to love my Mother.

Now, my unabashed love for Mary comes from a sincere understanding that honoring Mary doesn’t diminish Jesus, it brings more glory to God. When I seek to know and cherish her, the mother in whose womb God was made flesh, I am filled with wonder for what God has done, too. When I thank her for her “yes” to God, I am thanking God for my salvation. And when I seek to imitate her “yes” to God, I too am learning how to trust Him.

The more I get to know her, the more I come to know a good, kind and gentle Mother. Mary is such a good Mama. She understands. She just gets me. I want to spend the rest of my life getting to know her.

Sáncta MarÍa, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary, pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.

Death of a Cult Leader OR “How are you doing since your grandfather died?”

Grief is weird. Just when you think you’ve got it all washed, dried and neatly tucked away in a little compartmentalized drawer called “The Past,” well, something happens and suddenly, everything is dirty and messy again. I sat down to write yesterday and this came out. So. This is me answering the question: “How are you doing since your grandfather died?” Warning: salty language.


I don’t know how to answer this question out loud. I certainly can’t answer it in the three minutes we have while standing in line at the coffee shop. I mean, I guess I could say: “Do you have four hours?” Because maybe in four hours I could accurately answer the question: “How are you doing since your grandfather THE CULT LEADER died?”

Ok, ok. Nobody asks it like that, really. But that’s how I hear it. That’s the subtext. That’s how I’ll always hear it, I think. Even when people are trying to be kind and polite…..

So I just say: “I’m doing better.” Which is true and also not true. In the immediate aftermath, I mustered something respectable to write. But now, all the impolite feelings are pouring out and I guess that’s how I’m really feeling: messy.

Is it ok for me to admit I’m happy? I mean, I know that sounds horrible. How can I be happy someone is dead? I’m not happy-happy. But I’m happy he can’t hurt us anymore. He caused so much pain. And all those years of silent denial was him hurting us again and again and again. He fucked up every single relationship he ever had. He damaged every single relationship *I* had! He tore apart my family. He destroyed the church he built. And then he strolled away from the nuclear disaster site and lived comfortably for eleven plus years. What a horrible way to end the story. So, yeah. I’m happy he’s gone because he can’t hurt us and I’m unhappy that it ended this way.

Can I admit that I’m worried he’s in Hell? And that gives me nightmares. Despite everything he did, I don’t want him to suffer. He used to love Dante’s works–Inferno, Purgatorio…maybe he’s in Purgatory working things out. Dealing with his shit. I believe God is just. I believe God is merciful. Maybe God gave him diaper duty in Purgatory. Or washing dishes for eleventy-hundred eternities. Whatever. I just hope he’s not in Hell. I know he’s not. Actually, scratch that. I don’t know that for sure. Only God knows for sure…..and even that–the not knowing gives me nightmares. I wish I knew. For sure. But I don’t. And I hate that.

Is it ok for me admit I’m terrified? I’m his flesh and blood. I have nightmares that I’ll turn out like him. That I’ll make mistakes like him. That I’ll fuck up my family and all my relationships. I’m terrified it’s inevitable. I’m terrified I won’t be able to break the cycle. Do you know how much endurance and strength it takes to break the cycle of violence, fundamentalism and terror in a family? It takes so much energy. I’m always exhausted. Sometimes I just want to give up, runaway and start all over. But I know better than that. I know that wherever I go, that’s where I’ll be–and THAT reality? The reality that I’m George Geftakys’ grand-daughter? That reality will never go away.

And that is really hard for me! This whole situation is showing me how desperately alone we all are. This is the human condition that even when surrounded by love and family and children and All the Things–we are still so very, very, VERY alone.

God, relieve me from my alone-ness! God, relieve me from this terrifying loneliness! The only relief I find is gentle, loving service. To be exhausted on behalf of others sometimes blots out the pain of this deep, constant loneliness.

Is it ok for me to admit I’m angry? Outraged, really. My grandfather wouldn’t have been able to do what he did without the help of all his yes-men. And yet, when the shit hit the fan, all these dudes backed away as if they did NOTHING wrong. “Well,” they said, “we didn’t REALLY know what was going on. We were as shocked as everyone else!” Bullshit. They knew what was happening. They chose to ignore it. When everything was imploding, they pretended like they didn’t directly aid and abet his abuse. Like my grandfather, these “leading brothers” walked away totally oblivious to the hurt they caused. Now they have the audacity to leave Facebook posts praising my grandfather and urging the rest of us to “forgive and move on.” To let go of our “bitterness.” What utter bullshit.

Is it ok for me to admit I have unceasing anxiety? People don’t understand that when you’re brainwashed from infancy to age 25, something permanently breaks inside you. I have to work hard every single day to think differently, live differently, BE the me that’s always wanted to be ME. Just managing my emotions and trauma and “moving on” and dealing with ongoing family drama and trying to raise my own kids DIFFERENTLY takes every ounce of energy I have. I am doing OK because I admit there is something horribly wrong. I admit something broke inside of me and I choose to face the wound every single day. I accept it. I surrender to it. But it’s never easy. I don’t know how to explain this to people.

So when people ask me how I’m doing, I just say: “I’m doing better.” Because that’s all I can say. Even when things feel stupid and broken and hopeless, I raise my tiny little fist against the inevitable and I live anyway.

“We’ve got to live no matter how many skies have fallen.” –D.H. Lawrence


Epilogue: After I wrote this post, I walked away from it. I slept on it. I read it again briefly this morning and what I realized was that I felt much lighter, much freer for having put these feelings into words. Today, I feel released. What I felt was true and real–and I released it by writing it down. Maybe next week I’ll feel something different. Maybe I’ll feel heavy with grief again. Maybe the words and feelings will build up again. But as long as I put my feelings into words, I’m gonna be a little less broken….

Am I my brother’s gatekeeper?

One afternoon, six years ago, I drove by my local, Catholic Church “just to see.” I didn’t stop. I kept driving. A few days later, I circled the neighborhood several times. Then one day, I daringly pulled into the parking lot. I was terribly curious and terribly terrified.

I remember there was a banner hanging on one of the light poles. Welcome, it said. Still, I wasn’t sure. Did welcome really mean welcome? So, I hunkered deep in my car and Googled the church office phone number. With shaking fingers, I dialed. A wobbly but matter-of-fact old lady voice answered: “Hello! St. Cecilia’s!”

I took a deep breath. “Um. Hi. I was just. Well, I was wondering if non-Catholics can go inside your church?”

“Why, of course, honey! Go right on in and pray!”

“Oh! You mean. RIGHT NOW? Like, the church is open right now?”

She cackled, deliciously. “Why of course it’s open! It’s only 2 o’clock in the afternoon!”

That was my first “real” time inside a Catholic church (read about what I saw that day on page 179 of my book). What I didn’t elaborate on in my book but what I realize now is that this discovery– Catholic churches are open almost all the time–was huge for me.

When I was a Protestant, church doors were locked up Monday-Saturday. We only opened for meetings. But in Catholic churches, the doors were always open. This became so meaningful for me, symbolically and practically.

Practically speaking, as a mother of five young children it was hard for me to get to church. I so appreciated that I could dash in for ten minutes between bottles and naps and laundry. I didn’t have to dress up or put on my Happy Church Lady face (back then, all I had was an Exhausted-Sleep-Deprived-Mommy-Face). Best of all, I didn’t have to wait until Wednesday night Bible Study at 7:30pm. Whether I went at 6:30am or 2:22pm, the Catholic Church was always open.

Symbolically, this openness demonstrated a posture of hospitality. The church didn’t expect me to come to God on its timeline. It just unlocked its doors, held Mass for whoever showed up and then stayed open for prayer and meditation.

This always openness seems like a small thing to me now. Of course the Catholic Church is open! But I need to remind myself that this openness, this posture and practice of generous hospitality was a huge and vital part of my first, real-life encounter with Catholic practice. Without that practice of openness, I might have never stepped foot into a Catholic church because I wasn’t ready to attend an actual Mass. I needed to scope things out first. Feel my way into it. Read my way in. Listen my way in. Watch EWTN my way in. :)

Even the process of entering the church was open, slow and careful. It took a whole year of discerning and inquiry. They called it RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). I never felt like the church was trying to sell me something. Or get something from me. The priest never gave a sales pitch about All The Heavenly Prizes You’ll Win If You Join Our Church! We talked, instead, about suffering. And struggle. And giving to the poor.

For all the horror stories I’d read about the Catholic church and for all the terrible history I knew, the actual practice of ordinary, everyday Catholics was quiet, unassuming and welcoming. Yes, they had dogma but they weren’t dogmatic. Yes, they were welcoming but it wasn’t an Overwhelming-High-Octane-Welcoming-Committee. There weren’t any cheesy little coffee mugs given out to newcomers. Nobody got up in my space, shook my hand and demanded to hear my “testimony.” We were all just humans together. And that was enough.

True hospitality, I’ve learned, seeks only to serve. The spiritual practice of hospitality is kind of about invisibility–getting yourself out of the way so others might encounter God. It’s not about enforcing codes, rules, stipulations and locking the doors of Heaven until everyone has met our requirements. We’re our brother’s keeper, not Heaven’s gatekeepers.

Jesus has already unlocked the door and flung wide the gates of Heaven. All we need to do is welcome people in.

How to lay aside habitual sins (hint: trying harder doesn’t work)

I came across the following meditation recently and it was such a sweet relief. I’ve spent so much of my life analyzing my character defects, obsessively tracing my patterns of sin and trying so hard to Be Good. When really, all God asks of me is just to “stay in the boat” and He will restore my calm. I hope this meditation encourages you, too.

Whatever can I say in order to stop the multitude of your thoughts?
Don’t try, excessively, to heal your heart, as your efforts would only make it more infirm.
Don’t make too great an effort  to overcome your temptations, as this violence would only make them stronger….
Keep Jesus Crucified present in your imagination.
Stay in the boat in which he has placed you, and let the storm come….
at the opportune time He will awake to restore your calm. –St. Pio of Pietrelcina

I am Martha. I slay dragons.

St MarthaI am Martha and anxiety is my dragon. I am constantly worried by All The To Do Lists. I fret. I hurry. My Anxiety Dragon barges around the house, nagging at children, tossing together lunches, keeping everyone on-task and on-time. Hurry up, get dressed, get going AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO CARES ABOUT LIVING AN ORDERLY, CHRISTIAN LIFE?!

In the Gospels, we are told the story of Martha who scolds her sister for not helping with household chores. But Jesus praises Mary’s choice to simply sit and listen to Him. The interpretation I heard growing up as a Protestant was that Martha needed to repent. Get her priorities straight. Quit being so anxious.

Essentially, the message I heard was: Hey, Martha, be more like your sister, Mary!

Today I found a particular glee in learning that the Catholic Church gives Martha a feast day and not Mary. Neener-neener.

Forgive me Father, for I am gloating.

Because honestly, Mary has always kinda annoyed me. She reminds me of those useless, mystical types floating around composing spiritual poetry while utterly oblivious to the fact that there are DIRTY DISHES IN THE SINK. Which is to say, Mary reminds me of me–when I’m not Martha, that is.

Most of the time, I’m Martha. Most of the time I’m trailing chaos and to-do-lists and then when my husband, for example, tells me to just “relax,” I feel like screaming: I WILL RELAX AFTER ALL THE CHILDREN ARE PROPERLY RAISED AND OUT OF THIS HOUSE.


What gives me hope in times like these is that the Church is quite tender toward Martha. She is not remembered for her human mistakes but rather for her mettle, grit and courage. Yes, she had her very human moments of Bossing Her Sister. But that wasn’t what defined her. The Church honors her she spoke up. And she went on to do great things.

There’s even this ancient legend that claims she was a dragon slayer. Yeah. St. Martha The Dragonslayer.

During the persecution of the Church shortly after Jesus’ ascension, Martha came across a village that was being terrorized by a dragon. The villagers said they would convert if she was able to slay their dragon. So, she did.

Oh, this makes me chortle with glee. St. Martha The Dragonslayer. Because OF COURSE SHE IS. That bold, brave woman who spoke her mind to Jesus went on to kick some dragon-tail. Yeah, she did!

I mean, I don’t really care whether it was a literal dragon or not. The point is, Martha wasn’t narrowly defined by her human mistakes. This is QUITE a different view of Martha than I ever learned about during my Protestant upbringing! And I DIG it.

Because I have my own dragons, oh yes I do. And despite all my fumbling human mistakes, I take heart in knowing my story isn’t done yet. I’ve slain some pretty serious dragons. I’ve crushed them under MY FEET. I’ve broken chains and sundered vicious cycles of pain. And yes, even when I fail and make mistakes, I can still go on and live a victorious, dragonslaying life!

I may be Martha, cumbered about with much serving. But I shall yet slay dragons!

How a Protestant Learned to Pray Like a Catholic (and actually started LIKING prayer)

IMG_6974The only reason I pray is because it makes me feel better. There I said it. I’m not very happy about this. I really wish I was one of those people who prayed because it was the good and godly thing to do. Because their hearts were heavily burdened for the poor. Because they liked praying.

I don’t like praying. It’s uncomfortable and difficult. No matter WHAT time of day it is, praying seems TOTALLY inconvenient. I have this iPhone alarm set on my phone and every time it dings, reminding me to pray I’m like: What? Pray? NOW?! But NOW is inconvenient!!!

But then I pray anyway because prayer is like a shot of WD-40 into my brain. It unsticks things. It loosens things up. I run more smoothly after I pray.

It wasn’t always this way.

Growing up Protestant, I’d been rigorously trained in the practice of prayer. Which meant: lots of THINKING. Lots of PLANNING. Lots of PROPER TECHNIQUE.

Praying was sort of like giving a well-prepared speech: 1. Insert 1-3 Scripture references, 2. Glorify an attribute of God, 3. Give thanks for 1-2 answered prayers and most importantly, always always use proper format when opening and closing prayers. We prayed to “Dear Heavenly Father” and we closed with “In the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ, amen!”

If there was a Chicago Manual of Style for Prayer, we had it. And used it exclusively. Only lesser Christians (read: WORLDLY, PAGAN, HEATHEN, CATHOLIC etc.) prayed outside THE STYLE.

But praying like this was exhausting. Also, it lent itself too conveniently to spiritual pride and showboating. Every time we had a church meeting, you could count on some guys engaging in what could only be described as Competitive Praying.

You know, some zealous bro would burst out in a prayer incorporating Old Testament types and shadows, only to be loudly followed by another bro reciting a bunch of verses from memory and then a third bro booming out a mini-exegesis of the book of Daniel culminating in the ETERNAL FULLNESS OF THE TRIUNE GODHEAD, forever and ever amen.

It was like Dueling Pianos except minus the pianos and minus the awesomeness.

When you grow up that way, learning to pray like a Catholic is almost like learning a foreign language. You gotta unlearn a whole bunch of stuff. And by that I mean, you gotta stop thinking and sorta just feel it.

The first time I heard the Rosary, I was breastfeeding newborn twins. They were eight weeks old and pretty much I’d been stuck in a rocking chair 24/7 feeding them. I was worn out. No, that’s an understatement. I was a ZOMBIE OF EXHAUSTION.

I was flipping through the TV channels and came across EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) 10401726_1428455147417535_1232132536_sand saw a group of nuns praying together. Their voices soothed me. It felt like listening to a gentle lullaby.

And in my achey, exhausted, postpartum state—that was exactly what I needed.

So it began. Every morning after I’d gotten my babies all “plugged in,” I flipped on EWTN and just let myself sink into the rhythm and cadence of the nuns’ lilting, gentle voices.

It was like relaxing into a warm, bubble bath. Except it was a bubble-bath for my mind.

I mean, on the one hand I was pretty sure Catholic prayer was TOTALLY blasphemous because they kept Hailing Mary like every five seconds. But frankly, I didn’t care. It felt good.

Eventually, I started murmuring along with them. For the first time in my life, praying felt good.

There was no thinking involved. It didn’t stress me out. I didn’t have to get all freaked out planning my prayers. There was no showing off for God–or anyone else.

Catholic prayer was accessible. For an exhausted mother of five, this was EVERYTHING.

But even after I’d begun praying along with the nuns on EWTN, I still felt a little guilty like maybe I was doing that whole “vain repetition” thing. I had this idea that my prayers didn’t really “count” unless each one was a unique, original composition. I’d been taught that saying the same prayers over and over was empty, meaningless, borderline irreverent. A mockery of true, authentic prayer.

If that were true, why did I feel so much better afterwards? Why was the Catholic way of praying making me calmer and more peaceful?

So, I decided not to worry about it and just kept praying. The more I prayed, the better I felt.

The Catholic way of prayer, I discovered, was only vain repetition insofar as ANY prayer is vain repetition when uttered indifferently, from wrong motives or without heart. I came to treasure the simple, Catholic prayers because they were beautiful, succinct and relieved me of the burden of trying to invent something new every time I prayed.

What a relief to discover I didn’t need to re-invent the prayer wheel. Jesus had already taught His disciples how to pray. And the Church had built on that foundation, providing me with a treasure-trove of readily accessible, written prayers. Prayers for every occasion! Patron saints who prayed for specific requests! HA-HA-AT LONG LAST A PRAYER FOR FINDING MY LOST KEYS! YESSSSSS.

Learning to pray the Catholic way–sometimes only half a Rosary or a scrambled-brain-Rosary–even those imperfectly prayed prayers have changed my life. The biggest change of all? A renewed love for Jesus. 

No way THAT would have happened if praying like a Catholic was just “vain repetition”!



I believe in God the Father…{why Christians use “He” when referring to the First Person of the Trinity}

This past week there’s been some Internet talk about whether Christians can rightly refer to God as a She, as God our Mother. I find this conversation fascinating. I also find it troubling–especially since Christians can’t seem to have this conversation without throwing around the word “heretic.”

I don’t find it helpful or loving for Christians to call each other heretics. I think it creates an us vs. them mentality and does not advance the cause of love in this world. So, let’s not do that here, k?

Allow me to preface this post by saying this: God is big enough to find us anywhere. It’s OK to be wherever we are on our faith journey. You will have no judgment from me in that regard. Peace and love and light be with you as you travel! If your journey takes you outside Christianity, I still have nothing but love and acceptance and big, warm hugs for you! :) 

I’m writing this post is for those of us who have found our way back to Christianity. I’m writing this post for those of us who DO affirm the Nicene Creed. For us, there DOES come a time when we defer our preferences (and for me, my FEARS!) to the teachings of our Christian faith. With that in mind, I’ll share my thoughts on why it’s important for Christians to be careful to how we refer to God.

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As Christians, we have been taught how to refer to God by Jesus Himself.

I find it only respectful to defer to the pronouns God has chosen to use about Himself. Which is to say, God calls Himself Father. And when Jesus taught us to pray, He told us to address God using the words: “Our Father.”

Yes, throughout Scripture, God uses traditionally feminine imagery to describe facets of His nature and His behavior towards us. But figurative descriptions are not the same as literal statements.

When Jesus teaches us about His Father, speaks about His Father and prays to His Father, He always uses male pronouns. Why? Because the First Person of the Trinity is God the Father, not God the Mother.

I’ve had several people tell me that Jesus taught us to pray to a Father because, in a patriarchal context, a female pronoun would have scandalized the listeners. That doesn’t seem right to me.

I mean, what are we saying? That Jesus was just trying to make His words relatable to a certain time and place? This can’t be true because if Jesus’ Words are Truth then they transcend time, place and context–patriarchal or otherwise.

Furthermore, by claiming the use of male pronouns as contextual to patriarchy, we are saying that the Holy Spirit was bound by time and place. By dismissing “God our Father” as the result of patriarchal society, don’t we diminish the power of the Holy Spirit?

Patriarchy wasn’t (and isn’t!) more powerful than the Holy Spirit.

Patriarchy isn’t the boss of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus didn’t bow to patriarchy’s preference for male pronouns. The Holy Spirit didn’t check in with patriarchal society and get its pronouns approved before letting Jesus teach us how to pray!

The work Christ did was for all times and places and peoples–and His Spirit was at work then just as it is now.

And through the power of His Holy Spirit, Jesus chose to use the word Father. Jesus used a male pronoun all the time when referring to The One Who sent Him. If nothing else, I think it’s wise for me to respect the pronoun Jesus chose to use when addressing His Father.

Furthermore, it’s a fallacy to claim Jesus used “Our Father” because He didn’t want to scandalize His followers. Jesus never shied away from scandalizing His followers. In fact, scandal was the very definition of His ministry! After all, His scandalous claims got Him crucified.

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Still, I agree that God–as expressed in The Trinity–contains both male and female. This is why, in Genesis 1:27, we are told that both male and female are created in God’s image.

I also completely understand the desire–no, the NEED–to be able to relate to God via my God-imaged femininity. As a woman who has experienced severe spiritual abuse at the hands of men, I completely understand the pain of being forced to relate to God through a male-dominated narrative.

It took me a very long time to be able to call God my Father again. It’s a sad testament to the abuse I experienced that I am often triggered by “alpha male” language–especially when it is used in conjunction with Scripture.

However, what I’ve discovered is that my reactions are often sourced in reactions to prideful POSTURING and not MALENESS, per se. I am triggered by swaggering, bigger-than-you posturing. I have been bullied and abused by behavior like that.

And to be quite honest, I also suffered the same kind of abusive posturing and behavior at the hands of women. Abuse isn’t mutually exclusive to men. Both men and women can engage in abusive behavior and posturing.

But as I’ve found a gentle mother in Mary, she is teaching me about the gentleness of my Savior. Her merciful, sweet love has gently led me back into an increasingly trusting relationship with God my Father.

I am discovering God my Father delights in me. He loves me with an everlasting love. He provides for me, loves me unconditionally and cares for my every need.

God is doing for me what I could not do for myself; mainly, heal from the abuses of men. Earthly fathers may have failed me, but God my Heavenly Father is demonstrating His abounding faithfulness to me.

It is my honor to call Him Father, Daddy, Abba.

His arms are thrown wide to welcome me–to welcome us all.

My comment box is a safe space. Conversation and discussion is encouraged. Disagreement is allowed. Disagreeable behavior is not. All unkind, baiting, name-calling, hurtful comments will be deleted. I appreciate your help in keeping my site a safe place for people of ALL different persuasions and opinions. Thank you! xo. EE.


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Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer–the “stone of help”–for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!” I Sam. 7:12, NLT

As soon as my feet touch the sand, I feel myself relax into this space–this holy space.

The ocean and seashore have always felt like my soul-home, a place where my spirit finds rest. The rhythms of tides, the sound of rolling pebbles and crashing waves. I can breathe, here.

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My children scatter in all directions. The twins run back and forth along the edge of the foamy whitewater. They open their arms like birds, running full hearted and free into the wind. The boys dig for crabs and write silly messages in the sand with long sticks of sun-blanched driftwood.

My ballerina dances barefoot ballet, her body moving lithe and graceful beside the sea.

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Me, I just watch the ocean and breathe. Exhale pain and the past. Inhale peace and grace.

I sink my toes and body into the sand, grounding myself.

And then I build a little altar of rocks, my own Ebenezer.

The children come by adding bits and stick, several feathers. James draws lines around my Ebenezer using his toes–a sort of Zen sand-drawing. One by one I ask them what they’re grateful for and why. I ask them to remember how far the Lord has brought us. I ask them to remember this.

Remember this.

Remember God loves you, always and unconditionally. Remember God with us. Remember God has a beautiful plan for your life and no matter the pain, suffering or abuses we suffer–LOVE is stronger.

And then, I stand and dance myself. I dance for freedom, I dance for hope, I dance for the future.

My feet make a question mark in the sand.

And so, I dance the question.

I embrace the mystery.

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I am Elizabeth Esther. I am courageous. I am a survivor. I am free and I am strong. My story is broken for you.


This evening at Easter Vigil, my three oldest children will enter the Catholic Church through baptism, confirmation and First Communion. Tonight is a milestone in my family history, another Ebenezer. Your prayers for peace, unity and continued reconciliation within my extended family would be deeply appreciated. Much love, EE.



How Loving Mary Helps me Love Jesus #StoriesofEaster

This year, as I journey toward Easter, my eyes are fixed on the ultimate act of love: Jesus giving His life for us. But I also remember to see the whole picture, and so I look to the foot of the cross.

There I see the Mother of God kneeling before her Son, staying with Him, suffering with Him.

As a mother, I can relate to her pain. For me, there is nothing worse than watching my children suffer. I want to kneel beside Mary and comfort her. I want to thank her for raising such an amazing Son. I want to walk each painful step with her. I want to love Mary, for she is my Mother, too.

This Easter, I believe what St. Josemaria Escriva once wrote: “The beginning of the way, at the end of which you will find yourself completely carried away by love for Jesus, is a trusting love for Mary.

READ MORE ON THE CONVERGENT BLOG…plus! Write your OWN Stories of Easter and join us for synchroblog on Good Friday!