Why I Stayed - A Letter from Anna
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I’ve been attracted to women since I was 15. Men were a little earlier. Everybody’s got something, eh?
I was raised in the Catholic Church, encountered Christ in the Eucharist as a teen, and have chosen formation and community ever since. On my last birthday, more than 1/2 my life had been spent intentionally following Jesus. Next birthday, 1/2 my life has included attraction to women. Sister to sister…that’s a long time. Years of arguing with God, of pining and tears, of watching friends get married and start families. Years of lackluster CatholicMatch dates and years of falling hard for dear [female] friends.
Why am I still here?
It’s a good question. If a certain sort of happiness is becoming increasingly celebrated in our culture, what’s holding me back from walking out the church door or, at the very least, walking through a more “accepting” once? Is it because I’m afraid of public church-y opinion? Of losing my friends or disappointing my parents? Is it because my education and career have - been in ministry and everything I’d built would come crashing down? When your life has been artfully constructed with reliance on a single lynchpin, disrupting it would have catastrophic effects.
I can’t say I haven’t wondered what it would be like to watch it all fall apart. I’ve played out the scenarios. Perhaps we all have that melodramatic, impulse to self-destruction from time to time, the wild-hearted urge to run for the hills, wondering if something easier lies beyond the horizon… In the end, nobody can run forever. Not even in their own imagination. At some point my mind comes up short. I sink to my knees and close my eyes for a moment, only to find Someone waiting when I open them. In the end, the reason I remain Catholic isn’t a cost-benefit analysis. The truth is simple. I’m in love. I can’t explain it any other way.
I know I’m not alone in this. Somewhere, thanks to the internet, I know some of you are reading this. I don’t know why you want to go. Maybe you’re in love with a woman or you wish you were a man. Maybe your marriage isn’t what you hoped. Maybe you’re already divorced. Maybe fellow Catholics are scarce and going out with your hard-partying co-workers is the closest you get to intimacy. Maybe your boyfriend doesn’t understand chastity and you’re just so tired of sleeping alone.
Are you in love, my sister? Are you in love with the Lover of your soul? Because I don’t know any other way. I don’t understand why we carry crosses we didn’t choose. I don’t understand why we must wait in the darkening silence of the tomb. But I do believe that something can be born in the womb of an empty heart, that a new day comes, that the stone rolls away, that a gentle voice is near at hand: “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”
“That which seems to us to be a crumbling point, a lack, a thorn in the flesh, is destined for God’s glory as surely as the rotting bones of Lazarus.” – Caryll Houselander, Reed of God
Christianity is the agonizing, brilliant transformation of broken things to new hearts. To acknowledge and accept my wound isn’t to act out of it. Instead, I have hope in a God Who shows me His scars, a Lord with a Heart as wild as mine.
In His Heart,
Get to know Anna
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I’ve always been a reader and a dreamer, a lover of running off alone into wild places. I cook and craft with painful precision and mixed results. I’ve been awkward in my pursuit of human love and tenacious in my pursuit of Christ’s. I’m a choleric-sanguine and it shows.
What do the first two hours of your day look like?
Hitting snooze three times, stumbling out of bed to make coffee, showering, praying, running out the door, commute with an audiobook, sitting down at my desk 2 minutes late
Describe your favorite part of your current occupation.
My boss. Seriously, she’s an amazing disciple, leader, and mentor.
Tell us about a woman you look up to.
I could give you a bunch of saints - we’ve got so many feminine powerhouses in the Catholic Church - but I’ll say my friend Sam. She’s a twenty-something who has taken private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. She draws vocational inspiration from Dorothy Day, Madeline Delbrel, and Catherine Doherty - women who lived vibrant single lives in the midst of the world, intentionally caring for those most local. To discern, decide, and live that in this culture requires a ridiculous amount of faith and fortitude. I’m blessed to know her!
Favorite character ever. Go!
Leslie Knope. Big-picture political differences notwithstanding, Leslie is a fantastic example of a dedicated woman who gives herself to a cause she believes in. In the midst of that, she manages to be a fiercely loyal friend, creative party-planner, and prolific consumer of waffles.
Describe one fear or personal challenge that keeps you up at night.
That Eden Invitation is a crazy idea, there are 100 things that can go wrong, and it’s all going to blow up in our face.
Tell us about the first time you experienced a strong sense of belonging in the Catholic Church.
When I was a freshman in high school, my mom made “encouraged” me to go to these high school youth Masses - the “Lifeline” events put on by NET Ministries locally in the Twin Cities. Some of my friends from middle school went and we hit up Baker’s Square for pie afterward AND I got to sleep in the next morning, so it worked out. I have a vivid memory of standing with my friends at one point at the end of the night. Our arms were around each other and we were swaying back and forth to “Shout to the Lord.” The whole situation was cheesy AF, but the memory sticks with me. At that point, I hadn’t exactly met Christ yet, but the way Lifeline did church make me feel like I could keep going back.
Was there ever a time in your life when you considered leaving the Church? If there was, would you describe one of the defining instances that you led you to stay?
For me, the temptation has been less to break with the Church entirely as it’s been the allure of a double life.“If this person actually liked me back, would I go for it?” “What I would do if someone in a secular environment came on to me?” “I wonder what types of women are on Tinder?” It never moved beyond an ill-considered imaginative exercise, primarily because whenever I allowed the scenarios to play out in my mind, they always got to a point where something broke. I knew I would arrive at a point where I needed to choose, and giving up the Church would be giving up too much - its sacraments, its rich history, its poetic view of the universe, its saints. That’s not to say you can’t appreciate those things while in a same-sex relationship, but the integrity of the worldview is fractured.
What advice would you pass on to the woman who experiences same-sex attraction and is considering leaving the Church?
Pray. Imagine that Christ is looking at you with a gaze of infinite love, speaking gently the words of John 1:38, “What are you looking for?” Allow your desires to be stripped bare before him and answer him honestly. Give him room to respond. And tell someone. Discernment is never a good idea in an echo chamber, no matter what you’re deciding. Tell someone who loves you deeply, but you know would disagree with your departure. If you want to make this decision in honesty, you need to put it into the light privately before you do so publicly. If you don’t have a person like that in your life, you can email me.
Are there any resources you’d recommend to this woman?
Personally, I’ve found more peace from books on the spiritual life than from clinical resources on same-sex attraction. I’d recommend The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander, He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek, The Discovery of God by Henri de Lubac, and Can You Drink This Cup? by Henri Nouwen.
How can we, as Catholic women, be more welcoming and loving of those who do experience same-sex attraction?
As with any relationship, we need to consider the person in front of us - their story, their experience. This doesn’t change the truth, but it can change our immediate response. That said, we can distinguish between some general approaches. For people who are living chastely according to Church teaching: be present to them the same way you would to any friend who’s dealing with something you don’t understand. Acknowledge their loneliness and try to be compassionate to the unique way it impacts vocational discernment. For people who know the Church’s teaching, but reject it: remember that you are not solely responsible for “bringing that person back!” Calmly respect free will without celebrating their decision, pray, and keep the doors open to friendship if that’s something they want. For people with no prior knowledge of the Church's teaching: don’t start the relationship from the point of disagreement. Accept the person for the good they are and speak in confident hope in the Christian view of the human person if asked.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We don’t need to let the cultural dynamic decide our inner peace, nor should it diminish our appreciation of another’s dignity. So many choices lie within our power by grace! Less Facebook infighting. Less off-the-cuff soapboxing from our armchairs. More personal dialogue at the most human level we can manage it. More quietly loving individual persons. We can do this, sisters!