Finding Fulfillment in the Church Instead of in a Bar
Letter from Jenny Uebbing
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I used to have a lot of missing spaces in my memories. I would wake up many mornings – sometimes quite a bit past morning – missing long sequences from the night before, the reel of the tape of my memory running out somewhere between the pre-gaming at my house and last call at the bar. I'd check my surroundings for my flip phone, cigarettes, keys, clothing...could I account for all of my physical possessions, if not my memories?
Sometimes I would wake up in strange places. Sometimes I would wake up on the bathroom floor. Once I woke up in a bus station downtown after a baseball game, escorted by a kindly police officer to his waiting cruiser and delivered unceremoniously to a detox center in the next city over where I attended college.
The strangest part of my undergrad years was that despite a full social calendar, course load, and work schedule, I was deeply and intractably lonely.
I felt like an outsider always. With my mixed gender roommates who were wealthy, some dealing drugs, none worried about student loans or rent payments. With the kids at the Catholic student center where I still dropped in each Sunday to attend Mass, state of grace optional. With my coworkers at the restaurant where I waitressed, many who were sleeping together and seemingly much less affected by our riotous lifestyle than I. I didn't fit in anywhere. I was a binge drinking, skin-of-my-teeth virgin with an eating disorder and a tenuous grasp on the Catholic faith, and I was a wreck.
I literally didn't fit in anywhere.
I drank and smoked to dull the pain. I nurtured friendships that were rooted in mutual use and convenience. And I never prayed. My participation in the Mass was rote and as basic as breathing. I went on Sundays because it was as deeply ingrained in my person as being a woman, as being a sister and a daughter. All of my relationships were unhealthy during these dark times, perhaps none more so than my relationship with God. If I thought of Him at all, is was with swift, accompanying shame and agonizing pain. I felt utterly and completely lost in life.
And then, on a cool spring morning in April of my senior year, everything changed.
I can remember coming downstairs before class and turning on the TV to find nothing but news coverage on every channel, honing in on Rome, the spiritual center of our faith, cameras trained on the windows of the papal apartment in St. Peter's Square. Pope John Paul II had just died, and as the talking heads filled in the details of the final hours of his life, I sank to the couch. I didn't move for hours. I ended up later that day at a church in our neighborhood, surprised to find the doors unlocked. I crept into the warm semi-darkness and all the way up the center aisle, irresistibly drawn to a candlelit image of the late Holy Father, a man I'd never met, had rarely given much thought to, and whose loss I felt as acutely as if I'd lost my own father. I fell to my knees and wept, and a newspaper photographer happened to capture the moment. I still have the copy, a black and white image of the day my life started over.
That day changed everything. I dropped out of school. Doubled down on my ongoing experiment with abstinence from alcohol. Went back to Confession. Packed up everything I owned into a little white Kia sedan and drove across the country to re-enroll in college in a little town called Steubenville with almost nothing going for it save for an exceptionally Catholic university. The next 3 years would be a period of profound healing, pain, self discovery, and growth in faith. I found real friends. I found my dignity as a woman, as a human being created to love and to be loved. And ultimately, I found Jesus Christ.
I look back on the craziness of my “two” college experiences and I shake my head in wonder at what God has done. He healed me, body and soul, and He is continuing to heal me, and to draw me more deeply into authentic community, inviting me to be more fully myself.
I wish that 36 year old Jenny could reach out to 20 year old Jenny and take her by the shoulders to offer some guidance, and yet I know I wouldn't have listened. If you can receive anything from this somewhat older and slightly wiser sister of yours, let it be this: our God is a God of surprises, and He is still performing miracles. I forget this time and time again. But sometimes the extraordinary breaks through, and I look around the dinner table at my five beautiful children and astonishingly good husband, and I remember where I came from. And that He was always willing to have me for His own, but that He was patient enough to wait until I wanted Him just as much.
Anything is possible,
St. John Paul II, pray for us.
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Full name: Jenny Uebbing
State-in-life / Occupation: Writer, Stay at home mom
Location: Denver, Colorado
Educational background: Grad-school drop out
How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?
I want to say it affects everything, but in the grind of daily life with small children I have to physically remind myself “why” we’re doing this, and Who for. I can be an overly intellectual Christian.
Has there been a particular teaching of the Church that has intimately transformed the way you see yourself and others? If so, please describe.
The teaching on openness to life has been my cross and my joy. It has transformed my heart from small self assurance to something a little less selfish, even approaching charity on the best days. I find myself battered and broken against the rock of it month by month and baby after baby. I am grateful. I am challenged. And I am totally unable to live up to it without grace.
What’s your favorite way to pray?
Praise and worship music and/or quiet Adoration.
What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday off?
Coffee in silence (espresso with heavy cream + mct oil), barre class, quality time with a good book in a coffee shop, afternoon drinks with my man, someone else putting our kids to bed
Fill in the blank.
My morning routine consists of: Espresso, daily Mass readings + blessed is she reflection + making lots of breakfasts + finding lots of backpacks
I’m currently obsessed with: Sylvain Neuvel’s “Themis Files” trilogy
I feel most inspired when: I’m under deadline, sadly.
My favorite part about my life right now is: Going to bed before 10 pm
The advice I would give to the millennial Catholic woman is: “Do not be afraid to cast into the deep!” The world’s version of what will make you happy is so fleeting and so unsatisfactory. Take the risk. Have a baby. Get married. Do hard things that require you to give yourself away. You truly will find happiness in self offering.