Lebanon, Our Lady, and Longing for Home
I’ve opened the drawer of my nightstand, pushing aside half-started journals and feeling around under unfinished books. I know it’s in here somewhere, the rustic wooden set of rosary beads I picked up months before from a tiny tourist shop high in the mountains of Lebanon.
I was in Lebanon for work, I guess you could say, though we were told to report it on our visas that we were there as tourists. I was traveling with a group of people who also work in media in some capacity to report on the Syrian refugee crisis. The first day of the trip, however, we got to truly be tourists, hiking up into the thin air of the Cedars of God forest in north central Lebanon.
It was there, just across the street from the modern entrance to the ancient forest that we had stopped for lunch and then ambled around looking for bathrooms and poking our head into tourist shops. I had promised my children that I would bring them souvenirs from my trip and this particular shop filled with handcrafts made from Lebanese cedars looked promising. The eldery shop owner had packed his stall with knick-knacks and wanted to take the time to pick up and examine everything, but my group was moving on and so I grabbed two sets of rosary beads – one for each of my daughters – and paid in American dollars.
I didn’t really know what the rosary was at the time. I knew it was Catholic and I’d been telling people for so long that I was really a Catholic trapped in the body of a Baptist that, well, it seemed on brand to me to buy a Catholic thing even though I didn’t know really know what it was. As we drove down out of the mountains and toward the 6,000 year old city of Byblos, I ran my fingers over the beads while my fellow travelers talked church and politics. It was September of 2016 and it seemed like all anyone wanted to talk about was church and politics, even halfway around the globe from the United States. My new friends were talking about where they went to church: most were some variety of Evangelical, two were Catholic.
I kept my eyes on the cedar rosary beads in my hands. I didn’t have anything to say. I didn’t want to out myself as unchurched, one of those spiritual-but-not-religious types. I grew up in church, I was there Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night. I sang in children’s choirs and was on the youth group leadership team. Church carried me through my newlywed years, church people kept me company while my husband worked 80 hours a week (including Sundays); when our children were born, it was church people who brought us food and support.
But for nearly five years, we’d become wanderers in the wilderness. Used up and burned out in a spirituality that relied on sin management, exhausted with trying to figure out which interpretation of Scripture was accurate and right and true. I felt my heart squeeze in my chest as those around me talked about God. I wrapped my fingers around the beads and looked out the window of the van while the sun sunk down in the Mediterranean. How could I be so close to the very ground where Christ Himself and all of His disciples had walked and talked and lived, so close to that spot of earth but so far from the Creator Himself?
Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with grief and longing. There’s no lonely quite as brutal as the lonely you feel when you’re surrounded by people. Oh, how I longed to believe that somehow, some way, we’d find our way back home, back to the embrace of the Jesus we’d known since the graham cracker and lemonade days of children’s Sunday School.
And so it was that I found myself rummaging through my night stand drawer, desperate to find that rosary from Lebanon. My girls weren’t as enchanted as I was with them, so I had taken one on permanent loan. I would pull it out from time to time, it served as a talisman of sorts, a reminder of the week I spent up close and personal with the Syrian families, a people so filled with longing for home that it shattered my heart.
My husband and I had had another intense conversation, another desperation-filled discussion covering that hard, barren wilderness ground.
What are we going to do about church?
Try as we might, we couldn’t turn away from Christ completely. His love was so deeply ingrained in our hearts, we couldn’t abandon our faith altogether. But try as we might, we couldn’t agree on what church should look like. I wanted nurturing and beauty and art and inspiration. He wanted truth and history and something that wouldn’t change no matter which way the winds of culture blew.
The tracks of tears weren’t quite dry on my face when I remembered a book I had read, a convert story of a woman who grew up as a fundamentalist Christian but found her way to the Catholic church after reading a pamphlet in the NICU of a Catholic hospital that invited everyone to ask for prayer from Mary, that she was truly the mother to us all.
I pulled the rosary beads from my nightstand drawer and knelt down next to my bed. I still had no idea how to pray the rosary, and I had most certainly not ever prayed to ask Mary anything, but my despair drove me to hope that maybe – maybe – Mary would see me in my distress and rescue us from the longing that now threatened to cut us off from the Body of Christ altogether.
“Mary,” I whispered. “Please help us. We are so lost. Please help us find our way home.”
I tucked the rosary beads back into my drawer with no idea of what would unfold in the weeks to come. That as the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation dawned, my husband would head down a rabbit hole of internet research to try to figure out just where the Catholic Church had gone wrong. Never would I have believed that he would surface from that research resolute in the knowledge that we needed to become Catholic. And I certainly could have had no idea how one sunny October Saturday afternoon, the deacon of a nearby parish who agreed to meet with us to talk about starting RCIA classes would swing open the front doors to the church and I would step inside and find the fulfillment of years of heartbroken longing. I was, at long last, home.
Meg Tietz is the creator and host of Sorta Awesome, a weekly podcast for women, and she’s the owner of Nikolaus Design, a shop specializing in fine rosaries made to last a lifetime. She’d love for you to pull up a chair on her porch to talk theology, personality types, and all things awesome. She and her husband and their five children make their home in Oklahoma City, and you can connect with her and all of her work on Instagram at sortaawesomemeg.