Tuesday, December 24: Amanda Martinez-Beck

This fall has been a dark one for me. Don’t get me wrong–I love my family, but sometimes life just feels overwhelming with four little kids, a good husband…and me feeling nothing but nothing inside. 

Frequently the days stretch out into marathons, and even the early darkness of a fall night doesn’t give me relief. 

Every few months, when my world gets dark and cold, I turn to stories. I used to grab a good book to read to pull me out of the feel-nothings, but for some reason my attention span isn’t long enough for books anymore. 

Podcasts and streaming TV shows meet me where I am at the moment, and that is good. My kids tucked into their beds, I normally retreat to the couch with a drink and my laptop, to watch Madam Secretary on Netflix, desperate to find some meaning to life. 

Sometimes I even let myself get drawn in to the stories found in the Scriptures, and the people I meet there become real to me. I especially love the Annunciation–who doesn’t?–and marveling at Mary’s yes to God, accepting the invitation to the Incarnation, consenting to carry the son of God in the darkness of her womb. 

I haven’t had any angelic visitations like Mary, but I have heard the still, small voice of God calling me to something greater than myself, and I have found myself asking God to give me the same yes that Mary gives. 

That’s why when I see Frozen II over Thanksgiving break, I get choked up when Elsa is outside on her balcony, hearing a voice that no one else can hear. My tears fall because Elsa’s song “Into the Unknown” reminds me how much I miss that still, small voice. 

But right now, there’s no voice. Just emptiness. I long to be back in that place again where I am full of faith and full of life. I’m weeping because I remember. It’s been so long since I’ve heard a word from God. I want to keep saying yes to God like Mary, but it’s hard when everything seems so bleak. So silent. 

Sometimes I wonder how Mary’s cousin Elizabeth feels after Zechariah returns from his temple service. In contrast to Mary receiving Jesus through words and angelic visitation, all Elizabeth has are looks and gestures from her husband, his embrace in the night, and the mysterious flutterings within her womb. He can’t say a word to her at all. 

I wonder–how does she know she is pregnant? Maybe all the signs might be there, but she and Zechariah are so old and have longed for a child for decades…how can she be sure?

I imagine her feeling the nothingness inside, wondering if she can let her heart love someone she thinks might be there. Maybe she’s miscarried before; maybe she is terrified of losing this baby and fear consumes her. Maybe she’s laying in her bed, desperate for some sign that God hasn’t forgotten her. 

Maybe she doesn’t hear the wagon outside her window because she is distracted by her emptiness, or maybe it’s the fear of being found empty, again

But then, Mary’s greeting reaches her ears, and there is no doubt in her–body or soul–that a child indeed lives within her, and that the Word of God has come to her in the womb of her young cousin. 

This is my advent longing–to hear the voice that calls me into the unknown again, whether it be in the wind–the Ruah, or the witness of the lives of Mary and Elizabeth, or the Word of God himself, speaking to my inmost heart–new promises and reminders that he has not forgotten the promises he has already spoken. I long for this emptiness I feel to be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit, and with Elizabeth to proclaim, “Blessed is she who believed that there will be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 

But for now, I wait.

Amanda Martinez Beck is co-founder of Ruah Storytellers and lives in East Texas. She is passionate about the power of storytelling, particularly through podcasting. She and her husband Zachary cohost the Arkeo Camino podcast (pronounced “ark-a-o ca-mee-no”) and she is also the cohost of the Fat & Faithful podcast. She is the author of Lovely: How I Learned to Embrace the Body God Gave Me, published by Our Sunday Visitor.

Monday, December 23: Liz Schleicher

“God at the Bottom”


Hold your breath.


There’s a mural on the inside of the CT machine–a flowing, water-like design, with koi fish swirling through a black and gray-stenciled pattern. Maybe it’s meant to calm patients down, give them something to look at, keep them from claustrophobia as they slide in and out of the scanner. But it also calls to mind being held under — close your eyes. Dive. You have no choice. Open them. The koi are darting around you. The machine is buzzing. The mechanized voice commands again:

“Hold your breath.”


You’re lifted breathless out of the depths of the machine. It’s all over. The technician removes your warm blanket and helps you up. You’ve done this so many times that you know her now. 

So many scans. So many koi. So many baptisms of fear. In this room, the only salvation you’re longing for is three letters long. 

NED. No evidence of disease.


It’s been this way since March of 2017, when I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer while 40 weeks pregnant with my second child. That first dive was deep and icy cold, and I didn’t know if I would ever come up.


Hold your breath. 

“What is this thing on my hip?”

“That bump shouldn’t be there.”

“I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have cancer.” 

“We have to get this baby out of you NOW.” 


“Your baby is not at any risk of cancer.”

“It’s called synovial sarcoma. It’s a rare soft tissue cancer. We put you at Stage Two-B.” 

“Your cancer hasn’t spread, so that’s good news.”

“Your tumor is right on the line between small and large, so we are going to treat it aggressively. You’ll have chemo, and radiation, and surgery.” 

But the next dive was even deeper and darker. 


Hold your breath. 

Anxiety attacks. Depression. Disordered eating. Weight loss. Hair loss. Fevers. Vomiting. Hallucinations. Critically low blood counts. Transfusions. Confession with a strange priest in a strange hospital. Failure to tolerate chemotherapy. “Let’s just move on.” Radiation. Surgery. Clear margins. Success. 

NED. No evidence of disease.


Up for air, gasping and clawing my way to shore, limping and crying but very much alive. And for the first time in many months, the longing to have the tumor out of my body and the fear of death were accompanied by another, very fragile emotion:


Dive again. Not as deep this time. 


Hold your breath. 

“We’ve decided on two more cycles of chemotherapy, at a reduced dose.”


“You’re still good. All good. We’ll see you in three months for your next scan.” 

Having three whole months to do with as I pleased seemed so extravagant that I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was difficult to adjust, to switch from learning to die to learning to live again. Some days I celebrated. Some days I slept. Some days I threw dishes. And all the while, I waited for that looming deadline, that next dive.


Hold your breath. 

I was still clear in February, May, August, November, repeating again and again the same ritual. Pack as much life as possible into three months, then prepare for the worst. Steel yourself physically, mentally, spiritually. Walk into the cancer center. Sit in the same chairs you sat in before, bald and dead to the world. Chat with a nurse as she hooks a line up to a port in your chest. Drink a bottle of water. Answer questions. Remove any clothing containing metal. Take off your wedding ring and your miraculous medal. Step into the room. Get a warm blanket. See the koi. Dive.


Hold your breath. 

But always, in the depths of all that breathless, dark water, as I touched bottom again and again, I found God waiting. Each time he was there with a new lesson. Each time he gave me the push I needed to resurface. 

Slowly and almost imperceptibly, my longing for “no evidence of disease” was joined by by a deeper desire. A desire for something unsinkable, something I could hold on to even if the cancer returned. Even if everything else was lost.  A desire for peace and joy. The kind that St. Paul writes of when he says, 

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I had a recurrence scare in May of 2019, but was ultimately found clear of cancer once again. In September, I graduated from seeing my oncologists quarterly. For the next two years, God willing, I will see them only twice a year. 

I still long to remain cancer-free. Who wouldn’t? I have a husband and two beautiful children to care for, family and friends to love, a home to manage, so many more stories to tell. I need to learn more, trust more, pray more and worship more before I’m ready to praise Him forever in Heaven.

Strangely, though, I’ve never wished to go back in time. I don’t really even want to erase the cancer, the scans, the sickness. The fear of death. That would mean erasing my two-year-old son’s entire life, my daughter’s toddlerhood, my husband’s heroic love. It would disappear the compassionate work of my family, doctors and friends. It would wither the tiny sprouts of lasting peace and joy that have been growing in my heart. 

Corrie Ten Boom said, “There is no pit so deep that God’s Love is not deeper still.” 

Sometimes, you have no choice but to dive. 


Hold your breath.

God will be there at the bottom.


Liz Schleicher is an opinion columnist and stay-at-home mother from rural Missouri . You can find her on Twitter as @Punky Mantilla, telling tales of Catholicism, country folks, children and cancer

Sunday, December 22: Marcia Lane McGee

This is not happening.

This shouldn’t be happening.

I can’t believe this is happening.

Why? Why is this happening right now?

The words played on a loop in my head as the ER doctor spoke. I know I didn’t respond. He brought a nurse in at some point and they both tried to get my attention. I remember repeatedly hearing my name and wondering if they could see rainbows as they shined a light in my eyes that were pooling with tears. I wondered if I could have heard them wrong.

I was discharged with a prescription and made the long trip to the “L,’ barely noticing the Chicago winter swirling around me, freezing the tears to my face, making my steps labored, reminding me that I left my gloves back at the hospital along with the thought of having random bouts of nausea was the worst way to welcome this new year. 

There was no one on the Blue Line with me. That would have been strange any other Thursday before 5p, but it was January 2nd and everyone was enjoying what was left of the break indoors and not getting the worst news of their life. The train rumbled on and I let the tears fall, straightening up when the doors opened to greet passengers that didn’t come.

A mercy. 

No one wants witnesses to the worst day of their life. And no one wants to be the woman crying by herself on the CTA. 

I lay in bed that night, and the ones that followed, asking myself “what now?” and trying in vain to answer. Those in whom I did confide, told me of their support no matter my choice. Some told me they would be there for me and the baby in any way they can. Others, though supportive because they loved me, told me that this was going to be hard. That I should worry about finishing college and I could have more kids when I was ready. They were the ones I heard the loudest and coupled with my self-doubt, my shame, and fear of the unknown, theirs were the voices that seemed to make the most sense.

I took a breath, touched my stomach to let him know that I was sorry I had to do this and said “ I don’t have enough. You deserve enough. I am not enough.” Despite knowing it went against my beliefs, knowing I couldn’t tell my campus ministry friends, and knowing I would never be able to forgive myself, I made the appointment the next day.

Dread filled my body when I woke up in my dorm room that Friday morning. I knew that once my feet hit the floor, I would get ready, take the train into the city, and 10 o’clock would find me signing away my child’s life. There I was prostrate, in my bed, praying for some guidance and another way out. Breathing in and out trying hard not to break down, I rolled over and brushed my hand across my stomach. That was when he moved. That was when he let me know that we were in this together. That was when we saved each other.
He saved me from making the worst decision of my life and I saved him from being remembered with regret.

Missing my appointment didn’t make things any easier. I still cried all day, I still lost sleep over the next week asking myself “what now?” except I had to start answering because I wasn’t getting less pregnant as the days went on, and life was not taking it easy on me in the interim. Within a week, I found I had to leave school and I lost my place to live and my job. With life coming at me hard and life being the only option for my child, I was once again faced with my short comings. 

I took a breath, caressed my belly, googled “adoption agencies Illinois,”  and prayed “I don’t have enough. I want you to have enough. I am not enough.” It was hard, I was sad, but I made an adoption plan for my son.

My son. I was calling him my son since pretty much the beginning. 

I knew he was a boy before the ultrasound. He and I had a connection since the moment he fought for his life that Friday morning that he saved me and I saved him. My son needed the best even if it wasn’t me.

After months of turmoil, loneliness, intermittent homelessness, depression, and anxiety he was here! He made his presence known one Tuesday night in April, ready to be loved, and ready to belong to me!

And he did belong to me…as long we shared that hospital room.

How I wish he could have belonged to me always. 

When they wheeled the two of us out the front door that Friday afternoon, his new family was waiting to receive him. I kissed him and held him close, I prayed for him, and I knew “I am not good enough. She is mom enough. I am not enough.” I passed her into his arms and she whispered “thank you, Marcia” before turning away, securing him in the car seat, and driving him home. 


At the curb, in a wheelchair, with the hospital attendant doing a poor job of being strong for me, I was broken. A piece of my heart was on its way to the suburbs, and shards of my dignity were scattered over the last four months. I was certain wholeness was no longer in the cards for me. There was not enough. I did not have enough. I would never be enough. 

Our arrangement helped. I got see him. I got to be a part of his life. I was at his baptism, I served cake at his first birthday party, I sat with the family at his first communion, fawned over him when he graduated eighth grade, and even still I felt like I was just dropping in. I didn’t do enough. I wasn’t there enough. I could not be enough.  

There I was forever stuck in this moment in time forever someone’s mom, but never “mom enough.” Moving forward, but never moving on. Healing came in parts, but never all at once. I don’t think it will ever fully come. Seeing him helps. Being in his life helps. But I am scared that he will resent me one day if he doesn’t already. Afraid that he will disappointed that I couldn’t be enough. 

As false as I now know they are, these thoughts and more run through my mind everyday. They strip me of my confidence and are an anchor to the past. A rusting anchor, but an anchor nonetheless. Believing I would never be enough would rob me of joy until one summer day a few years back. He called me to ask me one of the most important questions of my life. Of course I said I’d do it. Of course I stressed and bought a new dress and showed up earlier than needed. Of course I had butterflies when we met the bishop at the altar, when I placed my hand on his shoulder, and smiled as he was sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. He chose me. He chose me because I have faith enough. I love him enough. I am enough.

Saturday, December 21: Tara Nicholson

The day began with the knowledge that spring was in the air. The trees were bare as it was still winter but it was unseasonably warm for that time in New Jersey. I had prepared myself for the five-day training as much as I possibly could. 

The idea of seeing my former boss in my previous work setting stirred up a myriad of uncomfortable memories, which left me feeling a bit incompetent as a therapist. I would be trained in a technique that could ultimately help my clients delve deeper into their past trauma with the hopes of reprocessing their memories and emotions in a healthy way. 

Despite the awkwardness and unease I felt, I boasted a superficial confidence in order to deflect my true feelings. In part, I had looked forward to this day, even selfishly so, as I hoped that I would uncover some deep rooted secret about myself that had been sitting somewhere in my unconscious mind. 

At this time in my life I was searching wildly for an answer to the meaning of my existence. Not yet a Catholic and very much so questioning the legitimacy of God, I still had a gnawing feeling in my gut that I could uncover the truth of who we all are and why we are here. As the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung once said, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are” and I very much so hoped that through psychological studies, I would discover the reason behind the existence for humanity. 

My career was everything to me and the fulfillment and attention I received for doing my job started to lead me down a path of seeking gratification solely through my achievements. My career took precedence so I ignored the idea of an omnibenevolent God. This day however, at the training, the discoveries I uncovered about myself were the catalyst in a radical shift towards beginning to know truth. This day was the start of fulfilling a deep longing that had been stirring within me for a relationship with the creator. 

I took my seat next to a very kind woman who was around my age. She was gentle, a little serious and visibly anxious. We shared mutual fears and seemed to bond over our unhealthy desires to be perfect people. Naturally as we seemed to be kindred spirits, we determined it would be best that we pair up during our breakout practice session. If one of us slipped up or did something wrong, we would pacify the other with words like, “you are doing a great job!” and “oh its okay I would have messed up too”. The hard part was choosing a memory to reprocess. I sank down into the brown leather armchair with my pen in hand trying to come up with some difficult or unpleasant memory that would be worth delving into. 

Knowing I only had ten minutes to work through the first part of the practice session, I settled on a memory of a close near-death experience I had as a child. I thought back and realized how many of my fears surrounded the idea of death and dying and so I decided this would be an interesting memory to process. 

I settled reluctantly with a small throw pillow on my lap in hopes of creating some level of comfort in such a vulnerable space. I started with the memory that took place on a hot summer day. I was running through the front yard of my childhood home and made my way over to a pile of pinecones I found scattered between the pine tree and the edge of the woods. I looked over at my father who was in the process of mowing the lawn and found myself being swarmed by a grouping of yellow jackets. Complete panic took over as I ran as fast as I could taking one large lap around the house before ultimately giving up, thus succumbing to multiple bee stings. 

The next few moments are hazy but I will never forget the sharp tightening in my throat as I struggled greatly to breathe. Waiting for the ambulance felt like hours, as it had to make its way up the long winding roads of the Sourland Mountains. The image was fresh in my mind as I sat in the brown chair recognizing that I had begun to clutch the pillow that was resting on my lap. I continued to process but I began to feel my throat tighten as if the memory was sneaking its way into reality. Throughout the reprocessing, I found myself connecting an ongoing slew of previous experiences to the concept of loss. “Why am I all of a sudden thinking about the death of my cat from fifteen years ago”? Also, “how strange it is that I’m remembering Hurricane Sandy and its complete devastation to the family beach house”.

 Choking back tears while simultaneously laughing at myself for recalling these seemingly unrelated memories, I kept “going with the flow’ and chose to see where it would lead me. After contending with a number of bizarre flashbacks, the words “memento mori” popped into my mind as if it had been immediately dropped from great heights into my head. Memento mori… remember that you must die. I began to feel a sheet of warmth envelope my body. It felt as if I was sitting out in the sun on a cloudless day. 

There was a sense of peace paired with the acknowledgement that I didn’t have to be afraid. I didn’t have to be afraid because the creator that I would ultimately come to know in the following years was the one true God. He, more than anyone understood suffering, loss, grief and death in a way that my fearful, anxiety-ridden self could not comprehend at the time. Have you ever experienced a moment where you just knew that everything would be okay? In so little words, that is what I came to realize. This day was the beginning stages of loosening the grip I had to the way I viewed the world–all about what I had, not about who I know. This day, I put myself aside in order to begin a relationship with the God I had been longing to know.

Tara is a Catholic convert living in New Jersey with her daughter, Lilly and husband Ben. During the day she lives out her dream of working as a therapist and clinical social worker. You can find her over on her blog at www.atvillagepark.com and Instagram page using the handle ‘atvillagepark’. She can also be found chatting away with her friend on the podcast ‘The Cravert Chronicles’.

Friday, December 20: Clare McCallan

Little drummer boy ratted tat tattin

as the people kept pa pa pa passing

Little drummer boy playing for the four train

Little bummer boy bought to go insane 

Little boy big bucket

Little boy tryna tough it


Tap it in

Tappin in, to 

city doesn’t want you

Little drummer boy rat a tat tat in 

as mobs keep fla fla flashin

past him 

ain’t no cashin 

Little Drummer Boy’s about to quit 

then, LIttle drummer boy, gets word of it

word on the street gettin clearer

like a four 

train gettin nearer 

that a little boys been born onto Brooklyn 

little boy ready to take on the world’s sin 

so the little drummer boy *stops 

let’s his little drum sticks *drop

And to the city that never listened anyway,

he whispers 

“To a Prince? Man what’s a drummer gotta say?”

What’s a street performer got to do with a savior 

and what’s a savior got do with my behavior 

Am I good?

I don’t, know?

What I am?

is someone who shouldn’t go 

to him.

I’ve got, nothin to give.

I’m just an upside down Home Depot bucket and a pair sticks 

don’t know what he wants for his birthday but I wouldn’t count myself at the top of his picks 

But despite himself 

secretly in search of respite, himself 

LDB, Little drummer boy 

played with an idea, began to toy 

with it

it had a rhy,them 

It went like 

*taps out little drummer boy on box*

It went like

*taps out little drummer boy with shaker*

It went like

*taps out little drummer boy with shaker and tambourine*

It went like 

Little boy 

big savior 

Humble birth 

glory later 


can’t prevail, ya

see it in this baby’s eyes, 

hear it in this baby’s cries 

Like he’s crying for every other boy n girl 

Like he plans on dying for the whole world

Little drummer boy getting on the four train 

Little drummer boy writing down a refrain

Pa rum pa pa pum

Heart beatin like a dr dr drum

And under the glow of a street light, on another starless New York City night 

A street performer met a world reformer 

By some Brooklyn miracle, it was 

A drummer sent to discover,

The wonder who came to suffer.

And for the first time,

It didn’t matter to the drummer that the city never saw him

Cause for some reason, all that mattered now was the savior in front of him

He thought again:

Can I be good?

Yes I can.

What I got?

Is everything I am.

And if it’s good enough for this baby,

well then maybe it’ll be good enough to save me.

I’m good if I fulfill my purpose, 

but my purpose isn’t what this world’s is:

I just want to play for this prince,

And if the rest of my days this is my only audience?

I will be ok.

I’ll Just tap tap and say

Thursday, December 19: Melissa Richards

“The Lord brings death and makes alive, He brings down to the grave and raises up.” These are the words of Hannah, mother of Samuel the prophet. Hannah struggled with infertility for years before conceiving Samuel, and so these words reflect her personal encounter with the power of God in her life. 

Unlike Hannah, I have been spared the pains of infertility. In ten years of marriage, our 3 beautiful daughters were each conceived without difficulty. We have always wanted a large family, and until recently felt we were well on our way to realizing this dream. 

Although we have cherished having children, my pregnancies are always difficult, with 3 to 4 months of nausea and vomiting. My last pregnancy seemed to push me to the edge of what I felt I could handle, morning sickness coupled with extreme weakness and fatigue. But there was anotherl complication in this pregnancy as well – a hard lump in my left breast. My midwife reassured me that breast lumps are very common during pregnancy and that upon examination it did not seem concerning to her. When it did not resolve after delivery, my midwife sent me for what she thought would be a routine mammogram, perhaps to discover a cyst or fibrotic tissue. Unfortunately, the mammogram led to an ultrasound, which led to a biopsy, – which ultimately led to a diagnosis of breast cancer. 

It is hard to describe what it is like to be diagnosed with cancer when you are 30. I have never known fear so relentless, so paralyzing. I slept and ate very little in the days leading up to the official diagnosis. I would watch my children play while I sat crumpled in a corner crying, or I would anxiously pace around the house, calling anyone who would talk with me. I would stuff a small Gideon Bible into my shirt at night and beg God to make the lump benign. 

I found in those early days and weeks that my fears would run through cycles – In one moment, gripped by the fear of leaving my precious children to grow up without a mother. I knew many breast cancer survivors, and so eventually this fear would give way and a new one would take its place – the fear that I would have to endure one – or maybe two mastectomies – and never breastfeed again. 

I also had to grapple with the possible ramifications of cancer treatment. If a lumpectomy was all I needed, it would be paired with radiotherapy, which could damage my heart and lungs and even destroy my breast’s ability to produce milk for future children. Chemotherapy also carried risk to the heart and brain, but the hardest pill to swallow was the significant risk that chemotherapy had for my could destroy my fertility.  Just one round of chemotherapy can wipe years off of a woman’s fertility, and some women are thrown into permanent early-onset menopause by the end of their treatment. 

In these early days of my diagnosis, words of encouragement and comfort poured in from friends and family. They sent me prayers, Bible verses, and a few told me of a sense of peace they had about everything I was going through. I hung on to every word sent to me as a way of staying afloat in my emotional chaos. I was particularly drawn to Isaiah 43:2 which reads:

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; 

   and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. 

When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned,

   And the flame shall not consume you.”

Passing through the fire? What better way to describe cancer treatment – Chemotherapy  indiscriminately kills healthy cells along with cancerous ones. Radiation often leaves skin and tissue swollen, scarred, and burned. Passing through the fire – This became my verse for the year – I prayed at each step that God would lead me through treatment while saving my body from its damaging effects. 


I am nearly a year out from my original diagnosis. And I have passed through the fire – an extensive lumpectomy, four rounds of chemo, and 7 weeks of radiation. God has met me in so many ways through the entire experience. I learned to lean on the intercessions of the saints–particularly St. Therese of Liseaux, St. Gerard, and the venerable Fulon Sheen. And I learned to offer up my suffering on behalf of others.

Now I am entering a new phase – that of being a cancer survivor. It is not a term I am particularly comfortable with. I don’t like to think that I had something that I needed to survive. And there is the fear that perhaps the cancer is dormant and could reassert itself in the coming years. It is a hard period to adjust to. My doctors continue to monitor me for signs of recurrence, and I take a daily hormonal pill to prevent the cancer from coming back. I wait and hope that it doesn’t. And I pray for my body to heal, for my fertility to return, and for God to give us another baby.

As I meditate on the story of Hannah, the most astounding part for me is not that God answered her prayers for a child. It is what she does in her period of waiting. In her darkest moments, Hannah’s grief is so profound that the prophet Eli mistakes it for drunkenness. When she explains her circumstance, he responds to her: “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.”

The Bible records that Hannah “went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.”

Through my cancer journey, I have also experienced moments of darkness. Times I was overwhelmed with fear, grief, even rage – But the suffering I have experienced, and the ways God has met me in my suffering, has changed my prayers. Recently I brought a petition to the Lord, and initially felt that familiar desperation. But it was as if I heard a small whisper in my heart: “The Lord knows.” And my heart quieted. I felt peace. 

Perhaps that is the point of so much of our suffering, our longing. I long to experience the fullness of Isaiah 43:2 – to walk through the fire and not be burned. I long to defy the death sentence so often associated with cancer, to once again bring forth life through my body, to nurse a baby with milk from a breast that was once diseased, cut open, and irradiated. I long to say with Hannah, “The Lord brings death and makes alive.” 

But I am learning, ever so slowly, to be at peace with the knowledge that God knows. That He knows what I have need of before I even ask. That He knows the deepest longings of my heart, the dreams I have carried since I was a child. Like Hannah, I am learning to bring my longing to the Lord, and then to go in peace. Because the Lord knows, and I can trust my longing to Him.

Melissa is a homeschooling mom who lives with her husband and three daughters in Western Illinois. She graduated from the University of Florida with a Masters degree in Religious Studies in 2013 and joined the Catholic Church along with her husband in 2016. She currently works as a Peer Breastfeeding Counselor at her community WIC office, where she helps to educate and support local mothers in their decision to breastfeed their babies.

Wednesday, December 18: Lindsay Schlegel

Big Girl, New Digs

Christianne’s new apartment had felt bigger before her stuff was in it.

She’d felt so boss signing on the dotted line and slipping the key onto her ring a few days ago. She’d submitted the postal system’s change of address form, relishing the physical manifestation of her adulthood.

“I feel gross,” she confessed to her sister Maria. “I’m hot. I’m sticky. And it’s December for crying out loud.”

“At least we got it all in. I guess we should change our plan for post-move peppermint mochas,” Maria answered, heaving the last box of books onto a table. 

“Think we could get them iced?”

“I think I’m too exhausted to walk down the block.” Maria collapsed onto the couch. “Power nap,” she said, as she closed her eyes. 


Christianne crossed into the bedroom and surveyed her space. Everything she’d wanted was here, and it felt like too much and not enough at the same time.

The apartment was cute, with new appliances and a big bathroom. It was an easy commute to her job at a consulting agency, and the rent fell just within her budget. When she showed the listing to her parents, there were no raised eyebrows, which had to mean something, right?

She ran her finger along the top of the dresser she should have measured for before she bought it online. The price made it a steal, but the fact that the drawers only opened if her bedroom door was closed upset her more than she wanted to admit. She’d laughed with Maria when they realized it didn’t fit, but really she’d been terrified that this was only the first of a slew of humiliating mistakes she was bound to make now that she was on her own. 

A college degree, a job with benefits, and her own address, and still she didn’t feel like she had any business living in this city. For one thing, she hadn’t really understood all the terms of the lease. Did anyone?

Not for the first time, Christianne wondered if you really could fake it ‘til you made it, or if, at some point, you were bound to be exposed as the failure you really were. 

A young boy’s laughter streamed in the window they’d cracked open to prevent the room from feeling like a sauna. There was a playground across the street from her building. The boy was on the swings, babbling, then squealing each time his mother gave him another push into the sky. 

Heat behind Christianne’s eyes threatened to summon tears, but she told herself—again—that it was just a dresser and it was fine. Not like she was going to be getting dressed with the door open anyway.   

“What’s wrong?”

Christianne still faced the window, but her sister could always sense when something was off. “When did you realize you weren’t going to be what you wanted to be when you grew up?” 

“You mean I’m not going to be a ballerina who lives on the moon? Who says?” Maria countered.

Christianne turned around. “I mean it. I didn’t dream of spreadsheets and pencil skirts when I was little, not even when I was in high school or most of college.”

“God is full of surprises.”

Christianne searched for a way to say what she meant that wouldn’t sound like a child whining. But any way she cut it, she felt juvenile, young, small. 

“What do you think you want now?” Maria asked. 

“I don’t know,” Christianne said. “Some marker that I’m on the right path.”

“Hand me a blazer,” Maria said.

“Hand you a what?”

“A blazer. Whichever one fits you the best.”

Christianne reached into her closet and rustled off the bag from the dry cleaners. This one was deep blue, almost purple, and not only fit like it was made for her, but also made her eyes pop. Maria wriggled out of her sweatshirt and shrugged the blazer on over her tank top.

“Well?” Maria asked.

“It doesn’t fit you. None of my clothes fits you. And ugh, you’re sweaty. Unless you want to make a stop at the cleaners on your way home, can we be done with this?” Christianne said.

“In a second.” Maria spun around slowly, raising her arms to a T. Finally she faced Christianne again. “You’re right. It doesn’t fit me. And I couldn’t have picked it out for you if I tried. Or even if I did, I couldn’t have had it tailored unless you were in it.”

Christianne took the blazer back and hung it up again, then looked back out the window. The mom was lifting the boy out of the swing and buckling him into a stroller full of blankets. “Do you miss being little sometimes?” 

“I guess so. It would be nice to take more naps.”

“I mean the freedom, the lack of responsibility,” Christianne said.

“I don’t know. I mean, what would it all lead to? I don’t think I could have stayed a kid forever.”

“But we were happy kids,” Christianne said.

“Girl, happiness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

Christianne just barely shook her head, trying to understand. Her sister wasn’t happy?

“I’m not unhappy,” Maria said, reading her mind. “I’m just saying that’s not really the goal for me anymore.”

“What is?” Christianne asked.

Maria’s eyes shone. “Finding the blazer that fits.”

Lindsay Schlegel is a daughter of God, wife, mother, and believer in the life-giving power of words. She’s the author of Don’t Forget to Say Thank You: And Other Parenting Lessons That Brought Me Closer to God and the host of the weekly podcast, Quote Me. You can learn more about her work and her ministry at LindsaySchlegel.com or on Instagram, @lindsayschlegs and @quoteme_podcast.

Tuesday, December 17: Leticia Ochoa Adams

Advent is a time of waiting. Since the suicide of my oldest son Anthony, I feel like waiting is what my life is all about. I am waiting always in the hope that I will see Anthony again and that we will both be in the light of God’s face. That waiting is going to be an advent for the rest of my life.

One of the things I learned about grief is how deep the ache is to see your loved one’s face and/or to hear their voice. A few months after Anthony’s funeral I was out at his grave and the urge to dig with my hands just to see his face again was so strong. I had never felt that way with any other loss before but I had never lost a child whose face was a part of my daily life for twenty two years either.

In the middle of this grief is life. Which is also so much like Advent, where we wait for the birth of Jesus as we go to work, go to school, pack lunches, fill cars with gas and go to the grocery store for toilet paper. In the middle of waiting and longing and wishing for time to pass faster, we draw out the moments of joy and laughter as we wait for the day when all will be well. The blessed Mother knows what that wait is like. She lived her regular life as God grew in her womb. Everything so surreal, she was the mother of God but also so normal, she also had to cook dinner.

Advent is a time full of hope. Where anything is possible, even if we can only see bits and pieces of that possibility. I see Anthony’s children growing up, learning new things and going forward in life. They are growing up in ways that he would not even recognize them as they are now because kids grow fast and in the two and a half years that he has been gone his children have grown into different humans. That is beautiful to experience but also, heartbreaking because he should be here for all of this.

Yet, there is hope.

Hope does not have anything to do with the actions of us but everything to do with God’s actions. The action of Him coming down to live among us as a tiny baby, a little boy and then a grown man willing to hang on a Cross for us. It is in all of that that I have hope for Anthony and I to see each other again and for him to see his children again and get to know who they are. It is in that, the birth and life and death of Jesus, that I find the will to keep moving forward on the days when I would much rather just lay on my son’s grave and not get back up. Hope picks me up.

Hope keeps me going when I do not know what is coming. Surely more good days, more joy, more babies and more life is coming in the days and years ahead of me, but so is more death, more funerals and more grief. Because all of it is the package of life. All things are fleeting, joy and sadness, life and death. Anthony’s death has been a masterclass on how to live in the unknowing. It is by living in the hope that was born in the form of a baby who would grow into the God Man.

It is that hope that gets me through the sadness ,loneliness and feeling lost because that Hope is the light in the darkness that come during Advent.  Advent happens in a season where the days grow shorter, there is more darkness and the nights by the fire are where we feel warmth. In life’s Advents the same holds true. There is more darkness here and God is the fire that keeps us warm when we sit close to Him.

Leticia Ochoa Adams is a wife, mother and grandmother who lives in the suburbs of Austin Texas. She is a freelance writer who has articles at Aletheia and Our Sunday visitor and has contributed to books such as The Catholic Hipster Handbook and Surprised by Life. Leticia is also a regular on the Jen Fulwiler show on SiriusXM. Her website is leticiaoadams.com

Monday, December 16: Megan Harper

She handed me a towel to wipe the goop from my abdomen.  She had warmed up the goop, which had been kind of her. She was kind to me.  She looked at me with sad eyes and said “Well, it looks like an empty womb. I’m so sorry honey.”

It had been twelve days since the last ultrasound, the one where they couldn’t find a heartbeat, and I had lost our second baby the day after that.  For twelve days, I had pushed through. I went to work. I told people it would be ok, I’m fine, I’m fine. But when this nice ultrasound tech offered me sincere condolences, I just said “Thank you.”

Our older daughter was only 15 months at the time, but this pregnancy had not been a surprise or an accident; this baby was sought after and very much wanted.  We had been about 10 weeks along, and had been so close to sharing our joyful news with family and friends. This was the younger sibling we had prayed for, longed for.  And he was gone. Empty womb. Empty: just how my heart felt.

My emptiness was confirmed The aforementioned confirmation of my emptiness happened on December 20, 2017. All these pregnant images of Mary surrounding me made me feel like she was being pregnant AT me.  Sure, Mama, I get it that you’re giving birth to the savior of the world. I understand that it’s because of Him that I may see my baby someday. But this feels so unfair.

Walking back to my car after that ultrasound, I was reminded of another time, about the same time of year, when I had felt longing to be full.

I was 18 years old.  I was a freshman in college and had decided to stay home and attend community college.  I had always longed for more attention from the boys, but just wasn’t much of an attention-getter; this fueled anxiety about my self-image, which likely made me stand out even less. In high school, I’d had a large, healthy group of girl friends to distract me from that kind of loneliness, but now it seemed everyone had gone off to 4 year university adventures, and as they filtered back in for Christmas break, things just weren’t the same.  They were meeting up with new college friends, pining for new boyfriends, and of course spending time with their own families.

That was the year that my parish switched midnight mass from 10pm to actual midnight.  That was the final straw for my parents, who decided our tradition of going to midnight mass together was not for them anymore.  That was ok, my two brothers would still be with me. We got there early and sat in a pew together, and then one at a time they were picked off to be altar servers. I felt alone in a crowd of people. My throat swelled and I willed tears not to fall from my eyes.  It was Christmas, I so badly wanted to not be alone, but I felt alone, empty.

The 100 year old Italian carved-wood nativity scene that the parish displays every year caught the corner of my eye.  Maybe for the first time, I imagined taking an actual infant and laying him in the hay. Of having to give birth in some kind of barn. I wondered if the Holy Family had felt kind of outcast.  It was like Jesus saying “I know, I’m sorry, me too.”

My throat was still closed up and those tears still threatened to fall, but I suddenly felt a sort of warmth through my core, the way you feel when someone gives you a tight hug.  The loneliness didn’t go away, but strangely, I had company in my loneliness. It’s not that my sadness went away–it was just acknowledged in that moment, and my empty longing felt fuller, somehow.

As I left the ultrasound room, womb and heart empty, I reflected on how similar and still how different my two longings were–it is different to long for what was once yours but is now gone. My son was lost, and I felt like I might soon be, too.

Any sort of real moving forward took months, and Christmas that year felt pretty somber. But just like that nativity scene caught my eye years before, the memory of my previous longing helped me remember that I was not alone, that even on His birthday, Jesus was there to sit with me and make space for me and my sorrow, to join me in my emptiness and fill it with his presence.

And He was not just there with me in an emotional sense.  He was there with me in my husband, who took my hands and made me promise not to blame myself. He was there with me throughin the form of my doctor OB, who called me after hearing that there was no heartbeat, and didn’t hang up the phone until she’d encouraged me to feel my feelings, to cry. He was there with me in my best friend, who checked in on me every day for a while. He was with me in the compassionate ultrasound technician, in my parents, in my siblings, who all rallied around me.  He stayed with me, even though I was angry with Him, even though I only went through the motions of celebrating His birthday.

Even though I had been so angry with Him, even though I barely talked to Him on His birthday, he still reached out to me in 2018 and gave me what I begged Him for. The next advent, longing filled me once again. I remember going to a family Christmas party, wearing a green dress that accented my growing belly. I was filled with longing, but it was different this time–it was a longing that comes when a heartbeat fills a womb, the kind you feel when you let yourself hope again.

I felt so beautiful and full of love; and full of longing to meet my second daughter, this precious gift of God. 

Megan Harper is a Clinical Social Worker at Oregon State Hospital. She and her husband Zach and their daughters Zoey and Hannah are parishioners at St. Philip in Dallas, Oregon. Megan is passionate about her faith, social justice, and the Oregon State Beavers!

Sunday, December 15: Nelly Sosa-Rmz

One of my favorite church hymns is “There is a Longing in Our Hearts.” Every time I sing it, I am moved to tears. This is the reason why…

I have been dreaming about love ever since I was a child.

Yes, my life, even at eight years old, was a perpetual longing for love.

I didn’t really know what kind of love my heart was longing for at that time. I was too young to understand, but I remember feeling a strong need to belong, to be cherished and to be protected. 

I remember my sister and I used to play dress up and we took turns being the “bride.” 

I also remember sitting on my bed writing songs during my youth. There was one song I remember in particular.  I used to sing it in front of the mirror. It was a beautiful sad song about a girl who was so in love with a guy, but he did not know anything about her feelings, so their roads never really met.

I was so in love with love, but it was a love without face, a love without voice…

Still, I had many years to “find the one” and I always had in my parents a safe and happy place to turn to, so all this daydreaming about love kind of worked for a while.

All of the sudden, my life changed when I was only 17. My dad passed away, so the person I looked to as a reference for a man of God, of love, of respect, was lost to me in a storm of grief. 

My world came down in pieces.

I felt so lonely. My heart needed a safe place to rest more than ever.

I cried and I prayed many nights, trying to make sense of the emptiness and pain that mom, my siblings and I felt without dad.

I knew Jesus was there. Somewhere. 

I needed His mercy and His love more than ever. 

I needed His companionship and wisdom.

My faith was faint, but it was still there. Joining the music ministry helped me to maintain the tiny connection that I had with God at the time, but I still had so many questions. I was hesitant on trusting the Lord, so I gave Jesus the role of spectator, instead of the leader of my journey. 

I was determined to find love, no matter what, but every time I tried to date a guy, it didn’t last long.

By the time I was in college, finding love became a little bit of an obsession.

I was so afraid of the possibility of never recognizing “the one” in the crowds and of him never loving me back, just like in that song I had written many years ago.

Some lights shined in my path during that time, but the only things I found when I ran after them were disappointment and pain.

My relationship with God was still not the best. But I approached Him with my demanding prayers and my inflexible will. I would ask Him for things like: “Lord, please, make this guy fall in love with me.”

I was spiritually and emotionally hungry. I spent most of my precious 20’s longing, searching, aching,  and once again, without really asking the Lord what His will was for me. Now, I realize that I was not letting Him be God because I thought I knew better.

At 25 years old, the skies were gray and my future, blurry. The more I longed for true love, the harder it became to find it. I didn’t understand. My friends started to get married and I couldn’t seem to find my own definition of “real love.”

The years passed. By the grace of God, little by little, I started to realize that nothing I could say or do was going to give me what my heart really wanted. Because I didn’t really know what I was looking for.

One day during Mass, I finally heard in my heart a new prayer that changed my life forever:

“Lord, please give me the opportunity to start a family in your Holy Name.”

I felt my soul burning as I repeated these words in my mind. At that very moment, I finally recognized Him as the Lord of my life! And from then on, He started to reveal His perfect plan to me.

All my heart really needed was God. I needed to get along with Him first, as a true friend, to contemplate His face and see what love really looked like, and how loved I already was! 

I needed to put Him as the center of my life, to surrender to His will and give Him total control of my present and my future.

Entrusting my life to Jesus, I started to grow in friendship with Him. Realizing how powerless I was, I saw the greatness of His love and His mercy.

Prayers started to flow more often from my heart. I prayed the Rosary. I made an effort to listen attentively to the voice of God during Mass. I promised myself that I would stop searching for a relationship to fill up my interior emptiness. Peace started to enter into my days. 

I decided to make good use of my free time reconnecting with my mom, whom I love so much and who had been so patient with me on this journey. 

Little by little, the Lord broke my attachments of the past, revived my soul and prepared my heart to receive the greatest gift I could ever longed for: my husband and my children.

The pain of all these years was the biggest blessing of my life. In the cross of loneliness, heartache and frustration, in all that I called “nonsense,” the Lord was leading me, taking me into His arms.

I am so thankful for my personal Advent. Through this long season of waiting, God’s grace made me a new woman. A woman whose heart was saved from sin and sorrow by Him. A woman who loves Him and trusts Him above anything else. 

In case you are wondering, dear listener, my future husband was closer than I ever thought. One day, my man of God joined the choir where I had been singing for years. We became friends, got married after 3 years and after 10 years, we are still singing together. 

God is always faithful. God is always good. He knows what our hearts need. Glory to Him forever! 

Nelly Sosa is a catholic wife, homeschool mom of two amazing gifts of God, and blogger at El Árbol Menta. Borned and raised in a big city in Mexico, adopted the peaceful country living of rural western Pennsylvania seven years ago, and there, in the beauty and peacefulness of creation, she got to know and love the Lord like never before.