Saturday, December 14: Cathy Torrez

In the dictionary, adoration has two meanings. The first is deep love or respect. The second is worship and veneration. Eucharistic Adoration is the act of being present with Our Lord Jesus Christ in a very real and physical way. The consecrated host, His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, is exposed and vulnerable. We, the faithful, are called to worship and venerate Him. We are called to love him. 

I am a lifelong Catholic, but I did not grow up with any knowledge of Eucharistic Adoration. The diocese of my childhood had substantial land mass, but dwindling membership. Churches were closing and consolidating, and oftentimes all that the priests could manage was providing the sacraments. That changed when I was in college. Following my junior year, I did an internship in the Diocese of Wichita. The parish I attended that summer had a good, holy priest, who led a Eucharistic Procession for the Feast of Corpus Christi. I knew that a man at the facility where I was working was Catholic, so I asked him about it. He explained what had happened, as well as told me about Perpetual Adoration. This man had four children under the age of eight, but every Tuesday, he spent the 1 AM hour in the Adoration Chapel. 

To say that I thought this was weird would be an understatement. I returned to college, and didn’t really think of it again. Then, a few weeks after classes resumed, the priest at my home parish announced twenty-four hours of Adoration and asked for volunteers. I looked at the sign up sheet on my way out the door, and I saw that the middle of the night hours were woefully blank. I signed up for the 3 AM and 4 AM time slots. 

I didn’t know what to do during my time there, but there were a few other people who also signed up for those hours, so we prayed the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet together. I brought The Imitation of Christ and did my best to read it. When I went home, I was glad I had attended, even though I wasn’t sure I had “done it right”. 

After graduation, I returned to the Diocese of Wichita. Every week, as I walked into Mass, I saw a sign with available hours for Perpetual Adoration. I silently bargained with God, “If that 6 PM one is still there next week, I’ll take it.” But it was several weeks before I fulfilled my end of the bargain. Since then, nearly a decade ago, I have always lived in places with Perpetual Adoration, and God has always provided an opportunity to be a regular Adorer. 

When my daughter was born a little over two years ago, my husband and I discussed what we would do with her during my Adoration hour. He often worked during that time, and since she and I were working on building our nursing relationship, it only made sense for me to bring her with me. She was three weeks old the first time her and I walked into that chapel together. In one of those visits in the early months of her life, she was hungry. She had struggled to nurse, usually leaving both of us frustrated. As I fumbled, trying to get her to latch, she cried and fought me, growing increasingly upset. 

“Everything you want is right there!” I finally said in exasperation. Then my eyes glanced up, and I saw Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Everything you want is right there. My daughter finally latched on, and as she nursed, I had my first spiritual revelations of motherhood. 

Jesus gave his body to be our food. Intellectually, I have known and understood this for decades. But I did not feel the magnitude of that sacrifice in my heart. Offering yourself for another over and over again, day after day, month after month, year after year is hard. Choosing to continue to do that can only come from a place of love. Loving the other through pain. Loving the other through anger. Loving the other even when you don’t particularly want to. 

Jesus has been choosing, every hour of every day, across the entire world, to love us. He loves us when we’re hurting, when we’re joyful, when we separate ourselves from Him. He loves us when we think we know better, when we think we don’t need Him. He is there, over and over again, becoming vulnerable and exposed, at every Mass, in every Adoration Chapel, waiting for us. 

Everything we need is right there. Jesus is longing for us to go to Him. He can provide for all of our needs. He will heal us. He will celebrate with us. He will love us. But I fight Him, looking for fulfillment and satisfaction elsewhere. I look for it in my relationship with my husband, in my status as a wife and a mother. I look for it in validation from coworkers and superiors. I look for it online, with likes and comments and shares. But everything I need is right there. Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, is in front of me, in the form of bread. What else is there? 

In all of my years of Adoration, I often worried about “doing it right”. Was I pious enough? Did I pray enough? Did I honor God in the right way? But on this day, it hit me. Just like my daughter, struggling to latch onto what would provide her with life-giving nourishment, I was struggling to get out of my own way and let myself cling to the Lord. 

In all honesty, not much has changed in the last two years. I’m not suddenly good at letting Jesus nourish me just because I finally realized that’s what He’s been trying to do all this time. Lucky for me, Jesus doesn’t need me to be good at it. He just asks me to come, to bring my longing for true food and true drink, and let him meet me

Cathy Torrez is a lifelong Catholic, three years a wife and step-mother, and two years a mother. She takes her two small children to Adoration with her every week by choice. Intercessory prayer and offering up sufferings are her strengths

Friday, December 13: Brittany Calavitta

It was hope wrapped up there in that package. Hope adorned with a silver bow and a card that read, “Save this for your first child.” We unearthed that hope, my husband and I, with that newly-wedded bliss still coursing through our bones. Out it came from the bag full of silver and white and glitter with the words “congratulations” slapped across the front. We smiled at it, that hope right there in the form of a pink and yellow baby blanket. We smiled at it and then set it aside next to the blender and the crockpot and the freshly folded towels.

Then it was time to go, and we drove up the 5 freeway with the words “I do” still clinging to our lips. We drove and drove and drove with everything packaged neatly in the trailer behind us — the blender in the box labeled “kitchen,” the towels in the box labeled “bathroom,” the blanket in the box labeled “miscellaneous.” Our compass sent us north, and our hearts sent us catapulting into the future — our future — full of life and love and hope. 

When our compass finally switched direction, we knew we were there — our first apartment. We dove in, headfirst, filling the emptiness inside. We hung pictures and set out the beanbag that was to serve as our very first couch. The blender was stowed neatly in a kitchen cupboard, the towels were folded in the linen closet, and the blanket was shoved into a chest for later use.

Then it was time to go. . . again. This time, we headed south, and everything was packaged neatly in the trailer behind us just like before. We drove and drove and drove and then filled the emptiness of our second apartment.

Until it was time to go. . . again.

. . . and again.

. . . and again.

But the emptiness seemed to follow us wherever we went. Because as we filled the void of each new apartment, there was one big vacancy we never could figure out how to furnish. We’d try anyway. We’d swallow hormones and try out diets and sit through blood draws, but life refused to find home with us, and the emptiness in my belly sank our hope month after grueling month. 

Ten years slipped through that emptiness. It snuck past anniversaries and birthdays and job promotions. It trickled through tears and fears and longing. It found us in heartache and in questioning and in late night Google searches that almost always warranted no help. Month after month our tests were negative, and month after month my heart gave way to doubt.

And as time decayed our hope, it also reminded us of our lack. Because as it slowly slipped by, so too did little pieces of the lives we built for ourselves. Friends changed, family grew. There were “congratulations” greetings and “Welcome to the family” pleasantries. All the while, little by little, things began to point out the giant pause in which we found ourselves floundering. We were stuck while the world carried on in marvelous merriment. 

Soon enough, our physical surroundings began to crumble. Our blender eventually gave out from years of smoothie making, and our towels were finally demoted to tattered rags. But that blanket, it sat untouched, as new as it was the day we got it an entire decade earlier. 

We had been waiting, my husband and I, waiting through medical tests and ultrasounds and surgeries to unearth that hope again. Waiting to pull the blanket out from that timeworn chest, smile at it, and then set it aside next to the rattle and the bottle and the new heart-beating full of life, of love…of us.

And even after hope had nearly faded, a new and beating heart made its way to us on a warm day in September. It came with a scream and a prayer and a decade-old blanket for swaddling and sleeping. The blanket now is full of life, with its stains, its rips, its worn-out seams. And as time sneaks past, by more anniversaries and birthdays and promotions, I hold that blanket near my heart so full of hope, as I stare down at my empty belly and pray for God to grant us life again. 

Sometimes our hearts are overwhelmed with the weight of this waiting, so familiar. Some days the weight seems heavier than normal, and we wonder if and when and how it will come to pass. Those are the days when the tears flow reckless, and hope seems to shrink to a quiet lull. But we’ve walked this road before. We’ve been within the shadows of doubt and have seen grace illuminate everything around us. It’s always there, that hope. Always. Sometimes it shouts at us in manic hysteria. Other times it whispers into the deepest recesses of our longing. But it is there — He is there. Hope, waiting to be unearthed.

Brittany Calavitta is an enthusiastic advocate for a good book, strong coffee, and a hopeful heart. After battling years of infertility, she and her husband welcomed their first child on September 11, 2016. You can follow her journey through her Instagram account (@BritCal) or through her blog at

Thursday, December 12: Shannon Schmidt

My husband placed his keys on the desk as he arrived home after school. He picked up
our eleven month old son for a welcome home kiss. After catching our leaping four-year-old mid-jump, Eric turned to me to ask a question that would change my life.
“That boarding school asked me to come for an interview next week before school ends.

They want you and the kids to come, too. What do you think? Could you go next Friday?”

I stopped chopping peppers and my eyes drifted down to my 38-weeks pregnant belly.
Would my OB even let me drive that far from home at this point?

“I guess I can call my parents to see if they could watch the kids,” I said. “I’ll have to
reschedule my appointment with my therapist, too.”

“Thanks, babe. I really don’t think I’m interested but I figured it’s a good opportunity to
see what the interview is like.”

The tension in my jaw relaxed. I picked up the knife again and tried my best to focus on
the recipe instead of adding to my mental list of reasons why Indianapolis was a better home forus than a small town twenty minutes away from the nearest Walmart.
A week later, the GPS directed us to turn left past two cornfields and an abandoned
farmhouse. Great, I thought, we’re driving straight into an episode of Criminal Minds.

After a pleasant dinner with some members of the faculty, we were treated to a tour of acampus that looked like it had been built as a movie set. As Eric gazed longingly at the state-of-the-art equipment in the STEM lab, my pulse quickened. I could already picture him planning math lessons for the elite students who normally filled the vacant seats.

Was he really think about moving our family with a newborn in tow? Would I be stuck in
a small town with three small kids with no job, no friends, and nothing to do? Had he even noticed the confederate flag we passed on our way into town, either? It was very obvious that I would be one of the few people of color here in town and probably in the whole county. Would my children be safe here if anyone realized their grandfather was black? Eric knew I wanted to stay in our house, in our city, where we had friends and lives. I would have no support here.

The simmering self-doubt and emptiness that had resided in my soul for months
threatened to boil over into tears.

My mood darkened as we prepared for bed that evening. It was unchanged when I
awoke the next morning and Eric left for a full day of interviews and introductions without me.
After exploring every possible activity on campus and in town, I found myself sitting on a park bench overlooking the lake, root beer float in hand, as a cool breeze cut through the humidity of the late May afternoon.

The wind lifted the hairs on the nape of my neck, like the breath of God inviting me into
intimacy and rest.
In the silence, I fell into a familiar prayer.

I feel so lost, Lord, and I’m so unhappy. This is not what I wanted my life to be and I’m
desperate. My life feels so meaningless. Please help me. I want to feel whole again. I am aching for you to hear me, to see me, to show me that you are there.

That familiar prayer soon gave way to the deeper prayer I had been longing to express.
Why are we here in this place, Jesus? I don’t understand what you want from us. I don’t
want to move here. I don’t want to leave my entire life behind and live in the middle of nowhere.
I do not want this!

Suddenly, the bright excitement of Eric’s eyes as he walked through the campus flashed into my mind. Then I heard the lift in his voice as he described the mission of the school before bed. Next came a vision of our boys swinging in the exact same park where I sat.
Yes, there could be happiness here.

If this is what you want, God, then I will do it. I am not willing, but I choose your will. If you want this, I will trust you to make a way.
Sleeve met dripping nose as I made my way back to the car to meet my husband.
Eight weeks later, I was back on the same bench with my newborn daughter, laughing
as I watched my boys running through the park to escape their father’s grasp. Doubt and worry still sat alongside me, but I trusted that they would not remain with me forever.

There were boxes to unpack, colleagues to meet, and groceries to buy. But those things could wait for this small moment of peace, resplendent with grace and inviting me into joy. The baby’s arm wriggled its way from under the blanket as the wind rustled through the wisps of her strawberry curls.

There it was again… Breath.

Shannon Schmidt is a self-professed theology nerd who works full-time as a pastoral associate at a parish outside of Indianapolis. She is the proud mother of four very energetic children and grateful wife to her long-suffering husband, Eric. In her free time she co-hosts the podcast “Plaid Skirts and Basic Black,” which looks at culture, pop culture, and current events through a black Catholic lens. Follow Shannon on Instagram at @teamquarterblack.

Wednesday, December 11: Lillian Vogl

(Reflecting on the first Mass reading for the day:

Some may scoff, but the popular contemporary Catholic song On Eagles’ Wings inspired me.

I was 8 years old and recently transferred to a Catholic school because they let me skip 3rd grade. I was a serious and lonely child, and never did make any friends in my class during the two years I went there. My parents told me that Catholics weren’t real Christians, that they believed superstitious things, and I shouldn’t believe whatever they might say in religion class. I was told to keep my mouth shut when my classmates prayed a Hail Mary, and sit alone in the pew when they went to Communion or Confession.

But there were no prohibitions on the music. I loved the music at weekly Masses, and joined the school choir. Singing in the choir was the one time I felt like I belonged there. My favorite songs were ballads like Be Not Afraid, Here I Am, Lord, and Eagles’ Wings. I had wanted to be a “missionary” to “foreign lands” as long as I could remember. I read a short biography of Mother Teresa in 4th grade and she seemed to be doing exactly what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t aspire to join her sisters because I wasn’t Catholic. But I could sing these songs and feel sure that, whatever mission I was being called to in the wilderness that was my odd and lonely life, God would always be with me and upholding me.

I transferred to a Lutheran school after that, and a nondenominational Christian high school, and a Calvinist college. We sang pretty harmonic music in those choirs, four part harmony in the pews, and praise and worship songs at youth events. I learned to be a technically proficient soprano, but the songs never spoke to my heart the way the Catholic school ballads had. And I didn’t feel any more at home just because the theology and culture lined up better with my family’s Sunday church. I longed for God’s upholding presence to feel tangible to me, but it never did.

Right when I graduated from college, I started reading the Catholic catechism out of curiosity. I was impressed; it wasn’t at all the caricature of a legalistic and superstitious faith my parents had given me. One day, during my lunch hour at my new job, I slipped into a downtown chapel to experience Mass for the first time in over a decade. Even without any music, I came out feeling like I’d finally found my church home. I soon signed up for RCIA at a suburban parish, and joined the choir when I discovered no one really sang in the pews. The music was more traditional there, but I didn’t mind. I was finally able to receive God’s Real Presence tangibly in the Eucharist. I thought I’d finally arrived, that Easter Vigil night.

But we’re not meant to stay put in this life. There is no arriving home yet, only arriving at moments of rest before setting out on the journey again. Easter elation turns to ordinary duties of life, and then to another Advent. Another time of waiting and wondering and deep longing in our hearts, for what exactly we’re not sure yet.

I felt so satisfied when I first joined the Catholic Church that I forgot my mission to share the Gospel in word and deed. I got comfortable finally fitting in, and pursued the same things everyone else around me was pursuing. Career, law school, marriage, children, financial security. It was all going so well for about a dozen years, but then it all started crashing down when I got laid off from my high-paying job the week I found out I was pregnant with my second child. 

Shortly after my layoff, my parish choir director was abruptly removed, with conflicting explanations being given to the choir and the local newspaper about whose decision it was and why, but none of the explanations seemed just to me. I couldn’t believe that someone so full of love for the Church could be cast out so callously. It unmoored me. I quit choir and no longer felt at home in that parish anymore. We went back to the parish where my husband had gone before we married, but found it toxic to our faith now. We moved and found the next parish better, until the pastor’s homilies took a strong political turn. I fled to the other parish in town, the one with the overflowing Spanish Masses. It felt like home for a couple of months until the Diocese took it over from the Franciscan friars, and the character of the homilies and relationship between the priests and parishioners shifted abruptly.

While wandering through this arid wilderness in which “communion” meant solely a consecrated Host, stripped totally bare of any other flesh on the Body of Christ, I started to hear the call again, the one I had answered as a child singing “Here I Am, Lord.” But what could I do now, with my own kids in Catholic school and a mortgage to pay and a long commute to an uninspiring job? All I knew to do was pray a lot, in lonely morning Masses and in the quiet of that commute.

During my commuting prayer on my 40th birthday, a word came to me that began a new season of Advent. The word was “consecration,” but its meaning is still obscured, like the Word of Christ growing in Mary’s womb, now perceptibly kicking and turning, his face still a mystery for a little while longer. 

The first kick was meeting a partner to help me start a blog where I could share my spiritual reflections. I named it Beyond All Telling, inspired by a Eucharistic Preface of Advent, which recounts how Mary longed for Jesus in her womb with love beyond all telling. Writing about the things I contemplate during Mass or prayer is wonderfully clarifying and heart-filling, and I especially love when it gives encouragement and healing to others.

Another kick was finally joining a choir again. We sing those ballads I loved as a child at this parish, along with more traditional hymns. (In fact, the weekend I’m finishing writing this, we’re singing On Eagles’ Wings, and I’m re-learning the descant after 35 years!) I cantor too, proclaiming the Word of God in Psalms, and preaching the importance of community and justice in the hymn lyrics.

I don’t know when this child is due. I don’t know what this child will look like or demand of me. All I know is that the Spirit has conceived something new in me, and I await seeing it clearly, with longing beyond all telling.

Lillian Vogl calls herself the Accidental Mystic, because she isn’t the sort of person you’d expect to be writing about her contemplative insights into God’s Revelation in Scripture and the world. She’s a tax attorney, married, with two children, and no theology degrees. But a vocation for spiritual writing also found her a few years ago, and you can find her blog, Beyond All Telling, on Patheos.

Tuesday, December 10: Meg Tietz

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.

Monday, December 9: Tori Oswald

I couldn’t see anything.

I was driving home from work on a perfectly clear day, on the brief stretch of highway that connected the city where I worked with the city where I lived. Normally, after coming over a slight hill, you could see straight ahead for a couple of miles – and in turn see all the businesses pressed against the sides of the road, patiently but eagerly pleading for attention. I passed these businesses every day, and knew several of them well. They were landmarks, of sorts – they helped me figure how far I was from home. 

But this day I couldn’t see any of them.

A few weeks before this day, I had pulled off this same stretch of highway and into a gas station to wait out a rainstorm. It had come on suddenly, and as I passed over that slight hill I realized that I couldn’t see a few feet in front of me – let alone miles. The brightly-lit exterior of the gas station became a north star for me as I maneuvered off the road and into the parking lot. When the rain finally slowed down, I went home.

But today wasn’t overcast and the lights of those businesses huddled together along the side of the road didn’t stand out at all from the sunshine. Nonetheless, I somehow managed to make out a stop light. A few turns later I parked in the Walmart parking lot and tried to catch my breath, which proved difficult to do between cries of agony. I was broken. Completely, totally shattered. A part of me had been ripped away and my soul had been bleeding out – for years. I called a friend, and told her I just didn’t know what to do about my miscarriage.

It took her a moment to realize that I meant the one I had in high school, some years prior.

“You’re still thinking about that?” She sounded sincere, if a little confused. I had mentioned my miscarriage to her maybe one time, right after it happened, only so much as to report that I had had one, since we had only just discussed my pregnancy.

“Yes,” I answered. “I never stop thinking about it.”

It was quiet as I sat shaking in my car, sputtering snot and tears through strained breaths. An entire world seemed to fall apart around me; a façade I had created, an illusion for myself in which this had never happened, even though it was constantly in the back of my mind. For years I had woken up late on days I’d been able to sleep in, only to resent the absence of the sounds of little feet accompanied by a little voice waking me much earlier. I’d attended family functions and felt the sharp absence of another soul. I’d spent hours of late nights on websites geared toward “predicting what your baby will look like,” plugging in younger photos of myself and photos of the would-be father I had taken from his Facebook page. But beyond that, there was The Real World – the world where I lived and worked and had never, ever been seen as a mother.

From the other side of the rubble of my fairy land, my friend’s voice broke a terrible silence:

“Give her a name.”

It was something I had never thought of. I had only ever known the absence of a child – I’d never considered the presence of one. To give her a name would make her “real,” a slightly more tangible concept than the grief I had labored so long to push down. I had never thought of baby names before, but without much thought and a great deal of nervousness, with a name I carried my baby from the darkness of my own denial into my life. I named her Adrian Josephine, for St. Joseph, and asked the Blessed Mother to hold her for me, to raise her for me, to tell her I love her. I couldn’t ignore her anymore. Everything had changed.

It has been years since I left that Walmart parking lot, but I still carry with me the renewed longing born in my heart that day. I am always aware of her absence, and the hope of meeting my little girl in heaven one day sometimes presents itself as bitter pangs of grief. But I know that she is with Mary, and even though I can’t see that far ahead of me, one day I will see – and I’ll be able to go home to Adrian.

Sunday, December 8: Maria Morea Johnson

My Return to Cuba by Maria Morera Johnson

It had been fifty years almost to the day since I left Cuba as a little girl. I was returning for the first time after a lifetime of longing…and I didn’t know what to expect.

Soft rain fell on the tarmac in the Holguin Airport in a province on the easternmost part of the island. I strained to look out of the small window in the cabin to see the countryside, but tears welled up in my eyes, temporarily blinding me. 

I don’t like to cry in front of people, but I had other reasons for trying to keep my tears at bay. I was afraid of unleashing a storm of emotion at the beginning of a trip that I knew would move me and stir up a host of feelings I had carefully curated and filed away.

A tear finally breached the dam in my eyes, and I could see the raindrops on the cabin window mock me as they mimicked the trail of my tears. I cleaned my glasses, rubbed my eyes, and took a deep breath before jumping into the excited chattering of my mom and her sisters.

This long-awaited trip to Cuba came together miraculously, ostensibly to see the Holy Father on his apostolic visit to Cuba in 2015.

And I did see Pope Francis. We had a private audience. I got the obligatory selfie. It was amazing.

But really, in my heart of hearts, I went so I could go on pilgrimage to the National Basilica Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. In Spanish, we say “La Basilica Nacional de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre. 

I know…that’s a mouthful in English or Spanish.

Our Lady of Charity is the patroness of Cuba, and a devotion dear to me. I’ve had a deepening love for the Blessed Mother in my adulthood, but it is undeniable that this special devotion to her as Our Lady of Charity began in my childhood in Cuba. I longed to return to the land of my birth. I longed to visit the shrine and see for myself the miraculous statue that informs so much of who I am, and whose I am.

After attending the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Holguin, our intrepid little group followed the Pope to El Cobre at the shrine of Our Lady of Charity. When Pope Francis left for the US portion of his trip, we stayed behind enjoying a private tour of the basilica. Our access to the shrine, and even our presence in Cuba, we owed to the invitation of the Bishop of Holguin. 

Full disclosure–He’s my uncle.

Our tour began with a walk through the sacristy, where I saw the vestments and vessels that St. Pope John Paul II used when he celebrated Mass in the basilica in 1998. As long as I’m coming clean and making full disclosures, when the rector of the basilica wasn’t looking, I touched the vestments.

Does that make me a third-class relic?


Well. It was special anyway.

When we regrouped in the sanctuary, we were surprised to see the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Charity still on the altar–(normally it is encased in glass high above the altar). My uncle led us in a decade of the Rosary dedicated to our family’s intentions. It was an unexpected blessing in a series of beautiful graces that were showered upon us that week: a papal visit, pilgrimage to the shrine, and now this! 

I have written numerous articles about devotion to Our Lady of Charity and included a chapter about her in my first book, My Badass Book of Saints. I asked the rector if I could leave a gift, a copy of this book–a project I had placed in Mary’s hands–and he waved to the altar, encouraging me.

I placed the book at the foot of the altar and retreated shyly to pray in thanksgiving. Little did I know that this experience would be the basis of a book I would write some years later, Our Lady of Charity: How a Cuban Devotion to Mary Helped Me Grow in Faith and Love.

The longing I had carried  in my heart–to return to Cuba, to visit the shrine, to reconnect with family, to discover my roots  – had been fulfilled in that moment. All this would have been enough–but there was more to come. The next day, back in Holguin, we went to the Cathedral of St. Isidore for a Mass of Thanksgiving for the papal visit and the volunteers who worked selflessly throughout the preparations and visit.

This Mass marked a key moment in the trip for me. I had always assumed that the yearning in my heart was to reconnect with my Cuban-ness. As a Cuban exile, I was raised with romantic stories of a Cuba that doesn’t exist anymore –  the Cuba of my parents and grandparents, of idyllic beaches and elegant drawing rooms. The Cuba that lives in my heart and saturates my memory but eludes reality .

I had lived a lifetime of not feeling “American enough” as a naturalized citizen of the United States, while  not feeling Cuban enough despite having been born on the island. I feared I didn’t belong in either world, and I recognized a longing within me to belong, somewhere.

Like I said, this Mass marked a key moment for me. During the consecration, when the priest elevated the Host, he held it long after the bells had stopped ringing. In that moment, I experienced complete silence–which is odd, because as is custom in a tropical country, all the doors and windows were open. But as I looked upon the Eucharist, I heard nothing, for a moment. And then, just like that, the sounds of the city were all around us. I could hear the people talk as they passed under the windows. A bicycle bell rang. A truck zoomed by. Laughter filled the air. The city flowed around me, and I realized that our prayers and hymns, and the words of the consecration, had themselves been carried out to the people.

The cathedral was in the center of this town, and Jesus Christ was the heart. A soft breeze blew through the Cathedral, whispering peace into my soul. In that moment, I realized I was home, and had always been home. The restlessness, the loneliness of my exile were now more closely aligned with my yearning for union with the Lord. And just like that, I had traveled hundreds of miles and fifty years into the past to discover a Truth that has always been with me – Jesus in the Eucharist.

Maria Morera Johnson is the author of the award-winning books Super Girls and Halos and My Badass Book of Saints. Her new book Our Lady of Charity, a spiritual memoir, shares stories of how Our Lady of Charity helped her deepen her faith and led her to Jesus after she moved to the United States. Find links to her social media and other writing on the web at

Saturday, December 7: Alexandra Henry

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Shame is a constant theme that pops up in my life. To this day, I still feel it deep inside my gut. It’s a visceral sense that I am bad or that I am wrong. And although I have made long strides in my healing with lots of therapy and prayers, deep down into the depths of my shame, there’s that girl who was bullied in middle school. Shy and quiet, in a new school, I just didn’t know how to make friends. I was frozen, waiting around for words to come out of me, but so afraid to speak.  I didn’t know how to be my actual self.

Those three years were filled with painful loneliness and humiliations from my classmates. I would sob to my mom about how lonely I felt and how no one liked me. The loneliness convinced me that I didn’t matter to anyone, not even to God. My perspective of life became zombie-like. My storyline became:  Everyone can have fun except me. Everyone can have friends except me. Everyone can be loved except me. I am the exception. And I made sure that my life revolved around that exception. 

On the surface level, I thought that I was truly living for others. I put so much attention on trying to make people happy that I forgot that I was actually not okay. 

Deep down, my people-pleasing was really a desperate cry for love and acceptance. If i could not love or accept myself, then I believed that I must surrender myself to the needs of others, no matter the cost. 

That wasn’t hard for me–as a phlegmatic, I naturally desire harmony. I want everyone to get along with each other even if that means that I am left out. And as a Catholic, I thought I was doing the right thing–putting others before me. So even when I felt uncomfortable with all the yeses I have said  to people’s needs, I thought that I was on the path to holiness. Saying “yes” even though I really meant “no.” But for me, each “yes” meant “please, don’t leave me” or “please, don’t think I am bad.” 

My insecurities and codependency dimmed my relationship with Jesus, huge barriers to the freedom and healing that God called me to. Rejecting my own needs, my own wants, just so others could have convenience or comfort–it diluted my self-esteem. It watered down every single dream, passion, desire that I had in my life because I was trying so hard to be Jesus for others.

I tried to quench people’s thirst when Jesus was the only one capable of doing that.

When I was getting my Master’s in Social Work, anxiety and fear would build up in my chest whenever I would speak with co-workers or clients from my internships. In every interaction, I tried to keep myself safe from the bullying or judgment I feared was just around the corner. 

In my classes, I felt safe, able to hide behind my good grades. In my internships, though, my codependency was unmanageable. I let the drive to please everyone as much as possible overwhelm me.

One day, I realized that I needed to seek out the underlying causes of my hypersensitivity and codepencies. I stumbled into Codependent Anonymous and Adult Children of Alcoholics, and those groups helped uncover many of my childhood wounds. For the first time, I was able to bring them to God in my prayers. 

Bringing all my wounds and all my pain to God helped me to realize that I didn’t need to gain approval or acceptance from others…God is already pleased with the way that I am. It was so healing to say “yes” to the person that I am–it gives me the freedom to see what God sees in me. And I slowly let go of the person who I thought people wanted me to be. 

Of course, remembering that God is pleased with me is an ongoing journey, but it was like I was finally letting God love me and not a carbon copy of another person. I had spent the last two decades of my life holding my breath, so afraid to live the life that God has given me. This was a significant point in my healing journey. It was like letting His Ruah in me, His loving breath into my lungs.

Letting go of my perceived needs from others helped me to encounter God’s longing for me and that the love He has for me quenches my thirst for acceptance. I don’t need to pine for people to accept me because of what I do for them, because God already loves me entirely, longs for me to be fully myself, just as he is fully himself. 

And that same longing He has for me, He has for each person in the world. And guess what? It’s not my job to fill all of their empty cups–only God can do that. 

My book of poetry, Songs of Freedom, highlight the struggles and setbacks I experienced with God and how I rediscovered Him as a Good Father to me. 

In ‘The Way of the Human,’ from that collection, God speaks to me in such an intimate way–the image of an interior pilgrimage and a deep rest in God. 

The Way of the Human

The highest peak of the mountain is felt 

By gray clouds,

Stilled and silenced,

Unmoved and untouched.

The way of the Human

is barefoot on the ground,

groaning with the longing of the heart,

Ascending and descending.

The highest peak of the mountain


the Soul

At rest

In her Creator.

Alexandra Henry is a Dominican-American woman born and raised in the Bronx, NY. She is an Admissions Counselor who had self-published a book of poetry called, Songs of Freedom, which can be found on AmazonShe blogs at and can be found at her Instagram, @freedom_inhaled.

Friday, December 6: Rachel Lamb

A Story for Saint Nicholas’ Day: 

In 2012, after completing my Master’s degree, I moved into my first house as an adult without roommates. I adopted my first dog in preparation for a domestic life with a husband and children that were surely soon to follow. I began to prepare for a life that I didn’t have yet, but one that I planned to start living as soon as possible. I spent thousands of dollars decorating my home for Christmas that year, and then I didn’t take any of the decorations down for seven years. 

Aside from the mind-numbing, soul-crushing, life-pausing clinical depression that enveloped my mid to late-20s, submerging me in a fog of morbid reflection and general malaise, there was little reason for my life becoming a sort of reverse Narnia. It was always Christmas, but never winter, inside my Texas home. A second dog came into my life to be adopted, but the husband and children failed to make an appearance. Every time I felt the urge to take down my Christmas decor, usually on a blistering summer day when my mom-sized SUV’s thermometer read 117 degrees Fahrenheit, a stronger urge within me said to “Wait…Wait…Wait…” I’d crank up the air conditioning, turn on some Christmas music, and get cozy on the couch with some hot cocoa. August energy bills be damned. 

After the first few years, my family knew to stop asking about the perpetual Christmas decor. They joked that my tree had become an endangered spider habitat. They marveled that I was always the first person in the neighborhood to have my Christmas lights and decorations up…failing to mention it was because I had never taken them down. They knew that I truly meant it when I said I would take down the decorations next weekend, next month, after the next holiday, and then never. 

I left my Christmas wreath on my front door until March, because I reasoned that it had a red bow, which made it fitting for Valentine’s Day. Therefore, it stayed displayed with an over-the-door hook from late October until early March, when I simply turned the wreath the other way to hang on the inside of my front door. Whenever I received a box in the mail, I’d put it under the Christmas tree for a few days before I opened it in a moment of solitary gift giving splendor. “Look what I got for me!” I hoarded Christmas cheer. I had become a Dickensian character. It was as if I had taken the spirit of Christmas from Mr. Fezziwig, and then sat with Miss Havisham at her dining table, watching everything collect dust and cobwebs, deteriorating and rotting. I waited with her, but I had no idea why. I just knew I needed to stop the clocks and wait. He was coming, I just knew it. He had to. 

I thought I was waiting for my husband, who would give me my children, and then (and only then) my life would start in earnest. I would have meaning, worth, value in the eyes of my family, my community, and my church. I would love and be loved. My children would love all the Christmas decorations I had acquired for them before they had even existed. Pets aren’t children, they come and go, but hand-blown glass ornaments painted by Polish craftsmen are forever, or at least until my biological child smashes it to pieces. I spent holiday season after holiday season without my phantom children, waiting for them. I only slept on one side of the bed, saving room for a husband who never arrived. I cooked holiday meals no one ate, and bought gifts of toys, clothes, and books that I donated to other children. I attended Mass after Mass longing for the day I’d belong to a family that filled the pew. For now, it was me. Just me. Always me. I wasn’t enough. 

I looked so long and so hard for the life I thought I had to have in order to earn God’s love, that I lost sight of God altogether. I reasoned that I’d find God again after I found a husband and children first. My God-given longing for love had gotten twisted. In prayer one day, I realized that if I had to choose between God or a husband and children, I’d choose the husband and children in a heartbeat. I was alarmed, but unsurprised, at how natural apostasy comes. I so longed for a spouse in suburbia that I was willing to sacrifice a Divine relationship in Paradise. Ever the pragmatist, tangible reality has always attracted me more than ephemeral divinity. Doctrine and virtue don’t pay the bills. 

Today is the feast day of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, you might have heard of him referred to as Santa Claus. Like many Saints, he thought Doctrine and Virtue were kind of a big deal. He was a Turkish bishop in the third century who is remembered, among other things, for hagiographically slapping the heretic Arius at the Council of Nicaea. Arius had really twisted the identity of God into something He is not, and enough people believed him that it was a problem. 

St. Nicholas was also known for his penchant for secret gift-giving, which I suppose makes it not-so-secret. The story goes that he left gold for three daughters to have a dowry and marriage rather than be forced into a life of third-century child sex trafficking. How he got associated with Christmas, the North Pole, elves, and reindeer is a story for a different day, but he is the reason Dutch children get candies in their shoes on December 6th each year. You can visit his relics in Italy if you’re ever in a particularly festive mood, brought there courtesy of 11th century sailors engaged in “holy robbery.”

As I took down my Christmas tree in March 2019 after seven  years in my abode, I thought of God’s words to Joel, “I will repay you for the years that the swarming locusts have eaten.” Of course, the locusts were sent by God in the first place, and I do not know what to make of that. I have no idea why I never met a husband or had children, or if I ever will. As my depression has lifted, I have realized that I am exactly where God would have me be. Taking down my Christmas decorations this year, the Advent of my Life has been restored. I do not have to wait for someone else to arrive who will make me happier or more worthy of love, because God is already with me as Emmanuel, God with us. I do not have to wait to have my own children to participate in the lives of children in my community and in life-changing initiatives around the world. I am neither Fezziwig, nor Havisham. I am exactly who God made me to be, and the fuller I live into that reality, the more connected I will be to the One who made me. I thank St. Nicholas for keeping me company and waiting with me these past seven years. I am grateful for the wonders he worked in my life in restoring a right relationship with Our Creator. 

Come Holy Spirit.

Rachel Lamb, a lifelong Texan, earned her Master of Divinity degree with a certificate in Anglican Studies from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in 2011. After being offered a position as a pro-abortion chaplain with the Episcopal Church, she began volunteering with the pro-life movement, and entered the Catholic Church in 2014. Rachel enjoys speaking consistent truth to the value of all life, and finding common ground within the pro-life and feminist movements. 

Thursday, December 5: Mary Lenaburg

“Longing for Heaven”

When I was a small child, I was terrified of dying. It confused me, this idea of Heaven. I couldn’t see it, so it was hard to believe it really existed. I wanted nothing to do with it. The nuns told us stories in religion class and my parents assured me it was where we would all be safe with Jesus when we were very old. They held me and whispered encouragement and ministered to my tender heart when I would wake up with a nightmare about death. 

As I grew up and matured in my faith, that fear slowly ebbed away, leaving me completely upon the death of my father. He was a flawed man who had battled demons throughout his life, but oh how he loved the Lord and his most Blessed Mother. He faithfully and fearlessly went home to Jesus in May of 2001, rosary in hand, family surrounding him, praying him to Heaven. It was in that moment that I understood what longing for heaven meant. 

Longing is defined as a “strong desire or yearning”. 

My Dad longed to be with Jesus and he was ready when God called him home. As hard as it was to let him go, there was peace that things were as they should be in God’s plan. Not that I understand why God does what he does all the time, but that I have no doubt God sees and knows all and I do not. From the moment of his last breath, I longed to see my Dad fully restored to health once more. My own faith journey changed that day, deepening in a way I did not expect. 

I began to long for heaven, to be surrounded by the eternal love of Father, Son and Spirit and to be reunited with my Dad. That longing increased ten-fold the day God called my daughter home to Him in December of 2014.  

Courtney was one of His special children. She had suffered from daily seizures since she was five weeks old. She was blind and wheelchair bound. She was non-verbal and never took a step under her own power, yet she was pure JOY. Her laughter filled the room the way holy incense fills a church. She was the heart of our home and our lives revolved around making sure she was loved and cared for as best as we could. There was nothing she could do on her own, she depended on my husband and I for her every need. 

Courtney showed us the face of Christ every single day. She called out like the Lion of Judah to be freed. Her smile directed us toward heaven and we longed for her complete healing and restoration, even though we knew would only come on the day she entered God’s heavenly embrace. We desired heaven’s healing for our daughter. We were not afraid, we were hopeful for the day Jesus would come take her hand and walk her home, for there she would run the streets paved with gold fully restored to perfection. Her passing was the most beautiful day of my life and also the hardest day to endure. You see, I knew that when she closed her eyes here, she would open them in Heaven and the first person she would see was her beloved Jesus, the one she had suffered so beautifully for. She would run into His arms with such JOY and I have no doubt she remains there to this day. 

But my arms were empty. I longed to hold her again, to feel the weight of her so close to my heart. I wanted her here and my heart shattered when she left me behind. Slowly over time, Our Lord and His Mother Mary have ministered to my broken heart, putting the pieces back together, filling me with a yearning desire for Heaven, not just to be with my Courtney and my Dad but first and foremost to be with my God who made me in His image and likeness and who blessed me to walk with both of them through this life. 

I yearn for that moment of reunion, to see my God, my Father, who loved me before time existed, who created me in His image and likeness, for greatness. I yearn to be held in the arms of my Lord Jesus, My Beloved who has held my heart so tenderly all these years. I yearn to be witness to the power and might of the Holy Spirit, the spouse of another girl named Mary, whose fiat changed the world.

As we wait in joyful anticipation for the birth of the baby that comes to save the world, giving us the greatest gift one could ever ask for, to open the gates of heaven, I am struck by this desire to be there now. My heart is restless, desiring reunion with the one who gave his life for me. My heart longs for heaven. 

We long for and desire many things in this life, but are they the right things? Do you yearn for heaven? Do you long to see your Savior’s face and feel his grace shine upon you? Do you wish to hear His voice say “Job well done, good and faithful servant”. I do.

St. Cyprian wrote of his desire for Heaven saying “Who of us, if he had long been a sojourner in a foreign land would not desire to return to his native country? How great will be our common joy upon the transports of meeting together in those blessed abodes.”

A baby is coming, friends, one who will change the course of human history. His Father longs for us with such ferocity that he sends His Son to save us. First in a manger, then on a Cross. That is our way home, so let us prepare for the journey.

Mary Lenaburg is a writer, speaker, wife and mother sharing her witness and testimony to groups of all ages about God’s Redeeming love and that faith is the courage to want what God wants for us, even if we cannot see where the path leads. Acceptance + Trust = Unimaginable Joy.

Mary’s first book, “Be Brave in the Scared: How I Learned to Trust God During my Most Difficult Days” is available wherever books are sold.

Mary and her husband have been happily married for 31 years, finding joy among the ashes having lost their disabled daughter Courtney in 2014. They live in Northern Virginia with their grown son Jonathan. She continues to embrace her father’s advice: “Never quit, never give up, never lose your faith. It’s the one reason you walk this earth. For God chose this time and place just for you, so make the most of it.”

You can learn more about Mary at her website,