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I’m broke

Dear friends: I am broke. I’m not talking the cutesy afraid to check your bank account balance because it is too low broke, I’m talking full on, paycheck to paycheck, cashing in coins broke. How did a college educated, relatively accomplished woman find herself in this situation? Simply put? I followed my heart and listened to the still small voice within that told me to make a change- to do something new. Yes, I fully weighed my options and the repercussions of these choices beforehand and still, against my better judgement went for broke. Why? Because I needed to.

I felt God calling me to draw out of my usual patterns- to let go of the death grip I have over [the allusion] of security in my life. So why did I need to drop an income bracket to do this? The easy answer- I’m hard headed. I have a calculating mind that we have already established can talk me out of anything. So when I asked God to tell me where to serve and I heard ‘Iraq’, I naturally talked myself out of it. Who could blame me? I’m a Christian woman, going to a place that doesn’t exactly roll out the red carpet for those who identify with either group. And while I’m not seeking a ribbon of honor for mission work, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the thought of doing God’s work in Iraq scared me more than a little. So I rationalized that taking a new assignment closer to home that allowed me to do God’s work would be an acceptable substitute for my cowardice. So what, if it meant taking a $16,000 pay cut? I had lived on less and am smarter now, so I could make it work.

Cue the car accident and added stress and the move that added up to more dollar signs. I started to panic- to question myself. The self-talk that ran through my brain questioned ‘how could you agree to these things without having a safety net big enough to catch your irresponsible downfall?’ I had effectively out calculated myself into a corner. My life couldn’t be rewound to undo any of the choices, to bring back the relatively comfortable status I had grown accustomed to. I recognized how my overcompensating for being disobedient had tuned into a situation that wasn’t what I had anticipated, but I still wasn’t knocking down walls to get to Iraq. I felt in my spirit that it was time for a challenge, but was reluctant to heed God’s call. So I did things my own way and found a set of challenges that I wasn’t altogether asking for.

A few months ago, I was in a Bible study group, openly grappling with a bit of scripture in 2 Corinthians. In chapter 12, verses 7-10 talk about prudence, grace, glory and weakness. I couldn’t see the logical correlation. I didn’t see how if God’s almighty grace is enough for us, how then can our failings perfect this power? I didn’t need to stew in this conundrum for too long because my real life crash course in Paul’s letter was on the way.


Now friends, please do not mistake this as a message on spiritual smack down. I know that the challenges I encountered were my doing, not God’s, but that doesn’t mean that God didn’t use them to teach me something about myself and how God sees me. You see, I know that I can be stubborn and that I let pride get in my way. These are obstacles to my growth, crippling me from reaching my fullest potential. Stopping me short from grasping what will help me step into what is next. I like how The Message translation of this scripture speaks to me on this.

Because of the extravagance of those revelations and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size-abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Folks, that’s exactly how it happened. When worries about my new budget would arise, I lost myself in meditation on God’s provision. I started to search for peace in communion with the Holy Spirit- turned my mind towards the blessings and strength that I do have, rather than operating from a mindset of lack. Do I still have worries about my future and how I’m going to make everything work? Of course. I am not operating out of some blissful, naiveté that God will sustain my missteps forever so that I can go on ignoring what my spirit yearns for. I am choosing to trust in the ultimate truth- one that supersedes my understanding and reason. I am choosing to believe God for all that I need.

Lately, my commuting worship jam sessions (aka- car praise-it’s a thing) have been fueled by a song that immediately lights my soul on fire with recognition that my trust compass is pointing in the right direction. The lyrics are simple:

It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you. This is how I fight my battles. Nothing is as strong as your blood – Surrounded by UPPERROOM

It goes on in an empowering loop that keeps me sane when I want to hide in a cave of blankets and tune out the world. This is the message that I choose to help me push through each day- this simple affirmation of faith is my spiritual reset button.

Sacrifice is generally regarded as a noble virtue. While, I would rather be closer to the Jesus side of self-sacrifice, I know that I will never measure up to that because I am selfish and totally human. The desire to do and be more can be so strong until it smacks up against a reality that you aren’t prepared for. What I have come to realize recently is that the expectation is never to measure up to an impossible standard. The goal of our relationship with God is to live and grow in love.  Love for ourselves, each other and most of all love for God.

We all walk our own path when it comes to spiritual growth and whether your next step is starting a new Bible study or building a ministry, there is one simple truth that I hope you will be led by. God is greater than every worry, any objection ,any pitfall that you can imagine. God’s love for us is so big that even when we misstep, we are still guided and sustained by an unsinkable Creator.


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Bless this mess

If you’ve known me more than 5 minutes, you know that I am incredibly strong willed. On most days, I consider this a strength. It is very useful when I have a goal or am advocating for something important. Some of my closer associates count this willfulness as a character flaw when it pans out as stubbornness or extremism. Recently, this hallmark Tonia trait has played to my detriment as my unswerving determination has come up against my wellness.

Another fun skill that I have is the ability to talk myself out of anything. Shoes, boyfriends, vacation plans-yep, I am a world class manipulator of my own mind, which is another bonus/flaw (up for further discussion on another day). So, what’s the problem you ask? You have a strong desire to be well and can put your incredible mind to the task of self-care, right? What you haven’t accounted for, dear reader is my destructive little habit of people pleasing.

For as long as I can remember, expectation and the need to over deliver have been major forces in my life. More often than not, checking all my boxes and not wanting to disappoint others have been some of my most powerful motivators. I will go to great lengths to get a job done or make people happy, even if it means a headache for me. This over extension comes at a great price-my compromised well-being. Once again, you may be thinking, “Silly, Tonia-sit down somewhere. You’re only human.” While I am painfully aware of this truth, I cannot escape the barrage of mental baggage that ensues when I think about going against the grain of my people pleasing MO. I know that no one will truly hate me if I cancel plans or think me completely irresponsible if I leave a few things undone until the next day, but that disconnect between reality and my guilt is a trouble spot that I have been grappling with recently.

At the beginning of last month, I sustained a concussion and in typical Tonia fashion, kept pushing because I didn’t believe anything was really wrong-until 48 hours in when I failed a relatively simple cognitive test. The specialist I saw gently reassured me, but said I needed to get some mental rest. I promptly left his office and went straight to my office to finish some tasks, because what else would I do? I felt a fresh wave of guilt as I called my supervisor to tell him I was taking the rest of the day to rest but would try to come in the next day, if I felt better. I spent the rest of that day asleep (much to my surprise) and blissfully guilt free. I hopped right back into most of my usual commitments the next day, despite pain and weakness. Pain is temporary and weakness can be overcome was my constant mantra-until I wrecked my car just a few days later. Surely, this was cause for an all stop- NOPE. I went back to work the next day because there is too much to be done and so many counting on me to do it. If you’re questioning my masochistic tendencies, don’t. I don’t enjoy pain. My issue stems from balancing priority and expectation as they relate to my abilities.

Before you call the asylum to take me away, let me say that I fully understand my role in all of this. I realize that I am a (mostly) reasonable adult who is capable of saying no and advocating for herself. The problem is that I have mostly seen the two as mutually exclusive. I can’t turn my back on people/things AND fully take care of myself. Before you start whispering “God complex”, consider the following.

As modern women, we are praised and considered at the top of our game for having and doing it all. I was raised on the idea that women could do ANYTHING and somewhere along the way, I lost the concept of personal limitations. So how do we resolve our limitations in light of our Christian belief? I for one struggle with 2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  because it seems at odds with 2 Timothy 1:7 For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. As I strive to live a life rooted in scripture, I run up against walls that conflict with my everyday experiences. When do I leave scripture behind and take up prayer? When should I fall back and when do I step up?

What has become increasingly clear to me throughout this trial is my need for greater trust. Trust in the fundamentals of my faith that tell me that God means everything to work together for my good. Trust that even when it feels like everything is falling apart, I am never falling alone and God is there to restore me when I stumble. Most of all that being strong in the Lord and rejoicing in his strength are the keys to finding balance between expectation and experience. We can do many things, but not everything. Trusting that God will do his part is a critical acknowledgement on our spiritual walk.

So what does that mean for you? I would hope that my cautionary tale and reflection inspire you to look at your motivations and where they come from. Are they rooted in some societal vision that is totally out of step with your values? Perhaps a person, with unrealistic expectations of you? Whatever is fueling you should be something you’re proud to proclaim daily. Whether the answer is faith or something externally created, we can still work to align these forces to be true to our modern Christian lives. Lay your shortcomings at the Creator’s feet. Trust in God to walk the path of peace with you and allow yourself the grace to be who you need to be on any given day.


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What are you waiting for?

It’s Advent. The season of anticipation where we are all looking forward to the coming of our Savior. The time where even the most impatient Christian is expectantly seeking the promises of Jesus.  Yes, Advent is the happiest season of waiting in our spiritual year. All of the traditions point us toward being in countdown mode- Advent calendars, the lighting of the Advent candles, watching shipping updates on deliveries from Amazon-the symbolism of the season sets us up to wait. In this modern era, where we are irritated to wait more than a few minutes for our coffee, what does this season really teach us that can transform our lives?
Do we find ourselves magically more patient on Christmas Day or do we rush back into the fray of modern life on December 26th? I am not of the belief  that there is anything wrong with either of these scenarios. What I propose is that we don’t wait for Advent to experience the peace and spiritual growth that all of our devotionals encourage to prepare our hearts for Jesus.
Each day that we are granted is an opportunity to rejoice in the gift of Jesus. An opportunity to embrace and share our God given gifts. To show gratitude for God’s ever present love that directs our lives towards ultimate good. What I am suggesting, dear reader, is that we don’t wait until it’s time to cash out all of that PTO before we take a moment of spiritual pause to take time to celebrate why you were created. Luke 10:40 calls attention to this tendency towards imbalance. We’ve all heard the story of Martha who “was distracted by her many tasks and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand. The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things,but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Christian Standard Bible)
So readers, I am urging you to channel your Mary. Meditate on your Creator who possesses an incredible, generous and loving spirit. Bask in these blessings. Allow the light of them to strengthen and beautify your life experience, beyond the final gift being unwrapped. Pray bold prayers for all that is beyond your grasp and rejoice in thanksgiving that good will come to pass. It is my prayer that these words have served as a reflection on why Jesus is the reason for every season. It is his example that extends beyond the manger into the very fabric of how we live and serve as Christians today. 
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Social Constructs

I recently came across an article that caught my eye online. The title was “I’m 36 And I’ve Been Single For 10 Years. Spoiler: I’m Fine”. I immediately clicked and scrolled.

You see, dear readers, I am what I call “perpetually single.” It has been a blessing and a curse, and as I will explain, much of my own doing. 10 years ago, I had just decided that the religious vocation that I had thought was maybe for me, wasn’t. I had entered a Catholic religious order, sold all of my belongings, quit my job, and moved across the country to try out “religious life” (aka the convent). I could write a whole blog post on my experience there or why I discerned this wasn’t for me, but this is not that post (I do have my own personal blog if you are interested, and always feel free to message me or comment with questions!)

I was 26 when I entered religious life which was still, somehow, considered “old” for starting one’s vocation. This blows my mind because after graduating college at 22, I just wanted to save the world. I had spent my college career learning about and advocating against so many injustices in our world. To be 22 and to think I would know who I would want to “settle down with” or wanting to start a family never crossed my mind. But not but a decade or two earlier, that was really all women were expected to want or capable of thinking of doing. Progress? (insert shrugging shoulder woman emoji here because I am about to explain how far we still have to go).

When the “I Have Been Single for 10 Years” article came across my feed, I didn’t exactly feel relief, because I had come to terms with my state in life years ago. But I was still glad to know that I wasn’t alone. After discerning that religious life wasn’t for me, like any break up, it took a while to “get back in the game.” I have dated over the years, but I have come to terms with the fact that I don’t enjoy dating. And so I finally had told myself, “if I don’t enjoy, why do it?” But let me explain.

This is not to say that I am asexual or not sexual. I identify, for better or for worse, as a hetero-normative, straight woman. I have been attracted to guys since I was in kindergarten and have had pain-staking crushes on men ever since. And though I bemoan the fact that I am attracted to straight men (and, as I have on occasion been known to find myself, the impeccably kept gay man), it is my reality. This is not to say that I am not open to relationships. I very much desire relationships and am open to anything that organically comes my way. Organic being the key word.

What I am not into or do not enjoy is wasting my time on games. I don’t enjoy small talk. I don’t enjoy scrolling left or right on a dating app. I don’t enjoy first or second dates that are forced. I don’t like feeling that I HAVE to date. So I don’t.

It was very freeing for me when I finally articulated these words with myself and to others. And so, again, it wasn’t a relief necessarily to read this article from another “perpetually single” woman, but it was a comfort of sorts. It is also why I have chosen to share my story with all of you, so that if anyone else who isn’t into the BS of what dating is today is reading this, you too can know you are not alone.

I am going to switch gears for a second, and I want to preface by saying I in NO WAY am equating dating with this next experience, just bear with me.  I recently attended a historic Slave Trail walk with a group from my parish, led by one of our deacons. Again, no great segue way there, and obviously, the two are NOT comparable by any ways or any means. However, listening to my deacon review the history of slavery and the systems and economics that were put into place because of the slave trade, I was reminded that so many of our social structures that we have been made subject to are based on antiquated, racist, sexist, unjust, greedy philosophies.

The Slave Trail walk where I live in Richmond, VA was moving and thought provoking for many reasons. Our African-American, Richmond-native deacon told us of Richmond’s terrible roots with the slave trade. We were one of the first cities to bring slaves to the U.S. and as the capitol of the Confederacy, tobacco plantation owners fought to keep slavery because they saw it as the means to make and keep their money. When we began our walk on the trail, our deacon had us keep quiet and made us put our hands on each other’s shoulders as we walked. He told us to imagine what it must have been like walking in a new land, in the dark (because slave traders had to have known what they were doing was inhumane and often brought slaves in at night. It also helped them keep control. If the slaves couldn’t see their surroundings, then they wouldn’t have knowledge of where they could try and escape). He told us of the economic industry that Richmond built around slavery. There were seamstresses that would make clothes for the slaves at auction; the thought being that the better dressed the slaves and better looking, the more money they would make. The fact that the city in which I live built industries based on racism and the killing and torturing of human beings is beyond sickening. (For more resources on slavery in the U.S. and in Richmond, my deacon recommended the book: “Richmond’s Unhealed History” by Benjamin Campbell).

But didn’t marriage start with inhumane economic dealings as well? I know that as Christians we like to look at Genesis and think that God making woman from man’s rib connects man and woman beautifully together (and “this is why a man leaves his mother and father to join his wife” and all that) BUT just a little further in Genesis we find Abraham sleeping with Hagar because Sarah couldn’t produce children for him. Or Jacob’s uncle giving away his daughters Leah and Rachel in exchange for Jacob working on his farm. Explaining these stories to my middle school students is always interesting. Their concept of marriage is based a lot more on romance (for better or for worse) or at least a lot more on choice, not the economic deal that it truly was. Later in Scripture we see Solomon marrying women from all nations so that he could make alliances with those countries. Solomon is heralded as a wise king! But what of the women who were merely part of the deal?!

Again, I am not trying to equate slavery to marriage, though I am sure there are many jokes in poor taste to be made there somewhere. However, I am trying to point out that our systems that still exist today are built on antiquated and unjust ideals. The racism that still exists in our world today was fed by an economic industry for white men to get rich off of. The poverty lines and the jail system and many more of our problems today can stem from this institution of the slave trade. Similarly, but not equally, our system of marriage was based off of an economic system. And even though the system has slightly changed, isn’t the way we promote weddings and bridal showers and bachlorette parties still based off of industries making money?

If I do ever get married, I really just want everyone whose wedding I have ever attended to write me a check. I want plane trips, hotels, dresses, gifts, etc. all factored in. I’m kidding. Kind of.

My point is, if marriage really is about love, why do we make it about all of these other things that celebrate the individual rather than the union? And why do we celebrate the end of that person’s singledom? The traditional feminine bridal shower in which women gather to shower the woman with kitchenware to celebrate that she will now need new items to cook for a man is archaic.  I know this all makes me the exact opposite of a hopeless romantic and probably explains perfectly why I am “perpetually single.” I also don’t want to isolate our married readers. I know that you all are progressive and don’t view the institution of marriage as such. But let me bring it all back to our faith:

We do have a loving God. Our God is the definition of love. And our God is all about relationships. The Christian belief of the Trinity is, in fact, relational. We believe in a Father and a Son and a Spirit that connects this relationship in and of Itself and with God and His other creations. It is a beautiful faith of relationships that relies on relationships to in itself exist and thrive.

It is this kind of relationship that I get my inspiration and model from, not the economic fueled constructs of our world. Take that, Tinder.

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Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel

Are you tired? I’m tired. Today at work, we had the news playing on mute in the background, so I was treated to eight hours of people- mostly men- debating a woman’s sexual assault. My facebook is variations on the same theme. Last week, I sat through a lunch where two of my male co-workers offered their hot takes on the event.

I feel like I could sleep for a week.

And I wish I had something magical to say to you to help you feel better. Some of you are survivors of rape or trauma; probably all of us can recall a time when our body was handled without our consent. I certainly can, and more times that I was harassed verbally, and any number of times that I’ve put myself in between other women and the men who were harassing them.

And if I had to guess, the fact that I hear and see and believe you doesn’t drown out the other voice you’re hearing today. You know the ones.

I’m Sister Mark and you’re reading a Christian blog, so you won’t be surprised to hear that I am trying to cope by looking for my faith. Sometimes it’s really hard to find- I won’t lie to you about that.

When it came time for prayers tonight, I sang “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel”. Yeah, the Christmas song.  This is a nice version- you could listen along while you read. I hope it helps. It’s what I need today. Not Christmas the holiday, exactly, but Christmas the event. I need Jesus so badly today, because men have been refusing to believe women since long before Jesus’ women disciples mistook the Lord for the gardener and went to tell the men the Good News. But God knew their worth and trusted them, and so He came to the women first.

And I am clinging, so tightly, to the fact that He sees me, too. And he sees my friends and my cousins and my colleagues and He knows our worth and He knows what we’ve been through. Belief? It’s not a matter of believing. He was with you then and He is with you now. Then why did it happen? I have no idea. I’m not a theologian and I know I’m not God. I don’t know why any of it happens. But I hold tighter than anything to the knowledge that He is here and He will not leave us. Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

So I sat down and sang, begging God to come. Do I want him to show up, literally, right here on Earth, tonight? To just be with me? I don’t know. But I know that the hope of Him and the promises He made to us gets me through when I don’t know what else to do. It doesn’t fix my problems. It doesn’t stop me from being sad right now. But it reminds me that in the end, God came to us. And then Christ died, and Christ is risen, and Christ will come again… and His kingdom will have no end.

This world is a letdown. God made it beautiful and full of wonders, and often it’s nothing more than a huge letdown. So I pray for Him to come and save us and I cling to the knowledge that, someday, somehow, He will.


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The Catholic Feminist Writes About Mary

Hi again, fam! I think I can speak for our other contributors when I say that we hope this summer has been treating you well and we are glad that you continue to journey with us in this safe, spiritual space. It is still so needed, isn’t it?

I am writing today at the encouragement of my blogger sisters about a woman that Catholics have long been associated with for better or for worse: Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Even though I am Catholic, I have long struggled with my personal relationship to Mary and often had to contemplate for myself why I should hold her in such high regard.

My journey with Mary probably starts with images of her around the homes of family members, around Church, and around my Catholic school. Oh, wait. Scratch that. I actually played her in a pre-school play when I was 2, so it probably starts there.


Awww. I wasn’t quite as angelic as I looked, but I was a good kid.

I have statues of Mary given to me from each of my grandmothers. One of which, I actually remember being quite taken with when I would visit my maternal grandmother’s house. I think I even asked her if I could have the small statue, and my grandmother gave it to me. I still have both statues and have accumulated more along the way, not because I had a particular devotion to Mary, but because I was Catholic and that’s apparently just what we do: collect images and icons of the Blessed Mother.

And this has gotten us in trouble in the past, right? “Why do you Catholics worship Mary?” seems to be the common outcry. She is kind of everywhere in our Churches. Even from a young age, I always knew that we didn’t worship her, but that we pray to her, because she gave birth to God’s Son and therefore, she was really special to God. She had a close relationship with Him.

But I, like many others, have had to turn that concept around in my head over and over for many years. What does it mean that Mary is special to God? That is she close to Him? Why? Why her?

As you probably have gotten to know by now, I am a Scripture girl. In my last post, I used Scripture to talk a little about my relationship to St. Paul (another problematic character to some. It seems that I have a thing for the troublemakers!) Mary is certainly not seen as a troublemaker in Scripture, though. Far from it. This, perhaps, was even my problem with her for so long. I wanted her to be flawed because I am flawed. We are flawed. And I was always taught that because she was “special”, she was without sin. I couldn’t wrap my head around this, so I simply decided that I could not relate to her.

Despite this, though, I would pray my rosaries and spend time in her chapels (I went to The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is on its campus. There are literally dozens of chapels in that basilica devoted to the different images of Mary). I will say, one thing that I learned in my Catholic school upbringing and that I liked about Mary, was that she did seem to translate well into other cultures. Catholics believe that she has appeared in a variety of ways and taken on the appearance of many different cultural women throughout centuries. Our Lady of Guadalupe, for example, is where she takes on the form of an indigenous Mexican woman. I do like that she appears as a mother to “children” of all races and seems to take on or embody the image of that race.

Speaking of race, Mary, of course, would have been a young, Middle Eastern, Jewish girl. Growing up, however, I often only saw the blond, Renaissance painting versions of her which also made her seem un-relatable to me (even though I am blond and of European descent). She still just always seemed too perfect! But interestingly enough, it has been this administration that has been drawing me closer to Mary and making me see that she is not so meek and simple and perfect, but rather vocal and complex.

Think about all of the qualities that actually apply to Mary, not just the ones that we put upon her through the Church: she was young. Jewish. From the Middle East. Pregnant, but not yet married. Poor. Female. She was pretty much as powerless as it gets both in her culture at the time AND (sadly) our culture today.

And yet, God- our God- meant to bring about salvation through someone like this, like Mary. He chose a poor, seemingly weak, powerless, culturally diverse WOMAN to begin to enact the plan of salvation on earth. AND she had a choice!
Our loving God gave a woman a choice in a time when options were limited for women.

We all know the story. (If not, go ahead and look up Luke’s Gospel Chap 1, verse 26 or so). God sends angel (not unlike many times God has sent angels or messages to women who didn’t have children before: think Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, Elizabeth via Zechariah just to name a few) to young woman to tell her that she will have a child. The child will be special. In fact, this child is going to be the Son of God.

And here, HERE readers, is where Mary shows her boldness. She questions the angel. She asks “how can this be?” She speaks up. She won’t just take this at face value. She wants answers.

Now, earlier in Luke Chap 1, Zechariah- a man, and a man of the Temple at that- also gets bold and questions the angel sent to him (same angel, btw. Gabriel gets around) but Gabriel is not so compassionate to Zechariah. Zechariah questions the angel and Gabriel promptly mutes Zechariah so that he cannot speak until his son is born! The reason as to why I could get into in another blog post at a later time. The point of me telling this story here is that Gabriel ANSWERS Mary’s question. And then she gets to choose. She gets to think. She ponders. And then she ultimately chooses yes: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

The more I think about Mary in THIS way- as a young, powerless girl who asks questions and gets to choose her fate- the more I see her power and her strength. We don’t hear from Mary very often in the Scriptures. We hear from her a little more in Luke’s Gospel when she prays her famous prayer to Elizabeth called the “Magnificat.” It’s a beautiful prayer, but that’s not necessarily the Mary I can relate to. I can relate to the Mary who ponders in her heart when Simeon tells her later in Luke’s Gospel that her “heart will be pierced like a sword” (paraphrasing Luke) because I would certainly ponder a weird prophecy like that, too. I can relate to the Mary who makes Jesus perform his first miracle in John’s Gospel at the Wedding at Cana. Mary as the pushy Jewish mother telling her son what He should do- the woman behind the first miracle of Jesus- that is a woman I can get behind! Not necessarily the silent, Renaissance figures I had seen growing up.

Another image we get of Mary at her strongest is in John’s Gospel when she is at the foot of her Son’s Cross. Jesus says to St. John : “Behold Your Mother” and He says to her: “Woman, behold Your Son.” We as Catholics believe that Jesus in that moment is giving Mary to all of us as our Mother. I can believe that, but what I really believe in this moment is that she was a strong-ass woman who could stand there in the face of her Son’s death and not turn away when things were really, really, really seemingly bleak and hard.

I hope, dear readers, that this gives you a little insight into the big deal about Mary for some of us. (Perhaps a missed opportunity for the title of this post is “There’s Something About Mary.” Ha!) As a feminist, I get why she can seem un-relatable if we look at her as this quiet, obedient little thing. But as I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate her not so quiet moments and that her “yes” meant yes throughout her life, even until the very end.

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“Pop Art” and the Divine

Hello again, readers! It is your Catholic, pop culture loving friend here. In addition to being a pop culture fanatic ( I crush the Arts and Entertainment category at every Trivial Pursuit game and pub trivia night!) I am also a teacher. So naturally summer is my favorite season and I am very much enjoying the fruits of my labor currently.

When I first started teaching, I had to learn how to best use my time off. Taking a week or two to do absolutely nothing is a must, but one can only binge so many shows on Netflix before it starts to get unhealthy. Something that I have a major interest in (besides all things pop) is art. And so far this summer, I have signed myself up for two art classes and have already made visits to some of my favorite museums and galleries. Experiencing art is something that engages and relaxes me, so I can think of no better way to spend my summer than learning more about it and creating it.

Visual art and faith have been linked since the beginning of human existence. Before we could write, our ancestors created cave paintings to tell their stories and communicate. Art can explain and articulate things that merely words can’t. And while I certainly consider writing an art form, this post will be mostly about visual art.

That being said, I did just finish reading Madeline L’Engle’s literary work: “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art” (which I highly recommend) and she articulated things that I understood about art but couldn’t put into words myself. She essentially asserts that art and the sacred are linked. Whether or not the artist is a religious person, the act of creating connects him or her to the Divine. This explained to me in a very tangible way why it is that I connect to art so much.

In our world today, connection seems to be “easier” with smart phones and social media. Yet, it is very evident in the way that we continue to mistreat one another and the social injustices that still exist, that we need to connect to one another still more.
Here is where my pop culture moment comes in.

In times of political stress, art has always been produced as a reaction to the climate. If you look at the movements of art in the post World War 1 and 2 eras, you get incredibly radical art movements like Dadaism and Surrealism as well as Abstract Expressionism. In times when people do not know how to grapple with what is going on around them, we create.

The same can be said of this political climate and in particularly through the art of video. I think of all of the commercials and tv episodes that have become ways for us to deal with the backlash of this oppressive climate. However, I am particularly struck by the visual art created by musical artists like Childish Gambino and most recently Jay Z and Beyonce.


Image still from “This is America”, Childish Gambino taken from and Google Images

If you haven’t watched “This is America” by Childish Gambino, it is violent, but unfortunately so is our society which it is reflective of right now. Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, makes several statements with this song and also his video. There have been several articles written about all of the symbolic movements and visuals featured in the video. From the Jim Crow poses that Glover makes, to the white horse of the Apocalypse running through the background, to the all too reminiscent police and gun violence scenes- Glover covers hundreds of years of African American oppression in only a few short minutes.

Similarly, Jay Z and Beyonce create visual art with a political statement with their latest video for “Apes**t”. Jay Z and Bey have separately released videos that make political statements while presenting the viewer with beautiful visual art. Take for example Beyonce’s “Formation” or Jay Z’s “Moonlight.” (the latter by Jay Z takes it’s title from a predominately black film that was an Oscar winner in 2016, but was incorrectly announced as “La La Land”- a very, very white film). Both make statements on what it is to be black in America in accessible, visually stimulating art.


Image still from “Apes**t”, The Carters, taken from Tidal and Google Images

In this new video for this song, “Apes**t” off of their new joint album, Jay Z and Beyonce are dressed in glamorous, beautifully fashionable clothes and shown standing in front of iconic pieces of art in the Louve. First of all, the fact that this couple has the power to shut down an historic tourist attraction to shoot this shows their clout and achievement. The beautiful shots of them posing regally in front of primarily white paintings by white artists is striking and surely intentional. Beyonce gets much of the screen and lyrical time, and at some points, she also makes strong gestural movements, similar to the striking moves that can be seen in Glover’s “This is America.”

Here we have different artists- Glover and the Carters- exploring and emoting what it means to be a black artist in the political climate right now. As a white woman, I cannot begin to understand fully or pretend to explain their experience. All I can do is accept and experience their unbelievable art and attempt to analyze their meaning and what it says about our world today. And to bring this all back to the spiritual, even though these are pop culture artists and art forms, they invite us to connect to our world, our humanity, and ultimately, our Creator.

Art has always been a connection to the Divine as well as a reaction to the culture which it seeks to reflect. I appreciate these artists’ attempts to create so that we as humans might have more connection to each other. I pray that we can see reflections of our Creator in these artists and artworks as well as in one another. And I continue to pray for our country so that these artistic movements may one day be reactions to joy and equality rather than that of oppression.

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Conviction & Swimsuit Season

So, it’s that time of year again when all of the ads start selling the swimsuit body. By now, you’ve likely seen a zillion commercials for fitness programs, meal prep plans and pills that will (maybe) make you look like the ultra thin model they have chosen to promote their product. The barrage of these messages can wear on our nerves and our relationship to fitness, to the point that we find ourselves ignoring them. That is unless, we aren’t. No matter how “good” we’ve been throughout the holiday season, the ad market is constantly telling us we need what they are offering. We all need the impeccably chiseled bodies that prance across our screens. We all walk our own walk when it comes to body image and wellness and some of you may be further along in your fitness journey, rising high above the media influence. Kudos to you. For those of us who aren’t, this one’s for you.

As modern women, the pressure is higher than ever to look the part. Mothers are expected to present perfectly coiffed and polished children, complete with sparkling appliances and hip mom hair. Singles feel the pressure to always be flawlessly manicured, made up and pliant- because how else will you catch a spouse? The emphasis on physical appearance has become so important, that women are actually killing themselves to keep up. Young people between the ages of 15-24 with anorexia have 10 times the risk of dying compared to peers, Journal of Eating Disorders, 2015. Even more disturbing, is the other end of the age spectrum. From 1999- 2009, hospitalizations involving eating disorders increased for all age groups, with those aged 45-65 increasing the most, accounting for 25% of all hospitalizations, Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality, 2011. So where do we stand as Christian women in addressing this oppression? Are we circulating scriptures to help with weight loss (read: THOUSANDS of pins on Pinterest) or are we looking at ourselves with the love of our Creator?

Reader, hear me: I am by no means claiming to have mastered this. I love my pedicures and balyage as much as the next Kardashian and am in no way trying to shame subscription to current beauty norms. What I do know is that the standards perpetuated by our culture that lead 7 in 10 women and girls to report a decline in body confidence and increase in beauty & appearance anxiety (Dove Global Beauty & Confidence Report, 2016), which they say is driven by the pressure for perfection from media are pervasive and REAL. What I want to discuss is our confidence and the source that it stems from.

In Hebrews 11, we are reminded of all the Old Testament stories of those who exhibited great faith and were blessed and/or honored God with their acts. The Message translation spells it out nicely.

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. Hebrews 11:1-2

Let’s unpack: If faith in God is the source that makes life worth living, what place do dissatisfaction, imperfection or comparison have in our lives? If we believe that God is all powerful, good and loves us more than we could ever comprehend, how could we possibly allow a commercial to debunk these truths? How could we see ourselves as anything less than divinely beautiful? Dear reader, I know you may be thinking “Get real, Tonia. We live in the 21st century. Appearance matters and last time I checked, God isn’t following me around breathing heavenly dust over me to make me a 10 to everyone I meet, nor is He whispering sweet nothings to me when I roll out of bed looking electrified.” And while I’m not trying to start a fight with you, I would argue that He is.

In Hebrews 11:3, we learn that the world is called into existence by God’s word-what we see is created by what we don’t see. That means you and me and People’s Sexiest are all created in the same spirit of light and love, and regardless of our waistbands or teeth whiteness, we are all perfectly and divinely created. God’s word says we are wanted, chosen, beautiful and more precious than rubies, so who are we to doubt this? So what if those jeans from last year don’t fit. Why does it matter that your contouring technique isn’t perfect? Would you really let the fact that you went to work with eye boogers contradict the overwhelming love that God has for us, flaws and all? NO! As, Christian women, we know better. We know that we serve a God who made us in an image of strength and love. My challenge to you is to live in it.

Resist the urge to compare yourself to the woman in the next fitting room. When you have days of doubt and self loathing, lose yourself in the Word. Open your heart to receiving the loving Spirit of our creator, day in and day out. I promise you 10 minutes of Pinterest spiraling on love/beauty scriptures will change your attitude (DO IT). If all of this seems too fluffy and sunshine-y to break down the spirits of dissatisfaction and insecurity that have been speaking over you, I invite you to sing a new song.

Consider that your identity is essential to the world. You are more than eye candy. God created you for a specific role in His Kingdom, to reflect the light and love that our Creator has for each of us. Any force that contradicts these truths is an enemy to all that God has planned for you, which is greater than you can imagine. Still not convinced? Meditate on this:

We already are what we want to become. We don’t have to become someone else. All we have to do is be ourselves, fully and authentically. We don’t have to run after anything. We already contain the whole cosmos. We simply return to ourselves through mindfulness and touch the peace and joy that are already present within us and all around us. I have arrived. I am already home. There is nothing to do. -Thich Nhat Hanh

You are perfect. You are loved. You are divine. Seek confidence in our Creator. His supply is endless and He gives it freely and without judgement.


My heroes, Wendi & Jessee who love Jesus, themselves and fabulous swimwear

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“Is It Like In ‘Sister Act’?”

Hi everyone! Sister Mark here. I’m Grace and Feminism’s resident Religious Sister. I’ve been a Sister since taking my vows in January, 2017. My dispersed order, Anamchara Fellowship, was formed in 2000 in the traditional Celtic style. Back when there were only three digits in the year, the Christian church in the British Isles had a different style of Religious Life than most orders you see today. Their monastic communities sometimes included men and women in the same order, women in leadership, married members, and a unique style of spiritual formation.  “Anamchara” means “Soul Friend”, and exemplifies the way that Brothers and Sisters of Anamchara Fellowship are meant to live within the world, as Anamchara to everyone we meet.

I’ll post more (a lot more!) about Religious Life in the Episcopal church, but I want to start with a question a lot of people have asked me over the last couple of years as I began the spiritual formation process and prepared to take my vows. In fact, people still ask me all the time- most recently, I was cornered by a middle school kid at our church youth retreat. H wanted to know: “What’s it like being a nun? Do you like it?”

Taking vows
Here I am taking my vows. The filter hides the terrified look on my face.


Whether I like being a nun is a fairly straightforward question- I do like it! It’s fulfilling and peaceful to do God’s will and I get a lot of satisfaction and beauty in feeling that I’m exactly where I’m called to be. And I like my community of Brothers, Sisters, and Companions. My life is better for having them in it- there’s even a weekly DnD game a bunch of us play!

I think this would be different if I had somehow ended up in Religious life against my will, or against God’s call in my life. I think that if that were true, I would find the responsibility oppressive, the community stifling, and that sense of peace and satisfaction missing. I once heard, or possibly read, the observation that your calling is “where your great joy meets the world’s deep need”. I find great joy in living as a Sister, and it is the place God is calling me to fill a need.

I don’t always know where that need is, and sometimes I think that this might be the fulfillment of my call, simply to be present when and where I find myself. Some people find the fulfillment of their own calling in a job or ministry. I think maybe mine is to be available at all the odd times, when there is nobody else. To stand in the middle of difficult questions and the moral decisions nobody else wants to make.

And that’s terrifying. I am so little in control of that- I have been approached in the grocery store, in museums, and in churches. I have heard stories of health disasters, miracles, questions, faith, and doubt. I have no formal training in ministry or spiritual direction or therapy- I just say a prayer and hope God will give me words. I think about Moses a lot.

As scary as it is, I love that this happens. It’s so special to be able to be there for someone, to know that their step is a little lighter and their heart a little brighter because you cross their path.

Of course, I haven’t answered this question in it’s most basic form, which is: what do I do all day? I don’t wander around in my habit waiting for someone to need God, and because of the way my community functions, I do need to hold down a job.

So, that’s a lot of what I do. I have a secular job that I enjoy very much! A lot of the folks in my community work in a helping profession or a church- we have a lot of priests. My own job is very secular, but I don’t see that as separate from living a life in which I bring God wherever I go and remain available for whoever needs Him.

To give you a sketch of what my life is like day-to-day, I got up a little after six this morning and made faces about having to get out of bed. Then I showered, dressed for work (in a nice pant-suit type thing; I don’t wear my habit to the office) and drove the half hour or so that it takes me to get there. I usually sing loudly into my steering wheel while I drive.

Once I was settled at my desk, I checked my work email and then my personal email. Morning Prayer in my community comes daily by email. One of the Brothers writes it up every morning, so each day we say something a little different. We work our way through a couple of prayer cycles so Morning Prayer includes, each day, different members of the community and other orders.

Given the time that Morning Prayer comes out, I usually pray it sitting at my desk. It takes a relatively short time and then I get to work. There’s a break mid-day for lunch and some time here and there to chat with my co-workers. My office likes to talk about hockey and movies, and argue about food- usually cake vs pie or triscuits vs wheat thins. I’m hungry at work a lot!

When my workday is over, I head home or meet with friends. One night a week is DnD night, another is a standing dinner date with my best friends. We do all the normal stuff- watch movies, go out to dinner, and talk for hours. Sometimes I go hang out with my Mom and Dad and our cats, who all live nearby. Sometimes I have chores to do- laundry and dishes, the same as anybody else.

At some point in the evening, I say Evening Prayer and depending on which friends I’m with, sometimes someone will join me. I really enjoy having company while I pray- but even when I don’t, I know that my Brothers and Sisters around the world are praying with me.

After we’ve hung out for a while, or I’ve watched a movie or done my chores or read a book, it’s time for lights out. I finish the dishes and brush my teeth and say Compline before I turn off the light and listen to podcasts until I fall asleep.

This often raises the question (and it’s not a bad one) how is this different from anybody else’s life? Lots of people pray a lot and go to work and hang out with friends. Why bother to be a nun if you’re not going to move into a monastery and work for the church?

It’s a really good question and honestly, one that can be really hard to answer. In style, my life isn’t very different from what it was before. I do a lot of the same things. It’s the substance that is changing and, with God’s help, will continue to change. Others’ mileage will vary, but for me, the difference is in my approach to life, the all-in, ride-or-die work to focus on God and being God’s hands and feet in the world. The difference, then, might be the intensity and constancy of the commitment.

That means that I work every day to be more patient, more kind, to embody God’s love more deeply. Because I am visibly religious, I have taken on a burden that I think many people do not feel to represent Christ in everything I do, without exception. This is really hard and I am nowhere near as good at it as I would like to be, but it is that growth to be more and more like Christ that is the substantial change you should be able to see in me.

So, what’s it like being a nun? In some ways, that’s a question God answers for me every day in unique ways. What can I do today to be a good nun? How can I serve You? And He always has an answer, whether it’s immediately clear or not. As for whether I’m happy in this life, here’s what I’ve learned: following God’s will is the outcome that will make you the happiest, even when it’s difficult or frightening or a lot of work. I would recommend it to anyone.

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What Do We Mean When We Say “Pride”?

FBD54A23-B02E-4557-928E-3714EDB49AA9Well hellooooo, Fem Fam! Salutations from your new favorite Christian lesbian feminist. (Not always in that order. Just keepin’ it a hundred.)

Don’t worry, I don’t bite. Without consent anyway, because consent is critical, kids.

TODAY is one of the most glorious days of the year for me, the first day of PRIDE MONTH. If you’re unfamiliar, Pride Month is the time of year when Madonna comes out of her hole and if she sees her shadow, Mike Pence gets another piece of legislation passed.

I’m kidding. Sort of. Anyway!

Pride Month is historically set in June because June is a very gay month. You can trace the roots of Pride back to June 28, 1969. In those days, the countercultural revolution was in full swing, but the LGBTQ+ community was still largely kept out of it. (Some day, Fem Fam, we will have a talk about MLK’s right hand man, Bayard Rustin. Some day.)

There is this bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village called The Stonewall Inn. Traditionally, it was where gay men and women as well as our trans peers and also our drag queens came to socialize and be themselves in a world where it was incredibly dangerous (and illegal) to do so. The police would routinely raid Stonewall and arrest people, but on this night, the people fought back.

The police tried to arrest Stormé Delarverie several times and lead her out of the bar and into a waiting wagon as she broke free and asked the patrons what they were going to do about it. This combined with the burgeoning crowd outside sparked a riot that soon grew violent. Stormé was a butch lesbian and Drag King and she’s a name that’s largely been lost to the echoes of history. I am incredibly honored to count her among my own.

Let’s unpack this, guys. Stonewall marks a watershed moment in my community’s history because for the first time in modern history, my community had had enough of being brutalized, hunted, and tortured. Traditionally, we were thought of as a community that was too timid or fragile to fight back. So when we did, the world stood up and took notice. 

Pride takes its origins from Stonewall, it is first and foremost a commemoration event to mark the anniversary of the day when a restless and beleaguered people finally used their voices in tandem to say “fight back”. The anthem became “Stonewall means fight back”. 

This is the blood that runs in my veins, you guys. This is the stuff I am made of, the legacy I come from. A marginalized group who has been excluded from human and civil rights movements, removed violently from their homes and churches, beaten and homeless and murdered, encouraged to take their own lives in massive numbers.

And yet.

And yet.

We are a strong people. We are a diverse people. We are a progressive people. We have been at the forefront of every justice wave this country has known, taking names for ballots and organizing details for marches and demonstrations. We are the rebel yell that refuses to be suppressed no matter how hard they try to silence us.

And at the same time, we are soft and gentle creatures of an Almighty God. We have learned through our history and our experiences that love always wins. It is the mighty wind that sweeps through and stirs up the dust of compassion, evil cannot stand against it as it works it’s way through the streets. Love continues to be our message as it always has been, and we fight for our right to love every day we leave our homes and our closets and declare: We are here. We are valid.

I wish I had the time to explain to you the harm the church has done to their LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, family, friends, and loved ones. I wish I had hours or days with comfortable couches and warm candle flickers and something hot to drink to tell you all of our stories so you could see the pain and the hurt mix with the tenderness and fondness like different colors of acrylic paints in my eyes. 

Dear ones, I beseech you: Move closer to the heart of Christ. Know that his heart is unadulterated and unfettered love, that He made me in his image just the way he made you. I have been made new and clean before my God because Christ took my sin upon his shoulders on that cross and declared that it was finished. 


I take pride in who I am just as my Jesus does, I revel in my indomitable spirit and the unquenchable flame of hope I have to see a fully affirming church before the end of my life. Don’t think it’s possible? 

Three years ago, I sat at my desk. I was so frazzled from insomnia and job stress, I had totally forgotten what this day was. My phone buzzed just before I clocked in with a text from my sister:

You ready for today?

And that’s when it dawned on me: Today was SCOTUS’ decision on marriage. Obergefell v. Hodges had finally made the federal government get involved after a tedious state by state battle. Generations of my community had fought, bled, and died for a day such as this, and I waited in nervous anticipation along with crowds outside of the Supreme Court and people watching all over the world. 

As I was speaking to a customer (working in a call center sucks, y’all), my phone began to buzz itself off of my desk, calls and texts pouring in too fast for the poor little machine to keep up with them. My heart jumped in my throat.

This was it.

My community, two decades before, had still been picking up the tattered pieces of ourselves after AIDS ravaged us. With little to no help or assistance from a government that had turned a blind eye, we were too busy keeping our men and trans folk alive to give attention to equality under the law. But finally, finally. The day had come.

With a deep knowledge of it in my bones, I ended my phone call, asked for a quick break, got up and walked to a secluded area, took a deep breath, and turned my phone on.

Rainbows everywhere. People celebrating. Partners crying in each other’s arms. Texts from all of my friends and my sister and my girlfriend at the time.

We did it. We won. The world turned upside down. 

And listen, if you’ve never read Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion resultant from Obergefell, please do yourself the favor and Google it. It is strikingly poignant and beautiful, and it eloquently summarizes the endeavors of the petitioners in the case as well as the LGBTQ+ community around the world. 

Coming out continues to be one of the scariest things I have to repeatedly do in my life, but that day made it entirely worth it. Every time a friend or someone close had closed the door on me, told me I was bound for hell, it all felt justified in that moment. Love had won, it had conquered all of it, and I was alive to see it.

So my dear Fem Fam, remember this: You will be alive to see great change in this world. And what’s more, you will be the cause of great change in this world. All I ever dared to do was speak my truth to the power that told me I was wrong. The world changes when people claim their truth, when they know deep in the stuff of their spirit that their truth is affirmed by Most High God, they become unstoppable.

They become world changers.

They find Pride.