This year I celebrated the 30th Anniversary of my Calling. While this is a story I’ve shared before audiences of true believers and benevolent skeptics with donuts and orange juice in the back of old church halls. This month was the first time I chose to share this story as deeply as I feel it, hoping that it resonates with folks who are currently answering a calling that matters to them. I recognize myself in each of them, hoping they are better prepared than I was, but grateful for the lessons I had to learn the hard way.
This Origin Story is deeply embedded in my heart. Enjoy!
Edited from original published at #OneHeartOneEarth
The vision on a crowded hill
The clouds were sparse on Apparition Hill (Podbrdo) that night. It was a clear, summer’s eve, a handful of days after the Summer Solstice. It was also the 9th anniversary of Our Lady’s first appearance in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia (Bosnia-Herzegovina) to six local children. Back when it was still a Communist country. But on June 25, 1990, I climbed that hill with hundreds of thousands of others. All with the hope of catching a glimpse of the divine.
I was a 12-year-old girl from Colorado, praying with thousands of others, longing for the proximity to one of Mary’s visionaries, Ivan Dragicevic, as he led his rosary group. Murmurs of prayers could be heard in dozens of languages on the hill that night. The power of that moment was undeniably pure. Humans from all over the globe gathered in a moment of peace, of hope, of love, brought together by Our Lady. Miracles of faith witnessed in the everyday kindness we offered to each other amongst the sharp stones and pitch-black shadows. We removed barriers so everyone could witness this event.
But others didn’t see what I did that night. I saw the cross marking the spot of the first apparition disappears from the landscape. I saw the stars glow brighter, suddenly free of the haze of pollution. I saw the hands of Our Lady, gold sleeves slowly coming into view. I saw her hands outstretched before me, open and inviting. Her hands motioned over the crowd in blessing. And even though someone stood up in front of me, interrupting the vision, I was able to get them to sit long enough for me to see the stars move from the heavens to form a cross of gentle, magnificent light. Time stood still and moved too fast all at the same time. I was dumbfounded, moved to tears, overthinking as I always did. I didn’t want to believe what had just happened. I wasn’t worthy. I blurted the whole thing out in short, sobbing sentences to my mom as the group continued the rosary.
When they announced that she was wearing a gown of golden light, in celebration of her anniversary there, I knew. When they announced she gave a very special blessing to the crowd gathered there that night – that we were being asked to give her blessing to others, I knew. When they announced that she departed in a cross of light, not only did I know, but then my mom understood as well. When they confirmed everything that I saw…I knew but didn’t want to believe. I knew I was being called to something bigger than myself. I knew I would never be the same person ever again.
And then I came home…
What I really needed in that first year was a welcome packet for “How to Be a Catholic Visionary”. Even though I saw the hands of Mary, it didn’t mean I knew what it meant or what to do with it. I had nothing to anchor myself when others tried to use me to push their agenda. At twelve years old, in 7th grade, I was piecing this together for myself.
Little old ladies were thrusting me to the front of their rosary groups, giving me uncomfortable importance that I felt was entirely unearned. I was embarrassed as they lined up for me to lay hands on them. Is that something I was even supposed to be doing? Is that really what was asked of me? The more they expected of me, begging for favors for themselves while sharing judgmental comments behind my back, it placed an inhibiting spotlight on me that made me even more self-conscious and doubtful of myself.
The pressure for perfection became nearly synonymous with my calling in those first two years. My imperfections seemed to be an indictment of my unworthiness. Not only was I exploding with hormones as an adolescent, but I felt like I was being watched for any minor mistake, rosary-laden ladies waiting for me to fail so they could feel better about their own faith. So I made mistakes on purpose – offering them larger concerns than the micromanagement of my life that would fuel my anxiety for years to come.
The closest thing I had to a true compass in those early years, besides my parents, was a visit by Fr. Rene Laurentin, a Catholic priest giving a talk in town about the scientific testing he’s done on the Medjugorje visionaries. The organizers made sure I was invited to a private dinner with him, a not-so-subtle hope that he would validate my vision. I dreaded it. Despite my stated wishes, the ladies pushed the issue and he asked to hear my story.
It dribbled out like an apology, anticipating his rejection. Each sentence was dripping with, “I know you think I’m crazy, which is totally okay, I probably am.” He listened quietly as his translator relayed the message. I searched his face for the doubt, the denial of the authenticity of the vision. Instead, he relayed a story of other children my age all across the world who have had similar visions. One only saw Our Lady’s eyes, another saw her feet. In fact, these “partial” visions were more common than I had known.
“Mary’s is asking whether you will serve as her Hands here on earth. Do you accept, child?” he said in all seriousness.
Even as I relay this story, thirty years wiser, my eyes are filling with tears of blissful joy. Because I finally had a purpose. All of this doubt, all of these signs were for a reason. I wouldn’t need anything else ever in my life. Just this. I only wanted to live a life of service to the Divine. At that moment, in the middle of a steakhouse, I smelled roses. This was Mary asking me to serve as her hands through this wizened French priest.
A calling requires consent
My first awakening wasn’t the vision itself, so much as the divine purpose attached to it. Smelling roses that night was the start of understanding that other people didn’t get to dictate what my calling was. That Mary would tell me, through that sign and others, when a message was meant for me or when an opportunity required my energy. I was called to devote my life to something bigger than myself, even if it hurt, even if it cost me. I could endure anything with the love of the Divine, a sacred bond that no one else gets to define. The little old ladies, the well-intentioned priests, parents, gurus, even the bishop, none of them could tell me what I saw or what Mary asked me to do. The gravity of my calling, the patterns of how Our Lady speaks to me, the signs I see along the way, are my purpose, my joy and mine to choose. No one else is capable of living it for me or taking it away from me. Only I have the power to say “no” or “yes” when I am called. I have the power of consent.
I say yes to that call each time I stand up for those more vulnerable than me. I say yes when I amplify marginalized voices, using my privilege to hold the door open so they can charge in and kick some ass and when I step back to listen and learn more. I say yes when I touch a lover’s most intimate soul-wounds with unconditional acceptance. I say yes when I embrace the darkest shadow forces of this world with the light of my love. I have walked through chaos and created peace through my passion for service. I have held a light for others as they face their own dark night of the soul. I channel empathy and transform suffering. I am living my life as a testament of love, even when it hurts, even when I think I can’t go on. I say yes.
Once I understood my purpose, once I understood that I wasn’t there to fulfill others’ expectations for my calling, I forged my own path. I know so much more now than I did before. I know how to better discern the signs, how to better meet the challenges asked of me, when and how to ask for help. And I know my work continues to this day as I work to dismantle systems and beliefs that keep us stuck in our illusions of separation and lack. I will always serve gladly as the hands, reaching to offer proof that we are truly all connected. Hand to hand. Heart to heart.
To follow a calling is to share the voice of your heart
But more than anything, I have been called to share my story with you. Here. Today. Sharing my heart this way is the true joy of what I do because I want you to know that this is possible for you as well. It was only when I chose to let go of what others expected me to be that I found the natural flow of my light, my connection to the true potential of my highest self. It is has given me the courage to do the impossible, to live an extraordinary life of love.
And because this post insisted on coming out this month, if something about the words, the images, the emotions resonates with you, consider this your sign from the Divine! Is there a slender, delicate proof of your own truth contained in these words?
This is the Divine’s way of reaching out to say hello, inviting you into a deeper union.
I’m here to affirm that this bigger-than-you thing that you’ve been called to do…yes, you ARE worthy. It is never too late. Awakening happens.
Right. On. Time.
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“I just want to go home”
The phrase was on constant repeat in my head in moments of desperation and self-defeat. Starting in my teens, I’d have this phrase pulse like a chant in my brain. A motto for when I was ready to give up all hope, all fight, all resolve. Sometimes I wanted to give up on school, Chicago, Denver, parenting, homeownership, polyamory, romance, the stresses of my first job out of law school, the bar exam. It was the easiest thing to cling to in those searing stressful moments – the thought of home. Especially when I was far from Colorado. When times got tough the most comforting thought in the world was to crawl up in my bed on the giant house near the Fountain River and withdraw from the harshness of the world.
[CW: mentions of suicide, PTSD, sexual assault, trauma but also resilience, healing, faith and sex]
The past five years have been professionally prosperous for me. I have gone from owning my own mediation business to providing direct service to people experiencing homelessness, culminating in a senior management position at a major nonprofit organization. I honestly couldn’t be more grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had. I am so very blessed.
But despite this extraordinary level of success in the past five years I have been increasingly unhappy. The chanting in my head didn’t go away with success, it only got more persistent. The stress breaking me down so it was constant drumming in the back of my mind, the first thing I’d hear in the morning and the last I’d hear at night.
It isn’t easy for me to admit that, especially here. More than anything I want my life to stand for something meaningful, powerful and inspirational – and deep in my heart I really, truly don’t hate my life. But the stresses, the accumulated traumas, the internalized doubt and toxic messaging of my internal world were constantly crashing into each other. I had never been great at prioritizing self-care, so when I was met with crushing amounts of vicarious trauma, fear and insecurity over the past few years, I spiraled even further into self-hatred, infecting my job, my family and my soul with a loathing I didn’t even know was a part of me.
I left my job at the end of October and left the organization last week. And what I’ve learned since then will help me survive the rest of this life.
I’ve been open in the past with the ways I’ve struggled with things like imposter syndrome and people-pleasing. When you’ve had such significant challenges with deservingness, that sort of meteoric rise can produce more anxiety and pressure than it alleviates. Until I found myself deserving of that kind of rise, it was never going to feel right.
I had too much that was working against me. The accumulation of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue made my soul ache for daily relief that never came. I was new to supervision and my lawyer’s brain was constantly overthinking everything I said and did. I had trouble with processing financial statements quickly enough to give my people answers about expenditures. (Nevermind that I was now using terms like “expenditures” and “write-ups” far more frequently than my little social-justice, romantic heart ever imagined). I wasn’t taking care of myself either – getting an average of 4 hours of sleep a night, working an average of 65 hours a week, eating only one meal by the end of the day. I was dehydrated, chronically cranky and progressively unwell.
And so, over the past five years, instead of my brain chanting “I just want to go home”, it began to shift to “I hate my life”. A phrase that rang relentlessly in my head, even with the smallest of mistakes. When my nerves really were at their breaking point, the chant would spill out of my mouth bursting unwelcome into the rest of the world. My employees have heard it, my kids, my supervisors, my husbands. And when I was alone, I would find myself screaming it out loud. Impulsive and destructive. Multiple times an hour, multiple times a day. After a time it was barely controllable and barely contained.
It became so destructive that I was actively contemplating suicide, for the fifth time in my life. July, August and September were a white-knuckle ride. Each day presented new challenges that I was increasingly losing the ability to address or control. These challenges weren’t just about work – they included retriggering events and encounters, strong shifts in my family including sick parents and grandparents and the normal Trump-associated threats to the world. The hits just kept coming and I felt I was letting everyone down no matter how I responded.
And while I won’t go into detail about the reasons or rationale, what is important is that I reached out to the people best situated to offer meaningful help, without imposed expectations or unsolicited advice. I called on my team, both mortal and ethereal, to assist me through this storm. I have worked too hard, overcome too much, and had too much ahead of me to go down without a fight.
And that voice urging me to fight was my Pueblo voice: The Priestess of Pride City.
Go Big Blue
There is something distinctive about being from Pueblo. We are home to more Congressional Medal of Honor winners than anywhere else in the US. Formerly part of Mexico, we’ve celebrated Cinco de Mayo with our sister city, Puebla, the site of that historic victory. We host the Colorado State Fair and welcome all of Colorado’s makers, farmers, ranchers, and revelers culminating with the crowning a Fiesta Day queen. We have the longest running high school football rivalry west of the Mississippi (Videos: Bell Game 2019 – Bell Rings Blue ). And recently, our Governor has stood up with pride to defend the honor of our mirasol green chiles, defining the taste of Pueblo.Read the rest of this entry
This post hit me in the gut right when I was at my lowest, mired in Imposter Syndrome and knee-deep in panic. This was a small light that emerged in the darkness, illuminating one of the deepest, hardest truths of my life.
Sacrifice as proof of worth?
I am not as familiar with the Giving Tree – I managed to encounter Shel Silverstein, without much time spent on this book. However, this criticism of this story rang a clear, resonant note of truth within. Sacrifice of talents…using them to meet the needs of others is a major reason for my anxiety and internalized pain.
This why I have a complicated relationship with the Catholicism of my youth. I still believe in the divine – I don’t call it god or any specific name, but I feel connected to something bigger than myself, far more infinite and loving than anyone can imagine. I’ve felt this presence since I was a kid, a guiding presence that was on my side, lovingly cheering me on even in my mistakes.
But Catholicism invaded at a very young age with messages telling me to fear God. The introduction of shame was packaged with meaning and redemption. The judgment meant I was answerable for every small transgression – such as merely thinking about sex. Any violation had to be confessed and absolved in order to still qualify for heaven someday. Humility or humiliation?
That isn’t to say that I didn’t genuinely love some aspects of Catholicism. I am drawn to a sense of ritual to anchor my spirituality. The Mass exemplifies the elegance in which all the senses keep your body present in the moment: incense, music, movement and body connection, the wine and bread, the visual presentation of the mass and its setting. There is something divine in the visceral celebration of our humanity like that.
But the spiritually connective ecstasy I experience in the rituals of faith are soured in seeing the shallowness of the people who claim community with me. The hatred they sow, the majestic righteousness they promote, the private deceitfulness they practiced were abhorrent. And because I was a “true believer” (in middle and high school), I had an obligation to be better than the average Sunday catholic.
That pressure was doubly true for a “visionary”, someone seemingly “chosen” to fulfill a mission. Someday I’ll share more about it, but at the young age of 12, I had been called to be the “hands of Mary”. My world changed. Faith was no longer an aspiration, but a leadership skill. Little old ladies asked for my blessing. Priests were at the ready to advise (I chose my confessors wisely).
My role always has been to provide healing, light and love in the world, to be the tangible and conceptual hands of the divine and loving feminine. The challenge of this role: this path would be paved with sacrifice, selflessness, imbalance and fairness, infinite patience, and the constant fear that I am not giving enough.
Someone else needed my gifts more than me.
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed” . A moment in the mass that is so sincerely that I tear up anytime we get to that part (and I hate how they’ve changed it).
My parents taught me kindness and hard work, but Catholicism amplified those qualities so that anything less than perfect performance was swiftly declared a sin. A true examination of conscience reveals all the minutiae of errors in word and deed and imposed shame for the sin of having faults and bad days. Any kindness I refused my fellow human being was a black mark on my soul, a disappointment to god. Anything less than perfect patience was selfishness. Asking to be loved back or simply accepted was greedy. I was so good at turning the mirror on myself, at holding myself accountable, that I confessed the tiny little lies I tell myself to cover for my flawed self.
I was a literal expert at tearing myself down. Why pretend I am better than I really am? Why bring attention to myself by promoting my achievements? Why take the credit when others’ contributions were more significant? I viewed my pride, my selfishness and greed with such disdain. These were what was going to land me in hell, I knew it. I reasoned that if I put myself through hell now, I might not be judged as harshly later.
In high school, when I found out I was in the running for salutatorian, I deliberately blew off a couple of classes to ensure that I wouldn’t take that particular spotlight. I figured other people deserved it more and that I wasn’t harming them by taking myself out of the running. I didn’t want or need the spotlight and such attention feels inappropriately arrogant. To this day I can’t even take a compliment because fuck…how selfish would that be?
Self-Destruction isn’t Love
So…here I am at 41 years old constantly struggling with imposter syndrome, trying to lead a major arm of a local nonprofit and still trying to make a difference with the individuals I encounter. And this locus of worth, the laden expectations of the purpose I chose for myself is what is holding me back. I have so convinced myself that by possessing certain gifts and talents, that by choosing a larger purpose for my life, that I must deny any benefits that allow me to live in celebration or accomplishment.
The consequence is I have trouble believing in myself or in my own value in these roles. I chase after everyone’s goal-posts, trying to please everyone’s expectations of me at once. Constantly struggling with never feeling “good enough” or “smart enough” or “pretty enough” because I judge my best efforts as never enough – I could always do more, be more, share more. Thus, I am easily manipulated by others’ disappointment in me, including lovers, co-workers and random strangers. I succumb to the friends who say I’m not there for them enough. I break myself making it up to the partners who resent that I’ve chosen work instead of them.
I have impossible choices, all driven and decided by the lack of value I find in my own reward and happiness. I fall on my sword at every opportunity – because I should be held accountable for not being all things to all people. How fucking dare I not be infinitely grateful to serve in all the divine perfection I am allowed? How dare I not be grateful for the gifts god gave me? Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – for the greater glory of god.
The toll this has taken on my mental health cannot be understated or dismissed. “Just stop thinking like that” they tell me, as if turning off years of programming and self-flagellating reinforcement is simple because now I’m suddenly “worthy”. Nah, it doesn’t work like that.
That’s not to say I haven’t done heavy lifting on this subject, but when you’re “smart”, you are likewise talented at overthinking everything. And combined with the Catholic examination of conscience, it’s easy to feel like I’m not going to ever be good enough.
But more than anything, these noble messages that equate sacrifice with pure love during childhood imply that our gifts, our talents, or unique value aren’t our own. Our gifts are meant for the consumption of others. Our gifts are meant to be shared with humanity, even if it means we subsist on anxiety and eggshells the rest of our lives.
“You’re meant for something more” is what we tell our smart kids, our spiritual kids, our mature kids. And those kids become adults who sacrifice themselves at the altar of humanity’s betterment. We learn fast, are adaptable and aware. Our skills of observation, of reading the signs of adults around us serve as a shortcut to help us excel and thus generate more to share with humanity. The better we get, the more we have to give in return.
I am trying to find balance with this right now, which is why I had to take a sick day. But that one day of self-care cost me sleep the next night because my conscience wouldn’t allow me to let anyone down. Sacrifice myself so others aren’t ever challenged to be inconvenienced or uncomfortable.
I almost quit this time last week – for no other reason than the fact that I don’t find myself worthy of this level of responsibility. I have always felt my “accomplishments” were just a payment toward the debt that I owe to the divine for the weighty charge I have been given. I will forever be paying back a debt I never incurred. Whereas those who have taken of my time and energy will never be asked to replenish what was given. (Consider the analogous application to the environment).
I chose a life of spiritual servitude, that any other day of the week I choose gladly – but last week it just unraveled me because …I’m exhausted. Too many have asked for more when I clearly have nothing left to give. And it hurts when they fault me for not having enough for them when I don’t have enough to keep myself going. But no matter whether it’s work, friendships, family or more they don’t see or care what it is costing me.
I sincerely believe I am capable of giving my all in the name of love, but my biggest challenge is to demonstrate that love for myself, to allow myself the worth of replenishment. If I am worthy enough of scorn, I’m likewise worthy enough for their forgiveness. And with the gifts I have offered the connection will always feel incomplete until I’m willing to receive.
I’ve spent a lot of energy resisting the idea that I’m a sex educator in part because I always felt like I don’t fit the image I’ve grown accustomed to: beautiful, flirty, fun, with an elusive effervescence and trendy style. The person who oozes sex with their every word and who can immediately name the different qualities of lube in a dizzying display of scientific sexiness. I don’t own a pussy puppet and am not sure what I would do with it if I did. I don’t teach “how to” be sexy; I help you remember “why” you already are sexy. I can’t tell you how to make your girlfriend have a mind-blowing orgasm; I can tell you how to talk to each other about it with graceful vulnerability.
I’ve been poly for a long time — 13 years. And I’ve been kinky way longer than that. I’ve been public speaking since 4th grade when I went to Space Camp. I’ve taught numerous classes including to law enforcement and other attorneys about poly & BDSM and how to identify nuanced consent and differentiate it from abuse. Yet somehow I don’t feel like I’m qualified to call myself a sex educator.
I haven’t written books or published articles or received awards. I haven’t changed lives with my message or gotten hundreds of thousands of followers. I’m not popular. I’m not credentialed (other than as an attorney and no, I won’t give you legal advice). I’m not a researcher. I don’t hold a bevy of statistics in my head. And yeah, I’ve done presentations and given talks, but most of that has been local and not national.
There’s also a lot of Imposter Syndrome talking here.
Over the next thirty days, I will be giving four different talks about sexuality or sexually related topics. Tocday, I am a guest lecturer at a local community college for a human sexuality class — essentially debunking myths about BDSM and polyamory. Then, in two weeks I will be presenting at Rocky Mountain Poly Living (“Extending Empathy” and “Poly Political Agenda”). Then the week after that I’m leading a discussion at StarFest about Intergalactic Influences on Love and Sexuality (Sci-fi and Fantasy’s influences on our own sexual development and experiences with love).
It’s a busy, whirlwind of activity and the likelihood of my anxiety making a nasty return is very, very high. And while self-care is certainly necessary, I always do better when I can talk it out. Both husbands are asleep — so allow me to use this space right here to remind myself —
I am a sex educator and I am qualified because:
I know my own experience. I know how to call out shitty experiences. I know what it feels like when you don’t call out a shitty experience and swallow disappointment and discouragement.
I know what it feels like to gather up the courage to ask someone out and to be rejected (oh fuck, I know that one well).
I have met and loved (and lost) soul mates.
I have encountered submission as a spiritual transformation and inched my way closer to deeper dominance. And love the romanticism of vanilla sex as well.
I have been publicly shamed and outed. I’ve been unemployed as a result of how I identify and the perverse assumptions that people make as a result.
I’ve grieved for the loss of my sensuality and triumphed over its return. Over and over again.
I have been sexually assaulted in both the vanilla and sex positive worlds and have healed by sharing my stories and connecting with others who need to hear they’re not crazy or alone.
I have seduced and loved many impossible people–people who felt they were unlovable, people with outward importance who needed an inward experience, people far more beautiful, popular or genuine than me.
I have slept with more men than women, but can tell you what it’s like to fall in love with both.
I have walk-of-shamed my way down lonely Chicago streets and given my sex as comfort to the broken-hearted.
I’ve been a wife and a mother and had difficulty with balancing the expectations of both roles.
I have been a sexual healer, a divine mistress, a wanton whore and a demure princess in one night.
I have walked this earth as an intelligent, passionate and spiritual woman. I am femme and geek and Chicana and fucking brilliant when I choose to be. I am curvy and vulnerable and maternal but I’m not your Mommy. I am the laughter of seduction and the mediator of souls.
How can I possibly be an imposter?
By sharing lessons through my own vulnerability and experience, my learning and mistakes, I serve as a companion on the journey. By weaving stories of empathetic experience, I aim to illustrate the patterns of our own truth and experience. This is both who I am and who I want to be. That is the most real and authentic me I can offer–my own lessons and experience and knowledge and outlook.
That is the most real and authentic me I can offer–my own lessons and experience and knowledge and outlook.
And for some, that is exactly what they need.