(This piece is the first person account of a woman who journeyed from radical feminist to faithful, orthodox Catholic. Collen DeLima is a friend of our team member, Lisa Huber. I love this story because it illustrates a great truth: fear and hurt often present as anger. Some people are just angry jerks, but many are among those that Colleen calls the “walking wounded.” We must all pray to see past the surface to the heart, that we may have the grace to give heart and welcome to those who seem angry, but are actually wounded and afraid. It’s a tough job, particularly given that we are not allowed to use our compassion to justify enabling evil. Serious Christianity is not for wimps.
If you have a story of conversion or grace (and conversion does NOT just mean going from one faith to another; it is more the story of when and how faith became real to you; when you encountered Christ in a way that changed your life), put a note in the comments to alert Beckita or me. We will get back to you quickly. These stories help us to build each other up, to strengthen the bonds between us in this growing community of hope and help.-CJ)
By Colleen DeLima
A Journey Back to Jesus
As followers of Jesus Christ, what unites us in this life is that we are all on a journey, a pilgrimage. We are traveling on our way home to Heaven. About 20 years ago, my journey took a detour, something akin to the 40-year roundabout route in the desert that the Israelites experienced with Moses to reach the Promised Land. A detour is defined by a route (often a long one) taken to avoid something or to visit somewhere along the way. This alternate route, which involved joining the radical feminist movement, brought a season of darkness and suffering upon me that kept me in bondage for many years. I now know that my detour was me avoiding something, or rather, Someone: God. This is my story of becoming unshackled. It is a journey from feminism to freedom, from seeking ungodliness to seeking holiness, and the return of a life back into the arms of a Savior.
As a cradle Catholic, I was raised to never miss Mass on Sunday. I went to CCD (that is what we called it back in the day) and received all of the Sacraments that a young person would, from Baptism up to and including Confirmation. I had a connection to Jesus from the time I was a very little girl. I used to talk to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph every night before I went to bed as they were my best friends. However, one late evening, long after I had gone to bed, everything changed when my parents began to fight and their voices escalated to the point of startling me awake from my slumber. I heard shouts and insults being thrown around, and then I heard my Daddy say, “That’s it! I’m leaving”. My mother retorted, “Well, when are you planning on coming back?”. To that my Dad shouted back, “Never!”. I bolted out of bed, ran downstairs, grabbed my Daddy’s leg, and begged him not to leave us. I told him I loved him, I cried, and begged him to stay. He ended up staying, but their marriage grew even more cold and lifeless and was basically extinct in terms of any sign of life or love after that night. From that moment, combined with a double whammy of learning that Santa Claus was not real, and feeling so stupid for believing that he ever was, I never spoke to Jesus, Mary, or Joseph again. I actually forgot about them altogether and instead paid more attention at night, before I fell asleep, to specific sounds in the house. I needed to hear two sounds before I could fall asleep: 1) my father coughing or the tv on so that I knew that he was there and 2) my mother washing the dishes. If I heard silence on either side, either from my mother or father, I would go down the stairs and peek to see if I could catch sight of them so I would know they were still there and that neither one had left us.
Growing up, I never really had a clue of what my faith meant or what it truly taught. I never opened a Bible or prayed a Rosary. I definitely no longer had a personal relationship with Jesus. When I arrived at Penn State, in my college years, I did not identify as a Catholic. I had grown to perceive it as a label that I could peel away and discard as soon as I left home. I did not set foot inside a church during my six years of college, four years at undergraduate, and another two years of graduate school. My friends, my social life, and being accepted became my raison d’être, and I could not have been happier…or so I thought.
During my junior year of college, I was raped on campus. With a friend’s help and support, I reported the crime to campus police. When I underwent a thorough physical exam, it was confirmed that it was not an act of love as I had wounds that needed medical attention. The perpetrator, a young man on campus, was a serial rapist. I identified him in a series of photos the campus detective presented to me. He was tried in a court and while I don’t know if he ever got any jail time, I do know he was expelled.
After that dark season, whatever peace I had internally, albeit a superficially imposed peace as I was not walking with The Lord, had disappeared. My detour had taken me away from a path of forgiveness, mercy and healing. I began to spiral downwards very quickly. Having no Godly outlet for the raw emotions of what happened to me, I became drawn to various speakers on campus who spoke so eloquently about such intimate issues as violence to women, liberation from oppression, raising public awareness about rape, etc. I was so intrigued that I eventually pursued Women’s Studies classes and made that my minor degree. Once I took the bait, I was hooked. I remember feeling such a sense of belonging, like this area of studies and academia were speaking to my wounded self. I not only felt welcomed but empowered. My anger turned to activism and the hate I harbored was stoked by the hatred that fuels feminism. Feminism is a movement that, at its root, is hatred. It is the act of loving to hate and espousing hatred as if it were love.
By the time I graduated, some of my friends had already met their future husbands. Not me. I inwardly gloated that I would never succumb to entering into the “prison” otherwise known as marriage, as I did not have a healthy model of marriage as a child, adolescent or young adult. Amidst all of the arguing and shouting that I witnessed between my parents, I never once heard the words “I’m sorry” or “Please forgive me”. I suffered from a profound lack of forgiveness for the young man who violated me, and over time I had become a ticking time bomb of bitterness and resentment towards men, including God.
One of my gifts that I now know to be God-given is the gift of learning. I love to learn. I am an eternal student. In those college years, I marinated in victimhood in the radical feminist classroom. I excelled at mastering the concepts, especially that of identifying my oppressor as the White Male. I found a new home and identity as a feminist. It was where I could lick my wounds and vent my pent-up frustrations as a very lost, lonely and embattled young woman.
However, there was always one nagging aspect of radical feminism that had not set well with me, but I would never reveal it to my peers or professors for fear of being labeled as inauthentic to the movement. That element of radical feminism was called radical lesbian feminism. The only way to explain it was a pressure to completely free oneself from male domination. In other words, it was the pillar and purity of the movement. If you were truly a radical feminist, you were embracing lesbianism in a big way. If, as a woman, you did not reject all gender and sexual norms, you were not a true feminist, one of “them”.
The focus was increasingly on women freeing themselves from the powerlessness of a patriarchal world. I identified with the women being oppressed part, but I could not subscribe to lesbianism. Even within radical feminism there is disagreement about transgenderism. Any radical feminists who do not subscribe to transgenderism, for whatever reason, are then deemed “transphobic”. If one is not well versed in other feminist views such as “intersectional or black feminism”, one is seen as a racist or not “checking their white privilege”. To be honest, the growing emphasis on gender fluidity and all of the splintering views, judgements and condemnation left me more alienated than sure-footed as I aged in the world of feminism. Once I graduated college however, I still identified as a feminist and was radical enough to still defend the bastion of the feminist movement: abortion.
I moved back to my home state of Massachusetts where I got a job and worked full time. I remember reading an article in The Boston Globe hinting at a possible ban on partial birth abortion. As abortion is the sacred cow of the radical feminists, I quickly jumped to defend it. I wrote a letter to the editor defending a woman’s right to choose without “pesky” restrictions that were only, after all, imposed primarily by white male politicians. What did they know about a woman’s uterus? I regurgitated the mantra in my letter. I was so proud of myself when they quickly published it. Truth be told, I did not even know, medically speaking, what a partial birth abortion was – but it did not matter; it had to be defended. Ironically, I only learned what an abortion really was decades later when I returned to the Church.
Fast forward to the turn of the century, the year of 2000 when I turned 30 years old. I was already a raging alcoholic and still loving to hate men, but I felt extremely alone and lost. I was seeking to fill a void, deep in my soul, with all of the wrong things. I tried every “ism” out there: baha’ism, Universal Unitarianism, spiritualism, etc. Nothing clicked until one Saint Patrick’s Day night when I met a strikingly handsome man from Brazil. I felt the ground beneath me disappear, as we had a lot in common. He was recently divorced and I had never been married, so we were both a bit jaded and wounded. However, he was a devout Catholic while I was an agnostic hot mess. Although my alcoholism quickly became apparent to him, he never condemned me or judged me, but instead, without my knowledge, began a forty day fast, praying for me to heal my addiction.
I received a great healing not only from my alcohol addiction, but that prayer thawed out my frozen heart. It filled the giant hole in my soul. There is something powerfully supernatural that occurs when someone prays for another. The love of Jesus that dwells on the inside of that prayer person spills over into the person that needs the prayer and fills them up like a true vessel. The result of such a heavenly exchange is that the prayed over person is filled up to overflowing with the love of Jesus. That happened to me. I wanted to get to know Him again. Jesus can break through the toughest of barriers by just one heart being open, like this young Brazilian man’s heart was open. I now call that man my husband of 17 years and could not be more blessed that God sent him to me.
After we married, I became more involved in our local church. I prayed to God to reveal in which ministry He wanted me to serve. The word abortion kept coming up. I remember literally speaking out loud to God to please not have me do anything around abortion. Months later, I found myself praying outside an abortion clinic in a 40 Days for Life Prayer Vigil. I came alongside a longtime prayer warrior I had recently met. She is an amazing defender of life from womb to tomb. I met her standing in the rain and I could not believe all of the signs she had in her car and all of the gear to combat inclement weather she faced day in and day out as she showed up, often alone, to pray in front of the abortion clinic. I was so proud I showed up to pray for just one hour and here she had been there for hours on end already. I thought to myself, “Who does that?” Oh, how I longed to have that unstoppable resolve to serve God: no fear, just selfless love and mercy. That faith-filled warrior for Christ was the first of many I would come to meet, know and love as I joined the Army of God that day.
God placed me in the company of a group of super stealth prayer warriors who joined forces to act and pray to shut down for good a notoriously unscrupulous abortion practice that had cropped up in our neighborhood. That effort was led by a prayer warrior who would walk through fire to save women and their babies from the horrors of abortion. I am constantly in awe of how God strategically equips His children to build His Kingdom.
Looking back now, I can see so clearly how God used my own mess to be a message. The message is simple yet so easy to completely overlook and miss out on: be open, even the slightest bit, to God’s love.
The hardest of hearts can soften with just a tiny drop of the love of Christ. I truly believe that today’s self-proclaimed feminists are the walking wounded among us. The temptation is to be combative with the walking wounded because their words and actions more often than not serve to cut and hurt us. But underneath the jagged exterior there is a little girl whose beloved Daddy left home one day and never came back or a frightened teenager who is pregnant and terrified, feeling falsely empowered by a culture that only wants to swallow her up, or a grown woman who has forgotten who she is – and Whose she is.
We live in a killing culture that has progressively, incrementally and purposefully buried and denied access to “The Greatest Story Ever Told”: For God so loved the world that He sent His only son to step into time, suffer and die a wretched criminal’s death to free us from our sins, bring us back where we long to be, where we were created to be, into the loving arms of Our Father in Heaven. Nothing on this earth can fill that void but Jesus and nothing can get us back home to the Father but through His love.
Finally, my journey back to Jesus was about reclaiming my true identity. I no longer identify as a victim. Jesus wrapped me in His love to see clearly that in my former victim mentality, I was looking to every “’ism” out there to find myself and to tell me who I was. Jesus was ever so gently and constantly leading me back to my true self. True freedom this side of Heaven is not found in any “’ism”, movement or ideology. In feminism, freedom from ________ (fill in the blank) will always be peddled like a cheap prize at a carnival and the goal posts will forever shift to name a new oppressor and to promote a new victim mentality.
Jesus turns all of that on its head and teaches us a new way to live and to love. A dear friend recently reminded me of the incredible story of the criminals on the Cross with Jesus. His ministry and teaching was so bold as to proclaim an entire enslaved nation, subject to the tyrannical Roman Empire, as freed when he said this: “if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36). At the Crucifixion, a criminal on Jesus’s right side was set free and was the first person that Jesus took to Heaven. Why? Because he heard the Truth, received it in his heart, repented, and was set free from death to eternal life. The criminal on Jesus’s left side hurled insults at Him. While he had the Truth right before him, he rejected it and died a criminal’s death. As women, we are not free from anything on this earth by espousing ideologies rooted in hatred, that lead us through deception to sin and death. Identifying as a feminist, I remained like the criminal on the left of Jesus: ignoring the Truth that had been laid out before me. After coming out of the proverbial desert that was feminism, my deepest hope and prayer is for other women, young and old, to be open to Jesus unshackling them so they can return to the arms of their Savior on their journey home.