We first came to know Audrey when she joined our ultimate frisbee game on campus. A natural-born leader, with a knack for hospitality and making others feel comfortable, she is fun and easy to be around. We began meeting with her monthly while we were on her campus and attended the Bible study she hosted for other women on campus. By the time she graduated from college she had a completely new understanding of her beauty and dignity as a daughter of God. She is a smart and disciplined student who recently graduated near the top of her class with a degree in aerospace engineering. With humility and openness, she shared her failures and victories with other women.
How has your vision of God changed over the years? I always believed there was a God but never really thought He had an investment in my life. I thought that after I was created He just turned the other way and said, “Good Luck.” My image of God was a rule maker more than Someone who I desired to follow. Not until my 5th and final year of college did I begin to see God as Someone who loved me and wanted to have a relationship with me. I began to see the goodness He made in me and that my dignity did not come from anyone else but Him. But I still struggled to believe that God could ever satisfy the desires I had for love, companionship and intimacy.
Tell us about how your time in college. I dated a lot of different guys; I can only remember about a month where I wasn’t actively searching for another relationship as soon as I got out of the previous one. Coming into second semester of my 4th year in college, the guy I was dating and I broke up and I was devastated, not because we weren’t dating anymore but because my self-worth was tied up in those relationships. Being single meant I had nothing, which meant I was worth nothing. I decided that since guys hadn’t made me happy, maybe I should try the whole God thing out. A friend convinced me to go to Confession to get a clean slate. 14 years after my first Confession, I went to Confession for the second time in my life. I desired to see what it meant to live a Christ centered life, and I knew if I tried to do it by myself I would fall back into my old ways, so I immersed myself into the Catholic community in every way I could.
How have you discovered your true self more? Were there “masks” you took off? On the surface I looked innocent and good because that’s how I wanted others to see me and how I truly wanted to be. But deep down I struggled with many temptations of lust that stemmed from desiring to be loved. I told myself over and over again that the way I was living was OK and normal, but deep down I knew it was all a lie. I was ashamed and disgusted with myself. I saw myself as damaged and dirty and thought, “How could God or anyone ever love that?” I tried to hide my sins from everyone and pretend like none of it existed. I was so scared of what others would think of me if I asked for help. I thought that that they would only see my sins and not me.
Eventually, I stopped lying to myself and began to learn where I was tempted and to work through these thoughts and actions. Most importantly, I began to invite God into this part of me that I so wanted to hide. With a lot of help from people who love me deeply, I started to understand that I am not defined by my sins. God can take a bad decision and make something beautiful from it. I am learning that God is gentle and patient and will wait for us as long as it takes. He is love.
What was preventing you from truly loving yourself? How did your friendship with the women in your Bible study help you to grow? I had this intense desire to love others and to be loved by others, but that didn’t translate into me loving myself. During my last relationship before my reversion to the faith, I decided to get a semi-permanent form of birth control called an IUD. I never saw the problem with birth control and thought, ‘Hey, if it means I won’t get pregnant, then great.’ There is a saying that girls use sex to get love and guys use love to get sex. I was trying to catch a glimpse of the love and intimacy I desired. Instead this caused many wounds to build in my heart and eventually I just became numb to the pain.
After my reversion, I wanted to learn about the Church’s teaching on sex and birth control. I began to see my use of birth control as taking something beautiful God created (my body and my fertility) and altering it with chemicals.
Each week at the end of our women’s Bible study we would make a personal challenge that we would hold each other accountable for. For a long time my challenge was to love myself. One year after getting the IUD, I decided to get it removed. I wanted to be just me, exactly the way God had created me, without altering anything, and to treat my body with the dignity it deserved. The next week at our Bible study, I told the group that I had accepted the challenge, and did the most loving thing I could for myself in as long as I could remember: I removed the IUD.
This totally transformed how I saw myself and others. I began to see the men around me as created by God – it affected everything. I became cautious of how I spoke to others, the intentions of the text messages I sent, the clothes I put on my body. And above all, I began to love and respect myself.
After you graduated from college, you decided to make a pilgrimage – A month long walk in Spain to the tomb of St. James. Can you share about your journey on the Camino? The first 5 days of the Camino were probably the hardest days of my life. I didn’t walk with anyone, I didn’t eat with anyone and I experienced the most profound loneliness I have ever felt. I desired community so much and didn’t understand why God would do this to me. All that was left to do was to pray and sit with Him in these moments. I realized that in my life I could be stripped of everything from material goods to companionship, but I could never be stripped of His love for me. No matter what happens in life I will always have God with me walking through life together.
In life, one of the least complicated things we can do is walk. It is simply putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes this walking is filled with joy and beautiful times, but sometimes it involves suffering when every step you take is excruciating. Sometimes people are put into our lives to walk with us; we never know how long they will be there, but we can be thankful for the time shared with them. And other times we may feel abandoned and lonely, like nobody is walking with us. But then a small voice in your head says, “Keep going, keep putting one foot in front of the other. I am always with you and I will never leave your side.” Jesus promises us He will never abandon us and when all hope is gone we can always look to Him for strength, because in our weaknesses He makes us strong.
Originally printed in IMPRINT Magazine Winter 2016