When I was five years old, my family took a trip to Dollywood. If you don’t know what that is, it’s essentially an amusement park named after - you guessed it -Dolly Parton herself. As we meandered throughout the park, my nose was consumed with dingy chlorine from log rides and the sweet smell of fried funnel cakes. My mind, however, was set on a hermit crab stand. Enamored by the creatures, I walked straight to them. My family, unfortunately, didn’t notice I had wandered off. It was a while before I even noticed they were gone. Worried and slightly terrified, I yelled out for them. No response. Growing discouraged and surrounded by thousands of people, I went off to a bench and cried. No one knew me and I didn’t know them.
Let me give you a little snapshot of my life at age five. My days were primarily consumed by playing with Barbies and Hot Wheels. You could find me in my neighborhood cleaning up trash, along the nearby golf course trying to make a buck selling the stray golf balls that landed in our yard, or in the pews on an occasional Sunday eating pretzels out of my dress pocket.
I also had a series of friendships that would soon become abnormally physical, especially for such a young age. In my mind, these sorts of friendships with girls became normalized.
I carried this skewed perception of sexuality with me as I entered high school. Amidst crushes on some of the guys in my grade, I still found myself longing romantically for my closest female friends. Throughout these years, I received countless invitations to youth group events. There I encountered selfless friendships for the first time in my life. It was in this place that the Lord began to woo me, where I heard the first whisperings of who I was, a beautiful woman of God. It was also around this age where I would first be formed in the Church’s teaching on same-sex attraction. I was already sold on the Church’s teachings on chastity and sexuality in general, but this topic was delivered with a harshness that made me want to turn in on myself and hide. Confused about what this teaching meant for me, I began searching for answers.
The search manifested itself both internally and externally upon going to college. Getting drunk and high seemed like a way to belong and prove myself as brave. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was trying to escape from women I wanted and childhood pain that wouldn’t go away. I found myself in unhealthy relationships with men and co-dependent friendships with women.
My search to know who I was became all-consuming. I even pursued Gender & Women’s Studies courses hoping I would find my answers. In the midst of this hunger to know, the Lord brought people into my life who would walk with me, teach me how to really pray, and field my constant questions on what it meant to be a Catholic woman.
I distinctly remember the moment when I was finally found. I had just ended an unhealthy relationship with the first guy I could see myself loving. I felt like I had nothing else to lose. There was Eucharistic adoration going on at our campus ministry, so I unassumingly stopped in. When I walked into the chapel, my eyes immediately locked on Jesus as if it were only the two of us in the room. He held my gaze and spoke boldly into my heart: “You are mine.” All in one moment I both caught my breath and had it knocked out of me. I was known and knew this was where He wanted me.
My story at Dollywood doesn’t end with me alone on a bench. I live today to tell the tale! As my little five-year-old self sat on a bench crying, a janitor called out to me. “Little girl, who are you looking for?” With kind eyes and a gentle nature, he asked me if I was lost. Through a few whimpers, I confirmed I was. He walked me to main office. There he sat me on the counter, handed me a Fla-Vor-Ice, and tracked down my family. I was found.
I imagine this is similar to what Mary Magdalene might have felt in the garden of the Resurrection. She enters only to find the tomb empty. In a panic, she searches and begins to weep, wondering where they have taken Jesus. She was separated from the one she loved and felt lost. Jesus stands before her, yet she doesn’t even recognize Him. Their gazes meet. “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Then he calls her by name. In being known, she knows Him.
I don’t know where you are in your search or how long you have been looking; whether you’ve been searching for God, for identity, for meaning, for hope. I’m not here to psychoanalyze you and I don’t know what has shaped your experience of desire. But I can tell you this: God knows you. He sees you. Sometimes we get so caught up in the search that we forget we need to be found. It’s when Mary Magdalene stops the frantic search and sits weeping that Christ comes to her and speaks her name. St. Thomas Aquinas notes in his commentary on this passage, “Recognize Him who recognized you.” He knows us first. All we have to do is respond to the invitation.
Do you want to be known? Let the One who has been misunderstood, abandoned, betrayed, doubted, and loved into your life. Come before Him in honesty with your aches and your search. He wants to call you by name.
Rest easy, He’s already in the garden with you. Take a seat on the counter, enjoy that Fla-Vor-Ice, and be found.