My family is obsessed with watching the wholesome and hilarious show “19 Kids and Counting”. In the season finale of the show, along with an adorable engagement, there was also a segment about the four oldest girls releasing their book “Growing Up Duggar” which was all about relationships and answered some persistent questions from their viewers. Inspired by their topic, I spent some time reflecting on how it is that I am the way that I am today. Therefore, here’s a small look into my “Growing Up WILLIS” which is focused primarily on Suffering+Jesus, relationships, and purity. Enjoy!
Our Lord is always a good place to begin and I can absolutely say that my life would be a whole heck of a lot different had my parents not been wise enough to bring Christ into my life. My sisters and I attended a Catholic School from our kinder years to eighth grade. I cannot emphasize enough the power that receiving the Eucharist each Friday probably did to both me and my sisters later in our lives! I am sure the grace that we had received at that time was Christ giving us the strength to live for Him later.
My Mom and Dad taught us at a young age about God and all His goodness. My Dad, selflessly, allowed for all of us girls to be baptized into the Catholic Church even though he is not Catholic. Although, anyone who knows Wayne Willis knows how hard it is to believe that he is NOT Catholic- the man is on his way to Sainthood. I tell ya. It wasn’t just my Dad supporting us throughout our childhood (0bviously) but it was my Mom paving the way for us to learn how to be a woman of God. It was the collective love of Christ found in our parents’ marriage that built the foundation for us girls to fall in love with Our Lord. Let’s be real… BOTH my parents are on their way to Sainthood. Especially with what came years down the road. What would come would be an opportunity to practice true reliance on faith when we were confronted with the biggest challenge anyone faces in life…. Which is death.
I was a 6th grader waiting for the ‘longest year of my life’ to be done. You all know how it is… Middle School is just awkward. I was thinking about the pool, movies, and shopping I would be doing in the summery months. It all changed on June 1st, 2005 when my family was notified that my Mom’s brother had tragically passed away three days prior… On the day of my sister’s graduation. What made it harder was that my Uncle Charles had unfortunately passed away from a suicide, largely due to his drug use, and it was hard to fathom any goodness coming from such tragedy. I remember the pain of unanswered questions and the wish that it could have been an ‘easier death’ to understand. Strange right? The last conversation I had with my Uncle the night before the suicide continues to replay in my head. I remember the anger I could hear in his voice. But what haunts me most of all, and explains some things about my family, is that I forgot to say ‘I love you’ when I got off the phone. I forgot. How could that happen? I never forget to say ‘I love you’! How could I forget on that night?? I remember the pain from all of these foreign emotions. I didn’t know how God could turn this tragedy into something beautiful… But of course… I was wrong. See the thing is, Our Lord has a way of making the worst tragedy on the cross become His greatest victory. It was His suffering that gave my family and I the strength to continue on and the faith that He will be with us, “until the end of the age”. (Matthew 28)
Continuing further, my sisters and I were beginning to heal from Uncle Charles and learning how to walk in ‘blind faith’ with God. But our trial was no where near over… On June 1st, 2006 my family and I were rushed to El Paso on an emergency for my cousin, Brandon. A year after my Uncle had passed away, my cousin had suffered a drug overdose and was in a coma for 3 days. We were praying day in and day out that Brandon would survive. So you can imagine our joy when he was expected to make a remarkable recovery! Brandon was our miracle! I remember my parents telling us girls, “There are survival stories! The chain can be broken!”. This time around I had learned my lesson from Uncle Charles and I wasn’t going to miss out on chances of saying ‘I love you’, and squeezing him for extra long hugs. The problem came on March 28th, 2007 when my cousin passed away from his second drug overdose. I remember saying, “Lord, why US? Why does this keep happening? He was so young! I could have helped him!” But there He was again… the soft whisper in my heart telling me that in giving Him all… In giving Him my trust… In giving Him my cousin… my pain and grief would subside. God was waiting for my family and I to lean on Him.
The hardest part about the deaths? Was letting them go. Uncle Charles and Brandon weren’t ours to hold on to. They were God’s. They belonged to Him, and I had to respect the fact that He wanted to take them away from their suffering. I had to let them go.
I tell these stories to exemplify that my family and I fell in love with Jesus because of the comfort in knowing that He knew suffering and He knew it first hand! He was with us the entire time and was ready to give us the strength that we needed to continue on our journey towards Heaven… all in the hopes that we will once again see those who we lost so young. Yes it’s true that my family never ceases to say “I love you”, but it’s because I remember being robbed of that opportunity the night before my uncle died. Yes it’s true my family never ceases to celebrate, but it’s because we had learned that it is the tiny victories and celebrations that overcome the sadness. Yes it’s true my family laughs really loud and talks for hours, but it’s because we are grateful for those we still have with us. Finally, it’s true my family never ceases to rely on Our Lord, because it was in Him that we are continuously given peace.
If God gives you an abundant harvest of trials, it is a sign of great holiness which He desires you to attain. Do you want to become a great saint? Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of Divine Love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the Cross, which the infinite charity of the Savior used to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ. That is, hard and painful things endured for Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ.
–Saint Ignatius of Loyola
Relationships + Purity
Here’s another challenge my sisters and I found that led us towards sanctification… purity in high school.
My sisters and I were allowed to date in high school and boy (no pun intended) did we learn quickly how drastically different we were from the rest of our high school. We were a part of the slim margin of girls attempting to live a chaste life, and an even slimmer margin of practicing Catholics. What I can say to any girl or guy who is attempting to live a holy and chaste life in high school is that it helps when you know that it can be done! This is what my oldest sister, Kelsie, did for the rest of us girls. She showed us through her actions that chastity and maintaining our Catholic faith was possible during the rough years of high school! Seeing sister, after sister, after sister accomplish the seemingly “impossible” task of purity gave me the strength and confidence I needed to keep on the straight and narrow path towards Christ.
Even though I knew all of this…Let me tell ya… I learned the hard way about high school boys. It seemed at that time I had liked literally ALL the wrong guys.
Some started out in agreement with respecting my choice of not having sex, only to find that months later that they were expecting me to ‘change my mind’ which ended in heart ache. Some made fun of me behind my back or mocked the decision. And some saw the purity ring as a challenge, and attempted to ‘break me’. Luckily, they failed.
Honestly? I wish I would have read Crystalina Evert’s “dump him” list. Check them out here. I could have used this to avoid a lot of tears from being the school prude.
So… Kileen… you’re saying that purity is really hard. Some guys will challenge it. You will cry a lot if you choose to live that lifestyle, ect. Is there an upside?
Heaven, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Which is very worth waiting for.
In my life, I had my sisters who showed me the strength of what happens when you wait. It may really stink at the time that the one really cute guy from class doesn’t want to go out with you because of a ring you stuck on your finger, but in reality? Someone who doesn’t respect that decision and doesn’t die to himself for you IS NOT WORTH YOUR TIME. Notice the emphasis. Therefore; find a role model to look towards, know that you’re not alone in your fight, and know that there are many people who are praying for you to succeed in this battle for chastity.
Sex isn’t just something done because ‘you love the person’, true love is laying down your life for the person you love and suffering for them. Love gives, it doesn’t take away. Love is worth waiting for, even though it’s the hardest thing to wait for. Just like Heaven 🙂
Growing up as a Willis girl was filled with some pressures. The pressure to get good grades, be beautiful (my testimony to this will detailed in another post very soon… keep on the lookout!), be faithful to the Catholic faith, and abide by the morals I had been taught. All of these are good things! It was faith and strong will that was only possible through the Lord’s grace that has gotten me to where I am today. Oh… and a heck of a lot of amazing family and friends to support and love me as well! Know that I pray for you and all those who are striving to live a life of chastity and obedience to Our Lord, I only ask that you pray for me as well.
“When you decide to live a clean life, chastity will not be a burden on you: it will be a crown of triumph.” -Saint José Maria Escriva