In the middle of a coaching session about my writing career, I found myself mysteriously drawn back to a book that changed my life. The conversation started to shift from me to the pages of this book when I thought about writing goals, even more so when I thought about the kind of writer I wanted to be.
I met John Carmichael through his self-published book Drunks and Monks after hearing about it on the Jennifer Fulwiler show on The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM. John was different because he was honest. And not just honest, but raw. I had recently come into the church as a convert from both Judaism and most recently as a Protestant, and John was my connection to those of us in the church whose paths have been marred by sweat and dirt. John and I also had another connection- we were both attorneys. In hearing John’s story, he hit the trifecta in my world, a Catholic lawyer who became a writer. And not just a writer, but a healer. It was through his pages that I read my way into the healing balm of Jesus Christ.
Drunks and Monks tracks the story of John’s reversion to the Catholic faith, including his mother’s battle with alcoholism and later his own. I loved John’s writing the most because I could literally feel the pain of the cross at my fingertips, I was in the scene, I was marred like he was, imperfect and desperate for answers. John tried to find his answers at the bottom of a bottle. I tried to find mine in self-loathing. Either way, neither was healthy, and both of us dirty, rotten sinners somehow ended up in the Catholic Church and were asked to serve Christ.
We were the band of brothers, the tax collector, and the prostitute, the one who stood outside of the temple. I felt John understood my plight before I even met him, and so I decided to reach out to him. Graciously, he responded, as well as his most amazing editor, Mary O’Regan, and this started a friendship that has lasted throughout these years.
I always saw John as my Catholic hero, the one who made it, he wrote the book I always wanted to write, the truth. I saw in John something that was brave and bold and ruthlesslessly abandoned to spreading the gospel truth, even if it cost him or tarnished him. His immaculate work brought to me a place of possibility and joy, seeing that if he could do it, I could do it too. That he was a real person with a real story that needed to be told. Not because he had to get something off his chest, but because a million people needed to hear it… or maybe just one.
John didn’t care about the book’s success, John cared about the message and the story. He cared about Mother Church, and the rosary and tradition. He was not above degrading himself to show himself for what he was- a sinner in need of a savior. In my eyes, that already made him a saint… or at least he was on his way.
Reading John’s book made me feel like I was seen and heard- that there was a place for me in God’s Kingdom, that kingdom that existed in the Catholic Church. And the fact that He twisted his heart in every direction to get to Christ made it clear to me that I had to do the same, walking, crawling, or writhing. My story was sad and dirty too. To God be the glory.
I often think of John in moments like these when I wonder what God’s next step will be for me, how he will use me, or what lessons I have to learn. These messages often come in subtle ways like the steady tide of the ocean, a flickering candle, or a reassuring friend. John’s story reminds me that I’ll never be done reaching, that I need Christ for everything and that the Eucharist is medicinal for all life’s ailments. That all my answers are found in the confines of the Catholic Church.
And when I too am ready to tell my story, I know I’ll re-read John’s pages, maybe several times, to remind myself to tell the truth, even if it’s hard, because someone else will be depending on it. The longer I stall the longer I know the story has to be told. Maybe you are stalling too.
I hope you’ll read John’s book and be inspired like I was to know that we are never alone. That pain can bring so much beauty and that community is everything. That having the need to be cleansed is why Christ exists, that I trade my ugliness for a robe of righteousness that I just don’t deserve. That I can come back again and again, every Sunday without fail to hurt, to heal, and to do it all over again in the arms of my Mother.