Kendra Von Esh, author of Am I Catholic?: A Struggle with Faith, Humility, and Surrendering to God, has written a humorous, frank account about her own journey back to the Catholic Church. Her audience includes clueless/ uncatechized Catholics as well as faithful Catholics at a loss about how to evangelize. Kendra has a passion for people who don’t know where to turn for answers but keep looking for “something more.” Surprised by a conversion experience, Kendra, in turn, shocked her family and associates a few years later by leaving a high powered executive career to work full time for God.
Melanie: Kendra, describe your career before God intervened in your life.
Kendra: My career happened to me. I didn’t really study or aspire to be a Chief Information officer or an Information Technology (IT) Leader but that is exactly what happened. One opportunity came after another and I climbed the ladder pretty fast. Sure, there were a few professional bumps in the road. I lost my job a couple of times and there were stressful times dealing with merging companies. So, I was in a constant state of worry and anxiety and I didn’t sleep well. I had that “ugh, I have to go to work in the morning” feeling every Sunday night.
Melanie: So, you were unhappy. What else prompted you to leave your successful job to start your ministry?
Kendra: The funny thing, I didn’t think I was unhappy. I just thought stress came with living what our culture calls the American dream. The other thing is I wasn’t a technical person even though I was leading a technology department. I thought I should know how to program or develop code or possess other technology skills so a haunting voice of “You are not technical enough” used to ring through my head constantly for decades. Then over the past few years, I started to pray and ask God what He had planned for me.
After a lot of prayers, I felt God was calling me to something different and it was a call I couldn’t ignore. Every time I prayed in Adoration I felt a calmness come over me, like a waterfall of warm peace washing over me when I thought of becoming a full-time disciple for Jesus and the Catholic Faith. I wondered, “How can I keep the best thing that happened in my life to myself? Living with God is the only way to live your life with joy. And hey, people need to sleep at night.”
I knew in my ministry I had to go big or go home. I have to put myself entirely out there ready to fail and fail big. I had to fight all my fears, my “not good enough” voices and finally have the humility to surrender to God. Now I am “all in” and have given Him my “yes.”
Melanie: This is what an authentic call from God looks like. You did not initiate your ministry but simply responded to God’s promptings. How did you first rediscover the Catholic faith? God surprised you, didn’t He?
Kendra: Well, I sure wasn’t looking for it! And heck yeah, God surprised me; nobody was more shocked than I was about how quickly He grabbed me and pulled me in. Come on, I had no desire to go back to church. You have to read the book to get the full story but in short, I was starting a body cleanse. In this “cleansing diet” book was a pie chart representing different segments of your life. I had all of them except one and it said, “Spirituality.” I thought, “Wow, I have got nothin’ going on in this piece of pie!” So, I decided to go back to church.
I initially decided to go to a “big box” church and not the Catholic church, ’cause, you know, Mass is so boring and I didn’t know the Faith nor did I practice the Faith. I didn’t believe in the Church’s teachings and I wanted to sleep in on Sunday.
But, I eventually stepped foot back in the Catholic Church after decades of being away, and something changed. I was different. I left feeling a little lighter that Easter morning in 2013, and God put a thirst in me to understand what this “Catholic Thing” is all about. So, I started researching and it was fascinating what I was uncovering. Then, Divine Mercy Sunday with confession afterward changed me forever.
Melanie: Kendra, what I love about you is your self-deprecating humor. You have an uncanny ability to cut through people’s defenses with your frank, honest approach. Tell us more about what you are trying to do with your book and workshops.
Kendra: I am trying to reach the unchurched through faithful Catholics to let them know that there is something more and it is God! My “ask” every time I speak is for people to bring someone they love to my speaking events. When I will relate to them with transparency and vulnerability, I plant or water a seed. I am also designing workshops for faithful Catholics to help them share their emotional and grace-filled story in order to reach fallen-away Catholics. ‘Cause guilt and grandma wagging her finger or telling me about the sacraments ain’t gonna do it.
Melanie: Exactly. We all know a superior attitude turns off the very people we are trying to evangelize but most of us still end up chastising rather than offering hope to people. Explain how you approach people outside the walls of the Church.
Kendra: First we must understand why people have left the Church and how they feel. There are a gazillion different reasons why people are not at Mass. People are clever, rational, and creative human beings who eventually convince themselves that their reasons are just.
A holier-than-thou complex is just gonna tick off people and give them one more reason to reject the Church. People don’t want to hear it, frankly and that is the biggest mistake I see people make. I also see nobody sharing anything or talking about anything!
Because I don’t think they know what to say. And to be frank, it isn’t what you say that is the only factor. It’s how you say it and more importantly, how you act. If you say one thing and act another way you are incongruous and nobody is going to listen to you, let alone follow you.
Melanie: Can you expand on the reasons why people do not listen to Catholics who try to evangelize?
Kendra: Often we Catholics lose our impact and quite a lot of respect when our lives seem hypocritical to those around us. We cannot show the importance of Mass or the impact religion can have on lives if we are not living it and showing the transformation in our own lives.
You have to meet people where they are and hit them with a deeply personal story of how God has touched your life. Listen to their pains and you will know how to tie your story to theirs and connect at a level you never thought possible.
Melanie: So, the best way to connect with people is to share your own faith journey.
Kendra: Yes, because every single person on this planet is looking for “something more” and that is how you connect on a vulnerable level. You have to gear your story at a soulful, emotional level and tell it passionately but quickly. You have to grab them in the first 1-3 minutes or they tune out!
As a faith-based leader and speaker, I must be honest, and raw. I have to bare it all! Every person on the planet is looking for “something more” and they, like me, try to fulfill it with food, alcohol, drugs, work, or pleasure. I have found the answer and must share it with everyone!
Melanie: Part of your work is to help parishes become more welcoming to people who feel alienated.
Kendra: Parishes must be more than just welcoming; we need to start inviting! Yes, I believe there is a lot of work to be done to change our parish communities into a more loving and inviting culture. Parish culture is everyone’s responsibility.
I have practical, easy workshops to help change the culture of the parish and reach people on the outside. My courses and events are practical for parishes and individuals. People will feel inspired to do their part in changing parish culture and to deepen their relationship with God.
Melanie: Summarize your message for our readers.
Kendra: My mission: To inspire others to enrich their lives through faith and prayer!
Everything is richer with God! I focus on making disciples and help awaken the ones who are asleep or those who have fallen away.
Melanie: What about your book, specifically; why did you write it?
Kendra: This is hilarious, actually. Around 2015 the thought of, “You should write a book” kept entering my head when I would rest in Adoration. This was consistent for a few years.
I ignored it.
Why? ‘Cause I don’t even like to read, at least back then I didn’t! I mean, to be honest, I was a TV watcher and tabloid magazine reader when I got my pedicures! Why the heck would you, God, want me to write a book?
I now know why He wanted me to do it. It’s because my story is not only honest and relatable, it is also written in a very conversational way. I am not preachy and I share the hilarity of my story in a pretty vulnerable way.
I wrote my book in a week! Yes, the Holy Spirit was definitely in action. Then after a few months of editing, designing and formatting, it was published in paperback, eBook and audiobook narrated by yours truly.
Melanie: People who have reviewed your book seem to like that is easy to read. Was this a deliberate strategy?
Kendra: Totally deliberate! I wanted to “tell my story” and the only way I know how to do that is to “tell it like a story” as if we were hanging out over a glass of wine talking. It’s a super quick read and a very short book. I wrote it for people who are like me five years ago and most likely not going to pick up a book on Catholicism. I was living the ‘ultra-me’ lifestyle and not really thinking about love, faith, God, morality, Heaven, Hell, or eternity. My book is for anyone searching or curious why some heathen like me would choose to love and believe in that ‘rule-based’ organized and restricted religion – Catholicism.
Learn more at KendraVonEsh.com
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Copyright 2018 Melanie Jean Juneau