Crooked Paths Made Straight

by Greg Willits
Founder and President – Rosary Army

Five years ago today my wife and I got on a plane.

It had been a difficult series of years for us leading up to this point.

When our radio show ended on SiriusXM in 2012, we weren’t financially stable enough to focus all our energies on Rosary Army like we wanted to.

So instead, I accepted a job for the Archdiocese of Denver that would necessitate leaving our home in Georgia. A few years after that, a different job in yet another state seemed like a good fit…until it wasn’t.

In the midst of this, my wife’s father died and my mother-in-law moved in with us as she began her gradual slide into dementia. The burden of constantly uprooting our family, rapidly changing home environments, and a series of job choices that at first seemed like good fits but all fell apart rather quickly combined into a recipe for disaster.

For lack of a better phrase, I had a nervous breakdown.

It was so bad that I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and went through over 100 hours of group therapy within three months.

I soon discovered that my mental struggles weren’t just because of all of those recent events, though. It was also from the culmination of multiple other traumas and instability throughout my life which I’ve written about in other places such as here and here.

My job troubles, as a dear friend once observed, were simply the deus ex machina — the situation that suddenly and unexpectedly acted as the catalyst that brought a lifetime of trauma to the forefront.

It was one of the darkest periods — if not the darkest — that my wife and I ever endured.

God can use these things for good

In May of 2018, knowing things were already broken beyond repair within the hostility of my last job, I resigned from my position before things got worse.

We didn’t have a backup plan and now we were stuck with a mortgage hundreds of miles from where we thought we were supposed to be back in Georgia. I never felt more like a failure than I did at that time.

Over the next several months we made daily Mass a priority. Praying the Rosary every single day without fail became a non-negotiable. We spent hours and hours in adoration, pleading for Jesus to make our paths more clear.

In August, we decided to downsize as much as possible and move back to Georgia, even though we still weren’t sure how to pull it off.

Over the summer, we felt God drawing us more and more to focus all of our efforts on Rosary Army. It didn’t make sense, though.

How would we do it? How would we support both the apostolate and our family? How could we pay for the move? Would we even qualify for a new house loan now that I didn’t have a job with a regular paycheck?

But still, it seemed like this was the path: Trust Jesus and Mary and focus on Rosary Army.

“Okay, God,” we said with some trepidation. “We’ll do it.”

Even when we finally committed to this difficult challenge — of packing everything up and moving cross country for the third time in less than seven years — we were instantly confronted with doubts. Our house wasn’t selling as fast as we expected. Another one of our sons decided to move out and head for Georgia before us. My mother-in-law’s dementia was progressing more rapidly and we were completely unprepared for the weight of that cross.

By Thanksgiving, we were even more exhausted. It must have shown on my face.

One morning as we walked out of daily Mass, a woman we regularly saw but didn’t even know walked up and handed me an index card.

“I don’t know why,” she said, “but when I read these Scripture passages I just kept thinking of you and I feel like I’m supposed to give this to you.”

I looked down at the neon yellow card and tried to make sense of the litany of verses she’d scrawled out in very neat print.

The first passage was this:

I will lead the blind on a way they do not know. By paths they do not know I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them and make crooked ways straight. These are my promises. I made them. I will not forsake them. — Isaiah 42:16

The other verses were of similar great comfort:

Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See I am doing something new! Now it springs forth do you not perceive it? In the wilderness, I make a way in the wasteland rivers. — Isaiah 43:18-19

I don’t know why that woman wrote these and other passages down for me, and in my fragile state of mind, I didn’t even think to ask her name or even really thank her. But nearly every day for the next few weeks, I sat in front of the tabernacle at Church and read through the Scripture verses on that card.

Scripture Index Card

On January 14, 2019, our realtor called to let us know someone wanted to see our house.

We’d been through this before and halfheartedly tidied up and vacuumed the floors before aimlessly driving around for an hour while strangers walked through our home.

As soon as we returned, the phone rang.

“They want to come back,” our realtor told us.

“What do you mean?”

“Can you get out of the house again? They want to have a second look.”

This was the most hopeful thing we’d heard in months. We immediately ushered the kids and Jennifer’s mom back into the van and went for another drive.

That night, we received a full-price offer on our house with no inspection.

It seemed too good to be true.

The downside? They wanted to move in just two weeks later.

So five years ago today, my wife and I got on a plane.

Boarding the plane for Georgia

We arrived in Atlanta and spent all of the next day frantically looking at one home after another. Everything we saw was either too expensive or too small (even with our aim to downsize).

We were quickly discouraged until our real estate agent drove us into an undeveloped subdivision. At the bottom of a steep hill, we drove up to a new construction home that had been sitting vacant for almost a year. The driveway was too steep. We weren’t sure where we’d put the kids in this dwelling. But it seemed like this was where we were supposed to be.

As soon as we saw the house, we felt like it was our new home.

We made an offer and flew home the next day. We scrambled and sold or gave away probably a third of our possessions. The rest we crammed into moving pods and prepared to move south. All this in the middle of a polar vortex that came roaring through the midwest.

Packing the pod two weeks later. Playing Tetris pays off, kids.

Just three weeks after receiving that offer, miraculously, we moved into our new home back in Georgia.

It was impossible not to think about what had been written on that index card just a little more than two months prior:

I will turn darkness into light before them and make crooked ways straight. These are my promises. I made them I will not forsake them.

A straight path, indeed.

A breakthrough

Despite the return south, I was still dealing with the aftermath of my mental state.

I still wasn’t entirely sure if God really meant for me to focus full-time on Rosary Army, so I entertained other opportunities that came my way. I did some freelance work for a local Catholic radio station, and we discussed the possibility of my hosting a morning show there or perhaps even being the station director.

But to do so, they said, I’d need to give up my work with Rosary Army.

Given all God did to return us to where Rosary Army originally started, that just didn’t feel right. We wholeheartedly believed God had other plans.

So just keep podcasting? Keep promoting the Rosary?

I felt like there was more I was supposed to be doing, but wasn’t sure what.

After we were back a few more months, my buddy Mac invited me to join a small men’s group he recently became a part of with Matt Fradd of Pints with Aquinas fame.

I’d met Matt years before when Jennifer and I flew out to San Diego for some meetings with Catholic Answers and he was one of their staff apologists at the time. I was surprised to discover that he then lived just a few miles away from our new home. And I’d known Mac for years since the early days of Catholic podcasting and we settled where we did back in Georgia so we could be near his family. The other guys, however, were all new to me: Danny, John Henry, and Gerry.

The first meetings were fine. I mostly listened and tried my best to fit in. After a few weeks, though, it soon became clear to me that my difficulties in recent years had also developed into massive trust issues.

For no fault of anyone in the group, I’d leave meetings feeling completely out of place, even though everyone in the group welcomed me with open arms. I was constantly worried the floor was about to fall out from under me as it had after our two previous moves, yet every time I tried to express these concerns, I walked away just feeling paranoid.

Perhaps seeing this, Gerry made a suggestion. We often held our gatherings in Gerry’s office where he saw clients in his Catholic counseling practice.

“Have you ever heard of EMDR therapy?” Gerry asked.

A cousin had recently asked me the same question, but I didn’t give it much thought until Gerry — a licensed therapist — brought it up in close succession.

We explained EMDR in more detail on an episode of Adventures in Imperfect Living last year.

But in a nutshell, EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s a psychotherapy approach used to treat trauma and distressing memories. It involves guided eye movements while recalling traumatic experiences to help individuals process and reframe negative emotions.

Given that I was still struggling from not only recent events but from things long past, needless to say, I was intrigued by anything that could bring relief.

Unfortunately, because Gerry was now a friend, it didn’t seem prudent to enlist him as a therapist.

Over the next few weeks, I removed myself from the group, though I fortunately maintained occasional connections with several of the men in the group. Matt moved to Ohio, but I regularly ran into Danny, John Henry, and Mac in similar circles. And just a few months ago, Mac and I met up with Gerry one Saturday afternoon to have a beer and catch up.

In the interim from when I stepped away from the group and had that beer with Mac and Gerry, God has done amazing things in my life and has brought about great healing in many ways, including getting into EMDR therapy with a Catholic counselor (not Gerry), which has no doubt been a life-changing experience for me.

Since I hadn’t seen Gerry in a couple of years, it was great to thank him for planting the seed of EMDR way back in 2019. It was to my surprise, then, when a couple of months after that impromptu reunion at a local tavern I got a notice from Sophia Institute Press that Gerry had written a book.

When we got together for that beer, he hadn’t said a word about it!

Even better, his new book (just released this week) tackled many of the things that I’d dealt with regarding PTSD and working on healing from years of trauma.

I immediately knew we needed to have Gerry on our show.

And this week, that’s exactly what we did.

Gerry’s book, which we discuss on this week’s podcast, is called Litanies of the Heart: Relieving Post-Traumatic Stress and Calming Anxiety Through Healing Our Parts.

It’s a prayerful, faithful work that brings God into healing the brokenness so many of us carry around each day. Having Gerry in our studio was such an edifying experience. I wish this book had been written ten years ago when I could have used it most, but I’m so glad it’s available now.

Litanies of the Heart

If you or someone you love struggles with mental health issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, and the like, take some time to watch this conversation with Dr. Gerry Crete and perhaps pick up a copy this helpful book.

Five years ago today, I couldn’t have imagined the crooked path made straight that led to this encounter.

Rosary Walk Thoughts

Last week I shared a different kind of video with you as I went on an impromptu Rosary walk.

Just a few days ago the weather was warm enough that I filmed that without wearing a jacket.

Today, schools were canceled here because of cold and ice.

(If you live in the north, don’t laugh. We Georgians aren’t prepared for your frozen weather.)

The feedback on the video has been very positive, though, and I’ve been edified that so many of you stopped to pray your Rosary along with me.

Lucy wrote:

Thank you for the Rosary walk. An early morning appointment with God from this part of the world.

And Pat and Ron said:

It’s been suggested I do more of these from different locales, and I was already pondering that idea. I’d very much like to do more of those, so I hope to do it again very soon.

But not until the weather warms up again 😉

Rosary Walk

That’s all for now. If you haven’t already, be sure to watch this week’s podcast.

Thanks for reading.

Be sure to pray your Rosary every day, and do whatever it takes to be holy!