The story of how I became Catholic is partly the description of how He brought me into His church and partly a testimony of how God became personally real to me for the first time. I have always known that God is real and in the earliest years of my life, I tried with all of my heart to do what I thought He wanted me to. But as I grew up, my understanding of Him did not. My spirituality remained immature, and I simply did the things that I thought I was supposed to do as a sort of spiritual checklist. Did I read my Bible? Check. Did I pray? Check. Did I obey my parents? Check. My intimacy with God was absent, and my understanding of how He desires to interact with me was rife with misconceptions. I felt that I had to “do my time” by praying or reading the Bible, and shielding myself from overly secular things, then God would give me the desires of my heart. Of course, I did not understand that I needed to allow Him to shape those desires or that giving my life to Him was not just for a few minutes every day. Instead, I allowed my imagination to conjure up all kinds of hopes for my future that did not rest in what the Lord wants, but instead in what I wanted for my own personal benefit. Thoughts of the exact kind of man I wanted to marry, the exact kind of education I wanted to receive, the exact kind of friends I should have, etc. And of course, all of these things without any acute suffering to be had. I had the idea that my relationship with God was a kind of mutually beneficial relationship where I would give Him what He wanted, while He gave me what I wanted, and we each maintained our separate identities.
As high school ended and college began, the speed of life intensified. My few minutes of Bible and prayer, and attending church just didn’t seem to offer much. After just a few short months in college, I was swallowed whole by the intensity and unfamiliarity of it all. I grew anxious and unhealthy, and I attached myself to the wrong person. My whole world began to revolve around that person as a lifeline to “sanity.” Unfortunately, his influence did much to steal my innocence and push me right off the cliff. My understanding of God and my relationship with Him did very little to preserve me in this new sea of suffering. Instead of clinging to Him more tightly, I simply let go. I let the lies consume my immature understandings. I thought the only way out of the fear, anxiety, and self-destruction was to let go of my previous life. Rather than finding the errors in my ways, I tried to start over without Him. The effect was disastrous. I was empty, lifeless, and ripe for the taking. My depression worsened exponentially and the hope that I once had was gone. I fell deeper and deeper until there seemed to be nothing left worth living for.
I know now that God’s grace kept me during those years of darkness, otherwise, I wouldn’t still be here. I also know that this was all part of His plan to make Himself known to me.
Fast forward a few years. Through God’s goodness and a lot of kind people, I found my way out of the grip of that damaging person. I also finished my degree and joined the Army. Things were looking up, but the emptiness still pervaded. Then one blessed day, I met the man I would marry. He introduced me to how I should be treated, and I knew deep within that he was exactly who God meant for me to be with. It didn’t take long for us to tie the knot, and once we did, we were quickly pregnant. Life became easier, fuller by degrees, and I started to search for God again. I went to my old methods of seeking him: join a church that suits you or at least look for one, read a chapter of the Bible, pray for a few minutes each day. Certainly, this was better than nothing. And God knew that I wanted to know Him better. But He had more in store for me- so much more. There were seeds planted along the way- briefly dating someone Catholic long ago, going to Episcopal churches that stirred the senses, meeting a loving and faithful nun- but the final straw was something none of us expected.
Matthew and I got really interested in watching ghost hunting shows. They just fascinated us, even if we didn’t take them all that seriously. But there were a few episodes that I found a little too haunting. Episodes that focused on demon possession rather than ghosts. After one particularly frightening episode, I said to Matt, “You know; if I ever had a problem with demons or demon possession, I would never call a Baptist preacher. I just know it wouldn’t do any good. I would call a Catholic priest.” My husband looked at me and said right then “You know, if you wanted to become Catholic, that would be fine with me.”
I didn’t have any idea in that moment, that that would be the start of an incredible journey. A journey home, if you will, to the church that Jesus Himself started– that He built on Peter, the Rock. Once we became part of the Catholic church, through the RCIA program, my hunger for more knowledge was insatiable. I wanted to know more. I wanted to understand what the Mass was all about. I wanted to fully comprehend the Sacraments. Slowly, but surely, I began to see how the Protestant Reformation was truly a protest, and that so many of the parts of the Baptist church services that I grew up in were based on the Mass but then changed. I had never even realized that the Catholic church was the first and only church for over fifteen hundred years after Christ’s ascension. I began to see that the Sacraments, like confession, were the tools of grace that God intended for us to have in order to follow Him more easily and more fully. And most importantly, I realized, that God’s plan, all along, was to bring us into His new Covenant- to make us part of His family- through Jesus’ Body and Blood. And Jesus’ Body and Blood are only given to us through the Eucharist. Because I am Catholic, I can partake of Jesus’ sacrifice for us each time I go to Mass and partake of the Eucharist. Through all of this abundant grace and through His Holy Spirit, I can experience life as He intended. I can strive each day to empty myself of all sin and selfishness and embrace whatever suffering comes my way by joining that suffering with Jesus on the cross. I am now living a life filled with hope and peace because I now know God personally. And when I fail, as I do every day, I can trust Him to pick me back up so that we can keep going. Of course, it is completely possible to have a meaningful relationship with God without being Catholic, and much of my immaturity in the beginning of my life as a Protestant is also experienced by many young Catholics! But I know that I need as much grace as God can give me, and these graces are readily available to me in His church. I am unbelievably grateful for all that God has done for me, for all that He has seen me through, and for the beautiful growing family that He has given to us. I have done nothing to deserve these blessings, and I will spend the rest of my days thanking God for them and for His presence in my life.