Worth Revisting: Conversion-This Journey of a Lifetime

Some time ago, I had promised to share my own story of conversion to the Catholic faith. The anecdote, if you will, of how a young Southern Baptist girl found herself walking in the doors of a Catholic church and leaving forever changed…


Freshman year at Mount Holyoke College was an exciting time of rigorous study, new friendships, challenging adjustments and unbelievable growth. Over 1,200 miles away from home, I found myself both seeking comfort in the familiar but also joy in discovering who I was to become. Though I studied hard and partied equally so, I still made time to attend church either on campus or locally in town with a classmate. Yet, I was noticing that something was missing, something I couldn’t define but leaving me incomplete. Perhaps the experience of worship service had changed, or I had –even a bit of both.

Then one Sunday as the minister spoke of metaphorically of finding one’s center, I realized that was it! While I knew my center was Christ, I could no longer feel his presence as near and tangible. My soul yearned for so much more. This internal pull was intense, and over the course of the proceeding months I truly felt God working within asking me to let go and let Him lead.

That morning getting myself ready after a late night out had caused me to miss the first half of service.

I could just go back to my dorm room I thought.. but wait, there is a Catholic mass starting soon. Rather than being uncomfortably late, I could be on-time. Yet, I know so little of Catholic practices…will my unfamiliarity be too easily distinguishable? What I heard in response within my heart, was “This is an opportunity, to find what you have been searching for.  God is here.”

As I turned the handle on the door of the chapel and took my seat towards the middle of the church, I knelt before God for the first time. In this silence before mass began I found such peace and comfort in my anonymity. Here in this sacred time and place, I whispered  “I am here too Father”. Admittedly, as mass began it was all too obvious as I looked to my left and right for guidance, that I was a newcomer. Yet, just when I started questioning the reasoning that had brought me here, God reached out and drew me close. On either side hands outstretched were the beautiful recognizable words of the Our Father echoing throughout the chapel space. I was home.

Soon thereafter, I was to discover the love of my life in the deep friendship that had begun previously that fall. (That story featured here) A Catholic and sophomore at UMass Amherst, I couldn’t believe how blessed I was that God had planned it all! Though we frequently attended mass together I still held back, for some time, in telling him how God was moving me ever closer to conversion. With prayer and discernment so significant in my life, I was cautious and wanted to be certain that this was indeed where God was leading me to go.

Yet, when that moment did arrive, there was no looking back. My searching heart had been filled with a fullness of faith, joy and love. And to my surprise, my family not only respected my faith decision, but prayed and supported me throughout it all. To this day, I still remember the phone call to my mother. After sharing the events that had brought me to this place, there was a long pause for what seemed like an eternity.

“It all makes sense now” was her response.

“What makes sense?”, I curiously asked.

“Before you were born I had a dream that you would be a Catholic. Standing before a multitude of others gathered, you then spoke passionately of your love and faith in God. I know now that God was preparing me for this day.”

“Mom, why have you never told me this before?

“Well, I didn’t want to persuade you should that not be God’s will. I knew that if it was, that God would certainly lead you there.”

 :
Fr. Joe and my fellow RCIA candidates and sponsors

 

Twenty one years have passed since this conversation, yet I thought of this moment again this weekend as I was asked to speak at St. Patrick’s in Wareham. Through these years, I have been blessed with countless invitations to serve, witness and grow in my faith. For me, it is the journey of a lifetime-one I joyously embrace and continuously seek each day.

Peace,

Signature

A Daughter’s Love

There is obviously one thing wrong with this picture.The text is incomplete. It fails to convey the full truth that not merely do I Like Mary but I “LOVE her!”  However, it wasn’t always this way, as for so many years I did not really know my heavenly mother. For loss of better words, I was an estranged daughter.  I more or less assumed who Mary was and dare I say..had taken her for granted.What was it then that led me to rediscover my mother’s love? First there was my conversion to the Catholic faith. Like a newborn baby I needed to grow in understanding who I was in light of a mother’s love.

Still, I grappled a bit with the new found love I felt for my heavenly mother and the ever present closeness I had always had with my earthly mother. Inside I almost compartmentalized each of these relationships not able to glimpse their intended congruence. Unable to see that the love that I already knew in my birth mother’s arms was but a reflection of the immense love that Mary had for me. That is..until I faced the sudden impending death of the only mother I had known for the first 21 years of my life.

The news of my mother’s lung cancer prognosis literally rocked my world. Earlier that year, I had already generously grieved my grandmother’s death, who I was perhaps the most like in disposition and priorities.Then just weeks after giving birth to my youngest son, I was told by the doctor that my mother had perhaps a mere month left on this earth. I could never forget that day. As scheduled workers hammered away on the installation of siding, everything around me noisily shook and reverberated. Then the windows, ripped out and curtain less, utterly expressed the bare and vulnerable feeling that I could not seem to cover.

I sought refuge and strength. However, everywhere I turned, revealed the reality that I would soon be without the two most influential and loving women who helped shape my very being. After the news, the first trip to see my mom would be as a family. A twenty-four hour car ride amid carefully worded conversation, I knew I had to be strong. Easing them into understanding how important it would be to cherish this time, I wiped tears and held little bodies close.Yet, who would mother me now? While eternally grateful for a loving hubby and good friends, I longed for the smothering maternal presence that I was so accustomed to.

Returning just a week before my mother’s passing, I traveled only with my youngest this time. So in need of respite, there were moments in the beginning days that I found it difficult to even let down my emotions to nurse or sleep. That is when I realized, my profound need to go to my Father’s house. Little did I know that here too, waiting for me was my Mother. As I sat in the small chapel of the aptly entitled Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, ceiling of sky blue adorned with gold fleur de leis, I spied her graceful silhouette once again. In the stillness I cried out “I am too young to loose my mother, Lord. I am just a new mom myself.I need help, I need guidance, I need strength… from my mom”

“When have you ever been alone, when have I ever left your side?” “Never Lord..you have been with me always. Please forgive me Lord, if I may persist..this is a different emptiness.” “I am here too..I have given you my very own mother, look to her.” In this moment, whereby my heart heard his, my entire body sighed releasing the weight that I had felt since the diagnosis. For some time I sat there, comforted and strengthened by the warmth of the love that I felt.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I would return to this safe haven,trusting the promise that Mary was more than ready to fill the void that I felt. In fact, she had been waiting for me to merely ask.

“Mary, my blessed mother, how very sorry I am to have held your love at bay. It must please you, though, to know how I yearn to draw close and follow your son. Please help loving lead my steps and support me through this time, as well as, in the years to come with my own children. And when I forget, remind me of your presence and witness of faith through both joyful and difficult times alike.  One more thing..please let my mom know how much she has taught me and that I will forever love her.”

Your loving daughter,

Signature

“I Found It!”

During my undergraduate years at Mt. Holyoke College, I was to take the first course of what was to become my life’s work. Yet, at this very secular college, Philosophy of Religion had not been framed as articulate reasoning to believe. Rather, it was most often presented as confounding belief despite the fallacies, heresies, and multitude of reasons stacked up against it.  Yet the more I listened to the Harvard trained divinity professor reinforce his opinion in lengthy lectures, I wondered if he was actually a believer at all.

Extremely interested in grade point averages, students at this ivy leagued college scribbled feverishly with aching hands every word spoken…myself included.  Despite this, something beautiful happened- though I saw the difficulties to belief I became more and more enthralled with the moments of conversion. In seeing that in all the muck and mire, with the many mountains humanity creates, God is there working through every single one of us.

Midterms for this class were a nightmare, with 5 pages of insane but cleverly crafted questions to confuse the student to the point that one wasn’t sure of any answer. To his delight he announced that no one had passed, but since he graded on a curve that many of us were safe. As one of the best of the worst, I now took a deep breath and could only imagine what finals would be like.

That morning in a heavily proctored lecture room I took my envelope and found a seat near a window. As I stared at the words and images on the single page exam, my heart stopped as I realized God had given me the perfect essay prompt to vocalize all that was within my heart. Out of all the choices, one just leapt out at me. A Peanuts cartoon with Charlie Brown desperately searching for a ball hit into a field of tall grass..with a 3 word exclamation at the end. “I found it!”

This was for me what we describe in teaching as an “Aha” moment- that instant when a student suddenly grasps or acquires deeper meaning in the material presented. I wrote for what seemed to be only minutes, but filled an hour and a total of 8 pages.  Weaving in centuries of historical arguments with the personal conversion stories of those like Augustine and Dostoevsky, my soul soared.  As I put down my pencil and placed the exam in the folder, I knew that whatever grade transpired I had put my whole heart on paper that day.

Interestingly too, I began to look closer at the work of artists, cartoonists, architects, popular authors and musicians as expressions of belief in a very secular world. Very relatable yet quite frequently going theologically unnoticed, these works speak profoundly to the Divine. In seeking to evangelize, we must not look only to the theologians and doctors of the Church, but to these everyday believers and would be saints who put their faith and soul out for the world to see and believe.

Do you have an “ah-ha!” moment? How have you found God evidenced in the world around you today? Have you also shown God to others in what you say and do?

Peace,

Signature

Worth Revisiting: Carry Your Candle & Go Light the World!

It’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday! A place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link-up with fellow bloggers! Co-Hosted with Allison Gingras at Reconciled To You.

Though written originally for Advent, the beautiful Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) brings to mind my own baptism and conversion to Catholicism! God Bless and Blessed Holy Week!


 Carry Your Candle..Go Light The World

(Originally posted December 19, 2014)

As a Catholic, few can say that they remember the experience of their own baptisms…that is unless they too are a convert. Looking back, I have often thought what a blessing God has given in allowing me to so vividly recall the details of this incredible undeserving gift.  Along with those later made in choosing to become a Catholic, I can see how these sacraments have formed me, and continue to transform me throughout my journey with God.  For those who have yet to hear my story, as well as for my own children, I feel today is a good day to share.

Having grown up in a strong Southern Baptist family, I would venture to say that I spent almost as much time at church as I did at home. Yet, there was no pressure or time set aside when I was to decidedly become a Christian. This was a time of Sunday school, a time to color, to play, listen to bible stories, and sing in the Children’s choir. However, early on I began to realize that, while young, more was being asked of me. One evening, sitting with my mother I had inwardly been praying. It was a deep soul searching prayer, one in which I sat in conversation with Christ asking what I needed to do. To any onlooker, I must have looked a bit odd because I was totally immersed in the moment, unaware of things going around me. “Be baptized.. Come you are loved and forgiven” were the words that resounded in my heart. Tears streamed down my little 7 year old face as I opened my eyes and related this to my mom. Now, so intimately I knew what sin was and that in choosing to follow Christ I could not also follow sin.

Though excitedly awaiting my baptismal date, it was only to be postponed by- chicken pox. An outbreak had hit all the schools and I was among the many, including the boy that I was to be baptized with. By the time the day finally arrived, my anticipation had truly grown. My mom and grandma sat in the congregation as I expressed my commitment to follow Christ’s teachings. Then, three times my head was slowly pushed back into the water and I joyously heard the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”.

As a funny aside, I was so little and lightweight that with the gown I was wearing my feet automatically sprang to the surface with each submersion.  I literally popped to the top of the water, my grandma would later tease, just like an apple. Standing up and turning to face the congregation, I was greeted by a wave of applause and a chorus of Amens. This was, as Pope Francis would be the first to add, my new birthday in the Church.

Just a few months afterward, a couple of teens broke into that church taking any items of value before setting it ablaze. I remember the sadness that I felt at the sin that had caused so much devastation. I prayed for them, asking God to help them to realize this and to find their way to Him one day. While all church records were lost, my mom provided a living witness to my baptism and letter of testimony when I sought to be confirmed in the Catholic Church. Oh, and that small Baptist church would be replaced by a new one just 2 years later..three times the size.

Father you are everything new and good in this world! You created me anew through my baptism and called me to share in the life, love and mission of your Church here on earth. You have given me a light to guide me, and an open door through which to grow and embrace a sacramental life with you within the world. Please enable me Lord to always show your light and love to the world!