Journeys to Peace…The Journey Home
I grew up in a Philadelphia suburb. My family was Presbyterian and lived Godly values. We were also very involved in our church. Every day of any given week some or all of us were busy in the life of the church. For each of us, this was by choice.
Even so, after high school I found a gazillion reasons not to go to church. The further I moved away from a regular connection to that life, the deeper I sank into the deception of the world. As I heard in a homily once, if you live your faith fast and loose, someone will surely come along and kill it. And by age 28, I was knocking on death’s door with my worldly lifestyle of alcohol and recreational drugs. Being a flower child wasn’t about roses. In fact, it led to a dramatic suicide attempt.
My first true realization of God’s grace was at that time. Deep inside I desired life – not death. I knew where to turn because of how I was raised. I ran back to church, back to Jesus. I was renewed by God’s grace through a charismatic ministry my parents were a part of, called Jesus Focus. I have since made – or at least desire to make – a regular conscious effort to allow God to work through me and to change me, be it ever so slowly, into the image of His Son.
Not long after, in 1980, I married Ed, a man who loves God with all of his heart. It was another act of God’s unending grace.
Ed was Episcopalian. And so I began attending the Episcopal Church. After several years of attending the church of his choice, I came to love the liturgy and its history. The ancient prayers, the secure boundaries of the liturgy in worship spoke to my heart. And I chose to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church, now the church of my choice.
A short time after my confirmation, we moved our family of five from Virginia to Texas. And though we both loved the liturgy and sacraments, we joined an independent charismatic church. I loved that little church and its people. But it was there that an emptiness and longing began to grow in my heart.
Two years later my husband answered the call to be a minister that he heard at age 18. He was ordained, and we moved to northwest New Jersey – rural and mountainous. He pastored a nondenominational protestant church. The congregation was as small as the building that was built in 1908 – white clapboard with a tall steeple, in the woods.
We lived in this idyllic setting for seven years. While there we experienced, individually and as a couple, some of our greatest spiritual growth. We truly lived by faith. Our house and utilities were paid for by the church. And Ed’s salary of $50 a week covered food, clothing, insurance, gas. Everything for five of us. Though we never went begging, we always reasonably dressed well and had our needs met. We didn’t mind that we could never afford dinner at a restaurant or a movie at a theater. I also remember the first time of many that we sat down to dinner and I whispered to Ed, “This is the last food in the house.” We sat down and thanked God for his blessings. And while we ate, we heard a knock at the door. A member of our church stood laden with bags of groceries. It wasn’t the only time we witnessed God’s mercy to provide for us.
But those years of spiritual growth were also the most intense. Despite the indescribable beauty of living in the woods, and the miraculous outpouring of His mercy, most of our growth was like being tested by fire. And much of the growth involved weekly court appearances that culminated in a two-week trial, which, by the way, ended hands down in our favor.
During that year, Ed and I spent countless hours in prayer together. We walked and prayed, we sat and prayed, we drove and prayed. We prayed first thing in the morning, at mid-day, and last thing at night. We became more aware of God’s presence. We reviewed the day, regardless of how difficult, with gratitude. We paid attention to our emotions and did not let them overtake us. We read and prayed through scripture. We never lost hope. We continually sought and found God’s presence in this very hard time of our lives. Satan intended to destroy our marriage and family – because he likes best to destroy the foundation of humanity – but Ed and I were discipled through prayer. We grew tremendously closer to each other and to Jesus.
Still, even though my relationship with our Lord grew closer than ever – that strange emptiness and longing expanded. I was worn out by hateful people who called themselves Christians, and I was disillusioned with what I thought to be Christ’s church. I very nearly walked away from church. Even with a pastor husband.
God uses every twist and turn on our journey to His glory and for our good, if we will seek Him in those times. He heard my cries and His grace proved evident once more in my life when, in 1993, our little church joined a protestant denomination; my husband was ordained an Episcopal priest. This particular Episcopal denomination practiced a liturgical, sacramental and charismatic style of worship. Inside of me – and even outside – I sang and danced with thanksgiving. Because the foundation of this new church was on the teachings of the Apostolic Fathers, I discovered that what I had considered leaving was what man had done to the church, not the church as God established it. That deep emptiness and longing that had begun years earlier began to be filled.
And here began my journey to The Church that Jesus assigned to Peter. By God’s grace my eyes were being opened to see what had been all along. I voraciously read The Church Fathers, other ancient and 20th Century authors. I listened to lectures in person and on tape, and spent endless hours in discussion with friends who were on the Catholic journey with us.
A few years after finding this denomination, we moved to Kansas City. Once more we were tested as though by fire. To begin with, we felt coerced to move a year before we were comfortable leaving our growing parish in the woods. It was a year before my new home-based business could financially support us. Our oldest daughter was still a missionary, far from home. We wanted to wait for her return. We tried to convince ourselves and our family and friends that because the denomination told us it was important to go, God must surely be in it.
During the first three years, we experienced incredible pain and calamity. My business depended on long distance communication. In an era of faxes, high phone fees, infant internet and no cell phones – it bottomed out. The salary to Ed we were led to believe was part of the move, did not come to fruition. He could only take a low-paying part time job because he needed so much time for his priestly duties. I’ll never forget the sinking shock when we looked into our driveway one morning and didn’t see our car. It was repossessed, just four months before it would have been paid off. Friends paid our rent more than once. We had to use food stamps for a few months. Other friends supplied our girls’ Christmas gifts two years in a row. Because of the emotional pressure of this church with its many unrealistic rules, our oldest daughter, engaged to a fellow missionary, eloped in the middle of their wedding plans. It devastated all of us, especially her sisters who had been thrilled to be her bridesmaids. One of our daughters had an out of body experience in a near death horse accident. And this mother’s heart will always feel the pain when I recall the time our daughters, about 13 and 15 at the time, said, “Mom do you think we could buy clothes from a store just once instead of only having hand me downs?”
It seemed like every waking moment was filled with varying levels of sadness, trauma, and uncertainty for our future.
On top of it all, because we now lived closer to the denomination’s center of governing politics and their ever-changing rules, we began to see that the people in charge had taken the reins from God. This Protestant denomination – the catalyst for my journey – was no longer consistent with their early teachings. They liked the Catholic look, but wanted no part of Catholic authority. Once more, I witnessed the faithfulness of our God as these realities led me to intense study of The Faith and the Catechism.
Eventually, I started skipping church with my family and sitting in the back of various Catholic churches during Mass. I wept. And wept. And wept. A gradual awakening began within my head and my heart. Finally my eyes were opened to how the Holy Spirit has protected and kept pure the deposit of faith given to the early church, regardless of the good or bad people in leadership. Having grown up in denominations that either had a sandy foundation borne out of protest and rebellion or, worse, made up the rules as they went, I suddenly realized that I longed for stability. A church that preserves their central beliefs for 2000 years is a very solid foundation; a safe place for any believer – a safe place for me.
And then, like a flash of light to a dark soul in agony, I came to the realization that the See of Peter was truly the authority given by God to govern His Church. My soul burst with joy that I could not contain! And this life-changing revelation made my future path clear: If I honestly desired fullness of (my) faith, then I had to submit to the authority of The Catholic Church.
But how could I go alone? I have a family. Another example of His grace in our midst: God brought my husband, our younger daughters who still lived at home, and myself, individually, to the same desire. By Easter of 2000 we had all entered the Church.
A sigh of relief? Not quite. In fact, our conversion caused other pain. The people in the old church were 99% of our friend base, having only lived in the Midwest a short time; they abandoned us. Hateful things were said about us. Our daughters ached that their youth leaders, whom they had confided in, and all the kids in the youth group, were instructed not to contact them. Yet God’s faithful grace abounds. I give him thanks for the healing salve of forgiveness that I gave. It healed my wounds and set me free. And because of his gift of forgiveness, I am fully reconciled to all who were involved.
There are only two decisions I’ve made in my life that I can say this about: the peace that I knew in my heart at the point of each of those conscious decisions has continued to grow deeper the further I am from that point. Those two decisions were to marry my wonderful husband and to submit to the authority of The Catholic Church. It is peace that passes all understanding.
There is nothing more important in all of life than our relationship with God, and that through His Only Son. I firmly believe there is nothing we should put more energy into than that relationship. For this reason, as a convert relatively new in The Church, I would give this admonition to people who are young in the faith:
Learn your faith inside and out. Guard and protect your faith. Commit to living it fully. If you ‘live your faith fast and loose’ you will meet those who will attempt to kill it. You may even kill it yourself. Your place in The Church is unique and planned. Continually seek the plan that God has for you here. Some in The Church are converts, like me. Some were baptized into the faith in infancy. For each of us, this church is an inestimable gift. For 2000 years God’s children have been given the privilege of taking refuge in the wounds of Jesus in His Church. Let that refuge be your peace. His children are honored to receive His grace to carry on, beginning with their Baptism and continuing through the Body and Blood of His Only Begotten Son. As the deep knowledge of that honor permeates your soul and as you participate in the Sacraments, you will be changing into the image of His Son.
The tears I shed when I receive our Lord in the Eucharist are not only tears of gratefulness that He brought me to this place and for His Real Presence. They are also tears from an internal shudder when I think of how close I was to missing the gift of the Catholic Church.
How did I almost miss it? I was busy striving to build the church – a sadly misguided protestant notion. The reality is that the Church is built and the blood of the Martyrs has paved the way for her work. They have paved the way for us to be the Church – to be the hands and feet of Jesus on the earth. We – the church – feed the hungry, clothe the poor, shelter the homeless, visit the prisoner, care for the widow and the orphan. And through the Sacraments, we know the power of His grace to work in and through us to those ends.
Has life been sugar sweet and easy since we entered the Church? Absolutely not. But because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the blood of the Martyrs, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of the Sacraments, my spiritual journey will continue in that safe place which God has made for His children, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. And my life on earth can face every trial with strength and confidence.
I am home, at last, with my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. My heart rejoices – moment by moment.
The Journey Continues…Fulfillment of a Call
When I was 18, I had no intention of marriage before age 25. But out of the blue one day I told my mother, “I think I’m going to marry a minister.”
When I met Ed 11 years later, he told me about his call to ministry at age 18. We are like night and day in so many ways but our hearts’ desire to love and serve the Lord is a common bond that has seen us through every kind of weather. That connection of our hearts is how I knew immediately his call was real and true.
A year later we married. Decades later, God’s faithfulness led us into the Catholic Church. It also opened our eyes to the reality that Ed’s ordination as a protestant minister was only a partial fulfillment of his call.
It has been a long and hard journey – back and forth, up and down – like driving along the western slope of the Colorado Rockies. We have hoped, waited for, wondered if God’s call will ever be fully realized in Ed. It’s been a hope I’ve set aside and instantly grabbed back tightly. A hope I’ve given up on and one that I am afraid to let go of.
I know in my heart that this man, joined to me in holy matrimony 36 years ago, is called to be a priest in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I want this for him more than the fulfillment of my own calling (although I give thanks to God that my calling fits neatly beside his). To support Ed in his call is to fill me with deep contentment.
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