Monday, April 1, 2013

The Journey Home.

I think it's best if we start at the beginning. I was saved, and accepted Christ into my heart in highschool, October 5th, 2005 to be exact. It was around 4:30 in the afternoon, and one of my best friends at the time had held my hand through the entire Bible, and every dumb question I had had, and now we sat in his church basement, praying together as I truly accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior for the first time. It was an amazing experience, and an afternoon I'll never forget. He and I have drifted apart since school, but I will be forever grateful for him putting up with me! We talked on the phone for hours nearly every night, I had so many questions, I barely knew the basic stories, yet I sat down with an old King James that I found in my house and set my mind to figuring out what I believed. With his help, and by the grace of God I truly realized that He did exist and I do believe!

I went about the rest of highschool, and the beginning of college holding onto the belief that I could be both incredibly liberal, and a Christian. Every day I grew deeper and deeper in my faith, I started attending church with Tom and we began growing in our faith together. I began realizing that I could not actually be a Christian, and believe in some things that go against Christ's teachings. We got married, we hit a rough patch, with us both losing our jobs just a few weeks after returning from our honeymoon, we were broke, and I was a horrible wife. Then we began really realizing we were dealing with infertility (we had been told just weeks before our wedding that I may never have children). After each trial we realized that we came out stronger and stronger, and closer to God. No matter how hard things were if we just clung tight to God and each other, we made it through just fine.

Through infertility, and growing in my faith I realized that I could not be a Christian and support abortion. It's just amazing to reflect on the amount of growth in just the short eight years since I accepted Christ into my life. Amazing what God can do in such a short time period! Back to our journey: I started becoming more and more conservative, I started feeling the pull to wear skirts, and then I realized that I was anti-birth control, and I didn't know how my beloved church felt about these issues which were so incredibly dear  to me, so I began fasting and praying about it, and I felt like I just needed to suck it up and meet with my pastor and ask him point blank where our church stood. I had realized that if the church didn't stand firmly rooted in what I had realized to be Truth, then I could no longer be a part of it. That thought broke my heart in a million pieces. I LOVE that church, I grew so much in that church, I was married in that church, that church supported me through everything, no way could I leave them. But, Tom and I prayed on it, and agreed that we may indeed need to.

Now, don't get me wrong here, I don't think that all women should wear skirts, that it should be a teaching in the church, or anything like that. I think that for me, personally, it's what I need. I do, however think that we should be encouraging and explaining modesty in our women and girls. Beyond just "because". Talk to me about WHY. I also think that it's worth exploring why some churches are opposed to birth control. So, I sucked it up, set up a meeting, and discussed these issues with my pastor. This was also the time in which I started thinking and praying about covering my head. After that we continued in deep prayer about where God needed us.

During this time my step grandmother passed away and we attended her funeral, in a Catholic church. A church I was, and am familiar with, I had attended several times, watched my mother get baptized there, etc. so it wasn't that strange to be there. Random fact: I've actually been to more Catholic funerals than protestant. Anyway, at some point, I can't even tell you when, somewhere between the homily and Holy Communion. I had the most magnificent experience with God I have ever had in my entire life. My world was completely shaken. I was so confused, so unsettled, I spent the rest of the service just staring around blankly trying to gather my thoughts into something coherent. I had decided that I would take advantage of  both  Monsignor and Father being at the dinner afterwards, and discuss this with one or both of them. However, enter: my mother, who forced me to go get a plate instead of sitting and talking to them (this wasn't my first time meeting them) by the time I made it through the hugely long line (Italians) they had both vanished. I pulled out my phone and texted my best friend...who is now my sponsor, and told her I had an unsettling experience.

Then, I continued on with my day, convincing myself that I was in fact insane, and the experience was all in my head. Except, I couldn't get it out of my head. I tried. Later, we were back at my mom's and I saw some sacrifice beads on her counter, read the card and thought that my friend would really like something like that, so I asked where she got them so that I could purchase some for my friend. She told me to just take them. So, I stuck them in my jacket pocket and forgot about them. On the way home it was still eating at me, so I told Tom. His very simple response was along the lines of; "Well, if you have to become Catholic, I'll support you, but I'm not there right now."

Um, WHAT!!!! NO NO NO NO NO!!! Somehow that thought never entered my brain, I knew I had this experience, I knew it was right in the midst of discerning where my church home was, but CATHOLIC?!?!?!? I couldn't become Catholic, no way, Jose! I went home and prayed and prayed and prayed, and begged God not to make me Catholic. Sometimes I think God enjoys laughing at me.

The next evening my friend and I went to dinner. As I was leaving the house I slipped into my jacket and when I put my hand in my pocket I felt the beads. I had completely forgotten about them in the midst of all of my pleading with God to not make me Catholic, and having a coronary over that experience. I didn't know then if I wanted to give them to her not, in fact I didn't know if was going to give them to her or not until the moment I handed them to her. Her eyes pretty much bugged out of her head when she said "St. Therese, huh?" I, having no idea what in tarnation she was talking about shrugged my shoulders, and said, "Ummm, sure." She then went on to explain that she had just finished a novena to her, and that was a symbol to her that God had heard her prayers.

Chills. I got chills. I'm pretty sure I could hear God laughing at me in that moment. I realized in that moment that not only had He lead me to being super conservative, but that nearly every opinion I held was completely in alignment with the Catholic church, not only did He give me all that, He gave me a close encounter with Him, and because He knows me, and knows that I like to pretend to not hear Him, He made sure I had a shared experience with someone I dearly love and trust.

Okay, fine. So, now I had to seriously entertain the idea of possibly, maybe, one day, in like ten years becoming Catholic. Fine. Oh no, my life can't be that easy. Every time I turned around He tossed something at me. It was overwhelming. I just couldn't escape all the Catholic being thrown my way. I set up a meeting and talked to my pastor about all of this, I almost begged him to convince that I was wrong, and that I couldn't be Catholic. He told me that he couldn't argue with God, and if that's where God was leading me then I needed to go.

Seriously, that is the last response I expected. No help. So, I decided to find a priest. I called my mommy and made her do the leg work =) the following weekend I drove the two hours to attend Mass with my mom and stepdad. Why did this feel so comfortable? Afterwards we went to dinner with the priest, younger fellow, so that helped me to be a little more comfortable. Random fact#2: He's actually closer to my age than Tom! ((Tom's nine years my senior)) I had spoken with him before, but in brief, and about things like the weather...not, things like; "Catholics are weird, and I am so confused" We all piled in my step dad's truck and headed to dinner. On the way over my brain and mouth were going about a mile a minute as I talked nonstop I think the entire way to the restaurant  By this point I had already realized the truth in the Eucharist and oneness of the Church. So, I told him all about my experiences, the revelations I had had about those two things, etc.

He sat patiently and listened attentively, occasionally trying to share a thought or two, but I was on a roll, and not stopping until I said everything I needed to say! When I finally finished my blabbering he just looked at me with a smile and asked; "Where should I start?" He started at the amazing gift of the Eucharist, and ticked right down my list. It was so much information, I thought my brain, that was already near explosion, just may go ahead and explode! The more he talked the more I realized I was going to be Catholic much sooner than ten years from then. It was too much to process. I could barely eat, I just kept thinking about how clearly God was calling me. And, how much I wanted to fight Him. Oh, and whether it was weirder to drink wine with a priest, or my mom. I really couldn't decided, probably my mom. The wine was awful anyway. ((Protestants tend to avoid alcohol at all costs, we certainly wouldn't be drinking a glass of disgusting wine across from our pastor, while sitting next to our mother))

I had a lot to ponder after that dinner. I went home and prayed and prayed, and prayed some more. Stronger and stronger I could feel the pull on my heart towards the Catholic church. The next morning, during my normal church service it really hit me. I was done there. It was time. Whether I wanted to or not, I was becoming Catholic. I surrendered to His will, the moment I did, I threw my hands in the air and told God He won, peace flooded through me. An indescribable peace. Before, with all of the information coming at me it felt like waves crashing all around me, beating me on all sides, and when I gave in, He calmed the storm, or at least His child.

I told my pastor that day and we agreed that I would continue attending to fulfill the responsibilities I had there. I spent that afternoon praying, reading, and while still peaceful, once again being hammered with questions. I e-mailed Father that night and explained my decision, and my realization that I was headed towards Catholicism for years, I just hadn't accepted it or realized it until then. The following weekend we had lunch (Father, my friend, and I) and discussed more of the issues I was still struggling with, and once again he was so awesome at dealing with me!

Several more frantic "what about..." e-mails later, I realized that many of the issues made so much sense. In fact, what confused me was why Protestants DIDN'T believe these things, they just clicked. I entered into RCIA soon after, and through prayer, Bible study, about twenty books, a few more months, and more bothering Father constantly, I was finally ready to "come out" to my friends and family about this decision.

At this point only my best friend, husband, mother, step father, sister, and grandmother knew...and Father, and my pastor, of course. It was nerve wracking. I knew it would be, I was scared to death of what would happen, how people would react. I finally sucked it up and told a few of my very closest church friends, they were mostly disappointed, some were angry, some were sad, all were confused.  I felt rejected, and it hurt. It hurt, hurting people like that. It still hurts. I moved on to a few family members, more of the same. I have never been told I was going to Hell, that they would pray for my soul, that I was stupid, wrong, or damned so many times, so close together, by so many people I loved. It broke my heart.

I was done. I was ready to give up. Let the devil win. Stay where I was comfortable. Stay where I was loved and accepted. I just couldn't handle it anymore. I broke down, I cried, I sent a middle of the night, frantic; "I quit!" e-mail to Father, I figured he was asleep and wouldn't see it until the next day, or a few days later. I hit my knees and I cried out to God, and I begged Him for comfort, for strength, for guidance. Mere seconds after I said "Amen" my computer dinged alerting me of a new message, I stood up, dried my eyes, and read two simple words; "Call me." I began to cry again, I knew this was the comfort I needed. I thanked God for working through him. I picked up the phone, and dialed Father's number.

"Are you okay? How are you?" was the first thing I heard, no "hello" no "hey" but a very concerned inquiry about my state of being. He sounded so genuinely worried for me, it stopped me for a moment, that worry, that concern in his voice, his willingness to listen to me in the middle of the night, his fatherly worry for me in my moment of need really resonated, calling him "Father" made so much more sense to me at that moment. I hesitated while that all sunk in and then replied; "not super awesome." From there, I cried, and talked for over two hours. It was well after midnight, and the poor guy was starting to fall asleep. Remember  this priest is from a completely different diocese, than the one I entered! I tell you, he deserves a medal for putting up with me.

His willingness to listen to me, to have more dinners with me, to respond to my long winded emails  to be there for me in the middle of the night, when I'm not even a member of his own fairly large congregation just drove home the oneness of the Catholic church. It's just beautiful. Once I regained my courage I posted this to announce my decision to my Facebook friends, and people I don't talk to often. It was fairly well received  I got a few emails, but nothing like the backlash I was prepared for.

I continued my journey, and finally on Saturday I was welcomed into the Catholic Church!

It was an amazing sense of family, unity, and welcome. It was overwhelming. Standing there I just kept thinking about how amazingly stressful, and tiring this journey has been. Not only that, but how incredibly worth it it's all been. I finally understood why people (Catholic People) always told me; "Welcome Home" when I told them I was converting. It truly does feel like home. It's comforting, welcoming, and it feels right, It feels like home. I was baptized and received my first Holy Communion that evening. 

So many emotions! For those of you that read this, and are wondering, I did receive on the tongue, I was the first to receive (aside from the Eucharistic ministers) and that was very nerve wracking, up until the very moment in which I said, "Amen" and opened my mouth. At that moment I was really, really home. I had Christ living in me! I had made it! All the trials, all the heartache,   all the questions, all the longing, I made it, I was home. I am Catholic. I received the Eucharist. It was amazing. I didn't fall over, but I did cry...I did have some restraint and waited until I had returned to my seat in prayer. 

I did not veil that evening, though. I decided (with the help and advice from my husband, friend, and of course the priest I like to irritate) to wait until Easter morning. We drove the two hours to go to Mass with my mom, and also to give Father a thank you gift for putting up with me. ((I gave him beer, which is hilarious to me, coming from so many years of no alcohol whatsoever. I a little nervous about that as part of his gift, but I think that was his favorite part [it was Chimay]))

I decided to veil then. That made me nervous, I just prayed for strength, and with trembling hands pulled it up over my head (infinity scarf style) as we crossed into the sanctuary, Tom gave me a reassuring smile and helped me adjust it to cover more of my hair. We found a seat, and as I prayed I almost forgot about it...until I heard the gentleman in front of us whisper to his wife ;"that lady is wearing a veil" It was reassuring when she just shrugged and didn't even turn to see who he was talking about. The nervousness returned though, I just reminded myself that it wasn't for them, it was for God. Just like becoming Catholic, if God asks it of me, no matter how difficult, I'll do it. 

Ultimately, it was wonderfully humbling, and I know it was the right thing to do, and I will continue to do so. It was my first Mass as Catholic from start to finish, and it was beautiful. Monsignor gave a wonderful homily, and my second time receiving the Eucharist was almost as overwhelming as the first! I hope that feeling of awe never goes away! 

Both father and Monsignor seemed genuinely happy for me and my conversion! What an awesome feeling. Father even seemed a bit excited about my veiling, he mentioned it right after I walked into the room after Mass. He even told Monsignor, honestly neither of them seemed too surprised by it, but were both very welcoming about it. Which is also a relief because of all the worry I had put into it, it was nice to see it wouldn't be a big deal after all. 

Tom isn't converting at the moment, but is attending Mass with me, and is open to converting in the future!

I'm finally Catholic! Finally Home, what a wonderful feeling! 

My mom, being proud of me!

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