Lukus and I were driving down the highway on one of our regular, Friday night date nights when I turned to him and said, “I wish we were Catholic.” I didn’t really know what I was talking about. It was just this sort of wistful idea that kept popping up in my mind. I wish we were Catholic. Lukus just got this puzzled look on his face and said incredulously, “Why?” I didn’t entirely know why, but it was little things. We’d had such a struggle ever finding a church that felt like home, and it just seemed like Catholics were always confident of where they belonged. I just wanted somewhere to belong. Admittedly, not a good enough reason to convert, but still, THAT part of me wished we were Catholic. Would “Be careful what you wish for” be a little too obvious right about now?
That was about three years ago. But now…
…now Easter is approaching, and along with it, my confirmation into full communion with the Catholic Church, which in all honesty, has been one of the most nerve-wracking, excruciating, confusing experiences of my life. It has not been fun, not for me, and certainly not for anyone who’s had to tolerate me during this process – this process of leaving everything I once knew behind to become a Catholic, of all things. I know my non-denominational, charismatic family is shaking their heads, wondering where on earth they went wrong, and it’s the one thing, ONE thing, that makes me glad my mom isn’t alive to have to endure. Of course, since she’s in heaven and seeing with divine eyes, I’m confident she’s cheering me on.
To say that I grew up in a Christian home is an ambiguous simplification. I grew up in a very Christian home, and by “very Christian” I don’t mean that we lived by some external legal code that required church attire at all times and no television in the home. I mean that Jesus, or God the Father, or the Holy Spirit were talked about every day. Every day, I heard my mom praying as she washed dishes at the kitchen sink, and nearly every night as she knelt by the couch. My dad taught me my first mealtime prayer. My big sister taught me my first Bible verse, John 3:16, as I snuggled in bed with her one night. My big brother read Bible stories to me. We went to church of course, and my parents were involved in youth ministry, children’s ministry, evangelism and missions, which meant that I was too. We held Bible studies in our home and drove a van to pick up elderly people for Sunday church (that was my favorite ministry because that was the only morning that mom would let me drink a tiny bit of coffee). In a way, I never had a chance.
By the ripe, old age of four, I was contemplating eternity, my sinful nature and my relationship with God, in our backyard on my swing-set. I’ve since come to believe that the holiest ground is seldom in a church.
It wasn’t guilt. It wasn’t fear of hell. It wasn’t a need to fit in and comply with my parent’s teachings. I suddenly discovered, while swinging as high as I could, that if Jesus really did all those things they told me He did, then I really, truly loved Him, and I wanted Him to be my best friend.
Immediately, I determined that an important act of faith could not appropriately be carried out while flying back and forth like a human pendulum, and the most fitting place to conduct business with God was clearly in a tree. You can’t beat four-year-old logic.
I climbed the wooden slats that were nailed into our great pecan tree and nestled into the crook of a limb. Being only four at the time, it’s difficult now to remember precise words, but the picture in my memory is still clear. I paraphrased a prayer I’d heard in Sunday school, something about “please forgive all my sins”, “come into my heart” and “be my Lord and best friend”. When I look back on that memory, it’s almost like I remember Jesus actually sitting in the tree in the crook of the next limb.
After my simple little prayers, I climbed down the tree to go tell my mom what had happened, but when I found her, she was kneeling by her bedside praying in tongues (we were a Charismatic family, and praying in tongues in our house was as daily of a habit for my mom as brushing her teeth). Instead of interrupting her, I knelt beside her, and for the first time, I began to pray in tongues as well – and from then on, I felt like my destiny with God had surely been sealed, because from that moment on, I had the sign I received from that ancient childhood memory. That memory has anchored me in the toughest of times, reminding me that my faith does not depend on how other Christians act or what they believe, or even what happens in my own life, but who I know that Jesus is.
Growing up in Assemblies of God churches and a non-denominational home, my upbringing had been softly anti-Catholic. It was never specifically stated, but in my young mind, the spiritual rankings went as such: 1. Non-denominational charismatics, 2. Baptists, 3. Liturgical-style Protestants (Presbyterian, Episcopalian), 4. Catholics (who were barely on the border of being Christians), 5. Mormons & Jehovah’s Witnesses (who were not Christians), 6. Non-Christians, Agnostics and Atheists, 7. Satan worshippers. ”Denomination” was practically a bad word in our household, which to some extent I understand, but Catholics! Catholics were the Mother of all Denominations – and they really needed to get saved.
But I never actually knew any Catholics. What I knew of Catholicism had stemmed from television and movie caricatures (which I recognized misrepresented MY beliefs and practices, but failed to recognize the misrepresentation of Catholicism – ain’t that the way it always goes?). I did actually know one Catholic: my wicked step-grandmother, who simultaneously considered herself Catholic while despising everything about the doctrines and practices of the Church. She was rich, successful, classy, and extremely liberal, and the Church, well, it didn’t exactly complement her lifestyle.
But years later, when some of our good friends from college became Calvinists, and started attending the Presbyterian church in order to regain the historical perspective of the Christian faith, my husband Lukus and I began to realize how little we knew of Christian history, and other Christian beliefs outside of our own. But I figured, if you’re going to look for the true, historical Church, why would you stop at the 1500’s? It was then that my appreciation for and interest in the Catholic Church began to grow. And subconsciously, it grew, and it grew, all the way up till it hit an enormous brick wall – the wall one has to break through to actually become Catholic.