Growing up, I never went to church, unless my younger brother was singing at a service for the boys choir he was in. We celebrated Christmas and Easter, but they were more about the presents and having fun, than about what the Lord did for us on those days in history. We had Bibles in the house that on occasion I tried to read, but being so young I didn’t understand what it was saying (it didn’t help that they were all King James versions, which I still have trouble understanding as a college student) and why it was so important to know and I had little to no guidance in the matter. My parents are by no means atheists, but I wouldn’t say that they put their trust fully in God and so I never learned the importance of this until a later age.
When I was starting 6th grade, my mom was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure and I lost my second grandma to lung cancer. I don’t recall this, but I’ve been told that I had a hard time dealing with this. I was kind of off in my own little world and was not very responsive when people tried to talk to me, but I got through this phase eventually. Things at home after my mom’s diagnosis were rough. There were a lot things my mom could no longer eat and even more things that no longer sounded good to her. Deciding what to have for dinner every night usually became an argument with everyone getting very frustrated and crabby. My mom no longer handled the finances because the stress was not good for her and she quickly lost the energy to cook regularly so we wound up eating out most nights. Money quickly became tight and by my 8th grade year we had decided it was necessary to file for bankruptcy, a process that did not end until my sophomore year of high school. Things became even more tense around home. Through these years I felt very alone. I was dealing with the difficulties that come with being a teenager as well as the difficulties of having a sick parent and financial troubles. I didn’t know who to turn to or how to talk about things.I felt like my parents had too much to worry about without me adding the burdens of teenage life and I felt like my peers wouldn’t know what I was going through, so I kept it in. I definitely had a shell that I hid in, and looking back I would say that my relationship with my parents was strained since I didn’t feel like I could turn to them when I probably needed them most.
When I was a sophomore, my older brother left for college. In the spring of his freshman year, he found the Lord (after a rough winter break at home that almost sent him into a nervous breakdown). He came home to visit one weekend and decided to bring me to church. We knew a few people who attended First Baptist, so we went there. I was looking for something in my life and knew there had to be more to all this so I was kind of excited to go. I filled out the visitor card in the pew and within a week or so had been invited to attended youth group. I became nervous and unsure if this was what I really was looking for, so I made excuses not to go for weeks. Finally I attended one night and was welcomed warmly by everyone there. I started to attend regularly and learned a little more about Jesus. I knew that he had died on the cross, apparently for my sins, but I didn’t really understand what that meant for my life. I continued to just live the normal life of an American teenager. I was by no means a bad kid and I never got in trouble, but I spent my time trying to be “cool” and to fit in. My parents had taught me to respect their rules, so there were some boundaries that I didn’t cross to become “cool”, but I was still very self-centered. Youth group and church was more of just a place to hang out with people and feel like I wasn’t so alone. I felt comfortable telling people about my mom’s illness, which up until this point, very few people knew about. But I definitely was not attending these things to worship God or grow in ly faith. But I think I considered myself saved because I was a “good” kid and went to church.
It wasn’t until the summer before senior year when I went on a missions trip to Mexico that I really saw what it meant to be saved and worship the Lord. We volunteered at an orphanage during the day and did witnessing things in a local park in the evening. I heard very sad stories about the lives of these kids before they got to the orphanage. Some of them just broke my heart. From these kids I learned 2 things. One, my troubles at home weren’t unbearable compared to the things some of them had been through. And two, they were able to forgive the people who had hurt them in unbelievable ways because of their faith in God. None of them were bitter. They loved others and shared with each other. Many people I know would not be so kind and would take out their hurt on others and would not forgive (myself included at the time), but if these kids and young adults could put it all behind them, there must be something amazing about God. Something that I wasn’t sure I understood yet, but I knew right then, that I wanted to spend my life serving Him and learning more about what He is all about. God was changing my heart.
I finally understood that I am a sinner and deserve the worst from God, but he loves me (and all of you) and sent His Son to live a perfect life here on Earth and take the death penalty for my wrongdoings. There is nothing I, as an imperfect human, could ever do to restore myself to God, so He did it all for me when Jesus, God incarnate, died for me, took the punishment of Hell for 3 days, rose again, and ascended to Heaven to sit beside God the Father. In the summer of 2010, I was baptized in the Mississippi River and my sins were washed away. But somehow, the peace and joy I felt then, did not last long. I felt like there might be something more that I wasn’t grasping yet. I was on the right track, catching glimpses of Jesus’ plan, but I wasn’t quite there yet.
And then the summer of 2011, God began to transform me even more and brought me to His Catholic Church. Looking back I realize that He had been nudging me along since my brother became Catholic my senior year, but I had been resisting. It was easier to remain where I was, to believe what everyone else told me about Catholicism. But this summer, my walls and objections came crumbling down. I could not resist any longer. I was convicted, by a Protestant sermon as a matter of fact, that it was time to give the Catholic Church a fair chance. I began digging into what the Church really teaches and what the Church has taught throughout the ages, and after that, there was no way to deny that this is the Church Christ founded 2000 years ago. I enrolled in the RCIA program at a local Catholic Church and at the Easter vigil in 2012, I will be become a member of the one, Holy, Catholic Church. Christ’s Church, His bride. I have found a peace that I felt only on rare occasions as a Protestant.