Conversion Story Cliff Notes: How Christina Kleehammer Became Catholic
Hey Christina! I know it has been a very long time and I have tried to find out how to contact you for some time now. If you don't want to though, no worries at all.
I pray you have a great New Year!
This isn’t the first time I’ve told this story, but it is the first time I’ve attempted to write it down.
It’s the answer to a question I get asked a lot by people who have known me well in the past, and people who are just getting to know me now. Their curiosity is understandable. After all, most from my past knew me as the wife of a Protestant Evangelical Youth Pastor, his partner in life and in ministry. Some got to know me as an aspiring indie filmmaker with a richly ambiguous faith in God or “The Universe” or whatever you call him/her/it/that. And now that my husband and I have moved away from everything familiar-both literally and figuratively-my Facebook profile suddenly says that I’m “Christian-Roman Catholic”.
So the question is always some form of, “Why did you become Catholic?” Whether asked with a sense of genuine interest, or confounded incredulity with a hint of suppressed judgement.
And the answer is always some form of what follows.
But to really tell the story, I have to start with my early years and becoming a Protestant Evangelical in the first place. You’ll see why when I get to the part about New Year’s Eve.
Someday, I may write the book and really tell the whole story, but for now, I offer these cliff notes.
From the Top
Catholic was never anything I was, or wanted to be. Not even close.
My mother and her five siblings had been raised Roman Catholic in the Philippines, but by the time my Grandmother brought them all to the States in 1977, the whole family was Protestant.
Their experience of Catholicism was one of fear, of repetitive prayers that they didn’t know the meaning of, of mean priests that impregnated teenage girls, and strict rules that no one knew why they had to follow other than not wanting to anger God and their elders.
Also, they were under the impression that they had to pray to the Saints because they were not worthy to address God directly.
Yikes. Good thing my family became real Christians.
Still, we were Filipino and had Catholic friends and relatives, so I attended a couple of Catholic events in my youth, mostly baptisms and weddings. I always felt really awkward and uncomfortable during Catholic church. I didn’t know the words, or the moves, or the little hand signals. I felt like everyone was probably judging me, and thinking that I was going to hell.
So, I was raised in protestant churches. Sometimes. I was really close with my Grandmother because she lived with us. She always took me to church with her, so I learned the basics of Christianity as a child. But she passed away when I was 8-years-old. I was sleeping next to her in her bed one night when she had a stroke. I woke the rest of the family, we took her to the hospital, and that was it. She was 54.
For the next ten years, my mother would strive valiantly as a working mother who was sometimes single and sometimes not. I respect her so much for it now, but I didn't always. She would take me to church off and on, but what I noticed was that in real life, everyone had issues. In church, everyone pretended they didn't. The whole concept started to seem fake to me, like a game that everyone played, only not that fun. I didn’t get it. That’s why, by the ripe old age of 12, I was a self-professed Atheist.
We moved a lot while I was in middle school, and I found that the easiest way to make a name for myself at a new school was to be really bad. My friends and I started smoking in 7th grade. Shoplifting as well. Then came the promiscuity and the drugs, all before we had even entered high school.
I'm not gonna lie to you. We were super tight and had a lot of fun. And we were really popular too, which is what every kid wants, right? It should be no surprise to anyone, however, that underneath it all was so much pain and emptiness. And though I had a lot of friends, I felt completely alone most of the time. There was no God. No higher purpose. Nothing really meant anything, and if that was the case, what was the point of being alive?
When I was 14, several family members and I travelled to the Cayman Islands to visit my Aunt Jeri and her family. All of my cousins were these good, wholesome church kids, and there I was, this miserably depressed teenager, full of angst, having shouting matches with my painfully embarrassed Mother. We fought the whole time.
I was in paradise, and I couldn't even enjoy it. I remember sitting on the beach, staring into that beautiful teal Caribbean water, imagining how much of a relief it would be just to walk into it, and never walk out. I considered it.
During one particularly loud, dramatic fight with my Mom, I threw myself down on my Aunt’s bed, just weeping and sobbing hysterically (like one does when one is a miserable teenage female human being).
My Aunt Jeri came in the room, sat with me on the bed, and essentially, she got her preach on.
I don’t remember her exact words, but she told me something along the lines of, "The reason why you're so miserable is because the Devil hates you, and he is lying to you, and you are believing him. But God loves you. Jesus died on the cross for you so you don't have to be this way. You need to learn to pray and listen to Him instead." The Gospel. Simple. Classic.
So I wondered... Was there any truth to what she's saying? It was worth a shot. At that very moment, internally, I sent a message into the upness. Nothing formal, and not out loud. Not the traditional Evangelical “Prayer of Salvation”. More like a microphone check. Aimed at God, I simply thought the words, “Hello? Can you hear me?”
And in my little soul (that I didn’t know I had), yet from a source outside of myself, like a strong wind bursting the front door down, I felt a resounding, “Yes.”
One “Yes” from the Holy Spirit, and all of a sudden the miserable tears I was already crying turned into tears of joy and amazement. He was real. I could feel Him with my spirit better than I could see the ocean with my eyes. And from that moment on, I believed in God.
That’s not to say I became some awesomely moral Christian girl right away. I did stop stealing, because I remember from my childhood that stealing was one of the top 10 no-no’s. But that Fall, I started high school, and I started as a Freshmen on the varsity cheerleading squad. I was more popular than ever. I also drank more than ever, smoked more weed than ever, and messed around with more boys... all with a gold cross necklace around my neck, and this new awareness within myself that I would later realize was called a conscience. I kind of made up my own little belief system that got me through the year, but it wouldn't do as a permanent situation. As I've heard it said many times, "God loves us just the way we are, but too much to leave us that way." I had to grow.
The First Time I Threw Everyone Off
Immanuel's Church was a very charismatic non-denominational church. They were into speaking in tongues, and the charismatic two-step, and getting slain in the spirit, and running around the sanctuary with flags... All that jazz. For me, I was just glad that everyone seemed to be awake and having themselves a good time.
We started going there the summer before 10th grade, and here's what drew me into the youth group:
They did skits; I loved acting.
They loved God; So did I.
They had events; I was bored.
It was a good match.
I spent a good part of the summer making new friends at church and learning actual Christian teachings about God, the Bible, and how He wants us to live. It felt wonderful to have some sense of direction in life.
I was growing in Christian beliefs, and at the same time, my negative view of Catholicism was being reinforced, especially because so many of the adults there were former Catholics like my mom, who never knew how much God loved them until they became Evangelical.
Still, The Lord was using them.
That summer, I learned how to worship God. How to put Him first. How to talk to Him. I remember singing, "Jesus, Lover of my Soul" for the first time, and meaning every word of it with all my heart.
All this changes a person. It's too much love not to.
When school started-up again at the end of the summer, everything was different. I had stopped drinking and smoking weed. I was making an effort towards chastity (though I didn’t quite have that one down yet. I was never good at being alone). And worst of all, I didn’t want to talk trash about my peers anymore. I didn’t want to gossip. I realized that was all we ever talked about, and now... I had nothing to add to the conversation.
All of a sudden, I was a nerd.
For teenagers, it’s really hard to fall so far down the social ladder, but I discovered something very important: other nerds. People my age who talked about interesting things like Star Wars, and art, and farting, and life. I could be spotted walking down the hallway having the dorkiest conversations with the geekiest people, and loving it! Many in the popular crowd began to hate me, and I knew I was the ridicule of all the nations... but I had my church friends. And my fart friends. And most importantly, I had Jesus.
One day, my friend Mikey called me up from Columbia. He was this kid I had dated at one point (if you can even call it that in 7th grade), and when that phase was over, we broke-up and became best friends. I had moved to Silver Spring, which was only about 30 mins away, but for kids who couldn't drive yet, it might as well have been another state. We stayed connected through epic telephone conversations that tied up both our families' lines for hours (That's how we did it in the 90's, kids). But at this point we hadn't spoken in a long time.
Mikey, represented the entire lifestyle I was trying to distance myself from, and he was calling to invite me to come party with them in Columbia. To his great disapproval, I turned him down. He insisted. So I did too.
I told him something along the lines of, “I’m involved in my youth group at Church. I have God in my life. I don’t do those things anymore.” He was pretty annoyed and disappointed with me. We lost touch after that.
It was one of many similar interactions with my peers. I didn't love the tension, but it had to happen if I was going to turn out to be any sort of decent human being.
Even though I made so much progress as a teenager, I still had many challenges in my life, and they took their toll on my academic performance. I hated school. So, when I graduated from high school, I was not ready to go to college.
Instead, I spent a year interning with a Christian missions organization in Tulsa, OK. As part of their discipleship program, I committed to one full year of focusing on God alone. No dating, no rated-R movies, no secular music, and we watched one TV show each week, which was the 2nd season of Survivor. Total focus on spiritual growth (and Survivor, I guess). There were several of us in the same program who were making the same commitment, so that made it easier because we were going through it together.
During that same year, I met this guy named Josh. We were both going to Believers Church (still charismatic, but no flags). We were attracted to each other right away, and Josh will tell you that the first time he saw me, I was singing on stage and he thought to himself, "I wonder if I'll marry her." But as soon as I told him about my crazy commitment, I figured he’d never talk to me again.
I was wrong.
Since I wouldn’t hang out with him by myself, the dude befriended everyone in my discipleship program, and spent lots of time with the whole group so we could hang out.
When I was in high school, a mentor of mine told me to go ahead and start praying for my future husband, and make a list of things that I was looking for in the person I would spend my life with. So I did. And that list described Josh, even down to what his family is like. Not only that, but he had qualities that I didn’t even know I was looking for until I met Josh and realized he had them, and I liked it.
The cool thing about my commitment was that even though we liked each other, getting all romantical was not an option. So we just became really good friends, and there was no pressure to impress. We just hung out in big groups as our normal selves. We worked with the high school kids in our church's youth group. We played praise and worship music. It was good times.
My year-long commitment ended with a two week mission trip to Costa Rica. When I got back to the US, Josh was on a mission trip to some other country in South America. But the day he got back, I picked him up from the airport, and we hung out by ourselves. We held hands, and we hugged each other. The next day, he asked me to be his girlfriend. Five months later, we had our first kiss at midnight on Christmas 2001. He asked me to marry him in February 2002, and on June 8, 2003, we became husband and wife.
Wedding Day, June 8, 2003.
About a month before our wedding, Joshua graduated from Oral Roberts University with a Bachelors of Arts in Pastoral Christian Ministries (Side note, he sat next to Ryan Tedder at his graduation! But now I’m distracted... Back to how I became Catholic).
In the early years of our marriage, I worked in coffee shops, and in an elementary school as a TA for several years. I wanted to be a teacher for a while, and was majoring in elementary education... until I saw what it was actually like in there. Then, I changed my mind and started my own wedding videography business. We couldn't afford my college tuition, so I was was trying to pave my own way to success without needing a degree.
Josh served as the full time youth minister at Red Fork Church of God for five years of our marriage, which is about half of it at this point. Red Fork was not really charismatic at all, though some people raised their hands during the worship music. He was an ordained Reverend with Church of God, Anderson, and he was in seminary earning his Masters in Theology.
Josh and me by the church sign at… Well, I don't really need to say where it's at. It's on the sign.
But here’s the thing about my husband, something that used to make me uneasy, but I eventually made peace with… When it comes to God, Josh has always been a wrestler. He grapples with Truth. He takes it apart and puts it back together and breaks it and fixes it... just like every electronic gadget we've ever owned. And in many ways, Red Fork was the perfect place for him to do that. His boss, Brent, couldn’t have been more gracious with Josh's various exploratory musings. So, as Josh was teaching others about the Christian faith, he was also wrestling with questions of his own. It's not that he didn't believe in the God of the Bible. He just wasn't satisfied with what we thought we knew about God thus far.
The irony of our story is that while Josh was a Protestant youth minister, he would often attend Catholic Mass on weekday mornings as well. Something about it appealed to him, but it was something I didn’t understand yet. It made me uncomfortable, and I asked him to stop. Eventually, he did.
Still, he would wrestle and ask bold questions, and all I wanted to do was to stay safe and far away from what I didn't understand. I would warn him not to take me down that road of questioning with him, because if I went there, everything might unravel. Maybe I didn't understand everything, but I knew Jesus, and I loved Him, and I didn't need to know anything else, so just let me be.
Now, I look back and wonder... If I really felt so insecure about my understanding, as if it couldn't handle those challenging questions... wouldn’t I want it to unravel?
Eventually, I went there. I was asking those big questions right alongside my husband, fully acknowledging that some of the pieces in our understanding weren't fitting. At that point, we had both become what's know as Post-Modern Christians, or Post-Evangelicals. At first we thought it was freeing; and then we got burnt out.
Personally, I was hearing so many different interpretations of scripture, so many perspectives on how to read the Bible, I didn’t know who was right! Instead of strengthening my understanding, I began to find that reading the Bible only created more confusion. There was so much noise in my head. It was exhausting! I started tuning out sermons because I knew whatever point the preacher was making was just going to be slammed in someone else's sermon. Or maybe they were doing the slamming. Everything in Post-Evangelicalism felt like a competition to see who could deliver the most impressive, envelope-pushing message. I was over it. I just wanted to love and worship God in a simpler way, and know who I was supposed to trust to guide me.
We still loved God, He still loved us, but when it came to church and the Bible, Josh and I were growing disillusioned, mentally exhausted, and numb.
It finally got to the point where Josh’s personal convictions became so different from what he was required to teach that we knew his time at Red Fork was coming to an end. It was a peaceful departure, and the congregation was so loving and supportive. They always were, and some of them still are. Great people.
Where we went next is a little hard to explain. So I won’t really. I’ll save it for the book. But for the sake of moving the story forward, let me just say we may have spiraled out a little. It was like a mid-life crisis, but in our late 20’s.
One of my dreams at that point was to become an indie filmmaker. The opportunity opened-up, so Josh and I both started working for this little indie film company that thought it was making the next Napolean Dynamite, or Juno, but what it really made was just a pretty cute little indie film that won some awards at film festivals.
During that time, we went through this Post-Christian kind of Jesus meets New Age phase where everything was about Energy and The Universe. We were having a BLAST for a minute! But then, we made a lot of misguided, irresponsible life decisions, and so did the company we were working for. And before we knew it, Josh and I both found ourselves unemployed and broke. The job that I thought was my dream come true turned out to be one of the worst things that ever happened to us.
Now, it was Josh’s turn to accomplish a life goal. He had supported me 100% in the movie thing, and now it was my turn to reciprocate.
Unbeknownst to almost everyone who knew him-except for his parents and myself-was the fact that Josh always wanted to be a fighter in the military. However, when he graduated from high school, his mom was too afraid to let him do it. Then, throughout our marriage, I had been too afraid to let him do it. Whenever we would watch epic war movies, Josh would get all excited and inspired while I would be frightened and make him promise me that if they ever reinstate the draft, we could move to Canada.
The thought absolutely terrified me.
Sending my husband to war was one of my worst nightmares.
But in the situation we found ourselves in, we had to make a choice. For some reason, even though it wasn't at all what I wanted, it only seemed right. We needed to make a living, and he saw an opportunity to pursue a dream he never thought was possible. I couldn't let my fear hold him back, especially since he had been so supportive of my own desires. So we made the decision together.
He didn’t want anyone to talk him out of it. He knew they would try, so he signed the papers before telling anyone else, including his family. And before I really had a chance to process the decision we had made, I found myself becoming something I absolutely never wanted to be: an Army wife.
Waking up to a Nightmare
I know what it's like to get out of bed in the morning, look around, and wonder whose life I'm living. I didn't recognize it. We were bankrupt, I had no job, and I was heartbroken.
It was not our finest hour.
I didn’t know what I believed anymore.
We decided the best thing was for me to stay with Josh’s parents in the suburbs of Oklahoma City while he went away to boot camp, so they cleared out his old bedroom and I moved in. We weren't sure how long I would be there. It just depended on how well things went in basic training. But Josh's parents were very gracious the whole time.
The day we dropped Josh off for the Army, I just kept randomly bursting into tears. I could not calculate him being gone for so long, and especially not being able to talk to him at all. I felt that I had been taking him for granted, and now that I finally appreciated him the way I should have, he was leaving. You can’t really process moments like that while they're happening. You just keep breathing, keep moving, say goodbye, get in the car, and let someone else drive you away.
Dropping Josh off for Boot Camp. Nov. 9, 2010.
I don’t know how to express what I felt once he was gone, other than saying that I had no context for my situation. How was I supposed to be alone for so long? How was I supposed to send my husband to war? What was I supposed to be doing with own life?
The thought of bailing and doing my own thing did cross my mind. But as much as I did not love the situation, I had made a covenant. For better or for worse. And that promise was not only to Josh, but to God Himself. I guess that meant I still believed in God. And I realized that the covenant between us was actually the best thing I had going for me. So I stayed.
I made it through the first month and a half by watching Netflix, juicing vegetables, starting a compost pile in my in-law’s backyard, and decorating their house with Christmas lights.
The Army sent Josh home for two weeks during the holidays, and seeing him put all questions to rest about whether or not this was worth it. If I knew anything, it was that I love that man, and he loves me. He is my husband, and he always will be. It was the only thing I was sure of.
Picking Josh up from the airport during his holiday break from Boot Camp. Dec. 2010.
A New Year
Now, about that message at the beginning of the story...
On New Year's Eve, when 2010 was becoming 2011, I woke-up in the morning, rolled over, and checked my Facebook. The message was from someone named "Deacon-Michael Paris". I didn't recognize the name at first, and the picture was of a bunch of people, so I almost blew it off because I tend to ignore strange men on Facebook.
Message from Deacon-Michael Paris, Dec. 31, 2011. 10:16 a.m.
Hey Christina! I know it has been a very long time and I have tried to find out how to contact you for some time now. If you don't want to though, no worries at all.
I pray you have a great New Year!
Who the heck is this “Deacon-Michael Paris”?! Mike... Mike Paris... What?!... No way!!!
Message to Deacon-Michael Paris, Dec. 31, 2011. 11:33 a.m.
Mikey?!?! From Middle School? THAT Mike Paris? I can't tell from your picture if it's you or not, but I know no other Mike Paris. I've actually done a facebook search for you before, but apparently there are other people with that name. Go figure. Anyway, HI! You're a Deacon now, eh? LOVE IT! I think at one point I imagined you going that direction, or wondered if you would and thought it would be cool or something like that... anyway, not surprised at all. Life is fascinating that way.
Well, you found me! (How did you, by the way?) Talk to me! What's up?
I’ve often thought the Facebook message exchanges that ensued over the next several days would make a pretty good book all by themselves. Mikey had a stomach bug, and I had a cold. So, since we really couldn’t do much, and we had so much to catch-up on, we just told each other our life stories starting from that last conversation in high school about 13 years earlier.
It turns out that as I was turning to God, Mikey was making a turn for the worst. He got into some pretty heavy partying, and in 11th grade, he did a stupid combination of drugs that really messed him up for a long time. He became antisocial and depressed. He didn’t even like getting high anymore, and eventually he wanted to end his life. Then, God happened.
But, okay look... He was becoming a Roman Catholic priest! So obviously, I just had to ask him about the celibacy thing. Surely he was miserable, right? Nope. He loved being celibate! Actually, he chose that lifestyle before he even knew he was going to become a priest. He wanted to be a monk at first. He gave me a beautiful explanation of the lifestyle that I had never heard before. More on that later...
We wrote and wrote. It was so good to catch up and hear about his life. But then, there was one part in particular that left me so speechless, I couldn’t even respond right away. When he was done telling me the whole story, this is what he said:
Message from Deacon-Michael Paris, Jan. 5, 2011. 2:41 p.m.
You were always one of those people who I cared for most in my young life and your friendship was tremendously influential. I was so wounded by my own sin and the sin I saw around me that I did not know how to express my friendship well and I am sure I hurt you at some points in the process. For that I apologize with all my heart and know it was not intentional but I really just thought that was how someone like me should act. Like I also said before, it was you leaving, first in 8th grade, then spiritually in 10th grade, that cut into my heart on a level which did not wound it as others have, but planted a seed of eternity.
But your decision to suffer what you did in your youth in order to find your true life in Christ had an impact on me that is partly responsible for the priesthood that I will live for the rest of my life. I guess that is why I wanted to share all of this with you. I needed to tell you that yes, I do believe God is real and his reality now means something in my life, that I am not that lost kid any longer who needed to be avoided in order not to sin. And that I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being who you are and doing what you thought was right… It was!
It was like someone had just nudged me awake from a deep sleep where I had been dreaming that I was lost. Or I had just gotten my memory back after suffering amnesia. Here was this long-lost friend coming back into my life as a soon-to-be Roman Catholic Priest, telling me how God had used me in some way to impact his life. And now, the roles were reversed. God was using Mikey to remind me who I was. I had wandered off, and Jesus was coming for me.
And so, I became Catholic.
Ha! Just kidding... We’re not even close yet!
I still had a really sketchy view of Catholicism, but Mikey and I were always able to approach our differences with a sense of humor. For all I knew, God was using this friend to bring me back to faith as I had known it before. But here’s the thing... Most Evangelicals don't even really consider Catholics to be real Christians. But Mikey talked to me as his sister in Christ. The same Jesus that I knew, the same one who had saved my soul from death, and had been my Savior and best friend all those years, the same Holy Spirit that spoke to me in the Cayman Islands, I now recognized in this Catholic seminarian.
A Roman Catholic who knew Jesus... I didn't know that was a thing.
New Year’s Day came and went. I spent the remaining days with Josh before he went back to basic training. Mikey’s stomach got better, and I got over my cold, so the messages became less frequent. But at that point, I had a lot of questions brewing inside, and the conversation was just getting started.
The First Things I Learned
Remember how I told you I had no idea how to spend so much time alone? All of my friends were either with someone, or trying to be with someone. I thought I was just condemned to be miserable for large chunks out of my life. How brilliant and loving was it of God to send me a friend who lived such a genuine celibate lifestyle in way that I could learn from?
Mikey taught me that the Catholic men and women who take vows of celibacy are not meant to suppress or deny their sexuality. Instead, God gives them the grace to channel their natural love and human passions into other forms and expressions of love, such as deep prayer, worship, friendship and charity--all with the purpose of creating the awareness in themselves and in others that this natural life is not all there is. Mikey didn't feel like he was lacking anything he truly needed, and his example of genuine chastity gave me an example of how to be a prolific human being, even when I’m alone. Every longing we have for love is truly a longing for God, and to be truly celibate requires a complete reliance on Him. I learned that my seasons of solitude are meant to be opportunities to serve others, to grow in deeper intimacy with God, and to experience love differently.
But I am not celibate; I am married. Duh. So being without my husband, even now, can be very painful. Another great thing I learned during this time was how to suffer well. Never, in all my years as a Protestant, was I taught to embrace suffering the way it’s taught in the Catholic faith. Evangelicals will burst some blood veins praying, trying to get out of their suffering. But my Catholic friend taught me how to offer my sufferings to God in prayer. Suffering is not always a curse; it can be a gift. Christ himself suffered greatly in this life. When we suffer as His people, especially because of obedience, we are suffering with Him. Then, united with the Passion of Christ, which opened the way to life for the human soul, our own suffering can bring life as well, similar to the way a pregnant woman goes through so much pain to literally bring forth new life. ...Or soldiers go through difficult training to learn to fight for the ones they love. That's when I learned to see great purpose in the cross I've been given, and to unite my cross to that of Jesus' Himself. I think that's why the Catholic Church focuses so much on the crucifix. That's not where Jesus is at in his story anymore, but it is where we're at in ours. So he meets us there.
Okay, so I was learning how to thrive alone, and learning to unite my sufferings to Christ... these things were all well and good, and maybe they were helping me survive my situation, but that didn’t mean that Catholics were no longer crazy heretics all of a sudden. They still worshiped the Saints, especially Mary, and they still had too many books in their Old Testament, and something about Purgatory and all that jazz… right?? It was time to start addressing this obvious mess of a belief system. My plan was to start asking Mikey questions that obviously had no intelligent answer…
Message to Deacon-Michael Paris, April 16, 2011. 10:05 p.m.
About Mary and the Saints... Do you believe that they are omnipresent as God is? I am trying to understand how they could hear everyone's prayers and attend to them.
Ha! Whatchoo got now, Catholic boy?!
Message from Deacon-Michael Paris, April 18, 2011. 8:31 a.m.
First I would say that by nature only God is Omnipresent, Omnipotent, Omniscient, etc… And no matter how exalted someone is in Heaven, they will never have all of those properties since by definition these belong to God alone. So the short answer is that no creature can be omnipresent. But a creature can share in God’s properties. God can give the gift to a creature of participating in his own divine qualities, but still on a creaturely level. This alone is why Mary and the saints can hear the prayers of so many. God has given them the ability to live in his eternity and not be limited by time and space like we are. And the degree of love in their hearts also expands their ability to be there for others. Again this is all a gift from God and leads to God… I will try to further clarify it.
First we have to look at what the whole point of the Christian life is. 2 Peter tells us we will become sharers in the divine nature and Paul tells us we will grow into the full stature of Christ. Indeed John’s Gospel constantly speaks about the disciple’s ability to live the very life of the Triune God, that Whoever eats my flesh…will abide in me and I in Him. So being a disciple and living a life of grace means that we are incorporated into Christ. An old saying of the early church was that “God became man so that man could become God”. This was meant to be striking and it does not mean of course that we will ever be equal to God, but that we share his very life within us.
One can see this first of all in the Resurrection of Jesus. After the Resurrection his own humanity participates in a new way in His divinity. He changes his appearance, be multiple places at once, walk through locked doors, etc… All with his Body no less.
In Acts you have Phillip talking to the Ethiopian Eunuch and then being whisked away by the Spirit. His life was now a participation in the Resurrected Jesus and so shared some of it’s attributes, including being able to move long distances in short time based on the need of God for him to do this. Even in our own ordinary, humble spiritual lives we can see this when all of a sudden we have an intuition for something that is about to happen, or God puts something on our heart for someone else though we had no way of knowing it before. This is because we share in the properties of God now which actually has effects in our lives.
There is a phenomena found among some saints called “bi-location” where people who have reached a particularly high degree of union with Christ can actually be at more than one place at once, even on this earth. This is documented in the case of someone like the 20th century Italian priest, Padre Pio. While he was in his monastery he was also spotted in certain places helping others, one time even to an army pilot in the air!
And if this is possible on this earth, even more possible is it in Heaven, where the ‘veil will be lifted’ and we will see ‘clearly, not as through dark glass’. So the Saints are able to pray for many people at once because their degree of sharing in God’s own life is so intense that his own power shines through them. The Virgin Mary, being most blessed of all creatures (Luke 1 and 2), shares in God’s life in the most intense way and so her ability to pray for others and come to people’s aid is unfathomable. And yet even Mary, the highest of all creatures, is nothing in comparison to God. There is an infinite distance between them, but by grace God draws her close…As we will one day be when we ourselves will continue to pray for each other even in Heaven. Because as you so beautifully pointed out at the Mount; those in Heaven are more alive than us on earth.
Sorry for the deluge!
Oh. Huh. Well, that was actually not dumb at all. I checked out his scriptural references, and they made as much sense as any other biblical teachings I've learned... Touché!
So I would ask him more questions about the crazy things I’d heard about Catholicism, and in his downtime during his final semester at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary (a.k.a. "The Mount"), he would answer them with the same thoughtfulness and patience.
But we’ve gotten a little out-of-order at this point, because he mentioned my visit to The Mount in that message, and I haven’t told you about that yet. We’re getting there…
This Man I’m Married To
During these months, my only correspondence with Josh was through handwritten letters. My husband had joined the Army with the intention of becoming a full Special Ops Ranger. It was a lofty goal, because you can’t just choose to become a Ranger. They have to choose you, and then you have to go through several months of grueling training, first to earn the Ranger Scroll, then to earn the Ranger Tab.
I really petitioned for him to compromise and just be an enlisted Army guitar player (that was an option on the list of Army jobs), but he wasn’t having it. His family tried to convince him to go officer route, because he had a degree, and because both of his Grandfathers were Army Colonels. He wasn’t have that either. He wanted to be an enlisted Ranger, and he was going for it.
One day, I got a letter from him, and it was not a happy one. In order to become a Ranger, you have to go to Airborne School first. The Army had handed out all the Airborne contracts they were offering to his training cycle, and he wasn’t offered one. I shared in his discouragement. But he said it wasn’t going to keep him from doing his best. He was going to work just as hard anyway, and still give it his all. That’s the kind of man I’m married to. His intense fighter tenacity is paired with a deep-and often hidden-relentless optimism.
A few days later, I got another letter from him. His tone had changed completely, as if he was actually speechless, but knew he had to find words to tell me what was happening, otherwise I wouldn’t know. Screw the Airborne contract! They had now handed out three Ranger contracts (which include Airborne school), and one of them was his. Not only that, but he had been selected as Soldier of the Cycle, and was going to receive special honors at his graduation ceremony.
As I had shared in his discouragement, I was now sharing in his joy as well.
His parents and I made the trek to Fort Benning to see Josh graduate. It was my first real taste of military culture (and will be another interesting chapter in the book.) I got to spend a couple days at Fort Benning with Josh before he was off to training again, this time to become a Ranger.
Placing Josh's blue chord on his uniform. Blue chord indicates infantryman.
From Cherry Blossoms to Easter Vigil 2011
While I was so proud and excited for my husband's accomplishments, I started to grow restless with my own narrative. I was still just hanging out in Oklahoma City at my in-laws house. They were welcoming, and it was peaceful. But now, this new phase of training meant I would be there even longer than originally expected. I had to do something constructive with myself.
So I did.
It was springtime, and I hadn't seen the DC Cherry Blossoms in years.
I decided to spend the entire month of April 2011 at my Mom's house in Arlington, VA, and do volunteer work with the International Justice Mission, just a couple miles from her house. It would give me a chance to do good for humanity, to have a change of scenery, to bond with my Mom, and reconnect with friends from my teenage years, including-you guessed it-Deacon Michael Paris.
First time seeing each other in person in about 15 years.
Laetare Sunday (vigil), Little Flower Parish, Bethesday, MD, April 2011,
where Mikey served as a transitional deacon the year before
he became a priest.
I had left DC a few months after high school, and I had not visited often. There were a lot of great experiences that month, but I will try to stick to the point: How I became Catholic.
One of my favorite days EVER was spent with Mikey and Ben, another one of our good friends from Middle School, roaming around our old stomping ground of Columbia, Md. reminiscing, cracking jokes, and praying in spots where we had once made very unwholesome decisions as kids. Ben is Jewish, so we kept the prayers very eclectic. We had some “Our Fathers” and some attempts at “Baruch atah Adodai” and I contributed a “Hi God!” here and there.
The next week, I traveled up to Emmitsburg, MD and spent a whole day visiting Mikey in seminary at The Mount. (See? There it is.) First of all, that place is breathtaking. Second of all, it pretty much doesn’t get any more Catholic than Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. And third, I had such a great time with all those celibate dudes!
I never once felt judged for not being Catholic. Mikey’s seminarian friends and I got along swimmingly, I think mostly because we had this mutual interest in giving Mikey a really hard time, and I was providing them with all kinds of new material! Even just continually referring to him as “Mikey” made them laugh, and they teased him about it for months.
At one point, we were in the chapel and all the seminarians were singing some chant. I was the only female in the whole room, just standing in their midst near the back, observing quietly. This thoughtful priest standing next to me decided to share his lyrics with me. The words were in Latin........ So seeing them didn’t really help much in a practical sense, but it was still a very sweet gesture! I just smiled, looked at the page full of a very nice combination of letters, and felt very welcome!
Later, Mikey was showing me around the Grotto, and its surrounding area. All at once, I became overcome by the beauty of the place, I just exclaimed spontaneously, and rather loudly, “OH MY GOD!!”
I realized immediately that it was probably not the best thing to yell in place where a bunch of Catholics were praying quietly, some of them having traveled far to do so. Mikey just smiled and kept walking... Probably said a silent little prayer for my soul. I really did mean it as an exclamation of praise, though!
When the day was over and it was time for me to leave the Mount, Mikey gave me a couple of parting gifts. One was a little crucifix that he got on his trip to Israel the month prior. He had prayed with it during his night at the Church of the Sepulcher. (He gave it to me in a purple Crown Royal bag, which I figured was some kind Catholic tradition, but it turned out, he just didn't have any gift bags on hand.) And the other was a book called, “Story of a Soul” by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, more affectionately known to Catholics as the Little Flower.
I went home and started reading Thérèse's writings. Right away, I saw in her a deeply authentic spirituality, passionate love for God, and intimate relationship with Him that I never knew Catholics could have. She was so open and accessible, even quirky at times. The reader really gets an honest sense of who she was, and how she experienced life. She even made me laugh in some parts! And since-after Mikey’s message in response to my question about the Saints-I no longer saw any reason why we couldn't interact with them, I asked her to be my friend. It was really corny. But Saints don’t mind when we’re corny. They don’t judge like that.
The Little Flower has been a big part of my life ever since.
I had no doubt that God loves Catholics, and now, I was learning that some of them actually love Him back.
Mikey invited me to the Holy Triduum (Easter weekend) events at the Little Flower Parish, and I went to all of them... Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday night. For the first time, I walked into a Catholic Church not feeling intimidated or awkward. Just open.
Easter Vigil Mass was intense. It was about 2.5 hours worth of elaborate tradition and all these people getting baptized and confirmed. Afterward, Mikey asked me, “So, what’d ya think?”
I said the only thing I could say: “It was so Catholic.”
A Lot of Men in Matching Outfits
A few days later, I went back to my in-laws' house in OKC, and continued to wait.
Every week, I went to Catholic Mass on Saturday evenings, and an Evangelical service on Sunday mornings. Same God, two very different worship experiences. I really wasn’t sure if I was becoming an Evangelical with a deep appreciation for the Catholic roots of Christianity, or if maybe... no... I wasn’t becoming a Catholic with an appreciation for my personal roots in Evangelicalism... was I?
Honestly, I just wanted what God wanted, and I was praying for guidance. I was reading everything from St. Thérèse, to C.S. Lewis, to Rob Bell. I didn’t know what the future held, only that God held the future.
Josh graduated from RASP (Ranger training), once again at Fort Benning, Ga. on June 16, 2011. Two days later, Michael Paris was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest at the National Shrine in DC. I was present for both.
At Josh’s graduation, I had the honor of searching for him in a sea of men dressed exactly like him, and in finding him, placing his Ranger Scroll on the shoulder of his uniform. Again, we were in an unfamiliar place, but seeing him was like coming home. My time there was short, but soon he would be coming to get me, and we'd resume our lives together.
My mom and I were slightly late for Mikey’s ordination, and we came in at the same time as the procession of about a bazillion priests. He had invited us to sit up front in the reserved section. So, after the Parade o‘ Fathers, we found our way to the front of that massive sanctuary, to the only reserved space where there was just enough room for us both. I looked around to see if I could see Mikey, and at first I thought I couldn’t find him. Then, I realized he was just a few feet in front of me and I was looking at the back of his head.
I had a great view of a true miracle that day. Little Mikey Paris became a Priest forever.
The next day, at Father Michael Paris' First Mass, I had the honor of being a gift bearer alongside his mother, and his other close female friend who happens to be a nun named Sister Angelus. I had no idea what I was doing, but Sister Angelus offered me some guidance, and I brought the little Father his chalice. It would be the very first time he used it.
Father Michael Paris raises the chalice at his First Mass.
Photo Credit: Jeff Lane, Facebook.
And now, you're probably asking the question that a lot of people ask at some point during this story: “What did Josh think of all this?”
This, Our Exile
I still didn’t know exactly when my husband would be coming back for me. Days? Weeks? Months? But it happened rather suddenly in early July 2011. He called me up and told me that he had just four days to bring me, our cat, and all of our belongings from OKC to his assignment at Fort Benning. (Always with the Fort Benning!)
We spent the 4th of July with his family, and a couple days later, we were off.
It was great to be back together again, and now we had 8.5+ months worth of life to catch-up on. We were mysterious to each other again, which can be really healthy for a relationship when handled properly. We had to relearn each other, and learn life in a new environment.
Once again, I was driving the path from OKC to Fort Benning, only this time with everything we own. I felt like I was being sentenced to live in exile, but at least I was being exiled with my best friend! Plus, the day we arrived in Columbus was the exact same day Mikey moved to his very first assignment as a parish priest. We were all having moving day together!
Josh and I have built a lot of trust in our relationship. We are very transparent with each other, and I told him everything I was experiencing. He has never had any issues with me having a priest friend.
The two of them actually started communicating as well once Josh was able to do that. They even collaborated over a birthday present for me once, which made me so happy!
Of course, Josh did give me a bit of a hard time about my former objections to him attending Catholic Mass, but we had both changed so much at that point that it really wasn’t an issue. He was mostly just glad that I was growing again in my faith in God, and that I was doing so much better than I had been when he first left for boot camp.
While he was away, Josh had little time to think about theological complexities. Getting through the day consumed all of his energy during his months of training. He still had faith in God, but his wrestling was directed elsewhere. It was good for him to take that break from trying to understand everything. And now that we were reunited and entering a new life space, we were both open to whatever direction of Faith our family would grow in. We knew we wanted to find a church home in our new town, that was very important to us, but we weren’t really sure which kind.
We attended one Non-Denominational, Evangelical church here in Columbus, right when we first arrived. We knew all the songs. We knew the vibe. We knew we could fit in really well. It felt so familiar to both of us... and so much like something neither of us were anymore.
That wasn’t it.
I searched websites, and found that only 2.5 miles from our new apartment was a Catholic Church with new priest named Father Mariusz Fuks (pronounced "Fooks", not the other way) who had just moved to the parish around the same time we arrived into town. He was a priest from The Mount who was ordained two years before Mikey. AND! He was going to be teaching the RCIA class, which is the one you take if you’re interested in studying Catholicism, and possibly joining the Church.
I asked Mikey if he knew this Father Fuks (only I said it the wrong way, and Mikey corrected me). He did. They knew each other.
Now, I won’t be so vain as to say that God arranged all of this just for me, as if I was the reason Father Mariusz was assigned to St. Anne Catholic Church in Columbus, and spent two years with us here in exile. All I’m saying is that this was an obvious connection, and I had to check it out.
Josh and I both attended RCIA class in the beginning, and I will never forget one particular moment on the first day when Father Mariusz was talking about the origins of Christianity. He said, “If you ask the Baptists, they’ll say to you, ‘Oh, my church was started by Jesus.”
Then he pulled down his lower eyelid so we could see the pink part, and continued sarcastically in his thick, Polish accent, “Uh, yeah. And do you see the helicopter flying in my eyeball?”
Josh and I both laughed, and I knew, if anything, this was going to be interesting.
So that’s what we did. We adjusted to military life. We studied Catholicism. And we started rebuilding our lives together.
However, Josh did not get to attend all of the classes with me. Just a few months after we arrived at Fort Benning, he left for his first deployment to Afghanistan. It was the full realization of the nightmare. Josh was at war, and I was alone in an unfamiliar place.
God, help us.
The Art of Critical Thinking
We were here pursuing Josh's dream, but that did not mean that I could not pursue my own. God meets faithfulness with his own faithfulness.
I too had a dream that I had given-up on and figured would never happen: graduating from college and earning a Bachelor's degree. In fact, the main reason I wanted to work in film in the first place was because it was something you can be creative and successful at without needing a degree.
As soon as we got here, I found out that I was eligible for financial aid through programs for military spouses. So, a door opened up for me that I thought never would, and I went back to college full time at Columbus State University, majoring in one of the most important and underrated subjects known to all of humanity: Communication.
I was a little late in enrolling for my first semester, so one of the only Communication classes still open was called Analysis of Argument. It sounded really intimidating. And it completely changed my brain.
The class focused on critical thinking, the art of examining claims using evidence to decide if a particular belief is worth believing.
For example, here's just as a quick, easy little exercise in critical thinking, inspired by the book Surprised by Truth:
Protestant Claim: The Bible is the only infallible Word of God.
Catholic Rebuttal: The Protestant claim above is not biblical, based on the evidence that it is not in the Bible. Therefore, it is actually a tradition that contradicts itself.
And so forth...
Studying Communication and Catholicism at the same time actually paired very nicely!
In RCIA class, we went over the basic-and not so basic-teachings of the Catholic Church.
We learned creeds and prayers, the seven sacraments, the ten commandments…
We asked challenging questions, and had open, honest discussions about tough issues, everything from Catholic social teaching to Martin Luther to the pedophile priests scandal.
I was soaking-up everything I was learning, both at school and at Church. I became fascinated with the concept of liturgy, and the fact that the entire global Catholic Church is on the same page every single day. Literally. It creates this sense of unity like nothing I ever experienced in the Evangelical world. I also learned the difference between Catholic traditions, and the Apostolic Tradition of the Catholic Church.
I began to realize that so much of what former Catholics had taught me about the Church was actually misunderstanding. (Which brings up the sad reality that so many people raised and living in Catholic culture do not actually understand the faith and spirituality of the Church. But that is an issue for another time.)
For one thing, I learned that the whole concept of the Pope's infallibility did not mean what I thought it meant. I thought Catholics believe the Pope was perfect, which was insane, because history has proven that some of them have been notorious sinners. However, the infallibility of the Pope actually means that, under certain conditions, the Holy Spirit gives the Pope the ability to speak "Ex Cathedra" (From the Chair) in order to officially and infallibly define the teachings of the Church in regards to faith and morals. It has nothing to do with the Pope's own merits, and everything to do with God's faithfulness to guide his Church in a way they can rely on. When he does this, he isn't creating new beliefs for the Church to adapt to. He is clarifying the original Christian faith as consistent throughout history in a world that is constantly trying to alter it.
A Pope making an official pronouncement Ex Cathedra is actually something my generation has never fully witnessed, because the last time it happened was in 1950. We have seen them sitting in a chair and addressing a crowd, but that's not the chair. That's just a chair, because being Pope is exhausting, and they're a little up there in their years. Still, even though they are not perfect men, Catholics look to them for wisdom and guidance, because the Pope is the Holy Father, the leader of the Church, holding a position that has been filled by a succession of men who can be traced all the way back to Peter himself.
I could elaborate more on this, and on everything else I learned during this time, but I won't do that here. First of all, a year's worth of study would probably take me several years to transcribe. And second, I don’t really need to write all that, because many people have already written about these things already, and they’ve done a beautiful job, which is how I learned it in the first place! If you really want to learn all about the Catholic faith, I trust I won’t be the only Catholic you read from.
But there is one subject that I do have to discuss here, because it was such an insurmountable obstacle for me for the longest time. I was so annoyed about what Catholics believe about this one topic, because I couldn't make sense of it, or figure out a way around it. I knew this was the deciding factor that would either make or break me as a potential Catholic.
You Believe WHAT About Mary?!
Mary, Mary, Mary...
Protestants and Catholics will throw DOWN about this woman.
In the Evangelical world, we really only paid a lot of attention to her at Christmastime. We also believed she had other children after Jesus, and she was not immaculate.
The Catholic Church teaches that Mary is the new Eve, the new Ark of the Covenant, the first among Christians, Mother of all disciples, the one who commissioned Jesus’ first miracle and his entire public ministry, etc. All of these concepts were actually really easy for me to accept, because they're so scripturally sound that I couldn’t believe Evangelicals have been missing out.
But the real challenge was in all of the teachings about Mary that are not in the Bible... at all!
For example, according to Apostolic Tradition, Mary remained a virgin her entire life. She and Joseph were both completely celibate partners, united in the mission to raise the Son of God. Jesus’ “brothers” actually refers to other types of relatives, because the word used in the original language could mean brother or cousin. It’s a word that could have been used to describe his relationship with John the Baptist.
Oh, but that’s just the beginning! You see, Mary was born without original sin, so she could be holy enough to conceive the God man. She was also assumed into heaven at the end of her life, and then she was crowned Queen of the Universe, and now rules alongside her Son, Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
Uuuummmm... Say WHAT?!
So far everything I was learning had scriptural evidence to back it up. But this was a new kind of issue. I had no frame of reference for it, and I didn’t know what to do.
Except pray. I knew to do that.
Eventually, I realized the real conflict I was having wasn't actually about the teachings on Mary, but the source of those teachings. What I was really facing was the issue of Apostolic Tradition all together, and whether or not I believed the Catholic Church has the authority it claims to have.
Folding laundry always makes me contemplate the great mysteries of life, and November 9, 2011 was no different. It had been exactly one year to the day since we dropped Josh off for boot camp, and there I was sorting out all of our clothes, musing on how the New Testament as we know it came into existence.
As much as Protestants love to discuss and argue Holy Scripture, there is little discussion on how it came into existence. The canon of books now known as the New Testament did not exist, actually, until nearly 400 years after Jesus walked the earth. There were several documents floating around, and someone had to clarify which ones were the Word of God, and which ones were just super great Christian documents. Around that 400 year mark, Church Councils agreed upon the canon, then a Pope confirmed it, and voila! It existed. So the canon of the New Testament itself is a result of Apostolic Tradition. Whoa, hold it right there…
The first generations of Christians did not even have the Bible as we know it; They only had the Apostles and their successors, a.k.a. Apostolic Tradition, to guide them. And the New Testament itself is a result of that Apostolic Tradition. Not that the Bishops chose the books in the Bible, but that God chose the Bishops to discern His will, and define Sacred Scripture for the good of all.
To believe that these Scriptures are, in fact, the inspired Word of God is to believe something that hinges on the authority of the Apostolic Tradition of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
If this Church didn’t have the authority to define Sacred Scripture, then everything that all of Christianity is based on would be complete crap. But I know it’s not crap, because I know Jesus. He keeps coming for me, and saving me all the time. He is more real to me than so many realities I can observe with my natural senses. And I know the Bible is His Word.
So then, if the Catholic Church did have that authority, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to define the New Testament, and if the unbroken chain of the Apostles' successors means that this inspired authority still exists, is still active in the world today, is still driven by God Himself guiding His people through the ages... What else do they have the capacity to clarify for the good of all?
Probably realities about Mary that weren’t recorded in Sacred Scripture. They didn’t have to be, because the New Testament was never meant to be separated from the context of the Tradition it came from. Tradition and Scripture are branches from the same exact tree, or as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says it, "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God." (97) Together they are the fullness of God's revelation of Himself to humanity.
That was the moment that my faith became Catholic.
And then, I put away all of our socks.
I can use my words to try to explain to you my thought process, but I cannot used them to describe the complete joy, peace, love and general excitement that flooded my soul. We don't have language for these things.
I told Josh I was going to become Catholic. He saw it coming before I did.
I called Mikey to tell him my profound revelation. He said, “Blessed are you, Christina bar James! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven.”
It would still be several months before I would receive the Sacraments. Catholicism is all about formation, like slow roasting to perfection. So I continued to study and pray and wait ever longingly to be reunited to my husband… and fully united to the Eucharist.
It was a season of developing great patience.
Josh's return from his first deployment to Afghanistan,
just days before my Confirmation.
Easter Vigil 2012
On the day of my Confirmation and First Communion (and conditional Baptism, because I had no records and Father Mariusz wanted to be safe), we met for rehearsal and I was assigned a seat in the front of the sanctuary. It was very much like a wedding day for all of us who were becoming officially united to Sacramental worship of the Church, only without the stress of planning the event.
When you are confirmed in the Catholic Church, you can choose a Confirmation Saint, someone to be a particularly close friend to help you on your spiritual journey. Who else would I choose but St. Thérèse the Little Flower? She had already helped me so much.
Easter Vigil Mass begins around a bonfire at Sunset. We light candles, and the priests lead the congregation into a dark sanctuary that gets progressively lighter throughout the Mass. One chants, “Christ our light.” And we chant in response, “Thanks be to God.”
I followed our Pastor into the dark sanctuary and sat down in the seat I had been assigned, accompanied by my soon-to-be Godmother, Emy, and my amazingly supportive husband who had just gotten home. What I saw when I looked-up made my entire being smile.
"Look!" I whispered to Emy. "It's Thérèse!"
Through the darkness, I could see our church’s image of St. Thérèse lit-up outside through a narrow window. I hadn’t noticed her in the daytime, and I didn't even realize we could see her from our sanctuary! But now she was so bright, and the seat I had been arbitrarily assigned earlier that day was the only spot in the entire sanctuary where she could be seen.
St. Thérèse the Little Flower, lit up at night outside of
St. Anne Catholic Church, Columbus, GA.
Again, words fail me as I try to describe the state of my soul. One word: light. It was a beautiful evening. I received the Sacraments of the Church, and became fully united to her and to Christ.
After Mass, several people greeted me with such sweet words to my ears: "Welcome home."
With Ninang Emy just before sunset at Easter Vigil.
Ningang is the Filipino word for Godmother.
After Easter Vigil Mass with Father Mariusz,
who gave me my first communion.
With Josh. So glad he didn't miss it!
Catholic. Now what?
There is nothing I love more in the whole world than receiving the Eucharist at Mass. When you don't understand what Mass is, it can truly be the most boring, torturous experience ever. But when a human soul understands what takes place at every single Mass, everyday, all over the world, and throughout history, that soul understands that there is nothing more profound that we do as human beings. Even if there is nothing aesthetically pleasing to move my emotions, I can still be moved to tears more often than not, because at every single Mass, Jesus shows up.
We don't have to strain to reach Him, or beg Him to be there. He just is. And at every Mass, I receive Him into myself and am united to Him in a way that is the most intimate love I have ever known. This is the Love that all other love in my life springs from.
In the past year, I have graduated from CSU, Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelors of Arts in Communication. I am now working at my first 401K job as a Digital Producer in the newsroom of a TV station. Yes, I am totally boasting right now, but not at all in myself! I'm boasting in the faithfulness of my Father in Heaven to make deserts into Gardens. Who knew that living through one of my worst nightmares would end up being one of the best things that has ever happened to me?
CSU Graduation Day! May 2013.
The Church let Josh receive the Sacraments on a random Sunday because of the fact that his profession is so dangerous, and requires frequent absences.
I encouraged him to take his time, ask his question, and not rush it. He was confirmed a few months after me. As one, we are in this together. But we are also two different people, and have two different conversion stories. My husband and I have always approached faith a little differently, but that is perfectly okay. After all, harmony is not singing the exact same notes, but different notes that create one beautiful, complex sound. Maybe someday Josh will tell you his version of all this. His experiences of leaving his life as a minister, trying to work in film, becoming a soldier, graduating from Ranger School, and becoming Catholic as well. You would hear a different story, but one that harmonizes with mine. For our marriage, my prayer is always that even when we are having very different life experiences, as we continue to seek God, He will grow us in ways that compliment each other. And that, He does.
Every couple that enters into Holy Matrimony serves as a living icon of Christ and his Bride, the Church. As I write this, my husband is in Afghanistan for the 3rd time, and because the nature of his job is so classified, I once again do not know exactly when he will come home. I never know until just hours before. In times like this, I'm blessed to identify with the Church in a special way. She too is a Bride awaiting the return of her Groom. She doesn't know exactly when he's coming back either, but she waits in expectation.
Just five years ago, if you would have said to me that at this point in my life, I would be an Army wife living in Georgia, working in professional journalism, and-oh yeah! Roman Catholic, no less! …I would have looked at you the same way I look at all drunk people. I might have laughed, then called you a cab, and given you a number for rehab, if it came to that. But I wouldn't have believed you.
And yet, that is exactly what I am. And this is pretty much how it happened.
The cliff notes, anyway.
At St. Peter's Square with Josh (he took the picture).
Vatican City, March 2013.
The day after publishing this story online, I got the phone call, and my husband came home from Afghanistan. He is now home for Christmas for the first time since 2010.
Surprised by Truth by Patrick Madrid
"We Believe…" A Survey of the Catholic Faith by Oscar Lukefahr, C.M.
Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux by St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Pope Fiction by Patrick Madrid