My Conversion Story

Many readers and friends have asked me to share my conversion story and my faith journey.  It's not easy for me to share because it is a very personal, intimate experience.  However, God gave me this experience to share my wonder, awe, and heart with others.  Here we go...

Before I was even a sparkle of a thought in the eyes of my parents, my parents had their own conversion experiences.  Growing up, my Mom's family drifted from Baptist, to Methodist, to Congregational-United Church of Christ (UCC) while my Dad grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  I come from a long line of Puritans and Lutheran pastors.  Protestantism is in my blood and heritage.  When my parents married, my Dad converted to UCC.

And that's how I grew up.  I was baptized in the UCC and confirmed in 8th grade (even though it's not a "Sacrament" in the Protestant church).  I went with my parents to church every week, sang in the choir, was active in youth group, and participated in many volunteer activities.  I was a doer.  Yet, I didn't read the bible.  Nor did I pray besides at the beginning of meals with the family.  At home, we didn't really talk about or share faith related information.  However, morals and values were emphasized.  I continued this way of being a Christian and as a church "doer" through high school graduation.

After high school graduation, I moved into the dormitory at Maryville University St. Louis.  I did not have a car, but I desired to attend church and become active.  Upon contacting my pastor from home, he directed me to a local church near the University and suggested I inquire about a congregation member driving me to and from service.  When I called the local UCC church, the secretary who answered the phone seemed appalled at my request and stated, "I wouldn't touch that with a 10-foot pole!" and hung up on me.  Yep!  I was disappointed and confused, as this didn't seem too Christian-like to me.

Meanwhile, my new best friend at college was Jennifer.  We had all the same classes and lived on the same floor of the doom and were both music therapy majors.  Jennifer was Catholic.  In high school, I wasn't really friends with a lot of Catholics, and most people weren't really into their faith.  Jennifer was different.  She was talking about Mary, the Pope, Mass, and LifeTeen constantly.  Being an uninformed Protestant, I made fun of her and said the information I was fed growing up:  Catholics worship the Pope, think Mary is a God, blah, blah, blah...

Jennifer was a bit angry at my blatant incorrect assumptions, and invited me repeatedly to attend Mass with her.  I declined and declined until the UCC church near the University blew me off.

Jennifer bribed me with lunch at her Mom's house after Mass, and I was a willing victim.  I had never been to Mass before (except as an infant at a wedding or two), so I didn't really know what to expect.  Jennifer took me to a LifeTeen Mass at St. Cletus Parish in St. Charles, Missouri.  They had a band.  With guitars and a drummer!  I couldn't believe it!  I would have never expected a Catholic church to have a band.  Other than that, I found the Mass intriguing and had some questions to ask.

But before I could ask any questions, Jennifer revealed the rest of her Catholic-y plan.  I knew she was a Core Team Member for the LifeTeen program, but I didn't know she was going to make me stay for the LifeNight that day.  I remember her telling me, "Oh yeah, Mary, we're going to stay here another hour or so for Adoration.  Just sit here in the pew and be quiet, pray if you want, and then I'll talk to you afterwards."

WHAT??!!!  I was a little miffed to say the least!  First, what the heck was Adoration?  Just sit here and pray for an hour?  You've got to be kidding me!

So, Jennifer left me in a random pew to help lead the teen event.  I tried to let my anger go, and I tried to figure out what I would do for the next hour, helplessly trapped in a pew with nothing to do during Adoration, whatever that was.  So, I sat in my pew, and watched Jennifer set up.  Some soft music started, and the Priest brought the sunburst looking thing onto the altar.  It was pretty, but what was it?  Teenagers began to lay down in front of it, and people were praying.  After a while, some people started to congregate to the side of the altar near a statue of Mary.  They were praying over each other and then, WHAM!  Jennifer falls to the floor, motionless.  I was concerned, was she okay?  No one was tending to her...was she OK?!  Then someone started crying and someone else started laughing.  I was freaked out.

So, I prayed.  I closed my eyes, clasped my hands and prayed, "Lord, if there is something I need to know, please open my heart so that I may see and hear."

If I only knew at that time how powerful that prayer can be!

So, after I prayed, things started to wind down with the LifeNight.  Jennifer escorted me over to the group of people for introductions and hugs before we left for lunch at her Mom's house.  I received many hugs and smiles, and then Jennifer and I turned to leave the sanctuary.  When I crossed the threshold of the sanctuary door, I began to cry.  ALOT.  I was not a person who cried a lot, or in public, or really in front of people at all!  I was very good at keeping my emotions together and in check.  Tears just began to fall from my eyes, down my cheeks, and kept coming like a waterfall of tears.  People started asking me if I was okay and what was wrong.  I had no answer or explanation.  I didn't know why in the world I was crying, and I didn't have any control over it.  I had never experienced anything like that before in my life.

Then, someone said that I had the gift of tears.

{Information on the Gift of Tears from OSV:  The "gift of tears" is one expression of the working of the Holy Spirit.  Those who receive this gift insist it is not associated with any emotional upheaval.  They do not weep or cry in the ordinary sense of these terms.  There is no sobbing or contortion of the face.  The tears simply come at times when they are especially aware of the presence of God.  The Eastern tradition has much to say about this gift.  A contemporary Greek Orthodox theologian, Bishop Kallistos Ware, connects this charismatic gift with the gift of tongues.  "When it is genuinely spiritual," he writes, "speaking with tongues' seems to represent an act of 'letting go' -- the crucial moment in the breaking down of our sinful self-trust, and its replacement by a willingness to allow God to act with us.  In the Orthodox tradition this act of 'letting go' more often takes the form of the gift of tears" (emphasis in the original; from "The Orthodox Way" [St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1995], p. 101).  Eastern writers describe this gift in various ways:  the way of tears, the prayer of tears, tears which illuminate, holy sadness.  Some regard this gift so important to the spiritual life that they refer to it as "the second baptism."  Their point is that while baptism cleanses us from past sin, the gift of tears is suggestive of God's washing away of our present sins.  Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) even calls it a "baptism in the Holy Spirit."  Bishop Ware and other writers on the subject caution that not all tears are a gift of the Spirit.  There must be a discernment.  "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God" (1 Jn 4:1).  from: }

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What?!!!  This was not a gift!  I was crying!  In front of people I didn't know like a fool!  Jennifer started to laugh, and we went on our way to her car and to her parent's house.  When I was greeted at the house by her Mom, she too asked what was wrong.  Jennifer said, "Oh, she's just got the gift of tears."  Her Mom seemed pleased and we went on with our conversation while I continued to cry.

I cried for and hour and a half before I got it together.

I had so many questions, but to this day the moment after the crying stopped is one of the most peaceful moments of my life.

That moment in February 1998 sparked my journey into the Catholic church.  I was intrigued why I responded so emotionally and physically at Mass and Adoration when I had never had an experience like that before in my other UCC church.  I started to research, and I continued to go to Mass.  I started dating someone who was Catholic and helped me in my quest for information about Catholicism.

After I started learning about the Eucharist and Real Presence, I was curious to know the stance of the UCC on the matter.  After all, I wasn't about to abandon my church if had a similar belief that I was just not aware of.  So, I made an appointment with the associate/youth pastor to ask some questions.  The answer I received was astonishing.  During communion, I can decide for myself if the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ or if they are merely a symbol.  My mind was boggled.  So I asked to clarify...If the both of us are sitting next to each other in the pew, I can treat the species as the body and blood of Christ while you are merely doing a ritual to symbolize a historical event.  He answered with correct.  That thought process really helped to seal the deal for me.  Who was I, just a little soul in the scheme of things, to decide if my Lord and Savior was in front of me or not!  And, if we all interpreted different things, how were the leftover communion items being handled?  Were you going to throw Jesus away as leftovers?  This shocked me.  And, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is still the driving force behind my Catholic beliefs.

In January 1999, I went to the Youth Rally for Pope John Paul II's pastoral visit to St. Louis.  When he walked into the arena, I started (you guessed it) crying.  And in Fall 1999, I began RCIA classes at St. Clare of Assisi Catholic Church in Ellisville, Missouri.  Everything I learned and experienced "just seemed to make sense."  I don't know how else to explain it.  It all finally clicked about 2006-ish when I went on a date with a former seminarian, Stephen.  I shared this story with him over brunch after Mass at the Cathedral.  When I got to this point, he just leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, and started smirking while nodding his head.  He explained to me I had the gift of "the sense of the faithful." (another gift?!)  He explained that all of the natural law and information about Catholicism has always been written on my heart, but it had not been revealed to me.  And, when the information was revealed to me piece by piece, it was like another part of me was being unlocked.  Like I had known this all along.  It was truth and I had no reason to discern because I already knew it was the truth.  When he explained all this to me, it was like another piece of the puzzle was put together for me.  I felt so blessed.

So, at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday of 2000, I was received into the Catholic church.

Since then, I've had many experiences, and I hope to reminisce about some of them in the blog.  Always invite people to go to Mass or church events with you, because you never know when God will touch them in a life-changing way.  It happened to me.