Monday, December 31, 2012

My Conversion Story - Part 2

I was ten years old the summer between my fourth and fifth grade year.  That summer I went to spend a few days with friends of my family who lived a few hours away.  They had daughters my age and their town festival was going on, which meant carnival rides!  It also happened to be the same week the Baptist church they attended was doing vacation bible school.  I always attended VBS back home and so I tagged along with my friends to their VBS.  The pastor must have given a talk about asking Jesus to live in your heart because I remember thinking about it and then telling my teacher that I wanted to ask Jesus to be in my heart.  She immediately sent me straight to the pastor, who talked to me for a bit and then led me in a simplified "sinner's prayer", at the end of which I dedicated my life to Jesus and asked Him to come live inside me.  That was it, I didn't feel any different, I didn't see any lights shining down from heaven.  But I did feel good about my decision and tried to pay attention better in class, because now I was doing it for Jesus and I wanted to do well.

The next morning everything changed...and I do mean everything!  I woke up around sunrise and everybody in the house was still asleep.  I decided to get up to get a drink of water and it was surreal, everything around me looked and felt different.  It was like I was looking at everything from the perspective of the Holy Spirit, who was now residing inside me.  I was looking at the beautiful sunrise outside the kitchen window, I was amazed at how gorgeous God had made the colors of the morning, I was just speechless.  Then I heard a bird singing outside and the thought came to me that God had written the tune it was singing and it matched the sunrise perfectly and how wonderfully made all of creation was, that it all gives glory to God.  Everything I felt, or saw, or heard reminded me of my heavenly Father.  The closest way I have to describe it is from the movie The Wizard of Oz.  When Dorothy first opens the door to find herself in Oz and the picture shockingly moves from black and white to color.  It was like I had lived my life in black and white up until this point and now everything was in brilliant color.  Everything was the same and yet it was all different and brand new too.  Having the Holy Spirit live inside me was like having an additional sense, a God sense, if you will.  It gave me a way to see and appreciate things from God's perspective.

I found out later that day that it also gave me a new conscience.  A few of the girls at the bible school were behaving badly and wanted me to join in.  Now I could hear the Spirit speak to me (inside my head), warning me that what they were doing was grieving God.  I could refuse to join in and it didn't matter so much to me if they didn't like it or made fun of me because I felt the pleasure and comfort of the Spirit living inside me.  He was pleased with me and so they didn't matter as much.  From this point on in my life I would always feel the Spirit in this manner, He never left me (except for a brief two month testing period as an adult, which was truly a dark night of the soul for me, I never realized how much I depended on Him until I went through a period where I could no longer feel Him, it was agonizing).  The Spirit would open up passages in the bible for me.  I found it a joy to read and study the bible because the Holy Spirit would expand upon what I was reading, teaching me to view things from God's eternal perspective.  I'm ashamed to say there were times when I would try to tune Him out, especially if I was purposely sinning and doing something I knew was wrong.  It was in those times that I was "grieving" the Spirit of God, I could tell He was saddened by what I was doing and I would eventually repent and ask God for forgiveness, make any reparations I needed to make and move on.  Granted, I wasn't Catholic at this time so I couldn't go to confession.  How I would have liked to have had that sacrament when growing up!  I think it would have kept me from sinning more, if for no other reason than to have to confess it to another person.  In those times I prayed to God and asked Him to grant me His grace to help me overcome my weaknesses.  In His abundant mercy He granted my request.  Another example of how God is not bound by His sacraments (my life, in particular, seems to be full of them, God is good)!  Many catholics do not realize what a treasure they have in the sacrament of reconciliation.  That is the avenue God has chosen to pour these types of graces out on His people, if they would only humble themselves to receive them!  The beginnings of wisdom is knowing that you are not God and that you cannot do everything on your own, that you need Him.  All of us are born with tendencies to sin, some are harder to overcome than others.  His grace is sufficient, His power made perfect in our weaknesses, for that is where we are able to radiate His glory the brightest.  Others in our life are perfectly aware of our failings and when we use Jesus' power to overcome we bring glory and honor to God.

Three years after I received the Holy Spirit I was baptized on Easter Sunday at my home Presbyterian Church.  It was the same Sunday I was received as a member into the church and I was also allowed to take my first communion.  Our church only celebrated communion four times a year, so it was a big deal.  I remember how eager I was for that communion, and for all communions after that.  I think part of it was the idea that it was a right of passage, that now I was considered old enough to receive it.  I now know that part of it was the Holy Spirit preparing me for when I would receive Jesus' actual body and blood when I was received into the Catholic Church.  The idea of the Eucharist, that it was possible that the bread and wine was actually Jesus on the altar, is the first sacrament that drew me in.  If it was true, and it really was Jesus, then I had to be there.  Presbyterians, of course, do not believe in transubstantiation.  My home church viewed the Lord's supper as a memorial to Him and His work on the cross, the pie crust and grape juice were only symbolic of Jesus' body and blood.  I do not want to make light of it, communion was a serious ceremony and it was always repeated that you would eat and drink judgement upon yourself if you received it in an unworthy manner.  That is why my home church did not allow young children to partake of it, they required you to be a member of our church or a member in good standing at another church to receive communion.  We did not go up to the front of the church to receive, the pie crust first was passed around and everyone held their piece until all had been served.  Then we all ate it together.  Immediately after that little cups of grape juice were passed around and we held it until all had been served and then drank it together.  At one point Doug and I attended a First Christian Church.  They receive communion every week and also do not go up to the front but instead pass it around.  The ushers would start at the back and work their way up and I remember when it got to me I took the cracker and grapejuice and held it.  The usher looked at me a bit strangely but moved on.  Then I watched the people in front of me take it and eat it right away!  It shocked me at first, it seemed so irreverent, but as I watched others doing the same I realized that was their custom.  The idea to not receive communion all together had never occurred to me.

While we attended there I wondered if taking communion every week would lessen some of the specialness of it.  Maybe I only craved it because I previously had only received it four times a year.  But my draw to the Lord's supper did not lessen, in fact it seemed to become stronger the more often I partook of it at that church.  I attended Mass for three years before being received into the Catholic Church.  One of the hardest things about the wait was to be in the Lord's presence but not be allowed to receive His Holy communion.  Through His presence at Mass I received the grace to endure the separation, but it was bittersweet at times.  One of my greatest joys was to be able to finally, finally receive my Lord in the bread and wine at Easter Vigil.  It seemed like I had come full circle to the time I first received the Lord's supper as a 13 year old youth.  I finally physically received my Savior as I had spiritually received Him so many years before.
My awesome sponsor Ann (holding 6 week old Toddler Boy)
and me after Easter Vigil Mass 2011 when I joined the Church

I'm getting a bit ahead of myself in the story, in my next installment I'll write about what first opened my eyes to the Catholic faith and what brought me to step foot into what was to become my new Catholic home ten years before converting...

Conversion Story - Part 3 (NFP)

Read Part 1 here

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