Early years

I was raised in a typical middle class family in Sydney, Australia and was loved by both of my parents. My Mum was a non-practicing Catholic (which I didn’t know for many years) and my Dad was Church of England. I was baptised into the Church of England. My family didn’t follow any religion or have any strong beliefs. I had a few friends who went to church, and, although sometimes I went with them, I thought church was only for “uncool” people. I knew a bit about Adam and Eve, but that was probably it. As I entered my teen years, I sometimes went to “fellowship” at the local church but it wasn’t because I had any interest in religion.  Rather, I went because my friends were there and so were some cute guys!

Teen years

In my teen years I pretty much did as I pleased. I smoked, I got drunk most weekends, I tried some light drugs, and did the bare minimum at school. I wasn’t a “bad” teenager; I collected for the Salvation Army, coached Junior netball and baseball, and played sports. I just … did what I wanted.

I met my now husband, Rohan, when I was 17 during the Christmas holidays just before I began year 12. He was two years older than me, and there was something different about him. Rohan had a quiet sense of peace about him, and unlike most of my friends and me, he didn’t smoke and didn’t drink much.  He was very respectful to his parents, particularly his Mum, and just had a nice way about him.

When I was 18, the morning after my year 12 formal, my Father came in and said that his arm was in a lot of pain and could I take him to the hospital. I had a friend with me, who had stayed over after the formal. We had our graduation ceremony later that morning and we were going to go together. I waited for my friend to get dressed and we jumped in the car to head to the hospital. After only a few minutes in the car, my Dad started making sounds like snoring but he didn’t look at peace at all. I realised something was very wrong so jumped out to call an ambulance at a payphone (this was in 1994, before cell phones were common). I was so confused and upset that I didn’t remember that I could call 000 without needing any money. By the time this registered, another minute or so had passed.

The ambulance came and took my Father. I have some foggy memories of what happened next, but I remember visiting my younger brother at school to tell him that Dad was in the hospital. I then rang my Mum to tell her, however, I don’t remember where I rang her from.

Next I went to the hospital. Upon arriving, we were told that my Dad had passed away. He’d had a heart attack, his first one ever. I didn’t understand — the night before he’d been waiving us off in the limo, chatting with our family and friends, and now he was dead. I couldn’t comprehend it.

From that moment, I decided that there was no God, and if there was, I didn’t like Him.

Adult years

Over the next 15 or so years, Rohan and I got engaged, bought a house, had a baby, and moved up to the Central Coast. We then went on to have another 3 children. When our eldest was getting close to school age, we made the decision that he would go to a Catholic school. My husband had gone through the Catholic school system, whereas I went through the public system. I figured that I didn’t have a faith, so if the kids wanted to know anything, Rohan would be guiding them, so it made sense for them to go to a Catholic school.

Although I wasn’t a Christian, I did appreciate the nurture and care that was provided by our local Catholic school. It was very different to what I had known. I loved the way the kids were asked to do fundraisers for the homeless and for kids in poor countries rather than for the school. Values were being taught that I’d never really experienced before: high expectations of caring for others and a real desire to help those in need — it was lovely.

New age

Over the years I’d always been drawn to anything spiritual. I’d been visiting clairvoyants for years, having my cards read, using incense, reading my star signs, using numerology, and more. I loved watching shows such as Charmed, Supernatural, Buffy, and Ghost Whisperer. I guess I always knew that there was more to what we could see, but as I’d never really heard much about it, I simply didn’t know what to believe. As I became more interested in the supernatural, I delved deeper and deeper into it. I went to classes to learn how to “connect with mother earth” and how to channel energy. I learned how to read tarot cards and decided I wanted to become a psychic medium. I went to events with famous clairvoyants and attended mind, body, and spirit festivals. I had an interest in aliens, believed wholeheartedly in fairies and unicorns, and believed that aliens had come into my daughter’s room. Clearly, I was mentally unwell.

Then one day it all went too far. I had what would be called a breakdown and ended up in our local mental health facility. What was deemed a breakdown was actually spiritual. I heard voices, I was confused, I thought I could read peoples minds, I believed the most horrible of things and I was absolutely paranoid. I believed demons would come out of my bedroom walls.

In the mental health facility I was given drugs … a lot of drugs. It just made things worse. I was barely able to have a conversation and was hardly functioning. If I refused to take the medication, I was threatened that they would inject it into me. I could no longer function. I had gone from a busy Mum of 4, business owner, and community volunteer to someone who could not put a sentence together. It was the most horrifying and hellish time of my life. I truly was in the pits of hell. Satan had me, and he wasn’t letting go. I felt empty, like I had no soul. My chest was empty but my head was full.

Conversion

I was sitting at a glass door one day looking out at this little garden, thinking that it must be the Garden of Eden. I figured that if I could just get out there, I would be saved — God would save me. I tried to open the door, but it was locked. I thought that if the glass would disappear then I would be saved, but that couldn’t happen. As I was doing this, I was seeking God. I didn’t know it, but I was.

I then had a realisation that God could reach me in the building. He could save me. It didn’t matter where I was. During this time I was looking at the sun, which was bright and beautiful. I thought at that moment that the power of God is in the sun. The sun went behind a cloud and I asked for it to come back out — it did immediately. And right at this time, when the sun glared so strongly I felt a warm internal explosion, a “boom” that was completely soul-filling. It radiated warmth, it was powerful, it was energising, and somewhere I just knew it was divine, heaven sent.

It was the Holy Spirit. I didn’t know how I knew this, I just did. (“You will receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” Acts 1:8). In that moment, I heard words in my heart say, “convert to the Catholic Faith and you and your family will be saved.” I couldn’t explain how I could hear words that were put on my heart, it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. But I knew that I needed to convert. Satan had his grip on me, but Jesus was going to save me.

From that moment, I was covered with grace. I say this now as I know what it means; however, then I just knew that I felt so full, and no matter what was said or done to me, I reacted in a peaceful manner. It was really quite amazing, as up until then I’d been a pretty feisty and controlling woman.

The battle was on for my mind and for my soul. The drugs made me near lifeless. I would stand at the kitchen counter not knowing how to make a sandwich. I could barely communicate with my husband and children and was not able to care for them. My mother’s words to her sister were “we have lost her, she’s gone.” My body was there, but my mind was elsewhere.

The medication they had me on was horrific. I had the most disturbing visions, heard voices, and didn’t know reality from fantasy. I would watch TV shows and it would look like blood was dripping down the screen, I would go past a building with a flame as a logo and it would look like it was on fire. It was diabolical. 

I took myself off the medication, went to Mass as often as I could, and spoke with friends who were Catholic. I had 3 dear friends who knew that messing around with the psychic world was extremely dangerous.  They would pray for me, teach me the Rosary, and check up on me. They would remind me that God doesn’t let go of us, ever; we let go of Him. I started reading the Bible, listening to Christian music, and praying — things I’d never done before. I learnt to keep my mind on the good things, and not on the bad, as now I knew where the bad came from.  I am so grateful to them and my family for loving me through this most horrendous time.

Easter is the time when many people join the Catholic Church. This was only several weeks away, so I spoke with some people who would help me join the Church. As the time got closer to joining, the battles got harder. One friend warned me that the closer you get to winning the battle, the harder the battle becomes. She was not wrong. There were times when I could barely think, I would drive around and around in confusion. I turned my mind to holy things, to good things, to Jesus. (“Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, think about these things” Phil 4:8). Sometimes the only words I could form in my mind was a very short song about Jesus. But every time I said the name Jesus, the voices and thoughts would recede. I wouldn’t have complete clarity, but enough to get me through until the next attack on my mind started. I knew it was supernatural, I knew Jesus was protecting my mind. I don’t know how I knew this, I just did.

I nearly did not make it to the Easter Vigil where I was brought into full communion with the Catholic Church. God again put words on my heart “just make it to Easter, and you will be saved.” I had thoughts of taking tablets, but there were not enough to kill me. I barely kept my sanity enough to stay out of the mental health ward. The attacks were big and they were constant. I had a parish priest come and do a prayer of exorcism/deliverance over me. I was being attacked through my mind, my soul, and even by friends and family — some of the words that came out of their mouths were not from God. Satan did not want me to convert. However, as we know, Jesus always wins. He saved me and then He gave me the perfect amount of grace to get me through to Easter.

Amazing Grace

At Easter 2013, I was received into the Catholic Church. As part of this process I had my first Confession. I confessed to sins that were very grave, ones that I then realised were against God’s plans for me. But the beauty of this process was that I could confess, offer to change my ways, and that Jesus forgave me. I was reconciled with God, I chose Him, and then I had my First Holy Communion, where I received Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. This whole time, Jesus had been carrying me on His shoulders, like in the parable of the lost sheep.

From here on in, I started to heal. I attended Mass often and received Communion. My mind started to heal, every morning it felt like a layer had been added to it, to separate me from the voices and thoughts I had previously. It seemed like my mind was being knitted together again, but I didn’t understand it. Now I do (“You knit me together in my mother’s womb” Ps 139:13). The song “Amazing Grace” became “my” song. It spoke directly to me: I was a wretch but He saved me. Satan tried to tangle me in his snares, in his web of lies, and led me to danger.  From the moment that I first truly believed in God, however, grace appeared.

God continued to heal me: my mind, my body, and my soul. Each morning I woke up and it was as if my mind was just a little bit more healed. The thoughts and voices were further away. Over the years, I thought it was natural to have 5 or more thoughts running through my head at once; however, I was learning that this was not right. This was Satan confusing me. As I healed, I found true peace of mind. I went from having many thoughts at once, to having just one, or sometimes two. It was as if more were trying to “break in” but they couldn’t. As long as I rejected the thoughts and didn’t connect with them, they would fade. I can’t put into words the exact way that it worked — it was divine healing.  God gave me a new heart and a new mind (“I will give you a new heart and a new mind. I will take away your stubborn heart of stone and give you an obedient heart” Ezek 36:26).

The Catholic Church, Jesus, Mary, the saints, and attending Mass all became a part of our life. My family agreed to start going to Mass every Sunday and I would go sometimes during the week. On one occasion, I was at Mass and as I received the Eucharist, it was if my mind was being knitted together even more. It was at times like this that I wish I could see the spiritual world so I could see what was truly happening. I’d learned the hard way, though, that trying to get a glimpse into what should be the unknown is not wise. If God wanted me to see anything, I knew He would show me.

7 years later, I still love my Catholic Faith. I love that I’m a part of the one, true Church that Jesus began. I love that He heals through the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. All the words used to be so foreign to me, but now they are words that I love. I will never leave my beautiful Church.  I am still amazed at Jesus’ Church.

I have many friends: Catholics, other denominations of Christians, atheists, agnostics, Muslim, among others. I love them all. I respect that all people have their own beliefs.  I am convicted, though, that the Catholic (universal) Church is Jesus’ Church, and that makes it the one, true Church. 

The freedom that I have gained from being reconciled with God is amazing. I no longer suffer from OCD, slam doors in anger, feel the need to control many situations, or am a slave to my business. I can laugh at myself; I don’t take things too seriously. I have much better relationships with my loved ones and there is a constant peace in my soul, which I never knew existed (“My peace I leave with you, my peace I give you” Jn 14:27). 

When I talk with people, when I work with them, when I socialise, I don’t judge. I have been that wretch, that absolute sinner, that one who did not deserve help. Yet, I received it. I do, however, call out the lies of Satan. Jesus asks us to speak the truth and declare it boldly. Speak it in love. This is what I try to do. For when I should have received punishment, I was treated like the lost sheep, carried back to safety, to be with those that love me. When I had sinned so much, Jesus loved me. He allowed me to suffer for my sins, and rightly so, but when I searched for Him, when I truly called out for Him, He allowed me to ask for forgiveness, which He so wholeheartedly granted. This is what I am called to do — love even the worst of sinners (“Love each other as I have loved you” Jn 15:12).  


Michele Gower

Michele Gower is married to her husband, Rohan, and is a mother of four children.  She lives outside Sydney, Australia where she runs a Christian-based family support centre and is also in the process of setting up a charity to support disadvantaged and at-risk youth and families in crisis.