The story of my faith journey is the most difficult piece I have ever written, not because I didn’t have fond memories of my upbringing and faith experience. I do have those memories. But no matter how I word it, I cannot share my experiences without sharing the good and the bad. As a dear Orthodox priest, Father Mark Grant, said, “it is impossible to cook an omelet without scrambling the eggs.” I will do my best to be kind and Christ-like. Out of respect, I am omitting names of churches and people.
Before I address the church aspect, I need to briefly touch upon my battle with Parkinson’s disease and raising a son with autism, both of which have profoundly impacted not only my faith in Christ but my family. Our youngest child, Sam, was diagnosed with autism when he wasn’t quite three years old (2003). He received 25 to 30 hours a week of therapy and interventions through the age of seven (until 2007), and then 10 to 15 hours a week of outside help throughout elementary school (through 2013). He was weaned off of his last therapy at age 16 (2016) and is preparing to leave for college with his Eagle Scout honor in the fall of 2019. This was only possible through the hand of God and Sam giving his best on a regular basis. Having an immediate family member with autism has shaped who our family is in a profound and wonderful way. The day-to-day experience has prioritized what is truly important, instilled a steadfast commitment of not giving up, and developed a compassion for people with challenges and disabilities. The same is true with my Parkinson’s disease. Throughout my battle, it has taught me to depend on the Lord Jesus Christ for everything: the ability to get up every day, care for myself, and now, work more hours, finish raising my family, serve others, and live a full life after neurosurgery in 2017. Living with these two conditions has also helped me relate to the students I serve with disabilities as an Academic Language Therapist in such a way that I could not understand the families otherwise.
In this reflection, I will also share experiences starting in the Episcopal Church USA during the 1970s and 1980s, movements and events that were occurring internationally and nationally, affecting various dioceses and individual parishes (although not all of them) within different parts of the Anglican Communion. Starting in these two decades, recent innovations related to sexuality and gender have led to tens of thousands of Episcopalians/Anglicans leaving the more progressive jurisdictions and creating worldwide restorative or continuing orthodox expressions of Anglicanism, in either the Anglican realignment movement or the Anglican Continuum (“continuing Anglican”). I thank and praise God for so many that have, in one way or another, virtually laid down their lives to restore holiness to Anglicanism. I also acknowledge that there are godly people and individual parishes still in the Episcopal Church USA, who are striving to be faithful and encouraging others to do so.
The Anglican Ordinariate within the Catholic Church became my final spiritual home for a number of reasons, which I will share as I proceed. Essentially, I conformed my beliefs and personal preferences to what the Church Fathers and Church Councils said about the Bible for the first 1,000 years, not what I still wanted to believe about the Bible. The reality of what Parkinson’s disease actually is has also required me to search for what I believe God really desires of me, so that when I leave this earth, I will die in the state of grace and the best possible friendship with Christ. The final move to the Ordinariate was about surrendering my own will. I thank the Lord that my husband was more than supportive of me as I made this move to the Ordinariate. He understands this entire life and faith journey better than anyone else.
My Childhood Experience in the Episcopal Church
In 1974, when I was three years old, our family moved to Austin, Texas. The first thing my parents did was to join a wonderful Episcopal church, in which I spent my entire childhood as an only child. My parents were diligent about bringing me to church every Sunday and making sure I “robed” as an altar server/acolyte. My mother grew up Methodist, a denomination with historical connections to the Church of England (Anglican). My dad was a cradle Episcopalian/Anglican who was spiritually formed by the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
At the age of five (1976), I was accidentally burned by the flame of a candle. My injuries were so severe that I spent three months in hospital rehabilitation and salt baths. I was thankful that my dad noticed the fire in time and rolled me on the ground to extinguish the flames. My parents stayed by me and loved me throughout that difficult time. After three days, the doctors were not certain that I would survive, but by the grace of God, I did survive and eventually even thrived. I remember that our dear Episcopal priest visited me regularly at the hospital, and my best friend, Holly, kept me company as I healed and recovered at home. My Episcopal church family prayed over me regularly and supported my parents in a number of ways, for which I will always be grateful. I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church at the age of nine (1980), although at the time I didn’t fully understand what confirmation meant. As I learned later, confirmation in the Episcopal Church meant totally surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and reaffirming my baptism from 1972. I thought confirmation was just something everyone did at a certain age.
In the late 1970s, girls started serving at the altar in Episcopal churches across the nation and in other parts of the Anglican Communion all over the world. The late 1970s were also a time when changes in the liturgy, music, ordination, and gender roles were starting to occur. Much more seriously, innovations in sexual morality, the redefinition of marriage, and changes in teachings on abortion were developing in the 1980s worldwide in the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church USA became the primary gateway for many progressivist innovations into much of the Protestant world within the United States.
From 1983, at the age of twelve, I loved serving at the altar with a new and godly Episcopal priest, until I graduated from high school in 1990. That priest expended much-needed time and energy at the national level trying to protect our parish and diocese from some of the innovations mentioned above. The phenomenon of girls serving at the altar tended to lead us in different directions. Some sought ordination; others simply wanted to be near the presence of the Lord. Thankfully, for me, altar service led to loving Jesus and the eucharistic feast.
Into the 1980s and Doctrinal Awareness
Throughout my childhood, I picked up on certain doctrines about salvation, baptism, and communion (1977 to 1985). I was taught that salvation was ongoing and that someone could fall from grace if they turned away from God and never repented. Although I didn’t know what sins of grave matter were, I recall hearing occasional references to the Seven Deadly Sins.
I was also taught that water baptism was required for salvation, and that the elements of the Eucharist somehow changed at the altar, but I wasn’t sure how this happened. I didn’t understand that one’s heart needed to be prepared to receive communion, that sins should be confessed and fully repented of before receiving the Eucharist. I also didn’t understand that the communion elements became the actual Body and Blood of Christ, a belief that was present from the beginning of Christianity and didn’t change until after the early reforms of the Protestant Reformation. General words of confession appeared to be ever less evident as we moved to the 1979 Prayer Book.
I didn’t know at the time how serving at the altar would have such a great impact on my Christian faith (1979-1989). It instilled a steady attraction to the altar and mostly to Jesus Christ. I cannot thank my parents enough for taking me to the acolyte room at least twice a month and church every Sunday, because being an acolyte profoundly shaped my faith.
After ten years of altar service, I earned a custom-made James Avery cross. It is now on a rosary that I use regularly to pray with as an Ordinariate Catholic. The history of tactile prayer actually extends back into ancient Judaism and early Christianity, although other religions and even paganism have long-used tactile prayers.
There are some former and current very faithful Episcopalians from my childhood church that have orthodox beliefs about marriage and sexuality. But I must mention the overall arching trends in the Episcopal Church USA. Starting in my teen years (1983-1990), moderate to liberal teachings on the issue of sexual morality at the national Episcopal Church level were also affecting individual dioceses, including our local city-wide diocese. Throughout my active church involvement, I never saw an open Bible. Between not reading the Bible, the changes to sexual morality in the Episcopal Church USA affecting individual dioceses and parishes, and the changing culture in wider society, starting with the sexual revolution of the late 1960s and into the 1980s, this trend did not fare well with a large national percentage of Episcopal youth, well into their adult years. Thankfully, parts of the Prayer Book retained Scripture, which I memorized and have never forgotten. This acquaintance with the word of God played a huge part in my later faith journey.
The 1990s and College
In 1990, I moved into the freshman dormitory at Baylor University. I went there because I sought a Christian university. My upbringing in the Episcopal Church gave me this desire, for which I am eternally grateful. I was soon approached by Evangelical Protestants at Baylor who led me to a radical conversion experience. I had never seen or heard of Billy Graham or his style of evangelization, but this all woke me up, for the first time, to God’s word and reading the Bible. Reading the Bible led me to the understanding that if I truly loved Jesus, I would obey His commandments (see John 14:15). I knew from that point on that I also wanted this for my future family, so I prayed for a godly man who wanted the same thing. I finally understood that I couldn’t live a totally secular lifestyle and profess Christ with my lips at the same time, so I gave my life to Christ and became a Baptist through Believer’s Baptism at the age of 19 (1991).
I didn’t understand that I was leaving behind the ancient faith of Christianity … the altar and the Eucharist … but I tried to live for Jesus, and I developed a personal walk with Christ through repentance and reading the Bible, which were strongly encouraged in the Baptist tradition — something that I will forever appreciate.
Although I joined the Baptist Church in 1991, I married my husband in my childhood Episcopal Church in 1994. The priest baptized our three children in our Episcopal parish in 2001. Our dear godly, orthodox Episcopal priest did this for us because he knew we would raise our children in a Christian home.
For me, unfortunately, my love affair with the Episcopal Church died the day Gene Robinson was consecrated the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. He was a partnered gay man who had left his wife and children and was praised for doing so. After experiencing changing national teachings and the effects on dioceses, not seeing Bibles read, the minute I witnessed Gene Robinson’s consecration on TV as I held my son Sam at three years old, I knew that I couldn’t raise my children in the Episcopal Church USA, so our family left for good at that point, along with tens of thousands of Episcopalians. My parents joined us five years later, in 2008.
Even through all of this, I remain forever grateful for my childhood Episcopal parish, which was less progressive than most of the other Episcopal parishes in the diocese, because it was there that I first acquired a hunger to better know the Lord. This was later strengthened at Baylor University. I thank God for the faithful people who were living for Christ and standing against these liberal innovations within the Episcopal Church USA. I also thank my parents for sending me to Baylor and raising me in the Episcopal Church, because both experiences helped me in my spiritual walk, although in very different ways. The most important thing the Episcopal Church taught me is that all Christians who profess Christ, do their best to live for Him, and are baptized in the trinitarian formula are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Marriage and Children: Our Years in the Baptist Church until 2012
After our time in the Episcopal Church completely ended in 2003, my husband and I started our family in a Baptist church in southeastern Texas. I ate up learning God’s word and feasted on hearing straightforward Baptist sermons. I also loved listening to Billy Graham sermons and absorbing his conviction to live a godly lifestyle. That is precisely what Grant and I intended to do by raising our children in the Baptist church, so there was no confusion about morals, especially about sexual morality and marriage. We also wanted our children to learn the Bible. There were many good things about the Baptist church: the encouragement to live holy lives, to read God’s Word, to serve, to go on the foreign mission field, and to evangelize. The first thing I noticed when we came to the Baptist church were huge differences in doctrine: how we are saved, how we are baptized, is the Eucharist the Real Presence or symbolic, what happens directly after we die, emphasis on certain sins and not on others, and many other major doctrinal differences between the Anglican/Episcopal tradition and the Baptist tradition totally unrelated to the progressive morality burgeoning in the Episcopal Church USA and also beginning in other Protestant denominations. The Baptist church, doctrinally and culturally, was very different to me in a number of ways, but I learned to appreciate the many good things about it.
I also noticed that there was no altar with the Eucharist in the Baptist church, which held ever greater significance for me as time went on.
Before I had children, young mothers from various Protestant denominations were talking about what type of artificial contraception they were using, and who was getting in-vitro fertilization, tubal ligations, or vasectomies (of husbands) after couples had reached the number of children that they wanted. I did not understand that artificial contraception and altering human life were considered immoral by all Protestants and Catholics until 1930, or even later. It is hard for me to say this, but the Anglican Communion/Episcopal Church opened the gateway for most of Protestantism to accept artificial contraception as the norm by the 1970s.
When all our children were little, I went through a mini faith crisis, because our children were not baptized young. The Baptist church taught that water baptism was done at the age of reason, when someone “accepted Jesus into their heart as personal Lord and Savior.” The Baptist Church also taught that water baptism was not required for salvation, while the Episcopal Church taught that water baptism was definitely necessary for salvation, and it needed to be done at infancy, preferably the eighth day of life, just as circumcision (Colossians 2:11-14) was done on the eighth day in ancient Judaism, because Baptism is the new circumcision. I had my children baptized anyway in my childhood Episcopal Church, all three of them at ages three and a half, two, and one. I had a sense that they were safe until they could claim their Christian faith on their own when they were ready, especially since Sam had been sickly as a young child. All three children made the decision later, on their own, to be baptized in the Baptist church and follow Christ — even Sam, with his autism, at age 12.
About the time our youngest child, Sam, decided to be baptized in the Baptist church, I started having odd neurological problems. The doctors discovered that I had suffered neurological symptoms for years prior, but the symptoms became quite noticeable and difficult to manage in 2012. After six months of doctors’ visits and a trip to Houston, Texas, I was diagnosed with Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease. At that time, I finally could go no longer without the Eucharist and the altar in the church, especially after a new Parkinson’s diagnosis.
Our family then found a local Anglican church in a Reformed missionary diocese outside of the Episcopal Church USA, which was very conservative morally and high church in worship, which we loved. The Anglo-Catholic priest was very attentive to the needs of the people. He also prayed over my Parkinson’s regularly. This Anglican church was the restored Episcopal/Anglican church of my upbringing, with many theological beliefs but a small range of conservative moral beliefs. We all fell in love with this Anglican church and the people, and all five of us were confirmed there in 2013. During that five-year study of Church history, along with membership in this missionary diocese, changes to the ordination rite happened within the worldwide revival movement, of which we were a part. Our family started serving in various church capacities within a year. My husband and Sam became altar servers, while I became the children’s directress. At this time, I was studying deep into the early Christian Church and the Church Fathers. It was this time that I rediscovered the long history between the Anglican/English Church and the Catholic Church, which stretched back to the second century.
Anglicanism is a smaller version of the span of Christianity at large, because the beliefs range from Anglo-Catholicism to Calvinism, to Pentecostalism, to Arminianism, etc … all in one church body, because Anglicanism is the via media, or middle way, between Catholicism and Protestantism. Reforms occurred during the English Reformation, then the final break from Rome during the 1500s. Even though there was a wide range of theological beliefs even on the conservative end of Anglicanism, and I told myself: “God would have to carry me out for us to ever leave Anglicanism and the church we are in”… well, that happened.
More Spiritual Disappointments, then Home at Last
In 2016, it was time for me to have Deep Brain Stimulation surgery after this five-year return to Anglicanism. Within two weeks of my neurosurgery, I made a return visit to our Anglican church. I cannot give too many details, but while I was in neurosurgery, the Anglican parish had started to split over significant theological disagreements and other issues. A full-scale rebellion had taken place. Within six weeks of neurosurgery, a good percentage of our faith community was abruptly shattered all over our city.
Our family stayed in the diocese, but did not feel spiritually safe enough to stay in the same church after the split. We relocated in the same missionary diocese to a new Anglican-Catholic Church plant with godly leadership at the priest and bishop level. It was at that time that I shut down spiritually and just tried to make the best of the circumstances after losing our previous Anglican church home. Janie and Dru had already left home for college, but Sam was still with us. Little spiritual healing was occurring, although the priest was very good to us. After a year of serving in this church plant, our family finally surrendered and “went to Rome” through the Anglican Ordinariate. (For information on the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter for North America, see ordinariate.net.) I guess you could say that I finally “reconciled with Peter” and surrendered my own will.
After my first consultation with the Ordinariate Catholic priest, he knew I was ready for confirmation. I had been studying the doctrine of the Catholic Church for five years, because I had been teaching Church history and catechism in the Anglican church.
It’s a little different for Anglicans to be confirmed into the Ordinariate, because they can be received the year around on a case-by-case basis if they take RCIA catechism classes afterwards. Grant and Sam were not ready for confirmation yet, but I was, and my husband and children fully supported and encouraged me get confirmed, so that my soul could heal and be restored. My first confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation involved confessing every remembered sin I had ever committed since the age of reason. Not only did this require an hour-long confession, it required returning every week for three months because I continued to remember more unconfessed sins that I had committed over a 40-year period.
After three months of this, I decided I could never withhold forgiveness from anyone ever again. If the Lord could forgive all of my sins, that were too numerous to count, there is no way I should not forgive others. At that point, I just wanted the Lord to remember me in His kingdom as He did the thief on the cross (see Luke 23:39–43). I was finally able to forgive everything I had experienced among those in other places, because of the cleansing and forgiveness process I had now experienced. The Lord spiritually healed me through the sacraments and the beauty of the Ordinariate, Our Lady of the Atonement, in San Antonio, Texas.