“I was ransomed from the futile ways…” (1 Peter 1:18).
My DNA flows from the ancient Jewish diaspora, up through North Africa and into Portugal. My father was baptized as a Methodist when he was three years old; my mother, though baptized as a Catholic, left the Catholic Church when she was young. My great-uncle, a Presbyterian minister, studied at Princeton. I was baptized in his church in Lisbon, Portugal.
Big Thoughts for a Little Girl
Even as a young child, I had a philosophical mind, and I remember having a quiet assurance that God would protect my family. I recall asking my mother about something that was baffling to me: “When did time begin?” My mom gave me a satisfying answer: “Some things are too big to understand. God knows.” I remember praying a lot for my family. I also prayed to be good, because I couldn’t seem to be good when I wanted to.
We were silent when our Dad prayed before meals. Sometimes Dad would hum a hymn throughout the day. On Saturday evenings, we lined up our shiny shoes; Sundays were the important day. We were expected to give back to God for all He had given us and to be kind to people.
I knew I wasn’t the only one who had difficulty being good. I had seen enough playground bullying. But I don’t remember hearing about hell or the devil, so I didn’t blame God (or lack of God) for that. There was a Bible in my parents’ room and a large picture of Mary and the Infant Jesus. I sometimes read the Psalms from a little book I got for perfect church attendance. I also liked a beautifully illustrated book of The Lord’s Prayer, a gift from a family friend.
A Catholic friend once asked me why I wasn’t Catholic. I replied that my family wasn’t; I didn’t know any other reason. About Catholic worship, I had only heard that a bell rang and a light was on when Jesus was supposedly there. The Pope, Catholic history, and tradition were suspect in my childhood home.
When I was sixteen, our family returned to Portugal from Canada, where we had been living. Some time later, back in Canada, I awoke from a dream, greatly disturbed. I had seen my grandmother’s face, and she had been calling me urgently. I felt that I needed to pray for my grandmother’s soul right away. The dream left me with concern for my grandmother and an impending death.
I had a strong sense that prayer crossed oceans and bridged this life to the next. My grandmother died shortly after I had that dream. Recently, I learned that, during her life, my grandmother had prayed the Rosary. She was poor in material things, unable to read and write, but she was spiritually rich with those Gospel beads in her hands.
Back then, and for most of my life, I was a slave to the senses. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents or teachers, but by university, I saw that many people didn’t care about spiritual things. I did not have a theology to counter the popular notion of “if it feels good, do it.” The Bible and Jesus were high on one shelf; pleasure was on another shelf, but within easy reach. Sometimes, however, I would receive a check in my spirit. By the grace of God, my baptized identity gave me roots and held up the shabby, shaky sapling that I was.
Grasping at Good Things
Then, in 1978, Billy Graham came to town. Toronto’s hockey arena was packed right out to the street. I wept over my inability to live as I knew I should. I was in an immature relationship for the wrong reasons. I prayed The Sinner’s Prayer many times. I had no language to deal with my interior conflict, but The Sinner’s Prayer and a fledgling conscience were stepping stones in the right direction.
One day, I turned on a Canadian Christian radio program called 100 Huntley Street. I was struck to my heart. I knew instantly and without a doubt that the Bible really was true, and that Jesus is real. The guests had incredible testimonies. All that I had heard growing up in Presbyterian sermons was not just wishful thinking or theories.
I called it my born-again experience. I now know that it was the beginning of many experiences on my lifelong journey. I was struck by the truth. Faith became mine; I was on fire. I devoured the Scripture as the Word of God. That Christmas, I mailed out forty copies of Beyond Death’s Door by Dr. Maurice S. Rawlings. Dr. Rawlings had been a guest on 100 Huntley St. I would usually send a Christmas card to friends, classmates, church members, and family. But this time, I also mailed out the books.
I studied television production, and the year after mailing those books, I graduated with a degree from Radio and Television Arts in Toronto and went to work for 100 Huntley St. I was there for twenty years, encountering a diversity of believers under the Pentecostal umbrella. While there, I even met Catholic priests and nuns for the first time. I also was caught up in End Times enthusiasm and eschatological theories.
For many years, I kept up appearances, but my marriage and growing family were falling apart. It was like pressing the gas pedal, moving forward a short distance, then stalling over and over. My night-time tears and prayers were practiced more out of self-pity, although I really needed what was wrong to be made right.
I clung to Jesus. I imagined Jesus beside me as I walked aimlessly along a shoreline or city streets in snow and rain. Within me, my spirit groaned for peace. Psalm 91 helped me many times, as did Hebrews 13:5. I consoled myself with the knowledge that Jesus had promised that he would “never leave me nor forsake me.”
My three children were dedicated in Pentecostal churches, although my mother asked after each birth about choosing baptism for them. By God’s grace, I would later have all three children baptized by their paternal grandfather, a Presbyterian minister, a year before he passed away.
Voices Pleading: Remember
I will never forget how real Jesus was when I was at my lowest. I was alone with my newborn one night. I recognized instantly that evil had come into the room. There was a tangible dark presence pressing towards me. It was a heaviness that I can only explain as being against God and family. It was terrifying, but I whispered the Name above all names: “Jesus.” Immediately, the darkness left.
The next year, friends took me to the “Toronto Airport Vineyard,” also known as the “Toronto Blessing” or “Catch the Fire.” The Association of Vineyard Churches had begun in California and was popular with celebrities. It made headlines. Pastors and sceptics came from around the world. Worship services would last hours into the night on a Friday evening. The manifestations and enthusiasm would continue into the local donut shops. The Holy Spirit flowed powerfully.
But after a year of joy-filled worship in this community, I wondered why I was still there. What was I hoping for? I prayed in tongues, but I had little control over my own tongue. I was “slain in the spirit,” but I could not walk in the spirit of holiness.I prayed in tongues, but I had little control over my own tongue. I was slain in the spirit, but I could not walk in the spirit of holiness. Click To Tweet
I rushed in and out of another marriage. I passed many years of pushing my anger into dark corners inside me, repeating a pattern. My children suffered. I did get secular and Christian help, but resisted divine grace, even as I relied on divine mercy. I wanted everyone else to change, but not me. I wasn’t listening to God’s Word, even though I read it. I was selfishly doing what I felt like, even if it bordered on the immoral. I chose a more liberal church, one which “looked the other way.”
Then I met an American scientist, a person who intrigued me. He had left the Catholic Church in his youth. I would travel with him to many countries for meetings and vacations. For six years, I stopped attending church. Yet I would look for beauty during our travels, especially in cathedrals. Sometimes the scientist would join me and light a candle. It seemed superstitious. I asked him once about a box high up in the sanctuary. He told me it was the Tabernacle. Oh! I remembered that from the Old Testament.On road trips, I would notice small shrines and memorials. I missed belonging to a church. I missed the sacred. I longed for liturgy Click To Tweet
Remember… God was always saying, “Remember.…” On road trips, I would notice small shrines and memorials. I missed belonging to a church. I missed the sacred. I longed for liturgy — I didn’t know what that was, but I knew where I had not found it. I also remembered that my parents’ church was a community, and I had neither church nor community. What if I were to die on one of these trips? I needed a church. Being unmarried nagged at me, as well, so in our seventh year together, we married on a beach. I sadly joked that I couldn’t face God again to make vows.
A few years later, an unexpected desire entered my heart. A joyful Catholic co-worker whom I rarely saw mentioned the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. She used his work to open my imagination. I didn’t know anything about Aristotle, so I just smiled and forgot about him. Within a year, however, I would long for whatever that Catholic lady knew.
I was a big C.S. Lewis fan. While searching for a course, I found a graduate program in Christian and Classical Studies at Knox Theological Seminary in Florida. I could do it all online. I loved it! My studies started in 2014 with the ancient Greek philosophers. Aristotle helped me choose contemplation over appetite. I immediately canceled cable TV — I no longer had time for it. God was gently stripping away layers of what was holding me back.
We crossed into the Early Church, the Councils and Creeds, the compilation of the Bible, Catholic theologians, authors, and history. I read letters from early martyrs like Ignatius of Antioch. I didn’t know such saints existed.
The Classical is always current. “Plato’s Cave” (Republic, 375 BC) gives access to the light, but most prefer fabricated shadows, false images, fake realities. It’s easier to believe the lie as a group, more difficult to stand alone for truth. It is in the narrow way where we find the light.It’s easier to believe the lie as a group, more difficult to stand alone for truth. It is in the narrow way where we find the light. Click To Tweet
God had given the ancient Greeks profound reasoning abilities to observe human nature and life. The Romans had built secure roads. Everyone was being prepared for the Gospel when it came. God worked through the philosophers, even those who later opposed Him: Machiavelli, Nietzsche — so much emptiness in contrast.
They’re all still around under different names, aren’t they? Some are against the body. Others are against the spirit. Many are against God. We tackled tough problems like suffering and war. I became attracted to the Man on the Cross and wrote about him, finding more than I expected. I had no idea until I graduated that my facilitating professor was quietly Catholic. It was one day when I heard a familiar voice on EWTN’s The Journey Home television program and turned to see him there.
I was becoming aware that Jesus delights in our discovery of each gem he provides. One of those gems was a trip to the Holy Land. I saw things in Israel that were not what I had heard about the area in the media and elsewhere. I was in tears there, many times. Pilgrims, Jews, and soldiers talked openly about God. At the holy sites, I witnessed the demonstrative love of Catholic and Orthodox Christians. They weren’t trying to get attention. They were absorbed, rather, in giving attention.
I returned home, wiser about media messages and hungry for a sacred space. I turned a spare room into a prayer room. In God’s perfect timing, a prayer app, “Sacred Space,” showed up, developed originally by Irish Jesuits. Then the poetic Odes of Solomon surprised me: Christian hymns from the first century.
At that time, I was active in a Presbyterian Church USA. One day I felt my heart sink. It was clear that the denomination was following the surrounding secular culture. Seeing this, I heard very clearly in my spirit: “Run!” The sermons that I had once admired were now, to me, just opinions. I had to follow the true Christ, not go against Him.
Grace, Truth, Mercy, and The Divine Dance
I ended up at a silent retreat in a former Benedictine monastery in the Adirondacks. We were a community of diverse seekers. I heard beautiful prayers from a book called the Breviary. I recognized the Psalms. I also heard a strange thing when we were leaving that weekend. A lady said that her husband thought she was too religious, but she wanted to go to heaven. Wasn’t she sure of her destiny? I thought I was.
I started to notice that some of my favorite Evangelical radio hosts were not always positive when they talked about Catholicism. What was that about? Then, while I was shuffling along with the required Reformed studies, I stumbled upon a Messianic Synagogue. For a year, I returned to the beginning, the Hebrew Scriptures. I met others thirsting for their spiritual roots. I discovered a Hebrew Litany of God’s names.
Years before, I had studied Martin Luther, so for Halloween at school, I dressed up as Luther and gave out 95 treats in imitation of his famous 95 Theses. (Reformation Day falls on the same day as Halloween.) I thought I was clever. On my back, I wore a sign that read, Nailed it.
But I was the one who was about to be “nailed.” I noticed the inconsistencies in character of some of the Reformers. Luther ran and hid. I wondered about that and his anti-Jewish comments. Huss, Calvin, Knox — how could I know that they were doing God’s will? As I reflected, one word rushed past me like an undertow. It was “rebellion.” In an instant, I felt pulled back in time to the first rebellion of one third of God’s angels, then the rebellion of the first man and woman, then down through the centuries to my own rebellious heart.
I wanted to love God like Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote On Loving God. I wanted to understand like Thomas Aquinas. I wanted the humility and freedom of Augustine. I questioned my past church experience:
- How did my denomination begin?
- Why are there celebrity pastors?
- Is any church open all day for prayer?
- Why is the cross empty when the victory is Christ crucified?
- Why are there conflicting voices when Jesus prayed for unity?
- Who has the authority to interpret the Bible?
- Does any church still believe in absolute, unchanging truth?
I was discovering that my Protestant glass was half empty. I wanted overflowing truth!I was discovering that my Protestant glass was half empty. I wanted overflowing truth! Click To Tweet
God’s timing is perfect. I overheard the words “Adoration Chapel” from that same Catholic colleague. When I made my way to the chapel, I noticed a word painted in dark red on the top step: Mercy.
I felt like the disciples, simultaneously joyful and scared. I opened the doors to the small chapel… no one was there. I sat down in front of a wooden box with closed doors. I didn’t know that this was the Tabernacle and Jesus was very close. I saw an icon of Mary and a crucifix. I sat for a while in a restless silence, anticipating something — but what? A collection of mysterious leather-bound books caught my eye. In my spirit, maybe like Augustine, I heard: “Take up and read” (Confessions of Saint Augustine, XII). I had a feeling that, if I opened these books, everything would change.
I opened the first book and flipped through the pages. My jaw dropped. It was Scripture! Somewhere in the back of my misinformed mind was the error that Catholic Churches did not use Bibles. This was the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office. I was astounded. My protective walls started crumbling. I rushed home and ordered a copy for myself. Here was the pearl of great price, the lost coin. Here was Jesus every day in the Liturgy. It was impossibly unified across salvation history. Here was a collective wisdom to guide words from Scripture with martyrs’ and saints’ sermons and prayers. Nothing I had ever heard or seen could compare with that. In that Catholic chapel, I had expected to find hints of idolatry. Instead, I found Truth’s treasures. I thought, Here is something bigger than anything I have known, and it’s worth dying for. I sensed the delight of the Lord, and I was bubbling with joy.
One Sunday, as I was driving to a rural church near our cabin, I was upset to hear mockery of authority on public radio. I switched to another station and discovered the Station of the Cross, an affiliate of EWTN. In that same moment, a butterfly flew across the car window. It was a gift of beauty. My Teacher was Jesus Christ every step of the way. His love was gently shaping me to follow him — whatever I might discover, whatever I might lose.
I listened to priests on Catholic radio. I found a Catholic spiritual director, who guided me through a St. Ignatius 32-week retreat. She encouraged me to get to know Jesus in his humanity. I had thought of him only in his divinity. By considering his humanity, I could get a grasp on his ability to resist temptation and face the terrible suffering of the cross.
I had written poetry and kept journals for years. But now, my imagination came alive and was fruitful as I walked with Jesus through the Gospels. As the year progressed, I was more aware of the disciples, the women, and finally, the most hidden and humble of all, Mother Mary.
My discoveries poured out like water into reflections and poems: Two Years with Mercy.
Christ’s living water overflowed. I had a sudden desire to be in Catholic churches whenever I saw them. It didn’t matter if the Mass was in Polish; I wanted to be there. What a surprise for someone who had been superficial in prayer to now desire prayer! What a surprise to desire the Lord’s house and his spiritual riches more than a vacation away! I wanted to pray for souls, all souls! The cross was not empty. The church was more than a building. The light was on! I felt honored to be there, often with other silent adorers.What a surprise for someone who had been superficial in prayer to now desire prayer! What a surprise to desire the Lord’s house and his spiritual riches more than a vacation away! I wanted to pray for souls Click To Tweet
I was still at seminary, but I was also getting another, older education with the fullest of answers. At one convent retreat, I left with a Scriptural Rosary book and my first beads, handmade by the nuns. I started to pray in a fresh way. At first, I skipped the Hail Marys, but God would use Scott Hahn’s books and the Catholic Answers website to confirm what the Spirit and Scripture were telling me: Mary was created for salvation history. I was excited about the Saints and could see that the priestly vocation was vital for the world. The authority given to Peter became clear to me as I kept digging. Discovering Mary was a major step, a big leap of faith. I was rewarded for jumping. Joseph, too — humbly, of course — presented himself and his gifts last. I wanted the whole family. The Holy Family and all my adopted brothers and sisters.
It had taken decades. Jesus had waited for my “Yes.” He had been preparing me for that “Yes” through Adoration. That little circle of life became my heart’s desire. I trusted that even if I could never take Jesus on my lips, I could adore Him forever. My previous cubes of bread were just symbols. Jesus’ living words are so clear in John 6 that I could not ignore his Real Presence in the Eucharist. I desired to obey, to pray for priests, and to defend the Church, the Blessed Virgin, and the Saints, those chaste servants who gave up worldly riches for love of Christ.
Each day I had a new question, and the answer would appear, sometimes before I had finished formulating the question. I came to expect God’s happy surprises — divine serendipity. St. Louis de Montfort’s book, Total Consecration to Jesus Christ Through Mary, became my annual thirty-three day at-home retreat.
Mary was quickly leading me closer to her Son.
Twelve years earlier, we had driven right past Fatima, Portugal. Now I stopped at another Fatima Shrine, this one in Lewiston, New York. I relied on the faith of the littlest shepherd, Jacinta, as I approached the thirteen-foot statue of Mary there. It was an inner struggle, at first, to accept that, yes, Jesus loves his Mother and wants me to honor her as my Mother, too. I followed her eyes’ gaze as it looked down upon her Son lying on a giant crucifix. I walked slowly, honoring our Lord among the many life-size Saints, at first only reading their names. Soon, I was weeping, thankful for these holy brothers and sisters who are very much alive and praying for me.It was an inner struggle, at first, to accept that, yes, Jesus loves his Mother and wants me to honor her as my Mother, too. Click To Tweet
I discovered sacred art, the scriptural wisdom of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Catholic medical ethics, and all the faith that stands the test of time. Against a culture of death, our Lady of Fatima’s warnings became my prayers. The Divine Mercy and Holy Face Chaplets were already in my toolbox before the happiest and weepiest day of my life: July 1st, 2018. Our marriage was convalidated (“blessed”), and I became Catholic. At the end of my Emmaus Road, I encountered Christ anew in the Breaking of Bread.
The Sacraments are my lifeline. Symbols could not change me, but the graces from the real Sacraments do it. My mind is being transformed.The Sacraments are my lifeline. Symbols could not change me, but the graces from the real Sacraments do it. Click To Tweet
When one of my adult children almost died, I leaned on Jesus, and I clung to his Mother with the Rosary, my battle stones. I relied on the whole heavenly army to continue that long night while I slept peacefully. This was the family whom Jesus had waiting for me. St. Joseph worked silently, but I’m sure he was there. My daughter was released from St Joseph’s Hospital on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph. She entered the Catholic Church eighteen months later.
As I look back, my Protestant experience was like the journey to Palm Sunday. I waved the branches, sang, and worshiped. I studied and celebrated with a community, but I could not let go of my stained clothing. I had to follow Christ’s Passion through Holy Week. Jesus gave me fresh clothes. He expects them back spotless one day, and I need his graces along the way.It is a daily altar call in which I walk down an aisle that leads me to Christ and makes sense of Good Friday... . Click To Tweet
It is a daily altar call in which I walk down an aisle that leads me to Christ and makes sense of Good Friday and suffering. It is confession with accountability. When the Lord says: “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16b), I can now answer: “Yes, Lord, I can be holy. You are making it possible.” I have entered the dance with God, and He leads.