“To bind up the brokenhearted.” This verse struck me as a child reading my Bible on the school bus. It was among the things Jesus said He was going to do in His inaugural speech in Luke 4. My thoughts were for Jesus to heal my heart of pain and insecurity and spread some healing around as a particular calling. Could He do that? Would He do that?
I was born in 1970 in Portland, Oregon, the youngest of four children. My parents did not raise me as a Christian. My running joke was that they loved to drink and party, while their children rebelled and became Christians. In my first encounter with Christ, at age eleven, I said the Sinner’s Prayer with my cousin on a rainy day in Newport, Oregon. Later, I spent some years in the Foursquare Church, a charismatic denomination that planted in me a sincere love for the Bible.
I struggled with school and social situations. The negative words of family and peers affected me. A conventional diagnosis might be that I had ADHD and anxiety disorder. They told me to “try harder” and “be on the ball.” I was starved for affirmation.
The “Brad” Years
In February of 1989, I received an affirmation through an older man, “Brad.” He was a Christian visual artist and spoke from a blend of Christian streams like Word of Faith and prophetic charismatic perspectives. Focused on discipleship, Brad highlighted some verses I had overlooked.
One focus, from the book of Acts, described the early believers: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Brad’s interpretation emphasized that Constantine came around in the year 325 and brought a “mixture from Babylon.” So, through the “revelation knowledge” that we believed came to people like us, we took it upon ourselves to discern these scriptural elements, outside of organized churches, in our house groups. The irony is that we affirmed the gist of the Nicene Creed of 325. But that irony was lost on us.
Brad was influential in my life when I married, and we brought my wife into the fold. We had two girls, then a boy.
Over the years, our discipleship grew legalistic. We were told that Brad was an apostle. There was increasing pressure to move back to the town where the church was centered and avoid working in specific industries. They pressured me to attend meetings 60 miles away to be a better disciple. These pressures, with many behavioral norms put on us, were huge issues for my wife. She left me for another man.
A few months before she left, they gave me “counsel” not to cut myself off from the fellowship in order to keep my marriage. They told me to put the Bible aside because I was too much into the “religious spirit.” They told me to “stop leaning on others in the Body of Christ.” They told me, “Stop praying for your personal needs.”
I prayed according to their counsel over the next two months, and it felt like my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling. So when my wife was about to leave me, the second-in-command at church told me, “Well, you were warned.” I believed him, thinking I must not have prayed enough. I went two days in a row, “to fight off the demons,” with my intake being three-quarters of a glass of water each of those two days. It was on me to “get the victory.”
The Case for Re-orienting
September 5, 1997 was the day my wife left. (My children were five, three, and less than one year old at the time.) I was so distraught that my employer gave me the day off. I went to The Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, known to the locals as The Grotto. It’s a Catholic monastery in Portland built on a precipitous hillside. I figured those Catholics were at least good for places of silent prayer. At The Grotto, I looked down from a cliff high enough that I briefly considered “the easy way out.” By God’s grace, I kept walking. I looked at the exquisite wood carvings about the temptations of Christ in the wilderness grounds. I perceived weariness on the face of Christ and, in that, a sense of His humanity. I began to get “re-oriented” to basic Christianity. I felt an impression from the Holy Spirit that Christianity and relationships should have a foundation of love, trust, and respect.
I knew that I needed to mend my life by following those principles – with Christ’s help. On my first day back in church with a healthy, well-balanced congregation, the hymn they were singing was “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.” They never sang it again until more than a year later, the Sunday after the court finalized my unwanted divorce. It was a great comfort to me and, no doubt, not a “coincidence.” That season had a recurring theme of the unlimited love of God (agape).
I renewed myself by reading about Christian apologetics and spiritual abuse. For a while, I chose to use a Bible with as little commentary as possible — like avoiding too many chefs in the kitchen.
My Crisis Years
Crisis colored the next several years. I had custody modifications, was injured on the job, and injured again in car accidents. My pastors sided against me after several private meetings with my ex-wife. One used the toxic “house church” period against me, even though it was four years in the past.
Although I was mostly in healthy church settings now, there was a root of bitterness. I nurtured a resentment inside of me that was founded on a false contract. This carried me away from the basics that God had spoken to me that day at The Grotto.
Sometimes there is sinful thinking in the Christian life. There can be presumptions, such as “name it and claim it.” These presumptions, which became my own, tried to hold God obligated to hold up His end of the contract and reward me for my holy choices by blessing me and preventing harm. How could He allow harm to come to me, harm like divorce, depression, spiked-up anxiety, injuries, and vast loneliness?
In hindsight, I can say where that contract existed: only in my head. Nowadays, I could tell my younger self that I had forged the name of Jesus and pretended it was a binding contract. It was like saying to God, “I do for You; You do for me.” There were periods where I thought stupidly, selfishly, and solitarily, acting out my search for romantic affirmation. It always left me empty.
After years of this, I tore up my “contract” and learned the basics all over again. I went to a tremendous Protestant church in Portland called Imago Dei Community (the name means “image of God”). They valued worship and beauty, truth, and authentic community. Those values soaked through my hard heart like rain in the soft Oregon soil. Little did I know that God was planting seeds there for what He was about to do.
During this time, I went to a coffee shop concert to support a musician friend who was sharing sets with a beautiful young woman who sang and played guitar. Her name was Summer, and we had a great chat between sets.
Though God meant her to be my wife, the Lord still had work to do in both of us for more than a year. For me, it included dealing with my codependency issues. Now, later in my life as a therapist, I describe this to my clients as having a fuzzy boundary on where oneself ends and the other person begins. As a single man getting more grounded in faith, healing meant not seeing a wife as another savior.
A year later, the time was right for me and Summer to date, and we decided to attend the same church. She hit it off well with my three children, and we were married on October 14, 2006. She suffered a miscarriage, then we had a son and a daughter. She supported me in building on my few college credits to get a bachelor’s degree in Social Work. We led a home group for our church for several years. I started a modest business supporting the needs of adults with developmental disabilities and was getting more defined in addressing the needs of humanity as a social worker, informed by my Christian faith. Life was good — or was it? Was it enough?
Is This All There Is?
In the last two years of my undergraduate studies, I started asking myself several questions. I wondered what Communion was all about. I figured that, if it was instituted so close to the cross, it should have more meaning than we assigned to it. Also, I questioned whether or not it accomplished something tangible. Finally, I considered that, in Communion, something ought to transcend that meal if it was actually connected to the cross.I considered that, in Communion, something ought to transcend that meal if it was actually connected to the cross. Click To Tweet
I even wondered about things connected to the doctrine of Christ Himself. In particular, I considered how Jesus could be born without sin if He came from a sinful woman. My logic was that, as an inheritor of Original Sin, Mary would necessarily have to be unholy and unfit to contain the Holy One. Without an explanation for that dilemma, it all seemed strange and left me hanging.
Furthermore, having witnessed and experienced so much division in the Body of Christ, I considered how there should be a design for the unity of this Kingdom (John 17:21). I suspected that part of the solution lay in the Ten Commandments.
An Odd Development
In the spring of 2012, as I approached graduation from college, I heard something strange from my eldest daughter, who was 19 at the time. When I asked her if she could watch the younger kids one night, she said she had to do something, but she mumbled the details.
“What?” I asked.
“RCIA,” she responded. “It’s for those who may be interested in becoming Catholic.”
I was okay if that worked for her, but God forbid that I myself go into that area of Christianity! I wanted to be spiritual and relational in my church and not be a part of what I considered “dry” ceremony.
The Lord’s Prayer
Three months later, my family of four moved to Wickenburg, Arizona. We lived on my in-law’s property while I established residency and applied for a Masters in Social Work at Arizona State University. Although we found an excellent non-denominational church, my earlier, gnawing questions caused more discontent. My heart pivoted towards God, opening up my blind spots.
He answered my prayer by priming the pump of my heart with a greater desire to pray the Lord’s Prayer, also known as the Our Father. It rattled in my head and heart morning, noon, and night. I was meditating on it backwards and forwards, settling on the line about the Kingdom. I knew in my spirit that His Kingdom should be something I can enter into in some form on earth. I thought I should have perceived it by now with my various denominations and light theological training. I prayed many times for the Lord to show me this Kingdom.
The New Kid
In the fall of 2012, something was triggered in what I had been praying. One night, I was flipping through the cable channel guide on the TV and saw a program title and show summary for “Genesis to Jesus.” Well, I had always appreciated how the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ.
Feeling like I had heard everything, here was this “new kid” named Dr. Scott Hahn. I had never seen a Bible teacher with such insight on how the Bible fits together. I proceeded to read a few of his books, then another book by Pope Benedict XVI. I watched many vigorous debates on YouTube between Catholic and Protestant apologists.
Pope Benedict wrote about beauty drawing us up to heaven and tied it to knowing Christ in His incarnation, with the Church as His Bride:
[It] is not merely the external beauty of the Redeemer’s appearance that is praised: rather, the beauty of truth appears in Him, the beauty of God Himself, who powerfully draws us and inflicts on us the wound of Love, as it were, a holy Eros that enables us to go forth, with and in the Church, His Bride, to meet the Love who calls us (Pope Benedict XVI, On the Way to Jesus Christ, Ignatius Press, 2002).
Between prayer, the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, YouTube debates, and some exposure to the early Church Fathers, things clicked into place. I will now summarize how they answered my questions.Between prayer, the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, YouTube debates, and some exposure to the early Church Fathers, things clicked into place. Click To Tweet
Connecting the Dots
I could now appreciate Communion, seeing what it was about. Christ instituted the Eucharist under the appearances of bread and wine. He is present in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Yes, Communion accomplished something tangible. It is the objective means through which we, together, can partake of His divine nature. I compare it to when I supported adopting parents: in raising your adopted baby with pheromones, spit-up, tears, and other body fluids, they do indeed become your real children. Let naysayers beware.
Communion in the Eucharist is a result of the cross, with Christ offering the unique atonement. The sacrifice of the Mass is an extension or reverberation of His work on the cross. It does not undermine Calvary at all, but rather is an extension of it.
It was fitting that Jesus was born without sin by a mother who was also without sin. She was “full of grace” in the perfect sense; Greek language scholarship supports this. I learned that she was “full of grace” through the retroactive grace of Jesus on the cross that preserved Mary from sin. God was her savior in a privileged way when the Immaculate Conception occurred.
I stood in awe of the calling of unity founded in the Church. Christ founded a literal, visible Church (Jn 17:3, 21). As for the Ten Commandments, I learned where they have their place in the New Covenant in Christ. They are covered extensively in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
It got even better. I realized those patterns from Acts 2:42 were found by reading the early Church Fathers and connected directly to the modern Mass! The priest carried on Sacred Tradition, passed on since the time of the Apostles through apostolic succession, by laying on of hands. The fellowship of the brethren stems partly from the fact that the Catholic Church is the most diverse form of Christianity on earth. The Breaking of the Bread was the Eucharist, and there was both a liturgical and personal-prayer spirituality in Catholic tradition like none other. My relationship with Jesus was only encouraged.
Things came together in such a way that I knew I needed to be Catholic. I knew I needed to tell my wife, Summer. She laughed with me as I played the Ave Maria scene from Sister Act, but as we laughed, my thought was, “Oh boy, I hope she doesn’t freak out when I tell her the news.”
My Catholic Coming Out
That fateful night, while staying in her parents’ small guest house, I reached out, held her hand, and fessed up: “I believe the Lord may be calling me to the Catholic Church.” She stiffened immediately and replied, “I’m a Protestant. I married a Protestant. If I were to become a Catholic, I would have to give up every gift that God gave me.” Thus began a year of contention, with many tears on both sides.
That weekend, I went to our regular morning church with her and the kids. After that, I went alone to Mass with eyes wide open for an event that would be, for me, both new and timeless. I attended the noon Mass, which was in Spanish, and found myself feeling at home. Being bilingual in Spanish, I recognized some of their songs like “Alabare.” The parish was humble in size, but I had a sense of an angelic presence. Though I returned home joyfully, it was bittersweet because of the tension that awaited me there. It was as if I had gone on a date with someone else.
When I met with the RCIA director, she noticed that my wife and I had both been married before. I explained that, since my wife’s ex-husband was mentally ill from the beginning and then abandoned the marriage and since my ex left me for someone else, I considered us biblically free. She then explained Catholic teaching, and I, then, had to explain annulments and the reasoning behind the Catholic viewpoint to my wife, who was already upset.
In February of 2013, I went to my first Catholic Men’s Conference and found that I had not left behind my evangelical fervor but, rather, discovered it replanted in the soil I was meant for. This conference was full of men on fire for Jesus!I went to my first Catholic Men’s Conference and found that I had not left behind my evangelical fervor but, rather, discovered it replanted in the soil I was meant for. Click To Tweet
Although the tension at home was still present, a few months later, I found joy when I was received into the Catholic Church at the 2013 Easter Vigil. The pastor heard our marriage stories and convalidated us. (I found out much later that this is not in line with the teachings of the Church. I made sure we initiated annulment processes after attending a Canon Law class.) My eldest daughter was received into the Catholic Church the same night back in Oregon.
Other family and friends scratched their heads, not knowing what to make of my odd life change. I emphasized that I was not disrespecting the spiritual investments of Protestant pastors and loved ones. I was appropriating the godly discernment built into me to follow Christ where He led.I emphasized that I was not disrespecting the spiritual investments of Protestant pastors and loved ones. I was appropriating the godly discernment built into me to follow Christ where He led. Click To Tweet
I also did not leave behind the fire of Pentecost. I went from my Holy Spirit encounters to the community context in the Sacrament of Confirmation. I moved from a context where I had subjective encounters with Christ, which were indeed edifying, to the objective context that Christ founded in the Church. I started my blog as I learned more about the fullness of truth.
My wife continued to make snide remarks, but she would also apologize. I had my moments and needed to apologize, too. We would hug and cry and recommit to listening to each other, even when it was hard. We moved to Phoenix, and life got busier as I entered my Master’s program. We found Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish. This was the former parish of Catholic musician Matt Maher, who wrote a contemporary music liturgy. My wife joining the music ministry here made an excellent bridge.
After several months, I saw my wife’s heart finally begin to soften.
She read Rome Sweet Home by Dr. Scott and Kimberly Hahn. She was struck by Kimberly’s perspective, as the daughter of a Protestant pastor, on the Church’s view regarding life issues. I had my three children from before, and together, Summer and I had one of each. But why stop there? So along came another one! Our boy was born during my Master’s program.
Summer decided to enter RCIA. She resonated with exploring what the Catholic Church was doing, even if she might never join. The director, Todd Covarrubias, was a godly, lifelong Catholic. He also had an evangelical fire, making him joyful and bold. He called people to be disciples of Jesus Christ and Catholics. Imagine — both/and, not either/or! His passionate manner challenged her assumptions.
Later on in the 2013–2014 RCIA year, I mentioned that she had not made any sarcastic comments about the Catholic Church in two weeks. She said it didn’t feel quite right to her any more.
I joked that it could be because I had been asking for Mary’s intercession for two weeks — which was true. She gave me a look and a laugh like, “All right, smart guy!”
Soon, she shared with me that she had decided to enter the Catholic Church. At Easter Vigil, the night she was received, they played “The Easter Song,” a Keith Green composition dear to me. God was making things fall into place. For the next three years, we were involved in a Catholic charismatic covenant community.
There was growth, adaptation, and suffering, too. I have had many theological questions answered, and knowing Christ from the heart in the trials we encountered has been precious to me.
However, the paradox of suffering and blessing is a reality. In my Christian life, I have meditated on St. Peter preaching about times of refreshing on the day of Pentecost. While I still believe the Holy Spirit can be active in that way, there are also those times in between. In those times, we can learn that grace is still active in our faith. This is the tension of the paradox.
My understanding of blessing and suffering became clearer in the traumas that followed. After our daughter was born (our baby number four), Summer suffered a miscarriage at seven weeks. Then another at ten weeks. We determined yet another pregnancy to be “home free,” only to find out that our son had passed at 18 weeks. This called for a stillbirth protocol. These three losses in a row occurred within a period of only 18 months. I cried out, “Abba, Father,” and He was there. So was the Church. Deacons supported us in burying our children at a Catholic cemetery. One of the deacons brought personal experience of his own on this as he listened and consoled.
My faith was still standing. I had torn up my contract a long time ago because, as was reinforced by Catholic teaching, we are called to a covenant of unconditional love. Having a conditional expectation of God leads to despair and darkness. To know Christ in covenant love — an interpersonal exchange without conditions or expiration dates — is an end in itself. Encountering Christ is what matters, not assumptions of what we are supposedly entitled to.
We are all called to be wounded healers. God works in me through my private, informal prayer and in His Sacraments. God inspires me in my work as a licensed therapist. Though I work in a secular setting and cannot explicitly evangelize there, I am inspired to draw out, by asking the right questions, a hunger for the beautiful, the true, and the good.
By God’s grace, I have become more clearly faith-based through helping in RCIA after moving to Minnesota in 2019–2020. I have also contributed to parish spiritual formation through the pandemic period. Through the working of the Holy Spirit and my training at the Kino Catechetical Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, I am able to pass on the Faith to those inquiring into God’s ways.
By God’s grace, more conversions in my family have happened. A few years after I became Catholic, we visited my older brother and his wife. We planted seeds on the usual suspects: the Pope, Mary, the Eucharist, then Mary again. Over time, my brother corresponded frequently with Ken Hensley from the Coming Home Network (thanks, Ken!). He and his wife are now in full communion with the Catholic Church.
I have found the covenantal love of God beautifully expressed in the Church. I have hope for this life and the life to come, and I want to share that hope. If I pause to look, I see that “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).