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From Small Beginnings to Great Faith

Jeff Bell
August 17, 2021 No Comments

I was raised in what I often describe as a non-churchgoing Christian home. My mother read to us from the Bible, we lived out our Christian values, but rarely attended church, prayed before meals, or joined any religious organization. I said prayers before bed and was taught to live virtuously, but going to religious services wasn’t central to our family life. I remember sensing God’s presence from time to time, yet I don’t recall any deep sense that He was important beyond someone you reached out to in prayer if a difficult situation arose.

At age 15, I felt a strong calling into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. This happened around the time my great-grandparents passed away. I was impacted by the eulogy at one of the two funerals. That eulogy focused on the miracle of the Resurrection. It was given by a Protestant minister, though I don’t recall what denomination he represented.

These grandparents of mine both had a deep love of God. I recall fondly a picture of the Lord hanging in the hallway leading to their bedroom. I don’t know if they had attended a church regularly, but clearly faith mattered to them. The 23rd Psalm is engraved in a shared stone that marks their final resting place in a cemetery near my home town. Following their passing, I bought a Bible and began to read it, feeling called to ask forgiveness and give my life to Jesus.

I wasn’t sure where to turn for further guidance in my faith journey and recall occasionally watching Protestant preachers on television, who encouraged me to pray the “sinner’s prayer” in order to obtain salvation. I wasn’t baptized, but their words seemed to suggest this wasn’t necessary. “Pray the prayer and you’ll go to heaven” was their message.

Interestingly, I also remember watching a woman I’d later know as EWTN’s Mother Angelica. I knew nothing about the Catholic Faith, and don’t recall spending much time thinking about it. In my mind, it didn’t matter what church you belonged to, or even if you attended church. All that mattered was praying the “sinner’s prayer” and reading Scripture.

Scripture, however, was difficult to understand for a young believer who had no religious foundation in his upbringing. I wasn’t sure how to interpret some of the passages and knew nothing about this history of the Christian Faith. Truly, I was starting from scratch, trying to piece together my faith as I went along.

In the years that followed, the practice of my newfound Christianity was placed on the back burner as my interests changed. I began to spend most of my time going to high school parties, eventually using alcohol and drugs. I still occasionally thought about Jesus and my faith, even attending an occasional Protestant church service with friends, but my world was consumed with being popular, getting “high” and doing things that felt good at the moment. My grades suffered, as did my relationship with my parents. Shortly after high school graduation, I moved out.

I enrolled in college at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas and took a job as a newspaper reporter for a small-town weekly publication. My major was journalism, so this was a great opportunity for a 19-year-old. However, my relationship with drugs and alcohol had become my top priority, and it wasn’t long before both opportunities (school and work) had been squandered. I was living life in the fast lane, and God was far from my mind.

The fast-lane lifestyle continued for several years. I was in and out of school, in and out of my parents’ house and lacked any real direction in my life. My priorities continued to involve the local party scene; I cared for nothing else. I dishonored my parents and my God, living life like a rolling stone.

In 2003, God intervened in the form of a career opportunity. I was hired as an on-air radio personality at a local station and quickly made use of my brief background in journalism to secure a news reporter position. My priorities quickly shifted. I loved radio and couldn’t think about anything else. I sobered up and gave everything I had to my newfound career.

As it turned out, however, God leading me to this opportunity had little to do with radio and more to do with laying what would become the foundation for the next leg of my faith journey. Among my co-workers were men who were deeply religious. Two of these men became great friends, one a Catholic and the other an Evangelical Protestant.

I considered myself an unapologetic liberal Democrat, which led to many debates with my more conservative co-workers. Those debates, while rooted in politics, would ultimately lead me to consider how I viewed the world and whether that view was in line with my Creator. This didn’t happen overnight. I remained firmly committed to my political views. What did change during this time was the position God held in my life. For the first time in several years, I began to think about faith. I asked questions, read Scripture, and pondered the meaning of it all. Little did I know that the seeds planted through those debates, which I believed at the time were all about politics and government, were really about more foundational things.

Eventually, my radio career became a success, and I moved to the Kansas City area, taking a position as a news anchor. Once again, God began to sow the seeds of faith in my life. I occasionally attended Protestant church services with friends or co-workers. The Lord still wasn’t close to the center of my life, but He was certainly back on the radar. Through it all, I still considered myself somewhat of an agnostic, unsure of what, if anything, I believed.

In this environment, I met and fell in love with the woman whom I would marry. She wasn’t a Christian and didn’t even believe in God, so once again I wandered from the path of faith. We both considered ourselves to be very liberal and conducted our lives in that manner. Church simply wasn’t a priority.

Once we had children, I again began to feel the call to faith. The presence of our two boys brought me to realize that there must be a point to our existence. It couldn’t be a random chance or the musings of a distant and uninvolved Creator. The love I felt for my children was too strong to be nothing more than some sort of “biological reaction.”

This was problematic. My wife was not interested in hearing anything about my desire to take another look at Christianity. In fact, as time went on, my faith journey became one of the factors that drove us apart. Nevertheless, the call remained. I felt an overwhelming desire to dig deeper into the topic of God, Jesus, and faith.

The journey that followed took several years and led me to investigate other religions as well as Protestant Christianity. I knew the Catholic Church was there but didn’t give it the attention it deserved. In the back of my mind, I knew I’d eventually have to look closer, but I wasn’t ready.

Eventually I settled on the Episcopal Church. I was drawn to the liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer, and I considered it “Catholic enough, but not too Catholic.” Only later did I realize that I was still holding on to some of the false narratives I’d heard about Catholics, such as “they worship Mary” and “they pray to idols.”

I was baptized Episcopalian in 2010 and regularly attended services, even becoming close friends with the priest. We had lunch together on a regular basis, sharing deep philosophical and theological discussions. I also began to vigorously consume Christian literature. I became a huge fan of C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity truly changed my life and my view of the faith. Still, I wasn’t ready to let go of my liberal worldview. The Episcopal Church remained my home because of their “progressive” views on same sex marriage, abortion, etc.

During this time period, which spanned several years, my marriage began to decline. It was clear that the gap between us, particularly in matters of faith, was growing into a chasm. In an effort to remain connected to my wife, I moved back and forth between belief and agnosticism. I was living a lie. There was no going back; I believed in Christianity with my entire being. Still, I wavered.

Other issues impacted our marriage, issues which need not be explored here. Faith was a serious divide between us, but in the end, there were a number of reasons for the failure of our marriage.

As time went on, it was clear that my journey wasn’t over. I began to read about the Reformation, Henry VIII, and the beginnings of the Episcopal Church. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, the only arguments that made sense to me were Catholic arguments. While there were clear stumbling blocks in regard to Catholic beliefs, I felt that God wasn’t going to leave me where I was.

One moment, in particular, stands out. In the midst of a crumbling marriage and dissatisfaction in my career, I lashed out at God. “If there’s truth that you want me to know, SHOW ME!” I shouted. “I can’t keep going back and forth. You’re either there or you aren’t. If you’re there, take me where you want me to go. I need you to lead me!”If there’s truth that you want me to know, SHOW ME! I shouted. I can’t keep going back and forth. You’re either there or you aren’t. If you’re there, take me where you want me to go. I need you to lead me! Share on X

In essence, I was demanding a divine response to Jesus’ dictum: “Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).

In 2015, after much thought, I decided to look into RCIA. I felt convinced by Catholicism and intended to convert. During the process, however, my marriage entered its final chapter, and I stepped away from the confirmation process, ashamed of being a failure at matrimony.

What followed was a terrible divorce and a very dark period of my life. I descended into alcoholism and made some decisions that left me in darkness. But in the midst of it all, I felt God’s loving Presence. Truly, I was a lost sheep He had set out to find and bring home.

In 2018, I felt the call once again. I had been going to an Evangelical Methodist Church and wasn’t getting what I needed. I knew, once and for all, that I had to become Catholic. The arguments I’d read, especially from the people at Catholic Answers, were just too compelling. I had immersed myself in Catholic literature, and there was no turning back.

I read St. Augustine, excerpts from Pope St. John Paul II, Dr. Scott Hahn, passages from St. Faustina and much more. It was crystal clear. Catholicism wasn’t just one church among many. It was and is THE Church founded by Christ on St. Peter. The Mass, in all its beauty and splendor, made sense for the first time. John’s Gospel references in chapter six to what Jesus affirmed about His Body and Blood weren’t mere parables to be understood symbolically. The spiritual hunger I’d been feeling — but often ignoring for years — had finally found its fulfillment. Everything was falling into place.It was crystal clear. Catholicism wasn’t just one church among many. It was and is THE Church founded by Christ on St. Peter. The Mass, in all its beauty and splendor, made sense for the first time. Share on X

I immediately applied for an annulment of my first marriage and went to RCIA week after week, with each passing month becoming more convinced that I was in the right place.

At the Easter Vigil in 2018, I was confirmed into the Catholic Church and received Holy Communion for the first time. The experience was like a homecoming. I was finally where I belonged.

My journey, however, was not yet complete. While I was in full communion with the Church, I was still waiting for an annulment and had met the person I would eventually marry. During this time, my problem with alcohol reasserted itself. I was going to Mass on Sundays and getting drunk almost every night of the week. Something had to give.

At first, alcohol was winning the battle. I stopped going to Mass and stopped going to confession. The annulment came through, and I married my wife. But we didn’t marry in the Church. The lost sheep who had just been brought home had strayed once again. As I look back, I can’t believe the mess I’d created. I was a new Catholic who’d already derailed. And due to my drinking, my second marriage was on the brink of destruction.

In 2019, I hit bottom. It was time to end the cycle of drinking and depression. It was go with God or go to hell. Truly, that was the decision I faced. I couldn’t be the Catholic I wanted to be and continue to live that self-destructive life.It was time to end the cycle of drinking and depression. It was go with God or go to hell. Truly, that was the decision I faced. Share on X

On a Saturday afternoon, I took the most terrifying journey to confession of my life. I poured my heart out, sharing my sins with shame. I only wanted to come home. My desire to build my life around Christ and faith had never been stronger. Not long afterwards, my wife and I convalidated our marriage in the Church. I put down the bottle for good and now celebrate my sobriety daily. My life on the fence about faith has finally turned into a life grounded in it.

I’m now a lector, a member of the Knights of Columbus, and am a devoted visitor to monthly confession. I attend a weekly men’s Bible study, pray the Rosary often, and continue to immerse myself in Catholic literature.

This past Easter, my wife entered the Church and was confirmed. She was once firmly Evangelical, but a birthday gift, Rome Sweet Home by Dr. Scott Hahn and wife Kimberly, changed everything. It was, without question, the best gift I’ve ever given anyone.

Today, the unimaginable grace of God shines through in our daily lives. We’ve been able to build a strong foundation of faith in our children, and I work hard to make up for lost time. My daily desire is to serve God in every way possible. When I stumble, He lifts me up. When I falter, He gives me strength.

I still recall almost angrily begging God to reveal His truth to me. It didn’t happen overnight, but each step along the way was marked by His love and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He led me from the works of C.S. Lewis all the way to Thomas Merton and St. Faustina. As I look back, the road I traveled was clearly marked, although at the time I might not have recognized all the signposts.

I have a deep and abiding faith in Christ and know without any doubt that I belong to the true Church that He founded almost 2,000 years ago.

I love sharing my conversion story and hope I can bring others the peace that I’ve found, which definitely surpasses all understanding.

Jeff Bell

Jeff Bell is founder and CEO of Bell Public Relations, which provides public relations and marketing support to senior living communities across the United States. Born in Wichita, Kansas in 1981, Jeff is husband to Erin and father to Ethan and Connor, whom he is raising in the Faith in the hope that they will hold to it always. Since coming home to the Catholic Faith in 2018, Jeff has involved himself in the Knights of Columbus, weekly Bible study, and is a Lector at his local parish, St. Joseph Catholic Church in Shawnee, KS. Jeff enjoys reading, especially Catholic authors who defend the faith, such as Trent Horn, Dr. Scott Hahn and Bishop Robert Barron, and watching classic episodes of Mother Angelica Live on EWTN.

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