Bags of Candy!
Bags of candy! This is what I remember most about my upbringing as a Lutheran (Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America – Missouri Synod). At the end of the Christmas concert, after we kids had performed our songs and recited our lines for the Christmas pageant, we children received bags containing peanuts, hard Christmas candies, and oranges wrapped in green tissue paper. When I got my Christmas goody bag, I was happy and “in heaven.”
It Was Nuts, and Eggs
But it was nuts and eggs that brought me close to heaven (in a different sense) a number of times; as I was a severe asthmatic having many, many allergies — nuts and eggs being high on that list, along with grain dust and animal hair. Because of an asthma attack I would often be taken, for medication to relieve the symptoms of the disease and restore my breathing, to the doctor’s office or the hospital run by the Sisters of Charity, in Trochu, Alberta (Canada). The hospital was seven long miles from our farm out in the country. Back home, I would kneel by my bed time and pray once again to God to take away my asthma and allergies.
Unfriendly, Cold World
This may sound funny, but I remember being born (1955) — coming from a warm and safe haven into the extremely bright lights and unfriendly, cold world. I was upset by this intrusion; I was born angry. But I was welcomed by a loving family, baptized and later confirmed into the Lutheran faith. My parents, Albert and Frieda, participated in the life of St. John’s Lutheran Church and encouraged us kids to do the same. As I grew up, I had the opportunity to read and study the Bible, pray with various devotionals, and attended Sunday school and vacation Bible school during the summer. Being the only son, over time I became very self-centered and introverted. I had three sisters, whom I teased and irritated, but for the most part loved. And I remember my grandparents on both sides of the family fondly. Grandpa August thought it would be a good thing to give me a little brandy when I was wheezing to help ease the stress of my asthma; but soon, alcohol would be my crutch for dealing with anger and depression. And God, well, He became more distant to me as I grew older and chased after pleasure and self-indulgence.
Lost in Worldly Diversions
In my second year of university (1975, University of Alberta, Edmonton), my girlfriend Gwen (who is a cradle-Catholic and would later become my wife — now of 43 years) and I became pregnant. We were married in St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, mostly due to the arranging of Gwen’s parents, Norman and Mildred, especially by her father. Unfortunately, life at this time consisted of financial struggles — and my infidelity. I continued to anesthetize my anger, depression, and chaotic lifestyle with alcohol. There was more stress, at that time, from unemployment, and raising four children. Gwen attended Mass with the kids, but I was still living a singles’ married lifestyle, caught up in my own sin and worldly diversions. My prayer life was negligible. I felt I was in control. After all, I was doing what I wanted, when I wanted to do it. In hindsight I was so wrong, I was so lost.
A Healing Miracle
Prior to joining the Catholic Church, I experienced a miracle in my life — the healing of my asthma! Early in our marriage, Gwen attended church with the kids and was involved in “churchy things” with her Catholic and Protestant acquaintances. Gwen invited me to attend a healing service at the church of one of her Protestant friends. Now concerned more about harmony in our marriage, I agreed to attend; willing, yet all the while not at all comfortable with things of religion. We attended the healing mission two nights.
It was on the second night that I went forward for prayer, was slain in the Spirit (though I did not know what was happening at that time), and after getting up off the carpet, I felt a greater peace and serenity than I had felt for a long, long time. To verify this healing, I decided to test the results, and what God hopefully had done. For the first time in my life, I cooked a 3-egg omelet. Then I ate it to see if I would have an allergic reaction. (Remember, I could have a violent reaction to eggs.) Praise God, I had no allergic reaction! From that moment, I was completely healed of my allergies. Now I can eat eggs — over easy, sunny side up, deviled, scrambled, and even egg salad. All kinds of nuts, as well. God is good! I was very grateful, but alcohol and anger continued to be part of my life. I also battled with loneliness and depression. To me, God was “out there,” and not in my heart. I felt I had to fight the battle of this life on my own.
One Thing Needed Doing
Life is filled with consolations and desolations, hills and valleys. Many times, my alcoholism brought me to my knees, but so did life’s circumstances. After teaching for a number of years, I returned to university to complete a second degree. Upon convocation (1982), I applied to 64 teaching positions, and only God knows why I did not gain work at that time. Being unemployed, Gwen and I and our children moved into the basement of her parents’ farm house, where I worked as a hired hand. I was demoralized, depressed, humiliated, and wondering why all that I had been trying to achieve was going so badly. Well, there was one thing that needed doing yet.
One weekday, after running the tractor and cultivating a field on my father-in-law’s farm, I was appreciating nature, the colors of the early evening sunset, the clouds, the breeze, the fresh smell of the overturned soil, even the fumes given off by the equipment — which only a farm kid can appreciate. As I walked past the cultivator toward the pickup truck, I felt a need to kneel, pray, and give thanks to God. The Holy Spirit inspired me to pray a prayer of thanksgiving, which moved me to tears, and then to surrender. Right then and there, I gave it all to God, my sins, my unemployment, my wife, my children, my cares and worries. There, kneeling in the stubble and dirt, the dirt from which I was created, I surrendered to God; I let go and let God, I surrendered all to Jesus.
In the Struggles of Life
But God was not done with me yet. In a recent Angelus address, Pope Francis spoke of God’s infinite love for sinners: “He wants to tell you that you are precious in His eyes, that you are unique .… God always waits for us, He doesn’t tire.” Yes, God never tires in offering His love and mercy. In grade school, I took piano lessons from Sister Mary Francis (Sisters of Charity) in the convent attached to the hospital in Trochu. I remember seeing and hearing Catholic things during my summer asthma convalescences, and while at piano lessons. The Holy Spirit was gently drawing my heart back to Jesus.
In an effort to be further reconciled with Gwen and restore our marriage, we attended a Marriage Encounter weekend retreat, where I finally decided to be part of the marriage, as a husband and a responsible and loving father to our children. I had much to make amends for; I was being given another chance.
The second retreat that I attended with Gwen (1984) was called Live In and Get to Know Jesus. This also was a Catholic-based retreat, where I experienced the love and mercy, charity and forgiveness of Jesus. I would have much rather have spent the weekend drinking and listening to rock music than take in another retreat. I struggled with being in crowds and making small talk. I wrestled with doing what I wanted to do and what others would rather have me doing. To top it off, Gwen and I travelled five hours by car to the city the Live In was being held with her “churchy friends,” and I did not appreciate or readily welcome all their enthusiasm and the gusto they had for their mutual friend, Jesus Christ. When we arrived at the school where the retreat was being held, Gwen and I seated ourselves on a bench by a wall. Two men, coming from opposite sides of the gymnasium, came together in an embrace in front of me, calling each other “brother,” and I was ready to leave. This was too intimate and intimidating for me.
But God always has another plan, a better plan, the best plan. And since home was five hours away, I stayed at the Live In, got to know the mercy and love of Jesus Christ, and committed my life to Jesus as my Lord and Savior on my knees at the altar call. A particular Scripture from the New Testament really touched my heart, soul, and spirit. It is found in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, beginning with verse 46, and relates the story and healing of a man named Bartimaeus. In the story, at the point when he is healed and throws off his cloak, I also was eager to spring up and come to Jesus. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” my heart and soul cried out. I, too, desired to follow Jesus on the way.
“A Capable Wife Who Can Find?” (Proverbs 31:10)
Gwen had been praying Psalm 1:1-3 for me for seven years to this point in time; inserting my name, “Ed,” for the “those” and “their” in the verses — “Happy is Ed who does not follow the advice of the wicked …. Ed’s delight is the law of the Lord …. Ed is like a tree planted by streams of water …. Ed’s leaves do not wither …. In all that Ed does, Ed prospers.” God is good. As a couple, Gwen and I were asked to read the Responsorial Psalm at the closing Mass of the Live In, and yes, you guessed it, it was Psalm One. What a confirmation of God’s loving care and attention. What a blessing my wife is!
When our fifth child was born (1984), I joined the Catholic Church. I became a Catholic because I was then committed to bringing unity into Gwen’s and my marriage, and our family; and because I wanted to be closer to Jesus in the Eucharist, the “source and summit” of the Catholic faith. I was still seeking God in the struggles of life as best I could; but on my own, without His help and believing I could still do it with my own power, will and determination.
Healing My Heart
The good Lord continued to heal my heart. In the Lutheran Church’s Order of the Holy Communion, during the distribution of the bread and cup, the minister would say: “Take, eat; this is the true body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ …. Take, drink, this is the true blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Thus, it was not a far move from the communion I experienced as a Lutheran once a month, to understand that what the Catholic Church offered in the Eucharist. The Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ was what I truly desired. And I could receive Jesus daily! During my formation in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program (1983-84), I became more aware of the history of the Catholic Church. I was drawn to the “roots” of faith as established by Jesus Christ Himself. I no longer desired to be part of a dissident group formed by rejecting the authority of the Church of Peter. I consciously and freely sought the living God, being willing to enter the way of faith and conversion as the Holy Spirit opened and healed my heart.
Living With Sobriety
In my journey to the Catholic Church, God would take me up one hill, only to show me that there was another one in the distance that He would gladly accompany me to. I needed help to deal with my infatuation with alcohol and the disease it brings. Combined with my drinking, my anger boiled over one fall weekend. When I sobered up from this drinking binge, I made a resolution to stop drinking. For seven years I did not drink; but I also did nothing to deal with my disease — alcoholism. As a member of the Catholic Church, I was doing a lot of good things: Christopher Leadership courses, Live-In retreats, Life in the Spirit Seminars, music ministry, and adult serving; but not serving with charity of heart the Jesus whom I acknowledged as my Lord and Savior.
As a child of God, I was still resisting God’s call to my heart. I was experiencing what Alcoholics Anonymous calls a “dry drunk,” and not living with sobriety. I still harbored anger and resentment, I was still self-centered and blamed others for my personality faults. I got so smug, in fact, that after seven years of “sobriety,” I thought I could handle drinking once again. So, I did! I had taken my first step on the “slippery slope.”
Three months after having my “first drink,” I found myself in the local police drunk tank with a number of charges over my head. I needed help, and once again, I knelt and prayed to God to take away my alcoholism. With encouragement from friends in the AA program, I joined Alcoholics Anonymous. I admitted I was powerless, that my life was unmanageable, and I received the tools to live a life of sobriety. At this time in my life, I sought that Power greater than myself that would restore me to sanity. I made a free decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as a member of AA. I thank God every day for His love and mercy, and especially every 12th of May, when I celebrate my AA Birthday, which has been taking place for over 22 years.
Up One Hill, Continuing to Another
There was yet another hill that God would accompany me on my pilgrim journey — the mountain of the Permanent Diaconate! What was really the “mountain” was the application process; piles of paperwork, reams of forms to be filled out, interviews and appointments to meet with this person, this doctor, this clergyman. I went through this eight-month regime because, for two years prior, Gwen and I felt I was being called to serve the Catholic Church as a permanent deacon. The Lord seemed to be putting people and opportunity in our path to light the way. At retreats, I would meet priests who lauded the service of their deacons. I would attend a workshop and be placed in the table group with a permanent deacon who would share his story and journey with me. A pilgrimage to Israel, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, helped me to ponder and reflect deeply in my heart the vocation that God was leading me to. Gwen, my parish priest, and my fellow parishioners encouraged me to this end.
On our most recent return from the Holy Land, Gwen and I discussed the possibility of my serving as a permanent deacon. We both agreed that we would not know God’s will unless I applied … so I did, and I was accepted. After four years of study and formation, climbing up one hill and continuing to another, I was ordained a permanent deacon (2018) in the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, Alberta (Canada).
I am currently serving in various ministries: retreats, prison ministry, seniors, youth, RCIA, vacation Bible school, adult Bible study, and Song-and-Scripture. Each day holds a promise of increased faith, continued hope, and an opportunity for service in charity. The journey will never be over in this life; there are still a few more hills to climb, I suspect. In my heart of hearts, I know that, with God, all things are possible!
Attractions I Could Not Resist
There are a number of aspects of the Catholic faith that attracted me and ultimately drew me to the Church. The first aspect was my wife’s witness of the Catholic faith and her devotion to Mary and praying the Rosary. Initially, I was not that interested in the repetitive nature of the prayer. But when I realized the focus was on the intercession of Mother Mary to Jesus on our behalf through the various mysteries, I was attracted and drawn to the Virgin Mary’s protection, help, and intercession. Since this time, Gwen and I have co-edited a booklet entitled The Rosary — With Scripture and Reflections. Gwen was responsible for the Scripture selections and writing the reflections; I was responsible to supply colored illustrations for each decade of the four series of mysteries.
Secondly, what attracted me to the Catholic Church was the music itself. After piano, I took up guitar, and seeing the music ministry playing the guitar and singing lively hymns of praise and thanksgiving in the Catholic Church was something I could identify with. I wanted to be part of the music ministry, and was eager to be tutored and to participate in melody and song and worship.
A third attraction for me was the Catholic Church’s history and future. This came to light with greater illumination as I continued on in the study and formation program for the diaconate. Founded by Jesus, the Catholic Church has been given to Peter and successive Popes to continue building on the four pillars of faith: the Creed, the sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. We Catholics are encouraged to read and study the Holy Bible, given to us by the Church, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is the definitive book of the Catholic Church on faith and morals, explaining the official teachings and how I, as a Catholic, can live out the Bible today. Most encouraging to me are the words of Jesus who, referring to the Catholic Church, assured Peter that the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it. The Church’s future is secure; as is the truth found therein. Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church ensure that God’s divine revelation is handed on to successive generations; He promised that the message of Jesus will be preserved until the end of time. It is wonderful to acknowledge that this divine revelation has been passed down through the centuries and has been entrusted to the Catholic Church — the Church established by Jesus Christ Himself!
My Help Comes From the Lord
During my employment career, my jobs have taken me from living on the prairies to settling in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I had always appreciated Psalm 121, which speaks of the hills — “the mountains” in some versions. I have taken this psalm to mean that I can eagerly and hopefully raise my eyes toward the mountains, witness God’s glory in creation, all the while appreciating the magnificent work of His hands. In this deliberation, I sense that God is not confined to a place or a time, and that my every step is guarded night and day as God, through the Holy Spirit, directs, protects and guides my every movement as my Guardian. Truly, my help comes from the Lord, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the maker of heaven and earth.
Yes, I faithfully do believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I freely confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and I eagerly look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and with joy and hope, to the life of the world to come. It is good to be home!