I am a mother of three and married to the most patient husband. I was born in California, baptized Catholic, but raised in Pentecostalism.
Confused about who God was
My mom was raised Catholic and, after having four children from different men, she married my dad to give him citizenship. After just one month together, they separated; I was conceived during that short time. Therefore, I never knew my dad growing up. He was in prison for murder for many years during my youth, and, after his release, he was not able to locate us.
My mom had left the Catholic Church when I was a toddler. She had found herself in a legal situation and desired support, and was upset by the lack of compassion she felt she was shown by Catholics. A neighbor that attended the Assemblies of God church reached out to her. My mom said she had never experienced someone praying with her in the way this woman did, and that led her into Assemblies of God.
I grew up in the 80s when Assemblies of God (AG) “revivals” were almost a weekly event. At revivals, people ran around the pews, shouting praises, and people were being slain in the Spirit all around the church. It was common for these weekday revivals to last until midnight. When I was about 11 years old some people grabbed my arm to lead me to the altar to be prayed over against my will. I kept telling them “no”, but they brought the evangelist over to me to lay hands on me. He was shouting and kept trying to force me down to the ground, until my mom came up to altar and led me out of there. None of what I witnessed in that AG church felt authentic to me, just about who could shout the loudest and appear more prophetic than the next person. What I witnessed in these revivals hindered my outlook on charismatic atmospheres as an adult. It took me a very long time to overcome this in my Christian journey.
What was more troubling to me, however, was what I witnessed in Protestant charismatic communities outside of the services. First, one’s faith tends to be measured by the community by how well one “performs” the gifts of the Spirit: how many prophecies one has had, or how much one speaks in tongues, or how long one fasts, etc. There is a lot of pressure among these communities to receive what should be spiritual gifts. For example, I once heard people tell a dear friend of mine that her marriage fell apart because of her lack of faith, which was proven to them by the fact that she had not received the gift of tongues. This friend is still deeply wounded by their judgment. Similarly, I had the experience that members of Protestant charismatic communities believed in “name it, claim it” theology (also referred to as Prosperity theology), which promoted that positive words of faith brought about God’s prosperity in the lives of believers, including the alleviation of physical sickness. Therefore, there is great pressure never to admit to physical illnesses, or to be fearful that, by speaking such “negative” things, one would bring spiritual death upon oneself. I found myself getting into many debates over this belief. Many of my friends in similar churches agreed that this environment made you feel like you were in a rat race, chasing something that you can never reach. In the end, one of two things would happen: you would either be on an endless search to find praise and worship services and conferences that would bring you more of a spiritual high, or you would just quit attending church, withdraw from everyone, fall “out of grace”, and feel like a failure, because you weren’t able to keep up with those who seemed “more spiritual” than you.
My mom had a particular boyfriend, off and on, throughout my entire childhood. He was a child molester and was physically abusive. The cops were always at our house. When I was about ten years old, during one of the times we were moving to run from this man, my sister and I stayed in the empty house for one last load to move in the morning and we woke up to him standing over us with a shot gun faced at us. After my mom took him back yet again, I remember asking my mom why he lived with us. She told me he was sent from God to help us financially.
When I attended the youth group at our church, I never felt like I fit in. I was very insecure about being Latina and coming from a home of poverty and abuse, since the majority of the members were Caucasian and wealthy. Though I grew up going to church, I never knew anything about authentic faith, hope and love — in essence, I never knew who God really was. Because of the way in which God was presented to me, I grew up hating Him. I felt like I didn’t fit in at church or at home (I never really went to school); therefore, I found my place on the streets.
A dark rage
At thirteen years old, while joy riding, smoking marijuana, and drinking with friends, I was in a car accident. The car wrapped around a telephone pole and, out of the seven of us not wearing seat belts, I was the only person who was injured. I broke my femur and fractured my hip and pelvis. I didn’t walk for a year. I have many physical issues today as a result of that one night.
At the age of fourteen, I started doing cocaine and, at fifteen, LSD and PCP (and occasionally sold them). I sometimes traded my body in order to support my drug habit. I was fearless and full of rage. In one aggressive altercation with a girl, I reached for a crow bar — that I knew was just laying out in the open on the floor of the van — so I could beat her with it, but inexplicably I was unable to get it loose. I often look back on that day in thanksgiving, knowing it was the Lord saving me from a life sentence in prison.
In 1989, I met a guy named Tony — I was seventeen, and he was twenty-two. I was attracted to him because he was not into drugs and was educated, with a stable job. The guy who I had previously been dating ended up in prison for first-degree murder and rape. Although he did help me out of world of self-destruction, it was a difficult, painful journey. I immediately became pregnant, and he forced me into an abortion. When I was nineteen, we had a son, Anthony, and I had another abortion after that. Tony and I were never married, but he moved me from California to the Midwest to isolate me from everyone I knew.
In 1994 when I finally left that relationship, we were living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I hit my breaking point after several years of being physically and emotionally tortured by Tony. He kidnapped my son, and it took ten years for me to get legal custody. (At that time in the state of Michigan, without a marriage or legal custody order, whichever parent has the child in his or her possession is granted legal custody until a court decision.) Eventually, Tony let me have visits with Anthony in return for money and sex. Those were the hardest years of my life.
I met my husband, Steve, in 1997 and we were married in 1999. This upset Tony greatly and it became harder to visit Anthony. During one attempt to visit with my son, after rushing from work and driving an hour to get there (I was even five minutes early), no one was home. It had been weeks since I had last seen my son. I called to see where they were, and Tony laughed in an evil way, saying, “How does it feel to want something you can’t have?”
I cracked; I was tired of his games.
I drove home alone that day on M-14 in Plymouth, Michigan, just wanting to kill myself. I cried out to God. I asked Him if He was real to show me. I was prompted to call my mom; which is rare, because we are not close. She told me that just that day she was just awarded a large settlement since she had been in a bad car accident. She offered to wire me money to hire an attorney to get legal custody of my son — with one stipulation: that I find a church and get my life right with God.
Warming up to Christians
I found an Assemblies of God church and hired an attorney. I started attending this church, with one foot in and one foot out. I would go, but I had so many wounds from seeing past hypocrisy that I felt tormented inside. In 2001, my daughter, RaeAnna, was born, which prompted me to attend church a little more often, but I was still on the fence. My husband was a cradle Catholic, and we were married in the Catholic Church, but at that time we never really spoke about our different churches. During services, I would sit in the back with my daughter so that when she started to cry, I had an excuse to leave in the middle of service.
There was this overly-outgoing “church mother” that would rush over to offer to stay with Rae in the lobby while I attended the service. I would roll my eyes with disgust, begging God to make her go away. After services, she would grab my hand and introduce me to different people. I would try to hide from her, but no matter how rude I was with her, she was faithful and was never offended by me. Eventually, the more she got me to stay in service, the more the Holy Spirit was working in me — she didn’t try to convert me, she just let the Holy Spirit have His way with me through her faithfulness.
Through this experience, I became less leery about Christians and charismatic services — which somehow seemed more authentic in this church. People didn’t run around the pews, and it was definitely subtler than what I grew up in. Therefore, it was easier for me to make that trip to the altar to have them pray for my custody case every single week. I had to fight against my flesh wanting to bail, but I was desperate to get my son back. My curiosity was sparked and I became hopeful. I ended up getting custody when my son was twelve in 2003.
Healing found only in Christ
By this time my heart was softening to the Lord. My life became less about partying and more about God. In 2007, I began assisting with youth ministry — and loved it! Because of my own childhood experiences, it was my mission to connect with every single teen. This is when my deepest conversion began.
The youth pastor would hold us accountable, daily. He would email us all the time asking, “How’s your time with Jesus today?” or “What is He speaking to you?” My pride got the best of me, and I felt I had to prove that “I heard from the Lord.” The only problem was that I wasn’t spending time daily with God, partially because I did not know how to hear from Him.
So I started trying to understand Scripture better and to pray really hard, the way I saw others pray at church. I acknowledged the Bible to be God’s mouthpiece; therefore, if I found something I understood, then I was certain it would be God speaking to me. Although I was acting out of impure motives, God still used that. I learned that if we are in His presence, regardless of the motives, He will do whatever He can to get our attention — God doesn’t waste anything. He converts, we don’t. We just have to respond to His tugging; and if we don’t know how, we just have to ask Him.
Faith is both a gift and a choice. It is a gift because we don’t earn it, but it is a choice, because we have to make choices that go against our fleshly desires. I refused to remain only inspired after a good sermon. We had a particular evangelist that visited often. I desired the faith he had. I would listen to his sermons over and over and beg God to show me how to encounter Him in such a way that I too could have what this evangelist had.
I started tearing up the Bible more and more and really fell in love with the Book of Joshua. I would meditate on Joshua 1:7-8:
Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you; turn not from it from the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall mediate on it day and night, that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you shall make your away prosperous, and then you shall have good success.
I would meditate on that day and night, because I wanted to live in my “promised land,” I wanted to be prosperous in Him — to receive all that He has for me, to be set free from all the baggage I carried for so long. I was broken and desperate. Those verses drew me deeper into Scripture.
I have poor reading comprehension skills, poor writing skills, and poor anything else that I needed in order to study God’s Word and write in my journals. It wasn’t easy to gain the inner healing I needed. It took praying away friendships and things that hindered my freedom to choose God. I surrounded myself with people that did not think like me, in my brokeness, but people who challenged me (iron sharpens iron) — people who would be bold enough to call things out of me, to offend my mind in order to reveal my heart. Most of all, I cried out a lot to God, begging to be made whole, not just healed on the surface. I meditated on Mary of Bethany and what she did that pleased Jesus: sitting at His feet, receiving revelations of who He was, gazing upon how much He truly delights in us. A constant thing I did (and still do) is meditate on Revelation 4, allowing His fiery eyes to show me how much He burns with love and judgment for me. His eyes melt my heart, because it is the revelation of God’s passionate affection for us, and it awakens ever-deepening feelings of love and passion for Him. He desires wholeheartedness.
I would beg for a supernatural hunger and thirst for more. I adopted a strong prayer and fasting lifestyle — not to move God’s heart, but with the intention that He move mine. I would spend hours a day crying out from the bottom of my soul to Him — the deep call unto deep. The passion that flows out of me comes from a heart of gratitude, knowing how much He has delivered me from and where I could be today: in prison, homeless, struggling in depression, addictions, or dead — the experiences through which I’ve seen so many of my friends and relatives suffer.
“Until the children came along…”
Because our daughter was of age to make her First Communion in 2008, my husband started attending Catholic Mass on a more regular basis. This shook our marriage up a bit. I did not think it was fair to pull my kids out of their church to be part of something that most Catholics didn’t take seriously (speaking from my experience at the time). Having a family split between two Faiths is more challenging than people realize. My husband and I had thought we could work it out, until the children came along.
Though I was angry that my kids were attending the Catholic church, I also perceived the Lord softening my heart towards the Church over a period of time. I was torn. I thought the Holy Spirit was trying to get me to convert only for the sake of unity in my marriage, but later found out it was for the sake of my own soul.
At this same time, many unfortunate things started happening in my church. I had always known of some corrupt things among members, but I refused to be a church hopper!
Into His pasture
One day I was in deep prayer I sensed the Lord say to me: “Are you ready to enter into my pasture?” In this vision, I froze in front of a set of huge doors. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to proceed. Then, I looked behind me and I noticed a lot of darkness and felt such heaviness. I looked again towards the doors and said, “Yes.” I entered through and I could smell the aroma of Christ and see nothing but beautiful, never-ending, green land, and a peace came over me, the likes of which I had never experienced. Then it came to me: the place I had entered was His Church. I felt the Holy Spirit tell me I would become Catholic. After this experience, one would think I would be running to the Catholic Church, but no! I questioned if I heard Him correctly, and I was willing to test the spirit that was speaking to me.
I had a neighbor that was Catholic, and she attended the parish I attend now, Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Plymouth, MI (OLGC). It was just down the road from my AG church and when I would drive by it while driving to my church, I would feel this tug at me. I hated that tug, so I ended up taking a different route! But this neighbor, Lori, invited me in 2009 to go with her, late at night, to this prayer room she called “adoration” at a different parish. Because it was a different parish then the one to which I was being tugged — or rather running from — I agreed to go. It sounded safe; it was just a room to go pray in. That night’s experience gripped my heart, but I never shared that with anyone.
After several months of being in a very dark season, left confused about my faith, and running from the Catholic Church, I surrendered. My soul had become so heavy that I felt like I backslid and couldn’t even pray; but at the same time I knew He was with me ever more. He had me in a place that left me so emptied out. I was rid of everything I thought church was about. Later, I would realize I was emptied in order for Him to fill me up with truth — with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Someone like me had to be shaken to my core. I had to be in place left without physical or spiritual energy to talk or run. I finally said in my heart, “Fine, Lord! Show me if this is your Church and I will listen.” I started doing research online about the Catholic Church, but because of my lack of education, I had a need to lean on the Holy Spirit to help me understand what I was reading. Therefore, my conversion ended up being more in my heart than head; God gives me insights to guide me.
I learned about Martin Luther’s Reformation and that the word Protestant comes from the word protest. Just learning the root of that word alone, spoke volumes to me. I never thought about Church history, but it was history that showed me that Catholicism must have been the original Christian Church. I watched a DVD about the early Church Fathers from a Baptist convert Steve Ray that really opened my eyes. I had never wondered who walked with the Apostles. I didn’t know that the rosary was a prayerful meditation on Scripture. What really got my attention was coming across Gary Michuta’s website (www.handsonapologetics.com). I listened to his podcasts about sola scriptura, which really spoke to me. The other thing from Gary’s website that struck me was learning about the Geneva Bible, one of the first Protestant Bibles in English. I noticed the books that were not in my NIV Bible were all in the back of this Protestant Bible.
I was also curious about the liturgical calendar (it’s now one of the things I love most about the tradition of the Church). The first year I was Catholic, because of the liturgical seasons, I felt like I learned what Easter and Christmas was truly about. I now know why I was drawn to dates, like being born on the Epiphany and baptized on St. Patrick’s Day. For me, it was little things that I was curious about and fell in love with — it all makes sense now!
In September 2009, I tried a Sunday Mass at OLGC, and after a few steps of walking into that parish, tears flooded my eyes and I felt this leap in my spirit and felt like the prodigal son coming home — but I was fighting it. After Mass I met the senior pastor, Fr. John Riccardo. I expressed interest in learning more about the Faith. He was very gracious and suggested I make an office appointment with him.
For my first office visit with Fr. Riccardo, I took my big NIV Bible and challenged him about the Catholic Faith. I told him that I was still hesitant about joining a Faith that follows so much “tradition”, and that I would rather do communion at home. He explained how all churches follow a tradition and that communion “at home” was not how it was done in the early Church. He invited me to reread the Book of Acts to see who had the authority to distribute Communion. He then asked me to put my Bible away, and that he just wanted to chat about who I was — about my journey and what brought me there. I was confused. I wanted to talk about doctrine, and he just wanted to know who I was. I felt a set-up coming on by the Lord.
God used Fr. Riccardo to speak into my life in the areas that I had just been wounded in from my previous AG church. He gave me a Scripture passage to meditate on, and we continued to meet every month for quite some time. I told him I had never really met many authentic Christians that were Catholic. So he introduced me to the most amazing women and friends, Beth Locricchio and Andrea Pfaffenbach, and I am still very close with them today. Beth and Fr. John Riccardo have encouraged me and supported me in so many ways. Without their prayers and encouragements, I would not be where I am today. Fr. Riccardo has been a true spiritual father to me. In the churches I was accustomed to pastors only shepherd from the pulpit, they don’t spiritually direct on any level. They set themselves apart from their members and most are not approachable at all. Every single priest my parish has ever had is a true example of what it means to be a shepherd, living among the people.
The meaning of suffering
Beth suggested two books for me: Alex Jones’s book No Price too High: A Pentecostal Preacher Becomes Catholic and Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. They were both perfect! I had never heard of Pentecostals converting into the Church, and had just asked the Lord to show me some. After reading Dark Night of the Soul it reminded me of so much of what I was coming out of. I was drawn to embrace suffering if it be His will. Not that I sought out suffering, but I definitely embraced it. I always felt the words come to me: “through my cross is to my heart.” Much of my deeper conversions came through crying out in prayer for Him to humble me.
My Pentecostal friends thought I had lost it! To them, if a Christian is suffering it was because of sin or not praying hard enough. I was so confused with that mindset. Anytime I questioned things that didn’t make sense the response was always “that’s just the way it is…” I love that the Catholic Church has an answer for everything.
We started attending OLGC on a regular basis in September 2009, but I didn’t join RCIA until January 2010. Fr. Riccardo continued to be there for me through all the little questions and needs I had, which I’m sure was not easy. Someone that takes me on definitely has to have a loving witness and a lot of patience, and his diligence really spoke to me. I started noticing the authentic love and humility that was shown through the saints and priests, like Fr. Riccardo. I am not impressed by how gifted of a preacher someone is or how prophetic they are, I only care about their fruits. Are they modeling the heart of Christ? Hearing preaching about the heart of Christ and witnessing the fruit of someone who abides in the vine of Christ are very different. For so many years I was told to love, but never really saw what that looked like until understanding the Mass and meeting Fr. Riccardo and getting to know so many saints that walked in that love. I wasn’t terribly concerned with why Catholics prayed to saints, or why they pray the rosary.
Making myself a tabernacle
When going through RCIA my other dearest friend, Andrea, became my sponsor and she recommended a book that has become one of my favorites: Jesus Shock by Peter Kreeft. That book birthed such a hunger and thirst for the Eucharist. I couldn’t wait to receive it. When Easter Vigil 2010 came I was prompted to fast for seven full days on just water to be purified, emptied out, to make room to receive only Jesus in this new journey and it was indeed profound. The Lord kept showing me, to know His fullness is to know my emptiness. I am reminded of that through prayer and fasting, but especially when I meet Him in the Eucharist.
Though I understood the Eucharist and noticed the graces in my life from attending daily Mass, I didn’t quite get the significance until two years ago (2012) on Good Friday. On this day, the Church removes Jesus from every tabernacle. I had fasted for most of Lent and, that night of Good Friday, I stayed in the parish alone praying before the empty tabernacle. I was weeping over Jesus not being there and now knowing the difference. Then came the Easter Vigil, of course I was the first one there waiting for Jesus to be placed back in the tabernacle and His true Presence overwhelmed me. I just bawled in gratitude for being Catholic and being able to have Him in such a real way. It reaffirmed how truly present He is in the Eucharist and what life is like without Jesus. Mass is not an obligation, it’s a privilege.
Embracing charismatic worship
I am so blessed to be a part of a wonderful parish community. Before I became Catholic, I thought I had to give up many things, like the charismatic side of my Faith. But that is not true. I did try several different Catholic charismatic worship nights, but didn’t connect with them. I found one through the priestly order, the Companions of the Cross, that really opened my eyes to just how beautiful the Church truly is in a different way. I fell in love with this order and how they lead their worship events and how they modeled humility and love. This order expressed God’s grace in such a beautiful way. Their worship times are done in such a beautiful balanced way. They embrace speaking in tongues, prophecy, intercessory prayer out loud, but it’s all done before the tabernacle and in such a way that is not seeking these gifts in order to encounter a powerful night, but to come together to worship the Lord led by the Spirit. They are so welcoming to all people. You would never see them running from conversations and they would stay after hanging out with everyone in such a way that makes you feel like a true brother and sister in Christ. Experiencing their charismatic order has been absolutely edifying for my soul and affirms how I feel about being Catholic.
I now share my Catholic Faith with everyone, from strangers to co-workers. I am part of Army of Apostles, an online podcast talk show (www.armyofapostles.com) that was founded by Paul Thomas and supported by Gary Michuta.
I love being Catholic! As Fr. John Riccardo answers the question “Why be Catholic?”: “Because it’s true and it’s more.”