I was born during World War II into a devout Christian home in Houston, Texas, with Dad being raised Methodist and Mother, Baptist, both committing to Christ when young. When they married, they attended a Plymouth Brethren church. Since my US Marine Dad was on Okinawa, and I did not see him until I was 13 months old, my Mom had me dedicated in our Brethren church.
Our family was in church every time the doors opened, and we kids were in Monday Bible school and Christian summer camps. I began reading my Bible when I learned to read. Precious childhood memories were seeing my father every morning reading his Bible before he left for work and being read the Bible at dinner and saying prayers at bedtime.
I had my first Catholic memory when I was six years old, hearing my Mom tell Dad that she was sure that her friend was a Christian because she believed in Jesus; but my Dad contradicted her by saying that Catholics were not Christians, but instead idolaters, worshiping Mary, praying to statues and calling the Pope Father against the Bible’s teaching.
Romans 7:18 convicted me of my sins a few years later: “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” The next evening, our parents took us to church for a special meeting, where an artist/preacher was drawing chalk pictures. The lesson was on the Passover in Egypt. Afterwards, I talked to the preacher, and he asked me if I had Jesus’ blood applied to the doorposts of my heart. I said that I didn’t know. After talking with my parents in the car, I asked my Dad to pray with me.
First, I prayed, asking Jesus to come into my heart and apply His blood to wash away my sins, and then my Dad prayed. I knew that my sins were forgiven because I experienced peace, which seemed to surround me in my bed and linger as I went to sleep.
At age 11, I was baptized and received my first communion. Then at age 12, while at summer Bible camp, I went out into the woods and knelt at a tree stump. I told God that I would be His missionary; I would go anywhere and do anything that He wanted me to do. I surrendered my entire life to Him in that moment. Looking back on this occasion, I realize that this was my vocational call from God.
I remember taking my Catholic friend to summer camp with me, and our counselor, Granny Green, asked me if I wanted to pray with her that Linda would get saved. I was in awe that God answered our prayers.
At age 14, I memorized Colossians, chapter 3, for my literature project. I remember excitedly thinking that I got to witness to the entire class.
In August 1963, when I was 18, my entire family was in a severe three-car accident on our way to Wheaton College. That accident kept me out of college that first semester, and because of trying to catch up in summer school, I met my future husband, Peter Davids, a Bible major who was on his way to seminary. I learned to trust God in the dark during that experience.
The next year, while at Wheaton College, my myopic Plymouth Brethren perspective on life was broadened. My roommate was just as sincere about her faith as I, but she went to a Bible church. I went to a Brethren church, where a Christian family mentored me, inviting me over for dinner every Sunday after church. We had great intellectual discussions with family and other students around their table.
When I was 22, Peter and I married and I began my elementary teaching career. Peter finished his last year at Wheaton, then began seminary. I earned a PhT (“Putting Hubby Through”) degree by teaching school for three years. For the last year of Peter’s seminary studies, we were house parents at a private girls’ high school.
As Peter began Ph.D. studies in Manchester, England, to ward off culture shock and loneliness, I began a Bible study on the Gospel of Mark for ladies on our road.
I had our second daughter at 28 and was caught up in mothering but befriended elderly ladies on our block by visiting them regularly and bringing my little ones. (Granny Green had mentored me in this ministry by taking me with her to visit nursing homes and hospitals when I was a young teen.)
A few years later, we moved to Germany to take a job at Bibelschule Wiedenest, and I had to learn German. While there, we experienced a charismatic renewal, and I began practicing several gifts of the Spirit. I took huge steps in my faith journey as I struggled to adjust to a new culture, taught an English Bible course for those students who needed to learn English, and listened to and prayed for female students in the dorm. I seemed to have a natural gift for listening to people.
Our next adventure was at a new Episcopal seminary in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. The president, an Anglican missionary bishop, hired Peter sight unseen. The bishop required Peter to become a confirmed Episcopalian. I went along with Peter and was also confirmed as an Episcopalian, remaining Plymouth Brethren in my heart.
While at the seminary, we had our third daughter, who died of crib death, and I miscarried a little boy six months later. I had a Catholic doctor with six kids who attended daily Mass. He had a Mass said for baby Elizabeth and sent me a card with a lovely message of comfort and hope in it. Then, after I miscarried, he commented that I had had a double whammy from God and that he was going to pray a Rosary for me, seeking to understand what God was saying. I thought that he was kind, but now I realize that God was calling me to become Catholic even through this faithful, caring Catholic doctor.
As I grieved, I demanded that God give us another child. One day, in the cemetery, I surrendered with many tears and said that if God never wanted to give us another child, I would allow Him to be God in my life in this area. We were pregnant within the month with Ian, who brought a lot of joy and healing into our family.
We then moved to Berkeley, California, for Peter’s sabbatical year. There I received a Masters of Christian Studies with an emphasis on counseling, because I began to see, with Peter’s help, that people constantly poured their stories out to me, and that I must have a calling. I grew tremendously intellectually during this time. I also grew in confidence as a person, researching lay ministry by women in the Plymouth Brethren and writing a thesis on the topic.
Next we went to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada for Peter’s New Testament teaching assignment, and I took courses in spirituality and spiritual direction at Regent College, mentored by Dr. James Houston of the Plymouth Brethren. He led me to begin reading the works of St. Teresa of Avila. I wrote my term paper on her book, The Interior Castle. Dr. Houston started me on a life project of constantly reading the spiritual classics. It never occurred to me that these were Catholic saints, but I knew that this reading fed my soul.
Peter became the teaching elder at a Brethren church in the Vancouver area, and I took a three-year course in Christian counseling to “train my ear.” We also attended a Vineyard conference with John Wimber as the main speaker and invited their team to our Brethren church the following Sunday. We experienced a real Pentecost — coincidentally, on Pentecost Sunday. This began a love affair for me with the Vineyard movement. When Peter’s job at Regent College ended, we left Vancouver and moved to Regina, Saskatchewan, where he taught in a Christian Missionary Alliance seminary and we attended a Charismatic Anglican Church.
It was during this time that I became extremely busy, crashing and burning out. I went to a seminar on burnout and got some personal counseling, learning that I was severely burned out and needed a year off to recover. I needed to stop, but not without a spiritual director. I met with a Catholic sister every Friday morning for the entire next year. Sister Harriet led me into contemplative prayer, placing a Sabbath rhythm in my life: silence, solitude, retreating, fasting and beginning to play by cultivating some hobbies. When she sent me on retreat at a nearby monastery, after meditating on Psalm 46:10 for three months (“Be still and know that I am God),” the Lord spoke to my heart directly, and I was deeply impacted. I slowly recovered from burnout, never imagining how Catholic I was becoming.
The next year, we moved back to Vancouver to work with a Vineyard church. I got my Professional Counseling license and began counseling again after 17 months of recovery. A very active stretch of my missionary life began when I poured myself into bringing healing to others through counseling. It seemed that, after burning out, I had blossomed like a flower, having gained much wisdom. I also began taking week-long fasting retreats in a cabin by myself once a year. I did not want to repeat the burnout experience, but still did not recognize that this was a Catholic activity that no one in my church would imagine doing.
We then went to Austria as missionaries, with Peter working as dean for a study center in a castle, with students coming from eastern Europe. I was counselor-in-residence there but got frustrated trying to do counseling through an interpreter, so I wrote and taught a course on counseling in the study center through interpreters. After that, I was invited to Romania, Czech Republic and Russia to teach it. We began to work with the German-speaking Vineyards in Austria, and I was teaching counseling and counseling people who were burned out, and caring for pastors and their spouses.
On vacation one year, I visited a Vineyard church in Houston and was invited to come create pastoral care for Vineyard pastors in the US, just as I was doing in Austria. So we moved to Houston, and I went on staff at the Sugar Land Vineyard to create retreats for Vineyard leaders and build a lay counseling ministry, and I was ordained in 2003. After directing several retreats, I was challenged to write a book, to leave a legacy for the entire church. So I began writing Pause, Pray, and Play, a seven-year project. Because service times changed in the Vineyard, Peter no longer went to my church, but only his Episcopal church, where he was a voluntary assistant. Something felt wrong in my heart with us not worshipping together. I began to pray that the Lord would bring us back together, worshipping and ministering in the same church.
In 2006, we returned to Canada to teach at a Christian university. I taught in the counseling department and had a counseling practice. Instead of attending the Vineyard with me, Peter got involved doing supply in Anglican churches, but I never stopped praying. We worked there four years, then the fifth year, Peter took a voluntary sabbatical because this tiny university had a severe downturn in enrollment. He had a seizure during the night after he got his last paycheck, so I had to become his designated driver until he saw a neurologist. I had to stop going to the Vineyard, in order to drive him on Sundays. Then, on Christmas Eve, as Peter was about to begin the service, I was sitting in the choir and the senior warden leaned over and said, “We have always enjoyed Peter’s ministry, but since you began to come with him, we enjoy him more!” The Lord told me at that moment that He had answered my five-year prayer, that He had brought us back together, ministering in the same church. I answered him, “But Lord, this is the wrong church!” After that, I only heard the Lord chuckling; He said no more. But I understood, as we moved back to Houston, that because we were leaving the next day for Peter to take a new job as New Testament professor at Houston Baptist University, I must attend the church of Peter’s choice, thus surrendering to the Lord.
While we were at St. Stephen Episcopal church, I made a retreat at a Catholic monastery with a Catholic spiritual director, meditated on Song of Songs 4:9-16, and experienced the Lord’s intimate love for me in a deeper way than I ever had known. But I still did not recognize how Catholic I was becoming, only thinking that I simply preferred this contemplative spirituality to the charismatic spirituality in my Vineyard church because it fed my soul.
We returned to Houston, and our moving towards the Catholic Church picked up speed. Peter chose to attend All Saints Episcopal Church, and I went with him. Peter wanted to find an Episcopal Franciscan community to have support for our more radical Christian values in life, but he had another seizure, and I had to become his driver for the next six months. I refused to drive from Houston to Austin and back in a single day to attend this Franciscan community that we had discovered, which frustrated him.
While I was in Canada that summer, visiting our children, Peter found a concert in an Anglican church that he wanted to take me to when I returned home. This turned out to be a John Michael Talbot mission, not a concert. We heard this Catholic man sing a bit and tell his story of becoming Catholic and a Franciscan monk, then founding a Catholic community called the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. This community had a Domestic Branch to it, and a Cell Group, which met in a home only 10 minutes from our house. We left event very interested and bought several CDs and books to learn more. We began attending this Cell Group and learned that the community was having a regional meeting at Lanier Theological Library in May in north Houston, where Peter and I studied and wrote our books every Tuesday. We attended the meeting and discovered St. Clare Monastery, a few blocks from Lanier. This was a sister house to Little Portion Hermitage in Arkansas, where John Michael Talbot’s motherhouse is located. We began attending evening prayer at the monastery on Tuesday evenings after doing our study at Lanier. Peter told me that he was thinking of becoming Catholic, which I did not want to hear. An Episcopal friend had given us the Catholicism series of videos by Bishop Robert Barron. We watched all 10 DVDs and were blown away that Catholic teachings are so orthodox.
I left for Canada in July to visit our children again, telling them that I was very alarmed, because their Dad was thinking of becoming Catholic. While I was in Canada, without informing me, Peter discovered the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter and began to fill out papers to become a Catholic priest. He emailed me in August and told me that he was all finished with his Catholic priest application except for one thing — a letter from me to Pope Francis saying that I completely support his becoming a Catholic priest. This hit me emotionally like a ton of bricks, and I had no idea how I could honestly write that letter, because I did not want him to become Catholic, much less a Catholic priest.
A friend who had converted to Catholicism, my Catholic spiritual director at the Cenacle Retreat House in Houston, and John Michael Talbot — all three told me the very same thing within the same week when I asked if I had to write this letter for Peter: “You never have to become Catholic, and we will still love you, but you must write this letter for Peter.” So I wrote the letter, but in my heart I was screaming at God that He had got something wrong if He thought that I was going to surrender and become Catholic.
As tension grew in our marriage, Peter took me to a Mass at Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church, where he had been attending all summer. This was a huge emotional mountain for me to climb, because the service felt so foreign. I told my Protestant sister what was going on, and she began yelling at me that I was allowing my husband to lead me into heresy. For the third time, Peter brought me Scott Hahn’s book, Rome Sweet Home, and pleaded with me to read it. I cried the entire way through the book, identifying completely with Kimberly. I also read Scott’s book, Hail, Holy Queen, and a booklet which he had written on papal authority, which helped me to understand some of the issues with which I was struggling.
Peter and I exercised in the neighborhood park, and as we walked, I heard a noise behind me. I turned around to see all 16 ducks who lived at the park pond walking in single file right behind me, quacking as they waddled. Peter turned around, and we both laughed our heads off at my seeming to be their Mama Duck.
The next morning, we flew to Little Portion for the national gathering of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity (Domestic). We rode from the airport with three Domestic members. They all knew each other but not us, so they asked us to tell them our faith story as we drove the two hours to Little Portion. After a while our driver said to me, “Judy, you have been becoming Catholic for a very long time.” I hotly denied it and said that I had been only learning from the Catholics. I told a bit more and the other lady said, “Walks like a duck, talks like a duck — is a duck!” At this, Peter and I began to laugh, telling the duck story.
We enjoyed the week-long conference, and I fell in love with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. In the final Mass, Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock explained that this was his favorite Mass of the entire year, because the worship was so joyful! From the Mass readings, Psalm 95:8 struck me: “O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah.” From that, I knew that I must be attentive to hear what God was saying. Next, John Michael began to sing his song, “I Surrender/St. Teresa’s Prayer,” from his album, “Signatures.” I cried as God spoke the words of that song deeply into my heart, “that I must surrender everything to Him!” I questioned God: “Does ‘everything’ mean my ministry in the Episcopal Church, even being an Episcopalian? Must I become Catholic?” God kept answering: “YES!” I sobbed and sobbed, finally realizing that I had to surrender. So I surrendered, telling Peter that evening of my decision.
We rode to the airport with three people from our Houston Cell Group, and I told them at breakfast of my decision. In the car, one of them asked me if I would cook a duck. I questionably said, “Yes, but why do you ask?” She explained that her fiancé was a duck hunter, and he did not like to kill ducks unless someone ate them. Peter and I laughed, then I told my duck story, and we all had a good laugh about “ducky Judy.” On the plane going home, they explained RCIA classes to me. Our pastor said that he would instruct us on the 11 doctrines that Episcopalians must change in order to enter the Catholic Church. In our five sessions when we came to sola Scriptura and the authority of the Church, I began to sob, for I suddenly imagined what my Dad would say about the Bible and the Pope, and I felt that I was betraying my father. This was not a matter of understanding or agreeing with the dogma. Instead, I was getting over the emotional mountain of feeling that I was rejecting the beliefs of my wonderful godly father, who had led me to Christ.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God was the hardest issue for me … until I thought about her carrying baby Jesus in her body, and I thought about my own five pregnancies, how close I felt to my babies and how much I love my own children. I have since listened to a series of six tapes on the Virgin Mary by Brant Pitre of the Augustinian Institute, and I now understand these things theologically. I had the privilege to become friends with Barbara, the mother of Bishop Lopes in the Ordinariate, and we became Facebook friends. When her son first became our Bishop, Barbara’s every post was about Bishop Lopes and his accomplishments. Through this, she helped me understand how Mary points to Jesus. I am still growing in my Marian devotion, where I must surrender old prejudices further.
At almost 70, in January 2014, when we became novices in the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, my friend Gina gave me a ceramic duck. In February 2014, we were received into the Catholic Church. When we next visited Peter’s brother in Baltimore, Maryland, their guest room had a stuffed mallard duck on our bed and two pictures of ducks on the wall. Our pastor said that I must have all my ducks in a row because I not only had to come to grips with those 11 doctrines, but I had to fill out some papers, make a general life confession of sins, writing it out in full, choose a sponsor, and then we could be received.
The following December, Peter was ordained a deacon, and six days later, a priest in Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church by Cardinal DiNardo, who stopped the recessional at my pew to give me a kiss on both cheeks and thank me for giving my husband to the Church. I grew to understand what he meant during the next year, as I became a firm believer in the celibate priesthood.
In our “retirement,” Peter has taken a job in Georgetown, Texas as chaplain of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. At our interview, we were being taken into the residence where the chaplain would reside, and I noticed the flower bed at the door, where a life-sized white duck resided. The Lord spoke to my heart as I saw the duck: “This is your home.” I’ve learned that surrendering by saying Yes to Him is just “ducky” in His book!