There is no obvious reason that this Baptist housewife and mother from East Texas should be Catholic. And yet, here I am.
It was April 15th, 2006. I stood in the beautiful Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Tyler, Texas. My new friend and sponsor, Sandy, was by my side. The name tag pinned to my shirt read Saint Monica. It was my turn to take the long walk to the bishop seated on The Chair. I knelt before him and he took my hands. He leaned forward and said to me, “Monica, this thing, the thing you have been praying so earnestly for … God hears you.” His words were on the mark. I had begged God to show me His truth, begged Him to lead me, and I promised I would follow, no matter what. He led me straight to His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. He brought me home, answering my prayer that night!
I cannot remember a time in my life that I did not believe in God. I attribute this mostly to my paternal grandparents. Royce and Marie were married for 56 years and remained in love until death parted them. They prayed for their three children and four grandchildren every day. I know their prayers bore much fruit in our lives. My earliest formation was in the Baptist faith that they held so dear.
When my parents were married, they continued in the Baptist church, since my mom was also raised Baptist, though nominally so. They had four children, and we remained Baptist until we moved to Texas. Once in Texas, we began attending Oak Cliff Lutheran Church, where my three siblings and I were baptized. I have asked my dad many times why we became Lutheran, and he always says he can’t recall. This detour into the Lutheran Church lasted seven years. As my siblings and I got older and weekends became busier, we eventually stopped attending church, though we still held to our Christian beliefs. I was 12 years old.
Over the next few years, I went to church with friends during sleepovers or an occasional Wednesday night. But then, in high school, I had a teacher who taught me about Jesus in a way I had never before experienced. She was the kindest, most joyful person I had ever met. She led a Bible study after school that a friend invited me to attend. After several sessions, she asked me if I would stay after and talk with her. She sat with me that day and shared from her worn Bible about the love of Jesus and how He wanted me to know Him. We prayed together, and I heard Jesus say, “Come to me, I love you.” It was not an audible voice, just a knowing within me that Jesus loved me and wanted me to follow Him in a way I never had before. My personal relationship with Jesus began at the age of 16.
It was exciting at first. But I had no place to go to be nurtured in this new relationship. So I prayed and read my Bible. I tried a few churches on my own. But eventually other things became more important, and I put my new friend Jesus on the back burner. I always knew He was there, and I called on Him when I needed Him, but that was about the extent of it.
One short year later, at 17, I was married, with my first child on the way. Five years after that, I was divorced with two children. The next few years were difficult, but thankfully I had parents who helped us every step of the way. And then, I met Scott.
Scott and I met in November, were engaged in January and married in May, 1989. Our life together kept pace with our whirlwind courtship. I became pregnant with our daughter in July, and we bought our first home the following January. We were off and running!
Scott had been raised in the Presbyterian Church, where we were married. Though he held his Christian faith very dear and was extremely serious about it, he had a strong dislike for organized religion. He didn’t like the politics or the cliquish behavior. He didn’t believe church attendance was necessary. He always said, “I can worship God anywhere, even on the golf course.” So when I told him I wanted to join the Baptist church that my sister and her family attended, he was not exactly happy. The pastor came to visit us one evening, and he and Scott really hit it off. From that point on, we were Baptist. We were never super involved, mostly just Sundays and an occasional Wednesday night for the kids. Each time we moved, we found a Baptist church to attend, and soon all three of our children were baptized in the Baptist church. Life was really good. As our children got older and life got busier, church attendance became less important. We always held to our Christian faith, even when church attendance was hit or miss. Then one beautiful Sunday morning, our oldest daughter burst through the front door with an announcement that was to change our lives forever.
Let’s go back two years before Casey came bursting through our front door. We had just bought a new home. The couple across the street, Mark and Gretchen, became our instant best friends. It was a great friendship, enjoying cookouts, card games, and long talks on the porch. Early into this relationship, I realized that Gretchen was a very faithful Pentecostal Christian. I knew she held to some beliefs that I probably disagreed with, but I just thought they were unimportant things like the way you dress or wear your hair … no big deal. But her beliefs became a very big deal that Sunday morning after Casey burst through the door.
That Saturday night Casey had sat up literally all night with Gretchen as she shared all that she believed. She was so convincing that Casey couldn’t wait to have what Gretchen had. And that was Casey’s big announcement. She told us that she was going to church with Gretchen so she could get the Holy Spirit! What did that mean, exactly? I walked across the street and very politely asked my good friend, “What happened over here last night?” She explained rather quickly what she had shared with Casey. To be saved, you must receive the Holy Spirit. And the way you know you have received Him is to speak in tongues. She had also told Gretchen that she had been baptized incorrectly and needed to be baptized in Jesus’ name only. WHAT?!!
My 18 year old, very beautiful, very outgoing, fun loving, carefree daughter changed overnight. She not only changed her appearance, but her whole personality. The more I learned about this United Pentecostal Church, the more I was convinced I had to save my daughter. And so it began….
The first thing I did was to learn as much as I could about this church. I learned their doctrines, the verses they used to prove their beliefs, the history of the formation of their denomination, basically everything I could find, I read. Then I gathered the troops. I enlisted my sister and her husband, and my younger brother who was a deacon in the Baptist church. They all knew the Bible well, and I knew they could help me combat these false teachers. We even had a Bible study with members from this church at my house, in the hopes they would see the truth. But they were only hoping that we would see the truth. I pored over my Bible every day, begged God in prayer to show them the truth. I knew that if I could get Gretchen to see the truth, my daughter, Casey, would listen to her. She certainly was not listening to me.
For about a year, it went on like this, debating with Gretchen, trying to reason with Casey, begging God to show them the truth! One day, I remember crying out to God and saying, “Why can’t they see it!” And I heard again God say to me, “Maybe it is you that cannot see.” WHAT!! Of course I can see, I am the right one, aren’t I?
I had never even considered the possibility that I could be wrong. I just knew that what I believed was right (wasn’t I?). I remember reading 1 Corinthians in the hope of learning how to settle disagreements between Christians. I didn’t get far when it dawned on me how they settled their differences, and handled their issues. They sent word to Paul, who was in prison at the time. And he wrote back, not with suggestions but with authority. He instructed them to have no divisions among them and then proceeded to instruct them in their specific areas of difficulty.
I will never forget my reaction to this. I slammed my Bible shut, looked up and said to God: “Well good for the Corinthians, but where is my Paul? To whom do Gretchen and I go who can settle our disagreements?”
This made me begin to think beyond Gretchen and me. What about all the other denominations out there? What do they believe? So, I began to study other denominations and their beliefs about Baptism, salvation, the charisms, the Lord’s Supper and other teachings. What I discovered just made things so much worse! I realized how much we all disagreed with each other. How could this be, since we are all praying to the same Holy Spirit, reading the same Bible? How is this happening, and what do we do about it? Well, I knew one thing to do was pray, then pray some more. I also continued to pore over the Scriptures, hoping to find an answer to these disagreements. Then God did an amazing thing. He changed my agenda.
No longer was my purpose to pull Casey out of the Pentecostal church. It became a search for truth alone. What is God’s truth, and how do we know we have it? I asked everyone I knew about the divisions among Christians. Almost without exception, they all said the exact same thing: we agree on the essentials, the rest is not important. Not important! It’s all important. I mean, we were not divided over the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. We were divided over how a person is saved, for crying out loud! One friend finally answered me with what I believe was the most honest answer possible from our position. She said, “I believe we are all a little bit right and a little bit wrong, and there really is no way to know for certain.”
As honest an answer as that was, I knew this could not be what God had in mind. I knew He didn’t want us to be divided, That He sent the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth, not a little truth. I finally had to conclude that I had no way of figuring this out. I knew that I could not look at Gretchen, or my pastor from my childhood Lutheran church, or my Church of Christ neighbor, or the Methodist down the road, or the Presbyterian pastor who had married us, and say: “I know I am right in what I believe, and you are wrong. The Holy Spirit must be leading me into all truth, but not you.” Where did this leave me? I honestly had no idea, and I was exhausted.
One morning I woke up from this-year long quest, fell to my knees and began to pray. I said to God, “Oh God, all I want is Your truth. Please remove everything I think I know and replace it with Your truth. Even if that means that the United Pentecostal church is right. Lord, I will go; I will throw out my makeup, jewelry, and pants. I will never cut my hair again. I just want to be in Your Church, Lord. Please show me the way!” It was done, total surrender. I got up off the floor and felt light and unburdened.
That very same night, as I was channel surfing I came across a station I had never noticed before. They were having what looked like a Bible study, so I stopped and listened. Then, at the bottom of the screen, I noticed the words, “The Way to Follow Jesus.” I thought, “OK God, I will bite.” Then I realized it was a Catholic station, and after a few moments, I changed the channel. I remember thinking to myself, “Why in the world do Catholics have a TV station, and do they even read the Bible?”
A few weeks later, I was having trouble sleeping. I went into the living room and turned on the TV. I thought to myself, “I wonder what those Catholics are doing.” Out of curiosity, I found the channel. There was a man and a woman sitting on one side of a table, and the host of the show sitting on the other side. The woman was saying: “I just wanted to know how to raise my daughters to be holy women for God. Did this really mean wear dresses and don’t cut your hair?” I sat straight up. Were they Pentecostal? They had my attention now. The show was coming to an end. Oh, I wanted to know what they had been saying. But I quickly learned they were not Pentecostal, they were Mennonites who had become Catholic. How could that have possibly happened? The name of the show was The Journey Home. I searched for several days until I found it again. Nothing could have prepared me for that very first full episode I saw.
The show began with an introduction of the guest, a former Southern Baptist preacher. Now they really had my attention! He began to tell his story; I noticed so many similarities to my own. His confusion about all the denominations, not being satisfied with the “we agree on the essentials” answer, etc., etc. Then he said it: “I got down on my knees and begged God for His truth, no matter what.” Wait a minute, that was my prayer! He talked about the early Church Fathers, whom I had never heard about before. For several weeks, I continued watching this show. I began to buy books and CDs suggested by the guests, I began reading these early Church Fathers, I continued to pray and read my Bible. I knew God was answering my prayer; I just didn’t know if I liked where His answer was leading.
When I prayed for His truth, the Catholic Church had been nowhere in my mind! I had a stepdad who was Catholic. He never read his Bible and had not been to Mass in over 20 years. My husband’s stepmom was Catholic, but had not been to Mass in over 30 years. So I didn’t exactly have any Catholic influences in my life; if anything, it was just the opposite. As soon as family and friends — well even total strangers for that matter — realized the direction I was looking in, I received all kinds of reasons I should not be looking there. Anywhere but there!
I continued looking and praying, studying and listening. I was discovering the answer to my dilemma. It was so plain. Scripture alone, practiced faithfully, can only lead to more division. The proof of this is all around us. It is not because there is something wrong with Scripture. The division happens because Scripture was never intended to be used in this way. There was a major piece of the puzzle missing. This piece was the teaching authority of the Church. You know, like Paul with the Corinthians or Philip with the Ethiopian. We needed a Paul, a Peter, a John, with authority. We were never supposed to go it alone, because when we did, chaos ensued.
My husband invited a local Baptist preacher to our home. I think this was his effort to talk some sense into me. This pastor was nothing but cordial, but did not dissuade me in any way. If anything, due to his lack of explanations about some of the things I had been discovering, the meeting just encouraged me to keep going. There were many bumps along the way, many conversations I wish I had not had with loved ones, conversations that caused hurt to both of us. But none as hurtful as the one I had with Scott. Though he was wonderful about supporting me, he made it clear that he would not be joining me. I couldn’t believe God would lead me in a direction so far from Scott. I almost gave up at that point. But something Scott said gave me the courage to continue on. He believed it was God’s doing, not my own. I believed that, too, so I joined RCIA.
I was scared to death as I walked into the room for my first RCIA class. I had no idea what to expect. A sweet nun, Sister Susan, greeted me. We had talked on the phone, so I was happy to meet her. She gave me my name tag, some paperwork to fill out, and welcomed me. As I made my way to my seat, I was greeted by a very excited woman. She said: “Hello! Come sit by me and tell me all about why you are here.” So, caught a little off guard, I began to tell her a very condensed version of what brought me there. When I got to the part about the church Casey was involved in, I just described it, not giving a name because I honestly didn’t think she would recognize that denomination. But as I continued with my description of what Casey was being taught she said, “Oh you mean the United Pentecostal Church, oneness.” Yes, I said, but how did you know? Well it turns out she was a former Oneness Pentecostal, and her dad was a UPC pastor. You have got to be kidding me, God! So there I was, sitting in my very first RCIA class, and who is the first person that introduces herself to me? A former United Pentecostal! Oh God, you are so good.
Then one beautiful Sunday morning, God gave me a huge gift of grace and strength for the rest of the journey. I normally would go to RCIA on Thursday morning, but one week I missed and decided to go on Sunday morning before Mass. As I was preparing to leave, Scott asked if I would like him to come with me. Well yes, of course I would love that. And if that was not enough, after class he asked me, would you like me to go to Mass with you? I could not get yes out quickly enough.
As Scott and I knelt and prayed together before Mass, I prayed these words to God, “Oh Lord, this feels so right! Having Scott here with me makes everything perfect. But I don’t want it to be about my comfort or feelings. I want it to be about You, Lord, and what is right in your eyes. I need a sign, and I need it to come from my husband, the husband you gave me as the spiritual leader of our home. I need a sign through him that this is right, that this is where you want me.”
We all stood, Mass began. “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” My Presbyterian, now Baptist husband, who doesn’t like organized religion, who would never be Catholic, just made the sign of the cross like he had been Catholic his whole life! I didn’t even do that yet. So we went through Mass, listening and praying together, kneeling and holding hands. Then the end came, and once again it happened: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen!” As we walked to our car I asked him, “Did you make the sign of the cross?” He said, “Yeah I did. Was I not supposed to?” OK, God, was this my sign? No, that can’t possibly be it! I am reading too much into this. When we got to the car, Scott turned and looked at me and said: “I don’t know what happened in there, I didn’t understand many things. But one thing I do know is that it felt so right.”
I couldn’t believe it, I had asked God for a sign through my husband. So what happens? God gives me His sign, the sign of His cross through my husband, and then puts the exact words from my prayer in the mouth of my husband. OK God, I give up, I fully surrender! Scott went to Mass with me every Sunday after that.
My journey through RCIA lasted two years. I had hurdles to overcome. Things like learning I had to seek an annulment. This was a hard one, but once I was presented with the truth about marriage from the Church, the annulment was something I actually wanted to do. There were other things, of course — Mary, purgatory, etc. — but nothing was as difficult as the Eucharist. I struggled and struggled to get it. I began to see it intellectually, but I just couldn’t get it to penetrate my heart. But I realized I was like the disciples who leave Jesus because “this is a hard saying; who can accept it?” I heard Jesus say to me, “Are you going to leave also?” I couldn’t, I had no place to go. I had come to believe that this Church — the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church — was where He was. It was here He had led me, and it was the answer to my prayer that morning as I knelt in my room. So with the prayer, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” on my lips, I finally came home April 15th, 2006. The bishop was so right, God had definitely heard my prayer.
This was 13 years ago as I write. And the journey continues. Since that beautiful Easter Vigil in 2006, my husband, Scott, has joined me as a Catholic in full communion. He came home in 2011 after faithfully attending Mass for so many years by my side. And in 2009, we were blessed with our first grandchild, Grace Marie. She is the daughter of our son Stephen and his beautiful wife, Mandy. Mandy became Catholic a year before I did (a whole other story). So when Grace was a year old, I had the immense joy of becoming my granddaughter’s godmother as she was baptized into the Church. She went on to receive her first Holy Communion in 2017. My daughter Casey — you know, the one that started all this, married her husband, Cayce, in 2008. They blessed us with our first grandson in 2010, Jackson Lucas. When he was only four months old, they came to us and asked if they could have him baptized in the Catholic Church. Casey had left the Pentecostal Church after I became Catholic and had been studying ever since. They were not ready to become Catholic themselves, but they knew that someday they would, and did not want to withhold God’s grace from Jackson. So, at four months old he was baptized into the Church. Jackson was confirmed in May 2019, with his Nana and Daddo by his side, just as Sandy was beside me so many years ago. And Casey and Cayce have recently begun steps to enter the Church this year!
I am still on this journey and know that I always will be. I have been blessed to assist in our parish’s RCIA program for the last seven years. I was recently reminded of something someone said to me along the way. In trying to understand why my friend Gretchen could come to such opposing beliefs to mine, I was told, “she believes those things because that is what she was taught. She then reads all the Scriptures through this teaching.” I didn’t realize at the time how true this was. We all do it. We put on the “lens of our beliefs” as we read Scripture. As a Baptist looking at all the different lenses out there, I realized how necessary it was to have the correct one. God left us His lens in His Church. He never intended us to wander in the desert forever. He sent out His Apostles and said, “Those who hear you, hear Me.” If only we will let down those walls and surrender to Him, we will be able to see through His lens, the teachings of His Church, the Catholic Church. My greatest joy is witnessing those who were lost and unsure finally come home!