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Conversion Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lydia B.

God Writes Straight with Crooked Lines: A Conversion Story

 

GodWritesStraightwithCrookedLines

So there I was, crammed into a tiny Boeing 737 bathroom whilst trying to pee into very small Dixie cup. I was flying to Alabama and due to the early morning flight, needed to check my fertility on the Clear Blue monitor I use for the Marquette Method of Family Planning. Despite the turbulence of the Rockies, I successfully avoided urinating all over myself. Win! During this debacle I started laughing out loud to myself. Seriously, how many Catholics–or women just desperate to get pregnant–have checked their LH levels at 35,000 feet?

How did I get to this point in my life, especially when I am not even Catholic? Like many conversion stories, it’s a long one. I wanted this first blog post to be my introduction. I am a real person, just like you. I struggle. I juggle being a wife to a military man, and having three jobs. I feel guilty I do not spend enough time with my six-, two-, and one-year-old. I eat off the floor most days of the week, sadly content to eat the scraps of my disgruntled toddlers. I lament I do not set enough time aside for God. I have phases where I am all over our Lord Jesus, followed by dry spells where I just keep praying for the rains of passion to come back. The struggle is real.

Perhaps because of my struggles, I have had this unquenchable drive for the truth. Ironically, Jesus said in John 8:32 that “the truth shall set you free.” I searched for the truth during my Protestant upbringing, never fully satisfied. At 18, my heart was ripped from my chest when my little non-denominational church split over an argument of whether baptism should constitute full immersion in water or just a few drops sprinkled on the head. The church voted to fire the pastor that I had grown to love like a father. Sixty of 120 people left the church. I sobbed and sobbed. There must be something better. God could not have wanted His Church to be this way.

I was early on in my military career and had the benefit of free education. I took a religion class and thoughtfully researched the top five religions. I never wavered from Christianity, but I wanted to be open-minded and hear out the others. The falseness of the other religions, especially Islam, seemed evident to me. I felt at peace knowing that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

While learning more about Christianity, however, I discovered that all roads led to the Catholic Church. Odd, I thought. Growing up, I had been taught that Catholics were going to hell for blasphemy. They worship the anti-Christ (Pope), Mary, so-called Saints, and had idols in their sanctuaries. Worse yet, Catholics believe they are eating the flesh of Christ, like some weird, perverted cannibal. Catholics are sadly mistaken people who believe Jesus never got off the cross, which is why he is still on the Crucifix. In short, to be Catholic was to be an unbeliever.

It was exactly the time I was transitioning off of active duty service that I had a come-to-Jesus meeting. I invited Jesus. I was in the Bible Belt deep in South Carolina, parked at a Red Lobster. I said a prayer to God asking for a sign that Catholicism was the right denomination for me. I closed my car door and walked into the restaurant. After the hostess ushered me to my table, I sat down and glanced at the table. Next to the salt and pepper shakers was a genuine, Italian made medallion of Saint Christopher. Let me re-iterate. I was deep in the Protestant Bible Belt and had never seen a Catholic church in the five years I had lived there. I picked up that medallion and cried. I have that medallion on my key chain to this day.

Change doesn’t come easy though, does it? I wanted proof. I wanted someone to refute all of those Catholic misnomers that Protestants indoctrinate their children with. I signed up for RCIA a year later, but no one ever called me. I signed up a second time. No one called me. I began to get discouraged and irritated that Catholics seemed so lackadaisical about gaining followers for Christ. Many Catholics seemed content to just go through the motions and bolt like a Kentucky Derby champion out of the pews after mass. I turned to Catholic radio for answers and for three years worked out doctrinal and theological issues in my head.

The olive branch to the Catholic faith came from an unusual source: Mary. If you have ever been Protestant, you know what a hang-up those Christians have with Mary being the Mother of God, Immaculately Conceived, and Ever-Virgin. But God used my first pregnancy to connect me to Mary, as both of us had very long journeys during our ninth month of pregnancy. She was the gateway. My heart started to accept Catholicism more and more. I started RCIA two more times, successfully finishing the course in 2014. This part of the journey took 10 years.

I am currently in limbo now. Terrible life choices in our 20s led my husband and me to marry different people. My annulment was granted in 2016; my husband’s is still ongoing. There is the possibility he had a valid Catholic marriage. Looking at the Catechism, it is pretty clear we are living in sin because our legal marriage was not blessed by a priest—it couldn’t be.

But guess what? Jesus came to forgive me. I have faith that whatever the annulment outcome, I can remain Catholic in my heart. I will work on purifying myself every day in some small way. For example, at Mass I go up and receive a blessing from the priest. I have had all our girls baptized. I even spent five sessions having the priest perform soul-tie cutting of every unhealthy sexual relationship I have had.

We should all strive to be Saints, and sometimes the journey there is not pretty, as you can see by this post. But do not give up. Keep fighting through your struggles. Pray. Ask God for signs and listen quietly for answers. But more than anything, believe. God is real. God loves you and He is coming back for you.

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Alyssa Azul Conversion Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth Testimonials

Loving Me Through Him

image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/hiker-hiking-nature-hipster-solo-846094/

Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39) we are told. This is the second greatest commandment. What does loving yourself look like? The answer lies in the first (Matthew 22:37), “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

I realized very quickly that I could not love myself by my own strength. I needed to look beyond myself and my neighbors. My journey towards self-acceptance began in a dark place during my adolescent years.

I was bullied for being short, quiet and more plain-looking than the other kids. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up so I didn’t have the newest, most up-to-date clothes and technology that it seemed everyone else had. You know what they say– “the kids in middle school can be so cruel!” But what was more cruel were the things that I heard in the silence of my own thoughts. I was that 13-year-old girl who buried herself between the pages of Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was a heartbreaking way of coping with the teen angst–you knew that most kids had to endure and attempt to master the awful art of fitting in, yet you felt like nobody could possibly have it worse than you.

The older I got, the more and more I disliked who I was, outside and inside. I was achingly awkward and always treated as a doormat among my “friend” group. I was the last and the least among my peers. I stayed up at night wishing that I could wake up one day and be a completely different person. I didn’t understand why God had made me this way, especially feeling like the fact that I didn’t look like my peers was a punishment of sorts. I hoped and prayed that one day I would get my turn as the heroic female lead. That I would be feminine enough. That I would be strong-willed and fearless. That someday someone else would love me.

At 17 years old I entered into a relationship with someone who showed me that love was…conditional. That loving someone meant you had to compromise your dignity. The idea that “if you give me what I want, or if you measure up, then I’ll love you.” Sadly, I am one of many girls who share this experience of attaining love, whether it be from a boyfriend, friend, or family member.

Because I was young and this relationship was not Christ-centred, I had no idea how to love someone else. I had lost my self-respect, settling for giving my all to someone else in order to prove myself useful and worthy. Sometimes I wonder why God didn’t wake me up from this bad dream. Why didn’t he reveal himself to me as, putting it lightly,  the man I had been searching for all my life.

All this time I was looking to be noticed by God, He was really waiting for me to notice Him first. My insecurities broke me from the inside, enough for God to find His way in. He didn’t embrace me like a heavy storm, but like a soft, gentle rainfall. Often, only through tears did I see Him.

I truly believe that these painful growing experiences really do show you what you are made of. Our brokenness is an offering that brings us closer to God, and ultimately who we are meant to be (Psalm 51:17). It’s like starting life from taking your first steps, finding out which things are stable enough to hold onto, versus the things that falter when you lean on them. I think we often end up choosing the weaker, more unsteady foundations. Like that child, what we need is someone to take our hand and carry us. We are lost sheep, in need of guidance. (Isaiah 40:10-11).

Today, I still have times when I don’t love who I am. Loving myself was never about seeing myself as a new person healed from all the hurts of the past. Loving God showed me that my brokenness had a purpose. It’s about seeing yourself as God sees you, even with the cuts and bruises of our sin. What does loving yourself look like? It looks like mercy. Our journey towards holiness is learning how to love as the Father loves. This doesn’t mean we will be able to love perfectly, but we know that we aren’t able to love ourselves fully without knowing and loving God first.

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Allison Allison Welch Conversion Evangelization Ink Slingers Offering your suffering Prayer Spiritual Growth

What I Learned in the Walmart Parking Lot

Life weighed heavy on me: the loss of employment and relationships and financial difficulties that go with it; a son’s medical issues and the looming threat of the death of his well-fought-for dream; aging parents with health problems. And within weeks, I would live in an empty nest for the first time in more than two decades. The best of life, it seemed, was behind me.

As I walked to my car feeling sorry for myself, I noticed an older woman shuffling slowly toward me. She was leaning heavily on her shopping cart like a walker. At the rate she moved, it would be at least a 10-minute trek just to enter the store. I should be grateful, I thought.

As I loaded my purchases into the car, I felt a persistent urge to offer her one of the small pink mums I shouldn’t have bought.

“Would you like some flowers?,” I asked awkwardly.

“I drive a truck; I don’t have any place to keep them,” she said matter-of-factly. “But thank you.”

I fought back the familiar feeling of failure. Clearly, the persistent urge to reach out to her hadn’t been from the Holy Spirit. Or was it? The prompting, it turns out, was not about what I had to offer her, but what she had to offer me.

“Have a blessed day,” she said, as though it were secret code for I’m a believer, too.

“You, too,” I replied. We’re family.

“I will,” she insisted, “Every day is blessed.”

There was a pause where I began to consider her attitude. How does she do it? As if answering my thought, she added, “Some days are just more blessed than others.”

Walmart parking lot wisdom.

The priceless, eternal wealth of the Saints offered freely in the superstore’s parking lot…who knew? The sermon on the plain, the sermon on the mount. It comes to us from the elderly, the infirm, and the poor. Surrounded by suffering, they are blessed. Happy. Low in the valley or high on the mountain, independent of circumstances, blessings abound.

This elderly, infirm, truck-driving woman reminded me that God is good. All the time. God created good. “All things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). What is good is the only thing that’s real; all else will pass. Perhaps St. Teresa of Avila said it best: “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”

It’s okay to acknowledge the bad things that happen, but we should resist the temptation to dwell on them. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). This is where we are called to dwell: In the good. We must train our minds like athletes for the big game.

Consider this: Every.  Day.  Is.  Blessed. Some days are just more blessed than others. 

Homework:

What weighs heavily on you, readers?  It’s okay to acknowledge it, just don’t live there. Name the distractions and discouragements and offer them to God, asking him to do what he does best. He can transform them, making them work for our good. Amen and alleluia.

Now, go!  Collect your blessings!

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Alison W Confession Conversion Faith Formation Ink Slingers Parenting Prayer Sacraments Single Parents Vocations

Saint Makers: Forgiving and Forgiveness

One of the biggest challenges I have undertaken was forgiving my ex-husband. I think most people who have walked this single parent road can appreciate that.

The pain is real. The pain can take many different forms. The pain of rejection and abandonment comes in forms of loneliness and despair. The pain of verbal/physical/mental abuse lasts in memories and nightmares. The pain of harsh judgment comes in the form of insecurity and fear. The pain of failure comes in forms of disappointment and embarrassment. The pain of broken dreams shatters the picture of the future.

I think first it’s important to realize how much we have been forgiven. Jesus died so that no sin could separate us from Him. He forgives us as often as we let Him. This was a good starting place for me. It’s always a good idea to point the finger at self first. There is always a lot of work that needs to be done with the self. If you aren’t sure of your faults, get a confession guide and ask Jesus to enlighten your spirit. He will, I’ll warn you this might bring some pain. We are all sinners, so don’t let this pull you into a place of despair. It is good to recognize our brokenness and offer it to Jesus. He loves our weakness. He will even use it as our strength.

I had an enlightening experience in confession once regarding this:

I went to confession at a different church than I normally attend. The church was gorgeous and had the old style feel to it, so I was already in awe and ready to feel Jesus. One of the sins I confessed was the anger in my heart toward my ex-husband. I can’t remember why I was angry now. That priest told me to look at situations like this as “saint making.” It’s in these moments when the pain is real, and the world justifies our anger, that we get to choose how to go forward. We can make the choice to forgive and love and pray. We can make the choice to walk out of that pain. We can make the choice to walk with Jesus. This in itself is the road to becoming a saint. And this was a major turning point for me. This was balm to my soul. This didn’t change a single circumstance; it only changed my heart.

Hear me when I say I didn’t do this on my own. Jesus did this for me. But I was willing. I was willing to confess and I was willing to receive grace and eventually I had completely forgiven my ex-husband. I pray for him regularly and I know that is the work of the holy spirit.

Now to further clarify forgiving does not necessarily mean forgetting. Sometimes things have to change in order to protect yourself and/or your children. So I’m not talking about a Mickey Mouse version of sweeping everything under the rug. I’m talking about digging into your heart and pulling the anger out. That anger is toxic to your soul. It is toxic to everything it gets close to. Don’t ever trick yourself into believing holding onto anger has a good purpose. It doesn’t. Sure anger is natural and something we will feel. It is not a place we should stay.

Jesus wants us to walk in freedom. So I challenge you to free yourself from anger. I challenge you to free yourself from anything that is standing in the way of your sainthood. I challenge you to hold tight to the sacraments and trust Jesus to change you into something that looks like Him. I challenge you to be a saint.

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Conversion Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri Prayer

Lectio Divina: The Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year A)

What does it take for you to believe in Jesus? Or what did it take? Was it being knocked over and struck with blindness like St. Paul. Or maybe it was witnessing a miracle. Do miracles even happen any more? I believe they do, if we’re open and willing to see them. This Sunday’s Gospel had me thinking about miracles. As we approach Easter I’m trying to look at Jesus’ miracles in a new way.

It’s hard to approach something in a new way, especially if we’ve been hearing it our whole life. I believe this is why the Church year is set up in a cyclical fashion, so we are challenged to continuously read the life of Jesus and see it in new ways each time. Which brings us to the beauty of lectio divina. Lectio is the ultimate challenge of praying with the text and allowing God to show you some new aspect of it. When you are praying with this passage remember that you are not necessarily trying to understand everything from the passage (and this one is a long one!) you are giving God the opportunity to point out something to you that you need to hear today. A year from now you may read the same passage and God will want to tell you something different. What he shares with you may be very different from what he has shared with me.

With that in mind I invite you to locate the Gospel for this coming Sunday (in your own missal or other publication or you can find it on the USCCB website) and join me as we read, reflect, respond, and rest in God’s Word. For a brief review of the lectio divina steps, I recommend this brief explanation from the Archabbey of St. Meinrad.

READ

  • I am the resurrection
  • Jesus wept
  • Thank you for hearing me
  • Began to believe in him

REFLECT: What is God saying to you?

I really have to step back and put myself in the mindset of the people in this reading who are witnessing the miracle Jesus performs. I forget how absolutely astounding it must have been to see a dead man walk out of his tomb. I feel like the last sentence of this very long Gospel passage is a bit of an understatement. I also wonder who walked away not believing. It doesn’t say that “all” began to believe, but that “many” began to believe. How could you not believe?? Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. He was bound in burial bands and his face was wrapped in a cloth. And yet, he walked out of the tomb! It’s miraculous!

Miracles are something that we forget about often. We are surrounded by so much technology and the modern world has made it it’s mission to prove everything by science. It’s easy to forget that miracles are not just something that happened once upon a time. They still surround us today if we just open our eyes to see them. For me, I used to find it rather useless to pray for things that seemed an impossibility. More recently I was reminded that Jesus is a worker of miracles. This Gospel passage pretty much drives home that message. Now when I go to the adoration chapel for my weekly hour, I regularly thank Jesus for the miracles he performs and I ask him to work miracles for the intentions I bring before him. No matter how impossible they seem to me, I continue to beg him for the miracles I know, sincerely know, he can perform.

Something else that stuck out to me in this reading was just before Lazarus is raised from the dead, Jesus prays to God the Father and the first thing he does is thank him for hearing him. Sometimes I feel as if my prayers consist entirely of thanking God for my blessings. Which is all good, but then I forget to pray for other things, too. I was reminded here that God likes to receive our prayers of thanksgiving. Even Jesus, his own son, begins his prayer with a prayer of thanksgiving. It’s a nice reminder that when we pray, we should offer all our thanks to God first before asking him to then consider our intentions.

RESPOND: What do you want to say to God?

Reflecting on the miracles that God works each and every day, I’m reminded of some particular prayer intentions I’m always bringing before God. Sometimes I find it difficult to imagine that these particular intentions could come to fulfillment. But then I remind myself that God works miracles and nothing is impossible for him. What may look impossible from my perspective may look very possible from his. I only have to trust. This passage reminded me that even impossible things can happen.

Thank you, God, for the blessings in my life and for the many small miracles that happen each day. I pray for those who do not believe in you that they may be reminded of your love and presence in their life and will come to believe.

REST

Read the passage one final time and spend a few moments in quiet contemplation, rest in the words of the Gospel.

YOUR TURN

What do you feel God is saying to you in this passage? How would you respond to him? Share your thoughts in the comments.