Monday, January 17, 2005

My Conversion Story

My parents are atheists so there was no religion in our home. They never tried to prejudice us against religion, they just never talked of it. It was kind of like talking about sex ... it was the unspoken rule that you just didn't mention religion. As issues came up, we were taught to be good people in the morality of popular culture … work hard and do your best, be honest, don’t steal, cheat or lie. We learned that a lot of other issues were all relative. As long as you didn't hurt other people or break the law what you did was your own business. Of course, even though they never talked about it, we all knew that those boring church-goers were weak because they needed a crutch like religion to get by.

During our early married life neither Tom or I gave God much thought. We were just living our lives. And then God used what we cared about most to get our attention.

Hannah had a terrible teacher in public school and nothing we tried solved the problem so halfway through kindergarten we switched her to St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School. Her religion teacher asked all the kids who went to Mass every Sunday. Almost all the kids raised their hands. Hannah didn't. Mrs. McDaniel told those children that they needed to go home and tell their parents that they should be going to Mass every week. Dutifully Hannah passed the message. There is no one for knowing black from white and "yes" from "no" like a kindergartener. She didn't buy our feeble excuses and started quoting her religion lessons to us. Pretty soon we were attending weekly Mass at St. Thomas.

Tom is Catholic but he hadn't attended church in a long time. I wasn't even sure if there was a God. How are you ever really sure? Most of the “proof” anyone ever offered seemed an awful lot like coincidence to me. But, I couldn't sit there week after week listening to Father B. without starting to wonder … is there a God or not?

I was so clever, I figured out a sure fire way to find out. (I'll just say here that I am thankful God protects fools because looking back I can't believe I had such nerve!) About a year before, we had tried everything to sell our house. Even though the realtor said everything was just right and there should have been no problem, no one would even make an offer. So, kneeling at Mass one day, I made God a deal. All He had to do was to get a me a new house as a sign. Then I’d know He was there … and I’d have a new house.

Of course, nothing happened. Except, that because I had made that deal I found myself listening more carefully at Mass and thinking even more. After about a year had gone by, when we were kneeling at Mass one Sunday, I told God the deal was off. I didn't need proof. It wasn't because of any dramatic feeling or discovery. I just didn't have a reason not to believe anymore so I went ahead and took His existence on faith.

That week our new accountant found major errors in the past three years' taxes that gave us a huge refund ... $11,000 ... enough for a down payment on a new house, new furniture and some remodeling. In a time when houses were being bought within days of going on the market, we found a house that had been sitting on the market for months for no apparent reason … except it was perfect for us and the price just been lowered to exactly the amount we could afford. Two weeks after that our house was sold without ever going on the market ... to a girl who was determined to have a house with our exact specifications, only within a six block area that we were right in the middle of. All the realtors and the people at the title company individually marveled at how smooth and fast things went on the sale of our old house and the purchase of our new one. They all said they had never seen anything like it.

I don't believe in coincidence any more.

Now I had faith but I didn't see any reason to become Catholic. Hannah and Rose had their First Communions and Tom went to confession and started taking communion again. I didn't mind sitting in the pew until they got back. But, over time, whenever everyone went for communion I developed a yearning for the Eucharist that became an actual physical ache. This went on for months. A few weeks before Easter I decided I’d better find out how to become Catholic because I couldn't stand it any more. I couldn't believe it when I found out I would have to wait about a year before completing RCIA and entering the Church the next Easter. That was the longest year of my life, although I found RCIA to be an interesting spiritual journey in itself ... which I did not expect. I think it is funny that I am such a reader (and have been my whole life) but God chose to reach me in a way that was totally outside books at all.

Finally it was the Easter Vigil of 2000, the wonderful day when I was Catholic and could have the Eucharist. I love it. I love the traditions, I love the saints, I love the Eucharist … I love being Catholic. (That was about 6 years after I told God I believed in Him.)

And God blessed me that day in a way that I will never forget.

When I was kneeling after Communion I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see my father-in-law smiling at me as he walked toward the altar. He had not been to communion since the 1960s when Vatican II changes made him so mad that he turned his back on the Church altogether. Tom’s devout mother and his aunts had been praying for many, many years for his return to the faith so I was thrilled to see him take communion. His sister, Tom’s aunt, was my sponsor and she hissed in my ear, “Has he been to confession?” I was so happy I just said, “That’s between him and God. Let it go.”

Later Tom’s mother said that my father-in-law told her that if I had decided to become Catholic it was because I had thought about it thoroughly and knew it was the right thing to do. That was when he decided to come back to the Church. And, yes, he had been to confession. He had carefully planned to have his return to communion be at my confirmation. He had gone before they left Houston. For my father-in-law to show such total respect of my decision to become Catholic by rethinking his faith was overwhelming. Even more overwhelming was the realization that God had used my conversion not just for my good but to reach someone close to me ... and I had been totally unaware of it.

One of the things that made my conversion so powerful to me in retrospect is that it was done without any reading or influence from outsiders at all. This was all just between God and me. No one else's opinion was even solicited as I really didn't talk about that sort of thing. (I know a bunch of people probably wish I was still that way!) One of my confirmation gifts was a book by Scott Hahn that started me down a whole new path of reading. I had no idea anyone wrote books about this stuff! I devoured Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, Francis Sheed, books about the saints, everything I could get my hands on ... and so on to the CRHP retreat and so on to Happy Catholic ... and here I am today, waiting to see where He's gonna take me next on this wild, but very interesting ride.


  1. I read your conversion story some time ago, but I haven't forgotten it. I recently met a single mom who has been away from the Church for (in her words)..."a looooong time." Her little girl is going to start kindergarten in our parish school this fall. I'll be praying that her little girl finds Jesus there and helps bring her mommy home to Him as well.

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful story.

  2. Thanks for sharing. Riveting read, though it triggers loads of questions with me. Bet hey, that's me... ;)

  3. Hi Anne! I think that most conversion stories trigger questions simply because they are half internal as well and those things are very difficult to communication. In fact, they are impossible to communicate well, just as with a person's internal feelings during falling in love, marrying, and becoming a parent. So much of those things one must simply experience to fully understand ... and so it is with meeting God ... :-)

  4. yes and it is exactly that internal process that I cannot grasp. If you developed from atheist to catholic it implies you developed from not believing in anything to believing in a god, which is some 180 degrees turn in your outlook on life, humanity and the world. That is something that seems rather impossible to me. Like a bird changing into a fish ...

  5. Well, first one must keep in mind that I was not an atheist. That was my parents. I was what one might call a true agnostic. I really didn't know and was looking for what was true. Was there a God or not? How did one know? That was the question I had, which I believe is much along the lines of the sort of question that philosophers have meditated upon through the ages (not that I am in any league at all with philosophers). :-)

    To compare it to a bird changing into a fish is not accurate. To say that I had a question and found a definitive answer is a distinctly human process all the way from beginning to end ... and I might add that the journey continues as I continue to grow in relationship with the Person who is God.

    As I say, it is like falling in love. Until one is sufficiently mature to appreciate another person outside of oneself can one understand what makes a couple remain married for 50 years? I contend not. Until you meet the person who you will commit yourself to for the rest of your life, can you understand why a couple might struggle to overcome great odds and remain together? I contend not. Until one actually has children and understands that the sacrifice of caring for them is always less than the underlying thread of love that is woven throughout, can you understand parents who will give up so much for their children? I contend not.

    Those are very human processes. We do not know what we are getting into when we take those first tentative steps into love, marriage, and parenthood. We grow to understand it slowly and it grows into something infinitely beautiful, more than an outsider can appreciate.

    This is the same thing. :-)

  6. Hi Julie, thank you for this great reading.
    In these times, where you listen people everywhere ridiculing the Catholic Church or even catholics saying that they haven´t gone to mass years ago, read an experience like yours is really comforting.

    1. Has there ever been a time when unenlightened people have not ridiculed the Catholic Church? As a theology major now studying Church History, it seem ridicule and scorn have always been problems the Church has had to deal with. What bothers me more is the greatly increased secularization of society. I read, and I don't know if it's true, that kids are not allowed to wear religious jewelry of any kind to school now. How sad, and how ridiculous. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen said, and I have to paraphrase, that the Catholic Church will always be out of step with the times because it is a church for the ages. I totally agree.

  7. Wow, I love conversion stories, but you had a double conversion and interconnected you whole family to the story. Wonderfully told. You took us through the entire uplifting process. This was an excellent blog.

  8. Excellent story Julie and very nice blog. I like your sense of humor and style of writing.

  9. Hi Julie! I love your style of writing! What a wonderful mix of faithful and fun! Keep it up! I just ordered your book!! Lisa

  10. Julie,

    A wonderful story, and I would have assumed that you were a cradle Catholic by the name of your blog. I was baptized and confirmed in 06, perhaps you were just a short time before me. We have much in common with our stories. On some paperwork or something I wrote down, "pagan" under previous religion.

    God Bless you,

    Dave Rosen

    PS I got you on my blog roll now.

  11. Lino and Gina5/8/11, 2:49 PM

    Glory to Jesus Christ. Great story

  12. Would you mind if I use your story as an example in my religion class? It would help prove my point that conversions are more of a mental thing than anything else and I think you covered that part well :)
    -some girl named Heather

  13. Heather, help yourself! :-)

    My comment would be that they are not so much a "mental thing" as an internal/personal thing ... a meeting of hearts ... ours with God.

    That is why I tend to focus more on living or speaking a witness rather than trying to push others to believe. I feel that if others seek truth with their whole hearts, minds, and souls ... honestly above all ... then God will meet them where they are. Our job is to be the living witness, ready to answer questions or present our knowledge when it is needed.

    If that makes sense. :-)

  14. Hello Julie. And thanks. I found you via Craftlit which led me to Forgotten Classics, A Good Story is Hard to Find and of course the SF podcast. It is wonderful to listen to so much good stuff. Delicious cold water for a thirsty mind. My darling husband was a non-practicing Catholic before we met. He had to endure my conversion to Pentecostal Christianity and all that implies (which he did with much grace). Now he is seeking again. I get to casually mention your podcasts and gently encourage him that it is okay to be Catholic. I am hoping he will find his way back to the faith of his youth. Thanks for providing resources. (and chairs)(grin)

  15. Hi Orghlaith! What a circuitous route ... but one that delights me to hear about. Isn't it funny how God works? I know that when I converted I'd never have thought that a podcast which I began with much trepidation so I could read stories to people would have led to meeting you (and, hopefully, your husband). Please pull up as many chairs as you like! (grin back atcha!)

  16. it's amazing , so often "a little child will lead them"

  17. This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you SO much for sharing! God is SO good and is SO perfect in all he does. We make it so difficult for ourselves sometimes by wanting things to go our way or deciding what's best for ourselves when in reality, if we have a little faith, God's fruits in our life are out of this world! Blessings to you, your father in law and your entire family!

    I recommend this book "Dream and Your Dreams Will Fall Short" by Pedro Casciaro

  18. Enjoyed. Good for you!
    - jsdy -

  19. I came across your blog today, 7 years after you wrote this :D Thank you for all the sharings and the wonderful book reviews. I have passed your website to my close friends so they too can find it useful. God bless you and your family! Monique in Gardena, California.

  20. Julie,

    Thank you for sharing what was happening inside you. Conversion really isn't about books, is it? Rather it is an on-going relationship. He leads us deeper in ourselves and we either listen and respond, allowing ourselves to be led ever deeper and closer, or we choose our own will. In your post I could discern your heart straining to hear Him.

  21. My favorite part of your conversion story: But, I couldn't sit there week after week listening to Father B. without starting to wonder … is there a God or not? I wonder if that is happening for my husband. Beautiful conversion story, now off to read your blog!

  22. Hey, great story. I didn't have the influence of anyone either when I converted. I didn't talk about it to anyone. I was an agnostic too and raised that way. It was nice to hear another person who went through something similar to me. :)

  23. Welcome home, fellow convert!

    But of course you were influenced by others in your conversion, as I was in mine. By hundreds of other people there in the parish with you at Mass every week: by the faithful elderly couple (love those precious elderly couples!), by the faithful priest, by the faithful young man in t-shirt and jeans, by the faithful young man in suit and tie, by the entire family who attended Mass wearing their Sunday best including mantillas for the girls, by those who didn't even know what mantillas were. And by millions of Catholics praying for you around the world every day. And countless millions more who have gone on before and pray for us all before the Lord. Influenced by the prophets and apostles whose words were read to you by lectors & deacons & priests, and by saints and spiritual writers who were quoted more times than you may have known. You were slowly, little by little, one liturgy at a time, growing into a family, a community, so vast it boggles the mind.

    It's never really just me and God. It took thousands of years and millions of people to bring me, and to bring you, into Holy Mother Church. So again I say, welcome home, thanks be to God! Peace be with you. :)

  24. Thank you for this wonderful story and for this marvellous Blog. You'll probably never know how many lives you have touched by what you write here; and how many people you have led to know Christ's love. What a priviledge.

    God bless.

  25. It's interesting to read about the different ways God calls each of us to him. I cannot remember a time when I was not aware of the presence of God, or God's presence within me. Of course I grew up in a Carmelite cloister, where my aunt was the Mother Superior, or I don't think such an arrangement would have been allowed. My parents were religious, but they had to travel constantly for work. I fully intended on becoming a member of the Carmelite community, but God had other plans for me, and a plan that included another person, not a husband!, and within that plan, we both became the saviors of each other's soul and returned each other to Christ.

    As for proof of God's existence, how about the Resurrection? When Jesus was arrested, the apostles fled in fear. Peter followed along behind at some distance, but when asked if he knew Christ, he denied him, as predicted. It was the women, along with John, who were witnesses to Christ's death on the Cross. Yet these same apostles who fled in fear when Christ was arrested, who would not witness his death, were willing to boldly proclaim the gospel and even give up their lives for their faith after their encounter with the Risen Lord. And indeed, all but John were martyred. Nothing but Christ's Resurrection, not even the empty tomb alone, can account for the changed life of the apostles. And Resurrection to a first century Jew meant bodily resurrection, life after death. It did not mean a vision, or a feeling, or anything ephemeral. It meant living again. That Jesus lived is undisputed by scholars now. He is mentioned in Flavius Josephus' JEWISH ANTIQUITIES and a few books by Roman authors. And someone was resurrected in Jerusalem the Sunday after Jesus died. I don't believe all the people who saw the Resurrected Lord could have gotten it wrong. He died, yet three days later, he was among those who loved him, and some who didn't, more alive than you and I.

    1. I understand what you're saying about the resurrection, but I only understood it after I became Christian. For a person raised in a completely secular environment the resurrection isn't proof because modern people discount such accounts from the ancient past. Also, I myself tend to take Josephus with a large grain of salt.

      Anyway, all that aside, for me myself Jesus was never the question. I didn't pay much attention to him other than a historical figure. He barely registered on my radar. I wasn't interested in questions of such things as Christianity, Buddhism, or the like. Those were men's interpretations. The question was much, much bigger. It was of the Almighty's existence. Once that was settled, then I was ready to embrace Jesus and Christianity without question. Just the way my personality took it... :-)

  26. Beautiful story. Scott Hahn had a great deal on influence in keeping me in the Catholic Church when I was thinking of leaving during my late teens. His books are wonderfully informative.

    Mrs C.