I want to warn you the reader–I came out of a very strict, multi-generation, Roman Catholic family. Much of what I was taught was by nuns and priests who had gotten caught up in the trappings of tradition that both Jesus (Mark 7) and Paul (the first half of Romans amongst other things) warned us about. God uses many different things to draw people to Him and He uses many different churches. I firmly believe that as long as you believe that Christ was without sin, died for your sins, rose again, and is alive today having sent His Holy Spirit to guide us and if you have accepted Him and called on His name while in your still sins then you are saved by His grace–regardless of what church you are in. This is just my journey–the one that was necessary for me to come to Him.
The following was written in 2006 on my previous website–http://Gracedbychrist.com.
Like some, I don’t have a definite moment when I KNEW that Christ died for me and saved me from my sins. Mine is a process of fits and starts.The closest thing I have to an exact moment in time is suddenly “getting” that Christ died for my sins as a six year old at VBS. It was probably our VBS, I don’t remember going to others. We belonged to St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church and that is the only VBS and Sunday School I remember attending. I could probably leave it at that but I won’t, there is so much more.
I was sprinkled as a baby. Obviously I didn’t “get” the whole Christ died for me business at that point. When I was six-ish, as I mentioned above, I realized that I was a sinner and that this whole “dying on the cross” business was meant to solve that. I realized that I needed to do something about it but wasn’t sure what. I remember talking to God and singing to Jesus in my own made up language telling Him how much I loved Him. I look back and think, ‘Wow. Tongues.’ I remember desperately trying to be kind to others to do what was right. I remember having my First Communion and Confession.
This is the point when I started to get really confused. Up until then I assumed that what the Bible said was true, that accepting Jesus as Saviour was all that you needed to do. Now I was being told that you also had to have “Sacraments” to get into heaven. You had to confess your sins to a priest, receive communion, and go to church every week in order to get into heaven. If you didn’t, then you had to go to Purgatory until you paid off all those sins you racked up. I tried to do things that way, I really did. I was as devout a little Catholic girl as you could find. The problem was I just couldn’t do everything I was being told I was supposed to be doing.
Someone gave me a coloring book about saints and martyrs. I remember reading it through, desperately trying to figure out what I could do to be like them. Putting rocks in my shoes as atonement as one of the saints had didn’t work (I don’t remember her name but she was young like I was). I got in trouble for doing it and for hurting my feet. It was then that my mom explained that me that some people were saints and some people weren’t. It was up to God who got to be a saint and who didn’t. At that point I gave up. Why should I bother trying to be “saint-like”?
I was still a good kid and I still loved singing to Him in church with all my heart but I couldn’t see anyway around this whole sacrament issue. I loved the Christmas Eve service and the Easter Service when the priest would get up and tell us how we were saved by His grace. I loved how all the songs talked about how He died so we could be free. I especially loved those songs that came directly from the Bible because I learned more about Him from them. On the other hand, the sermons and Sunday School always left me more confused about how this whole grace thing worked. We were taught all about the history of the Catholic church (minus most of the more morbid bits.) We were taught all about the importance of the Sacraments, the Rosary, and we memorized ready-made prayers for every occasion. Any time I brought up the “grace” issue the teachers would give me the run around. I finally decided that they didn’t really know how it worked either.
I was confirmed in 8th grade. I expected to have some great epiphany and was very disappointed by the whole affair. I was very excited, however, that my Aunt bought me my first popular record album, Tiffany, as a gift for my confirmation (yes, she is still around).
At this point I was in trouble a lot more, mostly for my grades and for lying. I did lie, a lot. It started with how much junk food I said I didn’t eat and moved to bigger things, even to “fixing” my grades. It seemed I was always grounded or in trouble for something. It wasn’t until years later that the Lord broke that habit, and did He ever.
The one good thing is that I started hanging out with a group of friends, most of which were born-again Christians. I argued with them constantly (I was also a know-it-all and a complainer) but they put up with me anyway, even if most of them really didn’t like me. My best friend had run away from home due to abuse and was now living with an acquaintance and near another friend. We became a pretty tight set. They weren’t perfect but they were pretty good compared to the others around me. I look back now and can see God’s hand leading me into certain circles of friends and acquaintances, most of which were Christian. I didn’t get it and argued the Bible with them even though I didn’t know a thing about it other than what I had learned at church. I thought that every doctrine and tradition of the Roman Catholic church was there somewhere and if it wasn’t in their’s it had to be in mine. As I said, they put up with me anyway.
I started attending an Episcopalian youth group which had a wonderful born-again couple leading it. I believe that the Lord put them in place just for the four of us who needed them so much. They talked to me about the whole grace issue but by that point I was so indoctrinated into what I had been taught that I was sure the Sacraments made sense somehow and couldn’t get the “we don’t have to work at being saved” idea. They kept at me, loved me anyway, and even lent me my first Elisabeth Elliot book, “Passion and Purity.”
I couldn’t get enough of it. I carried it around so long, reading and rereading, that I eventually left it behind somewhere and was devastated because it was a signed copy AND out of print. At that point I also started carrying my Bible with me because reading what she said made me want to delve into the Word myself, despite being warned that I wouldn’t understand it because only the Church and the Pope could understand and interpret it for us. I didn’t understand much of it though I did fall in love with the Psalms and Proverbs as well as the Book of Wisdom from the Apocrypha.
When I was a senior I took Shamus to the prom. We hit it off but he argued the Bible with me constantly. It went on for 5 and a half years. In that time we each dated several other people, his mother (a born-again Christian) questioned me about my faith every time I visited, I became part of the Art department and rebelled against Christianity completely, I went to Poland, came back, became a seriously devout Roman Catholic, Shamus got a good job, lost it, his car was stolen, and we decided that if we could manage through all that we had better get married.
In the Spring of 1996 we announced the engagement. I started working for UCP and commuting to work. During that time I started praying the Rosary daily on the way to work. I had a little prayer book with all the mysteries and I used a different set each day. Gradually I felt a tug on my heart to focus on the Our Father and less on the Hail Marys, to focus on the mysteries that involved Christ instead of those that focused on Mary. At the end of summer I started student teaching. This also meant a long commute but I spent this time praying instead of doing the Rosary. It was about the same time that I ran out of books to read.
I have neglected, until now, to mention how much I relied on books. They were my best friends. In college I didn’t hang out in the student center, I stayed in the stacks in the literature section of the University Library. It was my home away from home. I had just reread the LOTR Trilogy and didn’t want to read dreck. It was 10 pm, I had to be up early and wanted a good read to help me get to sleep. I wandered around my room, desperate for a good book. Nothing. A room full of books but I could find nothing I wanted to read. Then my eyes fell on my Bible. It was the old Roman Catholic one that I had carried around in my teen years. I picked it up, prayed for a good story, then opened it at random: Gideon Now, if you have read the Old Testament you know that Gideon is a good follow up story to Lord of the Rings. Good story. After I finished that story I asked the Lord for another, and another. I was like a little kid asking her dad for a story every night. Gradually, after several weeks, the Lord gave me a New Testament book to read: Titus. It was then that He started to open my eyes. He led me through Titus, then both books of Timothy and Hebrews. Here, in my Roman Catholic Bible, the one I had insisted said to do all that the Catholic Church did, were many passages condemning those very things. If you don’t believe me read them yourself. There were so many contradictions to what I had been taught that I nearly went in shock.
While this was going on I was student teaching, preparing for graduation, and for a January wedding. During this time we had been trying to get a priest to conduct our wedding. We had a dear friend who was a priest, was definitely a Christian, and was the sweetest guy in the world. He was looking forward to conducting the ceremony, until he was suddenly called to Rome! The replacement told us he was busy that Saturday, before we even told him what Saturday. The one who ended up marrying us had some deep seated issues that I won’t get into and only met with us for 10 minutes prior to us marrying. I was getting pretty disillusioned with the idea that priests were so wonderful and that they even knew what the Scriptures said. I started attending my husband’s Baptist church and the Lord started convicting me of all sorts of things, like the lying. He also started showing me the need for baptism by immersion.
I didn’t have much time to discuss all that I was reading and thinking with anyone which was good. I wanted some time to mull it over myself. I kept reading and kept understanding more and more. I was wrestling with it. I didn’t want to give up the Roman Catholic culture. It was part of my life. Yet, it bothered me more and more that the Bible didn’t line up with what I had been told, over and over, that it did. Suddenly it all came together. One week prior to our marriage I was visiting my fiance. I burst into tears as I sat down with him and cried out, “God wants me to get BAPTIZED and I don’t want to!” We talked for a while. This is when he told me that about midsummer the Lord had told him very definitely to, “Shut Up!” When he did is when the whole change had begun. We talked quite a while and the next week, after we were married, I went forward and asked to be baptized. From then on it has been an incredible process of sanctification. God was and is faithful and has seen us through many rough times. Some of them are described in my partial book: Out of Egypt though no where near all.
It amazes me that He would go through so much to call me to Him. I was so very rebellious and yet He loved me. The Lord is faithful and true. He does what He promises He will. He is the love of my life. I can’t get enough of Him and I pray I never will until I stand face to face with Him, my Lord and Saviour. Only then, when I can bow before Him and worship with all my heart, soul, and might, will I be satisfied.