This is Day 6 of Jen’s 7 Posts in 7 Days Challenge.
(I originally wrote this years ago but this is the first time posting it on the blog.)
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I could feel my feet sink into the damp sand as the waves nipped at my toes. I looked over my shoulder and saw my footprints being swept away by the ocean waves. Whenever I’m near the ocean I’m always reminded of the mercy of God – farther and vaster than the eye can imagine, more powerful than the crashing surf upon the rocks, yet as gentle as a lapping wave at your feet.
As I continue to walk, each footstep recalls a memory – some filled with joy and some with deep remorse. I wish I could say that I have always tried to follow God and live his commandments but it was a dark road that led me away from God. It started out innocently enough, but the real turning point took place after high school. I had moved with my family to a new town and made new friends. Previously, I had always been basically a “good” girl and had never gotten into major trouble. I was active in my church and in youth ministry but had a vague sort of love for God. As long as I felt “warm and fuzzy” inside with the knowledge that Jesus loved me, then I figured that I was a faithful Catholic.
Frankly, without a real relationship with Christ, with no solid foundation of prayer, no frequent sacramental life or an understanding of my faith, it was understandable that my rebellious side was fed a steady diet of discontent. I didn’t want to turn my back on God completely, because I still believed He existed, but I was bored. I was attracted to my new friends because they were “alternative” (when such a word existed) and they had a seductive edginess in their attitudes – as well as their clothes and music – that I liked. I started dating a dark and poetic agnostic and everything slowly spiraled down.
I wasn’t used to the life that my friends lived. There was such a casualness and acceptance about drinking, drugs, body piercing, sexual experimentation, homosexuality, the occult, and the like, that eventually nothing seemed to shock me anymore because my friends were all into it. I kept my distance for awhile, still having the fear of God in me, but the enticement of sin was more than I could handle. I began to care less about God and my family. I was tired of rules and restrictions and feeling guilty all the time, so I ignored God all together.
The months drifted by as I got more involved with my boyfriend and the scene. I considered myself much more loving and “Christian” because I accepted people for who they were and didn’t care or try to change them from the sinful lives they led. If my conscience dared to try and challenge me, I would just turn on my music louder and allow the voice of angst and anger to take over me with painful pleasure. I didn’t care about morals and values anymore because it was my own life and I could do as I pleased…but something was wrong with this road I was traveling.
My feelings of freedom and independence began to suffocate me and chain me down. I was slowly losing my self-respect and was swiftly gaining self-hatred and feelings of worthlessness. Everything that was once so enticing was now only adding to my depression. I thought I could change things myself by getting out of the scene and breaking up with my boyfriend. My problems were far from solved when I had to deal with an obsessive ex who wouldn’t let me go, but even harder, I had to deal with the realization of what I had let my life become. My parents and family were agonizing over me and they only knew a small portion of what my life was. Sadly, I was deceptive and covered my tracks well, but I also knew that there was Someone who witnessed my every moment.
I tried praying and going back to church but I was left empty. I had gotten so far from God that I was too ashamed to face Him without barriers and masks. I couldn’t handle the guilt of knowing that I had God’s love but I didn’t want it. I had thrown it back in His face so I could embrace sin. I couldn’t bear to ask for forgiveness AGAIN knowing that I’d most likely return to my sinful ways once more. So I walked through the days in a masquerade, pretending that everything was okay. At night, screaming voices in my head echoed anger and pain and refused to let me sleep. I didn’t know how much more I could take until this desperate, hopeless feeling would consume me.
I tried not to spend too much time with my family, especially my mom; one look at her was a prick of my conscience and I hated it. I avoided any discussions of Godly things but found myself trying to listen behind closed doors to what was being said. I’d hear lively conversations about God’s love, Jesus’ mercy, the Spirit’s strength, and the Blessed Mother’s holy example. A part of me was disgusted and cynical about anything religious yet, I didn’t want to admit that another part of me was intrigued and longed to be that on fire about my faith. It meant very little to me and now it seemed farther to me than ever but the longing for something more in my life nagged at me; the cynical walls started to shake as hope tried to take root.
As night once again approached, for some odd reason, my mind started thinking about the religious conversation I had overheard. My mind’s eye pictured the scene of the crucifixion and I zeroed in on one figure, the Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross. She seemed such a complete contrast to Mary Magdalene, whom I could relate to more. Childhood words flashed through my mind that the Virgin Mary was our heavenly Mother. I thought to myself that she must hate me because I sent her Son to the cross. I pictured her with tears in her eyes pleading with me, “He died for you…He died for you…He died for you.” The words echoed in my mind and a sudden wave of awareness swept over me that Jesus not only died on the cross because of my sins, He died on the cross to forgive and truly love me. It wasn’t some pretty little cliché you hear in church or Sunday school; it was REALITY.
Crumbled on the floor, it was more than I could bear. I sobbed uncontrollably because I knew my life was nothing without Jesus. All the bitterness, hatred, and cynicism were being washed away as I cried out to God not just with words but with my whole being. My soul ached for Jesus’ love and forgiveness. I realized that God never left me; it was I that walked away. God didn’t stop loving me when I allowed sin to tear me apart; rather, He waited for me so He could take my broken life and put it back together with His loving mercy. I rested my head on my pillow and for the first time in my life that nagging voice that usually said, “It won’t last; you’ll be back to your old ways in no time,” was gone. I closed my eyes knowing that my life would remain forever changed.
The next morning I knew I had gone through some kind of conversion because my attitude and thoughts were different. I had accepted Jesus into my life in a way that I never had before. I decided to make a clean break from everything of my past life, including old friends, habits, attitudes, and even my music. Some things were harder than others to let go of but God, in His mercy, brought into my life new Christian friends. They not only became a part of my life but introduced me to the Christian underground (in other words, not mainstream) world of alternative music and ‘zines (self-produced mini-magazines, the forerunner to blogs. ;-)). I was elated to meet people who looked like my old friends on the outside but who were, so different on the inside.
More importantly, by their example I was constantly encouraged to love Jesus and serve Him. However, one thing bothered me, I wondered why I had found the spirit of God so alive amongst these new Christian friends and the love of God so lacking among the Catholics I knew. Although I knew my family loved God and were very close to Jesus, I couldn’t be a Catholic simply because my family was. Besides, Catholicism never really appealed to me with all its traditions and rituals; it seemed so complicated, whereas a simple “bible-based” Christianity pleased my carefree spirit that wanted to worship God in my own way.
I didn’t want to make a hasty or emotional decision so I prayed with a sincere heart and asked God to reveal His truth to me. If I came to realize that it meant leaving Catholicism, then I would. I knew that as long as I was open to God and didn’t build walls of resistance, He’d show me the answer. I grabbed my Bible and the writings of Catholics and anti-Catholics. I wanted to hear both sides of the story. As I studied it bothered me that what the Catholic Church taught seemed to differ from what the Catholics I knew were doing. My view of the Church was being tainted by people who didn’t even follow the Church in the first place. As I puzzled over this notion, God brought into my life on-fire Catholics who had a deep relationship with Christ, who actually understood what Catholicism was about, and who lived their faith with a pure love for God. It shed a different light on things but I needed to find out more.
I began reading Scriptures more, not just taking a few passages here and there to prove a point, but I tried to look at Scripture as a whole, in order to get the fullness of God’s word. I also looked into the history of the early Church and the writings of the Church fathers. It baffled me that they were so….well, Catholic. I never knew that they defended the Catholic belief that the Eucharist is not symbolic but actually the Body and Blood of Christ. I didn’t know that they understood the Church to have hierarchical authority given by Christ, with Peter as the first pope and the following bishops of Rome to be his successors. I didn’t even know that for almost 400 years there was no Bible, as we know it; it was the Catholic Church, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who prayed and infallibly decided which books were to be included and excluded in the canon that we now read. I was awestruck.
The more I learned, the more I felt drawn to Catholicism and instead of walking away, I embraced it. My views of the Mass, the sacraments, even the Blessed Mother were radically changed when I opened my heart in prayer. The more my relationship grew with the Lord and the more I studied, the more I understood the meaning and purpose of these gifts. What once seemed like meaningless, ritualistic, “excess baggage” I now saw as sources of God’s grace. The Church I was ready to leave actually deepened my love of Christ because I realized that I was deceived by the bad example of a few people (religious included) who labeled themselves as Catholic but who were far from it.
As I continued to learn and study I shared with a few close Christian friends my growing convictions about the Church. They didn’t fully understand but they accepted me and my beliefs. My own heart was settled and I left it at that. In the meantime I got more involved with the Christian underground. I started doing my own zine called “handmaid” featuring the music scene and life from a Christian perspective. Later I started writing for a Christian music/skateboarding magazine. I loved my work and felt I was reaching out to many others but something was bothering me. As I was putting together one of the issues I realized that I was getting too caught up in all the fun and busyness of going to shows, interviewing bands, and doing the zine. I started it all with the intention of serving God and spreading His word but I was finding that I was beginning to serve myself and my pride.
Then my mom uttered an alarming sentence, “God may be calling you to the religious life.”
To be continued – My Journey to God (Part 2) – Me? A Nun?!
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