Come Easter Vigil, Emily and her family will be four of hundreds of new Catholics across the US. Praised be Jesus Christ, and let us joyfully pray for them all!
Hi, I’m Emily, Bonnie has graciously allowed me to share my conversion story here on her blog and I couldn't be more grateful. In writing it out, I came to see how fully God was working in my life even before I acknowledged his existence.
I was born into a family with no faith. My parents practiced no religion and I don’t recall God even being mentioned. My mom was raised in a Catholic family, but her parents stopped going to Mass when she was a child. My dad has always come across as hostile towards religion of any kind. My parents divorced and my sister and I lived primarily with our mom, always far away from our dad. He was, and is still, an alcoholic and has been my entire life. That fact has played into who I am with weight and pain. And while his addiction has only caused me distress and heartbreak, I do believe God has used it for his glory in my life. Looking back I see God’s protection of me and my sister in numerous circumstances.
My only church experiences as a child were when a friend or a babysitter’s family would take me. What I remember is negative. I felt strange and out of place. I never had the right answers and I never felt loved. Despite this, I believed in God as a child and I remember praying on occasion. Because of my mother’s background, I knew what the Catholic Church was in very limited way. I knew my grandparents would pray and then cross themselves (only at holidays). The very little I knew about Catholicism was that it was a type of club that I was not apart of because I was not baptized. This was never said outright to me, it was only the impression I got from a very non-religious family.
Once I was a preteen, I knew my life was missing something. I was severely depressed, experimented with self-harm, smoked cigarettes, and stole regularly. I was utterly lost. So I started searching. At the same time my mom became increasingly interested in the wave of New Age. It ended up being something we bonded over. We mainly stuck to astrology and tarot cards, but I don’t know where the line was. Around this same time, my friends (every one) started doing heavy drugs. And even though I was often present while they did drugs, I never participated. By 13, I knew more about the world and pain than a child that age should.
A year or so later, my mom read a book entitled The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. After that she went through a sort of awakening to her faith in God. We started attending an evangelical church and I hated it. It felt like every Sunday there was some “talk” about money and giving it to the church. My mom always obliged and I was furious. Our electricity and phone were sometimes turned off because we couldn't pay and she was giving our money away to some rich church? I also realized she loved Jesus more than she loved me and it crushed my spirit. I already struggled with my self-worth and it seemed to push me into thinking that something had been stolen from me. I was constantly looking for unconditional love in all the wrong places.
We eventually started going to a different church and I somehow ended up going to the youth group. I believed God existed at that point, but I didn't understand what it meant for my life. It was not a personal thing for me and although I heard the message of “God’s love” it did not penetrate my hard shell. I didn't become close to any of my peers in the group, but the pastor and his wife were really kind and open with me. While this was going on, I was still leading the life I wanted with my other friends. I smoked, stole and snuck out at night. Talks during the youth group never impacted me. Because I came from a completely non-religious family, pointing to certain verses or stories that the others were familiar with only made me feel more isolated. I did try to read the Bible, but it was literally gibberish to me. During this time I did have a life-changing moment: I saw a young woman worshipping during the regular church service. We were all standing and I was behind her. I saw her close her eyes and lift her hands up (a very evangelical thing to do) and I knew she was experiencing something I had not. I knew in my heart that there was something I was missing, but I just couldn't grasp it.
Eventually, my mom stopped going to church. She had no support from anyone (including myself, sorry to say) and I think she too felt isolated. That same year, a friend of mine was killed in a car accident resulting from teen drinking. Shortly after, my best friend was “sent away” because of her volatile relationship with her boyfriend and the drugs she was using. She wasn't allowed to speak to me. I stopped going to my sophomore classes and missed all of my finals. The school never called and only one of my teachers reached out to me. I felt alone and only wanted to do what felt good to me.
Fast forward to the summer. I had told my mom I would get my GED, but I never did and we had moved into a new school district. She asked me to try high school again and promised that if I hated it, I could get my GED. I felt miserable. I thought I’d need to repeat my entire sophomore year. I had lost touch with nearly all my friends. Interestingly, one of my only friends during this time was a girl whose family was Catholic. We met through a youth theatre and she didn’t know about of my bad habits. I loved being at her house. She had many siblings and her home was always filled with laughter and chaos. I did go to the new high school and ended up still being able to attend as a junior. As I wadded through the halls of a place I knew not one person, I became increasingly lonely.
I was in the fall play and met a few people that way. Some who were very bad influences and a couple who were great friends. One was a boy I’ll call Jeremiah. He was a year younger than me and steadfast in his love and passion for Christ. This would be an instrumental relationship for me. He became like the brother I never had, and I can say with complete honesty, I never had romantic feelings for him in all the years we were close friends. I really believe God chose this young man to be my brother and show me that not all males were the same and that some were genuine and kind.
Jeremiah invited me to his youth group and I started attending regularly. All the kids there were strange and some were outcasts, I loved them all. It was a very small crowd and I never felt judged or out of place. I would eventually come to accept Jesus Christ as my savior, but it was a process for me and not a one-time thing like many evangelicals. I would tell people that I had built up a lot of walls around my heart and that God took the time to gently and sometimes not so gently break them down so I could experience his great love for me. Going to the youth group brought something out in me and I would frequently end the worship portion sobbing. I only went to the youth group however. I attended the stuffy, conservative, regular Sunday service only a couple of times out of obligation. This would become a theme for me. It was very difficult for me to attend a Sunday service for some reason. I usually felt unworthy or judged in some capacity.
Please come back tomorrow for the rest of Emily's story. It includes love, marriage, and a couple of babies in a baby carriage.