A reader asked if I had written about my conversion. I wrote this a while back and republish it here.
I’ve written about other people’s miracle stories. Now, I’ll tell you about one of my own.
I think most Christians have miracle stories. Mine is the fundamental Christian miracle, the accessible and universally available miracle. I am going to tell you about the day I stepped, blundered actually, from death to life.
I lived about 17 years of my life in an anti-God mindset. There were reasons for this. To this day, I understand myself and accept that when I made the turn away from God, I did the only thing I could have done under that circumstance.
I didn’t decide that there was no god. I tried. I read the atheist books of the day; Passover Plot among them. I went back a few decades and read Why I Am Not A Christian. I actually wanted to believe there was no god. It would have been a great simplifier for me in those days.
But the books I read were essentially self-refuting. You can’t think them through too seriously and miss the train-sized holes in their line of reasoning.
In truth, I knew there was a god. I’m not sure how I knew. But I did. My problem wasn’t that I thought he wasn’t there. It was that I thought he didn’t care.
I didn’t come to a point where I decided Today I Will Become Anti-god. I just sort of segued into it, one decision, one discussion, one opposing commitment at a time.
By the time I was into my 20s, I was thoroughly launched on my anti-god way of living, thinking and reacting. The fight to defend Roe v Wade and legal access to abortion pushed me hard toward an aggressive anti-god mode.
What had been a walking away became, through the catalyst of my pro-abortion stand, a fierce resentment. I detested the various churches for their opposition to Roe. I thought, believed to my core, that they were utterly indifferent to the sufferings of women.
This wasn’t all just a web I wove in my own mind. I knew of actual instances of churches turning away from women who were in great distress; of them abandoning these women or even attacking them.
To say I was angry over this hardly touches it. I was enraged, bitter and hard as a diamond about it. I knew there was a god. But I also thought I knew that he didn’t care. I had no use for him.
I did a lot of things in this period of my life that I regret now. I wish I could tell you that everything I ever did that I regret I did then, but that isn’t true. However, my most dastardly deeds, including the one time I ever hurt another person deliberately, selfishly and with full intention, happened during those years.
I was, in the way I judged myself at that time, certain that I was a good person and that everything I was doing was not only right but morally superior. Even the one thing that I absolutely knew was wrong didn’t bother me.
This peculiar moral certitude of moral ingrates is, I believe, a direct consequence of being your own god. If you decide what is right and wrong, it’s pretty easy to be morally proud 24/7. I encounter it in people who are their own gods all the time. The difference being that now I know it for what it is.
As time went by, this one thing I couldn’t justify to myself ate at me. I knew I had hurt another person. Worse, I knew that I had decided to hurt another person and done it for entirely selfish reasons. I stood convicted in my own court by my own rules. That brought me face to face with one of the sadder realities of living life as your own god: When you come to that place where you see that you have really been wrong, you can’t make it right.
You are stuck there, you and your guilt, in a battle for your peace of mind that you can only win by hardening your heart and “going on.” If you do that, of course, it will be much easier to do the wrong again. And again. And again forever until you die. You become wedded to your sin and in time it becomes who you are.
I was stuck there, at that precise fork in the moral road. I could either tell myself to forget about it, or even, as many people do, blame the person I had hurt, or I could face my own fault. It’s never an easy thing to face the fact that you are really not such a good person. But in truth none of us are. We only pretend, and mostly we pretend to ourselves.
Fortunately for me, I wasn’t able to take that sharp turn into the abyss and send my healthy and completely justified guilt away. I knew what I had done.
I didn’t talk about it. Didn’t share it with anyone. I kept it inside me.
The tension grew.
I have tried many times to find the words to describe what happened next. But I can’t do it. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no words.
I was alone in my car, driving to Enid Oklahoma to make a speech. Without thinking about it or really understanding what I was doing, I blurted out two words. Forgive me, I said. I said it out loud. But I wasn’t talking to myself. I was talking to the God who didn’t care.
Here’s where words fail me. I’ll try, but please understand: I have no words for what happened next.
I said Forgive me, and it was as if someone, some Being, Who had been right beside me all along without my knowing of it, reached out to me. I felt this Being’s joy for me, experienced His absolute, ecstatic love. I had a physical sensation of this love, pouring into me, filling me with His joy.
As I said, there are no words. I didn’t understand exactly what was happening. But I knew it was real. I also learned in one instant that the god who doesn’t care was my own creation. God, the real God, loves us beyond anything we can comprehend, or, in my case, describe.
I didn’t understand what had just happened. I went on to my meeting, made my speech, and said not a word about it to anyone. But it wasn’t an apprehensive silence. The Being I met in the car that day stayed with me. He kept me enveloped in love and I basked in it.
I also waited. Waiting is not something that comes naturally to me. I am most definitely not the waiting around kind. But this time, waiting came easily. I didn’t know what to do next, so I waited, with complete peace of mind that the answers would come, for this Being to tell me what to do.
About a month later, it came into my head to go to a large metropolitan church. I did, and over time, that path has led me to where I am now.
As I said, this is the most prosaic and commonplace of miracles. It is freely available to anyone who asks for it with a sincere heart. It’s free for the asking. But I wouldn’t say that it’s cheap. I’ll talk about the cost in other posts at other times.
Today, I just want to add one of my miracles to the ones I’ve been sharing. I also want to make it clear that the real miracle here isn’t that I experienced these things, but what they meant. I said two words from my heart to a God I had come to believe didn’t care, and I stepped from death to life.
That is the miracle that lasts for eternity.
Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.
I taught my kids the Apostles Creed when they were little.
During the homeschooling years, we prayed the Apostles Creed after our daily Bible study every morning. We were Protestants at that time and I wanted to prepare them for the marketplace of ideas and ideologies that make up the wide world of many denominations. I told them that if a church did not believe what the Apostles Creed teaches, then it was not a true church and they should not join it.
If I was raising my kids today, I would have to take on a plethora of attacks on the Gospels, many of which are more subtle than simply denying the basic tenets of the faith that the Apostles Creed teaches. However, I think my original way of looking at the subject is still valid. A church — or a person, for that matter — who denies the basics contained in the creeds is missing the essentials of what constitutes Christian belief.
I view the Apostles Creed as the bedrock statement of the faith, the non-negotiable foundation on which everything else the Gospels teach is built.
What do you believe?
Jesus is a love story. It begins with His love for us, and then, as we accept Him as our Savior and begin to become conformed to His teaching, it is also about our love for Him.
Conversion begins by falling in love with Christ. Like all love stories, it’s unalloyed joy at the beginning. Jesus is gentle with those who are babes in Him. He gives a lot and doesn’t ask much. But as time goes on, the Holy Spirit leads us to a deepened awareness of our own sinfulness. We realize that we have to change.
Early in our Christian life, conversion may mean giving up some cherished little sins. It does mean backing off from the sins that were eating at us and that drove us to our knees in the first place. But there are other sins that we have either hidden from ourselves or just won’t see. Legal abortion was one of those sins for me.
I came to Christ deeply repentant over something I had done. But I had neither shame nor guilt about my years advocating for legal abortion. I thought that was a positive good, a way of saving women’s lives. No one could have been more convinced of their pro choice convictions than I was.
The interesting thing is that God didn’t confront me with this at first. It took about a year and a half before that inner voice that is the Holy Spirit began to say, “This is wrong, and you’ve got to change.”
It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was so difficult that I made a mess of it. I tried, against all reason, to hang on to the relationships and the people I had been close to in my pro choice life. I dipped and dodged, stuttered and hid, trying to be two people at once.
I spent tortured hours wondering about all the questions that people raise on this blog: What about rape victims? What about women with severe diabetes or who are undergoing cancer treatment?
It was tough, miserable and painful. I would not have made the transition so fully if God had not pushed me.
I write this to tell you why I have such sympathy for gay people who experience the same longing for the Divine that everyone else does. “You have made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” St Augustine said.
God calls homosexuals to Himself, just as He does all people. He uses them as priests and laypeople throughout His Church.
In this day and age, when so many of their friends attack the Church because it refuses to bend on matters of human sexuality, Catholic gay people often find themselves in situations similar to the one I encountered when God asked me to step out and proclaim that abortion killed a living a child.
They will lose the people they love if they go forward in a Church so many of their friends think of as the enemy. They will be challenged if they try to follow the Church’s teaching that they are called to celibate lives.
This is a hard teaching, a difficult way of living. Those who follow it with integrity of purpose are doing something heroic for Christ. Make no mistake about it: Faithful gay people who eschew the wide road of gay culture to pick up their cross and follow the narrow road of faithful Christian living are earning stars in their eternal crowns. Their reward will be great.
The Catholic Church is almost unique in that it does not condemn or revile gay people. At the same time, it does not re-write 2,000 years of Christian teaching to suit the demands of the gay rights movement. So many Churches fall into one error or the other regarding homosexuality. But the Catholic Church hews to the straight line of loving and empowering gay people, while refusing to tell them that sinful behavior is ok.
“The Church finds herself in the unhappy situation of having to say ‘no’ to things she knows are contrary to the human good,” Father Paul Check says.
The Church is charged with the care of their immortal souls. As such, it can do no less. It would be clerical malpractice of the worst sort to do anything other than tell people the truth about their sinful state.
All people, including homosexual people, need the support and comfort of human contact. We all need community, and those of us who are wounded in various ways need the community of people who are like us. Gay people need the friendships of other gay people. Christians need the friendship of other Christians.
Do you see where I’m going with this? It follows, doesn’t it, that gay Christians need the friendship and fellowship of other gay Christians. Courage, the well-named organization for Catholics who experience same-sex attraction, provides ministries, as well as opportunities to build social relationships for gay Catholics.
Courage will hold the 2013 Courage/Encourage Conference Thursday, July 25 – 28, at the University of Mary of the Lake, Munelein, IL. Cardinal Francis George will be the main celebrant for mass on Friday, July 26, at 11:30 am. Bishop John M. LeVoir will also celebrate mass.
According to Father Check, who is the national Director of Courage, the conference will feature workshops, personal testimonies, and opportunities for confession and Eucharistic adoration.
If there is not a Courage affiliate in your diocese, it might be a good idea to work toward starting one. For more information about the conference, go here.
To join the discussion about Resurrection Year, or to order a copy, go here.
Infertility treatment grinds you down, both physically and emotionally. It involves taking large doses of hormones that make you feel lousy. Your blood must be monitored on a daily basis to make sure the hormone levels in your body are not getting dangerous, and you have to go through daily ultrasounds to check your ovaries.
There’s a lot more to it than what I just said; the pain of all those procedures and needle sticks, the emotional roller coaster and the repeated monthly disappointments. It not only costs a great deal of money, it makes it harder for the woman to work, tethered as she is to the fertility clinic and her over-charged body chemistry.
Infertility treatment is more than just medical treatment. It is an all-consuming way of life that can destroy a woman emotionally and spiritually, as well as damage her physically. It is stressful for the marriage and for relationships with extended family and friends.
I know about this because I’ve been through it myself.
Resurrection Year is the story of how popular Australian radio show host Sheridan Voysey and his wife Merryn dealt with the aftereffects of years of failed infertility treatment. This devout Christian couple was left devastated by the combined trauma of years of aggressive medical treatments and the loss of their dream to have a child.
It is striking that Merryn appears to never have reproached her husband, even though the infertility problem came from his low sperm count. The person she reproached was God. In her own words, the experience left her wondering if “God is a meanie.”
When Merryn told her husband that she wanted to move away from Australia and “have an adventure” by moving to a new country, he agreed to do it, even though it meant leaving behind his thriving career and literally starting over. Merryn had lost her first dream of motherhood, and he wanted to give her this new dream. They moved to England where Merryn found meaningful work at Oxford University, but Sheridan floundered professionally, unable to get started again in this new country that didn’t know him.
The first year they spent in England was their Resurrection Year. It was a year in which Merryn healed from her traumas and losses to be able to go forward in acceptance. It was the time she needed to get to know God on a deeper level and not only regain, but advance in her love of Him and spiritual growth.
Sheridan, too, ended up growing and advancing in his life in Christ. But his growth came from the pain of loss that he felt for having given up a career he loved to start over in the same field as a nobody once again.
What the book is really about is the give and take of marriage.
Merryn and Sheridan exhibited the kind of love that makes a marriage work. She, as I said, never rebuked him for the pain she suffered because she couldn’t have children. For his part, he not only gave up his career to help her dream a new dream, he did it without begrudging her the happiness she found in moving to England and without becoming bitter or angry toward her over the pain he experienced while re-starting his career.
I think the reason they were able to do this lies in their Christ-centered lives and their deep love for one another. Even when Merryn “lost” God in the depths of her pain, she didn’t turn her back on Him. She just honestly asked the question that everyone asks when life beats them up unjustly: Why?
She asked this question within the framework of the Gospels, the love of other Christians and her own best friend in this life — her husband. The answers she found in the Resurrection Year were the same ones that Christians have always arrived at when the pain is too much, and that is simply that we may not understand why in this life, but we do know that He is there with us in that pain.
Sheridan had to walk his way with less support from other people. Most of us don’t realize that loss of career is a loss every bit as real and painful as any other. It drives to the heart of our self identity and feelings of worth. It changes the way other people treat us and what we think of ourselves.
Sheridan suffered through this in the same way Merryn faced her grief; by walking with Christ and reaching out to other people.
Resurrection Year is a gentle book that doesn’t slam you over the head with conclusions and bullet-pointed lists of things you should do. Even though it talks specifically about recovery from infertility treatment and childlessness, its lessons could apply to any of life’s trials.
Perhaps its most important message is what it says about Christian marriage. The role of helpmate shifts from one spouse to the next, depending on the circumstance, throughout every good marriage. We have to love the people we marry, and we have to accept the limitations they bring with them to the marriage without reproaching and blaming them.
Resurrection Year is a good book to read on a Sunday afternoon. It is short and easy to get through. Its life lessons on how to love your husband or your wife are something we all need to learn and re-learn each day of our married life.
We are called to a day of fasting and prayer today for marriage and religious freedom.
I think this is an excellent way for us to clear our minds and settle down into this new post Christian reality in which we live. We can no longer look to the larger culture to teach our children our values. We can no longer look to the society around us to give us courage and sustain us in our Christian walk.
In this new reality, Christians are going to have to look to one another for their support in this life. We all must rely more on God and less on the government and our larger society to be our strength and our guide.
I don’t think this has sunk in on most of us yet. Prayer and fasting, repentance and asking, are the best ways for us to begin to face this new reality.
Here is a prayer from the USCCB. I plan to pray it several times today, along with the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
Prayer In Defense Of Marriage