How does an anti-Catholic, Bible-believing Baptist find her home in the Catholic Church? Not easily! I would venture to say most people who know me would guess that my husband Jason and his faith were the catalyst to this change in my life, but it was, in fact, quite the contrary! At the time we met, my husband had fallen away from the church and will be the first to tell you he didn’t know much about his faith because of poor catechesis (education of the Catholic faith) as a child. He was willing to change his church for me, it was his only option, being I was dead set against his childhood faith. What love! It was not a smooth transition, full of emotional ups and downs! But what a journey…….and through it all, my husband will be the first to tell you that his life was changed, his faith restored, and a new love and zeal for the Catholic faith was born – All because his anti-Catholic, bible-believing, hard-headed wife decided to baptize their children, solely out of compromise to his family, and decided to learn about her husband’s beliefs straight from the horse’s mouth. This is my story.
It all started in 1999, when I met my future husband. It didn’t take long before our relationship blossomed and marriage was a sure thing between Jason and I. There was only one strong stipulation from me, I would not be married in the Catholic Church, not raise our children Catholic and he could never expect me to become Catholic…..EVER! I knew he came from a Catholic family, on both sides, some of the most faithful, God fearing people I had ever met….but I was convinced the Catholic Church was the “whore of Babylon”. They worshipped Mary (1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus….”); They believed in salvation by works (Romans 3:28 “For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law”); They baptized infants (I believed baptism was to be done at the age of accountability when a person was aware of what personal sin was and could choose for himself to follow Christ. A parent could not make this decision for them and baptism was an outward sign of an inward reality, not a regenerative saving grace as the Catholics believed); They confessed to a priest (Jesus was the only one that could forgive sins and why would a person go to a fellow human being, a sinner like me, to confess his sins when all he had to do was pray directly to God himself and ask for forgiveness?); Call no man father, in regards to priests (Matthew 23:9 “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven”); They kept Jesus on the cross “wearing the crucifix” (I worshipped a RISEN Lord!) And the biggie….THE POPE! We were to follow the Bible, God’s written, inerrant words, not some “man” in Rome who was just as much a sinner as I was. These were my biggest “beefs” with the Catholic Church. Sadly, I hate to admit that I didn’t even think Catholics were Christian. My husband never really fought me on this stipulation. We agreed that God needed to be a part of our lives and that as long as we went to church as a family, it didn’t matter where we went, as long as it wasn’t the Catholic Church (in my opinion, not his). I now look back and realize that this had to have been heart-breaking for him and his family, but it’s all I was willing to give at that point in time and at least it was something. Jason was the first Catholic I had ever really been close to, other than my neighbors growing up. Out of respect, at Christmas and Easter at the farm (what we affectionately call Jason’s parents’ home), I did attend Mass with his family. Ironically, the first Catholic Mass I attended was the Easter Vigil, an extremely long Mass complete with all the “bells and whistles”. Looking back, I now see how providential this was. The Holy Spirit was working on me before I ever had a clue!! Another fact I hate to admit, I would proudly sit in my pew during Communion at those Mass’ feeling I was justified by not participating in what I thought was idolatrous worship of a “wafer of bread”, in fact, almost prideful about it. I was going to “save” my husband one day and get him to realize how wrong these Catholics were. This was my mindset for many years. My husband and I attended a few churches together, but failed to find one that we both felt comfortable in. This in turn, kept us from raising Casey, my oldest son, in a Godly atmosphere, one of my biggest regrets in life, but one I later was given a second chance at. In order to explain my journey, I have to go back to my childhood…..forgive me, for this will be a long story, but one I hope you stick around to read as my life as taken some very tumultuous turns, turns that I now know God allowed me to take so I could find my way back to Him.
I grew up in a family that attended a local Bible-believing Baptist Church. From K-2 grade, I attended a Baptist Christian school with a strong faith in God as a child. Even after my parents had stopped attending this church, I continued to go with my oldest sister (one of the most faithful people I knew at the time). She never missed church. Every Sunday morning (FOR 2 HOURS!), Sunday night and also again Wednesday night. I loved going to the pastor’s house on Sunday afternoon’s with his daughter to play and considered the other kids in my church my bestest of friends! I loved the people in this church, in fact…..I have to thank all of them for giving me such a strong foundation in faith as a child. If not for that, my journey would’ve been much more difficult. I knew there was a God, I knew He loved me and died on the cross for my sins and if not for this foundation, I wonder if I ever would’ve been able to logically decipher my beliefs as an adult. At the age of 11, I took the plunge! I was so excited because I was finally ready to accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. This meant that I could finally be baptized! (AGAIN – as I had been baptized as an infant in the Presbyterian Church.) This was my profession of faith, I wanted to live my life for Jesus and be “Saved!”. I remember my parents and family being there and what a wonderful moment that was in my life. This lasted for a few years until I hit my rebellious teen years. Slowly, but surely, I attended church with my sister less and less. Only when I stayed at her house on the weekends, would I get up to go to church, and sadly, my motivation being “to see what attention I could get from the older boys in the church”. Eek! (I never admitted that before this….) My skirts got shorter and tighter and I’m sure my sister wanted to shoot me on more than one occasion!! Ha-ha. Eventually, I stopped going all together. Boys, friends and partying became more important to me and I didn’t want to have to deal with the guilt I felt when I went to church. So I ignored it. The “Once saved, always saved” doctrine I had grown up with was starting to play with my mind. I didn’t “feel” saved…at all! And questioned this many times during my teen years. My major thought process was “If I had been truly saved that day, at the age of 11, why was I rebelling against what I know God wants for me? Did I make a false profession of faith? Did my salvation “take”? I knew I meant it at the time, but maybe I was too young to know for sure. If my salvation was assured why did I feel like I was going to hell if I were to die at that moment? If I really WAS “saved” at that time and had done everything I was supposed to do at the time to be “saved”, how did I know for sure….what kind of assurance did I truly have?! Plus, I was starting to question religion in general. European History, of all places, posed a question in my mind that I was never really able to shake for many years. I learned about the Catholic Church, the Protestant Reformation and so on….but where were the Baptists in all this? Why weren’t they in my history books like the Catholics and Lutherans?! After all, the Baptists, in my mind, were the ones who followed the truth. The other religions followed “man-made” rules and sadly, were going to hell unless they accepted Jesus and became “saved”. I had always wondered why God would allow so many religions, and how could one know which one was the “right” one? Could he just have meant that ONLY the Baptists in my local congregation were going to heaven? Could He have meant it to be so confusing when He inspired the writing of the Bible? Christians seemed to be of “one mind and body” in the stories I had listened to all my life from the Bible, so which one had the Truth? After all, Jesus was a Jew, so why didn’t we follow the Jewish faith? This and many other questions were raised in my mind. Since “faith” was the center of my belief, I dismissed these thoughts and told myself I had just had to have faith that what I believed was true. Plus, as a teenager, I found myself more infatuated with the ways of the world and God was becoming less and less important to me. Dare I say….”Uncool”.
My rebellious teen antics got me in trouble a few times: trespassing from drinking (We just wanted to warm up, nothing malicious), getting caught shoplifting (ravioli and Ivory dish soap for someone that didn’t have a lot of money or food), many groundings from drinking and missing curfew, and finally at the age of 16 I found myself entranced by a man 9 years older than myself (I did lie about my age when I met him). He swept me off my feet and I thought I had found my soul-mate! Sadly, it didn’t take long and I found myself pregnant. Scared and shameful, I wondered where to go from there. I knew I would finish school and go to college, that thought never changed, but what would everyone think of me, what did God think of me?! I was a good kid, had a good heart and always wanted to please my parents. I knew this would kill them! It took me months to get the nerve to tell them, but I had Jr. (Casey’s biological dad) supporting me, along with my parents, so I decided to keep Casey. With the help of a loving, supporting family, this scary moment soon became plausible and eventually exciting for me, as I had always loved kids and wanted to be a mother. (Just not at the age of 16!) After I turned 17, Casey being about 6 months, I decided (with some coaxing from Jr.) that I was old and mature enough to live on my own….well with him that is. This started a minor war in my household between my parents and I, all that was missing were the weapons of mass destruction! Knowing that my independent stubbornness would not back down, they didn’t want to risk pushing me further away and lose me forever, they finally gave in and let me go. (I have some awesome parents for being able to sacrifice their hearts for me, knowing it was a terrible decision, but one I had to make on my own. Knowing my nature at that time, they were right, I might have lost touch with them and had I, my life may have taken a very different turn!!)
It didn’t take long after I moved in with Jr. to find out that he had way more problems than I was aware of. What was once a happy and supportive relationship soon became a controlling and manipulative one. He was extremely jealous, paranoid and had an explosive temper. Needless to say, I found myself in the middle of an abusive relationship, something no 17 year old should ever have to experience. It started with me… any disagreement would set him off and I would either find myself being choked, punched, kicked or called names that I will not repeat. My life and the life of my son was threatened as well as a few terrifying moments of being forced to have sexual relations against my will. I had huge bruises and an occasional black eye that I would make some stupid excuse for. He refused to let me hang out with my friends and on many occasions tried to separate me from my family, which my mom and dad would very carefully stop from happening. I think they knew what I was going through, not to the extent it was, but to an extent and knew that losing touch with me would be extremely dangerous. They tried to talk me into leaving many times, but I thought love could solve anything (the mind of a teenager!). Don’t get me wrong, Jr. was not a monster, he was the product of an abusive childhood and was hurting as much as I was. He wanted desperately to change, but didn’t have the coping skills to make it happen. To this day, I do not hate him, nor did I ever. He gave me one of my greatest gifts, Casey….and for that, I will always be thankful.
For almost 3 years I tried to “love him through it”. When Casey was 2 and probably about the peak of the abuse, Jr. had been arrested for a DWI. He spent a month in jail and I had some time to get my thoughts together. During this time, I felt I really needed God back in my life, I felt so lost and alone and craved that joyful feeling I felt so long before when I had professed my faith as a child. I knew if I could get my spiritual life back and maybe bring Jr. along with me, God would help solve all our problems. I finally got him to agree with me and after he had come home, we went to church. I would love to say it was a joyous reunion and all was wonderful……but that didn’t happen. I remember sitting in the pew at church, listening to the fire and brimstone sermon I had grown accustomed to as a child. I felt such overwhelming guilt!! I felt as though the pastor stared at me the entire sermon and was directing everything at me. This may have not been the case in reality, but in my mind and heart….all that guilt I had kept bottled up, the guilt of having a child out of wedlock, the guilt of “living in sin” with Jr., the guilt of being weak in an abusive relationship, the guilt of possibly not be “saved”….all that guilt overwhelmed me and I couldn’t wait to get out of there! I had prayed for forgiveness for all these sins before, but I couldn’t FEEL that forgiveness. It was a guilt that I would carry in my life for many more years to come without relief. Long story short, I never went back.
This tumultuous relationship continued for almost another year. I was now in my first year of college and trying to raise a little boy in the midst of a hurricane-type life. The abuse soon turned to my precious little boy. A broken collarbone, that I didn’t find out till later, was caused by Jr., a goose egg from being punched in the head (which brought about a restraining order right before Christmas) to prying his hands off my son’s little neck and laying on top of him to protect him. My heart and spirit were broken beyond comprehension, but finally, with my mom’s help, I knew I had to leave….for good this time. When the decision was made, I instantly felt some of my strength returning. This was tested beyond belief when a few days later I answered the phone at my parents (where I was now living). It was Jr……very distraught and begging me to give him yet another chance. Through tears, I remained firm and said “No, I can’t raise Casey in this atmosphere, he deserves better!”. What happened next would haunt me for years to come. As I sat crying on the phone, Jr. proceeded to shoot himself with a 20 gauge shotgun while all I could do was helplessly listened to him dying. After calling the paramedics, I waited in agony for news, news I knew was coming but prayed to God would turn out differently. I had never felt so alone and broken as I did at the moment we got the call that Jr. had passed away. My long list of “guilty feelings” had grown once again, longer. That night I fell to my knees beside my bed and prayed for the first time in a very long time. I needed God to help me through this, I couldn’t do it on my own. I didn’t want my family to worry about me, so I was strong during the day, but at night….for many weeks, I would cry myself to sleep, begging God to take the hurt away.
I couldn’t get myself to go back to school after Jr.’s death, so I dropped out and went to work. Emotionally I did not have the strength to make it through my college classes and vowed I’d go back when I was able to. This ended up taking longer than I expected. About 4 months after Jr. had died, my parents took in a long time family friend who had just found out he had terminal cancer. He was all alone and didn’t want to die without anyone by his side. This became a significant event in my life: 1). I watched my mother selflessly sacrifice for this man 2.) I experienced what true peace was all about when he passed away and felt God’s presence in our home that morning (this was something I desperately needed after dealing with a traumatic death experience a few months earlier) 3.) After suffering from a broken pelvis and sacrum caused by a serious car accident during this time, I had some time on my hands. This was when I started reading my Bible again. Be mindful, that during this time, our house would be visited by Jehovah Witness’s on more than one occasion. (My mom could never be rude to them.) So I would sit and compare their Bible to my King James Version trying to understand the differences between the Baptist religion of my childhood and theirs. They believed Jesus and God were two separate entities, totally against the Trinitarian belief I grew up with. And the “heaven on Earth” concept was a little crazy to me since Jesus talked about us being raised up in the clouds to a New Jerusalem, plus they didn’t believe in hell (which I knew the Bible talked about), so I never took them too seriously. But that old question of which religion is right popped back up again. It even went as far as “What if God WAS created by man to instill a moral belief system?” What if the stories in the Bible were ….just stories? Deep huh!? I think most people, at one time in their life question the true existence of God. I was no exception…. I would remind myself that “faith” was needed and I shouldn’t question it.
I eventually healed from my car accident, went back to work, and FINALLY found myself ready for school. (It only took 3 years…oof) I started attending a non-denominational evangelical church once in awhile, but because of my school and work schedules, I was rarely able to make it on Sunday’s. This was ok with me because I was still suffering from extreme guilt towards God and church made me extremely uncomfortable. In my last year of college, I met my husband. Four long years it took for me to heal from my relationship with Jr…..and yet, I still was very guarded with my heart. After lots and lots of patience, some coaxing from my mother and a leap of faith, I let my heart go and fell in love again. I had made the mistake of not researching the foundations of a significant other’s family when I started dating Jr. (had I known his background, I may have thought twice….maybe not) Either way, I was NOT going to take any chances and needed to meet Jason’s family. I fell in love with them from the very beginning!! In fact, I have always told Jason that the only reason I overlooked his 21 year old immaturity in the beginning, was because I knew he was raised by an extraordinary family and would eventually blossom into a great man! Hehe (He wasn’t that bad…I just like to tease him 🙂
By this time, I had graduated from college as a Radiological Technologist (fancy word for “Xray tech”) and started working at Altru. Jason had moved to Grand Forks to be closer to Casey and I and our little family started. During our VERY long engagement (5 years), we had our one-sided discussions on our wedding (he calls them one-sided compromises) when it came to where we would get married. We both agreed it had to be in a church, but where? We weren’t attending any particular church, so we asked the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Crookston (the church I was baptized in as a baby) if he would be willing to marry us. He agreed….and on March 13, 2004 I married my best friend. Shortly after, we became parents to a little baby boy, Bradyn Paul.
After Brady was born, my wonderful mother-in-law started inquiring as to when we would be baptizing Brady. This was a tough one for me. She and I in earlier years had discussed the reasons behind why I hadn’t had Casey baptized. Like I stated earlier, I didn’t believe in infant baptism. An individual had to make the decision to follow Jesus Christ on his own accord, it was not a decision that a parent could make. Baptism did not save a person. Accepting Jesus into his heart at the age of accountability (being old enough to know what sin is and differentiating between right and wrong), having faith in Him, denouncing Satan, and reciting the Sinner’s Prayer is what brought about salvation. I knew at the time, she didn’t understand this, and feared for Casey’s soul because of his lack of baptism. So, when baptism was brought up with Brady, I really didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to hurt her or make her worry about Brady, but I knew (or thought I knew) I was doing the right thing by not baptizing him. Over the next few years, she would kindly, and gently bring baptism up to Jason every once in awhile. He, in a previous blog, called this nagging……I prefer to call it a continuous, loving reminder (because my mother-in-law is far from a nag!) In fact, I don’t know if she even realizes how this little “mustard seed” she kept planting was indeed the Holy Spirit using her as a tool to my future conversion to the Catholic faith. Had she kept herself silent, our lives may have turned out very differently. For this, I will always hold her very dear to my heart, she is a pretty special lady in my life. Diane, if you read this, I want you to know that you made a huge impact in my life, one that I will eternally be grateful for and could never, in words, come close to explaining. Now, you ask….how did this little act become a turning point in my life? It wasn’t until a few years later, 4 years to be exact that this would become a major issue. Our daughter Bailee had been born in 2007 and was now a year old. I hadn’t heard about baptism since she had been born. I suspect Diane was maybe giving up on me, I can’t be certain but I know I would have if I was her! I was pretty stubborn! I was driving home from work one day and suddenly the thought of baptism popped in my mind, completely out of the blue……I started contemplating having the kids’ baptized, not because I felt it did anything (because I strongly believed it didn’t), but if it made my mother-in-law feel better, whom I loved and respected dearly, then what could it hurt? It’s a win-win. No harm done….right? So, I called the local Catholic Church and set up an appointment to talk about baptism. On the way home from work, I informed Jason of what I had done. You probably could’ve knocked him over with a feather! There was silence……Finally, he asks “Whoa, where did this come from?!” So I explained to him that the thought popped in my mind and figured I could compromise on this one aspect. After all, it wasn’t like I was becoming Catholic! I told him, as long as they would baptize them with the understanding that I was not Catholic, nor did I intend to become one. This was not negotiable. He understood….and I could see the smile (he was NOT hiding very well) creep across his face. Who could blame him? I knew he wanted to make his parents happy and this would definitely do that.
Soon after, we met with Deacon Denny, an amazing man that has become like family to us. I came into that baptism appointment ready to fight, fists raised and rarin’ to go head to head. (Bet you never knew I was born a red-head!! I have the fiery spirit to prove it!) We weren’t in his office 5 minutes before I threw out my first bomb. “Is it true that Catholics believe if a baby dies before he/she is baptized they will go to hell?!” Smugly, I sat back waiting his reply. He calmly replied, “Well….I believe our God is loving and just God. That we must entrust those souls of the unbaptized to His gracious mercy. I would like to believe that those precious souls taken from abortion or otherwise are up in heaven with Him. Who are we to tell God what He can do? There is no boundary to God’s grace and I believe, as the Catholic Church teaches, that at the moment of death, an unbaptized soul is given, by the grace of God, a choice (in complete understanding) that if given the chance to be baptized…that soul can choose for him/herself “Yes, I choose to be baptized and accept God’s grace….or no”. This kind of set me back a bit. I was so sure that Catholics believed all unbaptized souls went to hell. So I continued to listen to his explanation on baptism. He explained that the sacrament of baptism is birth into the new life in Christ (John 3:5 “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit”). In accordance with the Lord’s will (Matthew 28:19 “Go, therefore….baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…..”), it is necessary for salvation (Mark 16:16 “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved”) as is the Church herself (1 Corinthians 12:13 “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were given to drink of one Spirit”.), which we enter by baptism. In short, with the covenant of the Old Testament times, only Jews were deemed “God’s chosen people”. With the coming of Jesus, his death and resurrection, not only the Jews could be saved, but also the rest of us (Gentiles and pagans). Baptism is the gateway into God’s family via adoption. It erases the effects of original sin brought about by Adam and Eve, whereas we receive the grace of the Holy Spirit giving us renewed life in Him. Needless to say, I had a lot to think about. My belief in what the Catholic faith taught about baptism was shaken, and not what I had perceived to be necessarily true. The wind had been taken out of my sail and I realized that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Everything Deacon Denny said was conceivable…..In fact, a famous quote by Archbishop Fulton Sheen comes to mind in explaining that moment….”There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church – which is, of course, quite a different thing. These millions can hardly be blamed for hating Catholics because Catholics “adore statues”; because they “put the Blessed Mother on the same level with God”; because they say “indulgence is a permission to commit sin”; because the Pope “is a Fascist”; because the “Church is the defender of Capitalism”. If the Church taught or believed any one of these things it should be hated, but the fact is that the Church does not believe nor teach any ONE of them. It follows then that the hatred of the millions is directed against error and not against truth. As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all the untruths and lies which were set against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do.” This was where I was at during this time…..I was one of the millions and slowly realizing it without being aware of it. I had been wrong about the baptism thing, although I didn’t fully comprehend all of it at that short appointment, but enough to agree to go to RCIA (Right of Christian Initiation for Adults). Deacon Denny brought up the possibility of attending RCIA. He explained that this was a class for non-Catholics who had questions regarding what the Catholic Church believed. In no way were the participants required to join the Church, but it was a way to inquire about the Catholic Church and try and understand why the church believed what it taught. He strongly, but gently, suggested this may good for Jason also, since he had fallen away from the faith. I pushed back at the fact I didn’t intend to become Catholic…to which he kindly responded that I wasn’t required to do so. This made me feel a little more at ease, but my mind was swirling. I wanted to be fair to my husband, which I knew I hadn’t been. That “realist” in me was screaming…..how could I condemn something that I was oblivious to really understanding. In all fairness, maybe I needed to learn what the Catholics really believed before I could condemn them. It was only fair. So I agreed to RCIA classes. Little did I know, everything I believed in would soon start to crumble, or at the very least, come to a deeper understanding.
Quickly after this appointment, our two youngest children were baptized into the Catholic Church. (Casey was almost 18 and since I still believed he would have to make that decision himself, I never pushed for him to participate). I remember not truly understanding what was going on, as I was just starting to open my mind to it all, but there was a nagging feeling in my heart that I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that moment. I contributed it to making my husband’s family happy, but in hindsight, I think God was speaking to me. My husband recalls a similar experience while making the kids’ baptismal promises (the ones we make on their behalf, that is). He explains it as “being hit on the head with a 2 x 4”. At that moment he questioned himself “Am I doing this for the right reasons? Am I doing this for show? Am I truly taking these promises seriously?” He felt God was telling him at the moment, plain as day, that he needed to live his life according to these promises, not just for show and to raise our kids’ according to these promises. He wisely held this revelation to himself for quite a long time, knowing that I may buck it pretty strongly. I was still not ready to raise our children Catholic at this moment in time, even though I had repeated that same promise, just not realizing what it really meant. This would come in time…