The Trilogy Unfolds

CLUELESS

I mentioned in my first blog that I’ve never wanted anything to do with the Catholic church. Since the age of 16, when I fell deeply in love with Jesus Christ, I grew and matured in Him through the years, and was very happy with my life as an evangelical Christian!  Had I been misguided? Was I misinformed? Or was I simply convinced that “I found Jesus in the evangelical church”, and that was all I needed?

Perhaps it was all the above.  At age sixteen, I asked Christ into my heart as my personal Savior and sensed His deep work within my life, I heard many evangelicals say that Catholics didn’t really know Jesus and that we should pray for them.  I didn’t refute that understanding because it seemed to describe my own experience.  Why would I want to look back anyway?  So I began praying hard for my parents from then on!

After realizing the Catholic church’s doctrine to be true, just over two years now, I have felt so badly that I had such anti-Catholic opinions and beliefs!  I have been completely wrong and, yes, I’d been misinformed!  Just prior to joining the Catholic church, I explained the church’s Scriptural Doctrine and Truth with an evangelical close to me.  She retorted that none of it was true and that I had been deceived by Satan himself!  My heart bled for her misinterpretation of the Catholic Church’s teachings.  Unfortunately, she had only read books written by Protestants who don’t know, or care to know, the truths of the Catholic Church.  In the Catholic church, the same God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit is preached straight from Scripture to teach us to know, love and serve Jesus Christ, our personal Lord and Savior.

I remember where I was when, for the first time, I heard a priest preach an entire sermon on knowing Jesus as our personal Savior by asking Him into our hearts!  What? I sat there in shock!  Did they really believe that?  Yes, they really do!  I had judged Catholics all those years.  And to think that I could have had a spiritually healthy relationship with my mom had I really known and understood this!

WHY ALL THIS CONFUSION?

So why, as an evangelical, was I so against Catholicism?  I grew up when some outward changes like moving away from the Latin Mass, were taking place the Catholic Church.  This created some general confusion, especially for Baby Boomers like myself.  I remember wondering why did I have to confess my sins to a priest, kneel in church, and fast from meat on Fridays?

I wonder if some of the changes from the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, created a certain amount of confusion that led my family away from church for a while.  Like many my age, I lost that spiritual fervor, little by little, as I entered my teen years.

I was very close to God as a young child.  I now understand that it was God’s Grace at work in me from having been baptized as a baby.  If that baptismal relationship with the Holy Spirit had been nurtured through discipleship (as Catholics call it “catechesis”) into my teen years, I could have grown in my relationship with God.  But that didn’t happen and I lost interest in church.

However, when I was sixteen years old and struggling, it was the work of the Holy Spirit in my life that made me sensitive to God’s Grace calling me into a deeper walk with Him.  As previously mentioned, my friend Melanie showed me God’s love at just the right time.  Because of this spiritual awakening, I walked away from the Catholic church and began attending her church youth group.

Three years ago, when my dad told me that my mom had loved Jesus like I did, I couldn’t let it go. But it wasn’t because I wanted to know why. It was only because I found myself feeling extremely guilty.  I had never tried to find common ground in our spiritual lives because I assumed there were none!  I was CLUELESS!  As I look back, I realize that I kept my parents at arms-length spiritually because I believed we were essentially on two different pages!  Again, I was clueless!  It was convenient for me to ignore my Catholic heritage because I had discovered a fresh relationship in Jesus Christ!

THE TRILOGY UNFOLDS

This trilogy is one of obedience to the Voice of God deep within our hearts.

First, Gary and I obeyed God’s call on our lives to serve as Wesleyan missionaries for fifteen years.

Second, God called us to New York City.  We thought we were to build a church here, but instead, in humble obedience to Him, we stepped down from a failed church plant and patiently waited on God.  Thanks and all glory to Him, He used another church, Trinity Grace Church, to open our eyes to a bigger church story.

Through TGC, among so many other things God did in our lives, we experienced a broader vision for contemplative prayer, Freedom in Christ, the Lectionary, the deep meaning of Advent and Lent and so much more!  The beauty in that is that they are all things that the Catholic church does so well!  We now realize that our years with TGC were God’s preparation for entrance into a church we had no interest in becoming a part of!

Third, God called us into the Roman Catholic Church!  This was done in sheer obedience to that call!  It took me a year and a half longer to say “yes” than for Gary, but God graciously tugged at my heart day after day after day during that time.

This trilogy has helped me recognize that, of the many truths God has had us experience through these many years of ministry, the Catholic church encompasses them all!  I believe it was in God’s plan to show us His purpose in all of that, and has now guided us into the church that Jesus founded some 2,000 years ago!

Who would have thought!

 

 

 

 

 

The Best of Both Worlds

February 15, 2017

MINISTRY AND MISSION

I delivered my first born on the first day of our Spring Break of my senior year, and graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University with a BS in Nursing in 1980.  We then headed to Asbury Theological Seminary for Gary to obtain his Masters of Divinity degree.  I worked full time (night shift!) at the University of Kentucky Trauma Center in Lexington.  6 weeks prior to Gary’s graduation, our second baby was born via emergency C-Section with a blood infection called Septicemia.  She was to be our miracle baby!  After a week in the NICU, she was ready for home, thanks be to God!  When she was 6 weeks old we moved to Michigan to pastor a small church in a small town.  After four years, we knew it was time to realize our dream of missionary service overseas.  For me, knowing it was time to go was as if I’d been given a beautiful Longaberger basket overflowing with freshly picked fragrant flowers!  We knew God wanted us in Lima, Peru, where we would live for the next 15 years.

Moving overseas was a most exciting time for me!  My heart burned within me to help others put their trust in Jesus Christ!  I couldn’t wait to share my faith in Jesus through Friendship Evangelism!  I was surprised to meet some of my neighbors who seemed to already have a relationship with Christ… but they were Catholic!  What?  Catholics can know Jesus?  There it was again… can Catholics be Christians?  It was a perplexing observation for me.  Ironically, those women and I had an unspoken understanding.  I didn’t’ need to share Jesus with them, for they apparently already knew Him!  I wasn’t curious enough, however, to inquire about the depth of their faith in Him.  I was too busy helping those who didn’t know Jesus, to find faith in Him!  I often wonder what would have happened had I realized that Catholics, too, can love Jesus like I did… we could have evangelized our other neighbors together! 

We established a Wesleyan Church in Lima and God blessed our ministry in beautiful ways! I loved my life there!  I fell in love with the people, the language, the culture and our ministry!  I worked with women and children. My heart was enriched every time I saw God’s grace move in the hearts of neighborhood women, children and youth as they sought faith in Jesus Christ.  One of those youth, Gary’s first convert to Christ, not only became Gary’s Youth Pastor but was later to become our son-in-law!  I truly believe that part of God’s purpose for us in Peru was to bring two amazing Peruvians into our lives; a sweet baby boy who was 3 months old when we adopted him, and our amazing son-in-law!  That basket full of fresh flowers was overflowing!

AN UNEXPECTED TURN

I loved my life as an Evangelical missionary!  It was a gift from God, but that chapter came to an unexpected end in 2001.  Upon our return to America for fundraising, we sensed God calling us something different.  It was like reading a Trilogy: the first book was so good but I was anxious to get started on the second book…

It looked like the second book involved God calling us to New York City to establish a church.  In our interview with the supporting church, we were asked this question: “What if the district says “no” to you establishing a church in NYC?”  We both quickly responded with: “We would go anyway!  We were compelled by God to live there!”

Little did we know that we would obey God’s “call” to serve Him very differently several years later!

With the help of several friends, we packed the U-Haul truck and headed to New York City, arriving over the July 4th weekend, 2002.  Due to the high cost of living, I needed to find a job.  I soon became a true New Yorker… working full time and doing the usual commute 45 minutes to and from work – on Fifth Avenue!  I worked for a renowned Dermatologist.  As the subsidy from the District was shrinking, Gary had to find part time work as well.  Thankfully he got a job where he loved to frequent, Barnes and Noble!  It was difficult to establish a new church as well as work outside of that endeavor, but we were clearly committed to it and worked hard at it.  But just after two years the new church endeavor failed.

We were still very committed to New York.  We never sensed God leading us out of the City, and now we understand why!  As we look back on our almost 15 years here in NYC, Gary and I realize that it was in God’s plan to keep us here to show us His goodness and beauty in the Catholic Church.

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS!

Gary had to find a full-time job.  He quickly moved into a full time managerial position at Barnes and Noble.  After a time, we found an awesome church we knew was to be our place of worship; Trinity Grace Church.  What a joy to discover that beautiful body of believers! They were young and in love with Jesus!  God used TGC to provide a peaceful transition for Gary’s needed time of healing.  He was soon asked to be an elder in this new church.  In less than a year he became the Pastor of Justice and Care, and later was to establish a new TGC parish in Washington Heights where we currently live.

Trinity Grace church will always have a profound and precious place in our hearts.  I personally witnessed God’s grace and blessing beyond words during our eight years with TGC.  As I reflect on our work and commitment to both the Wesleyan and Trinity Grace Churches, I can’t help but believe that now, as a Catholic, I’ve had the best of both worlds!

However, with my mom’s passing, things began to change.  The more Gary read the doctrine of the Catholic Church and accounts of multiple Protestant pastors converting to the Truth in the Church, the more he gained perspective.  He soon discovered how shallow and ignorant our understanding of the Catholic Church really was.

Next entry: The Trilogy Continues!

Backstory to this blog…

Backstory to this blog…

February 8, 2017

I have been thinking about blogging my journey into the Catholic Church for some time now because, more frequently than I can keep up with, something profound takes place in my life and I am compelled to share it. So here I am. I only wish I could remember everything I’ve desired to share, but didn’t make note of, you know, like the little things I experience that draw me closer and closer to Jesus Christ….

THE JOURNEY BEGINS

How did this journey take place in my life? Well, it’s been said that “God writes straight with crooked lines.”  I had absolutely no desire to understand, much less have anything to do with the Catholic Church, since I “asked Jesus Christ into my heart and life” at the age of 16…many years ago!

Little did I know that when my mom passed away over 3 years ago, God would begin to turn my life upside down!  My mom was a devout Catholic.  The morning following her funeral a few of us sat around the kitchen table listening to my dad open up about the disunity in our family’s beliefs.  He turned and looked me straight in the eyes and said: “Charlotte, your mom loved Jesus just like you do!” That was news to me, as I had always believed my parents never really “knew the Lord” like I did. Yes, they were Catholic, but are Catholics really Christians? Well, I had always had my doubts!

When my dad said that to me, Gary, my husband and Evangelical pastor of 35 years, became deeply concerned as to what that could mean. It really shook him up to think that we’d missed years of Christian fellowship with my parents if this were true.  So, he began his own journey of investigation.   Did my mom really love Jesus like we do?

He picked up a few books from a Catholic bookstore close to his work, and began reading about the doctrine of the Catholic Church. He read books by Catholic authors.  He read books written by clergy converts to the Catholic church.  He read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The more he read the more he found Truth he never knew was there!  To his surprise, he began to see clearly, little by little, that the doctrine of the Catholic Church was Biblical, Christian and deeply committed to salvation through Jesus Christ!

NO THANKS, I’M GOOD

I was happy for him; surprised, but unsure as to what it all meant.  He desired to pursue a more in-depth study of their doctrine, and that was okay with me, but I wasn’t at all interested in his discoveries. I, personally, was quite happy with my own relationship with Jesus Christ as an Evangelical Christian.

You see, I grew up in a devout Catholic home where my parents were very involved in family nurture and commitment to their church. We went on CFM (Christian Family Movement) retreats, conventions and activities whenever possible. I attended a great Parochial (Catholic) school in my hometown, and as a young child, while attending Saints Peter and Paul school I realized how much I loved Jesus and wanted to be a nun when I grew up!

However, as I approached my teen years, my interest in church mellowed when I began experiencing strange peer pressures, boys, and all the insecurities that come with high school! I can’t recall what made me stop going to church but little by little I stopped attending (along with so many others in my generation!).

Meanwhile, I did my own thing until the age of 16 when my insecurities overwhelmed me and I knew I needed to find answers to my anxieties. I wanted God in my life and began searching for my own private “god” who could meet those needs.  I became interested in Kahlil Gibran’s teachings about loving people as yourself and other such kindnesses.

However, I also was very attracted to a contagious kindness that Melanie, a fellow student, seemed to have.  I was curious and wondered what that was.  I asked her one day why she was so happy and peaceful all the time.  She responded with “It’s because of my best friend”. “And who would that be?” I asked. Her response was “It’s Jesus Christ”!

Now…. THAT was weird!  Melanie told me she was an Evangelical Christian, but I, having grown up Catholic, had no idea what that meant.

Believe it or not, within the next 2 weeks I also discovered that same closeness with Jesus.   I attended a “Christian” concert (with her former boyfriend of all things!) and that evening I “accepted Jesus into my heart”.  That was May 29th, 1971 and I’ve never looked back since!  I had found the answers I was looking for through her influence and began falling in love with Jesus Christ, growing by leaps and bounds in my personal relationship with Him!

ME, A MISSIONARY?

Even though I had been baptized as a baby in the Catholic Church, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, in September of 1971 I was baptized in Chautauqua Lake at Mission Meadows Youth Camp.  This act solidified my commitment to be known as a “Christian”.

Goshen College, a Mennonite school, intrigued me.  It had an Intercultural Studies program, where every student was required to travel overseas for a trimester. So, in my sophomore year I spent my first trimester in Honduras. It was there that, after being robbed while feeding a hungry beggar, that I sensed a deep calling from God to spend my life overseas working with beggars and thieves . The term “missionary” was new to me, but it quickly became my goal in life.

I also attended Indiana Wesleyan University (then known as Marion College) where I met my future husband Gary, who was also “called of God to be a missionary”.  I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing in 1980. Gary and I were married after dating for a short 10 months, and knew that someday we would “serve the Lord as missionaries overseas” with the Wesleyan Church.

The Backstory continues in my next blog…