Sometimes other Christians ask me why I converted.
I've been told that I've done things backwards - usually people convert from Catholicism to the Protestant branch of Christianity, not the other way around. I've met several people like me, though, people who were raised in one church their whole lives, who wandered around a bit in adulthood - not getting away from God, just not sure where to settle, and then finding their home in the Catholic Church.
Here is my conversion story: I was raised Baptist from the ages of two to twenty. My whole upbringing years, except for those first two where we wandered around a bit. My only memory of the church we went to before Bethel is a vague impression of stained-glass windows and puppet shows - things that would impress a toddler, I suppose. My whole life was wrapped up in my church - not a bad thing, mind you. I went to school there. I worshipped there. All my friends were from there, and most of my parents' friends, too. I was baptized a total of two times - once as an infant in the UCC church, and when I was ten at Bethel. I was "sprinkled and dunked" as my mother used to say.
At exactly four-and-a-half years old, I realized what Hell was, decided I most definitely didn't want to go there, and promptly asked Jesus into my heart and life. Honestly, though, my faith didn't become real to me until I was grown. At 18, I realized I had to start taking God seriously, and have been learning and growing ever since.
So what brought me to the Catholic Church? Well, when I was around 18, my parents became annoyed at something I no longer remember and left our church. I was traumatized. My friends all went off to college and I was left all alone. I was even more traumatized. I was utterly miserable going to church by myself, as superficial as that sounds, and so I started wandering around to different churches.
I went to my parents' new church for a little bit, but decided they were too stuffy and cold for me. For three years I went to a Messianic synagogue. While I liked it very much at first, it turned on me and I realized that, for one, there were very few Jewish people in that synagogue, and, two, they were a little off. I'm not dissing Messianic Jews, not at all. I just became very unhappy there and eventually left. I didn't go anywhere for years, too traumatized and disgusted after that experience to even look for somewhere to go. In time, I became convinced that I should be going somewhere, but everywhere I visited, I was miserable.
This went on for quite some time. I would go to different churches to visit them, and sit in the balconies so people wouldn't notice me crying. I didn't know what was wrong with me. I loved God very, very much. It's just that everywhere I went, I was very unhappy. I just felt cold, shut out, unloved, and unnoticed. I felt alone. I know very well that going to church isn't about what we "get out of it." It's to worship God, to learn, to just spend time in His presence. However, as much as I tried, I couldn't do those things. I was miserable. I just wanted to find a church where I could just plain worship Him - no frills, no hour-long praise and worship song sessions, or even longer messages that I could not pay attention to after spending such a long time singing. I wanted something simple, yet something genuine.
I just wanted to go somewhere where I could just love Jesus and be with Him.
Then, two Easters ago, a good friend invited me to go to Mass with her. I had nothing else to do that Easter, so I went. It was, and will always remain, I think, the most beautiful moment of my life. It was where I found Jesus, plain and simple, no frills, no gimmicks, just Jesus. I felt this radiance of warmth just rushing out and embracing me during the service. I felt like God was saying to me, "Welcome home. I've been waiting for you." I never left. I never attended any other kind of church again, I never wanted to go anywhere else after that. I had completely and with great joy found where God wanted me to be. That is a wonderful feeling, it really is.
I truly understood the title of C.S. Lewis' book "Surprised by Joy." That was how I felt. I was so surprised, because being Catholic was the last thing my Baptist self would have ever imagined. Yet, I was so filled with joy at rediscovering the beauty and pure love of Jesus, I felt like God had given me this beautiful, tremendous gift. I will be forever grateful to my friend for inviting me to Mass that Easter. It changed my life like nothing ever has before.
by Elaine Papciak