My Conversion Story

To read my conversion story, I have posted it in .pdf format available for download.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Tale of Three Rosaries

Rosary #3

The third rosary was given to me by my son Matthew. Much of Matthew's story is the same as Michael's. I've already recounted some of it in my last entry. But there are significant differences. I really don't remember why, but although I loved Matthew very much, we often would get along like oil and water. Or rather like gas and a lighted match.

The only thing that I can figure is that I worked in a job that I absolutely detested, and I would bring my frustration home with me. Also, for much of that time, I worked second shift and didn't see much of my kids except on weekends. When I was home, Sundays were for Sunday school, then church, lunch, then a nap that often lasted till dinnertime, then church again, then bed.

There was a lot of yelling in those days, much of it from me. Matt mentioned to me about a year or so ago that he remembers me once about to choke him. I honestly do not recall this at all. But I do remember once when he was about 12 or 13, I pulled my fist back as I was about to sock him a good one, but I was able to hold it back.

Whether he or I are remembering correctly or incorrectly doesn't matter. What made me so mad doesn't matter. But I do know one thing. I was wrong. I felt terrible for what I did. Yes, what I did, not what I almost did. No, I didn't hit him, but the damage had been done just the same. Is it any wonder that he was afraid of me?

This really woke me up as to how I was treating the kids. Strife didn't end overnight. But threats of violence were over, and I have never repeated them. It did not end the yelling however. What finally did? Something significant happened in Matt's life that convicted and challenged me. I think it was when Matt was in the 10th grade, that he began to become very interested, almost fanatical, about Jesus.

Matthew started to become more involved with the youth group at church. Several of the girls all went to the same public school, Rogers High School, and became associated with a group called “TEC” Teens Encounter Christ. I remembered this group from when I was 17. It was a primarily Catholic outreach, and I was surprised to find out that it no longer was considered such, but it had branched out into other denominations.

As Matt became more involved with this group (he even went on a missions trip to Russia) we started to refer to it as Matt and his groupie Rogers' girls. I remember cautioning him that although he was not the only guy in the group, he was one of the only regular ones. I was afraid that some of the other girls may not be quite as spiritual as some of them, or him. It's not so much that I was afraid of that something sexual might happen, as I was afraid that they would all start fighting over him.

I was right. I don't think that Matt was seriously interested in any of them at the time, but it was clear that two or three, were interested in him. “Just you watch,” I said to my wife. “He's going to end up married to one of them.” Well, he and Amy just celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary. I may have been right about him marrying one of them, but I was wrong about which one. Amy seemed the least likely, but after high school was over, they started going out, and after a very short engagement, they married.

And I'm so glad they did. My wife and I are truly blessed by having two daughters-in-law that we love so much. There are like the daughters that we never had.

Matthew has always had a thing about lists, and collecting flags of all the countries of the world, and charts, etc. He even had a candy wrapper collection when he was young. He has also always loved languages.

Some of this he gets from me. I remembered that I had all the US states and their capitols memorized in about third grade. I love time-lines, Bible charts, and genealogies. I love looking at word origins and similar words in different languages and making connections between them.

But in these areas, I think Matthew is on mental steroids. Language comes naturally to him. When he traveled to Russia, Brazil, Niger, and China he picked up on the languages easily, with near perfect pronunciation. For a time I thought his love of languages and desire to travel would lead to missions work.

About three years ago Matthew surprised us all by saying that he was no longer a Christian and that he was tired of trying to live up to everyone's expectations. In 2009 he and Amy left to go to China for a year to teach English as a second language to primary age kids at school in Fuyang. They loved it there and Matt was planning on staying on another year but there were problems with this contract and he had to return.

While in China, Matthew bought me a rosary from the Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Hangzhou (go to the website and you should see pictures that Matt took while there), one of a handful of Chinese monasteries, and brought it home with him. They returned to Grand Rapids. Both are now going to school, but they are still unsure of what to do with their lives job-wise.

Matt and I do not fight anymore. I love him dearly, and he has forgiven me for the way that I used to treat him. Much of that is because I know that as I have become closer to Christ and his Church, he has changed me. I know it. I can feel it. And both of the boys have noticed it and commented on it.

We have finally put aside our differences and we enjoy each other's company now. Matt is funny, and smart, and cares deeply for people. I pray and trust that he will find his way back to God and hopefully to the Catholic Church.

This is why Matthew's rosary is so special to me. It represents a long road of struggle, strife, regret, reconciliation, healing, and a deep and abiding love for my son.

Mike's rosary is easy to carry around as it is smaller than Matt's. I still use it for saying the rosary that is for a dedicated purpose. But for general and everyday use I carry Matt's rosary around the most. Why? Is it because I prefer it to Mike's? No. Is because when I use it, I am praying for Matt and I pray for Matt every day. He is still the prodigal in a foreign country. When the Lord has made him ready, he will call him home. Of this, I am certain.

© 2010 The Cathoholic - All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Tale of Three Rosaries

Rosary #2

My first Christmas as a Catholic was special to me. As I was growing up, I never heard of an Advent season, or an Octave of Christmas. It was the first time I was exposed to Christmas being more than one day and the previous evening. It was wonderful to learn of the entire Christmas season and to celebrate it more fully than I ever had.

My son, Mike, has always been a good artist and likes working with crafts. That year he had taken up beading. I kind of had a feeling that another rosary was in my future. I didn't say anything though. I didn't want to spoil the surprise, or be disappointed if it didn't happen, or make him feel pressured to make me one if I was wrong and he hadn't planned on making one.

Well I didn't have to worry. He did make me one as a Christmas present.

Mike was always a little bit of a manipulator while he was growing up. He still is in ways; but it's not always a bad thing. Mike is a natural leader. He's highly intelligent, much more than I. He and Matthew always beat me in IQ tests, so I stopped trying.

We brought our boys up as good Baptist kids. They both were baptized young, around age six for Mike, four for Matt. Later as they grew older, they realized that they had been too young to really know what baptism was and were rebaptized. I don't remember how old they were that time. (Unfortunately, the older I get, the less I remember. I swear my entire childhood was like it was two grades at school, and two summers long. I have no idea of when anything happened until the summer before high school. And a lot of that is beginning to fade too. That's part of the reason for my blogs---so I don't forget everything.)

When Mike graduated high school, he was planning on becoming an architect. As he was getting ready to go off to college in Dearborn, he announced to me that he was not a Christian, and never had been. When he told me this, I was devastated. I felt that he had been playing us for years just to placate us.

He went off to Lawrence Tech, and I let everyone at church know what had happened and asked for prayer for him. We pray for him communally, and he was added to our weekly prayer list, and I know someone was praying for him every day.

Mike became very lonely at school. Although he had renounced Christ, he was still a very moral young man. As such, he didn't go to the parties. He didn't have a car so he couldn't go anywhere. If he wanted to go anywhere on foot or on his bike, he was very close to some very dangerous territory. Mary and I visited him a few times, once right after that horrible day in 2001, but we couldn't go as often as we have liked. Mike tends to become a little depressed when he's alone, and the isolation at school got to him.

One night, after almost one semester of school, Mike called. He had just gotten off the phone with the associate pastor at our church. After only a few months of intense prayer, Michael had finally accepted the Lord as his savior, and shortly after that told us that he wanted to come back home.

After Mike became a Christian, he had already been equipped with a good Christian education at home and in church, and he went at it whole whole hog. He started reading the Bible which he already knew pretty well, and reading and famous preachers like Jonathan Edwards, and listening to popular speakers like John Piper. He quickly took over leadership roles at church, and he became a challenge to me as I can tend to become complacent.

I found myself actually looking up to both of my sons as they were both on fire for the Lord. Plus at the time I was beginning to question not so much Baptist teaching, but other things that I had felt were sacrosanct, like six literal days of creation vs. long ages of time divided into periods of time called, “days.".

Around 2006 our church decided to rewrite its Constitution and Statement of Faith. This was partly to update things which had to change because of changes in the ways that some missionary agencies work, and to fix spelling, punctuation, and some grammatical errors.

Neither Mike nor I were on this committee, but we both went over it just the same. I had found some things that I had major problems with. Serious enough that if I had to accept this Constitution, I would in all conscience have to resign my membership at the church.

Mike went over the Statement of Faith in more detail than I. He noticed a punctuation error so he went into more detail and looked up every Bible verse listed to make sure that it correctly supported the statement to which it referred.

That was when he first discovered, and showed me for the first time that many of the verses used to support statements, in fact did not support them at all. I began looking at other Baptist statements of faith in print, and online, and found exactly the same thing, using exactly the same verses.

Thus began my journey back to the Catholic Church as further detailed in my testimony available at the link at the top of my blog.

Eventually this also led Mike to leave the church and he drifted for some time.  It was hard for him, as he grew up at Grandville Baptist. He met his future wife, Katie, there as kids, and they were married there less than two years ago. For a while I was hoping he would also become a Catholic as it seemed that we were on the same road. However, being a former Catholic, it was easier for me to find my way back after reconciling the things that I had thought were heretical, but I found to be true. Mike went the way of Orthodoxy. I pray that Mike will become Catholic, but if he's not Catholic, Orthodoxy is fine with me.

That was a long way of saying why the rosary that Mike gave me is so special. It represents a very long road of struggle and recovery. Of two prodigals who finally made it home to their Father's welcoming embrace.

© 2010 The Cathoholic - All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Tale of Three Rosaries

I am going to post this in three parts over a few days so it's not too much to read at once...

While reflecting on our Blessed Mother, and looking back on my life since my return to Catholicism almost 4 years ago, I am holding in my hand a rosary given to me by my son, Matthew.

I remember receiving a rosary at my first Communion as a child. Never really taking my faith seriously for many years, I don't remember what ever became of it. I don't know if I lost it somewhere along the way, or if after leaving the church for Protestant churches, I threw it away as I would pagan amulet. I don't remember ever saying the rosary while growing up, so I may have just lost it through neglect.

Either way, how tragic! If only I had understood what blessing and power there is in those 59 beads. Since coming back to the Church, I now own three rosaries. All were gifts of love given to me by my nephew, Mike; my son, Mike; and my son, Matthew. I list them in the order in which I received them, not necessarily in order of preference.

Rosary #1

Shortly after I announced my reversion, my nephew, Mike S., gave me a rosary that he had made. I'm glad he did. It saved me from having to ask him. A few years ago he started making rosaries out of parachute cord. He would tie knots into it to form the beads and the cross. He started doing this while he was in the Army, deployed in Fallujah, Iraq shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein. He made quite a few while he was there. By the time of my conversion he was already back home but still making them and selling them on the Internet. You can order the from

© 2010 The Cathoholic - All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My weekend at St. Lazare's Retreat House

As I sit here at St. Lazare's Retreat House I can't help but be struck by the artwork and statuary. There is a stained-glass portrait of St. Joseph, photographs of mother Theresa, a drawing of several head shots of Pope John II (soon to be “Saint”), a photograph of Pope Benedict XVI, a photo of each of the past directors at the retreat house, a huge painting of St. Vincent DePaul, a painting of Jesus in the garden, several crucifixes, stained-glass that looks like it came from the 1970s or 1980s, and more.

But today I'm really struck by the statues and the stained-glass portrait of the Blessed Virgin, our mother, Mary. I've seen the same depictions of her before many times. But I've never really been so moved by their beauty. The artists wonderfully portrayed her beauty, grace, and expressions of love and invitation.

Certainly the real Miriam, mother of Yeshua, spouse of Yusef, did not look like this. This is an idealized, very Germanic or Scandinavian Mary—beautiful, but not Jewish. As Christianity began its trek westward, Mary took on a decidedly Western look. When Mary appeared at Guadalupe to Juan Diego, she appeared as a young Mexican girl. In one of my favorite movies, Guadalupe a Spanish-language film, Sandra Espil, chosen to portray Mary is a lovely young woman with a sweet disposition. Her voice is loving and tender, wonderful to behold and delivered in lyrical Nahuatl.

People of African descent often will depict Mary as a dark-skinned woman, usually in the artistic style indicative of the culture of the artist. This beautiful Madonna was painted by Donna Rathert found at

In China, there is Our Lady of Sheshan.

Then there is Our Lady of Akita, Japan who actually weeps.

There are so many others I could mention. Every artist portrays Mary to the best of his/her ability. If it is a stylized work, or an abstract, they attempt to make the entire work beautiful at least in the artists’ eyes.

The race or ethnicity of Mary as depicted in art is not important. The important thing is, who she is to the artist? And how does this work move me? If it does not move me, why doesn't it? Does Mary have to look European or Jewish or African otherwise she has no meaning for me? This may speak to our own prejudices more than anything else.

The most important thing is not, was Mary beautiful? The artwork is not intended to show us what she looked like, but to draw us into her bosom, to be presented to her son. So does the work do that? I am certainly drawn to the traditional Nordic Mary. I have also have a tender spot for the Mexican people, probably my favorite non-USA ethnic group.  Our Lady of Guadalupe is especially important to me.

Mary is the mother of the Church regardless if the person is Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Presbyterian, or Methodist... so if she is the mother of a European, she's European. If the person happens to be Filipino, she is Filipino. As she is our mother, so we are her children, like it or not.

Whether she is presented as beautiful or homely, Germanic, Jewish, African, or Mexican, Chinese Japanese or Philipino— none of it compares to the inner beauty of this holy young woman. When given a choice between accepting God and his Word and facing likely ridicule and judgment by her husband, family, friends, synagogue, and community. She put it all aside and said, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” All generations have called her blessed, and she remains blessed forever.

© 2010 The Cathoholic - All Rights Reserved.