by Allison Gingras
As I peruse the book titles in the Catholic aisle of my local Christian bookstore, it is hard not to notice the plethora of conversion stories shared. What I do not see a lot of accounts from the person who grew up Catholic and drifted in and out (mostly out) of practicing their faith until something changed in them or for them. That great awakening in their soul when discovering Father, Son and Holy Spirit — not as distant or punishing but as loving, truly loving, merciful, trustworthy and faithful — just to name a few of the infinite good characteristics of God.
These stories are sometimes referred to a re-conversion or reversions and, while I am awed and fascinated by conversion stories be it former atheist, agnostic, or a Baptist minister, I am most drawn to how “cradle” or “cultural” Catholics were drawn back or kept from drifting away. How this happens is as varied as fingerprints and snowflakes. This is my story.
I grew up in a Portuguese American household. I was a middle-class suburban girl with divorced parents, low self-esteem and, marginal catechesis. My faith life existed of attending nine years of Catechism, attending Mass for most of the school year, though rarely as a family and, taking the summers off. I have no recollection of ever being in Mass with my Father. There were no Bibles in my home until ninth grade Confirmation class when I received a flimsy red covered nearly see-through paper-thin paged New American Bible. It was opened a few times in class and, even fewer times at home.
Praying as a family took place only during violent thunderstorms and occasionally before bed. God was scary, death was petrifying and, hell was real — until I hit my teen years. Then I thought I had it all figured out. At 15 I was convinced hell was our time on earth, so everyone went to heaven. God was who I made him to be. And participating in religious activities like Church was for old people who were closer to death than I and needed to have that safety net in place in case that hell place I once believed existed after death really was real.
The first invitation
Then one day I was invited to a retreat. My heart began to reawaken that perhaps God was real and that I didn't want to wait to know him. The retreat left me wanting to be better acquainted with God but how? I struggled to figure that out, once again falling in and out of practice of my faith until I received another more significant invitation. A Christmas gift of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life along with an invitation to start a Bible study at a friend's home would change the course of my life forever.
There I would be introduced to scripture and the real working of the Holy Spirit in my life. The noise in my head, once negative soliloquies with myself, morphed into hope-filled dialogues with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (as well as the Blessed Mother, some new saintly friends and, my Guardian Angel). That invitation lead to so many more. Each invitation was instrumental in either deepening my faith, helping to grow and shape my understanding of God and heavenly things, or providing support to remain a faithful person.
Over ten years later, invitation still plays a significant role in my living out my Catholic faith in the every-day. I see as my relationship with Jesus grows, invitations once extended to me are now the ones I extend to others. While no longer involved in that initial Bible study group, I have been inspired to offer a weekly women’s group in my home. Invitation brought Eucharistic Adoration, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and a deep appreciation and love for the Mass into my life. Each beautiful sacrament encounter transforms who I was into who I am and, furthermore to whom I want to be. It is this sacramental piece that fills my heart with the greatest desire to tell my Catholic story of faith. It is the gift of grace in the sacraments that I understood the least, and that I now see benefits us the most.
Yes to God’s invitation
St. Paul explains that those things we have been comforted in, God will use through us to comfort others in similar situations. This has been true in my life in so many remarkable ways, including now offering retreats to teach about the peace of forgiveness, embrace JOY and learning cling to the hope that comes from trusting in God. Invited by God to answer yes to the mission he had for me has allowed me the incredible blessing of being a wife and mother, including traveling to China to fulfill my heart’s desire to adopt. My yes has also brought the blessing of being a Catholic radio host and writer as well as the opportunity to meet the most amazing people who are sharing this journey to heaven and who teach me so much about God's love, mercy and, faithfulness.
I long to shake my Catholic family tree and awaken hardened or deaden hearts to the beauty, hope and, fullness that comes with living a sacramental, scriptural and prayer-filled Christian life. Those three elements comprise what I like to refer to as my Grace Trifecta – and I would be incomplete if even one of those pieces were missing from my faith puzzle.
Allison Gingras, founder www.ReconciledToYou.com (RTY); and host of “A Seeking Heart” on Breadbox Media weekdays 10 am ET. Allison created the "Words with" daily devotional App: Words with Jesus. Allison offers retreats and talks on Forgiveness, Works of Mercy, Trust and, JOY!