I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia. My family was Presbyterian and practiced Godly values. We were also very involved in our church. Every day of any given week some or all of us were there being busy in the life of the church. For each of us, this was by choice.
Even so, after high school I found a gazillion reasons not to go to church. The further I moved away from a regular connection to that life, the deeper I sank into the deception of the world. As I heard in a homily recently, if you live your faith fast and loose, someone will surely come along and kill it. And by age 28 I was knocking on death’s door with my worldly lifestyle.
My first true realization of God’s grace was at that time. Deep inside I desired life – not death. I knew where to turn because of how I was raised. I ran back to church, back to Jesus. I was renewed by God’s grace. I have since made a daily conscious effort to allow God to work through me and to change me, be it ever so slowly, into the image of His Son.
Not long after, I married. Ed is a man who loves God with all of his heart. It was another act of God’s unending grace. Ed was Episcopalian. And so I began attending the Episcopal Church. After several years of attending the church of his choice, I came to love the liturgy and its history. The ancient prayers, the secure boundaries of the liturgy in worship spoke to my heart. And I chose to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church.
A short time after my confirmation, we moved our family from Virginia to Texas. And though we both loved the liturgy and sacraments, incredibly enough we became part of an independent charismatic church. Even as I loved the little Texas church and its people, it was here that a tiny spot of emptiness and longing began to grow inside my heart.
Two years later we moved to the northwest corner of New Jersey, rural and mountainous. My husband was pastor of a small church in the woods. We lived in this idyllic setting for seven years. While in this place we experienced, individually and as a couple, some of our greatest spiritual growth. And the most intense. Despite the beauty of our surroundings, the greater part of this growth was as though by fire.
Ready to walk away
Yet – though my relationship with our Lord grew closer and deeper than ever – that strange emptiness and longing continued to expand. During this time in New Jersey, I became so disillusioned with what I thought to be Christ’s church, I very nearly walked away.
Now, the paths of life are never straight. And God uses every twist and turn to His glory and for our good, if we will allow Him. God’s grace was once more evident in my life 1993 when our little church joined a new Protestant denomination, which practiced a liturgical, sacramental and charismatic style of worship. I thanked God unceasingly. Because their foundational teaching was from the Apostolic Fathers, I discovered that what I had been considering leaving was what man had done to the church, not the church as God had established it.
That emptiness and longing that had begun years earlier was being filled and healed. And so began my journey to The Church which Peter began under the authority of Jesus the Messiah, The Holy One. By God’s grace my eyes were being opened to see what had been all along. I read The Church Fathers, other ancient authors and their contemporaries, listened to lectures in person and on tape, and spent endless hours of discussion with friends who were on the path with us.
Though this Protestant denomination was the catalyst for my journey, it began changing to be inconsistent with their early teachings. I began to see that they liked the Catholic look, but wanted no part of Catholic authority. Then we moved to the Kansas City area.
As I studied The Faith and read the Catechism, I discovered two truths that were turning points for me.
First, I came to see how the Holy Spirit has truly protected the deposit of faith given to the apostles. The Church has kept pure that core of faith. Having grown up in denominations that either had a sandy foundation borne out of protest and rebellion or, worse, made up the rules as they went, I suddenly realized that I longed for stability. A church that preserves their central beliefs for 2000 years is a very solid foundation; a safe place for any believer – a safe place for me.
And through this study I came to the simple, and by now obvious, realization that the See of Peter was truly the authority given by God to rule His Church.
I knew I had no choice. If I honestly desired the fullness of life that God intends for each of His children, then I had to submit to the authority of The Catholic Church.
This was my heart. Yet I felt I could not go alone. I have a family. Another example of His grace in our midst: God brought us individually to the same point at nearly the same time. The choice was personal for every one; we each have our own story.
There are only two decisions I’ve made in my life that I can say this about: the peace that I knew in my heart at the point of each of those conscious decisions has continued to grow deeper the further I am from that point. Those two decisions were to marry my wonderful husband and to submit to the authority of The Catholic Church. It is a peace that truly passes all understanding.
(© 2014 Cheryl Wills)
Cheryl Ann Wills’ constant quest for Truth led to her conversion to The Catholic Church in 2000.Her passion is to give back to society by making a difference through writing what she hopes will open hearts and minds to ideas that could change lives, teaching children to read so that they may be of greater value to themselves and society in their future, and teaching choices for better health. She and her husband Ed have three fabulous daughters. Family time, photography and painting, cycling and hiking help her maintain balance in life. Daily prayer and meditation keep Cheryl centered.