The road got bumpier when I dropped out of high school and ran away from home to live with my boyfriend. I found myself pregnant at 17 and pressured into having an abortion that I did not want. It nearly destroyed me. The guilt was overwhelming. I tried to take my own life and spent nearly a month in an adolescent psychiatric unit to recover.
Upon my release, I did my best to put my life back together. Although my rebellion led me to deny Christ, my soul still thirsted for the divine. I spent years trying to fill the hole in my heart. I read about Eastern religions, nature religions, Native American religions, and still found myself empty.
I tried to overcome both my guilt and spiritual indirection by channeling my inner frustration toward helping others. Unfortunately, I couldn't have chosen a more dubious outlet: I got a job at an abortion clinic.
At first, my goal was to try to identify others who felt pressured into abortion, who felt they had no other choice. I thought if I was there, I'd be able to spot that young woman and help her to not make the same mistake I did. I remained vehemently and vocally pro-choice, in spite of my personal horrific experience with abortion. In hindsight, I believe I was trying to surround myself with people who thought abortion was okay, in the hopes that maybe someday I'd believe that, too. While I missed my baby every day, I still clung to this incongruous belief that it was still somehow permissible for other mothers to end their babies' lives. I rarely attended church during my time working at the abortion center.
Later, while attending graduate school in New York City, I began to feel the presence of God in my life again. It wasn't an overwhelming "ah-HA!" moment, it was no Road to Damascus, but a tiny feeling inside that simply refused to be ignored. At first I didn't talk about it with anyone. I tried to examine my tough facade of forced intellectualism (decidedly secular) to find the chink in my armor that had let something inexplicable sneak through. I'd given up on my search for religion, for God, and was deeply ensconced in academia. I wanted to be a scientist, not a churchgoer!
It wasn't until after grad school that I truly allowed myself to explore this fledgling feeling of faith that had crept back into my consciousness. I worked as a Research Assistant at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. This was a place full of the promise of cure and hope for recovery, but also a place of sadness, resignation, and death. No one could work there day after day, year after year, and remain unaffected by this aching paradox.
Along the hallway to the cafeteria was a small interfaith chapel. Its primary purpose was to provide a quiet place of meditation for patients and their loved ones to reflect and pray. I'd seen other employees walk through the chapel door before, but for months I just walked past it. I was always keenly aware of the sacredness of the space beyond that door, and wildly curious, but remained stubbornly secure behind my secular, scientific veneer. One day, however, I stopped...and I opened the door.
The chapel was small, dimly lit, and undeniably sacred. That first time, all I did was peek in and then went back to work.
The next day, I went inside and sat down for a few minutes on one of the pews. I don't remember what, if anything, I thought about while I was there, but I remember feeling at peace. Every day after lunch I sat quietly in the chapel for a few minutes. My belief in God strengthened with each visit. Not because of that particular prayer space, but because I allowed myself to search inside of me for prayer space.
It wasn't until a few years later, after leaving NYC and that job, that I began attending church. My husband and I attended the Lutheran church where I grew up, mostly to prepare for the baptism of our first son. My husband was raised Catholic, his uncle was a priest, and his great uncle had been a Franciscan brother; but he was not practicing his faith. We weren't even married in a church, but in a hot air balloon in Las Vegas by a minister of the United Church of Christ. He agreed to attend Lutheran worship services with me to have our three sons baptized in the Lutheran Church.
During this Christian (yet only quasi-religious) time in my life I was still nominally pro-choice, although I did not donate to the cause or attend rallies and had stopped working at the abortion clinic after my first son was born. We began to attend a Lutheran church more regularly after our second and third sons were born. I volunteered on the preschool committee, we participated in fellowship events at church, but neither of us ever really felt ‘at home’ there. We talked about this, but never with the goal of finding a solution, and we never discussed the possibility of me becoming Catholic, or of our family trying out another faith.
Everything changed in November 2010. Still considering myself a pro-choice Lutheran, I was involved in an online group discussion of in-vitro fertilization (IVF). I confess that I'd never really given it much thought before that conversation, but being a scientifically-minded modern woman, IVF was lumped in with those other issues of “reproductive rights" that I assumed were essential to maintaining equality for women.
There were about ten women in the discussion group, two of whom were very faithful Catholics. I credit these two women with planting the very seeds of my eventual conversion – both to the pro-life worldview, and to embracing the Catholic faith – by inviting me to question my deeply held, yet unexamined, opinions. They were not aggressive or condescending, but they both refused to compromise their beliefs as they calmly but firmly held their ground in the face of outnumbered opposition and remained steadfast in their defense of the sanctity and dignity of the lives of the unborn.
I became uncomfortable as I read more about IVF, especially the staggering statistic that for every one child born as a result of IVF procedures 4 or 5 or more embryos are created – and most often destroyed – or kept frozen for an unknown length of time until they are discarded, or more rarely, adopted. In the United Kingdom that number is even higher, with as many as 30 embryos created to reach the goal of one live birth.
As I struggled to reconcile my pro-choice, pro-reproductive rights label with my growing unease with this inhumane practice, one of the members of our discussion group announced she agreed to be a gestational surrogate for an unrelated couple who were her friends. Eventually she became pregnant with this couple's child and shared stories of her experience as a member of a support group for surrogate mothers. She told us of one woman's surrogacy contract including a stipulation for genetic testing on the baby. When the results showed the baby she was carrying had Down syndrome, she was offered payment of her contract in full to abort.
And she did.
That was it. The light bulb switched on and has been burning brightly ever since. This woman was paid to kill the baby she was carrying for others. Pregnancy was now a laboratory experiment, with children as a commodity being made, bought, sold, and destroyed. This was wrong, on a basic and fundamental level.
I could no longer call myself pro-choice. So many lives were being senselessly destroyed around me. The life of my first child, the thousands of abortions committed while I worked at the abortion center, the countless cold souls in the IVF freezers around the world, the surrogate mothers paid to kill the innocent, unrelated babies they were carrying. I was now pro-life.
But I was left with the question: What now?
I contacted a local pro-life pregnancy resource center that offered services free of charge to pregnant mothers in need. My family and I participated in a "Walk for Life" fundraiser and I met with the director to find out what else I could do to help them. Naturally, what these centers need most are volunteers and donations to cover the cost of the ultrasound machines, nurses, social workers, and counselors, as well as standard operating costs like rent, office furniture, utilities, and the like.
I approached my Pastor to discuss the possibility of arranging a fundraiser for Amnion through the church and I was unprepared to be met with strong opposition. He explained to me the ELCA Social Statement on abortion was essentially pro-choice. I was flabbergasted. Even if the ELCA was pro-choice, surely our church could see the benefit of helping mothers with ultrasounds, counseling, baby clothes, parenting classes, and other basic necessities. My request to collect donations was denied, and I left that church feeling confused and betrayed, and I have not been inside that building since that day.
This is when the real soul searching began. I struggled with wanting to remain with the comfort of the faith of my childhood yet not believing what was being preached. Was I upset with my Pastor, or with my religion? Did I want my children to be raised in a pro-choice religion? I thought of my strong Catholic friends, both online and in my day-to-day life, and I knew they were unapologetically 100% pro-life. I was attracted to this notion that right and wrong are eternal moral concepts, not bound by the whims and social customs of a particular time or era. Truth is not decided by popular vote.
I started to research the Catholic faith in earnest.
I searched Google for "pro-life Catholic" and the results included a link to The Angelica Joy Story, a documentary about a devout Catholic family blessed with 10 children facing the tragedy of learning that the mother's next child was diagnosed in utero with a rare, fatal genetic disorder where babies routinely only live for a few hours after birth. Remaining faithful to the Catholic Church's teaching, her parents chose to carry their baby girl to term. She lived for five months and brought immense joy to everyone she met. Her family is exceedingly grateful for the time they spent with her during her short life.
What struck me, other than the tremendous courage and strength of this remarkable family, was their constant faith in God's plan. Included in the film is an image of Angelica's mother staring at what I now know was a monstrance, but at the time when I heard her voiceover say, "As I again was graced with the opportunity to spend time in the Adoration chapel..." I was mystified.
What was that?
I knew Catholics believed that Jesus was really in the consecrated Host, whereas in Protestant churches the Communion wafer is a symbol of Jesus' body, but I didn't fully understand what that meant until I continued reading more about Catholicism.
Learning the true meaning of the Real Presence in the Eucharist was a turning point for me. I wanted to receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament and be a part of the Body of Christ. I wanted to be a part of the Church founded by Jesus, with a direct line of apostolic succession, and where capital-T Truth was unchanging and eternal.
I wanted to be Catholic.
I called my husband's uncle, a priest and Pastor of a parish, and spent more than an hour on the phone with him asking questions.
I reached out to an acquaintance from my former church that had converted from ELCA Lutheran to Catholic and was now studying to become a permanent Deacon. He was (and still is) an amazing resource. He gave me a list of books, the first of which was Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism by Scott and Kimberly Hahn. I read it in a few days (quite a feat with three small sons to care for!) I couldn't read enough conversion stories, I read Heather King's Redeemed and Timothy Drake's There We Stood, Here We Stand which is a collection of stories specifically about Lutherans who converted to Catholicism. I started following Jennifer Fulwiler's blog ConversionDiary.com that describes in detail her conversion from pro-choice atheist to pro-life Roman Catholic. Stories of former abortion industry workers' conversions especially appealed to me: Abby Johnson's Unplanned and Dr. Bernard Nathanson's The Hand of God. A dear friend took me to my first Mass (that wasn't a wedding or a funeral – the only other two Masses I'd ever attended) and I was moved to tears. Just outside the entrance of the church was a statue of a weeping angel dedicated to all of the children killed by abortion.
I was home.
I picked up a copy of Catholicism for Dummies and registered to start RCIA. Different parishioners taught the classes each week, a few lifelong Catholics, a few converts, one man studying to be a permanent Deacon, and naturally the Pastor taught as well.
After a couple of classes, I felt it was time for me to visit the Perpetual Adoration Chapel.
The Adoration Chapel at my parish’s 130-year-old grey stone church is tiny and is used as the children’s chapel during Mass. It has five pews, one loud hissing overactive radiator, two ridiculously beautiful stained glass windows, and one brilliant monstrance embracing and displaying the consecrated Host. The first time I opened the chapel door I could sense the presence of something unspeakably holy.
I closed the door behind me as gently and silently as I could, dipped my fingers into the wall-mounted font of Holy Water, blessed myself, turned to face the monstrance and promptly fell to my knees. Both knees. On the floor. That first time I hadn’t even made it as far as a pew, much less a kneeler. I held my head in my hands for a moment, collected myself, and finally rose to sign in as a “visitor” on the Adorers schedule. I slid into the last pew, lowered the kneeler, glanced up at the Blessed Sacrament for a moment, then closed my eyes, and put my head back into my hands.
My reaction to entering the Adoration Chapel for the first time reminded me of the very first time I spontaneously and involuntarily fell to my knees overwhelmed with prayers of praise and thanksgiving: when I learned I was expecting my firstborn son. I just knew I was finally on the right path.
The RCIA process was fascinating, exciting, illuminating, and at times confusing. There is simply not enough time to know all there is to know about the beauty and fullness of truth contained within the Catholic Church. The Church is all over the world – there are Masses every day, and Jesus it truly present in the Eucharist at every Mass, in every tabernacle, in every monstrance EVERYWHERE.
While being a faithful Catholic is not easy, it is right, and it is what God wants for us – what God wants for me. I learn more about my faith every day and I am immensely grateful for the Sacraments. My First Reconciliation, Confirmation, First Holy Communion, and the Convalidation of my marriage are among the true highlights of my life. My family and I attend Mass together and our children are now being raised in the Catholic faith. We feel at home in our parish.
Throughout this journey I have enjoyed the unwavering support of my husband. I am so very thankful for his understanding and patience with my process of self-discovery. While we have grown and changed during our 14 years of marriage, we have always been remarkably blessed with being on the same page at the same time. This is where I see the hand of God at work most in my life – in my relationship with my husband and my children. I am truly blessed and overwhelmingly grateful for my faith.
Edited by Rachel Waugh
Jewels Green's personal blog can be found at www.jewelsgreen.com and she is currently serving as an Editor for the pro-life organization Feminists for Life.