Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The conversion story of the ex-preacher's wife

Catholic Exchange: 

The marriage had crumbled, and I had to bear it in public, which made it even worse. I remember the day the senior pastor of our large United Methodist church invited parishioners to go to the altar railing and kneel in prayer. I had planned to just go and pray, but when I knelt, the anguish consumed me.

I cried and cried. I couldn’t stop. I willed myself to stand up and go back to my seat. I wanted to hide.

After the morning services, a woman walked up to me and handed me a small piece of paper. I read what it said. Jeremiah 29:11. Just the citation. The verse wasn’t even written down.

I should have known the verse. I was the wife of the associate pastor – or rather had been the wife of the associate pastor. I had also grown up in a pastor’s home. But, I had no idea what this passage from Sacred Scripture said, and I didn’t know why this parishioner had passed the verse on to me.

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, a plan of hope for the future. Seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all of your heart.”

It was a lifeline.

It wasn’t not what I expected. Many of the parishioners had interpreted my silence during the ten-month separation as culpability. Many believed I was at fault.

I hadn’t wanted to go back there – to that church or the community – where I was under a microscope. But time had passed, and it was obvious that the marriage was done. I had to drive from Illinois to Atlanta one more time. I had to go back to our house and gather my things. My children’s things. Pictures. The wedding dress. The memories.

I didn’t have a choice.

So I spent that Thanksgiving break back in our house. I suppose I had passed my husband on the road. He was spending Thanksgiving in Illinois with the children – while I packed my life up so that we could all get on with the moving on.

The senior pastor and his wife were my quiet champions. They knew the story. And I think they appreciated the fact that I had not wanted our marital mess to destroy the good they were doing at Mountain View United Methodist church.

Becky, the senior pastor’s wife, begged me to go to church with her on Sunday. She told me she would be right beside me. I could sit with her and hear Stuart’s sermon. I was torn between wanting to hide and wanting to be in that sanctuary one last time.

I don’t remember very much about that Sunday morning. I sat with Becky. And when her husband welcomed us to come forward and pray, I wanted to pray. I needed to go.

But I should have stayed where I was.

I shouldn’t have gone to church that morning at all. Because the entire façade crumbled. And I couldn’t stop crying.

Nothing made sense to me. I felt rejected by my husband and misjudged by many who adored him, the associate pastor. And I had no choice but to remain silent and cling to whatever faith I had left. Jeremiah 29:11. Denise, I do have a plan for you. Hope for a future. Seek me. And if you seek me with all of your heart, I promise, dear one, that you will find Me.

That’s what I found when I held the little paper in my left hand and thumbed through my Bible with my right hand a few hours after that worship service. That’s what the verse meant to me that Thanksgiving weekend of 1995.

In 2005, I entered the Catholic Church. In 2005, I realized Jesus Christ really did have a plan for me – and I was only just beginning to comprehend it.

Hope for a future.

A place where I could find Him.

He was waiting for me. And I would walk another aisle in another church in another state after a decade had passed…

And I would find Him, after seeking Him with all of my heart. Jeremiah 29:11-13.

I’m still learning. God is still teaching me. And a few days ago, He taught me a lesson on how to read Sacred Scripture.

As a former evangelical, I read passages (like this one from Jeremiah) from a personal point of view. God was talking to me. Only to me.

And that’s not wrong. It’s just that that’s not all there is to it.

The other day, I read the passage again from an ecclesial perspective. Just as God had spoken to Jeremiah of old, while having the entire People of God in mind as the audience, I realized that the Lord had spoken to me in 1995 – while having the entire ecclesial Body of Christ in mind!

It was a new thought for me.

How many verses had I read with only me in mind? How many verses could I reread and see that the Lord had His entire Body in mind?

Every promise, every blessing, every teaching, every encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ in Sacred Scripture is for the Body of Christ.

I suppose that former evangelicals like me don’t realize that right away. We were taught to experience Sacred Scripture on a personal level – and that is true and good.

But we former evangelicals need to realize that Jesus Christ speaks to the whole Body. We can learn a thing or two about being ecclesial by reading the familiar verses with that new perspective.

And I suppose that cradle Catholics can learn from us. Sacred Scripture is for the Body of Christ, the Church, but it is also for you, dear one. Yes, the Lord speaks to you.

Maybe we could exchange glasses for a while.

I need to see what you have always seen when you read the Bible.

And maybe, just maybe, you need to see what I have seen. He has a plan for you. A plan of hope. A plan with a future that is good. Seek Him for yourself, with all of your heart. And He will come to you… personally. 

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