Never Say Never

cross I’m not sure how to start this post. I have so many thoughts surrounding this topic, I can’t even decide where to begin. So I’ll go with this. In five days, I will officially become a Catholic. And it has everything to do with God. Come to think of it, I guess this is my testimony.

I’ve always believed in God. I grew up going to church, was highly involved with my youth group, spent summers at church camp and fall breaks at weekend church retreats. I’ve never hidden this; I’ve always prayed, I’ve always been a Christian. But I’ve never really talked about it. I’ve never felt comfortable talking about it. And up until now, I haven’t even felt comfortable writing about it, especially on this blog. I’ve been intentional about keeping my posts very neutral – nothing that could ever incur hateful comments or cause a debate or commotion. I’m a sensitive person – I don’t handle confrontation very well, so I avoid it. But there comes a point where you realize you have a platform and a gift and even if it’s not going to reach a lot of people, it may reach one or two who need to hear it. And I can no longer avoid sharing something that has made such a tremendous impact on my life.

Being a church kid, I heard a lot of testimonies growing up – you know the kind – someone gets up in front of the entire congregation and shares their experience of coming to know God. Stories of people at absolute rock bottom who had a religious experience that brought them to God and turned their lives around. Beautiful stories. Compelling stories. Sharing their testimonies.

The problem with those stories though, is that they made my own story feel insignificant. I wasn’t battling a disease, or involved with drugs, or fighting personal demons. Those things that made their testimonies so heart wrenching and moving. I was a good kid, with a happy life, a great family and grew up going to church and believing in God. And so I’ve always felt as though I didn’t really have a testimony. But the last several months have helped me see otherwise. And lately I’ve had this constant tugging on my heart that I need to share it with others, no matter how scary that may be, or how insignificant it feels.

I’ve been dating my husband for almost 13 years, and we’ve been married for almost five. He was born and raised Catholic, his mother works at a Catholic church and his family has always been very much involved. Sometime in the midst of our dating, I started attending Mass with him, and we were married in a Catholic church.

For the longest time, I had a hard time enjoying Mass. I wasn’t sure when to stand or sit, what I was supposed to say when, or when the Lord’s Prayer was going to cut off. I felt like an outsider – it felt cold to me, like everyone knew what was going on except for me, and they must all know I don’t belong and think I’m an idiot.

Talking to my friends, I’d say things like “I don’t mind going to Mass, but I’ll never convert…”

Well, you know what they say about never saying never.

Eventually I got the hang of things, and started asking questions about why things are done a certain way. When I learned more about it, I started to appreciate it so much more.

After getting married and doing some church hopping, we finally found a Catholic church home that we love. It’s a beautiful church and we enjoyed the sermons, so we kept coming back. For almost four years. Almost every Sunday, we showed up, attended Mass, and left. We barely spoke to other people, but we were “going to church” so I didn’t think it really mattered.

But it was around year three that I started to think I might want to learn a little more about the church. I prayed on it – a LOT – and came to the conclusion that I would go through the Catholic process known as RCIA, or Right of Christian Initiation for Adults. I told my husband I was interested – “I just want to go to the classes and learn more about Catholicism – I’m not sure I want to join the church yet – I just want to learn more.” I was eager, but hesitant.

Six months ago, on September 1, we attended our first RCIA class together – as a “cradle Catholic” he was eager to join me in hopes he too would learn and grow from it. Every Tuesday night for the last six months, we have met with a group of 25 people – half of whom are learning the ropes like me, half who are sponsoring us and helping us navigate our way – to discuss what it means to be a Catholic. But it’s been so much more than that. What it’s really been about is what it means to have a relationship with Christ. And to say I have learned a lot would be a vast understatement.

It started as a method to learn more, but the funny thing I discovered was that the more I learned, the more I loved it. And the more I learned and loved, the more I wanted to learn and love.

Here are a few things I’ve taken away from the last six months:

People

Christ’s church is ALL about His people. He sends people – our friends, our families – to be His loving arms and hands on earth.

I used to get frustrated because I wasn’t one of those people who could clearly hear God speaking to me. Others would say things like “I prayed about it and God was calling me to do this or that.” And I’d think – “How do you know? You could hear His voice clearly? He speaks directly to you? Why am I not good enough to hear God speaking to me?!”

But throughout this process, it’s become abundantly clear to me that God sends people. He gives you guidance and comfort and abounding love through His people. When you’re having a rough day and a friend shows up with a coffee, or you’re confused about a decision and your sibling talks it through with you and offers you peace, or you get some bad news and your family and friends start uplifting you in prayer. That is GOD at work. And it’s been an incredible realization.

Also, I’ve learned that you get out what you put in. It’s not about a bunch of smoke and mirrors, and it’s not about movie screens or rock bands. It’s about people. God’s people. When we started making a genuine effort – signing up to be greeters, to serve coffee and donuts, attending RCIA – our church experience improved drastically. It’s brought incredible friendships, and Sunday mornings (and Tuesday nights and Friday nights) filled with hugs, and smiles and joy! It feels really good to be a part of something so divinely inspired.

Prayer

Prayer is powerful. It is life giving. It is God’s grace and mercy and healing. One aspect of my Lenten journey has been to turn off my radio on the way to work each day and spend that 20 minutes in prayer. Additionally, I made it a “bucket list” item this year to pray for a specific person every night before I go to bed. And it has been life changing. It’s made me more thankful and more positive. It brings clarity and much-needed perspective. It helps me reach out to others and think beyond myself. Instead of reciting memorized prayers, or making a laundry list of items I want or need, I spend my time praying for others, and for God’s guidance over my life.

Forgiveness

One of my biggest struggles is forgiveness. It’s funny how when we do something wrong, we hope and expect that others will be quick to forgive our mistakes, but when we feel like others have wronged us, we feel it somehow gives us the right to hold their mistakes against them and to hold grudges. But Jesus is all about forgiveness. As he was dying on the cross for our transgressions, some of his dying words were

“Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.” Unfathomable.

And so, who am I to think I am justified in holding a grudge against anyone? I’ve always known that I am supposed to forgive, but I’ve never been truly open to it. This Lenten season has made it abundantly clear to me and allowed me to let go of some long-time grudges. And I’ve never experienced anything more freeing. God’s love and forgiveness has brought so much peace to my life.

Marriage

Going through RCIA with my husband has been, hands down, one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. We’ve always gone to church and we vowed to put Chris first in our lives, but in hindsight, I don’t think we have done as good of a job as we thought we were before this. We’ve really grown together through this process – we’ve had long and thoughtful religious discussions, we’ve learned to pray together and for each other, we’ve become more involved in our church and learned to trust God in ways we never truly had before. Our faith and our friendship has been strengthened, both with each other, and more importantly with God. I’m so thankful to have gone through this journey with my husband, and overjoyed at how it has impacted our, what I thought was already wonderful marriage, and made it even better.

Stations

Stations of the Cross is something that Catholics do every Friday night during Lent, to remind themselves of Christ’s journey to the cross, His death and His resurrection. There is something so heart wrenching and fulfilling about reminding yourself on a weekly basis exactly what Jesus went through for our sake. It is surreal, but also humbling. Stations of the Cross was not something I had experienced before, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity to keep top of mind the sacrifice He made for me and for us.

These are just a few of the things that have made a significant impact on me throughout this educational process. In five days, I am going to be baptized, which is something I have looked forward to for years, but now realize this is God’s most perfect timing for my life. My heart is full, my mind is ready and I am completely overwhelmed with joy and excitement for this Holy Week and all that it entails. And beyond that, I’m excited for the rest of my life – the continued learning and growing, overcoming my own pitfalls, praising God in the storms and in the happiest of times, and the love that will only become greater and greater.

I know there is nothing particularly spectacular or extraordinary about my testimony, but I felt called to share it anyway, and I hope each of you has the opportunity in your life to experience the love of God in this way.

I don’t write this to justify my decisions to anyone – it is deeply personal and something I’ve come to find is right for me. I just want those with questions to know where I’m coming from. And if you ever need someone to pray for or with you, for any reason, please reach out to me and I will happily oblige.

Also, I am highly emotional thinking about all of this, so if you see me this week and I burst into tears, you’ll know why. Thanks for your prayers and support!

I pray that all of you have a blessed Holy Week and Easter weekend. May the Lord bless you and keep you!

In His Peace,

Hayley

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14 Comments Add yours

  1. Ralph says:

    Way to go Hayley.

  2. Donna says:

    I cannot imagine a more perfect experience in finding God’s vast love for you and blessing you on your journey to becoming love to the world around you. Thank you for sharing

    1. Thanks so much, Miss Donna! Love you!

  3. Courtney Gratton says:

    Hayley, this is truly an inspiring story. I feel exactly how you have felt with almost everything. I think I’m finally coming to terms with some of the things that I have had issues with in the past. For me, I feel I’m in the right place, church wise, I just feel it takes time. This was a very enjoyable read and I am so happy for you! I will be praying for you! 😆💜

    1. Thank you, Courtney! I’m so glad you could relate. Thanks for the prayers, I will be doing the same for you and that sweet baby on the way. 🙂

      1. Courtney says:

        Aww thank you! They are always appreciated! 🙂

  4. Lynn Kelley says:

    What a wonderful message Hayley and what a blessing your journey is and has been. Blessings to you on your baptism and as you come more fully into the church this Easter. I will be thinking of you this weekend as you experience Gods fullness.

    1. Thank you so much, Lynn! Great to hear from you!

  5. Marlene says:

    Speaking from a personal viewpoint as one of your former teachers, I can’t help but be thrilled by your written expression during this essay! Hayley, I am so proud of you for your commitment to Jesus Christ and the church! May God continue to guide and strengthen your understanding! My heart is full of joy for you and your family!❤️

    1. Thank you very much, Mrs. Smith! You taught me well. 🙂

  6. Claudia Pierce says:

    Hayley, I just love that your focus is Jesus! He is the one constant in life and He is Life! May you be blessed more than ever this Holy Week and especially this Easter. Thank you for sharing your beautiful testimony! Love you!

    1. Thank you, Claudia! I definitely agree – it’s all about Jesus! Love you!

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