My family has always been closely knit together. I always knew my parents loved me and wanted the best for me. However, they were my parents; they were supposed to love me. Sundays were family days; we would get all dressed up and attend Catholic church together. Mass was only one hour in length, but it seemed longer to me as a child.
Being Catholic was just part of who we were; it was never something I questioned. However, growing up I had mixed feelings about the religious rituals associated with being a Catholic. Both of my parents were raised Catholic and they were determined to raise their daughters in the “one true church.” Since I learned that all of the rituals were necessary, I never outwardly complained or rebelled against participating in them. However, inwardly I would dread the time spent at church. The ten-minute homily by the priest seemed like it lasted forever. When my sister, Allison, was born, I liked the fact that we could go into the crying room and look at books. We did not have to be on our best behavior since it was segregated from the main congregation. As I got older, I would daydream during the homily, to make the time go faster.
Sacraments and Tradition
My First Communion was a special event. I truly enjoyed participating in the sacrament for two reasons. First, communion is the most important part of the Mass, and participation is essential for Catholics. It made me feel grown up, since you had to be at least seven years old to participate. Second, I was also excited that I was able to wear a special dress. A young girl’s dream came true when she wore a dress that resembled a wedding gown! I thought I understood the significance of the event at the time, but I really understood only what people told me. A nun that helped us prepare for the actual taking of the host1 mentioned that it would taste differently for our First Communion because the priest blessed it; therefore, it would be the body of Jesus Christ. We practiced with unconsecrated hosts. The day of my First Communion, I was convinced the host had a different taste.
My “First Reconciliation,” or my first time at confession, was a somber time for me. I had no problem realizing I had sins to confess; I was just scared about talking to the priest. I also worried about what penance he would give me to make up for my sins. The actual sacrament was much easier than I expected, but it was not like the enjoyable experience of First Communion.
Holidays and holy days required extra church attendance. I did not realize until I was older that my parents did not make us go to all of the required holy days. However, Easter and Christmas meant attendance at Mass was mandatory. I enjoyed the Christmas Eve service because the church geared it toward children and it included a skit and a “parade” with homemade drums for baby Jesus. I dreaded Easter week with Mass attendance that lasted for four days straight, including a two-hour Mass Saturday evening. It seemed endless!
Our family members and most of our friends were Catholic, so I did not have a lot of exposure to other religious backgrounds. For the most part, I enjoyed my time with other Catholics. One main exception was the time I spent at Catholic school in first and second grades. I was a shy child, and although I had friends, I never adjusted to the snobby attitude of a majority of the students. I was more comfortable with my neighborhood friends. After I switched to public school, I found myself enjoying school much more.
Through my religious upbringing, I learned that there was a God out there somewhere. I learned that He was holy and that I was not. Since I was not holy, I had to do numerous works through the church to earn God’s grace. Although I knew Christ had died on the cross, I did not really understand what that had to do with salvation. I focused more on what actions were required of me. In my view of God, I did not think He cared about someone as unimportant as me. I figured He was too big to care about the details of my life.
Need for Acceptance
As I grew older, I began to feel the need for acceptance. I wanted the kids at school to notice and accept me. I tried to get their attention by wearing the right clothes and doing what they liked. In fifth grade, I wanted to break my leg and be on crutches. My parents could not figure out that desire. What they did not realize was that one of the really popular girls had broken her leg and was on crutches. The crutches brought her even more attention, attention I craved. If my peers did not see me as someone special, then I believed I was not a special person. It did not matter what my family thought, because they were supposed to love me.
These feelings of inadequacy caused me to question a lot and try new things. I had always been a good student, and I continued to excel in academics because that was one area I felt confident. In middle school I tried athletics and choir, and while I was not a natural at either, I enjoyed the activities. My friendships also changed as we all started growing up, and that brought a new level of uncertainty. My parents were willing to let me occasionally attend other churches with friends and I found myself listening. It was a time of much searching, but few answers.
One of the more drastic things I tried was getting involved in a Catholic group called Opus Dei. I did not really understand what I was getting into; I just knew the group made me feel good. It was essentially a group for “super” Catholics; i.e., lay people who wanted to do a better job of living out their faith. Through this group, I spent time in service projects and religious lessons. I also spent time at a home they had downtown. In the home was a chapel that people considered holier than most local churches because the Pope had ordained the officiating priest. His ordination was considered more significant than priests who were just ordained by bishops. The other thing this chapel had was a black cross that had been blessed by the Pope. Each time you left the chapel, if you kissed the cross, it was five hundred less days in purgatory. I was not sure if I believed this, but I remember kissing the cross just in case. In fact, sometimes I would kiss it twice in the hope I would get one thousand days less! The problem with my involvement with Opus Dei is that the good feelings would not last. It did not solve my problem. I had to keep doing more good works to keep feeling good.
None of what I tried truly solved my problem. I struggled with feeling inadequate through the early years of high school. I hid it well at times, but the self-doubt always seemed to surface again. Then, “good news” changed the way I looked at myself.
Exposure to the Gospel
My parents knew I was questioning a lot in my early teen years. They also knew that sometimes it helps to talk to someone other than your parents. One Sunday afternoon, mom invited a woman over to talk to Sarah (my sister) and me about religion. Mrs. Mierow was a person we babysat for as well as our neighbor. Our family had a lot of respect for the Mierows. Surprisingly, Mrs. Mierow was not a Catholic. My parents were questioning enough about the Catholic Church at this point that they were open to hearing about other denominations and allowing us to do the same.
Mrs. Mierow came over on March 26, 1988. I dreaded the talk because I thought religion was boring, and I had already sat through an hour of church that morning. However, from the moment she began, I found myself listening intently. What she shared was nothing like what I heard in our church. She told me that God loved me and had a plan for my life. This was good news. For the first time, I realized that the God that was out there somewhere cared about me and thought I was important. She then went on to point out that we have a problem; man is sinful and separated from a holy God. She shared a verse from the book of Romans, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”2
I had no problem believing I was a sinner because I was well aware of the many times I had fallen short. Mrs. Mierow explained that sin separates us from God and that He could not allow anything imperfect into heaven. Because of my sin, I deserved to die. “For the wages of sin is death….”3 This part scared me. If what she said was true, I realized I would not go to heaven because of the sins I had committed. I also realized that eternity is a long time, and I did not want to spend eternity in hell!
I think she sensed my fear, because she went on to explain that God still loved me, even though I had sinned. In fact, He loved me so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross and pay the penalty for my sins so that I could be reconciled to God. She then read the entire verse, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”4 She also read, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”5
All I had to do was place my trust in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ who had died on the cross to pay the penalty for “my” sins, and then by God’s grace, and His grace alone, I would be saved. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Mrs. Mierow had me insert my name into the verse to emphasize that this was true for me: For God so loved Laura that He gave His only begotten Son, that if Laura believes in Him, she will not perish but have everlasting life. In order to be saved, it is necessary for people to place their full trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and His substitutionary death, which paid the penalty for their sins, excluding any good works.
At that moment, I realized I would spend eternity in heaven with God! None of the works I had done—going to church, participating in sacraments, even kissing a cross—would do anything to save me. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”6 In fact, all my works were like dirty rags to God. “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”7 I had never heard anyone talk about God the way Mrs. Mierow did. She talked about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, rather than trying to earn His acceptance. It was so appealing compared to the works salvation on which I had been raised. It made perfect sense after all my searching. I knew I needed Christ in my life because I did not want to be separated from God. That day by God’s grace, I believed on the Lord Jesus Christ alone as my Savior. I thanked Him for His gift of salvation. I was fourteen years old and a freshman in high school. Along with Mrs. Mierow’s explanation, Sarah shared that she had been saved the summer before at a Christian camp.
My walk with the Lord started slowly. My family was still attending the Catholic Church, and in my newfound faith I was yet unable to discern that the salvation message at the Catholic Church was not the same as what I now believed. I think I just thought I had missed hearing it during all those years. In fact, I did not realize that my parents were not saved! Mrs. Mierow had encouraged me to read the Bible and pray in order to grow in my faith. However, I had never really read the Bible before, and I was not sure where to begin. Most of the time, I did not even try. Through some encouragement from my family, I started attending a youth group, and during the summers, Christian camps. Although my parents were not yet saved, they had started to question the Catholic Church. Besides, they wanted their daughter to hang out with the “good” kids who would be a positive influence.
At youth group and Christian camps, discussion centered on the Bible, and the students seemed excited about what it said. Most of the kids even knew where the books of the Bible were located and how to find their favorite verses. I was amazed! They got me excited, and I tried it. I began to read the Word of God more, and more often, and I realized it had a lot to say about me. The most important thing I learned was that it did not matter if other kids accepted me, because God had accepted me. He had created me to be a special person with a special purpose. As challenges arose, my favorite verse became, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”8 It was so reassuring to know God is sovereign and in control of all circumstances.
Questioning Roman Catholicism
My junior year in high school was the year I started confirmation classes at the Catholic Church. My parents taught one class, and I attended another. Little did we know that the classes would be life changing for our family. Confirmation is an important sacrament in the Catholic Church. By participating, you are saying you agree with the doctrines of the Catholic Church and, as a result, the church accepts you as an adult in the faith. The classes quickly brought many questions to mind. We had been given Catholic Bibles to use in the classes. In one class, the teachers asked us to look up our favorite Bible verse. I was the only one who could find a verse. In another class, the instructors spent time debating with two girls who proclaimed to be atheists. What bothered me the most was that none
of this, had an effect on the outcome of the classes. As long as you participated, atheist or not, the church would confirm you in the faith. What you actually believed did not have any bearing on the matter. I began to question from where some of this teaching came. My parents started having some of the same questions in their class. They had also started reading their Catholic Bibles and attending some Christian Bible studies.
While fighting against a sex education curriculum in our public school, my parents were getting to know more Christians and the impact of biblical thinking. Because of these new contacts, they had two believers come as speakers for their confirmation class. During this time, my parents were saved, and my youngest sister, Allison, was saved soon after them. My questions only added to the questions my parents were having about Roman Catholicism. Never one to make an important decision without researching the issue, my dad decided we would attend a more conservative Catholic church first. That did not last long, because the same questions kept popping up. He ended up finding a thick book on Catholic doctrine. He studied it to make sure what we were finding in the local Catholic churches was what the true Roman Catholic Church taught. What he found was a clear picture of salvation by works, completely contrary to what the Bible said about salvation. “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”9 Finally, he realized our family needed to leave the Catholic Church if we were going to grow in our faith.
After their salvation, my parents offered me the option of attending a nearby private school where my sisters would end up going. With one year of high school remaining, I decided to graduate from public school. Besides, the more I learned, the more I desired to share Jesus Christ with my unsaved friends. I was so zealous that I often did not share my faith very graciously. I know I offended several friends. Thankfully, they were gracious towards me. They realized that something major had happened in my life to stir up this kind of excitement. Although they recognized a change, I did not find too many people willing to hear more about the gospel. However, I did find encouragement in the Christian friends I was getting to know in youth group.
Following high school, I decided to attend a Christian college. Grove City College is a small Christian college in western Pennsylvania. I had not planned to go that far from home, but God directed me there and really used that time in my life. He stretched and grew me through many experiences. Not only was my faith strengthened, but I also learned to be more outgoing, and I discovered that my faith could be shared in a non-combative way. I took two mission trips during my college years, which reinforced these lessons. The Christian classes were also a blessing. Although I majored in accounting, I still took several Bible classes and learned a lot through the Christian perspective emphasized in all classes. For example, biblical ethics were taught as part of my accounting classes.
The Lord also used my Roman Catholic background when I met Catholics that also attended the school. Because of my time in the Catholic Church, I was able to more effectively witness and have fruitful discussions about the gospel. I led several Bible studies in my dorm room that were helpful for all involved. We would look up topics or discuss issues of the faith using the Bible as the standard. I was learning how to defend and share my newfound faith by relying on the Holy Spirit and using the Word of God.
Discernment and Baptism
God saved everyone in our immediate family within a three-year period. We now realize what a miracle that was. At the time, I believe the Lord used this to encourage us and help us grow in our faith. We were faced with many challenges as new believers. Two major ones were negative reactions from relatives, and the other was unclear teaching. Our Catholic relatives did not take well the news that we were leaving the Catholic Church. They were offended, and some went so far as to tell us we were going to hell for leaving the “one true church.” We found ourselves excluded from family events and purposely distanced. It was hard, but it only made us cling to each other all the more.
After we left the Catholic Church, we had trouble finding a good Bible church. The first church we attended was extremely legalistic. It seemed comfortable at first, because legalism was not that different from the works salvation we were used to. However, we eventually realized their view on some issues was not biblical. For example, the pastor told us we did not need baptism as believers because we were baptized as infants. He presented baptism as part of a covenant relationship within the family and not as one of the things a believer was required to do. He never clearly presented it as an outward sign of our inward faith.
As we became more aware of the legalism, we left that church and again began searching for a Bible church. It was a difficult search – in and out of a number of churches when doctrinal error revealed itself. We discovered that the majority of churches today do not teach clearly from the Word of God. In the meantime, the Lord put our family in contact with sound Bible teaching through an out-of-state tape ministry and solid local Bible study. Audiotapes from these teachers, and occasional Bible conferences, enabled us to grow in our faith until the Lord brought us to a church home. Through our own study, we understood what the Bible teaches on a number of topics, including baptism. It became obvious that baptism was an outward sign of inward faith, and therefore could only take place after someone was old enough to “understand and believe” the gospel.
During my sophomore year at college, while preparing for a mission’s trip, I thought about how I had never been baptized as a believer. It was something I wanted to do before I went overseas for the summer. During a phone call with my parents, they mentioned that they too had been thinking about being baptized. They decided to talk to my sisters and see if they were also interested. They were, and on May 23, 1993, we were all baptized together. It was a memorable experience, for the first time we all had to write and talk about our testimonies. We realized just how much the Lord had been working in our family to bring us all to a point of salvation in such a short time. It was one more way the Lord encouraged us.
Rebellion and Uncertainty
After graduating from college, I returned to Milwaukee for work. I wanted to be near my family, though I knew I would miss my college friends. The first few years after college brought a major challenge to my faith. I had a job that essentially took over my life, and I was trying to establish myself as an adult outside my parent’s home. Part of how I tried to accomplish this was by resisting my parents when they tried to share how they had grown in their faith while I had been away at college. I was also trying to fit in at work, once again seeking acceptance. Since being a Christian would have made me stand out, I hid that fact pretty well. I pushed the limits of what was acceptable behavior in order to fit in. I started pulling away from church and Bible study more and more. It was the wrong route to take, but because of my stubbornness, it took several years for me to realize it.
Two things helped me see the problem with the way I was living. First, I met a believer at work. She showed me how you can live your faith and still survive in a competitive work environment. Second, I was lonely and missing true fellowship with believers. On a couple occasions, my parents had challenged me to take my walk with the Lord more seriously. Although I hated to admit it, they were right. I started attending a Bible study in my parents’ home. I went sporadically at first, mainly because I did not want my parents to think they could now tell me what to do. I also had many other “things” filling up my schedule. I changed jobs and gradually made time for this Bible study and personal time with the Lord. More importantly, I realized how much I was enjoying the teaching and fellowship. Once again, I had the peace and joy of growing in my walk with the Lord!
The Bible study group eventually became a church, and the Lord used it to bless me. The doctrinally sound teaching helped me build a foundation for my faith on the Rock—Jesus Christ. Things like the importance of a clear gospel message, eternal security,10 and learning to really dig into the Word of God have been invaluable. Although we had met previously, I got to know my future husband, Mike, at church.
All the teaching has helped us with our newest challenge—raising our children: Katie and David. Although they are young, we want them raised with the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We love them and want them to spend eternity with us!
My life has not been easy since I became a Christian. In fact, Christ guarantees it will not. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”11 My family and I have trials and testings, and we stand out as different from the world. However, I have learned that the other option, hiding your faith, removes the peace and joy the Lord produces in the lives of those who honor Him. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”12 The Lord Jesus Christ gave everything for me, the least I can do is respond in thankfulness that my life can now be used to serve Him, fulfilling the perfect plan He has for me. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”13
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1 The wafer offered at communion
2 Romans 3:23
3 Romans 6:23a
4 Romans 6:23b
5 Romans 5:8
6 Ephesians 2:8, 9
7 Isaiah 64:6a
8 Romans 8:37
9 Romans 4:4, 5
10 Knowing you will never lose your salvation
11 2Timothy 3:12
12 1Corinthians 15:58
13 Ephesians 2:10