The Church’s teachings on life are some of the most misunderstood and some of the most controversial. “No abortion? No right to use one’s body as one wishes!” society screams at us, as the Church staunchly says, “All persons have the right to life.”
“No contraception? The lunacy!” culture mocks, as the Church resolutely says, “We were made with dignity which is violated by contraception.”
While these are difficult teachings for some, they are also the ones that make us aware of the dignity and profundity which God has made us, calling us on to live in that dignity and to treat everyone with the same dignity that we’re all endowed with.
Through miscarriages and abortions, divorces and annulments, pasts full of harmful behaviors and regret, and the tiny voice of God whispering to the heart, these eleven converts tell how God surprised them with the—sometimes painful but always healing—gift of life.
1. Heather Schieder
“What happened next was a game changer. It’s one of the single most important things that has ever happened in my life, and if you are someone who wants to help stop abortion, then I ask you to pay close attention. Because it was all about the way my aunt approached me. It was all about the way she walked in.
There I was, rocking on my bed, feeling lost and afraid and hopeless. I heard someone climbing the stair, and I swore under my breath. Crap.
It was Aunt Amy.
I heard a gentle, respectful knock on my bedroom door. In a kind voice, she said, ‘Can I come in?’
. . . I had been carrying all this fear and dead inside and trying so hard to ignore my feelings that it was a huge relief to cry about it. I was relieved that I didn’t have to be the one to say anything. Hearing the compassion in her voice and her honest-to-goodness concern for me made me feel safe enough to tell the truth. So that’s what I did. In fact, I immediately began sobbing and cried, ‘I don’t want to have an abortion!'”
2. Annemarie Schreiber
“All humans want and need a family. I never really had a proper one—indeed, I’ve often joked that I was raised by wolves. But underneath the levity, my craving for the kind of intimate community that’s supposed to exist within families runs deep, and the pain caused by the lack thereof has been visceral and unremitting. Indeed, there has been a yawning chasm in my life where a cohesive and caring family should be.
. . . I came to my first Mass with jumbled expectations. I hoped at least find like-minded people with whom I might socialize. But I found so much more. I found the family I never had; the love I had been forever seeking; the truth for which I had been thirsting; and a place to heal old wounds.
In short, I found a place in which I can truly live.
At long last, I found my home.”
3. Jewels Green
“I wanted my baby. My baby is dead. I accept it.
In the Church that Jesus founded there is a place for my suffering. There is a place for my baby’s suffering. There is a place for your suffering.
It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:16-17).
Truth lives in the Catholic Church, and this Truth will set you free.
I want my baby. My baby is dead. I tell my story.”
4. Leticia Ochoa Adams
“For my First Confession, I walked into the office of a brand-new priest named Fr. Jonathan. I was very angry, very hard of heart, and very much living in a place of roundedness from my abuse as a child. The first thing that came out of my mouth was, ‘I can’t be Catholic; I refuse to hate gay people.’ His response was to tell me that if I ever found that the Catholic Church taught that it was okay to hate gay people—or anyone else for that matter—then I was right and I shouldn’t become Catholic.
. . . Many things led [my husband] Stacey and me to Rome during Holy Week 2010. We spent thirteen amazing days there. I was all set to enter the Catholic Church that Easter, but I was still not convinced about some of the Church’s teachings. Stacey and I were in Rome together, sharing a hotel room and having sex.
For the first time in my life since I had started having sex, I felt guilty about it. I thought it was just typical Catholic guilt. What did it matter? We wanted to get married. In fact, we tried to elope in Rome. Let me just say that Rome is not Vegas, especially during Lent.
I went to Confession at St. Peter’s and confessed to having sex outside of marriage and other things. I was sure the priest was going to tell me that I was not meant to be Catholic and I should try a different faith.
That’s not what happened. I received so much mercy, kindness, and love from that confessor—just as I had from everyone during my RCIA process, even though I was always so sure that they were going to kick me out at any moment . . . but that moment never came.
After Confession, I went back to our hotel room and sat on the floor with the Catechism open to a section about marriage. I came across this quote:
I have taken you into my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life ins nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us…I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.
That quote spoke to everything in me that had been searching for love my entire life. In that passage, St. John Chrysostom described what I had been seeking in all the relationships, porn, swingers’ clubs, one-night stands, failed marriage, and other dead ends of my life. I hungered for the kind of love that he said was proper in Catholic marriage. I didn’t want anything short of it, and I was not willing to compromise on it ever again.”
5. Leila Miller
“Fr. Ryan taught basic truths that I never knew as a woman, including the fact that we women could read the signs of our fertility, and that God built in more non fertile than fertile days in our cycles. None of this was rocket science; it was inherent in my very nature, and yet no one had ever told me or my peers any of this. I felt cheated. The good priest even laid out the symbiotic connection between contraception and abortion, which I had never considered before. Everything he said made sense to me. It was all logical, reasonable, clear.
I was baffled that no one else in the class seemed to ‘buy it’ or to care at all. Overwhelmingly, they despised the old priest and made fun of him behind his back, but I admired him. Now, let’s be clear: in my habit of sin, I was certainly not about to change my ways at that point (I barely even went to Mass anymore), but I thought I might try that natural family planning thing someday, maybe a few years after I got married.
Fr. Ryan explained for me the section of life’s pile that represented human sexuality. Although this did not complete the whole picture for me, it would be instrumental years later, when I was turning back to God’s grace and finally seeking His will above my own. My intellect was in good working order, but my will was still way out of whack. I was stubborn and lazy, and I needed the whole picture to be revealed to me before my heart would be moved to act on what good Fr. Ryan taught.”
6. Chris Aubert
“About the same time, I heard someone call abortion ‘the American Holocaust.’ As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I was struck by the use of that word. I grew curious about why abortion was such a big issue for so many people. Without much thought, I had always accepted secular society’s claim that abortion was strictly a woman’s health issue. I had agreed to the two abortions because, as I saw it at the time, a baby wasn’t being killed; rather, a woman was just exercising her right to choose what to do with her body.
Why wouldn’t I think this way?
. . . It never occurred to me to consider what God thought about abortion. In fact, I had no real understanding of God or truth. As for the Bible, I don’t think I owned one. I couldn’t tell you the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament: I had never even read the book! I didn’t know if it was history, fantasy, fiction, or something else. When people asked me my religion, I’d say Jewish, but that was more out of habit and history than any set of beliefs. In fact, I didn’t even know what Jews believed. How embarrassing for a man with two advanced degrees.”
7. Doreen Campbell
“The fire chief spoke first and explained that Kaydee and Mikey had come upon an accident on the freeway. They had stopped because a young girl who was involved in the accident ha gotten out of her car and was wandering dangerously out into traffic. Kaydee had gotten out of the car with Mikey to give first aid to the girl, who was bleeding from a head wound. Kaydee instructed Mikey to get a towel from the trunk o this car, and when he did, a drunk driver came crashing through the accident scene and hit the back of Mikey’s car. Mikey’s life was spared when he jumped out of the way of the speeding car. Witnesses say that Kaydee threw herself over the girl to protect her from the impact. The young girl survived, but Kaydee died instantly.
Mike would later tell me that he ran to Kaydee after the car struck her and saw her lying on her side on the pavement. He described her face at that moment as pink and radiant. All he could think to do was drop to his knees in prayer.
How beautiful that God would allow him to see Kaydee in His glory and that Mikey would have that image to remember so that the horrific sounds and sights of the accident might be blurred in his memory.”
8. and 9. Shaun and Jessica McAfee
“After the baby was born, we began charting my cycles using the Creighton Model method. The longer we charted , the more trust I had in it. Not only did it teach us to manage our fertility, but we were encouraged to be mindful of all the various aspects of our relationship. As we learned to trust each other with our fertility, our trust in each other in general grew. I can honestly say that managing our fertility and seeing the dignity it brought to my marriage and my family drew me to the Catholic Church. When we were expecting our second baby, our FertilityCare office approached me, offering me a scholarship to become a practitioner myself.
. . . During my training, I fell in love with Humane Vitae, the celebrated encyclical of Pope Paul VI. It explains God’s design for marriage and love, and presents responsible parenthood as a vocation we should take seriously and manage as good stewards. It promotes the dignity of all human life in a straightforward, no-nonsense way.
‘Value of Self-Discipline’ is one of my favorite paragraphs in Humane Vitae. In it, period abstinence is not presented as easy. Instead, the encyclical encourages us to see the positive effects of periodic abstinence. Practicing self-control helps us to value ourselves and each other. A further benefit is the value of children free from growing up in a loving marriage that holds strongly to these truths.”
10. Shalimar Masters
“[O]ne nigh at midnight I suddenly burst awake and sat straight up, gasping for air. Then I heard it, clear as day, in my mind: ‘If you continue as you are, you will go to hell.’
I began to sob.
How could I even begin to change?
I still had in my room a crucifix, which I had kept for sentimentality, and I stared at it. I realized that I had become a slave to my passions and could not free myself. I could not turn away from my boyfriend and my addictions, and I knew it.
So I tried to stare down the cross, and said, sobbing, ‘Okay, You are going to have to free me. I can’t.’ On a tiny piece of paper, which I taped behind the cross, I wrote a note that simply said, ‘Save me.’
And I let it be.
But I was shaken.
Softly at first, in my mind I began to ‘hear’ the words ‘Go. Go back to America.’ Gradually, the voice came to occupy all my thoughts. I tried to ignore the command, but it got louder and louder, almost deafening and urgent. ‘Go. Go!’
But what would I do there?
I had barely any money and no idea where I would go.”
11. Lisa Duffy
“I went to Confession.
I didn’t stand in line on a Saturday; I made an appointment with a priest so I could make a general confession. The day before the appointment, I had just about talked myself out of going because I knew I would feel humiliated by admitting all my sins.
My heart was heavy with the weight of my divorce, the loss of my children, and all my poor choices. Yet I forced myself to go. There was a driving determination to overcome all the many obstacles with which I had willfully littered my father. I need to raise the bar on my own standards and tackle every problem until I was back on track.
As I sat in Fr. Joe’s office that day, I experienced floodgates opening. Everything that had happened since my husband left came rushing out. I didn’t know how to stop it.
I told him how abandoned I felt, not just by my husband, but by God. It felt so good to be able to admit the truth.
When I was finished, Fr. Joe replied, ‘Lisa, you say you’ve felt abandoned by God, but it seems He’s had His hand on your shoulder the whole time. God didn’t abandon you; He’s been with you the entire way.’
No words could’ve been more healing.
I felt a burden lifted from me and a great sense of consolation. After some wise spiritual direction, Fr. Joe gave me absolution, and I walked away from that confession experiencing the peace I had been looking for all along.
That confession cemented my belief that only though my Faith and the sacraments would I ever find real healing.”
For these full, amazing stories of grace and love, pick up a copy of Patrick Madrid’s Surprised by Life: 10 Converts Explain How Catholic Teachings on Life Led Them to the Church.