I was baptized Catholic but was raised in an evangelical church. I was a casual attendee, never fully committed to it. I always had a strong belief in God, and I never had any real doubts about His existence. I thought that was enough, joining a church was a secondary concern. Periodically though, I sought one out, frequently based entirely on convenience. I typically chose whatever Church was nearest to where I was living or had service times that best suited my schedule. All of them, I felt were somehow lacking. This one wasn't challenging enough, this one had too much justice, this one had too much mercy, and so on. There was always some excuse, but when the growing need to join a church was strong enough, and I took it seriously, I found my way to the Catholic Church, or instead, I realized later, God called me there. That call came three years ago, and it was made clear to me by two events that happened 13 years apart.
The first happened in the fall of 2003. It was just past midnight, as I was driving alone on a two-lane highway in open deserts of southern California when it began. I was only about 5 miles from my parent's house when my stomach felt like - however strange it sounds, this is the easiest way to describe it - it was filling with air. At first, it felt very much like butterflies in the stomach, but this was not it. Plus, what did I have to be nervous about? I was nearly home.
The feeling became more intense. It now began to feel like I was rising out of my seat. Then followed an acute tingling sensation that emanated from my stomach and spread down to my feet, and out to my hands. I became frightened, which made things worse. My hands and feet now became tense, and I watched as my fingers began to curl in on themselves. Driving became no longer possible, and I pulled off the road. I had no way of calling home, and out of desperation, I wandered onto the highway to wave down a car. A truck driver pulled over and took me and drove me the rest of the way. (When we meet in heaven, I'll finally have the opportunity to thank him.) By the time I made it to the house, things had worsened to the point where I was slurring my speech so badly my parents couldn't understand what I was saying. They immediately recognized the gravity of the situation, but I heard myself clearly say, "I need help!" they heard it as just noise.
I was having a seizure, and it lasted nearly a half-hour. After it abated, it came roaring back, and then I was taken to the hospital. An MRI revealed a large, non-cancerous (dei gratia), tumor nearly the size of a golf ball pressing in on my brain. Apparently, it had been slowly growing my entire life, but now it was large enough to cause me problems. After I had surgery to resect it, my life, it felt, was back on track. I was back to driving, back to school, back to normal as I knew it. But two years later, I had another seizure, and although less severe, it was still frightening. I had another surgery, but this time things didn't get back on track. I became afraid of driving, the school was put on hold, and the new normal was living in fear of this happening again.
This fear controlled much of what I did, or, more accurately, didn't do. My life grew stagnant. The one thing that brought me the most joy in life was my academic studies. I started out as an engineering student, but quickly pivoted to the humanities; it suited me far better. I devoted my life to Ancient Philosophy, Classics, and History with the end goal of spending the rest of my life teaching it. That reality was now lost. It was in that realization when I needed to rebuild my life, the call to find a church was strongest.
I sought out an evangelical church, someplace familiar where I would feel comfortable. I found one, and I listened to a sermon on anxiety. For reasons too many to go into here, it was not good; but there was something spoken about halfway through that looked and sounded like a complete through-away comment. He recalled a story from his youth when he succumbed to peer pressure and said as an aside, "I gave power to them over me, who didn't deserve it." (Someone later explained to me, "Don't you understand, that unthinking comment was the Holy Spirit speaking to you." True.) This should have been the sermon: "Who deserves to have power over you?" The answer is simple: Christ, and only Christ. Something was lacking in that Church, and it wasn't another bogus excuse. I knew Christ was here with us, but he wasn't before us. The Catholic Church offered that, and so I went and found myself at St. Joseph's on Holy Saturday, 2017.
It was just past midnight when I witnessed the Eucharist, and the congregation was called to the altar. I knew I couldn't receive the host, but I went for a blessing. There was a genuine nervousness within me - like butterflies in the stomach - when I left the pew and began walking toward the altar. As I got closer and closer I began to fixate on the sensation in my stomach as it started to feel like it was filling with air, and it was growing stronger and stronger. This seemed a little too familiar. The nervousness I understood, but everything else was worrying. I continued on and stood before the priest, crossed my arms over my heart, closed my eyes and bowed. I cannot remember the words correctly as they were spoken, but I knew exactly what I felt: someone touching my forehead with the back of their index and middle fingers. At that instant a tingling sensation surged through my body, down to my feet, out to my hands. This was now far too familiar, and becoming frightening. This had to be a seizure, but this couldn't be a coincidence, right?
I turned up the aisle to return to the pew with my eyes fixed on the door the whole way. I passed the column on my right and had a decision to make - now! Either I leave the Church and seek help, or trust God and return to the pew; either I'm having a seizure, or the Holy Spirit was tearing through me like an electrical storm. I returned to the pew and sat down, then kneeled and said simply, "I need help!" This time I was heard clearly because the response was just as clear: "Welcome home."
Home, indeed. It took two months for me to piece together what had really happened. I was someone who has always been led by their mind. The reason, I'm sure, that I was so attracted to the humanities is because philosophers get to live in their head. That's where I felt most comfortable, but it was also harmful to be there. There is also the heart, and my mind was always too much ahead of it. Too often, I felt like I was one truth away from understanding it all. If I had just studied a little more, I would finally get it, but that kept my heart trailing behind the whole time. In that Church that night, Christ touched me on the forehead and (finally!) put my mind at rest, and for the first time, my heart was able to catch up.
Piecing together all of my life, there were plenty of opportunities to join the Church, but God knew I wasn't ready. When I was, He made that call abundantly clear. After I processed what happened that evening in 2017 I rushed to join RCIA, and on Holy Saturday 2018 I came into full communion with the Catholic Church. God meets you where you're at. Let Him do so in His own time, in His own way, so that we may serve His will. He allowed the seizures and surgeries to happen, and He allowed fear and anxiety to control me. That was all done to lead me to the right Church, at the right time, in the right way. God gave me this gift in the most awesome way possible: He took what I feared the most and turned it into a blessing.