I waited and waited and waited, then God finally showed up about three decades later. Actually, I have that backwards. It's the Lord who waited so long for me, and I finally showed up. With all that waiting in mind, Advent is a prudent time to ponder the past and prepare for the future.
My entire conversion story is a lengthier tale for another time. But I like to reflect on the highlights during the Advent season because, retroactively, I recognize that I spent so many years preparing to find my faith.
As best I can remember, there was not a particular focus on any faith in my household when I was growing up. But there are plenty of pictures of me and my brother in front of our family Christmas tree.
|I'm the cute one - December 1974|
And there's even a photo or two of me in front of a menorah. My paternal grandparents were Jewish, so when I was little our family got together with them for Hanukkah celebrations.
|A future Catholic's first Hanukkah - December 1971|
The ancestors on my mother's side were Catholic. So when I was little I used to tell people that I was "half Jewish and half Catholic." Of course, in reality I was neither. At the time, I thought Christmas and Hanukkah were primarily opportunities to get presents.
To add to the irony, when I was about fourteen I played Joseph in a live nativity scene at the "All School Sing." I stood diligently next to Mary, carefully watching over the doll that was acting in persona Christi in the manger. If only I had known how powerful a scene this was at that moment.
|An Unlikely Joseph - December 1985|
Growing up I spent part of several summers at a Christian summer camp where I experienced several new things: prayers before meals, daily devotions and Sunday services. Clearly there was something about this experience that was appealing. But once I returned home, I didn't put what I was learning into practice. I equate it to trying to learn a new language. If you don't practice, you'll lose it.
I spent three of my four high school years at a Catholic school. I don't recall that Catholic values were in any way ingrained into the curriculum. To my untrained mind, it felt more like a school that happened to be Catholic rather than a Catholic school. But there was a requirement, albeit a loosely enforced one, to attend Mass once a week. I did so, every now and then. I liked the structure of Mass, though I had no idea what it really meant and took no action to learn more. What a wasted opportunity!
There was far less religious influence during my college years. I attended a Methodist school, but the only time I can remember stepping into the chapel was the day I graduated because the chapel was the staging area where the graduates lined up.
[To read the rest of this story, please jump over to Austin Catholic New Media.]