I’ve been wanting to write down my conversion story for a while now. I’ve found it to be a bigger and more difficult task than expected. But maybe it will be easier if I break it up into parts and just write a little at a time.
When people ask me what brought me back to the Church, my first answer is: “The love of a good man.” Many people and events influenced my conversion, but Patrick and our relationship together were probably most influential of all. Once we began planning to marry and start a family, we both naturally began to think about God and religion. I think now that that was a natural sign of how much he and I loved each other; God is love, after all. So, together, we were both slowly turning toward God and faith. He was especially interested because he regretted not having been raised in any faith. I began thinking back to the faith of my childhood.
Unfortunately, I was destined to make that journey back to the Church alone. On 28 April 2005, Patrick died in a plane crash, at the age of 25. And I, aged 28, experienced the end of my world, and an apocalypse in the truest sense of the word: an uncovering, an unveiling, a revelation.
The calamity happened long before I realized it. While I was still lying in the blue light of dawn, Patrick was leaving for his last flight. While I was pouring my first cup of coffee at work, he crashed into Eternity and was jerked out of my future. While I was laughing with my coworker about his fear of heights, so comical in an airplane pilot, they were cutting through metal to get at what remained of him, the mortal body I’d been so fond of and attracted to. I was mercifully ignorant of that.
When I got home from work, something on television reminded me of him, and I picked up the phone to tell him about it. No dial tone. I realized that my internet modem had been left plugged in. I plugged in the phone and started dialing his cell phone number, but then I decided it could wait until that night, when his minutes were free of charge. I grabbed an ice cream bar and sat down. I was half through it when a knock came on the door, at exactly 7:15 PM.
I saw a police officer through the peep hole, and became very nervous: what had I done? It was a state highway patrol officer. He asked me if I knew Patrick, and I said yes. He asked if I was Patrick’s girlfriend. “More like fiancée,” I thought, but I said yes. Then I wondered: what had Patrick done? The officer asked me to sit down. He towered over me, and I got scared. “There’s been an accident,” I thought, my mind racing. “Patrick’s been injured. He’s in the hospital. I have to get to him!”
The officer looked down at me and said, “He was killed today, in an airplane crash.” He said more than that, but that’s all I heard. I remember dropping my ice cream bar on the floor, and choking on the words, “Oh my God!” I vaguely remember scribbling down the name of a funeral home out in Midland. I remember calling my parents and my aunt who lives here locally. I remember going into the bathroom, sick to my stomach, vomiting, sick all over, tears streaming, stinging and burning. Couldn’t breathe. Wished it would kill me.
Then I was outside, waiting for my uncle to arrive. I felt tiny and alone under the sky. I thought about Patrick being somewhere beyond that sky. Separated by an entire sky, and there was nothing I could do about it! Longing and despair both stabbed through me like swords. I was all alone, and everything had collapsed around me: all my joys, all my plans, all my hopes and desires, all my future. I felt naked and vulnerable. I felt like nothing! Everything suddenly seemed so ridiculous and absurd–how could I still be there when I felt like such a nothing?
I said again, “Oh God!” I hadn’t prayed sincerely in many years. All I could say was, “Oh God.” But apparently, that was enough. That cry of misery, that cry for help, broke through all the walls I had built between me and God. The fortress I’d built around my soul crumbled.
And at that moment, the world around me became extremely clear and vivid, very alive. It was like seeing the world for the first time, young and pristine. It was like seeing through the eyes of Adam, the moment after had God breathed life into his nostrils. Everything was dazzling and full of wonder. The sun was setting and the wind was blowing. The sky was many shades of blue and orange. There were clouds spread across the sky, in a variety of colors: white, gold, gray, lavender, rose. A sweet floral smell was in the air, and small white blossoms from a tree next door floated by on the breeze. The trees whispered and swayed. Groups of birds wheeled round in arcs, chattering happily. There was a strange, ethereal, and very expectant atmosphere around me.
My desolation diminished. Even with everything torn away from me, not only did I continue to exist, but I realized I was not alone. A presence, an enormous but benevolent presence was all around me–but not too close. Just a breath away. I didn’t have to ask Whose presence it was. I knew it was God. Invisible but so palpable. Part of me thought I ought to be very afraid, after the way I’d treated Him for so many years! But I felt no reason to be afraid. It was a good presence, not threatening in the least… very powerful, but not forceful. It was as if He were saying, “Look, I am here. You may choose for me or against me. But know that I am here.” I knew that I was at a very momentous threshold. God and all of creation were waiting to know what I would do and how I would respond. Would I return to Him, or would I run? I really didn’t know what would happen to me if I returned to God. I suspected it could complicate my life significantly. But I definitely couldn’t return to the alternative. I feared and hated the loneliness, despair, helplessness, and absurdity I’d felt just a moment before.
Perhaps that fear and hatred weren’t the best of motives for my return to God. But return to Him I did. And I was right: it did complicate my life significantly!
That might sound sort of like a Road to Damascus conversion… but that was only the beginning. Just one baby step on the path to a new life and to being a new person.
Looking back on that day, I’m always taken aback. I’m amazed at how God in His providence worked on that day. He brought me to just the right moment, the right time and place, for me to be hit with that huge bombshell. It’s a shame I had to be hit with it at all, of course, and boy have I yelled at God for it at times! Sometimes, in my weaker moments, I still cry to Him, “Lord, why did You let this happen? Why didn’t You just save Patrick?” But given the way things happened–for whatever reason or lack of reason–I know that God was most gentle and forbearing with me.
I wonder what would have happened if I’d found out while I was at work, for example. I think that would have just compounded the horror and left a horrible scar on my work life. Or what would have happened if I had gone ahead and called Patrick’s cell phone? Or what kind of message I might have found on my answering machine had I not left the modem plugged in? It was hard enough to have that officer tell me, “He was killed today.” I think the alternatives would have been worse, though. More nightmarish.
And being outside on that springtime evening… I saw God’s beauty and goodness more clearly than ever before or ever since. It was the perfect time and place. What if it had been miserable and stormy or cold or unbearably hot? Might things have been very different? Could my life have possibly taken a very different turn? Would I perhaps have perceived and responded to God very differently?
Things could have been much worse, I think. Much more traumatic. Much harsher. Even more calamitous. But God knows me so well. And it’s true that He never burdens us with more than we can tolerate. He never seeks to crush us. That may be difficult to believe now and then… but we always know better with hindsight.