As my husband, Ed, and I drove down a quiet rural
Illinois highway one day, we passed a large wooden sign at the
side of the road. The hand-painted lettering on the
sign proclaimed, "Full Gospel Church -- 1/2 mile. "What is a
"full gospel" church?" Ed asked. As I attempted to
explain, a light came on in my mind, and suddenly, I knew. The
"full gospel" was what I had been searching for all of my
adult life, at times actively, at other times without even being aware
of what it was I sought.
Apart from a brief encounter with Jesus at age
six, I grew up pretty much without religion. By the time I was in
my teens, I took the route all-too-common in the '60s, "looking for
love in all the wrong places." Just before my 17th birthday, I
found myself pregnant and standing before a minister, vowing to
"love, honor and obey" my 17-year-old boyfriend, while
thinking about the red-checkered tablecloth I'd buy for our tiny new
By the time I reached my mid-20s, I was into my second abusive
marriage and was the mother of three. I'd messed up my life just about
as much as I possibly could. Near despair, I determined it was time to
make some effort to change my miserable life. I began by seeking counseling. That was when a
series of incredible "coincidences" began to occur
through which the Spirit of the Lord led me to the Gospel.
"How much do you drink?" the counselor
asked only a short way into the first session.
"What does that have to do with
anything?" I wondered to myself. "Oh, not too
much," I responded. "Maybe about a six pack a
"Not too much?" he raised his eyebrows.
"Six beers a day is 'not too much?'" Had I been
completely honest, I would have told him I probably drank even
more than that. Much to my surprise, he referred me to an alcohol
abuse counselor. I was pretty sure drinking wasn't my problem,
but knowing I had exhausted my own resources, I made the
"The first thing you have to do is admit the
problem is beyond your control and submit it to God," said
"Oh great," I thought. "This will
never work." Though I was not at all sure what my problem
was, I did realize it was beyond my control, otherwise I wouldn't
have been there, but submit it to God? No way. "I don't
believe in God," I countered.
"It doesn't have to be any particular
god," she said, "but some form of 'supreme being,'
however you understand him."
I shook my head. "I don't believe in any
The counselor smiled. "You consider yourself
a pretty open-minded person, don't you?" It was exactly the
right question. I felt I was the most "open-minded"
person I knew.
"Definitely," I shot back.
"But you've closed your mind to God,"
She was right. I had closed my mind and my heart
to God. Perhaps I could give it a try, I thought. I had nothing
My stress goes down but my
curiosity goes up
Out of hand, I rejected Christianity as too
"traditional." So, in search of a more palatable
option, I went to the local library and checked out a couple of
books on yoga and Hinduism and began my search for
"God." Soon I was practicing transcendental meditation
at least 20 minutes a day. I was more relaxed, less stressed out
about my problems, but I hadn't found God. And I knew it.
At the same time, my husband, Melvin, was
commuting to work with a man who was a Jehovah's Witness. Every
day Melvin would come home from work telling me something new
John had said about God, Jesus, and the Bible. I had never read
the Bible and we didn't even own one, but I was sure what John
was telling Melvin couldn't possibly be true. Nonetheless, I
found myself getting more and more curious.
Then one day I was reading a book about yoga and
came across the following claim, "Truly spiritual people are
always vegetarians. Even in the Hebrew Bible, God gave man the
fruits of the trees to be their food, not the animals of the
I was puzzled. I'd known many Christians over the
years, and not one of them had been a vegetarian. My curiosity
got the best of me. I went out to the store and bought a Bible. I
just had to know if what that author and the Jehovah's Witness
were saying was true.
That night, I began to read the Gospel of
Matthew, and immediately fell in love with Jesus. I knew without
a doubt that no mere man could have invented the stories I read.
If man were even capable of imagining God would become human, he
would at least have him born in a castle, I thought, never in a
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs
is the kingdom of heaven," Jesus told me in Scripture.
"Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."
These were definitely not the words of a mere man. In my
experience, the meek never inherited anything but trouble. I lay
there in my bed, reading all night long, continuing into Mark,
Luke, and John.
Just before daybreak, I rose, knelt by the side
of my bed and began to pray.
As I prayed, I experienced an overwhelming sense
of Christ's presence in the room with me. It was as though he
stood at my side with his hand resting on my shoulder, and I was
nearly overcome with a feeling of love more powerful than any I
had ever imagined. I knew without a doubt -- Jesus loved me --
and I knew my sinful past was forgiven as I surrendered my life
to this incomprehensible God/Man who captured my heart.
St. Paul knew what he was
"Coincidentally," my children were
attending Bible school that week with our Baptist neighbors. That
Sunday morning, I attended a worship service at their small,
independent Baptist church and publicly professed my faith in
Christ. The next week I was baptized by immersion. For the next
year, I seldom missed a Sunday morning, Sunday evening, or
Wednesday night service. And I seldom allowed a day to pass
without spending some time reading the Holy Scriptures and in
prayer. I had tasted that the Lord was good, but I began to sense
there was more to Christ than I had found. There was something
missing. I sensed that I had not yet found the full gospel.
A friend and fellow Baptist, Marsha, began to
tell me about the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit," and the
gifts of the Spirit. I searched the Scriptures and read every
publication I could find on the subject. Marsha was involved in
the "Women's Aglow Fellowship," an interdenominational
women's group associated with the "Full Gospel Businessmen's
Association." I attended their next monthly meeting and was
excited by the freedom with which this group praised God.
Expecting to feel uneasy if any of the gifts of the Spirit were
manifested, I was amazed when the group began to glorify God in a
host of other languages and the only thing I felt was joy, peace
"Yes, this is it," I thought. This was
what I had been missing. At the end of the service, I went
forward for prayer. More than anything in the world I wanted this
"Full Gospel." As I knelt at the altar with my eyes
closed in prayer, the leader laid her hands on top of my head.
Almost immediately I sensed a brilliant light in a far corner of
the room that seemed to move toward me, and I soon felt immersed
in God's presence and love. In my joy, I simultaneously laughed
and cried and when I opened my mouth to speak, I was singing --
singing praises to God in a language I had never learned.
Those were some of the best years of my life. I
loved God, I loved my family, I loved everyone. Certainly there
were trials, but I had the Spirit of God to uphold me through
anything, or so I thought. Since my Baptist pastor did not
believe in the gifts of the Spirit, I soon moved my membership to
an Assembly of God. After a while, I came to believe that as a
Child of God I had the "right" to walk always in divine
health and material prosperity. With God as my father, I believed
nothing evil could touch me. I was satisfied that I had found the
fullness of God and convinced I was beyond reproach.
I still avidly read Scripture, but I must have
missed St. Paul's warning: "Whoever thinks he is standing
secure should take care not to fall" (1 Cor. 10:12).
Did God betray me?
There was a major fall in store for me and when
it hit, the entire structure of my new life was shattered. For
six years Melvin and I had prayed for a child. I had my two
children from my first marriage with me only on weekends. When
Melvin's brother had been tragically killed two years before, we
adopted his three-year-old son. But Melvin desperately wanted a
child of his own.
One Wednesday evening as I stood, praising God,
at the end of a worship service, I felt a sudden pain in my lower
abdomen. I "rebuked" it, as I had been taught. But
nothing happened. In fact, the pain grew worse. I went forward to
the altar and asked two friends to help pray for my healing. We
prayed and prayed. Still the pain worsened. The pastor was
closing the church, so seven friends and I went to one of their
homes, where we continued to pray and rebuke the pain in my
abdomen. Still it did not yield. Finally I asked someone to take
me to the hospital.
I was experiencing my second tubal pregnancy. The
tube burst and immediate surgery was required to save my life.
Nothing that was tried could save my baby. I was devastated. Not
only had my faith failed to heal my body, but it was now evident
that I would never have another child and my husband would never
have one of his own -- at least not with me. As soon as I was
released from the hospital, I was back in church, just in time to
hear a sermon I will never forget.
"Anyone who claims to be a Christian,"
the preacher roared, "and would willingly go into a hospital
and let someone cut on them with a knife is deluded!" I sat
through the remainder of that sermon about "true
faith," but when it ended, I left that church, never to
return. I wasn't sure whether their theology was skewed, or I had
just utterly failed. It put me into a tailspin.
What had it all meant? I wondered. "Was what
had happened to me really due to a lack of faith? Was it my own
fault? What could I have done differently? Or could all I had
previously experienced -- all the joy in praying, the warm
feelings, the power I felt in "rebuking" sickness and
evil, and speaking in "tongues" -- could all that have
been nothing more than wishful thinking?"
I never spoke to that pastor again and my friends
just didn't seem to have the answers I needed. I soon stopped
reading Scripture and stopped praying. I felt God had betrayed me
and I had no idea where to turn. I still believed in Him. I still
believed in the Gospel, but I no longer knew what it meant for me
and, frankly, I was no longer inclined to find out.
I leave my husband and find my
Melvin soon returned to his excessive drinking
and abuse. My faith was shattered, but a spark of self-esteem
remained. For the first time in my life, I felt I could make it
own my own. Though I made far too little money to support myself
in the manner I had grown accustomed to, that no longer mattered.
All I wanted was a little peace. I knew I would rather live in a
hole in the wall in peace than to continue the nearly constant
battles with my husband. It was not easy to admit to another
failure, but after 13 years in my second marriage, I left Melvin
and obtained a second divorce.
Three years later, God gave me one of the
greatest gifts I would ever receive from Him, my current husband,
Ed. Though I had turned my back on Him, Christ had not abandoned
me. Not long after my marriage to Ed, a series of
"coincidences" began to occur again in my life that
made it impossible for me to ignore Christ and His Full Gospel
My friend, Judy, a Catholic with whom I had never
discussed God or religion, unexpectedly gave me a book for my
42nd birthday. One glance at the cover of the book made me
question her sanity. The book was about apparitions of the Virgin
Mary and the cover bore her picture. Though I knew nothing about
apparitions, I had strong convictions about the Virgin Mary. I
knew she had existed and I knew she'd given birth to Our Lord,
but apart from that, I'd rarely given her a second thought except
to condemn Catholics for "worshipping" her.
"I don't know if you'll like it," Judy
said as I held the book in my hand, looking incredulously at its
cover. "It's spiritual."
I was polite. "Oh, I like spiritual
books," I said, all the while wondering what could ever have
possessed anyone to give me a book about Mary. My being polite
was a big mistake. It opened the door for Judy to spend the next
hour-and-a-half telling me all about her new and wonderful
relationship with the Virgin Mary. She told me Mary had become
her dearest friend and closest confidante.
I thought she'd gone over the edge. "Lord,
help her," I prayed. But I reluctantly accepted the book and
out of curiosity, began to read it. For the first time in years,
I almost immediately felt the Holy Spirit move in my heart. I
continued to read and soon sensed Christ asking me to open my
heart to His mother.
My life was not such a mess as it had been when I
first began to seek the Lord. Considering my past mistakes, I was
relatively happy and successful. I hadn't consciously felt a need
for anything more.
But God in His infinite wisdom and mercy stirred
again in me that life-long yearning to know Him in His fullness.
In my hands that day was the answer. How better to learn the
"Full Gospel" than from the very Mother of God? Who
could more effectively lead me to the fullness of Christ than the
only human being who carried Our Lord in her womb, nourished Him
at her breast and lived physically and intimately with Him every
moment of His life -- the one who not only bore witness to The
Word, but who bore The Word.
something like scales fell..."
I finished the book Judy gave me and proceeded to
read everything I could get my hands on about apparitions and
visions of the Blessed Mother. I devoured anything I could find
regarding Fatima. I came to believe there was a profound message
behind these Marian apparitions. There will never be peace for
individuals or mankind until you turn your hearts back to your
Creator, Mary seemed to be saying. "God loves you. Repent
and pray for your own conversion and for the conversion of the
world." I began to do just that and many of my
misconceptions about Catholicism were soon unmasked.
Catholics didn't worship Mary, I realized, they
were devoted to her as the Mother of Christ. They reverenced Mary
as the first Christian. They embraced Christ's precious gift from
the cross -- the gift of His mother to his body, the Church.
Statues of Mary in Catholic churches were no more "false
idols" than were the pictures of my beloved husband and
children in my own home. I fell in love with my spiritual Mother.
I studied the Roman Catholic faith. I read books
by Scott Hahn, Alan Schreck, Karl Keating, Mark Shea, Patrick
Madrid and Thomas Howard. I reread chapter six of the Gospel of
John. "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink
his blood, you do not have life in you," Christ said there
to the skeptical Jews. I realized Holy Communion could be much
more than symbolic of the Last Supper. By the power of the Holy
Spirit in the Catholic Mass, Christ is truly present and imparts
His life through the bread and wine.
While wrestling with the Catholic meaning of the
Communion of Saints, Christ's words to the Sadducees in Matthew
22:31-32 came to life. "Have you not read what was said to
you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the
God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the
living." It excited me to learn the saints who lived before
us had not been cut off from the Body of Christ just because they
had died. I was as free to ask any of them to pray for me as I
was to ask anyone here on earth.
As I learned more about our covenant relationship
with God, infant baptism took on a whole new meaning. Why
wouldn't our Father provide a means for our newborn children to
enter that relationship, just as He had for the Jews in
In direct contrast to what I'd previously
believed, I found Catholics had an objective faith totally absent
from any other church I'd attended. God always imparts His grace
through the sacraments, regardless of the recipient's faith, I
learned. Sure, faith was necessary for that sacramental grace to
flourish, but it was God who acted first, not man.
"Catholics don't believe in reading the
Bible," I'd been taught. But when I began to attend Mass, I
heard far more Scripture read at every service than I had ever
heard at any Protestant church.
No priest can forgive sin, I'd previously
believed. But if Christ were present on earth, would I choose to
sit in my own home and confess mentally to Him, hoping and
praying I'd been forgiven? Or would I go to Him in person and
hear the words of forgiveness directly from His mouth? That is
exactly what the sacrament of reconciliation offers, I realized.
Christ is indeed present and available to forgive sin, in His
body the Church and in His representatives, the priests.
It all began to make sense, and it was all
embraced by the Catholic Church, the one church on earth I had
believed I would never enter. Much to my surprise, everything I
learned about the Catholic Church expanded and enriched my faith,
but I continued to have one major concern. Would I have to give
up my belief in the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit to
One final obstacle to the
fullness of truth and grace
I was still struggling with that dilemma when Ed
and I attended a Marriage Encounter weekend. At the closing Mass,
the participating couples formed a circle as Father Tom Griffith
distributed Holy Communion. Having not yet committed to or been
accepted into the Catholic Church, when Father Tom came to me I
gently shook my head. Rather than passing on to the next person
in line, he stopped, laid hands on Ed and me, and prayed. When
Fr. Tom prayed, I felt so overwhelmed by the power of the Holy
Spirit my knees grew weak and I nearly fell over. I was
astonished. I had never believed a Catholic priest could pray
with such power. I was delighted to discover the Holy Spirit was
indeed alive and well in at least some members of the Catholic
Having come this far in my journey toward
Catholicism, I had to know immediately what my own parish priest
believed about the baptism and gifts of the Spirit.
"Is it okay for a Catholic to believe in the
baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit?" I nervously asked
Father Tony Nugent.
"Of course," he responded. Though we
receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, we don't always experience a
full release of the power of the Spirit until much later, Fr.
Tony continued, relating his own experience of "the
baptism" as an adult priest.
"Praise God," I gasped.
Relieved and encouraged by this incredible
response, I poured out my soul. I told Father Tony all about my
previous spiritual experiences, including the one that had led me
to abandon my faith in God. "Do you believe it is always
God's will to heal?" I asked.
"Yes," he responded. "But He may
not always heal in the way we want or expect. "If God had
granted you the physical healing you sought that day, you would
not be here with me today," he said, assuring me I was on
the right path. "He healed you spiritually instead."
In that moment, I recalled Romans 8:28: "We
know that all things work for good for those who love God, who
are called according to His purpose." What had seemed to be
the worst experience of my life, God had worked for my ultimate
good. Another enormous burden was lifted from my soul.
Finally, I knew I had it all. I had a loving
Heavenly Father who called me out of darkness and offered me life
through the body and blood of His only begotten Son, nearly 2,000
years ago in the crucifixion, and today in the Holy Eucharist. I
had the Son, who humbled Himself, became man and was obedient
unto death to give the power of the Holy Spirit to His body, the
I had the Holy Spirit, who enlightens, cleanses
and empowers. I had His spouse, my spiritual mother, the Blessed
Virgin Mary, to show me the way. I had Christ's Church, built
upon the rock, led by the Holy Spirit into all truth and against
which the gates of hell will never prevail.
And within that Church, I had priests and the
fellowship of a group of believers who embrace both the gifts of
the Holy Spirit and devotion to our Blessed Mother. At last, the
Full Gospel was mine.