Tuesday, April 07, 2015

When One Converts and the Other One is Atticus

Last month, when I talked with Haley and Christy on the Fountains of Carrots podcast, they asked a great question about when couples convert. Haley and Daniel came in to the Church at the same time; Atticus and I did not, so we talked a little more about that. What's it like when one spouse wants to leap and the other looks askance at the chasm?

I wish there were a definitive answer to the question, "What do I do when my husband/wife rejects the path I'm taking?" I'd love to say, "Do (insert wisdom here) and you, too, will have a converted spouse!" 

It's never that easy, of course. The only real advice -- like most advice -- sounds lame and ineffective at first: 

Be patient. 
Remain loving. 
Talk. (Don't yell. Funny how yelling doesn't work.)  
Respect your spouse's choices. 
Follow God's promptings for yourself, but don't force anything on your spouse.

Atticus did not come into the Church until five years after I did. And when he finally made the decision to be received, it was just a few weeks before the Easter Vigil that year. I saw it coming and simultaneously was stunned that it was actually happening. But one thing I'd finally accepted: the decision had to be his. This converstion thing had to be between God and him, and I had no control over any of it. 

What follows is a shortened version of our Easter Vigil stories. 


When I was received into the Church, I was alone at the Easter Vigil. 

No, not entirely alone -- my sponsor, Carolyn, was there. Carolyn and I first met at RCIA, the night they told me she could sponsor me. A stranger as a sponsor? How weird is this? I thought. The whole class must feel sorry for me.

I'd wanted my friend, Jack, to sponsor, but a weekly two-hour drive for RCIA was impractical, so, Stranger Carolyn to the rescue!

For my reception and Confirmation, Jack came to the Vigil, and brought along a friend (to keep him company for the four hours he would be on the road that night.) Carolyn, Jack, and someone I barely knew. How weird is this? I thought. I am pathetic.

Atticus stayed home that night with 18-month old Anne-with-an-e. He didn't want to prevent my becoming Catholic, but he didn't want to be part of it, either.

That first Easter Vigil was an incandescent, frightening thing. Fear and awe mingled with an odd detachment, an observation of what was happening. At the last minute, I was tapped on the shoulder and asked to help to carry the gifts forward to the priest. I shook as I clung to the decanter of wine. This is going to become the Precious Blood of Jesus, I thought. And I will consume Him -- Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. And I am alone.

No, not alone! I scolded myself, battled with myself. Your friend is here, and all these people are here. And God is here.

And yet, in a specific way, because I am a married woman, I felt alone. My husband was not there.

When I received Holy Communion for the first time, I did not experience magic. I wasn't immediately transported to a new destination brimming with giddy joy. Something I desperately longed for (spiritual unity with my husband) was missing. And yet, I felt ... what? Grounded. Firm. Certain. I did not have a single regret about what I was doing.

I wasn't sure how I could feel quiet exultation and deep sadness at the same time, but I did. I knew this was right.

Because I knew, down to my bones, this: I was not alone.

I walked out of my first Easter Vigil knowing that despite my sadness over my husband's absence, I had a steadfast companion. Jesus would not let me down.

I became active with RCIA as a sponsor, team member, speaker, teacher. I was gone (at the church, without my husband) every year during the Triduum as I helped candidates and catechumens on their way into the Church. I really loved it -- so much that when I began to feel that God was calling me away, I didn't want to listen to Him. He couldn't possibly want me to stop doing this good work, could He?

But, that nagging whisper kept telling me to pull back from "church work" -- pull back from witnessing to others and witness in my own home. To my husband. It was as if God was saying, "Show Atticus that your love for him and your family is your calling, your vocation, and the most important thing in your world." 

With a heavy heart I resigned from the team. When Holy Week rolled around that year, it felt strange to be home on Holy Thursday night. Instead of the gorgeous Mass I'd come to love, I was at home with my two little girls, creating a "Holy Family meal," coloring pictures of the Last Supper, and watching five-year-old Anne build a crucifix out of blocks. Instead of absorption in frantic, last-minute, RCIA prep, I was home, calm. And present. Instead of being out late on Holy Saturday night with people Atticus didn't even know, I was home with him. That year we went to Mass as a family, on Easter Sunday morning (though he was still adamant that he wasn't considering conversion, he was merely being courteous to me.)

I was also expecting another baby. We lost that baby the month after Easter, and I asked our baby to begin interceding for his father.

Later that summer, something in Atticus shifted. We'd been having a lot of conversations about faith and Atticus said he'd been thinking about the nature of evil -- about how it really comes down to being separated from God. I will never forget the next moment: "And I don’t think I want to be separated anymore," he said. "I want to be where you and the girls are."

That took my breath away. 

He wasn't ready to become a Catholic -- he insisted on that -- but Atticus wanted to explore things a little. 

Hmm. I happened to know an RCIA team that could use another member. I rejoined the team that fall, and the director and our priest allowed Atticus to sit in, an unofficial participant, for as long as he liked. (Of course, I knew it didn't hurt that this priest was the one who'd suggested he and I pray to St. Therese for Atticus's conversion.)

Through the fall and winter, Mr. Unofficial Participant listened, talked, questioned, read, and thought. And prayed. (He'd started praying! I always say, "Once you start praying, you haven't got a prayer.")

One Saturday morning just before Lent, when we woke up, Atticus asked me the name of the man born blind, from the Gospel of John. He said that man’s name would be his Confirmation name. If he joined the Church, he added. Fr. Joe came to dinner that night, and asked the question Atticus must have been tired of: "So, where are you? What, if anything, is holding you back?"

Atticus replied, "Nothing. I’m ready. Can we schedule something?"
And at the Easter Vigil of 2000, Atticus came into the Church.


There were so many times when I had no idea what God would do next. I couldn't see through the dark tunnel to the light at the end. I had to walk in blindness until He led me to the next step. And that's what faith is -- a series of steps in the dark. Wholehearted trust that my Guide won't let me fall.

God was at work:

When I converted alone
When I lacked unity with my husband
When I left a ministry I loved
When I lost arguments
When I lost every sense of firm footing 
When I lost babies
When I thought my husband would never examine Catholicism
When I felt alone
When I knew I had to hold on with all my strength to this truth: I am not alone.

The Lord was there, with me, every stumbling step. Through quiet exultation and deep sadness, He was there. 

"I will lead the blind on their journey; by paths unknown I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them, and make crooked ways straight."  

~~ Isaiah 42:16

Not every story ends as mine did. (In truth, of course, our story was just beginning.) Sometimes one spouse converts and the other never does. Every life, every soul is a deep mystery, and I don't know why things happen in some lives and not in others. But the bottom line is the same. It might sound weak and ineffective at first, but, hey, it's all we've got this side of Heaven: Pray and trust. 

"For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, 
plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." 

~~ Jeremiah 29:11


Kate @ Sancta Nomina said...

My husband is a convert and this is exactly how it was for me: "I saw it coming and simultaneously was stunned that it was actually happening. But one thing I'd finally accepted: the decision had to be his. This conversion thing had to be between God and him, and I had no control over any of it. "

Danae said...

Awesome story!

Liz said...

Eighteen years later, and I'm still waiting. He's read the entire Catechism (something very few Catholics have done!), he comes to Mass with us at Christmas and Easter (but never in between). We now have Catholic grandchildren (and he's gone to their baptisms). I still don't know what exactly is holding him back. He's even stopped going to the church he grew up in (although he's still clerk of the church and goes to council meetings regularly as well as annual meeting --- he just no longer goes to church). I get the sense that he's sort of in no man's land right now. He can't, for whatever reason, become Catholic, but he also can't really be part of the church he grew up in which has gone far more liberal than he can stomach.

Robert Vaughan said...

This is a tinely essay. Well done, Karen. My wife recently returned to the church after many years away. I started watching the Olam Daily Mass on EWTN with her and felt a real longing to become part of it. I start RCIA soon.

Karen Edmisten said...

Kate: It's hard but true. :)
Danae: Thank you! Praise God!
Liz: What happens when you ask what is holding him back?
Bob: WOW! :) Praise God, and Wow!

Sarah said...

Thank you for this..... the sense of being alone when your spouse is not there, it is so consuming. I cried and cried this Easter because even in an overflowing Mass with my children I still felt utterly alone. I needed this reminder to not give up and never stop praying ♡

Karen Edmisten said...

Sarah, hugs to you! And prayers, and then more hugs. :)

Shayla Wood said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. :) I love learning the stories of your conversion as time goes on. The way God has used your faith to impact my life, your family's lives, and the lives of others is pretty incredible.

Jennifer S. said...

My husband is Catholic, but to him that just means going to church on Sunday's. As my faith has become a significant part of my life it has left us on two different pages. For me one of the hardest parts is dealing with major life choices because we look at the situation from very different perspectives. It's difficult to do my thing and let him do his when our lives are joined together. Any suggestions?

nancyo said...

My husband was a convert after we were married 12 years (over 20 years ago), and I never saw it coming. We have attended the Vigil nearly every year since.

Karen Edmisten said...

Shayla! :)
Thank you for that. Those words mean a lot to me, and right back at you -- your faith shines! Hugs to you, sweetie!

Nancyo, happy Vigil Anniversary. :)

Karen Edmisten said...

Jennifer S., I know how hard it is! I remember a time, after my conversion to Christianity, and I was going through a lot of anxiety. It was manifesting physically -- I was feeling tingling in my extremities, etc. I went to a doctor, and when he was asking about recent stressors, I told him I'd been through a conversion and it was causing tension in my marriage. He said, "Why should such a happy thing cause tension?" I was kind of floored by his lack of insight. I said, "We now have completely different world views! We don't agree about anything! Of course it's causing tension."

My best advice/encouragement is for you both to try to keep your lines of communication as open as possible, accepting that, at least for now, you have these very differing views but you still have to find ways to make decisions, etc. that work for your marriage and family. So, working on maintaining respect, and patience with each other is vital. For you, having a regular confessor or spiritual director who understands the position you're in can also be helpful, and that person can help you approach things more objectively, while remaining loving and supportive.

Also, counseling can be a huge help for couples who are having trouble communicating in general, or finding common ground. We went through some counseling at a particularly difficult point in our marriage, and it was enormously helpful, a real blessing. I think of counseling as Human Communication 101, because it teaches tools that you will use for the rest of your life, and a good therapist is worth his/her weight in gold. I learned things (during out time with a counselor) that I have in turn taught my children, and adopted a lot of approaches that made our communication more emotionally healthy than it had ever been before.

And of course prayer -- I know that goes without saying. :) Prayers for you! And a hug, too. :)

Jennifer S. said...

Thank you Karen. I appreciate you taking the time to respond and offer encouragement.

Karen Edmisten said...

Jennifer, I don't know if there's anything I can say that is actually helpful (every marriage is unique, of course.) But know that you're not alone!

Anonymous said...

I'm commenting to ask for prayers. My husband lost his faith a few years back, just as our oldest child was receiving First Communion. It's been incredibly hard, even though he's still willing to come to church and supports my raising the kids in the faith. I feel so alone. We've had to stop talking about so many things in order to avoid fighting all the time. One of our kids will be baptized soon, and another will receive First Communion, and my heart is so wrung with suffering right now.

Karen Edmisten said...

I'm so sorry! I will definitely pray for you and your family. Don't lose hope ... who knows what the Lord has in store for your husband? St. Monica, pray for us ....