Thursday, January 1, 2015

Part Two: My Mother-in-Law Carol's Conversion Story

To read Part One, click here.

As Carol got up from the table, and as I thought about heading upstairs to my computer, she pointed to a boxed DVD set by the TV in the next room and asked:

“Can we watch that?”

I was stunned. It was the DVD set that I consciously debated putting out of sight before she arrived in Phoenix (so as not to be so “in your face” with all the Catholic stuff we have), but that I ultimately, providentially, decided to leave right where it was. It was Father (now Bishop) Robert Barron’s Catholicism.

In one surreal instant, Carol and I had gone from a quarter-century of never speaking of religion to Carol requesting to watch one of the best, newest (and longest!) presentations of the Catholic Faith in existence. It was almost like I had entered the Twilight Zone -- that's how unexpected it was.

Working to keep my shock in check (and wanting to yell for Dean), I answered: “Sure! Do you want to watch it now?” She did, and we sat down together on the couch. I was almost apologetic as I chatted with her as it began, not fully believing that she really wanted to watch, and praying that she would stay awake. She was absolutely notorious for falling asleep while watching television, and sure enough, about ten minutes into Episode 1, she was sound asleep. I lamented the missed opportunity, but I continued to watch alone just in case she woke up; however, in the end, she snoozed through the whole thing. Drat. As I moved to turn off the television, Carol suddenly awoke, looked at me, and said, “That was very interesting! Can we watch more?”

We proceed to watch Episode 2, and then over the course of the next several days, we watched all ten hours, all ten episodes. Every day I thought that she would forget or decide she was not interested in continuing. But she never forgot, and she was always interested. And, to my utter shock, not once in all those hours did she fall asleep again. Trust me, that alone was a miracle!

By Episode 10, the discussion was about the Last Things (Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory), and Carol’s questions came more frequently. We had an excellent theological discussion -- but it still seemed so odd. Was this really my secular, Jewish, pro-"choice", liberal mother-in-law? Dean and my daughter Priscilla had been watching the final episodes with us that night, and they were equally stunned with this strange and wonderful happening, but we all tried to stay nonchalant.

The series finally completed, Dean went up to bed while we ladies lingered a bit; Carol seemed to want to keep talking, as this was her last night in town. We stood in a hall area, chatting, and then she said this exactly: “I can see the appeal.” Oh gosh, I know what she is getting at, I thought, but what do I say? I don’t want to push in any way.... The normally verbose Catholic blogger/teacher was scrambling for the right words! I sent up a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit.

“Oh, yes," I threw out there, "Now you can see the beauty of the Faith that Dean was drawn to! I know it was hard for you to understand back then. And he never felt he had to abandon his Jewish roots, but he was simply completing his Judaism. He discovered that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Church He founded is the New Jerusalem.”

Those few sentences were the most I'd ever spoken to Carol about her son's conversion in the 15 years since his baptism.

She seemed agreeable to all that I said, and then she asked, “How long does it take?” I hesitated, Priscilla and I glanced at each other (She was asking how long it takes to become a Catholic?!), and I told her that it takes several months to go through the RCIA process, and that I used to teach the converts years ago if she had any questions. I also mentioned that it’s still possible to be privately catechized if one could not physically get to a regular class.

Other than expressing a desire for a book that was discussed on the video, (Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton, which I promised to send her), Carol didn't request anything more that night. In retrospect, I know that she would have been grateful for more information and guidance, and I'm guessing she was surprised that she didn't get any.

After Carol retired, Priscilla and I quietly marveled together. Did she really say that? Did she really ask that? Is this for real? I was grateful there was another witness there to confirm the things that Carol had said. I knew exactly what had occurred, of course. Carol had watched the series with an open heart, sincerely seeking God. God can work with such a heart. Ten hours of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty streamed through her eyes and ears, and her soul responded in exactly the way a soul is made to respond to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty: it was drawn in, excited, enchanted. One of my favorite sayings, “Truth comes with graces attached”, was played out right in front of my eyes that week. I had the privilege of seeing it happen.

Carol flew home to Atlanta the next morning, I ordered and sent her Merton's book, and that was it. Yes, that was me -- the big, bold Catholic evangelist and teacher, doing essentially nothing! I was too nervous to take another step. Over the weeks, Dean and I were still awestruck over it, occasionally wondering what we should do and praying about it, but since he, also, was entirely too sensitive about not wanting to push or manipulate, and since we kept second-guessing the whole situation, or wondering if she would persevere or drop it, we didn't do a thing and we stopped talking about it.

Carol took the next step. During a phone call in January or February, she mentioned to Dean that she would really like to be baptized. It was so surreal to him that he didn't even tell me about it until we were at dinner that night, and then only casually, as if he were speaking of our shopping list. I responded with elation and motivation, but also with some shame. I imagine she'd hoped that we would talk to her about the Faith in the ensuing months, which of course we never did. Poor Carol had to work up her courage to ask her son for help. As she always had lived in certain timidity of being ridiculed or chastised by others, it was no small thing for her to keep asking. At that point, I finally acted.

And this is where God, who loves to surprise and delight us, made a perfect move.

To be continued....

Part Three is here!

(I am so thankful that Fr. Barron is aware of the miracle of which he was a part! His Word on Fire ministry reprinted this excerpt from Carol's story, here. God is good!)


  1. Oh goodness another cliffhanger! :) WOW! WOW! WOW! What a beautiful story unfolding! I just saw Fr. Barron's Catholicism DVD series at my church last year and they offered it again this year! LOVE this series! What a blessing that they caught Carol's eye, but better yet her heart and soul in between naps ;) Carol is alot like me, because I too doze off too much in front of the TV, but not watching those DVDs :) I just love how you and Dean walked on eggshells not knowing what to say or do next because I would have done the same thing! But, maybe not pushing her and letting the Holy Spirit lead her to the next question and step was just what the great Physician ordered :) So kudos to you and Dean and Priscilla for allowing God to use you fully and letting the Holy Spirit guide you! Such an inspiring story! Can't wait for more! And you are right I was "warm" :) I just love conversion stories since I am a cradle Catholic! Happy New Year!

  2. I love conversion stories!!!

  3. I've got goosebumps reading this! Thank you for sharing this grace-filled story!

  4. REALLY enjoying these posts, Leila!

  5. "One of my favorite sayings, “Truth comes with graces attached”, was played out right in front of my eyes that week. I had the privilege of seeing it happen."

    The hand of grace at work is an amazing thing to watch. I always sit back and marvel when I see God on the move, when He begins to capture a heart.
    It is the most awesome thing to behold.

  6. Wow! We LOVE the Catholicism series! My convert husband has even suggested we send the series to his parents and sisters' families, Evangelicals who are staunchly anti-Catholic. They are polite, and they have softened, but his father is still grieved that he crossed the Tiber. Maybe we should send it after all? We kinda put it off and forgot about it, not wanting to push too hard.

    This conversion series is so incredible. Thank you for sharing, Leila. I was just talking with my sister, Sarah, the other day. Long, complicated story, but our mom was raised Polish Catholic and has abandoned the faith. Our parents are divorced, our dad a Catholic revert after the divorce, and our step-dad started as agnostic. We have known him since we were five, and he and our mom never went to church and rarely discussed religion. In high school, he was convinced aliens were actually God. Then he made his way over to super anti-Catholic fundamentalist Christianity. He was always anti-established religion and would argue heatedly with us over the evils of Catholicism. He attended home churches and read lots of prophetical books. He has backed off from arguing. But something amazing happened this year -- He got really into studying Judaism and their traditions. He joined a book group with Messianic Jews, and our mom and step-dad have been gushing about these Jewish traditions and how they relate to Christianity. They joined a Protestant church (organized religion!!), and our step-dad has been talking about how Christians will be doing this rituals and traditions again by the end of time. Sarah and were both thinking the same thing -- THAT'S THE MASS!!! If only he can see that we are doing this stuff in the Mass and in our faith. We haven't discussed it openly with him in that context -- We aren't the right people for that right now, but maybe we will be soon. I never thought I would see a day where I could see how our step-dad might be Catholic some day, and he might bring our mom back to her faith in the process. Pray for that!

    Your silence may have been wrong, Leila, but I have learned with a convert husband that holding my tongue and my enthusiasm as I see things unfold often allows them to creep forward and own it. They don't feel pushed by me, and they know my feelings regardless. Sometimes, silent support, allowing people to come to you, actually accelerates their conversion. We don't get our past arguments and pains mixed up in the process...So it is certainly delicate, and we do need the Holy Spirit's help to discern when to speak and when to stay silent. (Not able to edit this long comment, so I apologize for any errors.)

  7. Awesome comments!!! Thank you all so much!!

  8. This is so uplifting and exciting to read!

  9. Replies
    1. Please go to the top of the post and you will find the link to Part One. Or, you can simply go to the post before this one.

      And here is the link:

  10. WHAT???? To be continued again??? I can't wait to read the rest!

  11. I remember your post here on the blog asking for prayers for your MIL, for her possibly conversion! So cool to hear the entire story! And you may have done well with the not pushing and giving too much info in the beginning, the decision had to be her own...

  12. Oh my gosh - I am enjoying reading your Mother in Laws conversion story! I'm looking forward to reading part three! I'm a convert too. It is amazing how God works sometimes.

  13. Fantastic, Leila! That is so exciting. It is a fine line, between being pushy and not helpful enough. I'm so glad she followed where the Spirit was leading her!

  14. I was catching up on emails and just now read parts 1 and 2 - can hardly wait for part 3!! This is a very touching story so far and brings great hope for me for those in my family who seem so far from the faith. We always need to be a good witness and meet them where they are, right? I still lament a little that I brushed off my grandmother's questions about Catholic teaching on cremation before she died. I had no idea she was so close to death at that point, but somehow she did. She was never anti-religious but knew almost nothing about the Catholic faith as there had been no Catholic church in their small town throughout most or all of its history, but she knew that it was important to know what the Church taught about this.

    Praying that part 3 is posted soon!

  15. Thank you, JenZ! I am sure God loved and honored your grandmother's open heart. I am about halfway through writing part three. Slow going, since my daughter is only in town for two more days and I am soaking up every minute I can! :)

  16. And thanks to all of you! And thanks to Fr. Barron's Word on Fire ministry for posting this on their Facebook page. Carol must be so pleased! :)

  17. Hee hee! Reading this story, Leila, i envisioned moments when you were reaching into your mouth to push a wildly fluttering heart back down into your chest! :) And you were so right to do only the "little" you did - because the graces of the Holy Spirit and the witness of your own Christian life with Dean and your children had already established most of the needful! Praise be to God!

    To Elizabeth: it is so true that our Catholic faith is intimately tied up with Judaism. The more I delve into Judaism, the more the life of Christ and my own Catholic faith become clearer. Indeed, I wrote a paper entitled "The Passover of the Christ" in which I outline some of the (very intimate) links between Christ's saving Passion and Death and the rites of the four great sacrifices of Israel. And also the Eucharist. If you (or anyone else) would like a copy, email me your email address. Mine is:

    Happy New Year, everyone!

  18. I'd love to have met the woman that made you speechless about Catholicism!

    I bought this for my mom for Christmas a few years ago! I should snatch it from her!!

  19. I am really trying to be patient waiting for part three ;) oh, and you should know I've recommended your little teaching corner to a teen struggling with Catholicism.

  20. Anabelle, thank you for referring the teen! I think that those are good for teens, even my own. :)

    And, I know! I am soooooo close with Part Three! I was up a couple of nights ago till 3:30 doing most of it, but that made me so tired for the next day that I'm still exhausted (and eeking out every last moment together with my daughter who leaves to go back to the East Coast tonight! So, I'm still on hold, but it should be soon! :)

  21. Ohhh Leila, no! I hate to think of you staying up so late writing part 3! As excited as I am to read it, I don't want you overtiring yourself to get it done, especially with Priscilla visiting! Family comes first and please take care of yourself :)

  22. Sadly, I am most wide awake late at night and early morning! And that's when I get productive. But lately, I just have not gotten enough sleep. :)

    1. And by early morning, I mean "into the wee hours", not "I am productive in the morning!" I am definitely NOT a morning person, ha ha!!

  23. Leila, I know just what you mean. I cannot get going with much, if anything on my to-do list until late at night, past 9pm. Then I'm up until at least 1pm, and that's on a work night. I'm not a morning person, either.

    I totally understand your hesitance in offering your mother-in-law more guidance. A dear friend is a proud member of a particular Protestant church and has a barely disguised intense dislike of the Catholic Church, including obedience to the Pope, an irritation at/disdain for our devotion to Mary (even though my friend is liberal 60s/70s feminist - isn't that always the ironic case?), etc. If she one day asked of me what Carol asked of you, I would think I was in an alternate universe. I probably would have restrain myself from encouraging her, too, for fear of being seen as pushing, rather than encouraging.

    You have a few more hours before I go to bed, so you've got time to finish it, ha ha!

  24. One more thing - I love how you explained how Dean wasn't abandoning but completing his Jewish roots! The Holy Spirit was all over that one!


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