I am a convert to the Roman Catholic Church and this is my story. It is a story of my conversion to the faith, but much more it is a story of my mother being lost to me and found again. Not metaphorically lost but literally lost and found. With God’s grace. I should start at the beginning of my conversion.
I met my later-to-be godmother in Hawaii, Honolulu, in a neighborhood called The Jungle. She was staying there for the winter with her six children. Their home was Anchorage, Alaska. I still remember seeing her through the window, walking down the outdoor hallway to knock on my door. “Could you babysit for me today?” She seemed to know me somehow. At the time I was a California surfer girl, hanging out on the beach, wondering what to do next. My road to Catholicism started.
By the following summer I was in Anchorage working in her family’s restaurant as a waitress. Their faith made a deep impression on me. I was drawn to go to Mass with them, fascinated by the ritual, the people lining up to receive Communion. What was going on here? I learned rosary prayers from framed pictures on their home’s walls. I read books and books found on their library shelves. But in my mind, it was just a game I was playing, pretending to explore. To fit in, nothing serious. Soon I met a retired priest who had time for my questions and instruction. There was more, too much to try to tell here.
Eight years later, (Jesus is patient), I was baptized and confirmed in a small chapel in Anchorage. My eyes that day perceived the truly white bright light of the sky. Had I just never noticed it before? Something was happening to me.
My life went on. Then an inner call, very clear, led me to a Carmelite Monastery I knew about. A close friend of mine had entered there. The Sisters needed my help relocating them to a new foundation. My life became intertwined with theirs for several months. I moved belongings, driving through the desert to a mysteriously abandoned house. We then traveled there together, the Sisters and I, in a van I had rented, stopping for a retreat on the way. During this time I am trying to discern if I am being called to be a Carmelite. This brings up a lot of questions. What have you been doing lately besides spending time with us? Where is your family? Your mother? You never speak of her.
My mother. She suffered her first nervous breakdown when I was five years old. Her mental illness kept her in and out of hospitals most of her adult life, while Dad, my three brothers, and I tried to figure it out. Finally when I was fifteen she was committed to a California state mental institution. I visited her there once, and I never went back. Years later, this institution was closed. I never heard what became of her.
The Carmelite prioress of our new foundation told me I had to find her. “My mother? No. This is impossible. I have not seen her in 15 years. I can’t. I have no idea where or how to even begin.” Just the thought of her idea made me start shaking. Mother Teresa told me she and the Sisters would pray for a resolution.
When I found my mother she was living in a room in a downtown hotel. After the mental institution closed, she was told she could go. She had become estranged from us, her children, and her family. She had nowhere to go. The homeless life started for her. But this eventually led her to St. Vincent’s dining room for free meals. People there connected her with social services and found her a place to live. She had become a Catholic, a convert like me. She was praying for me for years with the hope she would see me again. One spring day, I walked down the hallway to her room. All was forgiven between us, the moment our eyes met.
We went to Mass together.
– Linda Benson
Mill Valley, California
The above is the first-place winner in the California Catholic Daily writing contest, Late have I loved Thee.