The Story of My Conversion
Part V: Free at Last
God knew what He was doing when He left me stranded in St. Paul.
I was on my way home to Fargo after spending the summer overseas. Having parked my car in the friend of a friend’s garage, I didn’t think to check if either person would be in town when I returned. They weren’t, and I was stuck in the Cities for the weekend with few options.
I phoned my parents for advice.
“Call your Uncle Donald,” my mom suggested. “They live in St. Paul and I’m sure they’d be happy to have you.” My mom was right. I hadn’t seen my father’s brother and his family for years, but they were overjoyed to see me. Family is family, after all.
No matter that I was at an all-time personal low—a smoker, a drinker, the heaviest I had ever been. I felt awkward but clearly they did not. On the contrary, they wanted to know all about me.
“Do you smoke?” my aunt asked with a smile, placing an ashtray on the table next to me.
“Yes, I do!” I responded, and waited for her to offer me a cigarette. As it turns out, my aunt was just being gracious. When I realized this, and having finished off my pack of Camel Lights the day before, I continued to feel awkward.
“So how was Scotland?” they wanted to know. I didn’t know what to say or how to describe it. My reticence, I think, stemmed from embarrassment at how I looked and—perhaps, just perhaps—shame at the way I’d spent my summer: drinking pint after pint at the local pub, eating basket after basket of fish-n-chips after the pub closed; chasing boys and (often) catching them.
Such things do not make for polite conversation.
My cousin Suzette heard that I was staying at her mom’s house and stopped by on her lunch break to see me. She was as beautiful as always—married, no children yet, and working as a secretary to the president of a big-name company. I watched her silently from across the counter as she fished a pickle out of the jar. Her nails were perfect.
“So how are you?” she asked me warmly. Suzette had a kindness I didn’t remember from before. Growing up, my older cousin always been rather bossy. I was surprised to find that she no longer seemed to think that I was bratty.
“Would you like to go out for dinner tonight?” she continued. “My husband, David, would love to meet you.”
I agreed, and then spent the afternoon getting high with her younger sister. (Like-minded individuals have a way of seeking each other out, as you well know.) We went to the zoo, of all ridiculous places, and from there we met up with Suzette and David at the restaurant.
At that point, God took over.
My cousin and her husband were devout Catholics, you see, and they were both on fire for the faith. It wasn’t that they were out to convert me, necessarily, but their joyfulness and peace were contagious. I wanted what they had. I wanted freedom from the darkness and discomfort of my life.
I listened eagerly to the conversation.
That evening, when my cousin Jill and I returned to my aunt and uncle’s house, Jill apologized for how “preachy” her older sister and brother-in-law had been.
“You know what?” I said to her, with newfound courage and the faintest stirrings of inner peace. “I really enjoyed the evening, and I liked hearing what they had to say.”
The friendship that was born that night began to blossom. In fact, and I say this with all gratitude, my friendship with my cousin and her husband changed my life.
To be cont.
Ad Jesum per Mariam,