On Christmas Eve morning of 2009, I stood before a Catholic priest in a small town in rural South Korea. At my side was a man who had become my Godfather, a man with whom I had walked to Mass that morning, braced against the incoming Siberian winds. That man, Caleb, had abruptly and rather mysteriously come into my life months prior, arriving with one purpose: to guide me as my treasured friend and teacher through the closing months of my conversion to Catholicism.
That morning, following the daily Mass, I was baptized. Christmas Eve was spent with Fr. Maximillien Marie and the Community of St. John on a steep hillside above the neon glow of Busan. It was there that I received consecrated Holy Communion surrounded by loving strangers and witnessed by Caleb.
Two years later, at the anniversary of my baptism, I found myself reflecting back on a seemingly ridiculous warning Caleb made one afternoon shortly afterwards. I remember his words almost verbatim, as they seemed ominous.
In his deep baritone voice he proclaimed that I should prepare myself and hold on, that God would now take away everything that does not serve him through me. He warned that I should be prepared to lose my family (my immediate family consisted of two siblings and my father's widow, all steadfastly agnostic), as I now have a new family.
Continuing, he said that I would more than likely lose all of my wealth, all the material constructs with which I had defined my old life, a life that no longer existed. He said that I had died to that old life and, with my baptism, was born into a new one, and that I now belonged to God and to the Blessed Lady, and it is to their will that I must submit. In the face of my confused protest, he sternly professed, "It doesn't exist anymore, Nancy. It's all gone."
He was adamant that I shed the trappings of my "old" life as quickly as possible by my own device or risk having them torn from me in ways that perhaps would be not-so-pleasant. He added, "The closer you come to God, Nancy, the more fiercely the enemy will attack." I took him as being a bit dramatic, to say the least, but the steady urgency in his voice gave me pause. There was clearly something he feared, something he feared on my behalf.
So heavily these words weighed upon me, yet, at the time, they were simply that: words. I flippantly regarded them as such and nothing more. My conversion was strong and undeniable; this I remain in awe of. Nothing could have stopped it. In hindsight, my entire life prepared me for it, led me relentlessly toward it. In my ignorance I presumed my baptism was the crescendo, the accolade, the culminating triumph of a lifetime of meeting each challenge. I could rest now and find solace in my prayer life.
Over the course of the two years following my Baptism, Confirmation, first Confession and first Holy Communion, each and every caution given me by my Godfather did indeed come true. It was a relentless, merciless and breathtakingly thorough stripping away of virtually every single facet of my old life. My beautiful home was gone. I became peacefully estranged from the agnostic constructs of my family. My material wealth seemed to vanish, much of which I simply felt compelled to give to others, as I felt no attachment to it. My livelihood that sustained me at the time vanished.
Virtually all that I thought I held dear, as the cornerstones that defined my life, were stripped. I will not deny it: The relentless culling often left me physically riveted in fear, broaching terror, paralyzed in my own mind and cast deep into an internal silence I often thought I simply could not bear in the throes of many a dark night.
I understood little of what was happening to me, nor why; nothing made sense. Yet I endured. In the valleys of these times, racked by confusion, I reached for my Rosary and held tight, held tight to the very Rosary given to me by my Godfather after all the previous ones I had purchased either broke or disappeared. Of heavy cord and wood, bearing the St. Benedict Crucifix, it holds strong and rests now draped across my heart as I write.
The culling time has passed. What remains? If God removed from my life what does not serve him through me, then what remains therefore must be nothing other than his will for me.
Many who played significant roles in my previous life are gone, peacefully so in a natural departure. The people and things that existed under false premise are gone: liars, parasites, and those seeking to reflect well of themselves in the shadows of my past wealth have been removed. Material constructs that buoyed a life that was not my own but the expectations of others are all gone.
Each day is filled with a purity of intention, a focus that is direct yet not attached to false desires. There is a peace that anchors the core of my being. Where there was no anchor prior, where there were only temporary, external ports of safety to which I would cling, there is now an internal base upon which my soul rests.
Emerging from these years, I am at peace. I know not what tomorrow will bring, yet I will meet it with the one thing I now know to be true: that the strength of my faith will guide me steadfastly through whatever may come, and that I have been perfectly prepared for the work that is before me.
What I previously viewed as cliché I now know as a governing truth: Those God casts into darkness he casts out of his eternal love for them, never to be abandoned by that love. It is there that you will find him and truly know him.
An edited version of this piece first appeared at watapama.wordpress.com.