Since I am nothing if not original, I’ve decided to follow in the footsteps of my BFF’s Jenna and Blythe (why, no, the fact that we’ve never met and they don’t know I exist hasn’t hindered our friendship at all, why do you ask?) and write out my Conversion Story. Excited? Maybe? A little? Stick with me.
I planned to have this be about why I converted to Orthodoxy from Evangelical Protestantism, but changed my mind and decided to go waaaaay back and explain why I am a Christian in the first place. Because the two really go together. It’s been one path, not two, after all.
I was raised in a Christian home (my parents actually met in Bible college) but, at age 9, my parents split up and my siblings and I moved with my mom to SoCal while my dad remained up north. My mom still loved the Lord and believed in Jesus as the Son of God, but she was going through a searching period and certain things fell by the wayside. (I hope you’re cool with me writing this, Mom! Love you!)
~Side Note: My mom is very much a Christian these days and actually converted to Orthodoxy about 1 year after our family did.~
Fast forward to 15 years old. My dad, who was still very much a devout Christian, took me and my sister to Italy on a summer vacation. As I mentioned, my faith at this time was not at all what one would call foundational. I still prayed, and had even had a few experiences with the Lord, but my worldview was far from Christian. I was very much a southern California teen, who valued bleached blond hair, my best friend’s rad new car, and losing just 5 more pounds over such laughable things as sanctity and chastity.
One of the stops on this trip was St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I’m pretty sure I knew who St. Peter was but this stop was nothing more than a tourist attraction in my mind, like a museum or a cannoli cart. I have some pictures that I took right before we went into the Basilica. They’re a bunch of selfies (I was taking selfies before selfies were cool) where I’m pursing my lip-gloss soaked lips and trying to look coy, or seductive, or I don’t know what. It’s hard to look anything more than sad when you’re a short, underdeveloped, semi-anorexic kid posing for the camera, but I was trying with all my might.
(I taught Kylie everything she knows.)
So, eventually, my dad pried the camera out of my red-nailed fingers and we went into the church. My dad mentioned that St. Peter’s bones are supposed to be buried under the church and that tradition holds he asked to be crucified upside down so as not to steal any glory from Christ by emulating His death. I’m listening, maybe half listening, and I say something along the lines of, “Well, I don’t think he’d like all this then,” referring to the utter magnificence of the Basilica named in his honor.
And then it happened.
Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say, He happened.
God showed up. I really don’t know how else to describe it and I certainly don’t want to be one of those people who describes a holy event by just repeating, “It was indescribable! Indescribable!” But it really was. They say that for a reason. The best way I can present it is by saying that the One who knew all, who knew me, and loved me, on a deeper level than any person had ever come close to knowing or loving me, wrapped me in an invisible embrace and said, “I know you. I forgive you. I love you.”
Real quick, before I go on, I want to be clear that I HAVE NO IDEA why God gave me this gift. I don’t think it was some confirmation that, yes, St. Peter is, in fact, stewing in Heaven over how much he hates his Basilica and someone give that girl a cookie for finally saying so. I’m Orthodox, for goodness’ sake. No one loves fancy churches more than Orthodox people. I think it was just…grace. The whole thing still just stuns me. I probably think about it every week, if not every day. The thing that blows me away most of all is I that did absolutely nothing to deserve it. I wasn’t praying. I wasn’t reaching out to God in any way and probably hadn’t in quite a while. I wasn’t living a holy life or even a halfway decent life. Frankly, I wasn’t a decent person. I was a mean, popular, superficial teenage girl who alternated between drowning in self-hatred and self-adoration. I was the worst.
Yet, God loved me. He saw me. He knew me.
I’d love (so so much) to be able to say that my life changed after this blessed event. That I went home, threw away all my hidden packs of cigarettes, put away my oil-slick-thick eyeliner and started living my life for Jesus. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. My life changed very little, on the outside. But a seed, a very powerful seed, had been planted and, when it finally was given a little air to breathe, it would begin to grow.