I waited and waited and waited, then God finally showed up about three decades later. Actually, I have that backwards. It's the Lord who waited so long for me, and I finally showed up. With all that waiting in mind, Advent is a prudent time to ponder the past and prepare for the future.
My entire conversion story is a lengthier tale for another time. But I like to reflect on the highlights during the Advent season because, retroactively, I recognize that I spent so many years preparing to find my faith.
As best I can remember, there was not a particular focus on any faith in my household when I was growing up. But there are plenty of pictures of me and my brother in front of our family Christmas tree.
And there's even a photo or two of me in front of a menorah. My paternal grandparents were Jewish, so when I was little our family got together with them for Hanukkah celebrations.
The ancestors on my mother's side were Catholic. So when I was little I used to tell people that I was “half Jewish and half Catholic.” Of course, in reality I was neither. At the time, I thought Christmas and Hanukkah were primarily opportunities to get presents.
To add to the irony, when I was about fourteen I played Joseph in a live nativity scene at the “All School Sing.” I stood diligently next to Mary, carefully watching over the doll that was acting in persona Christi in the manger. If only I had known how powerful a scene this was at that moment.
Growing up I spent part of several summers at a Christian summer camp where I experienced several new things: prayers before meals, daily devotions and Sunday services. Clearly there was something about this experience that was appealing. But once I returned home, I didn't put what I was learning into practice. I equate it to trying to learn a new language. If you don't practice, you'll lose it.
I spent three of my four high school years at a Catholic school. I don't recall that Catholic values were in any way ingrained into the curriculum. To my untrained mind, it felt more like a school that happened to be Catholic rather than a Catholic school. But there was a requirement, albeit a loosely enforced one, to attend Mass once a week. I did so, every now and then. I liked the structure of Mass, though I had no idea what it really meant and took no action to learn more. What a wasted opportunity!
There was far less religious influence during my college years. I attended a Methodist school, but the only time I can remember stepping into the chapel was the day I graduated because the chapel was the staging area where the graduates lined up.
It wasn't until my early thirties when someone, who I married a few years later, asked me if I wanted to attend Mass. To her surprise, I enthusiastically said, “Yes!” Once again I was fascinated by the structure of the Mass. But this time, I paid attention and wanted to learn more.
At the risk of having to use the cliché “to make a long story short,” I will just jump ahead and tell you that my next and most important step in my faith journey was entering the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass in 2005.
Now I can clearly recognize so many times beginning in childhood when the Lord was tapping me on the shoulder trying to get my attention. But I must not have been listening. I look back on that long period of my life as a 30+ year Advent. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was preparing for something big.
Jesus waited so long for me. The least I can do this Advent is humbly prepare and wait for Him.
[Advent Challenge: Think of all the times throughout your life that Jesus waited patiently for you. Yes, He is still waiting.]