My Conversion Story

I thought I’d try to cover my conversion story. Problem is, I’ve been sitting on this for months but had intended this to be the introduction article before I write about anything far cooler. It’s been pretty boring to write this but at the same time, every one of us ought to record our conversion stories or if not, some semblence of a biography before we pass on forever and the memories of our lives slowly forgotten over time. You are human, and thus a part of human history. I’m less concerned with getting a massive audience as I am recording this for a much deeper reason. Everything everyone ever does is part of human history. Probably 99% of human history doesn’t get recorded or written down. I and you are one of 107,000,000,000 (107 billion) human beings who have ever lived. Think about that. And yet despite all that, a God miraculously finds time for you and I, and we are not “lost in a sea of faces” (so the Kutless song goes). Perhaps a 100 or more years from now, all digital information from today, including this itty bitty, microscopic blog will be saved somehow. And that’s why I write – because I’m a part of human history, the story of salvation and so are you.

All that said, I have little interest in making all of this by myself and got so much to talk about but just need to get my story out there and out of the way!

Born and raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota! I had and still have a loving family I was surrounded by and I mean that sincerely. Two big things about me – I got major ADHD and a profound hearing loss, which I was born with. On the latter, it wasn’t until I was three years old I believe when I was sitting on the front steps of my house with my mother when she had asked if I could hear the rain- to which I said no. Early intervention from my parents allowed me to speak with the amount of clarity I am able to today, after years of summer speech therapy classes as a kid (vivid memories of sound-testing in a dark room with a scary drummer monkey come to mind, as do sticking gluey substances in my ears to mold custom hearing aids).

Both ADHD and hearing loss have contributed significantly to my psych in some ways… with ADHD as a kid (or perhaps, it’s just part of being a kid), I had several “fascination” stages where I’d be borderline-obsessive for a specific something, then drop and move on to the next things: Ninja Turtles, Jurassic Park, Power Rangers were all fair game. By the time I hit 5th grade in 1995 however, things would change forever.

I picked up and learned about football, and twenty-five years later fast forward to today, football is still one of my favorites today. My teacher from then – Shannon O’Connor – I’d become lifelong friends with.

The epic sense of adventure and romanticism brought by football swept me away. The sport contains all the elements of a good drama, and I wanted every part of it; so I began playing football in 8th grade, three years later.

Apparently, I haven’t begun to realize how deep that fever pitch would go. I saw the movie “Rudy” and that was that. I was introduced to the abstract concept of Dreams by the movie’s main protagonist and real-life individual, Daniel Ruettiger. Following that movie, I wrote him a letter, and he wrote back. I bought his books.

In my freshman year, I remember reading a few poems by a Langston Hughes from the Harlem Renaissance era that got me thinking:

A Newspaper Clipping from High School Days Discussing My Football Story
A Newspaper Clipping from High School Days Discussing My Football Story

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go

Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

For four years in high school, I was all-in on chasing football glory – in the weight room and the field. I won a number of awards but despite the blood, sweat, and tears, I was still generally a bench warmer and special teamer although I received considerable time as a defensive lineman and fullback in the earlier years. In my sophomore year, I somehow managed a 50-yard touchdown on a fullback dive. Nonetheless, it was just awesome being a part of the team and being at the games was awesome in and of itself. I had hoped though, generally for two things – starting in the Cushman Classic (the annual cross-town rivalry game with Grand Forks Central and our high school, Red River) and winning the State Championship Somehow in spite of never starting a varsity game, I managed to fulfill that goal,  and was able to “run out of the tunnel” as a starter, so to speak. I went on to play two years of college football at Mayville State and when I turned 29, I did another four years of semi-pro football with the Tri-City North Stars here in Grand Forks. Wasn’t the same as making it pro for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but was incredible nonetheless!

My spiritual life and conversion probably truly began when I was in the locker-room following a playoff loss, shedding tears. At this stage in time, football was the thing that solely mattered to me. By running to the end with Rudy Ruettiger’s Dream Big philosophy, I was going to take my Dreams as far as they could go. But when we lost in the playoffs thus ending our season, I was crushed and feared that State Title dream was not going to happen. My coach, Paul Peterson (no relation), called me in his office, seeing my anguish. He made a bold move in a secular school setting, by asking me if I knew who Jesus Christ was. I said I had no idea, honestly, but was curious enough to find out as it perched my romanticist/philosophical side.

I attended a few FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) meetings but it was definitely a bit different than what I’ve been used to, so I never put much effort, thought or effort into exploring the new dimensions.

But all this changed when in my senior year of high school, my english class was exploring ideas for writing a senior paper. This was to be a formal, well-researched 10-page academic paper on any subject. I had no idea what to write about. My English Teacher, Mrs. Whacker suggested fairly obscure and unusual topic: the Shroud of Turin. Having no idea what it was, I asked if it was perhaps the name of a gang. A classmate corrected me, saying, “nope, it is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ that still exists to this day.”

My mind was blown. The what of the what? All the alarms went off in my head. Here we are, talking about some 2,000 year old physical object connected to a book of religious stories… Of course I was interested, so I took the job. While digging for books on the subject, I found a few solid ones on the Shroud in the library but also stumbled upon one called “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Why yes, I will check out this book as well, stop everything.

This whole process with the Shroud has been a whole journey and a half. I did the paper, and completed the “side-quest” (as kids say these days) of reading the “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” The project allowed me to look at the world of faith from a scientific and deductive reasoning standpoint, with a physical object as a focal point. What is the Shroud, and where did it come from? What are the dominating theories pertaining to its existence, and what does the evidence show? I could write a whole article addressing these questions, but let’s just say it was enough to convince me that A) the Shroud is real and B) the appearance left on the Shroud is from the main protagonist as described in “The Greatest Story Ever Told;” in other words, Jesus of Nazareth aka Emmanuel aka the Messiah.

Now what? Well, following high school graduation and speaking there, I looked up the nearest church – Valley Christian Center, and the following Sunday I just showed up at Baptism class with my best friend. Me and my friend were there with an interesting class for sure – a former Texas state prisoner, and a few other guys who been to jail. That was a surreal experience. Slightly uncomfortable doing all this new stuff, but it was awesome. We all shared alot of tears, and saw some of these hardened criminals just sob.

The worship music at Valley Christian Center led by Pastor Chris Dawes struck a deep nerve with me, in combination with knowing who Christ was. Suddenly the full reality of Jesus’ mission, His sacrificial love and the idea that life has supernatural meaning and purpose hit me all at once and so I had spent alot of Sunday mornings in tears.

Later that same year, while watching a Steelers football game with Shan, as we have been doing since 1998 or 1999, I asked him if he knew who Jesus was. He answered affirmatively, and introduced me to some things that would deeply interest me in part because I had a fascination with forensics and archealogy as an evidence-based tool to validate things: Eucharistic miracles, the Incorruptibles, etc.

So here I am, freshman, sophomore in college, in my dorm room at Mayville, ND reading on a laptop at 2, 3 in the morning about so-called “Eucharistic miracles.” Again, these blew my mind. Physical, tangible evidence of once again, the main protagonist of “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Physical, tangible evidence that this world has a spiritual dimension, a supernatural realm that we cannot see, but believe it’s there. Eucharistic miracles come from what some people heard of as “the communion wafer.” As Catholics, we believe when the Priest offers up “the host” and says, “this is My body, which is given for you, take this and eat”, that host (or communion wafer) becomes in substance but not appearance, the body of Christ. Occasionally throughout 2,000 years of history, Heaven has decided He will transform the host by appearance, too – hosts that literally bleed and turn into flesh. There have been endless hours of scientific and forensic examinations of many of these Eucharistic miracles, which have defied all scientific explanation to this day. Here are five of them, with pictures at this link.

An important question that I pondered in my heart – as should everyone, really – is, what is Truth? No seriously, what is Truth? Shan told me to “always seek the truth”… wherever that may lead! Being guided by that as the ultimate focal point, the ultimate question. This made me far more comfortable and not pressured at all, to discover answers myself and attempt to identify where the evidence leads. Because my journey of faith began with examining tangible evidence, I was convinced I found truth in the Catholic Faith, and was confirmed as a Catholic in May of 2004, I believe, at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Mayville, ND.

Conversion, like learning, is a life-long process. Like knowledge, conversion is like building and continually fortifying a castle (cue Saint Teresa of Avila, “The Interior Castle”, 1577).  How can I live the Beautittudes better each and every day? How can I love God more? At the same time, I continually want to “trust but verify” and continually dig deeper and ask essential questions. No matter what stage you are at in your life or with your faith, it could be helpful to employ a variation of the scientific method (which was primarily developed by a Franciscan friar-scientist, Roger Bacon in the 13th Century, ironically).

Always seek the truth!

The Scientific Method