Growing up as one of Jehovah's Witnesses was difficult at times, however also very rewarding. As a child I felt a part of something much larger than myself, than the world, than my parents. I felt a part of an organization that seemed to truly care for me and my family, a part of an organization that was teaching me 'the truth'. Standing up for my beliefs as one of Jehovah's Witnesses made me feel good inside, knowing that I was being loyal to my God. At a very young age I began to give 'talks' (sermons) in front of the congregation – quickly learning scripture. My heart was drawn to go out publically from door-to-door preaching this 'good news' that I was learning. I just loved meeting new people and teaching them things that God was teaching me! Thus, in 1987, at the age of 13, I was baptized as an ordained minister in the Watchtower organization as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.
As we all know, the teenage years are a difficult time regardless of one's religious views. Mine were no exception, by any means. Inquisitive as most at my age, I began to question many of my beliefs and what I was taught up until then. Questions like, 'How do we know that the Watchtower Society, Jehovah's Witnesses, is the only true religion?', 'Why is it that the history of Jehovah's Witnesses only goes back so far, thus creating a huge gap in the connection to the apostles?'. These and many other questions began to truly eat away inside me at a very young age. The difficulty with having such questions as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, is that a person who begins to ask such questions is then 'marked' as 'bad association', or even reprimanded for questioning the 'Organization'. So I held all these questions, along with many more concerns I had, deep inside.
Feeling that I had nowhere to go, I turned to drugs and alcohol at the age of 15 – spinning my life out of control for a good year. I began to completely withdraw from the 'Organization', from my friends, and more importantly from God. I began to self-medicate, hoping all of the questions would be answered. Fortunately, I had a good enough relationship with my parents to be able to come to them with this drug issue I had created for myself. I truly desired to get back in the good graces of my God and my family. With that, it is common practice as one of Jehovah's Witnesses to confess things like this to the 'Elders' of the congregation. With the encouragement of my parents, I did so – resulting in what is called 'Private Reproof'. This disciplinary action limits my responsibilities in the congregation, including praying publically, reading scripture in front of the congregation, and giving 'talks' (sermons). While I understood the discipline, I was truly distraught knowing I could not serve my congregation. However, I took this time to try and strengthen my relationship with God and my family. Fortunately, I was able to overcome my battle with drug abuse and my responsibilities in the congregation were restored.
Over the next several years, I dedicated myself to the 'organization' by becoming a 'Full-time Pioneer' (minister) at the age of 18, was appointed a 'Ministerial Servant' (Deacon) in my 20's, and had many responsibilities in the congregation. Through it all, however, there seemed like something was missing – an emptiness of sorts. This feeling always concerned me, as I feared telling anyone about it, so I prayed about it constantly hoping for an answer.
In 1994, I married a sweet Jehovah's Witness woman whose desire to serve seemed to match mine. We both served the congregation as much as we could in the ministry. We met so many wonderful people and gained so much joy in service! A couple of years later, in 1996, we gave birth to a beautiful son who just lit up our world. However, that empty feeling, that hole, still existed within me – once again leaving me confused. So many questions were still in my heart that just didn't seem to have any plausible answers. It was the birth of my son that helped me to make a decision that changed my life forever.
Realization set in with me that I needed to do something with this feeling, with these questions that have haunted me for years. I decided to take a break from my responsibilities in the congregation for a while and focus on research-biblical and historical research. This is when I began to totally engulf myself in nothing but the Bible and its history. I stopped attending the meetings at the Kingdom Hall (church), and prayed harder than I have ever prayed – praying that God would guide me in the right direction and fill this emptiness inside of me. This break did not come welcome by the elders in my congregation.
One morning I received a call from an Elder of our congregation, a dear friend of mine. It also happens that he was serving at 'Bethel' (Watchtower headquarters in New York). He expressed his concern for me and my spirituality and offered to help me in any way he could, and offered to come visit my home. Of course, I understood his concern for my spirituality because I was concerned about it myself. I accepted his offer to come visit. This visit was a pivotal point in my journey.
The day came for my long-awaited visit from my friend! I was very excited to see him! Initially we sat and chatted about some lost time, drank some coffee, and just enjoyed the company of one another. The subject then switched to me and my spirituality. I expressed my feelings and my questions but also my fear of sharing those because I didn't want any negative recourse as a result. He seemed to understand and offered to be my sound-board and wanted to help answer any concerns I had, in hopes to strengthen me. This was a relief for me! I then began to let it all out and express every concern I had and explained that I had this empty feeling inside for years. We discussed scripture, and discussed apparent conflicts between scripture and the teachings of the Watchtower Society. He listened to everything I was feeling! This was a load of my shoulders! I thanked him for visiting, we hugged, and he left. This was the last time I spoke with or saw him again.
A week later I received a phone call from another Elder informing me that, because of my views, they have decided to 'disassociate' (ex-communicate) me from the organization. He stated that because of the questions, concerns, and views that I expressed to my Elder friend, that I made it clear that I no longer wanted to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses. This decision on the part of the Elders devastated me! By disassociating me from the organization, this would mean that my parents, brother, sister, and all of my friends (ones I have known since I was a child) were no longer allowed to speak to me nor visit with me at any time. That empty feeling, that hole, just got larger – so large I felt that I had no one. I was spiritually alone – desolate.
Over the next several years, I became angry at religion as a whole – in particular Jehovah's Witnesses and organized religion. I dabbled in paganism, Hinduism, Buddhism, agnosticism, and eventually just gave up and began feeling there was no God and began to study Atheism. Attempting to fill this hole, this empty feeling, just made it larger and larger.
In 1999, a beautiful baby girl was added to our family and she added so much joy to my life! So now I sat back and saw this picture: I had a nice home, married, I had two beautiful children, and I was alive. So why was I so unhappy? Why did I still have this empty hole inside? I couldn't understand it, and began to give up. This turned me angry and resentful. I began to drink alcohol heavily and dabble in marijuana. I joined a metal-rock band and became part of the music scene – all in hopes of filling this void. As happens many times due to behavior like this, my marriage fell apart, and in 2004 I found myself divorced, and living by myself and seeing my children every other weekend. It was all gone. I was empty and alone.
In March of 2005, I met a woman named Sherri who would change my life. It seemed as though her and I had similar interests, so we began dating. Very quickly one could see that she was deeply inclined toward God. While she didn't talk much about her religious beliefs, she showed it in almost everything she did. I couldn't help but start a discussion on religion with her, as she intrigued me. She told me that she was Catholic! I think to myself: "Of all religions, she HAD to be Catholic!" (This feeling coming from my roots as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, since they are extremely anti-Catholic.)
However, after getting to know Sherri, I fell in love and proposed marriage. Being that she is Catholic, I found myself going along with her through the Pre-Cana program to get married in the Catholic Church. Again, I wasn't too sure about this, but it made Sherri happy and that's what I wanted. But, I have to admit, I was extremely curious how this all works.
From the first meeting we had with our Priest, Father Toomey, I was truly impressed by him! He shared with me his journey to the priesthood and had extensive discussions with me on my views and my experiences with Jehovah's Witnesses. I couldn't believe that he didn't judge me for my questions, my concerns, and the expression of that empty hole I have inside! He just listened, smiled, and truly understood! At one of our discussions, Father Toomey said that he wanted to give me a gift because he thought I would enjoy it. He handed me a book entitled, The Teaching of Christ – A Catholic Catechism for Adults. He said, "You may not decide to read it right away, and that's okay. But I thought of you and wanted you to have it." I accepted this book as a kind gesture. When I got home, I placed it in my night stand and forgot about it – but only for a while.
With Christmas around the corner, I was getting excited to spend it with Sherri. Sherri mentioned to me that she wanted to go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve and would like for me to go with her. At first, I was taken back with hesitation because I had such a disdain for organized religion at this point. I didn't want to disappoint Sherri, so I accepted this invitation. While it was difficult for me at the time, I admitted to Sherri that this event was one of the most inspiring things I have ever encountered!
In December of 2006, Sherri and I were married at St. Matthews Catholic Church and it was an amazing day! Our journey brought us there that day and Father Toomey performed the ceremony just exquisitely. Little did I know that another part of my journey was about to begin.
One night, in 2009, while out with friends, I got so intoxicated with alcohol that I passed out while walking, fell and hit my head, causing me to have a Grade 3 concussion. The doctors told me I was lucky to be alive, as my blood alcohol level was 1.11 when they measured it the morning AFTER the accident! The weeks of recovery following my accident were very reflective. Under doctors' orders to stay put and not do too much moving around, I had a lot of time on my hands. I remember sitting on my couch wondering what I was going to do with this time. I began to ponder on my relationship with Sherri, and just how blessed I was to have such an amazing partner who was sticking by me, regardless of where I was going. I pondered on how much she trusted in her God, and how deeply she felt about her faith, and just how much I yearned for that. It was at that moment that I remembered the book that Father Toomey gave to me as a gift over three years earlier. I just had to find it! I just had to read it!
As I began to read this book, it was as if there was something inside of me beginning to sew up that empty space. The words turned into pictures, and pictures turned into feelings, and feelings turned into faith. Learning of this capital 'T' Tradition of the Church and the apostolic succession just completely overwhelmed me. I was drawn to learn more! I expressed to Sherri the desire to attend church with her because of what I was reading. I know just how happy she was for this! As I began to go to and observe the Mass, an indescribable feeling began to take hold of me. That empty feeling; that hollow hole began to be filled. Realization set in that, every single time I was at Mass, I was in the presence of something so much higher than me yet could feel the yearning for His want for me to be closer. There was no other place I would rather be!
In researching how to become part of the Church, I came across information on the RCIA program and just HAD to do it. What an amazing and insightful journey! I completed the RCIA program, and was welcomed into the Church on Easter Vigil 2010! Being able to take in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ through the Eucharist is a moment that cannot be expressed into words. I just thank my God for guiding me along on this journey and helping me see His face through so many people and events throughout my life! I currently serve as a Eucharist Minister in our local parish, which amazes me every time I serve. Coming out of an organization that attempted to limit my access to God, and into His one true Church where He exists and is freely and readily available, fills that empty place I carried inside for years! Thanks be to God!
Lou is currently in the process of spreading his conversion story in hopes of reaching others with a similar background as Jehovah's Witnesses. Visit his website at www.ourcatholicconversion.com.