How Life is Different Now that We’re Catholic

We went home for Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, and during our stay I was telling my sister about Leo’s newfound fondness for making a joyful noise: “Father Louie came over to bless our home, and while we were eating dinner afterwards, Leo was cheerfully hollering at the top of his lungs! Jeremy and I both looked at each other, laughed, and said, ‘Hmm, I think taking him to Mass is going to get a lot more interesting in the coming months!'”

‘Bless our home.’ It’s still a little surprising when we bring up Catholic practices with our family, and my sister gently asked me later if it’s been strange to incorporate Catholic practices into our day-to-day life. And it has been, at times, because they’re acquired practices, rather than ones we’ve grown up with. I’ve been thinking a lot about those day-to-day ways in which our lives are different now that we’re Catholic, and thought I’d share a few of them here.

1. We take ALL our children to church with us.
Catholic Churches usually don’t have nurseries, so we take all our children to church with us. Leo is eight months old right now, and some Sundays he’ll nurse and fall asleep during the sermon (while I silently cheer, “YESSSSS!”), while other Sundays he’s more interested in babbling, squirming and blowing raspberries – loudly! He hasn’t tried out his joyful holler in church yet, but I’m sure that day’s coming soon!

It took a while for me to get used to taking our little ones to church. Alice was a year old when we first took her along with us, and she was used to her hour of play time in the CanRef nursery on Sunday mornings; being snuggled/locked up in my arms wasn’t exactly her cup of tea! But no matter how frazzled I felt after church, without fail someone would comment, “It is so nice to see your family here!” or “Your children are so well behaved!” (haha!) or “What a beautiful family you have.” That encouragement was so refreshing!

Over time I’ve grown to appreciate having all our children with us, because each one of them is able to spend time in the presence of Jesus – and what can be better for little souls than that?

2. We receive Christ in the Eucharist.
One of the books I read with James last year was a little treasure called The King of the Golden City by Mother Mary Loyola – it’s sort of a Catholic Pilgrim’s Progress. The king of the Golden City (Jesus) meets a little girl in the woods and after they get to know one another, he promises to pay her a visit in her home. Delecta, delighted that a king would visit her small abode, cleans her home and has lovely flowers waiting for him, and the pair have a delightful visit together.

This lovely little scene is a picture of Christ in the Eucharist:
– Delecta cleaning her home is her going to Confession and having her sins forgiven
– the lovely flowers are acts of love and service Delecta has performed
– the King visiting is Delecta receiving Holy Communion
– and the delightful visit is the time of prayer after Holy Communion

This picture has been such a helpful way for me to think of Holy Communion! Often when I receive Jesus in the Eucharist, I’ll think, “Is there something special to thank Jesus for today? Do I have a particular request of Him for the week ahead? Is there someone whose circumstances are weighing on my mind, whom I’d like to ask Him to take special care of?” Sometimes it’s just little prayers: “Jesus, I don’t know what to do – into Thy hands!” or “Lord, have mercy” or, frequently, “Thee I adore.”

Thee I adore. I do find the Eucharist to be a marvellous opportunity for contemplating the perfections of our Lord, particularly His humility. Jesus didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped, but willingly became man. And He willingly becomes bread for us, too, to feed our souls which hunger for His grace. Who ever heard of a King who loved His people so much that He would even become bread for them??

3. We don’t eat peppermints in church anymore.
As Catholics we believe the beautiful doctrine of transubstantiation; that the bread really, truly becomes Jesus Christ in the Mass. And because we believe that, we’re careful to show proper respect to our Saviour when we receive Him in the Eucharist. Two ways in which we do that as Catholics are to either bow or kneel before receiving the Eucharist, and to fast from food and drink (besides water) for an hour before receiving the Eucharist. That means no last-minute breakfast on the drive to church, and no peppermints during the sermon, either!

4. Our children will also receive communion.
Instead of waiting till they do public profession of faith at 18, the Catholic Church allows children to receive the Eucharist. Children who are 7 – 8 years old are at the age of reason and can understand the basic tenets of the faith, and are able to receive the sacrament with great respect. James will, the Lord willing, receive First Holy Communion at the end of this school year and he is thrilled!

5. We go to Adoration
We have an adoration chapel at our church – that is, a small chapel where the Blessed Sacrament (a communion wafer which has become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ) is exposed (on display) for adoration. Basically, it’s a quiet spot where you can spend time in the presence of Christ in prayer.

Ours is a perpetual adoration chapel, meaning it is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The idea is that there is always a person there adoring Christ, and people sign up for one-hour time slots. So if you go to the adoration chapel at noon, or at dinner time, or even at 3am, you’ll find someone there. Jeremy and I each have signed up for one hour a week; he goes Thursday mornings at 6am, I go Friday evenings at 10pm. It’s not always convenient (lately Leo’s been waking up when I should be leaving), but it is always spiritually refreshing.


Woodcut of an Adoration chapel (from St. Leo the Great Catholic Church website).

6. We live in Kelowna. 
Back in our Reformed days, our choices of where to live were limited by the small number of CanRef churches in Canada (there are about fifty, and none in Kelowna). But there are Catholic Churches all over the country, from westerly Vancouver Island to lovely Prince Edward Island and everywhere in between. In Kelowna alone there are seven Catholic churches! Options abound.

7. The joy of living liturgically.
Have you noticed that new ‘awareness’ days are cropping up all the time? “Today is Pink Shirt Day, and we’re going to learn about bullying in school, and tomorrow is Worker Safety Day. Hurrah!” It’s natural and good to celebrate, and to have special days of feasting and rejoicing, but in our day and age those ‘special’ days are often wimpy and disconnected from anything meaningful.

That’s why I love the liturgical year! No more Pink Shirt Days – let’s celebrate something robust and meaningful instead! As Catholics we have many, many feast days to celebrate throughout the year. We celebrate the mystery of Christ, His birth (Christmas), His resurrection (every Sunday), His Ascension, Pentecost and the founding of the Church, and His second coming (Christ the King Sunday, which is coming up soon!). We also honour Jesus’s mother on special days like the feast of the Assumption and the feast of the Immaculate Conception. And we remember the lives of the saints as well.

In our family, Leo’s the only one who was named after a saint. The rest of us chose a patron saint because we admire them, or share their interests, or because we share a name. We like to have ice cream for dessert on their feast days.

  • Jeremy has yet to choose a patron saint
  • My patron saint is St. Catherine of Siena (feast day April 30). St. Catherine tended the sick and dying, had mystical visions, and was intensely devoted to prayer and the Eucharist. She is the patron saint of nurses!
  • James’s patron saint is St. George (feast day April 23), a Roman soldier who, according to legend, slew a dragon. He was known for his valour and selflessness, and was martyred by the emperor Diocletian for speaking out against pagan gods.
  • June’s patron saint is St. Margaret of Scotland (feast day November 16). St. Margaret, an English princess, married the king of Scotland and offered hospitality to anyone who needed it, especially to the poor. We named June after June Carter Cash (Johnny Cash’s wife), who was known for her hospitality, so St. Margaret seemed like a fitting substitution!
  • Alice’s patron saint is St. Genevieve (feast day December 3). St. Genevieve spent her life caring for others, convinced the king to release prisoners, worked miracles, and saved the city of Paris from the Huns by her prayers.
  • Leo’s patron saint is Pope St. Leo the Great (feast day November 10), who defended the church against heresy.

All these special days fit into the bigger picture of the liturgical seasons of the year: Ordinary Time, Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. If you’ve ever wondered how those seasons fit together in the course of the year, here’s a little visual for you (from

Liturgical Calendar 1

We are currently in the season of Ordinary Time, and Advent is just around the corner!

8. We contemplate the lives of the saints.
This was one part of Catholic life that just baffled me as a Protestant: Why do the Catholics care so much about saints??? They are forever talking about them! And it’s true, Catholics do dearly love their saints. And as to why, I think one of the many reasons is that the saints are such beautiful examples for us to follow; they show us how unique individuals in various times and places live out their lives for God.

James and I are currently reading about St. Catherine of Siena in a book called In God’s Garden by Amy Steedman. When St. Catherine was six years old she saw a vision in which the Christ Child, held in Mary’s arms, reached toward her. “As Catherine grew older she never forgot the vision she had seen, or how the hand of the Christ Child had been stretched out to bless her. And it made her think often of how she could best please Him, so that someday He might smile on her again.” Isn’t that a beautiful picture? Imagine having an entire gallery of beautiful pictures like that in your mind to draw on in times of trial; what a blessing!

A little side-note: As a Canadian Reformed woman, I didn’t lend much credence to modern-day manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Our church taught that many of the gifts of the Holy Spirit had stopped after the time of the early church. But reading about the lives of the saints tells a different story. St. Catherine had visions of Christ, healed men and women who had the plague, survived on hardly anything more than the Eucharist, could smell the stench of sin on people, multiplied bread and wine to feed the poor, and was often was in ecstasy after receiving communion. Quite an eye-opener!

9. We are blessed with specific spiritual direction, both in person and via books.
There is something about examining your conscience on a regular basis, and telling your priest all the sins you’ve committed in the last few weeks that makes you much more aware of your sins and weaknesses. And that’s a great thing! All the more reason to cling to the cross! (If you’re interested in seeing what specific questions a Catholic asks herself, check out this PDF.)  Many priests will offer a few words of specific direction after confession, ways in which to fight against particular sins and cultivate virtue instead. What an encouragement!

I also find Catholic writing to be very insightful with regards to both spiritual growth and our moral condition. For example, I’m currently reading a book called The Hidden Power of Kindness by Father Lovasik. I began reading the book thinking, Hmm, how much can a person really say about kindness? Why is this book 250 pages long? But, oh my! It’s insightful – painfully so. Take this example:

“As a rule, selfishness is disguised so that your neighbour alone is able to recognize it. If you want to know whether you are selfish, ask the people around you. Only they can tell you whether you are inconsiderate, exacting, ambitious, or eager to have your own way. Only they can tell you whether selfishness makes you withdraw from people, whether you present a sour face to those around you, and whether you rarely utter a kind word to anyone.”
The Hidden Power of Kindness by Father Lawrence G. Lovasik

Gulp! So much food for thought there. But in addition to pointing out the particular problems we struggle with, Father Lovasik gives guidance on how to grow:

Sacrifice is difficult. But you will develop strength in sacrifice if you are fully resolved to refuse God nothing, if you cheerfully accept disappointments and crosses, if you mortify your passions, if you thank God for the crosses He sends you, and if you pray for a spirit of sacrifice.
The Hidden Power of Kindness by Father Lawrence G. Lovasik

10. We have icons, crucifixes, rosaries and holy water in our home.   
We have a little oratory in our living room, that is, a little place of prayer. There are candles, as well as a crucifix, several icons, rosaries and a Bible, and some holy water. This little nook is available for prayer at any time. What we usually do as a family is kneel together on Saturday evenings and pray a decade of the rosary together.

Maybe you’ve seen scenes in movies with people praying while holding a string of beads. That string of beads is called a rosary, and it is made up of five sections with ten beads (called a decade) in each section. To ‘pray a decade of the rosary’ you pray ten Hail Mary’s. When I first encountered the rosary I found it a little strange to repeat prayers. I thought, Why pray ten prayers instead of just one? But the rosary is meant to be a contemplative prayer in which you meditate on the life of Christ while you pray. So, yes, you’re repeating your prayers, but that’s meant to help you contemplate more deeply the mysteries of Christ.

To be honest, I’m still getting used to the icons (I’m not really used to the style), but I love looking at the crucifix. I find it fascinating that while I’m learning the physical ways of showing devotion to God, they come very naturally to our children. James, June and Alice love to kneel for prayer, to see the candles on our little oratory lit, to hold their rosaries while we pray, and to kiss the feet of Jesus on the crucifix.

When Father Louie came to bless our home, he also blessed a large quantity of water for us. We use this when we bless our children before bed. We dip our finger in the holy water and use this to make a cross on our children’s foreheads.

11. Our children are growing up Catholic 
Speaking of children, our kids are growing up Catholic, and there wonderful things about Catholicism that appeal to each of them. The other day Jeremy was explaining to James that Latin is the historical language of the Church, and that the devil therefore hates Latin. James, ever fond of war strategies against the evil one, was immediately interested, and insisted on praying his Hail Mary’s in Latin when we said the rosary together that evening!

June was Mary for Halloween; to be more specific, she was Our Lady, Mary, the Queen of Heaven. At the front of the church we attend is a large painting of Mary as she’s described in Revelation 12: “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” June loves seeing Mary in all her queenly glory, and adores her varied splendid titles: Queen of Angels, House of Gold, Queen of all Saints, Queen of Peace. Wearing a fancy, sparkling dress and a crown upon her head was the fulfillment of all her Halloween dreams.


This Halloween we had Leo the Cat, Alice the Ladybug, James the Bull, and June, the Queen of Heaven!

12. We don’t use contraception
I’m the oldest of seven children, and can still recall being on holidays and having a stranger count all us children, and then turn to my parents and say, “You must be Catholic!” I didn’t understand the connection at the time: that Catholics often have large families because they don’t use contraception!

This counter-cultural teaching of the Church was one of the reasons I was first drawn to Catholicism. I read a surprising fact: “Throughout the history of Christianity the practice of contraception was uniformly condemned by every single denomination until the early 1920’s” and thought – Hmm, why am I okay with this? Isn’t it a peculiar thing that nearly every denomination has come to tolerate, or even embrace, contraception? Is there a chance that the Sexual Revolution has had a profound effect even on the way Christians think about marriage and children? For me, the belief that separating sex and children is disordered was one of the first things about Catholicism that made instinctual sense, so giving up contraception when we joined the Church was relatively painless.

13. I miss some things from my CanRef days.
This past summer I’ve been mourning the loss of a few things our former church was really good at. I miss going to church and recognizing nearly everyone, and noticing the handful of visitors. I miss visiting with other families over lunch on Sunday, and I miss the close friendships I had. I also miss the psalm singing. We sing a few stanzas of Psalm 25 before we have breakfast most mornings, and we memorize various psalms as poetry, too, but it still grieves me that our children will not have the blessing of singing the Genevan Psalms regularly at church. They are a rich and beautiful treasure!

Request: If anyone knows of a CD of someone singing the Genevan Psalms (preferably one person, rather than a whole congregation, so we can actually understand the words), please let me know about it by email, or in the comments below!

That being said, I am also delighted to be part of a Church whose musical roots are deep and beautiful. Gregorian chant has a gravity and reverence to it that makes it particularly suited to singing in church. This is also something we are working to include in our homeschool so we can learn a little bit at a time, as it’s all a bit overwhelming at first!

* * * * *

I hope this gives you a little window into our day-to-day practices as Catholics. When I reflect on how my life has changed over the past year and half, the biggest change would be in prayer… a richer, fuller, more meaningful prayer life – that is, being drawn closer and closer to Jesus Christ. I hope that’s apparent in what I’ve written. Whether it is holy water (a reminder of our baptism, and the washing away of our sins), or the liturgical year (remembering the life, death and resurrection of our Lord), or Confession (coming to Jesus for healing from our sins), or no contraception (fully giving ourselves to our spouse, the way that God intended), or going to Adoration (spending time before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer) – they all point to Him, our Lord and Saviour.


Introducing Leo!

We had a little baby BOY on Sunday morning!

Leo Ignatius-12

He was born eight days after we moved into our new home, and the day after my parents left after a quick visit.

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We are all completely smitten with him!

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What life in our home looks like these days:

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I”d been so sure he was a little girl I hadn’t really given boy names much consideration! Jeremy and I discussed boy names for a few hours after his birth, we re-read Kate’s baby name consultation, and eventually we decided to name him Leo Ignatius – Leo after Pope St. Leo the Great (who defended the church’s teaching on the two natures of Christ and prevented the spread of heresy), and St. Ignatius (whose letters strongly influenced Jeremy when he was first considering becoming Catholic).

Leo Ignatius-13

Jeremy’s got the week off of work, so it’s been a mostly restful week as we adjust to being a family of six… except for this morning when June accidentally closed the French doors while Alice’s pinky finger was wedged between the hinge and door jam. I heard a piercing scream from the kitchen as Leo and I rested in bed, and then Jeremy ran into the room with a towel wrapped around Alice’s finger – it looked like the tip of her finger and nail had come off. We packed up the kids and flew to the ER where Alice was sedated for a few stitches. She did really well; in fact, the doctor kept commenting on her cooperative nature (that’s totally Alice for you!). And her nail is still sort of in place, though the doctor expects it to fall off one of these days. Kind of like an umbilical cord? Thankfully Leo spent the whole time snoozing in Jeremy’s arms!

Alice with the teddy bear the ER nurses gave her:



Baby Name Consultation

Jeremy and I have been giving a lot of thought as to what to name our little one whose entrance into the world is expected in fewer than five weeks.

Before we became Catholic, we simply chose names we liked. We chose James because it was classy and straightforward. We named June after June Carter Cash, a woman known for prayer and hospitality – plus, my birthday happens to be in June, so that’s a nice little connection, too. And Alice is a sweet and feminine name, and our little girl happens to fit her name absolutely perfectly.

Since becoming Catholic, our thoughts on naming have changed, and we’d love to name our baby after a hero of the faith. It turns out there’s a fascinating website called Sancta Nomina (“holy names”) dedicated to Catholic naming. Kate offers baby name consultations where you tell her your naming criteria and she gives you suggestions on names for your little one. So we had one done! Click here to see what suggestions Kate had for us! 🙂

Goals for 2018

Prayer for my Family
After nine years of marriage and six years of mothering, I still haven’t gotten into a good habit/routine of praying for Jeremy and our children. And sometimes when I do pray for them I get a little stuck, wondering what exactly should I be praying for. It’s time for that to change. So I spent some time googling “prayers for your husband” and “prayer for one’s child” and compiled a little prayer booklet that includes some rich and lovely prayers. The plan is to say these prayers upon waking in the morning, or, after the baby arrives, when I’m nursing.

Reading Journal-7

Blustery Thanksgiving Day family photo taken by my sister, Kristi.

Making Friends
Having been at home with our children most of the last four months, I haven’t made many friends in the area yet. But now that we have a second vehicle and are moving closer to church and school, I’ll have more opportunities to meet and get to know other women. I tend to be a bit of a hermit, and am rather slow at forming friendships, but seeing as we’re planning to live here for the next 5-10 years, it makes sense to prioritize friendships! For this, I plan to attend the wonderful Mom and Tots group held at a local Catholic Church and begin getting together with other homeschooling families.

Everything Has a Place, and Everything in its Place
We’re moving mid-February and one of my goals after we move is to give all our belongings a set place. There are a number of ‘collection points’ in our home right now – the kitchen counter, the dresser in the living room – that house extra books, pages the kids have coloured, and other miscellaneous items . . . and this always leads to more and more things cluttering up the area. Hopefully having a spot for everything will keep that at bay!

Sunday Keeping Hour
I started reading several books from Ambleside Online’s Year 7 back in September, and began keeping a reading journal a few months later after reading Celeste’s blog post on the topic. It has been such a joy so far! I include quotes from the books, small illustrations, maps, lists of characters, even a small century chart tucked in the back! I’d like to keep doing this on a regular basis this year so I’m scheduling a Sunday Keeping Hour for making these entries.

Reading Journal

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Weekly Nature Walks & Nature Journaling
Our new home is close to a nature trail – hurrah! I’d like to get into a habit of weekly nature walks and nature journaling… though my guess is this will likely begin in the late spring, some time after the baby is born. I have a daybook set aside for journaling our ‘firsts’ of the year (first robin sighted, first crocus blooming, etc.) and I can’t wait to begin using this, too, once we move!

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Word of the Year
I used a ‘Word of the Year’ generator and it gave me the word kindness. My stomach dropped when I read it, as I’ve been feeling convicted lately that the way I speak to my children is more cantankerous/snippy than kind/encouraging. So speaking kindly is another goal for the year!

Saint of the Year
I also used a ‘Saint of the Year’ generator and it gave me St. Bernardine of Siena. This man (whom I first mistook for a woman based on his name!) lived in the 1400s and showed great selflessness by tending the sick during an outbreak of the plague; joined the priesthood and spent twelve years in prayer (rather than preaching) because of a weak and hoarse voice; and then was healed and preached so fervently the pope called him a second Paul. Quite the life!

Check out this prayer to Saint Bernardine; it ties so neatly with the habit of speaking kindly (just had to include it in my prayer book): “Saint Bernardine of Siena, words were very important to you. You spent most of your life speaking the golden words of Jesus’ mercy and his Holy Name. And you abhorred words that were shameful. Please pray for us that we may always choose to speak Jesus’ name with reverence and choose words of love over words of shame. Amen.”

St Bernardine

Christmas Break

We had a wonderful Christmas break! And while I didn’t take too many photos, here are a few from the last few weeks . . .

First up, our Advent picture books. I purchased a bunch of books about Christmas and wrapped them up. The kids loved unwrapping them and reading our book of the day. A few of our favourites included:
One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham – this book is a summary of the salvation story in the Bible. It hits many of the highlights (the creation, the fall, Noah, Moses, David, Jesus’s birth, death and resurrection) and has lovely illustrations.
The Remarkable Christmas of the Cobbler’s Sons by Ruth Sawyer – a poor cobbler leaves home on Christmas Eve to complete some work for soldiers and while he’s away his sons have a surprising encounter with the goblin king. Such a fun book! The kids loved shouting, “Schnitzle, schnotzel and schnootzle!” while we read.
The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – we didn’t actually finish reading this story, and it was way, way over the heads of our kids, but they still loved listening to it! And they were so excited to discover that Opa and Oma have a whole Dickens village set up at Christmastime, including a house with Scrooge and the ghosts inside!




A few more photos of the gingerbread house decorating. As you can see, June was the most excited of the bunch about it. 🙂




Oh dear, not the house’s best angle:


A little better:


We attended our first midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and it was glorious. Lots of incense, beautiful music and rejoicing in the birth of our Saviour! ‘Twas lovely! I’m so glad we went! I thought the children might fall asleep on the half hour drive to church, or during the service, but they stayed up the whole time. Alice was quite tuckered out the next day and needed two naps instead of her usual one… she just fell asleep on the couch. 🙂


Christmas morning gift opening:






June and Alice loved the Victorian doll house they received! (I found it at Value Village and spent a few evenings during Advent repainting it.)


Our Christmas feast:


On Boxing Day we drove to the Fraser Valley. June recently ditched her carseat for a booster seat and it doesn’t quite offer the same head-restability! She somehow slept like this for half an hour (despite attempts to recline her seat and otherwise make her more comfy)!


We had a wonderful stay with my parents (again)! The kids were busy with all sorts of toys and games, and even tried out some shuffleboard.



The whole family (except my brother Duane who was sick with the flu) got together for a Christmas gift exchange:


The kids opening their gifts:




The biggest surprise of the evening came towards the end when Jeremy and I were given “one last gift” that turned out to be a VEHICLE! I’ve been stuck at home with the kids six days a week for the last four months and just the thought of being able to attend our local Mom and Tots group, or go for a nature walk, or pop in to the grocery store for a last minute ingredient for dinner… well, I burst into tears. Pretty amazing! We are loving the freedom and flexibility this delightful gift has brought to us already, and I’m sure that will abound over the next weeks and months!

The kids loved playing with their cousins! June and Eden:


James and Austin:


Grandma’s basement and its many treasures is a never-ending source of delight:


And then James and June got sick with the flu. Thankfully June only threw up once, and James is now old enough to recognize when he’s about to vomit so he was able to make it to the bathroom on time. (I appreciate the minimal vomiting on carpet a lot!)


And then we had an ice storm that covered everything in a one to two inch coating of ice! It was incredibly beautiful. And incredibly slippery!


It certainly reminded us of our stay in February when the exact same thing happened!


We hunkered down at mom and dad’s for a few days. Because of the kids getting sick, our get together with Jeremy’s family was cancelled, so we just visited with his parents instead.

On New Years Day, Jeremy and I attended Mass, ate some olliebollen at John David’s, browsed a local book store, and headed out to the River House for a little getaway while my parents took care of our children. The yard and deck were covered in lots of snow, and the full moon was hanging low in the sky that night, and shining brightly on the river in the backyard. It was stunning!

We enjoyed some snacks and a board game and just as I was dozing off that night there was a thunderous crash! I looked up groggily, and there was Jeremy, sprawled out on the bedroom floor, a broken glass lying in shards around him! Thinking he’d fallen, I called out to him, “Jeremy, are you okay?!” And when he didn’t answer, I asked him another dozen times, “Jeremy, what happened? Are you okay?! Jeremy!” After about fifteen seconds he came to – it turns out he had fainted while trying to get to the bathroom.

Yep, the flu bug had returned, and we spent our lovely getaway vomiting the night away! (In retrospect, it was quite a blessing not to have to take care of our children while we were so sick! Unfortunate but propitious timing.)


The rest of our trip we spent recovering from the flu, trying to avoid slipping on the ice, and removing subjects from this lovely home which will be ours in about six weeks!!! 🙂


Now we’re back home again to another foot of snow and a driveway that was cleared by our kind and thoughtful neighbours. Tomorrow Jeremy begins teaching again, and our homeschool picks up again, too!



Year 1, Term 1 In Review

We are just about to begin the last week of our First Term of Year 1, and I thought I’d reflect a little on what has worked and what hasn’t worked so far in our homeschool…

Bible & Breakfast

Our Bible readings went okay. At first I wasn’t sure how exactly to proceed. Ambleside Online schedules one Old Testament story per week that the child is to narrate (tell back), but these stories skip ahead at a brisk pace. For example, Moses and the Burning Bush is a scheduled story, but the Exodus itself is not. I wasn’t really sure what to do about this – just read Old Testament stories at my own pace? Have James narrate a Bible story every day?

The question of which version of the Bible to read also came up. Ambleside Online recommends reading the King James Version, but when I did, James would fret, saying, “I don’t know what it’s saying!” and he got stories quite jumbled up as a result. I tried using the Douay-Rheims version instead (a Catholic Bible with lovely old language like the KJV), but many of the names are different – Samuel’s mother, Hannah, is called Anna, and Peninah is called Phenenna. I found that confusing for myself. After thinking about things for a while, I decided to go with a version that’s more understandable – my first priority with Bible is to have our children become familiar with the stories of the Old and New Testaments, while an added bonus is to be exposed to beautiful language. So we’re using the RSV (Catholic edition) for now.

I also decided to separate our assigned Bible readings (that James has to tell back) and our daily devotional readings. So now each morning we read the next section of 1 Samuel, and during our school session we read our school Bible reading. This is working much better so far.

I’ve also been a bit unsure about our catechism readings. We’re working through the St. Joseph First Communion Catechism, but at a pretty slow rate (maybe half a chapter per week). I re-read Celeste’s posts on religious reading, and I think we’ll follow her suggestion of reading one chapter per week, and then work on memorizing the questions and answers of that chapter the following week.

I’ve been wanting to include some more Catholic reading into our breakfast time as well, but wasn’t sure what to include. After doing some research online, I’ve ordered Mother Mary Loyola’s King of the Golden City and Marigold Hunt’s St. Patrick’s Summer. I’m looking forward to perusing these when they arrive and including one or both of them in our breakfast readings next term!

We usually sing our psalm and hymn at breakfast time, too. So far, we’ve learned several stanzas of Psalm 8, Psalm 116 and Psalm 136 (using the Book of Praise), and we’ve learned several hymns. James and June both loved singing “Be Thou My Vision.” The third stanza goes, “Be Thou my battle shield / sword for the fight / Be Thou my Dignity / Thou my delight…” They belted those words of battle imagery with hearty enthusiasm every single time (and Alice watched them with an amused sparkle in her eye)!!!

We’ve also included a simple calendar time at breakfast, where my script went something like this: “Good Morning! What day is it? What month is it? What is the date? What season is it? What liturgical season is it? What colour is Father wearing at Mass today? How is the weather today?” I found a simple app (Bravolol) that includes most of these questions and answers in French (except for the Mass question, of course! 🙂 ) and so we’re getting used to saying things like, “Quel temps fait-il?” and “Il y a des nuages.”

Tea Time

During Tea Time, we sing our folk songs and French songs, read and recite some poetry, do our picture study and get started on our AO readings of the day.

Our folk songs went okay. I wasn’t crazy about the songs AO selected for this term, so I chose some songs of my own selection for us to learn instead. I’d find a YouTube video of the The Skye Boat Song and we’d watch that daily till we learned to sing along with it. I found this worked okay when the kids were really into the song (as they were with The Erie Canal Song, for example), but didn’t work the greatest for songs they were ho-hum about. Then they’d tend to mumble along without learning the song well. And I found that I couldn’t sing most of the songs myself independently – I could just sing along with the music. So I think what we’ll do from here on out is just sing the songs independently…

Our French songs also went okay. I chose “Au Clair de la Lune” as our first song, but it actually doesn’t have that much repetition, and some of the stanzas are fairly complicated. James also started imagining English words in the song, so now every time he sings it he references a zebra!!! I’m trying to stick to simpler songs with more repetition so that we can learn them a bit better. 🙂

For our poetry, our poet for Term 1 was Robert Louis Stevenson. I had a lovely copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses that we began reading from, but after a week or two James began to resist reading this book. He’d plug his ears most grumpily and refuse to listen to the poem. It turns out the lovely Tasha Tudor illustrations gave him the impression this was girly poetry – and he was having none of that! So we moved on to another book of poetry we already owned (A Child’s Book of Poems by Gyo Fujikawa) and we’ve all enjoyed reading a poem or two a day from it. I’m really looking forward to moving on to some AA Milne next term!



Yes, I can see that these illustrations are perhaps a touch girly… 

I wasn’t all that happy with our poetry memorization this term. I had James write a line or two of a poem for his copywork, and he ended up memorizing the poem after reading it through again and again. But I’d like him to be more involved in the process, to choose his own poem to memorize, and to give June her own little poem to memorize as well (she’s happily memorized alongside James so far). And I really like Celeste’s idea of illustrating a poem once it’s been memorized and adding it to our Family Poetry Binder. So I should really make a Family Poetry Binder so we can get started on that next term! 🙂

Our picture study went fairly well this term. We started off with Rubens’s painting of St. George and the Dragon, with which James was immediately fascinated. He really enjoys studying the painting closely and then describing it for me while I look at it. I wasn’t really sure what to do during the second week of the painting. I suggested that James draw it from memory, but he is quite a perfectionist and found that there was far too much detail in a painting to even consider drawing it himself. Maybe next term I’ll have him describe the painting for me by telling me what to draw? We’ll see…

st george

I find that Alice gets very noisy and distracting during our Tea Time readings. I’ll have to be a little more proactive next term in choosing some toys for her to play with just during Tea Time…

AO Readings

Overall, our Ambleside Online readings went really well. James found most of them captivating, and June often listened to them attentively, too, and would chime in if James forgot a detail that stood out to her:

June: “But first he prayed, James! Don’t forget to say that!”
James: “Hey, no interrupting!”

50 Famous Stories: good! The stories are quite short and James found them very interesting.

An Island Story: the stories were longer (6-8 pages) and at first I read them all in one go and James wasn’t able to tell back much. So I’ve begun to have him narrate several times per reading. He isn’t crazy about this book, which is kind of surprising to me seeing as it’s all about battles and kings, things that naturally interest him.

– D’aulaire biographies – we read Leif the Lucky and James loved it.

Burgess Bird Book – James loved these stories and happily narrated them. We usually drew a picture of the bird we were reading about in our nature journals, or coloured a picture I printed off the computer. The kids really enjoyed this. I purchased a set of Sibley bird cards thinking those would be helpful reference cards, but the illustrations are teensy tiny and therefore of no use to us! We have a bird book with decent illustrations, and a Birds of Canada book with pictures of birds and these are good references. (I’m still on the lookout for a book with really large illustrations of birds of North America.)

Paddle to the Sea – James loves this book! My mom found a little carved canoe with a figure in it at a thrift store, and James loves to use it to narrate. Our accompanying mapwork is going well.

– James Herriot – James really enjoyed the two stories we read this term.

Aesop’s Fables – excellent for beginning narration!

Parables of Nature – long stories, but held James’s interest.

Just So Stories – quite liked these!

Blue Fairy book – good! Many of the stories are really long, so narrating every two pages works well.

– Shakespeare – James loved Shakespeare this term. I think what he really loved about it was acting out the story with little characters. I purchased a little set of finger puppets (cards with holes for your fingers) but it only has half the characters for each play, making it quite useless. Maybe we’ll need to get some little wooden figures and paint them? Just seems like so much work! But James loves having little figures with which to act out the story… maybe some little Lego people will do…

Little House and Redwall – free reads. James has heard most of the Year 1 free reads already, so we read the first Redwall book and are almost done reading Little House on the Prairie. He loves our free reading time, and does June!

Daily Delights

Math is going well. James is making steady progress and is enjoying his math lessons. He loves, loves, loves playing math games so we almost always play one after the rest of his work is done.

James’s copywork is going much better now. For the first eight weeks or so of this term, he was simply copying one letter at a time. I made a note of this and told myself I should read a bit more about how to do copywork properly because I was pretty sure he ought to have been copying words rather than letters. But I let it slide for a few weeks and then at the CM conference had several conversations with people about how necessary it is to do copywork word by word, rather than letter by letter. So, after the conference we made the change. I now encourage James to take a good look at the word, to form a picture of it in his mind, then cover the word and have him write it. Doing his copywork takes longer, but I think that this has made a big difference in his reading as well – it’s like he’s been forced to slow down and pay attention to the actual words. He used to just take a split second to look at a word and then would madly guess at it rather than taking the time to sound it out. Now he’s taking the time to look at words more carefully.

Speaking of reading practice, we’ve begun to use the McGuffey Eclectic Readers. We’d been working our way through Frog and Toad and other beginner readers, but James complained a couple times that they were too easy. He just finished the First Eclectic Reader and is getting started on the second one. And he’s LOVING them! The language is a little older, and the style is a tad preachy, but he doesn’t seem to mind that a bit. We might need to work on some more phonogram practice at this point, as some bigger and more complicated words are being tossed into the mix.

I wasn’t totally sure at the beginning of the term what to do for our Foreign Language study. I thought about teaching Dutch… but the resources were so scarce! I finally settled on teaching French, and then couldn’t decide which French curriculum to go with. I ended up getting the Cherrydale Press book and finally purchased the accompanying audio, too. It is (unfortunately) not very user friendly. I kept having to click to the middle of the audio to listen to the part I wanted to listen to, and then clicking stop so it didn’t keep going to a part I didn’t want to listen to. It was a small hassle, but a very annoying one… and I began skipping our French lessons to avoid fiddling around. So I looked around for a different program and found The ULAT. It is going so much better! The website is not very intuitive (or aesthetically pleasing) at first glance, but once you get used to it, it works really well. What I love about this program is that it is all oral – perfect for beginning language learners! James has been loving saying incorrect statements about us – “She lives in New York!” (while pointing at June) or “I did not make the bed!” Alice even said, impishly, “Il habite a New York” to Jeremy the other day!!! And when Jeremy looked at her and said that No, he doesn’t, she amended her statement: “Il habite a West Kelowna.” Haha!

For our handicraft this term, we finished our first toques. I must admit that James was very enthusiastic about working on them, which is why we finished them. He’d get up in the morning and want to get in a bit of knitting before breakfast. I have not been very diligent about taking out our second toques, so they are languishing half-finished in the dresser drawer. Part of the problem is that I’m pretty sure I’m going to run out of yarn, but I never feel like driving to Michael’s to pick up more… (And the theme here seems to be that I need everything to be in place in order to get things done!!) I’m thinking about making Jesse Tree ornaments with our wood-burning kit as our handicraft for next term… is that too tricky a project to do with a 6 year old?!


Nature study: AWFUL! We have neglected this hugely. My kids used to naturally just go outside for hours every day when we lived in Fruitvale, but here they are not tempted to because of the lame backyard. I keep pushing this off, thinking that when we actually buy a house, then I’ll start going outside more! 🙂 For next term… well, we are planning on driving Jeremy to school every Wednesday so we can attend a Mom and Tots group, so I think we’ll plan on getting our nature walk and nature study in on Wednesdays.

The other challenge is that our library system is pretty limited. In Fruitvale I was able to request up to 20 interlibrary loans at a time (and I could do that from home) whereas here many of the books I’m looking for are not in the system, and I have to go to the library to request an interlibrary loan (only 1-2 at a time are permitted). So – I’m having a hard time finding good resources for nature study books. Still thinking of how to solve this problem… aside from spending several hundred dollars on excellent books! 😉

Timelines – okay. Some resistance to more writing – “But I’ve already done my copywork for today!”

Drawing – James draws regularly and loves it. Maybe begin formal lessons next term?

Geography – we’ve been doing the occasional GeoPuzzle and have gone through a few lessons from CM’s Geography book.

On Becoming Catholic

The winter of 2015-16 was one of the strangest seasons of my life. Jeremy was halfway through his fourth and final year at seminary, and the end of seven long years of studying was finally within sight. Up to that point, everything had led us to believe that Jeremy would make a good pastor, and he was being contacted by various churches who were interested in calling him when he completed his Master of Divinity. We were looking forward to some stability in life: a steady income, knowing where we’d be living for the next five years, and getting to know the congregation Jeremy would be pastoring.

But by the end of 2015 that vision of the future had crumbled. Rather than discussing questions like, “Which of these calling committee inquiries sounds more interesting?” and “Would you ever consider moving to Australia?” I was wondering, “Can I really believe in Purgatory? If I become Catholic, will I lose my love of Scripture? Will my kids fall away from the Lord if we start attending the Catholic Church?” Questions that only a few months earlier during Jeremy’s summer practicum were unthinkable, were now plaguing my thinking.

This dramatic change had begun in September when Jeremy had happened upon a YouTube video by Peter Kreeft, a Catholic theologian, detailing why he’d left the Christian Reformed church of his youth for the Catholic Church. Jeremy had been troubled by the question of whether the early church was closer to the Reformed or Catholic church of today. “I feel like the bottom has fallen out of my world, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same,” Jeremy said to me afterwards. “I think I’ve taken the first step to becoming Catholic.”

That’s a surprising statement to hear from your husband who’s been studying Reformed theology for three years. But as unexpected as it was, I wasn’t entirely unnerved by it. In fact, I had begun to wonder about the Catholic faith myself. This had begun about a year earlier when I’d come across several blogs on books, homeschooling and motherhood. Well, it turns out these blogs had a fourth thing in common I wasn’t aware of straight away: they were also Catholic. And looking back, what first began to change my mind about the Catholic Church was regularly reading the writing of Catholic bloggers.

The first of these blogs was Joyous Lessons, Celeste Cruz’s homeschooling blog. We are using the same curriculum she is, Ambleside Online, and when I realized how organized and detailed Celeste was, I knew I didn’t want to miss a thing. So I began with her first blog post and slowly read through to the present day. She is a devout Catholic, but she grew up Protestant and is soundly grounded in the Scriptures. It was reading her blog that made me realize that the stereotype about Catholics (they don’t know their Bibles and are Christians in culture rather than in practice) are not necessarily true. There are Catholic women who know their Bibles, who love the Lord passionately – and who have chosen to be Catholic rather than Protestant! That was quite a revelation to me.

Haley’s blog on homeschooling, Jane Austen, art and excellent children’s literature was another blog I’d been reading. I was intrigued by how closely the life of her family was tied to the church year, and realized this wasn’t the case for me. A couple years ago, I’d been chatting with a doctor at work and, when he learned I was a Christian, he’d said, “Oh, this must have been a big week for you then!” (Easter had just passed.) Honestly, it hadn’t been. Aside from Christmas, my life was not anchored to the church calendar, and I wondered why.

And a third blog I’d been reading was Mama Needs Coffee. You know how the Scriptures speak of creation groaning in travail? The next verse says, “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” Jenny’s blog reminds me of this . . . the way motherhood is a path to holiness, and there’s a whole lot of dying to selfishness along the way. I was intrigued by a series she wrote on why the Catholic church tells believers not to use contraception or birth control, and how separating sex and children is never a good thing for a married couple. Her comment that, prior to the 1930s, every single church forbade the use of contraception and birth control – well, that was stunning. Really? I wondered. What happened?

So, because I’d been reading these blogs, Jeremy’s confession about having taken the first step to becoming Catholic didn’t alarm me as much as it might have. Some further questions about Catholicism I had included the following . . .

We all know that our culture is completely messed up when it comes to sex. It praises disordered sex, sex outside of marriage, etc. And it also praises separating having sex and having children – you can have the pleasure of sex without the inconvenience of children. Is it possible that our culture’s thoughts about sex have been seeping into the church? If it is true that up until the 1930s all churches opposed the use of birth control and contraception, why do so many Christians today consider birth control a given? “We’re getting married, but we’re not ready to have children yet” is the norm, it seems. “We’ll use protection till we’re really ready for kids.” And, seeing as I’m in my mid-30s, the latest thing I’ve been hearing is, “My husband got ‘snipped’ because our family is complete” or, “We’re done having children.” Why is the Roman Catholic Church the only church opposed to birth control, contraception and sterilization today?

More questions popped up while I was working through a Bible study on the book of 1 Peter with some friends. We came across a remarkable verse that says, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, [i.e., the flood] now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (3:21). I wondered, does baptism literally save us by the washing away of our sins, like the Catholic Church teaches? Or was Peter speaking figuratively? And when there are two or three possible interpretations, how do I know which is true? Do I go with the argument that most compels me? Or is there a higher authority that can define Christian beliefs for me?

This verse from Peter’s letter made me wonder about other Bible verses Catholics interpret literally. Like Jesus saying, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6:53-54). Why did so many of Jesus’s disciples abandon him when they heard this teaching? Did they leave because Jesus was talking about people eating/drinking a symbol of his body and blood, or because he was talking about them actually eating his body and blood? What about the verses at the end of the gospel of John, where Jesus breathes on his disciples and gives them the power to forgive sins? Did the disciples really possess that power? Was that a little tidbit we ought to ignore, or explain away? What if transubstantiation and the work of the priest in the confessional was actually true and scriptural?

One of the best things about seminary was that we got a chance to talk about all the things Jeremy was learning about over lunch together. It was like having my own personal theology instructor. I loved it! And when Jeremy began seriously diving into Catholic theology, we talked about that even more than usual. He did the bulk of the research, while I acted as more of a sounding board. (Our little children were 4 years old (James), 1 year old (June) and newly born (Alice) at the time, so I didn’t have lots of energy or free time for deep reading.) We talked about sola scriptura and church authority. We talked about the early church fathers and whether a Reformed or Catholic person would feel more at home in the ancient church. I bought a DVD by Wes Callihan on the church fathers and read through the writings of men like St. Ignatius and St. Clement who lived just after the time of the apostles. We talked about Douglas Wilson’s book on why he’s not Catholic, Papa Don’t Pope, which, unfortunately, was far less helpful than either of us was expecting. And we began to think about apostolic succession, the Catholic belief that Jesus gave teaching authority to the apostles, which was handed down to the next generation of church leaders, and so on and so forth throughout the history of the church.

And what emerged from all these hours spent reading and discussing were two questions: How can sola scriptura be true, if the Bible itself doesn’t teach it? And, is the Catholic Church the church that Christ founded, as it claims to be? (Or, to put it differently, do I decide what I believe the Bible teaches, and then find a church that agrees with me? Or do I find the Church, and then side with her?)

In November 2015, my parents flew out from BC for a visit. Those visits with family during our years in Ontario were so precious; they were golden days, absolutely treasured! We sat down with my parents and explained what was going on in our hearts and minds. They were surprised, but promised to pray for us – and have done so, without ceasing, to this day. We appreciate those prayers for our spiritual wellbeing so much! What better way to care for people you love than to lift them up in prayer before the Father? It was a relief to be able to share some of these thoughts that were crowding our minds.

On the day my parents were returning home, James came bounding up from the basement with a what appeared to be a necklace clutched in his hands. We asked him what he was holding and where he’d found it, and he showed it to us. It was a small, pale rosary and he explained he’d found it hanging at eye level on a nail in the workshop downstairs. Jeremy and I had been in that workshop countless times and had never seen a rosary there. We both wondered at the timing of a Catholic devotional aid appearing out of nowhere just as we were looking more deeply into The Catholic Question. And looking back, I’m reminded of Jesus coming into the world without a trace of pomp or splendor, but instead wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. So Catholicism did not come into our lives with an ornate, hand-crafted wooden rosary, to which Jeremy and I would both have been instinctively attracted, but with a flimsy, plastic glow-in-the-dark rosary. Seems entirely appropriate, doesn’t it? 🙂


Late that autumn, we invited a local Catholic priest to our home. There were many particulars about the Catholic Church we had questions about: parish life, purgatory, Catholic schools and justification by faith alone, and it seemed we needed a real live Catholic person with whom we could discuss these matters. Father Adam happened to have a blog, so Jeremy emailed him and he agreed to meet with us. I think we were all rather nervous that evening, but Father Adam answered our questions plainly and honestly. Parish life varies from church to church. Avoid sending your children to a Catholic school in Ontario. Yes, Catholics believe in Purgatory and they believe their sins are fully forgiven by Christ. The two are not mutually exclusive.

And justification by faith alone. Martin Luther’s analogy of being made right with God was that of snow covering a dunghill: God clothes the dunghill (the sinner) with righteousness (the snow). You’re still a dunghill, but now God sees the snow. This reminded me of an old friend who had attended a Reformed Church once and had heard a sermon on justification that had contained a similar metaphor. It had mystified him. Why would I want God to see Jesus instead of me, he wondered. Isn’t that a lie? That question had lain around in the back of my mind for years. Father Adam said Luther’s analogy is not what Catholics believe. Catholics teach that you are baptized and believe in Jesus, and your dunghill-ness is turned to snow. God doesn’t just cover you so you appear clean and fresh and white, but you are actually made clean.

This reminded me of something Jeremy’s dogmatics professor had said: Anytime you encounter false teaching, the question you ought to ask is, What does this say about Jesus and his work of salvation? On reflection, it seemed that Jesus transforming dung into snow was a much greater work than Jesus simply covering dung with snow. And I wondered, Could it be that the Catholic understanding of salvation actually gives greater glory to God?

It was refreshing to meet a Catholic in real life and to speak face to face, rather than face to book. Speaking of books, Father Adam gave us a copy of Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn at that first meeting and I read it quickly over the next few days while I nursed Alice. In it, the Hahns share their story of becoming Catholic. It’s a dramatic story, as Dr. Hahn had been a Presbyterian pastor with a passion for converting Catholics to Protestantism when he first began to investigate Catholicism. Dr. Hahn also has a deep love for Scripture, and his conversion to Catholicism happened because of Scripture, not despite Scripture as some might suppose.

Another thing Father Adam did was to introduce us to a young Catholic family who lived down the road from us. They were friendly and interested in our situation, and very open to answering all the questions we came up with. Mike had been in seminary to become a priest, and Elena was well versed in Catholic theology, too. Emotionally, it was an immense relief to be able to speak openly about the turmoil we were in with people who were sympathetic to our plight. Jeremy had spoken to his seminary mentor about these matters, but we were not sure it would be wise to share widely our misgivings about the Reformed faith given that Jeremy still harboured a small hope of becoming a Reformed pastor. What if this were a phase, or something that led us to cling even more strongly to our Reformed faith in the end?

Jeremy attended Mass once or twice with Mike, and I went to Mass once with Elena. Although I’d visited Catholic cathedrals on past trips to Europe, I couldn’t remember having been at a Catholic service before. The building was large and austere, and I was struck by reverence of the service. There was a silence in the church that was profound, and before church members received the Eucharist, they knelt or bowed deeply at the waist. I found it quite fascinating how physical Catholic worship was, and was reminded of this lovely line in Scott Hahn’s memoir: “Now I know why God gave me a body: to worship the Lord with his people in liturgy.” One didn’t simply hear the Word, but one also touched holy water, made the sign of the cross, knelt in prayer, and showed reverence to the Body of Christ by bowing or kneeling.

The school year marched on, and in January of 2016 Jeremy quit preaching and teaching catechism classes. The Catholic Question had grown large enough that he no longer felt he could preach or teach in good conscience. He got through the final semester of school with a heavy burden on his heart. This last stretch of seminary was a peculiar time for me, one in which I felt quite alone. I remember one night in particular. I had joined the other ‘seminary wives’ for an evening out, and we’d been talking about the next stage in our lives. They were looking forward to classis exams, their husbands getting calls to various churches, and becoming pastors’ wives; we were even reading a book on this topic, You Can Still Wear Cute Shoes, at our monthly get-togethers. They were gearing up for a busy, exciting summer filled with possibility. I’d been fairly reserved that night, as Jeremy wanted to keep things quiet till he’d finished his studies. At the close of the evening, I headed in one direction towards my van while everyone else walked in another direction, gaily chatting and laughing. It seemed like a perfect picture of our lives. They were all headed towards a future of security and of supporting their husbands in the ministry, while I was alone and discouraged, with only broken dreams of the future.

Seminary finally came to an end, and Jeremy wrote his final exams and shared his growing attraction to Catholicism with his professors and classmates. This was an enormous relief to me, as I was tired of wrestling with these deep questions in silence. A friend from church later told me she’d assumed I’d been suffering from postpartum depression. She was right about the suffering, but wrong about the cause – it wasn’t postpartum depression, it was these question about Catholicism plaguing my soul.

I’d been praying desperately over the past months. Prayers of frustration. Why did these questions pop up at the last minute? How unfair! After seven years of school! And just when we were beginning to imagine what our future could look like! Why now, Lord? And prayers for truth. I recognized that Satan hates it when good men graduate from seminary and go on to preach the good news, and I did not want to be led astray by the father of lies. Lord, if the Catholic Church is in error, make that plain to us! Keep us in Your truth. How can we know which way you want us to go? And desperate prayers for our souls and for the souls of our children. I was terrified of straying away from the Lord, and of leading my children away from Him. The line from the Heidelberg Catechism about the Mass being an ‘accursed idolatry’ pinged around in my mind as a grave warning. I wondered if our children wouldn’t be better off in the Canadian Reformed Church. There seemed to be fewer people rejecting their faith there than in the Catholic church – maybe we could just ignore these doubts and suffer them for the sake of our children’s future. And yet, I found great peace in the belief that if the Catholic Church was who she said she was, then I could know that submitting to her was the same thing as submitting to Christ.

An interesting verse in this regard is found in one of Paul’s letters to Timothy. He refers, almost in passing, to the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” When you read that quote, what do you think he’s talking about? What would you say is the pillar and foundation of the truth? As a Reformed person, I would have said the Scriptures, of course! But read what Paul writes: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” Paul actually calls the church the pillar and foundation of the truth. Isn’t that fascinating?

After seminary was out, we shared our thoughts about Catholicism with our elder as well. We wished to withdraw from our Reformed church then and there, because, while we weren’t ready to be Catholic yet, we were quite sure we done being Reformed. But our elder advised a cautious course with room for dialogue, and we agreed to that.

And then we had to decide what to do with our lives: should we stay or should we go? We could either remain in Ontario long-term, as Jeremy had been offered a decent job in woodworking, or we could move back to BC where I could work as a nurse. I was not able to work as a nurse in Ontario, as I hadn’t worked for four years, but I was able to work in BC where the requirements are slightly more lenient. My working for a year would give us some more time to decide what sort of career Jeremy should pursue, and it would mean we’d be much closer to our families. We thought about it and prayed about it, and decided to move to BC. Within two weeks we had moved across the country.


Move to Fruitvale-72

Our new backyard in Fruitvale. 

I wish we had been able to leave in a more leisurely fashion, though work requirements didn’t allow for this. We would have welcomed the opportunity to meet with our elder several times over a period of a few months, rather than sharing our concerns and leaving a week later. That wasn’t ideal. And it wasn’t ideal in terms of our friendships and relationships, either. We told our friends and some fellow church members we were seriously considering becoming Catholic, and then we relocated before we could really talk things through. But, for us as a family and for our mental health, it was a good choice. Once we settled in to our new home in the little village of Fruitvale, Jeremy began smiling and laughing again, something that had been sorely lacking during the last few months in Hamilton.

After we settled into our home in Fruitvale, we began to look around for a church to attend. We weren’t sure about immediately going to a Catholic church (we did still have many questions to sort through), so on our first Sunday in the Kootenays we attended an Alliance church. On the drive home, James declared that church had been “fun!” It certainly had been a casual experience. What I remember most is the way the members of the congregation were always looking around, instead of paying attention to the songs being sung, the sermon being preached, etc. There was an unappealing restlessness at the core of the church, kind of like hanging out with a person who is constantly checking her phone.

So, on our second Sunday in Fruitvale we began attending the Catholic Church. It was a small congregation of mostly seniors, and our young family stood out. Plus, if you’ve ever been to Mass, you’ll know that there is a lot of standing and sitting and praying, and the first time you go you don’t really know what is going on. But there was a reverence to be found there, something that gave one an inkling that something profound was occurring.

And so we kept coming. After a few months, we asked about starting RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). This is an introduction to Catholicism that usually involves weekly meetings from September to April; newcomers are then received into the Catholic Church on the Easter vigil service. Our parish was a small one, so we were the only people in RCIA; and our parish was flexible, too, so our RCIA classes were held at our home. We worked our way through Father Barron’s Catholicism DVD series and peppered our RCIA leaders with many questions. And we did lots of reading on the side. I read parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (it’s a whopping 825 pages long, so it takes way longer to get through than the Heidelberg Catechism!), On Being Catholic by Thomas Howard, The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn, quite a few blog articles by Leila Miller, the occasional article by Called to Communion (I think Jeremy’s read their entire website from top to bottom), and watched Catholic Answers videos by Jimmy Akin, a Catholic apologist (who was formerly a Protestant – it seems some of the best Catholic apologists out there used to be Protestant!).

When we started RCIA, we withdrew from our church in Hamilton. The elders encouraged the congregation to correspond with us and to pray for us, and many people sent us little notes letting us know that we were in their prayers. We appreciated these prayers on our behalf tremendously, as well as the notes of encouragement. They demonstrated a heartfelt concern for our spiritual wellbeing, and we were very grateful for that.

A tiny number of people emailed to ask us why we wanted to become Catholic (I’m still grateful for those genuine questions), and a larger number emailed to tell us of specific concerns they had with the Catholic Church. Some people felt very reluctant to email because of Jeremy’s background in theology (what could I possibly say to change your mind?) but still chose to correspond because of a conviction that it was the right thing to do. We were very touched by that effort.

The concerns raised included the following points, and I’ll include a brief response to each one.

– Catholics venerate relics.

Yes, they do. If you think of the Church as a family, the saints are the family members known for their extraordinary holiness and devotion to God. And relics are physical, tangible reminders of these holy people that turn our hearts to God, to the beautiful work he accomplishes in the lives of his people. And when you read the Scriptures and note that a dead body that touched Elisha’s bones was raised from the dead, and that handkerchiefs handled by the Apostle Paul healed the sick and exorcized demons you can see why believers throughout history have held on to relics of the holy. It is also worth noting that venerating and worshiping are two distinct things. We can show respect to someone or something (we’d all bow or curtsy in the presence of the Queen, for instance) without worshiping the person or object.

– Catholics worship saints.

No, they don’t. They venerate saints, that is, they show them honour, but they worship God alone. You could compare it to how you’d act if a great hockey player like Pavel Bure walked into the room. You might stand up, shake his hand and offer him a good seat and something delicious to drink. Likewise, Catholics show deference to the men and women throughout history who have lived holy lives. Certainly Catholics distinguish between the Creator and the creature. They don’t worship saints; they recognize that the godly lives of saints point us to God.

– Catholics think saints can intercede for us.

Yes, they do. Catholics don’t believe that the communion of the saints is only for the living. They believe that all members of the Body of Christ, whether their bodies have perished or not, are part of the communion of saints. So Catholics believe that a soul in heaven, enjoying the full presence of God, is able and willing to pray for believers still alive. A lovely picture of this is found in the book of Revelation, where the living creatures and elders are holding bowls of incense, “which are the prayers of God’s people,” before the throne of God.

– Praying to saints is not biblical.

What ‘prayer to saints’ means is that you are asking a holy person to pray to God on your behalf. I love to ask holy people to pray for me! For example, I regularly ask my dad to pray for me and I find it very comforting to know he’s doing so, for as the Apostle James says, “the prayer of a righteous man avails much.” There’s no reason to think that believers in heaven don’t care about our troubles; for example, you may recall the rich man interceding for his wayward brothers on earth in one of Jesus’s parables.

– The Catholic Church gives you lots of ways for you to earn bonus credit before God.

Catholics believe that salvation is a gift of grace, not something you earn. So, no, there is no ‘bonus credit’ before God. What does ‘bonus credit’ even mean in a family relationship of love? Do you ever think of your children as earning ‘bonus credit’ with you when they hug you or draw you a picture? Of course not. That being said, Catholics do believe that God rewards our good works, as Jesus taught repeatedly, and as the apostles reiterate in the New Testament. The reward that we receive, though, is more of God himself. Contemplating more of His majesty and more of His glory is the prize, which means that the only thing that can motivate us to earn these rewards is our love for God.

– The Catholic Church has troubling traditions, such as venerating Mary and believing in Purgatory.

Yes, the Catholic Church does think highly of Mary (or, as Wordsworth called her, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast”). If you’re interested in reading more on this subject, I’d recommend Jeremy’s blog post, Fragrant Mary on the North Wind. And yes, the Catholic Church does believe in Purgatory. I’ll touch more on this later, as Purgatory is something I struggled with before becoming Catholic.

– You’re leaving our church and not joining another one, but you need the sacraments to remain strong in your faith.

There was a gap between us leaving the Canadian Reformed Church (around October 2016) and us joining the Catholic Church (in April 2017), but we were enrolled in RCIA during that time. I certainly did hunger for the sacraments during that time!

– You must think you need to earn God’s favour if you’re considering becoming Catholic.

No, I don’t think I need to earn God’s favour.

– Salvation should only be sought in Jesus.

Yes, the Catholic Church teaches that salvation is found in Christ alone.

– I hope that you will not sever all ties with the Canadian Reformed churches and your friends and family within it.

It was never our plan to sever all ties. We are profoundly thankful for the way our parents raised us, and we are grateful, too, for all that we have learned and the many ways in which we have loved and been loved within the CanRef church. We did not leave because of bitterness or disappointment or resentment. (We were perfectly happy there, until The Catholic Question hit us!) We have simply come to see that Christ is to be found in His church, the Catholic church, and so are following Him there.

– I’m sorry if you have had a bad experience in our churches, or were hurt by our churches.

Neither is the case. We didn’t leave because of a bad experience, or because we were hurt. We left because we realized the Catholic Church is the Church of Christ.

These email conversations gave us a lot to think and pray about. My one disappointment in this regard was that so many conversations ended after the other person had made his or her point. Very few people took the time to really engage with our questions. Then again, I think we could have put more effort into our relationships in Hamilton; had we done that, I imagine those conversations would have been more robust!

It was a lot of changes in a short time period. Aside from leaving our church family and moving across the country, I was also returning to work and getting used to being away from our children for tiring 12 hour days. At first I coped by getting wrapped up in a murder mystery series on Acorn TV (like Netflix, but with British television shows). I sent an email to a friend around that time saying, I’d expected to lean on God more during this difficult transition in our life, but instead I’m just drowning myself in distraction! Sending the email was enough to effect a change. I began to pray again, and to seek God.

I came across a beautiful hymn, “O Jesus Thou the Beauty Art,” that really spoke to me. The lyrics say,

O Jesus, Thou the Beauty art
Of angel worlds above!
Thy Name is music to the heart
Enchanting it with love.
O my sweet Jesu
Hear the sighs
Which unto Thee I send!
To Thee my inmost spirit cries,
My being’s hope and end!

I thought about those words a lot: the beauty of Christ, Jesus listening to my sighing, Jesus being both the hope and end of my life. Months later I spent several hours chatting with a work colleague (we had no patients that day) about my experience so far in the Catholic church. She was intensely interested. What would you say is the greatest difference you’ve noticed so far, having moved from a Protestant church to the Catholic Church? she asked. It sounds so cheesy, but what I’d noticed was a profound appreciation for the love of God. God looks on me, his child, with love! That same love that I have for each one of my children, only magnified because He’s God and He’s thoroughly and completely good and selfless. That love boggled my mind, and drove away insecurities I’d always had.

By February of 2017 Jeremy was ready to join the Church, but there was still a holdout in my heart. Even though I mentally understood that Christ had founded the Catholic Church, that he had passed His authority to that Church, and that she was His beloved bride, there was still some part of me that was dragging my heels, not quite committed.

One of my hang-ups was about Purgatory. I’d read Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, that epic Norwegian Catholic novel set in the medieval era, and was troubled by the scene in which Kristin’s father, Lavrans, dies. He was a good man, a man pained by his sins, faithful to God, generous to those who had less than him.

Lavrans now spoke often of the purgatory fire, which he expected to enter soon, but he showed no sign of fear. He hoped for great solace from the prayers of intercession offered by his friends and the priests; and he consoled himself that Saint Olav and Saint Thomas would give him strength for the last trial, as he felt they had given him strength here in life. He had always heard that the person who firmly believed would never for a moment lose sight of the salvation toward which the soul was moving, through the fiery blaze.

Kristin thinks Lavrans is anticipating Purgatory like a soldier “eager for battle and adventure.” This was a very different way of thinking about what happens after death, and I worried about how to console a dying person. I remembered very clearly the death of my step-grandmother, how she’d held on to life for nearly two weeks after we’d begun to anticipate her death. My family had encouraged her to let go and to enter heaven. Reflecting on this, it seemed we had been asking my step-grandmother to lay down her weapons and enter a time of rest. My uncle had also recently died, and this refrain of rest and peace had sounded again. How could I encourage a person to let go their last grip on life when it meant facing yet another hurdle before heaven? What joy or consolation was there in death that was not an immediate entrance to heaven, but an entrance to flames and suffering? Should I be praying for the soul of my uncle? Was he in heaven, or was he in purgatory with no Catholics to pray for him?

Personally, I think CS Lewis’s explanation about purgatory makes a lot of sense. (That really has been my experience with becoming Catholic; that for every question I’ve had, there has always been an answer that just makes sense.) Lewis writes,

Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’?

Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’

‘It may hurt, you know.’

‘Even so, sir.’

I suppose it is not so common these days for us to think of ourselves as having smelly breath and being dressed in muddy rags. If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings, you may remember the part of the story where Sam and Frodo are being led by Gollum to Mount Doom. Gollum is ravenously hungry and Frodo shares some of his lembas (elven bread) with him. Gollum, whose soul has been twisted by the evil ring so that he has lost most of his hobbit-ness, can’t eat the bread that tastes of honey. It chokes him. I think that’s a great picture of what sin does to us. It makes goodness and the things of God unbearable to us. And sanctification is God changing us so that we begin to stomach, and eventually to love, the things of God. In Catholic teaching, most people aren’t totally healed from that twistedness in this life (that is, made fully perfect or holy) – and Purgatory is what finishes the healing, what makes us open to the fullness of God’s love. It’s not a pleasant process, but it is for our good – so that we can fully enjoy Him.

Lewis continues, “I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition, partly because most real good that has been done me in life has involved it. But I don’t think suffering is the purpose of purgation” (Prayer: Letters to Malcolm). My problem with purgatory was the question of its purpose; certainly, a purgatory that is all about punishment would drive us farther away from God and would be a torment as we lay dying. But Purgatory is meant to draw us closer to God. Catherine of Genoa said purgatory is “incomparably painful because we see all the horror of our own sins, yet it is incomparably joyful because God is there, and we are learning to endure his truth, his light.” What a beautiful thing, for our hearts to be wholly open to God!

About this time, some friends we made through Called to Communion sent us two packages of books in the mail. Shipping from New Zealand is not cheap; I think they spent around $150 sending us these lovely treasures! This Catholic couple had also been Reformed once upon a time, and had received books in the mail from overseas friends when they were investigating Catholicism, and so they felt compelled to do the same for us. Amongst these books was one by Peter Kreeft with the title Catholic Christianity. It really is a gem of a book, and I highly recommend it. If you are at all interested in what the Catholic Church teaches, this is the book to read. I wish it had been used as the basis of our RCIA instruction. It carefully goes through the teachings of the Church, and explains them in the most straightforward and delightful way. It is grounded in Scripture, and it is a rich feast for the mind. It answered more questions I didn’t know I had, and the remaining reservations I held washed away after reading this book.


St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy

I remember traveling about Europe with two friends and coming across a lovely old church in Bled, Slovenia, that had marvelous paintings illustrating the Lord’s prayer. The church was quiet, in a rich and full sort of way. When I remember that church, I think – why are many Catholic churches so beautiful? What is it about them that makes your soul quiet and reverent? And conversely, why are most modern churches so dull and uninspiring? There is a newly built church in Abbotsford that Jeremy compared to a dentist’s office, and unfortunately, he was bang on. Peter Kreeft answers those questions, saying,

The greatest works of architecture were built to glorify the Architect of the universe: to house the incarnate Eucharistic Christ. These were the cathedrals, miraculous “sermons in stone” that made rock and glass seem to take wing and fly like angels. Many of the world’s greatest paintings and statues were made for churches, and much of the greatest music was composed for Masses. For what happens within that sacred time and place is the most beautiful work of art ever conceived: God’s work of redeeming man from eternal darkness into heavenly light by enduring hellish darkness in man’s place on the Cross.

And in answer to my question of why our lives should be tied to the church calendar:

Liturgy sanctifies all times by its special sacred times . . . Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the ‘Feast of feasts,’ the ‘Solemnity of solemnities’; just as the Eucharist is the ‘Sacrament of sacraments.’

On April 2nd, Jeremy and I joined the Catholic Church. I mentioned Rome Sweet Home earlier in this post. In that book, Scott writes about how his wife, Kimberley, remained Presbyterian for another five years before also joining the Church. Their marriage suffered a lot of strain because of their division in the faith. When Jeremy and I got married, we didn’t spend much time choosing our wedding text. If I remember correctly, I flipped through my Bible for a while, suggested Philippians 2:1-2, Jeremy agreed to the selection, and that was the end of the matter. Our wedding text ends with the words, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” And despite our lackadaisical approach to choosing a text, I am convinced that God has answered the prayer within it by graciously leading us down the path to Catholicism at the same time. And my heart is full of gratitude for this extraordinary mercy God has shown us. We were confirmed that day, and rather than waiting till the Easter vigil service for our first communion, our priest waved us on up for our first communion then, too.


Jeremy and I were received into the Catholic Church on April 2nd, 2017!

One of my favourite parts of the Mass happens just before members of the congregation walk up to the front of church to receive the Eucharist. The congregation says in unison, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” (Matthew 8:8). Isn’t that such a beautiful picture of the gospel right there? Our Lord, who humbled himself to become man, and who humbled himself to die by a criminal’s death on the cross, daily humbles himself to become bread for us, too. In one of Elizabeth Goudge’s novels, she mentions three three-word prayers that sum up the Christian life:

Lord, have mercy.
Into thy hands.
Thee I adore.

Eating communion nearly always brings those last three words to mind. Thee I adore! How astounding to receive by faith a Saviour so great beyond comprehension, and yet so humble as to become our daily bread!