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Apr 01, 2022 1166 Estelle Nester
Encounter

My Side of the Story

The very thing that turned me away from the Church brought me back wholeheartedly! This is my side of the story…

Born and raised in Philadelphia, I attended a Catholic school like most of my friends. Our family attended Mass only on Christmas and Easter. I learned about the sacraments in school, but mostly I memorized the correct answers to get them right on a test. I was a good kid. I didn’t struggle with any major sins. My friends teased that I’d probably become a nun because I was such a goodie two-shoes. But I wasn’t connecting well with my faith. And after a bad confession experience in fourth grade, I decided never to return. I turned away from the Church.

After high school I worked as a server at the Olive Garden. One of my coworkers was an incredibly handsome guy named Keith. A talented musician and a strong Christian, Keith invited me to his non-denominational church, and I loved it. We attended together often, but soon Keith accepted a position as a youth pastor in his home state of Iowa. We missed each other terribly, so I followed him. We married in 1996, and everything was perfect: Keith loved his job at the church: the congregation took wonderful care of us, we had three beautiful children, and I loved us being a pastor’s family. We served there and at a handful of other churches for two decades. Ministry had its ups and downs, but we loved it.

The Tipping Point

Then, after 22 years as a pastor, Keith announced one day, “I think God is calling me to quit my job and convert to Catholicism.” I was shocked, even as I learned that he had been privately considering Catholicism for a long time. He had read books about Catholicism and discussed the faith with priests and catholic friends. What he discovered about the Church Fathers, the sacraments, and the papacy had shaken him to his core, but he had kept going. I loved his new excitement, but I wasn’t interested and didn’t think he’d go through with it. There was no way the Keith I knew would convert to the dull and lifeless religion of my upbringing. But the more I noticed Keith light up when he spoke about converting, the more I panicked. The kids were getting older and had grown up in churches they loved; even if we wanted to, we couldn’t make them convert. “God can’t want to divide our home,” I thought…

How could I go back to what meant so little to me as a child, especially since my new Protestant faith kept me fulfilled. I’d need to work through things like Confession—something I never wanted to do again. I secretly hoped this was just a phase Keith would soon get over. The tipping point for Keith came after a Catholic apologetics talk where he felt God speaking directly to him. He came home and said, “That’s it, I’m doing this. I’m converting. I don’t know what we will do for money, but I know that God is calling me to this; we will figure it out.” The next day, he told his church he was resigning. Now I had to decide what to do.

After months of prayer, I ultimately followed Keith to the Catholic Church. I felt it was best for our kids to see their mom follow their dad’s lead in faith, but they decided to stay at their Protestant churches. It was exciting to see Keith so passionate about his conversion, but I had a more challenging time than I thought I would. I cried at every Mass for about three months. Our family had worshipped together for the past 22 years. Now, we were painfully scattered. In addition, I was upset that Keith wasn’t using his gifts for ministry in the Catholic Church. Since God called him to quit his job, I expected there’d be an incredible ministry waiting for him. I believed God had a plan for Keith, but what was it? Keith was content attending Mass and soaking it all in, but I wanted to see God use him in some new way.

A Wonderful Trip

After a few months of attending Mass, I became more open to the faith. I started asking questions and learning why we do what we do. I began opening my heart to the Mass and started loving it. The people in our parish were beautiful examples of what being Catholic is all about. I loved the scripture-filled Mass, the incense, holy water, and sacraments. I loved the devotions, and of course, the Eucharist. Had I learned more about the Eucharist as a child, I couldn’t have walked away so easily.

During the summer after our conversion, a friend invited us to go to Medjugorje. Keith had gone years before and had a wonderful experience. We were both excited to go, especially when we realized we’d be there on the first anniversary of Keith entering the Catholic Church. What a great way to celebrate. I realized that we had become so busy with life, work, and family that perhaps we hadn’t heard from God about the future because we hadn’t taken the time to stop and listen. “Maybe in Medjugorje God will talk to us about his plan for our life,” I thought. The trip was a powerful experience, but I wasn’t hearing God speaking to me about our future. I started getting impatient and frustrated.

Before It’s Too Late

On the last day, we went to Mass, Rosary services, Adoration, and everything else they offered. We didn’t want to miss anything. During Adoration, I prayed, “God, please talk to me. I felt God say, “Go to Confession.” “No God, please speak to me directly. It’s our last night. Please tell me what to do.” He said, “Go to Confession.” I argued with God, “Do you know how many people are in line for confession? I’ll never get in!”

In Medjugorje, Confession is a big deal. Even with dozens of priests hearing Confessions in many languages, the lines can be long. The outdoor Confessions area was swarming with people every time we walked by. “Sorry God, if you had told me this earlier in the week, I would have gone, but I don’t want to miss out on anything during our last night here,” I prayed. Looking back, I am sure God was rolling His eyes.

After Adoration, while waiting for our friends, I looked at the Confession line trying to decide what to do. A friend from our group came over, looked at me, and said one word, “Pizza.” I jumped up and said, “Yes, let’s go.” We had a delightful time, and after I had stuffed myself, it occurred to me that I might have made a big mistake. “Maybe I should have tried to go to Confession,” I thought. “I think God was talking to me, and I disobeyed. Now, what am I going to do? It might be too late.” I was starting to feel guilty.

I asked Greg about my chances to get into Confession. “It’s after 9:00,” he said, “finding a priest still there (especially an English-speaking priest) won’t be easy”. I decided to try. We walked a block to the outdoor Confessions area and found it empty and dark. As we turned the corner, we spotted a priest in the distance sitting beside a sign that said “English.” I couldn’t believe it. As I approached, he said, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

A Message from God

I sat down and started my Confession. “I should tell you,” I said, “I’ve had issues with Confession. All my other Confessions were half-hearted and done out of obligation. I feel like God told me to come here tonight, so I’m going to consider this my first Confession.” Then I spilled my guts. It took a long time. I was crying, and even though I felt that I had confessed my sins to Jesus throughout the years, there was something special about speaking them out loud to a priest. I struggled to get out some of my words, but I did the best I could.

When I finished, he said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then he said, “I can tell you are genuinely sorry for your sins, but that’s not the only reason you are here. You are here because it is your last night in Medjugorje (I didn’t tell him that!), and you have been frustrated with God for a long time. You have wanted Him to speak to you on this trip, and you feel He hasn’t. (I didn’t tell him that either!)

“Here is God’s message to you,” said the priest. “Be patient, keep doing what you’re doing and trust in Me.’’ I started crying and then laughing because I was so filled with joy. I hugged him and thanked him for waiting for me. I couldn’t wait to tell Keith what the priest told me. We realized there was a reason we were in Medjugorje on Keith’s anniversary of becoming a Catholic. There was a reason God didn’t have Keith do too much during that first year. We needed to be patient and faithful. And shortly after returning, doors began opening for Keith to share his journey into the Catholic faith.

For example, since the Pandemic began, Keith has been live streaming a Rosary every afternoon on YouTube. He’s done it every day for almost two years now, with over 70 countries represented. It’s now referred to as the Rosary Crew. People from all over the world tell Keith that his ministry has helped them. We are extremely grateful. I’ve learned that while we often ask God to speak to us, too often we’ve already decided what we want Him to say. But God loves to surprise us. Isn’t it crazy that Confession, the very thing that turned me away from The Church, is the thing that Jesus used to bring me back wholeheartedly?

Are you asking God for advice but unwilling to hear what He says? Do you have issues with the Church which you need to resolve? Do you need to ask someone for forgiveness? Do you need to surrender to Jesus and start living differently? Whatever your issue, try to let go of your expectations and just listen? Don’t wait any longer. God is speaking to you. Listen.

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Estelle Nester

Estelle Nester is the wife of Catholic convert Keith Nester, author of the book “The Convert's Guide to Roman Catholicism: Your First Year in the Church.” Estelle lives in Cedar Rapids IA with her husband Keith. They have three adult children.

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