My Conversion Story: Part I — Satan Brought Me to God

I grew up believing the monster under my bed was Satan himself. My aunt once told me that the devil lingers just below our feet waiting for us to take one bad step so he can snatch us up. Fortunately, I would tell myself, I had only actually seen Satan in cartoons looking like an awful, terrible creature dragging people to a place full of fire and terror. Since my parents and really most all adults I knew seemed to tell anyone bothering or offending another person they were going to hell, I assumed my description was accurate and Satan’s tentacles moved swiftly.

Questions about hell and the devil fell on deaf ears during that time. My family repeated a variation of the same response to each inquiry that was something to the effect of “if you behave you’ll never have to worry about it.” As a first-born, dutiful type-A daughter this put me under tremendous additional pressure. Certain I would either be grabbed in the middle of the night or make bad decisions during the day, I was full of anxiety, loneliness and fear. Questions about God were even less likely to be answered than those about His fallen angel. As a little girl, I saw no way out and I took this very seriously.

A few years later I became fast friends with a girl in school whose grandfather was a Baptist minister for a small, budding church where her mother was the Sunday school teacher. Asking permission to go to a service with them was shockingly a shock to my parents. Why wouldn’t their 7-year-old daughter who is obsessed with worry about Satan under her bed want to go somewhere she might be able to talk about her concerns?

“But he isn’t real” my mom assured me. “It’s all something people make up to make themselves feel better than others, but nothing actually happens when you die. It’s either like you go to sleep forever or maybe you wake up as another animal. No one really knows, but we do know there’s no such thing as hell. Church will be long and boring and you’ll have to sit through that before you can do Sunday school. You can stay over on Friday night or I will pick you up very early before they leave on Sunday mornings.”  In retrospect, I see how she was equally trying to convince herself of her beliefs as she was me. As such, that was her retort for several sleepovers, until one Saturday she and my dad were in a particularly nasty fight. She called me at my friend’s house and made up some excuse for me to ask if my friend’s parents could keep me another night. I always knew when they were fighting because she would tell me she loved me more than anything in the whole world a thousand times and ask me if I was her favorite parent in various manipulations. Whether she forgot about church or God was answering my prayers that I didn’t know I was praying, I’m not sure. Likely it was both, but either way it was the start of the beginning for me.

That was ages ago, but the farther along I travel in my faith the more I see how God was there even in those earliest times when my parents did everything they could to keep Him out. I see myself wrapped in Our Lady’s mantle and soothed by her rocking. I recognize His calls to me and see how I blindly, unknowingly answered. I have a story to tell and I thought I’d start with the very first part today.

(You can read Part II here.)

Jessica Schaefer