The Long Road Home
by Mary Eckstein
Somehow, as a child, I knew there was a God. My Methodist parents did not practice their faith, so I went to church with my best friend, who was Presbyterian. The first time I heard the whole church sing “Onward Christian Soldiers,” I was overcome with emotion. To this day, I still have the book we studied in Vacation Bible School.
When I was nine, my mother died of cancer, and my dad remarried a widow with two sons. Because my stepmother and all her family were Catholic, it was decided that my two younger brothers and I would become Catholic converts. What a powerful experience it was to walk into a huge church with soaring walls and stained glass windows! I loved art and was drawn to the imagery of the statues and the rituals.
In those days, there were certain things you had to do to be a good Catholic: never, ever miss Mass on Sunday; never eat meat on Friday; always make the sign of the cross before praying. Another rule at my church was to never eat anything before going to communion. As a result, once when it was very warm, I fainted at Mass. We also had to go to catechism classes after school—taught by nuns at the church. The classes were to prepare us to be confirmed. We lived in fear that the bishop might ask us to answer one of the 100 questions we had to memorize from the Baltimore Catechism.
But going to Mass faithfully didn’t keep me from sinning. My teenage years were particularly difficult, as a stepbrother was molesting me and my stepmother really didn’t want to deal with an opinionated, stubborn stepdaughter. But I managed through, and in 1983, met and married my husband. He was born and raised a Catholic, and when we moved to Maine, we started going to the local Catholic parish.
Becoming Very Catholic
By this time, the reforms of Vatican Ⅱ were in full force and, to me, the whole thing just looked fake. No stained glass, no fancy altar, no Latin Mass, no ritual. I became quite an outspoken conservative Catholic, complete with rosary, scapulars (images of Mary worn under your clothing), an expert on relics and saints, and well-versed in Catholic theology and history. I thought Protestants had it all wrong, that it was the sin of presumption to think you were saved by just believing in Jesus. I had a lot of conservative Catholic friends, and we reinforced each other's beliefs.
Within the Catholic Church, there is a large, very orthodox movement—and I became part of that movement. I made my kids all wear scapulars. I wore only dresses and skirts and covered my head at Mass. I prayed the rosary every day and read my kids stories about the saints. Some of the doctrines of the church were troublesome to me though. I never felt a huge devotion to Mary that many of these orthodox believers did. I could not believe some of the doctrines: Mary's immaculate conception (she was conceived without original sin), her assumption into heaven (her body never corrupted here on earth), and her crowning as Queen of Heaven. She was regarded (and still is by many) as Co-Redemptrix and Co-Mediatrix with Jesus, which means that praying to Mary will gain you what you need. She can intercede for you with God the Father because, it is reasoned, she was the perfect mother, and what son can refuse his mother's wishes?
Though I adhered to conservative Catholic doctrine, my local church did not feed me from the Word. When the priest molestation scandal broke out, I was really disappointed in the church. We as a family quit attending regularly. My husband, too, lost faith in the church he was born into.
During this time, I was teaching piano and all the stringed instruments in my home. A pastor’s family contacted me for lessons for their two girls. They had moved here from Alaska and planted a church in the next town. The mom told me they were independent Baptists. I was surprised to learn that they didn't consider themselves Protestant. I started researching the Baptist faith and learned so much that contradicted what I had learned through the Catholic Church.
I still had the habit of sometimes going to Mass on my own. One day, I was headed to church and drove by the Baptist church of my students. I turned in, got out, and walked right into a Bible study class. I was really blown away. The teaching filled my hunger for truth. And the preaching was simple, which I could understand.
My Road to Faith
When I went home, I told my husband what I had done. He was not happy. I think he feared I might leave him. But with a wonderful marriage and six children together, I would certainly never consider doing that! I reminded him that he was the one who suggested I read the Bible, and that I was doing what the Bible told me to do. When I told the pastor that I wanted to join his church, he started me on a discipleship course—one in which I had to really study and read the Bible for answers. I also started attending Wednesday evening prayer services.
Again, my husband wasn't too happy about it, but I was gently persistent. I wouldn't go against his specific order not to go, but he didn't forbid it. I started attending this church in the spring of 2012, and in August of 2012, I truly repented of my sin and accepted Jesus as my Savior. In August of 2016, I was accepted for membership and was baptized (immersed) in a river near the church. Imagine my joy in having my husband and all my kids there to watch! My husband doesn't attend church with me but often asks questions about the faith. I pray every day for the salvation of him and my children.
I firmly believe in God's Word, that whosoever has faith and seeks Him will find Him (Hebrews11:6). When I think back on all the sins I have committed over my lifetime, I am indeed so grateful to God for His salvation in Jesus Christ. My whole worldview has changed, and I see more and more each day that the only answer to everything is belief in Christ.