I feel pleased and humbled to share with you my testimonial, which reveals the role Jesus and the Holy Spirit have played in my life as Counselor and Comforter over the past forty-three years.
Cecelia (my now-deceased wife) and I had been married for about ten years when I made the decision to join the Catholic Church. Since my desire was to be a good example, I always attended Mass with her and our children. Every Sunday, Cecelia would go up to receive communion, come back to the pew, kneel down and pray. Number one on her prayer list was for me to join the Catholic Church. For many years I watched the joy and happiness she and others received from doing this every Sunday. I wondered if I could experience this kind of joy in my life.
I made an appointment with my friend, Father Cary, priest at St. Mary's parish in Eugene, Oregon, where we lived. I asked what I would have to do if I were to join the Catholic Church. He said I would have to take a class before I could become a member of the church. After that I would be baptized and confirmed in front of the congregation. He said he would instruct me personally and it wouldn’t be the normal group baptism/confirmation ceremony, but a ceremony of one, just me. I could handle the class, but being the only person baptized and confirmed in front of the congregation disturbed me. Because of my shyness, it would have to be something I considered extremely important for me to put myself center stage. I agreed to Father Cary’s conditions and moved forward for the sake of my wife and family. The thought of being center stage, however, was almost unbearable for this shy guy.
On Sunday, July 28, 1974, my wife's prayer request for me to join the church became a reality. I had taken the necessary class and was baptized, confirmed and welcomed into the Catholic Church. Something strange occurred during my baptismal ceremony. As Farther Cary administered the Holy Water to my forehead, I began to experience a warm loving presence seeming to cover me like a warm blanket. At that moment I knew I belonged to Jesus. I experienced the joy and happiness I had witnessed before in my wife and other congregants.
Shortly after my baptism I began having an unexplainable obsession to read the Bible and other Christian books. Jesus was on my mind constantly. I often would pray, “I want to know you Jesus, really know you.” I joined our local Catholic Charismatic Church prayer group to help me get a better understanding of what I was experiencing. They prayed with me and over me with outstretched hands. In the beginning my experience with the Holy Spirit was learning about Jesus; later it became trusting in Jesus. In subsequent years I became active in numerous church organizations, St. Vincent de Paul, Knights of Columbus, parish council, youth group, marriage encounter and others.
Cecelia and I began working together as a couple in our parish. We started the first official youth group at St. Mark Parish in Eugene. St. Mark even purchased a school bus for our youth group trips. I recall our first trip to the Oregon coast using our bus. Parents were concerned about their children going on trips with our bus. I, too, had safety concerns about the bus on these trips. The day before we were to leave on our coastal trip, I was mowing our lawn and I began to pray, "Lord, I know I'm a good bus driver. I drive school bus part time for our school district. My concern is for the person coming towards us from the other direction, the vehicle I have no control over." The words I received within my heart have been etched in my mind all these years and have never left me. It wasn't an external, audible voice, but more like a comforting reassuring internal communication. Jesus said, "Not even the wind can touch this bus, unless I allow it." What I experienced that day removed all fear I would ever have while driving our church bus.
Later on, Cecelia and I accepted an invitation to go on a marriage encounter weekend. We enjoyed our weekend and learned much about each other through our sharing. On Sunday afternoon as our weekend came to an end, the team leaders approached us, asking if we would become a team couple and give marriage encounter weekends. I, the shy guy, was being asked to give marriage encounter weekends. For those who have been on a marriage encounter weekend and have knowledge of what is expected from a team couple, you know how frightening this would be to me. We were given one hour before we had to give them our answer.
Cecelia was okay with the idea immediately. I, on the other hand, was not so sure. I was going over all the what-ifs: what if I embarrass myself and my wife; choke up, unable to speak; come across as foolish. The worst part: I would have to deal with my shyness. The list was long for not doing it and short for doing it. I used the one hour to pray, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance in helping me make the right decision. As I prayed I began to experience reassuring thoughts similar to the one I had prior to our coastal trip with our youth group. These words flooded my mind: “Do not be afraid, I will be with you. I will prepare you for this journey."
With this thought, Cecelia and I answered the Lord’s call and became a team couple giving marriage encounter weekends. After we had served as a team couple for a period of time, the regional leaders for marriage encounter approached us asking if we would be their replacement as regional leaders. Their request was too much for me. Like Peter's lack of faith to continue his walk when asked to step out of the boat and meet Jesus, I also lacked the faith needed to continue on to the next level in our marriage encounter journey. So I declined their request. I prayed the Lord would forgive me for my lack of faith and fear of failure.
I began to wonder what other journeys the Lord had planned for our future. My wondering was short-lived. Within a few months Cecelia and I were given the most devastating news, news that hit us like a freight train. This shocking news would require us to put our complete trust in the Lord. Nothing, can prepare you for the C word. Cecelia was diagnosed with throat cancer. I confronted her doctor with many questions. How can this be happening? She has never smoked a day in her life. There must be a mistake; this cancer is for smokers, not my wife. Next, I directed my thoughts in prayer to our Lord, asking, what's going on? Why is this happening to us? This isn't fair, I need my wife and our children need their mother. Please, please consider all the good she has done in your name. I pleaded with God to stop this from happening.
The icy hand of fear gripped my heart and squeezed until it seemed all hope was gone. I couldn't stir and rouse the kind of faith needed from the depths of my heart. I had to leave the feelings of my heart and look into the face of Jesus and receive again those words from years past: “Do not be afraid, I have prepared you for this journey, trust me, I am with you.” With these words and thoughts I began to experience a comforting feeling that everything would be okay. Strengthened by this and our faith in the Holy Spirit, we put our complete trust in knowing, whatever the outcome, we would not be alone in this battle.
The Lord in his goodness gave Cecelia and me another fifteen years together before her passing. We needed those fifteen years to prepare us for that day. Standing together, striving side by side without fear as full recipients of the triple graces of courage, salvation and suffering, we emerged victorious as this journey ended and her eternal journey with our Lord began. On July 15, 2002, three days before our thirty-eighth wedding anniversary, the agony and pain from her cancer was over. Cecelia died knowing that Jesus, her family and friends loved her very much.
Cecelia lived to see our children grow into loving adults and see the birth of three of our grandchildren. I can still see her doing her Hawaiian dance to the Lord’s Prayer in front of our church congregation. However, with all of our positive experiences over many years, I still found it difficult to accept and understand her death at such a young age. The zeal I once had diminished considerably. I found myself making excuses for not attending Mass as often as I once did. I discontinued my involvement with the organizations so much a part of my life before. With the passing of time, help from those closest to me and the reassuring presence of the Holy Spirit, I began to recover from this depressing low I was experiencing in my life. Psalms, 30:5 says, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
Tragedy makes life hard; it does not make it hopeless. Looking back over the path Cecelia and I traveled, we can sing our song of victory on this side of Heaven. The words I received long ago helped us get through this most difficult time in our lives. Fifteen years is a long time to see someone you love fight a deadly illness. Jesus promised he would send the Comforter to be with us and he did. In his goodness and love he was telling us we were not alone in our battle.
As believers we all have the ability to communicate with the Holy Spirit. We only need to seek his counsel and have faith and trust in what is being communicated to us. Jesus said that “whoever has ears should listen to what the Holy Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:29).. The Holy Spirit communicates to us in many ways, through our pastors, deacons, friends, family members, prayers, reading the Bible, Christian books, attending lectures or classes, and in the events that take place in our lives.
After Cecelia’s passing, the Lord in his goodness brought Nancy, my present wife, into my life. More recently I was asked to consider a program which would feed the poor and homeless in our area. My first response was, no way, I’m not qualified. Once again I was reminded, “Do not be afraid I will be with you.” With that reassurance, Nancy and I began working together at the St. Anthony Community Café providing hot meals for the poor and homeless in Tigard, Oregon. Nancy is my soul mate, helper and best friend. Even though Nancy is not Catholic, you will see her sitting beside me during Sunday Mass. Her spiritual insight, kindness, and wisdom bring me constant joy and happiness. Her compassion for those in need is bringing many blessings from our Lord into each of our lives.
As I move forward in life I will continue to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit and try to accomplish the desires of our Lord. I finished an eleven week course called, Just Faith. This journey confirmed my responsibility to work for peace and justice for all people and bring hope to those who are struggling. Over the years I still involve myself in some of the same organizations I did in years past, St. Vincent de Paul and Knights of Columbus, and occasionally I meet with the youth of our parish to share the impact the Holy Spirit can have in their lives. These are the organizations that have given me the most satisfaction and joy. For me serving those in need is an opportunity to serve the Lord.
Over all these years I have learned something important. If we trust and have no fear and move ever so slightly forward in faith, or as Jesus said, if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we will find ourselves on the most exciting journeys ever imagined. Many fond memories linger in my heart and bring me much comfort. I often find myself asking this question, who am I that the Lord would show such kindness and love for me and my family? “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” (Romans 11:35) The answer is no one, it is by grace.
It is only by the grace of God and the sacrifice Jesus made, not because of anything I have done, that I can share the story of His love and mercy. I know there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, and nothing I can do to make God love me less. It has been over forty-three years of asking and receiving guidance from the Holy Spirit. Only on these few unforgettable occasions I mentioned has the Holy Spirit's message been so clearly directed into my life.
As I began writing my story, it was the Holy Spirit who helped me recall all these wonderful experiences and the important role He played as our counselor and comforter on these many journeys. As I conduct my life day-to-day, feeling my way forward, generally on the right path, sometimes stubbing my toe, I know the Holy Spirit is always with me. Knowing and believing this to be true has helped me overcome many of life’s troubles. Let me touch briefly on something I spoke about at the beginning of my testimonial, my shyness. I still get nervous at times when I find myself center stage, but I stand on his promises and take courage and move forward in spite of my fears.
John 14:27, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” I believe the strength of our faith is in direct proportion to our level of belief that God will do exactly what He has promised. The Bible says according to your faith will it be done to you. I leave you with this thought, pray with expectation and listen for the quiet whisper of God's answer. Many opportunities are lost while we wait after being told to move. Do not be afraid, trust and have faith. He will be with you. I close with the words St. John used at the end of his Gospel, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who has written them down. And we know that his testimony is true.”
© Donald Lane
Don Lane, who grew up in Michigan and retired from a railroad career with Southern Pacific and Union Pacific, lives with his wife and their dog in Beaverton, Oregon. Don writes spiritual, spirit-filled messages to provide hope, encouragement and inspiration to family, friends and others.