As a surprise, my mom had pre-ordered my copy of Jennifer Fulwiler’s memoir Something Other Than God: How I Passionately South Happiness and Accidentally Found It and it arrived Thursday. I finished it last night.
Yesterday, before finishing the book, I called my mom and we talked about Jennifer’s talks she got to hear a few weeks ago at the Ignited By Truth conference. Although I had been reading Conversion Diary for years, my mom was a newer reader. Both of us are charged up by stories of conversion having both been born and raised Catholic and neither of us ever leaving the Church. We are both aware of the gift of the Church here on earth so seeing how others finding that gift reignites in us what has always made it special to us and sometimes illuminates things we haven’t fully realized ourselves.
And illumination is what Something Other Than God is all about. During my study of the Gospel of Matthew this past year, our teaching leader often referred to “the light (they) were given” in reference to many individuals or groups of people we encounter in Matthew’s Gospel: the Magi, Herod, the Apostles, Simon Peter, the Jewish people, the Gentiles and the list goes on and on. “The Light they were given” refers to knowledge people had about God based upon their birth, education, ethnicity and experience. Jennifer Fulwiler realized the light she had been given at such a young age that she would never remember it, at a very young age and a time in her life when she would not be able to do much to try and expand that light. But it sent her on a quest, a quest to find out more, to find something other than God that will answer the nagging questions and create the peace and happiness she sought.
Like a telescope lens being opened wider and wider to let more light in and allow the viewer to see more, Jennifer’s light grows in brightness and intensity as she investigates a religion she cannot believe could possibly have the answers. Her lens opens wider when she meets husband Joe, a lifelong Protestant who begins to help in her investigation when he realizes that the majority of her original blog’s commenters are Catholic, and it wasn’t Catholicism she was investigating it was Christianity. It continues to open as she asks questions on her blog and smart responders direct her to the Catechism. It is opened when, while sitting in a breakfast after mass, a woman comes up to her and gives her the information on RCIA and the new man who is coming to run it at the parish, a man named Noe Rocha who would figure prominently in Jennifer and Joe’s conversion of heart. Even in her babysitter whose stories of poverty as a child grew her faith instead of shattering it.
Her lens also opens more to let light in through her reading. She reads Augustine of Hippo, CS Lewis, and yes, the Bible.
Jen’s is not a conversion like St Paul’s where the lens is opened so rapidly that the light blinds him temporarily but it is the conversion God required based on her charism. Jen doesn’t go by a conversion of “one big dramatic event” instead, like the analytical, scientific mind she has, it proceeds as a careful step-by-step investigation.
What I found most remarkable is something Simcha Fisher wrote that I read before my copy arrived (before I even knew a copy was coming to my house):
…by the end of the book, her life has changed drastically. Instead of pursuing wealth, glamour, and prestige, and championing a right to abortion with a cynical, mocking attitude toward believers, she finds herself juggling babies, uninsured, scrambling to find a housing her family can afford, and battling serious medical problems which thrust her way beyond the realm of normal struggles with natural family planning.
But despite these radical changes, she is still herself. She has not become a different person — she has become the Jennifer Fulwiler who sees life differently. A small distinction, you might think, but this willingness to see and respect the person, rather than reducing him to a tidy story or message, is one of the most appealing hallmarks of Fulwiler’s writing, and of her approach to Catholicism in general.
Simcha, as always, told no lie. Jennifer is not interested in telling us about how life is awesome now that she’s Catholic, but the process of learning that how we view life through the lens of Catholicism, how we allow it to change our hearts, makes the difference in how we handle the slings and arrows of this world that come be we atheist, Buddhist, Catholic, agnostic or something else altogether.
It is the questions in life we choose to pursue that lead our hearts to God or away from Him if we allow them to. Can we let go and leave open the possibility of God’s hand in our lives even when it is not what we want or think we want? Jennifer Fulwiler’s story teaches us that even the smallest amount of light given will light up the correct answers when we seek to find them.