My Search for the Full Gospel


By Deborah Danielski

As my husband, Ed, and I drove down a quiet rural Illinois highway one day, we passed a large wooden sign at the side of the road. The hand-painted lettering on 
the sign proclaimed, "Full Gospel Church -- 1/2 mile. "What is a "full gospel" church?" Ed asked. As I attempted to explain, a light came on in my mind, and suddenly, I knew. The "full gospel" was what I had been searching for all of my adult life, at times actively, at other times without even being aware of what it was I sought.

Apart from a brief encounter with Jesus at age six, I grew up pretty much without religion. By the time I was in my teens, I took the route all-too-common in the '60s, "looking for love in all the wrong places." Just before my 17th birthday, I found myself pregnant and standing before a minister, vowing to "love, honor and obey" my 17-year-old boyfriend, while thinking about the red-checkered tablecloth I'd buy for our tiny new kitchen. 

By the time I reached my mid-20s, I was into my second abusive marriage and was the mother of three. I'd messed up my life just about as much as I possibly could. Near despair, I determined it was time to make some effort to change my miserable life. I began by seeking counseling. That was when a series of incredible "coincidences" began to occur through which the Spirit of the Lord led me to the Gospel.

"How much do you drink?" the counselor asked only a short way into the first session.

"What does that have to do with anything?" I wondered to myself. "Oh, not too much," I responded. "Maybe about a six pack a day."

"Not too much?" he raised his eyebrows. "Six beers a day is 'not too much?'" Had I been completely honest, I would have told him I probably drank even more than that. Much to my surprise, he referred me to an alcohol abuse counselor. I was pretty sure drinking wasn't my problem, but knowing I had exhausted my own resources, I made the appointment.

"The first thing you have to do is admit the problem is beyond your control and submit it to God," said the counselor.

"Oh great," I thought. "This will never work." Though I was not at all sure what my problem was, I did realize it was beyond my control, otherwise I wouldn't have been there, but submit it to God? No way. "I don't believe in God," I countered.

"It doesn't have to be any particular god," she said, "but some form of 'supreme being,' however you understand him."

I shook my head. "I don't believe in any supreme being."

The counselor smiled. "You consider yourself a pretty open-minded person, don't you?" It was exactly the right question. I felt I was the most "open-minded" person I knew.

"Definitely," I shot back.

"But you've closed your mind to God," she suggested.

She was right. I had closed my mind and my heart to God. Perhaps I could give it a try, I thought. I had nothing to lose.

My stress goes down but my curiosity goes up

Out of hand, I rejected Christianity as too "traditional." So, in search of a more palatable option, I went to the local library and checked out a couple of books on yoga and Hinduism and began my search for "God." Soon I was practicing transcendental meditation at least 20 minutes a day. I was more relaxed, less stressed out about my problems, but I hadn't found God. And I knew it.

At the same time, my husband, Melvin, was commuting to work with a man who was a Jehovah's Witness. Every day Melvin would come home from work telling me something new John had said about God, Jesus, and the Bible. I had never read the Bible and we didn't even own one, but I was sure what John was telling Melvin couldn't possibly be true. Nonetheless, I found myself getting more and more curious.

Then one day I was reading a book about yoga and came across the following claim, "Truly spiritual people are always vegetarians. Even in the Hebrew Bible, God gave man the fruits of the trees to be their food, not the animals of the field."

I was puzzled. I'd known many Christians over the years, and not one of them had been a vegetarian. My curiosity got the best of me. I went out to the store and bought a Bible. I just had to know if what that author and the Jehovah's Witness were saying was true.

That night, I began to read the Gospel of Matthew, and immediately fell in love with Jesus. I knew without a doubt that no mere man could have invented the stories I read. If man were even capable of imagining God would become human, he would at least have him born in a castle, I thought, never in a manger.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," Jesus told me in Scripture. "Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." These were definitely not the words of a mere man. In my experience, the meek never inherited anything but trouble. I lay there in my bed, reading all night long, continuing into Mark, Luke, and John.

Just before daybreak, I rose, knelt by the side of my bed and began to pray.

As I prayed, I experienced an overwhelming sense of Christ's presence in the room with me. It was as though he stood at my side with his hand resting on my shoulder, and I was nearly overcome with a feeling of love more powerful than any I had ever imagined. I knew without a doubt -- Jesus loved me -- and I knew my sinful past was forgiven as I surrendered my life to this incomprehensible God/Man who captured my heart.

St. Paul knew what he was talking about

"Coincidentally," my children were attending Bible school that week with our Baptist neighbors. That Sunday morning, I attended a worship service at their small, independent Baptist church and publicly professed my faith in Christ. The next week I was baptized by immersion. For the next year, I seldom missed a Sunday morning, Sunday evening, or Wednesday night service. And I seldom allowed a day to pass without spending some time reading the Holy Scriptures and in prayer. I had tasted that the Lord was good, but I began to sense there was more to Christ than I had found. There was something missing. I sensed that I had not yet found the full gospel.

A friend and fellow Baptist, Marsha, began to tell me about the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit," and the gifts of the Spirit. I searched the Scriptures and read every publication I could find on the subject. Marsha was involved in the "Women's Aglow Fellowship," an interdenominational women's group associated with the "Full Gospel Businessmen's Association." I attended their next monthly meeting and was excited by the freedom with which this group praised God. Expecting to feel uneasy if any of the gifts of the Spirit were manifested, I was amazed when the group began to glorify God in a host of other languages and the only thing I felt was joy, peace and fulfillment.

"Yes, this is it," I thought. This was what I had been missing. At the end of the service, I went forward for prayer. More than anything in the world I wanted this "Full Gospel." As I knelt at the altar with my eyes closed in prayer, the leader laid her hands on top of my head. Almost immediately I sensed a brilliant light in a far corner of the room that seemed to move toward me, and I soon felt immersed in God's presence and love. In my joy, I simultaneously laughed and cried and when I opened my mouth to speak, I was singing -- singing praises to God in a language I had never learned.

Those were some of the best years of my life. I loved God, I loved my family, I loved everyone. Certainly there were trials, but I had the Spirit of God to uphold me through anything, or so I thought. Since my Baptist pastor did not believe in the gifts of the Spirit, I soon moved my membership to an Assembly of God. After a while, I came to believe that as a Child of God I had the "right" to walk always in divine health and material prosperity. With God as my father, I believed nothing evil could touch me. I was satisfied that I had found the fullness of God and convinced I was beyond reproach.

I still avidly read Scripture, but I must have missed St. Paul's warning: "Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall" (1 Cor. 10:12).

Did God betray me?

There was a major fall in store for me and when it hit, the entire structure of my new life was shattered. For six years Melvin and I had prayed for a child. I had my two children from my first marriage with me only on weekends. When Melvin's brother had been tragically killed two years before, we adopted his three-year-old son. But Melvin desperately wanted a child of his own.

One Wednesday evening as I stood, praising God, at the end of a worship service, I felt a sudden pain in my lower abdomen. I "rebuked" it, as I had been taught. But nothing happened. In fact, the pain grew worse. I went forward to the altar and asked two friends to help pray for my healing. We prayed and prayed. Still the pain worsened. The pastor was closing the church, so seven friends and I went to one of their homes, where we continued to pray and rebuke the pain in my abdomen. Still it did not yield. Finally I asked someone to take me to the hospital.

I was experiencing my second tubal pregnancy. The tube burst and immediate surgery was required to save my life. Nothing that was tried could save my baby. I was devastated. Not only had my faith failed to heal my body, but it was now evident that I would never have another child and my husband would never have one of his own -- at least not with me. As soon as I was released from the hospital, I was back in church, just in time to hear a sermon I will never forget.

"Anyone who claims to be a Christian," the preacher roared, "and would willingly go into a hospital and let someone cut on them with a knife is deluded!" I sat through the remainder of that sermon about "true faith," but when it ended, I left that church, never to return. I wasn't sure whether their theology was skewed, or I had just utterly failed. It put me into a tailspin.

What had it all meant? I wondered. "Was what had happened to me really due to a lack of faith? Was it my own fault? What could I have done differently? Or could all I had previously experienced -- all the joy in praying, the warm feelings, the power I felt in "rebuking" sickness and evil, and speaking in "tongues" -- could all that have been nothing more than wishful thinking?"

I never spoke to that pastor again and my friends just didn't seem to have the answers I needed. I soon stopped reading Scripture and stopped praying. I felt God had betrayed me and I had no idea where to turn. I still believed in Him. I still believed in the Gospel, but I no longer knew what it meant for me and, frankly, I was no longer inclined to find out.

I leave my husband and find my mother

Melvin soon returned to his excessive drinking and abuse. My faith was shattered, but a spark of self-esteem remained. For the first time in my life, I felt I could make it own my own. Though I made far too little money to support myself in the manner I had grown accustomed to, that no longer mattered. All I wanted was a little peace. I knew I would rather live in a hole in the wall in peace than to continue the nearly constant battles with my husband. It was not easy to admit to another failure, but after 13 years in my second marriage, I left Melvin and obtained a second divorce.

Three years later, God gave me one of the greatest gifts I would ever receive from Him, my current husband, Ed. Though I had turned my back on Him, Christ had not abandoned me. Not long after my marriage to Ed, a series of "coincidences" began to occur again in my life that made it impossible for me to ignore Christ and His Full Gospel any longer.

My friend, Judy, a Catholic with whom I had never discussed God or religion, unexpectedly gave me a book for my 42nd birthday. One glance at the cover of the book made me question her sanity. The book was about apparitions of the Virgin Mary and the cover bore her picture. Though I knew nothing about apparitions, I had strong convictions about the Virgin Mary. I knew she had existed and I knew she'd given birth to Our Lord, but apart from that, I'd rarely given her a second thought except to condemn Catholics for "worshipping" her.

"I don't know if you'll like it," Judy said as I held the book in my hand, looking incredulously at its cover. "It's spiritual."

I was polite. "Oh, I like spiritual books," I said, all the while wondering what could ever have possessed anyone to give me a book about Mary. My being polite was a big mistake. It opened the door for Judy to spend the next hour-and-a-half telling me all about her new and wonderful relationship with the Virgin Mary. She told me Mary had become her dearest friend and closest confidante.

I thought she'd gone over the edge. "Lord, help her," I prayed. But I reluctantly accepted the book and out of curiosity, began to read it. For the first time in years, I almost immediately felt the Holy Spirit move in my heart. I continued to read and soon sensed Christ asking me to open my heart to His mother.

My life was not such a mess as it had been when I first began to seek the Lord. Considering my past mistakes, I was relatively happy and successful. I hadn't consciously felt a need for anything more.

But God in His infinite wisdom and mercy stirred again in me that life-long yearning to know Him in His fullness. In my hands that day was the answer. How better to learn the "Full Gospel" than from the very Mother of God? Who could more effectively lead me to the fullness of Christ than the only human being who carried Our Lord in her womb, nourished Him at her breast and lived physically and intimately with Him every moment of His life -- the one who not only bore witness to The Word, but who bore The Word.

"And immediately something like scales fell..."

I finished the book Judy gave me and proceeded to read everything I could get my hands on about apparitions and visions of the Blessed Mother. I devoured anything I could find regarding Fatima. I came to believe there was a profound message behind these Marian apparitions. There will never be peace for individuals or mankind until you turn your hearts back to your Creator, Mary seemed to be saying. "God loves you. Repent and pray for your own conversion and for the conversion of the world." I began to do just that and many of my misconceptions about Catholicism were soon unmasked.

Catholics didn't worship Mary, I realized, they were devoted to her as the Mother of Christ. They reverenced Mary as the first Christian. They embraced Christ's precious gift from the cross -- the gift of His mother to his body, the Church. Statues of Mary in Catholic churches were no more "false idols" than were the pictures of my beloved husband and children in my own home. I fell in love with my spiritual Mother.

I studied the Roman Catholic faith. I read books by Scott Hahn, Alan Schreck, Karl Keating, Mark Shea, Patrick Madrid and Thomas Howard. I reread chapter six of the Gospel of John. "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in you," Christ said there to the skeptical Jews. I realized Holy Communion could be much more than symbolic of the Last Supper. By the power of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Mass, Christ is truly present and imparts His life through the bread and wine.

While wrestling with the Catholic meaning of the Communion of Saints, Christ's words to the Sadducees in Matthew 22:31-32 came to life. "Have you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." It excited me to learn the saints who lived before us had not been cut off from the Body of Christ just because they had died. I was as free to ask any of them to pray for me as I was to ask anyone here on earth.

As I learned more about our covenant relationship with God, infant baptism took on a whole new meaning. Why wouldn't our Father provide a means for our newborn children to enter that relationship, just as He had for the Jews in circumcision?

In direct contrast to what I'd previously believed, I found Catholics had an objective faith totally absent from any other church I'd attended. God always imparts His grace through the sacraments, regardless of the recipient's faith, I learned. Sure, faith was necessary for that sacramental grace to flourish, but it was God who acted first, not man.

"Catholics don't believe in reading the Bible," I'd been taught. But when I began to attend Mass, I heard far more Scripture read at every service than I had ever heard at any Protestant church.

No priest can forgive sin, I'd previously believed. But if Christ were present on earth, would I choose to sit in my own home and confess mentally to Him, hoping and praying I'd been forgiven? Or would I go to Him in person and hear the words of forgiveness directly from His mouth? That is exactly what the sacrament of reconciliation offers, I realized. Christ is indeed present and available to forgive sin, in His body the Church and in His representatives, the priests.

It all began to make sense, and it was all embraced by the Catholic Church, the one church on earth I had believed I would never enter. Much to my surprise, everything I learned about the Catholic Church expanded and enriched my faith, but I continued to have one major concern. Would I have to give up my belief in the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit to become Catholic?

One final obstacle to the fullness of truth and grace

I was still struggling with that dilemma when Ed and I attended a Marriage Encounter weekend. At the closing Mass, the participating couples formed a circle as Father Tom Griffith distributed Holy Communion. Having not yet committed to or been accepted into the Catholic Church, when Father Tom came to me I gently shook my head. Rather than passing on to the next person in line, he stopped, laid hands on Ed and me, and prayed. When Fr. Tom prayed, I felt so overwhelmed by the power of the Holy Spirit my knees grew weak and I nearly fell over. I was astonished. I had never believed a Catholic priest could pray with such power. I was delighted to discover the Holy Spirit was indeed alive and well in at least some members of the Catholic Church.

Having come this far in my journey toward Catholicism, I had to know immediately what my own parish priest believed about the baptism and gifts of the Spirit.

"Is it okay for a Catholic to believe in the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit?" I nervously asked Father Tony Nugent.

"Of course," he responded. Though we receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, we don't always experience a full release of the power of the Spirit until much later, Fr. Tony continued, relating his own experience of "the baptism" as an adult priest.

"Praise God," I gasped.

Relieved and encouraged by this incredible response, I poured out my soul. I told Father Tony all about my previous spiritual experiences, including the one that had led me to abandon my faith in God. "Do you believe it is always God's will to heal?" I asked.

"Yes," he responded. "But He may not always heal in the way we want or expect. "If God had granted you the physical healing you sought that day, you would not be here with me today," he said, assuring me I was on the right path. "He healed you spiritually instead."

In that moment, I recalled Romans 8:28: "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose." What had seemed to be the worst experience of my life, God had worked for my ultimate good. Another enormous burden was lifted from my soul.

Finally, I knew I had it all. I had a loving Heavenly Father who called me out of darkness and offered me life through the body and blood of His only begotten Son, nearly 2,000 years ago in the crucifixion, and today in the Holy Eucharist. I had the Son, who humbled Himself, became man and was obedient unto death to give the power of the Holy Spirit to His body, the Church.

I had the Holy Spirit, who enlightens, cleanses and empowers. I had His spouse, my spiritual mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to show me the way. I had Christ's Church, built upon the rock, led by the Holy Spirit into all truth and against which the gates of hell will never prevail.

And within that Church, I had priests and the fellowship of a group of believers who embrace both the gifts of the Holy Spirit and devotion to our Blessed Mother. At last, the Full Gospel was mine.

1996 Deborah Danielski (This story first appeared in the Nov/Feb issue of Envoy magazine)


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