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God’s presence in sacraments unmistakable for Lakeville woman
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit

Christina Nelson of Lakeville sat down recently to tell the story of her faith journey into the Catholic Church.

This is a story very few people know. It’s filled with both joy and heartache, and it culminated with her receiving five of the Church’s seven sacraments in a period of 18 months at St. Thomas Becket in Eagan. 

The fifth came on Oct. 6, 2012 when she married Josh, her high school sweetheart.

A whirlwind entry into the Church is not something this 26-year-old woman of Vietnamese descent with a Buddhist upbringing could have forseen.

How she got there unfolded as she wove her way through the account of her troubled teen years, her parents’ divorce and a short-term breakup with Josh while she was in college. As she unveiled the details of her conversion, her voice often choked with emotion, and she broke down and cried several times.

“These are happy tears, I promise,” she insisted.

Searching for answers

To comprehend the joy, one must first go back to the teenage years of Christina Le, the oldest of two daughters of her two Vietnamese parents, Vu [father] and Nga.

Christina first started having trouble during her junior year in high school. Her parents were struggling in their marriage, and it looked like they were headed for divorce. Christina felt that her father was primarily responsible for the breakup.

“It just tore me apart,” said Christina, who graduated from Eastview High School in Apple Valley in 2005, the same year Josh did. “I got so angry. I didn’t know what to do.”

Turns out, that experience ended up moving her toward the Church. Though she was a Buddhist growing up in Apple Valley, that religion did not provide the answers to questions she had or relieve her anger.

“I didn’t deal with it [parents’ breakup] until after college,” she said. “I just let it sit there. I would go to school, but it was still in the back of my mind. I knew I had to find something or else I would go crazy.

“I was blaming God. I didn’t even have a faith yet, but I was blaming him for everything that happened.”

During high school, she went to youth group events with Josh, who was raised Catholic. At the time, he was part of the group at St. John Neumann in Eagan. Eventually, she started going to Mass with him after they graduated from college and got back together. Then, in the fall of 2010, she enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at St. Thomas Becket.

“I went through the whole program and I loved it,” she said.

Sacramental grace

A large portion of time was spent studying the sacraments. One that eventually helped her to heal was reconciliation.

“I remember that day,” she said. “We had a moment of silence to think about what you wanted to tell the priest…. I told him about my parents. I was like, ‘What am I supposed to do to get over it? How am I supposed to forgive him?’ He was like, ‘Well, maybe you need to just let it go.’ That was the thing — I couldn’t let it go. What was I supposed to do in order to let it go? He was like, ‘You just need to pray to God, and I promise, he will take it all away.’”

In following the priest’s directive, Christina learned an important lesson about sacraments: that with them comes grace. Thus, she was able to forgive her father. Now, the two are on good terms, and he ended up walking her down the aisle on her wedding day, along with her mother.

Perhaps the biggest sacramental day was April 23, 2011, the Easter Vigil Mass, when she received the three sacraments of initiation: baptism, Eucharist and confirmation.

Baptism stands out because she waded into the church’s baptismal font and was able to confront her fear of being in front of a large crowd. To her amazement, the normal anxiety accompanying such a moment did not bother her.

“I didn’t feel nervous at all because I felt that God was with me,” she said. “Being in there with the whole congregation was amazing. . . . I felt good about it. I wasn’t scared.”

By the time the Mass was over and she had received two more sacraments, she knew something was different inside. The anger was gone without a trace. The darkness that had cast a shadow over her since high school was nowhere to be found.

“I felt like everything was lifted, that God had freed me,” she said. “I’m just really happy. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t find faith here. Everyone [at the parish] was just so nice. I think it really hit me right here [in the heart]. It was the ending of a chapter, but also the beginning of another chapter.”

The new chapter included standing at the altar of this church and making solemn vows of matrimony with Josh. 

Although her mother has questions about Catholicism, she says both parents accept her decision to join the Church.

Faith in action

Today, Nelson is putting her faith into action at the parish. She recently accepted the role of confirmation sponsor for a teen girl going through the program, and has expressed interest in being a sponsor for RCIA.

Beyond that?

“I’m trying to go on a mission trip,” she said. “I want to go on one so bad.”

For now, she will continue enjoying the benefits and blessings of being Catholic. One of them is having a new father figure in her life — Josh’s dad, Mike, who was her sponsor in RCIA.

“Josh was so surprised that I asked his dad,” she said. “Since I didn’t know him that well, I wanted him to be a part of it. That’s why I chose him. I wanted to get to know him more, I wanted him to get to know me more, spiritually. I just wanted him to be there and I thought it would be a good time for us to get to know each other and learn through faith.” 

For Christina, the feelings she experienced while receiving the sacraments are an unmistakable sign that God was present in them. She will now work to pass along those feelings to others.