My name is Lindsay Charland. I’m a wife and mother to three on earth and one in heaven. Prior to accepting the role of Director of Philanthropic Development with the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall, I served for over a decade as a missionary and Director of Stewardship and Development with Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO). When it comes to the Church, you might say I’m “all in”. I’ve found my deepest identity as a beloved daughter of God. However, that was not always the case.
I grew up as an only child to two loving parents in a secular, post-Christian household. After I graduated from university in Miami, FL, I got a full-time job in fund development and moved in with my then-boyfriend. All seemed good. Then, two years later, things began to unravel as my relationship came to an end.
I remember sitting alone in my car one evening in July. I didn’t know where I needed to go in my life, but I decided to place my trust in God. I made a very sincere prayer that night: I told Him that I trusted Him to take care of me. I asked Him what I was missing. What didn’t I understand?
In the silence that followed, I heard a single word emanating from my heart:
It surprised me. That’s not what I would have come up with on my own. Christianity intrigued me, but Christians themselves seemed hypocritical and pushy with their “conversion” agenda. Moreover, I couldn’t wrap my mind around this “dying God on a Cross” that they loved.
All the same, I asked again, just to be sure, and heard the same reply from deep in my heart:
At that moment, I surrendered. I said: “Okay, God. If Jesus really is who He says He is, if He really is your Son, and He died on a cross for my sins, I’m willing to believe it. But you have to show me that it’s true. I don’t want to believe a lie.” I didn’t “hear” anything else after that, but I got a sense that He would be willing to show me if I were to take the steps to find out.
Wondering to whom I should turn for help, I thought of my good friend, Jennie, an evangelistic, bible-study attending Catholic who had been inviting me to groups or events at Church since I met her. She was patient and kind with me every time I said “no,” but she never stopped inviting me.
I called Jennie, told her what had happened, and asked her if I could go to church with her sometime. She laughed and said, “I’ve been praying for two years for you to ask me that question. What are you doing tomorrow night?”
I thought, “What could possibly be happening on a Tuesday night at a Catholic church?”
She brought me to a prayer night of worship and teaching. At the end of the evening, they invited people to come forward to receive prayer. With nothing to lose, I let them, and I felt the gentle peace of the Holy Spirit come upon me, like rain. When I left the church, everything felt different. I was drawn to things that were holy and from the Lord and was agitated by things that were immoral or even just too “worldly.” I couldn’t even stand to listen to the chatter on the radio! I called Jen and asked her: “What did they do to me? How can I live like this?!”
Jen didn’t have all the answers, but she invited me to Mass on Sunday and I accepted. The church was alive and full of people who looked genuinely happy to be there! I had never attended a Catholic Mass before, but when it came time for the Consecration, my world stopped. As the priest elevated the Sacred Host, I stared in awe at the altar and knew – deep in my soul and beyond a shadow of a doubt — that I was staring at the singularity of Truth in the Universe. Almost in shock, I pulled on Jennie’s arm and asked, “What just happened?” She smiled and whispered, “That’s the Eucharist.”
I don’t recall every hearing the word before, but I just knelt there, stunned, and asked, “What’s that?” Her reply was simple: “It’s Jesus.” And my heart knew that it was. I was able to accept the Real Presence of Christ from that moment on.
After such an experience, I asked Jennie what I could do next. She invited me to a regular weekly gathering of prayer at the church. There, I received healing from unexplained gastrointestinal issues that I’d been struggling with for over a year. As if that wasn’t enough, God was healing of my soul at the same time.
I cried at every Mass for months, pierced through by the truth of the Gospels and homilies. I kept going to the prayer meetings, too. These two “touchpoints” in the community of faith were my pillars of support, along with my deepening friendship Jennie, who personally accompanied me through it all. Together, they formed an “environment” or “eco-system” of encounter that allowed my faith to take root and grow.
That September, during the prayer meeting, I had a concrete opportunity to invite Jesus to be the centre of my life, and I said yes. I didn’t feel like I knew everything yet, and I worried about what it would mean for my life, but Jen encouraged me. It was a simple and sincere prayer. From then on, my life was radically transformed. I was on fire for God and falling deeply in love with Jesus. On March 22, 2008, the most important day of my life, I was received into the Church through the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation, with Jennie, of course, as my sponsor and Godmother!
I share my story to bear witness to the real and enduring transformation that is possible in someone’s life when the Church is faithfully and authentically living out her mission to evangelize. In my case, the “Church” – on an individual level, with Jennie; on the small group level, on the parish level, and eventually, on the local Church level – was aligned and oriented to be able to receive me as a newcomer.
I was ministered to by people who believed in the power of God to transform lives and who were willing to take a risk, to step out in faith, and be instruments in God’s hands to bring about that transformation.
Although my story is rather extraordinary, I believe that God desires these types of conversions to become far more ordinary in our times. The Holy Spirit is on the move; and despite our collective challenges, He’s not done working in and through His Church. I believe stories like mine are like the first few raindrops before a great outpouring of grace, and that there are many more conversions to come.
Are we, both individually and in our parish communities, ready to receive them?
I look forward to journeying with you all towards realizing God’s plan for a thriving, local Church in the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall, attentive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and oriented towards the mission of brining others into an authentic and dynamic relationship with Jesus and His Church.