WALDPORT — People ask how I have remained in Christ’s peace while going blind from macular degeneration. The short answer: From the time I was very young, God has taken care of me.

I do not have happy memories of early childhood. But I always felt safe and loved. One summer, I attended vacation Bible school. I remember learning, “It’s God who loves you and keeps you safe.”

I think it was two years later, at age 8 or 9, when I heard a damnation-burn-in-hell sermon. I was full of fear and confusion. Once home, I got my Bible, sat on the floor, and said aloud, “God, I am going to sit here all day, reading my Bible; I do not want to go to hell!”

Immediately, I heard, “Shirley, all I ask is that you try to always do your best.” With that, I closed my Bible and went outside to play. That was the beginning of my daily walks with a merciful, loving God.

I was around 12 when I got another message from God. “Shirley, I want you to start searching for the church where you can best live with me.”

There was no immediate elucidation. But about two years later, the answer came in an unplanned, surprising way. While attending school, I heard the teacher make a derogatory remark about the Catholic Church. Suddenly, I found myself standing up, saying, “You should not say something bad about the Catholic Church unless you know for a fact that it is true!” I sat down, stunned. I knew next to nothing about the Catholic Church — only what I had read in history books.

A few months later, I began dating Jim Squire who, unknown to me, was a Catholic. I found this out because God always became a topic of

conversation with the boys I dated. I told Jim that I was interested, curious, about the Catholic Church. Then I thought, I am?”

“Just wait, Shirley; you’ll understand,” came the response from God.

A few weeks later, I found I could not forget “that Catholic thing.”

I arranged to take weekly sessions with my Methodist pastor and a Catholic priest.

After three weeks, I heard God again. “Shirley, I want you to join the Catholic Church.” People say that God whispers to them. Not to me; God speaks loudly and clearly.

Can you stay in Christ’s peace while ignoring God? Take my

word for it, it can’t be done.

So I trusted God and began catechesis. I also began attending Mass with Jim and his parents.

At a special service, I noticed the priest left the altar and returned with

a beautiful gold object with a white center. Once I got over being awed by all the chanting, my attention was drawn to that golden object’s white center. I became so full of happiness and peace that I started to cry — not just a small, muffled cry, but a wail of joy.

At this time, I had received no instructions on the sacraments. But when Father Stern began teaching me about the Eucharist, I had no trouble believing.

Upon completion of my instruction, I was eager to join the church. But I was only 14 and could not do so without my parents’ consent. My dad said, “No!” For him, that meant, “No discussion!” Boy, was I mad, and I was still mad when I told Father Stern.

He soon cooled my anger. He said that my parents knew nothing about the church but they had a right to say no. I was to respect my folks.

Jim joined the Navy, and I continued to attend Mass with his parents.

Just before my 15th birthday, my dad relented and said that I could become Catholic. However, he gave me a strong warning.

“I don’t know much about the Catholic Church,” he said. “But I do know that they expect a lot from their people. You’d better live up to it.”

Seven decades later, I have never regretted my decision. God was right; my Catholic faith has been the best guide to help me walk daily with him — most of the time.

Jim and I were married in 1957. By 1962 we were living in Lincoln, Nebraska. We took up residence in a small two-bedroom house with 4-year-old Catherine and 2-year-old Mark. I told Jim that I felt we should become foster parents for Catholic Charities. He agreed.

The next morning, I spoke to Catholic Charities, and by afternoon they called to ask if we could accept a three-month-old that night.

We agreed. So, out from storage came diapers, clothes and blankets. Up went the crib and that night, we had sweet Bobby sleeping in it. From then on, the crib was never empty. At one time, I had three babies, all under four days old. Mark and Catherine often had “guests” in their bunk beds too. We then moved to a three-bedroom home.

Later in 1962, I awoke one morning with paralyzed legs. When I tried to sit up, I passed out from pain.

After many hospital stays, many foster children, another child of our

own — Clifford — a wrap-around steel brace for my back, much pain, and too many pills, we consented to back surgery ... even though there was a possibility that I could have permanent leg paralysis. Thank God that was not the case, and my pain was greatly reduced.

Medical bills piled up. In order to meet payment, Jim had to work his full-time job plus two part-time jobs. He also had to help me with the household chores and still give attention to our three children and, sometimes, up to five foster children.

With all his time commitments, and little sleep, he still got up in time to attend 6 a.m. Mass.

Friends and family were all concerned for us. They told us we should stop being foster parents. But we believed that was God’s plan for us.

Being foster parents turned out to be a real blessing as we had unwed

mothers to help us. At surgery time, one stayed for four months.

One of Jim’s part-time jobs turned into his full-time career, increasing our income. Through difficult times, listening to God turned out to be the best for our family.

Going blind does not scare me because I have Jim. He said he would be my eyes. What is he committing to? Well, as you are doing different

tasks, close your eyes. Can you continue performing the task alone? You’ve got the picture.

My Catholic faith has encouraged and helped me walk each day with our merciful and loving God. From 1967 to 2014, I have worked for the church, either as a volunteer or religious education director. I have worked for many pastors. Each has encouraged and helped me grow to appreciate my faith. However, none have helped me more than my current pastor, Father Joseph Hoang at St. Anthony Parish in Waldport. His homilies bring Scripture to life for me.

Father Joseph encourages all of us to read Scripture daily. After all, our Catholic faith is based on Scripture and the life of Christ.

He has reminded me of the importance of quiet prayer so that I can hear the Spirit.

From the moment Father Joseph approaches the altar, he prays the Mass. He rekindles the spirit of truth that the Mass is the non-bloody sacrifice of Jesus. I feel as I did that day in 1954 when I first saw “that gold object with the white center.” God was there before me. Father Joseph has rekindled the joy and excitement I had when I first joined the church at age 15.