I am the father of 8 wonderful children. I am a man of faith and love to write about a variety of life experiences.
My Faith Background
My parents raised me and my two younger brothers in the Catholic faith. They had us baptized, and sacrificed time and money to send us to Catholic schools. We prepared for and received the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Eucharist and Confirmation. These all contributed to a good start to my faith and prayer life.
What is Faith?
God gives the gift of faith freely to everyone. Romans 12:3 says, “God has allotted to each of us a measure of faith.” Catechism says, “By faith man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his ascent to God the revealer." Grace is God’s response to us. Faith is our response to God.
What is Spirituality?
Spirituality is directing our whole entire lives towards God. Is that possible? How can I live a life of grace?
Faith of My Mother and Grandmother
My mother had the greatest impact on my faith. She passed away on All Saints Day (November 1st) in 2004. I don’t find that a co-incidence. I find it a God incidence. We would always say prayers before bedtime. She gave me my first scapular, a blessed object intended to give me comfort. It is a sacramental, a reminder of the sacraments.
My grandmother was also known for her devotions, especially to the saints and the rosary. Devotion to Mary in the rosary is a way we can draw closer to God. It is a way to ponder the Gospel. I recommend wearing blessed objects so that we can battle against temptation. I wear a crucifix.
Catholic schools offered me opportunities to experience God’s grace through the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. I remember how I felt after making a good Confession. I would come out of the confessional with a new sense of self. There was a song in my heart: “I’m walking on sunshine, yeah!”
In my teens and twenties, I probably would describe myself as a floundering Catholic. I was not completely surrendered to God.
When I entered college life at the University of Iowa, I was lukewarm about my faith. I did, however, sponsor a fellow student to become Catholic through the Rite to Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and I joined the Newman Center, the Catholic student center on campus. I participated by playing the saxophone and singing. But I also joined in my share of partying, drinking and carousing. I had a mixed spirituality. I wasn’t always the same person inside of church as outside.
My First Full-Time Job
After two years at the University, I landed my first job with the city of Des Moines Wastewater treatment plant. Our motto was, “It may be poo to you but it is my bread and butter.”
It was a good starting salary for someone who hadn’t quite completed 4 years of college. The money allowed me to move into my own apartment, buy a car and start paying off student loans. It also allowed me to afford things that were, “unholy.”
Distractions to Holiness
Two bishops were walking down the street when they noticed a scantily-clad prostitute coming toward them. As she passed, one bishop turned his head and said to the other, "Brother Bishop, avert your eyes." The second, bishop, however, did not look away, but stared intently at the woman as she walked by. The first bishop asked the other, “Why didn't you turn away?" He responded with a tear in his eye, “What a pity that such beauty would be consumed by the lusts of men.
Which of these men did the right thing? Answer: They both did.
Which one experienced a transformation of his sexuality? Answer: the one who responded what a pity that such beauty would be consumed by the lusts of men.
Lust is an obstacle to our spiritual development. Thankfully, God gives us the Holy Spirit to practice virtues and avoid vices. We can pray in times of temptation.
I Won the Jay Leno Comedy Challenge
I desired to become a comedian. I told a few jokes and did impressions at local open mic nights at the Spaghetti Works and Funny Bone comedy clubs. I had mixed motives for doing so.
My brother Mark was an extremely accomplished pianist having played for the Governor of Iowa on a regular basis and winning various talent competitions. He got a lot of attention from friends and family, especially my father. I felt excited for him yet ignored. I too wanted a share of the limelight.
I won a few local comedy competitions including the Jay Leno Comedy Challenge in 1991. My act was largely full of imitations of cartoon figures and politicians. Click here to find out more about my comedy career.
I once asked the Lord in prayer why he gave me the desire for doing imitations. I heard a small voice reply, “Because I want you to imitate ME.”
My Fiancé and Wife
I met Nancy, the woman who would become my wife for life. She was visiting Des Moines with her roommate from the University of Northern Iowa. Her friend Amy also happened to be a former neighbor of mine and invited us both over to her boyfriend’s apartment for a party. There was music and guys and gals drinking and having a good time. I told jokes for 2 and a half straight hours. I narrowed my interest down to just THREE women. I selected Nancy. Or she would say she selected me. I was reluctant about long distance relationships. She was living in Cedar Falls and I in Des Moines. However, we dated for a year and a half and were married.
Grace in Marriage: Spiritual Nudges
God had offered me several opportunities for conversion. My response to the Holy Spirit was minimal. Yet marriage is a response to God in faith. It has been said that “To marry and embrace the fruits of marriage is to choose a particularly demanding way of salvation.” Marriage calls for spouses to lay down their lives for one another. It is truly choosing to die to self and living for another.
Honeymoon Accident that Changed my Life
I dislocated my shoulder on my honeymoon....Right now, I am sure your imaginations are far more entertaining than the truth.
I was preparing to body surf at Sandy Beach. I stood on the shoreline amazed at the towering waves. A guy next to me remarked, “I am from San Diego and I have never seen waves like this before!” I thought, “I am from Iowa, I’ve never seen waves!”
I intending on tackling those waves. I waded out into the ocean. I carried a small Styrofoam surfboard tucked under my right arm. I reached the area where the waves were breaking. A ginormous wave headed towards me. It was too much for me. I prepared by holding my breath and crouching. I was tackled by the wave. It felt like I was being punched all over my body. I was rolling and tumbling and being tossed about like a ragdoll. I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder. I washed up on shore where I shook my head and tried to regain a sense of where I was. I stood upright and looked for my surfboard but it was gone.
Did I Hear the Voice of God?
I took three steps onto the beach when I heard a voice say, “Today you were supposed to die but I have decided to save you.” I felt a great sense of awe wash over me. I realized that I had just escaped death. I was certain it was God who decided to save me. But why?
I slowly walked to where Nancy had been preparing to sunbathe. The lifeguard caught sight of me. He looked at my shoulder and said I needed medical attention. He told me where the nearest clinic was and we drove to it. When I arrived, the receptionist said, “Don’t tell me, you are on your honeymoon, you were at Sandy Beach and you just dislocated your shoulder!” She said it happens often and that it was the deadliest beach in Hawaii.
I was left with a sense that God saved me for a purpose. Why did He save me? Why did God save us? What is our purpose? I did more soul searching.
In Rev. 3:16 it says, “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Sr. Faustina heard the voice of Christ say, “These souls wound My Heart most painfully. My soul suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls. They were the reason I cried out: 'Father, take this cup away from Me, if it be Your will.' For them, the last hope of salvation is to run to My mercy."
It says “RUN” to my mercy. God is serious about our salvation. He wants us to be on fire for Him. 2 Tim 1 says, “Fan into flames the spiritual gifts God gave you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” The power of the Holy Spirit!
Perhaps deep down I knew that I needed to fan into flame the spiritual gifts I did have. Yet I was too distracted.
Pentecostals and the Charismatic Movement
I had heard about people who were “on fire for the Lord” and “born again.” I knew people who could speak in tongues. This was peculiar to me. Yet I was curious.
Speaking in tongues can be found in Acts Chapter 2 when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples. It was peculiar to the people at that time as well. Those who witnessed it thought the disciples were drunk. “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ Some however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.‘ Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” Prophetic dreams and visions and speaking in tongues are manifestations or signs of the Holy Spirit.
The Catholic Church has various Charismatic Communities where praying and speaking in tongues is a regular part of the worship style. About a year after we were married, we attended a Life in the Spirit mass on a Thursday night at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines. People were praising, singing and speaking in tongues. I sensed a Holy Presence and a movement of the Spirit. Although I was invited back, I felt I was not ready for that level of worship.
Release of the Holy Spirit
I had a coworker who was a “Pentecostal” or “born again Christian.” She described herself as a “Holy Roller.” I asked her questions about her born again experience. She told me that speaking in tongues is “heavenly language.”
She invited me to a service at an Assembly of God church. I decided I wanted to go and observe, nothing more. My wife Nancy and I went on a Sunday night. There was singing and spontaneous prayer and speaking in tongues. At the end of the service, the lady I worked with asked me if Nancy and I would like to be, ”Baptized in the Holy Spirit!” I thought a little prayer couldn’t hurt. We gathered in the center aisle and the pastor and a few members of the congregation laid hands on us. The pastor said, “You have asked for gifts from God. Know that you will receive at least one of them.” He began praying and praising along with the other members, calling down the Holy Spirit on us. I felt this tingling. It started from the crown of my head to the tip of my toes. I began to sway. The tingling or electricity seemed particularly strong in my hands. I felt compelled to lift them upwards in a prayer posture.
I could hear Sharon say, “It’s just like baby talk. Speak your heavenly language!” I had been stammering, sputtering and began to babble something. I could hear Nancy praying in tongues next to me. I experienced a joy, a peace and a relaxation as they laid me down on the carpet in the church aisle. I was what they call “slain in the Spirit.” Sharon said, “David, you look like you are sun tanning!” I replied, “It feels great!!!”
After that experience, colors were brighter, foods tasted better. It’s like how I feel after making a good confession. I had a renewed spirit. I had a deeper sense of sin and a desire to reconcile and repent. I had a desire to read scripture and pray more often. Catholics would call this experience a “Release of the Holy Spirit.” We receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, all of the Sacraments. Like a cork being pulled from a bottle of campaign, the Spirit was released more fully through this prayer experience. He further empowered my wife and me to live in union with God.
My Wife and I Experienced the Holy Spirit Together
I am very thankful that my wife and I experienced this release of the Holy Spirit at the same time. Not all couples experience faith at the same level. It is something to pray for. I am blessed that Nancy and I were inspired to study our faith more and pray for one another.
We studied apologetics by Scott Hahn. We had a new desire to surrender to church teaching regarding birth control and natural family planning. God taught us to be open to life. And so it is. We now have 8 wonderful children, and one in heaven. All the more reasons I need to surrender daily to the Holy Spirit.
Prayer Life and Distractions to Prayer
In order to make marriage and family relationships work, I need to start every day in prayer. I can go to Mass. I can pray a rosary. Or I can pray a simple Hail Mary or Our Father. Praying helps me to see all of the altars in my life. Besides the table at church, the kitchen table is an altar to the Lord where the family gathers for meals. Yes, even the kitchen sink, the washer and dryer, the diaper changing table, these are all altars to the Lord.
I find that the distraction of lust can intensify when we are trying to pray. Other temptations seem to intensify as well. Unforgiveness is an obstacle to prayer. It can be difficult to relate to Our Heavenly Father if our relationship with our earthly father is lacking. I was able to forgive my father for the wrongs he committed. Reconciliation clears the way to pray with all of our mind all of our soul and all of our heart.
So how do we pray from the heart? We have to start somewhere even if we don’t feel like it. Prayer can simply be, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” God loves me, God loves me, God loves me.
Setting Spiritual Goals
Many people set physical exercise goals. Set spiritual exercise goals as well. 1 Timothy 4:8 says, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come."
What is our purpose in life? Why did God save us? There is a life to come. He saved us so we can have eternal life. Catechism teaches: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.
That is why he saved me that day in Hawaii. I was afforded another chance to serve Him and love people more fully. He gave me another chance to amend my life before I entered into eternity. Are you ready to enter into eternity? God wants you. God loves you.
Prayer to the Holy Spirit
Heavenly Father, we thank you and praise you. Thank you for the many blessings you have given us. Remove from me all that is not of You. Remove from me all of my distractions. Cast my sins from me as far as the East is from the West. Renew in me the power of Your Holy Spirit. May it fill me from the crown of my head to the tip of my toes. Help me surrender. I allow You into all of the corners of my life. Release your Spirit in me. I run to Your Mercy. Please forgive me. Help me to reconcile with those I have hurt. Help me to forgive those who have hurt me. Help me to turn away from sin and turn towards the Gospel. I allow your ocean of mercy into my heart and mind and soul. Thank you Jesus. Mary Queen of Peace, pray for us.
David Ortega (author) from Altoona, Iowa on November 24, 2014:
Thanks MarleneB. I like the acronym, "PUSH"-pray until something happens. I also think St. Augustine had it right when he said, "Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you."
Marlene Bertrand from USA on October 27, 2014:
I enjoyed reading your story. I especially like how you relate to incidents being a "God incidence." People who live a prayerful life, live a life that is filled with reward in everything we pray over and deliver to God. I enjoy praying and have learned to pray in every single thing I do. It's good to meet other people who do the same.