Please forgive me for what will probably be a fairly long post. There have been a few twists and turns in my journey that require some explanation.
I was born into an actively Christian household, albeit of the Protestant variety (Presbyterian). My mother raised my older brother and me to go to church every Sunday, participate in religious ritual (we did "lent", for instance; I was not aware until later that this is not something that all Christians participate in), read the Bible, and love God above all else.
But when I was 13 and my brother was 17, our mother was diagnosed with skin cancer. She fought for about 18 months before dying only a few days short of her 48th birthday. It had been increasingly difficult during this period to continue to go to church as I saw my family basically disintegrate before my eyes, but I kept going to help and honor her and her wishes. These activities included a youth group in which I was somewhat at odds with the leadership, because I was hurting and scared and couldn't really handle the situation I was in, but the church wanted me to be happy and sing kumbaya and all that. Shortly after my mother's death, still in shock and acting out in all kinds of ways that would've been typical of a 14-year-old (e.g., dying my hair shockingly red and showing up to church that way), I was pulled aside and told that my behavior and attitude was not welcome, and I would have to leave. Basically, I was kicked out of church.
By that point, I was all too happy to leave. I didn't set foot in another church of any kind for 10-11 years. I didn't become an atheist, but I became a sort of agnostic, believing that God probably did exist, but it seemed pretty clear that nothing we do or believe matters, since He apparently does whatever He wants anyway. My mother, who was nothing if not a strong believer in God, was killed in a terrible, painful, degrading, and unimaginably awful way, and when I tried to keep going on in the faith I was raised in despite her being taken from me, I was told I was not welcome, please go away.
The time away from Christianity is by now a kind of blur. It's probably best this way, as I doubt anyone here needs to be told explicitly the kinds of evils that are in the world. I'll just say that I got to know them all very well. :(
One of the people that I met when I was out in the world was a nice young girl named Elizabeth. She was Hispanic, and like most Hispanic people, she was Roman Catholic. So after we had been seeing each other for a while, I confided in her that it bothered me that there was this entire side of her life (her religion) that I knew nothing about. So out of that curiosity I went to a Roman Catholic mass. I had been to a few before (my grandfather's funeral, and a few in Mexico while volunteering at an orphanage), but this was the first one I went to with the idea of actually learning something about the religion. It was incredibly confusing to me. What were all these people doing? How did they all know how to respond in unison to something that the priest said? Why do they kneel? It looked like some sort of weird performance art! I was leaving that day, no doubt looking very perplexed, when the priest stopped me at the door. I figured I was about to be kicked out of yet another church for some imagined offense, but he was very kind and even asked me about my family history. It turns out he knew my grandfather, who had attended the very same parish.
Since I didn't understand what was going on, I figured it was only right to keep going until I did. I'm not the type to give up quickly. So I kept going and eventually enrolled in catechism classes. Somewhere in all this Elizabeth and I parted ways, but by that time I was deep enough into studying the Catholic Church that I had developed an interest in it and a love for it on its own merits, so that didn't matter much. I was received into the Catholic Church in 2006. Since my father's side of the family were from Mexico and Ireland, it did feel a bit like gaining some of my own history back, as I remembered fondly my grandmother saying rosary prayers in Spanish while cooking when I was very, very young. Now I knew what they meant could do them too! My grandmother attended my baptism and was very happy, which is very special to me since she is no longer with us.
Shortly after this I went off to college to become a linguist. I had studied Russian language for about 5 years by that point, which included some visits to the local OCA (Russian Orthodox). I learned the "Jesus Prayer" in Slavonic (it still sounds much better to me that way than in English, since I learned it in Russian first), and the "Hail Mary" that is in Orthodox use ("Bogoroditse Devo"). I liked it quite a lot, but didn't really connect with Orthodoxy at that point. I think I felt like it was a "Russian thing", and since I'm not Russian it's not for me. (That didn't stop me from choosing Sts. Cyril and Methodius as my confirmation saints, though.)
At school in Oregon, a very unchurched state, it took me about a year to even find the local Roman Catholics! Eventually I connected with a local priest, who I still hold very dear, and spent many, many hours in discussion (and confession!) with him. He was by no means Orthodox (he was a Dominican), but he had a deep respect and interest in Eastern Christian traditions, having been trained at seminary alongside a Chaldean priest. I took a year of Arabic in college, which was nurtured by listening to Eastern Christian liturgy and hymns by Eastern Orthodox of the Middle East like Fairuz's famous "Good Friday" hymns and others. Most importantly, it was during this time that I somehow stumbled upon the Coptic Orthodox Church, probably when looking for more Arabic-language hymns (I don't remember). I found translated sermons by HH Pope Shenouda III and was blown away. Such deep, deep faith! I could hardly believe that it was out there. By this point, I had grown a little discouraged by the Mass I was attending, being "youth-oriented" to a fault in a way that seemed to tolerate laxity in attitude and practice. Whatever happened to "lex orandi, lex credendi"? It turns out it was somewhere, I just wasn't there to enjoy it! So rather than suffer through another Mass with guitars and a JAZZ BAND (I kid you not...), I decided I would have to go deeper into my Catholicism. I gleefully took my leave of the "Novus Ordo" mess (er, excuse me, Mass!), and attended a nearby Ukrainian Catholic Church. It was nice, but I felt the same sense of being a visitor to anothers world, like I had when I had gone to the OCA back in my home area. I was very out of place among the Ukrainians. I was the only one who didn't recite the filioque in the Creed! :-[ So I took another avenue. Together with my encouraging priest, I visited the Benedictine monastery at Mt. Angel, on the Oregon coast. That was a wonderful experience, but I couldn't help but notice that the "deeper" I went into Catholicism, the more I tried to embrace its oldest forms and values, the more it looked (outwardly) like Orthodoxy. The hymns were unaccompanied and serious, the language was traditional and reverent (in both English and Latin), the composure of the monks was dignified, there was incense (something I hadn't experienced in a Catholic Church since my grandfather's funeral when I was 8 years old)...it was great! But it was, sadly, the last taste of Catholicism I would have, since I moved back to California the following day.
I attended exactly one Mass after returning to California, on the Sunday after my return in July of 2009. It was nice and all, but didn't even seem like a religious event, after having experienced a taste of the East with the Ukrainians, and of the West at the monastery. It was nowhere, and I felt like I was nowhere in it. I knew in my heart, if not yet in my head, that I could not return. And I haven't.
So here I am, having gone from Protestant to nothing to Catholic to...whatever this is. Out of curiosity, I went to my Amazon.com account to see if I could find out when I bought my copy of Fr. Tadrous Malaty's "Introduction to the Coptic Orthodox Church" (which I bought after deciding to seriously investigate Coptic Orthodoxy). I couldn't find that, but I see that I purchased my copy of the Liturgy of St. Basil (in Coptic-English-Arabic) on July 6, 2009. If I remember correctly, I only purchased that after having finished Fr. Malaty's book, so it was probably a few months before that when I finally got serious about the Coptic Orthodox Church. Since then, I am just trying to learn as much as I can, in preparation for hopefully finally being able to attend the liturgy.
Please pray for me. I have a long way yet to go.