Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


A Plea For God’s Help Changed Her Life

By HENRIETTA GOMES, Special To The Bulletin | Published January 31, 2008

Her parents are both elders at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta and her sister recently entered the seminary to become a Protestant minister. So, for Tiffany Lambert, director of religious education at All Saints Catholic Parish in Manassas, Va., it “creates a funny situation,” she said with a mischievous grin.

Service to the church, however, was not always the center of Lambert’s life. As a youth she fell away from her Protestant upbringing, and playing competitive soccer became the core of who she was.

“As I continued playing soccer, it took over my life. Soccer was my sense of security. It was my anchor,” said Lambert, who studied at Clemson University on a soccer scholarship. “By high school, I really didn’t believe in God.”

It was a combination of her “soccer god” and seeing suffering in the world that propelled her to turn away from the faith of her parents.

Growing up in Atlanta, Lambert was exposed to homelessness, and she often spoke with those she encountered on the streets and brought them food. She could not grasp the world’s idea that somehow she was more valuable than the people on the streets.

“It’s not fair that someone’s valued more because of what they can do,” she said. Knowing her struggle with believing in God, a friend gave her a copy of C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.” Although Lambert found the author’s arguments convincing and compelling, she “could not get over my initial atheism. I had this all straight in my head, but couldn’t know in my gut.”

As Divine Providence would have it, Lambert attended a Catholic high school, St. Pius X in Atlanta, and had the opportunity to ask questions of her campus ministers. She graduated in 1998.

“I kept getting good answers, but it really became more and more painful. The more I sought to know whether God existed, the more this yearning in my heart developed to know Him, yet it went unfulfilled,” Lambert said.

Sitting in her office, where the walls are decorated with religious icons from Rome and Medjugorje, she said, “It was as if God was carving out this cavern in order to fill it once I knew Him.”

Her senior year, a semester of religion taught by Msgr. Richard Lopez “was really helpful in moving the process along,” she said. Her intellectual journey gave her all the answers she sought, but regardless of the many books she read, she “couldn’t make the jump.”

It was a Sunday morning during the first semester of her freshman year in college when she had a change of heart. Lying face down on her bed crying, she said, “God, if you’re here, can’t you help?”

Her eyes widened as she recounted the story.

“It was a moment of grace,” she said excitedly. “I knew that God was real.” She finally felt it in her heart. “I was given the gift of faith,” she said.

She left her dorm and walked outside. “There’s someone who designed these trees, they’re not random,” she said out loud as she proclaimed her newfound belief and “rediscovered creation.”

She began to meet with other Christians who would teach her to read Scripture and pray. That faith sustained her when a benign spinal cord tumor she had been diagnosed with in high school returned. She was forced to leave college for a semester and return to Atlanta for an operation and radiation.

“My soccer god that I had been developing was taken away through the surgery,” she said.

The time off from school gave her time to “determine (in) which denomination she would be baptized.” Her search began. She opened up the Encyclopedia Britannica and read through every Christian denomination she could find. As the encyclopedias failed to satiate her appetite, Lambert headed to the main sources. She began reading the Church Fathers. “The more I read the more I realized these guys believe the same things the Catholic Church believes. I was stunned.”

Immersing herself in reading the Catechism, Lambert slowly came to understand the magisterium, the teaching authority of the church.

“It didn’t squelch my questioning. It gave me tools to ask more questions,” said Lambert, who is surrounded in her office by hundreds of books in theology and catechetics.

Thrilled with her discovery, she enrolled in the catechumenate program, and the following spring, was baptized and came into full communion with the Catholic Church.

She played soccer at Clemson for another season upon her return, but because of her health could not continue. Although it was “heartbreaking” to let go of soccer, she knew that her “cavern” was being filled.

While professing the “I do’s” during her baptism and initiation into the church, “I became overwhelmed with tears. That’s what I imagine making wedding vows would be like,” she said.

“I felt in a very personal way, Christ was asking me those questions as the Bridegroom,” she said. “It was a very real moment of public, but personal prayer.” In her home, she has her baptism water saved in a jar. “The fact that you can have water that’s holy is cool. When I see holy water come out at Mass, I get so excited because I think back to that moment (of baptism).”

It is that same excitement she tries to instill in the 1,000 children in the parish religious education program.

“I love the way kids see things. They have this totally different perspective that’s so simple. It’s so refreshing because they just want to know the truth. They accept it and it makes sense to them. I don’t have to bring in 15 copies of Encyclopedia Britannica. It doesn’t have to be this complicated song and dance. I love that part of my job,” said Lambert as she adjusted the silver ring with crosses she wears on her left hand as a reminder of her baptism and commitment to Christ.

“I dip it in the holy water and make the sign of the cross,” she explained. It reminds her of her baptism.

Although her family was excited that she was professing her faith in Christ, “It was somewhat bittersweet for them.” Now, several years later, “they are more comfortable,” she said. “It’s important to me to live to share what I have in common. I love singing hymns and I love hearing their pastor preach from the Scripture.”

When visiting her family in Atlanta, she goes to church with them, but also attends Mass, and her family sometimes joins her. Her father playfully calls her “Torquemada,” one of the Dominicans who headed the Spanish Inquisition.

She also noted that her family often comes to the defense of the Catholic Church when questioned. Her parents, Vicki and Lamar Lambert, are elders at Peachtree Christian Church and her sister, Courtney, is studying for ordained ministry at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Despite the playful banter she has with her family about the differences in faith, she said, “we’ve accepted the reality. But we have a lot in common. We pursue what we have in common.”

After graduating from Clemson, Lambert went to Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio to pursue a master’s in theology.

Now, along with her responsibilities as director of religious education, she is a doctoral student at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. Lambert refers to her “need to grow in holiness,” when speaking about any challenge in her ministry. Working with children reminds her that, “we are all called into Sonship and being simple children.”

At the end of the day, she enjoys the “humility of being a student.” Though she does not always have the answer, she is “willing to sit back and listen to the church. That paradigm makes sense to me.”

Her desire for herself and her family is that “each of us grow closer to Christ.” She admits, however, “It’s kind of funny once you see the picture of all of it.”

This article first appeared in the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va.