Up Front and Personal

Reality TV Comes to The NET

by Jennifer Fulwiler

It’s a strange experience to see your life played out on a TV screen. It’s odd enough when we break out home videos, and I find myself asking, “What is that weird sound? Wait. Is that my voice?,” so it was downright surreal when I saw the first footage of a reality show based on my life.
Back in September, film crews from New Evangelization Television (NET) arrived at my home in Austin, Texas, to shoot some footage that would be used for a three-part documentary/reality special called Minor Revisions. The concept is to show viewers a slice of the Catholic life from my perspective as a busy mother and atheist-to-Catholic convert. As the producers have worked to take the raw footage and shape it into a narrative, I’ve had the opportunity to see my entire life from a new perspective; the distance provided by the television screen has given me the opportunity to take a fresh look at the story of my life – and, in particular, the story of my conversion.
My husband and I got married in 2003, in a secular ceremony in which we wrote our own vows and I wore a dark purple dress. I was a lifelong atheist, and he was a non-practicing Baptist. On the surface, we had it all: We lived in a 21st-floor loft in downtown Austin, drove a Jaguar XJ8 and regularly dined at some of the best restaurants in town. When we found out that we were expecting our first child, however, both of us began to ask questions about the meaning of life. When we pictured our child following in our footsteps, we were surprisingly unenthusiastic about it. Suddenly, now that we had a great responsibility to a new generation, we weren’t so sure that we knew what a good life was all about.

Jennifer Fulwiler visits St. William’s Church, Austin, Texas, during a reality TV shoot.

Together we set out on a quest to find the truth, wherever that might take us. Taking a hard look at what really matters in the grand scheme of things quickly led us to religion, and a search for objective spiritual truth led us to Christianity – specifically (to the great bewilderment of both of us) the Catholic Church. We both entered the Church at Easter Vigil of 2007, and it’s been a wild ride ever since then. Inspired by his newfound faith, my husband left a demanding career track to take a job that would allow him to spend more time at home. We moved from downtown to a small house in the suburbs to accommodate our growing family, which currently includes five children under the age of nine, with another due in the spring.
I have often reflected on how our lives have changed since our conversions, but few things have brought it home like watching clips from the first episode of Minor Revisions. The footage showed two people who have busy, crazy days. I laughed when I saw herds of children running across the screen, and I nodded and smiled at the many friends who were in and out of our home. I cringed when I caught glances of dirty dishes piled in the sink, or the perma-stains on our living room carpet. I even felt a little exhausted just watching the shots of me jumping in and out of the minivan, herding noisy little people from one place to the next.
I thought of how very different this all was from the footage they would have gotten if the film crew had shown up at our downtown loft back in 2003. Nine years ago, they would have encountered a more put-together couple, with a lot more worldly comforts, and a much, much cleaner house. But what jumped out at me when I watched the show – that I pray other viewers will see as well – is the joy that infuses every area of our lives now that we are Catholic. That doesn’t mean that we’re happy at every moment or that things are easy; in fact, we probably have more challenges now than we did before our conversions.
But what I see in my own life, and that of so many other Catholics, is an existence that is filled with life, love and joy – one that contains a potent undercurrent of peace that you simply cannot find in the secular world. My life before I was Catholic may have had more comforts, but it was hollow compared to what I have now. When I think of our new lives with the sacraments, our parish community and our children, this rich existence as a member of the Body of Christ, it’s not so much that I think that our lives are better now; rather, I feel that our lives have started now.