Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"And what is the secret of perseverance? Love. Fall in love, and you will not leave Him." - St. Josemaria Esciva

Today we had our first day of all staff formation. We started with an overview of why we do formation and mentorship, and then dove right in to leadership and the virtues of humility and magnanimity.  After our overview, Fr. Kevin Dyer, a Jesuit from Denver, jumped right in to talk to us about leadership.

He spoke to us about images of leadership in the new testament. I loved these two things Fr. said in regards to our formation:

"A Christian leader is someone who leads people to a certain life not by pointing the way but by showing the way and setting the pace. The followers are attracted to your way of life."

"We will make the commitment these five weeks to look at ourselves and say, 'I hate my sin and I hate anything that will keep me from leading others to Christ and that will keep me from being transformed.'"

I love how true they ring. As a missionary, it will not be my job to sit around and tell people what to do. Rather, my job will be to deeply and intimately invest in the lives of college students. My job will be to love them, and my job will be to take them by the hand as I show them how to follow Jesus. We spend these intense five weeks to form ourselves because we cannot give away what we have yet to receive. Christ called us here not just so we can change lives on the campus, He also wants to make big changes in us.

When I started to get overwhelmed by the great task that is this job, Fr. Kevin said, "we learn our character by imitating. Just look at the wonderful people that surround you!" He encouraged us to imitate each other as we are all striving to imitate Christ.

"God provides if we're willing to say 'yes.' If you are, get rid of your fears and Christ will form you." 

The rest of today was followed by more classes and a lot of intentional time with our colleges. Today my college ate dinner together and had two hours to hear each other's testimonies and unpack what we learned in class today.

Yesterday, Biking for Babies made a stop in Champaign. They rode all around the country to share the pro-life message and to raise support for pregnancy centers this past week. I admire how these individuals took an active stand to support something they believe in.

I am looking forward to meeting the men in our BroCo (brother college) on Thursday, beginning classes on the spiritual life, and to continue to make new friends.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"It all starts here - at the foot of the cross."

Those were Curtis Martin's, the founder of FOCUS, words to us last night as we gathered for our first event as the 2012-2013 staff. We gathered in the chapel, in the presence of the Eucharist, because we cannot do this mission without centering ourselves on Christ.

These first two days were about resting before we hit the ground running on Monday.

They were about recommitting ourselves to Christ so that we may bring Him to others.

They were about making new friends and taking small steps to build intentional community.

 They were about calming our fears and eliminating our anxieties before we begin.

We are separated into thirty-nine small groups, called colleges, of men, women, and married couples. The eight other women in my College of Saint Therese of Lisieux are here to be my small community in the midst of 300+ missionaries. They will be the women I eat with, pray with, and play with. They will challenge me to grow in holiness and shape me as I prepare to set out on this mission. I am excited to run alongside them as we recommit ourselves to Christ each day.

These past two days reminded me of why I said 'yes' to FOCUS and they helped me become energized. I am so pumped for our first classes tomorrow and to hear more the heart of this mission.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Let's Run.

I spent the entire month of March discerning what God was calling me to do after graduation. It was actually a pretty great month full of discernment weekends, interviews, and retreats. The hypothetical, "if I get an offer" was easy to entertain in my head, but once the offers and acceptances came in, I became extremely anxious about the whole thing. Questions were constantly racing through my mind: what if I made the wrong choice? What if I thought God was calling me to this ministry, but He actually was calling me to this other one? What if He asks me to do something and I tell Him no? What if I can't do it?

Pretty overwhelming.

I had made a decision and a promise to God after my FOCUS interview weekend. But then doubts crept in and I came up with countless excuses as to why I was not called to that ministry. Conversations with people who did not support that decision did not help either. Though I was pretty confident God was calling me in that direction, I was terrified of disappointing my family, being looked down upon by the world, and failing at fundraising my salary. I talked myself out of it and convinced myself that God was calling me elsewhere. So I told FOCUS "no," and chose something else.

And then everything came crashing down around me. I began to fall, very quickly. I made some huge mistakes. I stopped praying, and essentially had to drag myself to mass on Sunday. Those last two weeks of lent were a mess as I began to forget my identity in Christ.

The day after my last post, Megan and I had lunch with a Marian Sister. Sister Abigail Marie was a second year novice and she reminded me so much of myself. Megan left our lunch to go to our holy hour, leaving me and Sr. Abigail Marie alone. I began to spill my worries, anxieties, and fears to her. I told her about my promise to God, my inability to pray, and everything that was going on. She very wisely sympathized with me, and encouraged me to really examine with God what was going on. Afterwards I had a great prayer time in adoration and started to slowly allow myself to reconcile with Christ.

Sr. Abigail Marie (source)

But then I let fear creep in again. At lunch I had told Sr. Abigail Marie that I wanted to attend the Marian Sister's Holy Week Retreat (Holy Thursday - Holy Saturday), but I could not bring myself to register. By Wednesday I had convinced myself I was not going, but when I opened my email in the morning, I saw an email from Sister asking if they should plan on my attendance or not. I thought to myself, "Fine. I will go." I had a test on Thursday morning, and I had to put my pencil down, put my hands on my head, and take deep breaths to make myself stop worrying about the retreat.

So I drove to Lincoln, Nebraska to go on my very first silent retreat. Before the silence started, I met a FOCUS Missionary from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and reconnected with two other girls that were on my interview weekend who had accepted their offers to be missionaries. I sighed to myself as I began to deeply realize that this calling was not going to go away.

That night, we were able to "keep watch and pray" with Christ. I forced myself to immediately go to confession. Nervously, I opened the door to the confessional, shut it, and walked forward.
"In the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit."
Tears began pouring out of my eyes as I said, "Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been three weeks since my last confession. I'm pretty sure God is asking me to be a FOCUS Missionary and I told Him no." What? Where did that come from? But I couldn't deny it. My soul had been longing for union with Christ, and by telling Him 'no,' I had put up a barrier between myself and Him.
I finished my confession, and began to listen to the counsel of the priest.
"Well, before I say anything else, about this FOCUS thing - there is always next year."
Oh boy. What I didn't tell him was when I had told FOCUS 'no' over spring break, they told me to consider my offer on the table until the end of April.

When Christ absolved my sins, I went back into adoration. I fell to my knees, still crying, and begged Jesus to confirm this call, to give me clarity beyond doubt that He was asking me to be a missionary.

As we were in our last prayer session on Saturday morning, I was pretty sure I was going to accept my offer, even without clear confirmation from Christ. I had received a pretty big grace and peace about becoming a missionary over interview weekend, so I told the Lord that would be enough for me.

I turned the page in my prayer journal and sat back in the pew to clear my head and just focus on Christ. I put my pen to my page and began to write. This is what came out:

I love the phrase "run after" when speaking about pursuing someone. It love the imagery it creates. It suggests that we're not simply investing in them. Rather, we are full forced, all in, after that person. For some, running comes easy. For me, it is hard. So running after someone is not a light or easy task. It takes every ounce of my strength and all of my attention. It is something that will completely exhaust me. But unlike reaching a finish line in a marathon where you receive a medal and some water, running after a person yields a much higher reward. It yields companionship. It yields peace. It yields friendship and love. Best of all, it yields Christ's favor knowing you willingly said "yes" to His urgings to pursue that person. Better still, running after Christ yields the highest reward - heaven.

So bring on the shortness of breath, the cramps in my side, and the sore muscles. Bring on the dehydration, the seemingly endless miles, and the mental and physical exhaustion. I am ready and willing to spend the rest of my days not just pursuing, but running this marathon to get to Christ.

Dana and I had used that term a few days prior when talking about the girls in my Bible Study, so I guess it was fresh in my mind. I really do love the imagery of it, but wasn't really sure where those words came from.

After the final talk of the weekend, the sisters gave us each a crucifix, a bottle of holy water, and a quote card. They told us they hoped it would give us encouragement in what we had heard from God or would sum up the retreat for us in some way. Here is mine:

...talk about confirmation. Tears immediately came and I knew, with clarity beyond doubt, that Christ was asking me to be a FOCUS Missionary and to run after college students for the next two years.

So in 7 hours, I will embark on this journey. I ask your prayers for the mission and for all of the students I will encounter. I know this will not be an easy two years and that I will face many challenges. But as I look to the future, I see joy in knowing I am following His plan for my life. I am ready to run.