Shea’s Conversion Story

The  following is a guest post by a good friend, Shea. Check out her blog!

 

Contrary to many people’s beliefs about my life, I have not always been a lover of Christianity. As I’ve pointed out on my own blog, I was baptized as an infant and received the sacraments (praise God), but Christianity was something I did on Sundays, and sadly – I know I’m not alone in that regard. Sometimes however, just like any good parent, God must let us go where we think we need to before we realize we only need Him. My life is just one of billions if not trillions of examples since the existence of Christ on earth.

My conversion was more recent than it feels, in fact, it’s been 5 days short of 12 months. Just like John and Andrew in Jn 1:40, I had a 4 PM moment – I can remember the day and the hour, what I was wearing, who I was with, and exactly what happened when I had the most potent encounter with the unfathomable love of Christ yet. You see, I was one of those people that needed to hit my rock bottom before sprinting to Christ’s open arms.

My senior year of high school (almost exactly two years ago), an incredible tragedy struck my family. For their own privacy, I need not go into detail on the interwebz. An unexpected burden had fallen on my shoulders, my role as a child had been somewhat reversed, and I had no idea what to do. In the midst of this ongoing family crisis, I had no close friends at my massive high school because my close ones had graduated, I was struggling with schoolwork, freaking out about auditioning for colleges as a music major, trying to figure out college applications, practicing, keeping my seven year old sister and 13 year old brother in line (which was pretty much impossible) while my mom was at school to renew her nursing license, another sister had cancer, and I had to keep it all together emotionally for people – this tragedy was quietly swept under the rug. I kept these problems, anxieties, and emotions inside and figured they would dissolve once going off to college.

I was wrong, they only got worse. In high school, I was vehemently opposed to the drinking and hook up culture (which is probably why I had no friends), but when I got to campus I let my guard down. I felt like there was no point in caring anymore, because of this family tragedy. Thankfully, my run in with frat parties and apartment crawls was short lived when I was introduced to a Father Charles casually by a mutual friend, my old youth minister from my home parish who came to campus to visit her sister for a weekend. A week after attending a football game (on Saturday, October 15, 2011) with the two of them, I felt a sudden need to go to confession, and who is the priest in the confessional? Well, Fr. Charles of course. At the end of the confession he recommended I go on a Koinonia retreat. I remember bursting into tears and suddenly talking about how I knew I needed a community and that I was so hurt by what had happened, I needed the family atmosphere here at school. I had no idea what was happening to me, because community was something I didn’t really care about, I thought it was juvenile and stupid, and I wasn’t into my faith, where were these words coming from? He and I began meeting weekly to heal these gaping wounds, this transformation was not overnight, nor was it easy. After some slight resistance on my part, I decided to go ahead and give Koinonia a shot, I have never cried so hard and laughed so hard in my entire life, as I did on that weekend (November 4-6, 2011).

After that weekend, I didn’t know much in my head about the faith, but I knew I had encountered the love and face of Jesus that weekend. My most powerful 4 PM moment was November the fourth, the first day of the retreat. This was the most intimate and intense encounter with Jesus that I have ever had. I can point to that single evening as the pivot point of my life. Earthly words cannot describe the conversation of heart I had with Him, which is why it’s pointless to go into detail. But after that, I knew that what was in my heart did not match up with how I was living my life – and that’s when I changed physically, socially, and morally (what ya’ll see (or read?) now from the outside). I realized that if what I encountered truly was a Person of God, and if God is truly what we say He is, then why was I living the life I was? It wasn’t consistent, and it was painful. I was living a life of anger, hatred, and angst and had been given an opportunity for something better (it’s also for eternity, so that’s also a bonus), so why not take it?

This is why I am who I am today, should I now apologize to the world for my love affair? He gave me this cross and through my death I have been resurrected. We all have crosses, and Christ is waiting for us to pick them up, uniting them to His, and carry them to Calvary. Calvary is not the end, the Resurrection is. Because of that resurrection I will never leave His side and am not and will never be ashamed of my love of Him.

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Lessons Being Learned

The fall is going by so fast, often it feels like I’m only playing catch up. But over the past few months I’ve learned or relearned a few things that I think might be inspirational, so I’d like to share them with you:

  • You can only find silence by being silent. No music, no internet, no tv. They will all distract your prayer time.
  • Making time for prayer is not negotiable. I’ve had lots and lots of late nights, but even then it is not a good excuse. Without taking time for prayer, I feel so much more alone and distant from Jesus. Without this time, it’s hard to continue striving for virtue and generally live like a Christian.
  • Regularly reading scripture is not negotiable, especially the Gospels and New Testament Letters. They help me stay aware of Jesus’ words for us all, and they especially can help you pray better as you can do Lectio Divina with the scriptures.
  • Set the bar high for yourself. God didn’t make us so that we could fit in but rather that we could achieve excellence in all that we do, and glorify Him in the process. The devil would love for us all to do “just enough” prayer, effort, service. It’s usually not enough! Jesus told us to put ourselves last after everyone else in service.
  • Prayer isn’t about making us feel good. Mass isn’t about making us feel good. Instead, they are opportunities to grow closer with the Lord and conform our will with His. I especially have struggled with prayer, and it forced me to concentrate even harder. Just as you would want someone that you love to show you that they care about you, sometimes God will test us to see just how much we care about Him.
  • I only tell you that I want you to pray and read scripture and go to mass and all of that awesome stuff because I know that it helps. It can seem like a burden, yes. But just because getting your wisdom teeth pulled hurts doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it. It’s for our good in the end.
  • The election is coming up and it can be a very heavy topic. It is very important that we vote, and vote well, but there are things that we can do that are more important than arguing over candidates. We must start with the building blocks, like belief in God, belief in Jesus, and following Jesus. I’d love for a certain candidate to win the election. But what I’d love more is for the world to come to know our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. He is the reason why life has meaning! He is the one who can save souls!
  • Jesus called us all to evangelize. But we can only give what we already have. Evangelization is sharing the person and message of Jesus Christ. Do you know Jesus, do you have a personal relationship with Him? As we come to know Jesus more, we will fall ever more in love with Him and will desperately want others to know about Him as well! So before we can effectively evangelize, we must be evangelized ourselves.
  • Not all of the pressure is on us in evangelization and things like that. God is only asking that we are open to His plans, and He will bless all that we do. I have a couple of examples for this one. The first is this Koinonia retreat that I was blessed to be on team for: there were talks and meals and masses, but really, we didn’t do anything to influence the hearts of the participants. They themselves kept their hearts open and that was all that God needed, He showed them His immense love for them and there were changed lives because of it. Another example is how I’ve been praying for opportunities to share my faith. God answered that one not once but in two very significant conversations in the past week. It goes to show that all that we have to do is open the door and from there He will do the rest of the work. We just have to have the faith in Him and trust.
  • I am continuing to seek to love others more and more intentionally, but I’m not even close to where I should be yet. Love causes us to deny ourselves in favor of others. It’s tough. But how can we say that we love God if we don’t even love His people?

What lessons have you been learning?

Heroes

Jesus didn’t come to earth for a little vacation. He came so that He could give His life for us, because He loves us that much, despite how we’ve sinned against Him.

When Jesus was tempted by the devil, He didn’t have to turn the devil down. He really could have given in.

When Jesus was preaching, He didn’t have to say the whole truth of who He was. He could have just said the nice things so that the people wouldn’t try to stone and kill Him.

When Jesus was in the garden before His passion, He could have just ran away. He didn’t have to let them take Him in for a trial.

When Jesus was before Pilate and the Sanhedrin, He could have said anything and they would have spared His life. All that He had to do was take back what He said.

At Calvary, He didn’t have to give His life. He didn’t have to stretch out His arms to be crucified. He didn’t have to hang there on the cross in agony.

He didn’t have to do any of it. But He did, out of love.

In the same way, we are called to follow Jesus and love others, even when it is difficult. Following Jesus in every phase of our life can lead to sainthood, but sainthood is often a misunderstood word. Following Jesus and loving even when it is hard is what heroes do. So really, Jesus is calling us all to be heroes.

Being a hero is not an easy task for sure, but it is possible for us all. It doesn’t mean that we will have super powers or even will do spectacular things like catch a falling baby or performing CPR. Sometimes being a hero means comforting someone in need, standing up for what you believe in, not lashing back at those who hurt you, or sticking up for those who can’t defend themselves.

It’s easy to get drunk. Are you enough of a hero to treat yourself with dignity?

It’s easy to cheat on homework. Are you a hero enough to stick with your morals?

It’s easy to gossip and make fun of others. Are you a hero enough to be a true friend?

It’s easy to look at porn. Are you a hero enough to respect yourself?

It’s easy to sleep around. Are you a hero enough to respect others and yourself?

It’s easy to have an abortion. Are you a hero enough to protect the lives of the defenseless even when it might mean more suffering for you?

Being a hero is not easy, but it is what we all deserve: from ourselves and from each other. Jesus already was our first hero. Let’s follow His example in both the big and small matters of our lives and truly learn to love each other.

The Battle of Prayer

Prayer is something that I often take for granted. I decide that I’m going to pray.. and then, well, often this happens:

Silence

Uh oh. Why isn’t this working? Um, God.. I’m waiting for my mystical prayer experience.. any time now.. Hello? Anyone home?

You know that feeling? Prayer is hard! And despite my assumptions, it doesn’t just HAPPEN. Instead, it requires effort on our part. We need to get on God’s “level,” in a sense.

Prayer is a BATTLE. It’s not a cakewalk, we really need to put effort into it.

I ran into this cool section in my Handbook of Prayers: Student Edition book by Midwest Theological Forum, and I’d like to share it with you:

Prayer presupposes an effort, or fight against ourselves and the wiles of the Tempter. The battle of prayer is inseparable from the necessary “spiritual battle” to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ: we pray as we live, because we live as we pray. (CCC 2752, 2754-2755)

The principal difficulties that we find are:

  • “We don’t have the time.” Prayer is considered as an occupation incompatible with all other things we have to do. Remedy: Make the time for your personal prayer, knowing that nothing could excuse your failing to do so.
  • “We get distracted.” Concentration becomes difficult and we easily give up. Remedy: Turn your heart back to God, offering him the distractions with humility, without discouragement.
  • “We feel dry.” It seems that the heart is separated from God, with no taste for thoughts, memories, and feelings, even spiritual ones. Remedy: Remember that “unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

There are also two frequent temptations that threaten prayer:

  • Lack of faith. Prayer is not the first priority. Remedy: Ask our Lord with a humble heart, “Lord, increase my faith.”
  • Acedia, a form of depression stemming from lax ascetical practice that leads to discouragement. Remedy: Trust God more and hold fast in constancy.

So I’d like to encourage you to renew your efforts of prayer with a new vigor! You can do it! It isn’t easy for any of us, trust me.