God sure loves surprises, doesn't He?
Let's review the past couple of years of my life:
Summer 2014: I think you want to be a missionary.
January 2015: You're going to be a missionary!
June 2015: You're moving to Minnesota!
Summer 2016: You like Minnesota?
January 2017: You're going to serve a third year!
Spring 2017: You're going to move to Florida!
When I signed on for a third year of service with SPO back in January, I never could have imagined that things would pan out the way that they did. I won't go into the specifics of a crazy semester of discernment, but trust me when I say that the Lord has been about a wild work in my heart this year. When I look at my life over the past couple of years next to the lives of the average twenty-something, wild is the only word that really comes to mind: living in three different states over the past three years; seemingly putting my life 'on hold' to bring college students closer to Jesus; living off of the generosity of mission partners for two, going on three, years; et cetera, et cetera. It's a hard life, but it's a blessed life. It is a life that is wild, and so full of joy. The fact that He has not called me out of this life just yet is a gift to be grateful for on its own!
Lately, God has made it very clear in my prayer that He's leading me into the wild this next year. I have been reading an incredible book called Wild and Free, by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan. The book's tagline is "A Hope-Filled Anthem for the Woman Who Feels She is Both Too Much and Never Enough." Ugh, if a tagline of a book has ever tugged right at my heartstrings, it is this one. Reading this book has forced me to wrestle with some bigger questions: What would my life look like if I was actually living 'wild'? What does that even mean? Am I ready to accept the freedom that the Lord has for me? Do I even actually want to be free, or am I letting the comfort of living in fear rule me?
Heavy questions, I know, but God has been gently leading me to the answers. He has given me boldness to say "yes" to serving at a new campus, in a new state, with a new team. He has given me the courage to leave the comfort of a city and people that I have grown to love dearly. It was not easy for me to make any of these decisions; but the Lord has consoled me with the lasting and steady peace that comes from doing His will.
So here we are, after a third round of Mission Leader Training, back in Texas for the next few weeks and preparing to move, yet again, across the country. I am so thrilled to be embarking on this new adventure at Florida State University. Pictured below is my team for the year, a joyful, hilarious, faithful group of men and women whom the Lord has blessed abundantly already. (Ask any of us about our adventures in Gold Medal Park!) Here's to being back in the South, to college football, and to sunshine, all the time. Praise God for new beginnings!
To the students at the University of Minnesota, and all of those in the Twin Cities who welcomed me and loved me over the past two years: I thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for sharing your lives with me, for letting me walk with you, for walking with me as I struggled and triumphed and everything in-between. The past two years have been filled with more joy and love than I thought were possible for a Texan living in the Midwest, and it is largely due to the people and the friendships that the Lord blessed me with. I am grateful for my time serving in Minnesota and would not trade it for anything at all. You are in my prayers and my heart.
And so the adventure continues, and continues, and continues!
To Jesus Through Mary,
The spring semester is the semester where we just get to do the things that we do best. Missionaries have usually found their 'sea legs' by now, and we've really settled into the groove of the school year. This is great, because the spring semester is also usually pretty chaotic and very full. Even through all of the chaos, the Lord, in His usual fashion, supplies the grace and the energy that we need to continue building His Kingdom.
Fan Into Flame
A key part of the ministry of Saint Paul's Outreach is our Fan Into Flame retreat. Every chapter puts on this yearly retreat in an effort to invite students into a deeper relationship with Christ, particularly with the Holy Spirit, and to introduce them to a joyful community of other students running after the Lord. This is my fifth Fan Into Flame retreat (3 as a student + 2 as a missionary), so I have years of proof that this retreat works. I have seen student after student be impacted by this weekend and I have seen so many lives actually change, and it is one of my favorite parts of this mission.
This year, we handed most of the leadership roles over to our students: they gave the talks, handled registration and other administrative tasks, led small groups, served on the music team, and made sure we had plenty of snacks to go around. I have bragged time and time again of our students and their dedication and service to this mission, and I will do it again: OUR STUDENTS ARE THE BEST. It was humbling to realize that our team of 19 missionaries (our team + the University of St. Thomas team) can only do so much to put on a retreat for a little over 200 college students. The service of our student leaders was an immeasurable gift and this retreat simply wouldn't have happened without them. I also got to take some pictures throughout the weekend when I wasn't supervising small groups; enjoy the gallery below!
Minnesota Benefit Banquet
These are some of the senior women I've been walking with for the past two years: Jazlyn, Grace, and Ali. I am so grateful for them!
After Fan Into Flame, we had a pretty quick turnaround. The Tuesday immediately following the weekend was Mardi Gras, which always means one thing in SPO Minnesota: the annual benefit banquet! We essentially bribed our Household and Formation students with a free dinner and their very own SPO polo (a "SPOlo," if you will) to mingle with donors and be a standing witness of the impact of Saint Paul's Outreach. Once again, I will take this time to brag about our amazing student leaders. Even after spending all weekend serving on Fan Into Flame, our students were willing and ready to give even more of themselves to serve at the banquet.
The majority of our students only see a small facet of what SPO does: they see the Mission Leaders on their campus; in Minnesota, they see students from other chapters at events like Fan Into Flame or the Formation retreat; sometimes they make it out to the School of the New Evangelization and get to see a broader picture of SPO. Rarely, however, do the students get to be face-to-face with those who have really made their experiences possible: the donors and benefactors. The banquet is a great opportunity for these encounters to happen. During cocktail hour, our students were dispersed in pairs or groups of threes, meeting and mingling with guests as they arrived. During dinner, they were spread out among tables of guests, sharing a meal together and answering any questions about Saint Paul's Outreach. At the end of the night, all of the students and Mission Leaders in our grey and blue SPOlos were invited onstage while closing remarks were made. While some of us may have felt awkward standing up there for all 600 guests to see, we have heard time and again that this simple act was one of the most impactful parts of the banquet for a lot of the guests.
Overall, the banquet was a great experience. I was not the photographer like I was last year, so I was able to enter in a little more fully and really take everything in. I was once again reminded of how grateful I am for Saint Paul's Outreach, and that there are so many people that are willing to give generously to support what I do.
And so the wonderful adventure continues!
In Jesus through Mary,
Advent has come and gone, and now the Christmas season is here! As another semester on mission has come to a close, I've been reflecting on what the Lord has been speaking to me over the past few months. Two words continually stick out to me: freedom and rest. These have manifested themselves in a lot of different ways in the second half of this past semester!
"God rested on the seventh day not because He was tired, but because rest tells us something about who God is and, therefore, who we are: the one who rests is the one who is free. Slaves do not rest. They do not have the option. And if we do not rest, we have enslaved ourselves to something."
This quote from a blog post by FOCUS has shaped the rest of my semester, and my perspecitve on the work that I do, in so many ways. It's really easy for me (and probably most missionaries) to get caught up in the work that I do and forget to take care of myself. Our Mission Directors recognized the need for us to get away, and they cleared a week of our schedule to drive four hours up north to a cabin in Cook, Minnesota. With my phone on airplane mode the entire time, I was able to really be present with my coworkers and take some time to rest with the Lord. Some of my favorite memories from this semester came from this week, and I'm grateful to be working for an organization that cares for its employees so well!
We had a house photoshoot in the middle of November and it was so much fun! Often our life in Household gets really busy and we can get caught up in just going through the motions of meals together, prayer, and all the other Newman center events that we go to. It was nice to spend some time together outside of that and have fun frolicking around campus. We even sent out house Christmas cards using one of these pictures!
All semester during our Women's Nights we've been talking about claiming our identities as God's beloved daughters, and learning how to live that out. We have had really great content, but I think the most impactful night for me was our last night of the semester. There was no talk, no discussions, no content, just a hot chocolate bar, karaoke, and some minute-to-win-it games. For me, this night was such a consolation that the Lord is working: karaoke, of all things, was the proof.
Something I've noticed in myself and in my time as a missionary is that women will not thrive where they feel uncomfortable. You'll never really get to know a woman if there isn't trust built there, if she doesn't feel comfortable around you. We're all searching for authenticity, for a place and people we can be ourselves around. Once we've found it, we thrive.
Let me tell you, nothing says "freedom in the Lord" quite like a bunch of women with their arms around each other singing along to Bing Crosby's rendition of "White Christmas." The women all felt free to sign up and perform melodramatic duets, from Celine Dion to High School Musical. The joy in our living room was tangible, and the laughter was contagious. Our Women's Night planning team (a group of about six students) has done an amazing job all semester, and their hard work paid off in big ways during this night.
A big theme in my spiritual life, along with freedom and rest, has been slowing down. The Lord has shown me, especially in the past month, that I tend to rush through life: I multitask whenever I can and I try to get things done as fast as possible without stopping to process or really think about what's happening. However, I've realized that this does not serve me, or the people around me, very well at all. As I rush through life, my actions are saying that whatever is in front of me doesn't matter nearly as much as whatever I have coming next.
I've been learning a lot from the example of our Blessed Mother, as she "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart." (Luke 2:19) I'm halfway through my second year of missionary life, and as of late, I haven't been very good at taking things in. I don't want to look back on this season of my life and not be able to remember anything. I definitely don't want to look back on this season of my life and know that I could have given way more than I actually did.
As a second-year Mission Leader, there are many more "what's next"s on the horizon for me than there were last year. It's all too easy for me to get hung up on the black hole of possibilities, on trying to shift the lens of my life to focus on the blurriness in the distance, instead of the sharp foreground of my current life. It's a balance that I'm learning how to strike each day. Even though the liturgical season of Advent is over, there is an advent in my heart that is continuing on. And just as there is joy to be found in the waiting for the Christmas season to once again come, there is a joy to be found in this period of waiting in my life, as well. God is ever renewing my trust in Him, and I am learning how to receive the gift of faith on a daily basis.
I've had a restful (and warm) Christmas break back in Texas with my family, but I am ready to take on another semester of loving the Lord and making Him known. What a great, great gift.
To close, here's a picture of Dallas, because I love this city, and also because the Dallas Cowboys won against the Detriot Lions last night. Bring on the playoffs!
And so the adventure continues. May God bless you and your families in this Christmas season!
To Jesus Through Mary,
It has been far too long since I've posted on here! I'm finding myself much busier this year as a returning Mission Leader, but I am loving being back on-campus at the U of M. August and September have come and gone, and now the temperature is beginning to drop and the leaves are changing. Fall is upon us, so I wanted to take a look back on warmer days and all that happened at the beginning of the year...
Fall Leadership Day
Catholic Students United Leadership Day occurs at St. Lawrence at the start of every semester, and this year it was once again a success! It was the first time that all of the student leaders had been together since school let out for the summer, so it was great to see everyone again. We are very blessed to have such dedicated, committed students working with us to bring their peers closer to Christ. Our day was featured in The Catholic Spirit, the news publication of the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis. You can read more about it here!
Household life has been an absolute joy this semester! Going into this year I was a little nervous about leading a Household, but the Lord has continually equipped me with grace and has blessed our life together. This picture is from our women's Household retreat in New Auburn, Wisconsin. It was a great two and a half days of building sisterhood, praying together, and generally just goofing off. These women are really such a gift. I could brag about them all day. They're just the best!
It's hard to believe that such a crucial part of the year is now just a month-old memory! This year's Catholic Rush Week was filled with fun activities like tailgating, a Labor Day barbecue, handing out ice pops on-campus, and the grand finale: a USA-themed house party, featuring a mechanical bull in the driveway! We met a ton of students in those first couple of weeks and have been working to build relationships with them ever since. Please enjoy this picture of my awesome team from the house party. When we first saw this picture we couldn't stop talking about how good-looking we are. #humbleandblessed
Women's Nights Begin
We had our first Women's Night of the year last weekend! It was a luau theme complete with a tiki bar full of fun tropical drinks, Hawaiian leis for all, and a limbo contest that made me realize how little I have stretched in the past few years. We also had mini terra-cotta pots for women to paint, complete with a free succulent to take home! The night was a lot of fun, and our core women really stepped up to welcome the newer students into our environment. As women, we are often taught to be distrustful and competitive towards other women instead of viewing them as sisters who can be on our side. Our Women's Nights provide a refreshing alternative to this negative mindset, and that's what I love so much about them!
First (and Second) Day of School!
There's not much story here; I just think these pictures are hilarious. An SPO Mission Leader trend that has emerged in the past couple of years is taking 'first day of school' pictures of your household. Obviously, because I'm me, I made our house participate in this newfound tradition. Eventually, most of their moms asked to be sent the pictures! The next day, our house decided it would be fun to take a second day of school picture to capture the reality of collegiate living. I laugh every time I see these pictures!
Patroness for the Year
How could I not bring up St. Teresa of Calcutta?! Her canonization was such a happy day. We bought flowers in my house to celebrate! I firmly believe that she's been interceding for nearly every part of this year; not just in my own life, but in the lives of the students. She was picked as the patron Saint of Catholic Students United this year, and we often ask for her intercession at the end of Gopher Catholic Night. Her prayers are blessing everything that we've got going on this year.
At the start of this year, in honor of her canonization, I started re-reading "Come Be My Light," which is a collection of letters from Mother Teresa in correspondence with her spiritual director. It chronicles her later life, from the moment she first heard the 'call within a call' to the start the Missionaries of Charity, to the deep spiritual desolation that she felt for most of her apostolate. The author who compiled the letters speaks of her commitment to being "'an apostle of joy,' even when, humanly speaking, she might have felt at the brink of despair." I see this call in my own life and in the lives of the students I am walking with.
Life is crazy. There's always something to do, there's always another appointment on the calendar, and there's always someone who needs to be served. However, in spite of all of all the business, we have a call to joy that is greater than our earthly circumstances - a joy that lasts, because it's rooted in the Source of all joy. If St. Teresa can serve the people of Calcutta with so much joy and happiness, even though internally she faced a deep spiritual darkness, I can gladly do whatever the Lord may ask of me in a given day - no matter what I'm feeling.
We've got a lot of exciting things coming up in the next couple of weeks: the Catholic Students United Fall Retreat is coming up, and after that, our staff is taking a few days to be on retreat as well. Please pray for both of these occasions: for the students who will be on the fall retreat, the leadership team, and the small group leaders; and for our team as well, that we get some much-needed rest and quality time together. May God bless you abundantly until next time!
To Jesus Through Mary,
It's a pretty cool thing to be able to say I was one of the 500(ish) people at the last national School of the New Evangelization; especially considering I would have never planned to have been there while I was in college.
I remember the first time I went to SNE in 2012. I was going into my junior year at Texas State, I was going into my first year of living in Household as a student (and it would turn out to be my only), and I had just finished my third summer as a camp counselor at The Pines Catholic Camp. I was really tan (those were the days), really happy to be back with all of my college friends on a crazy road trip from Texas to Minnesota, but really really wiped out.
Long story short: I came, I saw, anddddddd I didn't really have the best time. In fact, I have distinct memories of coming back from SNE that year and telling people, "Yeah, it was really cool and I learned a lot, but I just don't think that I'm called to be a missionary."
God has a sense of humor and I was lying to myself.
Looking back, I think that week is when the Lord first invited me to a life on mission with Him. But I wasn't open, or ready, or confident; I was terrified. I didn't believe in a good and merciful Father back then; I believed in an angry and disappointed Father whose love was conditional and merit-based - and that I'd never be able to 'earn' it. So the thought of following a Father like that, what I falsely thought He was, was terrifying. Therefore I shut the thought out and away and tried not to think about it, and I think that had an effect on how the rest of SNE went for me. I could have had a better time, I think, had I been more open to the Lord and to what He wanted for me.
But the Lord is good and He redeems all. Here I am, four years later, still going to SNE's, living a life that is way more exciting, joyful, and richer than I ever could have planned out for myself. As a missionary - the very thing I said I never wanted to be! Because He isn't limited by my weaknesses and He isn't satisfied by the mediocre plans I have for my own life. THANK GOODNESS.
All of this to say that I am so grateful that the School of the New Evangelization is still in my life, and that I now get to watch lives change from the other side of things, as a staff member. I remember telling my best friend four years ago that after college I'd hoped to be a photographer, and maybe a missionary, too. This year at SNE, the Lord let me do both at once! What a gift. Photographing an entire week-long conference by yourself (minus all of the men's sessions #thankgoodness) is no easy task; but I really enjoyed taking on this challenge that was unlike any photography job I'd ever had before. I was pushed creatively (and physically, let's be real, I was on my feet a lot and I am not a very strong gal) each day, figuring out new ways to capture old moments over and over again. I'm pretty proud of the final products. With the start of two SNE's a year happening next summer (you can read more about that here), it was truly an honor to get to capture all of the moments of this final SNE of its kind. All of the photos I took can be found on SPO's Flickr page, but in the gallery below you can find some of my favorite shots.
Another year of mission kicks into high gear this week, with Newman Center Leadership Day tomorrow and our Household move-in/retreat starting on Wednesday and extending into the weekend. Please pray for all of us, as the adventure of this year begins!
To Jesus Through Mary,
My name is Rebecca. This blog is a documentation of my life as a missionary with Saint Paul's Outreach - in Minnesota, Florida, and everywhere in-between. Thanks for stopping by!