|Danielle serving children in Chimbote, Peru this summer.|
Also, I urge you to please take just 20 seconds of your time to vote for her entry so that she has a chance to win the $1250 scholarship and FREE conference registration! Just click here. She is entry #5 with the post titled, "Because That's All That Really Matters."
When I began college at North Dakota State University in the fall of 2009, my faith was lukewarm at best. But God used that grace of His and soon I was at Newman Center events in a desperate attempt to not be the lonely freshman sitting in her dorm room. I found myself playing shaving cream wiffle ball and taping toilet paper to my arms for angel wings in skits. Surrounded by a community of great Catholics, my faith grew gradually. I thought I had the faith thing figured out, but I was far from it (and still am).
I decided to do mission work the summer after my sophomore year. I thought I was doing it because I wanted to do something “radical” for God, but to be honest, my main motivation was to avoid a boring summer and the same old part-time job. I applied to do the Catholic Urban Project in Ypsilanti, Michigan, primarily because a friend I knew was doing it. That way at least I would have her. It was the safe thing to do.
It wasn’t what I expected, missionary life. It was challenging in ways I hadn’t even considered. It all seemed great when I saw the pictures of missionaries handing out food to the homeless or working with the poor children in the streets. People don’t talk about the hard parts: the days when you knock on doors for hours and they all stay closed. Or how some missionaries just hate doing their own dishes. In reality, the work, the community, and the faith were more challenging than I ever imagined. And, although I would never have admitted it at the time, I wasn’t enjoying my summer.
Then God stepped in.
The parish priest and founder of the Catholic Urban Project made what I thought was “radical” look as ordinary as a PB&J. One conversation with him and my whole outlook on the summer changed. My whole outlook on life changed.
“Don’t live for the American dream. It means nothing.”
Wow. That seemed harsh. Although I’m sure I had heard similar advice before, it had never hit home. Not like this. Because even if I didn’t realize it at the time, that American dream had become my main goal in life. Nothing over the top. Just the typical plan. Graduate college. Have the perfect family. Kids and a dog in the backyard. White picket fence. The good Catholic family. God was a part of the plan. But He wasn’t the plan.
“I wish I would have done what you have the chance to do now when I was 20. Serve. Because you’ll find that’s all that really matters.”
That’s all that really matters. I reflected a lot on this conversation over the next few days. I discovered that although raising a family and serving God in that way can be absolutely beautiful and maybe one day God would bless me with that great gift, it wasn’t what He was calling me to at that time. I was 20 and halfway through my college career. The American dream--that life I had idealized in my head--could wait. But right then I had this amazing opportunity to serve Him and love Him in a different way. I wasn’t about to waste it.
My summer changed from then on. I went about the work in a different way. I prayed in a different, deeper way as I searched for God’s will and peace. He had placed a desire in my heart to serve those in poverty and I wanted to fulfill it the best I possibly could, but that didn’t mean it became easy. People still didn’t answer doors. The dirty cereal bowl was still sitting on the counter every morning. But I knew it was where God wanted me and He was calling me specifically to be there. He had given me unique gifts to fulfill His mission and although I didn’t even fully grasp what those gifts were, I knew I needed to give them back. I knew I needed to dedicate my life to loving and serving God. Because that’s all that really mattered.
I returned from Michigan on fire for God. I wanted to serve Him and His people. I knew I wanted to give my next summer to God. He clearly placed that desire in my heart and this time I wasn’t doing it simply for an experience away from the usual. This past summer I spent two months serving at a mission in Chimbote, Peru. During my time working with the people of this extremely impoverished community, God only increased my desire to serve Him even more. I’m now in the process of applying to do long term mission work after I graduate in May. I struggled a lot with the decision of whether I should do mission work or continue on to graduate school. Then I would be ready to get a good job. But I hear it again: “Don’t live for the American dream…serve.” I realize that God is calling me to serve Him as a missionary right now.
I know God has placed me at this university at this time for a reason. I am more involved in service on campus and in the community. The Bible study I lead now volunteers at least once a month. My faith and how I live it out has become more real.
Maybe one day I will be blessed enough to have the kids and dog in the white picket fence. But right now I am called give myself freely to Him where I’m at. Not just next summer as a missionary, but every day. I still struggle continuously to make God the plan instead of just a part of it. Because He is calling me to love Him with my entire heart, soul, and mind.
And that’s all that really matters.