Friday, November 15, 2013

Learning to love.

Sometimes I like to convince myself that my love language isn't gifts, because I don't want to seem selfish and difficult to love. "Quality time is my number one," I always say. "It's followed by a close second of... well, everything else," is how I should probably follow that up, but never do. For those of you scratching your heads wondering what the heck I'm referring to, the Five Love Languages is one of my favorite tests of learning to love others in the best way possible, as well as to learn which kind of love you favor in receiving. The types of love are split up into five categories by Dr. Gary Chapman and are, in no particular order:
  1. Quality time
  2. Words of affirmation
  3. Acts of service
  4. Receiving gifts
  5. Physical Touch
Now it's been a while since I've taken the test, but each time I'm a recipient of some measure of love, I analyze my interior feelings, and measure them up to the reactions I experience when I receive other types of love. From my research thus far, I've deduced that, well, um this is awkward, but I just really like to be loved. I've come to understand that each person has a unique way of giving and receiving love, and they oftentimes (whether they like to admit it or not) will give love in the way they desire most to receive. And because I want to learn to love others well, when a measure of love is measured out to me, it must mean that that person is more willing to receive that measure of love back! What a joy to continue learning the art of loving others well, a lesson that we should not be so quick to forget in this lifetime.

The reason for this post is because, for some strange reason, I've realized lately how many people tell me they don't like to receive words of affirmation (aka compliments) because "it makes them feel awkward." Personally, I'm not quite sure how someone bending over in humility to tell you something positive about yourself makes you feel awkward. I don't mean this to be a slam to anyone who falls into that category, but I will challenge it; what is it about a compliment to your person makes you feel uncomfortable? Is it because you aren't quite comfortable with the man or woman you've become? Is it because you don't believe they could possibly be telling the truth? "I mean, that's really nice of them to say, but when I look in a mirror I see things they could never see. They forgot to take note of imperfection A and flaw B. If they saw those things they would definitely take back what they said."

Have you ever thought those things to yourself? I bring this to light not because of some exterior revelation, but because that I have fallen into believing those same lies time and time again. This became particularly clear the other day when I was going through a box of notes I've collected over the past two and a half years. I've literally saved every note, Christmas card, thank you, and other random "you're great" notes that I've received since accepting a call to staff (and let's be real, I probably have a lot more notes from before that stashed away somewhere in WI). A little embarrassingly, that box was getting so full I couldn't really close it anymore, so I figured it's time I go through and clean house. Obviously I couldn't just throw them all away without reading them first, so I took an hour to catch up on some reading and be affirmed. While reading each of these letters that I've read at some point in the past, I was moved as if it was the first time I had seen these letters, notes and cards. If you, dear reader, sent me a note in the past two years please know how grateful I am. Those words always come at the exact right times, and being a person appreciative of gifts, words of affirmation and every other love language, they mean very much to me. So thank you! 

I like being able to just throw things away and remain detached from worldly possessions. I realized when trying to decide between keeping certain notes and throwing others away I wanted to keep all of them! There were some, yes, that are headed down to 45th street (i.e. the Fargo landfill) and others that were placed back in the box until the next time I go through and clean them out. I guess I'm not so quick to "just throw things out" as I thought I was, but that's okay. If I'm having a bad day I guess I know where I can go for a little love.

With all this being said, if there is someone in your life that has made a difference, helped you see things in a clearer light, or has just been a positive influence in your life, send them a note! Affirm them and let them know how much you care. Don't use age or time since seeing them as an excuse. People of every age and place enjoy knowing that they are loved, and some people more readily accept it when they are able to accept it in private (i.e. via writing). 

Near the very end of my senior year in college a dear friend of mine was getting married and a friend's mom and co. wanted to throw her what they called a "wedding way." The weekend consisted of celebrating the person that she is, how special she has been from her very birth, and how she is growing beautifully into the woman God is creating her to be. I was talking with Windsong, one of the women throwing her this fiesta, about handwritten notes and letters. I remember her distinctly saying, "What is it like to even receive a handwritten letter these days? Do people still do that? I would not be able to contain my happiness if someone took the time to write me a letter."

Take the time to write a letter to someone you love today. I can bet you will make someone's day, somewhere.

That's all for now, too many other things to share with you.

P.S. halfway through this post I checked today's mail and there was a card waiting for me...I am so blessed! The Lord always knows what I need...and what I want. Sometimes he gives me both.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Only You.

"My heart is heavy, God. My heart is heavy!"

That has been my prayer today and yesterday, and I am now convinced that when we remain faithful the Lord takes great delight in that--especially when we least want to. Here's one missionary's story of how she tried to do that.

I don't honestly know what came over me this morning, but I was, and admittedly might still a tad bit be in a bad mood. (Insert shocked face here.) To be honest, I'm not that often in a straight up angry and plain bad mood, but this morning after our team meeting something was just not right inside of me. Earlier this morning in prayer I read through the day's gospel, and then saw a text from a friend reflecting on it. The gospel for today is Luke 11:37-41 and verse 41 just kept jumping out every time I read it.
"But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you."
A friend of mine sends out daily reflection texts and sent me one this morning that I just can't quite get out of my head, and he was reflecting upon this gospel passage. It said: "'As to what is within, give alms, and behold everything will be clean for you.' When we give freely and generously to those in need we express love, compassion, kindness and mercy. And if the heart is full of love and compassion, then there is no room for envy, greed, bitterness, and the like. Do you allow God's love to transform your heart, mind, and actions toward your neighbor?" 

The prayer of my heart after reading this was instantly, "Lord, may there be no more room left for envy, greed, bitterness, malice and anger left in my heart! May there only be room for love!" and the reason I tell you this is because I really meant that! Today of all days, I felt angry towards my brother (not my actual brother, but brother in a larger sense) and my first internal reaction when I was in conversation was not one of joy and excitement, but of self-pity and feelings of anger and annoyance. The place from which it stems was of virtually no import to me, but it wasn't until 2:00 that the rubber really hit the road and I had to "buck up," go to discipleship and share Christ with his disciple.

Now, being in a cranky and oddly energetic mood, going to discipleship was really the last thing I wanted to do, which is strange because I tend to look more forward to that part of the apostolate than anything else. Regardless, the two of us met up and walked over to the union together and I was literally straining myself to keep from flying off the handle bars and going on a pointless, tangential rant about absolutely nothing. When we got there we found a spot on some couches, sat down and I asked her if she'd be willing to open in prayer, I really had nothing to give at this point. I hadn't planned on praying with the day's gospel reading, but my mind was literally empty of what to do with her. So we read through the gospel a couple of times, letting the words sink in, and listening to what the Lord was telling us through them.

What a grace. Man, scripture is definitely living and effective, and today it cut through my heart like a double-edged sword. Praise God!

Verse 41, as quoted earlier, jumped out of the page again, so I knew that Jesus was trying to say something to me that I didn't quite understand earlier. I reflected, 'Ok Kelsey, what exactly is within you right now? And how can you give alms from that?' Well, inside of me was a very unrighteous anger, a sense of self-pity, and a desire to do nothing but storm off and pout for a few hours--there was not one feeling of charity nor joy (which yes, doesn't necessarily mean they aren't there, for love is more than feelings--it's an act of the will!) nor a desire to be in discipleship at that very moment. I was feeling far too selfish for that. But in order to be clean on the inside, I had to give spiritual alms, not necessarily waiting until Sunday and putting a check in the collection basket--I had to work with the present moment. At that moment, giving alms for me was to sit with my disciple and have a Christ-centered, rather than Kelsey-centered discipleship. Talk about spiritual poverty! Out of my nothingness I gave Jesus everything that I could give, and He rewarded me ten-fold.

As an example: this particular disciple is applying to be a FOCUS missionary, and the interview is this weekend. I so badly wanted to take her evangelizing, "barehanding" as we call it. I still haven't done it, and our discipleship was running really short on time (technically it was supposed to have ended, but another disciple was showing up in a few minutes anyway). We were talking about the interview and it struck me:  how awesome is it that this girl wants to devote two years of her life to serve the Lord in his vineyard as a missionary?! That is just so incredible.

I saw my next disciple coming towards us and casually I turned to the girl next to me and exclaimed, "Hey, my friend wants to give up two years of her life and be a missionary, isn't that so awesome?!" And the rest of the conversation flowed from there. We came to find out that Jenna (that's her name, so feel free to pray for her!) was raised in a Christian home but had never heard the Gospel message. Insert totally casual gospel presentation here. We then proceeded to pray with her and in sum, I'd chalk it up to a success--only because I responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to talk to the person next to me. We didn't finish there, but after praying with her got to talk to her about mission trips and even exchanged phone numbers. It's kind of hard not to ooze joy, zeal and love after something like that happens. Needless to say, my bad mood had essentially dissipated and I'm convinced it's because I was fortunate enough to give alms out of my poverty.

And to be honest, I haven't felt this "clean" in a long time. Love truly does cover a multitude of sins!

"But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you."

Sunday, October 6, 2013

From the Streets of Fargo

You might be wondering what the heck has taken me so long to update you; my apologies if you've been on the edge of your seat. Like I mentioned in my last post, it's legitimately hard to think of things to write with sweet Kelly no longer able to read and enjoy my posts; I pray for her each day and still miss her dearly.

However, although I haven't been posting certainly does not mean I haven't been experiencing a lot of life since September 2nd, the date of the last update. Since then bible studies have gotten off the ground, our all-female book study is well under way, the students are growing more and more each day, we've had a few monthly mountains (one was even student-led) and I've been meeting more people than I know what to do with (as per usual).

If you're wondering how I personally am doing, let me just say very well. I feel very free to be more spontaneous, and to evangelize in every opportunity. I'm convinced that this grace is a fruit of the Camino. In the past, I've seen activities at the Newman Center as more of a burden than a joy (I know, shocker, right?). A new tide of graces came flooding in with the start of this school year and rather than seeing these activities as "required" I'm now seeing every one as an opportunity to meet new people, share the love of Christ, and welcome more students into this family that is the Newman Center. I think part of this might come from the fact that this year I'm leading only one bible study (as opposed to multiple) and most of my current disciples are seniors, so we basically just live the dream and strategize as to how we're going to convert NDSU's campus. It's pretty bomb.

I do have to say I have a few other pieces of exciting news in my life.

1) Meghan Gangestad (was Hamson) got married last weekend. Her wedding, simple yet beautiful, impacted me in so many ways. I learned a lot about self sacrifice, and what it means to really love someone. It's funny, because this wasn't the first Catholic wedding I've been to. In fact, I've been blessed to attend many. However, this was the first time that someone I've walked with on the path of Christian discipleship got married, and she is just the first of many (Mary, Alea, Britni..). There was definitely a sense of proud older sister and I had to blink 'em back a few times. (Not as many times as the bridesmaids in front of me though! They even turned around and asked me for tissues.) It was just such a joy to celebrate with Meghan, as well as spend time with her FOCUS team (she's a missionary at IUPUI) and her wonderful family.
Justin and Meghan's wedding, all the FOCUS Missionaries in the house!
2) I've hesitated to write about this for a while, and I'll be honest, it is probably one of the reasons I haven't been so diligent in writing. I pride myself on being open, vulnerable and honest with my friends, family and all of you, but sometimes, you just don't know how to bring something up. Recently I read an article titled, Stop Guarding Your Heart and Start Paying Attention to Realtiy, and so this is me, "paying attention to reality." I'm in a relationship, and privileged to be dating a really incredible guy named Lee. I guess you could say this is the first "adult relationship" I've been in, so I'm a little skittish as how to go about everything. The reality of the situation is that we just started dating about a month ago, we're both pursuing lives of holiness fed by prayer and the sacraments, and that one way or another we are on the same page with trying to prepare the other for their Vocation. As for details I'll tell you this: he lives in Iowa, I live in North Dakota. We talk twice a week, and are trying to visit each other once a month. Prayer is important to us, and I am so thankful his leadership in the relationship.
Lee and I at Meghan's wedding

You might be wondering, wait a second, if he lives in Iowa and she lives in North Dakota... how on earth did they meet? Well, to answer that question, Lee was a grad student my first year at NDSU and we bonded over a filial love of the movies Hot Rod and Pink Panther. We actually had a lot of opportunities to get to know each other, and I actually tried to set up a FOCUS Mission that was NDSU-specific (the trips are typically inclusive of students from any campus) and Lee, who had been on a mission trip before, offered to be a co-leader for the trip. In God's good providence, only a couple of students showed nominal interest in the trip and therefore we canceled it. Lee was also one of the most dedicated FOCUS student missionaries and very hard-working. To not bore you with all the little details, I will say that in April I received a really nice letter from Lee, we started talking every couple of weeks throughout this summer, peppered by a couple of visits from each of us, and well, after a visit to his family St. Cloud about a month ago we decided to officially start discerning through a dating relationship. If I learn any wisdom about dating through this experience perhaps I'll share it with all of you via this blogging medium. It is my own personal soapbox, I suppose. Perhaps that's why I like it so much. Hmmm...

Lastly, regarding my relationship with Lee, I've been learning a lot about myself, and especially the virtues of patience and selflessness. I've always kind of known I'm selfish, but it wasn't until this summer when Lee and I were talking about a possible visit in the time frame between the Camino and returning to Fargo that I realized in what ways I am selfish. I tried to convince him to come visit me in WI (again, as he visited in late May before NST), and he patiently just said, "Kelsey, I'd like it if you came to Iowa." I knew in that moment that sometimes I need to give, and he can't be the only one to sacrifice for our relationship. So that's just one example of how I'm already growing in this relationship.

On a funnier note, the other week we had a Skype date planned for 5:30 pm and I made sure to dress up extra nice that day. I had a few opportunities throughout the day to go for a run or do some form of exercise, but I used the Skype date as an excuse not to work out (you can't mess up the hair, you know!), even though I should've. At 5:20 I logged into Skype, knowing that it usually takes a couple of minutes to get warmed up, and at 5:30 on the dot, I got a phone call from Lee. I, trying to play it totally cool, said, "Oh, did you want to Skype today?" (secretly yet not so secretly hoping he'd want to) when, after a brief pause he just said, "No, I think we can talk on the phone today" (facepalm). "Vanity of vanities... all is vanity." Thanks for helping me grow in holiness, Lee.

Ready for the fiesta!
3) I'm leading two mission trips this school year--one during spring break and one over the summer! I'll be going to Ecuador over spring break and Mexico City in July. I couldn't be more excited to have such incredible opportunities to serve the Lord in this facet. I love my job. If you're a college student and want to come on either trip with me, is the website. Fill out an application and join me for an awesome adventure. The desire to become more involved with FOCUS Missions really started to fan into flame after returning from the Camino. I think the Lord has a lot in store for college students through these missions, and I feel the Lord tugging on my heart to serve in this capacity.

Tonight we had a "missions fiesta" for the buckluck Sunday night student dinner. We brought in some music, lights, crepe paper and had a helping of nachos and I'd chalk it up to a success! It was a blessing to share something that I'm passionate about with students, and hopefully inspire them to go on their own mission this year. Another grace for me was to share the graces from the Camino with them through a personal testimony and be reminded myself of all that the Lord did for me on that incredible trip. Sure wouldn't mind going back sometime in the near future!
Busy serving all the kiddos at buckluck.
That's about all there is to report for now, at least now that I've pointed out the "elephant in the room." Perhaps I'll be more likely to share more often with all of you stories from the hinterland. Please pray for me, for our campus, for many applicants (especially males!) for FOCUS, our student missionaries, the trips to Ecuador and Mexico City and please pray for Lee and I as we continue on this path of discernment.

Monday, September 2, 2013

To a dear friend.

It's Labor Day. We have the day off and a perfect opportunity for me to write a blog post updating all of you on the fun camping trip our team took this weekend with a group of students. Yet, it's hard for me to write anything at all, and that is no coincidence.

On Saturday a dear friend packed her bags and headed to the convent. Now if that doesn't fall under the category of, #Catholicproblems, I'm not sure what does. Not only is she a dear friend, but also one of my biggest fans and has always loved reading this blog. In fact, most times when I start a new post I think of how two people will react: my mom and Kelly. It saddens me to know that she will probably never read this post, seeing as she was always one of the first people to check her email in the morning with a "New post from: Answering the Call" and respond with such excitement. I could always count on a text later that day affirming something I wrote about, or even just my person. Such an absolute delight.

As an aside, I would like to take little to no credit for Kelly discovering her vocation, although I would like to say what a blessing it was to get to know her and walk with her in Christian discipleship over the past two years. Perhaps you remember reading a post about Kelly way back in June, 2012, or you might even know her and also call her friend and sister. Near the end of my first year on staff, three different girls approached me and asked if they could ask this new girl into discipleship, Kelly. First, Mary asked me and I thought, "Yeah! Do it that's great!" Then, Kayla told me about this Kelly in her bible study and I thought, "Yeah, invest in her, that's great!" And then when Britni asked me about discipling her I thought, "Okay, who is this whimsical Kelly figure? And why is nobody just investing in her already?" 

Britni put Kelly and I in contact (why she did that I'm still not entirely sure) and before I knew it we were sharing testimonies in the Memorial Union one random Tuesday evening. Little did we know that that would be the beginning to a beautiful, Christ-centered relationship. Kelly was on the NDSU track team (before she decided to give that up so she could spend more time with the Lord) so we would lace up our running shoes and head out the door together every once in a while, the whole time filled with Kelly asking me questions about what it means to be a Catholic, and myself giving the best answer I could muster. I  never realized how much the Holy Spirit led everything we said or did until recently, when she has been reminding me of different things I've said or did that ended up having a huge impact on her. Things that I certainly do not remember and am so surprised that she does. Clearly not of me, but the Holy Spirit. So very humbling!

Over the past week I've realized that God wanted Kelly and I to be in each other's lives probably more than we wanted it. I often battled temptations to see Kelly as "another student" and convince myself she would be okay without me. Turns out she was totally okay without me, but the times that
Kelly and I on her confirmation, April 2013
we had opportunities to talk she appreciated more than I ever realized. 

Kelly and I had the opportunity to walk the Camino together this summer and I am so thankful we did. The trip nearly ended before I realized the important role this girl would play in my life. Since returning from Spain we have Skyped several times, talked on the phone a couple times each week and sent texts often. This young woman I always kind of figured would "just be around" would no longer be around; she was answering the call from Christ to be His bride, giving up everything in her life, and teaching this old dog a thing or two about the mystical Body of Christ.

Perhaps some of you have heard the phrase, "I'll see you in the Eucharist," and have wondered exactly what that means. How can I see you in the Eucharist? That's Jesus! Or maybe you've just thought that was complete nuts and wanted nothing to do with it. Either way, in watching dear Kelly answer this call and explore the path Christ has laid before her, it comes as a big lesson for me. I am finally conceiving in my heart that each and every one of us who receive Jesus in the Eucharist are receiving the same Christ. As we receive Him, we are reunited with most His Sacred Heart, the entire communion of Saints, and with all of those brothers and sisters of ours who are far away and not with us. We are strangers and sojourners on this earth, and it should always be clear that Heaven is our home, so why do we forget that the Mass is literally, "heaven on earth"? Going to Mass should be like going home, and the Lord proves this to me time and time again.

On Friday night Kelly called me for the last time, at least for now. She would leave at 7 am on Saturday morning and we both knew this would be the last time we'd get to speak with each other for a very long time. I told her how much I was learning about surrendering to Christ and the beauty found in His Mystical Body through the Eucharist and she gave me the biggest compliment I've ever received. So much so that I humbly desire to share it with all of you, for what it's worth. Kelly said something to me that I will never forget, and it brings tears to my eyes just remembering the conversation. "Kelsey," she said before letting out a sob, "if someday in the future you begin to doubt that you had an impact as a missionary, or that you didn't make a difference, please remember that there are lives that were changed because of you, and you have had more of an impact that you may ever realize."

This touched me on a deeper level, and I think most importantly because I knew that this message was not meant only for me. I pray that past, present, and future FOCUS missionaries throughout the country might always know this! We may not accomplish what we hope to do on campus, or things might end and we find them to be failures. In all reality, those "failures" were exactly what God wanted in the order of the salvation of His precious children. We are His instruments and we should never be ashamed for being the Body of Christ, even if things don't end up as we planned. Christ has called us to be His missionaries and only He can "write straight with crooked lines." May each and every one of us never forget this.

That was the last lesson Kelly taught me through conversation, and I know it will not be the last one. I am so thankful for the people that God brings in and out of my life each day, and I hope to never take advantage of anyone, thinking that they'll "be there tomorrow." May my schedule never be too busy, nor may I view myself as "too important" to live in the present moment and grab a hold of the opportunities to love in the way that Christ wants. He has a plan for each moment of my life, may I never let selfishness get in the way of seeking it nor laziness destroy it. Amen.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
   Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. 
   Be kind anyway. 
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. 
  Succeed anyway. 
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. 
  Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. 
  Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
  Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
  Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
  Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
                                  On the wall of Mother Teresa's children's home in Calcutta, India.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Graces. So many graces.

Okay, I don't normally blog about these kinds of things, but for those of you that know me (and perhaps even those of you that don't), when the Lord does something really neat in my life I have to tell as many people as possible. This has especially been the case since the 8-day Ignatian (silent) retreat I had the privilege of going on last summer. During the retreat's last nightly conference, one of the priests leading the retreat made very clear the necessity for us to share and unpack the graces that the Lord gave us with those around us. In the words of St. Ignatius, "that one grace may be shared by many," which essentially means that the Lord doesn't give graces so that just one personal can benefit, but rather so that others can grow, learn and also receive graces from whatever the Lord is doing one's life. And not only do others receive blessings from the graces in your life, but whenever you have the opportunity to retell the story of Christ's action in your life, pow, game-changer right there. It's amazing how telling the same story for the umpteenth time can bring so many different blessings to you. I think most often we like to be selfish with the gifts we get, thinking they were meant for us and us alone, when in fact the Lord gave us that to teach us vulnerability (ahhh!) and humility (eeek!).

So...why did I begin this post again? Oh yeah, to share a grace from this week with you, and maybe preach just a little; what are blogs for anyway? (Answer: standing on your own personal soapbox as often as you'd like, that's what.)

Lately I've begun reading, rather praying, through the Gospel of Matthew and chewing on each section very slowly, digesting each verse. On Tuesday, I read through Matthew 8:5-13, 'Jesus Heals a Centurion's Servant.' When I saw the title my reaction was, "Oh hey! That's where that one part in the Mass comes from since the new translation; Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." I said a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit and prayed on. When doing Lectio Divina (literally meaning, "divine reading," you can read about it by clicking on the link), I often read through the passage and simply ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate a word or phrase that the Lord desires to use to speak to me through. When I read through this passage the first thing that stuck out was, "he marveled," in regards to Jesus marveling after the centurion told him,
"Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it."
Jesus has just entered Capernaum and this Roman officer comes forward begging Jesus to heal his servant. As soon as Jesus agrees to come and heal him, the centurion responds in that manner--with such great faith!

It's incredible that this is where the line comes from in the Mass that we recite right before we receive the Holy Eucharist, the precious Body and Blood of our Lord. And Jesus marveled at the centurion's response! Jesus not only marvels, but announces to his followers, to those who think they are doing the heroic thing by literally following Jesus, "Truly I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith"

Hold on! Now I can't say for sure, but if I were in that crowd I probably would've been pretty upset. "What do you mean, 'not even in Israel have you found such faith'? I left mother, father, brother and sister to follow you! I left my job, my house, my everything! I've done all that you said to do, and this centurion has greater faith than I?" Humbling, very humbling.

Jesus made a point to address the centurion personally after announcing his great faith to the peoples and told him to, "Go; let it be done for you as you have believed." ..."And the servant was healed at that very moment." Boom, just like that. In sum, a sinner begs Jesus to have pity on him and heal his servant, Jesus has a remarkable amount of mercy on him, and then heals his servant "at that very moment." Sounds like a trustworthy Savior to me. We cry out to him, trust that He will hear our prayer, He sheds grace and mercy, and answers as He will...solid. I had never realized the correlation in that simple story to the Gospel message itself until now, and that's not even the part that really hit me the other day. 

What particularly moves me is that we recite the same prayer that that centurion prayed 2000 years ago, to the same Jesus we are about to receive in the Eucharist during the Holy Mass. The new translation (which is actually just a more accurate translation into English of the Latin, but I don't need to get into that now. In Spanish they literally say, "Lord I am not worthy that you should enter into my house, but one word of yours will suffice to heal me.") is no coincidence. What's amazing to me is that when we pour everything out on the altar and then recite those same words with the faith of the centurion, Jesus will marvel

I don't know about you, but when the thought of Jesus marveling at me crosses my mind, the only thing I think he could possibly marvel at (def: be filled with wonder or astonishment) is my sin. What I've come to learn over the years is that Jesus doesn't marvel at our sins. Why glorify that which kills the soul? Jesus marvels when he sees his friends (ahem, all of us) more fully trust in Him. Perhaps you can understand when you are asked a question that you have no idea how to answer, or when you get asked to complete a task that seems way over your head. You literally marvel at the person that asked you that because you cannot believe someone could ask something like that of you. "Wow," you think to yourself, "I can't believe they would ask me this. Do they even know me and what I'm capable of?" I remember asking myself that same question a few times on, yeah you guessed it, the Camino. Simply because I could communicate in Spanish I suddenly became the expert on all things 'Camino'. People asked questions about topics to which I had absolutely no idea how to answer. For example, "Hey Kelsey, will there be bed bugs here tonight?" Or, "Hey Kelsey, how far away is the nearest bathroom?" Or, "Is it safe to drink the water?" (For the record, I never knew any of the answers to these questions. All I did was respond with my best educated guess and with confidence. Worked like a charm. Oh, sorry if any of you are reading this now thinking that I lied to you the entire trip. I assure you I did not.)

Jesus also marvels at us when we ask big things of him. Let's be real, it was pretty gutsy for said centurion to have the audacity to beg Jesus in front of all those people to heal his servant, and then not actually let him in his house! Imagine if we could do the same. One of the things our team at NDSU is doing this year is "praying big," as Bryan puts it. Why ask for things that seem probable. God becoming man so that He can die on a cross and then allow us to eat him weekly, or even daily, is not very probable. Christ being born of a virgin is not very probable. What I'm coming to learn is that these are not just nice stories of something that happened long, long ago. These make up the real story of our salvation. And they are not fiction, they're all true!

Today is the feast of the Passion or Beheading of John the Baptist. What a humble guy. For those of you who read one of my previous posts, John the Baptist heavily influenced my summer simply for his words, "He must increase, I must decrease." And John the Baptist was a real person. On the altar at Mass tonight I noticed a small reliquary and had a hunch it was one of his relics, seeing as FRC loves the guy and it's one of his feast days (yes he has more than one..this one is celebrating his martyrdom, there is also one celebrating his nativity...etc) and I knew I'd need to spend some time with him post-social time after Mass. It was no coincidence that today is also a Thursday and we are encouraged to pray the Luminous mysteries of the Rosary, the first being the Baptism in the Jordan. 

John the Baptist...why the name? Oh, because he actually baptized JESUS. As I read through this mystery's reflection in my prayer book I was completely struck at the fact that this is a first-class relic (i.e. an actual piece of the Saint) of the man who baptized my Lord and Savior and the King of the Universe. And I just received Jesus in the Eucharist. Talk about being filled to overflowing with the love of God, man what a grace.

That's it, I could go on for hours but I'll stop there. That alone is enough for me to chew on for days. Essentially, my takeaways (or rather, giveaways) from this post for you are this:
  1. Ask big things of Jesus at the Mass, He is honored when you ask.
  2. When you recite the same prayer as the centurion before receiving the Eucharist, ask for the grace to truly believe and have great faith that the Lord will answer your prayer.
  3. Jesus, Mary and all the Saints are not just a nice story that happened long ago, or never actually happened at all. Each is a real person and plays a large role in the history of each of our own salvation.
Now may God himself, our Father, and our Lord Jesus
direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase
and abound in love for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.
1 Thes 3:11-13 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Welcome back Retreat: Katelyn's Story

As some of you might know, we took our student missionaries on a little retreat to Hankinson, ND in lieu of our usual back-to-school "Evangelization Workshop" that we organize each year. I'll be honest, I was a bit leery at first simply because all the students that came were the guinea pigs and we just hoped they'd like it.
FRC preaching on the Queenship of Mary

The retreat was absolutely incredible. Unfortunately, less than 50 of the 82 student missionaries showed up, but I know the ones that did received exactly what they needed from the Lord. Coincidence? Or just a theme in my life lately? Hmmm.

The retreat was only 24 hours, but we packed quite a bit in and the retreat center we stayed at was just perfect. It was part of a convent but we hardly interacted with the sisters at all. There were towels and pillows coming out of our ears, along with anything else we might've needed. I literally had to pinch myself because there was religious art on the walls, crucifixes in each room and clean beds in rooms of 1, 2 and 4. Now that certainly was a change from the albergues of España! And a delightful one at that. I happily received the hospitality and ate whatever was set before me, mostly just because the food was delicious and apparently made by people who are professional pizza makers. That explains the crust on Thursday night's pizza..... mmmm.

On Friday as we were in line for lunch, one of the "front line" student missionaries turns to me and just starts telling me how much this retreat meant to her and how the Lord worked in her heart. I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting reactions like this to come from such a short retreat, but praise God that He uses anything! Here's a beautifully-written story from Katelyn:
Before I went on this retreat, I had never been to a convent before. Now I had read about Abbeys in fiction and loved every single bit of them, however, when it came to convents, I was terrified. My imagination led me to believe that a convent was a gauntlet of constantly judging eyes, a place of metaphorical chains, and a building where repression was the only teaching. My sister had told me that she loved her first visit, but I figured whatever, she’s my sister, the girl who had shown previous interest in the idea of nuns before. However, when I first stepped into the retreat center, instead of a cot to spend my night on, I found a carefully made bed, with a set of towels and some soap beside them. It sounds much less impressive to read, but the entire room of St. Catherine, the room in which I stayed, just oozed with love and excitement for the impending guests. And following a wonderful talk by TJ, I decided to spend some free time walking outside.
It is amazing how much peace can be found just by exiting those doors and walking amidst the most beautiful array of flowers. My little group was then greeted by a Sister we had all met before, and the contentment and joy that was so evident on her face just made me reconsider my little image I had conjured up in my head. Later that evening, we had the opportunity to go to confession during our hour of Adoration and, if we wanted, a pair of the FOCUS missionaries would pray over us. Now, I had some issues that were weighing quite heavily on my mind. I had a lot of questions, doubts, and nervousness where my personal relationships were concerned, and I figured, hey, why not get a chance to talk to a priest while I can and ask for help? Who better to ask?
I am currently dating someone and up until about a week or two before the retreat, I had had a few nagging thoughts that I had been choosing to overlook, until one day my sister, mother, father, and a friend I have come to think of as a brother, mentioned their worries to me. They were afraid I would fall head over heels, or thought that I may be meant for someone else. They warned me to just be cautious and enjoy the relationship, but since that day I had been feeling insanely uneasy and filled with the greatest sense of fear, indecision, doubt, and, being honest, a little unhappiness. I just wasn’t sure if this man was the one God had intended me to meet at this point in my life or whether I had strayed from my path with God onto one of my own designing.
I decided confession would be a good decision. Couldn’t hurt, right? I waited in line for what seemed like an eternity, this question in my mind. I didn’t know how to approach it. But it was eventually my turn. The priest finally gave me answers I had been looking for. He told me to evaluate my decisions, make sure I was motivated by God, that no matter what happens, I would always be a better person because of it, and that, ironically enough, worry is a healthy reminder that God is there. He told me that the constant questions in my head about this relationship were good, as it meant that I was always trying to make sure that my intentions were pure and God-serving, and that boundless affirmation was the Devil’s work. He also told me to talk with that Brother-figure about my young courtier, as I needed to hear more from him on his opinions, a job that I had been dreading. A few minutes before he wrapped up, I went on a complete roller-coaster, terror, tears, and then this laughter. I was just so relieved! I left that room feeling, honestly, about ten pounds lighter. I seriously felt like a great weight was lifted from me. Holy God!
I thought I might as well go see the spiritual director, so I went back into the church to put away my book and I started to approach TJ and Kelsey, who were praying by the bookshelf, but the next thing I know they both get up, smiling, and, maybe awkwardness compelled me, or maybe it was their excitement with my curiosity, but I said, “I was just coming to put my book back, but hey, why not.” I told them that I wanted prayers for clarity in personal relationships and asked for a little more assistance in discerning my vocation. This was my first time having people pray over me. At first, I have to say I was a bit freaked out, but, as the prayer went on I heard some things I apparently really needed to have said and there was just this feeling of rightness and surrender that entered me. Surrender and strength. It was odd. But, somehow, when it was all over, I just knew everything would work out. I then hugged TJ and Kelsey and went to the Spiritual director who didn’t do quite what I thought she would, but instead talked about relationships again. By this point, I was just like, “Okay Lord, I got it. Relationships are the theme tonight.” I left that room with a feeling of purpose. My night had me get emptied, then humbled, and then filled with both a joy and a purpose.
Earlier Kelsey had talked about the Devil of Silence, and how we must increase the Holy Spirit within us, while letting our own selves decrease. I felt it was time to give it a try, it was a delightful turn of events when that Brother figure was sitting nearby with no agenda, and, though utterly terrified, I finally had the talk that I had been dreading so much, I asked for his opinion on my boyfriend. That conversation made me so happy, it turns out there were a few things he didn’t know that changed his mind, and a few impressions that hit me, that deepened my appreciation for my brother-figure, and let me affirm that I truly do love the man that is my boyfriend, not only for his talents and personality, but for his flaws as well. It was actually kind of exciting.
Later that evening, after a couple games of Capture-the-Flag, I decided to text my boyfriend about the conversation I had had with the priest, after all, the decisions in the relationship shouldn’t just be left to me and the priest. My guy was baptized Catholic, confirmed protestant and grew to have an apathy and distrust, bordering on dislike for the Church after a favorite priest of his, got removed from his parish. But when I told him that I wanted us to make sure that both of our sides of the relationship were based on love, of God and each other, and not just a want for something else, he agreed. He told me that those were good words and that he honestly believed the same. I was so happy! I had told myself that this would lead to an argument but the conversation, and his stance on the news I had just asked him to digest, just made me love him more and praise God for the most rewarding and emotionally unloading day. This retreat scared me so much, but it ended up giving me all the answers to questions that had plagued me for the last couple weeks, this year is going to be my block of marble, (Thanks TJ) and, Kelsey’s talk gave me the resolve to try and listen to the Holy Spirit, and actually talk to people. I kind of went into this summer and retreat lukewarm, but now I want everyone to get the chance to have a couple of days like I was blessed to have and get to know the glory, mercy, and wisdom of God.
 Katelyn Grosz is a sophomore at NDSU studying English education and hospitality and tourism management. 

Girls in my downchain being silly.
The group! Get ready NDSU, here we come.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

You went to Canada, 'eh?

That's right, as FOCUS teams we like to take a little fun team retreat before the craziness of fall outreach ensues, so BLT planned a trip for our team to drive up nort' to Canada! 'Twas quite the trip, let me tell you and it's funny how much can be packed into a mere 24 hours.

First things first, the drive up. We got to the Canadian border patrol and figured they'd look at our passports, not stamp them, and then just send us on our merry little way, seeing as that's what happened two years ago when a few of us took a trip up. Apparently the way they do things has changed a little bit and they actually invite us to pull off to the side and bring ourselves inside. We walk up to the counter with the yellow slip given to us by the officer at the window and essentially have no idea what's going on. We're Catholic missionaries for cryin' out loud, what harm can we really do?

Officer Tait looks at us, then tells us he's going to run our names through governmental criminal background checks and "if there's any reason you think something might come up just stand right here. Otherwise you can have a seat." We all laugh, except TJ, and Bryan, Jane and I walk back to our seats while TJ stands there, looking nervous.


Ha! Just kidding, we all walk to the chairs in the back, including TJ. But I had you going there for a second, didn't I? About 15 minutes later officer Tait stamps our passports, hands them back to us and sends us on our way.

We arrive to Winnipeg about an hour and a half later, dine at the fine establishment of A&W after having a good laugh about a place nearby called Shila Buffet. I see the sign and start laughing so hard, thinking it sounds just like Shia Labeouf and apparently that's hilarious. Feeling silly, we continue driving towards our hotel, the Marlborough downtown. The hotel has seemingly sold Jane and I's room, so we get upgraded to a suite. Thinking it will be like an American hotel suite, we instantly get excited. That, however, is not the case and the "suite" is actually just your average two queen-size bed room. Let's be real, no complaints here, staying in hotels is always a fun treat and the beds are cloud-like and perfect for a nap.

Speaking of naps, soon after we arrive all four of us lay down and take a much-needed snooze, Jane and I sleeping for nearly an hour. We meet the guys and walk around the "French quarter," seeing a beautiful old church that burned down in 1969 along with the Forks marketplace, a Winnipeg classic. There's a coffee shop there that catches everyone's attention, Bryan, TJ and Jane all giggle and I look over and read, "Human Bean, Fuel for the Human Race" and think, "Hm, that's cute." After the team gets a good laugh it finally hits me that it's a pun...human bean...human being. I laugh about 30 seconds later. KMK, always a little slow on the uptake.

We proceed to walk outside and sit by the water because a 25-person canoe and "interpretive paddling adventure" is about to commence. As soon as I sit down I feel nauseous and can't think about anything except not wanting to toss my cookies. Luckily, that doesn't happen and we soon make our way back to the hotel to have a rest before dinner.

The rest coupled with a 7-up works it's wonders and we head out the door around 8 pm to a fine establishment called the Peasant Cookery. We eat some of the most delicious French food we've ever eaten, mostly because we haven't had too much experience in that area of cuisine. I order the french onion soup and let me tell you, definitely the best cup of french onion I've ever eaten. On top of great food, I'll be honest, the waitresses are hands down the most knowledgeable waitstaff I've ever dined with, so that's also a treat.We sit and enjoy our meals and make our way out the door about two hours later. What a dining experience!

After dinner we have a much-needed stroll back to the Marlborough where we proceed to laugh and laugh and laugh. Jane has a great idea for a fun conversation game, so we each end up having to tell a story, however long or short we want, using one noun chosen by a teammate. Let's just say the word Bryan chooses for me is "diamond" and I could use a little practice in tying up a nice story with a good conclusion.

The next morning is where the fun really begins. Our only plan is to go to the Divine Liturgy at a nearby Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, and TJ and Bryan have already looked it up and keep telling us how much we are going to absolutely love it. We arrive to the Cathedral an hour early to pray a holy hour and one of my biggest hesitations becomes a reality: it's locked. Every single door, locked. Luckily there's a groundskeeper outside working in his garage and Bryan asks him in plain English when the doors are opened and where Mass is. I say plain English because it doesn't take long to realize that this man does not speak the language very well at all; it's almost as if he's arrived straight from Ukraine. He confusedly tells us to go across the street, second floor. We come to find out that every morning the priest does the Divine Liturgy in the St. Josaphat Villa (a.k.a. retirement home) for the elderly men and women that have a difficulty crossing the street and walking up the steps every morning.

We have to wait outside for a while to get in, but luckily the morning is beautiful. As soon as we get in, and walk up to the second floor there is a tiny little room with a handful of Ukrainian 80-somethings praying, and clearly talking about us, although we do not understand a word. They smile nicely, wondering what the heck we're doing here and we sit there, taking in the beautiful icons and cross-stitched cloths hanging around.

About 15 minutes later a priest comes in, walks up to TJ and Bryan and scarily says something in Ukrainian. Within a minute he goes from being the world's scariest priest to the world's friendliest, and as soon as he finds out we're Catholic missionaries he's absolutely delighted. One of the ladies hands us each a book to follow along with the liturgy, in both Ukrainian and English. The entire Divine Liturgy is shorter than usual, kind of like a daily mass for us Roman Catholics, but I would really like to experience an entire liturgy with the incense and all someday in the future. Luckily I think TJ can help me with that, he is a Byzantine Catholic after all.
Tour guide, Margaret.
Ukrainian Cathedral and iconostasis. So beautiful.
After the Divine Liturgy the priest tells us that Margaret will take us over and show us the Cathedral, which she does with great delight. Not only does she give us an incredible tour with explanations, as we're about to leave and head to the next place (to which she will end up taking us) she says, "Oh, I almost forgot one more thing!" Thinking it's probably something to do with the Liturgy or some sort of artwork, she takes us back to the sacristy and shows us this old and kind of ugly fabric-covered kneeler. She points to it and says, "When Pope John Paul II, who is about to be canonized a Saint, you know, visited our Cathedral, he prayed on this kneeler for quite some time and now it's a second class relic. Would you like to pray on it?"

Are you SERIOUS?! Any Catholic's dream right here! Each of us get to spend some time praying on this kneeler, asking Bl. JPII's intercession for the year! What an incredible surprise!
Praying on JPII's kneeler!
After that she takes us to the tomb of a Bishop-Martyr, Blessed Vasyl Velychkovsky, where we got a nice tour and prayed there, begging him for healing graces as well. Awesome! She then proceeds to treat us to lunch at the nicest Chinese buffet we've ever eaten at and then takes us to one more church, a Ukrainian Orthodox Church and then sends us on our way.
At the tomb of Blessed Vasyl
Ukrainian Orthodox Church
Ukrainian Orthodox Church facade
We went from having one plan, seeing the Cathedral and going to Divine Liturgy, to seeing some of the most beautiful churches and praying with the Saints! Such an awesome team offsite!

And now today we head out to Hankinson with all the student missionaries for a little back-to-school workshop/retreat. So pumped! Please pray for us, we can use all the prayers we can get these days. Only a few more days until freshman move-in!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I'm a godmother!

It's official, Charlotte Lucy is my goddaughter, and I couldn't be happier. She is the daughter of my lovely cousin and her husband, I'll call them D 'n E, for anonymity's sake. D, my cousin, asked me at Easter if I'd accept the role as godmother, and of course I happily accepted! I've been waiting for this opportunity, and I'm thrilled to have a spiritual connection and special bond with this little one, for it is quite the honor to be chosen as godparent.

After a series of events, I almost missed the baptism last Sunday, but God is good and provided me exactly what I needed to arrive juuust on time. As in, I walked into the church in pajamas at noon and was at the baptism less than five minutes later in a dress. A huge shout out to mom, dad and aunt LaVon for playing it cool and believing in me! For anyone wondering, let's just say that I overslept and was away from my parents' house. I woke up at 9:44 am in LaCrosse, WI and needed to be at the baptism in Madison, 2 1/2 hours away by noon, at the latest. In a dress, wearing my Sunday best, obviously.

The Blessed Mother along with Jesus himself steered my car and guided my foot, which seemed to be heavier than normal that day, and I got there! The stress from the drive didn't steal away from my joy one bit, as I still felt very honored to be standing there in that position. Sue, a friend of the family present that day, told me that "being a godmother gives you a very special connection with the child," and boy was she right. From the moment I met Charlotte (since I had not met her before that day), I already felt a special closeness between us. I know she will always be in my prayers and I am excited to see what the Lord has in store for her life.

I don't have much more to say on that, other than that it's always so good to be around family, and seeing D 'n E, and the rest of the Schutz clan reminded me of that. It made the departure bittersweet, knowing that it will be three months minimum until we are united, but that's the beauty of the Eucharist! We are all united in the precious body of Christ, and that simple fact brings me consolation.

Here are a few photos from the baptism:

Monday, August 19, 2013

Whose Camino is it anyway?

Levi and I with the cross/sword of St. James
I know it's late, but I just bathed and my hair is sopping wet so I can't quite go to sleep yet. I figured, what better way to spend a little time than writing one last blog update on the Camino? I've actually
been meaning to do this for a few days, and I thought it might help me put my thoughts in order as I prepare for another semester of missionary life. And yes, for all you holy rollers out there, praying or doing holy reading could probably be a better way to spend this time... please forgive me.

The title of this post perfectly sums up one of the biggest graces I received while hiking the Camino de Santiago. The grace came very gradually, our Lord is the perfect gentleman, you know, but it came exactly as He would so have it. So let me now tell you, and for those of you who have been in conversation with me, this might be a bit repetitive. However, I'm convinced that the Lord does not just give a person a singular grace so that that particular person might grow; I think He works in our lives so that we might share it and He might work through that to change other hearts. So if this is the second, third or fifth time you've heard this story, then sit back, be patient and maybe open your heart just a little bit more. I know that I learn something new, or at least am reminded in a very real way each time I tell it.

Enough already Kelsey, on with it...

One of the graces that I received was a pretty drastic emptying. "That's a grace?!" you might be wondering to yourself. Yes, I tell you, and soon you shall see why. There are a lot of small things in my life, let me call them vanities, which keep me obsessed with things in this life that don't really matter. A friend of mine once told me that "vanities are when we give eternal import to that which is passing" or something like that. That's what I heard anyway--essentially, far too often I place too much value on things that just don't matter, plain and simple. Spending too much time in front of the mirror, examining what I will wear, how I'll do my make-up, how I'll curl my hair just so. And not only with appearance do vanities sneak in, but also with items that I have, wanting everything to be just perfect, always wanting people to see me in a certain way...vanities I tell you, all is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 1:2 actually became a theme for our trip very early on, and it's no surprise why.)

I came to realize that going on the Camino became, in itself, a vanity for me. Early on in the trip I noticed a possessiveness to the whole trip. People constantly asking you, "How is your Camino? What do you hope to get from your Camino?" On top of that, I had spent so much time individually praying and preparing for this Camino that it definitely came to the point where I was ready to just get to Spain and walk my Camino exactly how I wanted it.

That, my friends, is where I went wrong.

Before going I know that being a missionary and a leader on the trip will be different, but I have no idea how difficult. When people ask me how the trip was, I first say, "It was the hardest thing I've ever done, and not necessarily physically." The hard part came in sharing and being always ready to share everything with the students, the other missionaries, and even random strangers that God put in our paths each day. Tangentially, I remember one specific moment when we were surrounded by fellow pilgrims in a random place that escapes my memory and I had the thought, "Wow, we were all meant to be here, in this place, for a specific reason, right now. Cool!!" Basically, nothing on this trip is my own, and I have to be fully prepared to give things up at a moment's notice.
Trying to be awake post-hike in Sarria, but giving up slowly...

The first night in the hostel in León we get there, put our backpacks down and the lady insists that we put our backpacks on these tables at the front of the room, even though there are other people in the room. I think, "yeah, okay, but I'm putting mine by my bed," because I'm so afraid of stuff getting stolen, not understanding full well how the albergues (hostels) worked. I make a little bit of a fuss and Anna turns to me and just says two words, "Kelsey, trust!!" Those words shoot me straight through the heart and I realize how attached I am to my things in that moment. My backpack with all the things that I brought with were all that I have, and I can't bring myself to being without. She says that and I immediately ask the Lord for forgiveness, hoping I haven't placed too much value on simple passing things...ahem...vanities. From that moment forward the rest of the graces begin to unfold on the trip, especially realizing that God gives us exactly what we need, exactly when we need it. And he did. Every time. For every person...even me.

Back to the big part of the grace, I guess I didn't realize how many different pieces were in this puzzle. At that very first moment I start learning a little bit of detachment on the Camino, but that is only the beginning. Being one of the only missionaries fluent in Spanish, many students seek me out with questions about anything and everything (even things I had no idea about!) and I have to be prepared to give them some sort of answer, even if it is, "just hold on one second." Nothing on this Camino was even remotely mine, not even the time.

I begin to get frustrated because the graces I want are not flooding in and the spiritual consolations aren't exactly in high supply either. It's kind of ironic too, because each of the missionaries will give a talk at one point or another during the trip, and originally mine was supposed to be about the importance of sharing testimonies and a brief how-to, but when the day came to share I feel absolutely no call to talk on that topic whatsoever. I do some soul-searching and beg for the right words from the Holy Spirit, and end up giving a talk about entitlement, and how we are not entitled to anything, but that God gives us the graces that He desires to give. Little do I know that I probably should have listened to that talk because the Holy Spirit would use that later. So basically, my sentiments toward the Camino both pre- and during the trip, was a bit of entitlement--I wanted what I wanted, period. But God wanted something else. And He always wins, period.

Before leaving I asked family, friends, mission partners and anyone that wanted to send prayer intentions to the tomb of St. James, to send them my way. I wrote them all in the last few pages of my journal and then split up each day to pray for particular intentions. I'm not going to go out and personally say what they were, but from some people I received really heavy prayer requests. I'm talking, big things. Intentions that I'm still praying for very intently today, knowing that these people and situations need many prayers. Many of these came from people that I know very well but they have never told me these things. At first I wasn't sure if I was supposed to read them but just dutifully take them and dispose of them at Santiago's tomb...but I couldn't do that. I had to pray for them and I'm so glad I did.

Back to mid-trip entitlement. It starts to build and I'm not sure why. The Lord continues revealing slowly the ways in which He wants to remove vanities from my life and my heart continues opening wider and wider. We eventually get to Santiago and I already dream about entering this magnificent city and marvelous cathedral. And, well, that's not exactly how it happened for me. For one, I have no idea the city is so enormous and that it will take at least an hour or more to get from the outskirts of the city to where we need to be. Second, the only other example I have of getting to the Cathedral (which was what I most looked forward to) is the movie The Way. It's a pretty emotional and individually unique event for each of the characters, and let's just say it wasn't like that for me. I had
Look closely, you can see the handprint!
dreams of getting down on my knees to enter the cathedral, placing my hand in the statue that millions of pilgrims have touched before me and has since then worn down in the shape of five fingerprints, and simply being able to take in the entire Cathedral in silent awe and wonderment.

Sounds magical, doesn't it?

Well, that isn't what God had in store for me all along, and I'm starting to finally realize that now, after being back for three weeks. We arrive to the Cathedral just in time for a packed pilgrim's mass at noon, are ushered in through a side door and have to find room up next to some giant pillars because all the pews are full. Not only that, but we can't see a thing and Mass is in Spanish. Bonus. It isn't until the next day that I actually have a chance to really look at the Cathedral from the front doors and see the beautiful gold sanctuary--I was completely blown away. Also, one other thing that I really really want to see, is the botafumeiro, or rather, world's largest thurible (the incensor that the priest uses at Mass on special Holy Days) really get smoking and be swung back and forth by multiple men with ropes, flooding our senses with the sweet smell of incense (that's not sarcasm, I love the smell of church incense). Of all the Masses we attend (I even stick around for a few extra), the botafumeiro is never in action while I'm present, and that itself becomes a gift to me.

Sanctuary at Cathedral. Botafumeiro front and center.
Back to all these prayer requests I was telling you about. It really dawned on me when I actually got to visit St. James' tomb and pray for them just how big of a deal this Camino was. It was as if Jesus spoke directly to me and told me how important it was for me to walk this Camino, simply so that I could pray for these intentions in such a special way (remember, some of the requests were big!) and so powerfully. I actually needed to give by going so that they could go by giving. That's usually a tacky tagline we use for MPD and in raising our support, but it really led to a profound grace: I needed to walk this Camino because these people couldn't, and these intentions needed serious prayer! This Camino wasn't ever mine to begin with, it was theirs. This Camino was for all of those who wanted to go but were not able. Sure, it was also for me, but it was for me a complete emptying of me. It's no surprise that the Lord brought up the verse John 3:30 right the beginning of the trip, "He must increase, I must decrease." It's no wonder because what he wanted to give me on the trip was actually less of me. And not only less of me, but a desire to be less so that He can be more. So that He can be everything. Now that totally rocks my world, and answers the question posed in this post's title.

That's all I have on the Camino for now, folks. We have our first team offsite tomorrow and the team is headed up nort' to Canada! Please pray for us as we have our student missionary retreat this week as well, and freshman move-in on Saturday! A busy couple of weeks lined up, but so much fun.

Here are a few more pictures, in the meantime.
Cool bridge in Ospital de Orbigo.

Kelly, Anna, Kelsey. Three dear friends enjoying Sangria!

Typical morning walk.

Passing through and this priest offers us a Camino stamp and a prayer. Good man.
Levi, Kelsey, Anna, Joe. Missionaries represent!
Beautiful cloistered convent where we celebrated Mass.

Our view from the dinner table one night.
My favorite morning walk. A beautiful nature quilt.
20 mile hike, check.
Reppin' the homeland!
The whole group on St. James' feast day, at his Cathedral!