Saturday, February 1, 2014

Graces from Guadalupe.

Hello dear readers, so good to be back with you! I've taken a bit of an extended absence from the blogosphere, mostly because life continues happening at such a rapid rate that it's hard to keep up! But boy, if I could tell you everything that's been going on in my life I could literally write for hours.

My birthday dinner! Jane got me a tiara. #princessforaday
I will begin by saying that this is now Saturday of week three of semester two of the 2013-14 school year. WHOA. That happened fast. Semester two.. my sixth semester as a missionary... third year...  or however you wish to phrase it. There have been so many life lessons learned in the last five semesters (or two and a half years) and if I took the time I could probably tell you a specific, impacting lesson from each! However, that's for a different blog post on a different day.

On this balmy, 3 degree day, I kind of want to type and see where it goes. I've been thinking about that recently, as I've been reading far more blogs than actually writing in my own, just how interesting the whole "blogosphere" actually is. Anyone and everyone can type up a stream of consciousness and put it in the public domain for all to see, within minutes! And isn't it interesting to wonder why? Why are some of us so outspoken (or narcissistic, you decide) that we need our very own personal website to discuss whatever pertinent topics we desire? Is it because each of us has our own opinions and just wants to believe that somebody, somewhere knows what they are--and God-willing, agrees? Or is it simply more effective than posting all of our thoughts into a Facebook status? Regardless of the "why" behind this extremely random, and almost entirely irrelevant question, it appears that there are so many people that simply want to be heard, regardless of by whom.

I've been experiencing this a lot this week in talking with people of many different backgrounds coming from passionate, emotionally-driven viewpoints about some of today's hot button issues including contraception, same sex attraction, and atheism vs. religion (in my case, Christianity), and simply being confronted about why I believe what I believe. Don't get me wrong, I love having these conversations! In fact, it's safe to say that I live for them (the whole "I'm a Catholic missionary" charade). But each time people question me wondering, "how I could actually believe that" (regarding the Eucharist, marriage and that God loves everyone, etc), I often find that they don't want my answer at all. They simply want to talk to me, and be heard. Speaking briefly with both Vicki and Trent this week have confirmed this: when being questioned for who you are and what you believe, rather than always answering their questions, continue to ask them questions. "Why do you believe that?" "How did you come to that conclusion?" "Why.." etc.

My bible study with Vicki Thorn
I did have the privilege of sitting down with a young woman last week who doesn't prescribe to any of the beliefs I hold, but I'd say our conversation was quite civil. At the end she even asked if she could join my bible study. I'm not sure that she'll ever actually come, but that wasn't why I met up with her in the first place. I'm still not sure why we did meet up, other than that the Holy Spirit is an expert at leading me to where I need to be. At one point in our conversation she looked at me and asked, "Kelsey, do you believe that even if a person goes their whole life not believing in God, that He still loves them and has a plan for their life?" My heart sank and sang all at the same time. "Of course I believe that," I responded, sad at the tragedy that she so badly wants to believe in God, but something continues to get in the way. After sharing Christ and the Gospel message with her in as tangible way as I could, I left that conversation invigorated and feeling more hopeful than I have in a long time. What a divine grace! If you'd like to keep this young woman in your prayers, her name is Rhianna.

Currently we are wrapping up the fourth annual bisonCatholic week, after hearing from speakers like Vicki Thorn (founder of Project Rachel) and the medical ethics panel on Wednesday night, followed by Trent Horn Thursday night. I'll be honest, I'm thankful for a break today (solid five hours worth), but I am also thankful for the graces I have received over the past two months. In sum, the entire Advent season was a beautiful time of drawing near to the Lord in prayer (despite the failures and struggles to remain faithful), the Christmas break sent me flying from here to there to there to there to here, but through all the traveling the Lord worked on my heart in many ways.

One way in particular is how He continues to call me to serve in different ways, both within and outside of my mission on campus. I've felt the tug towards corporal woks of mercy for a while now and each time it comes up, I promptly ignore it. "I'm a missionary, saving souls (not actually, but trying to lead them to Christ), I don't have time to do other types of mission work."


So I'm in Mexico City over winter break (I know, right? Oh FOCUS...) for a Mission Director Summit (basically, for any missionaries who are directing mission trips). While there, we have an incredible opportunity to work with a group called Operation Blessing to assemble and distribute wheelchairs to people who are in desperate need. Some of these people have not left their homes in months, others are at the constant service of family members or reliant upon friends for help with basic, everyday tasks. Our plan for the day is this: meet outside the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (OLG) at 10 am, assemble wheelchairs until 11/11:30, Mass in the old basilica at noon, and distribute the chairs afterwards. To begin, assembling the chairs is so fun! Teresa, a missionary at UND and I partner up to follow the IKEA-like instructions and successfully (with the help of John Zimmer and the crew) construct two chairs. We're laughing, joking and having a great time actually doing something for someone else. The two of us finish up by about 11:40 (some of the last ones, but no surprise there: we're girls) and start heading in for Mass. In nice Latin American fashion, as well as in God's providence, over an hour passes before Mass begins, giving us over an hour to sit in the church and pray, admire the paintings and simply process what's going on.

This painting really spoke to me during the Mass.
It's during this time period that God reveals a secret about myself to me: I am afraid poverty. Not necessarily of poor people, but of coming face-to-face with poverty, processing it emotionally, and realizing at the end of the day that there really isn't anything I can do for a person to remove them from their current state--except love. Being someone who likes to love others in a very active way and see quick results, working with the homeless, the crippled or any type of incurable malady seems difficult--nay, impossible. While sitting there, I start to get nervous about the distribution of the wheelchairs: who will need one? Will there be children? Elderly? Mentally ill? How will it feel to know that giving this wheelchair is the only thing I can do for them, and leave the rest in God's hands? "Love is a choice, not a feeling," I remind myself. I must choose to do what God is asking of me, regardless of fear.

Mass begins after 1 pm (Latin American fashion, remember) and the gospel of the day is conveniently (or in God's good providence) the story of the leper who fell before Jesus saying, "Lord, if you will you can make me clean." Jesus stretches out his hand to touch him and replies, "I will, be made clean." In that moment, I get a response as clear as day: "Kelsey, you too must reach out and touch the leper so that you may be healed." Wow. That's it. This irrational fear of poverty can be healed and Christ has the perfect remedy--for me to reach out and actually touch it.

Patiently (and nervously) waiting.
As the Mass finishes Jeff (director of FOCUS Missions) calls for 10 missionaries to come up front to prepare for the distribution of the wheelchairs. Since there are far more missionaries than chairs I figured I'll just let one of the other missionaries who's dying to serve get up there. So I wait. And wait, for what seems like a minute, but is really only a few seconds, and only a few people make their way to the front. In my heart I know that I just need to face this fear and go up there, so I do. The first recipient of one of these chairs is a young boy, probably in the 10-13 range, who's severely handicapped both physically and mentally. Curtis (yes Martin) rushes over to help his family get him into the chair, the audience applauds and the family take pictures while his mother sheds tears of joy. It's nearly impossible to not be moved by such an event, and I instantly begin thinking about my hands nervously gripping the medium-sized wheelchair in front of me. Jeff calls the next name and a petite elderly woman with a large oxygen tank steps forward and shakily raises her hand. The chair in front of me clearly belongs to this woman, and now I need to take action. I hastily and clumsily make my way towards her, help her into her chair, and feel my heart beating a hundred miles a minute.

The fear turns into love. In an instant I love this woman, who so reminds me of someone very near and dear to me in my own life, and I know this is exactly where God intends me to be. What a beautiful grace. The rest of the distribution takes longer than expected, but during that time teams of missionaries walk around and pray with those who received the wheelchairs. This was another incredible grace of love and joy.

That is how Jesus wanted to heal me of this fear, and being the Divine Physician he did exactly what he promised. Now that I'm back in Fargo I've already looked into different ways to serve in that capacity. I'm excited to begin serving at the Dorothy Day shelter in Moorhead (a shelter for 12 homeless men at a time) by serving a meal, hopefully with a student, at least once a month. My first meal is coming up this week and I recently found a recipe for an incredible chicken wild rice soup that I can't wait to make for these men.

I'll stop with this update for now, but hopefully I can get you another one soon from the rest of my break! What an incredible, grace-filled time it was--between spending time with my family and friends, spending time with Lee and his family in St. Cloud, going to the Student Leadership Summit in Dallas, and the Mission Director Summit in Mexico City, let's just say that it's good to be back on campus for another semester and I'm chompin' at the bit to continue the Lord's work at NDSU.

Here are some pictures from our trip to Mexico City with all of this year's Mission Directors:

Reading the instructions...
Assembling the first chair with Teresa.
So close...
Probably should get some quality control.... Thanks Ray.
Our Group in the old Basilica of OLG.
Msgr. addressing the group; yours truly made the pic.
Curtis helping the young boy into his chair.
The joy from a mother for her son. 
Praying with Rosa, the woman who received her chair from me.

Speaking briefly with Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, and caught on film!
On our way to Xochimilco for a fun boating outing our last day.
On the boat. Tanya, Gomez, Jeff, KMK, Teresa.
A view of the boats; hard to describe but incredible! 
There were even Mariachi boats that you could pay to play music next to yours.

And this woman was busy cooking what would be our supper that evening. (Unfortunately most people got sick...coincidence? I don't know..)
Our group on the boat, sitting down to eat. 
Lee and I X-Country skiing in Fargo. 

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