It was Christmas Eve 2013. I was coming off a bad year. From start to finish, it was a year of disappointment, loss and sadness. For the first time in my life, I was excited for a year to be over. Things had to improve with the flip of the calendar page.
At Mass that evening, our parish gave out copies of “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic” by Matthew Kelly. I devoured it. Kelly wrote that every family needs a prayer giant. I was reminded of my husband’s grandmother, who was described as having an “in” with God. It was clear her prayers for her beloved children and grandchildren were heard.
I wanted that for my family.
Reading that book set off a series of events that led me to Margaret. Margaret was the youth minister at my parish and was building a solid teen religious education program. None of my kids participated in it. The younger ones weren’t old enough and the high schooler went to Catholic school and wasn’t required to yet. Still, Margaret, who I later learned was praying for someone to disciple, began to disciple me. It wasn’t until many months later that I realized that what she was doing was intentional. I thought she was just being nice. Her open heart and willingness to serve Jesus radically changed my life and the life of my family.
We’ve always been Catholic. Both my husband and I were raised in Catholic, regular Sunday Mass-attending families. We went to Catholic schools, and after we were married, were active in our parish. We were poorly formed, as many in our generation are. I didn’t know that I can be in a relationship with Jesus. I didn’t know how loved I am. I often thought of God as pretty far away and rationalized disagreeing with Church teaching.
Margaret started meeting with me regularly. She always asked, “How are you and God?” It was a disarming question that I was unable to answer for a time. I hadn’t considered that there even was a “me and God,” let alone thinking about how we were doing. She took my phone calls and texts when I had questions and was excited when I made connections. When Lent rolled around, she recommended I read “An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer” by Fr. Timothy Gallagher. I hadn’t yet discovered that Scripture is alive. I didn’t realize until Easter that God talks to us through his Word. It was an amazing experience.
Margaret continued to invest in me despite her busy schedule. When we talked, I felt heard in a way I’d never experienced. I found myself asking questions about Church teaching but also Jesus. I read a ton of books and learned that Jesus still is. He wasn’t just someone who lived a long time ago who died on a cross. He is still very present, and I am one of the people he died on that cross for. My sins added to the weight of the cross he carried, and I am forgiven because of his sacrifice. I can go to heaven because he was resurrected.
In a small faith group later that year, I confessed to the others that I hadn’t gone to confession in a very long time. I was scared. They were supportive. They challenged me to go, and I accepted. Jesus showed up in a big way. After admitting I’d been lax and confessing what I’d done, the priest referred to me as sister and absolved me. Relief came flooding out in tears and I left the church renewed. Over the next few years, as I grew in relationship with Jesus, I confessed some of the bigger sins and watched as I got closer to him after asking his forgiveness for that which was getting in the way.
Being discipled by Margaret also radiated into my family. My son was given the opportunity to attend a Steubenville youth conference and came back from a week with Margaret and the other parish teens a different kid. He’d encountered Jesus and he hasn’t looked back. The following summer, my daughter went along, and the same thing happened. Both are now faithful, committed Catholic young adults who have Jesus at the center of their lives. My husband, too, has grown exponentially. He is being discipled by a friend as well. Our marriage and family life are stronger and happier, and we have weathered life’s storms better because of our deeper commitment to our faith. We have shed sinful tendencies, and God has sent us some holy, beautiful people to share our life with. Our lives are the same but so different and so much better.
When I reflect on where I was and how I got here, I am in awe. I look back and see God’s hand in so many places, in so many situations. Life has challenges, and I see how he held us up and how he continues to keep us close. 2013 was both the worst and the best year because it started me on an adventure where Jesus crashed into my life, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Now, instead of being perpetually annoyed, I am joyful. Instead of worrying, I am at peace. When we crack open the door for Jesus, he enters and does great things. He desires goodness for us. We just have to accept it.
It’s 10 years later, and recently I gave a talk to the teens at my parish. Margaret is no longer the youth minister, and my own kids are in college. I presented with a couple young adult friends God has gifted me with. As St. John Paul II said, “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.” He was not wrong.