One of my favorite events of the year is our senior retreat each fall. This past year, as I was preparing to give the closing remarks, a small journal appeared on my stack of papers. The cover of it was decorated with a quote:
When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I not have a single bit of talent left and I could say, “I used everything you gave me.” -Erma Bombeck
After sharing the quote with the girls, chalking it up to the Holy Spirit leaving this in my binder, I held on to the journal and it’s something that has stayed with me since that time. Strangely, this little booklet keeps popping up in stacks of papers on my desk for the past few weeks so it has me wondering…. What does a genuine surrender of ourselves look like, especially in service of God’s will?
For three years, I have had the joy of serving as the campus minister at an all-girls Catholic high school in South Louisiana. Consistently, I am impressed by the poignantly sacramental experiences of my students and the way in which they choose to share them. It has been a tremendous privilege to share in some of their most significant moments, from sharing in the excitement of a college acceptance, to drying tears in the devastation of a broken relationship. Certainly, I have been exposed to a gamut of emotion and experience and have gained a new understanding of what it means to be a teenager all over again. Sharing in Confirmations, graduations, funerals, family dinners, proms, football games, service projects and so many moments, all moving me to a deep sense of gladness and fulfillment through my ministry. Certainly, being a campus minister is not the most glamorous or profitable line of work, yet I am confident in God’s decision to place me here.
As I transition to graduate school in New York City, my reflection on these past few years makes it evident that God brought me to this place so that I may come to a deep understanding of where I am being called in my life. By teaching, preaching and retreating with St. Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises, I have been awakened to my own sense of purpose, especially through the countless conversations on the red couch in my office. My students, through the grace of the Spirit, motivate me and continue to push me to be the best version of myself. Each day has been a blessing, filled with laughter, stress, joy, sadness, peace, solidarity and, above all, unconditional love. It is my prayer that our students here feel grounded in their faith, especially as they move out of this environment and transition to the next phase of their lives.
We all have moments of transition and instability, much like my students will experience in coming months, so I believe it essential to remind myself of what is constant. Once we appreciate those parts of ourselves that will always be with us, we can move from what is constant. I challenge all of us to embrace the idea of looking at life from a new perspective, willing to empty ourselves of all our talent, as Erma Bombeck said, and stand before God ready to say, “I used everything you gave me.”
A question or two to reflect on for today:
In what areas of my faith and understanding are my feet firmly planted?
What will my life look like if, when I stand before God, I can say, “I used everything you gave me”?
Here are a few thoughts from my students, when asked to consider how they find God in the ordinary. Their reflections may not be directly pertinent to all of our lives, but I believe that their wisdom is worth sharing because of the beauty it exhibits. I imagine Becky will not have many high schoolers to guest-blog, so I thought you might like their perspective.
Mary times I overlook the presence of God in my younger sister. Many times I overlook the joy she brings to my family and this world, but recently with the changes about to take place in my world, I have been blessed to see her as more than my little mini-me, but as a gift from God. She is such an inspiring kid and has more wisdom and faith and me at 18 years. She gives me hope for this world and is the face of God for me each day.
As high school comes to an end, I am anxious to see what my future is going to be like. As much as I would love to be able to see into the future and know how my life is going to play out, I know that not knowing is so much better. I’ve come to realize that the element of surprise is such a beautiful thing in one’s life. All you can do is sit back and let God guide you to the place you need to be.
I’ve experienced God through having to trust Him when people have hurt and scarred me in the past. I was afraid to let anyone in, including God. After ignoring God’s plan for me, I finally decided to open myself up and put myself out there. Although I hated feeling vulnerable, God put people in my life who accepted me, scars and all. These people helped lessen the pain of these scars and cover them with happiness.
I walked into the kitchen the other day to find my Mom heating a bowl of leftover homemade soup. The smell was enticing, so I asked if she would prepare me a bowl. She passed me the steaming bowl with a spoon and a glass of milk. It wasn’t until later that I realized she had been heating the last bowl for herself, when she selflessly gave it to me. Her often unnoticed acts of kindness frequently remind me of Christ’s life on earth.
I see God in my family, in the days when we are sitting outside enjoying the weather, laughing and just talking. It is on days when nothing is going on, when everyone is lazy and happy that I find God sitting on the back porch with us, enjoying the comfortable silence and children’s laughter as the sun sets.
Oh, and in the spirit of the blog I used to write when I was a Jesuit Volunteer, check out the song “One Day” by Matisyahu. The song inspired the title of this post.- Tori McRoberts