By: Lindsey Harrison CWF '17
Hello readers, it’s me, a 2017 CWF Fellow who still tangibly sees the effects of this program daily and won’t stop talking about it! It is so heartwarming to see the 2018 CWF community build up and have their own dynamics and friendships, but still have all of us come together under the common thread of what we have all participated in. There is no denying the bond that exists even if we have never met and have nothing else in common. We understand the experience. And as each day goes by and the time together gets more and more distant, I can’t help but reflect on the program itself, but also who and where I was a year ago, more freshly “unpacking the graces” and processing how to embrace my worldview back home and at my university and move forward with it. 2018 alumni, you’re in a special time right now. Connect those dots and embrace what it means for you to have come back home, but for you yourself to have changed!
I wrote this blog post a year ago for my school’s campus ministry. I’ve gone back and edited a few things now that it has a new audience, but the root of it is the same: God led me “across the pond” last summer, and each day since He has continued to be faithful and relentlessly pursuing me in ways that mold me into who He created me to be. Within this past year He has knocked my socks off more than I could have ever dreamed, but that’s what He does, He surprises us with exactly what we didn’t know we needed.
Now let’s take a trip down memory lane with Lindsey…
Do you ever have “God moments”? Well, technically every moment is a God moment, because He is present all around us, and we could dedicate a whole other post to that (and maybe I will!). I’m talking about moments or experiences that fill your heart with the undeniable and overwhelming presence and love of God. They don’t have to be grand burning bush or Jesus-walking-on-water kind of experiences, but I think you know what I’m talking about.
If you’re lucky, you’ve been able to pinpoint moments like this in your life that totally changed your faith journey with Christ, and because of that, they are always fresh in your heart. Well, I like to think I’m really lucky (#blessed), because I had experiences like this over the summer in what was essentially “Catholic study abroad.”
But before we dive into the time of my life that was July 2017, let’s take a step back.
Freshman year of college, Sunday Mass was always in the picture, and my friends all knew me as “the Catholic one,” but I wasn’t plugged in with the community at my university. When sophomore year came, and I felt driven to get involved around the Catholic student center for some reason. Looking back, I know it was just God inviting me on a new adventure with Him.
One thing led to another and through a variety of activities like Bible study, daily mass, and retreats I tried to see Christ in all the opportunities that came my way. Even more importantly, I not only tried to see those opportunities, but take advantage of them and use everything as an invitation to grow in my relationship with Christ and those around me.
Then came the summer, and all the opportunities along with it.
In April, I received my acceptance and was basically on my way to Europe for part of the summer. Keep in mind, I didn’t really know what this program was about, whom I would meet, and all those other unknowns that can be scary at first. All I knew was that it was Catholic and I would be traveling to Germany for about three weeks, and then Rome on a pilgrimage for the final week. Not a bad combination if you ask me — so I decided to go for it.
And let me tell you: I’m smiling as I sit at my laptop writing this, because from the moment I stepped all alone onto that plane headed to Germany, I didn’t look back.
God was so present in everything that came my way, I felt silly for worrying in the first place. We had morning prayer, night prayer, lectures, free time, daily Mass, retreat days, spiritual talks, day trips, dance parties, very late nights, and many blessed encounters that, at least for me, taught me more than ever before about who I am, who God is, and how I can grow in that relationship with Him in order to become my most authentic and Christ-modeling self.
Sounds pretty cool, right? I think so. It was like nothing I’d ever done, and will probably never do again. I still don’t know what I did to deserve an experience like this, but all these things are just a testament to how good our God is to us.
I had never had my own private neo-Gothic chapel in the German countryside before. I never thought I’d have spiritual direction, confession, Mass, and just great conversation and friendship with the priests on staff.
I never had such quick and authentic friendships with so many beautiful and like-minded people whom I now consider some of my greatest blessings (2018 update: this still remains very true).
I never thought I would cry during the surreal experiences of Mass and adoration at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and touching Pope Francis (yeah, all that happened).
And I never thought Jesus would take my life, especially in the past two years, turn it upside down in so many ways and then give me the grace to realize that with Him it’s truly right side up.
As I wrap up, so I don’t keep talking about myself for too much longer, I’ve come up with some takeaways that can hopefully apply to all of us, and even those we interact with that probably haven’t been to northwest Germany and Rome.
First: Place your worries at the foot of the cross, because Jesus already has, and with all of His being wants to take your burdens away from you. This is such a gift of our faith, and I will be the first to tell you that through prayer it can change your life.
Second: Allow yourself to have the environment and opportunity to hear God’s voice in your life, because in order for relationships to grow and be genuine, both people need to do some talking. In that same regard, open your heart to be poured into by God and see yourself as He sees you, because that person is infinitely valued and loved.
Third: Quite possibly my corniest takeaway is to be a light in the world. We are all just souls destined for communion with God and each other, and something as simple as a smile stemming from the joy of the Lord in our hearts can help to proclaim that message.
With each new day I miss my friends, the memories we shared, and the opportunities we had to invest in each other. I miss having everything I did for a month be Catholic-related. I miss the contentment I felt knowing I was exactly where God wanted me to be. But what a joy it is to realize that I have really only gained from this whole journey! God moments are all around us; we don’t necessarily always have to cross an ocean to have them (it’s a great opportunity if you can!), all we really have to do is take the step of saying yes to Him and allow ourselves to see them right in front of our eyes.