If you missed part 2, you can read it here.
College: Discovering the Power of the Spirit
There are so many amazing stories I could tell from my precious years at Franciscan University. Now that I’m graduating with my B.A. in writing (and in the midst of this pandemic nonetheless), I will always treasure those wonderful memories and especially the friends I made and the spiritual experiences that brought me into an even richer relationship with God. I want to share with you some of the highlights, through which I especially discovered a more active relationship with the Holy Spirit.
The place where I grew the most in my understanding of and relationship with the Holy Spirit was at my university’s Born of the Spirit Retreat. Several speakers gave talks on the roles of each person of the Trinity, and then focused on the importance of being open to the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and working through us.
During the praise and worship, when we all prayed together for the coming of the Holy Spirit, I witnessed the Spirit come and work miracles around me in ways I had never seen before. People overcome by the peace of the Spirit fainted on the ground, others spoke in languages I couldn’t recognize, languages they had never learned. I even heard a classmate of mine say that she and her friend had seen a vision of the Apostles at Pentecost. Crazy, right?! It may even seem a little too crazy, but the purpose of these gifts of the Holy Spirit is not to show off (or to creep us out)—these gifts are given to individuals according to the will of God, and only if we are open to them, to inspire our faith and draw us into deeper relationship with God.
More importantly, the Spirit worked that night to heal people’s hearts, to free them from their fears, sins, and other spiritual chains. And I experienced the Spirit work in me in a powerful way that I had never experienced to that extent before.
Throughout the retreat during times of prayer, the Lord revealed to me some of my deep insecurities and struggles with perfectionism. He placed on my heart to bring this struggle to Him through the prayer teams. Anxious as I was, I finally got myself to get in line to be prayed over by a group of fellow students and religious sisters. When I asked them to pray over me about these issues, I was blown away by what I experienced.
As they put their hands over me and prayed, I started to feel this gentle, supernatural warmth flowing from their hands. I felt the warmth of the Holy Spirit come over me as they spoke, growing like a gentle fire deep within my core, bringing with it a deepening sense of peace.
Then one of the women, as she was praying over me, said something I will never forget, something that struck me to the core. She said that God wanted to tell me something:
“You don’t have to do anything for me to love you.”
Of course, I had always known that, in my head. But, hearing those words spoken directly to me, it finally hit home to my heart. By this point the tears were brimming in my eyes. We don’t have to do anything for God to love us.
As they continued to pray over me, one of the sisters also said she received an image. She saw me in a boat, trying to row myself out to sea. I just kept trying to row and row myself through the storm. But Jesus was saying, “I’m in the boat with you. Put down the oars.”
I’m not supposed to try to make it on my own. None of us are. We don’t have to try to row ourselves to Him—Jesus is already in the boat with us. He just wants us to trust in Him.
After that, I felt so free. Perfectionism didn’t have a hold on me anymore, because I knew deep down in my core that God loved me, right now, as I was. Of course, after the “retreat high” wore off, I still struggled with it sometimes, but now I can always look back on that moment and remember: I don’t have to do anything for God to love me. And I learned how important it is to call upon the Holy Spirit to live in us, to heal, empower, and guide us every single day.
Finally, my last great spiritual experience at college reminded me again of how important it is to rely on the Holy Spirit. During our last holy hour on my Steubenville mission trip (right before the pandemic hit), the Lord showed me another image that I wrote about in one of my recent blog articles, “A Breaking Open: Images from Prayer.” You can read it here.
Post-Grad: Discerning with the Holy Spirit
As I have continued to write about the Faith and my personal experiences, the Lord has placed on my heart an ever-growing desire to use my writing to draw people to Christ and His Church. Over the summer, I learned about an online MA in theology at Franciscan that is geared towards those who did not major in theology. I was intrigued, especially since our school is graciously granting graduate students the first 12 credits for free. I started to discern and pray about whether God was calling me to apply to this program so I could more deeply understand and write about Christ and the teachings of His Church.
I prayed to God that, if this be his will, that His Holy Spirit would place a deep desire in my heart for this choice. But, at the time I was still unsure if this program was the right step, so I prayed to God for a sign.
I opened my Bible, and the first verse I saw was Matthew 4:4:
“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”Matthew 4:4 NABRE
I sat in shock. Theology, studying the Word of God—sounds like a sign, right? Still, I was a little skeptical; I have seen “signs” before that turned out to just be my own reading into the situation. I decided to keep discerning. I discussed it with my friends and family, and went back and forth on the decision. At a certain point I thought I wasn’t going to do it.
Throughout the summer, though, my desire to share the Faith through my writing continued to grow. One experience in particular really convicted me that this is what God is calling me to do. Several weeks ago, I was going through some stuff in my room when I came across the crucifix I received on Steubenville mission. I turned it over and my heart leapt. I noticed for the first time the words engraved on the back of the dark wood: “Rebuild my church.”
Those words—God’s command to St. Francis—hit me hard. I felt as if God was speaking them directly to me. My writing, my blog, my music: this was my way of drawing people to Christ, of rebuilding His Church. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit was working in that little moment.
Since then, my mom has also felt God prompting her to tell me to reconsider applying to the theology program. After discerning a little longer, I decided to apply. I could see how this program could equip me to more deeply understand and be able to explain the Faith–and give me more credibility as I am looking to write for a Catholic company. I still wasn’t 100% sure, but all signs seemed to be pointing to it, and I realized I’m not going to be any more sure of the decision than I am now. (Besides, with the first 12 credits free and the classes completely online, what do I have to lose?)
I have just been accepted into the program, and I am excited to learn more about the Faith and share it with you all! Moving forward, I hope this will help me find a job writing or editing for a Catholic magazine as I continue blogging and songwriting.
As I’ve pursued this decision, I’m only becoming more confident that this seems right; but I’m realizing that discernment is always a continual process. We should be regularly seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, asking: “Do You want me to continue down this path? Is this bringing myself and others closer to You? Am I at peace?”
If you are also discerning the next step in your life during this pandemic, I pray that you will find peace and clarity. Whatever may come, we can find peace in knowing that the Lord is with us every step of the way.
“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”Jeremiah 29:11 NABRE
God bless you and keep you!