I have officially moved to Boston! It doesn’t quite feel real yet, since Andrew is still back in D.C. for a few weeks, and I am sleeping in an empty apartment on a blow-up mattress, but nevertheless, here I am, sitting outside in Harvard Square on a beautiful 70-something degree day in August.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about a book I read just after graduating college, which included a chapter about being 25-ish. And, having recently turned 25, I can now say that the sentiment of the chapter feels spot-on. In the book, Bittersweet, Shauna Niequist writes, “There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither. This season is about becoming.”
In about a week, I’ll start studying for an M.A. in Theology and Ministry at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry (I know, that’s a repetitive mouthful). In the past year or so, I was asked a lot about why I wanted to do this degree, and what I want to do afterward. Now that I am about to start, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect once again on those questions.
Truthfully, it’s hard to just give one answer, because elements of my professional, academic, and personal life all pointed me here. The simplest answer is that I finally gave up on running away from the call I felt to do ministry work, which had only grown stronger over time. I learned to accept and recognize the graces that God gave me at the moments when I was farthest away from Him, and they all led me here.
I can’t pinpoint the first moment that I really felt a call to work in ministry. Maybe it was the moment in high school when I got the idea to focus my Girl Scout Gold Award project on the youth group at my parish. But even then, I considered my faith to be something that was dedicated to certain times and certain places, rather than something that informed every aspect of my life. I was still too attached to a false version of myself – one that would do whatever she had to do to be accepted – to really understand God’s love to listen to what He was calling me to do.
In college, I came to a point where I felt lost. I was torn between two different versions of myself, neither of which was truly me. There was the version of myself that I presented to my friends, which tried to conform to what a fun college student should act like, and there was the version of myself that I presented to the people in the Catholic Student Ministry, which tried to conform to what I perceived everyone else there to be like: extremely holy with everything figured out.
It was exhausting keeping up these two personas, and it did not lead to very life-giving friendships. Plus, in the midst of it all, I could not figure out what I wanted to study or what I wanted to do.
When I felt I was at my lowest point, I turned to prayer to find an answer, which may have been the first time I ever truly made an effort to listen to God. I felt that God was asking me to take a leap of faith, to trust him, and to allow my faith to be a bigger part of my life. So I did. I got involved in the Catholic Student Ministry’s justice and peace committee and decided to go on a spring break service trip.
That week was the first time I had really spent extended time with other students who were involved in campus ministry, and God blessed me with some really wonderful people who taught me about God’s love through their actions. Because I had given up chocolate for Lent, they all agreed not to buy any chocolate desserts for the group. Every morning, someone woke up and made coffee for himself and for me. And at the end of the trip, knowing that I was a writer, they all encouraged me to be the one to write up a blog post about the trip for the ministry’s website, which made me like my gifts were valued.
But most of all, that trip showed me that these people were just like me – they were imperfect, they liked to laugh, and they were seeking to grow closer to God. They were not Catholic because they had it all figured out, rather, they were Catholic because they believed the faith to be True, and believed that being a part of the Church would help them become more loving people. It was the first time that I had felt I could be truly myself around a group of people in a very long time, and my soul was refreshed.
During the second half of college, I continued to build more relationships like those and got involved in the planning of the ministry, seeking to share God’s love with other people in the same way they had done for me. And the more I did so, the more I truly loved what I was doing. I got to be creative, practice leadership and think through big-picture visions, and I was enriched by the relationships that I formed. At the same time, I finally decided to ditch the media studies minor that I wasn’t enjoying, and took the religious studies classes that I actually was excited about, even though I wasn’t really sure where that would lead.
I was still planning to pursue a career in journalism after college, and had been writing for the Cavalier Daily and doing summer internships to boost my resume. As I neared the end of college, I started to get the feeling that I wasn’t called to focus on journalism after all, but never really allowed myself to consider the possibility of pursuing ministry, because I didn’t really know what that would entail, and there aren’t any ministry related booths at a career fair for a public university.
So, in what I believe was another grace from God, I took a job in journalism – for the Church. Working for the Catholic Standard – the Archdiocese of Washington’s newspaper – seemed like the perfect combination of my interests. Looking back, I think God was humoring me by allowing me to explore working in journalism, while also helping me learn more about ministry.
During my three years working for the Catholic Standard, I interviewed countless ministry professionals and teachers at Catholic schools, and got a very good idea of what a career in ministry could look like (which is a million different things). I saw people ministering to children, teenagers, young adults, families, the elderly, people with disabilities, new Catholics, returning Catholics, immigrants, refugees, people experiencing homeless, and more. I saw women in leadership positions in the Church, and I started to realize that I got more fired up about discussions about pastoral ministry than I ever did in discussions about journalism.
Then, a year ago, these discussions about pastoral ministry got more difficult after the revelations about sexual abuse by former-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report that included criticism about how Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington at the time, had handled some cases of abusive priests during his time as bishop of Pittsburgh. I was hurt and disappointed by some of the failures in leadership that I saw, and I saw that there was a real need for strong pastoral leaders – both lay and ordained – in the Church.
I had a full circle moment, where I thought all the way back to that first spring break service trip I took in college, where the adult leader had told me I should go where my gifts match a great need. That struck me as powerful, and in the years since then I heard a similar sentiment that vocation is “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
I decided that I couldn’t avoid the call any longer, because my desire was great and so was the need. But I also knew that to have a position of leadership in the Church, I needed a deeper knowledge of theology and training in ministry. So, I applied to a few schools, was accepted, and am now getting ready to start a new adventure.
To answer the question of what I want to do after I get my degree – truthfully, I am not 100% sure. Growing up, I always thought the answer to the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” would be simple – easily contained within a word or phrase like “doctor” or “author” or “astronaut.” But if the beginning of my adult life has taught me anything, it is that becoming the person that God created me to be is less about finding that one word, and more about learning to live in the tension between many things that have become a part of who I am. I agree with Michelle Obama, who in her book, Becoming, wrote, “For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”
I know that I desire to do pastoral ministry in the Church in some way, and because of my own experiences as an adolescent, I know how crucial teenage and early adult years are when learning about faith and figuring out one’s identity. So, for the more immediate future, I would say that I want to work in campus ministry either at a high school or college level, so I can help others discover God’s love during crucial times in their lives. The people who did that for me are the reasons why I now have so much joy and love in my own life.
But I also still love writing, and shifting my career toward ministry does not mean I am giving it up entirely – which is why I am launching this blog. I still love the way I can lose track of time when I sit down to write with a new idea, and the challenge of figuring out how to translate feelings and experiences into words. And of course, there is also my primary vocation of being a wife, and, God-willing, someday a mother, which are also big parts of who I want to be when I grow up.
I have spent a lot of mental energy on trying to precisely calculate how to balance all of these core elements of who I am, thinking I’ll find the perfect formula to hold them together. Maybe someday I will, but I think it is more likely that I won’t, and that at different times in my life I will feel tugged more strongly in one direction or another. I think, maybe, that is part of the adventure of “becoming.”
For now, I’m just going to do my best to follow where I think God is leading me, because He has never led me astray in the past. I am going to enjoy this season of learning and exploring, and attempt to “live the questions now” in the hopes I might “gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer” (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet).