Happy 2017!! I haven't posted since last year due to time constraints, but this time even more so since I needed to reflect A LOT on what just happened. At the time of writing this, it has already been a week since one of the most profound moments of my life thus far. It truly is what I would consider a game changing moment.
I mentioned the fact that while there were undeniable victories during 2016, the year that we just closed also brought its fair share of darkness. I was brought back to places and emotions that I forgot even existed, and I struggled with my emotions, my mental health, and my faith. One of the greatest struggles was my sense of belonging: belonging in school, belonging in family, and belonging in my faith community. The stress of incongruence, or feeling one way on the inside but not being able to express it on the outside, brought me a lot of anxiety. As I look back on it now, my greatest flaw was to try to take control of everything. I worked hard to micromanage every aspect of my life, and when things don't go as planned, I would freak out and feel hopeless.
This lack of hope and lack of faith ultimately has brought me to the edge multiple times this past year, to the point where I wanted to commit suicide. The week before Rise Up was one of a few instances.
The latter part of 2016 saw me slipping away from the faith, yet God knew how to keep a firm grip on my shoulder. One of my biggest fears about going to Rise Up was that it would be a repeat of past experiences. I would got to a faith event, know absolutely no one, and feel out of place. I wasn't particularly proud of my lack of involvement with the Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) community on campus, and past experience with other Catholic youth organizations left me feeling awkward. Did I really want to put myself through that again, for five days in a row?
But beyond that, I didn't see what more I could possibly gain. I already saw myself as hopeless, as a sinner, as someone who was too problematic to be around those that probably were stellar Catholics who actually loved their faith. I always counted myself as a lover of Jesus, but I knew that there were people who were much better than I was.
In the week before Rise Up, I was struggling. I was trying to come up with excuses not to go, and getting sick during Christmas seemed like the perfect out. But at the same time, I wasn't happy. I was miserable and I was in a lot of emotional pain.
When Rise Up Happened
I was forced out of my comfort zone, into a new adventure. I usually had friends to rely on, but this time it was different. I had to rely on myself to find new friends.
The Lord knew my struggles and the desires that were in my heart: to belong and to be loved. I know this because He blessed me with so many new friends - a new family, no less - that helped me to unpack the things that were happening inside of me. Without spoiling too much (especially if you plan on going one day, which you should!), Rise Up brought me incredibly great joy while also forcing me to confront with parts of my past that I had chosen to ignore for years. I was called upon to be more humble, to forgive those that had hurt me in the past, and to call on God in all aspects of my life, whether they be good or bad.
I learned a lot about my faith and about myself during the five days that I was away at the conference. The theme was "Called by Name", and there is something incredible about the fact that this was the theme, and that Rise Up was held in Vancouver this year. It was almost as if God knew that I was struggling, that I was falling away from Him and that I needed something to bring me back to Him.
Of course He knows.
Through listening incredible witnesses of our faith, mass, daily prayer, praise and worship, adoration and confession, I was able to recommit myself fully to Christ. If there was any doubt before, He cleared it away and set me up with a whole new outlook on life. I am thankful for the family He has blessed me with, as well as the feeling of belonging in a faith community. Even through 13 years of Catholic school, I never felt "free" to be Catholic out of fear of being judged. Rise Up changed all of that for me, and not only do I now feel more free to be Catholic, I feel more free to be myself.
In the days that followed Rise Up, I have definitely felt a significant shift in my life, to the point where one of my friends commented on how happy I looked after having not seen each other for quite some time. This comes as a victory for me, as for years I had been plagued with a somewhat dissatisfied or angry resting face, to the point where people would constantly ask if I was angry or frustrated at any given time.
Being able to encounter my friends from Rise Up on campus is incredibly special. I am thankful that I have people who I can turn to in times where I need help in understanding my faith, and I look forward to growing deeper with them.
But above all, my relationship with God is something that has become a priority. It is difficult for me to admit that during the greater part of my life, it was something that was important but never the most important. I had gone through periods of feast and famine with my relationship, but now in this year I wish to make it the one relationship that is most important. I know that when my relationship with God is strengthened, all others will follow.
Without Rise Up and the people who I have encountered, I have no idea where I would be right now. But I know that wherever it might have been, it would not even come close to where I am right now.
As stated in a Facebook post, one of my goals this year (and beyond) is to be more humble, more patient, and more present. I need to be more humble to understand God's plan for me, to listen, and to follow where He leads. I need to be more patient with everyone I meet, as everyone is a child of God. Finally, I need to be more present so that I can grow in holiness with everyone around me.
The Lord has great things for us - for you, for me, for everyone. I hope that you choose to let Him into your life as well.