Four years ago, when I pictured my future, I never thought it would turn out the way it has.
Four years ago, I was heading into my final year of college, interning at a tech startup and trying my hardest not to bolt out of the room when people asked me, “So, what are you going to do after you graduate?” I was living in a house on a cliff at the beach with eleven other girls, trying to enjoy my final year of undergraduate education while the weight of that question threatened to steal my peace every day.
In the small gaps between classes, work, and socializing, my mind would return to its favorite puzzle — attempting to find the missing piece which was meant to fill the unsightly hole in my life plan. The puzzle pieces my mind grabbed at varied in size and shape from one end of the spectrum to the other — would I land a full-time position at the startup I was interning at? Or would I drop everything and buy a plane ticket back to Italy, befriend a gelato shop owner, and get a job teaching English? (This was a serious consideration at one point.)
Amidst all the chatter going on in my brain, never once did I consider the possibility of the future I ended up choosing after graduation. Never once did I consider that I would be a Catholic missionary on a college campus.
Yet, for a time, that’s exactly what I was.
What was it that brought me to this point? What happened to persuade me that giving up two years of my life to fundraise my salary, to move wherever I was told, and to encounter students on a college campus was a better idea than gelato?
Let me tell ya.
I had met and befriended a few FOCUS missionaries throughout my years at UCSB, and I had always admired them. That being said, I didn’t quite get them. A couple of them became best friends to me, and I loved them; their friendships were some of the truest I had ever experienced. What’s more, they helped me discover what my heart was longing for – an intimate relationship with Christ – and they walked with me toward him.
Still, I couldn’t fathom how any sane person would put everything in her life on hold to spend time with college students in the hope that some would eventually desire to explore their faith. I was immensely grateful for the missionaries’ presence in my life, and I knew I would probably be completely lost if it hadn’t been for their witness, but I couldn’t relate to the radically different way they were living their lives apart from most college grads. It seemed to me like they were giving up their future.
Imagine my surprise when one of my missionary friends asked me to apply for FOCUS staff.
I laughed. The thought had never crossed my mind. Me? A missionary? No way! I had too much baggage. I was still struggling with said baggage. I wasn’t the “missionary type.” Oh, and I wanted to get a move on with my career, whatever that was.
I told my friend I would think about applying, but as soon as I hung up the phone, I started to tell myself that would never happen. I did my best to push it out of my mind until the application deadline got closer, and at that point, another one of my missionary friends had assumed the role of Application Pusher. I couldn’t be around her for five minutes before she would ask, “Have you submitted your application yet?? Do it!!!”
I had been doing my best to really think about the possibility and to ask God for His opinion, but all I got when I sat down to pray was a flood of doubts — “You’re not holy enough. How could you possibly even be considering this? What about your future? Who would even listen to you? You don’t know anything about God. How could you possibly share Him with other people?” And above all, the loudest voice — “You’re not the missionary type.”
The final day to apply rolled around, and I went to mass with every intention of telling my friend I had decided not to. I decided to sit through mass before bursting her bubble, so I kept my cool when she came and sat down beside me.
That mass changed my life. It just so happened to be World Mission Sunday, a day set aside for the Catholic Church throughout the world to publicly renew its commitment to the missionary movement. The priest’s entire homily was dedicated to encouraging the congregation to be missionaries always, regardless of what stage of life we found ourselves in or how capable we felt. At that moment, I felt God speaking directly to my heart. I knew He was asking me to leave the door open, to take a leap, and at least go find out more about what being a FOCUS missionary would be like.
So I did! I flew to an interview weekend in Denver with eight of my peers (an impressive cohort for a California campus — the Application Pusher had certainly done her job well). When I landed in Colorado, I felt slightly awkward and totally intimidated. As I gave my testimony to my interviewer, met my roommate, and mingled with the other applicants, I continued to hear a whisper in my mind saying, “Wolf in sheep’s clothing.” I continued to believe I didn’t belong there and that the interviewers would see right through me.
All the while, though, my heart was open to learning about FOCUS. I wanted to understand what it was that made my missionary friends so excited to be doing their jobs at UCSB.
The answer came in the form of a talk given to all the applicants about spiritual warfare and the urgency of reaching souls on the college campus. I began to recognize how the spiritual battle between good and evil had taken shape at my own school and in my own life, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the missionaries who had been there to fight for me in the midst of the struggle. I finally understood what had driven my friends to sacrifice their time and plans to be there for students like me – it was love. It was pure, unadulterated love for people whom they had never met and complete trust in God’s provision for them.
Over the course of that weekend, I watched a miraculous change occur within myself as I began to desire to give of myself in this way. Suddenly, I longed to share my life with students who were lost like I had been. I had come to that interview weekend because I had felt God asking me to be open, but I hadn’t anticipated that openness leading to an actual desire to be a full-time missionary.
Three days after I returned home to California, I got a call from FOCUS extending an offer to join their staff as a campus missionary. I was shocked that nobody had recognized the wolf beneath my sheep-like exterior, but I instantly felt validated and excited that someone had noticed the importance of Jesus in my life and believed I was capable of sharing him with people. I was given five days to pray about whether or not I would accept the offer.
Those five days stand out in my memory as some of the absolute worst of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much. My answer to the question of whether or not I would accept the offer changed at least twelve times a day. The desire I felt when I attended the interview weekend was still present, but doubt in my own capability screamed so loudly I could hardly hear anything else. That same voice played on a loop in my head — “You’re not the missionary type.”
The day before I was to give FOCUS my answer, I was crying on the phone to my mom outside of a Taco Bell, and I remember feeling so depressed, anxious, and nauseous (not because I had eaten Taco Bell, it was just a convenient place to pull over). It felt like the entire world was crashing down on me; my past was weighing heavily on my shoulders, and my future looked like a fork in the road with each path leading into darkness. My mom did her best to console me and brought my attention to the fact that I was under some serious spiritual attack. She encouraged me to continue praying and to trust that no matter what choice I made, I would have the support of my family, and the Lord would always continue to walk with me.
The day came when I had to give my answer, and I still had no idea what to do. This was a massively important decision; I knew my choice would determine so many things about my life — where I would live, who I would meet, what opportunities I would gain or lose. I was paralyzed by fear. I prayed and prayed and prayed. And then, I prayed some more.
I kept coming back to the same thing — that voice in my head saying, “You’re not the missionary type.” For five days, that voice had been tormenting me. I had tried to shake it off, but it kept circling back.
Finally, I decided to confront it. I talked to God about that voice. I told Him how terrified I was of making the wrong decision, and I told Him I didn’t think I was qualified to be His missionary. I told Him I was just a California girl who hardly knew anything about theology or Church teaching. I talked to Him about the messy past I was carrying that certainly disqualified me from leading anyone to Him. I let Him into all these fears, and in return, I got one word:
And with that one word came peace. I knew God saw me and loved me for exactly who I was in that moment. All of a sudden, the fear that had come from the voice telling me I wasn’t the kind of person who could be a missionary transformed into confidence. It was like a Sour Patch Kid turning from sour to sweet. That voice was right — I wasn’t the “missionary type” as far as I had seen. But that was ok. In fact, it was more than ok; it was brilliant. Because if there was a “missionary type” and I wasn’t it, that meant there were probably millions of other people who thought they weren’t good enough for Jesus either. And those people needed someone to show them how much they were loved exactly as they were. They needed someone like me.
I said “yes” to becoming a FOCUS missionary for those people. I said “yes” for my former self, who thought she couldn’t let God see her until she was absolutely perfect. I said “yes” because I knew there were people out there who needed to hear the unique story God has written for me and who needed to experience the light only I am capable of shining. It’s not a perfect light, and at times, it’s not strong or pretty. But it’s mine, given to me by God to share. He’s entrusted me with such a precious, invaluable gift.
To disqualify myself from the call He’d given me would have been a great disservice to Him, to myself, and to the world.
The two years that followed my “yes” were far from perfect. I learned as I went, made countless mistakes, and clung to the Lord for dear life through it all. But God shaped me in too many ways to count, and looking back, I don’t have a single regret about the path I chose.
What opportunity is God laying out in front of you right now? What’s holding you back from saying “yes” to it?
God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. If we truly believe that, our lives are no longer ruled by the fear of an uncertain future. He asks us to give Him what we have, and no matter what it looks like when we do that, He always makes something beautiful out of the gift we choose to make of ourselves.