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As a teenager, I did what every teen tries to do—I tried to fit in. I had this feeling, though, that I was unlike my peers. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it was my faith that made me different. I resented my parents for giving me this thing that made me stand out. I became rebellious and started to go to parties, discos, and nightclubs.
I didn’t want to pray anymore. I just wanted the whole excitement of putting on makeup, dressing up, daydreaming about who’s going to be at the parties, dancing all night long, and most of all, just ‘fitting in there.’
But, coming home at night, sitting on my bed all by myself, I felt empty inside. I hated who I’d become; it was a total paradox where I didn’t like who I was, and yet I didn’t know how to change and become myself.
On one of those nights, crying by myself, I remembered the simple happiness that I had as a child when I knew that God and my family loved me. Back then, that was all that mattered. So, for the first time in a long time, I prayed. I cried to Him and asked Him to bring me back to that happiness.
I kind of gave Him an ultimatum that if He did not reveal Himself to me in that next year, I would never return to Him. It was a very dangerous prayer but, at the same time, a very powerful one. I said the prayer and then totally forgot about it.
A few months later, I was introduced to the Holy Family Mission, a residential community where you come to learn your faith and know God. There was daily prayer, Sacramental life, frequent Confession, daily Rosary, and observation of the Holy Hour. I remember thinking, “That is way too much prayer for a single day!” At that point, I could hardly even give five minutes of my day to God.
Somehow, I ended up applying for the Mission. Every single day, I would sit in prayer in front of the Eucharistic Lord and ask Him who I was and what the purpose of my life was. Slowly but surely, the Lord revealed Himself to me through the Scriptures and from spending time in silence with Him. I gradually received healing from my inner wounds and grew in prayer and relationship with the Lord.
From the rebellious teenage girl who felt totally lost, to the joyous daughter of God, I underwent quite the transformation. Yes, God wants us to know Him. He reveals Himself to us because He faithfully answers every single prayer that we raise to Him.'
Caught in a spiral of drugs and sex work, I was losing myself, until this happened.
It was night. I was in the brothel, dressed ready for “work.” There was a gentle knock at the door, not the big bang by the police, but a truly gentle tap. The brothel lady—the Madame—opened the door, and my mother walked in.
I felt ashamed. I was dressed for this “work” that I had been doing for months now, and there in the room was my mom!
She just sat there and told me: “Sweetheart, please come home.”
She showed me love. She didn’t judge me. She just asked me to come back.
I was overwhelmed by grace at that moment. I should have gone home then, but the drugs would not let me. I sincerely felt ashamed.
She wrote her phone number down on a piece of paper, slid it across, and told me: “I love you. You can call me anytime, and I’ll come.”
The next morning, I told a friend of mine that I wanted to get off heroin. I was scared. At 24, I was tired of life, and it felt like I’d lived enough to be done with life. . My friend knew a doctor who treated drug addicts, and I got an appointment in three days. I called my mom, told her I was going to the doctor, and that I wanted to get off heroin.
She was crying on the phone. She jumped in the car and came straight to me. She’d been waiting…
How it all began
Our family shifted to Brisbane when my father got a job at Expo 88. I was 12. I was enrolled at an elite private girls’ school, but I just didn’t fit in. I dreamed of going to Hollywood and making movies, so I needed to attend a school that specializes in Film and TV.
I found a school renowned for Film and TV, and my parents easily gave in to my request to change schools. What I didn’t tell them was that the school was also in the newspapers because they were infamous for gangs and drugs. The school gave me so many creative friends, and I excelled in school. I topped a lot of my classes and won awards for Film, TV, and Drama. I had the grades to get to University.
Two weeks before the end of grade 12, someone offered me marijuana. I said yes. At the end of school, we all went away, and again I tried other drugs…
From the kid who was laser-focused on finishing school, I went on a downward spiral. I still got into University, but in the second year, I ended up in a relationship with a guy who was a heroin addict. I remember all of my friends at the time telling me: “You’re going to end up a junkie, a heroin addict.” I, on the other hand, thought I was going to be his savior.
But all the sex, drugs, and rock and roll ended up getting me pregnant. We went to the doctor, my partner still high on heroin. The doctor looked at us and immediately advised me to get a termination—she must have felt that with us, this child had no hope. Three days later, I had an abortion.
I felt guilty, ashamed, and alone. I would watch my partner take heroin, get numb, and be unaffected. I begged him for some heroin, but he was all: “I love you, I’m not giving you heroin.” One day, he needed money, and I managed to bargain some heroin in return. It was a tiny bit, and it made me sick, but it also made me feel nothing. I kept on using, the dose getting higher and higher each time.
I eventually dropped out of University and became a frequent user.
I had no idea how I was going to pay for almost a hundred dollars’ worth of heroin I was using on a daily basis. We started growing marijuana in the house; we would sell it and use the money to buy even more drugs. We sold everything we owned, got kicked out of my apartment, and then, slowly, I started stealing from my family and friends. I didn’t even feel ashamed. Soon, I started stealing from work. I thought they didn’t know, but I eventually got kicked out of there too.
Finally, the only thing that I had left was my body. That first night I had sex with strangers, I wanted to scrub myself clean. But I couldn’t! You can’t scrub yourself clean to the inside out…But that didn’t stop me from going back. From making $300 a night and spending all of it on heroin for my partner and me, I went to make a thousand dollars a night; every cent I made went into buying more drugs.
It was in the middle of this downward spiral that my mother walked in and saved me with her love and mercy. But that wasn’t enough.
A Hole in My Soul
The doctor asked me about my drug history. As I went over the long story, my mum kept on crying—she was shocked by the fullness of my story. The doctor told me that I needed rehab. I asked: “Don’t drug addicts go to rehab?” He was surprised: “You don’t think you are one?”
Then, he looked me in the eye and said: “I don’t think drugs are your problem. Your problem is, you have a hole in your soul that only Jesus can fill.”
I purposefully chose a rehab that I was sure to be non-Christian. I was sick, starting to slowly detox when, one day after dinner, they called us all out for a prayer meeting. I was angry, so I sat in the corner and tried to block them out—their music, their singing, and their Jesus everything. On Sunday, they took us to church. I stood outside and smoked cigarettes. I was angry, hurt, and lonely.
On the sixth Sunday, August 15, it was pouring rain—a conspiracy from Heaven, in hindsight. I had no choice but to go inside the building. I stayed at the back, thinking that God couldn’t see me there. I had started to become aware that some of my life choices would be considered sins, so there I sat, at the back. At the end however, the priest said: “Is there anyone in here who would like to give their heart to Jesus today?”
I remember standing in front and listening to the priest say: “Do you want to give your heart to Jesus? He can give you forgiveness for your past, a brand new life today, and hope for your future.”
By that stage, I was clean, off heroin for almost six weeks. But what I didn’t realize was that there was much difference between being clean and being free. I repeated the Salvation prayer with the priest, a prayer I didn’t even understand, but there, I gave my heart to Jesus.
That day, I began a transformation journey. I got to begin anew, receive the fullness of the love, grace, and goodness of a God who had known me my whole life and saved me from myself.
The way forward was not one without mistakes. I got into a relationship in rehab, and I got pregnant again. But instead of thinking of it as a punishment for a bad choice that I had made, we decided to settle down. My partner said to me: “Let’s get married and do our best to do it His way now.” Grace was born a year later, through her, I have experienced so much grace.
I’ve always had the passion to tell stories; God gave me a story that has helped to transform lives. He has since used me in so many ways to share my story—in words, in writing, and in giving my all to work for and with the women who are stuck in a similar life that I used to lead.
Today, I am a woman changed by grace. I was met by the love of Heaven, and now I want to live life in a way that allows me to partner with the purposes of Heaven.'
I am still in awe of Reverend Sebastian’s account of a miraculous escape from deadly danger. Surely you would be too, as I share it here in his own words.
It was the coolest autumn night of October 1987, nearly 3 AM, and I had an hour left before boarding my flight to London. I decided to head to the airport lounge and grab a cup of hot coffee, which helped me shake off my sleepiness. I had taken some medication for a slight fever, but the effect was already wearing off. So, I took another one, and as I boarded the flight, I requested the air hostess, who introduced herself as Anne, for a free row in the middle so that I could get some rest during the long flight. My priestly collar must have touched her because when the seatbelt sign was turned off, Anne approached me and led me three rows back to where four seats were unoccupied. I then arranged the seats like a small couch and settled in.
My comfortable slumber was broken by the erratic movements of the aircraft. My eyes shot open; the cabin was dimly lit, and most passengers were either asleep or glued to the screens in front of them. I couldn’t help but notice the swift movements of the cabin crew as they hurried along the narrow walkways between the rows of seats.
Assuming that someone was ill and needing assistance, I asked Anne, who was passing by my seat, what was happening. “It’s just turbulence, Father. Everything is under control,” she replied before quickly moving forward. However, her panicked eyes suggested otherwise. Unable to sleep, I walked towards the back of the plane to request a cup of tea. A crew member ordered me to return to my seat but promised to bring me the tea later. I sensed that something was amiss. As I patiently waited for my tea, a male crew member approached me.
“Father Sebastian, there is a fire on one of the engines, and we haven’t been able to contain it yet. We have a full tank of fuel, and we’ve been flying for almost two hours. If the fire reaches the fuel tank, the plane could explode at any time,” he paused before looking me directly in the eyes. My body froze with shock.
“The captain has a special request—please pray for all 298 souls on board and for the fire to be extinguished. Both captains know that we have a priest on board and have requested that I convey this message to you,” he finished.
Taking his hands in mine, I replied: “Please tell the captains to remain courageous, for Jesus and Mother Mary will protect us from this dangerous situation, just like how Jesus saved His disciples from the stormy sea. There is nothing to worry about, and the Holy Spirit will take control of the situation from this point forward. They will be guided wisely by Him.”
I heard a weary voice in front of me asking if the flight was going to explode. It was Sophie, a woman in her late years whom I had met on the plane earlier. She had overheard some of our conversation and had become hysterical. Crew members warned her not to make a scene; she calmed down a bit and sat next to me, confessing her sins to me 30,000 feet high.
However, I had great faith in Mother Mary, who had helped me overcome similar situations before. I took my rosary and began to pray, closing my eyes and reciting it with utmost devotion.
Mid-flight, I was informed that the captain was trying to make an emergency landing in a non-busy airport and that we needed to hold on for another seven minutes. Eventually, as the situation was still not under control, the captain informed the passengers to prepare themselves for an emergency landing. John, the crew member who had spoken to me earlier, informed me that the fire had reached gate 6, leaving only one more gate till the engine. I silently kept on praying for the safety of everyone on the flight. As the situation continued without improvement, I closed my eyes and continued praying, finding strength and courage in my faith. When I opened my eyes, the plane had landed safely at the airport, and the passengers were applauding.
Relief at Last!
“My dear friends, this is Rodrigo, your captain from the deck!” He paused for a moment and then continued. “We were in an extremely dangerous situation in the past hours, and we are good now! A special thanks to the Almighty God and Father Sebastian. He was praying for all of us and gave all of us great strength and courage to overcome this situation and…” he paused again, “we did!”
John and Anne walked with me as we were greeted by the crew and dignitaries at the airport terminal. I was told that a replacement aircraft would arrive soon and that all passengers would be transferred to the new plane in an hour.
After the harrowing experience on the flight, I couldn’t help but reflect on the power of prayer and the importance of trusting God in any situation. I remembered the words from Mark 4:35-41, where Jesus calmed a storm on the sea and asked his disciples: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
As we boarded the new flight, I felt a renewed sense of gratitude for the miraculous escape and a stronger faith in God’s protection.
Father Sebastian has since shared his story with many people and encouraged them to put their trust in God during difficult times. He reminds them that with faith and prayer, they, too, can overcome any storm and find peace in the midst of chaos.'
The burdens of life can weigh us down, but take heart! The Good Samaritan waits on you
In the past few years, I have traveled from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, literally crisscrossing the country, speaking and leading women’s retreats. I love my work and am often humbled by it. To travel and meet so many faithful women on their knees, seeking the face of the Lord, is one of the greatest graces of my life.
But earlier this year, my work came to a halt when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my second bout. Thankfully, we caught it very early; it had not spread. We weighed our options for treatment and settled on a double mastectomy. We had hoped that following that surgery, no further treatment would be required. But when they got a good look at the tumor under a microscope, it was determined that my recurrence rate would lower significantly with a few rounds of preventative chemo.
With a heart full of dread and pictures of me nauseated and going bald running through my head, I called the oncologist and made an appointment. Just then, my husband walked in from work and said: “I just got laid off.”
Sometimes, when it rains, it is monsoons.
So, with no income and the prospect of overwhelming medical bills about to assail our mailbox, we prepared for my treatments. My husband diligently sent out resumes and garnered a few interviews. We were hopeful.
Chemo, for me, it turned out, was not too nauseating but terribly painful. The bone pain had me in tears at times, and nothing alleviated it. I was grateful that my husband was home and could help take care of me. Even in the moments when there was nothing he could do, just having him nearby was a great comfort. It was an unexpected grace in his having been laid off. We trusted in God’s plan.
The weeks went on. My hair decided to take an extended vacation, my energy waned, and I did what little work I could. No job offers came in for my talented husband. We prayed, we fasted, we trusted in the Lord, and we began to feel the strain of the season.
Struck to the Core
This year, my women’s prayer group is praying through the masterwork Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalene. One Sunday, when I didn’t feel l could carry these burdens another step, his reflection on the Good Samaritan struck me to the core. You recall the beloved parable from Luke 10 when a man is robbed, beaten, and left on the side of the road. A priest and Levite pass him by, offering no aid. Only the Samaritan stops to tend to him. Father Gabriel reflects: “We, too, have encountered robbers on our way. The world, the devil, and our passions have stripped and wounded us … With infinite love [the Good Samaritan par excellence] has bent over our open wounds, curing them with the oil and wine of His grace … Then He took us in His arms and brought us to a safe place.” (Divine Intimacy #273)
How keenly I felt about this passage! My husband and I do feel robbed, beaten, and abandoned. We’ve been stripped of our income, our work, our dignity. We’ve been robbed of my breasts, my health, even my hair. As I prayed, I had a strong sense of the Lord stooping over us, anointing and healing us, and then taking me into His arms and carrying me while my husband walked along with us, taking us to a place of safety. I was flooded with tears of relief and gratitude.
Father. Gabriel goes on to say: “We should go to Mass in order to meet Him, the Good Samaritan … When He comes to us in Holy Communion, He will heal our wounds, not only our exterior wounds, but our interior ones also, abundantly pouring into them the sweet oil and strengthening wine of His grace.”
Later that day, we went to Confession and Mass. We had a beautiful visiting priest from Africa whose reverence and gentleness washed over me at once. He prayed for me in confession, asking the Lord to give me the desires of my heart—dignified work for my husband—and to heal me. By the time it came for Communion, I was weeping on my way up to meet the Good Samaritan, knowing He was carrying us to a place of safety—in Him.
Never Pass Me By
I know this may or may not mean my husband gets a job, or I get through chemo without too much pain. But there isn’t a doubt in my mind, heart, or body that I met the Good Samaritan in that Holy Eucharist. He would not pass me but would stop and tend to me and my wounds. He was as real to me as He has ever been, and even though my husband and I are still feeling beaten, I thank the Lord for being so present to us as the Good Samaritan who stops, tends, heals, and then gathers us up to a place of safety.
His safety is not the world’s safety. To stand and wait in the midst of this “attack,” this robbery, is some of the hardest spiritual work I have ever been invited to do. Oh, but I trust our Good Samaritan par excellence. He is waiting there to carry me—to gather up anyone who feels robbed, beaten, and abandoned—and, through the Blessed Sacrament, set his seal of safety upon our hearts and souls.'
No matter how bad the tough times, if you hold onto this, you will never be shaken.
We live in very dark and confusing times. Evil is all around us, and Satan is doing his best to destroy society and the world we live in. Looking at the news for even a few minutes can be very disheartening. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, you hear of some new atrocity or wickedness in the world. It’s easy to get discouraged and to lose hope.
But as Christians, we are called to be a people of hope. How is that possible?
I have a friend who is originally from Rhode Island. One Father’s Day, his kids got him a hat with a picture of an anchor and Hebrews 6:19 embroidered on it. What was the significance of that? The Rhode Island state flag has an anchor with the word “hope” written on it. It is a reference to Hebrews 6:19, which says: “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain…”
The book of Hebrews was written to people suffering great persecution. To acknowledge that you were Christian meant death or suffering, torture or exile. Because it was so hard, many were losing faith and wondering if it was worth it to follow Christ. The author of the letter to the Hebrews was trying to encourage them to hang on, to persevere—that it was worth it. He tells his readers that hope based in Jesus is their anchor.
Solid and Immovable
When I was in high school in Hawaii, I was part of a program that taught marine biology to students. We spent several weeks at a time living and working on a sailboat. In most of the places we sailed to, there was a dock or pier where we could tie the boat up securely to the land. But there were some remote high schools that were not located near a harbor or bay that had a dock. In those cases, we had to use the boat’s anchor—a heavy metal object with some sharp hooks on it. When one drops the anchor into the water, it hooks onto the bottom of the seabed and prevents the boat from floating away.
We can be like boats, tossing and floating about on the tides and waves of daily life. We hear about a terrorist attack in the news, shootings in schools and churches, bad court rulings, bad news in your family, or natural disasters. There are a lot of things that can shake us and make us feel lost and full of despair. Unless we have an anchor for our souls, we are going to get tossed about and not have any peace.
But for an anchor to work, it needs to be hooked onto something solid and immovable. A boat can have the strongest, best anchor available, but unless it is hooked onto something secure and firm, that boat will be swept away by the next tide or wave.
Many people have hope, but they put their hope in their bank account, in the love of their spouse, in their good health, or in the government. They may say: “As long as I have my house, my job, my car, everything will be fine. As long as everyone in my family is healthy, all is well.” But do you see how shaky that can be? What happens if you lose your job, a family member gets sick, or the economy fails? Do you lose your faith in God then?
Never Swept Away
I remember when my dad was battling cancer for the last few years of his life. It was a stormy, turbulent time for our family as with each new checkup, we alternately heard good news or bad news. There were trips to the ER, and he was even airlifted once to another hospital for emergency surgery. I felt very tossed about and on shaky ground as we watched my dad suffer and get sicker and weaker.
My dad was a strong, devout Christian. He spent hours each day reading and studying the Word of God, and he had taught Bible studies for years. It was tempting for me to wonder where Jesus was in all of this. After hearing another bad prognosis, with my soul feeling wrenched by this latest stormy report, I went to a church to pray.
“Lord, I’m losing hope. Where are you?”
As I sat there quietly, I began to realize that I had been putting my hope in my dad’s recovery. That’s why I was feeling so shaky and insecure. But Jesus was inviting me to put my hope, my anchor, in Him. The Lord loved my dad so much more than I ever could, and He was with him in this difficult trial. God would give my dad what he needed to run his race well until the end, whenever that was. I needed to remember that and put my hope in God and in God’s great love for my father.
My dad passed away at home a few weeks later, surrounded by love and much prayer, tenderly cared for by my mom. He died with a gentle smile on his face. He was ready to go to the Lord, looking forward to seeing his Savior face to face at last. And I was at peace with it, ready to let him go.
Hope is the anchor, but the anchor is only as solid as what it is connected to. If our anchor is secure in Jesus, who has gone through the veil ahead of us and is waiting for us, then no matter how high the waves get, no matter how wild the storms around us are, we will hold steady and not be swept away.'
On a scorching afternoon on the streets of Calcutta, I met a boy…
Prayer is an undeniable, central, and key part of every Christian’s life. However, Jesus emphasized two more things which clearly went hand in hand with prayer—fasting and almsgiving (Matthew 6:1-21). During the seasons of Lent and Advent, we are specifically called to commit more time and effort to all three ascetic practices. ‘More’ is the important word. Whatever season we are in, radical self-denial and giving are a continuous call for each baptized believer. Around eight years ago, God literally made me stop and think about it.
In 2015, I had the great privilege and blessing of fulfilling a lifelong dream to be with and serve some of the most in-need brothers and sisters worldwide in Calcutta, India, where the poor are described not only as poor but the ‘poorest of the poor.’ From the moment I landed, it was as though electricity was running through my veins. I felt such immense gratitude and love in my heart to be given this amazing opportunity to serve God with Saint Mother Teresa’s religious order, the Missionaries of Charity. The days were long but absolutely action-packed and grace-filled. Whilst I was there, I did not intend to waste a moment. After a 5 AM start to each day with an hour of prayer, followed by Holy Mass and breakfast, we set off to serve at a home for the sick, destitute, and dying adults. During the break at lunchtime, after a light meal, many of the religious brothers I was staying with took a siesta to recharge their batteries, to be ready to go again in the afternoon and on into the evening.
One day, instead of having a rest in the house, I decided to go for a walk to find a local internet café, to contact my family by email. As I turned one of the corners, I encountered a young boy aged around seven or eight years old. His face expressed a mixture of frustration, anger, sadness, hurt, and tiredness. Life had already seemed to have begun to take its toll on him. He was carrying over his shoulder the biggest transparent, heavy-duty plastic bag that I had seen in my life. It contained plastic bottles and other plastic items, and it was full.
My heart broke within me as we stood silently examining one another. My thoughts then went to what I could give this young boy. My heart sank, as I reached for my pocket, realizing that I only had a small amount of change with me to use for the internet. It added up to less than one pound in English money. As I gave it to him, looking him in the eye, his whole being seemed to change. He was so lifted and grateful, as his beautiful smile lit up his beautiful face. We shook hands, and he walked on. As I remained standing in that back street of Calcutta, I stood in awe as I knew that the Almighty God had just personally taught me such a powerful life-changing lesson through this encounter.
I felt God had beautifully taught me in that moment that it is not the actual gift that is important but the disposition, intention, and love from the heart with which a gift is given. Saint Mother Teresa beautifully summed this up saying, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Indeed, Saint Paul said, if we give away all we have “but have not love,” we gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3).
Jesus describes the beauty of giving, that when we “give… it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38). Saint Paul also reminds us that “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal 6:7). We do not give in order to receive, but God in His infinite wisdom and goodness blesses us personally in this life and also in the next when we step out in love (John 4:34-38). As Jesus taught us, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).'
As an only child, I had this ‘baby fantasy’. Every time a cousin was born, I prepared with great ado, trimming my nails and washing up well so I could touch the baby. Waiting for Christmas felt the same as I was preparing to receive baby Jesus into my heart. Once in college, during the Christmas Mass, a thought struck me: this adorable baby Jesus is soon going to mount up to Calvary and be crucified, for Lent was just a few months away. I was perturbed, but later, God gave me the conviction that life is never without the cross. Jesus suffered so He could be with us in our sufferings.
I did not fully grasp the sublime meaning of suffering until my little Anna was born premature at 27 weeks of pregnancy and all the complications that followed—severe brain damage, epileptic seizures, and microcephaly. Sleepless nights and constant cries, there wasn’t an easy day from then on. I had a plethora of dreams and aspirations, but with my little one needing me so much, I had to forgo all of it. One day, I was brooding over how my life had become home-bound with Anna, now about 7 years old, stretching across my lap and slowly gulping some water little by little. In my mind, there was a lot of noise, but I could distinctly hear angelic music, and the words were repeated, over and over again: “Jesus…Jesus…this is Jesus.”
With her long arms and legs, and her slender body sprawling over my lap, it suddenly dawned on me—there was a striking resemblance with the Pieta, recalling how at the foot of the Cross, Jesus lay silently on His mother’s lap.
Tears flowed and I was brought to the reality of God’s presence in my life. When pinned down with the cares and worries of life, I sometimes gasp for even the most menial tasks, but then I remember I am not alone.
Every child God gives us is truly a blessing. While Anna depicts the suffering Jesus, our 5-year-old son wipes the drool from Anna’s face and promptly gives her medicine. He reminds me of the child Jesus helping his father and mother with the daily chores. Our little 3-year-old daughter never tires of thanking Jesus for even the most trivial things, bringing to mind how the child Jesus grew in wisdom and love. Our one-year-old cherub, with his little cheeks, plump rounded hands and legs, resembles the sculpted baby Jesus, bringing to mind how Mama Mary nurtured and cared for the little one. As he smiles and turns in his sleep, there’s even a glimpse of baby Jesus gently sleeping.
If Jesus hadn’t come down to be amongst us, would I still have the peace and joy I experience every day? If I hadn’t known His love, would I experience the beauty of seeing Jesus in my children and doing everything for them as I would for Him?'
Life throws hard punches at everyone, but have you ever wondered how some people are never defeated?
For every expatriate working in Saudi Arabia–the annual vacation is the highlight of the year. I too was looking forward to my trip back to India, which always took place around Christmas.
There were just a few weeks left for the trip when I received an email from my family. Nancy, a close friend of ours, had called them to say that Jesus was asking for special prayers for my vacation. Of course, I added it to my daily prayer list.
Nothing eventful happened during most of my stay. The weeks at home went by quickly. Christmas came and was celebrated with the usual gusto. After a month and a half of fun-filled days, my vacation days were almost over. Nothing extraordinary occurred, and the message was slowly forgotten.
A Hard Punch
Two days before my return trip, I decided to start packing my bags. The first item on the list was my passport, and I could not locate it anywhere! Then came a numbing realization: I had taken it to the travel agent that morning to confirm my flight, and it was still in the pocket of the jeans I had worn. However, I had earlier thrown these jeans in the laundry basket without checking the pockets!
I ran to the washing machine and opened the lid. The jeans were whirling around. I pulled them out as fast as I could and pushed my hand into the front pocket. A feeling of dread spread over me as I pulled out the wet passport.
The official seals on most of the inside pages were damaged. Some of the travel stamps were displaced and, most distressingly, the ink on the Saudi entry visa was smudged too. I had no idea what to do. The only other option was to apply for a new passport and try to get a new entry visa upon arrival in the capital city. However, I didn’t have enough time left for this. My job was on the line.
My Battalion to the Rescue
I laid the passport open on my bed and turned on the ceiling fan, hoping to dry it out. I told the rest of my family what had happened. As usual, we joined together in prayer, entrusted the situation to Jesus, and asked Him for guidance. I also called Nancy to tell her about the mishap. She started praying for us too; there was nothing more that we could do.
Later that night, Nancy called me to say that Jesus had told her His angel would see me through to Riyadh! Two days later, finding strength in prayer, I said goodbye to my family, checked in my luggage, and boarded my first flight.
At the Mumbai airport where I changed flights, I joined the line for the immigration clearance at the international terminal. Feeling a bit anxious, I waited with my passport open. Thankfully, the officer barely glanced down before absent-mindedly stamping the page and sending me off!
Filled with divine grace, I felt at peace. After the flight landed in Saudi Arabia, I continued to pray as I collected my baggage and joined one of the long lines at the immigration checkpoint. The line moved slowly as the officer carefully examined each passport before stamping it with an entry visa. Finally, it was my turn. With my passport opened to the proper page, I walked toward him. At that very moment, another officer walked up and started a conversation with him. As he was immersed in the discussion, the immigration officer stamped my passport with the entry visa, barely even glancing down at the pages.
I was back in Riyadh, thanks to my guardian angel, who had “led me through the fire” at just the right moment.
Guardian—Now, Then, and Always
Undoubtedly, the trip boosted my relationship with my guardian angel. However, Jesus underlined yet another lesson for me: I am being led by a living God who foresees every puddle in my path. Walking hand in hand with Him, listening to His directions and obeying them, I can handle any obstacle. “When you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it”’ (Isaiah 30:21).
If Nancy had not been listening to God’s voice, and if we had not been praying as instructed, my life might have swerved off track. Every Christmas since then, every trip back to my home country serves as a fond reminder of God’s leading providence and protective embrace.'
She was diagnosed with chronic OCD, and put on meds for a lifetime. Then, something unexpected happened.
In the 1990s, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The doctor prescribed me medication and told me I would have to take them for the rest of my life. Some people think that mental health issues happen because you lack faith, but there was nothing wrong with my faith. I had always deeply loved God and relied on Him in all things, but I also felt an abiding disabling guilt. I had not been able to shake off the belief that everything that was wrong with the world was my fault.
I had a Law degree, but my heart had never been there. I had taken up law to impress my mother, who thought my choice of teaching as a profession wasn’t good enough. But I had married and given birth to my first child just before I finished it, then gone on to have seven beautiful children, so I had spent more time learning to be a mother than working in law. When we moved to Australia, the law was different, so, I went back to university to finally study my first love, Teaching. But even when I got a job doing what I loved, I felt that I was trying to justify my existence by earning money. Somehow, I didn’t feel that looking after my family and nurturing the people entrusted to me was good enough. In fact, with my crippling guilt and feeling of inadequacy, nothing ever felt enough.
Because of our family size, it wasn’t always easy to get away on a holiday, so we were excited when we heard about the Carry Home in Pemberton where payment was a donation of what you could afford. It had a beautiful country setting close to forests. We planned to go for a weekend family retreat. They also had a prayer and worship group in Perth. When I joined, I was made to feel very welcome.
There, at one of the retreats, something totally unexpected and overwhelming happened. I had just received prayer when I suddenly fell to the ground. Rolled up on the floor in a fetal position, I screamed and screamed and screamed. They carried me out onto this rickety old wooden verandah outside and continued to pray until eventually, I stopped screaming.
This was totally unsought and unexpected. But I knew that it was deliverance.
I just felt empty as if something had left me. After the retreat, my friends continued to check up on me and come to pray over me, asking for Mary’s intercession that the gifts of the Holy Spirit would become manifest in me. I felt so much better that after a week or two, I decided to reduce my dose of medication. Within three months, I had stopped taking the medication and felt better than I ever had.
I no longer felt the need to prove myself or pretend that I was better than I was. I didn’t feel that I had to excel in all things. I felt grateful for the gift of life, my family, my prayerful community and this tremendous connection with God. Freed of the need to justify my existence, I realized I could not justify my existence. It’s a gift–life, family, prayer, connection with God–these are all gifts, not something you are ever going to earn. You accept it and you thank God.
I became a better person. I didn’t have to show off, compete, or arrogantly insist that my way was the best. I realized I didn’t have to be better than the other person because it didn’t matter. God loves me, God cares for me. Out of the grip of my disabling guilt, I have since realized that “If God didn’t want me, He would have made someone else.”
My relationship with my mother had always been ambivalent. Even after becoming a mother, I was still struggling with these feelings of ambivalence. But this experience changed that for me. As God chose Mary to bring Jesus into the world, He had chosen Mary to help me on my way. My issues in the relationship with my mother, and subsequently with the Holy Mother, slowly melted away.
I felt like John at the foot of the Cross when Jesus told him: “Behold your Mother.” I have come to know Mary as the perfect mother. Now, when my mind fails, the Rosary kicks in to rescue me! I never realized how much I needed her until I made her an indispensable part of my life. Now, I couldn’t imagine stepping away.'
There is a poetic meditation of an early twentieth-century Greek novelist named Nikos Kazantzakis that I keep on my nightstand when Advent comes around every year.
He pictures Christ as a teenager, watching the people of Israel from a distant hilltop, not yet ready to begin his ministry but acutely, painfully sensitive to the longing and suffering of His people.
The God of Israel is there among them—but they don’t know it yet.
I was reading this to my students the other day, as I do every year at the start of Advent, and one of them said to me after class: “I’ll bet that’s how Jesus feels now too.”
I asked him what he meant. He said: “You know, Jesus, sitting there in the tabernacle, and us just walking past like He isn’t even there.” Ever since, I’ve had this new image in my Advent prayers of Jesus, waiting in the Tabernacle, looking out over His people—hearing our groans, our pleas, and our cries.
Somehow, this is the way God chooses to come to us. The birth of the Messiah is THE KEY EVENT IN ALL HUMAN HISTORY, and yet, God wanted it to take place ‘so quietly that the world went about its business as if nothing had happened.’ A few shepherds noticed, and so did the magi (and we could even mention Herod, who noticed for all the wrong reasons!). Then, apparently, the whole thing was forgotten. For a time.
Somehow…there must be something in the waiting that is good for us. God chooses to wait for us. He chooses to make us wait for Him. And when you think about it in this light, the whole history of salvation becomes a history of waiting.
So, you see, there’s this simultaneous sense of urgency—that we need to answer God’s call and that we need Him to answer our call, and soon. “Answer me, Lord, when I call to you,” the psalmist says. There’s something so brazen about this verse that it’s charming.
There’s an urgency in the Psalms. But there is also this sense that we must learn to be patient and wait—wait in joyful hope—and find God’s answer in the waiting.'
All that Tom Naemi could think of, day and night, was that he needed to get even with those who put him behind bars.
My family immigrated to America from Iraq when I was 11 years old. We started a grocery store and we all worked hard to make it successful. It was a tough environment to grow up in and I didn’t want to be seen as weak, so I never let anyone get the better of me. Though I was going to church regularly with my family and serving on the altar, my real god was money and success. So my family was happy when I married at 19; they hoped I’d settle down.
I became a successful businessman, taking over the family grocery store. I thought I was invincible and could get away with anything, especially when I survived being shot at by rivals. When another Chaldean group started another supermarket nearby, the competition became vicious. We weren’t just undercutting each other, we were committing crimes to put each other out of business. I set a fire in their store, but their insurance paid for the repair. I sent them a time bomb, they sent people to kill me. I was furious, and decided to get my revenge once and for all. I was going to kill them; my wife begged me not to but I loaded a 14-foot truck with gasoline and dynamite and drove it toward their building. When I lit the fuse, the whole truck caught fire right away. I was caught in the flames. Just before the truck exploded, I jumped out and rolled in the snow; I couldn’t see. My face, hands, and right ear melted.
I ran away down the street and got taken to the hospital. The police came to question me, but my big-shot lawyer told me not to worry. At the last minute though, everything changed, so I left for Iraq. My wife and children followed. After seven months, I quietly came back to San Diego to see my parents. But I still had grudges I wanted to settle, so trouble started again.
The FBI raided my mom’s house. Although I escaped in the nick of time, I had to leave the country again. As business was going well in Iraq, I decided not to go back to America. Then, my lawyer called and said that if I turned myself in, he’d make a deal to get me a sentence of only 5-8 years. I came back, but I was sent to jail for 60-90 years. On appeal, the time was cut to 15-40 years, which still seemed like forever.
As I moved from prison to prison, my reputation for violence preceded me. I often got into brawls with other inmates and people were afraid of me. I still used to go to Church, but I was filled with anger and obsessed with revenge. I had an image stuck in my mind, of walking into my rival’s store, masked, shooting everyone in the store, and walking out. I couldn’t stand it that they were free while I was behind bars. My kids were growing up without me and my wife had divorced me.
At my sixth prison in ten years, I met these crazy, holy volunteers, thirteen of them, coming in every week with priests. They were excited about Jesus all the time. They spoke in tongues and talked about miracles and healing. I thought they were crazy, but I appreciated them for coming in. Deacon Ed and his wife Barbara had been doing this for thirteen years. One day, he asked me: “Tom, how is your walk with Jesus?” I told him it was great, but there was only one thing I wanted to do. As I walked away, he called me back, asking: “Are you talking about revenge?” I told him that I simply called it “getting even.” He said: “You don’t know what it means to be a good Christian, do you?” He told me that being a good Christian didn’t just mean worshiping Jesus, it meant loving the Lord and doing everything that Jesus did including forgiving your enemies. “Well”, I said, “That was Jesus; it’s easy for Him, but it’s not easy for me.”
Deacon Ed asked me to pray every day: “Lord Jesus, take this anger from me. I ask you to come between me and my enemies, I ask you to help me forgive them and to bless them.” To bless my enemies? No way! But his repeated prompting somehow got to me, and from that day, I started praying about forgiveness and healing.
For a long time nothing happened. Then, one day, as I was flipping through the channels, I saw this preacher on TV: “Do you know Jesus? Or are you just a Church-goer?” I felt he was talking directly to me. At 10 PM, as the power went out as usual, I sat there on my bunk and told Jesus: “Lord, all my life, I never knew you. I had everything, now I have nothing. Have my life. I give it to you. From now on, you use it for whatever you want. You will probably do a better job of it than I ever did.”
I joined Scripture study, and signed up for Life in the Spirit. During Scripture study one day, I saw a vision of Jesus in His glory, and like a laser from Heaven, I felt filled with God’s Love. The Scripture spoke to me, and I discovered my purpose. The Lord started talking to me in dreams and revealed things about people that they had never told anyone else. I started calling them from prison to talk about what the Lord had said, and promised to pray for them. Later, I’d hear about how they’d experienced healing in their lives.
On a Mission
When I was transferred to another prison, they didn’t have a Catholic service, so I started one and began preaching the Gospel there. We started with 11 members, grew to 58, and more kept joining. Men were getting healed of the wounds that had imprisoned them before they ever got into prison.
After 15 years, I returned home on a new mission—Save souls, destroy the enemy.
My friends would come home, and find me reading the Scripture for hours. They couldn’t understand what had happened to me. I told them that the old Tom had died. I was a new creation in Christ Jesus, proud to be His follower.
I lost a lot of friends but gained a lot of brothers and sisters in Christ.
I wanted to work with youth, to deliver them to Jesus so they wouldn’t end up dead or in prison. My cousins thought I had gone mad and told my mother that I would get over it soon enough. But I went on to meet the Bishop, who gave his approval, and I found a priest, Father Caleb, who was ready to work with me on this.
Before I went to prison, I had lots of money, I had popularity, and everything had to be my way. I was a perfectionist. In my old days of crime, it was all about me, but after meeting Jesus, I realized that everything in the world was garbage compared to Him. Now, it was all about Jesus, who lives in me. He drives me to do all things, and I can’t do anything without Him.
I wrote a book about my experiences to give people hope, not just people in prison, but anyone chained to their sins. We’re always going to have problems, but with His help, we can overcome every obstacle in life. It is only through Christ that we can find true freedom.
My Savior lives. He is alive and well. Blessed be the Name of the Lord!'