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My testimony is not about a powerful conversion, a life changing moment or a miraculous healing. It is a journey of small steps—a journey where I continually stumbled and fell, but God always picked me up and walked with me. I was born and raised Catholic. However, as many people could attest, this does not always amount to much. I participated in the Sacraments and went to Church regularly, but a personal relationship with Jesus was lacking.
During my university life, whenever I encountered difficulties, I turned to God for comfort. He was always there for me, but I was not always there for Him. I put God in a compartment and I turned to Him only when I needed. He was certainly a part of my life, since I continued to go to Church on Sundays and pray frequently, but He was not central to my life. My own interests and desires were at the forefront of my mind. I never really paused to think about God’s will.
Six months before graduation, my whole world turned upside down. I went through a really deep depression and for a long time, there was only darkness. The despair and hopelessness I felt is hard to convey in words, but I think that many of you reading this will have felt it at some point. When it happens, we go one way or another. We run towards God seeking refuge in Him or run away from Him in anger.
Sadly, I chose the latter. I could not understand why God would put me through something so horrific if He loved me. For the best part of a year, I completely isolated myself. I stopped attending Church. I stopped going anywhere at all. I was caught up in feelings of shame and worthlessness. Thoughts like ‘you’re a burden’ and ‘everyone would be so much better off without you’ constantly invaded my head. My mind was like a prison that I just could not escape from.
Thankfully, that was not the end of my story. One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose”. This reassures us that, whatever may happen in our lives, God will work it out for our good. It also lovingly reminds us that we have been chosen by Him and we have a purpose through Him. This became evident in my life when I slowly returned to the faith with the help of various people and incidents that God surely orchestrated.
This time, it was different. I attended daily Mass and retreats as I truly sought God’s love. However, my mental health struggles kept recurring. There was not any progression or recovery, so my future looked bleak. I was fed up with life constantly. The hope and peace Jesus promised seemed far away. As I said before, there was not a magical moment when things turned around for me as I would have liked. I had to wait for God’s timing. Nevertheless, some small steps helped me progress to a more positive state.
My family is my biggest blessing. They have stood by me through the darkest times and I am truly grateful to God for them. About two years ago, we started reading the Bible for thirty minutes daily—something we continue to do. Even though it can be arduous, especially when delving into some of the Old Testament, it is definitely worth persevering. When we appreciate that the Bible is the living Word of God, we realize that there is an answer in there for everything.
“Satan’s target is your mind and his weapons are lies. So fill your mind with the Word of God”—Greg Locke.
This quote emphasizes how the devil uses lies against us as weapons. My struggles were mainly with my mind and I felt trapped. I wrestled with many sins that kept coming up again and again. The devil told me that I was unloved, broken and worthless when in actual fact, I am a child of God, who is infinitely loved. These are a few affirmations that the Word of God gives each of us:
“I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works that He has prepared for me to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
“The Spirit of God, who is greater than the enemy in the world, lives in me.” (1 John 4:4)
“I am chosen by God who called me out of the darkness of sin and into the light and life of Christ so I can proclaim the excellence and greatness of who He is.” (1 Peter 2:9)
One of my favorite things about the Catholic faith is the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation). Being able to run to Confession and pour out my heart to Jesus has been immensely valuable. Receiving His forgiveness frees us from the guilt and shame which the devil condemns us to. The Holy Spirit helps us realize when we are on the wrong path, needing to repent and turn back to God. As long as we do this, there is nothing to worry about, although we may have to do it over and over again. The further we have strayed from God, the more He rejoices when we come back, just as the father celebrated when the prodigal son returned.
This took me a while to realize and I still have not grasped it fully; I do not need to do anything at all to earn God’s love. It is an unconditional gift that He pours out on us. His love is not dependent on me or my flawed self. It is dependent on His nature which is all loving and merciful. Even through my darkest times and yours, this love gives us hope. In the book of the prophet Hosea, God proclaims that He will “transform the Valley of Trouble into a Gateway of Hope” (Hosea 2:15). This beautifully portrays what happened in my life. Through His love, God transformed my troubles into an opportunity to have hope and share that hope with you.
In hindsight, my pain led me to ultimately get closer to God. He is the only one who has truly been there for me through everything. He is not only the majestic, all powerful God, He is my comforter and friend. I have learned to be more accepting of God’s will and His timing. My life definitely didn’t pan out the way I planned, but that is not a bad thing because God’s ways are higher than my ways. “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways’, declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Many small factors contributed over time to increasing my faith. It led me to a deeper appreciation and understanding of God. I also truly believe that the power of prayer has helped me survive life’s many challenges. I humbly request that you keep me in your prayers and that we all adopt a mentality of praying for each other. As my testimony shows, we do not necessarily have to do ‘big’ things to get closer to God. Small steps are all it takes. I hope you are able to take a small step towards God today. He is waiting lovingly with open arms.
Dear God, I firmly believe and hope in You. Each day I rise up to take one more step closer to You. All I ask is for the grace to know You and love You. Let me be enfolded in Your loving arms. Amen
©Stefi Siby lives with her family in Blackpool, England. To read more of her articles visit: spreadyoursmile.home.blog/
Did you know you have an ever-present father? Read on if you are longing for his love. When you turn back Sixteen years ago I was facilitating a catechist class at Folsom Prison, a maximum security prison in California, preparing some of the inmates for Confirmation. An inmate named Juan, was telling his story. He shared that his biological father had abandoned his family when he was an infant and that his stepfather was aloof and abusive. In so many words, he said that his connectedness to a father of any kind was “messed up”. That might be the reason, he said, why he is drawn to his childhood faith--he is still seeking his father. I said, “Juan, God IS your Father and Jesus invites you to call him ‘Abba’.” “What does ‘Abba’ mean?” he asked. “It means ‘Dad’, ‘Papa.’ Jesus gives you permission to call God ‘Papa’,” I said. With tears welling in his eyes, Juan slowly and reverently recited the Our Father. He said it with such power and conviction that it seemed like he was saying it for the first time. The simplicity of the Lord’s Prayer and our own familiarity with it can mask what a phenomenal breakthrough it was in the history of religion. Jesus doesn’t address God as ‘Judge,’ or ‘Omniscient One,’ or ‘Great Power in the Sky’, or some other title that that would point to God’s transcendence. Instead, Jesus calls God ‘Father’ which evokes a sense of familiarity, reminding us how a child turns towards his or her father, trusting that they are loved by him. Filling the void If some experience their fathers as absent, judgmental, or harsh, it is possible they may project these qualities onto God. If they have grown to expect little of their fathers, they may also expect little or nothing of God. If their father was generally non-communicative, they may project that onto God. But Jesus taught us to call God “Abba” which means “my father” and evokes a sense of intimacy, of warmth, safety, and love. Such an understanding of God as loving parent can be found in the prophet Hosea, who captures this intimate Father-child relationship that Jesus invites us to: When Israel was a child, I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the farther they went from me, sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, With bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks. (Hosea 11:1-4). What a tender image of our loving God as one “who raises an infant to his cheeks.” That’s the image that melted the heart of a prisoner named Juan and filled his eyes with tears. Many people go through life seeking their father. But Jesus tells us we have a father who loves us more than any earthly parent ever could. We simply have to come before him and with the simplicity of childhood say, “Abba!” Heavenly Father I surrender myself completely into Your hands just like a child, and I trust in Your Divine providence. Each day let me feel those invisible bands of love which draw me close to You. Amen.
In 1926, as the Cristero war began, Mexicans had suffered religious persecution for many years. Churches were confiscated and closed. Religious education and gatherings were banned. Religious and priests were forced into hiding. One night, plainclothes policemen staked out a home where they suspected people were gathering to receive Communion. A man approached and quickly flipped the lapel of his suit jacket, as if to show a lieutenant’s badge. “What’s going on?” he asked. “We think a priest is inside,” they replied. “Wait here while I check,” he commanded. They kept watch as he went in to boldly distribute Holy Communion to the faithful waiting inside. Father Miguel Pro was famous for his impersonations. Using a variety of clever disguises, and often in the dead of night, he bravely ventured out to baptize infants, bless marriages, celebrate Mass, hear confessions, anoint the sick and distribute Holy Communion. On more than one occasion, he penetrated a jail disguised as a police officer to bring Holy Viaticum to Catholics awaiting execution. Dressed as a stylish businessman, he even frequented the neighbourhoods of his greatest enemies to collect for the poor. Arm in arm with a young lady, or dressed in the rags of a beggar, he cheerfully brought spiritual and material relief to beleaguered Mexican Catholics at the risk of his life. Renowned for his ready wit, he laughed in the face of death, “If I meet any long-faced saints in Heaven, I will cheer them up with a Mexican hat dance.” After little more than a year of this clandestine ministry, his enemies were desperate to eradicate his influence. Falsely accusing him of an assassination attempt, he was sentenced to death without trial, immediately after capture. President Calles invited world media to witness his execution, expecting Father Pro to break down and deny his faith in front of the firing squad. Instead their photos captured him peacefully forgiving and praying for his executioners, refusing a blindfold and welcoming the bullets with arms outstretched in the form of a cross, shouting, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long Live Christ the King!)
On August 18, 1996, when Mass concluded in the Church of Santa Maria y Caballito Almagro, a woman reported that a consecrated Host had been abandoned on a dusty candle holder at the back of the Church. Since it was not in a fit condition to be consumed, the priest followed normal protocols by placing the Host in water and storing it in the tabernacle. The following Monday, when the tabernacle was opened, the Host appeared to be suffused with a bloody substance. This was reported to Bishop Jorge Bergoglio (the future Pope Francis, at that time auxiliary bishop and soon to be archbishop of Buenos Aires). The Host was then moved to a secure location where the appearance of the Host continued to change until it was flesh alone. Archbishop Bergoglio led an investigation into the miracle after the host-turned-bloody was miraculously preserved for several years. On October 5, 1999, in the presence of the Archbishop’s representatives, a scientist took a sample of the fragment and sent it to New York for analysis. The origin of the sample was not revealed to the scientists. Dr. Frederic Zugiba, a well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist, determined that the analyzed substance was real flesh and blood containing human DNA taken from the heart of a living person who had been tortured. He testified that “the analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle which is responsible for the contraction of the heart. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.”
God has a plan for you; but what if it doesn’t fit into yours? "I’m concerned,” the ultrasound technician gravely admitted. Our hearts sank. All of the excitement and joy we had built up in expectation of seeing our little one was threatened by two words we did not expect to hear. My husband and I had been married for a year and a half, trying to conceive for the same amount of time. We had happily dreamed together of a future with a growing family. We both ardently desired to bring life into this world, to nurture and love those children, and to help one another become better people and the best parents we could hope to become. After a year and a half of trying to get pregnant, feeling disappointment after disappointment every time we saw a negative sign appear on a pregnancy test, you could only imagine the joy and elation we felt when we finally saw a positive instead. We were parents... finally! We were going to have a baby and were so very excited. We waited three weeks until our first ultrasound and neither one of us imagined that there would be reason for concern. At the end of our appointment, the technician asked us to come back in a week for a second ultrasound with the doctor because the baby was not measuring as it should at almost eight weeks. Instead of diving deep into fear and worry, we decided we would thank Jesus for the gift of life and trust His plans, whatever they were. Still, we both prayed believing that the concern expressed in our first ultrasound was false and that our little one was just fine. We prayed with belief and we prayed with trust. Sometimes, though, things don’t turn out the way that you desire. Sometimes, you don’t even get to know why. We went back for our second ultrasound ten days after the first one and were given the bad news that there was no heartbeat and a miscarriage was inevitable. When my husband and I had walked through the doors of that hospital for our second ultrasound, we were both confident that God would show us a healthy, thriving baby on the screen, and we believed that is what we would see. God, however, had other plans—plans that were really difficult to accept. We had gone from growing our family to mourning the loss of our baby in an instant. I didn’t want to accept the news. I wanted to control the outcome and I didn’t want this; to be our new reality, but there was nothing I could do to change it. God had different plans in mind for us, plans that involved heartache and grief and loss. Even in the midst of all the sadness, we decided to accept His plans and carry ourselves forward in pursuit of those plans, whatever they may be. Even so, acceptance of God’s plans does not always equate to understanding God’s plans, nor does acceptance of God’s plans equate to being comfortable with God’s plans. We wanted God’s plans to be different, but we had to ask ourselves if we were going to be mad at God or if we were going to accept His plans for us and trust Him. After all God did say, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me and I will change your lot…” (Jeremiah 29:11-14). If we believe Jesus, then we have to trust in His promises, do we not? Father Joe McMahon once said, “either Jesus lied or we’re not trusting Him.” Jesus desires our trust. He desires our belief. He desires our faith. So every time I feel wrecked by the emptiness and loneliness that miscarriage brings about, I turn back to the words of Jeremiah 29:11-14. Each time I ache because we won’t get to hold our baby in our arms here on earth, I turn back to those words. Do I think Jesus is a liar, or is it possible that I do not trust Him enough in the midst of my pain? What about you? Do you trust in the One that spoke you into existence? Do you trust in the story that God has written for your life? Do you trust where He is leading you? Do you trust Him in the midst of your pain? No matter what your hurts and sorrows are, now is the time to take those hurts and sorrows to the foot of The Cross, to leave them there for your Creator to handle and heal. In the midst of the hurt and uncertainty is exactly when to place all of your trust in the Lord, no matter how difficult or painful that may seem. Ask yourself, do you believe that Jesus lied? Do you believe He does NOT have a hopeful future designed just for you? Or is it possible that you just don’t trust Him enough? Grow your trust in the Lord. Give Him your pain and your sorrow so He can make you new again and reveal your future destiny. Allow yourself to be small so that He can show you just how big He is. O Jesus, when I feel weak and helpless, let me sense Your presence. Help me to trust in Your protecting love and strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten or worry me. Instead by living close to You, let me see Your hand, Your purpose, Your will through all things. Amen.
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