Amidst the plethora of assignments and tests at University, she kept aside her time to serve the Lord. Wanna know how God rewarded her?
I discovered the U.S. Presidential Scholars program when I was in middle school. Every year, 161 American seniors were recognized for their outstanding achievements with one of the nation’s most prestigious awards. Looking at the scholars, I thought that they represented an unreachable pinnacle. However, every night for the next four years, I mentioned this program in my prayer intentions. I didn’t necessarily think I was worthy of the honor, but I’d made a habit of asking God for all of my wishes since I was a child. My parents used to laugh when I mentioned the Presidential Scholars at family prayer; no one was more shocked than us when the Lord granted this particular request.
In my family, my mother modeled a relationship with Jesus that was full of affection, honesty, and freedom. God ought to be told of all my plans and intentions, and I was to insist on His opinion for everything, my classes, college, career choice, even the extracurricular activities I participated in. In addition, my parents made sure to take our family to retreats once or twice a year. Throughout my teenage years I received a great deal of consolation, grace, and support from Shalom, Sehion, Steubenville, and other ministries. Regardless of my feelings at each program’s start, by the end I was given the blessing to take lovely things into my heart.
In school, I grew very concerned about the wellbeing of my friends. It was obvious that my upbringing was defined by truths and flourishing with blessings that my peers had never had the opportunity to receive. Even when I couldn’t tell them much about God, I told God often about them in front of the tabernacle. My family attended daily Mass whenever possible and visited our parish on days it wasn’t. In this way, I brought to Jesus my team members, teachers, and especially those who upset me. Their struggles were intensely real, occupying the present moment. In these little conversations, I developed a greater desire to work for evangelization not sometime in the future, but now.
I’ve helped my parish every week since I was seven, singing in the choir, serving on the altar, reading, or teaching. My home is only two minutes from church; I am an “on-call” volunteer, stepping in whenever needed. Through retreat opportunities, especially the Shalom Media Summit, I became more active on a broader scale. With my high school activities, I was already extremely busy when I started volunteering for Shalom. Regardless of my overload, I prioritized any work done for God. I wasn’t able to commit to a schedule, so I gave what I could. During my lunch break I might edit a few sentences for a media post. After my homework I could revise presentation scripts. I even skipped several school days and evenings to assist with Jesus Heals programs and accompany my mother to Victory conferences.
By helping out in areas I enjoyed, I spent time that would otherwise be less fruitful. I was also very particular regarding the quality of my work. In clubs, I took great care when preparing anything for the students I mentored—how much more should I do for my Jesus who loves me? Sharing at least a portion of the graces I had received was my responsibility, but I was rewarded for it. Any assignments or tests I couldn’t prepare for were always postponed or made easy. Once I had a national scholarship application due on a First Friday. The day prior, I was very upset, as I had so much left to write that I was sure to miss my monthly adoration time. Friday morning, program officials extended the deadline by three days. The Bible says that even a glass of water given in the name of the Lord will not lose its reward. How much more valuable is our time? I thought that I was doing something for God, but He was marking every second, using that time to do great things for me.
Yet, there is more to service than the work done alone. In social settings, we must remain aware of occasions that may influence us to compromise our beliefs. A particular hurdle for students are the trips necessary for club involvement—a crucial part of college and scholarship evaluation. Meetings, conferences, and teambuilding sessions presented me with many stressful situations. Small actions—like avoiding certain music, games, and outfits— formed a barrier between me and my peers. Although the school trips were fun and competitively successful, it was difficult to assure students that I wasn’t judging them for their choices, which were acceptable by our chaperone’s standards. Listening to my conscience even eighty percent of the time was an isolating effort. Yet, on a summer retreat I heard in my heart repeatedly, “I AM YOUR FRIEND.” These emphasized words were extremely significant to me in the school years that followed. Jesus is a personal friend to every Christian; the hard part is being a true friend to Him.
My favorite strategy is to assign the Lord responsibility for everything. Saint Joseph of Cupertino has received notifications of every examination that has come my way, and my mother has prayed in church during each of my testing sessions. While preparing for school competitions, I would ask God what I should write; while presenting to judges I would remind Him to tell me what to say. When starting projects or essays, I brought my notes before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration and jotted down ideas from there. Even for this piece, only a light weight remains on my shoulders—someone else wrote the outline!
God Himself will make everything possible, as He did for me. For students to enter the presidential scholar selection process, they must be nominated by a state education official. I needed to be among the ten students recommended by mine, but I was from a region unconnected to any state student initiatives. I had found no opportunity at my rather unknown high school to personally connect with my representative. Yet, last year, a new superintendent was voted in who particularly focused on expanding student access to opportunities. She began accepting applications for nominations online, an unheard of change that came just in time for my graduating class. With her recommendation, I was made eligible for the honor God eventually granted me. As servants, we are called to be attentive to the opportunities the Master gives us, not to worry about how they’ll arise.
If we nurture within ourselves the passion to serve, God will provide us with even more chances to do so—He even rewards us for them! Under His direction, we are empowered to do things we could never think to manage on our own. Our Father will not let His children down, especially when we leave the outcomes of our efforts to Him. Our job is to say ‘Yes’, and watch God say ‘Yes’ back to us in ways miraculous for our own life situations. Though our gifts may be small, we offer them to a God who uses five loaves to feed over five thousand.
Let us give Him the opportunity to manifest His glory.
©Freya Abraham © is a college freshman at the University of Arizona, a 2020 U.S Presidential Scholar, and has placed 2nd internationally in DECA Business Services Marketing. She is the daughter of Francy and Neetha Abraham and the younger sister of Alfred Abraham.
Where is the Kingdom of God in a Covid world? Find it today! Covid Chronicles The word “lockdown” still takes my breath away. Fear is enemy number one. To prepare the battlefield, I placed Divine Mercy images on all my doors. I prayed that the Angel of Death of our times—Covid—would pass over this house. Inside my house, my statues of Jesus and His Mother faced out to protect the whole neighborhood and world. Then I began a notebook journal, my own “Covid Chronicles”. Anxiety, isolation, boredom and depression are relentless stalkers on this battlefield as well. Rereading my journal now, I see how the Lord is continuously helping his little ones to fight them. The Kingdom moments are in plain sight now. Do you recognize them? Your Daily Kingdom Moments Start your day with Power. Raise your heart and mind to the God who waits to hear our prayer. We have a God who, on His redeeming cross, said, “I thirst.” Do you know anyone else who died for you and still wants to help you more? Put all your fears right there at the foot of the cross. Because He is God, He knows them anyway and delights in banishing them. In return for your trust in Him, He gives you peace. Fair warning though: this is not a once and done deal. Every time fear sneaks back, have a battle cry ready. It could be simply, “Jesus, I trust in you.” That is the Divine Mercy prayer. When fear becomes too great for you to stand, kneel. I found that the moments on my knees were profound teaching moments. Humility is so necessary to authentic prayer. The rosary to our Blessed Mother, our great intercessor, is the greatest weapon for our time, according to Padre Pio. Pray it every day for soothing peace. Take in Wisdom. Read from daily devotionals, and religious magazines. The short meditations and scripture readings will say exactly what you need to hear at that time on that day. They will verify God’s presence with you and that is a Kingdom moment. Make Mass the mainstay of your day. I felt so grateful to our priests and to our technology which live streamed the Mass every day. The Word of God and spiritual communion were Kingdom moments delivered right to me. I knew I wasn’t alone. Mass was still a communal meal. Plug into Prayer Groups. I learned to Zoom and connected with an out of state prayer group. I attended many virtual conferences on healing and gifts of the Holy Spirit. My own local Charismatic prayer group conducted weekly meetings through both email and group telephone meetings. Scripture, personal witnessing, petitions for healings, and music were shared. Faith communities nourish the soul and we see that we are a united force connected to a mighty Power who blesses us because we worship and praise Him. Get outside. Life is for the birds, literally. There they were living their uninterrupted lives. They sang their songs, built their nests, fed their young etc. Nature is a Kingdom gift of beauty itself. Talk to positive people. I have smart and grace-filled friends. Connecting with them brings me laughter, and prayer reaffirming visits of the heart. We sympathize, support, and, most importantly, just listen to each other. They are life support during Covid days. If you don’t get a call, make a call. Someone is waiting for a Kingdom moment which you can supply. Set goals each day. At the beginning of Covid-19, I attacked boxes that I had promised myself I would go through years ago. Every day I still set a goal and accomplishing it makes me feel content. A pat on the backwards off depression. Indulge in “me” moments. It sounds contradictory, or even selfish, but doing what you love makes you a happier person. If you live with someone else, they will appreciate that a lot, I suspect. So sing, paint, write, exercise or create by crafting and kingdom moments will be given to others as well as yourself. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:11) Always put yourself in the presence of God. Continually look and listen for Him. You will forget, but He will remind you. He is there; your Forever Friend, Savior, and Supplier of all you need. Yes, Covid-19 is a formidable foe, but if we put on the Armor of God we have the best defense. And if God is for us, and He is, the battle is already won. So where is the Kingdom of God in a Covid World? Where it always is—in our innermost being, our spirit.
Last Christmas SEAN BOOTH received an unexpected gift that’s etched in his memory forever! I have received many blessings in my life, but the most memorable Christmas gift I received in my life involved paying a prostitute. Tentative Meeting Around three years ago, I was helping at a homeless centre in Manchester, England, where we shared the Gospel with people who came each Sunday for a meal. One of the men that came was a Muslim man. He was not homeless, but joined us for fellowship. Over the course of a few months, we struck up a close bond, sharing about our respective faiths. Often our conversations would last for hours. As Christmas drew nearer, I explained how special Christmas time was for us as Christians and asked if he would like to join me at Midnight Mass. He gladly accepted the invitation, since he had never been in a Catholic Church, let alone attended a service. At the same time, I was also volunteering with a city centre, Catholic Church, who worked with a charity providing meals and a bed for homeless asylum seekers. Many of these men were also Muslim. By the grace of God, I was on the rota to sleep over on Christmas Eve. It was all hands to the pump since the priests were busy preparing for the celebration of Mass. As we shared a meal that night, I invited the men to come to Holy Mass and five of them accepted the invitation. I explained I had to pick up a friend but would be back before Mass started. After picking up my Muslim friend, we drove into the city centre. Along the way, we noticed a distressed lady waving her hands at us. Although I thought she was a prostitute, I turned the car around to make sure she was okay. When I wound the window down, she begged me for a lift to the pharmacy because there were no buses running and it closed at midnight. I agreed and as we drove, she leaned forward from the back seat and asked if I would ‘like some business’. I declined her offer, explaining that we believed in God and were on the way to attend a church service. Then, I invited her to join us. Need for Money She apologised if she had offended us and said she could not come because she had to ‘earn some money’ on the streets. We reached the pharmacy in time and she went inside. I felt inspired to follow her inside to ask if I could pray with her. While her prescription was being prepared, she closed her eyes and held out both of her hands. We prayed, standing at the counter, holding hands. It was beautiful. She was so open. After we came out, I asked her once more to join us, but again she explained that her need for money prevented her from coming. In that moment, I had a thought. I’d brought money for the collection during Mass, but if I spent it bringing her to God’s house, that was still giving it to the Church. Potentially, that could open her heart to encounter Jesus in the Mass, where Heaven meets earth, whilst also keeping her from potential evil. I offered her the money, explaining that it would only be an hour long and, at the very least, would be warmer than standing on the street. She deliberated and eventually agreed. My heart skipped a beat as I thanked God. When we arrived at the church at two minutes to midnight, the asylum seekers were waiting for us on the steps. I was in absolute awe of God. Before we all went inside, I asked everyone if we could pray together. I asked for The Lord’s blessing on each one of these beautiful people, that they would each feel welcome and for the Christ’s peace to rest upon them all. The lady asked if I was a priest and looked surprised when I laughed and said “No.” Sobbing Like a Baby As we walked in, if felt so surreal, I thought that I should pinch myself, I felt so blessed. Only God could have arranged this. I stood with tears in my eyes, thanking God, in absolute awe of His goodness, thanking Him for allowing me to be in His presence with my new group of friends. The gratitude and love in my heart exploded. There was nowhere else in the world, I would rather have been. During reception of Holy Communion, I explained how they could receive a personal blessing from Christ through the priest. The lady said, ‘Look at me. Look at what I am wearing. People will look at me. I can’t go up there’. I told her that if they were truly Christians, they would not judge her, because Jesus exhorted us not to judge, lest we be judged for the sins we are ashamed of. I explained how Jesus came for the sinners, those on the edge of society, the outcasts. He even came to the defence of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). He often ate and drank with tax collectors and prostitutes, assuring her that she was both worthy and welcome. The Muslim man heard our every word and agreed. I told her that the Lord’s eyes were the only eyes that she needed to be conscious of. She went up, sobbing like a baby. If only every person went for a blessing or Holy Communion aware of their own unworthiness and brokenness like this beautiful child of God, we would have a very different church. A priest once told me in Confession; ‘The Church is not an exclusive club for saints, but a hospital for sinners’. Saint Paul also reminds us that ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). ALL of us! As we came back to our seats, she cried again. The asylum seekers and Muslim man also went up to receive Christ’s blessing, through the priest. As I contemplated the reality of Jesus being truly present within me through Holy Communion, I was able to pray with even more love for my companions. The Greatest Gift As The Mass concluded, the priest wished everybody a happy Christmas before the final blessing. In typical, reserved Catholic style, there was not much of a response, apart from one person—my lady friend, who replied, “And a very merry Christmas to you too Father.” Instantly, I beamed with a massive smile and my insides lit up. The priest, almost shocked, smiled and thanked her. As people turned to see who had spoken, she said ‘Well, he said it to us!’. Nobody could deny saying Amen to that. I mentioned in the beginning that this was the most memorable Christmas gift I had received and what an absolute honor, privilege and blessing it was to be with these beautiful human beings that night. Nothing can compare, though, to the very first and greatest gift the whole world received over 2000 years ago, at that very first Christmas—when God Himself took on human flesh to become a helpless baby; when the Light was born into our darkness and the world was changed forever. This is the true message of Christmas; welcoming Jesus into our lives—for the first time or once again. This is the real giving and receiving. Allowing Him to be born inside us, welcoming Him with joy, love, awe, and wonder. He gives Himself to us every moment of every single day. We must hear and respond like the shepherds, who were invited to come and see. After they encountered Jesus, they went away ‘glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard’ (Luke 2:20). We must also be like the angels, God’s messengers, inviting and leading people to discover Jesus for themselves. ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9:2). This Christmas, will you witness to this Light, to those in the darkest of places? The lonely, the depressed, the oppressed, the rejected, the dejected, the forgotten, the lost, the abandoned, the sick, the homeless, the prisoners, the elderly, the orphans and the widows? You may not have to look far. These could be members of your own household or family. It could be as simple as remembering them in your prayers. Or will you put yourself out this Christmas to personally share the greatest gift that anybody could ever wish to receive—the gift of Jesus Christ? Make this your most memorable Christmas for other people, as well as yourself. “We must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35 Let us remind the world that Christmas is about Christ.
Are you worried about the future? Feeling doubtful? Then this inspiring testimony is for you! A Tough Day Sheets of rain pelted the bedroom window like a rhythmic bass drum. I rolled over and peered at the clock. It was 8 in the morning, but the sky was dark as night. Five more minutes, I told myself as I nestled back under my blanket. My 19 year old son would be heading out the door to class in less than thirty minutes. He’d been feeling down and I was worried. Our conversation from the night before played over in my mind. “What’s bothering you? You’ve been moping around for a while now,” I asked. “Everything is bothering me. I wish I’d gone to a different university. This school is not helping me get where I want to go. It’s a waste of time. I botched my high school grades and there’s nothing I can do about it. I should just quit school, go to L.A. and get some real film experience,” he complained. My chest tightened. We’d had similar conversations before. “What happened to the days of apprentices? I need to be an apprentice,” he insisted. He made a lot of sense. Although I was intent on him getting a college degree, I knew that his future was between him and God. Ultimately, he needed to figure it out for himself. My job wasn’t to conform himself to my plans, but to help him to flesh it out for himself. “So, what do you think you should do?” I tentatively enquired, fearing his answer. “I don’t know,” he muttered. I took a deep breath. “You’ll figure it out,” I asserted. My alarm went off. As my son clattered down the stairs, I rose to join him. Hopefully, he was feeling better. “Breakfast?” I offered cheerfully. “No, I’ll pick something up on my way,” he murmured, hardly looking up. “Ugh”, I thought, he’s still down. “Be careful, it’s raining and the roads are slick,” I warned. “I will,” he promised. “Have a good day,” I called after him as he walked out the back door. What Kind of a Christian Am I? I slumped into my comfortable easy chair. The dark sky mirrored my mood. With my heart heavy, my morning prayers were rote. I felt the weight of his angst. His doubt about his future became my doubt. I felt guilty. The struggles of life, marriage and children felt overwhelming. I was down and, on top of that, I felt shame for being down. What kind of a Christian was I really? I should be happy, positive and grateful, but I wasn’t. “Jesus, I am so down, full of doubt and full of shame for my doubt. Forgive me, but this is the truth of how I am feeling,” I whispered. I picked up my devotional and read it. The words penetrated my heart. “Set your standard very high. Aim at conquering the world, the world around you. Just say, ‘Jesus conquers, Jesus saves”—in the face of every doubt, every sin, every evil, every fear. No evil can stand against that for there is ‘No other name under Heaven given among men, whereby men can be saved.’ To every fear of want or lack, ‘Jesus saves from poverty’, to every fear, ‘Jesus saves from fear.’ Do this to every ill and it will vanish, as night when sun rises.” How had I allowed my son’s misery and doubt to become my misery and doubt? I prayed, “Jesus, you know what my son needs, who he is and what you have in store for him. It’s okay that I don’t. You know that although I want to fix it all and make it all better, I can’t. I don’t know anyone in the film industry, but you do. If you want this for him then bring the right people to him. If not, I know you will bring something better about for him. Thank you for using my son’s rough patch for his good and your glory. Forgive me for my unbelief and for doubting your plan and love for him.” With my prayer came my surrender and it lifted my spirits. When Unbelievable Happens That afternoon, as I arrived home and pulled into the driveway, I realized I had inadvertently left the garage door open. Inside the garage, attached to the door into the house was a piece of paper reading, “The Suncoast Film Company is filming a movie on your street tomorrow morning. The street will be blocked off at different times during the day. We will be back in your neighborhood late this afternoon to discuss the details.” I could not believe my eyes! A film company was coming to our street tomorrow! The film company representative rang our doorbell a few hours later and, during our chat, agreed to offer my son a job as an intern. As soon as my son walked in the door, I rushed to give him the news. I recounted the day’s events, including the reading in the devotional and my prayer to Jesus on his behalf. Looking into his eyes, I told him, “Never doubt that Jesus is with you through everything. Praise Him through everything, no matter what. You were made for Him and for His glory. You are part of His plan and He loves you. Every breath you take is proof of that. Tell him everything you feel and everything you want. Then trust in Him to see you through. ” “I will, Mom. I just can’t believe this. It’s incredible! I’m going to be an intern for a movie right here in our street. I’m so excited and stunned by it all,” he exclaimed as he beamed from ear to ear. That internship opened the door for him to freelance throughout college as a production assistant in film and in television. However, the real gift of that experience came before the miracle of the film company’s arrival at my door. It was the words of truth, “To every fear or lack or want, “Jesus saves,” shifting my heart from self-focus, doubt and fear to peace and freedom in Christ. Dear Jesus, I surrender all my anxieties, fears and doubts into your hands. Trusting in your love and mercy I live every moment and look up to you. Reign in my heart O Lord that I may walk in your light and find true freedom and peace. Amen.
Turn on the faucet and water comes out; Flip on a switch and the light goes on; Open the cupboard and find food there! It’s so easy to take things for granted. Giving thanks is an important habit to cultivate. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Saint Paul says, “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” Why does the Lord want us to give thanks in all circumstances? Saint Paul says that the result will be that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard (our) hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” So if you find yourself agitated, worried, anxious, lacking in peace, a very good remedy is to start thanking the Lord for things. I learned some important lessons about gratitude on a walking pilgrimage I went on some years ago. A friend and I set out to walk 180 miles of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. On one of the days we walked about 15 miles and were very ready to stop. Tired, dusty, and hungry, we decided to stay in the next town. However when we got there, we discovered that a big wine festival happening in the area had taken all the available rooms. Not what we wanted to hear! We were exhausted and needed somewhere to sleep that night. After stopping at several more lodgings that were at full occupancy, we were getting desperate. Then someone told us about a place right outside of town that might have space. The man was nice enough to call ahead for us and indeed, they had two beds left in a public dorm. We had to walk another mile or so to reach it, and when we arrived we found the place was dirty and crowded, but we were so grateful for a bed and shelter that we didn’t care or complain. It sure beat sleeping outside on the hard ground with no roof over our head. The next day we walked by a bus station and saw many African refugees waiting to catch buses. What were they escaping? How far had they travelled? We could only imagine the pain and suffering they had endured to reach Spain, and our hearts filled with compassion and empathy for them. Reflecting on this experience, I asked myself, “How often have I thanked God for a bed to sleep in each night?” Not often enough, I realized. The possibility of being deprived of something I usually take for granted, then seeing others in a much worse situation than I have ever been in, made me focus on my blessings and kept me from complaining. My heart felt lighter and more joyful. That led me to thank God for other gifts He has blessed me with, like water. My friend and I also grew to appreciate the gift of water on the pilgrimage. On the Camino you carry water with you in your backpack, and water is quite heavy. But there are stretches along the way where there is no water source available so you need to carry a good supply with you. More than once, we ran low and even ran out of water, and oh how grateful we were when we found a place to refill our containers and quench our thirst. One of the best parts about stopping at the end of the day was the refreshing shower we could take at the hostels we stayed at. Returning home from the pilgrimage, we wanted to retain the habit of giving thanks. Instead of waiting to be deprived of something before we appreciate it, how much better it is to be grateful every day for simple things, for things we usually take for granted. God deserves our praise and gratitude, and when we look for the blessings in our day and give thanks to God for them, the problems and worries that we carry feel lighter and God’s presence and provision come into focus. Gratitude really is the door that opens us to the “peace that surpasses understanding.” Give it a try. What can you thank God for right now?
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