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Nov 12, 2022 187 Ellen Hogarty, USA
Encounter

Walk of Faith: When God Threw Me a Curve Ball

I was about to return home to work and save money for my college education but God had a big surprise for me

When I was a college student many years ago, I went on a mission trip to the Texas/Mexico border to volunteer with Our Lady’s Youth Center and the Lord’s Ranch Community. This lay apostolate, founded by a well-known Jesuit priest, Fr. Rick Thomas, had outreaches to the poor in both Juarez, Mexico and in the slums of El Paso. I had just completed my first year at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and after this 3-week experience of missions, I was to return home for the summer to work and save money, then go back to Ohio to continue my college education. At least, that was my plan. But God had a big surprise for me.

A Radical Departure

During my first week at the Lord’s Ranch, I started getting the uncomfortable sense that the Lord was calling me to stay. I was horrified! I had never been to the desert or experienced dry, swelteringly hot weather. I was born and raised in the tropical paradise of Hawaii surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, palm trees and an abundance of flowers and rain forests. The Ranch, on the other hand, is surrounded by mesquite bushes, tumbleweed, and a parched, semi-arid landscape.

“Lord, you’ve got the wrong person in mind,” I cried out in my prayer. “I could never live here, never hack this life of hard manual labor, no air conditioning, and very few creature comforts. Choose someone else, not me!”But the strong feeling that God was calling me to a radical departure from my carefully planned-out life kept growing in me.

One day in the chapel at the Lord’s Ranch, I received this reading from the book of Ruth:

“I have heard what you have done… you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom previously you did not know. May the Lord reward what you have done! May you receive a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” Ruth 2:12-13

I slammed the Bible shut. I did not like where this was going!

Putting Out the Fleece

After the second week of wrestling with the Lord, I stopped praying. I didn’t like what He was saying. I was sure He had gotten the wrong girl. I was only 18 years old! Too young, too inexperienced, too much of a wimp, not tough enough. My excuses sounded good to me.

So I threw down a fleece (like Gideon did in Judges 6:36ff). “Lord, if you are really serious about this, speak to me through Sister.” Sister Mary Virginia Clark was a Daughter of Charity who co-led the apostolate with Fr. Rick Thomas. She had an authentic gift of prophecy and would share inspired words at the prayer gatherings. That week at the prayer meeting, she stood up and said, “I have a prophecy for the young women from Steubenville.” That got my attention. I don’t remember anything she said, except for the words, “Follow the example of the women in the Old Testament.” Ouch! I thought immediately of the reading in Ruth I had received in prayer.

“Okay, Lord. This is getting too real.” So out comes another fleece: “If you are really serious, have Sister Mary Virginia say something to me directly.” There, I thought. That should end it.

Sister used to speak individually with all the visitors who came through the Lord’s Ranch, so it was not unusual that she asked to meet with me that weekend. We had a nice chat, with her asking me about my family, my background, what led me to the Ranch, etc. She said a prayer at the end of our conversation, and I got up to leave. “Whew, dodged a bullet,” I was thinking, when suddenly she asked, “Have you ever thought about staying here?”

My heart sank. I couldn’t respond so just nodded yes. All she told me was, “I’ll pray for you.” And I sadly walked out the door.

I went outside to get some air. I headed for the small, man-made lake at the Lord’s Ranch. I had grown up on an island surrounded by the ocean so to be near water was always comforting and familiar to me. This small catfish-stocked pond was an oasis in the desert where I could sit and soothe my troubled soul.

I cried, I pleaded, I argued with the Lord, trying to convince Him that there really had been some divine mix-up. “I know you’ve got the wrong person, God. I don’t have what it takes to live this life.”

Silence. The sky as if bronzed. No movement or stirring.

When the Scales Fell

Sitting there alone by the peaceful water, fluffy white clouds floating overhead, I calmed down. I started to reflect on my life. I had always felt close to God since I was a little girl. He was my closest friend, my confidante, my rock. I knew He loved me. I knew He had my best interests at heart and would never harm me in any way. I also knew that I wanted to do whatever He asked, no matter how distasteful it was.

So I grudgingly gave in. “Okay, God. You win. I’ll stay.”

At that point I heard in my heart, “I don’t want a resignation. I want a cheerful, joyful yes.”

“What! Now you’re pushing it, Lord! I just gave in, but that’s not enough?”

More silence. More inner struggle.

Then I prayed for the desire to be here — something I had avoided asking for all this time. “Lord, if this is truly Your plan for me, please give me the desire for it.” Instantly, I felt like roots shoot out of my feet, grounding me solidly here, and I knew I was home.

This was home. This was where I was meant to be. Unasked for, unwanted, unattractive to my human senses. Not at all in my script for my life, but God’s choice for me.

As I continued to sit there, it was as if scales fell from my eyes. I started seeing the beauty in the desert — the mountains that frame the Lord’s Ranch, the desert plants, the wild ducks that were sharing this watering hole with me that evening. Everything looked so different, so striking to me.

I got up to leave knowing that there had been a dramatic shift in me. I was a different person — with a new perspective, a new purpose, a new mission. This was to be my life. Time to start embracing it and living it to the full.

That was 40 years ago. My life has been nothing like I envisioned it would be in my teen years. God’s plan for me swerved in a dramatically different direction than I thought I was going in. But I am so glad and grateful that I followed His path and not mine. I’ve been stretched and pulled way out of my comfort zone and what I thought I was capable of; and I know the challenges and lessons are not over yet. But the people I’ve met, the deep friendships I’ve formed, the experiences I’ve had, the skills I’ve learned, have enriched me far beyond what I thought was possible. And even though I initially resisted God and His crazy plan for my life, now I can’t imagine living any other way.

What a full, vibrant, challenging, and joy-filled life it has been! Thank You, Jesus.

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Ellen Hogarty

Ellen Hogarty is a spiritual director, writer and full-time missionary with the Lord’s Ranch Community in New Mexico. She blogs at cacklescorner.com.

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