"I have a Story... I think about this story on a daily basis and it is the reason that I have been able to maintain my faith."
“I have a Story.” This phrase is written on the back of our Move A Mountain Mission shirts. In the two weeks I’ve spent in Jamaica, I’ve gained more stories than I can count. In 2018, when I visited for the first time, there was a resident at Sophie’s Place named Donovan. Donovan was one of the only mobile residents at Sophie’s Place. The first night I arrived he immediately came and gave me a hug. Throughout that week, Donovan and I only grew closer. He cannot speak, but we communicated through me speaking and him responding in nods or grunts. Donovan often liked to come into the chapel when we were in there praying. One night, during adoration, Donovan came in and sat in my lap. As I sat there with him in my arms, rocking him back and forth, I started to cry. I looked at the Blessed Sacrament and all I could think was “Thank you, thank you, thank you” over and over. It was the first time I’d ever truly felt connected with God. I think about this moment on a daily basis and it’s the reason that I’ve been able to maintain my faith. I think about that story on a daily basis and it is the reason that I have been able to maintain my faith.
"For the first time in 16 years I began to feel like I was slowly reaching a type of inner peace. I put my faith in this peace, and trusted that if the Lord could bring me such an amazing change in just one day, that there was more to come in my remaining days in Jamaica."
As much as I love and respect Him, God and I never really see eye to eye. I’ve been asking him for years to open a new door or write a new chapter in my life, only to wake up every day and go through the same old routine. I never could have guessed my new chapter would begin on a humid little island 1,500 miles away from my comfort zone.
I had always imagined my first time outside of the country to be exactly how you see it on those adorably organized travel blogs: a completely picture-perfect, pain-free step into a bigger and better place, better than the boring little town I live in. Instead, I woke up that day unable to eat, sick with anxiety. My dread was only sinking deeper in my gut as I went on: struggling to reach my crinkled passport so I could shove it into the impatient hands of someone at customs, tripping over my suitcase, sweating in places I didn’t think I could sweat, and overall just making a fool of myself in front of the cool and collected travel-expert Caroline Walker. I was a mess. I spent the entire first hour of the flight to Atlanta sobbing into my sweatshirt, completely doubting everything that had lead up to that moment. I kept asking, “God, you called me to serve you, so why am I so afraid? Why did you choose me? Are you sure I’m good enough? Why are you letting me be so full of fear?” As usual, God didn’t answer right away, and He didn’t answer in the way I’d expect.
You see, God kept quiet the entire flight to Jamaica. He kept quiet the night we arrived as well. He kept quiet as I unpacked, chose a bunk, and as I attempted to sleep through the bass-boosted reggae-on-steroids. I was furious, wondering why He sent me completely into the unknown if He wasn’t at least going to provide some sort of answer.
I miraculously woke up that first morning on time and managed to be one of the first ones out to help feed the kids. I stumbled out of the common area and down the stairs into the soupy Jamaican morning, still pretty unsure about what was to come. This is going to sound cliché, but the moment I stepped into the sun and saw the colorful little houses full of kids against the mountains and the blue sky, something inside of me stopped for a moment. All of the doubt and fear I had been holding on to dissipated, and somewhere in my heart something whispered “this is where you belong.” So I did what that I know how to do best: I pulled back my hair, took a breath, and fell in love with each and every child I encountered. I fell in love with their wide eyes, their crooked limbs, their faces covered with food. I fell in love with Tiara’s voice and Donovan’s hugs and Raheem’s little hand holding mine, with Jovan’s smile and Africa’s laughter. I rocked Shanice in my arms, singing to her softly and stroking her face, knowing that even though she couldn’t see me, her breathtaking smile showed all the love in the world. For the first time in 16 years I began to feel like I was slowly reaching a type of inner peace. I put my faith in this peace, and trusted that if the Lord could bring me such an amazing change in just one day, that there was more to come in my remaining days in Jamaica.
As I had predicted, my happiness and faith only increased with each passing day. Every inconvenience that came along with being on the trip only made me enjoy my experience more, because I knew that instead of staying in some gated resort, I was experiencing real Jamaican culture. Every bug bite, cold shower and sweat-soaked tee shirt was worth the love and freedom I was beginning to be filled with as our trip went on. I found myself breathless and at a loss for words many times as we traveled to each Mustard Seed Community. Every resident we met had their own unique personality, yet they all were so welcoming of us, a group of strange white foreigners coming into their homes. As strange as we could have seemed, by the end of each day we all laughed and talked and love like we were family or friends who had known each other for years. I’ve never felt more accepted anywhere than I have at each of the sites we visited. I felt immediately at home, something I’ve never once felt before, not even in my own house. I felt like I had a reason for waking up each day, and I felt fulfilled when my head hit the pillow each night. I woke up every day for the first time in my life wanting to go and live and laugh and love.
I went to confession when we were in adoration, and after talking to some of the college leaders, they challenged me to go face to face with Father Chris. I entered the room, shaking, but once I sat down and Father smiled at me I eased right in like I was talking to an old friend. In a way, I think I was. God was the old friend, and we were sitting and having a conversation. I’d never felt that before, such a strong presence. I began to confess and everything just came spilling out of me, tears were streaming down my face, I was sobbing and probably had snot all over my face (not that Father cared, I’m sure). There was one moment, though, when I noticed Father had a tear in his eye, too. He told me something I will never forget. He said he felt joy from my tears, because he could see so clearly my love for Christ and Christ’s love for me. He told me that sometimes when he does Reconciliation, he gets visions of certain things. He described his vision to me: the image of Christ’s Divine Mercy, with Jesus standing in the dark, rays of light pouring out of his heart. There isn’t a day that passes where I don’t think about that moment, I still get chills as I think about it now.
I’ve been home for a few days now, and everyone who I see tells me how something about me looks different, how I have a certain glow that wasn’t there before. I know that something happened over the course of those 5 days spent in Jamaica, something that has completely changed who I am as a person and as a daughter of Christ. I will forever be grateful that the Lord inspired me to use my faith the size of a mustard seed to move the mountains in my life.