Tag Archives: Love

Why We Minister: Kayla August

Kayla August, Assistant Director of Evangelization

As he hobbled toward the obstacle course with certain confidence, I realized “why I minister.”

This camper was a boy about 10 years old.   I had first met him a few days before, as his parents checked-in him, his bags, and his brother at the camp drop off location.  The father carried his son’s crutches, wrapped in army duct tape, as this camper cautiously walked up to the camp check-in location.

“You want us to put these under the bus with his luggage?”  I questioned, as his father handed us the crutches along with his suitcases. It seemed to me that if someone took the time to bring crutches, they must want to use them.

“He shouldn’t need them,” his father responded, “they are here just in case.”

At that point, I noticed this camper’s metal leg complete with tennis shoe as he strode away to join the other kids in the main lobby. His name was Dylan, and I later learned that he had lost his leg only a few months before and was in the transitional period of learning to walk in a new way.

This was not a jarring moment because this encounter is not unusual for the camps I work for in the summer.  Camp Pelican, a camp for kids with pulmonary diseases, and Camp Challenge, a camp for kids with Cancer, Sickle cell, and other blood disorders, have become a regular part of my summers. For these campers, the result of these ailments is not only the loss of health but the loss of other things kids are not prepared for: hair, the ability to walk, and the general security of being a “normal” kid. The awkward innocence that is prevalent in most prepubescent’s is replaced with adult considerations like the reality that life may not only be different from that of their peers, but shorter as well.  

When I first started working these camps 13 years ago, I realized that this week gives these kids what their hearts desire most. Not a cure, but that sense of normalcy that the disease takes away in their day-to-day life. The opportunity to not stand out in the crowd but to just “fit in.”

Kayla August, second from right, pictured after the “Stormtrooper Training” course

After an early morning preparing for a new day of camp, I set up an obstacle course for a Star Wars themed morning of physical activities. This course designed as “stormtrooper training” was compiled of tunnels to crawl through, crates to hop over, chairs to dart around, round tire-like objects to step through, and it ended with a Jenga block minefield that was only complete if you passed through it with all blocks standing unmoved.

The majority of male campers that came to the course that day rushed through the course with glee. In fact, it quickly became an intense competition for each one reaching the end asking, “what was my time,” in an attempt to be the best of the day! As each camper went through, I did my part to keep them pumped and excited using their competitive nature as a way to keep them motivated throughout the hour.

But, in my morning effort of creating a course brimming with kid intensity, I had not considered Dylan. When Dylan approached, we started the time as usual. Then, I quickly realized that this was an endeavor where the lowest time was not the prize but completion was the victory.

Accuracy was Dylan’s goal. Dylan started out slowly on the course placing his legs in each “tire” and the determinedly crawling through the tunnel ahead. He was determined but not hasty. As the goal of completion became the forefront, one of his counselors yelled “Go Dylan!” and the boys in his group turned to watch and cheer on their friend. The room was at a standstill, and all eyes were on Dylan as he made his way through the course. While it had previously been a competition, Dylan’s victory would be a win for everyone.

The slow rise of his name first crept in from the voices of the campers behind me…“Dyl-an! Dyl-an! Dyl-an! Dylan!” Then, his name echoed from the mouths of his group mates and his counselors as he steadily walked around the chairs meant for darting, walking over the crates meant for hopping and made his way through the “minefield’ without dropping a single Jenga block. As he crossed the finish line, there was no time called out as before. There was no need. He’d won more than a reduced time. He’d won a greater victory, and with this, he beamed as he noticed no difference between the friends that went before him and his completion of the course. His goal was accuracy and he achieved it with a room of fans cheering his name.

It was this moment that I realized this camp, which I’ve been a part of for almost half my life, was a ministry, and a beautiful one at that! While creating costumes, skits, and activities for the week long sleep over camp experience, I was also sharing with the kids the love of God, and that love is powerful.

For me, ministry has always been about that love. The Christian community contains a family that loves us for exactly who we are, a love that calls us to more than what we thought we could, and a faith that reminds us that we are capable of miracles if we let that love guide us.

Kayla walking with students as she ministers

This is why I minister. That love gives us courage. It gives us hope. It propels us. It gives us the power to complete the obstacle course of life with smiles on our faces and cheers in our hearts. Camp isn’t the only place people encounter the struggles of life. It’s all around us. Our society is filled with hardships, poverty, crime, illness, natural disasters, broken relationships, unhealthy attachments, and unearned struggles that people face which are far from fair but are actualities nonetheless. When a student comes before me in tears dealing with the hardships of life, I am the reminder of God’s love. A reminder that God hasn’t left them, but is instead holding their hand through the Jenga minefield of their day to day struggles. In ministry, Christ is the one screaming their name and I get to cheer them on along the way. I get to be there as they realize the beauty of what God made them to be.

That moment with Dylan reminded me that I’m not just a part of a camp community but a church family and that the power of love and support has been a motivating force in my life. Everyone is welcome to that family, and as Dylan made his way through the obstacle course, the kingdom of God manifested in a way that brought to life a clear vision of the world. One where a pure love was the ultimate unifying source. A world we all want to live in. A world that we were meant for.

Thirteen years ago, this view of the kingdom motivated me to make the whole world that small campsite in southern Louisiana. It showed me what the radical love of Christ can do. Everyone was invited to share in that love and receive the hope it brings.

As the Assistant Director of Evangelization, it’s my job to share that love.  Evangelizing is being able to spread the good news. That this love is for everyone! In my ministerial life, my goal is that everyone comes to know the power of that love. I’m reminded of this as I read the gospels and see the revolutionary way in which Jesus’ love touched and changed the hearts of those he encountered. In fact, after his resurrection, Christians risked death to preach of this life-changing love. The love that not only made the blind see or the lame walk, but also called people to walk away from all they knew to follow a new path of hope.

With each student I encounter, I mirror that love of Christ, so that they may experience it as I have. That inner awakening that resounds in the soul. The love that affirms who we are now and have always been while still calling us to more. The love that unites us all. It is an open invitation that I have the privilege to share, and I watch as that transforming love changes the lives of the students before me. In ministry, I’m blessed to witness the miracles that come from that radical love and also to be the vessel to bring it to those in need.

That love is God. It’s why we’re here. It brings us to life. It keeps us moving forward. It gives us hope. It’s why I minister.

Why We Minister: Mary Olen

Mary Olen, Administrative Assistant, Retreat Administrative Coordinator

Why do I stay up watching one more episode of Fargo when I have to work in the morning? Why do I eat that third piece of chicken when I was full after the second piece?  Why did I offer to write this blog when I despise writing?  Those are the difficult questions!   Why we minister?  That is much easier.

Tender, Strong and True // Freshman Retreat

Leaving Martin’s supermarket, I have a trunk full of groceries and two kids strapped into the backseat. As I pull out onto Elwood Street heading home, I notice a young woman struggling to juggle groceries and a toddler while standing at the bus stop. I pull up to the curb and ask if she would like a ride. She eagerly and gratefully accepts. We make room to pack them into our little Saturn wagon. Driving several miles to the west-side on Indiana Avenue, she points to the building where I should pull over.  Mentioning how far she has to travel to grocery shop, she tells me the commute takes her downtown where she transfers buses. The block we are on is not residential and she motions to a door on the side street.  We gather her bags and trudge up the stairs which empties into a single dingy room above an abandoned business front.  There is one wooden table with 2 chairs, a bed, and a sink. I am ready to drop the groceries and get the heck out of there as she reaches for a bible from the bed and tells me how she is trying to get her life together.  She has done a lot of drugs in the past and knows that she needs to stop. Calling me an angel, she believes that God sent me to help her that day.  I laugh and tell her I am about as far from an angel as there could be but that I was happy I could be of some help.  “Keep praying,” I say “I will pray for you, too.”

Days later, my daughter asked why I picked up a person on the street that I did not know.  I told her it was because she seemed like she needed help and I felt sorry for her.  As soon as the words were leaving my lips, memories shot back into my mind: my mom taking prepared meals to elderly neighbors, buying extra groceries for a single mom who lived in a rundown house at the end of the alley- witnessing those acts of kindness made a deep impression on me.  Are we born with compassion or are we taught compassion?  Is caring and compassion what fuels our desire to minister?  Did 12 years of Catholic education make a difference? I believe yes is the answer.     

The Plunge // African-American Freshman Retreat

The awesome part of ministering is that it often has a retroactive effect.  I left the apartment of a stranger I helped and it made me more humble, more grateful, more present and alive to all the blessings in my life.  “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.” My encounter with a stranger ministered to my children.  You do not need an invitation to assist.  Ministering is just aiding someone in need or just sitting still for someone who needs a listening ear.  We do it every day.  Why?  Well, that depends on who you are.  

So, here I am in Campus Ministry.  I am not a minister by definition.  I do not hold an MDiv., not even a minor in Theology.  As an Administrative Assistant, I minister all day long: to students, to the staff I support, to the people who just drop by because they are visiting campus. But, that is my job. I believe that the true ministering is done with perfect strangers, not expecting anything out of the ordinary who are suddenly given a smile, a hello, a ride as they are standing in the rain waiting for a bus, or given a place in line at the store because they look like they’re in a hurry.  Each of these people are being noticed.  In that small instance of acknowledgment, they feel loved. Isn’t that what everyone really wants?  We seek to minister because we love and we are able to minister because we have witnessed it.  Amen.

Falling In Love

John Lee, Senior

During my freshman year at Notre Dame, I knew exactly what I would be doing after graduation. I had my entire life figured out. Looking back, it’s curious to see that the farther away I was from graduating, the surer I had been about what I would do afterwards. And now, as a senior, the closer I am to graduating (knock on wood), the more uncertain I have become. Go figure.

Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame
Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame

Let me give you a glimpse of what my time at Notre Dame looked like, and the rollercoaster of a ride I gave my academic advisor during these years. I entered as a Psychology/ Pre-Med student, dropped Psychology, picked up Political Science, dropped Pre-Med, picked up Philosophy as a minor, picked up Italian as a supplementary major (because, why not?), picked up Theology as a minor, raised Theology to a major, was irked that Political Science did not have a minor, dropped Italian as a supplementary major, was accepted to the Hesburgh Program in Public Service minor, dropped Theology back to a minor, raised Philosophy to a major, dropped Theology all together, and dropped the Hesburgh Program to finally be the Philosophy and Political Science double major that I am today.

Amidst the craze of what could accurately be called my academic shopping splurge at Notre Dame, dreams of my future came and went, rose and fell like the tides of an ocean. I had set my sights on going to medical school, becoming a neurosurgeon, and discovering the cure for Alzheimer’s; going to graduate school for International Relations, joining the Foreign Services, unraveling the enigma that is North Korea, and becoming the next Secretary General of the United Nations; working in public policy, serving as the Chief-of-Staff to a future President of the United States, and being elected Speaker of the House; earning my Ph.D., and teaching philosophy to students at a small Catholic university.

The list goes on, but one can only change one’s major so many times before worrying one’s parents to death… And now that the day of reckoning draws near, I have never been more unsure of what the next step in my life should be. Sure, I can convince everyone I have my life in order with the elevator pitch I’ve memorized over the years. But that pitch is more to reassure myself I have my life figured out so I don’t lose my cool. Because frighteningly enough, this next step seems like it will largely determine the course of the rest of my life. And if that isn’t a daunting thought, then I’ve never had one.

“What if I apply to the wrong job, or accept the wrong offer?” Or perhaps: “What if I don’t get hired, or get accepted to the law school or the graduate school of my dreams?” Or even more seriously, “After all this time and energy, what if medical school just isn’t for me?” Or: “What if he or she isn’t the one?”

With all of these doubts and uncertainties swirling around in my head like a tornado, I was thrown into a bout of anxiety and despair. “What am I doing with my life? What am I going to do?”

Sometimes, I just want to let go, give up, and run off into the sunset, escaping this stressful world and eloping with destiny.

And it is at these moments that I feel the most with Frodo Baggins of the Shire who, in his own despair on his perilous quest to destroy the Ring, found himself saying, “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

I especially feel this way when I occasionally catch myself day-dreaming about life on a farm 300 years ago. I picture myself rising from bed with the sun, breathing in the crisp and refreshing morning air, working the land with nothing but fresh soil between my toes, and drinking the ice cold water from the chortling creek nearby. I dream of watching the radiant sunset dip between the great sycamore trees and behind the grand mountain range beyond after a hard day’s work, and laying under a black tapestry of stars shimmering with songs and stories of heroes and monsters weaved meticulously into the fabric of the night by the ever-flowing fingers of Time.

And sometimes, I daydream of being a dog, and having absolutely nothing on my mind except Kibbles, good belly rubs, and the consistency of squirrel droppings at the park. The unexamined life is a life free of stress and obstacles.

But even in this despair of wishing none of these things had happened in life, Gandalf reassures Frodo: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we must decide is what to do with the time that is given us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”

It truly is an encouraging thought to know that we are meant to be where we are now, and that every step we take forward is essential to the grand scheme. But the path to our final destination, is it right or left? Corporate finance or management consulting? Medical school or service work? To Orgo, or not to Orgo?

April 11, 2012; Sacred Heart Jesus statue and tulips in Main "God" Quad. Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame
Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame

Whenever I begin to drown in these potential scenarios or “would have, could have, should haves,” I am reminded of a simple yet beautiful prayer by Jesuit priest, Fr. Pedro Arrupe:

“Nothing is more practical than finding God,
than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

The great secret to our vocation lies in what we secretly love greatly. So to all my fellow anxious and despairing Domers out there: fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.