Monthly Archives: November 2018

My Little Runaway

Selwin Wainaina, Senior Anchor Intern – Multicultural Ministry

At times, an image comes to mind. An image I saw some years ago that depicted a man walking.  While walking, he was hit in the head with a stone. After being smitten, he turned around both hurt and angry and screamed “Why God? Why?!” At that moment, he looked up and saw God shielding him from a conglomerate of boulders. God then looks back and says “I’m sorry, did I miss one? Are you alright?” Although this image itself shows doubt, that isn’t what spoke to me about the picture.

Have you ever heard God described as your “friend,” your “father,” your “rock,” or another familiar term? Often we view God as a father that watches over us or a friend who we can trust and confide in fully…. Well, I have definitely had points in my life where I wanted to challenge this idea. “How can I confide in God as a friend, if he already knows everything that I have done, will do and simply thought of doing?” and “If he truly is my heavenly father, doesn’t he want what’s best for me? Why does he keep letting all of these things happen to me? Why does he let me fall? Does he care enough about me to intervene? Where is he when I need him?” and “How can he be my rock and my fortress when he allows so much evil to come into my life and knock me off balance?” These are honest questions that I’ve had in my faith. Maybe you have asked similar questions that challenged the commonly given praises that God receives. Whenever I asked these questions, I would always find myself running far away from God. I would run as far as I could, doing whatever I wanted and surrendering myself to the forces of the world instead of his will. Through these questions, I experienced doubt in the power of God.

Growing up, I was constantly taught in church to never doubt God, his love, and his power over everything. I was taught that this doubt meant that I did not trust God and that even if I did not understand him or his ways, I was to follow after him in ignorance if necessary. It wasn’t until college where I learned how healthy doubt truly is. Through doubt, we are truly able to grow closer to God. Through these questions, I have been able to see that I can confide in God as a friend because when I honestly have no one else to talk to, I can talk to him. And he does want what is best for me, even when what I think is best for me doesn’t exactly line up with God’s will. The pebbles that escape his impenetrable fortress were meant to make me tougher. He allows these hard, rough-edged trials to come into my life to make me better than I was before. They are meant to teach me new lessons. Lessons of humility, of conviction, of pain, of loss, of strength, of patience, and of love. It is honestly these moments where we have been stricken and have run so far away from God, that we are honestly the closest to him. In these points of weakness and vulnerability, I have grown to depend on his strength to get me through the trials. It is through these times that I have felt the most alone that I could call on his name and he is present for me. I initially think that because he allowed that one stone to hit me, I was running further and further away from him, but in all actuality, I just ended up running right back to him.

I may not have gotten everything I wanted in life or had the easiest 21 years of living, but he gave me everything I needed. Who am I to say that he hasn’t? I’m alive, aren’t I? All my needs are met, aren’t they? And he still loves me unconditionally…and there’s no need to question that. He has truly been the best friend I’ve ever had, even when I felt that I had none. He has been the only father that I have truly known throughout my whole life. He is the rock that keeps me grounded and the fortress that keeps me safe. I think that now I understand that when those stones make it to me and knock me off of my feet, that it was his doing and it isn’t a deficiency of his power, but a flex of his strength that he wants to instill in me. I’m not saying that I won’t try to run away in the future, but at least now I know that eventually, I will run right back into him.

Seeing God Through Hard Times

Nohemi Toledo, Senior Anchor Intern – Multicultural Ministry

Looking back at the past two years, the journey of the end of my father’s life, I cannot believe how much God has blessed me with. I recognize that in the beginning of the journey, my faith and trust in the Lord was not as strong as it has become. I’ve learned to listen, pay attention, and honor what is valuable day-to-day.

During the fall of my third year, my father began acting in a strange manner and no one knew the cause of it. His actions lead to mistrust and a rocky relationship with my mother. In order to help them, when I came home for Christmas break, my family prayed a novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots.

On the seventh day we were unable to enter into the chapel where we had been praying the novena. So, we prayed in the van. As we finished, my mom saw the parish priest heading to the chapel and she followed him. My mom began to tell him what had been going on with my dad; the mood swings, the sleeping, and the exhaustion. The priest’s suggestion was to take my dad to urgent care. Odd suggestion. My mom comes back into the van and asks me, “Should we go get groceries as planned or should we go to urgent care?” I responded to her that he was fine and we should just go get groceries. She did what her gut was leading her to do and we went to urgent care.

During this time, I had trust that the Lord would help my parents and mend their relationship. Although I had faith in this, I was not listening to where the Lord was asking my mom and I to go. To trust in the signs and pay attention to what was truly important.

At urgent care, the doctor saw the same thing that I did, there was nothing wrong with my dad. My mom noticed that half of his face was droopy. Once she pointed this out, I began noticing it as well. Once the doctor could see it, too, he said that we needed to go to the emergency room because my father could potentially have had a stroke.

I had never experienced how overwhelming it is to enter the hospital off of an ambulance. There was so much going on at once that I didn’t know where to focus my attention. Everyone was speaking at once; nurses from the ambulance and those with my dad were asking questions, the social worker as well, and my dad who had no idea what was going on. I was answering their questions, translating for my dad, and looking to see where my mom was. Once things finally calmed down, my mom and I were moved into the waiting room. In this overwhelming and confusing moment I recognized how God allowed me to have peace and clarity in the moments I needed to respond.

My dad went in for a CT scan and an MRI, but with it being so late at night we had to wait until morning for the results. On Christmas Eve, I remember walking into the hospital room where the doctor told us the MRI showed that my dad had two tumors in his brain. This shattered my heart. My dad had two tumors in his brain. This explains the sleeping, the anger, and the reason why he wasn’t himself. This was day eight of the novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots.

The next hour, day, weeks, months, were some of the most difficult, but best times I had with my family.

 Nohemi pictured with her father on their trip to Chicago
Nohemi pictured with her father during their trip to Chicago

My father went through chemotherapy. He was doing really well at first, but then the treatments were no longer affecting the tumor. After the chemotherapy, he went in for radiation. Throughout these treatments I was on call. At any moment a call from my family could come in and I would answer. Mainly to translate, but at times it would be my father who had nothing to do in the hospital but wait, so he wanted to talk. I remember sitting outside my classes in tears because I couldn’t be beside him during those times. God had placed me where I needed to be throughout this entire journey. The more I listened to the Lord in prayer it became more clear as to what I needed to do.

As the following school year was starting up we received news that the radiation was not working and the tumor was growing. I returned home for the following appointments. I remember being in the hospital and there wasn’t a translator present. The doctor told us that my father had at most three months to live. I then, without thinking too much of what the doctor had just said, translated to my family in Spanish. I will never forget the moment my mom turned to me hoping that she had heard the doctor incorrectly and then telling her that what she heard was correct.

For the next couple of months my family did anything my dad wanted. We went to Chicago for a weekend, my parents renewed their 25th anniversary vows, and there was a lot of ice cream that was eaten. These memories are so wonderful and full of love, joy, and hope.

Nohemi's family celebrating her parents' 25th anniversary
Nohemi’s family celebrating her parents’ 25th anniversary

I was sitting in office hours when I received a call that my dad was getting worse as the day progressed. This was the last time I heard his voice. I remember speaking to a family friend who was taking care of him and she asked me, “When are you coming home?” I told her that my plan was to leave the next morning because I had to work that night. Then the follow up question of “How early?” I told her I could leave in that moment if I needed to – so I did.

Let me tell you how wild and full of the Holy Spirit these next moments were. I got off the phone, headed to let my professor know that I was heading home and was probably not going to submit the assignment on time. I text my friend to see if I could potentially borrow her car in that moment and she said she had just arrived back to campus and would meet up with me to give me the key. Obviously not being in the perfect mindset to drive, I called a good friend to see if he would drive me home. No answer. I text him that I would be heading home because my dad isn’t doing well. Luckily, he steps out of class and said he would meet up with me to drive me home. All of this happened within 5 to 10 minutes of deciding that I needed to leave immediately. The Holy Spirit was incredibly present and I calmed down as everything fell into place.

I made it home in time to be with my father for a couple more hours. I am so grateful that my family was able to be there. Even in those last moments, God allowed my youngest brother to fall asleep as my dad was taking his last breath.

Through this journey I have been able to grow in my relationship with God and to recognize my encounters with Him . God is present every single moment, every single day. Know that God is with you when your world or heart shatters and He will never leave your side.

Descanse en paz papá. In loving memory of Francisco Javier Toledo.

Finding Goodness in the Chaos

Senior Anchor Intern, Katherine Smith – Sacramental Prep & Catechesis 

As the days grow shorter and I begin to pull out my boots and scarves on these late fall days, I feel my whole approach to the semester shifting. Anticipation for home—for Thanksgiving with family and Christmas in Minnesota—has set in. At the same time, almost as if these holidays are the winter hibernation that ensue fall semester, I find myself frantically trying to prepare for and accomplish all that must happen between now and Christmas break. I mean, suddenly I feel a surprising association with our squirrel friends trying to fatten up for winter as I wonder if I’ll have enough flex points to see me through another month of research papers and tests! Needless to say, I find my thoughts and life patterns becoming more and more narrowly focused and closing in upon themselves—really, patterns of survival in the chaos. The endless to-do lists that threaten to overwhelm my thoughts during Mass or prayer, the reminders from friends that I’ve forgotten to spend time with them, or the lack of wonder at the glories of burning fall foliage as I hurriedly traverse campus speak to the all-consuming nature of this mentality. What I myself need to do for me becomes the mantra. But, with this mindset, I know I am closing off what is most important. Where is the space to hear God speak? To recognize His presence in another? To receive and share His Goodness?

In the midst of this hibernation preparation, if not for the questions from friends and acquaintances across campus about my fall break, I might have easily forgotten that only two weeks ago I was on pilgrimage in Rome during the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. With a dozen other Notre Dame students I had the privilege of experiencing the Church through the beauty of Rome’s churches, art, and legacy of the saints and opening myself up to the broader reality of the universal Church.

Church of San Gregorio in Rome
Church of San Gregorio in Rome

As we engaged the Synod as youth, I was reminded that despite the great brokenness of the Church it still offers me the greatest of gifts in and through Christ. I left Rome knowing that Christ pours out His Goodness so totally in the sacramental life of the Church and my responsibility as a member of the Body of Christ is to receive and then share the Goodness of Christ with everyone I encounter. Much of this realization came from my one duty during the Synod pilgrimage: to reflect on the transcendental virtue of Goodness in my own life. As I began to reflect on Goodness and write about my experience, God called me to look back at something so different than—so utterly opposed to—the safe and self-preserving attitudes I find myself slipping into now. I needed to concretely put into words what C.S. Lewis’s quote about God, “I am not safe, but I am good,” means. I needed to remember my experiences in Kolkata, India during an ISSLP two summers ago …

“Immediately upon arriving in Kolkata to serve with the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order of sisters, immense suffering and destitution confronted me. I cried out to God, “Where is the goodness here? Where is Your joy?” The suffering around me seemed devoid of life and hope. Yet, when I wanted to run, I found Jesus waiting, asking me to enter into this poverty—and not only another’s poverty, but my own.            

The call to rest in Christ’s poverty became a continual ache inside of me—one of both longing and utter loathing. I wanted to see the goodness in his poverty, but it hurt. I knew it meant letting my own heart be broken up, just like the women and children whom I served. Would I let my heart be broken to see His Goodness?

That’s what Mother Teresa proposed, but I didn’t necessarily want to listen. Before Kolkata, I thought Mother Teresa and I were friends. In Kolkata, I just felt like she was picking on me the whole time. Her words about sacrifice and her example of poverty are beautiful but living them out proved far more difficult than I expected. If I wanted to respond to them, I had to change. Yet, she invited me to sit at the foot of the Cross—in prayer and through being with the women and children in their suffering—and hear Jesus’s call of “I thirst.” In doing so I began to learn to turn into the depths of poverty of both the women and children I served, and of myself—and really of Christ. This felt like throwing all caution and safety to the winds, but Jesus showed me that His goodness isn’t my own control of safety or my own desire for comfort. Goodness is not safe as I know it, but it is the surety of Christ’s protective arms stretched out on the Cross for me and for all of us: it is His sacrificial love.

Slowly, through my work and prayer in Kolkata, the pure goodness of His sacrificial love began to overwhelm me. Despite the immense poverty around me, Goodness appeared. It became manifest in the smiles of the women, in the giggles of the children, in the commitment of the sisters and volunteers, and in the presence of the Eucharist. Because of this Goodness, out of the suffering I found a deeper joy. This joy is hidden deep in the wound of Christ’s side, but being taken up into the poverty of that wound means being close—so incredibly close—to Jesus in all that we do.”

Jesus, giver of all good gifts
Jesus, giver of all good gifts

In these final weeks of the semester, I often forget that Christ calls me to be close to Him first. I forget that this closeness to Christ paradoxically entails not a closed off, self-preserving attitude, but an openness to the greater reality of a life beyond myself and my seemingly pressing needs. Kolkata and Rome remind me of what is important and also call me to examine how I am overlooking this importance in my daily life. I really don’t need to look far to realize how I can enter into relationship with Christ and others now. All it takes is simply looking up and looking out to receive friends and classmates in their own struggles and joys, to be grateful for leafy reflections on the lakes, and to remember that God wants to meet me in prayer and the sacraments now, not in December when hibernation preparations have ended. Ultimately, I know, trying to make it to the end of the semester unscathed, complete, and well-preserved through keeping my tunnel vision in place will not lead to a place of light, life and wholeness. As Kolkata revealed to me, our hearts don’t work like that. Rather, precisely in the small sacrifices of being present to the people around us and in recognizing the goodness of our time right here and now, even when chaotic, will our daily struggles be transformed into a beautiful journey with Christ.