#Medjugorje

Apparently I am hopeless once I have no one to mother.

No more than a day after my mom got back on her plane to America did I miss not one, but TWO trains therefore missing my ferry to Croatia. The plans I had carefully set went flying into the trash can.

After spending about half an hour disappointingly scouring Google for alternate travel plans, the light at the end of the tunnel appeared. I booked a flight for the morning and bought my ticket back to Rome for the night. One perk of my previous job was the points earned while spending almost of every week in a hotel. Using those points I stayed within walking distance of the airport. God has a way of granting you little joys if you have the heart to be grateful for them. That night I slept on a bed rather than the floor of a ferry, took a hot bath, and used products actually designed for hair, like conditioner instead of body wash.

After the morning breakfast buffet, one flight, and two buses; I had successfully added four stamps to my passport and was finally in Medjugorje!

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Only 7 hours later than my original plan, so things were back on track, praise the sweet baby Jesus who was looking out for me. I quickly walked into a hotel once I was in sight of the church, dropped my bags and followed the sound of prayers being blasted over loudspeakers all around the church. This wonderful sound led me to adoration behind the church.

I wandered further behind adoration following the masses to the back parking lot. There were five large scale mosaics of the luminous mysteries of the rosary along this path. These are reflections on Jesus’ life, the mysteries of light!

Further along the route I saw green bushes that seemed to be drawing in many of the other people. And there in the middle of a star shaped path with the stations of the cross I saw the Risen Christ statue. Crowds of people were in line to step up, say a prayer, and wiping away the healing liquid “bleeding” from His right knee.

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My time in Medjugorje was very short. I only had that one night and the next day. So that morning after participating in an Italian mass I headed up Apparition Hill with a new friend. We prayed the rosary while hiking to the top of the hill where six young children claim is the spot Our Lady first appeared to them with a message of peace.

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Pilgrims draw close to pray, take pictures, or leave petitions

In Croatia and Bosnia&Herzegovina the hills are all craggy but so beautiful. The towns are nestled between large hills and mountains. One such hill is “Krizevac” meaning “Mount of the Cross.” That afternoon I set out to reach the top alone. The way is fairly steep and the rocks are merciless. However the Stations of the Cross along the path reminded me of one who made a walk much worse than mine. He did it for Love of you and me. Jesus carried a cross up a mountain such as that one. He was beaten, bruised, and bloody. All we carry are the burdens and sin that we carry in our hearts. He carried each and every one of us in His merciful heart.

I cannot explain simply why I chose to go. Medjugorje is a plain and simple town. There was no great view or attraction drawing in tourists and pilgrims. It was a place that made me look inward. Silence and contemplation of the heart are things that often escape us. But in this peaceful corner of the world, they were abundant. So take a walk alone sometime, look inward and leave the headphones behind. Maybe you’ll learn something about yourself or your Creator.

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-S

#Sarria2Santiago

Trying not to be obvious we whispered to each other that we could always follow the people sitting behind us if we don’t know where to go. Because we’re occasionally hopeless and semi-stalkers (even my dad sent us with a GPS tracker to watch our adventure from home).

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But that plan gave way to a little motherly trust and a daughter’s navigation through the town and up a hill in search of a monestary albergue.

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It was threatened mid hill that if I did not find the albergue my mother would be getting carried back down by yours truly….Seems a little unreasonable considering we planned to walk over 10 miles the next day. But we were rewarded with a view of the sunset overlooking the Camino’s entrance into Sarria and finally the monestary.

We had arrived with just half an hour before the night vigil mass in the church attached to the albergue. Talk about grace! We rushed to drop our bags and joined the few local parishioners for our trifecta of foreign language masses. (Italian, French, and now Spanish). Then we returned through the courtyard and actually looked around the albergue.

We got situated, took our first hot shower of the trip, used the coin laundry, and rehydrated the remaining meal gifted by my godmother for a taste of home on our trip.

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With a happy tummy, clean hair, and a blanket from our international flight #sorrynotsorry, I headed off to my bunk bed.

Snoring.

A wonderful sound that someone other than myself was getting a solid rest. Praise Jesus for the pilgrims around us. It did not bother me that morning because an excited restlessness for the trip had me abandon sleep as an option around 4:30am. By 6am most pilgrims were still asleep, a little to my surprise, but by 7am they were all up and moved quickly to get on the trail.

We started amid many pilgrims that morning but as time passes, the pace at which you walk tends to thin out the herd. By lunchtime we saw some of the same faces who passed us earlier resting at a bar/cafe.

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By the time we stopped to eat, they were again walking past us with a smiling “Buen Camino!”. It took almost no time for us to join in greeting every pilgrim with those words. Regardless of ethnicity or language, this greeting was universal on the trail.

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In order to qualify for the Compestela in Santiago we needed to complete the last 100km by foot or 200km by bike and our pilgrims passport needed at least two stamps per day. Almost everybody along the way had a stamp so filling our “passport” was an easy task.

A scallop shell or yellow arrow marked the way along the Camino. They were on stone markers, drawn on the side of houses or marked on the road itself. They become welcome sights as every stone marker had the number of kilometers left to Santiago.

Although we never missed a direction, it was quite easy to lose ourselves in conversation or watching the ground as we walked. My future advice is to just keep your head up and purposefully look for all the beauty along the trail!

The landscapes were gorgeous and every town we went through had some sort of resting place. Some were trying to sell us things or food, others were just welcoming areas graciously left open for weary pilgrims.

Of course all the walking and constantly “ooooh”ing and “ahhh”ing at the countryside burned a lot of calories. Sooo…of course we had to eat the delicious food along the way.

Natural springs and fountains kept our water bottles filled. However the weight of my water bottle seemed to grow exponentially with every step especially going uphill. Filling that bottle again was a blessing and a burden every single time.

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Alex had a different approach to this dilemma

We met up with Alex the night before our last walking day. Going down the trail we passed a note on a stick “I’ll meet you in Arca – Alex”.  We were so excited that amid his many world travels he was able to join us in our final steps to Santiago!

The Cathedral of St James has a way of making one feel so small and in awe of the intricacies hidden in the church. I firmly believe that this is the purpose of a church. To remind you the greatness of God through those feelings when you walk inside a beautiful church. I could not just glance and keep moving through the building, it required some study of the details. So it made this fast moving travel junkie slow down, which is always a good thing.

In “ye olden days” pilgrims carried a wooden shell to Santiago and finished their walk at the most western point of Spain at Finisterre. There they would collect the scallop shell. Thus the white shell would go home with them as proof that they completed the pilgrimage. Alex encouraged us to join him at the “end of the world” and so we took a day to visit.

Looking back, this was one of the best trips because it involved hiking in the outdoors, meeting new people, eating many different sandwiches/desserts, and doing all those things in the name of Jesus! I will leave you with some of my favorite moments from the pilgrimage…

BUEN CAMINO

-S

#Lourdes

Laughter
We stumbled from Spanish into French as our excitement for the fresh, warm bakery had distracted us. Fresh bread and pastries have a way of filling the nose and emptying the brain of all rational thought. We had to buy the tasty treats in our sights and scent immediately! After walking down the street victoriously with our munchies it was decided that we should stay outside and not rudely eat/shop through the store in front of us.

 The sound of construction behind us on the torn street almost drowned out the voice greeting us…

“You are Australian?”

We turned to see a smiling elderly Frenchman. “Oh no haha, Americans…USA” After speaking for a little while we found that he had visited Los Angeles way back in the day and pointing to our packs he asked “St. Jean Pied De Port…ehhh Camino?” Oh yes, oui, definitely! He told us to walk down the street for five minutes, just 5 minutes before catching the train, it’s so much prettier. Then he was off, smiling and enjoying the beautiful cool weather. Mom and I were quick to abandon the store and walked down the street to a little area full of cafes and an open area with an ornate old carousel. Definitely much prettier! Then it was back to catch our train to Lourdes.

Upon arrival in Lourdes we found out the Grotto and Sanctuary was just a 500 meter walk downhill and through the town. Umm yes please! So setting off down the hill mom noticed a blue line was painted along the curb and ever so often was a blue box painted on the sidewalk giving direction for the path to Lourdes.

Soon we were passing shops filled with holy water bottles, statues, medals, and other religious items displayed in multitude. About 2/3 of the way to the basilica we see an arrow pointing into the house turned museum where St. Bernadette first lived.

The only house her parent´s ever owned is now run by St. Bernadette´s grandneice. After paying a small donation for entry we were given a small magnet as a souvenier and picked up an english description of all that we were about to see. The house was covered with marble squares of ¨Merci¨ and statues of holy saints displayed throughout.

The upstairs looped back into the museum attachment and there were many rosaries, books, and mementos for sale. Needless to say I spent about as much time there as in the house itself. I´m pretty terrible about getting souveniers to bring home, but I always grab a postcard or five along the way.

Then mom and I continued on down the road through the gates of the basilica grounds. There is a long avenue down past a hospital, small chapel, confession building, and information center. But you almost notice those last as the basilica at the end draws your eye to its massive and ornate beauty.

Upon entering the very top basilica, known as the Upper Basilica or the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception we realized that this was much more than one church. In reality the Upper Basilica sits on top of a crypt which usually displays some of Bernadette´s remains, like the catacombs, and underneath the crypt is the Basilica of the Holy Rosary. I assume back in Bernadette’s time of the 1800s this must have been one huge hill and they built the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception(Upper Basilica) at the top. Over time the rest of the crypt and Basilica of the Holy Rosary were carved into the hill creating what now seems like one massive church.

To the left of the basilicas is a river and along the side are many fountains containing the famous spring water of Lourdes. People were filling up water bottles, holy water containers of all sizes, and even washed their hands and feet in it.

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Continuing down along the side of the basilicas at the base of the hill is the grotto. The stone was smooth from the line of pilgrims prayerfully touching the rock with their hands as they walked through the grotto. The origin of the spring was encased in glass and many pilgrims left roses and petitions there. A statue of Mary sits in the crevice where Bernadette first saw Our Lady in 1862.

Our first night we joined the 9pm Marian procession from the grotto, up the avenue and back, to the outdoor square of the Basilica of the Holy Rosary.

It was rather cold at that point, but with the help of a blanket we stayed for the 11pm mass in the grotto, which is always in Italian or French. I was extremely excited for the Italian service that night, and the next morning we attended a French mass!

Just beyond the grotto are the baths where many go in hopes of healing or prayerful cleansing. The water was so cold that the bath was more of a walk into the water and quick dip down to immerse yourself once before exiting in prayer. However even a frozen holy water bath cannot diminish the joy and silliness God placed in my soul. Clearly….

(Note: All of the above links are from the official Lourdes website found at http://en.lourdes-france.org)

We spent much time wandering around the grounds, walking through the grotto, filling our bottles at the fountains, and participating in the events Lourdes had to offer during our short stay. 

The campus was huge and we only saw a small portion in our two days, but every second was put to great use. Such a refreshing trip, no matter how short, caused our souls to rejoice in the beauty and reverence permeating the air in that holy place. 

That last afternoon we visited a cafe, found a post office (caused some confusion but finally mailed the holy water and postcards), and headed back to catch our train. 

The overall lesson learned here was one of humility and sacrifice. We followed in the footsteps of a 14 yr old girl with wisdom that will last for ages. Truth never fades.

“I must die to myself continually and accept trials without complaining. I work, I suffer and I love with no other witness than His heart. Anyone who is not prepared to suffer all for the Beloved and to do His will in all things is not worthy of the sweet name of Friend, for here below, Love without suffering does not exist.” – St. Bernadette

-S

#Arise

“I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen, but since we are in final descent I can’t come through the cabin right now. That was out of our control but I just want to check and make sure everyone is ok….Everyone is fine?…… Ok”

What is she talking about, I wondered bemused by the vague announcement. *Shrug* I put my headphones back in and zone out, back to thinking how it was my last week of consulting. The next time l leave this early in the morning I’ll be headed to Madrid, Spain! Then I heard the Pilot making an announcement and it’s back to the real world.

“Well it seems we’ve been struck by lightning, not much we can do about that. Don’t worry everything appears fine, we’ll just have to check it out once we get on the ground. Not much we can do about that, it’s not in our control. We’ll have you landed and on the ground in another ten minutes” He continued with our weather announcement and I was no longer confused by the concerned stewardess. Well what a start to my last week….Plane struck by lightning. Whoo!

From lightning in the morning to hotel power flicking off right before checking in, it was a full on case of the Mondays. By the end of the day I was half expecting someone to just walk up and throw a smoothie on my face because why not? Just seemed like that kind of day. The rest of the week I slowly slipped away from the edge of health and into a sneezing, sniffling cold. Thursday night there was so much bad weather and backlog from Atlanta​ delays the day before that all but one connection flight was cancelled. The end result of my last week at work was being stuck in NJ until Sunday morning. Was this telling me that quitting my first career job was a mistake…Or good riddance now she’ll never want to come back? I don’t really know but I had never been so happy to walk back into the mess of my room, knowing that all I had left to do was pack and say my goodbyes.

To be honest packing was a tough mental game. I had to take it all out of the room, but packed in different sections heading to the Camino, Camp Kahdalea, and Anna’s room (aka my interim storage unit). I’d never moved/packed for more than one destination before but after one day of contemplation and procrastination it was moved box by bucket into my car. I’m rather proud of the fact that, excluding my mattress and bookcase, all my material possessions fit into the trunk of my car with room to still see out the back window.
The week flew by, filled with visits and goodbyes to my southern friends. Then off again to celebrate Easter with the family at home. From a laughter filled mass with the priest inviting children on the altar (asking question after question about the homily) to the overwhelming gratitude for our Father for taking on Easter Bunny duties once it was discovered that mother would not be providing us with Easter basket or candy this year. (I mean cmon….What are we? Adults?! Yeah I didn’t think so)

The Easter Pergies

Easter Monday consisted of the final repacking…s of mom and my packs. We both suffer from the plague of second guessing everything if left with the decision but no action for too long. So the bags were unpacked, reexamined, sighed at, hugged in some cases, and eventually I set aside the extra outfit I was attempting to squeeze into my backpack. And then I was done, too bad if it’s a little to big at the gate, I’ll just put on all my clothes and challenge the gate agent to a stare off. Moms approach was one of sitting on and measuring her pack to make sure it was the exact dimensions and no larger for the carry-on limits. Kat just laughed at us both and shook her head. Having spent three weeks galavanting around Europe, she was clearly the expert and we were hopeless pilgrims who are overly attached to their pajama pants.

“Just leave them behind!”

“But I don’t wanna…..”

*Amused smirk of superiority*

“Gahhhh fine but it’s your fault”

“Are you crying?!”

“What? No……”

And so on until we finally sat down to watch The Way and get a glimpse of what The Way of St. James would be like. It was an interesting take on a man who’s son died the first day and for whatever reason he decided to walk the whole Camino for his son. He meets some misfits along the way and you get a wide scope of the reasons one would make this pilgrimage.

Early Tuesday morning we boarded our flight to JFK and spent our lunchtime in the city. We stopped at the beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral for daily mass first. Stopping for lunch was next on my list and Angela’s Sandwich Shop was the place to go. An avacado filled chicken wrap soon heighted my spirits and we walked beneath a blue sky to take in the beauty of our corner in Central Park before heading back to the airport.

Now it’s time to hop on the long flight and travel 6 hours into the future. Mom and I will have a good layover in Madrid before heading to Lourdes. This is our first part of our pilgrimage before heading out on the Camino de Santiago.

Keep close, adventure waits for no one.

-S

#SanFran

Up-Down-Up-Down-Up-Up

No I’m not singing All I Do Is Win by DJ Khaled…although this weekend definitely felt like a win. I finally made it west of TX! (Even if it was only for a couple days) And my legs were sore enough to prove it with every limp to the water fountain the following Monday.

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#proof

San Francisco has so much to do, yet time flew by like a cable car rolling downhill to union square. Unfortunately my Phone and Fitbit died along the way so I don’t have pictures of everything I walked past in those 10 miles on Saturday. Not 10 Louisiana, deep-south flat miles…..10 miles down streets so steep I thought about just sliding down and up sidewalks that had steps they were so steep. I even saw some of those happy hill-hopping goats.

Sunshine on a Saturday. A brand new day and I was about to hit the streets. But to be honest, I hesitated for just a little while. I’m blessed to have friends and friends-of-friends who loaded on ideas/places to explore in SF. However, adventuring alone is always a big step and I had no idea which idea to follow first. So I stared at the map and scrolled about for a while. Score! Found a cool Methodist cathedral that would take me towards the wharf.

Walking a couple blocks to the west I passed Lombard Street. The “most crooked road in the world” has eight hairpin turns in a one block segment making it famous. Surprisingly there were also some parking spaces along the road as well as little driveways that pull in between the houses. My dad visited this street in 1989 and there I was 28 years later following in his footsteps!

On the bright side once I got down to the Bay area the streets flattened out and allowed for an enjoyable stroll towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The original suggestion was to bike the bridge and ride the ferry back, but just getting down to the water had done tuckered me out.

Continuing along the water and heading back inland I found the Palace of Fine Arts. This outdoor monument is complete with a lagoon and has a slight Jungle Book feel to it. There were carvings of people at the tops of the columns peering over the wall to the inside. They sometimes have art exhibits inside the walls and overall I found the area to be extremely awe inducing.

Back to the hotel to rest. At this point my phone had died, but rest assured I rode the cable car back even though I don’t have a picture to prove it. I rode standing on the outside holding onto the rail and honestly it was a lot easier than I expected. Just make sure to watch yourself when two cable cars have to pass each other!

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Sunday led me into Union Square. The park there was very beautiful and had an open feel despite being nested between the buildings. There was an MLK Memorial with an open picnic area on the second floor and water running down the steps to a series of waterfalls. MLK’s words were etched below the waterfalls.“No. No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream'”

St Patrick’s Catholic Church sat across the green space from the memorial. I love the structure and intricacies in every aspect of this church. Even the baptismal font was extremely detailed. Above the altar were five stained glass windows. In the middle was St Patrick…like duh obviously….and on either side were the four gospel writers. St. Patrick’s is surrounded by tall glass skyscrapers and yet its brick structure manages to stand out.

My next “mission” was the colorful mission district. The alleys were colored by many spray paint designs…even Walgreens didn’t manage to escape the artistry. Down to the sidewalk this district just bled color from every direction.

From there I joined my buddy BART (the metro system) and took a trip to Berkeley. On my way into campus I stopped for a Sliver of pizza. They only serve one type of pizza each day but this keeps it fresh and the line quick. Not only that but they are an involved organization raising awareness to end human trafficking.

The Cal Campus there is stunning and I wondered why I hadn’t expanded my college search further west. That is until I looked at their admission requirements #IvyLeague. Nevertheless I enjoyed my time there.

The campus itself is full of massive buildings and greenery is everywhere. I mean even their frat houses looked like countryside cottages. In the time it took me to walk the campus I passed a Holi celebration, a bike race, and viewed the San Francisco skyline from the hills by the laboratory.

Before leaving I stopped at the Newman Center and join the mass celebration. They have a heavenly choir and a rustic church. The altar, tabernacle, and pulpit all looked like they were part of the rock floor just carved into the shapes they now hold. This was my last stop on campus.

I loved the nature on the campus and everywhere I turned there was greenery. I would be remiss if I didn’t include my favorite nature pictures from my brief return to the college student life of wandering campus.

And that was all the time I had in San Francisco. I took the late night BART back to the airport and soon enough I was seeing snow from my airplane window letting me know I was back in NJ.

Thanks for reading this 1000 word post and hopefully you enjoyed this adventure as much as I did.

-S

#LifeInAbundance

All things must come to an end and some get a little push in the name of adventure.

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Here we go!

For about a year and one month I have worked in the world of consultants. This job gave me the opportunity to travel and visit friends states away.

However the career itself left me wanting something more. This corporate culture is not enough for me and my desires are greater than dollar bills. So I’m taking the jump from a stable “adult” job and finding a job I can be passionate about. I understand this isn’t a risk everyone is willing to take, but my motivation lies in finding meaningful work. I want to know that my day to day efforts are serving a greater purpose and affecting the lives around me in a positive manner. This desire motivates me to find an environment that fosters adventurous spirits and encourages the challenge to learn new skills.

Of course my logical personality could not just *snap* make a decision like this and ignore the questions that keep sane people awake at night. For the sake of a short story, I’ve been planning this for a while and made sure to cover my expenses for the next few months while I figure out where I’m headed.

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So…on to the “plan that isn’t really a plan and Oh My Jesus guide my feet” section of this story 😉

Easter is the time for new life and a fresh start.

Take a flight, do some hiking, praise God, and sweat a little. I’m taking the momma travel junkie all the way to Spain. She’s had a specific pilgrimage on her heart for a while and well….I love an excuse to journey with purpose and see somewhere new.

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Click for Momma’s Blog

We are taking about two weeks to visit Lourdes and walk along The Way of St. James #ElCaminoDeSantiago. This is a pilgrimage route over a thousand years old that many Christians (and just nature lovers) have walked to reach the Cathedral. Rumor has it this is the resting place of Jesus’ apostle, James the Elder. The way is marked with scallop shells  and each pilgrim carries one on their walk. We will start in Sarria and continue the last 100km to obtain a pilgrim’s certificate upon arrival in Santiago. Whoop whoop!

After we finish the Camino, before returning, I will be continuing for another week of travel in Italy and possibly Croatia. More to come on that later…

Lastly this summer will bring me back to the mountains that I so love and into the office at Camp Kahdalea. I am extremely excited to begin this journey and you can bet I’m psyched spend a few months among fellow Kahdaladies!

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Camp Kahdalea @ 2funcamps.com

“Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure”
Saint John Paul II

-S

#ComeBeMyLight

Earlier this year I was given the opportunity to lead a bus of teens in prayer, meditation, and growth on their pilgrimage to D.C. for the annual March For Life. If that wasn’t enough of a blessing in my life, I was invited to speak at a high school filled with many of those same teens a couple weeks later. Both of these events were based on themes from Mother Teresa’s life.

I Thirst

A pilgrimage is a journey towards some spiritual growth or destination. And ours was solely focused on the fact that Jesus Christ thirsts for our love and desires to be present with us. His desire is as strong as your body’s need for air. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’ve done. His love isn’t conditional or earned. It flows freely to the created simply because we are. There doesn’t need to be a change or point in time where now His love is ready to be received. Rather His love is what will change us and reveal the right time.

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Come Be My Light

The message on a train. Mother Teresa’s call within a call. In case you didn’t know, Mother Teresa was already a nun living a cloistered life before she was called to venture outside the convent walls and minister to the people of India. Her humility and simple persistence changed a good life into a great saint. Sometimes your light is shining, but God wants to amplify it and turn you into a lighthouse.
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She could’ve stayed in the cloister and continued a holy life there, but she pursued the call in her heart to an even greater call. Mother Teresa was so much like you and I. She looked up to other holy saints and wished she could do for India what they did in their countries. For years Mother Teresa was left in a spiritual and emotional desert. She was faithful even in the darkness when she felt far from God’s presence.

One Thanksgiving when we were little, my sister Anna told us when she grew up she wanted to be a lamp. Parentals exchanged a weird look and asked “So you want to be a light to others?”

“Nope….I wanna be a lamp!!”12513540_10207617482131605_8411351202275175713_o

Nowadays she is a bright light in our lives and teaches us what it means to share deeply. She has the biggest heart and wants to make sure people feel loved.

Even though our lives will reflect God’s light differently depending on your talents and personality. Know that we are placed in different situations for a reason. Only you will have this unique combination of interests, talents, friends, and family. So whatever your goal is in life, just know God can take your desire to be a lamp and with His grace turn you into a lighthouse.

-S

I THIRST MEDITATION
https://avemariaradio.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Jesus-I-Thirst.pdf