I am an athlete.
In middle school and the years leading up to it, that phrase is exactly how I would have identified myself. Despite being raised a “Cradle Catholic” and attending Catholic school from the time I was four to eighteen, my faith was kept in a small box that was reserved only for Sunday masses and fifty minute theology classes. Jesus Christ was not on my mind, but sports were.
In my small Catholic grade school of approximately 200 students, it wasn’t difficult to participate in multiple sports and be a standout athlete. My aspirations included making the principal’s list and excelling in softball, basketball, volleyball, and whatever other sport my school could offer. Despite many efforts from my school’s youth minister, I of course was simply too busy for a youth group; not to mention there’s absolutely no way God could fit into the athletic identity I had condensed myself to. I kept God on a shelf in the back of my mind, and I told myself that I was doing better than most people. I checked all the boxes; Catholic school kid, weekly mass-goer, good student, and so on. This was my justification when I continuously rejected youth group but added another sport, track, to my list.
God very quickly let me know that the addition I needed was Him.
In April of 2015 I tore my ACL at a track meet. I was hit with a wave of anxiety; I would potentially need surgery to fix my knee, and the athletic career I had built my whole identity on would possibly be coming to a halt. I would no longer be spending the upcoming Summer playing in softball tournaments, but rather rehabbing my knee.
God knew what he was doing; the injury completely cleared my athletic schedule, and it left a youth group as the only substitution in its place. I began going to the weekly meetings, and I was enlightened by them. I discovered a profound love of faith I had never taken the time to develop, and I stumbled upon a deep love of people within myself. Through the youth group I came to love and build relationships with others that weren’t teammates, and it was new and exciting for me. Through those relationships I came to realize how deeply I could love people, even if they came from different walks of life.
My newfound love of people betrayed me when I started my freshman year of high school. Feeling like I had all the love in the world to give, I didn’t always feel myself receiving love in return. I quickly grew very lonely, beginning to question if my life even mattered or had a purpose. Youth group felt like the only thing I had; it was my family.
With a growing faith and increasing need for Jesus, I accepted the call to attend the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) with the youth group. It was at the conference that the song “Come As You Are” by Crowder was played, and the words struck my heart. I knew that the lyrics “Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been, come broken hearted let rescue begin… Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal” and “All who are broken lift up your face… Come as you are” were meant for me.
Jesus was whispering to me that I was worthy of His love, no matter how broken and undeserving I felt. He showed me that there was no earthly struggle that couldn’t be healed when surrendered to Him, and I would only find comfort in knowing my own worth when I rooted it in Him. It was in a moment of Adoration that I felt Jesus pour His grace onto my outstretched hands; it was the closest I felt to having a best friend in the room in a long time. I felt healed, worthy, and prepared to share the love I felt in that moment as He has called me to do so.
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