“You guys should come to St. Stephen’s sometime!” These words out of a now treasured friend’s mouth were definitely some of the last that I wanted to hear upon entering into college. While I was planning on still attending Sunday Masses, I had never thought about diving in any deeper than that. I was standing in shallow water, and I was completely fine with that. I had heard about college being the best years of one’s life, and I was ready to live it up. Having struggled with anxiety and panic attacks, I longed to be free from all fear and control. I had my mind made up about who I was and who I was going to be, and I had all my plans laid out in my head. I was ready to embrace and live life to the fullest. Little did I know that I had no idea what that actually meant. Thankfully, God made it evident that He also had a plan - one that is so much better than anything I could have imagined.
All the plans that I had laid out in my head instantly shattered into a schmillion pieces the first time I set foot inside St. Stephen’s and was greeted by humans I never knew existed. I grew up Catholic, attended Sunday Masses, and even went to a Catholic school. I was constantly surrounded by God’s message, constantly reminded of His love, and yet I never truly believed/experienced it until encountering God in His presence and love through these wonderful beings. To hear about the light of Christ shining through His creation is one thing, but to be a witness to this light burning brightly in others is completely different. I found myself being drawn to this light, and wanting so badly to shine too. I could hear God’s voice calling me closer and closer, but looking at the people around me, I did not know how I was to ever compare. They were so full of love, so fully open - all the things I was scared to be. I was not open to the gifts God is longing to give all of us. I was closed off - placing a limit on the love of God, thinking He could only love those who rightly loved Him too. I could feel and see His love through others, but I did not know how to receive it. When I tried, I still found myself (and still find myself) clinging on to my own desires, plans, and wants. I knew I needed help giving everything over to God. It was then I realized that I was trying to do what no one can do without the grace of God. I had to surrender to Him in the place that I was - a place of weakness and confusion. It was not until I embraced my weakness, my monstrous ways, my brokenness, that God started working and transforming me. Only then could I receive God’s love and truth into my heart - when I realized that to live is to live in Christ.
It took me way too long to realize that my life is not mine to live. To learn that surrender to the will of God is the only way to be at peace. To dare to hope in something greater -the true wants and desires placed on human hearts. To dive into relationships that will leave you open and vulnerable, but full of so much joy and love. To let love lead me on a never-ending adventure. To embrace the little deaths of life - thousands of deaths every single day for the greater glory and purpose for which I am called. To push back against insecurities and fear that ultimately do nothing but harm. To be okay with not knowing anything - and to understand that a lot of the time I am not supposed to. To seek the face of God in everyone and everything around me. To experience the beauty of a true fulfilling presence - and to allow myself to be filled with it. To be constantly learning, searching, and listening for His voice. To not be afraid, to share these truths with others, and to recognize that I will constantly fail at doing all of these things (and more) for the rest of my earthly life.
I would have never come to these realizations without the grace of God and surrounding myself with people who allowed Him to work through them. I now know what it means to be set free in Christ - to know that the journey towards the kingdom is one that will never end on this earth. Without St. Stephen’s, FOCUS missionaries, authentic friendships, and most importantly the abiding presence of God, I do not know where I would have ended up. Probably somewhere thinking I was free and living my life to the fullest - and oh how wrong I would be. Here’s to the never-ending journey and seeking, growing, learning, and transforming! Here’s to truly living life to the fullest!
-Jessie Clark, class of 2022
St. Stephen's is home to students from UAB, Samford, and Birmingham-Southern.
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