23 Years Later…
Today I turned 23 years old, and needless to say, I’ve grown and changed a lot from when I was born. I love to look back on the plans that 3-year-old Madeline dreamed up versus where I am in life now. I spent my days playing dress-up and making crafts. I thought I would grow up to be a ballerina or a princess. Twenty years later, I still love to dress up, and I still love to dance. Although it would be nice to be a princess, I have other career goals in mind now.
As I grew up and navigated life, one thing stayed consistent. No matter where I went to school, who my friends were, the extracurriculars I did, or what I dreamed of doing with my life, I always loved God. Of course, my relationship with Him developed and I grew closer with Him as I grew up, but He was always in my heart.
My Lifelong Faith Journey
When I was really little, I knew that God was important because I went to Mass with my family every single Sunday. At the time, I would have rather played with my Barbie dolls, but I’m glad that my parents taught me the importance of worshipping God. I was fascinated by the Bible stories I learned about, and I heard “Jesus loves you!” and “God made you special!” all the time. I think my faith first ignited when I received my first Holy Communion. When I received our Lord in the Eucharist for the first time, the way I approached Mass changed because I felt more connected to Jesus. After that, I felt more involved in the Mass, and I looked forward to going.
My faith only grew stronger when I prepared for my Confirmation and when I was Confirmed. I saw some of my peers question and fall away from the Church, and I knew I never wanted that to happen to me. I related to Peter when he told Jesus “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). God has loved me for longer than I can comprehend, and I can be united with Him in the Eucharist. I knew that I could never separate myself from Him and that I wanted to be with Him forever.
In college, I grew radically as a person, as a student, and as a disciple of Christ, especially because I learned what it means to be a disciple in college. For most of my life, I thought the disciples were just the twelve men who followed Jesus while He was on earth. Now, I understand that anyone desiring to follow Jesus is His disciple, and He still calls us today to be His disciples. With the encouragement and friendships I made at the Newman Center, I fell more in love with God. I encountered Him through my authentic friends, at Mass, and in Adoration.
What Changed in One Year
So much can happen in 23 years, but a lot can happen in just one year too. The world and I have changed significantly since my last birthday. When I turned 22, I had no idea that we would soon be plunged into a pandemic. I didn’t know that my amazing evening at Slippery Rock would be my last one there. I went from celebrating my 22nd birthday with Nathan and a few of my good friends at the Brewery in Slippery Rock to celebrating with my Franciscan Mission Service community in Washington, DC. I went from not knowing what I was going to do with my life to having at least a little more clarity. Nathan became my fiancé. My faith is stronger, and I’m able to trust in God and surrender to Him more.
In my 22nd year, I learned that everything is temporary. When my life seemed to crumble, I was so angry at first, but I learned to cherish the memories more and to really savor my time with my loved ones doing the things we love. I learned that God truly does have a plan, even when we can’t see it unfolding. Because of this, I finally surrendered control of my own life so that God can take the reins and guide me to do His will.
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Thanking God for My Life
Today, I’ll FaceTime my family and Nathan, and I’ll probably celebrate with my community tonight at dinner and tomorrow evening. No matter what, I just want to spend today being thankful for the gift of my life. To me, my own birthday isn’t a huge deal. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s a special day. I love to celebrate it and have fun with the people I love, but I never go crazy for my birthday. It’s a day that I’m happy to be me. On my birthday, I thank God for creating me and loving me and giving me the gift of my life. I’m thankful that He blessed me with another year of life so that I can share His love and come to know Him more before I meet Him face to face.
I’ve grown so much in my relationship with God in the past 23 years, and I look forward to seeing how much closer I can be to Him in the remainder of my life. So much has happened in my 22nd year, which just reminds me that we never know what God has in store for us. 23 holds unlimited possibilities, but no matter what, they’re part of God’s plan.
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