The darkness was cunning and elusive. Pain filled my heart with every encounter, with every step, and with every beat of my heart, but I could not understand what was wrong with me. I walked slowly up the steps of the retreat center on that fateful morning in July. I walked past many familiar faces, and my heart sank because I knew those people did not remember me.
Everything about the first day of retreat was awkward: Mass was awkward, recreation was awkward, meal time was awkward, small group discussion was awkward, bedtime was awkward, and I was awkward. During the times of greatest loneliness, I clung to my best friends, but I didn’t realize this “clingy” attitude was actually hurting my ability to make new friends.
The second day was almost as bad as the first. I felt lonelier than I had ever felt in my entire life. Also, my small group was volunteering at a local nursing home, and I had never before realized how much elderly people frightened me. I was terrified that I would accidentally hurt someone! I then experienced one of the most embarrassing moments of my life when I started sobbing in the middle of small-group discussion. To make matters worse, a little cut in my ankle started to swell up and hurt really badly. That evening, one of the youth ministers called my mom, and they decided that I would have to leave the next day in order to go to Urgent Care.
There is only one reason why the second day was not one-thousand times worse than the first. This reason can be expressed in two words: Eucharistic Adoration. Of course, I had gone to Adoration before, but I hadn’t really felt a true connection with Jesus in the Monstrance. In humility, shame, and fear, I had always kept my eyes to the ground; even if I had taken my eyes off the floor, I wouldn’t have seen Him because my vision was blurred with bitter tears.
That night at Adoration (also known as “Holy Spirit Fire Hour”) started out like all the others. Within minutes, I was crying with my head bowed down to the floor. Sometimes, the youth minister would pray out loud. Most of the time, I wasn’t paying much attention to what he said, but there was one time that his words cut right through my pain and despair. He said that in his mind, he saw a beautiful girl. The girl was crying, and she couldn’t look up at Jesus. He said that Jesus didn’t want the girl to be sad; He wanted her to look up and see His Face. I doubt the youth minister was talking about me, but his words touched me so very deeply. At that moment, I looked up at the Monstrance, and I was filled with emotion. For the first time in many years, a tiny flame of Hope was lit deep within my heart of hearts.
I surprised myself the next day at how much I really wanted to stay at the retreat. When we had first made the plans for my mom to pick me up to go to Urgent Care, a part of me wanted to just leave the retreat and not ever come back. But when my mom picked me up after breakfast on the third day, I was reluctant to leave.
After the doctor examined my ankle, she said that I probably shouldn’t go back to the retreat that day because my infection was so bad. She also said that if the swelling didn’t go down, I would have to go to the Emergency Room and I wouldn’t be able to go back to the retreat at all. I went home and stayed in bed the rest of the day, all the while praying fervently that the swelling would go down.
Two of the beautiful ladies at the nursing home that I fell in love with!
I awoke early the next morning, and I was overjoyed when my mom said I could go back to the retreat. The forty-five minute drive to the retreat center had never felt longer! When I finally arrived, I nearly cried because I was so happy and relieved. That day, I began to feel a beautiful change in my interior disposition. Although I still felt awkward, an immense love was growing in my heart that I just had to share with everyone. I stated making friends rapidly. The people at the nursing home no longer scared me; instead, I began to fall in love with each and every person I met at the nursing home.
Little by little, I started to crawl out of my shell and reach out to other people. And I prayed like crazy: I prayed by myself, I prayed in small groups, I prayed in large groups, I prayed silently, I prayed out loud, I prayed in joy, I prayed in love, I prayed in sadness, and I prayed in loneliness. It is true that I was healing, but I was not yet fully healed. I was still lonely, and I still despaired. I was just happy that I could finally be happy!
Unfortunately, I was a very slow learner. It wasn’t long before I sat in Adoration again with my eyes on the ground, filled with tears. It turns out that the night I missed was, supposedly, the most powerful night of adoration. I began to hear people’s testimonies, and their stories made me feel sad and very small. I heard of the huge ways they were impacted by Jesus’ love. Many people received visions, tears, laughter, and enormous peace. I began to wonder why I was not worthy to receive those things, too. I wished to see Jesus’ Face and to hear His Voice. That night, I cried myself to sleep.
The next day, during one of the talks, we were all instructed to write a letter to God. I cried while I wrote these words: “Jesus, I love you, and I need you. I ask you to help me not to feel so lonely and to be content with your presence when no one else is there. I love you so much! Thank you for everything you have done for me. I love you. I love you. I love you! Love Forever,” and in place of my signature, I drew a simple picture of a rising sun.
Adoration the final day of retreat was the most powerful experience of my entire life. It was a bit rocky for me in the beginning because I was still feeling desolate, but everything changed dramatically when I asked one of the youth ministers to pray with me. As asked our dear Lord to heal me of my loneliness, I was suddenly and unexpectedly filled so entirely with the Love of Jesus that I felt I might die from Love! He pierced through my darkness and enlightened my life. After he finished praying, the youth minister handed me a Bible. I was shaking so badly I could barely turn the pages. I read a passage about someone being raised from the dead, and I knew in my heart that I, too, was resurrected that night.
The retreat ended shortly after my Encounter with the Lord, and I felt drunk on His Love. I thought that I would never be able to experience something as powerful as that ever again, but little did I know that His wonders were just beginning.
To be continued…