This is an excerpt from my book To Heal, Proclaim, and Teach (Amazon). It is a personal testimony of an encounter I had with God–the first, powerful encounter that set me on the path to where I am today. It is an example of an “encounter story.” Encounter stories are moments in our lives that we can point to as times when we felt or experienced the loving presence of God. These stories become our testimonies. They are the stories that enable us to be Christ’s witnesses.
If you haven’t done so lately, take some time to think about your encounter stories. Write about them, reflect on them, but most importantly . . . share them with others. Most of the time they are not powerful experiences before the Eucharist. Most of my encounter stories are simple moments that show God has a sense of humor and a plan for our lives.
I would like to share this encounter story with you:
We all have moments of rejection.
Like the people Jesus healed in the gospels, we experience the excruciating pain of feeling left out. One particular moment in my life, more painful than any other up to that point, occurred during the summer of my freshman year of high school. It was a Friday night and the beginning of the weekend River Festival in my hometown. Living just a few blocks away from the event, I walked up to join the fun hoping to run into
When I got there, I saw a group of classmates talking in a circle. You could say they were the “popular” kids in school. I didn’t know where to find my close friends that night (this was before cell phones), so I walked up to join the conversation. I tried to ease my way into the circle, but it was as if I didn’t exist. No one said hello or invited me into the conversation. They gave me annoyed looks and physically turned away from me.
I was devastated.
I immediately walked back home and headed to my room. I was never really an emotional guy, but I cried that night for a long time. I felt as if I was nothing. I felt so bad for myself and the hopelessness of my situation. It felt as though no one loved me, as if I were unlovable.
At that time, I had more or less stopped believing in God. After a year in high school, I had decided that I was smarter than religious people—too smart to believe God was real. I couldn’t see any proof that he existed. But I did think that the rules and Commandments made a lot of sense, and the people in the Church were nice enough to trust. If nothing else, they accepted me for who I was. So, when I was invited to join our parish youth group on a retreat at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, I agreed.
It was a completely new experience for me.
If you have ever been to a youth conference such as the ones in Steubenville, you know what I mean. The praise and worship time with singing and hand motions seemed so strange and funny to me as an outsider. They all looked ridiculous, but they were clearly having fun. After a few sessions, I joined in, too, telling myself that I was just mocking them anyway. On the second night there was a “holy hour” of Eucharistic Adoration led by Fr. Dave Pivonka, and in that hour my life was changed.
During adoration that night, I heard all kinds of things that seemed crazy to me—it was, after all, a charismatic conference. There was crying and laughing and speaking in tongues. I did not feel anything myself, but I decided to be open to the experience. I closed my eyes, put my head down, and told God that if he was real, I would really like a sign from him.
I will never forget what happened a few moments later.
I felt what seemed to be a cool wind blow over me and experienced a peaceful chill down my back. All of a sudden, I recalled that night of the festival and remembered vividly—as if I was back there crying in my bedroom again—how I felt when I was excluded by that circle of popular kids.
Then, I felt God say to me, “Jared, when you feel like that, turn to me.”
I was healed that night.
I had a reason to believe that God was real and, like the blind men Jesus healed in the gospels, I immediately followed him. I was so grateful, so touched, and so inspired that I changed my life from that point on. I became very involved in youth group, started reading the Bible to learn everything I could about God, and even began watching the Catholic television channel EWTN so I could immerse myself in Catholic culture and beliefs.
God lit a fire in me, and I responded by seeking him with passion in every way I could.
(image credit: salt and light media)