There’s a cute cartoon picture of a little girl holding a teddy bear. Next to her is Jesus with His hand outstretched, seemingly asking her to give Him the bear. She is holding on to that bear with a death grip and says to Him, “But I like this one!” And then you notice that in Jesus’ other hand, the one hidden behind is back, is a MUCH bigger teddy bear, and He says to her, “But I have something better!”
Yeah, that would be my life 98.2% of the time. And that would be a perfect illustration of me holding on to my post-grad plans and Jesus having His own post-grad plans for me. Lemme explain.
It was senior year of college. I was ready to go. I had prepared for 4 years for this. I had gone to a small Catholic university to study Theology and Catechetics – and people, I had a freaking awesome plan for my life. I was going to graduate with my degree and go off to be a full-time youth minister somewhere in this grand country of ours. Jesus had completely rocked my world, and all I wanted to do was go and tell young people about Him and help them get to know Him, too. But then, the proverbial crap hit the fan.
Long story short, I found out at the end of my fall semester of senior year (which was supposed to be the semester I graduated) that I would have to come back the next semester to take one more class and finish my thesis. I was heartbroken. I felt rejected, embarrassed, unworthy, and completely inadequate to do any kind of ministry ever. In the midst of trying to build my confidence back up, I was starting to apply for youth ministry jobs, but as soon as I finished filling out applications, I had this weird feeling in my gut that this wasn’t it. This wasn’t what I was supposed to do. I was terrified and upset and angry at God because this was what I had been wanting to do for years, and all of a sudden, when it was time to start executing the action part of the plan, things were not working out. I couldn’t understand why He would put all of these desires on my heart if all of a sudden NOW, when I had to start doing something about it, everything was a complete disaster.
While all of these shenanigans were happening, a friend who had been bugging me about applying for NET Ministries for the past few years, told me, “Amylia, there has to be a good reason why you’re not at peace applying for all those jobs. Just go on an interview weekend for NET. It’s not like you’re committing right then and there, just go and check it out and get a feel for what they do.”
What you have to know is that at this point, I had known about NET for a while. When I was freshman in college, one of my friends back home who was a senior in high school had gone on a NET retreat and messaged me immediately afterwards and said, “Amylia, that retreat was AWESOME. And also, I could totally see you doing NET someday.” Throughout college, NET staff had come to some of my classes and given their recruiting pitch, complete with handing out postcards that I immediately threw away because, you know, I had my own game plan for my life and that wasn’t it. But I figured, hey, at this point, what do I have to lose?
Here is a timeline for what happened next:
2 weeks after this conversation, I filled out the application during my spring break.
3 weeks after I filled out the application, I went on my interview retreat weekend.
On the interview weekend, I found out there were only 4 spots left for women. Became thoroughly convinced I wasn’t going to make it, and smugly thought to myself that I would prove my buddy wrong.
Became completely intrigued as the weekend went on with why and how NET does ministry.
Got a phone call a few days later asking me to serve with NET Ministries for the 2014-2015 year.
Screamed with joy.
Jumped on my roommate’s bed.
Began worrying about what my future team would think of me.
Told myself that was a ridiculous thought.
Realized that this was what Jesus had for me all along.
Laughed at the irony of it all.
Why is all of this back story so important? Because it’s so important for me to remind myself that what I had planned for myself wasn’t bad. My desires were good. But Jesus didn’t just want what was good for me, He wanted what was best for me.
What was best for me was when, even though I had grown up a decently good Catholic kid, daily prayer wasn’t a part of my life. And at NET training I was given tools to make 30 minutes of prayer a part of my daily routine.
What was best for me was coming to a realization that loving Jesus doesn’t always mean I’m going to feel warm, fuzzy feelings for Him, but that more often than not, I have to choose to love Him.
What was best for me was being given the opportunities to share vulnerably in my small group at training about my past and how I had experienced the Lord’s mercy in my life.
What was best for me was being made a team leader for my team, even despite my terror at having never led a team so big before, not exactly knowing what the heck I was doing, and hoping like none other that my co-leader wouldn’t hate me.
What was best for me was learning throughout my year that authentic love is a choice. And sometimes that choice was as simple as sitting next to the person in the van that I didn’t naturally click with. Or forcing myself to bring food to the sick person on my team when I didn’t want to.
What was best for me was encountering youth on retreats who needed to hear my story and needed to hear that Jesus loves them.
What was best for me was watching youth break down in tears during prayer when they opened up their hearts just enough to encounter Jesus.
What was best for me was staying up late with host families when I was exhausted and hearing about their story and praying with them.
What was best for me was learning to let my teammates love and serve me instead of always having to be the one to serve.
What was best for me was giggling with the girls on my team as we laid in our sleeping bags on the floor of our host family’s basement and talked about love languages and prayer and how the Jonas Brothers should still be recording and about what was going on in our hearts.
What was best for me was, when I gave up coffee for Lent, the guys on my team bought highly-caffeinated tea for me and snuck it in my backpack so life wouldn’t be completely crappy. For me or for them.
What was best for me were the moments when I was tired and struggling and doubting my self-worth, and my teammates would put a reassuring hand on my shoulder and tell me that I was loved. By God and by them.
What was best for me was blasting music in the team van and singing at the top of our lungs.
What was best for me was the daily rosary we all prayed together on long van rides.
What was best for me was clogged toilets, host families’ dogs stealing my underwear out of the bathroom when I’m taking a shower, and all the other hilarious, embarrassing stories that happened.
What was best for me was encountering Jesus in the daily moments, in the daily adventures, in the daily conversations.
What was best for me was not being a full time youth minister in some parish somewhere in this great country of ours – it was being a NET missionary.
In those moments my senior year of college when I was ugly crying in my room, wondering what the heck the Lord doing in my life, I never could have anticipated how much He wanted to bless me, change me, stretch me, and give me so much more joy than I could ever have anticipated.
And here I am, three years later, still working for NET as a Team Supervisor. The Lord is never outdone in generosity. Or irony. And by the way, that postcard I thought I had thrown away in my class? I found it in my old class notes over Christmas this year. Guess it was meant to be after all.
Brothers and sisters, let the Lord give you His best. He won’t let you down.
Written by Amylia Bult, NET Staff