Raffle Terms and Conditions

Steubenville SOCAL Registration Raffle Terms and Conditions 

Must register a group no later than 11:59pm on January 15th to qualify for the raffle.

 A group must have at least 20 registered participants (between chaperones and teens or young adults (SD)) to be entered into the drawing.

If you select the free-t-shirt prize for your group, t-shirts will only be given for the number of people you registered for before the raffle. For example, if you registered 20 by Jan 15 and won the prize, and then added 40 people to your group only the original 20 would receive free shirts, so register your best estimate.

Drawing will be held on Monday January 16th at 12:00pm and will be broadcast via Facebook Live on our page
facebook.com/AllforGodcatholic

NO LATE ENTRIES WILL BE ACCEPTED

Prize will be shipped to the youth minister on receipt of final payment and collection of all paperwork

Prize is valued at $500

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Conference T-Shirts

Steubenville SoCal 2017 T-Shirts

We’re excited to preview the 2017 Steubenville San Diego and 18:23 T-shirts. Ordering a shirt is easy. There are 3 simple ways to order shirts for your groups.

1)Just call us at (619) 582-4571 and one of our amazing staff or volunteers will be more than happy to assist you.

2)Email us at info@AllforGod.com and we will add them to your group’s order.

3) Just add the shirts to your Participant Count and Extras Pre-order Form that is due June 10th.

Shirts are $14 pre-order and $20 the weekend of the conference, so don’t miss out on some serious savings and don’t miss out on these amazing shirts.

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1823_shirts

 

National Shirt

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IMAGINE more info

Imagine Banner

WHAT IS IMAGINE YOUTH DAY?

Imagine is an exciting regional conference held each Fall to energize teens’ faith. A high quality, technology rich experiences, with nationally acclaimed speakers and musicians, Imagine reaches teens as they hear the Gospel shared in ways that are relevant an timely in their high school years. It calls teens, especially those on a journey to Confirmation, into a richer and meaningful life, as they are encouraged to live out their faith.

COMING OCTOBER 22, 2016

SHILEY THEATRE

AT UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO

5998 ALCALA PARK
SAN DIEGO, CA 92110

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18:23 More Info

In Acts 18:23, we read that Paul traveled the world with the purpose of “bringing strength to all the disciples,” and that’s the purpose of 18:23: to bring strength to all young adults! So come and see, meet young adults from all over the US including California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. Grow, be strengthened in your faith in Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis is challenging us to walk in the light of the Lord, to build up the Church, and to profess Jesus Christ. We’ve got fabulous speakers, an amazing worship band, and a venue just for young adults ages 18 to 23-ish. Come by yourself, with a group of friends, or travel with your parish youth or young adult group. However you get to San Diego, we want you here! 18:23–All for God Young Adult Conference is about building and strengthening the community of young adults!

JULY 29-31, 2016

SHILEY THEATRE

AT UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO

5998 ALCALA PARK
SAN DIEGO, CA 92110

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Through God Alone

Through God Alone by Tiffany Nguyen

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When I was in middle school, one of my friends shared her mantra with me: God wouldn’t throw at me what I couldn’t handle. I was astounded by her faith, seeing at the time I saw God to be a distant figure, not someone who I could necessarily trust. I mean, why trust someone who made me wake up early on the weekends just to sit around at church for an hour? But I liked what she said. And I believed it.

I always bit off more than I could swallow; in high school I loaded my schedule with AP classes, tried to commit myself to an assortment of clubs, and worked my way up my school’s marching band to hold many leadership positions. I volunteered more at my parish, I started dating, and I maintained an adequate social life. I wouldn’t say it was the easiest; there were many late nights, emotional breakdowns, and much turmoil that comes with a packed schedule. But for the most part, I was able to manage my load. Because God never threw at me what I couldn’t handle… right?

Come college, I felt like Superman. Undefeatable. Invulnerable to anything the world could throw at me.

And then I took my first set of college classes and got my first job.

Due to my major, I was subjected to two science classes every quarter in addition to taking calculus, all the while working 20 hours a week and trying to maintain my social life and relationship. It was physically draining because I would come home from a closing shift and have to wake up eight hours later for my morning classes. It was emotionally exhausting because my boyfriend lived two hours north and we were only able to talk after I got off work. And spiritually?  My spiritual life was pretty much nonexistent.  As I filled my schedule and days with more and more, I left less and less time for Him.

But God never threw at me what I couldn’t handle, right? After all, doesn’t it say in Philippians 4:13 that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”?

I continued and struggled to chew what I had bitten, all the while desiring more because I believed that He gave me the strength to overcome all adversity. I would be the perfect student; sleep well, get excellent grades, and have a ton of friends. I believed that God would give me the strength to be able to excel at everything. But what I didn’t know was that He had no way to send me the strength I needed. I had abandoned Him and severed all possibility of His reach. I stopped praying, I attended mass with an empty heart and tired eyes… I felt so overwhelmed and disconnected from the world.

In my second year of college, I slowly let him back into my life, not exactly knowing how I’d find time for Him. He was knocking and I hadn’t heard it, buried away by my own ambition. Drowning would be a better word for that. Once I answered and readied myself for Him, He took care of everything.

I want to say the clouds parted and the sun shone through and the voice of the heavens spoke to me and my life turned around, that my failures were erased, I got a raise, and everything was fixed.  It took a lot of time; I was so emotionally and spiritually worn out.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

God wouldn’t throw at me what I couldn’t handle, but it is through His grace and divinity that we are able to conquer all the toils and tests the world presents us. It is through God alone that we can not only survive but thrive as His creations.

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Return to the Lord

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Return to the Lord by Jeny Aquino 

Lent has an interesting way of sneaking up on me.  One day it’s Christmas, then its New Year’s, and suddenly, it’s Lent.  When I think about what Lent means to me, I remember the days where I would be with all my other classmates in elementary school asking each other “What are you going to give up?” and telling each other about giving up things like chocolate or fast food.  I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with giving up those things, but as I grew older, I started to see how Lenten promises can be much more than giving up sweets or things we like to eat.  After all, Lent is so much more in itself.

A few years ago, I was going through what I would call a “spiritual drought”.  I had the love of God within me, but was in a place where I was unable to fully love him with my whole heart.  For many reasons, I could not truly align my life with His plan for me.  I made excuses like, “well, I’m not perfect” and tried to justify my lack of devotion to God by saying that He would love me no matter what I did and did not do.  It was really difficult to admit to myself that I needed to get back on track.

Before I knew it, my prayer life was really lousy.  I felt a strange emptiness wherever I went.  I would attend Mass and go to church functions, but couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something.  Even though I felt little signs here and there telling me to seek help, I felt that as long as I said that I loved God, I would eventually feel better.  But it was only a matter of time before I realized that I needed to make a change in my life.

By the grace of God, I was able to participate in the Service and Leadership Training program, better known as SALT, which is hosted prior to Steubenville San Diego.  This program calls young adults to seek God and devote themselves in faith at a deeper level; something that I desperately needed.  The retreat I attended for SALT was going well, so well that I began to question something in myself.  Amongst all the prayer and the amazingly powerful spiritual atmosphere, I found myself wondering if I even deserved to be there.  I was surrounded by so many other young adults who seemed to be so much better people than I was.  When I looked at who I was currently, I didn’t feel worthy to seek God.  As we prepared for Reconciliation, I felt almost inclined to not go.  Before I realized it, I was the only person who had not gone yet, and under pressure, got up to sit with the priest.  Before I began to speak, I sat in front of him in silence, looking down.  I couldn’t find the words.  Without realizing I was speaking out loud, I muttered “I feel so lost.  I don’t even know where to begin.”  Immediately embarrassed, I was about to get up and leave, when the priest laid his hand over mine and calmly said, “Why not start here?”  In hearing this, we opened with prayer and before I knew it, I was pouring out my heart.

Sparing no detail or pain, I shared with the priest everything that had been in my heart the last several months.  I kept looking to him thinking he would show an expression of shock or disgust, but found his expression to be gentle as he listened to me.  When I was finished, I asked “Do I deserve to be forgiven?”  I looked at my feet until the priest asked me to look at him.  He told me of the story of when Jesus encountered the woman caught in adultery.  I had heard this story many times.  When the priest asked me what I remembered most from the story, I told him it was a story about how a woman was almost stoned but was not thanks to Jesus.  But the priest laughed quietly to himself and asked me what Jesus had told the woman.  For some reason, I couldn’t really remember and he told me that Jesus had asked the woman who was there to condemn her, and as she replied to Christ that no one was there to condemn her, Jesus simply told her “Neither do I.  Go forth and sin no more”.  As I was reminded of what Jesus told the woman, through utter acceptance and unconditional love, I begin to cry.

After that, I left the priest with a renewed spirit and a heart full of hope.  For the rest of the retreat, I smiled and laughed along with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and felt like a whole new person. My spiritual drought was over.  I realized after that day that what I needed all along was to just come back to God.

While this experience is one that I will never forget and occurred in the middle of the summer, I especially like to reflect on it when Lent comes around.  I realized after that Reconciliation that it is never too late to come back to God.  I also came to know more fully that while it is spiritually fulfilling to give up things in our life for the sake of God, it is also incredibly enlightening to do more in our life to honor him.  After being a part of SALT, I was able to better participate not only in the Steubenville conference but in my overall daily faith life.  When I gave up the things that did not help me in my relationship with God, I was able to love Him more devotedly and glorify Him so much more in my life. Attending both the SALT retreat and the Steubenville conference helped me to remind my soul that I belonged to God and God alone.

Lent is a time when we reflect more upon our lives and more clearly confront whatever it is that does not align with God and what he wants for us.  Maybe for some of us, it is a person or a relationship that does not allow us to grow in holiness.  Perhaps it is a past or habitual sin that keeps us from knowing Jesus fully.  Regardless of what it is that holds you back, believe me when I say that you do not need it. Sacrificing things in our life may seem like a difficult thing to do, but it is entirely worth it.  Sometimes, the things that make us happy are not always the best things for us.  They may make us happy for a time but they do not fulfill us completely.  God wants us to be full of life; he wants an unending joy to radiate our lives.  This kind of joy is different than happiness.  Sacrifice of what is not beneficial to growing in our relationship with God will be the first step to true joy in Jesus Christ.  While it took me a bit of running around in circles to realize this, it is enough for me.  God is always more than enough for me.

Even after everything, I did deserve to be forgiven.  God tells us with all that He is that we are forever deserving and worthy of His love.  So much is that worth that He made a way for us to fully know Him. He came to this very earth, became man, and sacrificed His entire life for us.

Rather than only focusing on what you want to give up this Lent, try to think about what it is you want to do more or start doing for God as well.  If your faith life is already at a good place, then don’t be afraid to go even deeper.  Allow this season to enable you to becoming even closer with Christ.

I pray that you do so remembering your worth.  Never forget that God loves you.  And if you ever do forget or even feel a little lost at times, remember that it is never too late to come back to God.  If you truly seek Him, God will always show you the way back.

“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God” (Joel 2:12).

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You are His Beloved

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“You are His beloved.” by Tiffany Nguyen

I spent this past Thursday with the ladies of my parish’s EDGE program with the intention to remind them that they are God’s beloved.  As I dwelled on this topic in the days leading up to the event, I reflected on my own feelings of insecurity.

Ever since I could remember, I was always the DUFF. Dumb. Ugly. Fat. Friend. I wore pants two sizes bigger than the other girls of my class in elementary school.  My mom couldn’t see the purpose of buying me name brand “Abercrombie” pants because “I would outgrow them.”

“You’re just going to get fatter,” was what I heard.

I confess, there are days when I still have this feeling in my gut: I’m not pretty because my legs are too short, my skin too dark, my hair too bland, my arms too round, my chest too small, etc. etc.  Those days, as I fixate on all the imperfections of my body, I feel and become ugly.

Although these days have become less frequent as I’ve left high school and the social constructs that occurred when seeing the same people five days a week, I didn’t truly believe I was His beloved.

My Youth Minister showed a video where adults were asked one question: “If there were one thing you could change about your body, what would it be?”

Almost immediately, the adults confessed a feature they were ashamed of: big ears, short legs, large eyes, a small nose.

The video then faded out to show a series of children asked the same question.  Their answers took more thought and consideration.

“I would want a shark’s mouth so I could eat more.”

“Wings so I could fly wherever I wanted.”

“Gills so I can breathe under water.”

“I wouldn’t change anything.”

I almost cried as I watched this.  I found confidence in my body as I grew up, matured, and became an adult.  I lost confidence in my dignity as a creation, a daughter, and child of God.

“Through him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:3)

Every day, I marvel at the beauty that is God’s creation.  The sunrise, the sparkling dew on my lawn, the blue skies above, and the flowers down below.  If God could create such beauty, if my all-powerful, omnipotent God could create the heavens above and the land and sea below, how on earth could He create anything less than beautiful?  Why would God the Father make His children, his creation, anything but beautiful?

“And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

It is so easy to forget to look at the world with your heart instead of your eyes.  With childlike wonder, we should marvel the beauty God created… with us included.  Instead of fixating on what the world says is wrong about us, we can see everything that He did right.  He knew you before you were born, and you are beautiful in His eyes.

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I Surrender

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I Surrender by Jeny Aquino 

I remember the first time I was told to “trust in God’s plan” by a leader in my church.  I had just finished telling him about the extent of the worries and anxiety I was currently facing in my life and was incredibly stressed with the circumstances I was in.  But for some reason, I was not at all happy to hear the brief words of advice he gave me.  In reality, the idea of simply trusting in God’s plan resulted in me stressing out even more.  I kept wondering to myself “Well what kind of plan?  When will I be aware that the plan is in play?  Will I be truly taken care of in this so called ‘God’s plan’?” and the questions went on and on.

Since then, I have developed deeper in my faith and now take great comfort in knowing that God has a plan for my life.  I might not know the grand scheme of things, but I am relieved to know that God has my back no matter what I face.  But while I am much more open and accepting towards the direction God holds for my life, I am still a very easily stressed out person.

As a student in college, I tend to stress so much that it can affect my overall health in my daily life.  It can adversely affect my sleeping habits, the way I eat, and even my spiritual health.  I can sadly say that it was during the most stressful moments that I prayed the least to God.  I can get so wrapped up in my worries that I push God away and try to do everything on my own.  Whenever this occurs, I learn the hard way that a life without God isn’t really living, and it is during our hardest times when we are to run to God all the more.

But often times for most people, learning this isn’t so easy.  Throughout my experience in youth ministry, I would have countless teens come to me saying things like “Life sucks and I feel like God is really distant” or “I’m not happy and I don’t feel God in my life”.  In response, I always ask “Well, when was the last time you prayed and tried to really listen to Him?” and almost always, the teen tells me that their prayer life has been poor, or in some unfortunate situations, nonexistent.

Praying is talking to God and opening ourselves up to the life he wants to speak into us.  He has a purpose for us, even in our sufferings.  It we are not spending time with him, we will not be able to see His beautiful plan for us.  When we pray to God and speak with Him, we can better cope with our lives and the situations we face.  We develop a healthy and thriving faith that can allow us to better trust in His plan for us.  Without having God in our daily lives, we are more likely to lead a life filled with worries and darkness.  And who would truly want that?  I definitely don’t.

So what is it about our lives that makes us want to orchestrate everything on our own, apart from God’s plan for us?  Why is it sometimes so hard to believe and accept the truth that God truly knows best?

In my weekly Bible study, we discussed this question and the concept of God’s plan.  A conclusion that I came to realize was that for most human beings, everything comes down to control.  No one likes to not have control over their life.  When it comes to tragic or bad situations, bad grades, illness, death, or the consequences of sin, everyone wants the ability to determine their own fate.  Everyone wants control.

But what I have realized, and at times the hard way, is that I am not fit to have full control over all aspects of my life.  The reason why I say this is because I need a Savior.  I need the love and guidance of Christ to help me make the absolute best decisions and choices to make myself into the best person I could possibly be.  That means believing that God is the only one who truly knows what is best of us.

When we try to take control of our lives without regard for what God has in store for us, we tend to be blindsided with distractions and things that can take us away from Him.  I know this because when I try to live my own path rather than just listen to what God wants for me, I am plagued by worry and stress over the things that I cannot control or change.  Loving God means wanted to be with Him.  Wanting to be with God means wanting to follow the best path to reach Him.

When I attended the Steubenville San Diego conference in 2014, I was in the middle of one of the most stressful times of my life.  I had just been rejected from my number one choice university and was constantly questioning my future.  I became so obsessed with where I would finish my degree and what type of job I would have in the future that I lost sight of believing that God would always take care of me.  During Mass, I found myself to be so distracted.  Rather than praying, I was questioning my future and worth.  I began to wonder where my life was going, when all of a sudden, I felt a warm comfort with a sudden urge to look up.  On the altar, directly facing me, I witnessed the unforgettable sight of the priest holding up the Eucharist during the Consecration of the Mass.  Blinking back tears, I smiled, because I was reminded of my worth in that instant.  In a small gesture, God was showing me not where my life was headed, but the direction to which I should be going: towards Him.

It was in the fleeting, but profoundly meaningful moment, that I decided to surrender my need to control my life to God.  In abandoning the need to have control, God gave me the irreplaceable blessing of comfort in knowing that He would always be there for me.

If you are like me, and sometimes worry or stress too much, please take my advice.  You do not need to control the things in your life that you are not meant to control.  Surrendering control is a gift that allows us to be in full communion with God in a way that is only possible through the trust and faith we hold for His plan for us.

In the Bible study I attended, we read a passage from Matthew 6:25-27, which reads: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are not you more important than they?  Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life?”

No matter what obstacle or problem you face, know that God will never place you in a situation that you cannot handle.  Trusting fully in God’s plan for us is not always easy, but is definitely possible.

Worries will never comfort you and unnecessary stress will only hurt your relationship with our Heavenly Father.  Jesus gave up His life in this world for us so that we might give ourselves to Him and one day reunite in Heaven.

Rather than holding onto the things in life that we cannot control or change, God calls us to surrender them to Him and let Him carry the weight of all our burdens.  More than anything and anyone, God truly knows what is best for us.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I invite you to let go, just as I did, and trust in His plan for you.

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“Would you like to go to Steubenville San Diego?”

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“Would you like to go to Steubenville San Diego?” by Jeny Aquino

I was a first year student in my Confirmation program when one night after youth group, my youth minister came up to me and asked me this question.  My initial response was: “Steubenville: what the heck is that?” Obviously, I asked this in my mind, but in all seriousness, I had no idea what the conference was.  As a Confirmation student, I questioned the conference’s necessity towards my Sacramental preparation because my parish already hosted a Confirmation retreat for us.  But given the opportunity, I still told my youth minister that I was willing to go.

When I attended Steubenville that year, I had no idea what to expect.  It was the summer after my first year in high school, and at that point in my life, my faith meant close to nothing to me.  I remember wondering how much of an impact a conference like this could really have on me and other teens attending.  To be honest, I only went to the conference because I just wanted to be out of my house and thought I could forget my problems for a weekend.  Little did I know that attending the conference that weekend would be one of the greatest experiences in my life.

Growing up in the faith, I was no stranger to theology and basic catechism concepts.  While I was aware that I didn’t know everything there was to know about the Church, I believed that there was nothing to really gain from attending the conference.

But much to my surprise, as the first day of the weekend began, it was as if I had entered into a completely different world.  I had never been to a conference that was so large and dynamic and I was overwhelmed by the first day alone.  I saw more Catholic youth than I had ever seen in one place and saw a type of prayer and worship that was unfamiliar to me.  As the weekend continued, I could feel a willingness to be open to the love of God growing in me.  I tried to fight that feeling the first day and for the beginning of the second day, but by evening, I could no longer keep myself from opening up my heart to God.  Soon, I found myself listening to the speakers on stage, smiling along with my fellow youth, and singing praises to God like I had never done before.

Until my experience at Steubenville, I always tried to push my emotions away whenever situations got rough in my life.  I would pretend there was nothing wrong, even if inside, I felt like my heart was breaking.  Being at the conference made me feel like I could be vulnerable and open without the fear of rejection or disappointment.

For the first time in my life, I let go of everything.  As I cried in my seat in the presence of the Eucharist, I felt as if I was crying in the arms of Christ.

As a teen, I had no idea that my first experience of attending Steubenville would be the turning point in my faith.  After that weekend, I formed a new relationship with Christ that continues to this very day.  While I had always known about God, I had never truly known Him.  I had never realized the depth of His love for me until I witnessed who He was at this conference.

After that weekend, I went on towards my second year of Confirmation preparation.  While the weekend of my first Steubenville had ended, the experience stayed within my heart and helped me to see the good of God in everything around me.  As the year went on, I found myself so much more passionate about my faith and eager to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Attending the conference showed me not only the importance of being open to the love of God, but also the importance of learning more about the faith to better myself as a Catholic and as a human being in this world.  When I received the Sacrament of Confirmation, I knew in my heart how precious it was.  I truly believe that attending Steubenville enabled me to become more spiritually ready and equipped to be fully initiated into the Catholic faith.

When I became a youth minister, I carried the experience of my first Steubenville conference with me.  This conference was the most pivotal moment in my faith life and I knew it had that life-changing potential for so many others who were desperately in need of God’s love in their lives.  While my parish’s Confirmation preparation program included a Confirmation retreat, I always encouraged teens in the program to attend the Steubenville conference in addition because it adds so much to their journey toward the sacrament of Confirmation.

The conference itself is so much more than a conference.  In a very profound way, Steubenville grants an incredible encounter experience for those attending for the first time and gives spiritual nourishment and renewal to any returning attendees.  Sometimes, our faith needs an extra push and Steubenville has been that for thousands of teens.  When I attended Steubenville, I was shown that I am not alone and am surrounded by countless brothers and sisters in Christ who are all desiring to grow closer to God with me.  I would never have understood the magnitude of this truth if I had not attended Steubenville San Diego.

I know it is through the grace of God that I was able to attend the conference where I truly encountered Christ for the first time.  Without that initial invitation by my youth minister, I cannot even imagine how different my life would be.  I pray that you will also have the opportunity to attend and take your teens to a Steubenville conference.  I can say with all my heart that Steubenville San Diego is worth it, because amazing things happen when we come together as one family in communion with our heavenly Father.  When we allow ourselves to be open to experiencing the grace of His presence, He will work wonders in our hearts and in our lives.

When I think back on that night when my youth minister asked me if I wanted to go to Steubenville, I feel so blessed and thankful that I was given the opportunity.

I had no idea then, that after that invitation, my life would be forever changed for the better, but I thank God every day that my answer was “Yes.”

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In Hope, We Wait.

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In Hope, We Wait  

by Jeny Aquino

To be completely honest, this time of year used to be really difficult for me.

I remember how hard it was to walk around during the Christmas season.  Seeing families together and decorations all around was a bittersweet sight in my eyes.  For several years, I suffered from the “holiday blues”, which made it very difficult for me to fully appreciate and celebrate the Advent and Christmas season.  People would always tell me to “cheer up” and to remember what the season is all about.  While doing that made sense, I didn’t truly know what the season meant for me.

I was very fortunate to grow up with a Catholic education.  I didn’t always appreciate that blessing, but now I am incredibly grateful.  One of the many important things I remember is learning about and celebrating the Advent season every year.  My school would have brief, but meaningful, morning assemblies in which we would light a candle on the school’s Advent wreath each week.  We would sing and pray together, and I would happily join in.  One particular year, I remember having the honor of lighting the pink candle on the Advent wreath and feeling overjoyed with happiness.  It wasn’t until after my 6th grade year where I began to question the celebration.

I can’t exactly recall how or when it began to change, but one day I woke up and realized my whole world was different.  As a result, preparation for Christmas in my house was surrounded by nonstop fighting, superficial dinners with the relatives, and an endless amount of broken promises.  As I watched the candles on the Advent wreath being lit, I saw less of the coming of Jesus, and more of a countdown of waiting for when the season would be over.

It wasn’t until my initial conversion experience in 2008 when I began to come alive in my faith and I was able to see God more in my life.  I attended my first Steubenville Conference with the theme “Witness”, and left the conference with a renewed relationship with God and a hopeful heart.  As the months after the conference followed, and Advent drew near, I was more confident that I wouldn’t experience the sadness I tended to feel around the holidays.  However, come December, I was filled with a great deal of emptiness and despair amidst the usual chaos in my life.  And somehow, I became incredibly frustrated in a new way, because I thought that having a relationship with God and holding faith in my heart would have cured the loneliness I felt around Christmas.  I thought my life and home would revert back to what it once was if I believed in the power of Christ.

As I attended my next Steubenville conference the following year, I began to grow further in my faith and intimacy with God.  I left the conference confident each year that my Advent and Christmas would be different.  However, the same problems pursued, and so did my suffering.  This continued on, year after year, conference after conference, and I began to lose hope.  Thoughts like “maybe it’s just me” and “I can’t wait ‘til this season is over” would plague my mind.  All I could think about was if this was how the season would always be, then I couldn’t wait for January to arrive.

Even though I could feel my faith growing each year, I also felt a lingering pain that just wouldn’t go away, like a sore that never fully healed.  I had always learned that Advent was a time of waiting. And there I was, still waiting for things to be different.

What does Advent really mean?  What is the Christmas season truly about?

I could answer these questions easily with textbook definitions and quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but I couldn’t tell you what Advent and Christmas meant in my own heart.  If these questions were so easily answerable, then what was I doing wrong?

Last December, I was particularly pessimistic about the Advent and Christmas season.  It had been a really difficult year, and I felt a sad acceptance and expectation of the usual holiday blues.  I was driving on my way home from running some errands, and found myself waiting at a red light.  Usually, I just space out and wait for the light to change, but out of the corner of my eye, something caught my attention.  I saw a man sitting down under a bridge, covered in a blanket trying to stay warm.  He was sitting next to a handmade cardboard sign that read “Smile. Jesus is coming”.  Before I could react, the light turned green and I had to drive.  As I passed the man, I could have sworn that he looked into my eyes and smiled.  Like a child, I cried all the way home.  Even though it was just a small gesture, it felt like God had sent that man to me.  When I passed the same street the next day, the man was gone, but his smile and message stayed within my heart.

Have you ever lost something and looked all over for it, tossing things about, only to give up hope after not finding it?  Then, later, you find it, whether you were looking for it or not, either in a very obvious place or somewhere you just didn’t think to look?  That has happened to me so many times. In a way, this story is a bit like that.  Somewhere along the way, I lost the joy and spirit I had in the Advent season, and tossed around all the blessings and good things in my life, trying to find what I thought I didn’t have.  I lost hope in what it meant to prepare for and celebrate the birth of Christ.  But when and where I least expected it, I found it.

While some of the bad things in my life didn’t entirely change, I felt like something inside me did. Last Christmas was one of the best Christmases I had had in a long time.  Families I saw on the streets looked happier.  The decorations looked much more beautiful.  And I could swear that my smile was a bit brighter.

Sometimes it can be easy to dwell on the negative parts of our lives.  We can look at them so much that we may even forget all the good around us.  We can lose something in ourselves.  Something so precious: hope.

Maybe I wasn’t doing anything wrong intentionally, but without even realizing it, I had closed off my heart.  I would remember past bad experiences around the holidays, and in a sad attempt to protect myself, I would close off my heart to everyone around me, especially God.  In doing so, I still sought Him out, but without hope in His promise, I could not fully understand the depth of His love for me. Because all along, God had been trying to reach me.  I thought God had abandoned me, but in reality it was me who was running from God.

I know now that while sometimes we may lose things, we can never lose God.  We can never lose ourselves if we reside in Him.

The Advent season is still upon us, but before you know it, Christmas will be here.  I spent so long trying to speed up the season, and now all I want is for it to slow down a bit.  I never realized how when we try to skip to Christmas, we may sometimes not see and appreciate all that the Advent season has to offer.

While we await the birth of Christ in this season, we are reminded of what that truly means.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.  Amidst the chaos and self-destruction within humanity, God sent us Jesus Christ, to fully rid the world of all fear, suffering, and sin.  But while Jesus came into this world to shelter us from evil, it is still up to us to live according to God’s will. Advent reminds us of the first coming of Christ into our world, and makes us aware that one day, there will be a second.

Since the day that stranger smiled at me, I knew that I was done running from God.  And I know that there is no turning back.

I pray that for the remainder of this Advent season, you can also come to realize who Jesus is in your heart.  Sometimes life can get to us.  We can be filled with hopelessness.  We can even catch the “holiday blues”.  But above all, we can overcome everything this world has to offer, with all that Christ offers.  No matter where you are in your faith, I pray you never lose hope.  For Romans 12:12 reads “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer”, and that is exactly how we should be in this season, and every day of our lives.

So smile. Jesus is coming.

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