This quotation by Bishop Barron perfectly sums up my whole story so far in one sentence. My little three-year-old heart desired none other but to "be at one with God" and to be Catholic. A year later, I attended an Anglican school, where I was caught in the Sunday Service for playing with orange and green pipe cleaners after refusing to listen to any more on how they thought communion was purely symbolic. As far as I was concerned, Jesus said, "This is my Body...This is my Blood", so I took it literally. I believed in transubstantiation before I even knew the term.
From the age of five until seven or eight, religion played little part in my life. As a nine-year-old, I thought of how many people were getting married and told myself that one day it would be my turn. Only when I turned 10 did I start turning to God for little things like asking Him to put my friends in the same PE team so they'd be happy.
I moved to Hong Kong just before turning 11. I was an angry child, with a hot temper, unable to understand why I was left with a Catholic maid most of the time due to my parents travelling with work. Soon, I joined a Christian prayer group - everyone except me was Catholic. They prayed with me, and my English teacher lent me a Bible. I started with the Gospel of Matthew. However, I went through my first trial - I felt like a brick wall had been built around me, and the devil had attacked me. One of the Sixth Form girls leading the prayer group said she knew one of us here was in need. She knew it was me, and so she prayed with me.
After a year in Hong Kong, I moved to Penang, Malaysia, to boarding school for two years. I claimed to have thrown my faith out the window. I wanted nothing to do with God, and so I stopped praying.
So, as a 13-year-old, half-way through year nine, the Lord sent me back to England, to a Catholic girls' school. I was scared of praying, but I had settled in well to the school, even shocking some of the staff. Six months past and I decided to "give God another try". The emptiness in my heart, coupled with the deep desire to love, and knowing the love I held in my heart was too much for one person alone, moved me to try to develop my prayer life. I turned to God, first once a day, the twice a day, then more and more, until I turned to Him for everything.
The next two years was a turning point in my life. I had been consumed by the fire of God's love, and began to experience urges to pray that would put me into a deeply contemplative state - for me, it felt like a peaceful trance. Words fail to justify the description of such an experience. This is when I sought the advice of the parish priest, who was also our school chaplain. I asked him how I could develop my prayer life and where I could get a Rosary. He gave me one, and I used it everyday. Though I found a sense of fulfilment in prayer, there was still something missing. I wrote to Mother M. Edmund Campion OSB saying I had a very strong desire for prolonged prayer. By then, I was waking up in the middle of the night just to spend time with our Lord. She replied, and she said it sounded like God could be calling me to Religious Life, and to keep her informed. I did, until she returned to the Lord a few years later.
However, when I told my mother of my desire to give my life to God, all hell broke loose at home. Here began my second trial - persuading my family to accept my faith decisions. For this, I prayed fervently the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet, both of which kept me going. Despite the difficulty at home, God's grace helped me to do well in my GCSEs and all of my extra-curricular activities. I was in two choirs, four music ensembles, cantored in Mass, the student council representative for my class, in the eco-committee, stood for mock-up political elections within the school and won external awards for my poetry and in the UKMT Senior Maths Challenge. I won a scholarship for the Sixth Form, but my parents refused, so put me in a secular, state Sixth Form College instead.
In 2012, I finished Sixth Form and moved to London, where I moved out of home because I got a 13-month contract with a retail partnership (which later got extended to 16 months). I visited the Salesian Sisters (one of whom became my Godmother later on), and Tyburn Convent. I also sneaked into the RCIA underage, at 17, but by the time the Bishop asked for the paperwork, my 18th birthday had passed, so I was accepted and received the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil in the Year of Faith (2013). Though I persevered through, I had another trial - the temptation of running from God, because of my family's attitude towards my desire to give myself to God. During this time, I attended daily Mass, joined the Religious Brothers for Lauds, and sometimes Sext and Vespers, went to regular Adoration and really got involved in various parish groups. I really appreciated the Brothers and was quite close to them.
Towards the end of 2012, I sought spiritual direction, to deepen my spiritual life, and also because I was discerning. There was still that emptiness, no matter what I did. By 2013, I was helping the Missionaries of Charity regularly, and I also co-facilitated a Vocations Chat Facebook Group with a Franciscan sister.
In June 2013, I visited a particular Franciscan convent for the first time. Even on the train, I felt like I was going home. I was at peace with them and fit in well then. I went back in September again, and really spent time in prayer about what to do next. That visit, I applied to be received as a Candidate as was accepted. I was received in the formation house on 3rd November 2013. In February 2014, I went with one of the sisters and an aspirant to Youth 2000. It was an insightful experience, and I was in tears by how the Lord touched my heart in adoration and through the people whom I encountered. Soon after, I applied to the Postulancy and was accepted, though I never actually was received due to personal reasons.
In August 2014, I started my degree in Malaysia, after a while at home with family in England and Singapore. I found it difficult to settle in, and I was very homesick. In 2015, I had an extremely rough year. This was my fourth trial. I made some regrettably foolish decisions during this year, and I really ran the opposite direction from God. However, in the peripheral, through it all, the desire to give myself wholly to God, to love all His children in whom I encounter, remained. I could not stop myself returning to God in the sacrament of reconciliation either - the draw was so strong, the Eucharist was so strong - it beamed light through me, and burned fire in me, which moved me to eventually turn back fully to God.
March 2015, I found myself at the Carmel - that was a source of peace for me. This is where my healing began. Then, in April, I received therapy from a Catholic clinical psychologist. The professional help really pulled me through. Then, there was music ministry and lifeline (youth ministry). They kept me in one piece. 2016 was a year of healing for me, and thanks to a particular person in the music ministry, I was sent on inner healing and life in the spirit seminars. It caused me to look deep within my soul to search for the meaning of my life.
One day, my closest and best friend, a young man turned around and told me he was contemplating priesthood and that I had Religious Life written all over me and who were we kidding? We'd discerned the path of marriage before...I felt kind of guttered, but then it made my path clearer. I started discerning again, and towards the end of 2016 until early 2017, I had some spiritual direction for six months.
In February 2017, I attended an archdiocese vocations camp. I went with total openness, and I prayed fervently for God's grace to lead me. At the time, a particular apostolic congregation touched my heart, but now, a month later, I took a step back and realised the draw was to a particular aspect, and that their charism somehow did not entirely "sit" with me. Thus, upon speaking with a priest who has known me since I was in London, I was challenged, and this question put to me, "Since you appreciated the Brothers so much...why didn't you consider our Sisters?"...I had, but I was afraid at the time to travel. Now, I am no longer the immature teenager I once was, but renewed in faith, ready to take on God's challenges, by His grace. And, it seems, that the more I discover about the Sisters, the more at home I am, so please pray for my next steps.
One year on, and my faith journey has seen some incredible twists and turns. I faced many challenges, including doubting God's existence, His love and mercy, and contemplating switching churches. I also fell ill several times from August 2017 to January 2018. Then, I encountered my toughest challenge yet - direct spiritual attacks from a group who left the Church and started walking with something other than God. However, by God's grace, He is renewing my faith everyday, and in the silence, He comes to me, strengthening and consoling me, helping me to get through each day. My desire to seek full union in total abandonment to our Lord only grows stronger. My yearning to give myself wholly to Him who has given Himself wholly to us multiplies greatly each day. My gratitude for the Eucharist and trust in His love and mercy grows steadily through the trials. I am reminded of my promise to God as a child to be His, and His alone. I am in the midst of discovering exactly what God has planned for me since the beginning. However, all is by His grace, without which, I am nothing. If not for love of Him, all would be in vain. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Have Mercy on me a sinner. Amen.