A Year of Growth

I sit here writing to you at one of the biggest crossroads of my life thus far. By crossroads, I mean there are highways, sky bridges, quiet winding paths, loud crosswalks, ladders, slides, and chutes, all entwined and splayed out before me. Here I am staring at the end of a college year that I think is my Junior Year 0.5 and I'm feeling the Lord tug in so many unexpected directions on my heart. All the while whispering in my ear that He'll love me and be with me whatever path I choose to take. I think this is the perfect time and place for reflection.

I roughly transitioned into this past year knowing that a bunch of big choices lay ahead of me but thinking it was far enough away to forget about. 

I was humbled very quickly by how many things in the JCCC SPO community the new missionaries wanted me to be a part of, but quickly overwhelmed. The one thing I quasi stuck with was the student committee that helped plan something called ReSPOnd. ReSPOnds were something the previous school year put on solely by the missionaries where they gave testimonies in relation to gospel passages followed by a session of praise and worship. This year, nothing was outwardly said about ReSPOnds happening. My fellow students began to groan about this as the weeks flew by, and me, not letting such a thing go quietly into the night, nagged our missionaries relentlessly until they caved in.
Thus, I'm proud to announce that born this year, at 7lbs and 4oz, was the ReSPOnd committee!
Consisting of a few students who wanted to make this happen, we took turns giving our own testimonies in regards to the upcoming Sunday gospels every Wednesday for the first semester. It was something that became a really insightful way to get to know my fellow students that I'd never taken the opportunity to deeply get to know.

Also born this year, was something called City Wide, which takes place the second and fourth Thursday night of every month. Put on specifically for the young adult chapter of Kansas City (but no less inviting for the student chapter) it consists of a speaker who delves into gospel passages more deeply and is followed by a longer session of praise and worship. After that there is a good amount of time for fellowship that has really helped me this year. Not only have I met some awesome people, but I've gotten to know the people around me much better and more quickly. Also, socializing after inviting the Holy Spirit into your heart really does feel different. There is always a high energy abuzz in the room and it's not just the free coffee they provide *cough* *cough*.

Both ReSPOnds and CityWides have helped me stay accountable in keeping the gospel constantly in my life. However, something unexpected this year has really started to change me for the better. 
"Fan into Flame"s are a very special retreat put on once a year per chapter. But me, being in Kansas, there are two chapters close enough together that I have been given the opportunity to experience it twice a year for the past two years. I remember being invited on my first one and everyone was like "HOLY SPIRIT YAHS" and I, being a smug know-it-all was like, "Duh, the Holy Spirit, obviously." I was still anti-charismatic worship being from a traditional Catholic family and I thought my relationship with the Holy Spirit was just peachy, thank you very much.  But someone was able to take me by the hand in my bitter intellectuality and in more or less gentle words tell me that it "wasn't about me, it was about God" and that was how the Holy Spirit actually entered my life. It was then that I got a taste of just how important the Fan into Flame retreats were for reminding people to invite the Holy Spirit into their daily lives. 

Fast forward three more Fan into Flames and you'll land on my most recent experience ( February 2017). 
Spiritual attack, as any of my spiritual confidants will be quick to agree with, is something I experience without fail in a physical way every single time I go on a retreat. Typically in the form of illness that always magically disappears after the retreat. My most recent Fan into Flame I had the privilege of leading a small group that was thrust upon me as I walked through the doors of the Prairie Star Ranch. My motto I chose this year instead of a New Year's resolution was "I am Ready" and boy, does the Holy Spirit like to jump on the spiritual train. Satan, on the other hand, was like "I give you this food poisoning and dehydration, plebeian. Try to lead your girls through the Baptism of the Holy Spirit now." I wish I was joking. 
But something happened in response to my general sickness. My close friend and now Director of Missions, Kimy Garvey, asked if I wanted to get prayed over. Thinking it'd be one or two other women with her I agreed, knowing I needed the Holy Spirit if I was to help bring Him into my small group girls' lives. But when she asked for people to pray over me all these women from both Benedictine, and JCCC, swarmed me. They were all squeezing shoulder to shoulder in their attempt to lay their hands on me and many had to settle with just lifting their hands to me. I was overcome in that moment as these dozens of women prayed over me, for me, to the Holy Spirit and I couldn't help but be awestruck by the Lord's goodness. I had come out of terrible relationship freshman year that left me hating everyone around me, leaving me unable to trust,and essentially without friends, to this: this outpouring of petitions to the Lord from women who loved me. Women whom I loved, trusted, and respected. I was able to see the face of God in each of their faces. It was surreal experience. I was given enough strength to be able to lead the Baptism in the Holy Spirit for my girls with the help of my awesome co-leader. Essentially I got baptized in the Spirit twice that night. The first for physical healing and the second, for spiritual healing.

This second experience is where I really saw the Spirit work. You see, when you get baptized in the Holy Spirit, whoever is leading the overall prayer will at some point ask you if there is anything you'd like to specifically pray about. When I was asked this, I prayed for things I did need help with, but because I was surrounded with the girls I was leading I had this sense of "I can't show weakness through being emotional. I have to set a calm example by not diving into my garbage."  So I sugarcoated and skirted around what had been lying dormant in me for quite some time.  And oh my, was I called out on my bologna. Someone helping lead for my baptism in the Spirit said something to the affect of "Sarah, I think you really need to call out what's weighing down your heart. You need to lay it down before the Lord." It was like the Lord calling out to the stormy sea within my soul to stand down so that he could plunge into the waves to save me as I was drowning from the weight of my wounds. 
I don't think this person realized what a conduit they were for the Spirit or what was weighing on me because it all came out- much to the consternation of the girls around me. It was wound after wound after wound and they just spilled off my tongue. I am so grateful for my small group girls, because despite it being their first ever Fan into Flame and their first ever experience with St. Paul's Outreach, they embraced me during that Baptism and we all were riddled with joy for the remainder of the night. A sweet, sweet gift from the Holy Spirit.
And so those seeds he generously planted within me have bloomed in a desire for daily prayer, a desire for frequenting the sacraments, a desire for Him that I thought would be nigh impossible to retrieve after forfeiting it.

These fruits have helped exponentially with my discernment for which path I should take as they have enabled me to hear the Lord much more clearly and to trust in Him like never before.

I think a good way to end this glance backwards would be to thank all the missionaries and my fellow students of the JCCC/UMKC chapter for the 2016/2017 year. I’m beyond blessed to have grown closer to you all and to be able to make this small part of the journey with you. I wish you all the best in the future,

Sarah Zuchowski

Disclaimer: There is no science behind the weight of the ReSPOnd committee.