Well, friends, it’s been two years as a hobo. Two years since I last put my clothes in a drawer. Two years of taking a deep breath before answering the questions “Where are you from?” or “What do you do?” Two years of planning a year from now with no idea where I’m going tomorrow. Two years, 49 states,1 two foreign countries,2 60,000 miles on my car. I’ve stayed in 42 states, spoken in 31 (50 dioceses), and been to Mass in 42 (90 dioceses), including 25 cathedrals. Like my first hobo year, this last has been eventful–almost frantically so at times.
In two years, I’ve ministered to thousands of God’s people, ages 1-97. I’ve played with hundreds of children, reunited with long-lost family members, and made friends of countless strangers. I’ve answered the same questions more times than I can count and been privileged to share my heart with many people who are struggling. I’ve talked Jesus on street corners, in airplanes, in Dairy Queen, at gas stations, in Catholic churches, in Protestant churches, on the boardwalk, in a country club, on the sharing rug, on the auditorium stage, via email/Twitter/Facebook, around the dinner table, in the middle of the night, in a party barn at an SEC frat house, at retreat centers, in parking lots, in grocery stores, and most everywhere else you can imagine. I’ve been ridiculed and accused and praised and welcomed and ignored–all about par for the course if you’re a missionary (which you are).
So what have I learned? Aside from what I’ve been sharing with you along the way, that is. What truths has the Lord been speaking to my heart over these past two years? Dozens, surely, but two in particular keep resurfacing.
1. I am enough…
I never realized it, but I’ve always thought of friendship as a sort of zero sum game. I’m happy to be the one who’s always giving, but I’m terrified of being needy. I’ve always assumed that people were just friends with me because they were being generous, so I’ve needed to earn their love.3 So I dispense wisdom or collaborate in ministry or just listen well and then I’ve done my part and they won’t mind being friends with me. I hope it’s not news to you that this isn’t love.
When I first started as a hobo, God made me entirely needy. I had nothing to offer. I wasn’t speaking anywhere, wasn’t serving the Church in any visible way. People weren’t inviting me to their homes to stay while I ministered to their community; I was inviting myself. And when I got there, to the homes of dear friends, I felt the need to earn my keep. I washed dishes and babysat, but more than that I just sat around feeling guilty, convinced that I was imposing on the generous nature of my virtuous friends and that they were secretly resenting me for it. It’s a terrible thing to think about the people you love, but it’s more a judgment on what I tend to think of myself than on what I believe about them. Staying uninvited with people who didn’t need me made me terribly anxious.
But every time I moved on, they asked me to stay. Every single time. At every home, I heard, “Don’t go. We’ll move the kids into a room together so you can have the girls’ room. Just stay another week. No, move in! We have room. We want you here.” Everyone wanted me–not because of what I was doing for them, but simply because of who I was.
And God spoke so loudly to my heart, “You are enough. You don’t have to do anything. You are enough.” I think I’ll spend the rest of my life learning this, but God keeps showing me4 that all my anxiety and self-loathing are the product of lies. I am beautiful. I am enough.
2. …because he is everything.
I’m not enough because of who I am, but because of who he is in me. He gives me direction, leads people to open their homes and their hearts to me. He speaks in me and through me. Anything worthwhile I’ve ever said was either the Holy Spirit in me or me quoting someone else he’s spoken to. It’s not me. He helps me to love the unlovable, to ache with those whose suffering was entirely avoidable. He gives me patience and joy and empathy and wisdom. And when I mess up, it’s because I’m not letting him be God.
The talks I’ve given so often that they end up being almost identical always go over pretty well. But the ones where I start talking about things I’ve never thought about before, the ones where the Holy Spirit really takes control, those are the ones that leave people changed. There was the day I went into a day-long retreat with three lines of notes and afterwards had to reassure the participants that I hadn’t gotten confidential information about them to focus my talks around. There was the flight where I got moved to the front of the plane, then had to switch seats again, then felt compelled to start a conversation with the couple beside me5 only to discover that they had fallen away from the faith and were longing for someone to draw them back. There was the time I felt I had to wear my “I’m a Catholic, ask me a question” shirt to daily Mass and was approached by a Protestant from Northern Ireland for a 3-hour conversation. The young man on the quad who God led me to give some cash to. The guy who talked to me and prayed over me because I happened to have pulled over in front of his house to make a phone call. Providence.
People tend to write me off, to think that the way I live is something out of the ordinary and irrelevant to their lives. “It’s amazing how you let God have control of your life,” they tell me, as though they’re not called to the same thing. “Oh, he’s in charge of all of our lives,” I sometimes respond. “The only difference is that I know it.”
Sure, I’m more obviously dependent on God for daily needs, but he’s providing for you as directly as he’s providing for me. The message I’ve been getting these past two years–the repeated assurance from the Almighty: “I’ve got this”–isn’t just for me. He’s not finding me places to stay and leading me to generous mechanics and sending me to Europe simply because he’s particularly fond of me6 but to remind me that he is God. He knows the hairs on my head, he watches the sparrow, he cares about how many Levites were under the age of 5 at the time of the census, and he provides exceedingly and abundantly, more than all we can ask or imagine.7
He’s got this. He’s working through your diagnosis or your breakup or your failure or your bankruptcy. He’s working all things for good.8 He loves you too much to give you everything you want or even everything you feel you need. But he is always, always taking care of you. Trust him.
God keeps leading me into danger and uncertainty just so he can swoop in and save me. It’s getting to where I almost don’t worry anymore. Almost. But at least in the midst of my worry I know I’m being dumb. Because my God is so good and so much bigger than anything I may face. He’s got this.
Basically, the lesson I’ve learned is that God loves me. And if I ever really believe it, I’ll be a saint. Until then, I’ll keep trying. And failing. And falling on my knees in the confessional and before the Blessed Sacrament to let him heal me once again. And I’ll keep driving. See you around!
- Come on, Alaska! [↩]
- More to come! [↩]
- I know this isn’t true, but I have to remind myself every time I begin to feel this way. [↩]
- Often by having me show up at the very last minute at a stranger’s house to stay without anything to accomplish. [↩]
- Something I rarely do. I always want to talk to everyone, but I assume people don’t want to talk to me. See above. [↩]
- Though he is. [↩]
- Eph 3:20 [↩]
- Rom 8:28 [↩]