Thank God for coffee.
Looking back, I think God must have been very aware of my love of this energizing beverage and used it to spark my interest one October evening.
It was fall of my junior year of college, and I was a lector for Mass on my school’s campus. How I decided to engage in this activity is simply an act of God, as my life at the time didn’t reflect that of a girl who wanted to be seen in church.
But there I stood after Mass one Sunday, staring up at this tall Division 1 soccer player, who was herself a college-aged person involved in church things. She asked me confidently and matter-of-factly, “Do you want to grab coffee sometime?”
I acquiesced to her invitation, and we met later that week for a cup of java. She showed up in her soccer gear, and we got a high-top table amidst the crowds of bustling Connecticut students on their iPhones. After a few minutes of surface-level conversation, she switched gears and started telling me about how she attended a Catholic conference with an organization called FOCUS the previous year and how it changed her life.
“I think you would really like it. Would you want to go with me this year?” She asked me as if she was talking to a best friend. I looked her square in the eye with the world’s biggest smile.
“Oh, thanks so much for asking,” I said, “but I’m actually not that Catholic.”
We left, and I didn’t see or hear from this girl again — until a month later, when I got a text that read, “I have been praying for you, and I really think God wants you to go to this conference.”
I looked at the text completely dumbfounded.
For one, she was praying for me. The last person who told me that was my Italian grandmother. And secondly, she heard God speak — and that was crazy!
In that moment, I don’t know what happened. The Holy Spirit must have come down and grabbed my hardened heart, and for a mere millisecond, shattered just enough of my walls for me to type back on my phone: “Sure, I’ll go.”
Okay. This may seem like a nice little story about how two friends met and went to a Catholic conference…but what transpired from my “yes” and the conference would shape the course of my life dramatically.
At this time in my life, I looked as if I had it all. I had a vibrant group of friends and never missed a social activity. I was involved in various clubs and was getting good grades. Yet deep down, at the bottom of my heart, I felt lonely.
I don’t mean the lonely I feel today when I don’t have plans for the weekend — but a gut-wrenching, jarring ache at the depths of my core.
This ache grew as rapidly as the number of drinks I consumed each night during the weekends. I was no stranger to drinking. I started at age 14. By the time I got to college, I was almost bored with it. Really? This is it? I thought. I was so confused as to why the drinks, drugs and men weren’t working the way I thought they should.
Instead, the hole grew, and the darkness I felt seemed to envelope me with rapid vigor. I must add a caveat here: Having a few drinks while of age and having a good time in college is not morally wrong. But the ways in which I was doing it and the reasons behind my alcohol consumption were not. I was hurting friendships and doing things I never wanted to do.
It all came to a sudden halt on a cold Sunday night in January.
My roommates and I decided to throw a party, as we had school off the next day. This party was set to happen just four days before the FOCUS conference — the one I had blindly said “yes” to two months earlier.
The night started like any other. I took a few tequila shots, chugged a few high-energy drinks and beers. I then did a few lines of Xanax (a drug commonly used on college campuses that mimics the same effect as Cocaine, a drug I was also using from time to time). We had about 50 people over at our small apartment when my roommate found me sitting on the bathroom floor.
I had used a razor to cut my wrists and was crying. The remaining hours of that night are blurry, but my friends told me the next morning that I was saying that I wanted the pain to stop.
No way. This was NOT my life.
Me? The girl who’s mom made oranges for soccer games and whose favorite movie was “The Parent Trap”?
Nope, not me.
Yet as I write this five years later, I see the night on the bathroom floor was the means God used to show me how desperately I needed Him.
The next weekend, I got on the bus to the FOCUS conference. I knew no one except the soccer player girl. I was scared, angry and terribly lost.
After that weekend, my life was never the same.
I was introduced to a God who wanted to have a real and personal relationship with me. I met Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, His true and real presence. I learned that it was Him I was missing all along. I learned that being Catholic didn’t have to be weird, and in fact it could be really cool.
I later said “yes” again, but this time to being a FOCUS missionary.
In the past four years, my life has changed a lot. I‘ve had the opportunity to travel the world, see college students experience Jesus for the first time, and mend countless relationships with the help of some extraordinary mentors and friends.
Yet each time I tell my story, I am convicted by the power of a simple invitation.
If I had not said “yes” to coffee that day, I don’t know where I would be. Maybe I would be fine, but I know I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience the beauty of our Lord Jesus — and a chance to live life to the fullest.
So, if you are afraid of asking someone to coffee, or to play tennis, or to go on a date, don’t be afraid.
You don’t know what your invitation could do in the life of another. It could save a life.
I know I am forever grateful for mine.