wenger-family-photoAs the seasons begin to change from vacations and long days in the summer sun, to colorful leaves and back to school schedules, my life is also in a seasonal change. For the last decade I have been serving the Archdiocese of Portland as a Youth Ministry Coordinator, and that chapter is now coming to a close. From the time I was in high school I have felt God calling me to ministry. I loved sharing my faith with others, and there was nothing more exciting to me than to spend my life on retreats, in Bible studies, and proclaiming God’s love to others. I pursued my degree in theology and catechetics at Franciscan University and soon my dream became a reality. My life was packed with mission trips, conferences, holy hours, youth nights and lots of great conversation about how God was working in our lives. The last ten years have been truly blessed.

For the longest time youth ministry was something that I felt was my vocation. God has called me to do this work, and this is what I was created for. In some sense that was true. God had created me to help in His saving mission and this was the avenue through which He chose to do so. I was merely His vessel. But ultimately, my true vocation was never in youth ministry; it was being a daughter of God. He may have been using me in youth ministry, but he was first calling me to holiness. Henri Nouwen, in his book, Life of the Beloved, says that we must listen to that soft voice that stirs within the very core of our very being and says,

I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided your every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench your thirst. I will not hide my face from you.

It is from this truth, that I am God’s beloved daughter, that I am able to proclaim His Word, share how He has worked in my life, and minister to teens with authenticity. The moment that I lose sight of being first and foremost a daughter of God, my efforts in ministry begin to suffer.

There was a time in my young adult years that I began to wonder what God’s plan truly was for my vocation. I was 25 and single… so maybe marriage wasn’t in the cards anymore, right? I decided to enter into a 54 day Rosary novena with some college friends and my particular prayer intention during this time was to be at peace with my vocation—whatever vocation that may be. Within the first week, I felt an enormous amount of peace. It didn’t matter if I was called to be married or religious or single; God reminded me that my vocation was first to be a beloved daughter of God. The rest would become clear, but for now, I just needed to know I was His beloved and love Him in return. Well, God did have other plans for my vocation and it was during this Rosary novena that I met my future husband. As my life status changed from single to married, my vocation expanded as well; I was not only a daughter of God, but also a wife… and eventually a mother. God was now calling me to witness in many different ways and teaching me to die to myself in this expanded vocation.

This August we welcomed the newest member to our family, our third child, David. Through prayerful discernment with my husband, we felt that adding baby number three would be the right time for me to step down from formal youth ministry and stay at home to raise our children. Obviously any big life change has bittersweet feelings, but there was comfort in knowing that my true vocation was to be a daughter of God, then wife and mother; and ministry would always be part of my vocation, though maybe in another form.

To love God and realize that I am His beloved is what I am called to do. To love my husband and challenge him in holiness and lead him toward heaven (as he will also do for me) is what my daily life must consist of. To love my children, to teach them the faith and to help them develop a relationship with God is my mission. To live each day with the desire to grow in virtue and be Christ to those I meet, this is what God asks of me. While I may no longer be sleeping on the floor during mission trips, playing ice breaker games, planning youth retreats or adding to my t-shirt collection, my life will still consist of sharing my faith to those around me and doing small things with great love, all with the knowledge that I am first and foremost God’s beloved daughter.

“A man knows when he has found his vocation when he stops thinking about how to live and begins to love.” Thomas Merton

Jill Wenger

Silverton Oregon