A Change of Heart
I grew up Catholic and attended a small parochial grammar school in my hometown of Marlborough, Mass. My family and I consistently attended Sunday Mass and the importance of God in my life was instilled at a young age.
Even though I received significant faith formation in my Catholic grade school, I later found it difficult to see God during my years at the public high school in my town. As my early teenage years began, I quickly fell into a life of binge drinking and drug use at only 15 years old.
I defined my worth by the number of friends I had and the “coolest” party I could find on the weekends.
Despite my party-girl persona, I was in Honors courses, played sports and was involved in several extra-curricular activities. I felt I had it all since I was successful and well-liked by my peers. Being Catholic to me meant that I followed the rules and went to Mass on Sundays, but that was the extent of my faith life.
My lifestyle in high school carried into my college experience at the University of Connecticut. Even though I was attending Mass on the weekends, my actions did not display those of a Christian woman.
At that time in my life, the years of heavy drinking and promiscuity caught up with me and I was battling depression and anxiety.
During my junior year of college, I decided I wanted to do “something good” and became a lector at the Catholic church on campus. It was then that I met a student leader who was involved with FOCUS. She invited me to attend the national FOCUS Conference that winter. I decided to sign up because it seemed like a way to learn more about the faith I had put on hold. I also didn’t know what it meant to be Catholic for a twenty-something.
The thought of God helping me through my struggles didn’t really register until I arrived at the conference. I immediately felt His presence at Adoration that Saturday night. It was my first time at Adoration, and I cried for what seemed like hours.
Even if it was just a small glimpse of hope for my life, I knew it was from God, and from that moment on, He was going to change everything. I later attended confession for the first time in five years. The experience I had at that first conference was the catalyst for my reversion to the faith. That initial encounter with our Lord made me want to know more about Him, and after returning to campus, I joined a Bible study and went to El Salvador on a Spring Break mission trip with FOCUS.
Even though I knew my heart yearned to be around people of virtue and experience more of Christ’s love, fear soon came over me and I struggled to dive fully into making my faith my own. That summer, I found it extremely difficult to keep Christ at the center of my life and fell back into my “comfortable” life of sin. Even as I struggled to let God fully into my heart, at the beginning of my senior year of college at UConn I was immediately drawn back to the Catholic center, and it was there I met Shannon, a new FOCUS missionary.
It was through my friendship with Shannon that I allowed Christ to finally begin working in my heart. She invested in me in a radical way and took an odd liking to my stubbornness. Her joy was contagious and the hope she had in our Lord was like nothing I had seen before.
One day, Shannon looked at me and said, “Give up and let Jesus do it, Tori.” Those words rang deep in my heart and I knew God was speaking through her.
After months of running in circles and skimming the surface of a relationship with Christ, I soon developed a prayer life and learned it was His divine mercy and love that would cast out all the fear in my heart. Jesus desired to know me and love me through all that was weighing me down. He wanted to shatter the darkness in my life and reign as King of my heart.
After two months of growing in prayer and faith, joy began to radiate from my soul and I felt myself slowly wanting to share God’s love with others.
I knew there were many other college students out there who were longing to experience Jesus Christ, like I had. The Lord placed it on my heart to apply to be a FOCUS missionary in November of my senior year and after applying, attending an interview weekend—and getting hired for staff—I knew it was the will of God. I wanted to make the same impact Shannon had made on me in college to other women struggling to find happiness and self-worth in all the wrong places.
Despite all the growth, I know the Lord has so much more to teach me. If it wasn’t for that initial invitation and the Lord’s courage working through my “YES,” who knows where I would be today? But I’m sure happy He found me!