As I walked into St. Peter’s Basilica, I couldn’t help but feel small, enveloped by the Church. I was finally there! After first making a stop at the confessional to prepare my soul, I was ready to receive the graces the Lord has in store for the next two weeks during my pilgrimage. I was ready to experience Italy: visit churches, venerate relics, eat a lot of pasta, learn the history of Rome, eat gelato, and explore Assisi where Clare and Francis lived.
Sitting in St. Peter’s Basilica at the tomb of St. John Paul II on the first full day of my pilgrimage, I couldn’t help but think about how I got there. Eighteen years earlier, I had waited hours for Pope John Paull II to arrive in Toronto for my first World Youth Day. Now I was sitting there, 5,000 miles from home, at his tomb in the church all Catholics call home. But in those moments before Mass began, I asked the Lord, “Why did it take me so long?”
I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, in my early 20s because that’s where the Church who finally hired me was located. I thought, “This’ll be the place. This will be the Church where I thrive as a youth minister and meet my husband. This will be the place to raise my family.” So I settled in, worked hard and waited for my real life to begin. I didn’t buy furniture I liked or go on trips I wanted to because I was waiting for the guy who would choose to do that with me.
Unsurprisingly, I was unhappy. I began attending daily Mass — a habit I still have more than 10 years later that is the anchor of my spiritual life — and pleaded with the Lord: “I’m doing everything you’re asking. Why can’t you just do this one thing I’m asking?”
A few years later, I thought a move across town to a new parish with a new job would bring me the happiness I sought. I interviewed and was offered the job a week later, so I considered it God’s will and plan for my life — the step I needed to take to finally get started on my real vocation. The parish was a great fit for me, and the youth were just what I needed in my first High School Youth Ministry job. I had a new roommate who became my “gym buddy,” which started me on a journey of physical fitness. Everything was great, but I was still waiting. Still alone, feeling forgotten by the Lord.
I was offered a promotion and a friend told me, “This is exactly what you need. A job with regular hours that suits you. This is your year, I can feel it. This is the year God is going to have you meet your husband.” I took the job and continued to wait.
As I was preparing to turn 30, I kept thinking about all of the expectations I’d had for my 30-year-old self when I moved to Charlotte. I expected to be a wife and a mother by then, not working so I could stay home with my kids. Yet, there I was, doing a job that I was good at but didn’t particularly like. On top of that, I was living alone for the first time. After another roommate had left to get married or join a convent, I decided I was done, so a few months earlier, I had purchased a townhome.
Looking at my life, I made a decision. I was going to lose the expectations I’d set for myself, the ones others and society put on me, and the lies I had started to believe about my worthiness because I was still single. Over the course of a few weeks leading up to my birthday, I wrote them all down and placed them in a bowl on my kitchen table. On the night of my 30th birthday, Friday the 13th, I invited my best friend over. We prayed over the bowl of lies, and I burned them.
I decided I was done waiting. I was going to start living.
A week later I was offered a new job out of the blue that perfectly suited me. Since then, it has turned into the most fulfilling experience of my life. I began to take my personal growth seriously by seeing a licensed counselor who has helped me work through the lies I’ve believed about myself for decades. I learned to make decisions based on the life the Lord has given me today, not the one I might possibly have in the future.
I’m not waiting in loneliness for my life to begin. I’m living the life I’ve been given.
I’ve always wanted to visit Italy to see Rome and Portugal to see Fatima. So I found a time that worked in my schedule, purchased a ticket, joined a tour group led by a guy I follow on the internet, and set off for the adventure of a lifetime. The week was filled with all the things I imagined the first day: seeing the bones of St. Peter, venerating the pillar where Our Lord was scourged, enjoying gelato for dinner, praying in the four basilicas of Rome where thousands of saints have prayed before me, eating delicious pasta, admiring the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, walking where Francis and Clare walked, having Mass where Francis lived, and so much more.
Though I prayed for my future vocation at each Church visit, even in front of the arm of St. Jude, the patron of impossible causes, my heart was full after my journey to Rome. My next stop was Fatima, Portugal, truly on my own. I’m choosing to live, not to wait. To go where the Lord is leading without expectations, already considering where I’ll be going next.
Katie Herzing is a former youth minister turned parish transformation coach who lives in sunny Charlotte, North Carolina. She loves to travel and has been to almost every state in the US and 3 other continents. She enjoys reading lots of great books, listening to tons of podcasts, sharing random facts, and hanging out with her friends and all their kids, especially her godson!