My Medjugorje made my blue eyes finally shine
Date: October 2, 2015
By Emily A.
I grew up in a good and loving Catholic family and from a very young age, I always just knew that God is love. However, when I was just ten years old, it felt as if all of my childhood joy and innocence was just harshly snatched away from me.
I lived and grew up with a sister who has cerebral palsy and autism. She would often scream and cry, lash out and make threats to hurt me. I didn’t understand her behaviour and I felt frightened, hurt, rejected and confused.
Around the same time that my sister’s behaviour became increasingly complex, my grandmother suddenly walked out on my grandfather after fifty years of marriage because she no longer could tolerate living with his aggression. Even though I didn’t understand then why she left my grandfather, I still noticed the very unpleasant and tangible feeling of angst that was slowly and insidiously spreading throughout my family.
Meanwhile, my father was in a car accident. He was driving home late one night when he simply just lost his concentration and collided with another vehicle. He was banned from driving for eighteen months and was to spend this time doing community service. He was told that he was actually very fortunate that he hadn’t been sent to prison. This was just an innocent mistake and so as a child, I didn’t understand his anger or shame but I did know that he was just no longer his usual self anymore.
But soon there were some things that I did grow to understand – the sharp pang of hunger, the warped mathematical world of calorie content, how to push your body to the absolute limit and what it feels like to hate yourself so much that when you go to bed at night, you hope that you won’t wake up again in the morning.
During this time, my teenage brother went on a diet and I soon started to become absolutely fascinated by food, health, exercise and weight loss. Whilst I couldn’t control what was happening all around me in my life, I could however control what I ate, how much I compulsively exercised and how desperately thin I became.
Just before my eleventh birthday, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and was hospitalised for eight weeks. For nine months, I was fed completely through a tube and I allowed no physical food or drink to pass my lips – not even a single crumb or a simple sip of water. However, I would always receive the Holy Eucharist because I just had an innate understanding that this was much more than physical food. It was and it is truly and fully Jesus, and He was giving me everything that I needed to persevere and to live. He was giving me His love, His strength and His life when I felt completely worthless, weak and physically and emotionally dead.
I remember that when I would often feel frightened, confused and alone during the long nights in the hospital, I would just tightly hold onto my Rosary beads for comfort. It felt as if Our Lady was somehow gently holding onto my hand and that She was answering my prayers when I didn’t even know what to say to Her.
A few months later, my grandmother went on her first of many pilgrimages to Medjugorje in Bosnia and Hercegovina where she prayed very much for me. She asked her fellow pilgrims to pray for me too and she put my name in the prayer intention pages of the Medjugorje newsletter that she would receive back home each month.
In the years ahead, I frequently relapsed into brief spells of sudden weight loss and when I was sixteen, I relapsed so seriously that the Head Child Psychiatrist at my local hospital told me that if I continued living as I was, I would be dead within six months because my heart would just stop beating.
Around this time, I decided that I would just give up on Jesus. I now rejected the love and the strength that He wanted so much to pour into me and instead this time I blamed Him for all of my suffering. I went on to try and find joy in superficial things but I was never able to feel fulfilled.
When I was nineteen years old, I was discharged from the mental health services because I had finally fully recovered from anorexia. I then gained a place on a very prestigious college course away from home and now believed that the future was to finally hold true happiness, new exciting friendships and much career success for me. However, at college I soon became surrounded by sexual immorality, bullying, backstabbing and alcohol abuse, and I quickly felt rejected by my classmates simply because I did not want to partake in this lifestyle with them.
Receiving a Mass card one morning at college from my grandmother who had again returned from Medjugorje and uncontrollably crying at a Mass that I actually reluctantly attended with my mother when she came to visit me there, now shows me God’s gentle presence in my life at this time and how much love He had for me because even when I didn’t know He was close or honestly didn’t even want Him to be close to me, He always undoubtedly was.
I shortly after left college feeling a failure and when I returned home I soon fell into a deep depression. For several months, I flitted between many unfulfilling jobs and sometimes would choose to spend days lying in bed and weeks without even leaving the house.
I became so consumed by my own selfish misery that I didn’t even go to Mass with my family on Christmas Day. However, at Eastertime I found myself reluctantly at the Good Friday service. My mother was taking my sister there and the only reason that I went along too was because if I hadn’t, it would have upset my sister, which was something that I always wanted to avoid.
But it was when I looked at the outstretched arms of our loving Saviour on the Cross – the Saviour who had been humiliated, beaten, spat at, screamed at, utterly despised and brutally nailed to a wooden Cross for our sake – that I realised just how far I had drifted away from God. Jesus gave us everything on the Cross and now it was as if He was giving me even more than everything by calling me back to Him and He still continues to give us everything that He is every single day in the Eucharist. The next morning, I made the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time in three years.
Over the next few months, I started to go to Mass again, but sometimes I unfortunately would still lethargically slip into my old ways of misery and self-pity and would skip the Sunday service.
At the beginning of June that year, I spent a weekend with my seventy nine year old grandmother, shortly before her imminent twenty-second pilgrimage to Medjugorje. We had such a beautiful weekend together and I went home feeling the happiest I’d felt in a long time, but then just two days later my grandmother died very suddenly as her heart just stopped and she collapsed.
My mother then felt that it was very fitting for her to take my grandmother’s place and to go to Medjugorje on the pilgrimage that she was due to take just two weeks later, but only if I went along with her too. I honestly never wanted to go to Medjugorje this first time but on the morning we departed, all of my apprehension and reluctance just disappeared.
The overwhelming feeling that I experienced in Medjugorje was peace. For the first time in my whole life, I felt as if I now truly belonged to something incredibly special which I now know is the body of Christ. Not much sooner than I returned home to Wales did I feel a gentle tug in my heart to return to Medjugorje and so within just seven weeks I found myself there again having what then was the best week of my life so far.
On returning home again, my life changed completely. My heart now yearned for the daily Eucharist, I took my Rosary with me and prayed it wherever I went and I had a desire within me to pray and read the Bible each day, to fast twice a week and to go to Confessional regularly. My life was no longer about what I wanted but about what Jesus wanted of me. I started loving and serving Him in the homeless, in those addicted to drugs and alcohol and in those who were in prison. I started fundraising for charity, street evangelising and spending more time in Adoration and I went on several different Catholic retreats throughout the U.K. I just felt as if I couldn’t get enough of God!
One year later, I returned to Medjugorje for two months just before I turned twenty one and at that time those two months were the best two months of my life thus far.
In Medjugorje, I learned how to love others and how to express this love openly and without reserve and without the fear of rejection. My eyes were finally opened so that I could see and accept the love that God, everyone around me and everyone back home had for me. I was now able to finally love myself for who I was for the first time in my life since I was just nine years old. I also learnt how to forgive all those who had ever hurt me and to finally forgive myself.
I would thus describe my time in Medjugorje as this. Never before in my whole life have I ever been so completely open to the will of God and to whatever He wanted to do in my life. I felt as if my heart had been opened for one reason only – to be filled completely with the love of Christ. I knew exactly when it was the right time to step down from the mountain and to go home because I felt so excited about sharing all of this love that I had been given with everyone back home. I often felt that otherwise I was just going to completely explode with all of this immense love, joy and peace within me which thus draws me to the beautiful words of Jesus Himself in John 15:11 when He says “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Thank you Jesus.