Workings of the Spirit Part 1: A Series of Uncanny Coincidences with Impeccable Timing

Have you ever had one of those conversations that center around “How You Got to Where You Are”?

  • How did you end up moving [here]?
  • Why did you decide upon [that university]?
  • That’s an interesting job… how did you come to that line of work?
  • How did you meet [your husband]?

A few months ago, thanks to FaceBook, I reconnected with a friend I met in 1999, when we both started working at a Catholic high school in Austin. In our catch-up conversation, Ayne asked, “How did you go from teaching to writing?”

For a while, my phraseology was a secular blend of user-friendly language: “it was totally random,” “everything just kind of fell into place,” or “coincidentally…”  It’s not that I didn’t recognize Divine Providence when it happened, it’s just that the workings of the Holy Spirit are often so unbelievable that it’s hard to describe…

Most recently, my friend Heidi introduced me to Theology of the Body guy, Christopher West, and explained my background writing for Our Sunday Visitor’s textbook series.  Shaking my hand, Christopher asks, “So how did you get that gig?”

Christopher West

Christopher, Heidi, and Jason (Christopher’s assistant)

Me: “Long, convoluted story.  Short version: Holy Spirit.”

Christopher: [Laughing] “Fair enough.”

Me: “I mean I could ask the same of you: How did you end up doing THIS gig?”

Christopher: [Nodding] “Holy Spirit.”

And we all laughed.

How did I end up going from teaching to writing?  How did I end up with the most amazing, beyond-my-wildest-dreams, dream-job? The short answer is truly: through the workings of the Holy Spirit.

When I look back on my story–when I look back on my life–I see the workings of the Holy Spirit with great clarity.  I see it happening in my life when things just work out.  Sometimes it’s when certain doors close and others open.  Maybe it’s just me, but this can be confusing, especially if you thought you were on the right path and then come to find out you made a terrible mistake.

Perhaps if I explain my own story, it’ll make more sense.

A Series of Uncanny Coincidences with Impeccable Timing 

In my teens, I was constantly busy with one of two activities: youth group in my wonderful parish and the incredible theatre program in my public high school.

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Vernon Township High School Theatre

Antioch Youth Group

Antioch Youth Group, St. Francis de Sales Parish

When the questions about college came up, I took those activities to their logical end: I was interested in majoring in technical theatre at a college that could nurture my spirituality.  Conveniently, there was this cute guy in my youth group that was a theatre major at Muhlenberg College (a Lutheran liberal arts college in the Allentown, PA area).  He loved it, and that was endorsement enough for me at the age of 17, in the summer before Senior Year.

That summer, my parents spent a few days at the Jersey Shore with my Dad’s parents.  Pop asks, “Where’s Julie thinking about going to college?”  At the very moment that my Mom replies, “Oh, some Catholic university in Allentown…” a couple walks along the beach hand-in-hand, wearing Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales t-shirts.  She jumps up and proceeds to interview these strangers on the details of the college.  Later that night Mom calls to verify what colleges I’m looking at, and when I proceed to correct her, she actually gets all indignant with me.  Insists I look at Allentown, because as the strangers on the beach said: they have a very good theatre program and they’re Catholic.  Even though our parish was also named St. Francis de Sales, I still wasn’t sold.  I mean, COME ON!  But as any adolescent would, I told her what she wanted to hear so I could get off the phone, mumbled my “whatever” and rolled my eyes.

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Pop and my Dad at the Jersey Shore, 1991

The following month I was seated in the Guidance Office, using the computer program which asks you to enter all of your college criteria so as to narrow down your limitless choices of colleges and universities to 25 or less.  Of course–alphabetically–Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales was first on the list.  Weeks later, at the high school college fair, I visited Muhlenberg’s table only to be told that they’d suggest I contact Allentown College (who wasn’t even at the college fair!).  So fine.  I grudgingly made an appointment to visit for their Open House and even agreed to stay for an overnight visit with some students.

Sure enough, once we arrived on campus, I was sold.  My heart delighted in the rolling hills of Center Valley.   Their theatre program was exactly what I was looking for.  And without a doubt, I found a spiritual home.

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The beautiful valley in Allentown College’s (now DeSales University’s) campus.

Realizing Passion and Finding (a little) Clarity

As it turned out, I really enjoyed theatre, but more as a hobby than a career.  So I changed majors.  But I really had no idea what I wanted to do.  Or what I was supposed to do.  It was at that time that I was taking my first theology course.  And. I. LOVED. IT.  Not just “really enjoyed,” but exploding with THIS STUFF IS AWESOME passion.  My heart and my brain came together with excitement. PASSION.

But I still had no idea that this would actually go anywhere.

And then I was sitting in a study group, preparing for the mid-term or final in this theology class.  We were taking turns explaining concepts when, after one of the guys correctly explained a concept, he simply said: “Still, I just don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense.”  So I give it a shot.  I was a little surprised by the clarity that came out of my mouth, but it worked: he got it and so did everyone else in the group.

Certainty and Doubt

When I told my parents that I wanted to be a theology major, they both asked what I would possibly do with this (very expensive) degree.  I had no idea.  But I just had to do it.

By my senior year of undergrad I knew I ultimately wanted to teach theology, but figured I’d have to get a degree in education first.  Note that I never actually looked into the options… I just convinced myself that it wouldn’t work… it couldn’t work.

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I’m going to pause here in my story and  draw attention to a few themes.  If you experience any of the following, consider that it just might be the work of the Holy Spirit:

  1. A series of uncanny coincidences with impeccable timing
  2. Realizing you have a passion about something
  3. Feeling certain that you need to follow your passion, even if you’re unsure of how to proceed.

Stay tuned for my next post, “Workings of the Spirit Part 2: Mistakes, Passion, and Problems.”

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