Wow. Just Wow. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think about the 5 days I just spent in Nashville. It was exhausting, fun, exciting, crazy and so so so beautiful. So many people, so many emotions. SEEK 2015 was definitely the biggest and best FOCUS conference yet! I’m going to do my best to touch on every amazing part of the conference that I experienced.
First off I have to talk about the hotel we stayed at. It was the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Conference Center and boy was it GIGANTIC. I’m not kidding, it was absolutely huge. It consisted of three main atrium with separate wings spreading out between and off them. Each atrium was really big filled with live plants, sky lights and restaurants. When you walked into one, it felt like you were going outside. It was so big there were buildings inside of buildings. THere was a waterfall and a river that ran through the atrium that you could take boat tours on. Crazy right? Every day I got lost at least once and discovered at least 3 new restaurants and/or shops that were spread throughout the place. Super fancy place and we definitely needed the space with how many people we had. But even so the hallways still got crowded.
One of the best parts of SEEK was getting to spend so much time with our students. We brought around 15 from Ave Maria. It was the first FOCUS conference for most of them and it was so wonderful seeing how Jesus worked in their hearts and minds over the course of those 5 days. I’m so thankful for each and every one of them and I’m so proud of how they decided to go to SEEK with us. It took a lot of funds, logistics and headaches but I know from talking with them that it was all worth it. It was great seeing them after being home for break for the past few weeks and it made me even more excited to get back to campus! Shout out to you guys! Thanks for helping make the conference even better!
Of course SEEK was all about amazing talks by amazing speakers. There were talks on pretty much anything you can think of: Exorcism, Relationships, Abortion, Business, Pornography, The Mass, Saints, Science and the list goes on and on. My favorite talks were given by Matt Fradd and Jason Evert. Matt Fradd is this awesome Australian guy who gives amazing talks on how to combat pornography addiction. He spoke once to all the men attending and then again to a smaller group. What I love about him is that he speaks so practically without being condescending or awkward. He’s funny and easy to relate to and has an awesome accent. Jason Evert gives talks on relationships and dating and the battle between love and lust. Like Matt he gave a big talk to all the men and then another to a smaller group. I actually heard him talk years ago on my confirmation retreat and I remember it was my favorite of that weekend. I got both of their autographs and some of us even got a picture with Jason Evert!!
I would be lying if I said that one of the best parts of SEEK was getting to see all the friends I haven’t seen in months. Friends from Colorado State along with fellow missionaries I met at summer training. It’s kind funny. Even though our schedules were jam-packed every day we still found time to hang out, catch up and just spend some time together. It was so amazing to see them but at the same time it was a little bittersweet seeing as now I have to wait another couple of months until I get to see them again. But hey that’s okay because I’m grateful for the time we did have and I know that we’ll all stay in touch.
The best part of seeing my fellow mishes was being able to trade horror stories about our semesters haha. Really though it was so nice to be able to swap campus experiences and give each other advice. We’re all seeing similar and different things going on at our campuses and it;s so nice to be able to get different perspectives on how to be a missionary in different situations.
In addition to the talks there was also some pretty sweet entertainment. The first night there was a concert where Anthem Lights and Matt Maher performed. Another night was the SEEK stampede which consisted of lots of country music, country dancing and a mechanical bull. It all finished out with a hilarious performance by comedian Jim Gaffigan.
now of course the conference wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It was also stressful and exhausting trying to keep track of the schedule, organize my students for talks and meals, and navigating the massively confusing hotel and convention center. But God is so amazing. I wasn’t really planning on having a great big Jesus moment this conference but God had other plans. He taught me something amazing through a T-shirt and one of his greatest Saints. One thing I love about FOCUS events is all the sweet merchandise you can get your hands on. I was browsing through the T-shirts when one caught my eye. It wasn’t too flashy or colorful and it confused me. It had a small emblem wit the letter P on the front with a number under it. Taking a closer look on the back it had this quote:
“For Jesus Christ I Am Prepared To Suffer Still More,” – Saint Maximilian Kolbe
A little background info now. St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan Friar. During World War II he gave shelter to refugees and printed anti-Nazi publications at his monastery. He was eventually shut down, arrested and sent to Auschwitz. One day a prisoner escaped and the Nazis selected 10 other prisoners to be sent to the starvation chambers as punishment. One of those men begged to be spared because he had a wife and children. St. Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take his place. Every day he led the others in prayer and after two weeks of starvation and dehydration, Kolbe was the only one left alive. The Nazis grew impatient and killed him via lethal injection.
What an amazing guy right? I’ve always known about him and considered him one of my favorite Saints but through this T-shirt he taught me a lesson that I really needed. The P on the shirt was the symbol for “Polish Prisoner” at Auschwitz and the number was his prisoner ID. While he was at the concentration camp he suffered many cruel punishments but he never lost faith and he would often go without food so that others could have more. He also always insisted that he be the last in his unit to receive any medical attention. When asked why and how he did these things, that quote was his response.
“For Jesus Christ, I am prepared to suffer still more.”
Wow. I remember sitting at one of the talks in a particularly frustrated and bad mood and all that kept playing in my head was those words. That quote combined with a great confession and adoration in which I realized that I need to FOCUS more on just saying “yes” to Jesus and realizing that no matter what hardships and frustrations I may encounter they are nothing compared to what Christ experienced. I saw that I really am prepared to suffer if it means that I can give glory to God and to Jesus in my suffering. Needless to say I bought the shirt. Thank you Jesus and thank you St. Maximilian Kolbe.
Adoration with thousands of other Catholics my age was definitely an amazing experience. And the line for Confession for so long I had absolutely no idea where it started and where it ended. I believe there were 240 priests hearing confessions that night. Praise Jesus that so many students were willing to come and worship with their peers. I know I’ve talked a lot about the talks and the people and the fun but let’s not forget that Jesus was the real star of the conference. It was really great to see all these amazing college students take an interest in their faith and get to know Jesus better through the talks, the people and adoration and confession
Well that pretty much covers my conference experience. I can’t stress enough how amazing it was. I encourage everyone to start planning for SEEK 2017 in San Antonio! Once again I’d like to thank the wonderful Ave Maria students that accompanied the team and I to conference. They really made it awesome. Now I’m just spending these next few days tying up loose ends and getting ready to head back to Florida!! I’ve missed the sun, the surf and the students! I have really good feeling about this upcoming semester and I’m really excited! Prayers for me and the students are very much appreciated! Next time you hear from me I’ll be back on campus!