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The Sweet Presences of God


Editor’s note: Missioner Erin McHugh shares her gratitude for God’s presence on a retreat she lead for the girls at Valley in Guatemala.

“I’m a little pencil in the hand of God writing love letters to the world.” —Mother Teresa

I love this quote from Mother Teresa, as that’s exactly how I feel on mission. I feel like an instrument of peace and love that God is using to share unconditional love with the kids at Valley. I especially felt this way on October 3rd, the Feast of St Francis, when I spent the  day on retreat with the 14 girls who graduated from Valley this year.

I had been praying and preparing for this retreat for months. While I was very excited for the retreat, I also was feeling very unqualified and unworthy. I had never facilitated a retreat on my own, let alone in a language that was not my own. I was anxious the girls wouldn’t like the retreat or want to participate in the different activities I had planned for the day.  However, I let go of all my fears and anxieties, and gave the retreat over to God. I asked God to work through me to speak into the hearts of each of the girls. I reminded myself that the retreat was not about/for me; it was for the girls. It was a day for them to experience peace and realize how they are loved.

The morning of the retreat was a little hectic, as things didn’t quite go as we had planned. I ended up having to get everything together from Valley and drive myself with all the stuff and with the girls following behind in the bus to the cabin, having no idea where I was going. So I was a little anxious and stressed. The entire drive to the cabin, I just kept lifting the retreat up to God, praying that the Holy Spirit would be upon us to make it a special day for the girls.

As soon as we arrived at the cabin, I instantly felt a sense of peace. The cabin was secluded, tranquil, and overlooked Lake Amatiatlan. It was the perfect place for a retreat.  The girls were in complete awe and were excited for the day. It was in that moment that I knew God was with us and taking care of us.

Throughout the retreat we experienced the presence of God in Powerful ways!

We started the retreat sitting in a circle listening to the song, A Place in this World, a song about finding your own unique place in the world. Then we read aloud the book The Velveteen Rabbit.  Sitting in that circle, I felt a strong presence of Christ among us and the unique sisterhood we had formed. My prayers began to turn into gratitude and I was humbled and filled with the strength I needed to make this a special day for the girls.

Later on in the morning, we sat in a circle again, and took time to reflect on the pains in our lives and let them go to God. This was a beautiful and liberating experience for the girls. Then I passed around my little bunny, and they each held the bunny to their heart praying for a special intention. It was beautiful to see each girl share that special time with God, giving them the chance to try to let go of some of the pains in their lives.

However, the most powerful part of the day, where we all felt the presence of God, was during mass, which we shared together outside, underneath the trees. Throughout the mass there was this gentle, sweet smelling—like honey—breeze that swept over us. It was so powerful. It was like the Holy Spirit was among us. It also reminded me of the song at the beginning of the day: “The wind is moving, but I am standing still. A life of pages, waiting to be filled, A heart that’s hopeful, A head that’s full of dreams.” It was a beautiful answer to prayers, to make the girls feel special and feel closer to God. It was one of the most memorable parts of the day, something none of us will ever forget.

Finally, the last part of the retreat included giving each of the girls a pack of letters from different people at Valley. These letters were messages of affirmation, and it was beautiful for me to walk around seeing the girls read the letters with tears running down their checks, saying, “I didn’t realize how loved I was.” It was a powerful moment of both sadness and joy. A moment of true community and love.  

I was completely humbled and touched by how the girls responded to the day. Despite how very nervous I had been, God once again worked through my weaknesses in powerful ways:  

It was powerful that in struggling the entire day with my Spanish, I could be vulnerable and lean on the girls for support, allowing us to form a stronger relationship.  

It was powerful watching the girls support and encourage each other like real sisters, helping them to see their most authentic selves.

It was powerful to see their healing tears as they read letters from people at Valley who have loved and cared for them the past couple years of their lives.

It was powerful to hear how this was the most peace-filled and loved they have felt in their entire lives.

It was powerful to share my story with them and give them the chance to reflect on their own.

I am incredibly blessed by this day, and truly just feel like a little pencil that God used to write beautiful love letters in the hearts of each of those girls.

Reflection Question: How have you felt the presences of God in your life?

Erin McHugh has a strong passion for working with children and a heart for those living in poverty. After serving in South Africa last summer with Experience Mission, Erin is looking forward to building relationships and immersing herself in a new culture through Franciscan Mission Service. While her family now lives in Cincinnati, OH, Erin has roots in her hometown of Louisville, KY. Before pursuing her calling for international mission work, Erin attended Butler University for two years. There she was involved with the Butler Catholic Community and was co-chair of the service committee. Erin has been in Guatemala since January 2017.