Many of you have heard the story of how this shy English major got involved in Campus Ministry. At the beginning of my sophomore year in college, my advisor introduced me to Jim Karustis, the editor of the literary magazine, who also happened to be on the SEARCH retreat team. Boom. Life changed.
I tell the story of that pivotal encounter in Chapter Nine of Finding God Abiding, entitled “Finding God for All the Wrong Reasons.” I’ll share the chapter below as a little sneak peek in advance of Tuesday’s publication, but first, an unexpected addendum and a very unusual request.
My favorite bit in the chapter is this: “No, if you’re wondering: girl met boy, but girl didn’t even come close to getting boy. Jim was already dating the love of his life and is married to her still.”
This week, I learned that Jim’s beloved wife is in kidney failure. Cindy (Lucinda)–a vibrant, cheerful soul, adored by her husband and their two daughters, Anjali and Simone–needs a kidney transplant if she is to live to become the feisty Italian grandmother she was born to be. The Karustis family is searching for a living donor to save Cindy’s life.
When Jim reached out to ask if I would consider being that living donor, my reluctance and slate of excuses saddened me, in a way I’ll probably be praying about for some time. But I know that there are many good and generous people out there who might have a different initial reaction. If you would consider this life-saving gift, visit Penn Medicine’s Living Donor Program to learn more. (For example, did you know that donating a kidney through the Penn transplant service guarantees a top-of-the-waiting-list slot if you OR one of the five people closest to you should need a kidney one day?) You can also go straight to their donor screening site to see if you might be a match. Key info: the woman in need is Lucinda Karustis, DOB 2/25/63, YES on dialysis and YES in the Penn Transplant system. Kindly share this info widely; you never know who will prove to be an angel in disguise.
Finding God for All the Wrong Reasons
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. — Jeremiah 29:11
Despite wondering about a religious vocation at the end of eighth grade, nothing about my teenage years suggested a career in ministry. In high school, I didn’t join the community service corps, sing in the choir, or serve as a chapel aide like some of my friends. All I ever wanted to do was read and write. I chose English as my college major, hoping that editing books by day and crafting them by night could leverage my two loves into one modest income—at least until I published my first bestselling novel.
Unfortunately, my freshman year was fairly miserable. I was an introverted commuter, working part-time at a bakery and driving my little brother to nursery school each day so I could have the car. I didn’t join any activities or make a single friend.
At the beginning of sophomore year, however, I was chatting with my advisor outside his office when the editor of the literary magazine walked by. “You two should know each other,” Dr. Gilman said, so I exchanged pleasantries with a dreamy-looking senior named Jim. A few days later, I spotted Jim outside the cafeteria, working the sign-up table for a weekend getaway in beautiful Cape May, New Jersey. He was dashing. I loved the shore. And oh, by the way, it was a religious retreat. Motivated by those three things—in that order—I registered on the spot.
No, if you’re wondering: girl met boy, but girl didn’t even come close to getting boy. Jim was already dating the love of his life and is married to her still. Cheesy as it sounds, however, that retreat changed my life. It introduced me to campus ministry, plunged me into a community of like-minded friends, and began to transform my understanding of faith. As a junior, I began double-majoring in theology. By senior year, I was researching graduate schools and re-imagining my career trajectory, eventually spending twenty-six years as a campus minister. Writing continued to be an essential component of my work, but in a context more satisfying than I’d ever envisioned.
In the movie Sliding Doors, Gwyneth Paltrow’s character experiences two dramatically different futures based on the simple happenstance of catching or missing one train. What would my future have held, had a random hallway encounter not drawn me through the doorway to ministry? When I think of that passing crush now, I picture God delightedly plotting how to capture my attention. I’m not suggesting that I was tricked into pursuing a path I never would have chosen, like a striped bass chasing a nice minnow and winding up in a nice lemon garlic sauce instead. It’s just that I’d been following the only road I knew, until an attractive stranger (sent by God, I believe) turned my head and set me off in a in a new direction.
If we believe that God created us, it makes sense that God would know how best to lead us toward our true vocation—a full and fulfilling life. In order to get us to bite, however, God may have to lure us with a tasty morsel or two. This is not trickery and deceit, but simply a manifestation of love from the One who knows us far better than we know ourselves.
Did you get where you are today by any curious twists or turns? What first lured you in that direction? Smile at the loving cleverness of our God, whose handiwork is most often visible in retrospect.