The following testimony is from Nicole Marshall, who addressed teens at the Young Women of Grace Dare to Prepare Advent Retreat which took place on December 8 at St. Joseph’s Church in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania.
This retreat was an answer to my prayers in more than one way. In the weeks leading up to the retreat, I had been experiencing much fear and anxiety mainly about how hopeless the world was looking to me. The focus of the retreat was “Dare to Prepare” and filled me with many unexpected blessings. I, myself, felt renewed, encourage, and affirmed by this retreat through working and interacting with Sue Brinkmann, the other women of grace, and the young ladies themselves. I had also asked for more opportunities to serve youth. God clearly answered this prayer of mine and gave me the option to serve Him through this. I decided to take a risk and say “Yes.”
St. Joseph’s parish is set in the Saucon Valley, which made for a beautiful backdrop. It was a cold, crisp, and sunny morning as we started off the day with the parish mass for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
I came in with little expectations for the retreat as a whole. The activities that were planned for the girls were different and fun. It was exciting to see them interact with one another and, through the giggles and enthusiasm, it was clear that they had fun.
Something that impressed me was how receptive the young ladies were. Despite the fact that some of the girls were 12 years old, the eight of them were extremely bright and quick to respond to a concept or an activity. They were very respectful and mature towards each other as well as towards those of us in charge.
Sue Brinkmann gave two talks; one about God’s presence and another about the feminine genius. There were many points of hers that resonated in my own heart about God being within ourselves and others. Sue reminded us that we should live in the present and control our thoughts. This is something that I struggle with personally so the verse she gave us from 2 Corinthians really hit deep: “Take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” In terms of the feminine genius, I like that she pointed out four characteristics that distinguish women: sensitivity, generosity, receptivity, and maternity. These are gifts from God that I want to expound upon in my own life. It is inspiring that ordinary women can do extraordinary things as long as they are done out of love for Christ and for His kingdom.
For my talk, I shared my own advice about self-respect and my struggle with self-image. I am well aware of how much pressure women have these days in terms of who we should be or what we should look like. Most especially with young girls, there is an overwhelming bombardment from society. I asked them several questions so that they would be more aware of the danger of comparing themselves with others. I shared a list of masks that they could be wearing to try to avoid letting people see their inner selves. In order to give them some resources to walk away with; I gave them 7 ways to combat lies and live joy now, I shared with them a passage from the Bible that I believe encompasses a true woman (Proverbs 31:10-31), and finally I played Lauren Daigle’s song You Say. My goal is that in sharing my own path through adolescence with them, they were encouraged to know that these are struggles that all women experience, and that Christ is the only one who will accompany us through all of the valleys AND the mountains.
At the end of the day, it was beautiful to see how the girls had come out of their shells. I sincerely believe that youth need more of these types of retreats to recollect themselves, refocus, and realize what is truly important as they unfold in the journey of life. I was inspired and given a renewed hope in the generations to come. I was given a new realization that I want to be extraordinary in everything, but especially in my ordinary days, for love of Christ.
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Nicole Marshall is a Catholic half-hispanic graduate of Franciscan University at Steubenville. She lives in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, works in center city Philadelphia and spends one day at a time loving her faith, family, her boyfriend Killian, and her friends.