I’ve had many spells of homesickness over the years. Typically, I’d try to soothe myself by looking at houses online in the town where I grew up. I imagined what it would be like to move back to Duluth, Minnesota. Could I relive all the comforting memories? Would my desire to belong finally be satisfied if I could go back to those familiar people and places? Maya Angelou writes, “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” This makes sense to me. Maybe you long for roots, too. Considering how often extended families no longer stay close together as jobs and preferences transfer people to different parts of the country, I doubt that I am alone with these feelings.
I felt this homesickness most acutely when I lived in Mexico—in large measure because I was surrounded by the most beautiful display of family traditions that I’d ever seen. Families, by and large, stayed close geographically, with weekly gatherings for comida where multiple generations stopped their activities and devoted the afternoon to each other. I admired it from the outside looking in because my family was far away. At that time, I also felt I was rattling around within the Catholic Church. I was a card-carrying member, but I didn’t feel like I belonged. I had a sense that there was an inner circle, a set of behaviors that I wasn’t clued in on, and a heritage and vocabulary that I wasn’t born with, which meant I was destined to be on the outside. This lasted far longer than anyone would have guessed.
But Jesus met me in the pages of Scripture no matter what country I was in or how disjointed my life felt. I might have felt disconnected from the familiar, but I found safety and steadiness in those timeless, sacred words. These were years when I put my roots down deep into God’s Word. In the pages of the Bible, I encountered a Living God who drew me close.
And yet, I didn’t realize in those years that there was more. God wanted me to experience a spiritual family that stretched across the globe; a shared worship where, no matter where we found ourselves, we all turned our hearts to the Lord and prayed in unison, reading the same words of Scripture. He wanted me to continue to experience His words as “sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103), but to do so nestled in the heart of the Church.
This is the gift that Franciscan University of Steubenville has given me, and it’s a grace that’s been extended to me without me having to move. I still live in Florida, and that vibrant community is in Ohio. But the university has created an online experience that has been absolutely life-changing for me. For years I have wanted to delve deeper in the study of theology, but I couldn’t see how I could possibly find the time. With seven children and now in-laws and grandsons, my life and schedule are full. I work full-time in ministry, write, travel, and speak at conferences. How on earth could this dream of further study be possible? And was it selfish to pursue it? I played around with these thoughts for years until one day I realized that if I had just taken one class at a time, starting when the dream began, I would now be done. My degree would be in hand. And so I applied to the graduate school and began the journey toward my Master's in Theology.
This program was developed for people like me who are pursuing their studies while living full lives at home and in their careers. Is it demanding? Yes. I have to be self-disciplined with my time. But the way the classes are structured has made it possible to keep it all in balance, and the rewards far exceed any sacrifice I am making. I remember taking undergraduate religion classes in college and leaving them feeling more confused than anything. Franciscan offers an entirely different experience. The theological gaps are being filled in for me, explanation and proofs are being given, and my faith is being strengthened. The more I learn, the more my appetite grows for more.
It occurred to me the other day that I no longer had the same ache to belong that I used to struggle with. This surprised me, and I tried to figure out when that changed. I realized it was a gradual change—not something that happened overnight. It was one of the fruits of my study at Franciscan. As I have seen how Scripture is the soul of sacred theology, I’ve also seen how it’s within the heart of the Church that it truly comes to life. The pieces have come together for me. The richness of our faith started to unfold for me as phenomenal professors have made theology understandable. They’ve made sure their students don’t just learn truth, but also grow in love for Christ. My questions are being answered. Doubts are being settled. What I feel in class after class is an overwhelming sense that it’s all true. The ache has been satisfied.
This doesn’t mean I never hop on Zillow and picture myself living in my old stomping ground. But it does mean that I feel grounded and welcomed right where I am. If this can be accomplished in an online experience, I can only imagine the fullness of the experience for students on campus. To give credit where credit is due, I must thank Franciscan University of Steubenville for welcoming me home and making me feel like family.
P.S. I invite you to explore all the online graduate programs offered by Franciscan University of Steubenville. It’s never too late to embark on a new educational journey!