I had wanted to do a year abroad before I had even chosen the UK university I wanted to attend. None of my older siblings had done one, my parents were supportive of it, and there was an opportunity to put off the real world for an extra year. Beyond that, it needed no greater reasoning. The opportunities offered in this regard ultimately influenced where I chose to do my degree.
When I arrived at the University of Exeter two and a half years ago, I did not get along with the Catholic Church. Our relationship had been on the rocks since I was sixteen, and none of my qualms were erased by being in a new city.
I had a classic case of thinking I was right, and two thousand years of theology was wrong.
But I was still seeking God.
I went to a lot of Evangelical Christian events in my first term and met some wonderful people. I also made a lot of mistakes. I abused my body in a lot of different ways, and promoted ideas that would cause others to do the same. I found myself deeply troubled, caught adrift.
The feeling that something was missing grew - to the point where I could no longer ignore it. It was calling me to return to the Church I had so firmly rejected.
In the January of my first year, I figuratively and literally overcame a massive hill and stumbled through the doors of the Catholic chaplaincy.
I was blessed. A group of young Catholics, ardently in love with Jesus and their faith, welcomed me wholeheartedly into their community.
They became my best friends and my family - helping me to question and re-learn everything I thought I knew about Catholicism. Most importantly, they taught me to love God and to be loved in return, in ways that will sustain me my whole life through.
My faith took root again, and began to grow.
With Jesus present, I enjoyed Lectio Divina, spiritual talks, bar nights, and meals. I went to Mass, Rosary, and Adoration in that little chapel at the bottom of the hill.
In my second year, the Holy Spirit compelled me to become Social Secretary of the Catholic Society and through fellowship and faith formation, it became the best year of my life.
Suddenly, I was faced with the prospect of my long-awaited year abroad. For the first time, the prospect filled me with fear.
I was scared I would lose everything.
It is easy to believe in a Good God in the little chapel at the bottom of the hill, surrounded by your friends. It is less easy when you are in a new place, a new country, and completely alone.
I prayed, in the depths of my heart, "Jesus, please follow me to Canada. Please meet me there, please do not abandon me".
Only in looking back have I realised that Jesus was saying the exact same thing all along: "Miriam, please follow me to Canada. Please meet me there, please do not abandon me".
When I arrived at the University of Victoria, Canada, I was deeply in love with Jesus Christ and His Church. But my faith was still lacking trust in God to let Him lead me.
I was making the most amazing friends, seeing the most glorious sights, and staying close to Jesus. But my heart was still restless, and I didn't know why. I prayed for peace. The problem was, I had envisioned peace as the quiet calm found in having nothing to do.
What I got was something quite different...
I was roped into reading regularly at Mass; enrolled in a faith study class, then another; found myself in the midst of a pro-life protest on campus; I was surrounded by lapsed Catholics and disillusioned Christians; my mum was sick back home.
There were times when life (particularly academic life) overwhelmed me, and my prayer life suffered.
In case anyone is under the impression that this story ends with me being the perfect Catholic, let me be clear: I am far from a saint.
But this story does end with the beginning of my earnest, burning desire to become one.
In praying for peace these past months, the Holy Spirit has revealed to me a truth I had missed: peace is not necessarily stationary. The Holy Spirit did not come in the form of an inanimate object - a chair for the apostles to sit on. He came as "the rush of a violent wind" and "tongues, as of fire" (Acts 2:2:3).
God moves you, and there is peace to be found in that movement. Whether you have a million things to check off a list, or one singular task to accomplish in a day - the multitude is not the matter.
Peace is knowing that you are doing God's Will. Whatever it is you are doing.
I was blessed with a Catholic community at Uvic, enraptured by God. Through their lived testimonies, and complete trust in God's Will, they have helped me to know peace by showing me that I am exactly where He wants me to be. They have shown me that to abdicate myself completely to His plan is not to surrender my reason; but rather, the rational end of believing in a God who is Good beyond all measure.
"Steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord" (Psalm 32:10)
I have no doubt God led me to faith at university and kept me there for that time, because it was exactly what I needed. But God loves us far too much to leave us where we are. When I wake up every morning in Canada, I look upon the crucifix, and am reminded of His love.
I choose to follow Him, to be led by Him, knowing this will be the greatest adventure of all.
Mother Mary, Queen of Peace,
Make of us all a ‘yes’ to God,
Never let our strivings cease,
Knowing of His steadfast love.