Finding her identity in God

Stephanie was a year 12 student in a small coastal town of NSW. She had many friends, went to a good school and had a lot of independence for a 17-year-old. Steph was invited to all the right parties, was dating a guy she really liked and was considering different universities for life after school.

But under the surface, Steph struggled with her self-worth. She often felt like she wasn’t good enough, like there was always something more that she could do to be better. Between the ages of 14 and 17 Steph experienced issues at home and her family life was uncertain.

Pressure to excel academically, to look and act a certain way, to have a boyfriend and to juggle her home-life was exhausting. She often felt like there was no one to talk to about all the challenges she was facing. She often felt lost and alone.

At this point Steph decided that the best way to deal with life was to, ‘go with the crowd.’ She spent most weekends out with friends partying hard. She experienced unhealthy relationships. Steph thought that if she just ‘did what everyone else was doing’ that she would find the love and acceptance that she longed for. It seemed like this way of life made everyone else happy. So why did Steph feel like there should be more?

 “When I met the NET team they just seemed so, well… normal. They didn’t care which party I was going to, who I was dating or where I bought my shoes. What struck me the most was how genuine they were in their desire to get to know ME. They had this incredible way of listening to me that was so attractive. They made me feel important. I decided I wanted to be friends with these people.”

This desire led Steph to attend the youth group that the team started up on Friday nights. She will never forget what she experienced at youth group:

The way these young people were talking about God was new to me. They talked about a guy who created the heavens and the earth, and that same guy wanted to have a friendship with me. They spoke about how relationships and sex are gifts, that I was valuable, and that these things were important. That we should treat them, ourselves, and others, like they were worth something. I had never heard anyone speak about these things before, especially not in this way. It felt like they were speaking directly to me, like I was the only person in the room. This was the first time I had heard of the unconditional love that Jesus offers. I knew that I wasn’t treating these things like they were important and I had so many choices, mistakes and burdens weighing me down. To hear that Jesus wanted to not only forgive me, but to give me a fresh start was life-changing. This new relationship with God excited me. I felt like I had found a love that would never leave me. I felt convicted that this was how I wanted to live from now on, to live in the love of Jesus and to help others to do the same.”

After this experience Steph became a regular at the Friday night youth group and started attending the youth Mass that the NET team facilitated.  Steph had been baptised as a young child but not attended Church since. This was not going to stop her from taking a step into a life changing journey.

“From then on, the options were clear. Instead of partying every Friday night, I would go to youth group. I spent time with people who believed similar things to me and building a relationship with God. Friday nights turned into the best night of the week. They were filled with PURPOSE – at the heart of this incredible little community was the NET team.”

Steph continued to journey with the NET team and grow in her faith. Each Sunday at the youth Mass she observed everyone kneeling, sitting, standing, praying different prayers; and a real desire began to grow in her to learn more about the Church. One day, one of the NET team members asked if she had ever considered getting the rest of her Catholic Sacraments of initiation. Steph didn’t know too much about the process but was eager to learn. Under the guidance of her Parish Priest and the NET team she began her sacramental formation.

Just a few months after Steph had first started going to youth group, at the age of 17, she received her sacraments of Confirmation, First Reconciliation and Communion to be fully received into the Catholic Church. As she continued to journey in her faith she became convicted that she was meant to find a way to give back to others as she had so generously received.

The rest, they say, is history. At the end of her Grade 12 year, Steph was accepted to serve with NET Ministries and spent the next two years as a modern-day missionary serving with NET’s National team across Australia and then on a local team based at Mazenod College in Melbourne. She then went on to serve for three years on the NET staff.

About these five years with NET, Steph said:

“It was such an incredible time for me. NET offered me a platform where I could reach out to young people in the way that the NET team in Port Macquarie reached out to me. I could often see in the eyes of the students a similar searching for love, purpose and belonging. Jesus used the scars that I had from that time to become the very thing that brought light and hope to others.

“During my time with NET I took away two major things. The first was a deep habit of personal prayer. Prayer through Scripture became one of my favourite parts of my

day. The second thing was about relationships. NET taught me how to truly love, respect and honour other people, to put them before myself.”

“My time on the staff equipped me with the skills that I need to be an influencer, whether that’s in the Church or in the world. It gave me a vision for a hopeful future of the Church where God will raise up young people across this nation to become the leaders of tomorrow, just like He found and transformed me.”

Steph is now married to Patrick and a proud new mum to Agnes Mary.

“The way that God worked through the NET Team that I met in grade 12 was powerful. I don’t know where I would be if Jesus hadn’t used the NET Team in such a tangible way to change my own life.

It’s a powerful story. But it concerns me when I think, “What if there had been no NET team in Steph’s town? Where would Steph be today?”

Like thousands of other young people, the life Steph was leading could have continued her search for joy in temporary pursuits. Many people choose to follow these things and end up living a life without purpose or meaning, oblivious to the greater plan that God has for them.

Young people across this nation need a different story to so much of what our culture teaches them. Unfortunately, our culture does not tell them the truth about who they are, why they have been created and that their life is filled with purpose. You can personally bring hope to these young people through your support. Your gift will be salt and light to this generation and your legacy can pass be to pass on the faith that is so vital to you and to them.

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