“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5)
My testimony starts back with my family of origin. My parents, Frank and Genie Summers, had been raised Catholic but left the faith in pursuit of the happiness the world offers, through travel, education, wealth, and success. Instead of finding fulfillment, they found themselves terribly empty and their marriage was breaking apart. At this point of total rock-bottom, my parents experienced God in a real way, and their love for Him and desire to abandon themselves to His will led them to sell everything and become full-time Catholic foreign missionary evangelists as a family (with one son, my oldest brother Beau). As they embraced this life of radical surrender to the truth of Christ and His church, they opened themselves to life – which led to six children, myself included. My siblings and I have inherited such a spiritual richness from my parents’ amazing dedication to God and to the poor. In our home, a high priority was placed on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I grew up in love with mission, in love with the poor, and in love with the Eucharist. My parents instilled in me a total dedication to daily personal prayer, to speaking about my faith, and to discerning God’s will.
Funny thing is, God’s will is often not what we imagine. In my teens, college years and beyond, I dreamed of following in my family’s footsteps serving God as a foreign missionary until the day I die. In fact, I felt very strongly called to go to China. I pictured myself moving there, learning the language, adopting many special Chinese babies, and serving amongst the very poor. In some ways, I could question whether my discernment of God’s will then was for naught. In hindsight, however, I see how God was calling me to China to find my vocation, but my vocation was Mike VanVickle. He was a fellow missionary who accompanied me on a one month mission to China, on which we fell in love, and as they say… the rest is history.
Mike and I were married in missions, and served in full-time missions until after our 3rd son was born, when we discerned that God was calling us to settle back at home. Now we have 5 kids (and not even one is adopted). We live in Suburban America, and I teach Theology at the small Catholic school where my kids attend. All this to say, that God’s will looks different than I expected it would. Being out of foreign missions is difficult for me, but my mama always says, “You can take the missionary out of missions, but you can’t take the missions out of the missionary.” So, here I am—a missionary (as we all are, by baptism) seeking to live out the training I received in my everyday Texas life.
If I take an honest look back, I can see how God was planting seeds in my heart for this calling even back when I was a student at Franciscan University. I was taking a class on evangelization, and our final assignment was to choose any hypothetical situation into which we would go and we had to explain our strategy for evangelizing whatever “world” we entered. I could have chosen any unknown people group or distant Asian community, but somehow God led me to write a paper called Celebrate, Celebrate, Celebrate! My evangelization strategy was simple: be a mother who loves, celebrates and passes on the faith. God revealed to me as I prepared my project that a holy mother can change the world, by lighting fires in her children that will then go out and set the world ablaze.
So, here are some of the ways I seek to apply my own missionary training within my home today:
1. Spiritual Works of Mercy can be done daily. As a mother, do I have opportunities to instruct the ignorant? Yes. Counsel the doubtful? Yes. Admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently and forgive offenses willingly? Yes, yes, yes!
2. When I pray for opportunities to live the Corporal Works of Mercy, God surely puts service opportunities in our family’s path. Some people come to us with needs. Can we take the time to listen, to open our lives, homes, schedules and wallets? Other times, we have to seek out those opportunities. I look for places to feed the homeless, visit the sick, or just encounter Jesus in the “distressing disguise of the poor.”
3. Evangelizing can begin in our own family. My husband and I try to teach our children to love the Eucharist, have personal prayer time daily, discern God’s will, speak about their faith, and shine the light of Jesus into their respective ends of the earth.
My story ends with Proverbs 3:5. Why should I trust in the Lord, and not lean on my own understanding? Because He knows infinitely more about me and about the future. Even when the design of my life looks entirely different than the design I would have drawn up, I am at peace. Peace and joy come from knowing He knows best and He cares deeply. Even the hairs on my head He has counted!! (I love my kids, but I don’t count the hairs on their heads). Every day, every minute, I am called to trust, to surrender, and to watch God’s plan of love for me unfold.