My name is Kelly, and I was born May 17, 1971. I was raised in Lansing, Illinois, a south suburb of Chicago. I currently live in Chicago and work as a junior derivatives analyst at a bank.

I was not raised in a religious family. No one went to church. There was a brief time in my teens that my mom took an interest in the Catholic Church and was attending catechism. Like mother, like daughter, I wanted to do the same. So a few months after my mom confirmed, I began catechism classes.

Don't know why it was Catholicism I was attracted to. Maybe because of all the kneeling and standing, etc... You know, there was lots to do. Although, I do have an interesting memory that I actually forgot about for a short time. Before I ever became Catholic I remember as a kid I would take a slice of white bread and pull off the crust and smash the bread 'til it was really thin. Then I would eat it in a circle until it was the size of a communion wafer. I did this slice after slice after slice 'til I was tired of smashing. And then I would pretend as though I was receiving communion and eat each "wafer". I think this was pre-teen (at least I hope), but find it interesting that I had this fascination not having been exposed to Catholicism except for maybe on tv or catholic neighbors.

Long story short, I fell away from the Church after only a year or two as a Catholic. Looking back again, I tend to believe I was not ready to truly understand religion, God, Catholicism, Faith, etc. I believe Our Lady was preparing me for Medjugorje, where I would one day finally experience the beginning of my conversion. But, in my teens, I wasn't quite ready.

After my brief stint in catholicism I fell away and slowly became immersed in New Age Spirituality-- or New Age Gnosticism to be more specific. I can go on and on about that, but everyone has their own story. Let's suffice it to say I was so knee deep into it, fully believing it, and extremely stubborn and defensive about it-- no one could sway my beliefs.

I had issues with the church and began seeing "structured religion" as limiting and man-made. No, I believed I was into "something greater" that 'not everyone was so blessed to see.

Well, during my days when I was a teenage Catholic, I had learned about Medjugorje and was fascinated by it! Probably more for the mystical aspects than for the spiritual messages being sent. So, I had always wanted to go to see what Medjugorje was all about but never seriously thought it would ever be possible.

About 2 years ago I surfed the web curious to find out where Medjugorje and the visionaries were these days. Was everything still happening? I found the IIPG web and sent a short email to Steve Shawl asking questions. He responded quickly and I continued sending questions. My curiosity became stronger and stronger about it... One day he said, "Our Lady would like you to have something", and he mailed me a rosary from Medjugorje. I was extremely moved by it and thrilled to say the least! After receiving the rosary I felt certain without a doubt that I would try to make a pilgrimage out there as soon as possible. I scheduled to travel there last June (2001). I kept in touch with The Shawl's and they were so patient and helpful. I was so excited to be going. I'm sure everyone has wondered at one time or another why they are being called to Medjugorje. Steve said he thinks I may be being called back to the Catholic Church! I was very uncomfortable about that statement and felt very defensive. 'There's no way Mary is calling me out there to become Catholic again! That would be like taking steps backwards!' I was convinced I was going there to be 'patted on the back' 'cuz I was one of the few to 'truly understand the bigger picture because of my gnostic belief system'. I was being "rewarded". And I had no interest in becoming catholic again.

So, I went to Medjugorje and at first was very uncomfortable. I spoke to people who often said, 'Praise Jesus' 'or 'Hallelulia!'or who go to Mass EVERY DAY! I really felt like I was on a journey with a bunch of religious fanatics, catholic no less, and I was very worried that they were going to force their faith on me. So my defenses were very high, and I seriously started wondering what I was doing in this place. Part of me wanted to go home and I hadn't even been there a full day.

So I was having a hard time the first day or so there because of my defenses. To cut to the chase, I had an incredible conversation with a friend from IIPG who walked with me on Mt. Krizevac. Basically, I had a little debate with her about Catholic beliefs ('why confess to priests -- they're sinners', etc. (the usual stuff)). What swayed me was her absolute passion in her words. Her faith was so strong, that by the time we made it to the bottom of the hill, I couldn't wait to go to confession for the first time in 8-10 years!

I went to confession and cried. I confessed with rosary in hand at the very moment when the crowds grow quiet because Our Lady is appearing to Vicka for her daily apparition. So, I felt particularly close to Mary during my confession.

After confession, I had my first communion since my teens ( at Croatian Mass) since my teens. After communion my friends pointed up to the sky and I saw the Miracle of the Sun! I was so happy!

From that day on it seemed as though that New Age belief system I had heavily guarded for years FLIPPED ON ITS HEAD! It was no longer important for me to believe this or that. My heart was opened and I didn't feel threatened by the idea of 'maybe being wrong' and rediscovering the Catholic faith. It's amazing to think that a strongly held belief system that you've had developed over 8+ years could be completely wiped away in a matter of days. I'm still amazed when I think about it.

It all started with that conversation on Mt. Krizevac, and my friend who did the talking is now forever known to me as my "Medju-Guardian Angel".

I'd like to share one more story during my first trip to Medjugorje that involved meeting one of the visionaries.

Since I was first introduced to Medjugorje, I was fascinated with the visionaries, and of course, always dreamed I'd meet one of them. But I thought those chances were even more impossible than the chances of one day travelling to Medjugorje.

I had such an incredible time in Medjugorje, with no regrets. But I never personally met a visionary. I didn't pray for the chance either, because I never thought it was even possible. Until the day before our last evening in Medjugorje. I took a walk with my new friend whohappened to know where Vicka was staying and she said to me that ...

'maybe because you didn't come here asking for anything in particular, maybe your gift from Our Lady would be 'to meet Vicka'.

Well, after talking to her and being so convinced she could introduce me to her by inviting me over for dinner, I was so thrilled! I prayed for that wish to come true that night! We prayed together about it, and I can't tell you how much I was looking forward to it!

Then evening came and I was to go to my friend's for dinner and Vicka would be there. Upon arriving I learned that Vicka was tired after returning from a long trip and would not be down. I was completely heartbroken! I hid it the best I could but I was so near to tears! I was sad, angry, disappointed! I had looked so forward to it! I felt like a dirty trick was played on me and it seemed to tarnish how I felt about the whole trip.

Evening came and everyone was off to Croatian Mass. I heard that Vicka may be down after her apparition with Our Lady (which takes place during the Rosary, which is said before Croation Mass).

I found myself in a dilemma. If I stay here and do not go to Mass, I bet I could meet Vicka. But if I stay, I'll miss Mass and miss receiving communion. My Medju-Guardian Angel instilled in me how truly important (beyond our comprehension) it is for us to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus in communion, so I knew I just had to go.

As I look back, I almost see it as though it were a test. Maybe it was a test to see 'will I go to Mass because I know I should and it would please Our Lady' or should I stay to meet Vicka 'cuz 'I want to'. Medjugorje is not about the visionaries, but about the messages of Our Lady and about becoming closer to Jesus. So, what do you think Our Lady would have preferred I choose?

I'm happy to say I think I passed the test and pleased Our Lady because I chose to receive communion as opposed to meet Vicka. But my heart was still broken.

In fact, I was so sad and angry that I prayed angrily to Mary. I wish I could express in words how distraught I felt. I built myself up for the moment and when it didn't happen I felt so sorry for myself!

Especially during the moment when Vicka was having her daily apparition. I was at St. James Church and in my head I was speaking to Mary saying with tears trickling down my cheek:

'How could you do this to me? You've broken my heart! I was so looking forward to this one little wish' Why did you let me down? I want so badly to return home and be able to tell everyone what a marvelous time I had. But how can I say anything good about the trip when the last memory I have is that of being completely heartbroken and forgotten. I thought prayers are answered. I didn't ask for anything special on the trip. And I didn't think I was asking much."

I was really hurt and wasn't afraid to show it to Our Lady.

So after Mass, I didn't feel like hanging around as I usually would to visit with everyone. I just wanted to go back to the pansion. So, I did. I went back with my roommate, Peggy, and as we walked up the driveway to the back door of the home, to my AMAZEMENT --there sat Vicka! She was sitting on the back porch of the home I was staying at! It felt almost as if, instead of me coming to her-- she was sent to me!

Needless to say, you have no idea how happy I was. It was quite the way to end the trip. I told Vicka I loved her, and she became so excited and she wrapped her arms around me and gave me hugs and kisses! I was on 'Cloud 9'! Our Lady really came through.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the drift of my experience. It was quite a roller coaster ride from beginning to end. But as I said before, to me Medjugorje means R&R.; Not Rest & Relaxation, but Rescue & Recovery! I can't wait to return there!

P.S. It was after this trip that I ended up joining the IIPG prayer group! And to think it all started with a little innocent email to Steve and that initial rosary that he sent to me. (By the way, that rosary is responsible for another lady traveling to Medjugorje as well. A co-worker friend of mine saw it sitting on my table and she stared at it and said, "you know, I've been getting so many messages. I'm seeing Mary everywhere. Now I see this Medjugorje Rosary, and you tell me you're going there. You know, I just think I may be experiencing a call to go out there as well." She traveled there just a month after my trip and wants to return again!)

P.S.S On a side note, two weeks after I returned from Medjugorje, I was preparing to move to another apartment on the North side of Chicago. Once I settled in, I searched for the nearest Catholic Church to hang my hat. Sure enough, 2.5 blocks away from my new home was a 100+ year old church named: 'Our Lady Of Lourdes'! It has a HUGE painting in the front of the church of Our Lady on a cloud with people who are ill and children surrounding her. It's beautiful.

I have a feeling Our Lady doesn't want me to forget who's responsible for bringing me back to Her Son and His Church!

Thanks for reading and God Bless!

Kelly
(KellyJo12001@yahoo.com)

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