By Natalie Terry, B.A. ’05, M.A. ’08, Coordinator of Bear Awakening 1. Natalie currently serves as an academic advisor for the Paul L. Foster Success Center at Baylor University.
“We did it. We actually did it.” I remember those words running through my mind as tears of joy streamed down my face at the end of Bear Awakening 1 on March 30, 2003. Fast forward to this weekend, and I’m still just a little bit amazed that we did it…and that we – that is, the incredible faith community at St. Peter’s – still do it so well.
If someone had told me in October of 2001 that a decision made over a tray of food in Memorial Cafeteria would change not only my life but also the lives of hundreds of students at the Baylor Catholic Student Center, I probably would have laughed. That decision was whether or not I should go to Aggie Awakening 63 the following month with thirteen other Bears, most of whom I did not know. Since I ended up as the coordinator for Bear Awakening 1, you can probably guess how my discernment ended that day in Memorial. To be honest, I am not sure that any of the fourteen of us (except Jenny Hopkin, the president of the Catholic Student Center who had arranged for us to attend AA 63) really had any idea of what we were getting ourselves into with Awakening.
I remember being absolutely blown away by the scale of Aggie Awakening; the incredible faith, hope, and love shown by so many college students; and the clockwork precision that seemed to govern the retreat. As it turns out, most of my fellow Bears were similarly impressed, and we got to work on planning for the first Bear Awakening practically as soon as we got into our cars for the drive back to Waco. To make a long story short, I will just say that we knew we had a lot to do, and as we worked on the retreat for the next sixteen months, we kept discovering more things to do while facing challenges we could not have imagined. But the retreat was a success, and I think the joyful expressions on the retreaters’ faces at the end of Bear Awakening 1 will stay with me until my dying day.
A lot has happened since then, to say the least! Between BA 1 and BA 9, we have experienced being locked out of the refrigerators at the retreat site; dealt with a massive flood and some major technical difficulties; faced a near-hit from a tornado; set off the fire alarms with a smoky, bacon-filled breakfast; and gotten off schedule more than a few times. Some of our Awakening family members have entered into eternal life. In that same time, we have seen several couples meet at Bear Awakening, date, marry, and begin biological families of their own. (Those babies are incredibly blessed – with all the extra aunts and uncles they have through Awakening, they will never lack for good Catholic role models!) By BA 5, the “little people” had taken over (Smurfs and mice, you did your work well, and you know who you are!). Baylor staffers no longer have to wear more than one leadership hat at a time, as we all did at BA 1. We have created a few traditions that make Bear Awakening unique, and we have tweaked parts of the retreat to make them perfect. We have nearly outgrown our retreat site – did I mention that we have more than doubled overall in size?! – to the point where we may need to change to a two-Awakenings-per-year pattern. (That thought excites me to no end, especially since I once wondered whether or not we would be able to have one each year!) We have been part of the spiritual awakening of 393 students…and we are about make this journey with 60 more retreaters this weekend.
Bear Awakening 1 brought tears of joy and incredulity at what we had pulled off, as well as an incredible thankfulness and newfound awareness of just how much God can do with a few willing souls. BA 2 saw a stronger and larger Baylor presence amongst staffers and the introduction of the Bear Awakening logo. At BA 3, I knew Bear Awakening was safe – three repeats of something make it a tradition, or so the saying goes. At BA 4, I watched as those freshmen retreaters from BA1, now seniors, gave a charge to the younger students to keep the program alive. BA 5 was proof that those younger students had taken the charge seriously. BA 6 is the only Bear Awakening I missed (due to my dad’s passing), but the Holy Spirit was definitely moving then, because the retreaters from that year came back strong as staffers in BA 7 and doubled the number of retreaters in one year’s recruitment efforts. At BA 8, when the seniors took a photo together at the end of the retreat, I realized that the second generation of Bear Awakening retreaters was headed out the door, and BA 9 was notable because, amongst other reasons, we were helping to train students from UNT and SHSU to start or improve their own Awakenings. The tables had turned; we were absolutely no longer the new kids on the block: we had become the mentors. And that brings us to this weekend and BA 10.
Some things have changed about the retreat – the way that some of the activities are facilitated, the sheer numbers of retreaters and staffers, and our comfort level with the schedule. Other things are just the same – the overall structure, the themes of the talks, the Sacraments, deep prayer, great food, incredible camaraderie, and the strong prayer-presence of the mystical body of Christ. The energy that the staffers maintain, the dedication that they show week-in and week-out during retreat preparation, and the detailed coordination of efforts they put forth all seem to increase with each successive Awakening. The students’ resolution and commitment never cease to amaze me as they live out what it means to be Catholic Christians.
To say that this dynamic program is growing, blessed by God, and one of the best things that our students can be part of while at Baylor and St. Peter’s is an understatement. Talking about the program’s future and the great things it will bring to our students falls short as well. So instead I will say this. For all of you Awakening alumni out there, way to go: we did it! Keep lifting up the retreat, the current leadership, and the retreaters in prayer – you know when, and I know you know how. For all of my fellow staffers for BA 10, remember that this retreat is bigger than all of us, and that God will do things this weekend that we cannot fathom or explain, the fruits of which we will see fully only in eternity. For all of the retreaters of BA 10, get ready, because this is going to change your lives. And for all of you out there who have been or will be Awakened, or who have simply supported Bear Awakening from afar, I say this: May the blessing of the Lord be upon you, the blessing of the Father and the Son; and may the Spirit of God – the Spirit of Love – be with you all your days.