Jackie had a rough childhood when she moved to the US from Vietnam, and she resented everything.
She secretly didn’t believe that God existed.
But then one quiet moment at her Confirmation retreat, she felt a little spark in her soul that changed … everything!
Here’s her SacredStory:
Jackie, what was it like for you growing up?
I wasn't born in the US actually. I was born in Vietnam, and I immigrated to the US when I was about three years old or so. Religion wise, I was really Catholic. My family are all really seriously Catholic, like never-something-to-joke-about kind of Catholics. But I went through a pretty weird childhood. My parents are first generation immigrants, and they work seven days a week. Total workaholics. When I got to the US, I had an accent and didn’t speak English very well. My dad’s side of the family treated me and my mom badly. I was bullied at school, bullied at home, bullied by my babysitter. I just started resenting everything, and I didn’t really like life at all. So at around 5th, 6th, 7th grade until all the way to sophomore year of high school, I declared myself as an atheist.
Wait, how did you decide to be atheist in such a Catholic family?
I know, I know, I know! You're going to think I'm crazy! I didn't tell my family though, but on the inside, I was one of those people who was all, “God isn't real blah blah blah.” The funny thing is, I still went to Mass, I still went to Faith Formation and Confirmation classes.
I remember telling my mom – like somewhere in my freshman year of high school - that sometimes I don’t think God is real. And then being the really Catholic mom that she is, well she kind of flipped out [laughing]. She was all, “We should take you to a priest! You should have a conversation with him!” But I told her, “If you ever bring me in to talk to a priest, I am not going to tell you anything ever again!”
It’s just so weird, because people think of me now as this cute bubbly little Catholic girl, but I wasn't always like that. I was just going through the motions during those years, still thinking God wasn’t a thing, until I went to the overnight Confirmation retreat.
Really? What happened there?
See that’s just it. It wasn’t a huge thing. It wasn't the stories, or the fun and games or praying together. No one whispered in my ear, and I didn’t have this big vision or anything. Nothing big or epic happened. But I just felt something inside my soul. I just felt it. Like this teeny, little spark, this little … I don’t know, difference? I just started crying for no reason, and I was like what's going on? I promised myself that when I graduated and moved out, I would never set foot inside a church again. But in that moment, about two years ago I became… different. Something really shifted. It made me think about what I was feeling inside and I thought, “Hey, is that really Jesus? Is that really You knocking at my door?” I thought to myself that maybe I should take this Jesus guy a little more seriously! [laughing].
Wow, that actually sounds bigger than you think! What did you do next?
Well, I started taking my religion seriously, and I started becoming like a “real Catholic”. I started being aware and present at Mass and in prayer. I mean, from the outside I probably didn’t look any different. I was doing the same things – going to church every Sunday and stuff - but that one little moment at the retreat changed me on the inside. So, I started listening in Mass more, you know? I started going to choir practice and really got into it in a different away.
Did it change your outlook, this new awareness of God?
Yeah, it made me look back at past events with new eyes. I noticed in a new way that when I was in 6th grade, I moved to Livermore and got away from my dad’s side of the family, and things got a little better. I met people at St Michael's and made some really great friends. People were treating me nicer and then everyone around me started loving me. So now “post spark” I think it is God is showing me that things get better with time, and that there might be down times, but it’s not the worst ever. I mean while I was experiencing it, it was awful, but looking back I can see that my life is pretty good. I can see how far my family and I have come. My parents are more financially stable, I have good friends, I got away from toxic relationships, my schoolwork is better, and I can just balance it all better. And I just graduated from high school! It’s like I can see now that God has a plan for me. It’s a pretty good life!
Yes! I originally joined the music ministry four years ago, and it was honestly only because I was trying to wrap up some service hours for my Confirmation. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t really think God existed then, and I only came sometimes, so I never really felt a connection. I was just going through the motions. But then after that retreat and “The Spark” [laughing], I was singing my heart out! Like I really got so into it that time flew and felt like only 10 minutes, but it had been over an hour. It’s like that spark just got a little bigger when I sang, and I was praying through song.
Then at St Michael Community Care, I had to do 75 or 100 hours of community service for school. Again, it was just like one more thing to just get done for the hours. I volunteered to help on the Traffic Team, and my job is to greet people at their cars and get some basic information from them like how many boxes of food they need. After a while, I noticed that it is so cool to talk to people and greet them warmly, because they just need a little help. Some people feel embarrassed or awkward. I like just being friendly and putting them at ease, you know? I see some regulars now who recognize me, so it’s pretty awesome. Anyway, so I kept coming back even after I got all my hours done.
Now that you’ve graduated from high school, what’s your next step?
I’m sticking around Livermore a little longer, going to go to Las Positas. And maybe even after that, I might commute to maybe Santa Clara or something. So I’m happy to keep my volunteer ministries at St Michael’s going. I mean, even though I grew up Catholic, I’m in a lot of ways a “newbie”. And I want to make sure I can balance school and faith life too.
What would you say to someone who is in a rough spot?
Well, first, you know you hear all these crazy stories about how people became Christian or found Jesus or God healed them or something. You know these really, really BIG things. And it is true that God can do the big stuff, but at least in my life it was more of little quiet subtle things that changed me. That one little moment at the retreat. Then it’s other little things like waking up in the morning with a new positive outlook that maybe wasn’t there before. Or maybe it’s just a random guy who smiles at you and it makes your day a little better. Most of the time it’s the smallest things that just start to pile up to be bigger things and before you know it, you’re just different. Better! I think God likes moving little things!
What do you hope for next?
I don’t know, but maybe when I’m working at Community Care and someone needs groceries, I’d like to think that maybe I’m the smiling face that they needed to see. Or when I’m singing, maybe someone who was too shy to sing decides to sing along with me. And it’s okay if I never know about it! I just want to be part of the plan. I just want to trust in the Lord’s ripple effects, you know? I think the rest will just follow.
Jackie, you are just awesome! Thank you for sharing your story!
You are very welcome. I am happy to finally tell it!
Do you have a SacredStory to tell? Contact Tina Gregory at Story@StMichaelLivermore.com or 925-667-4051