Ephphatha is an Aramaic word that means “be opened.” We see Christ speak this word in Mark 7:34. In this account, the Lord heals a deaf and mute man, allowing the man to hear and speak.
My name is Annalyse Sanchez, and this is my introduction and restoration journey story. Before I dive into how the Lord has “opened me,” let me give you some background and context to my life and who I am.
I was born and raised in South Florida by my two parents. I am one of three siblings, an older sister (who is also on this Little with Great Love team) and a twin brother. Since you’re probably wondering, yes, I am the older one, and no, my twin and I can not read each other’s minds. My mom is Cuban, and my dad is Mexican and Hungarian. Living in South Florida helped me to connect to my Cuban roots and learn about the culture. My parents raised me Catholic and put me in Catholic schools my whole life. Even with all of that, looking back, I truly seemed to be deaf to the Lord through much of that time.
My restoration journey starts with the reason why I need restoration in the first place. Like many people, I struggle with the fear of disappointment. I grapple with not being what people expect me to be, which usually appears to be perfection. I was a teacher’s kid for middle and high school, lived in my older sister’s shadow, and was always known as “the Catholic girl” or the “Jesus freak.” Everything and anything I did seemed to be closely examined and judged. I needed high grades, to be in all the honor societies, to do sports, and to put on the perfect smile. With my parents being teachers, most people knew who I was, and their coworkers always seemed to report back to them if anything were to happen. Because she is incredible, my sister didn’t set the bar low by any means. Facing these realities for most of my life, I was under tremendous pressure.
High School. Young adolescence. Like most young girls around this time, I was confused and was faced with the question, “Who am I?” for the first time. Along with the pressure to be “perfect,” I also heard the voices of so many people and things telling me who I needed to be. From society, I heard, “Be independent. You are a strong woman, do not show any weaknesses. No one can do it better than you.” This led me to be incredibly self-sufficient and lonely. I found myself shoving down and shutting off almost all of my emotions and feelings. I trusted no one. From my family: “Be the kind and well-behaved Catholic girl we raised you to be. Get straight A’s and have the perfect college resume.” This led me to self-criticize myself if I was anything less than what was expected. Overall, I became depressed and numb. There were so many voices telling me who I was. I was truly deaf.
In the summer of 2018, I was a sophomore entering my junior year of high school. I was on a bus with many other boys and girls my age heading to my first Steubenville Conference in Orlando, Florida. I did not know what to expect, and I had only heard from some of the others that this would be one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. If there is something I should note at this time, it was that I was timid and introverted, and I had not yet discovered how to be confident in myself.
On the second night, there was adoration with praise and worship. This is where my restoration journey started. Picture this: the Eucharist on full display in a beautiful monstrance, lights shining down on Him, a band singing beautiful and powerful praise music, and a sea of young adults pouring their hearts out to the Lord. It was something I had never seen before, and I was moved. I wanted what they had.
So I closed my eyes and started praying. Jesus gave me an image. I was on the edge of an incredibly tall cliff. Looking down, water was crashing at the bottom, but in the water, Jesus was there with arms stretched out. He wasn’t verbally saying anything, yet I knew in my heart what He was saying. He told me to jump. He promised me that if I did, He would catch me. I remember crying and going back and forth with Him until finally, I said, “Ok, Lord, I trust in You.”
I jumped, and the other voices were no longer deafening to my ears. They became just some white noise. I heard a whisper of hope.
Fast forward to college. I go to Franciscan University of Steubenville. Since the conference in Orlando, I was determined to build up my faith life and my idea of what a relationship with Jesus looks like. I had trained myself to listen to His voice with more clarity.
I was on the phone with my Aunt Lisa, about to start my sophomore year of college. She asked me a straightforward question: what are my goals for this new semester? I told her, “I want to grow and meet new people.” I knew I would no longer be the new kid on the block, and Covid restrictions weren’t as severe as last year. This would be my opportunity to put myself out there and step out of my comfort zone. And I did. Franciscan hosts these beautiful praise and worship nights with adoration called a Festival of Praise, also known as an F.O.P . Like the conference I attended in Orlando, I had another beautiful and genuine experience with Jesus.
In the middle of the F.O.P., the priest leading it, Fr. Dave Pivonka, presented the question, “What’s at the center of your heart?” The Lord made me realize how much I still distrusted people, and even Him. He called me to a place of restoration in my heart with Him. He was not the center of my heart, and He wanted to be.
Along with this revelation and my goals for the semester, I did what most Franciscan students did. I looked for a Household to join. For those who don’t know, Households are a Franciscan staple. They are Catholic men’s and women’s communities centered around specific devotions and virtues that focus on helping one another get to heaven. With my main focus on my lack of trust, I went to a household I knew could help me with this problem, Daughters of Divine Mercy (DDM). The main message of it being, Jesus, I trust in You; I knew it was an excellent place to start. Each household has specific and personable commitments (meetings) they host throughout the week, so I started going to some DDM’s commitments. I fell in love with Divine Mercy, St. Faustina, the pillars, and the girls in the Household.
Intenting is the first step to joining Daughters of Divine Mercy. In total, there are two steps before you fully commit and become a daughter. Before you become a daughter, in these two steps, you receive an older sister-mentor figure who takes you through formation and teaches you about the household’s saints and pillars. DDM’s saints are St. Faustina, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Peter, St. Pope John Paul II, and Our Lady Mother of Divine Mercy. Our pillars are trust, passionate joy, and redemptive suffering.
So I contacted the two girls in charge of DDM, also known as the coordinators, and set up a date for me to intent. With all these saints and beautiful pillars, I started to grow the way the Lord had intended me to. His voice became more distinct. Growing closer to the Lord presented many beautiful graces in my heart and life. I received holy confidence in myself through the Lord, and I learned authentic, holy, and loving female friendships through my fellow Household sisters.
I no longer hear the roaring thunder of everyone telling me who I need to be. I only hear the confident whisper of the Lord in the center of my Heart. I am no longer depressed and lonely; His Love and Mercy consume me. I have been opened up to the Lord and His will. I was and am open to His love and a new and fuller life because He called me, and I could finally listen.
This is how I came to join the Little with Great Love team as their summer intern. I am exceedingly grateful and excited to see how the Lord will work in my time here.