November 12, 2021

‘The coolest thing’

In a life of adventures, a young woman finds the best place to savor her great joys

Photo: After a whirlwind journey of adventures, Tekla Bedwell has come home to live in a log cabin in Indianapolis where she has been able to draw closer to God and her family. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

After a whirlwind journey of adventures, Tekla Bedwell has come home to live in a log cabin in Indianapolis where she has been able to draw closer to God and her family. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

11th in an occasional series

(Editor’s note: In this series, The Criterion is featuring young adults who have found a home in the Church and strive to live their faith in their everyday life.)

By John Shaughnessy

Tekla Bedwell’s adventures include the year she worked aboard a luxury yacht crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Spain.

The 31-year-old Bedwell has also traveled to France, Greece, Italy, Hawaii and the Bahamas.

Yet none of those trips or destinations ranks as the best place that Bedwell has experienced in her young adult life.

Nor does India, where she went on a spiritual quest.

Instead, amid all her adventures, the best place in her life physically and spiritually revolves around a log cabin on the south side of Indianapolis.

It’s where the Indianapolis native and the member of St. Jude Parish has come home to live, and where she is savoring the two great joys of her life—her bond with her family and her relationship with God.

The log cabin sits on a piece of grassy, tree-lined land, near the home of her sister, her brother-in-law and the two nieces and three nephews that she adores.

The log cabin is also the place where she has increasingly drawn closer to God after a whirlwind journey around the world in which she teetered on the edge of losing her way, her faith and herself at times.

It’s a long, soul-searching journey that includes the atheist captain of a yacht who challenged her faith, a priest who guided her after a struggling time in a foreign country, and a prayer she made to Jesus that set her life and her faith back on course.

‘The coolest thing,’ part 1

After dropping out of college, training to become a massage therapist and living at home for three years, Bedwell decided she needed more adventure in her life in 2013. So the faithful, young Catholic chose to pursue what she considered at the time “the coolest thing you’re ever going to do”—working on a private luxury yacht and traveling around the world.

“The captain who hired me was an atheist and was stubbornly convinced that he could argue my silly religious views out of me,” she recalls. “He is largely responsible for driving me to seek answers within the Catholic Church.”

Yet her drive to seek answers became lost amid some questionable choices, leading her to admit, “By the end of our Mediterranean season, I was filled with the world but unfulfilled in my spiritual life, and hungry for a more authentic lifestyle.”

That hunger for something deeper eventually led her to travel to India to immerse herself in the spiritual practice of yoga—a pursuit that made her become distant from Christ and her Catholic faith.

“For the first time in my life, I made the conscious decision not to attend Mass, and I set my religion aside in order to fully engage in the culture and religion of the world around me,” she recalls. “Throughout the yoga teacher training, I engaged in practices that the early Christian martyrs died over rather than participate in.

“As I chanted in Sanskrit and offered prayers at fire ceremonies involving Hindu deities, the first commandment of ‘I am the Lord, your God, you shall not have other gods besides me’ was far from my mind. I eventually fell into a toxic relationship and found myself at rock bottom in the middle of a foreign country, desiring above all to find a Catholic church.”

‘I follow you down every path’

She did find a Catholic church, participated in a Mass celebrated in Hindi, and approached a priest afterwards. For six hours, the priest focused on her, listening to her confession and responding to the questions and concerns she had.

“I questioned what I had been chanting in yoga and asked the priest what he thought about the particular mantra I’d been repeating: ‘Lead me from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, from death to life.’ The priest smiled and said, ‘Isn’t it beautiful that Jesus answers that in saying, ‘I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life.’

“Through faith in Jesus, I saw the Eucharist for the first time as truly the ‘source and summit’ of the faith. The Mass became my absolute life source because I experienced Jesus giving me himself as flesh to heal my flesh.”

Bedwell considers that experience as her “St. Paul moment of conversion.” She soon returned to Indiana and began attending Mass every day. Yet even though she was back home, her spiritual journey wasn’t over. Instead, it took her to a place she had never been previously.

During a retreat in New York in 2016, as she was discerning whether to become a Maryknoll lay missionary, she asked God a question that she considered terrifying, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

“Up to this point in my life, I had never actually asked God before what he wanted. I simply made decisions and presumed he would catch up along the way. I prayed that prayer and did the classic, ‘Open the Bible to a random page and find the answer.’ ”

Bedwell’s opening of that random page led her to the Bible verse of Mark 5:19: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

Returning to Indianapolis, she joined a Bible study and began to share her story among friends, all the time remembering the details of her soul-searching journey.

“A common phrase I would hear while traveling was, ‘All paths lead to God.’ I asked Jesus in prayer one day, ‘If all paths lead to you, why would I bother sharing the Gospel at all? Do all paths lead to you?’ His response in my heart was gentle and firm: ‘No. But I follow you down every path.’

“This has been my experience, that even when I was running away from him, he was still seeking me. And like the lost sheep or the prodigal son, he found me.”

The log cabin and a foundation of faith

Bedwell shared her story this summer in Indianapolis with more than 200 people at a Theology on Tap

get-together, an informal social event focused on developing faith and friendship in the archdiocese’s young adult Catholic community.

It was the first time she had ever talked about her faith journey in front of so many people. The nervousness of that reality gave way to the joy she felt when people responded positively.

“I prayed that what I said would be helpful or encouraging to the people who were listening,” she says. “It was really encouraging to have several people come up afterwards and share their story. I could see God’s grace at work.”

She feels God’s grace at work in her life, and she strives to make an ever-welcoming place for him. She attends daily Mass, noting, “If I just go to Mass every day of my life, it will be a life worth living. I’d rather start my day with the Lord than leave it up to chance.”

Her welcoming of God in her life is also evident in the atmosphere she has created in the log cabin she calls home.

Crucifixes, statues of Jesus and images of the Blessed Mother are on display at every turn inside the two-story cabin. And Bedwell says the touches of faith go even deeper.

She smiles as she shares the story of the woman who previously lived in the nearby house where her sister’s family now resides. The woman had a dream that a log cabin also needed to be built on the property. So the woman’s husband soon began building it, putting down a foundation of cinder blocks that the wife insisted be marked with certain words.

Bedwell discovered the wording on the cinder blocks when the cabin needed additional electrical wiring. Venturing into the crawl space, she saw that different blocks had been marked with the words, “Jesus,” “Prophets,” “Apostles” and “Disciples.”

She has strived to live that foundation of faith in the four years she has called the log cabin home. She has opened the place for Bible study and prayer groups. And she chooses not to have a television to make the space open and contemplative for her to know God’s presence.

“I keep this place holy and set apart for prayer,” she says. “When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he taught them the Our Father. Then he teaches them how to pray. Jesus says to go into your inner room, shut your door and pray to your Father. I think he’s telling us to go in our hearts to that place where it is just you and the Father. That’s what I try to do.”

‘The coolest thing,’ part 2

At the same time, she loves the liveliness that her two nieces and three nephews—who live just across a driveway of grass and stone—add to her life. The triple-decked bunk bed in the log cabin is well-used by the children.

“God’s given me a lot of space to just grow in my faith, in a truly Christian atmosphere, with a family that is practicing their faith.”

Bedwell has no doubt that God has more plans for her in the future, that her faith journey is far from over. Yet, for now, she’s savoring the best place she has ever been—close to God in so many ways.

“I’m a work in progress,” she says. “I feel like John oftentimes. He described himself as ‘the beloved.’ I feel the same way. I’m loved. It’s a wonder and a fascination of being loved in spite of who I am.”

As for more adventures in her life, Bedwell is focused on one destination.

“Heaven. This is going to be the coolest thing you do.

“All the things I’ve done in the world, I’m just looking forward to what God has next for me. He really does follow me down every path.” †

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