Local Parishes Youth & young adult

Lightening the load

Young writer/artist sheds weight of the world by spreading the Word

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

OLATHE — Prince of Peace parishioner Michelle Scharnhorst knew there was something different about her son the first time he sat down with a group of children to draw pictures.

The other little boys were drawing robots and Pokemon.

Jordan drew heaven.

“It was a magnificent drawing,” she said. “He was so little. I knew that wasn’t normal, because I had an older child, and I knew what kids at that age drew.”

Last year, as Jordan turned 12, he began expressing his faith in words as well as drawings. Once or twice a week, he would get an inspiration and sequester himself at the nearest computer to write a prayer. After six months, he’s still writing.

Jordan often amazes the adults around him with his spiritual maturity and clear connection to God. Gwyn Heidrick, his School of Religion (SOR) teacher at Prince of Peace, for example, has even shown his prayers to others.

“When I tell people about him and share his prayers,” she said, “they have the same kind of reaction: ‘Is this for real?’

“And I say, ‘Oh, if only you could know him.’”

Out of the ordinary

To all outward appearances, Jordan is a regular suburban kid in a typical Catholic family. A sixth-grader at Pleasant Ridge Middle School, he plays football, loves video games and looks forward to summers when he can hang out with friends.

Sandwiched between a little sister who sometimes annoys him and an older sister who dotes on him, he is guided by good parents who are supportive, but in no way controlling.

The Scharnhorsts have allowed Jordan to travel his path, running interference only when absolutely necessary — like when he was eight years old and feeling overwhelmed with the weight of the world.

“Jordan has always been very, very compassionate,” said his dad, Todd. “When we have our prayer time, he will mention everyone in the family but then he’ll consistently go to the soldiers in Iraq or the homeless.”

“When he was in second grade,” his mother added, “we had to stop letting him listen to the news because he would take worldly concerns and really internalize them.”

In an effort to relieve his anxieties, Jordan’s grandmother, Jackie Wulf of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka, made him a Something-for-Jesus-to-Do box.

The message on the box read as follows:

“Don’t attempt to resolve this problem; it will be addressed in His time, not in your time — just forget about it.”

Each day, Jordan would write his concerns and put them in the box.

“To this day, he has kept that box in his room,” his mother said.

As Jordan grew, so did his spirituality and curiosity about matters of faith. Because he began to ask questions that stumped his parents, his mother bought him a copy of “The Jesus Encyclopedia.”

“My girls were not at all interested in that book,” she said. “Jordan, however, would read it for hours. To this day, that is his most coveted possession.”

Jordan also reads the Bible routinely, for enjoyment.

“Sometimes [after Mass] he’ll come home and get the Bible out,” his mother said. “We won’t say anything, but we notice he’s looking things up.”

When asked if there is any part of the Bible he likes best, Jordan is surprisingly specific: a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (8:30-31).

Catholic inspirations

Jordan identifies with St. Francis of Assisi and already knows that Francis will be his confirmation name. But he can’t explain why he feels this connection any more than he can explain the surprising maturity of his faith or why he feels compelled to write prayers.

His SOR teacher has come to accept that Jordan simply has an innate understanding of all things religious.

“A few weeks into class, I noticed he was always able to answer questions very thoughtfully and accurately,” she said. “So I asked, ‘Jordan where do you learn all your religion?’ And he said, ‘You know, I don’t really know. I just get it.’”

“As I’ve gotten to know him now, I can tell you that’s true,” said Heidrick. “He just gets it.”

Jordan truly enjoys Mass and loves his Catholic faith. He says it allows him to connect with God in a way he wouldn’t be able to through any other faith tradition.

“Every time I walk up to Communion, I remember this is the actual body of Christ,” he said. “I don’t take that for granted, because it’s very important.

“And I really learn by processing all the information from the homily and trying to find the meaning of prayers.”

But Jordan also learns from the examples of those in his life.

“My grandma is in a wheelchair,” Jordan explained. “She is very spiritual and she reminds me so much of a saint because she just cares so much for everyone. Plus she’s like a really hard-core Catholic.”

Wulf laughs at being labeled hard-core, but admits she’s always felt called. Several years ago, she was in a severe car accident and incurred injuries that left her wheelchair-bound. The experience, she said, tested her faith.

“Probably two years of my life I was pretty depressed, trying to figure out how to come back from all that,” she said. “It really strengthened my faith, because I turned to God.”

When Jordan gave Wulf a book of his prayers for Christmas, she was touched.

But when she read them, she cried.

Jordan is more of an inspiration to her, said Wulf, than she could ever be to him.

“Through the eyes of a child — that’s how he inspires me,” she said. “He is a typical kid. But when he writes prayers and that kind of thing, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s in a different place. I truly believe he is blessed by the Holy Spirit.”

An expression of faith

Like his grandmother, Jordan’s parents were surprised by the prayers Jordan composed. They never suggested that he write down his thoughts. He just came to his mother one day and said, “Do you want to read what I’ve written?”

“After I read the first one, I said, ‘Son, you have a gift,’” she recalled. “I was so happy that he was finally able to verbalize what went on in his head.”

The prayers flow easily from Jordan’s pen, but when asked to describe his process of writing, he struggles for the right words.

“I don’t really know how to explain it,” he said. “I forget a lot of things, but when I hear something that gives me the idea for a prayer, I remember that.

“I usually get my first sentence and then think about how that relates to anything that could be the next part. Sometimes I can write one in two minutes and sometimes it takes 20 minutes.”

Jordan addresses his prayers to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and his themes usually center on either praising God or salvation for the world. Jordan believes he is called to pray for the world.

He never asks God for specifics because “God knows what he needs to do, and he knows what he’s going to do.”

Jordan believes God loves us “definitely” and he is certain that all God wants from us is that we “love each other, care for each other, serve God and keep his commandments.”

When he’s done writing, Jordan says he feels hopeful for the world.

“I feel good that I’ve done something that contributes to the church, and it makes me feel very happy — relieved, like,” he said.

Since he’s been able to put his thoughts on paper, Jordan’s mother has noticed that he seems more at peace. But his anxiety, she said, has been replaced by a sense of urgency.

“Now he feels a sense of need to spread the word,” she said.

“I want to share my prayers with as many people as possible,” Jordan explained, “because I want to spread God’s word — spread the Holy Spirit.”

Hope in God

The phrase most often used by family and friends to describe Jordan is “well- rounded.” The difference between he and other kids, said his dad, is in how he spends his free time

“He engages in karate. He plays football and does really well. He plays the Xbox and does the things that most boys do,” he said. “But he also sits down and has his quiet time and writes the prayers and reads the Scripture.”

Heidrick agrees.

“He fits in with the other kids very well,” she said. “He’s got the best sense of humor and he’s well liked in class.

“He’s very humble,” she continued. “He feels the need to share, but not to boast. And I just think he’s a great role model for kids.

“We talk a lot in class about finding a way to share your faith in a public school setting, and he’s given a couple of examples of how comfortable and natural it is for him to do that.”

Though he loves the time he spends composing his prayers and illustrating his faith, Jordan admits that he doesn’t really like to write. English is not his favorite sub- ject and neither is art. He loves science and excels in math.

His role model, right next to St. Francis, is Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist and co-founder of string field theory. Jordan has read several of Dr. Kaku’s books, which are written on a doctorate level. They provide him with a different sort of inspiration.

“I want to be like him when I grow up,” he said. “He wrote this book about the universe, but he incorporates God in a lot of it. And I know that the earth is so perfect, only God could have made it.”

If you ask Jordan about the possibility of a religious vocation in his future, he is quick to respond, “I want to be an astrophysicist.”

But then he thinks for a moment and adds, “I really don’t know. I just want to see what the future holds for me.”

Evangelizing the world is a tall order, but Jordan feels he’s up to the task.

“It doesn’t scare me,” he said, “because I know I have a lot of hope in God.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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