Alumni Events

Pause & Listen

Peter Martin September 12, 2019
Back to Blog

TeenPact Leadership Schools, in conjunction with the Jimmy Brazell Foundation, presented the Eighth Annual Jimmy Brazell Impact Scholarship Third Place Award to TeenPact student Grace Lannigan from Connecticut.


Read her award-winning essay below, written in response to the topic question, “How have you impacted the world or your community through servant-minded, Christ-like love?”



Advent is a joy-filled season of giving and sharing our faith with others. Yet, it is easy to forget about what really matters – sharing the gospel and rejoicing in the true gift of the season: the birth of Jesus Christ. My name is Grace Lannigan, and I am fifteen years old. My story is about hitting the pause button. I believe that if you stop to listen to the Lord your life will never be the same. Jimmy Brazell stopped to listen. He focused on what mattered, and his life and the lives of those he touched were never the same. 


I have been blessed to grow up in a Christ-centered home where we anticipate Christmas day, celebrate our faith and exchange gifts to express our love for one another. We receive not one gift, but many; not just things we need, but things we want. However, in many third-world countries, the manger is empty, and children do not receive gifts. A tooth brush or bar of soap are things that many children go without. These things could make a world of difference in the lives of less fortunate children.


Ever since I can remember, each Christmas my sister and I would send a shoebox filled with necessities and toys to one child in a third-world country. We would go to the store and buy presents to fill the boxes, and we would always include a picture of Jesus for each child. We also wrote letters to the children letting them know that they were loved by us and God. The first year we each wrapped one box to send to a girl our age. The next year we added a box for a boy. Each year the number of boxes grew, and we used our own money to pay for the gifts. It became a yearly tradition – we felt as though we were making a difference, and we were.


The Christmas I turned thirteen something happened. While I was in the midst of packing a box, a thought occurred to me, and I paused. I envisioned the girl who would be receiving this box. I pictured her opening my gift, and I saw her smile. I realized she was really no different than me. God made each of us in His image, and He loved both of us. In that moment, I felt Christ’s love deep within me, and I knew he was calling me to be a channel for his love. I wanted to make a meaningful difference in her life and in the lives of others. But, how would I do that? I realized that the answer was listening to God. In doing so, I could not have fathomed how these children would impact me. 


I wanted to make a meaningful difference in her life and in the lives of others.


Psalm 37:7 “Be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for him to act.” We had moved to a new parish and I was preparing for confirmation. I looked to see how I could get involved in the youth group, but I realized there was none. I was disappointed, but I felt God telling me, “That’s why you’re here.” My sister and I brought the idea of Box of Joy to our church through our Sunday class, and that year we filled 200 boxes. We witnessed kids our age packing not one but multiple boxes. We made great friends and deepened our love of the Lord by helping others less fortunate than us. I was confirmed in the spring, and I was now considered an adult in the eyes of the church. 


I thought of all the people responsible for bringing me to this point in my faith journey: especially my parents. They have consistently spoken a simple yet profound message: “Be open to God’s love and see what He has in store for you.” Because of them, I have been blessed to witness God’s love and mercy. They have modeled the teachings of Jesus Christ for me and so I recognized my faith for what it truly is – a gift. I wanted to share that gift; I wanted to lead not just follow. I wanted to continue inspiring others and I longed for the camaraderie I felt when serving with others my age. 


I recognized my faith for what it truly is – a gift.


So, I decided to take a step in the direction of my faith and establish a youth group with the goal of modeling virtuous leadership through service projects. It was only natural to lead with our Box of Joy program and expand it to the Sunday school classes. We showed students how to pack a box, and we helped them write letters. Next, we unveiled “One Parish, One Project” uniting all parishioners to rally around this cause. And they did. People were taking multiple boxes, and it was incredible to see the tree at our church surrounded with gifts. In the end, we filled 1000 boxes. 


This year the momentum continues. I decided to expand the program beyond our parish walls by approaching local businesses for donated items. We have commitments from dentists for toothbrushes and toothpaste. We are hosting a “Christmas in July” which is a packing party where we will fill 500 additional boxes prior to the start of the official packing season. We have established ourselves as a drop-off center, and we are partnering with nearby churches, which will enable us to collect boxes from them. Our goal is to double our box count to 2000. 


In a little under a year, our youth group has become an established ministry for teens, where none existed before. It has created community in the church by offering families fun ways to serve together. These boxes have brought joy to the lives of thousands of children. This, in turn, has brought me more joy than I could have ever imagined. God showed me, in a profound way, how best to bring his love to others – simply by pausing and listening.

About the Author

Peter Martin

Peter Martin grew up in Minnesota before moving to California for college where he met the sunshine of his life—Lydia. While working for a… Read More