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"Take Heart, Daughter": Lessons from the Bleeding Woman

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Some thousands of years ago, a desperate woman reached out and touched Jesus' cloak. Twelve years of suffering from hemorrhages, twelve years of losing more and more blood, twelve years of being a social outcast, twelve years of spending all she had and living in poverty, twelve years of being "unclean". Unlike the paralyzed man, unlike Jairus' daughter, no one spoke up for her. She was alone.
She didn't say a word, just touched Jesus' cloak and hoped to be healed.

And she was.

A year ago at this time, I was making the preparations to leave the Sisters. After wearing a habit for almost four years, with help of friends, I had started the dizzying task of buying clothes. I was making heartbreaking phone calls to close friends. I started searching for a place to live.
While I had some idea of what may happen when I left, I had no idea the amount of healing that would need to happen once I took off the coiffe and stepped outside those doors.

I lost some friends. There were misunderstandings about why I left, although it was agreed upon that it was my decision. Some, religious or not, believed it must have been something I did wrong.
I was angry over what happened and what didn't happen in community. I longed for the good times I had there. I was hurt over the bad times.

I felt like the bleeding woman. Desperate. Just hoping to be healed.

But, over the months, I realized I am being healed.

I started standing up. I wasn't as angry, hurt, or wistful. Life had gone on. Life was better.
I felt like my friendships were deeper because they knew and accepted me for who I was and who I am now. There may still be misunderstandings about why I left from people who knew me before, but I started to care less about what they think. When hurtful comments continued, I rolled my eyes and thought about what deep-seated psychological issues they may have instead of letting them blast me into oblivion. I felt like I was finally becoming my own person and that I was finally home.

I started standing up, but I wasn't completely on my feet.
I still worked at the non-profit next to the Sisters' house (and even where four of the Sisters worked).
Because of that, co-workers, clients, or kids took a long time to stop calling me "Sister Amanda" if they ever did. The kids especially had a hard time making that transition.
I still tried to hide myself from donors, Board members, and volunteers that knew me as a Sister because I felt awkward or even embarrassed.
Memories, good or bad, still plagued me because I faced their setting every day.

All of that changes tomorrow. Friday was my last day at that non-profit. Tomorrow, I begin my new job. A new job where no one knows me as "Sister Amanda", a new job where I won't encounter the Sisters every day, a new job where I forge my own path and my own identity.

It's the next step in the healing process, the next step in standing up tall. I just wish it wasn't so terrifying. I know it seems ridiculous to say, considering I gave up everything, my entire way of life, just a year ago. Yet, my fear is real.

I can learn two things from the story of the bleeding woman (Matthew 9:20-22 and Mark 24-35).

First, it's okay to be terrified. But keep going.
In Mark's version, the bleeding woman touched Jesus' cloak, was instantly healed, but Jesus didn't know who touched him. After all, his back was turned. So, he asked. Certainly, this was a scary moment. After all, technically, this woman made him "unclean" simply while touching him while she was bleeding. Outside of being in the crowd while he walked by, as far as we know, she didn't know that much about Jesus. She couldn't have known his reaction or even the crowd's reaction. She could have easily whistled away when Jesus asked "who touched me?" Instead, she spoke up. She was terrified, but she spoke and told him the whole truth.
Don't listen to fear because, if the bleeding woman had, she would have missed Jesus words meant just for her.

Second, I have to believe that God says those same comforting words to me: "Take heart, daughter" (Matt 9:22) and "be at peace and be freed from your suffering" (Mark 5: 34)

And so I try.
In all aspects of my life, I'll try to follow the example of this woman, who knew suffering and fear just like me, and had faith anyway. And I'll try to follow the example of this Jesus, who knew to go to the least of these without fear and say the words they needed to hear.

What We Can Learn from Frank in the Garden

Sunday, August 20, 2017


I've tried keeping office plants. Twice, actually. But both sadly shared the same fate - a slow death.

I haven't tried to keep even a small garden on my third-floor balcony because I know that those plants would most likely follow the path of their office friends. I hate to even think of the idea.

That being said though, I love statues of Frank.
Francis of Assisi, that is.

I love to see him in gardens of Catholic and non-Catholics alike, giving water to the birds or just staring into the great abyss.

I love it because, when I see him, I think of Francis' story. And I think of a great lesson that I was reminded of today: God is a disrupter. And that's okay. And everything's going to be okay.

Feeling secure and safe is one of my biggest needs in life. It's just a personality hazard. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why the decision over leaving the Sisters was so agonizing. Even though more and more I felt God was calling me to leave, it meant leaving a planned future, stable relationships, steady schedules, etc. I really wrestled with that. But ultimately, I took the knife, cut down the safety net I was sitting in, and jumped into the great unknown.

Frank understood that. He had his own safety net, his plush life as the son of a rich silk merchant. Surely, his future was planned out; he had friends just like him; he enjoyed the care-free life. But slowly, things changed. He had a conversion experience in which he felt God calling him to rebuild the church. Did he agonize like I did? I don't know. But ultimately, like me, he took the knife, cut down his safety net, and jumped.

Francis' life changed drastically, as we all know. He grew very religious, re-built churches with his bare hands, started living a life of poverty, and founded the Franciscans and Poor Clares.

God disrupts. And that's okay.
Our lives change for the better when He does.
Sometimes that disruption doesn't come in the form of a religious conversion like Francis' - maybe it's in the form of leaving an unhealthy relationship, an unhappy job situation, finally confronting someone about an uncomfortable but important subject.
It's been almost a year since I left the Sisters. And I can say that I'm happier today than I was a year ago, even two years ago. I do miss my safety net sometimes, especially when, in instability, I'm looking for security. But I don't regret letting it fall.

That being said, it's easier said than done...most especially when the cutting of our safety net is beyond our control. Some people I know were told to leave their religious communities. There is no discernment, no personal agony. the safety net just falls out from underneath you. And you hit the ground with a BANG.

Francis knew that too. His father never spoke to him again after his religious conversion, people thought he was mentally ill, and there was division in his own Franciscan community. Not anything he would have wanted or probably expected.

But he would easily tell you it was all worth it. God disrupts. Then, it's up to us to work with the disruption. Mourning that cut safety net is okay for awhile but what are the next steps? Perhaps that's why Francis (maybe??) said "Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible."

So, those statues of Frank in gardens don't remind me of Brother Sun, Sister Bird or that I need to water my plants.
They remind me of God the Disrupter, God the Plan-Changer, and that I need to trust and work with those disruptions.
And, although it may not always seem like it, everything's going to be okay.

"And Sarah Laughed": Losing Sr. Mary William

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sarah, Abraham's wife, knew who she was.
She knew she was old and more so than most, certainly not old enough to have a child.
She also knew the ridiculous when she heard it.
So, when angels came to their tent to say she was going to have a son, Sarah laughed to herself, thinking the ancient version of "yeah, right".

Deep in my Google Drive is a voice recording of Sr. Mary William Sullivan, who passed away last week at the age of 91. Her voice is raspy, yet you can still hear the energy as she shares her thoughts at the local community's house meeting. Before the tape ends, she adds her opinion to a discussion about contemplation and the very last thing she says on the recording is this:


"What I laugh about with God! And I do! I have this picture that I was given years ago....and I use it to center my prayer. And [God and I] laugh, you know....nobody ever taught us that. [speaking to the other Sisters] Our old Seminary Directress never said 'laugh with God', did she?"

Sr. Mary William on her 70th Jubilee
as a Daughter of Charity, 2013
When I met Sr. Mary William in the hallway of the retirement home, with a mischievous smile on her face, the very first sentence out of her mouth was "Did anyone ever tell you I was Sister Servant when the Sisters got arrested in Chicago?" No, no one had. And I had no idea this Daughter of Charity knew Martin Luther King Jr. and was known for her activity during the civil rights movement.
[But interestingly enough, despite the initial question, Sr. Mary William never brought up the Sisters in Chicago again despite our many visits. It was I who had to ask for the story.]

I don't remember Mary William as the one who taught me to be a voice for the voiceless, although she certainly was.
I don't remember her as the one who taught me the importance of community life, although she cherished it.
I don't remember her as the one who taught me how to be a good social worker, although she certainly had telling stories about it.

I remember Mary William as the one who taught me to be authentic with a humble heart.

She knew who she was.
She knew she was fiery and more so than most - at times where others may shrink and shrivel under the pressure of what others may think or say, Mary William stood tall.

But she also knew who she was.
She knew that fiery personality sometimes went too far.
So, she spoke up with a humble heart - she apologized for her shortcomings and spoke openly about the issues she had that still affected her, even in the retirement home, even in her old age.

She did the same with God, arguing with Him, apologizing to Him, crying to and with Him, laughing with Him. While God knows each of us through and through anyway, I truly believe He knew every part of Mary William because she opened up to Him about everything.

I already mentioned that Sarah knew who she was - old, not easily fooled, etc. But I didn't share the rest of the story. Like Mary William, Sarah also understood the rest of who she was.
Unlike Mary William's relationship with God, Sarah feared Him, which led to some mishaps. When God asked if she laughed, she immediately answered "No". Yet, with a humble heart just like Mary William, she admits it in the most unexpected way possible:

Abraham gave the name Isaac [meaning "He laughs"] to his son whom Sarah bore him....Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” - Genesis 21: 3,6

There is a story Sr. Mary William used to tell me about her friend Sr. Catherine Sullivan [no relation] that best describes both Mary William's and Sarah's authenticity with a humble heart. It ended with Sr. Catherine saying: "at my funeral, tell them all my friendships were particular and all my sins were original!" 

[If you'd like to read more about Sr. Mary William Sullivan, her obituary is located here on the Daughters of Charity website.]

Nichole Nordeman and the Clueless Disciple

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Simon Peter has always been my favorite disciple. Why? Because the man is absolutely clueless.
He tries to walk on water when Jesus calls him. Simon Peter doubts and sinks.
He hears that Jesus is to suffer, die and resurrect. Simon Peter says "no way, Jesus!" and Jesus calls him Satan (ouch).
He wants to build a tent for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah . Jesus doesn't want a tent.
He gets angry when Jesus gets arrested. Jesus tells him to put his sword away.
He tells Jesus he would never deny him. Simon Peter denies him three times.

I love Simon Peter because Simon Peter is every one of us. We're all clueless. All too often though, when we read the Gospels, we laugh at Simon Peter and we're disgusted by his foolishness instead of recognizing that Simon Peter embodies who we are.

After Jesus appeared to his disciples and Simon Peter's world changed (again), Simon Peter went fishing (John 21). I truly think it was his way of processing things. His life changed when he followed Jesus. His life changed again when Jesus died.

As for me, when I left the Daughters, writing was my way of processing that my world changed completely. I've rarely cried. But that Friday morning when I put on Nichole Nordeman's new album Every Mile Mattered, you bet I cried.

Nichole Nordeman has all been one of my favorite CCM artists, although hearing her on radio stations like KLOVE is rare. I've always felt that Nichole sings of the true story of faith - struggle, doubt, vulnerability, and love. Although we know it to be false, we'd much rather imagine Christianity as a magical recipe for happiness and eventual perfection here on earth.

"Hush, Hush", a song from the perspective of God, was the first song I played on random. I think it was at the lyric "But I'll put you back together / Hush, hush / You don't have to have the answers" when I absolutely lost it.

The songs about shipwrecks, listening to your life, burning safety nets, meeting God in the seeking but not always finding, only kept the tears flowing. My life was being sung, but so was God's assurance that He was still there.

Simon Peter would get it. 

He knew all about letting go of safety and wanting to feel his heart on fire, like in the song "No Longer", when he dropped those fishing nets and followed Jesus.

He easily could have written a "Dear Me", a song about how Nichole's thoughts on faith, worthiness, and even poverty changed throughout the years. After Jesus' resurrection, Simon Peter had a dream about eating unclean meat, a clear message about welcoming Gentiles into the Christian community. (I wrote a "Dear Me" too, although mine was about grief)

Was he haunted by those screwups I mentioned in the beginning of this entry, those shoulda beens, coulda beens that we hear in the song "Every Mile Mattered" or  "Lean" (Why are my memories of / You as the judge, me as the mess / ....Why is it hard to believe / You just want me just as I am)?

Nichole inadvertently sings out the story of Simon Peter, which is our story: that we're all trying not to sink when Jesus calls us across the water, that we struggle with understanding God's plan, that we long to do what's right but sometimes come up wrong, and that God loves and is with us, even when we mess up.

Instead of escaping our resemblance to foolish Simon Peter, instead of denying it, how about we embrace it, soak in the message of Every Mile Mattered, and remember that this clueless guy was the one Jesus chose to be the Rock of His church?



(All lyrics are property and copyright of Nichole Nordeman)

Quote of the Week: Mary Doria Russell and Creation

Saturday, July 22, 2017


“There are times...when we are in the midst of life - moments of confrontation with birth or death, or moments of beauty when nature or love is fully revealed, or moments of terrible loneliness - times when a holy and awesome awareness comes upon us. 
It may come as deep inner stillness or as a rush of overflowing emotion.It may seem to come from beyond us, without any provocation, or from within us, evoked by music or by a sleeping child. 
If we open our hearts at such moments, creation reveals itself to us in all it's unity and fullness. And when we return from such a moment of awareness, our hearts long to find some way to capture it in words forever, so that we can remain faithful to it's higher truth.
...when my people search for a name to give to the truth we feel at those moments, we call it God, and when we capture that understanding in timeless poetry, we call it praying.”

                                                               - Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow

Read The Sparrow. Now. The plot may sound crazy, but it was the best book recommendation anyone gave me.

(Sidenote: Way back when, I had Vincentian Quotes of the Week. I certainly still count myself as Vincentian, but I felt it was time to revive the tradition with quotes I find meaningful from all around the spectrum.)


Dear Me: Grief is Survivable

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dear Me,
This is a letter to the girl I used to be.
The girl who drove away that first of October and started a new life, the girl who had no idea what she was going to do next, the girl terrified that she was leaving religious life, which had been her dream for years.

Here's the bad news: you still don't have it figured out.

At first, that ambiguity was absolutely overwhelming.

Even wearing "dress-down clothes", "play clothes", "civvies", whatever you wanted to call them, was overwhelming. What matched, what didn't? The world wasn't blue and white anymore. You remember that the first time you went out in public that very night, you changed at least ten times...and you still felt awkward. You're better at it now...I think.

It was overwhelming to have a day alone. One day, you'll go to the library, get a book, and read for hours. You kept stopping yourself because you were overwhelmed with guilt. After all, you should have been doing house duties, grocery shopping, some kind of weekend ministry, something.
(Truthfully, you haven't done that again.)

And most of the time you recognize what you're going through: it's grief.

You'll smell popcorn and it'll remind you of a Sister you created a deep friendship with, a Sister who you felt truly know you.
You'll hear something said and it'll frustrate you, reminding you of those last few years in community, the struggles, and everything you wish you would have said.
You'll talk about your time in community and the struggle of your transition and you'll see on people's faces that they just don't understand.

But here's the good news: you do more than survive.

You take one day at a time.
Soon, you find yourself taking one week at a time.
Then, one month at a time.
Then one day, you find yourself saying "did all that really happen NINE months ago?"

You'll smell popcorn, get sad, and then a few weeks later, that Sister will text you for the first time since you left.
You're still loved.

You'll hear something, get angry, and then open your email to see a friend that has written you, with superhero clipart and one sentence: "you should buy a cape".
They understand your strength, even when you don't.

You'll talk about your time in community, feel like you're the only one, and then receive a message from another ex-Sister who reads your blog and finds it therapeutic.
You're not alone.

The grief hasn't ended but you start to see the healing. It stops hurting when you hear "Sister". You stop flinching when you pass your old house. You gradually feel your identity as Sister falling away and the authentic parts of you starting to show through.

You'll find out just how much friends care. Friends that pray over you, friends that tell you (repeatedly) that you don't realize how much you've accomplished in all these months, and friends that gently tell you that it's about time to get up, brush it off, and start kicking butt again.

Wherever you are, dear Me, it may be rough right now, but keep moving. 
With each breath of healing, with each step forward, you're moving...somewhere.
But, most of all, you feel God moving. And that's the best part of all.

What Airports Can Teach You About Bearing Witness

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"The White Nuns" Copyright (c) 2015 by Andrea Missianto
As I waited in the Southwest Airlines line to check my bag, I caught a glimpse of a white veil behind me. I turned around. I just had to. Of course, I said “hi” and even correctly guessed her community, a community I know pretty well here in San Antonio. I told her my name, which I hope she remembered, but I also thought “I used to be one of you”.

Sister, I used to be one of you. Like you, I used to have random strangers approach me and strike up conversations, just like I did with her this morning. People would tell me wonderful stories about Sisters they knew in their childhood that changed their lives or they'd talk to me about their struggling faith or we'd try to see if we knew the same people. Now, I've become one of those strangers.

In my last blog entry, I mentioned the Daughters being a missionary itinerant  community. They were also a community that traveled. A lot. Even if we weren't being missioned, we were traveling for retreats, for meetings, for conferences, for everything. I traveled to states I've never lived in and never visited since.

A few minutes later, as I passed through security, I thought of the Sister again. I didn't see her in the security line but her experiences are probably the same that I had for years.
Sister, I used to be one of you. I would rip off my coiffe (veil) and put it in the bin. One airport asked me to, so I always did since. Some TSA officers seemed shocked - “no, Sister, you don't have to take it off! It's religious garb!” “No, it's okay”, I told them. But, almost without fail, no matter the city, I was pulled aside after X-ray and patted down. Once because of the cross but usually because of that long skirt.

Sister, I used to be one of you. Like you, I used to be a silent witness. I know some Sisters were bothered by the extra time we spent in security but the truth is I never minded. Let TSA do what they need to do. But, more than anything, I wanted to wear my habit to the airport. I wanted people to know that young Sisters, “young nuns”, still existed. Even if they never approached me, just a glance of me would hopefully remind them of good things – of faith, of goodness in the world, of service, of love. Hopefully remind them of more than just nuns with rulers...which I unfortunately did hear about time to time.
And it was more than the veil, by the way, lest anyone think I'm starting a debate. Even Sisters without habits have a “nun” look. I can point them out from a mile away and would have done the same this morning with an un-habited Sister too.

Sister, I used to be one of you. But I'm not anymore.

Now I am a random stranger in the airport, traveling to who-knows-and-who-cares-where.
Now, I blend in.
Now, I'm now free to sit and read my book or sleep leaning against the window, two things I missed about traveling when I was a Sister.

Nonetheless, I may be able to finish my book but take off the veil, take off the title of “Sister”, take off the religious community's initials, and being a witness of faith, goodness in the world, service and love becomes a whole lot harder. Not just in the airport but in life. It's no longer obvious, no longer implied by my very lifestyle – but it's not something I'm willing to abandon. It's still something I want to remind the world.

So, Sister, in that way, I'm still just like you.
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