Can I Royally Screw Up God's Plan?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

I was playing a magazine scavenger hunt with my after-schoolers when my cell phone began to ring. I was using it as a timer for the competition, so the cell phone was right there in my hand.
And it was  LOUD.

I muted the phone quickly and looked down – it was the organization that just a few days earlier had offered me a job (and I eagerly accepted). Why were they calling? Did something go wrong? There was no way I could answer – not with four loud elementary schoolers alone in a classroom – so I cringed as I watched the organization leave a voicemail.

My voice of anxiety went in a million different directions:
- did I eat or drink something that made my drug test come up as a false positive?
- was there some mistake in my background check?
- were they rescinding the offer because they found someone better?

Once the kids left and in the small window of time I had before my adult education class came in, I called the organization's office. The woman who called was already gone and her voicemail stated that she wouldn't be free until the afternoon tomorrow. My heart sank as I thought of all the waiting.

The next morning, as I drove to work, I kept thinking about the phone call the day before (because, of course, I am who I am. Anxiety is probably one of my most annoying attributes). I was excited about this job. The job was with a very reputable non-profit that does great work and the position would be interesting and challenging. And to think that all that excitement might be gone in the blink of an eye...

As I agonized over it, I started thinking about God's plan. If God's plan for me was to work for this organization, He would make it happen, right? But yet, I seem to subconsciously believe I have the power to royally screw it up somehow.

God is writing a story in me. I like to imagine He's at a typewriter in a study surrounded by leather books, maybe with a comfortable red chair. I imagine some kind of wonderful mix of Belle's library in Beauty and the Beast, the Hogwarts library, and Sherlock's office.

Maybe those leather books are other people's stories that He pulls out so our stories can intertwine. Maybe the books are there just because He knows I love the smell of books and the sound of a typewriter.

Why is it I think that I can rush into the study like a little child who doesn’t know any better and scribble with crayon over all those future chapters God has already written, causing Him to be frazzled and re-write those chapters, never as good as the first time? (Interestingly enough, that’s exactly what I had to do with this blog post because Blogger lost it the first time. God has a sense of humor.)

But faith tells me that the truth is, even if I do scribble over those pages, God has some magical crayon eraser. And the chapters are fine with no need for a re-write or even editing. (Because, as you know, God has perfect spelling and grammar.)

And it may turn out that the chapters don't go the way I predict anyway, for the best or worst. After all, that's what makes a good story, right? Who would have predicted that Harry Potter was being protected and cared for all that time by...oh wait, maybe some people haven't read the books/seen the movies? All right, I won't give it away, but you get the point.

It may turn out that there was a "yes" to one of those anxious questions I asked myself when I received that call. But that doesn't mean I went over God's head and screwed up some marvelous future for myself. It means I dust off my feet, find out and fix what went wrong for next time (if necessary), and move on. Because God has something else in store. 

So, I waited to make that phone call. And repeated to myself that the God has already typed out those pages, whatever they are, and there was nothing I could do personally to screw it up.Instead of scribbling or even worrying about my scribbles, maybe I should just lean back in the red chair, listen to the keystrokes, and enjoy the book smell.

Yup, that sounds good to me.

(Update: As I tried to relax in that red chair some two weeks ago, my phone rang again...before 12pm even. Everything was fine. They were officially offering me the job. I start on Monday. 
Hearing about the job - and even getting it - is another example of God writing my story. If you were part of that story, regardless of your role, I hope you know how grateful I am.)

Dear Ita....

Sunday, November 19, 2017

(If you don't know who Ita Ford is, I suggest reading this first - "Not Left Forgotten: Guided by the Spirit of Ita Ford")

Dear Ita,
As I sit here reading your letters, I feel compelled to write you. I write to you as a friend because, although we've never met, I've known you for years. I've read and re-read your letters and writings since I was in college. Your words have been with me in my studies, in the mission field, and in religious formation.

After leaving religious life a year ago, I wondered if your words would still resonate with me. They had meant so much to me all those years. So, tentatively, I started re-reading, wondering if it would result in the loss of a spiritual guide and heroine (I know, you'd be nauseated by those titles)

But years ago, you wrote to your niece, praying that she would find what gives life a deep meaning for her - "something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for...something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead" (read the whole letter here) And I breathed a sigh of relief. You got it, you understood journeys, no matter what they were.

That's where I am right now - on the path for that which gives me my life deep meaning.
I thought I had found it with religious life, but no, it wasn't what God intended.
I'm not sure what my vocation is, what these next years will hold, but I'm okay with going with God's flow...for now, anyway...I think.

Despite the question marks, since I left the Sisters, to echo your own words:
"What seems to be slowly happening is an acceptance of the truth of who I am: coming to know it, see it in relation to the whole - and accepting the knowledge of who I am and where I am...coming to be comfortable with who I am, how I have been gifted for others." (retreat notes, Aug 1978-1979, p124)

Even though I'm unsure where my life is leading me and I've lost that title of "Sister", I do believe we still have a lot in common. It's incredibly obvious that you loved writing, as I do. You were witty and, truthfully, a bit nerdy. You were faithful, yet full of questions. You struggled with comprehending God's love for you in your imperfections, just as I do.

Neither of us had a journey we expected. You joined the Maryknoll Sisters and left right before vows, joined again seven years later, lost your best friend in a car accident that almost killed you too, and then died just a few months after moving to El Salvador. I, well, I have been all over the place, in and out of community.

Is all this what's meant in Jeremiah 18:5-6, one of your favorites:
"Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel"? 

In a 1977 article, you mention living in the mission field of Chile as "on the front lines of Christianity" (quoting a letter you had received using that phrase). Things are a bit different here. I called living my faith in Bolivia 'barefoot Christianity' because it was Christianity at its core, stripped to simplicity.
So, how is it that I live out my faith here in San Antonio, beyond church, beyond prayer? I work for persons who are poor and, like you, like all of us, I have no answers for them. I can only walk with them and let myself be evangelized. But the noise of God's work in others and myself isn't quite as loud as it was back then or maybe there's a lot of static my ears are foolishly focusing on instead. But I know He's here and very much alive in these people.

All this is to ask for your prayers, Ita (and readers).
Your friend is a jar of clay but she's not broken yet. God still has me in His hand.


Texas, God Cries With You

Sunday, November 12, 2017

For my birthday, a friend gifted me a charm - it was the shape of Texas with a heart carved out in the

It made me smile because, after leaving the Sisters a year ago, I decided to stay here in Texas, where I had been sent on mission. The fact that I didn't move back home to Maryland was a hard decision for some Sisters to understand, but the truth is this city had started to feel like home. And it has ever since.
And I've noticed that in the little ways I never expected to assimilate - when I pulled out my boots when the temperatures dropped below 75, when I told my afterschoolers it was too cold to go outside when it was only in the 50s, etc.

I never expected, though, to be a "beyond-winter Texan" through so many tragedies.

The human smuggling tragedy here in San Antonio.
Hurricane Harvey.
Sutherland Springs.

And, with each tragedy, I saw the heart of San Antonio ache, even if the last two didn't affect the city itself. I was in Maryland visiting during the human trafficking tragedy, so I can't speak to the response, but I was in Texas for the last two.
After the fear of Harvey hitting San Antonio passed, I saw the city burst into action to help its victims - nonprofits of all kinds used their resources to help the refugees, churches and schools opened their doors, groups rushed to cities to help rebuild, etc. Even the news spoke of "our brothers and sisters in Port Aransas/Houston/fill-in-the-blank".
As we spoke of Sutherland Springs today in church, I heard sniffles in the church as people held back their tears (or didn't). (Granted, Sutherland Springs does hit a little closer to home. Someone in my Bible study does know someone in the town.)

The truth is Texas has been through a lot this past year. And let's call it what is - trauma and suffering.

For Catholics, November is a time to remember the souls of the departed. And Texas certainly has plenty of those from this past year. All Souls Day is a Catholic tradition, yes, but why not make it a tradition for everyone of the Christian faith?

In a sweep of tragedies, it is so tempting to believe that our God is one of vengeance or even one of apathy. It's part of being human. We're wounded and vulnerable...and where is God? But if we reflect on who we believe our God to be, we know He didn't send the tragedy out of something we did or didn't do nor does He sit back in apathy. Rather, He sits and cries with us.
"The Lord said....‘My eyes pour out tears. Day and night, the tears never quit. My dear, dear people are battered and bruised, hopelessly and cruelly wounded."
- Jeremiah 14:17 (The Message)

He is here. 
He is here in every victim.

When I was in Seminary (novitiate), I had several health problems. Because I'm human, I attributed it to God punishing me for my sinful behavior. Once I finally let go of that erroneous belief, I then wondered why He would let this happen in the first place. Those health problems cost me so much. I lost the little independence I had. I felt like I was the center of attention...and in a very bad way. I was very angry with God. I stopped talking to Him at one point, even. (See, even Sisters got spiritual issues.) But, one day, in the chapel alone, I started talking to Him. Angrily, but still. And suddenly, like a flash, I could feel His presence. Not just in that moment, but I could see it in little moments from the very beginning of my health problems. I could feel Him on the floor with me when I fell, stroking my hair, making sure I was okay. I could feel Him next to me all those times afterwards I whimpered alone in my room, thinking of all that had to be taken away, of all the doctor's visits, of all the unwanted attention. And I could feel Him embracing me in that moment in the chapel, saying "I'm here. I feel your pain".

He is here in every tear shed.

For the past ten years or so, in different parts of the world, I've worked with people who live in poverty - whether it be as a caregiver, teacher, or caseworker. In each instance, I've found 'helpers' in those I'm supposed to be 'helping'. It's taken different forms.
It's been the girls from the orphanage in Bolivia, having gone through incredible poverty, child abuse/neglect, malnutrition and occasionally homelessness, longing to do something for starving children in Africa.
It's been my Girl Scouts here in San Antonio, whose families can barely afford childcare much less anything else, who wanted to use money from their cookie sales for NICU babies.
It's been parents who have turned down my help for the childcare tuition assistance fund for families in crisis because "please, save the money for another family. I'll figure out a way. There may be someone else who won't be able to"
It's been my afterschooler at my current job in section 8 housing who wants to sell chocolate bars and "give the money away to those who really need it".

He is here in every person lending out a shoulder to cry on or a helping hand.

So, this month, whether we're Catholic or not, let us remember each one of the departed, even the unnamed. And while we do so, let us remember God's presence next to them in their suffering...and next to us in our sorrow and path to healing.

That charm now, for me, symbolizes more than just Texas, my second home.
It is a constant reminder that God is tragedy, in transition, in sorrow, in healing.
"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." 
- Psalm 34:18

Being 'the Other': Owning a Different Kind of Story

Friday, November 3, 2017

I often feel like ‘the other’ – part of a group of people that no one knows how to deal with or react to.
There’s married people, parents (who may or may not be married), widowed, divorced, singles, religious…and then there’s me.

Yes, I am single, but I don’t identify at all with the single life, or at least those that are single and around my age (32).
Why? Because singles that are in their 30s have usually spent the past decade or so dating, perhaps having at least one long-term partner along the line, exploring different careers maybe.
Me, on the other hand? Not so much. I voluntarily lived a life of celibacy. I explored different careers, yes, but not really through my own choice (not that I minded). I moved around the whole country, but again not through my own choice (again, not that I minded). My long-term partner was God.

Except for my work, the rest of my life feels stagnant. Since leaving the Sisters, I haven’t gained many other friends, though I kept those I already had. I did join an all-female Bible study group at church, which helped a little, though I tend to only see them on Sunday nights. Almost all the women (just by happenstance) are divorced, a stage of life that I can relate to the most, and, as you can guess, they are almost all older. [Truthfully, I think this tendency to form friendships with older generations stem from the average age of those I lived with when I was a Sister.]
Because I mostly only see that group on Sunday nights and because the rest of my friends have families, I lack friends to do spontaneous things with…like go to festivals or try out a new restaurant or just hang out.

So, I do many things alone. Having an introvert side, I don’t mind this too much. But doing so, I realized how much society assumes we do everything in groups.
I even had someone try to skip ahead of me in an ice cream shop once because he assumed I was waiting for a friend.  I wasn’t – just getting some pistachio gelato on a nice night. And there was one time in church that they squeezed so many in the pew that I wondered if I was going to be asked to move to a different part of the church because it was obvious I was the only one in the pew by myself.
And pretty much everywhere, I’ve rarely had anyone talk to me when I’m alone.

Oftentimes, if I share my story, many (regardless of age, religion, or vocation in life) don’t know how to react to my story of being a Sister, leaving, and then the grief of transition – that is, if I even feel vulnerable enough to share that last part. Usually I get a shocked face, a “wow, that’s interesting!”, and the conversation ends. When I was deeply sharing with someone once, I was told “I can’t relate to your story at all”, which I’ll admit made me feel sad. That comment truly did make me feel like ‘the other’ – like saying ‘you’re different than the rest of us and I just can’t understand that’.

Brené Brown once wrote
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

The truth is all that – my vocational discernment, being a Sister for five years, leaving, and the transition to lay life – is all part of my story. I can’t erase nor would I want to, really. The key is to embrace who I am, who I was, and what happened. I can’t pretend I’m anyone else. It may seem like it makes me more acceptable but, really, it just makes me more fragmented.

Being ‘the other’ – at least for now – is part of that story. On some days, when being alone is difficult or when I hear comments that emphasize my “different-ness”, it’s easy to give up. It’s easy to believe this is the way it’ll always be. But maybe it’s realizing I’m different, maybe it’s reflecting on the murk of my story, that allows me to pick up the shards left of my brokenness.

And hopefully, one day, I’ll find people, like most of the friends I have right now, who understand my story or at least feel comfortable with its uniqueness.

If I think about it, if there’s one thing I’ve been this past year, it’s brave. I’ve stepped into the unknown by becoming a lay woman. I’ve wrestled with grief, having lost my lifestyle, my community, and even some friends. I’ve chosen to remain in a city with no family and only a handful of friends. I changed jobs in September, leaving the ministry I knew for three years. Does that mean I haven’t been fearful? Or depressed? Or lonely? Oh God, no. Ask any of my friends. They can share those times they’ve had to calm me down. Yet, I feel that bravery doesn’t exclude those emotions but it means choosing to wade through it all anyway.

Sometimes bravery is in the small things, in trudging through life when it feels like it’s not going forward, in going out of your comfort zone, in sharing your story anyway, in believing God has a bigger plan.

I may be ‘the other’ for a long time. But screw that. I don’t have to be anyone else. My story is mine. And everyone’s story is worthy of being told and listened to.

"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.

When the Nomad Stops Roaming

Saturday, July 8, 2017

About this time last year, I sketched a tree in my journal and wrote something to the effect of “I’m tired of moving. My soul longs to plant roots.” This was revolutionary for the one who prided herself on being a “nomad for the mission” (or "a Vincentian nomad") but everything was changing. I was changing.

Since college ten years ago, I had not lived in any same city more than two years. I was constantly moving. First, country to country, then state to state. In fact, before I became a Daughter, I almost took a job in Panama until a friend there told me “No, Amanda, you’re a butterfly. I know you; you won’t stay here for long.” She was right. I joined a missionary itinerant community and I soon become an expert at moving. By the time I was a postulant, I had my personal possessions down to two suitcases and a carry-on. (Although, I’ll admit it- I sent my books through the mail)

I personally, in or out of community, had no pattern either: the indigenous culture of the valley of the Andes, the urban jungle of the nation's capital, the contradiction of continued racial segregation and joyful friendliness of the Bible Belt, the scrambled Mexican/American culture that is the Rio Grande Valley, the proud and quiet Midwest, the snowy Northeast, and then the festivity of Central Texas.

But, now it’s all different. Now, my wish from last year is coming true. I had lived in San Antonio two years when I decided to leave the Daughters - that magical number. (Not to say that they would have moved me, but I would have moved eventually)
And what was truly radical is that I decided to stay in San Antonio instead of moving back to Maryland. I broke my own cycle.

I'll celebrate my three-year anniversary in San Antonio in October…which also means that some of the friendships I’ve built here have also lasted this long, which is amazing longevity for me. More or less, I know the different “sides” of the city and I understand the city’s inside jokes. While I’ll never be a local, I’m beginning to feel more and more like this city is a second home.

However, something happens when you've been a nomad or missionary or wanderer...when you finally stop, it feels strange. Awkward. Clumsy.

Or at least, for me, that's the truth.

I realized I really don't know how to say goodbye when I'm not the one leaving.
I stumble through digging my heels in deeper, like allowing myself to be vulnerable, because I'm trying to build lasting friendships, not fleeting or long-distance ones.
While the Daughters took road trips, it seems peculiar to satisfy my wanderlust by exploring the areas around San Antonio in my car, rather than getting on a plane every few months for meetings or retreats.
I feel a goofy pride over small victories like figuring out routes without my GPS.
And as I see other 30-somethings that were more stable in their life, I get jealous because growing roots is incredibly hard.

But I have to tell myself that every mile mattered (this blog entry was inspired partly by this song by Nichole Nordeman). Every state mattered. Every area mattered. Every person I met, from such backgrounds and cultures, mattered.

I may blunder as my roots grow, but I wouldn't be the same person if I hadn't been a nomad all those years.

I wouldn't be as dedicated to service of the poor if I hadn't lived with abused and neglected girls in Bolivia, took a suicidal girl under my wing in Washington DC, heard a mother tell her son that she gave up on him in Georgia, listened as an immigrant described her unjust work conditions in the Rio Grande Valley, joked with middle schoolers who said they wanted school all day so they would feel safe in East St. Louis, and smiled with a refugee couple from Afghanistan as the wife rejoiced that there are no bombs there in upstate New York.

I wouldn't be as flexible or open-minded if I hadn't lived and worked in so many cultures, some of which I spoke the language and others I didn't. They affected me both the same.

I wouldn't have heard so many stories from people from so many different walks of life: consecrated, married, single, citizen, immigrant, young, and old - stories that show me the power of vulnerability, survival, and resilience, stories that teach me we are all wounded.

I wouldn't have gotten to see and know God in so many different ways because of my wandering - in words and silence, in others with religion and in those without, in my language and in not.

And, of course, it would take pages to write about how each of the Sisters I lived with changed me.

Being a nomad was worth it, but I've reached the point to set down my walking stick.
And God will continue to form me in different ways just as He has in the past.
His story for me continues to unravel.

The Wicked Witch of the West And Me

Saturday, July 1, 2017

This blog has been named after Maria from The Sound of Music, but lately I've declared an affinity and sympathy for Elphaba in Wicked - that is, the Wicked Witch of the West.
In case you've never seen or even heard of the musical, it's about "the true story of the witches of Oz" based on the book "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire.

Photo from The Western Sky
To most, my departure from the Daughters was sudden and surprising. For me though, it was a discernment that dragged on for months, maybe even years. 

It would have been easier for me to stay with the Daughters. Not easier emotionally or even spiritually, but easier in terms of my life. (If you thumb through my journal during that time, you'd find that was a big factor I considered.) I would be staying with the "status quo". You entered the Sisters; therefore, you stay. People know you as "Sister Amanda" and slowly it becomes who you are.

The same was true with Elphaba. She was a normal citizen of Oz (you know, except for the green skin) until....

Well, I won't give away too much. But in the song, "Defying Gravity", Elphaba finally voices that pivotal moment. It's the moment where she realizes she can no longer blindly follow the Wizard, the moment where she knows that she's meant for something different, the moment where she lets go and gives it all up - the hope for a successful future but also the hope of acceptance into a community that she had started to think that maybe she would belong.
There's fierce empowerment in that song but there's also a renouncement of any normalcy she may have had.

There are numerous lines in the song that resonate with me and my journey. One of which is "something has changed within me, something is not the's time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap!" There was a moment when I personally reached a point when I knew I had to leave and, at that point, there was no turning back. It was absolutely terrifying, but, like Elphaba, I changed, everything changed.
And I leapt.

The leaping now is a blur. So much happened in such a short amount of time. Phone calls, revealing my decision to the local community, visits to apartment buildings, meetings with my work supervisors, and then a massive email to all the Sisters. And then, before I knew it, I was out. Everything truly changed.

As for Wicked, the story we all know comes to pass. Elphaba becomes jaded by betrayals of her friends and community. It's up to you to figure out whether it's rightfully so or not. And well...

The leaping, that "flying into the Western sky", wasn't easy for me, either. There were betrayals, misunderstandings, and even ostracizing. Part of me wants to believe it's all because my departure was such a shock or because I left most without a proper goodbye (not because I didn't want to, but because I was so far away).

Elphaba, I get you, girl.

But there were also numinous moments - co-workers giving me a laundry basket full of apartment essentials, friendships here in San Antonio deepening, the joys of re-connecting with others months after not being in touch, and countless others.

I listen to the Wicked soundtrack, sympathize with Elphaba, and grieve that she wasn't able to experience those moments I did. In bad times, those moments that could easily turn me "wicked" (and sometimes do momentarily), I try to remember those times and I know it's all going to be okay...because neither life nor people are truly wicked.


Ode to a Girl Scout

Saturday, June 24, 2017

I tried many things as a kid - dance, soccer, Girl Scouts, flute, altar-serving, just to name those I can remember. Most didn't last for long, probably because there wasn't anything I enjoyed quite as much as reading books.

So, it's very ironic that now I'm the leader of a little Girl Scout troop. The Girl Scouts have a terrific program for fellow non-profits so they can have their own special closed troops. I connected with them about doing activities with our after-school girls and then it evolved into a troop. And then somehow I became the troop leader. An advice often given to women who have left religious life is "Take up something new and different after you leave community". I just wasn't expecting this one.

Not my troop. But you get the point.
As much as I fumble through it with the help of another troop leader, this really is the perfect group of girls for me. Our girls aren't your stereotypical middle-class vanilla troop. Out of the stories I know, three girls are cases with Child Protective Services, two girls are former foster-kids that were adopted last year, one girl has a father in jail, and almost all of the girls live in poverty, their afterschool care paid for by childcare subsidies. Their transition and raggedness mirrors my own.

But it's Tatiana (not her real name), who I specifically want to focus on.

We have only a few girls that are not Daisies (the littlest of the Girl Scouts) and Tatiana is one of them. And if I had to pick one of my favorites, Tatiana would be one of them. It's not because she's one of the most well-behaved...because she's not. In fact, the teachers are frustrated with her, searching endlessly for what might actually make Tatiana happy.

At first, I thought this attachment to Tatiana was because she reminded me so much of another girl I knew about ten years ago - a girl that was in my dorm in the hogar in Bolivia, a girl whose hard shell I wish I could have cracked, a girl I wish I would have treated better.

But as time passed, I realized that it wasn't just that. It was because I saw myself in Tatiana. I saw the anger. I saw the unhappiness. I saw the brokenness. I saw that it's still not okay.

See, Tatiana's mom is also my client, so I knew her story perhaps better than the teachers did. Tatiana's mom struggles to pay the bills and when her boyfriend, the only dad Tatiana knew, was arrested and put in jail, it was devastating both financially and emotionally for the family. Tatiana was already a rebellious girl but that was the tipping point.

While Tatiana's little brother was a bit more of a blabbermouth, Tatiana herself was tight-lipped. And if you asked her about her situation, she probably would have said "Why would I care about that?"

In Tatiana, I saw everything I was feeling - but kept hidden - played out in front of me. Every time she disrespected authority (which was often), I thought of the times I wanted to do the same when I disagreed with a decision but didn't. Every time I caught of a glimpse of her brokenness, I thought of my own.

Maybe you're reading this and thinking "um, I don't think her behavior is the way a Girl Scout should act". And you're right. But, at the same time, I see qualities in Tatiana that were exactly what a Girl Scout should be. I've seen her open doors for others without being prompted. I've seen her smile. I've seen her cry when the same things that she's complained about are taken away. I've seen her progress, each step as slow as a snail, but still. Seeing that little progress in her gives me hope for mine.

Tatiana is the type of girl I see that would make the world a better place, truly living out the Girl Scout Law I'm slowly memorizing. Because Tatiana is strong. Because Tatiana is honest (maybe too much) with herself and her feelings. Because I truly believe that one day, Tatiana will heal and use that healing to help others.

Through the Tunnel

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"The future belongs to God, not to us. Man does not have the imagination of God, so when we think of the future, we think of it being like the past... 
The future is like a tunnel. You can’t see anything inside, and only a fool would expect it to look the same upon exiting as upon entering it." 
- Brother Christian de Cherge
(from "The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria")
When I left the Daughters eight and a half months ago, I had no idea what the future held. I had some resemblance of a practical plan - I had a residence, a job, and a bank account - but there was no predicting what would happen next. What I couldn't predict was the loss of some friendships, the growth of others, general awkwardness, and a spiritual and emotional transition.

It would be nice if I could have easily slid back into being the person I was five-plus years ago. After all, I was happy with a good job, good friends, and on my way to getting a Master's degree. And I had a plan for my life. I left it for the Daughters because I felt that religious life was the "missing piece" I was looking for - that culmination of my desires to serve God and serve the poor. I felt that God was calling me.

But the future is not like the past. I can't be that person from five years ago. I can't be the same exiting the tunnel as I did entering it. There was so much I had yet to learn and so much yet to experience, both good and bad.

I had yet to experience the best and worst of community life, yet to experience the deaths of a number of my friends (including a housemate) and sing "Salve Regina" at their burials, yet to meet several people that are the most Christ-like people I know, yet to know the joys and perils of intergenerational living.

I had yet to see modern-day segregation firsthand or listen to an immigrant working in inhumane conditions in a shrimp factory, yet to be kissed on the hand by an elderly Eastern European refugee, yet to deliver milk cartons to kids in housing projects, yet to hear the words "we didn't eat dinner last night; we're saving the food for the kids".

I believe there's a misconception (one that even I fall into sometimes) that because one leaves religious life, they must have misheard God's call. Perhaps it was the result of poor discernment. Perhaps because they didn't pray enough before entering. Perhaps they rushed into it. In a way, all of these misconceptions imply that their time with their community was somehow a mistake. As if they entered a tunnel that wasn't meant for them after all.
I would challenge that.

I believe God did call me to be a Daughter (and called me to leave too). I believe that those experiences and lessons from the past five years were within God's crazy imagination for my life, each piece somehow fitting in the big puzzle that is me.

And, if that's the truth, then I have to believe and trust that there's so much more wonderment to discover as I journey through this tunnel into the unknown.

The New Me...Or Not

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Maybe it was rebellion, maybe it was a chance to do something simply because now I could, maybe because it was a small way to reinvent myself...but I dyed my hair.

Or at least attempted to.

I dyed it the color auburn because it was a change but not too absurdly far away from my natural color, medium brown. So, last Saturday, with the support of my co-worker and friend, I did it by myself.
Definitely NOT how I did it.
Oh my goodness, I can't even imagine.....
It was barely noticeable. In fact, almost no one at work even said a word.

So, I did it again today - this time with my friend there, doing it for me, using the whole bottle.
And, you know, it's still not that noticeable.

As I waited for it to air-dry, all I could think of was "this is so freakin' indicative of my journey so far"

Just as I checked the mirror every five minutes or so (okay, maybe even shorter than that) as my hair was drying to see if the color was brighter, I too am impatient for a "new me" since leaving the Daughters.
I didn't just leave behind a cross or a habit when I left the Daughters; I left behind an identity. I left behind a life. I left behind people that shaped who I am. I left behind a future.

I grow impatient with myself as I try to build a new life. Why do some things still hurt? Why haven't I figured it all out yet? Why hasn't my support system grown yet? Why do I feel stuck?

What friends have to tell me over and over again is that it takes time.

As I stared at my hair that still more or less looked like my natural hair color, I realized that it's true. My identity as a Daughter of Charity and Sister is so embedded in me that it's hard to so quickly cover up "with a new color", so to speak. Granted, this revelation probably happened because I found that my natural hair color is much darker than I thought. Anyway, having a post-Sister identity doesn't mean that it won't happen, just that it's not that simple. Color kits you buy in the stores only last a few months anyway.

I don't want this post-Daughter "new me" to be one that only lasts a few months. I want it to be one that lasts, one that's thought out, one that I'm happy with.

That means time. That also means graciously accepting that part of me will always be a Daughter of Charity, no matter what...just as I have to graciously accept that, no matter how many times I try to dye my hair auburn, those dark brown strands will still be there.

(And don't worry, I'm done dying my hair for now 😏)

The Whisper of Calls

Sunday, May 14, 2017

As Elijah, the Lord spoke to me in the whispering wind - the unexplainable feelings in prayer, in other people.

At first, He whispered "Serve My poor". And so I did, being with the poor of the cities and the poor of the mountains.

Then, I heard "Be a Sister".
"Certainly, I imagined this," I thought, but the whisper came again and I realized it was God. This time I spoke. I spoke of my unworthiness. Perhaps He made a mistake and meant to call someone with more faith, with more gifts. But God persisted, so I asked "When? Where? How? Show me a sign!"

I searched and searched, never finding a definite sign. I remained faithful to serving His poor, but this call was more troubling, more impossible.

While serving His poor in Itocta (Bolivia), I saw the sign - a community I laughed with, a community I loved. I followed His call and joined them, but I soon realized it was no sign at all. Instead of increasing in holiness, I was increasing in unhappiness. A Sister begged me to plead for a sign from the Lord - surely, He would tell me to stay. I was tired of signs. I didn't understand them. But out of holy obedience, I asked. No sign came and I left, pretending I had never heard that first whisper.

But soon He returned with that same whisper: "Be a Sister..."
"Don't You see? Look what happened! No, Lord, You're mistaken" I replied and began to ignore His voice.

But the whisper became louder and louder. I then wrote the Daughters of Charity, an old address from years ago. "If they don't respond, I'll take it as a sign," I thought. They responded but still I wasn't convinced.

I was cautious until one night, in prayer before His presence, I heard Him say 'Give Your heart to me and to the poor'.

And so I did, finding my sign - the two calls intertwining in beauty.

And now I hear a different whisper: "Love. Always Love.", adding "See, they were all signs because I used it all to form who you are. Your story, already written, is being played out and, in it, I hope you see My love for You...and pass that Love to all the world."

                                                                                                                 - October 2013

One of my favorite things is to discover poems and prayers that I've written that I have long since forgotten about. This essay, titled "From the Book of Amanda", was one of them, written just ten months after entering Seminary. It was a homework assignment - "write a Scripture account of your call" for one of our classes on "calling".

It amazes me how much it all, especially the last paragraph, still sticks. Finding the Daughters wasn't the end of my call or the end of my story. My 2013 self knew that, even if I couldn't quite express it further. I had no idea that, in a few years, God would be leading me somewhere else.

Now, four years later, I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that:
    All those paths have made me who I am.
    My story is still being played out.
    And my mission is still Love.

For Those Who Mourn

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Her rocking chair lets out a creak as she leans back. Physically, she's not a commanding presence, to your surprise. If it weren't for her wrinkles, she could easily be mistaken for a child in that chair. But you know different. She's, after all, Saint Louise de Marillac. And she's your director for this year's retreat on the Beatitudes.

She pats the Bible on her lap. She opens her mouth to speak and her voice is comfortingly soft. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted....I believe you know enough about me that you will understand why this has been my favorite Beatitude. I've had a lifetime of mourning. Later in life, I understood my way to holiness was the way of the Cross. I suffered much...beginning with my very birth."

Yes, you knew. Louise de Marillac was born illegitimate. She never knew her mother nor do any of her biographers or historians. While Louise didn't end up in a home for foundlings (as did many other illegitimate children), her relationship with her family was...well, complicated. Her father sent her to live with her aunt, who was a Dominican nun. There, Louise received a great education - better than some of her counterparts - but she never experienced love from her father.

She continues, "I mourned the mother I never knew. I mourned the loss of my family through their rejection. I mourned over breaking my promise to God that I would be a nun - I married Antoine instead. And then, of course, later...later, I mourned the loss of his warm and loving personality when the sickness fell."

Silence. You notice Louise is no longer looking at you. Instead, she's staring off somewhere in the distance. Fighting off the bad memories? Praying? You realize, at that moment, there is more to the story than you'll ever know. What you do know is that, even during his illness, Louise contemplated leaving her husband and joining the convent. It was the time of her Lumiere (Pentecost Experience) that would lead her to found the Daughters of Charity ten years later.

She clears her throat and nervously smooths out her dress, obviously flustered with herself. "I then mourned the loss of my husband's physical presence. And while I would never physically lose my son Michel, I lived in constant fear that I had lost him emotionally and spiritually."

I know you have had your own moments of mourning during your life as well...and not always over deaths.

She lovingly looks intently at you and sympathetically smiles. "Perhaps you've even going through one of those times now?"

Your eyes give away the answer. Suddenly, you share everything with this woman, this stranger, this saint. Yet, something strange has happened. By listening to Louise's story in her own words, in her own voice, she is no longer a holy card, a medal or a character in a biography - she has turned into a real person, maybe even a friend. And she listens more intently than anyone else you've ever met. 

When there's nothing more to tell, she speaks, "What got me through those mourning periods was the belief that somehow God was still in control. It's not an easy concept to grasp. Easier said than done, as you say. But I had to believe I would be comforted - in this life and the next.

She leans in and her hands clasp yours.

And I am comforted. We must trust, dear friend, always trust Him."

(Note: I wrote this in 2014 as a draft for a heritage project about St. Louise de Marillac. The project was originally a 8-day retreat with St. Louise in this style. I ended up going forward with a different idea but this draft survived in one of my writing notebooks.)
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