Wednesday, July 6, 2011


There is a spiritual battle taking place in my heart--not a great war of good and evil, but one much like Jacob on the bank of the Jabbok river wrestling with God. The only outcome of this battle is "good". Deep in the shadows of the night I hear God inviting me to "let go," followed by Julian's gentle whispers, "all shall be well." I am on my way, in the in between, where I mourn the loss of what was and anticipate with great joy all that is to come. But hanging out here in "no-man's land" I feel a little lost--much like I imagine Jacob felt that night he spent wrestling with God.

Yesterday I began my transition into novitiate. Step one: sold my car--a little weird I must admit to be carless for the first time since I was sixteen. My every remaining possession, with the exception of a suit case for the week, has been moved into Canticle House where I will officially be a novice with the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia. There is great excitement over this, but the only way to get there is to move on from the goodness, the bounty, that this year has brought into my life through my local community at Corpus Christi.

My heart holds nothing but love, gratitude, and deep sisterhood for sisters Joan, Maureen, and Kathy. Words cannot express the bond that has been created. Relationships can be a funny thing, a year ago these women were not at all a part of my life, and here I stand today unable to imagine my life without them! I cannot think of our time together without shedding tears of joy for all they are to me--and all I hope they continue to be to me!

It's hard to let go of those you love, this is the battle of which I speak. But letting go will free me to love more deeply and will open my life to new relationships that I will look upon next year in the same light as I do my girls at Corpus Christi. And that my friends is a beautiful thing!

Thomas Merton writes in his book, The Ascent to Truth:

Our ordinary waking life is a bare existence in which, most of the time, we seem to be absent from ourselves and from reality because we are involved in the vain preoccupations which dog the steps of every living [person]. But there are times when we seem suddenly to awake and discover the full meaning of our own present reality. Such discoveries are not capable of being contained in formulas or definitions. They are a matter of personal experience, of uncommunicable intuition. In the light of such an experience it is easy to see the futility of all the trifles that occupy our minds. We recapture something of the calm and the balance that ought always to be ours, and we understand that life is far too great a gift to be squandered on anything less than perfection.

This year has been filled with these such "discoveries," and I am eternally grateful for having them.

And now I turn toward the year to come, filled with hope, excitement, and the newness of all that is to be . . . I will mourn my loss, but how beautiful a thing it is to arrive at the "next place" with someone waiting to be my shoulder--not to wipe away my tears but to give me the space to embrace them. This I am discovering is community!

And now for a continued note of thanks, to each of you who have supported me in my discernment, my writing, and my daily life. I hope that reading my reflections on my life and prayer has brought faith, hope, and love into your own life and prayer. As I prepare to fully transition into my novitiate experience I must push the pause button.

July 2006 I drove myself into Ohio, a quaint little state that has forever changed my life. As I drove across the border I read the sign, "Ohio: So Much to Discover." I have entitled my final (for now) post "Discoveries" because this is what fills my life. Every corner, every move, every moment brings us new discoveries. Discoveries that, as Merton expresses, aid us in "recapturing" the important things in life that open our eyes to the beauty that God has placed before us. All we have to do is be open to it!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Story of Life

These past four days have been days of great joy --filled with the Holy Spirit, they have enlivened my soul, rejuvenated my own spirit, and have propelled me into the future. Being in a room of 400 religious sisters--my sisters--does something deeply profound to the soul.

The Assembly is a time in which the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia gather mid-way through a leadership team's term. There were so many opportunities for me to meet sisters from all over, to hear their stories, share in laughter and tears, to grow deeper in relationship with the women who are becoming my family.

One sister in particular that I had the opportunity to visit with has spoken so deeply to my heart. Her life speaks of struggle yet her handheld computer that vocalizes the words that ALS has stripped her of the ability of doing for herself, speaks of joy, deep abiding joy! My conversation with Anna May was only over the course of our lunch break, but as we sat talking I saw the most beautiful woman in the world before me! She laughed as she typed to me the irony of her inability to speak, as she shared how "chatty" a person she was. I wish I could have heard her voice. I bet you it was beautiful too!

Sitting before me was the answer to many of my most recent prayers and reflections concerning this next step. I have no clue where it is going to lead me, in some ways I walk confidently while in others I stumble and wonder . . . but here she sat, laughing, joy-filled, supportive, and loving. She has every reason in the world to be mad at what life has dealt her, but instead of throwing in the towel she has chosen to adapt, to grow, and to become closer to the woman that she was created to be. The Holy Spirit shines forth from her eyes telling a story of life.

I sit in the quiet of my room praising God for the gift she has become in my life. Her promised prayers fill me with complete faith that "all shall be well." Thank you Anna May!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Naked With God

The light was red, my eyes wandered as I sat waiting for it to change to the green that would allow me to continue on my way. Still red my eyes fell upon a bumper sticker gracing the fender of the car in front of me. I could not help but inch closer to read the quip notable enough to be placed upon one's car. Curiosity usually gets the better of me, and sometimes it pays off! Waiting on that green light I read, "God's original plan was to hang out in a garden with some naked vegetarians."

This seemingly simple and laughable saying spoke deeply to an experience I have been living this past week and a half. For the first time since my first reflection I have failed in my commitment to write at least once a week. This was in part intentional. I write about what I experience. As a writer I commit to speaking the truth in honesty and love; I could do neither for the past week and so I chose to keep silent. But now, on the other side of contemplative prayer and with a deep desire to make sense of the circumstances, I am ready to share--in truth and in love.

There is a deep desire in my heart to continue on this path toward becoming a religious sister. And deep down I rest in certainty that I am exactly where God is calling me to be--but with any call there is a sense of being stripped. In the calling we are gently persuaded by God to return to the garden, to do so, however, we must be stripped. And this is never easy.

Last week I had a formation meeting in preparation for the transition from Candidacy to Novitiate. Novitiate is like this big unknown foggy cloud lying before me. I can theologically and canonically define novitiate, but as many sisters have shared it is something of which I must experience to really begin to understand it's true meaning and even then it may take years to fully make sense of it all.

Last week it was shared with me that during my time in the novitiate I will not be permitted to blog. This was difficult to hear. While in honesty I must share that I do not fully understand the reasoning behind this decision, I must also share that I have a deep openness to discovering it. As I sat last Wednesday soaking in what had just been said to me I could only feel the impending loss, looming over me like doomsday. I felt like my voice was being taken away.

That all said I have come to a place of understanding, not of the decision made, but of my life and the decision I am making to follow this path of more radical commitment to Christ and to living the Gospel message. To get back to that garden I have to be stripped. Last week I only saw loss, last week I misplaced my excitement of novitiate. I have not fully regained that excitement, but I do have it in sight. It will be different than the previous excitement and rightly so, I am a different person than I was two weeks ago.

I share this tonight in truth and love and assured that there is hope in this experience. And so, in the next few weeks I will continue to share my experiences as my time as a Candidate with the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia comes to an end and I transition into the novitiate.

The omnipotent "they" say that when a person loses one sense another is enhanced. I am excited to see what will change in me through not blogging this coming year. I will still write, an enthusiast of the word can never give that up. But it will be different. There is a whole big world out there to discover and a thousand, bazillion ways to discover it AND share it! I am in search of the intimate place where I can be naked with God--and maybe I just can't have an audience for that.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Faith in the Mountains

About a year ago I spent a few weeks traveling in the far East. There is something quite unexpectedly beautiful about India. Having stayed in the south where it is much cooler, and in a small village where the upkeep of flowers and gardens are possible, I experienced the India of which many have never heard. From there a dear friend and I traveled on to the small country of Nepal, a country slightly larger than the state of Pennsylvania. We stayed in Kathmandu for a few days before traveling to a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas.

During my short time in Nepal I attempted on three different days to make it to Mount Everest. All three days the clouds made viewing one of the world's most majestic mountains an impossibility. Day two we actually made it off the ground but as we flew within sight of the mountain the pilot announced that the clouds were just too thick. Never seeing Mount Everest was the great disappointment of the trip.

I recognized on that third day in hearing that it would not be possible to even leave the ground that the reality of my seeing the mountain was fading. There is probably never going to be another opportunity in my lifetime for me to travel to the Himalayas. But I live in hope that the mountain is there, through others' eyes I can experience Everest, and though I never saw it myself I believe, in faith, I have felt the spirit of the mountain.

Two days ago I arrived home from traveling to Oregon and Washington to meet our sisters in the west. I thoroughly enjoyed my time, especially with the sisters of St. Ann's in Tacoma. Sr. Martha Joseph has especially been supportive of me and my journey these past few months through her letter writing. It was a joy to sit down for a meal with her. She put a smile on my face as she passed me in the hallway saying, "Enjoy your life!" These women to me exemplify faith. I hope that in my life I can be as dedicated as these strong women have been in their own.

The idea of faith was deeply tugging at my heart as I experienced the west. For one thing as hilly and at times mountainous as Portland is not one sister I drove with EVER used her emergency break! That's living in faith! But in all seriousness I had a profound experience out west that has drawn me deeper into my own faith. Much like the Himalayas in monsoon season the mountains of Oregon were hidden from site. I spent the week hoping that the "mountain would be out" as they say. But it never happened.

Driving to the airport at what should have been the crack of dawn had there not been so much cloud cover, I thought of my time in Nepal. Neither then nor now did I see the mountains, but it does not make me believe any less in their presence. I believe because nothing has been proven to dissuade me. The mountains, in this past week, have become a metaphor of faith. Though it is unlikely for me to return to the Himalayas it is quite possible that I will return to the west, and hopefully seeing the mountains of Oregon will become a reality. But until that day arrives I live in faith of what's to come.

My faith in the mountains is no different than my faith in God. I know the vast and immense love of God in my life. There are times when the clouds are so thick that I could easily conceive the impossibility of God, but I choose to believe despite the things that tell me not to. Like feeling the spirit of Everest I too have felt deeply the Spirit of God. She has touched my life in so many ways that I cannot imagine a life without faith. Unlike Everest, I believe whole heartedly that one day I will see God, and that is what makes life worth living!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Day Without Hair Mousse

There we stood on the tarmac having just de-boarded the 19 passenger prop plane in Riverton, Wyoming. We quickly scooped up our bags checked at the gate and headed inside where Sr. Teresa was waiting with open arms. Teresa, more or less, single-handedly runs two parishes located on the Wind River Indian Reservation. She is a do it all sort of woman! Everything from Sacramental Preparation classes, to taking pledges from recovering alcoholics, to vacuuming the church, to feeding the neighborhood strays, and yes, even patching leaky hot water heaters! She does it all!

It was good to be with her! A little less wonderful, however, was discovering that the checked bag that Pat and I shared didn't quite make it to our final destination. This was the bag that contained my hair mousse! What is a girl to do? We were assured that the likelihood of the bag arriving on the next incoming flight due in later that afternoon was high, and so we made our way to Teresa's home on the range in Ethete.

Much to our delight we received word at 5 pm that night that our bag had indeed finally made it to Wyoming! Bad news? We couldn't pick it up because the airport was "closing for dinner." This is the reality of small town America--a reality of which east coasters are unaware. This meant I was going to go a day without hair mousse.

The simplicity of going a day without my self-proclaimed "necessities" became a freeing experience for the week. On our flight later in the week Pat and I had a very intriguing conversation concerning the vow of poverty, lived as simplicity, which has opened my heart to new possibilities of letting go. While I don't have any desire to give up my hair mousse I do think there are times I could obsess a little less!

These few days in Wyoming have opened my heart to the beauty of creation not often witnessed by the masses. The first full day on the reservation Teresa took me to a home Mass. During the consecration I could not help but be slightly distracted by the clanging of glass in the kitchen where someone engaged in final preparation of the dinner to follow. My distraction, however, quickly melted into reflection. Suddenly the melody of rattling dishes replaced the bells of the altar server and the realization of the reality of the Body of Christ became clear. We the people have become the consecrated Body of Christ, and as I sat pondering this I suddenly felt like Thomas Merton on the street corner of Fourth and Walnut, I "suddenly realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were, or, could be totally alien to me."

We have moved on from buffalo and prairies where cattle were herded to the fast-paced freeways of the city where people are herded. My time in Wyoming will not soon leave me, I just got off the phone with Teresa who called to share that she was going through a little withdraw. I too feel that loss. But the beauty of community is that no matter how many miles span the land between us we are bound by our sisterhood! And it is this thought that keeps a smile on my heart.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tomorrow Will Take Care of Itself!

If you are reading this then I suppose you too have been "left behind." It's a little funny to me when I think of those who believed whole-heartedly that today was going to mark the commencement of the end of the world with the rapture. These are people who literally interpret sacred Scriptures, everywhere except two verses that is. The one that says we will know not the day or hour when the Son of Man will return, and the one where Jesus said, "this is my body, this is my blood do this in remembrance of me."

Beginning with the 12 apostles every generation to walk this Earth believed that Jesus would return in their life time. Personally, I think we've got billions of years still ahead. It can't be that easy . . . we've got a lot to learn about peace on Earth. Ending the world now would be like eating half baked chicken . . . ewww. It's just not time!

Nonetheless all of this "end of the world" hoopla has got me thinking. I've been reflecting on that age old question, "am I ready?" I believe that my answer would be most definitely! Am I perfect? No. But God does not ask for perfection, God simply asks us to try. I should not be living my life by the predictions of the end, I should be living it so whenever that day comes I am embraced by God because I have always lived in a way pleasing to God.

Many people lived their life today in anticipation for the rapture. Shortly after the supposed time of the rapture had past I leaned over to Sr. Janet (with whom I was attending Mass) and with my eyes focused on the consecrated host raised above the altar said, "I guess we were left behind." And that was just fine with me, I was already with Jesus. I was reflecting upon this thought today and wondered how many people would be disappointed to be "left." I did not live my day that way. I spent my day celebrating life and sisterhood. Sr. Nora Nash celebrated her Golden Jubilee today, 50 years as a professed Sister of Saint Francis of Philadelphia. Celebrating her beautiful and amazing life ranked much higher on my priority list than biting my nails over the end. And for this I believe Jesus smiled today!

During the homily today it was shared that when we hear God's words, "remain in my love," it implies that we are "already in God's love." It's not about predicting the end, it's about living in the present in such a way that the end does not really matter. We never know what tomorrow will bring and so we do our best with today! After all Jesus himself told us not to worry about tomorrow, it will take care of itself!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Cheerio and The Casket

Death is never something we are prepared for, whether a long standing illness, a sudden heart attack, or a diagnosis of rapid growing cancer. No matter how faith-filled a people we are there is so much uncertainty that surrounds us in those final goodbyes. There is no way to prepare for the absence.

I was recently at a funeral of the mother of a friend. Two weeks ago she had been told that her mother would have 3 weeks to 3 months. How does one even begin to understand the enormity of those words? I wish there was something I could do to ease the pain, but the reality is all I can do is love and pray. Nothing takes that pain away, except maybe time, but even that does not fully erase it. Sounds awful huh? Never overcoming the pain of loss, but I see the pain as proof--proof of something greater--proof of life--and proof of LOVE. Someone recently said to me, "everyone deserves to have someone cry at their funeral." It is a recognition of the life celebrated!

I bowed my head in prayer as the people gathered prayed for the family and the loved one lying in the casket before us. As I opened my eyes I spotted a cheerio left behind on the church floor. Another sign of life--new life. A cheerio can only mean one thing, a child too young to give full attention to the liturgy. This reflection came in that momentary glance from the cheerio to the casket. LIFE.

New life, lived life, the many gathered lives in that church sanctuary. We are all here with purpose, we are all doing the best we can. It amazed me how much life I began to witness during that funeral Mass. Two college girls, completing their first year, so much lies ahead of them. A first year seminarian assisting with the liturgy, the beginning of much service among God's people. Me, starting the next adventure in my own discernment, novitiate. There is also difficult new life, a family starting a new chapter moving on from sudden loss. But the most important life is the new life of the resurrection promised in our baptism. That new life, that woman of 70 some years, mother of 50 some years, and wife of 55 is surely now experiencing.

For those left behind a new way must be found. But while we acknowledge the sadness and loss, let the new life be found in the hope of the resurrection.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Trippin' the Light Fantastic

One might think a Sunday afternoon in the convent is one filled with prayer and contemplation, and if it were 1950 maybe that would be true. But here, in 2011, in the convent I live, our Sunday afternoon consisted of a musical journey through the 80's.

Earlier in the day I made a reference to Dead or Alive's Lyrics "You Spin Me Round." You know, "You spin me right round baby right now, like a record baby round round round round." No one had a clue what I was referencing. While I was only a year old when this single was released I do know it was a staple song of the 80's and one I assumed most people had at least heard of, like "Whip It," another song unheard of here at Corpus Christi.

Dumbfounded by the lack of 80's music knowledge I began to give the sisters a virtual tour of the 80's. I introduced them to Devo, Pat Benatar, Belinda Carlise, Bonnie Tyler and more. I didn't think it was possible to meet someone who had never before heard "Hey Mickey"! Today, I met three!

In their defense, there were a handful of songs including artists such as "The Police," "Madonna," and "Billy Joel" that they had not only heard of but knew the lyrics to! They blame "being in the convent" for the lack of musical awareness, and maybe that's true. I'm just glad they won't go their whole life without ever experiencing the head banging, rock out tunes, and ballads of the decade I was born!

Joan introduced me to a new saying this morning, "Trippin' the light fantastic!" I think it's a great saying to accompany our day! Next stop on the tubular tour of the 80's--Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

They are My "More"

There are many ways to look at it. There is hope and excitement and there is fear and sadness, both coexisting in one transitional experience. In any moment of change there is always a future and a past, both hold meaning and both are accompanied by emotions.

For me the transition from Candidacy to Novitiate is just this, a dualistic experience filled with emotion. When I isolate the thought of moving to Canticle House (the novitiate) I am excited, hopeful, and genuinely joyful. But when I solely focus on moving away from Corpus Christi my eyes swell with tears, my heart breaks, and I find myself slip into sadness.

My life is so good right now, and I'm exactly where I believe God is calling me to be, but as I struggle through the pain of preparing for the next few transitions I feel very alone. Despite the excitement I have for moving forward in the process of formation I cannot stop crying myself to sleep during the nights that I reflect back over this past year. There has been so much to cherish and so much that I will take with me as I confidently move on.

St. Louis, Missouri that's stop number two on this transition train, the TOR Common Novitiate. Again, isolating the idea of St. Louis is exciting, but in realizing that moving there means leaving here the struggle emerges. This afternoon in spiritual direction I shared that moving to St. Louis feels overwhelming, not because of fear of moving far away or the challenge of being somewhere new, but because it means leaving everything and everyone who has become so dear to me this year.

When I moved to Dayton, Ohio in 2006 I was extremely joy-filled with the transition. I was trying to figure out what was so different about this move to St. Louis. The answer lies in discovering where the "more" is. Ohio had so much more to offer than staying in Pennsylvania. But now I find myself realizing that the "more" is right here. I don't mean Corpus Christi, but the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia, they are my "more."

While I am certain that St. Louis holds things for me that are beyond my understanding as I sit here writing this evening, I cannot help but know in my heart that where I really want to be is here. And I suppose that's a good thing. St. Louis will be for nine months, the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia will be for life.

In Spanish the word for love is "amor" pronounced "a-more." I can't help but think that where I find my love is in the more! I recently wrote a song entitled "A Little More." I speak of the many wonderful and amazing things I've seen and felt in my life but I close with singing, "so far I've seen a little, and I have felt a little, and now I want a little more." So tonight, amidst the tear filled prayers I speak to God I pray: I want a little more!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Love Means So Very Much

In Greek there are four words to the English's one word for love. Each word describes a different aspect of "love."

Storge--the way you love your family
Philia--love shared between friends
Eros--Erotic, sensual love
Agape--Unconditional love (the love God shows us!)

Earlier this week while in my car flipping through radio stations I happened upon a morning show I don't typically enjoy, but on this particular morning I became absorbed in the conversation being had. The background is simple. The female DJ was sharing that in the context of a casual phone conversation her male DJ counterpart casually ended the conversation by saying, "okay, see you tomorrow, love you." The gist of the continued discussion was more or less a debate as to whether or not he actually said it. But what most captured my attention was his uncomfortableness with the thought that he may have said "love" to this woman.

The conversation grew to include other DJs as well as listeners. Soon people were discussing the different meanings of love. In this I discovered that coloquially we do have different "words" for love.

Love ya--love shared among friends
I love you--a deeper love shared with close friends and family
I am in love with you--spoken in intimate relationships

How interesting and powerful such a word is that despite our lingual limitations we have found ways to express the varying levels of it's meaning. I remember the first time I told a now dear friend of mine that I loved her. It came out quite accidentally yet completely sincere and honest. I had been leaving her a voicemail when in closing I said, "okay, call me when you get a chance. Love you." I hung up the phone and thought to myself, "oh my gosh, that's gonna freak her out!" In reality she very much appreciated it!

Love comes natural to those who allow themselves the freedom to express it when truly felt in the heart!

As I share this recent reflection I cannot help but ponder the reality of the next two months. Two months from this week I'll be moving to a new home, with a new local community, and a new routine. While I am absolutely excited at the transition to novitiate I am also filled with sadness in having to leave the community I can whole heartedly say I LOVE. In the deepest Christian sense of love I love Joan, Kathy, and Maureen. They have become a part of me in ways that have changed me, making me into a better person then I could have been otherwise. To speak in Greek I believe I have come as close as I can to having an agape love for them.

It was once sung, "all you need is love, love is all you need." There is great wisdom and truth in this. Love is all we need, yet love means so very much!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Making Music In Community

I was 9 years old when I first began playing the flute. As a little girl I had watched my mother play often, I would beg her to let me "play" with her beautiful, silver, Gemeinhardt flute. Occasionally she would allow me to toot on the mouth piece making a single sound. But as a fourth grader I was allowed to join the school band. It was then that my mother passed her flute on to me.

I played throughout school, and in the first few years of college played here and there for church events, but mostly it had become a private stress-reliever. It was not often that I would play for anyone.

Last December I had mentioned to Sr. Andrea that I played and soon she had asked me to play with the choir for Christmas Eve Mass. Although I was excited I was also nervous because this was the first time that I was playing in public in nearly eight years. Shortly after that night Sr. Elise called to ask if I would play at her Jubilee in May. Although anxious to be playing again more publicly, I am excited to be given the opportunities to play again.

Last week I met with Sr. Andrea to practice in Our Lady of Angels Chapel. Standing in the front of chapel the sounds I produced from my flute were enhanced by the acoustics of the sacred space in which I stood. Not every thing sounded so good though, having been out of practice for so long I was rusty when it came to anything not in 3/4 or 4/4 . . . in fact a couple weeks earlier I sat on the phone with a friend dictating the music so she could help me learn the counts.

As Andrea played the piano to practice with me I felt something very special happening. As much as I have practiced on my own in the years when I was absent from the public eye I always felt there were certain things I was unable to get right. Practicing with Andrea however, I found myself picking things up in ways I don't believe I could have on my own. I am thankful to Andrea for her patience, continual support, and her witty methods of helping me to remember counts in uncommon time signatures. For musicians you would love her "blueberry" chant to help me play 8th notes in 6/4.

It never ceases to amaze me how much community has holistically made me more the person God has created me to be! Music has always spoken deeply to my soul, how wonderful is it that I can be brought even deeper into the melodic world through community!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The People of the Waiting Room

After about two hours of sitting in the waiting room of the surgical unit at Saint Francis Hospital I had at least a dozen ideas as to how to create a more pleasant waiting experience for people. The aquarium filled with fish darting from side to side, top to bottom, and weaving in and out of faux trees can only entertain a person for so long. After the 25th loop of the morning news and about all I could handle hearing of William and Kate I was ready to redesign the whole room.

Waiting rooms are interesting places. They simultaneously and paradoxically house hopes and fears. People are brought together from varied worlds to the common existence of waiting. There is little to make the time pass faster. Two chairs occupied with diligent card players, a group of people slumped, half sleeping in front of the television, children wearing out already exhausted parents. While we all attempt to take our minds off the anxiety of waiting there is little that actually accomplishes the task.

By mid-morning the doctors begin to filter in and out, sitting next to wives, and children, and siblings, discussing the results of the varied surgical procedures. Some choose to meet in the "consultation room" others simply plop down where the loved one has been waiting. Three hours and still we wait. Doctors come and doctors go, but not the one for which we were waiting.

I made a profound observation today in that holding pattern; waiting rooms can teach us something very deep about Christian Community. Title, class, political party, and social status mean nothing in that room. The people of the waiting room shared stories, thoughts, laughs, and curiosities with each other, all the while everyone was waiting for their news. As we sat, having heard from the doctor but still waiting to be given clearance to head to the recovery room, a woman we had been speaking with earlier came over to ask if we knew anything yet. When we shared the good news she too shared that they were relieved in her family with their own news. As she turned to leave she gently tapped another "waiter" on the arm gently saying, "good luck with everything."

The world outside the confines of the waiting room has a lot to learn from this experience. Cell phones did not work, computers were not available, options for entertainment were limited. At least there were two of us waiting making the wait slightly more bearable. But what we discover when we remove the technology that holds our attention captive on the outside world are the people around us--Community! And opening our eyes to that can make all the difference.

The people of the waiting room have no choice but each other.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Into Your Hands I Commend My Spirit"

"Into your hands I commend my spirit." These very familiar words, spoken by Jesus as he took his final breaths on the cross, spoke very deeply to me throughout this Sacred Triduum. As I approached the front of the church to venerate the cross on Good Friday I found myself silently chanting these same words.

. . .

For the past few years I have spent the Holy Triduum at Daylesford Abbey, but this year was different. Two years ago I began working with a young woman at Neumann University in the R.C.I.A. program. When she began the program she did so with the sole commitment to learn more about the Catholic faith. She is a woman of serious faith who knew she could only say yes to a faith she deeply believed to be true. Because of her dedication to this she spent two years learning and growing and where appropriate participating in the Catholic Tradition.

Shortly after the winter break she came to my office all smiles to share that she finally decided that she would like to enter fully into the Catholic Church. This brought much joy to my heart, she is an amazing young woman who has so many gifts to share with our world! And so I knew in that moment the only place I could spend my Tridduum would be with her, welcoming her into the faith I too so dearly love.

Being that I am (as a close friend calls it) a "Litur-Geek," I feel compelled to attend the same church for all three days of the Triduum. Holy Thursday to Holy Saturday is one continuous liturgy, to church hop during this time would be like going to one church for the Liturgy of the Word and another for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And so I chose to attend St. Francis De Sales in Lenni for all three.

I not only shared my experience with the young woman who was baptized but with another phenomenal young woman who had never before experienced the Triduum. It was the most profound feeling to experience this age old tradition through the eyes of someone experiencing it for the first time! While, liturgically speaking, Daylesford is hard to top, I must share that this year's liturgical celebration of the paschal mystery was one that has impacted me much deeper than I anticipated.

. . .

"Into your hands I commend my spirit." I continued to hold and proclaim these words in my heart and vocally as we sang these ancient words in the dark of Holy Saturday night. I desire deeply to give my life to Christ, what exactly that looks like on the outside I'm not completely sure of, but as I silently chanted these words of Christ I found myself united in both the suffering and victory of Christ.

There are little words to describe my love of God; simple, true, and passionate. There is nothing I would not do if asked by God, but the disconnect always happens in the translation . . . sometimes I just don't understand what is being asked of me. In the words of Christ this Holy Easter I continue to sing, "into your hands I commend my spirit," and for now, as I celebrate these fifty days of unbounded joy (and the anticipation of the nearing transitions in my life), I believe the desire alone is enough to please God.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Authentic Voice

The people gathered were settled, while she sang with a rich and booming voice she spoke in soft, melodic tones. She quietly repeated into the microphone, "The most powerful voice is always the authentic voice."

Three months ago Sr. Mary Craig and I discovered that we shared a common love for the music of Carrie Newcomer. Sometimes I listen to her music and I am left in awe as to how someone could think up such deep and meaningful metaphors, and then to go the step further and put it to music. At the time, Mary shared with me that Carrie was going to be in the Swarthmore area giving a workshop on "Writing Mindfully"and invited me to go with her. The workshop was tonight, and tonight has truly been a pretty amazing one!

Carrie spoke of writing the song of today and the meaningfulness that comes from being present. She said, "choosing to be present will change you." She spoke of openness, honesty, love, and desires. As she spoke of "risk" I thought of Mother Bachmann's words, "no risk, no gain." Carrie says, "we don't want to risk the thing we want most because if we don't get it, it would mean something." As I sat and listened to these words I thought of my own writing and my own music (which I often keep hidden away under my own hand-fashioned bushel basket.) Why do I not share more? What is my fear? What would happen if I were to let go of that which holds me back?--Questions I don't yet have answers for, but I assure you I'm trying!

Another running theme of Carrie's music is finding the Holy in the ordinary, sharing that sacred moments come and go and we appreciate them while we have them but we have to let go because "sacred is not a tame thing." There is so much truth packed into that sentence!

As Mary dropped me off at my car we shared our enthusiasm over the night, I shared I wanted to blog but realized it would be quite late by the time I was home. Mary suggested writing some thoughts down on paper and to write more fully tomorrow--Which was all well and good until I got home and had so many thoughts rumbling around in my head that I couldn't sleep without releasing them! And so I share . . .

While her story sharing and music were phenomenal I must say the most memorable moment of the night for me was sitting with Carrie afterwards, just the three of us, as she taught us how to play a guitar using her sawed off capos. Talk about holy in the ordinary! That she would take the time to answer and be excited about Mary's simple question, "can I ask you about your capos?" That was truly a holy moment.

Carried shared that "the closer we get to what we love the more potent our work becomes." Since my entering community last September I have expressed more through the written word, both here and in my music, than I have in my entire life. This to me speaks to the true desire of my heart and the reality of God's presence in my life. I believe my "authentic voice" has been found, not in any of the childhood dreams I had, but in the place I find myself this night, in the present moment and the present path on which I find myself.

So today, tonight, whatever applies to you--let your authentic voice be heard!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Smart Phones and Poverty

What does the vow of poverty mean in the 21st century? As radical as Francis' commitment to poverty was and as impressive as it seems to us, he lived his poverty in a particular historical context that is quite foreign to us. Francis did not have to make the decisions we face today in the 21st century. I don't mean to diminish his life, in fact what he gave up to live the vow was dramatic for the place he found himself. But times change . . .

In the 40's and 50's to stop on the side of the street and give a homeless person $5-$10 was absurd. That was a lot of money and therefore a lot to part with, but today to give that same amount would be no sweat off most people's back. Times change . . .

There was a time when every sister in community having access to her own personal car was unheard of, but today, given the range of ministries and varied needs of the individual most sisters do in fact have access to a personal car. Times change . . .

Today it is more challenging than ever to decide what the vow of poverty really looks like. I do not doubt or criticize those who feel called to such radical poverty that they literally live with little to nothing. The reality, however, is as an active community ministering in the world and preaching the Gospel, there are certain cultural and societal necessities that may outwardly appear to be inconsistent with a life of poverty that in actuality are not.

This conversation of the idea of poverty in the 21st century started with me a few weeks ago when I was talking to my mother about the need for a new phone before novitiate in July. (By the way, I was officially accepted and will definitely be entering novitiate this July!) She suggested I look at the smart phones because they have come down in price. I immediately retorted that I could not have a smart phone, it is not consistent with the life of poverty I am choosing.

Over the past few weeks though I have had this conversation with a number of sisters and family members that have given me pros and cons to add to the debate. For example there is a very useful app that is completely consistent with a life of poverty. This app allows you to scan a barcode with your phone so that you can retrieve a list of the stores in your area that sell that same product cheaper. Seems efficient to me.

Needless to say, I have found myself seriously contemplating the iphone. While I have not made a decision either way I am considering the pro/con list carefully. On one hand I do question what is poverty, and in the 21st century when technology is becoming common place where is the line? In many ways our ministry could be supported and more efficient with the greater use of technology because that is where the young people are! When working at Neumann it would take a student three days, if not more, to respond to an email. If I were to post it on their facebook wall I would have a response within minutes and in many cases seconds! Something to ponder . . .

When I really think about all the iphone has to offer however, I find myself wondering if I do really "need" it. And I fear I would become addicted to the use of it. Could I have one and not become obsessed with it? Maybe, but I believe it would take a conscious effort.

At this point the list is pretty even, and the scales are not leaning one way or the other. Luckily there is time to discern smart phones and poverty.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Self Invites: Courting the Community

Typically it is considered rude to invite yourself to a person's house for dinner right? Well, when you are 28 in a predominantly older community self invites are all relative! I have been inviting myself to all sorts of sisters homes over these past few months and every one of my requests has been received with a warm welcome, amazing food, and fantastic company!

One of the sisters with whom I live once asked me how I determine where I invite myself, the answer is really easy. One of two ways, either I see the sister at a function, or out and about and something about her makes me want to know her better, or I simply go through the photo directory and play Eni Mini Mini Mo.

Am I crazy? Probably! But it has proven to be the best way to get to know the congregation as a whole. And in reality, if I were dating a guy I would probably do the same thing, "can I come over tonight and hang out?" It's my way of courting the community.

Over the past week I have had two dinner dates that have just put me on top of the world. Last Monday I had dinner with Sisters Margaret and Mary Theresa. I met them at their apartment where we shared a bit, and prayed a bit. I even had the opportunity to meet other sisters in their apartment complex when we stopped by to return Sr. Hildegard's prayer book. Then, they took me to their favorite Italian eatery, the Olive Garden.

It never ceases to amaze me how much I thoroughly enjoy the company of women so many years . . . um . . . wiser than me!

Last year I was invited to Sisters Nora, Miriam Eileen, and Mary's for dinner, upon leaving they told me that the plant sitting on the table was their gift to me. Unfortunately there is no green in my thumb. I wish there was, my grandfather was an amazing gardener who attempted in every way to pass his talent on, but somehow it just never made its way to me! I forgot about the plant and left for a month in India and Nepal. Needless to say I killed it. At the time I was not living in community.

Last Monday, Sisters Margaret and Mary Theresa also gave me a plant. What's up with Franciscan's and plants??? I guess it's the whole love of creation thing! The beauty of this plant however, is that now that I am living in community it has a MUCH HIGHER chance of survival!!! In fact Maureen just watered it this morning!

Last night I spent a lovely dinner with Sisters Rose Raymond and Marie Francine, thankfully they just gave me meatballs and no plant! I don't think I could handle caring for two plants at once! Seriously though, I had a wonderful time! They are fantastic and FUNNY women who have enlivened me!

I suppose I should reign myself in from this rambling. But I felt I must share these experiences because they deepen and enrich my ability to continue to say yes to this path on which I find myself! These women have lived their lives with no regrets of the choices they have made and have openly shared that they wouldn't change a thing! I hope that through the years I too will be able to make that same statement!

I guess when you find where God is calling you there is no regrets, only faith, hope, and love.--AMEN.

P.S. I also accept invites as well!

Friday, April 8, 2011

You Will be a Great Mother to Her

I recently completed a reflection paper required as part of the process of formally applying for acceptance into novitiate. In reflecting upon these past seven months in candidacy and my discernment as a whole I found what was most important to me to share was the shift I have experienced when it comes to the things I most desire in life.

Like many young girls I have dreamed about my wedding day from the time I donned my first pair of plastic high-heel shoes and began to play dress-up! The dream never really changes, it evolves, but there is a guy, a proposal, a white horse drawn carriage (okay, I may have been a more extravagantly oriented child), and of course an amazing honeymoon on an Alaskan cruise. Your typical fairy tale type stuff! Motherhood always called to me. Early in my discernment of religious life, when I would find myself leaning toward saying yes I would find myself pulled away by my innate desire of motherhood.

Over the years I found myself in a place where children were a non-negotiable. Husband or not I was going to find a way to have children. Maybe by means not so accepted by church teaching or maybe adoption, I imagined it all . . . the thing is however, that my desire for children, as it turns out, is not so contrary to religious life. In fact it may be the best place for me to embrace my desires of motherhood.

As I continued my discernment I came to a place where I suddenly realized that the biological desire to have babies was just that, babies! When I sat back and really reflected upon adolescent and adult children my motherly instincts suddenly vanished, I have NO DESIRE to have teenage children! And seeing as it's not really acceptable or human to raise kids to the age of ten and then send them off into the world, I had to reevaluate what my desires were really all about!

I use to secretly roll my eyes at sisters who would claim they have lived their motherhood through the children they teach, and that in many ways they were more of a mother than they could have been in the context of one nuclear family. But the truth is I'm beginning to understand that on a much deeper reality than I had in the past.

Today, as I arrived at the Motherhouse I ran into Sr. Elsa, an amazing sister who never fails to make me smile! She said that I was missed in choir as they prepare for the Sacred Triduum. I shared with her that the reason for not singing in choir this time was that I would be attending the parish where a student I have worked with for the past two years will be entering into the Church. She will be baptized, confirmed and receive her first Holy Communion. It is important to me to be with her as she makes a true commitment to Church. The journey has been a long one for her, I have been there for much of it and am really looking forward to celebrating this great moment in her faith life along side of her.

To this Elsa smiled and said, "You will be a great mother to her!"

I sort of chuckled at first, I thought she was saying I'd make a good mother someday . . . I almost turned to her and said, "When did the Church approve that?!" I quickly realized I misunderstood and realized what she actually said. I walked away with a little hop in my step because the reality is, as much as I rolled my eyes at this concept in the past, you really can embrace your motherhood by serving others! I will not only be sister, but I too will be mother. It might not look like the 5 year old Sara imagined in her plastic pumps and lace dress, but it's just as good--or dare I say, without the commitment of teenagers, better!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Holy Sea Isle!

There is nothing sweeter than the smell of the ocean, the sound of the waves, and the company of amazing women. Sunday morning Kathy, Joan, Maureen, and myself sat on the beach in Sea Isle City watching the waves gently crash upon the sands having traveled inland from the horizon. We had spent the weekend together on retreat reflecting upon the holy in the ordinary-in our world, our lives, and each other.

I did not think I had ever been to Sea Isle before but in sharing the weekend with my mom she shared that the best arcade was there and I in fact was there many times as a child. I think I was too young to remember! As far as my cognizant years go this was my first memory of the city that captures your smile! "I was captured by you smile, as we drifted by Sea Isle . . ."

It took a mere hour for the first brilliant smile to spread across my face. On our outing to the Acme Joan and I had a chance to witness the glorious sun setting over the bay. It was a moment that reminded me much of God's voice and calling to us. As we pulled out of the driveway Joan pointed out the golden gleam on the houses reflecting the sun's rays. I was so oblivious, until she had pointed it out I thought the source of the light was nothing more than a street light. It was as if brother sun was speaking to Joan, calling her to follow. And as she turned up and down side streets winding her way to the bay she listened to his words. I'm glad I was present to observe her following because it too brought me a gift that night and reminded me that following God means following the little hints, because that is what leads us to the greater treasure.

The next morning I ventured down to the beach. While it was a little chilly that first morning it was nonetheless beautiful!

There is something magical about the beach in early April, the sand untrodden leaving perfectly whole shells to be admired.

I was so happy that I was given the opportunity to share this retreat with my community. It was a small gesture of thanks for their undying support of me these past 7 months. We prayed together, played together, and praised together! There is nothing sweeter!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Saint Paul Wasn't the Only One Struck Off a Horse

Saint Paul wasn't the only one struck off a horse! Yes, I too was thrown from a horse this weekend, maybe I should have made it clearer to God that I was already willing to follow! I was in no need of any enlightening and certainly was not looking for any epiphany!

Okay, theological joking aside, God didn't strike me off my horse, it was just a freak accident. But once again God is using my misfortune to teach me something about Christian living. I am totally with Peter, "No Lord, you will not wash my feet!" Asking for things has never been an easy experience for me, but now I find myself, on crutches with a new nickname compliments of Joan--Hippity Hoppity.

While crutches make it possible to use a bum leg, they in turn take away the ability to use your hands. If it can't fit in the woven bag swung across my shoulder or between my teeth than I cannot carry it. Crutches are a new experience for me, and one I hope to never have again.

In 2003 I was in a bad car accident, my campus minister at the time recently reflected on my experience in the context of Lent in an article she wrote for Liguorian Magazine entitled, "Embrace the Lent You Get." She speaks of our Lenten plan making and being open to the workings of God in our lives. She suggests that the "more seriously we take Lent, the more likely our plans are to be overturned by the unexpected."

I find myself returning in thought to 2003 and my recovery from that accident. Thankfully this recent accident is nothing compared to the experience I had then, but it is similar in my having to ask for help--something we all learn sooner or later--something I thought I "learned" but I'm realizing have forgotten. As soon as my mobility returns it becomes easy to let go of needing others, but this is what community teaches me. There is always a place where we need to rely on one another, whether physically, emotionally, or even spiritually. This is true community.

Hobbling from the kitchen to my bedroom this morning with an egg sandwich in a plastic bag held between my teeth I reflected on how difficult this experience would be without my sisters. They have been most generous with their time and care for me! But beyond the helping hands they are firm in their words when they insist I take it easy and allow my body time to heal. I start to feel lazy just laying around all day, I have always pushed myself to the limits, heal faster, get moving faster, everything faster . . . but they are helping me to slow down, to be patient with this process, and to allow time for healing.

So as Christine, my former campus minister suggests, I'm working on embracing the lent I get--Along with mastering the art of carrying things in my teeth of course!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Continually Called to Conversion

For the past few months I, along with two other candidates in the community, have been attending a formation workshop on the Psychosocial Aspects of Community Life. While most of the class is a dull reiteration of life lessons I've learned years ago, there are a few things I have found helpful to take from the experience. One of these such things is the human nature of judging.

In the context of this workshop we broke open the reality of our preconditioned mentality toward judging. When asked to share observations of our surroundings we do so by judging, by labeling experiences. I may describe the feeling I felt as "the breeze blowing on my face," a true observation does not label that experience "breeze" but rather says I felt a cool, blowing sensation upon my face. In some ways this was bizarre, as I'm sure some of you may be thinking even as you read this . . . BUT, there is a deeper truth hidden in these thoughts.

I was with my family recently for a family event. For me it was one of those gatherings that felt much more like an obligation than a celebration. Because of my preconceived feelings toward the evening I fell into a pattern of judging. It was easy to judge, for reasons probably too personal to publish online, but easy or not "appropriate" is a whole other story.

I was sitting with my parents, cousins, and godparents. My Aunt who is my godmother is quite an amazing woman. My cousin and I were wrapped up in conversation in which my cousin pointed out the generosity and love of my Aunt. "It doesn't matter to her, she loves everyone the same." she said at one point. And yes, this is true. My Aunt loves in a truly unconditional manner! As I reflect on my own issues concerning my sometimes judging nature and my Aunt's loving disposition I cannot help but think of Saint Francis. As Francis "preached with his actions" so too does my Aunt demonstrate the power of love.

If only I could start learning from their example right? And now the judging turns on myself. Here I have chosen to live this intentional Christian life and still I find myself falling into quite caddy situations and conversations.

I think the first place to start is to let go of the negative feelings of self. We aren't always going to get it right. There are going to be times when I don't like how I am acting or feeling, but that is where we are blessed with the gift of conversion. God created a world for us in which we are continually called to conversion. These opportunities simply help me to discover more fully the person God is calling me to be!

So, me and judging? Like this crazy adventure we call "life," I'm working on it!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Camera Tells All

There is something mystical about the lens of my camera that allows me to see deeper into the created world than my own eyes allow me to see. The way the manipulation of light, and time allows beautiful images to appear makes me feel as though my camera is a gift from God that allows me to understand the gift of creation more deeply than by the mere workings of my humanness.

I was at a formation workshop a few months ago in which the image of the photographer was brought into conversation. The woman on the video we were watching suggested that our cameras distract us from the reality of what is in front of us. I have heard many people share these same sentiments when they say there are some things a camera cannot capture. I would argue, while there is some truth to a camera not being able to capture everything, there is also a whole heck of lot that we cannot capture without the camera.

I've spoken before of the contemplative nature of my photography. My Sony SLR and I have a holy and reverent and at times rapturous relationship. These past few days we went away together, me, my camera, and God. I spent some time in the woods . . . well as "woods" as you can find in Delaware County. The hermitage is simple, only the basics, but that is all that is needed when one goes on vacation with Jesus, for the Lord provides more than this world has to offer!

I cannot share everything, after all a girl doesn't kiss and tell . . . and in many ways God shared holy-intimate kisses with me. But what I can share is what my camera captured of God's gift to me this week, for the camera tells all.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Sludge and The Flour

The rain was pelting my face, my galoshes sloshed around in the 5 inches of rain water accumulated outside our basement door, and as I bailed out the lowered step to stop the water from making its way into our house I slowly realized I was going to have to de-clog the drain that was OBVIOUSLY not doing its job!

So there I squatted elbow deep in dirty rain water scrapping the sludge from the bottom of the drain. Several times my hand disappeared into the now murky water to emerge moments later with another fist full of filth! This was Thursday, my last day as Campus Minister at Neumann University, and a day I will not soon forget--not because I was leaving my job, but because it was the day the floods made me feel as though I were a contestant on Fear Factor.

The next day, although not really sunny, the rains had subsided and for the most part it was a fairly decent day--at least it was dry . . . er. Friday was Sr. Maureen's birthday!!! If you've been following my story you understand my belief in the importance of birthdays--days worth celebrating every moment! Maureen had shared that her favorite cake was strawberry shortcake. The night before I found what looked to be a heavenly recipe, what I did not take note of was the fact that the blog on which I found the recipe was written by a woman in England, where they use the metric system. All I have to say about that is praise the person who invented google!

Fact, I am a wonderful cook. Fact, not all cooks can bake. Fact, I am one of those cooks! Baking is not my forte. I did however, finish the day out with a BEAUTIFUL homemade strawberry shortcake, but I didn't get there easily. At one point there was flour strewn about the kitchen, not a counter top was spared. My mother tells a story of one Christmas in which she allowed my brother, sister, and I to make gingerbread houses, she shares that by the time my father came in from work the three of us, (two mere toddlers) were sitting ON the kitchen table with flour covering just about every inch of our bodies. At 28 I came very close to reenacting that very scene.

Why am I writing about sludge and flour? Well, besides the suggestion of Maureen (come on, it does make an awesome title), I realized this too is Lent. Tis' the season for cleaning up the mess of our lives, whether it be self inflicted or imposed by an outside force for which we weren't quite ready. Holding the sludge in my hand one day and being covered in flour the next I realized the mess we make of ourselves. Lent is about digging out the sludge and dusting off the flour of our hearts.

As I further reflect upon this image I am brought back to community. In both instances I would not have found myself doing what I did had it not been for the greater good of the community. I went out into the rain because I didn't want the sisters with whom I live to have to be standing in the cold rain bailing out the step. I was cleaning up the flour because I wanted to make something special for Maureen's birthday.

In the end, living in community has helped me to de-sludge and de-flour my life, because it is in community that I am called to--AND held accountable for--my actions. Living alone I easily fall into the rut of not caring, but in community there is no room for that sort of apathy. In community you hold each other up and call each other to a deeper understanding of self, God, and Christian community!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent: Preparing for the Party

With the marking of ashes upon our foreheads earlier today we have entered into the solemn season of Lent--not my favorite liturgical season--but often times a fruitful one! Being resurrection people I suppose it makes sense that my absolute favorite time of the liturgical year is the celebration of the holy Triduum, Holy Thursday to Holy Saturday. But what I must annually remind myself of is that the party only happens because we've prepared!

For instance, last Sunday my community and I hosted another Murder Mystery, this time a Mardi Gras brunch. A number of guests poured into our humble home to the wafting smell of french toast, breakfast casseroles, bacon, sausage, and warm sticky buns. How did we get here? We planed--a guest list, menus, shopping, decorating, etc., etc., etc.

Easter is the party, Lent is the planning! But it's not a physical party, it's a spiritual and introspective one.

40 days Jesus went out into the desert, the unknown, where he was tempted by the devil. These 40 days brought him to an understanding of his call to ministry. Today I am embarking on the most profound 40 days to date. Tomorrow is my last day as Campus Minister at Neumann University. I have loved working with the students, and will miss them dearly, but I have known for some time now deep in my heart that this is the time to move on. Tomorrow I step foot into the desert.

It's a weird conglomeration of fear and excitement that exists within me. It's always difficult to move on from something, no matter how good, bad, difficult, or easy that thing has been, at least it was "known." The desert is unknown and that in itself is intimidating.

A few months ago I shared with the candidate director my desire to ask for official acceptance into the Novitiate with the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia. I have been filled with joy since making this decision known, but I also recognize there are many things to settle in my life in order to be prepared to make this move. Leaving my full-time ministry is giving me the space to work on preparing for this next step, both physically and emotionally.

While I will be spending time volunteering to fill my days, I am looking forward to having the time and space to just be with God. In spiritual direction last week my decision was confirmed, it is as if God has carved this time out in my life and has invited me into a deeper relationship through the gift of this space. For the first time I am entering into Lent with a renewed excitement and sense of mission.

Closing the chapter on Neumann has been more emotional than I originally expected, but today I was gifted with words from a dear "Soul Sister" of mine. She wrote, "Your mission here was far beyond your comprehension . . . " her words of affirmation of God's work through me brought me to a moment of deep spiritual ecstasy where I realized that God is giving me everything I ever desired, just not in the package I had imagined. My Lent has begun with resurrection, crazy but true, the hope of this resurrection leads me deeper into the sands of the unknown, where I will undoubtedly be planning the next party!

Monday, March 7, 2011

God is in My Funk

I traveled to India this past summer to visit a friend working with the Salesian community in Tumkur, a small village in the southern part of the country. Whenever there was a lull in conversation or there was a decision to be made I would frequently hear the phrase, "what to do?" Accompanied with a shrug of the shoulders. Not what do you "want" to do . . . or what "should" we do . . . no, it lacked these specifics, instead we were left with "what to do" as if there was only one answer--the thing that was meant to be next. The problem was we rarely knew what that was.

Friday I came home pumped to go out, to do something, filled with energy I was ready to dance the night away. Unfortunately I had no where to go, no one to go with me, and no way of releasing the built up energy. I recently learned how to bleed a radiator, I wish I had a key to bleed the pent up energy inside of my body! What to do?

I can't explain why Friday night has stuck with me, but today I found myself in a funk--a bad/sad mood brought on by something I don't totally understand. Yes, a funk. The word itself sounds like I feel--funk. Maybe it's a sense of loneliness. Even though I have very caring and loving people surrounding me in life these days, there is still occasionally a sense of not getting everything I need--or maybe in all honesty it's a "want." But either way, there is something that I felt the absence of Friday night that has been the root of this funk.

I just wanted to dance. Instead of wallowing in my own self pity I shut my door, I turned my music up, and danced around my room singing into my hairspray makeshift microphone. Yeah, it wasn't what I wanted to do, but it released some of my energy and gave me a small sense of relief. Maybe the phrase "what to do" teaches me something deeper, I didn't get what I "wanted" I don't know if it was a "should" but I do know it was what had to be done.

No, the funk is not over. I have hopes for tomorrow, as Scarlet O'Hara proclaims, it is another day! But even in whatever this icky feeling is in the pit of stomach that caused the tears that I earlier shed, God is speaking to me--or maybe that's my way of giving purpose to it--either way (of God or of self) bringing meaning to my life, even these more difficult moments, helps me to get through. My prayer tonight is that God is in my funk.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Art of the Budget: One Homemade Product at a Time

When I turned sixteen and finally got my license my father gave me a twenty dollar bill. My eyes lit up, my heart jumped and my mind started racing as I thought of what I could spend this congratulatory money on. These feelings were quickly squelched when my father said, "this is your emergency money, you keep it in your glove box in case you are ever in a situation where you need cash and don't have any on you." WHAT?! The new pair of shoes I had already bought in my head disappeared into reality.

It was about a month later when my dad asked to see the twenty dollar bill he had explicitly deemed "emergency money." Realizing the money was no longer green and in my glove box but pink and hanging in my closet I frantically fumbled for words. All I could say was, "daddy, sometimes a really cute sweater and a really amazing sale IS an emergency!"

Budgeting--it definitely didn't come naturally to me! It still doesn't come naturally. Sometimes really great sales are STILL emergencies in my mind! Celibacy? That will be cake compared to giving up my plastic!

About a month ago I sat with two sisters as they discussed the amazing sales happening at a local RiteAid store that was closing. The one sister turned to me to share that this was the type of thing I had to start to learn to look out for and take advantage of! Yes, in deed I need to start gaining this skill set in my life!

I must share, albeit a boastful manner, that I have come a long way in these past few months! As a candidate I am financially responsible for myself and so not yet required to live on the budget given to sisters. In the fall I began paying attention to what I was spending, without making any conscious effort to change my shopaholic ways--this was to have a baseline, what was I spending on personal products? In January and February I was actively attempting to live off of the budget I will be accepting as I continue on this path. And much to my surprise I am doing fairly well.

Googling "home recipes" for products has become my new best friend. Typically eye make-up remover (for the mascara of course) is not cheap. This was the first thing for which I attempted to find an alternative. I FOUND ONE! Girls, did you know that olive oil removes even that hard waterproof mascara!!! Honest! Put a dab on your fingers and rub it in--not only does it come right off, but it moisturizes AND conditions your lashes!!! My lashes have never looked so healthy!

They say "necessity is the mother of invention." Praise Jesus for the Internet and the inventor of Google! Budgeting, it really is an art, maybe someday I will be a true artist! For now I'm just taking it one homemade product at a time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Questioning Brings Us Answers

Sometimes I wonder if we are crazy, we talk about these things we believe but they seem so out there beyond our understanding how could they possibly be real? Sometimes I seriously ponder these things, and I'm left baffled. Sometimes it's simply easier to believe it because someone said so than it is to take the time to discern it myself, because in spending too much time mulling it over in my own head I start to question more than believe.

An Oblate of Saint Francis DeSales once asked me if I had questions about my faith. I quickly said I had none, I believed everything and lived my life according to that faith. He shook his head and said, "when we stop questioning, we stop truly believing." There is great wisdom in his words--great wisdom I didn't fully grasp sitting there with him at 18 years old.

Questioning is definitely not the easy path, but in the end I have come to an understanding that it is (as we will hear in this coming Sunday's Gospel) the more solid rock on which we should build our foundation. After wrestling with God, Jacob was henceforth called Israel, which means, "He who struggled with God and prevailed." Faith isn't a business of non-questioning, it's all about questioning!

I share this all to bring you to a pretty amazing story that has unfolded in the past few months of my life. For those who have been reading regularly, you may recall a posting in December entitled, "Sisters of Old, Sisters of the West" in which I spoke about an experience with Sr. Francisetta Linus. I never knew her, in fact she died the year I was born, but one day praying in the cemetery I decided to pray intentionally with one of the sisters (believing that she is a member of the Communion of Saints).

What I am about to share is a solid foundation on which my questioning is supported. The Communion of Saints can be one of those things I spoke of earlier. It can be a concept that is hard to wrap your head around. But my connection with Sr. Francisetta has opened me up to the reality of the Communion of Saints through lived experience.

Shortly after writing about this prayerful experience Sr. Marijane approached me and in one sentence sent holy goosebumps all over my body. She told me that not only had she lived with Sr. Francisetta, but that Sr. Patty had been with her when she died. I have shared many intimate conversations surrounding my discernment with Marijane and Patty together over monthly meals and faith sharing all of which lead up to my finally being able to say "yes." For Sr. Francisetta to be connected to both of them, my "first community," is truly amazing!

Going back to that cold day in early winter, sitting at her grave stone asking for her support and prayers, I know that she spoke to me. It was not I who chose her, but "Nellie" (as I have come to know Francisetta was called) who invited me into her life. And that is only possible because of the Communion of Saints!

Questioning is good because questioning brings us to answers. And this answer I have found continues to affirm my "yes." Thank you Nellie.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Modifying the Habit

Last August, the night before final vows, I sat on the fifth floor with Simona and Kathy and a handful of other Sisters. We had been leafing through one of the "Celebrating the Journey" books reading about the congregation's history. A sister, who's name is eluding me, began sharing some stories with us. Some of the details are escaping me, but somewhere in the evening pictures were brought out and shared. As one picture of the "modified habit" was passed around this particular sister exclaimed, "this was the beginning of what I like to call the slow strip-tease." For those unfamiliar with what she is referring to, there was a time when the habit began to change, hems were raised, hems were lowered, veils were altered, etc, etc, etc. and slowly pieces of the habit began to be removed.

Today there is no official habit for the sisters. I can appreciate the history of the habit and I can understand why leaving the habit behind was hard for many sisters, and I can even understand why some sisters choose to remain in the habit. I can appreciate that for those women who had been wearing it for countless years, the habit had become intertwined with their identity. Much like, dare I say, mascara has become intertwined with mine? No matter what those things are, we all have them, things that become a part of us. And for that I can recognize the importance of the habit.

For me though, 28 in the 21st Century? That habit would have to be pretty darn modified for me to be found desiring to wear it! Today however, I came a little bit closer to the modified habit I would consider jumping into as I dress in the morning!

I spent the afternoon at Assisi House with Neumann students who regularly visit with the sisters. Today we were celebrating February birthdays. An "entertainer" who was quite entertaining, but probably for different reasons than intended, was singing and dancing, I guess you could call it that anyway. In between songs she gave out silk flowers to the sisters. I was sitting next to Sr. Helen Veronica, who is totally growing on my heart! I quickly grabbed the flower from her hand and inserted it in the side of her veil so that the beautiful purple flower graced the side of her face. GORGEOUS! If only we had a camera!

I'm now thinking of additions I could continue to make, maybe I could bust out my old beddazzler and add rhinestones! Okay, maybe that's going a little far, and might make Francis turn over in his grave . . . but it has potential right?

Rhinestones or not, Sr. Helen Veronica looked beautiful! I look forward to spending another afternoon with her to joke, and laugh, and enjoy each others company--in fact I may want to make a habit of it!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Discernment by Candlelight: The Luxury of Light

Anyone on the road in southeastern Pennsylvania yesterday knows that driving was a battle of strength, who had more of it, the wind or you? Winding my way through a hilly backroad on my way to visit Sisters Marijane and Patty I not only faced the wind but also what it left behind in its path--a fallen tree that had ripped down power lines in its downward plunge to the ground. The power lines were still active as I rounded the corner, cones and flares lined the street indicating there was no getting around it. I back tracked down the windy road and around the neighborhood to finally arrive at their house, only to find that the particular power line I encountered was causing problems for Marijane and Patty too. No power!

With the exception of the plummeting temperature, there is something very profound about losing electricity. If nothing else it reminds us of how blessed we are to have the luxury of light! We spent the afternoon catching up and sharing stories, the thing about no power, is that during the day you tend to forget that you don't have it. The sun is shining, filtering through the windows, there is really no NEED to have the lights on. But as we sat through the 5 pm, candlelit, Mass with the sun slowly setting behind the hills the lack of electricity became more and more evident.

Hope came with the commencement of communion, as the first few pews of people were receiving the lights came on. That in itself was a pretty amazing image to reflect upon, Jesus-the light of the world-bringing not only metaphorical light but physical light to our lives! We assumed that this meant there was power back at the house, we assumed wrong. And so we ate our pizza by candle and fire light.

No lights, no television to entertain, no radio to listen to, no power. The reality is though, that the only difference between this visit and the many visits I've shared with them before is that the lights were out. When we are together we entertain each other, we truly share our lives with one another, there is no need for outside sources. It was kind of exciting to be sitting there by the fire, wrapped in blankets, and just keeping each other company!

Around 8 pm we were one of the remaining 371 houses without electricity, but PECO insured us they were working as "quickly and safely" as possible to restore it. Finally around 9 pm the power was back, the furnace kicked on, and things went back to normal, with the exception that Patty had to stay up to babysit the roaring fire we had just added a second large log to ten minutes prior to the electricity being restored.

Driving home last night I spent time, with the radio off, thinking about my time with Patty and Marijane. The reality is I don't need electricity to have "light" in my life. Sisters like these two women, and many of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia, bring light into my life everyday. The true "luxury of light" is not the power that heats our homes, it's the fire of love that ignites our souls and the friends who keep it going!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"The Best Kept Secret"

Have you ever worked on a jigsaw puzzle in which you were surprised to find two pieces, that did not appear to be a match, end up to be a perfect match?

Moving into this community, and not just my sisters here at Corpus Christi, but the whole community, I often found myself thinking of that Sesame Street song, "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong, can you tell which thing is not like the others by the time I finish my song?" But somewhere in the midst of these past six months those obvious differences have blurred, making it more and more difficult to distinguish "the thing not like the others."

Of course there are outwardly distinguishable things, age, style of dress, inability to keep a tidy room . . . but those things that matter? The things that truly make up the fiber of our beings? Those things have blended together and have become indistinguishable differences. We are unique women bound together by the common thread of faith and spirituality. I do not get nervous over many things, but I must admit when moving to Corpus Christi Convent I experienced more than my share of nervousness. I would imagine the sisters here were just as, if not more, nervous about my coming as well. There were so many outward differences, how would we ever live the day to day?

The reality is, there is no formula of how to logistically do it, it is something one must live into and experience. The reality is, it is in the day to day that we continually grow and over time we become more solidly, one, unified community. The reality is, with out just doing it one will never know!

In the beginning I often wondered what others thought when I was out with my sisters, but now I simply don't care. The truth is, anyone who took the time to understand what we have found together would realize that it is one of the greatest gifts life has to offer. A couple weeks ago Sr. Mary Craig and I were out to dinner, in sharing my happiness and excitement over taking the next step she shared that religious life, to her, feels like the "best kept secret." I agree! But you can only find it by jumping in and trying it on--Like a dress that looks hideous on the rack but gorgeous on!

Throughout these past few months I have been inviting myself to different communities to get to know more sisters--yes, that's right, in some worlds self-invites seem a little rude and tacky, but they've been working for me! Last week I had an opportunity to share a meal with a fabulous group in Wilmington, Sisters Vicky, Assunta, Bernadette, Bridget, and Anne. We had such a great time together. At the end of the evening I shared with them that the more opportunities I have to be around groups of sisters the more I realize this is it! This is where I want to spend the rest of my life, in a community of women who genuinely love and support each other and who know how to have fun!

Yes, the best kept secret! I'm so glad I found it!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Seven Simple Words

"Change is inevitable, growth is a choice." Any sister who has participated in the End of the Year Retreat heard Sr. Clare Agnes Conforti, share this bit of wisdom. Seven simple words filled with such profound meaning. Of the many "stories" shared on the DVD her story of the merger between the former Franciscan Sisters of Ringwood and the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia spoke most deeply to my heart of the very likely reality of my future as a Sister.

While none of us can be certain of what the future holds I would venture to say that in all likelihood the word "merger" will be a part of whatever future I grow into within this community. As Sr. Clare Agnes spoke I could hear the pain in her voice as she shared her own journey and continued discernment within her vocational call to religious life. And yet, side by side with that pain sat the peace and acceptance of which I sit here tonight reaping the hopeful benefits. The small glimpse of her soul that I experienced filled me with a hope and assurance that whatever life brings God will be persistent in harvesting the goodness.

I recently had a conversation with Sr. Maggie Lopez, who also shared a piece of her story with me through which she also gave me a deeper perspective on the merger. After an area chapter meeting I initiated a conversation with her to ask about a comment that she shared in our discussion. Asked to share our thoughts on the initial call and discernment Sr. Maggie touched on the fact that her "initial" discernment to become a Sister led her to the Franciscan Sisters of Ringwood.
The discernment to join the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia came many years later prior to the 2003 merger. This struck something deep inside of me. This, as I've mentioned, is a possible reality of my life, and one for which I must admit I have a little fear over. I've reflected many times on this journey of the potential changes that come with so few women entering religious life these days. And I have always found myself settling into a place of fear when it comes to mind. But Sr. Maggie's reflections brought me out of that darkness to realize that while she did not initially discern entering with the Sisters of Saint Francis os Philadelphia she was called to continued discernment when conversations of a merger began to surface.

As Sr. Maggie and I continued our conversation she went on to share that we are all continuously called to discernment. It's not something we do and are done with; we never put it on the shelf to be ignored for good. This brings me hope! The former Ringwood Sisters' commitment to continue to live out their vocational call to religious sisterhood in ways they could not have possibly anticipated when they made their first vows inspires me! And I thank each of you tonight for continuing to say "yes" because in your "yes" I find the strength to say it myself!

It's not just about a merger. Carpooling with Sr. Janet one morning I shared these thoughts. She expressed the truth that none of the sisters are in the community with whom they initially discerned. While the name has stayed the same the reality of life has transformed. Those who spent years in the habit now walk around in contemporary styles, Mass has gone from a spectator sport to a truly participatory experience, many sisters lived together, now most are in twos, threes, or fours.

No, we do not live in a stagnate Church nor a stagnate community. It will be continuously changing--but as Sr. Clare Agnes expressed, we hold the power to choose growth!

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Octave

Holidays are wonderful, they offer us time to gather with family and friends, to share in good food and good wine, to relax, and simply enjoy the company of others. To me there is no difference between a holiday and a birthday, both celebrate something significant and offer us opportunities to outwardly recognize it! I love my birthday, in fact I love all birthdays!

What is special about birthdays is that they offer us the chance to celebrate the individual as a unique and wonderful creation of God. It gives us an excuse to come together as a community, and to enjoy all those things we tend to wait for the holidays to enjoy.

Last Friday, February 4th, I turned 28. This is no big birthday like my sweet sixteen, or 21, or even 25 which seemed worth commemorating in some outward and communal way. I would argue, however, that 28 is just as worthy of a celebration as 16, 21, and even 25. Every year should be celebrated! A good friend in college once reflected upon my overly enthusiastic love of my birthday saying, "Sara, you are going to be the only old lady in the nursing home running around on her birthday proclaiming, 'I'm 90, I'm 90!'" This is true!

Every year we grow older is another year that God has gifted us, a year we have grown, a year we have offered a little something more to the world, and a year for which I believe is worthy of celebration! In fact, I believe this so deeply that I celebrate my birthday as an Octave! Seriously! I think my community thought I was kidding too, they are learning otherwise! Just wait until THEIR birthdays!!! They too will be Octave celebrations!

In all seriousness, I do truly believe people should celebrate their life and the life of those who are special to them! Therefore, birthdays are not just a time to say "celebrate me" but they are a time to say "celebrate life--mine, yours, and ours!" Birthdays are a time to thank those people who have made you who you are--your parents for raising you, your siblings for putting up with you, your friends for standing by you . . .

I celebrated my own gift of being birthed into this crazy world with a gathering of sisters Friday night all of whom have played important roles in my life and my discernment. It was wonderful to celebrate life with women who I admire and love, and feel loved by.
Yes, it's been a good birthday! In fact I've discovered two sisters who, although I do not yet know in person, I believe are among my kindred spirits, Sisters Marietta and Eleanor who surprised me with a beautiful birthday call--which included a marvelous rendition of Happy Birthday! They had read my comments in Community News about loving birthdays and made it a point to call me to assure me that I was heard. How beautiful!

I feel so blessed to be on this journey with so many wonderful women, from those who shared my day with me, those who went out of their way to celebrate the night before, and those who from a distance called to simply say Happy day! I look forward to many amazing years to come! 27 was pretty fantastic, 28 is looking even better!