Monday, December 23, 2013

Adventing Christ

Part of the blessing of being in Chicago is the opportunity to be with wonderful sisters from throughout the country. Every few weeks a different presenter joins us for a specific topic, be it charism, congregational history, Ignatian spirituality, or any number of other things.  These classes are more like workshops than formal presentations; they encourage reflection and bring one's life to bear on the subject matter. 

In early December, we were blessed to be led by Kathy Sherman, CSJ and Pat Bergen, CSJ through a day of reflection on Advent and new cosmology.  The result was a day filled with song and sharing.  As I reflected through the day on the topic of Adventing Christ- transformation in my own life and a deep experience of silence/ stillness rose within me. The result is the poem that follows. May it speak to the work of Advent in each of us- the anticipation within and the becoming that is constantly drawing us forth to a world filled with Emmanuel. 

Peace and Advent blessings to you all.

In the the becoming is everything.

They took the Light and hung it upon a tree.
In the becoming, in the becoming is everything

As I waited in the stillness
of that house it began
through the slats of the wooden walls
and rising through the floor boards
transformation oozed forth.

It was not quick
it gave moment for pause
for panic if you so desired.
You could see it coming
You could choose to stop it.

Instead I feel my hands reach
I run my fingers through it
It sticks.
The tacky touch of what transforms.
What binds us together.

It surrounds the building I am in
it must
to enter as it does

Did I build this hideaway
or was it built for me?
No matter,
It is here that transformation seeps in.

It is sticky like glue
It coats me and
makes me take notice

In the becoming is everything.
    Christ is in who and how I am becoming
He binds me up; we run together
    His being and mine.

That cold chapel in Plainsboro.
Its choir stalls and pitched ceiling.
My belly on the hard stone floor
I look up.

I can not remember what I saw
but I remember how I felt.
The Stillness
The silence
The union.

We muttered aloud
that we wished we could stay there

My soul seized.
Caught by the very act of being.
This One I knew, I knew knew me
and in that knowing new love.
Ever ancient, ever new

Perhaps it's in that moment
I knew I'd never be the same

That I knew that I'd never leave that place
Even though my feet traveled down
the long empty hallways
I was filled.

With something unknown
and yet known
Trusting the mystery
Knowing I was sticking to it, but never stuck.

Transformation doesn't allow for stuck.
It is motion
in the becoming.
It infiltrates, pervades
and before caution can rise
you find yourself captured-coated-changed.

You have become.
You are becoming.
And that, that is everything.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wanderings Beyond the Blog

I am happy to report that I am back in Philadelphia for a little Christmas break after my first four months at the Federation Novitiate Program of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Chicago.  The next few weeks will be filled with time to catch up with friends, family, and community before I journey back to the Windy City. In the meantime, I hope that I'll be able to post some pieces that have been ruminating in me over the last few months, but for now I wanted to clue you all into two pieces that I've written in other places:

1) The Beauty of the Human Spirit at LiveQuestions...  LQ is a project of a few friends of mine here in Philadelphia (and beyond) that looks at key questions around the topics of vocation, community, solidarity, and beauty. It's a wonderful project and I'm excited to be able to offer what I can to it.  This post features my own photographs and reflections from my time in the Philippines and what the Filipino people taught me over five years ago as a college student doing service/immersion work and continue to teach me now in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.  The human spirit is a beautiful thing and it is my hope that this musing speaks to a beauty inherent in each of us and our humanity.

2) 'A Faith that Could Be Our Own' for Commonweal Magazine... This is my response to Commonweal's series on raising kids Catholic- the how and why (or why not) of passing on the faith to the next generation.  The truth is I speak from my own experience and upbringing; passing on the faith is a process steeped more in mystery and grace than standard practice and easy answers- the best we can do, not only parents but all people of faith, is live a life that reeks of faith- real, live faith, not beyond questions or doubts, but full of life and the challenge of living one's beliefs and truth authentically.

OK all, that's it for now and for my random wanderings... happy reading & blessed Advent!

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Lesson of We

I never wanted to be a teacher. In fact, when I came to the sisters, I pretty explicitly stated that being in a formal classroom wasn't where I thought I was meant to be. It wasn't my desire to be a classroom teacher; I know that that is neither my skill nor my gift.  Don't get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for teachers; I just know that I am not meant to be one... or at least that's what I thought.

Traditionally (we're talking over the last 165 years), Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia have been teachers.  If you entered the order in the 1960s, you were going to be a teacher. Maybe you would move on to being an administrator, but nevertheless every sister began in the same place: the classroom.

Whether you wanted to or not, this is where you were headed. It was just what we did. And we were (and still are) good at it. Yet, the last 50 years have marked a transformation in the ministries that we do. Sisters today minister in ways unimaginable just a few generations ago.  We are lawyers, doctors, nurses, professors, consultants, social workers, pastoral ministers, artists, and social justice advocates (just to name a few ministries in which our sisters take part.)

So, when I began seriously discerning religious life a few years ago, I felt free enough to speak my truth about not wanting to be a teacher.

Unlike dear friends of mine, I hadn't ever really considered teaching. They yearned to be teachers, I did not. I yearned to make a difference in the world, to serve those most in need and to reveal the truth and beauty of our loving God to those I ministered to and with.  I loved story- telling stories, sharing stories, and being present to others' stories. (And, I still do.)

Thus, it came as a surprise to me when last year, during my first year of novitiate, I was asked to go into the classroom.

The discernment was mutual. I knew that novitiate is about stretching (and the ensuing growth) and what better way to do that than to be put in an unfamiliar place and situation?  The thought of teaching was both frightening and exciting to me; it was also, for the most part, unknown.

Meanwhile, my director believed that being in the classroom would give me a chance to understand our history as a congregation.  Teaching is a part of who we are and so, to better understand this group that I am in the process of joining, why not experience a core (though not explicit (and now not expected))  element of our being by entering into the classroom? Thus, the decision was made.

Last year, this meant working with "Junior Level" (Grades 1-3) Montessori students, teaching our congregational history to fourth graders, and assisting in a high school theology classroom.  In all of these adventures, I was mentored and guided by our sisters and those imbued with the SSJ charism at our sponsored works.  The experience was challenging and enlightening. I learned a lot. And, by the time I was done, I breathed a sigh of relief- grateful for all that had been shared with me and relieved that I had made it through the experience.

After finishing that experience, I looked forward to my time in Chicago. It seemed like a time where I could continue the growth from my first year of novitiate and where I could again branch out in ministry.  Right and wrong.  Growth is certainly taking place-there is no doubt about that- yet, after discerning the many options available for ministry here, I again find myself in the place I thought I'd escaped: the classroom.

Now, I join the company of twenty-four little balls of love (ages 3-5) in a Montessori classroom at the Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center on the North Side of Chicago one day a week.  These students have taught me many things since I first arrived a few months ago. Hopefully, I will get a chance to share some of those lessons as time goes on, but for now, -without further ado- I share the story of one little boy and a lesson learned... the lesson of "We".

This lesson cryptic as it might sound literally came in the form of a puzzle.

One morning after the typical game of "ask Miss Colleen one hundred questions" and after helping individual children with reading I found myself with Patrick* working on a multi-layered puzzle.

 These puzzles serve dual purposes in a Montessori classroom, they help children practice spacial relations like a traditional puzzle, while also revealing the steps of a process as each layer is completed. Each consecutive layer has more pieces than the last and explains the next step in the process (see: egg-chick-little chicked- big chicken).

So, when I joined Patrick he had already completed the first four-piece level that showed a bunch of sunflower seeds in soil. We then moved on to six pieces showing sprouting seeds and so on and so forth until we reached the twelve pieces that showed fully grown sunflowers. Getting to that point took some time though.

You see, Patrick is one of the slower learners in the class. At age 5, the oldest age group in the room, puzzles are not his forte and in general, he is often doing something other than the work prescribed for a specific learning material. (see: shooting marbles meant for counting across the room)

Sitting down on the floor with Patrick, I soon recognized the challenge ahead. For him, the challenge would be the puzzle itself; for me, the challenge would be being patient enough to allow him to learn at his own pace. This is part of Montessori- allowing children to problem solve on their own and give minimal guidance in the process.  Thus, I needed to stop my hands from "doing" and give hints and nudges along the way instead.  This was hard for me to do. I could see what needed to be done; I've learned to match sides and colors- the basics of puzzle assembly- but this wasn't about me.

Patrick had none of these skills. I would suggest looking for a specific color or shape of piece, but to no avail. I watched as correct pieces were spun and handled, pressed and mangled without ever finding their proper resting place.  The pieces wouldn't come together in his mind or on the board.

After limping through layers two and three of the puzzle, we arrived at the twelve-piece sunflower in full bloom.  By this time, Patrick could see the pedals and tried to get that portion of the picture together.  With time and effort, we assembled the puzzle outside of the frame of the already assembled puzzle and so, all we needed to do was transfer it.  No problem, right?

Think again.

Despite having the whole picture together, Patrick couldn't do the transfer. One piece would go into place then the next piece would be spun about- rotating ninety degrees or coming to a resting place other than where it should be.

Try as I may, I couldn't get Patrick to get the concept. In watching the process and being unable to guide, I felt helpless. All I wanted to do was teach Patrick but there was only so much I could do. After all, to do more would be to do it for injustice to him and to this style of learning/teaching.

Eventually, we got the pieces into place, completing the puzzle.  Upon completion, (about forty-five minutes later) Patrick was less triumphant than relieved to have the puzzle over with. I then watched him do a number of layer puzzles that were divided by size not by pieces, similar to Russian dolls. He had done these puzzles before and whipped through them. Every now and then, he would turn a piece the wrong way and struggle for a moment, making the proper correction after ample pressing to try to force the piece.

After two or three of these puzzles, I got it... he was showing me he could do it. He could do puzzles fast and he could do these familiar puzzles well. I gave the requisite "oh's" and "ah's", hoping it would continue to encourage him to keep trying the harder puzzles. As he went to grab another familiar puzzle, I suggested maybe doing the sunflower puzzle again- that suggestion was clearly rejected.  Instead, I tried suggesting regular wood block puzzles, designed for smaller children, thinking it might give him the chance to practice his matching and puzzle-solving skills. Rejection again, at which point Patrick rolled up his work rug and went to have snack.

Really, we'd both had enough.  I sighed a breath of mixed relief, impatience, disappointment, and frustration. What more could I do?

About a half hour later, as I worked with another child, I watched as Patrick made his way over to the regular wood block puzzles I'd suggested earlier.  He brought with him one of the youngest children in the class.  Watching the two of them, I had to smile. I was happy to see Patrick practicing something that wasn't his strong suit, striving to learn and grow.  As I looked closer though, I realized that he was not only practicing the puzzle skills we had worked on, he was also guiding the younger child in completing the puzzle.  He watched as the child struggled here and there and gave little hints and nudges. Suddenly I realized Patrick had learned more than a puzzle lesson, he'd learned the lesson of we.

We had done the multi-layer puzzle together. We had practiced patience with what we were both learning to do. We faced the challenge of each new piece together. And neither one of us was going to leave until all the layers of that puzzle were complete. We were in this together.

That was the true lesson of the day: We are in this together.  It is the way we're called to live- for and with one another.

We believe together, too.  We believe in each other and so give value; we show love in patience and compassion towards one another and so we come to believe in the love we profess and practice.  We are in this together and so, we can believe in the goodness of God offered to us in the love of others. And only then can we understand that our God is We with us and for us, calling us to community and to love... and ultimately, helping us to put the puzzle that is our lives together one piece at a time.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Longing to Belong

Five years.

My heart seemed to stop when I considered the reality of the thought that had just crossed my mind. 

Five years. That’s how long it has been since I completed the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  I almost couldn’t believe it when the thought occurred to me. Here I was sitting in the midst of a workshop on Ignatian Spirituality- our discussion having already covered the life of Ignatius, the basics of Ignatian Spirituality, and the first three weeks of the Exercises- and then there was the simple eye-opening question: What was your experience of the fourth week?

I paused for a moment. Thinking back, I returned myself to the space in Egan Chapel at Fairfield University where I spent the majority of my time in prayer as I underwent the Exercises.  I could feel the soft flicker of candlelight, the crunched position I sat in each night, and the mysterious transformation that took place as I entered deeper and deeper into prayer over the course of the four movements of the Exercises.  It wasn’t that this was the first time that I had recalled my experience; I had been sharing my experience of the 19th Annotation all along during our time with the Sister of Saint Joseph who was presenting to our Novitiate community. It was more that this was the first time that I had considered that this experience, which is so readily available within me, was more than five years old. The images and experiences of union with the Divine from the 19th Annotation still course through my veins, returning to me with freshness and a depth of feeling un-faded as I consider/remember them. And so, it came as a bit of a shock when I realized how long it had been since those images, relationships, and experiences had actually entered my mind, heart, and soul.

In a way, it feels like they have always been there. (And trusting in my call to be a Sister of Saint Joseph, I guess you could say that they always have.) But in another way, it feels as if each time I recall them, they are freshly pressed, waiting right below the surface of my being to be discovered anew just like the first time I prayed them.  This is the mystery and the blessing that the Exercises and, in a grander sense, Ignatian Spirituality has been for me.  Despite four years of Jesuit education, countless service immersion trips, books upon books, Ignatian-based young adult groups, and formation within our Ignatian charism, learning about Ignatian spirituality still sparks something deep within me.  Truly, it is who I am; it calls me to deeper relationship with my God and the world and it is part and parcel to why I am a Sister of Saint Joseph.

As I sat (and continue to sit) with all that our presenter shared with us during her two day presentation, I can sense the truth of this deep connection within myself and within the charism and life we live as Sisters of Saint Joseph. Yet, as I reflect upon the wealth of input that we received, what strikes me beyond all else is a line our speaker spoke following our opening morning prayer (focused on surrender), before her presentation had really even begun.  Sitting together, considering all that we were being called to be open to in our time together, she simply said of surrender, “This is what we are called to. It is what brought me to the sisters… it has been a part of me since a very early age… In essence, it is what I have pursued my whole life- longing to belong to Christ.”

I could write pages about all that was shared with us during the two day workshop or about the role Ignatian spirituality plays in our lives as Sisters of Saint Joseph, but as I consider all of these things, it is the longing to belong to Christ that makes me pause once again. This is what Ignatius lived, shared, and sought to guide others in. It is what Jean PierreMedaille, SJ, in the spirit of Ignatius, enshrined in our foundation. And so, ultimately, it is the aim and goal of our lives: to live with such longing and to seek such union.

Commitment to living and loving in such a way, though, is not without a heavy cost. It requires a wholehearted response to and engagement in the Gospel.  This means subscribing to utter detachment and with it, complete freedom. By love we are called and in love we respond. Only from a space such as this can we allow God to do what God does- the profound work of transformation both internally and externally.

Longing for Christ, we seek the interior freedom that will allow us to habitually choose what will allow the deepest love of God to flourish within us. As we make this choice and relinquish our control to the One we most love and desire, we gain a perspective that draws us ever more deeply into the vision and life of Christ.  Here, we better come to know ourselves and, in authentic humility, can revel not only in who we are and who God created us to be, but also in to whom we belong.

For this belonging, we give thanks. It grounds us and the work that we do and yet, it continually calls us to more.  As we belong more genuinely to Christ, we plunge into an intimacy, the depth of which we know not.  Within this intimate relationship with God is deep awareness, gratitude, and integration of our desires. And, at the core of such desires lies our longing to belong to Christ.   Thus, we come to understand that belonging and longing counterbalance one another.  As we freely let our desires for God run free, we face the risky and rewarding prospect of what our desires can bear- fear, discernment, opportunity for growth, and a multitude of spiritual gifts.  Allowing our most authentic desire (to belong to Christ) to take hold of us, we are able to cut to the heart of the matter, surpassing superficial desires and plunging into the depth of our soul… to the very heart of God.

It is there/here that I long to belong.  The question of the fourth week that suddenly made me consider where the past five years had gone also calls me to consider where I have be led in the last five years. The fourth week is all about union- uniting our desires with God’s, sharing peace and joy, and discovering grace as it comes in an unexpected manner.  It is the week we live into.  Moving beyond it, you do not forget the weeks/movements that have been; instead you actively choose to fall deeper into love with God. That is our call as Sisters of Saint Joseph (and as Christians)- to belong, to believe, and to be beloved. It is undeniably true, even when the prospect of such a call stops us in our tracks. This is what we are called to. It is what brought me to the sisters… it has been a part of me since an early age… In essence, it is what I have pursued my whole life- longing to belong to Christ. And as I reflect from where I am today, that call certainly rings true. I long to belong, to be free, and to be love(d). Hearing that call makes me pause, not out of fear, but rather, in gratitude… for all that has been, all that is, and all that will surely be. God is present in all of this, drawing me deeper, to depths unknown.  Here, I pause again and remember the words I (and many Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia) pray daily:

We are called
as Sisters of Saint Joseph
to surrender,
to stand open and powerless before you,
completely dependent upon Jesus,
whose spirit liberates us
to a radical sense of mission,
through the rhythm
of contemplation and courageous action,
to be a healing presence
in any and all situations,
and to this we say,

(The Federation Prayer i.e. “the Father Prayer”, a statement developed by the U.S. Federation and adopted by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia at the General Chapter of 1974.This prayer is traditionally prayed daily by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia.)

And to this, I say Amen.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

All that Settles is I Love You.

A Poem in the midst of Novitiate

I love you.
The words echo.
Not because the space is empty
because it is ready to be filled.

Among all else that could be said
the words repeat
as they have my entire life.

My life
it is my hope
has responded
crying out love in so many ways

From the depths
the deep
the depression

Love comes forth
New day, new time
New space, new place
carved out

I love you.
Over and over
before my ears could hear
my lips knew not how to speak,
still Love.

To hear those words volleyed
from another's mouth,
the soul.
How do you return that serve?

Let it ricochet
in a space opened
to the sound of love.
The echo rings louder then,
beyond the bounds
that Love knows not.

Darting and dashing
it steals home.
You stole home
when I wasn't looking.

So now my heart rests
in You alone.
every other love an echo of the first.

My first.
My last.
My everything.

Never full but filling;
Captivatingly Closed;
Endlessly Open;

a terminal for the world.

a platform solid in arrival
and departure,
beginning and end.

a respite
where echo stirs
and all that settles is
I love you.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Year's Time

Ultimately... consecration is God's doing. 

I surrender, God blesses.
I admit that letting go is hard, God blesses.
I take longer than I want to ease into it or let go or realize that the moment is here, God still blesses. 
And as God consecrates this time, it becomes something that I can't explain, something that I need to live and love- a blessing and a mystery that I cannot control but can simply ease into... recognizing the moment, no matter the time or place, praising God and letting it all be blessed.

from "Consecrating Time", 9/26/12

Let it all be blessed. Those are the words I spoke nearly a year ago as I reflected on what had been my first week in the novitiate.  Today marks my one year anniversary of entrance into the Sisters of Saint Joseph. A year ago, I became "sister"; a year ago, I left everything and started out on this journey of faith. 

Today, a year's time has passed and I can't possibly recount all that has happened in the last 365 days. Rest assured, though, that it all has been blessed. Some moments have been sanctified by tears, others have been christened by laughter, and still others have become embedded deep within me, moments of grace known and not soon forgotten.

Consecration is the work of God, but it is work carried out at our own hands.  God blesses this time but it takes my acknowledgement to see it as blessed. The Divine mingles among the day to day, I need to be aware enough to know what is in my midst.  Sometimes I'm good at this, other times not so much, but God doesn't stop. All is blessed.

If the last year has taught me anything it is this: when you open yourself up to the work of God, there is no telling what will happen, there is no boundary to the ways God will work in your life. A year ago, I opened myself up to the work of the Spirit, I invited God into my life in a new and very intentional way and I have not been disappointed.  Surprised, yes; Disappointed, no.

A year's time has taught me things about myself I never knew. It has given me perspective on what I desire and has taught me what breaks my heart.  This year has allowed me to experience the person and the diety of Jesus Christ in a completely new way.  My love for God has grown ever deeper. The One I called companion and friend is now also lover, creator, sustainer, and so much more.

In the midst of heartbreak, he held me; in the throws of struggle, he brought me peace; in the absurd and the average, he charmed me and enticed my heart.  In this time, I have learned to love God more and in so doing, I've learned to love myself and my dear neighbor all the more too.  I've come to realize that the more deeply and honestly you come to know God, the more deeply and honestly you come to know yourself.  There is no way around that. This is a journey where you must go through.

That journey is on-going and as I look forward to what the next year holds, I hold my breath.  I can't possibly imagine what it will mean for me or what will be revealed.  I trust that the God who has led me thus far will continue to lead me still.  I know that I will be asked to give more in the service of the growth that I am undergoing. Deep down, I know this will not be easy.  God continues the work of blessing, not only, this time but this place and this person (me!) as we continue.  I sense that new space is being carved out within me. That space will be sanctified and, I pray, I can let it be filled with Goodness. 

As with the year that's passed, only time will tell what the future holds. No matter what, though, I know that I am held in that time by the God who is so much more.  I trust. (even though I resist.) I feel. I surrender. I learn. I grow. I am blessed.

I can't ask for much else. The time that has been has been a blessing. A year's time is abundant. 365 days.  8,760 hours. 525, 600 minutes. Yet in it all there is only one focus, one prayer, one Love.  That's what a year's time holds and I have been blessed to be able to hold gently to that- here's to the year to come.

As I continue into this next year of my novitiate, I carry with me the prayer that I began this sacred time with. It holds true for me as much today as the day I first wrote it. I pray it might hold whatever you need it to right now... 

God of my heart, your love has the power to transform. 
Set my heart on fire, let your loving flames consume all that I am and transfigure me from the inside out. 
Quench my thirst for You alone.
Give me the grace to surrender to your work in me, that everything else that occupies me might be taken away and who I am may be set in Christ. 
Ignite your fire deep within me and let it burn in me and through me each new day. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Tears That Bind

The novitiate is about letting go.

In some ways, the letting go is very tangible: I've left my friends and family behind on the East Coast to be here in Chicago; I relinquished access to my bank account when I entered the Novitiate last September; I had to leave my job, and with it the people I had accompanied, to engage in this process.

In other ways, the letting go necessitated by the novitiate is far less evident.  It requires letting go of expectations of what this life might be like, letting go of the need to be "productive", as society might see it, in exchange for prayer and study.  It means letting go of things you didn't even know you were attached to: independence, the need to have a 'plan', the pursuit of falling in love with a single person, and others' opinions of you... and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Yet, we (and by we, I mean novices and essentially "I") lay it all aside so that we might pursue God's call to us, delving deeper and deeper into relationship with the One who calls us, listening attentively and discerning if this life path is truly ours to take.

That discernment is no easy journey.  It is full of bumps and bruises. It requires being open to taking an honest look at yourself (over and over again), and sharing what you find with the God who already knows and will point things - unknown and/or previously avoided- out to you over and over again. All of this is done in Love, no matter if that love comes through in joy, sorrow, or any other emotion imaginable.  It is a journey with God and of God that ultimately culminates in growth.

This week another layer of that growth through letting go was revealed to me.

Part of what I gave up in coming to Chicago was the freedom to travel. I am in canonical time and so I can only be away for 15 days (pretty much Christmas vacation and, heaven forbid, any emergency that might call me back to Philadelphia.) Now you might say, "So what? That's not that big of a letting can't travel- get over it. You're in a new city, with new people, taking part in a wonderful program, there is no need for you to go anywhere, sister!" and you would be right. There is no need. This time is focused and intentional and nothing should get in the way of that. I sincerely believe that and that's what has made the last few days so difficult.

On Tuesday, I received news that my good friend Barbara's father passed away after battling lung cancer for over a year.  Barbara called around noon and so I knew something was wrong; School teachers don't call in the middle of the day just to chat. I was in class and so missed her call, but when we did connect the news wasn't any easier.

My friendship with Barbara is something that's hard to put into words. It is deep, unique, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. We both know that if we met on the street, we probably wouldn't be friends. She is So-Cal through and through and I am an East Coast girl (sarcastic with rough edges et al.) Lucky for us, we didn't meet on the street...we were forced to live together.

Forced may be a strong word for it, but let's just say that in August 2010 we both found ourselves in the same living room in a row home in inner city Philadelphia.  We, along with one other young woman, had left everything behind to give a year of our lives in service as volunteers with the SSJ Mission Corps. Our first night together as a community was awkward to say the least, but as the year went on, Barbara and I developed the type of relationship that can weather life's storms, meet community challenges, and take on anything with a healthy dose of honesty and laughter.

Since those first days in 2010, our friendship has grown. We have helped one another grow as individuals and we have given support and challenge to one another where ever and whenever it is needed.  So, last August when Barbara got word that her father was being given 12 months to live, we mourned together and I watched as my good friend left Philadelphia to go be with her Dad in his final year of life.

Luckily, the ties that bind are not loosed by distance, they are just adapted.  Instead of meeting face to face over coffee, we talked over the phone. We shared stories, shared life, and made sure to continue on this journey together. So, Tuesday when I saw the message on my voicemail at mid-day, 13 months since that shift in our journeys, I knew what had happened.

I knew this day would come. It was and is a sad day... and it has continued throughout the week.

It is a great loss to a great friend, and so, it is a loss to me as well.  In that loss, too, there is a new lesson in letting go for me.  I knew there was no way, save a miracle, that Barbara's Dad wouldn't pass while I was at the Federation Novitiate AND I knew that when that day came, I would not be able to be by my friend's side. Not at the viewing, not at the funeral, not anywhere near her side, instead I will be thousands of miles away in Chicago.

Yet, the ties that bind us together are strong.

As we talked Tuesday night, Barbara filled me in on the details of her father's passing.  We shared. We laughed. There were tears.

Barbara had spent her day crying. "I don't have anything left in me right now" she said into the phone. I expressed my condolences and we shared more. I expressed my deepest desire to be there and to do whatever was needed. "He's gone" she quietly stated with great pain and stunned sorrow.  Silence fell over the line... a moment of recognition of something irreversible.

Suddenly, it washed over me.

"Are you crying?" she asked. Her voice quiet, truly wondering what it was she heard on the other end of the line.

"I am." I confirmed through my tears. I hadn't expected the tears to wash over me, but how could they not. The pain was real.

"Maybe, this is my form of a hug." I sobbingly mused. With thousands of miles between us, this was all I could offer.  I would have given anything in the world to be there, but I couldn't be and so I cried with her then and hold her close these days.  The emotion comes from a deep place- the tears offer what is let go of- a movement of connection. Without words, they came and all that remained when they were gone was love.

That is the love that life is about. It is a love that comes through in joy, sorrow, or every other emotion imaginable. The tears I cry with Barbara are tears that bind; they come when I think of Syria, they rise as I give thanks to God for all that is good in the world, they flow when I pray with and for my sisters here at the novitate and back home in Philadelphia. They unite us in peace, grace, and growth to one another.   And when all is said and done, they are the tears that bind us to God- to a love that will never let us go.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Skipping Days

Tuesday was not a day I was looking forward to.  First off, I knew it would be hard, how could it not be? Secondly, in the midst of transition and the whirlwind of moving, I hadn't realized that Tuesday would be the day.  The day, that is, when I would need to say goodbye to my home novice director.

Somewhere in my mind, I had thought that the time to say goodbye would come on Wednesday. So you can imagine my surprise when Monday I learned that we would indeed be saying our farewells on Tuesday night. Well, you actually might not be able to imagine my surprise and all the emotions that came with it. 

You see, my home director is the woman who has been accompanying me for the last two years. In the olden days, she would have been referred to as the Directress or Mistress of Novices. Today, her title is Formation/ Novice Director. Either option is pretty sterile; one evokes the image of a larger than life figure charged with the task of "making nuns" (I imagine the towering figures who formed groups of nearly a hundred novices at a time), the other image is nondescript- (formation director? bleh. What the heck does that mean?) 

Until two years ago, my director and I didn't even know each other; Over the ensuing time, we have spent countless hours together. She has taught my classes, lived in community with me, been my guide in the congregation, and listened to the state of my heart with deep compassion.  Her charge is simply (ha!) to direct me. That is, to craft my formation as a Sister of Saint Joseph, track my growth, and discern with me the compatibility of this congregation and myself.  For, as I look at the SSJs, they also look at me and it is her job to aid that looking (from both sides). 

Without a doubt, she has earned the title Director. Through ups and downs, she has stood by my side, advocating for my needs and making sure that they were never lost in the shuffle. She is the one I have turned to in the midst of chaos and confusion. When my grandfather lay in a coma this winter, she was the one on the phone offering to bring sandwiches to my family as we sat at his bedside. She is the person, who just months before I began my novitiate, I calmly called to inform that I'd been hit by a car while riding my bicycle. She is the one I, literally, have shared my life with.  Day or night her door is open, her phone is on, and her heart is receptive to whatever might arise.  She has taken everything in stride and I couldn't be more grateful. What she does is not a job, it is a ministry and it is so much more.

So, when I awoke Tuesday morning recognizing that within twelve hours we would be "apart" for the next eight months, all I could do was text her: Can we just skip today?

Because, really, that's all I wanted to do. Skip the day.  Leaving Philadelphia had been hard enough; now I was being asked to say goodbye to the person who'd traveled this road with me. To, in a way, tell her it was alright to leave me in this new city... with these new people... all alone.

The answer, of course, was no. No skipping. She was more clever about it but nonetheless the sentiment was there. This is a transition that will be fruitful. This experience is worth it. You are ready. I will never leave you and, even more than that, God will never ever leave you.

I knew it. God is here. Jesus has led me to this point and there is no way he's going to just leave me empty handed in Chicago. The God I've grown so deeply in love with in Philadelphia stands with open arms to welcome me to this next stage of my formation. Without a doubt, God is the director.

And the words of a Jesuit friend of mine echo in my ears: Transitions suck. God is awesome.

As I embark on this next leg of the journey, I must remember that. God is awesome. You can't control change, you can only manage transition. No matter all that is new in this time- the One who has led me here is constant. In the midst of the whirlwind of emotions and experiences that this first week has been, I know that God's grace and love abound even as I feel a physical absence in my heart of someone who has meant and means so much to me.  The space that is being and has been carved out in me is a place for God to more deeply reside. And as I hold tight in trust to these loving promises from God, I know I can't skip these days. They are important. They are given freely and lovingly without reservation from God. Just as a wonderful stranger turned director turned friend was given to me. And nothing in the world would ever make me want to give that up.

Friday, August 16, 2013

In The Atlantic; Off to Chicago

I leave for Chicago in less than eight hours to begin my time at the Sisters of Saint Joseph Federation Novitiate for the next nine months. And while I haven't updated the blog regularly this summer, I have some updates before I head out to the Midwest.

First off, it has been a wonderful summer. As my last post in June showed, I spent the first part of my summer shadowing various SSJs in the ministry, taking the opportunity to see my sisters in action and to see the many ways that our mission is lived out daily. I was truly blessed by these experiences- from hospital and hospice chaplaincy to drug treatment counseling and development consultation- and even more than the work that I got to see done, I was blessed by being able to witness the women who live out our mission with grace and poise, finding God in all things and embracing the dear neighbor, whoever that might be at a given moment. Here is an excerpt from my reflections on my time out in the field:

The paths that lie ahead of me are many. To be honest, shadowing didn't give me much more clarity about what exactly it is that I’d like to do when my novitiate is done. It has, however, shown me how I want to do whatever I do- with passion, zeal, and faith.  It showed me that being a Sister of Saint Joseph is about trusting in God and letting that relationship dictate everything else. Ultimately, this experience wasn't about finding a ministry, it was about seeing the many ministries our sisters serve in and the way our mission is alive in and through them. We are not strictly teachers and I am not being asked to serve in any way other than that which will use my gifts, help the world, praise God, and continually meet my passions/desires.
In the end, I find myself back where this all started, a little wiser and with eight “new” companions on the journey.  I walk with Helen, Diane, Mary, Kaye, Liz, Maureen, Madeline, and Mary. I share in their story as they share in mine and, ultimately, we are united in what is our story as Sisters of Saint Joseph- an apostolic life marked by docility to the Spirit, humility and zeal, expressed in a spirit of gentleness, joy, and peace… directed to this single end: the union of ourselves and all people with God and with one another, in and through Jesus Christ. 

The summer also gave me the opportunity to go on retreat and to take some vacation time with my family. Both were wonderful and, hopefully, I will soon be posting pictures that capture the beauty of both experiences.

Finally, as I packed my bags today, I got the pleasant surprise of seeing some of my comments on religious life published in The Atlantic. The article can be found here.  The piece focuses on Millenials who are chosing to enter religious life/ the whole idea of why, and more so how, individuals today approach religious life. It is a balanced article, though not the most well written. Still, it has an important point to make- this life isn't something that is in conflict with my generation, but rather it has value and appeal. As I myself said, "I am a millennial, through and through. There's a hunger within people (in this generation) for intentional living and intentional community... that crosses bounds." 

Ultimately, whatever our vocation, we need to share our faith by living it out. That is what I and so many others (both in and outside of religious life) are trying to do.

And so with that I prepare to make the move to Chicago, where I will join three other novices with the Sister of Saint Joseph in a time of intensive prayer and study. I have mixed emotions as I approach this transition.  On the one hand, I'm excited to have a time so focused on developing my relationship with God, time to be away, time to evaluate and discern, time to give myself completely to the One I am growing more and more in love with and who is helping me grow more and more within myself each day.  On the other hand, I face the anxiety of leaving a city that has meant so much to me over the last three years. It is a city full of people and experiences that I will miss dearly and that I will, nonetheless, carry with me as I move to the Midwest for this time.  This move also means transition and the adjustment to living with women I don't know.  While we are all in the same stage of formation together, we are for all intents and purposes strangers and so I am trying to remain open to all they have to offer me as I hope they will  do for me as well.  Yet, all I can do for now is hold them in my prayer as we prepare to share life together.  

As I get ready to make this move, I ask for your prayers too- for our community, for myself, for our directors, and for all that this experience will hold.  With more of a regular schedule, I can (fingers crossed) promise more frequent posts to come as I delve into the second year fo my novitiate.  Many thanks for your prayers and support.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Becoming Sister

Becoming a sister is not a quick process by any stretch of the imagination.  From Candidacy to Novitiate to Temporary Profession to, at last, Final Profession is a process that can take anywhere from 6 to 9 years. I myself have officially been in the process for over 2 years now. (Unofficially, I've been connected to the Sister of St. Joseph for four years.)

When I became a novice in September, I took the next step in this process, entering into two years of intensive prayer, study, and reflection.  For that reason, blog posts have been less frequent and I have had to make conscious choices about how I communicate.  Becoming a novice also marked another big change: I became "Sister".

That is to say that in taking this step I entered into the congregation that I had been in touch with for close to four years.  I am now our youngest member. I am Sister Colleen.

There are a lot of transitions to be made when entering into the novitiate. I imagined and prepared myself for some in the months leading up to my initiation.  Leaving my job, getting rid of possessions, moving into a new community, getting used to a new routine- I knew all of these things would impact me.  Other transitions and struggles I never could of imagined and have done my best to navigate them with grace (sometimes successfully, sometimes not, and in the case of some other times, the outcome waits to be seen.)

One transition, though, that I don't think I ever thought to consider seriously was the jump into becoming "Sister".  My friends like to joke that they can now call me Sister Colleen much to my chagrin, my brother likes to call me "Sister Sister", and I've come to affectionately (and somewhat flippantly) sign some notes to my parents "Love, Sister Daughter".

The truth is, though, that I never could imagine myself being called Sister.  I had never met a Sister Colleen and when I turned the name over and over in my head it didn't seem to roll off the tongue. I blame the inexplicable jumbling of syllables between the two words when pronounced in conjunction. To my ears, the name didn't quite fit.  Even once I "had" the title, it wasn't how I introduced myself. Those I had known before September wouldn't use it to introduce me to people and so, while it made random appearances, there was no regularity of usage for it to stick with.

As I began doing some work in classrooms at our elementary and high schools here in Philadelphia this semester, the name took on more regular usage, but in many cases those I was teaching with bounced back and forth between the formal and informal within the course of a day.  As I worked with fourth graders, teaching them our SSJ history, I found I would refer to myself in the third person, as if this "Sister Colleen" was a separate entity, someone just as easily discussed aside from myself, created through an out-of-body commentary.

These past few weeks, I have begun shadowing sisters who serve in various ministries up and down the East Coast. As I spend time with these wonderful women, the question inevitably comes up: What do you want to be called?

More often than not, that question comes after the awkward moment where I must be introduced to someone. Hesitation is the key characteristic of these situations. Either there is an ascending, somewhat questioning tone (as in This is my friend, Colleen.?.) or a moment of pause and/or mumbling (as in This is... Sister Colleen...umm, she'll be spending the day with me.).  Either way it's an awkward, less than comfortable moment.

When I first encountered that question of what I wanted to be called- my response was just as strained and uncomfortable as that initial introduction. You can call me Sister Colleen or Colleen, yeah, really whatever you think works best.   In reality, I felt bad pointing out that Sister had a rightful place in front of my name. I thought it was common knowledge, after all each sister had gone through this transition just as I had, but over time memory and details become clouded. I would rather have not had to have been the one to point this out. And, even more, my own ill-at-ease with the name/title didn't lend itself to a confident assertion of what exactly I should be called.

"Sister" carries with it a lot of power and a lot of responsibility.  It comes with its own connotation and, inevitably, it comes with a raised eye brow (or two) when a person sees that the one bearing the name is a whole lot younger than whoever they were expecting to see.  I get that. I don't blame anyone for it. It's a fact I completely understand and a responsibility that I am becoming more and more comfortable with as I take on the title and all that comes with it.

It means I need to behave but it also means I need to be myself.

Part of that self is now Sister Colleen.

Today, as I stood in front of a group of eighth grade students in North Carolina, leading a retreat with a fellow sister, something about that part finally clicked.  Without need of qualification, I was Sister Colleen... just as my co-leader, with 29 years in this life, was also Sister.  The teacher who introduced us to the class didn't stumble or stammer when she named us, her voice remained steady and my ears remained undisturbed. And perhaps for the first time, I firmly believed that I was Sister.  That's what my name tag read, it's what the students before me accepted as truth, and, without internal objection or rejection, it's what/who I was and am.

And that, I can honestly say, on this long journey, is a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

An Annunciation Delayed

From time to time, poetry makes its way up onto the blog.  This is a poem that I wrote in mid-April around the official celebration of the Feast of Annunciation, which was delayed because March 25th fell during Holy Week this year.  The poem speaks to a lot more than the Annunciation- it is rooted in my own journey and call, the connection to the Holy Spirit deep within each one of us and the way in which we come to know the One who loves us so dearly in the midst of all else in our lives.

Where were you, Mary, when you heard that voice?
When Gabriel, in all God's glory, stood before you?
I always imagined it in the dark of night
in stillness
undisturbed yet utterly chaotic
No one else to feel it or to hear it.
A disruption by the Divine
A moment so dear, so deep
with no one
with the division of millenia
Yet, I can feel it myself.

Like buds bursting
The fuchsia flame of magnolia
across my soul.
The Spirit come to roost.

But perhaps, you weren't in the dark
dear Mary.
Maybe it was as you opened your eyes
on a new day
or it was in the middle of dashing from place to place
An interruption unplanned.
Some thing just as easily pushed aside by innocent bystanders.

Did it stop you in your tracks that day?
Or did it take until mid-April to sink in
and then you awoke one morning
to the not so sudden realization
An annunciation delayed.

And when it crossed your mind
each and every time
it stirred something deep within
even after the promised baby boy
was outside of you.

Like a match dragged across emery,
igniting time and space.
There was love.
From toe tips to split ends.
Wherever you were, that space was inside you.

Where were you when it happened?
Digging out its own space,
Taking up residence,
Returning home.
So that you might never be lost or late
but simply delayed in grace.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Upward Calling

The following is a reflection that I offered on the reading for this Sunday at a Congregational Assembly (see:big meeting of my nuns). While many of you who read this aren't Sisters of St. Joseph, I believe there is something for each one of us in the message of the reflection- our calling is to discover who we are and to live out of that discovery. That's what "being your vocation" is all about.  I was graced to be able to offer these words to my sister, I hope that you will be graced by the Spirit that dwells within them.

At the beginning of February, a letter came for me in the mail at a convent I don't live at.  It was addressed to Colleen Gibson, Novice, care of Mother Superior, St. Joseph’s Novitiate and had a return address of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I don’t know anyone in Albuquerque and I didn’t know anyone who would send me mail via Mother Superior, so you can imagine my intrigue as I opened it.  It began- “Miss Gibson, Never having written to someone in the Novitiate Program, I am at a loss for what might be the proper salutation, so I will leave it as is.”  The writer, Bill* had read something that I had written and seeing in the by-line that I was a novice with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia had felt the need to write to me.

Bill’s story is older than I am… older than many of us in this room. It begins in 1936. That is when Bill became a Homey, as he affectionately refers to himself; that is to say, that that is when, at age 7, he entered St. John’s Orphanage and came under the care of our sisters. Bill explained that the sisters became substitutes for his deceased mother, they were the ones who cared for him and his siblings, the ones who worked in the laundry and struck up a relationship with the young boy and they were the ones who walked up and down the dormitory after 60 boys had knelt on their pillows to say night prayers, going from bed to bed to kiss each child ‘goodnight’. He would go on to join the Air Force and raise a family of eight, but he never forgot our sisters.

As he brought his letter to a close, Bill left me with these words: “I cannot know how you chose to enter your present path, but I wish you to know that you are associated with those who taught me what Faith is all about… a group that this Homey includes in his Daily Morning Offering.”

It might seem strange to talk about Bill’s story in connection with today’s readings. After all, Isaiah tells us not to remember the things of the past, not to dwell on the things of long ago, for God is doing something new.  And Paul in his letter to the Philippians speaks of “forgetting what lies behind” so that we might strain “forward to what lies ahead” in pursuit of “the prize of God’s upward calling.”  Add to that the woman caught in adultery and Bill’s story seems irrelevant (I guess that’s why you shouldn’t ask the novice to give the reflection at Assembly.)

But really, Bill’s story- our story- has everything to do with these things. In order to move forward, we need to look back. Look back. Observe. Learn. NOT dwell, reminisce, or recreate. Stories like Bill’s make us feel good, they show us that what we’ve done has made and continues to make a difference. More so though, through the Love that our sisters embodied and the Faith they lived out, Bill’s story speaks to who we are.  That’s the question that we need to be asking: Who are we as Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia?

Everything that we do flows out of the answer to that question.  We can talk about ministry and Cape May and a whole score of other things but if our conversation (and ultimately the lives we are living) aren’t grounded in the tangible understanding of who we are… not who we say we are or the words we use to describe ourselves, but the radical hope, faith, and love lived out authentically in intentional poverty, obedience, and chastity in Love with our God and our neighbors- if we don’t have a handle on that, then we have missed the point.

That is the upward calling Paul is talking about. It is the call we said ‘yes’ to; the call that surrenders all to Christ. It comes from an unshakable encounter with the Divine, an encounter that reduces all else to rubbish in its midst. Our ‘yes’ makes us realize that God will take everything if we are free enough to give it. It is a call that hurts. And yet, it is this call that we embrace.  We come to it with a willingness to lose everything- all that we know and all that we love- so that we might be united to the One whom we would be lost without.

This is the One who looks with love upon us, even in times of pain; The One who nourishes us so we might live lives of praise; The One who sees our past, but does not condemn…does not cast stones, choosing rather to send us forth with the opportunity for new life.

We are being given that opportunity right now. We are being called to perceive the movement of the Spirit.   We need to focus on what matters, not how much money we make, what we have been, how we do things, or what makes us comfortable; we need to listen to one another and to the Spirit in our midst as we ask:

Who are we and who is Jesus calling us to be?

Are we living our lives with authenticity?
Are we challenging each other on a personal level to do so?

Are we actively working to foster our membership in every generation

Does the way we live pose a challenge and an invitation to women to share in our way of life?

 And ultimately, what are we willing to lose and what would we be lost without?

These are the questions that accompany us as we move forward.  As we prepare to celebrate Eucharist around this table, we pause, we know that the One who sustains us joins with us on this journey, and we acclaim ::sung::

You are all we have,
 You give us what we need,
Our lives are in your hands, Oh Lord
Our lives are in your hands.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Have Faith, Be Healed.

In addition to writing here on the blog, I also put my pen to real paper from time to time.  You can check out some of the publications that I've written for on the right hand side of this page, but today is a special day.  Today, my reflection "Have Faith, Be Healed." from Give Us This Day (usually subscription-only)  was re-published on Pray Tell, a wonderful blog of worship, wit, & wisdom. I'm a fan.  So, go there and check it out!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Journey of Love

Last night marked the official four months mark in my life as a Sister of Saint Joseph. Four months is significant because it marks the end of my first portion of canonical time, operating under the standards and guidelines of canon law, and with that end comes a transition into a time of ministerial experience for my novitiate (until I re-enter canonical time in August).

To celebrate I spent the day with my brother and my almost-16-month-old nephew here in Philadelphia.  The day couldn't have been better. In the midst of what have been turbulent and intense days, I spent the majority of Saturday on my kitchen floor, watching as my nephew pulled items out of our convent cabinets and handed them to Daddy (my brother) and I.  My nephew is just at the age where he can walk and he is fascinated by doors. Luckily for him (and perhaps no one else), our kitchen cabinets are situated on the ground and are approximately the height of a toddler. Thus, he carefully took one item after another out and brought them to me and then took them back, arranging the cans and bottles as he saw fit, finding each one its particular place. By day's end we had done this for upwards of two to three hours. And the thing is... I couldn't have imagined a better way to spend my day.

Reflecting back on the day, I couldn't help but be grateful for the time I have been given here in Philadelphia and the blessing of having the love of little child interjected into it. Watching this little guy go about his work, God pointed out how much I/we have to learn. Become like a child. Let me shower you with love, receive it freely, throw a temper tantrum every once in a while, and be free and trusting and curious.

Most of all though, God said, think of what you want for that child. Think of why and how you love him.  I paused.  I love him because. And all I really want is for him to become a reflection of my (and so many others') love for him. Bingo.

I'm finding more and more that that is what God really wants of me- to become a reflection of that divine love.  In many ways, that is both the easiest and the hardest thing that can be asked of me.  The last four month have shown that becoming a reflection of love is hard work. It doesn't always feel good; it means facing realities in the world and in yourself and remaining open to love in the midst of it all.  It means being free and trusting like a child, learning with each moment- from what is new and old- and allowing grace in everywhere.

My time in the novitiate so far has been all of that and so much more.

Yet, while four months marks a time of transition, it is a transition within continuity.  Despite being outside of canonical time, my focus remains the same; my primary aims are still a deepening of my relationship with God, particularly through a life focused on prayer. In that way, this point in time does not mark an end to what has already begun.  Really, I don't think anything could stop what has been begun/ what has been intensified by the last four months.  And what that is... I can't exactly put into words yet.

It's like learning things you've always known but learning them in an entirely new way: with your heart. And in that, it is like learning things that you didn't even know you didn't know, but now can never forget. At times, it's like being stretched in every direction possible- you hope that you'll grow, expanding to meet the challenge and being strengthened in the process, but finding that sometimes stretching means tearing... it mean being uncomfortable... it means discovering ways that you are flexible and ways that you aren't.  It is all of those things and more. And it's only been four months.

I think perhaps it all (the life that I am living and striving to live) is best captured in a line someone wrote me in a Christmas card this year. Below the image of the star of Bethlehem and a message about finding faith and peace in the season, they simply wrote: "God Bless you on your journey of love!"

When I read that, I stopped for a moment.  What would prompt them to write that? I've never used that phrasing to describe what I am doing here and for many that is not the way it appears. Vocational journey? Yes. Career path? Sure.  Radical choice? Yeah. But "journey of love"?  I cannot honestly say that anyone has called it that thus far.

But, that is exactly what it is.

I am on a journey of love.  Love surrounds me and I am being called to simply absorb that love and become a reflection of it for the world to see.

That doesn't change with any transition and isn't bound by the parameters of any splice of time... it is a life-long journey. The novitiate is simply a concentrated time in which to discover that. I am blessed to have it and recognize that really it has only just begun. So here's to transition, here's to becoming reflections of the God who loves us into being, and here's to what, in the midst of chaos, confusion and all manner of other things, can and must be a journey of Love.


For me, this transition will mean two days a week at schools sponsored by our congregation, trying my hand at teaching... or at least as a shadow of a teacher. One experience will place me in an elementary school, most likely a Montessori classroom, and the other will put me in the high school theology classroom where I visited early in my novitiate.  The prospect of teaching is exciting and also a little daunting; in all my experiences, I have never taught and, besides my time in youth ministry and volunteer coordination with middle and high school students, I haven't had any extensive exposure to kids in a classroom setting.  All I can say is that I'm sure I will have the opportunity to aid our congregational efforts in some way, shape, or form, but I can guarantee that I will learn a lot in the process- let the adventure begin!