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.