For my friend Susan, who went home to God far too early in life.
When I showed up in nunland, you became my first friend. You stayed close during my challenging novitiate, even though you were 3,000 miles away. Your promise that you’d read my emails and not tell anyone what I wrote (and perhaps most importantly, not try to fix anything) may have saved me.
I returned to Seattle when you left for El Salvador, so our friendship continued by email and yummy Thai or Indian or Japanese or Chinese food when you were home. Then you came home and I went to Chicago first, then New Jersey. The tradition transferred, and it was when I was home that we had our dinner dates.
When I think back to our friendship, it’s those meals that stand out. Not the food, but our delicious conversations. Your listening ear. Your laugh. The fact that you always called me on my bullshit. That time when you listened to me vent, ad nauseum, about whatever it was. And then, when we had paid the check, politely reminded me that friendships were mutual, and when was I going to ask about you.
Lesson learned. An important one, that I am grateful for.
So much to be grateful for really.
Tonight at your vigil service, my memories were mirrored in what others shared. Your friend from high school. Another stranger who became a friend. Coworkers. Your friend’s teenage daughter. (I was waiting for the dog catcher or waste management professional to go to the mic.) We all felt loved and known by you.
You were a light for others. One that shone brightly if but only for a time in my own life. An important time.
Last summer I had four flight cancellations due to weather, which may explain why I wasn’t too upset when my flight from the west to east coast today was delayed three and a half hours. It was still going and it was a direct flight for me, no connections. No worries.
Of course those with connections were no doubt put out as their carefully constructed plans fell apart. I get that.
But I was fresh off a mini break weekend at the Oregon Coast with a friend I have somehow already known for 28+ years. I was renewed, mostly grumpy free, and a bit zen. I had just watched the choppy waves of the storm one day become beautiful shining waters the next day.
The plane ride itself was uneventful, until, that is, we started our descent just as the sun was setting above the skies and the storms brewing below. Breathtaking.
We landed into mid storm, with lightening strikes and tornado warnings. Ground crew were grounded, so it took awhile to get to the gate. But we were safe.
My positive attitude lasted the next hour while we waited for our bags. Remember those storms? Baggage crews were also grounded, not able to go outside and take our bags off the plane.
Bags started finally to come out of the gate and make their run around the circle. Bags from Aruba and Chicago, but none from Portland. Then the bags stopped their ride around the belt, and no new bags appeared. For quite a while. Admittedly, my positive attitude had lost some of its shine by now. But there was bonding with the other passengers. Two of us embarked on fact finding missions. And one or two walkie talkie messages later and magic … bags!
Storms come, and sometimes a grumpy or angry response is warranted and appropriate. But other times going the grumpy annoyed route just makes you grumpier. How we approach the storms of our lives makes a difference it seems.
And of course it always helps to be coming off of a three day weekend of friendship, fun and fabulous walks on the beach.
I am remembering my dear friend Sister Kieran this morning who went home to God over the weekend.
Kieran was herself fond of the early morning hours. She lived for many years at St. Mary-on-the-Lake, our main west coast community on the shores of Lake Washington. When she was more able, she’d be the one to fetch the morning papers from up the hill, to make the proper Irish oatmeal, and keep you company in the dining room. I remember when she was in the hospital a few years ago, there was a long list of all the tasks she normally took care of that needed to be done by a whole host of others while she recovered.
Sister Kieran brought life just by her presence. She was one of the first sisters to welcome me to community. I mean that in more than one way. She was a constant presence at St. Mary’s whenever I visited. She had a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face. She also made you feel accepted just as you were. She made me feel at home and wanted and part of the CSJP family from the very beginning.
Sister Kieran was also, as the title says, a fiesty and faithful friend. She’d be the first to tell you if your homily reflection was a bit on the long side. She loved to tell stories, and my favorite was when she’d preference a story about me by saying, “Remember when you were a young sister and you …”. As I was remembering Kieran this morning, I thought of this picture, which was taken at a recent assembly. This is Kieran, alive and engaged and in action. No doubt she is alive and engaged and in action in heaven, catching up with loved ones and keeping a keen eye on all the goings on in this world as we prepare to celebrate her life.
Thank you Kieran for being my friend, for your faithful witness and your fiesty spirit. I will miss you but am better for having known and loved you, even if just for a time.
I’m writing this in a room which no longer feels like my own, getting ready to pack up my final batch of belongings and complete my move to New Jersey. I actually started my new adventure two and a half weeks ago, but I still hadn’t closed up shop here in Chicago. I knew I was coming back for my Dad’s 81st birthday celebration this week, and so I staged the work of moving into two phases. Hence, while I left my grad school life on January 6th to begin my adventures in leadership land January 7th, it’s only now that I really feel closure on this wonderful chapter in my life.
As I woke up this morning, I found myself feeling very grateful for all the learning I was blessed to experience in this room. Reading late into the night, writing drafts of papers, etc… I also thought of all the skype calls and conference calls I participated in from this room, helping to plan the Giving Voice Conference, engaging in theological reflection with CSJP people, praying together across the miles. I remembered the great conversations with friends, the silly movies and episodes of Project Runway I watched as I colored with markers to reset my brain. The good nights of eight hours of sleep. Much of the past two and a half years has taken place in this CTU dorm room. It has been so very good and I am incredibly grateful for this chapter of my life.
These days of finishing up packing and finalizing the move have also held chances to visit again with family and friends. Relationships have also been an incredible blessing of this time. This has been the first time in my entire adult life that I have lived in the same city as family members. I’ve also been blessed to have a group of Giving Voice friends in town, and even living down the hall! Then there are the wonderful friends I’ve made through CTU. I know the relationships will continue, and for that I am very grateful, but it was also nice to have a chance to visit in person one last time as a fellow resident of Chicago.
In my prayer this morning, I also found myself remembering with gratitude all the chapters of my life so far. Some of them ended quite clearly, as this one has. Others sort of faded out into the next chapter before I even realized it. But each one has had its blessings, its learnings, its opportunities for growth, its challenges and sad moments too. All of it adds up to who I am today as I step onto the pages of the next chapter.
Early last month I shared a video prayer reflection I created set to “Write Your Story” by Francesca Battistelli. I share it here again because it was part of my morning prayer, and seems entirely fitting as I close my CTU Chapter and step more deeply into my new adventure in community leadership.
“I’m an empty page, I’m an open book, write your story on my heart, come on and make your mark. Author of my hope, maker of the stars, let me be your work of art. Won’t you write your story on my heart?”
Over the weekend I was praying with a group of my CSJP Sisters, which is always a heart-stretching and heart-warming experience. As it happens, the prayer sheet we were using had some weird sort of typo where the characters “g=” were accidentally inserted right before the word “faithful.” During the quiet reflection time, I couldn’t get the resulting formula out of my head or heart:
God equals faithful. God is faithful. So simple yet so very powerful. I almost feel like I should engrave that on something or post it on my wall. When life seems complicated or the path ahead unsure, remember, God is faithful.
Then I prayed with the readings for this Gaudete Sunday, and was stopped in my tracks by the second reading from Thessalonians:
Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good.
Refrain from every kind of evil.
May the God of peace make you perfectly holy
and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body,
be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful,
and he will also accomplish it.
The one who calls is faithful. The one who calls will accomplish it. It is not up to me. It is not about me or us. Authentic call is about responding to God’s faithful love.
This weekend, I have several friends who have responded to the one who calls in faith, trust and love in special and powerful ways. My friend Stephanie married her sweetheart Matt. My friend Graham was ordained as a deacon on the path to being ordained as a priest. Another friend was in Peru witnessing the final profession of one of her Sisters. And today, my friend Belinda professes her final yes as a Benedictine Sister.
My prayer for all of my friends who are responding to the one who is faithful with a big “YES,” and this includes myself and the four CSJP Sisters who are stepping into the circle of leadership with me in January as we begin our term of office on the congregation leadership team, is just what this reading says.
May we rejoice always
Praying and giving thanks without ceasing, no matter what
May we embrace God’s will in our lives and in the lives of those with whom we are called to journey.
Spirit of God, soak us with your goodness and surprises.
Open our ears to your prophetic word.
Guide us on the path of creative experimentation.
Lead us to goodness and light and everything which gives life.
God of peace, strengthen our spirit, soul and body so that we may be ready,
Ready to respond joyfully always to your faithful love.
Help us to trust that it is YOU who works through, in, and with us.
You have called, God of peace and love and joy.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Growing up in suburban Bowie, Maryland–the last suburb developed by the Levitt Brothers–you were always at home when visiting a friend’s house. This was not necessarily because of the quality of your friend’s hospitality, but because of the literal lay of the land. There were a limited number of floor plans in Bowie, so if you’d been in one Cape Code, Colonial, Rancher, or Country Clubber, then you knew where the bathroom, kitchen, closet, living room, and parental bed rooms were located. There was a certain level of comfort in that reality, truth be told.
This month, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the mother houses of two different religious communities. My sojourn in the mid-west is rapidly coming to a close, and so I finally made two long promised trips to visit with young nun friends. Both trips were lovely, in no small part due to the hospitality of my friends and their religious communities. I also realized that there is a certain level of comfort and “at-homeness” when I am in nunland (as one young nun friend calls it), reminiscent of my experience growing up.
To be sure, there are nuances and peculiar flavors of convent culture. But when you are a guest at a motherhouse, there are usually some things you can count on:
Your room will be ready and waiting for you, most likely with a welcome sign, a well-made bed, your own set of towels, and a note detailing some of the particular customs of the house.
Most likely the bathroom and shower is down the hall, so remember to bring a bathrobe and some slippers or shower shoes! However, you might be surprised by the gift of your own private bath. Best to be prepared in either case.
If you want coffee or tea, chances are it’s always available. And if you need anything else, all you have to do is ask.
Interested in a game of cards or a solving a piece or two of a jigsaw puzzle? That can be arranged.
Newspapers are usually available in the library or reading room.
Finished with your mystery or novel? Chances are there is a spot where you can pick up a new book and maybe even leave the one you just finished for someone else.
Looking for a group of women to pray with? You are welcome to join the Sisters in the chapel … just check the schedule in your room.
You will be greeted in the hallway, repeatedly, by a pleasant smile and maybe a hug from complete strangers.
There’s always a spot for you at the table in the dining room, complete with buffet style meals and interesting conversation. The water glasses might be smaller than you are used to, however.
When it’s time to leave, most likely the Sisters would appreciate it if you’d strip your bed and leave your sheets in the pillow case near the door. Sometimes there are even clean sheets for you to prepare the room for the next guest. You get to participate in the cycle of hospitality!
There are variations in the mix of these bits of convent culture, just as there are different flavors of religious charisms and communities. But when it comes down to it, we’re all Sisters and it’s so nice to be “at home,” even as a guest.
My life these days is mostly consumed with what is right before me–writing my thesis and preparing for my oral comprehensive exams. So, while this week is technically “reading week” at Catholic Theological Union, every week has been reading (and writing) week for me since I came back from our congregation chapter almost a month ago. I’m hoping to get to the halfway point of my thesis today or maybe tomorrow (God willing!), which helps me to realize that what is ahead of me is doable and I just need to focus.
But focus I’m realizing also requires breaks for perspective. And so I took the train to Wisconsin this weekend to visit a younger Catholic Sister friend. There was no substantive reading and no writing this weekend. Just visiting, laughing, exploring, and relaxing which I think I really needed. Breaks are important. They ground us in reality, help us touch back into the wider world and see beyond the tunnel vision we can develop when we’re focused solely on what is ahead. I guess you could say that breaks are a way of getting practice using our peripheral vision.
While I have plenty to be about in my immediate future, given that I am working to finish my degree requirements before Christmas, I also find myself skipping ahead to the adventures that start in January. But a funny thing happens when I do that, or at least a funny (and somewhat painful) thing has happened twice in the past month. I fall. No major bones broken, just some minor scrapes and bruises that I have acquired while thinking far ahead into the future instead of paying attention to where I am walking. My subconscious does this to me sometimes (or maybe it’s the universe or even an experience of God’s sense of humor). In any case, I wonder if it’s not a way of keeping me real.
For example, I remember when I was preparing to profess vows I fell not once, not twice, but three times in the weeks before, in a very similar fashion–walking while worrying about the far off future instead of paying attention to what lies directly ahead. What’s funny is that this last incident literally occurred just as I was arriving home and getting ready to cross the street with my suitcase to my building. Here I was, physically transitioning from my mini-relaxing-weekend-break to the work of research and writing, but my mind was even farther down the line. So my body protested, bringing my focus and attention back to the present moment. I could do without scraped knees and bruised elbows, but I’m also happy to be present in this moment. I just hope that maybe I’ve learned what I’ve needed to learn and can avoid a third fall?
I am a lucky girl. Over the years, my path has crossed with some pretty amazing people, and I have been blessed to develop some incredible, deep, and lasting friendships with some of them.
Friendships of course start because you have some commonality, shared experience, or perspective. There you are, just living your life day by day, and before you know it, you’ve got a friend. Come to think of it, isn’t that a song from a certain animated feature?
Even for those of us who are just a little bit shy, that’s really the easy part. The hard part comes when your commonalities shift or go away, or when the physical distance between you grows, or other life changing events happen and shift the landscape of your friendship. When you shoulder some of those burdens of life together, renew connections and make new ones, your friendship goes even deeper and in the process becomes more precious.
In my experience, the most beautiful part of friendship comes when you are able to walk tenderly together into the moments and spaces of vulnerability in your lives. Sometimes this is entirely mutual, such as when you and your friend share a hard experience. Sometimes you are the one in a vulnerable spot, and your friend is there to love and support you and help you remember how good things can be and that things will be good again. And sometimes, the grace in the moment is that you are able to be there for your friend when things aren’t going that well, or even when it seems as if their world is falling apart.
I will never forget one of these moments in my own life, the night I got the news that my mom’s long struggle with cancer was finally over and she had passed. As hard as it is to believe, that was actually eleven years ago this month. At that moment, I was filled with a jumble of feelings that were almost overpowering and paralyzing. I was so glad my mom was no longer suffering, yet at the same time felt like my world had literally been torn apart and would never come back together. I called my friend. I’m not sure how coherent I was. I think I was just trying to tell someone that I was dropping everything and flying home the next day to be with my family and get ready for the funeral. I may not actually have said anything. All I know is that within the next hour, well after midnight while I was packing my suitcase, there was a gentle knock on my door. My friend was there just to give me a hug. She had driven all the way across town just to do that. I hadn’t cried really until that hug but her presence and love freed me to let go and be with my grief. What gift.
My prayers these days are filled with hopes and love and support for friends who are going through their own rough patches. Marriage problems, deaths or serious health problems of loved ones, job or vocation crises. Some of my favorite people in the world are having a tough time right now. In most cases, they are too far away for me to hop in a car and give them a hug. But in my prayer, they are loved and held in a special way. Being present, even at a distance, to my friends in their vulnerability is such a beautiful thing.
I was looking for a photo to go with the post and found the one above. How perfect is that, my friends, to express what I’ve been trying to write in the past 628 words? Sometimes, you just need a buddy to sit within you in the dryer, to give you a hug between the spins and hot spots of life.