Sunday, February 26, 2017

Flexibility

Eating Texas-shaped waffles at our hotel in northern Texas.
As we got closer to our destination, my excitement intensified. The pines of northern Texas gave way to scrub, cactus, and eventually, palm trees. The temperature on the car thermometer steadily climbed from 57 degrees to 100 degrees. We were getting closer.

Here in “the valley” flexibility is the rule of life. Very little is certain here, except that your plans will certainly be interrupted and changed. That was the case for me as soon as I arrived. I thought I would have a few days to settle in and begin ministry on Monday. Well, I had to be flexible and start right away. Because the valley is by nature bilingual, there is a patience among the people. No one rushes me when I struggle to communicate or find the right word to use. No one brushes me off as being incompetent because I do not know Spanish well. And everyone has welcomed me with open arms.

Just one night’s rest after arriving in Weslaco, I accompanied Sr. Constance to teach English. This was new territory. I was afraid of not knowing enough Spanish. I was afraid of not being able to teach well. But the women welcomed me with open arms and big smiles. As we learned language about family (mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister), I realized that I have something in common with the people of the valley. We have all left our families behind to pursue a life. The “winter Texans” (like snowbirds, but in Texas) leave families behind for a warm retirement. The immigrants of the valley left family behind, sometimes not seeing them for years, to pursue a better life for their children. And I left my family behind to follow God’s call for me.

With all of these transplanted families in the valley, a new extended family is created between parishioners, neighbors, and friends. I have found common ground with the people of the valley. We all stand on common, holy ground.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Day One to Texas: Spring in Fast-Forward

Amazingly, I was wide awake this morning when we began our journey to Texas at 6am. So I drove the early morning shift. The quiet was tangible, and as the city lights faded behind us, they were replaced by pillowy clouds of fog cradled in the Kentucky valleys, wrapped in a blanket of night. The scenery invited a peaceful contemplation.

As we ventured further south, little signs of spring began to pop out at me. Trees were flowing and small new-green buds populated branches on the side of the road. (Pictures 1-2)

As we crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas, the scenery moved from hilly to as flat as a pancake. 

Coming from Connecticut originally and having lived in Kentucky for the past year and a half, the flat terrain is jarring to me. Below is a picture of the Tennessee scenery and then the Arkansas scenery. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

A New Adventure

I have a bit of news to tell you...In approximately 1 week, 4 days, 14 hours, 33 minutes, and 48 seconds from the time this was posted, I will be starting the 21 hour drive to Weslaco, TX where I will spend the next 3 months. I will be making an effort to document my journey on this blog, including the prep time remaining and the road trip down. This adventure brings so many firsts for me: my first time living outside the eastern time-zone, my first time driving across the plains of the mid-west, my first time in Texas, my first visit to Mexico, my first time working with immigrants, you get the picture.

While I am a healthy dose of nervous (who wouldn't be with that much change?), I am also very excited and joy-filled. God had a big part to play in the fact that I am even going to Texas. I never thought I would be asking to minister on the border. But back in October when I was discerning about possible placements for my second year of novitiate, I reflected on some of Pope Francis' words, urging us to discern where the margins are in our world today and to go there. At the time, as there still is today, there was much hateful rhetoric about immigrants. And I thought, where else are the margins in our country today if not at the physical border? I felt this spirit pulling me to the border in a very real way.

But where was this feeling coming from? I was never the one to harp around immigration issues. Sure I agreed with those who did, but it just wasn't my passion. But here I am feeling pulled, called, to the Rio Grande Valley to stand at the margins with my immigrant brothers and sisters. As I went to my novice director and described this call I was feeling to her, I soon found out that she had felt the very same call for me and had already started investigating how I might spend some time on the US-Mexico border. How good God is to work in that way!

Teaching migrant children last summer opened my eyes to the hardship of an immigrant's life and the joy they bring to the world.

As I sit here, reflecting on my last year and a half in Kentucky, I am struck by how much the people I have met here mean to me. When I moved here, I quickly realized that I need to be rooted in my community, involved in city events, and making friends in all walks of life. And I have done that. I knew that I would have to say goodbye eventually, and most likely sooner rather than later. But what I didn't anticipate was how much my leaving would affect them.

I'm used to leaving, picking up the roots I so carefully laid out and transplanting them in another place. It doesn't make it any easier each time, but at least I know what to expect. But the people I have met here are not always used to my itinerant lifestyle. Sometimes wires can get crossed and misunderstandings happen. It can feel like a rejection.

But I am not rejecting Kentucky. I am not rejecting Cincinnati. And I am not rejecting the people I have met and so lovingly formed relationships with. In fact, it is just the opposite. I am taking each person with me. I have learned a unique lesson from each relationship and these lessons will help me in my next adventure.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Learning from Leaving

(left) A prayer one of our oldest students wrote for the first day of class. (right) My co-teacher and two of our students read a book before class begins.

"You're never coming back are you?"
The little disappointed face familiar with the act of leaving and smeared with the peaches we just shared pleaded me to contradict her. It broke my heart, knowing that I probably would never again see these children, who I had grown so fond of during the last week.

"I don't know if I'll be back." I responded honestly but full of regret, "I want to come back next summer, but I can't make that decision for myself." The disappointment stayed on the little girl's face and now I was surrounded by the other children peppering me with all kinds of questions and responses.

"So we'll never see you again?"
"I'm going to miss you!"
"Will you play on the slide with me one last time?"
But it was the unspoken sentiments I could see in their eyes that tugged on my heart the most. "Its ok. We're used to people leaving us and never coming back anyways. Just more of the same."

In June, the Novitiate Community had the opportunity and pleasure to teach catechism classes to children living with their families in migrant camps on the vast farmland outside of Toledo, OH. We were there only for a week, but other groups would continue teaching the children throughout the summer. Before embarking on this adventure, I had never heard of a migrant worker. I didn't know what that meant for their way of life or what needs we could minister to. The week ended up being an education for both the children and myself.

Migrant workers travel the country following the crops. They travel with their whole family and any belongings that fit in the car. The children have very little. The housing at the migrant camps is not much better than a camping cabin. And because the families travel so frequently to different states, the children are familiar with leaving and being left. Uprooting and leaving everything, friends, teachers, home, several times a year can be challenging. But there is some beauty to the simplicity of a migrant child.

These children had wild imaginations that could be sparked by the littlest thing. During our break, I watched my nine-year-old student pick up an empty popsicle tube and fill it with clover and grass blades saying "this is poison and I'm finding the remedy." When we had a lull in the lesson and our class got a little antsy, my co-teacher and I would declare it was time to play a game. Immediately the children yelled out at least a half-dozen games that could be played with just our persons. Their enthusiasm, energy, and ideas were endless. Their simplicity challenged me in how I am living the vow of poverty and the virtue of simplicity. Do I need a shelf full of books to keep me busy or stacks of pictures and nick knacks to remind me of connections I have made and people I have left? Can my memory and imagination be sufficient? What am I attached to? If I had to fit all of my belongings in a car could I, and are the items that cannot fit necessary?

The migrant children I taught were also incredibly flexible and resilient. When we lost our inside teaching space they immediately accepted the outdoor classroom we set up on two sheets. When their families leave for the season, they will pick up all they have and move to the next place, easily making friends and learning to live someplace else. I was amazed at how much the children seemed to be at home with their temporary surroundings and how settled they seemed to be. They haven't been at the camp long this year and were already used to life. From my own experience, I know that it takes me months, even a whole year to feel at home and settled in a new place. For me, the frequent moving and flexibility that comes with the vow of obedience is a challenge. But these children, who have been living a vow of obedience to their parents for their whole lives, are practiced at the art of flexibility. I complain about moving every year and being in constant transition during formation. How can I be more flexible and open to my circumstances?

Seeing the value of simplicity that brings on imagination and flexibility that brings resilience in these little ones, inspires me. I strive for simplicity and flexibility because of their value. I live the vows poverty and obedience because of their value and not because it is required of me.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Tears for Others

All I want to do is cry.

That was my first thought after attending a Panel Discussion on Police and the Black Community last night. Panelists included the Mayor, two Police Chiefs, and leaders from Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, Cincinnati Children's Law Center, and New Prospect Baptist Church. Being in that room, I felt like an outsider looking in. I am not black. I do not have any ties to the police. But I see the injustice, and I want to do something about it. I feel helpless. Last night I experienced not only my own helplessness, but the helplessness of the black community, and the helplessness of the government and law enforcement.

We are all helpless.
We are all hurt.
We are all angry.

With every passing comment, question from the community, and statement from the panelists, I was more aware of the intensity and depth of the hurt on all sides. Even though I could never feel this specific hurt, the intensity of the hurt in the room was palpable. I felt like I was on a boat in a storm, taking on more water each time a new wave of hurt hit my ears. I could drown in all this water. I could drown in all these tears.

All I want to do is cry.

While the panel discussion was challenging, I am ultimately glad I went. Seeing the hurt in the eyes and the voices of the attendees keeps me emotionally connected to the unjust racial situation in our country. I cannot personally feel the emotions of discrimination, but I can empathize and remember times when I have been hurt in other ways. I could do nothing amid the storm and constant waves of hurt last night - except bring it to prayer. High emotions may be uncomfortable, but they keep me connected to others and running to God. In running to God and staying connected to those who hurt, I hope to find a role to play in righting this injustice in our country.

All I want to do is cry.

I do not cry for myself.
I cry for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Sam DuBose, and all other black men murdered at the hands of the police.
I cry for Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and all black children who are growing up in our violent world.
I cry for the police and their families who have been thrust into sadness by a mistake.
I cry for Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens and all police officers killed in the line of duty.
I cry for the unjust system that is our government and criminal justice system.
I cry for the unending violence in our world.

At the end of the night, after hearing of another act of violence I thought:
I don't think I can handle any more hurt. But God can.
All I want to do is cry. All I can do right now is pray.
God, never let me feel disconnected from my brothers and sisters who hurt.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

God is an 101 Year-Old Nun

Sometimes, I get so caught up in what I am doing day-to-day that I forget the reasons I am living like this. Somehow, this un-ordinary life of living in community with adult women, praying and going to mass every day, and dedicating my time to serving others and serving God has become my new normal. I have a routine I am used to and I am not in a state of transition anymore. What seemed like an odd way to live at first became exciting once I started living the life with passion, and has now moved to a more stable existence. If I were talking about a dating relationship I would say that we've left the honeymoon phase.

Novitiate life is not new anymore. I am not adjusting to living a new life or in a new place or with new people. There is less spontaneity and more routine. And this is not necessarily a bad thing, because stability and routine can strengthen and deepen a relationship. It is in this place that I am most called to remember why I am here and tend to that "why" in a deeper way. But most of the time it's hard to think back to when I first started "dating" this life and remember my reasons. The "whys" of my life have become hidden by "musts". I "must" learn this to get through formation. I "must" deepen my relationship with God during formation. I "must" move here, live there, serve this role to make the most of formation. My "why" had become "formation". Which is a TERRIBLE "why" for a drastic life change. But just like in a dating relationship when the reasons you love a person become obscured, taking a moment to remember how you felt at the beginning puts it all in perspective.

I had some help in finding my perspective. Recently, the Covington province welcomed 10 women and 6 SND vocation directors from around the country. Mayra and I got to join them for an SND Spirituality Retreat. During the course of the weekend where we explored both our own spirituality and SND spirituality, I realized that for me, the two match because I have a piece of SND spirituality within. Having to witness to these women what it is like to be a novice and recounting my vocation story over and over forced me to remember how I felt at the beginning. I remembered the passion, the love, and the joy that has come with answering God's question with my whole self. And I got to see this same passion, love, and joy in the women on the retreat and in my sisters as they interacted with the women.

Retreat Team (left) and Retreatants (right)

My favorite moment of the weekend was taking some of the women to visit our older sisters in Lourdes Hall. We started with our oldest sister and never got much farther because she kept us talking for about an hour. I will never forget the all-consuming smile that dominated her face the whole visit. You could see the joy of service radiating from her. And that day she did the greatest service, encouraging women on their spiritual journey and fostering hope. I met God that day.

Sr. Kelley and I took some retreatants to visit Sr. Paul, our oldest sister.

I am here because of the joy it brings me to serve and walk with people. I am here because I see that same joy in my sisters. I am here because this life helps me to be my most true self. I asked God to remind me of my "why" and I never thought the answer would come from 10 discerning women and our 101 year-old sister. God speaks in the most unexpected places.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cultivating Life

Growing up, gardening was always a chore. My mom loves to garden and has always taken special care with her flowers. Our entire backyard doesn't even have grass. Piece by piece, my mom has transformed it into her little oasis. She tried to get my sisters and I involved at different times in our lives, to pass on the gardening gene and get some help with weeding. But I always saw it as an unpleasant task. I never quite understood how my mom could enjoy working in her garden for hours on a hot, sunny Saturday when she could be enjoying the pool or a good book. To me, gardening was sweaty labor that never amounted to anything because the weeds always grew back. Plus, I was never very good at gardening, I often forget to water and I liked to say I kill anything I touch.

Well, I am proud to report that finally, I have successfully grown things. And I kind of like it. I now understand what my mother was getting from the soil, sun, and flowers. She got to cultivate life.

Cultivating life has been important to me recently. Prior to this year of prayer, I always had some kind of project to direct my energy towards. Whether it was my research, a school project, or even planning an event for my sorority, each project usually involved some kind of problem solving (let's face it, I'm an engineer, so every project had to solve a problem). But now, my environment has changed. I'm not in school, I'm not a leader in any organizations, and I'm not working. My usual sources of projects and cultivating life are purposely not a part of this stage of my life. So I've turned to other creative endeavors like painting, dancing, and ukulele playing. But none of these physically create life. I've found that growing plants and tending flowers is filling that void for me.

I'm also at an age where friends are marrying and having babies. And there is a desire inside of me to create life too. Since I can't create human life, I am creating plant life and bringing beauty to our yard and home. The flowers give me something to nurture, something to be proud of. I have never spent so much time marveling at the amount of buds on a plant or how fast a shoot has grown. I'm proud and excited to show off the beauty of the flowers or the uniqueness of a new growth to the sisters. In fact, I spent most of memorial day just staring at our hydrangea which were beginning to flower. In the course of the afternoon, I memorized which buds were most open and which part of the plant flowered blue or pink. Spending time with the flowers has become a prayer. Their beauty draws me to quiet and their growth draws me to wonder.

(a) A taste of my Mom's garden - where it all began, (b/c) the first hydrangea blooms from our backyard - watching life emerge is captivating, (d) Easter flowers in chapel bring beauty to our home.


Now that I have time to putter in the garden, weeding and watering have become less chores and more loving care for new life. Gardening takes time, more than what it takes to water and weed. Plants speak by how they grow. We, as gardeners, need to listen. A good gardener takes the time to notice the messages flowers send through their petals and leaves. I should know, I watched my mom putter in the garden for 18 years.

Gardening is a chance to cultivate life.
Gardening is a way to care for the earth and for others.
Gardening brings color to our world.
Gardening teaches me to listen and pray.

What desires are stirring in you? How can you cultivate life? What new life is begging to be watered? What are the flowers in your life telling you, through their petals and leaves?