Becoming Positive

IMG_2644Today I finally worked up the courage to sign up for the Closer to Free ride.  In September I’ll be riding my bike 100 miles to raise money for cancer research and care.  I’ve never done anything like this before and I’m surprised at how nervous I was just to take the first step into this large endeavor.

Part of the reason I hesitated is because it’s still hard for me to talk about how cancer has touched my life.  I’ve lost three grandparents to cancer, two other relatives are survivors, and one friend is currently fighting a battle with cancer.  All in all I’ve felt powerless to help my loved ones and their caretakers, so when I saw this opportunity to participate in Closer to Free it felt like I finally found something I could do to help others who have been through this.

IMG_0405A bike ride is also somewhat symbolic for me because riding my bike is one of the places I feel most quiet, mindful, and free.  I often imagine God riding along with me in the silence, and the longer the ride the easier this becomes so 100 miles should be beautiful.  This is also an opportunity for me to take my personal loss and turn it into something positive and life giving.  I’m looking forward to riding with a team, aptly named “Live Positive”, and I’m excited to be able to share this experience with other riders.

Please cheer me on, and support me with your prayers.  If you are interested you can donate to Closer to Free through this link: http://www.rideclosertofree.org/participant/srmandy

New Decade, New Life

 I just recently turned thirty, and as I begin this fourth decade of my life, as well as a new ministry, my family is also blessed with a new spark of life.  That’s right, future aunt right here!  To celebrate my birthday, and this tiny new member of our family, my sister and I went to the Magic Kingdom!  I had been so freaked about turning 30, my mind was full of thoughts of saying goodbye to young adulthood, so we thought it would be best to go all out and really celebrate this big milestone as I transition into full-blown adulthood, and what better place to celebrate than Disney.

Celebrating is what I love most about birthdays, marking the end of a year completed and seeing how far I’ve come, especially on this occasion because thirty is the last big milestone birthday for awhile.  In retrospect I suppose I didn’t need to be so worried, after all a milestone is something we’ve invented as a society.  I will continue to grow and be myself whether  I’m 20 something or 50 something; it’s not like I woke up on my birthday a new and different person from the day before. Everyday I continue to evolve, as a sister-friend of mine noted just the other day as she recalled some of my first incorporation interviews into the Sisters of Mercy. I am a much different person than I was five years ago when I began this journey, but of course not all of that growth happened overnight.  Every year has been filled with a deepening of my self understanding as I am shaped by the course of my life.   In just this past year I have gone through a lot of changes: I lived in three different states with three different groups of sisters, and participated in three different ministries.  These events, just as with all events big and small, have shaped me and helped me to grow and mature.  I’ve faced challenges and overcame them, gone out of my comfort zone, been touched by the depth of relationships in both community and ministry.  These are all milestones in and of themselves and each moment deserves to be celebrated because I am grateful for who I am becoming on the journey.

I look forward now to the continuing journey, and though it’s impossible to tell what will happen or how events and encounters will change me, I trust that God has a desire for my growth.  I am still confirmed by the quote I chose to begin this blog five years ago: “I know the plans I have for you, plans for good…to give you a future with hope.” (Jer 29:11).  No matter how old I get I’ll never really know where this life of mine is going, but I will continue to trust that I have a future full of hope.

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What Is Your Story?

Network Rally at the start of Lobby Day.

I’m not familiar with politics or the processes that make our country function, nonetheless I arrived in D.C. the other day to join the Nuns on the Bus from Network for their first lobby day.  Joining other sisters from around the country to talk to our representatives about the next budget and future tax reform was a very new experience and a little bewildering.  As we gathered for prayer and training I found myself immersed in acronyms and jargon, like sequestration, and some of it sounded a bit foreign to me.  Fortunately for this mission work, as Sr. Simone called it, knowing the ins and outs of politics was not paramount, instead our focus was to share the stories from the front lines and give names and faces to the people directly affected by these policies.  From the soup kitchen I shared my relationship with one man who, once he was supported by a case worker, was able to get into permanent housing and gain access to the services he needed.  Through public human needs programs this man gained stability in his life and no longer used about a million dollars worth of emergency services annually.  Meeting people like this in my ministry experiences has helped me to see the value of investing in our neighbors through programs because everyone deserves a dignified life, and it is better for the community in the long run.

I was surprised yesterday at the positive reception we received as we bounced from office to office.  A few people we met with made a point of saying just how much it mattered when constituents came to visit, as well as the importance of writing or calling about issues.  I was surprised to know that calls and letters were tallied and thus added weight to the decisions being made.  I guess I have more of a voice in politics than I ever thought.

My experience this week reminded me of the story of Jesus placing a child in the midst of his disciples (MT 18:2-5).  A child in that context was a silent and invisible member of society.  Like Jesus we have the power to place the silenced and invisible persons we know into the spotlight hopefully highlighting the issues in our communities which should not be ignored.  After what I’ve learned and experienced this week I think I’ll feel much more comfortable and empowered to call my representative when I am next called upon to reach out to my representatives.  I’ve got plenty of stories to share.  How about you?

 

What are young nuns up to?

Right now I’m at the Giving Voice conference, a gathering of women religious under the age of fifty.  We are here gathering our dreams and hopes for our future as we give special consideration to the issues of border crossing and our growing multi-cultural reality.  A few of us, myself included, are blogging daily on the Giving Voice blog.  Follow us on this journey at giving-voice.weebly.com.  Stay tuned for all the new and exciting thins we are dreaming of!

Here are two that I wrote: “We are Grassroots“, and “Together Sharing One Dream

What is Important in Ministry: Presence and Commitment to Gifts

Sr Eileen- Street MinistryPresence, I have come to see, is one of the most important parts of any ministry but maybe more so in the context of a life of ministry. My order takes a fourth vow of service in addition to the traditional three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience so getting a handle on this idea of presence in ministry has become an interest for me as I prepare to make my first vows. I’ll be making my first vows in just two short months and in between now and then I’ll be visiting a number of Mercy ministries which exhibit a commitment to the marginalized members of society. So far I have visited six ministries: two shelters, two soup kitchens, one eco-spirituality center, and a street ministry. The ministry of presence was one of the things I noticed as a common thread throughout all of these encounters.

Sr BethIt seems to me that this ministry of presence is a compassionate stance taken with those being served, and one of the unexpected- though perhaps hoped for- ‘side-effects’ of this is that the minister is ministered to in return. As I have visited and worked with Sisters and Mercy Volunteer Corp members I have witnessed this open stance and it has been humbling.  It has been a gift to be accepted and trusted when I show up as a stranger at a ministry site simply by being associated with the Mercy presence already established there. I was impressed by this in Bridgeport where I was welcomed wherever I went because I was with Sister Eileen. The openness of the women at Catherine’s place who were willing to share their stories and concerns with me simply because I came with Sister Beth, who has worked to gain the trust of the residents, touched me also. It says so much about the quality of presence of the Sisters who work in these ministries and have spent so much time building these trusting relationships with the people they serve.

Mercy FarmI found this ministry of presence to be an unexpected gift as I volunteered at Mercy Farm where I spent a few days cooking for and with a group of students on an immersion trip. It can be hard to see the things we always do as gifts, and for me that would be cooking, so I was pleasantly surprised and grateful when I read the evaluations and found how meaningful the time spent in the kitchen had been for some of the students on the trip. I was glad that they all enjoyed the food and ate well, but I was grateful because I was in some way able to be a positive presence in that ministry. I was also able to see some of my growth in this area because not too long ago I would have been shy and reserved and now, as I have grown in confidence, I was able to engage these students in a way which was more dynamic and open to their input. I guess I’ve got Fr. Anthony Gittins to thank for that since his expertise in the area of ministry has helped to shape my understanding of ministry. My next few ministry trips will be more like tours than service opportunities so I will have to pay attention to how I can continue to grow in this ministry of presence.

A Nun’s Life: Your Questions Answered

I am so overwhelmed and grateful for everyone’s positive feedback after the podcast on A Nun’s Life!  Thank you to everyone who listened and chatted live.  It was nerve-wracking as we set up for the event, and then waited for five o’clock to roll around.  It was well worth it though to be part of such a wonderful conversation and such a meaningful ministry.  If you missed the live broadcast you can find the audio archived here.

After doing something that is out of my comfort zone, public speaking for example, I have found a time of reflection to be a very helpful tool which helps me touch into what was so important about the experience.  I wrote about preparing for the podcast on the Official Mercy Blog and taking the time to think over everything has affirmed my desire to be a part of this wonderful Mercy adventure.  I was so happy to have had a chance to share what has brought me to this moment in my life.  It’s been a crazy journey but as I have been often told, “God draws straight with crooked lines.”  At this point in my life I can attest to that, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How Do You Feel?

cc9b6d78fba04800e92369ea9ba12125 True empathy creates strength in a way that moral outrage and pity cannot, according to Joan Halifax on TED. Strength grown out of the connections formed through empathy is the strength to be present in the suffering of others, to know we are connected with others, and still stand strong “with softness in the moment.” Joan also says, “We cannot be attached to outcome” which sheds a lot of light on my situation in ministry. There are precious few measurable goals when it comes to influencing a young person’s life, especially since I will only be here for a grand total of six months, so I cannot be attached to any outcome of my ministry at Mercy High; all I can be is present and a presence in the lives of my students and co-workers.  Yet, I cannot be present to the needs of my students if I am planning how their futures could be, or even what class time could be. As much as I would like to shake some of my kids awake I cannot they must, to a great extent, do that for themselves. If I am thinking and dreaming for them then I am not present to them in their current circumstances, and I so very much need to be present with them!  Presence and empathy with those I minister to is of crucial importance since, to paraphrase Lilla Watson, my future and liberation is bound up with these kids in a way which remains ineffable to me because even as I know this connection to be true and influential I also know that come April I will move on in my journey and most likely never see or hear from them again. My connection with my students is changing me in quiet and subtle ways, and I have learned so much from this experience.

At Mercy High I’ve seen that I can become more present to those around me by simply knowing and living into the reality that being empathetic will not drain me.  This is not to say that empathy does not have a cost, but rather that I will not be used up in the process- like a tube of toothpaste which can never be refilled.  In empathy I can meet the challenge to let go of old things I’ve held onto for too long so that there will be enough room for everyone, and simultaneously I can receive the gifts of others which I previously had no room for.

“Shake the hand that feeds you.”

In preparation for Thanksgiving I’ve been asked to be one of the speakers at Mercy Vocation High’s Thanksgiving prayer service.  I have very little experience speaking to high schoolers, but nonetheless I said yes.  Here is my Thanksgiving offering:

1538496In life we gather for many reasons. We gather together with friends or family, for class, to mourn, and to celebrate, and like Jesus’ followers we gather together to connect to something deeper, a something that is greater. Often times we gather around food like we will soon for Thanksgiving, other times we gather around the food of Eucharist at mass, sometimes it is just a simple meal of necessity as we heard in the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Whatever the reasons we must eat and we must gather because these acts connect us to others and to the world.

We are what we eat. For me this phrase has so much more meaning than the nutritional slogan implies. The potatoes that went into the bag of chips you ate came from a farm which was worked by many farmers, possibly migrant workers, and now you are connected to them. You are connected to the scientists who figured out how best to grow the food, and to the earth which provided the nutrients, water, and soil to sustain the plants’ life. You are connected to the sun which provides the right climate and energy for photosynthesis. When we see that everything is connected we know that everything and everyone belongs; we all have a place at the table.  If we are so connected, so dependent on each other, how can we ever forget this reality that keeps our world whole?

imagesAs violence and climate change around the world grows this reminder of my connectedness to everyone and to the planet is something I am grateful for this Thanksgiving. I cannot forget that my life and happiness, my personal wholeness, is connected to the stories and lives I encounter every day, nor can I forget that my existence affects those who come into my life however briefly. My connection to all of the life around me connects me to God who I believe created all of life and who is present in all aspects of life. Even the humble potato chip reminds me of the story of creation when God created the world, smiled, and said “it is good.” As a part of this ongoing story of creation each day of our lives God looks at us too, smiles, and says, “You are good.”

What These 397 Incredible Days Have Meant

Wingspan Prophetic witness seems like such a huge part of this whole life as a Mercy to me, and it scares me a bit. I so resist the idea that as a sister I need to be presentable at all times, I need to be patient, and people will not always accept anger as a reasonable emotion from me. I do not like the idea that as a sister I will be expected to be wise, learned, and a theologian. I do not feel prepared for this burden, I do not feel equipped for this call. I do however; feel called to be something different, to step out of life as we know it, out of the rat race, and by so doing to say to the world, “Hey, there is another way!” Or in the immortal words of Olaf the magical snow man when his friends were faced with an impossible mountain climb, “Not sure if this is going to solve your problem but I found a staircase that leads exactly where you wanted to go.” Like Olaf I may not have the gifts the world is looking for, but I might have the gifts that are needed, enough to cause ripples if I dare to rock the boat. I do not always see in me the gifts I see in other sisters of Mercy, and I do not know for certain that courage-a trait I see in many others-is one of my gifts. I am however, beginning to see some of my own gifts emerge and they do enable me to be something different than what the world has already chosen.

As I’ve worked through this integration time I am reminded of a movie I watched in my Religion and Art class in college. We watched “On the Waterfront” in which Marlon Brando is an ex-prize fighter turned dock worker struggling to stand up to his corrupt union bosses. The new and just union leader is murdered and at the funeral Marlon receives his coat and experiences a conversion leading him to take up the man’s cause. The coat is like a prophet’s mantle, the sign of a prophet in the Old Testament, and just as Elisha inherited Elijah’s place so Marlon inherits the role of the union leader. I find myself faced with this same choice as I move through formation so I can fully join the ranks of those who have come before me, and live a life that will preach the Gospel louder than any words could. So as a symbol of my year I have knit my ‘mantle’: a spiral ever deepening, ever wider, made up of all of these parts of my year- all knotted and looped together to form a whole story woven together in me.

Transitions that Teach: Learning from Where You Live.

I cannot believe how the time has just flown by since Christmas!  Like the school year the second semester goes too quickly and planning has already begun for the next phase of my formation.  After I finish my canonical year out here in St. Louis I will begin what is called the apostolic year which is focused on ministry experiences.  Mercy ministries from around the Institute invited me to join them for my six month placement, and one in particular caught my eye.  Mercy Vocational High School, located in Philadelphia, is a high school which includes vocational programs not least of all being my personal favorite: Culinary!  I hope you can tell just how excited I am to be able to get back into a kitchen.  I have really missed working this year and though I get to cook for my sisters at home, it’s just not the same.  I am not sure what I will really be doing as an assistant to one of the culinary instructors and I’m sure I will get to try many things out in this placement.  Most of all I look forward to the opportunity to share my love of cooking with the students.

20140518_154912_resizedAs things roll along out here in St. Louis I also try not to think about this impending move, packing, and all the joys of transitions.  As you can see I’m not doing very well in this endeavor.  Sometimes I feel a bit like a nomad being here for a while, and then Philly for a few months, and then somewhere else down the line.  At the same time I know each move makes me stronger and gives me deeper roots in the community which is what really matters.  I am also glad to be able to meet so many sisters because the more I meet the more complete my picture of Mercy, and our founderess Catherine, becomes.  I have met so many wonderful sisters in my home region, and those I have met here and on my travels to other Mercy regions have only helped me to grow.  So while I try not to mentally pack and unpack in anticipation of my next move I am doing my best to soak up all the mercying lived out here around me in the daily experiences of all the sisters I meet.

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