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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Feeding the Hungry

I wrote the article below for Giving Voice’s newsletter and I wanted to share it with all of you!

IIMG_2853 just began a new ministry here in Connecticut as the chef at the Thomas Merton Center (a day shelter) in Bridgeport which is one of the poorest cities in the state. I am so happy to be back in a kitchen doing what I love most after experiencing two years of not working during my novitiate. The Thomas Merton Center is housed in what used to be St. Joseph’s church in a rundown neighborhood characterized by unkempt and abandoned houses cordoned off by chain link fences. The center still looks like a church from the outside even though the stained glass windows are covered with bars, and inside the pews were removed to make way for almost two dozen tables. The altar and the vestibule are now the kitchen and store rooms. Having my new kitchen housed in a room that is still reminiscent of an altar, Gothic arches and all, has been a unique experience. It is a challenge for me in two ways, first because the program has not been kept up for quite some time and its rundown condition troubles me. It saddened me to see a kitchen and food, both of which are spiritual experiences for me, treated in such a thoughtless way. The second challenge comes with my desire to live up to these auspicious surroundings. I have often experienced food and the art of cooking as a spiritual exercise both in its connection to creation and the God of Creation, as well as in the art of cooking and eating mindfully, which is to say in such a way that enjoying the food becomes a meditation.

20151201_120350We are fed in many ways and just so my ministry to feed the hungry goes beyond filling empty bellies; it is filling starving souls. Many guests come to the Center, or any soup kitchen, just for a meal; however, just as often guests come because they are alone and isolated by their poverty, addiction, or illness. I think one of the reasons humans gather, whether it’s for a meal or to be around the table of the Eucharist, is to be reminded that we are not alone. My ministry as chef is to facilitate the gathering and as such I can think of no better place for a day shelter’s kitchen then an altar.

A New Ministry with Old Reminders

A busy day at the TMC

A busy day at the TMC

Today’s ministry miracle was making lunch for 128 guests in just 45 minutes with whatever I could find in the freezer.  I got into this tight spot today due to a scheduling error in which I was told the day’s group of volunteers would be bringing the lunch with them.  When it got down to the wire, and no group appeared, I grabbed frozen pepperoni, spinach, and kale out of the walk-in freezer and then coached a volunteer on how to make a bechamel sauce (butter, flour, and milk).  Forty five short minutes later I had six cheesy casseroles for the crowd and they loved it!  The volunteers laughed when I called it a Christmas Miracle but on a deeper level I really meant it.

I so appreciate these moments in ministry where I get into a sticky situation and think to myself that there is no way this is going to work.  When everything does in fact work out I know that God is in the work with me.  Sometimes these are the most valuable moments because I am reminded that this is not my work, and I am not in it for myself.  God and I are in this together and I trust that God equips the called rather than calling the equipped; although a culinary degree doesn’t hurt either.  I’ve only been the chef at the Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport for three weeks so right now days like these are more common than I’d like to admit.  I hope and trust that these reminders of my co-creativity with God, and dependence on God, will continue to come but hopefully they will be gentler in the future.

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

A Journey Just Begun

group photoWould you believe it’s been five years since I entered the Sisters of Mercy! I have grown deeper in my faith, in the community, and in my self-understanding since I began this journey; now, as I think of my first vows ceremony, which was less than a week ago, I see that my journey has just begun. In fact journey was the theme I was thinking of when I picked the readings for the ceremony. I started with a reading from Catherine McAuley where she reminds us that developing a relationship with God takes time, practice, and trust; the theme was echoed in the psalm I picked out. My second reading was Jeremiah’s call which reminds me that God has always known me, and that all I need to do is my best to be faithful and attentive to my relationship with God. The Gospel reading was “Peter do you love me” from the end of John. What attracted me in this reading was how Jesus met Peter where he was in this moment of reconciliation and, though Peter had messed up, their relationship did not end but rather had the opportunity to begin anew and deepen.

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An open heart- cover art for the program

In the weeks leading up to my ceremony I was thinking and praying about all of these readings; I drew a mandala reflecting their themes as the cover art for the program showing the idea of keeping your heart a little bit open so God will have a way into the world. When you let God through then your relationship has a chance to grow, you become more co-creative with our God, and also a little more open than before.
My ceremony ritualized this idea of journey for me because there was not one but three moments for me where I committed myself. I verbally said ‘yes’ when asked, I signed the official document, and just before the whole ceremony had started I went for a walk by myself and shared a private moment with God.
The morning after the ceremony I gathered with a group of Sisters to reflect on the day. What struck me then was the absolute gratitude I had felt during the ceremony while I was surrounded and affirmed by community. So many Sisters, family, and friends came to celebrate with me and God’s generosity in my life became apparent in that moment.

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A journey just begun

A few days ago I drew a second mandala reflecting on my memories of the day; it is filled with joy, life, and delight. In this mandala I see that my journey is unfinished and I couldn’t be more excited with that realization since sometimes I need to be reminded that life has no finish line. I am at the beginning of this journey and I do not know what more is to come, yet I know now more than ever that my potential for life is great in my community of Mercy.

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.

A Nun’ Life: Do You Have Any Questions?

MRT-logo I was a bit surprised a few weeks back when I was asked to be a guest on A Nun’s Life live podcast!  I am looking forward to the experience and can’t wait to meet the wonderful sisters behind this ministry.  I have enjoyed listening to the stories shared by sisters in the past through this social media ministry and I can’t wait to be a part of it!  Make sure you join in tomorrow at 5pm EST, you can send your questions live!

Go to: http://anunslife.org/live 

How Relationships Can Inspire Your Ministry

“Tenderness is accepting the weakness of the loved one.”  Upon hearing philosopher Yann Dall’aglio define tenderness this way I couldn’t help but think of how I’ve grown in my relationships with my students at Mercy Vocational high school. As with any inner-city high school population there are many rough edges, plus I don’t know how to teach and I’ve made plenty of rookie mistakes; all of this adds up to some animosity but now, quite unbidden and unheralded, I find myself feeling quite fond of my students and yet nothing in the classroom or in their demeanor has changed.  This leaves me wondering what happened! My best guess is that when I was able to cut myself some slack and be okay with not knowing how to do this ministry well, when I was able to be compassionate to myself, I became able to except the weakness and growing edges of those around me. I’ll have to look up who said you must first receive compassion in order to give compassion, but this idea that you must have in order to give seems to be a true  dynamic in relationships especially those connections formed within ministry; and let’s be real no one can succeed at everything all the time so I’d be better off simply knowing my weaknesses and strengths, and not put undue pressure or self-value onto those things which do not suite me. So to take Dall’aglio’s point another way then I cannot be tender towards others until I accept my own weakness and know that my value lies fundamentally in all that I am, the core and center of my being, and not in what I do.

I think I understand why Catherine McAuley said that service is not for the salvation of others but also for our own salvation, or in today’s vernacular, for our own wholeness.  I cannot learn and grow enough on my own; I need the help and insights of others in order to help me to get out of my own way.  I have been growing in this understanding of the vow of service since I heard Anthony Gittins speaking on ministry.  His constant reminder has come to me often in this experience: “…You are the one who has left home; you are the stranger in need of welcome…”  I did not seek welcome when I entered the classroom in October, but I believe that my students have slowly welcomed me, and I have welcomed them into my life.

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