Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.
I had a long road leading into the monastery. I believed that God had clearly called me to be His bride and so for several years I prayed and begged that it would be possible for me to enter religious life. The obstacle, however, seemed insurmountable: I had nearly six figures of student loan debt, and I would have to bring that down to zero before I could enter. During those difficult years of working two jobs, praying, and fundraising, I recited to myself the words of 1 Thess 5:24: “He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.” I tried, amidst mounting discouragement, to abandon myself completely to His providence.
Even while working, my income still barely covered my minimum monthly payments. If God really wanted me in the monastery then I needed a miracle. In October I decided to pray the 54 day Rosary novena with the specific intention that I would be able to enter the monastery in June. It seemed like a long shot, but I took heart in simple confidence of the novena prayer, which confidently gives thanks for the grace asked for before it has been received:
From thy bounty thou hast given me the favor
I so earnestly and trustingly sought. I despaired not of what
I asked of thee, and thou hast truly shown thyself my Mother.
This was the hope that I clung to and I made sure to remind Our Lady of it repeatedly. Still, as the months wore on my entrance date seemed increasingly unrealistic. Through the incredible generosity of friends and family I was able to fundraise about 16% of the total that I needed, but at this rate, it would be ten years before I could enter! Still, I tried to hope, truly believing that God would provide for those called according to His purpose.
In May of that year I had one final fundraising event planned: a concert at my parish. It was a simple affair and I looked at it more as an opportunity to offer my violin talent to the parish than as a fundraiser. I entrusted the concert to the Blessed Mother. The concert went well, and afterwards I went to the parish hall for the reception. I was thinking of leaving when suddenly an elderly gentleman approached me and began speaking with me. At length, he put his face near mine and said, “Whisper in my ear the amount of debt that you have.” I told him. He said, “I may be able to help. Write to me. You’ll find my address on the $100 check that I put in the collection basket.”
I wrote to this man and then I prayed another 9 day Rosary novena to back it up. I wasn’t sure if I could believe that this man whom I had just met would be willing to make such an extraordinary gift. I prayed and waited, hoping that this was the miracle that I had been praying for!
It was May, the month of Our Lady, and still Easter; while I was walking home one day I was concluding the ninth Rosary of the novena and the bells were ringing at the church for the Regina Caeli. Just then, my phone rang. It was this gentleman, and he was calling to tell me that he had just spoken with his stockbroker in order to transfer the funds necessary to completely pay off my debt.
“He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.”
I was then able to enter the monastery within two months. The Lord had truly provided for me, just as He had promised, and I rejoiced! I was absolutely overjoyed to be able to enter the monastery after so many tenuous years of waiting. At last! Although nervous, of course, I was so excited to completely commit my life to the Lord and be His forever.
Within minutes of entering the enclosed monastery, however, I began to be plagued by doubts. The Lord, Who had always seemed so near to me, now seemed elusive. I struggled in the small community and I was afflicted by a loneliness that still grieves me to recall. I prayed, I offered sacrifices, and I begged for the strength to live this life, but I felt completely abandoned and alone. I was confused. Surely this must be my fault! Surely God had not worked such a dramatic miracle in my life if I was not actually called to this community! What was I doing wrong? Was I being punished for all of my sins? And what would happen if I left? Wouldn’t it seem like a devious scheme that I had worked just to get my loans paid off and then return to the world? These questions circled in my mind constantly and, not wanting to be unfaithful, I remained in the monastery. I would suffer, I decided, if that was what He wanted. I tried to reflect on the Passion. But who was this God here in the monastery? He did not seem like the same God whom I had loved so ardently before… I had never before felt so abandoned by God, so punished, so… rejected.
The community that I joined lived a very radical vow of poverty. Our personal items were very limited and I was taught not to ask for anything that was not absolutely essential. I had very long hair, because I was saving it for the dramatic ceremony of the investiture where my hair would be cut and replaced by a veil. Until then I had to keep it constrained behind a short postulant veil. I thought that I had brought enough hair ties with me, but midway through the year all but one of them had broken and the one that remained was definitely nearing its end. I know that this sounds trivial but I had some real struggles because of that one hair tie. My hair kept coming loose in awkward moments, it wasn’t secure enough for all of the manual labor that we had to do, and on top of it all, I was afraid to ask my superior for another one. I didn’t have that much longer until my investiture and I really did not want the portress to have to beg one of our benefactors for something as seemingly vain as a hair tie. I did not ask, and every day I rather desperately hoped that my one hair tie would survive.
My interior struggles with the community continued to worsen and I did not have anyone with whom to consult. I was the only one in the novitiate, the community was enclosed, and Mother was already bending the rules in order to allow me to talk privately with a priest about my difficulties. I did not know what I was going to do and it was all I could do to persevere in the daily tasks while trying to appear calm.
One day we received an unexpected package from a lovely woman whom I had met in passing just before I entered. It was a very large box containing all sorts of delights: nuts, washcloths, envelopes, and other essentials. I was really not expecting to hear from this woman and I was deeply moved that she had remembered me and had been so thoughtful. She even mentioned in her card that she had prayed while she was shopping so that she would know exactly what to buy for us.
We had a very fun recreation that evening where Mother allowed me to unpack the box and show everyone what my friend had sent us. Beneath the brownie mix, the seeds, and the gloves, I found… a package of hair ties. They were the exact type that I had always bought, and there were SO MANY of them! My friend knew that the Sisters kept their hair very short, and still she had been moved to buy hair ties for us. You might consider this a coincidence, but in that moment, when I had struggled so much and felt so incredibly far from the providence of God, I knew, I knew that the Lord was truly aware of even our smallest, most trivial needs and I knew that He still loved and cared for me just as much as He always had.
I eventually left the monastery after a great deal of struggles. I learned so much while I was there and I am very grateful to the Sisters for their goodness and patience with me. I was incredibly fearful of returning to the world, at first, and it was so disheartening to think that I may not be called to be the bride of Christ after all. It was all that I could do to entrust this transition to God and try to believe that He does indeed “lead the blind in ways unknown to them” (Is 42:16). I tried to trust again in His providence, more blindly now than ever, and believe that His ways must indeed be mysterious if He would pay off my huge debt in a miraculous way only to ask me to return to the world a year later. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and He guides the future as He has the past. His providence had never failed me, so I just had to abandon myself into a new, albeit unexpected, adventure. If He would provide me with something as small as a hair tie, how much more could He be trusted with all of the needs that I would encounter upon leaving the community?
It has been almost a year now since I have left the monastery and I think that my whole experience can only be summed up in one word: gratitude. I am so grateful because the Lord has provided for all of my needs every step of the way. I still don’t know really what He wants me to do five years from now, but I can try to live my life here today with great love. This is the will of God for my life – to give thanks without ceasing, and so even now I think of those hair ties with just as much gratitude as I have when I think of the insurmountable debt that the Lord Himself paid off in a heartbeat.