Am I Not Here?

By Guadalupana.

I have a confession to make.  My name is not really “Guadalupana.”  However, Our Lady of Guadalupe played a role in my name in religious life and I am going to pray that she guides me in this blog post; to share what is on my heart!

Near the end of postulancy, I had a “home visit”.  During this visit, my beautiful maternal grandmother whom I was very close to gave me a book about Our Lady of Guadalupe titled “Am I Not Here?”  This encounter and book are special to me.  It was the last time I saw my grandmother alive; she ended up passing away during my first year of novitiate.  As my grandmother pointed me to Mary, Mary would want to point us to Jesus.  Am I not here?  This is true for Our Mother but also for her Son, Jesus.  He is here with us and wants us to more deeply know of His love and for us to receive it.

God is Love.  We hear this phrase often. I’ve said it often.  Yet, here is confession:  A part of me struggled with this even though I’ve had many graces that should lead me to do otherwise.  I won’t go into the details why, but off & on during the past few months when hearing Gospel passages where it sounded as if Jesus was “yelling” at the Pharisees, fear & worry would surface and a question which was semi-hiding in my heart would come out.  How would Jesus treat me?  Would He have treated me, for instance, in the same manner as a sister who at times had lost her temper at me over little things?  Were they little things?  Is God displeased at me?  Does He look at me like His beloved daughter and treat me gently or does He look at every mistake I make waiting to “pounce”?!  This uncertainty that was in my heart would cause me to lose my peace when “bad things happen” or when someone would speak harshly or when hearing certain Gospel passages.  Uncertainty can lead to a cycle of questioning God’s love, being hard on self, & being unforgiving towards others when it arises.

A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with a priest for spiritual direction that had a really good impact on me as well as a meditation and talk on the topic of “Forgiveness of Self.”  This brought greater clarity, peace, and healing to my soul.  This post would be too long to share everything (and it is probably too long now!), but here are five main points from this night that may be of help to anyone else who has been in a similar situation (religious life or not) or who has had similar questions lingering in their hearts.

  1. I tried, I desire to love & serve the Lord, and I need to enjoy His Company.

The priest told me how he had suffered through novitiate.  Novitiate is a drastic shift.  We are not sure what to do.  He reassured me that I had given it a sincere try.  He said that I love God a lot (I do?!) & God appreciates it (yay!).  He told me that in my desire to love & serve God, be careful not to get over analytical.  Drop it when I start to worry & analyze. Worrying is a cross that is self-afflicted.  Enjoy God’s company.  I’m not a Pharisee.  I need to distinguish shortcomings from hypocrisy; which entails not trying & only being interested in the facade.  Let God love me. I cannot earn God‘s love but I don’t have to; He just loves me.

  1. I am not closing the door on God & He will make something beautiful out of all of this.

The priest assured me that by closing the door to religious life, I am not closing it on God.  Rather, God has closed the door on religious life for me. (In the past, being told that would have bothered me…I would have felt rejected by God.  However, now it brought me comfort.  God has not rejected me.  God knows what’s best for me.  As I typed this, I recalled something a religious sister shared with me after I had told her that I was not called to make first vows. This sister told me that while she was before the Blessed Sacrament & telling the Lord that she didn’t understand why I wasn’t called to vows, she heard the Lord say: “I know better.  I will take care of her.”) The priest also told me that I had a rough journey and it’s a mystery why God allowed it, but He would only allow it if He can draw something good & beautiful from it and it was not a punishment. Confide in God’s mercy & grace.  He is a loving God.

  1. Have a healthy social life & be open to God’s will, which may be to marriage.

Have the freedom to enjoy self without worry.  Also, we love Jesus by doing His will, such as getting married.  If it’s not His will, He’ll let me know.  God willed me to exist and He is involved with the dating process because He is involved in my life.

  1. Let go of shame and welcome “DTC”

In Luke 5:1 (the calling of St. Peter), St. Peter told Jesus to depart from him because he’s a sinful man. (Peter was hard on himself.  Jesus instead told Peter to not be afraid and that he’ll be catching men. Jesus held Peter still. Peter could have given into great shame.  Shame: “should have mastered everything”. We tell ourselves that we should have been better by now, etc.  Rather, I belong to the “deserving of tenderness club” (DTC)! I deserve to be affirmed and to affirm self. Self-inflicting torture can take up room where the Lord wants to dwell.  Don’t go to bed without forgiving yourself.  Wrap yourself in your Father’s arms and let the Lord affirm you.  Let Him show you how He sees you.

  1. Accept God’s mercy and love.

One way to accept God’s mercy is to accept Him looking at you.  Look at Jesus crucified & take the time to let Him look at you, to accept the gift of Himself on the cross.  He loves you by giving Himself to you.  It’s done.  You’ve been forgiven. We can use a crisis to reaffirm our identity: I’m a beloved daughter of God; You gave Your life for me.  It’s an opportunity to go deeper through the struggle. There may be lies such as “I’m not worthy to be loved” or “there are so many things I didn’t do well.” Reality: You are a beloved daughter of God and He loves you.  St. Therese of Lisieux offered herself to the love of God, not to His justice.  God has a lot of love to give but not enough to receive it. St. Therese’s Little Way, confidence in God, acceptance of His love, being His child. She accepted to be loved.  Receive His love.

We can always go deeper into the reality of God’s love for us.  “Am I Not Here?”  Yes, Mary is with us.  Yes, God is with us.  Yes, all those in Heaven are with us.  They want us to know that we are not alone in our struggles AND that God wants to set us free from the worries that stop us from enjoying His Company and to be at peace. “…the thing that disturbs you, the thing that afflict you, is nothing.  Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed.  Do not fear… Am I not here, I who am your Mother?  Are you not under my shadow and protection?  Am I not the source of your joy?  Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?  Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you…” – Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego (1531)

Taming the Transition TimeLion

aka the Should Syndrome.

By Grace.

Transition TimeLion

noun: The anxious/nagging/unsettled/perturbed feeling that arises when one experiences tension between current reality and where they think they ought to be

synonym: “Should Syndrome”, examples may include:

I should be ready for a job. I should be ready to date. I should be ready to go out with friends on a Friday night. I should be able to pray like I used to. I should be able to stop crying. I should be ok with shopping in stores or being out in large crowds.

Taming the Transition Time(line)lion and, consequently, Should Syndrome is no small feat. Often it rears its roaring head or utters its almost inaudible growls at the most inopportune times. This concept is in no way specific to the unique experience of transitioning from religious life to the lay state. Those who are going through the process of grieving a loved one’s death experience this, stay at home moms as the size of their family increases, those who struggle with infertility, professionals changing jobs or careers; all experience this phenomenon at some point in their life. The focus of this little reflection, however, will be directed toward the specifics of what you and I have been uniquely called to – continuing our relationship with God after discerning a different path to Heaven outside of religious life.

Three years later, with some time to process and a bit of distance, I offer these thoughts. In the early days after leaving the community I discerned with, almost every moment was a reminder that I wasn’t there. Not a day went by that I didn’t think of the sisters, that I didn’t have dreams that I was supposed to be in habit and wasn’t and that while there was great freedom without an horarium, being devoid of any schedule was ultimately offsetting. The only prayer I could utter for months was simply the name of Jesus. The mere sight of a Breviary broke my heart in two and the Transition TimeLion growled, “It’s been 6 months already, I should feel more stable than I do. I need to re-enter the workforce, but I feel incapable of entering the previous career I had. Surely, I should be ready by now.”

The interesting thing I found with the Transition TimeLion is that the expectations I felt pressured by or the things I felt I ought to be doing were not coming from anyone other than myself. I was the one disregarding the need of my heart that simply called for time and space to transition. The roaring and growling were insecurities that arose because I felt uncomfortable in this place of utter vulnerability that I had never encountered before. I wanted out! I wanted the fog to lift and the heartache and the unknowing to be over. However, this was an invitation to something deeper, to a new stage of my relationship with the Lord – to suffer being patient with myself. To trust, truly trust, that He has my greatest good at heart. I often am not able to see it in the moment, but those grueling, agonizing moments are the “stuff” of redemption. So are the moments of great joy and peace that follow.

Many times in the last three years, the TimeLion has appeared and reappeared in my life. So, what does one do in these moments and how does one tame this creature? I offer only the aids I have come to know through personal experience. You perhaps also have insightful wisdom which I welcome you to share for the Timelion can be tamed in a multitude of ways.

  1. Laugh. Yes, even if it is a forced laugh. I envision Beast from Beauty and the Beast when he is getting gussied up for his dinner with Belle and dons ridiculous curls with bows as one of the possible hair do’s. Puts the whole roaring lion of the interior life into perspective.
  2. Enter into beauty. Beauty allows us to encounter new aspects of our Creator that surprise us and almost immediately lift the soul, in delight, out of itself. Beauty will look different for each of us (and our Creator knows that). For some it will be a majestic sunset over the mountains, for others the smell of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies out of the oven, the giggle of a niece or nephew or a blossoming wild flower we unexpectedly encounter on our path. Whatever it is, He created it for you.
  3. Recreate. I apologize if even the sight of this term we encountered in religious life makes you cringe, but stick with me. Engage in activities you loved doing before you entered religious life and do them just for the sake of doing them (and because you can). Paint, play your musical instrument, go for a run, canoe, drink a cup of coffee while you’re getting ready in the morning. Utilize some of those new gifts/skills you learned in religious life for fun now. I learned to sew and now thoroughly enjoy making all of my niece’s gifts by hand.
  4. Trust. God has never been, is not now and will never be in crisis about your vocation. All of what He allows us to experience in this transition is part of Plan A. There isn’t a Plan B. It is not the case that we discerned incorrectly or failed. In fact, this discernment was actually successful despite the possible feeling that the Lord duped us (and perhaps, like me, you let yourself be duped). He loves us infinitely and has given us a particular grace specific to only those who transition from religious life to lay life. There will be a time and a place when He reveals the details of our vocation to us, but for now, He is simply calling each of us more closely to Himself.

So, when the Transition TimeLion begins to roar, know that you are already infinitely loved by the Triune God who loved you into existence and desires to be in relationship with you regardless of how quickly you get back on your feet, what you do or don’t do, achieve or don’t achieve. Let us rest a bit, be gentle with our hearts and take our time discovering who we are in the eyes of the Father.

Convent Cuisine

By Pinkie.
When I was in the convent as a postulant we were in charge of cooking. The kitchen sister would tell us the menu for the day and then we had to execute it. As a result, I learned many new recipes that I hadn’t ever encountered before. Some sounded strange initially but ended up being surprisingly delicious. We also had many special desserts for feast days and holidays that were truly amazing. And then of course kitchen accidents or sisters trying to make due with limited resources resulted in some interesting creations. I though it might be fun to share recipes that we experienced in the convent. Here are a few of mine to get us started:
“Dominican” Dog Salad

When this was described to me I am sure I wrinkled my nose. Um, cut up hot dogs mixed with cabbage? No thanks. But then when you eat it – yum! Here’s a recipe I found on-line that I think is really close to the convent version:
http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/rachael-ray/chicago-dog-salad-recipe.html

Sr. Katie’s Saltine Dessert

We needed dessert and the baking cupboards were bare. An industrious classmate of mine pulled this together using what was available and everyone enjoyed it! Lay out saltines on a cookie tray, (over wax paper makes it easier to get dessert out and to clean.) Pour homemade caramel, (1 cup butter and 1 cup brown sugar, boiled until thick and bubbly,) on top of saltines.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips and melt in the oven. Spread the chocolate evenly over the top and then harden in the freezer. Break into little squares.

Please share your favorite recipes and cooking stories below!

All I Have to Do is Dream

By Spiritu.

Here’s one thing that works to my advantage: I’ll never need to pay a psychoanalyst to decipher the hidden meaning of my dreams. Last night, for example, I was kneeling in my parish church when the Sisters from my former community unexpectedly walked in. They didn’t see me, but I watched them as they genuflected and took their seats near the front, and I wondered whether or not to go over and join them, since I wasn’t wearing my postulant uniform. Then I woke up.

Nearly two years out of the convent, my subconscious clearly still hasn’t quite let go of what might have been. Thankfully, it’s better than it was: at around the time I would have received the habit, for example, I started waking up in the middle of my Clothing ceremony several nights a week. (At least my community had the understated custom of giving the novice’s religious name at the start of the ceremony rather than the end, so I always got that far!) After about a year back in the world, I’d dream myself standing outside the convent in twilight, just as I had stood in real life while wheeling out the bins each week during postulancy, looking up through a window into the brightly-lit community room where the Sisters were gathering for evening recreation. Now, I wonder what that dream means?

For a long time after returning to the world, I slept a lot, but badly: going to bed at 8.30pm, waking up as late as possible the next day, and getting dizzy with tiredness sometime in the late afternoon. A number of times, I was appointed designated driver home from outings when, despite being stone-cold sober, by 10pm by I was definitely no safer to drive than anyone else in the car. (If I make it to heaven one day, I confidently expect that Saint Christopher will be waiting just inside the pearly gates to deliver a lecture on the subject that I’ll never forget.)

Not being a doctor, I can’t offer medical advice, but if you’re in this situation I can tell you a few things that have worked for me:

1) For a short-term rescue if you’re getting faint during the day, forget the sugar and eat a salami stick. I started carrying some around with me (the individually-wrapped ones), and found that the salt, fat and juices gave a much better energy boost than chocolate.

2) The biggest one: no screens for an hour before bed-time. No phone, computer or even TV, as the bright lights apparently interfere with the brain’s sleep cues. (Well, minimal screens, anyway. I cheat. I’m cheating as I write this now, in fact.) This one actually fixed most of my sleep problems in one go, and drastically reduced the dizzy spells next day.

3) Chamomile tea. If you’re like me, the challenge, waking or sleeping, is to find a channel in your mind that’s not playing repeats of Life in the Convent. Slowly drinking a cup of chamomile tea just before turning out the light can help gently disconnect those loops of thought and take you downward into sleep.

And then there’s the 2am demon: what if I’d…/perhaps if I’d…/if only I’d… (Or its evil twin, what if they’d…/perhaps if they’d…/if only they’d…) The only thing that helps here, unfortunately, is time and a conscious effort to understand and process the grief. It’s as though every memory of life in the convent, good or bad, is a sharp edge that needs to be gone over with sandpaper a certain number of times before it gets dull enough that you can handle it. However, it’s 2am and you’d really like to go back to sleep, so what can be done for some relief in the meantime?

Here, I’ll pass on three suggestions from the wise and patient priest who suddenly found a wildly unhappy recent ex-postulant in his confessional back in 2013.

1) If you’re playing certain scenes over and over, perhaps making magnificent speeches where you actually once stood mute, bring your sense of the absurd into play. Imagine the scene with Bert and Ernie in the background reacting to what’s going on, or Mr. T providing a running commentary. If it sounds extremely stupid, that’s because it is… but I actually laughed out loud the first time I tested it on one of my painful convent memories.

2) Or, if that’s just too silly for words, how about this? Imagine you’re sitting at a table so long that the far end disappears into the distance, and slowly, gently slide the people you’re angry with down the table away from you, further and further until they’re so small you can’t see them anymore. Keep them there and turn your mind to something else.

3) If all else fails or – worse – the person you’re angry with is yourself, then turn the light on and write down, very specifically, what is bothering you. Then (my own later addition), decide on something concrete that you will do in the morning to move on from that situation. I will say a decade of the Rosary for someone’s intentions. I will put $5 in the Saint Vincent de Paul box. I will make coffee for my parents/housemates. I will say the Office of the Dead for the souls in Purgatory. Anything, as long as it’s clear, charitable and constructive. Then turn the light off and, for heaven’s sake, go back to sleep.

And me? Self-evidently, I’m not “over” the most vivid months of my life just yet. But two years out is a hell of an improvement over two months out, no longer bittersweetly receiving the habit night after night being but one example. The Sisters still walk through my dreams sometimes (do I ever, I wonder, walk through theirs?), but slowly, a couple of years behind schedule, my heart and mind are catching up to my life in the outside world. Thanks be to God.

Sensory Overload

By Pinkie

While at University I spent a summer on an archaeological dig. We lived in platform tents in the woods and drove about thirty minutes to get to our dig site and “town,” which was very small. A few people had cell phones but it did not matter because there wasn’t a signal there anyway. We had no TV, radio, internet, phone or anything like that at camp. We worked hard physically all day and sat around the fire talking and being silly at night. Then we went to bed and did it all again the next day.

On a holiday weekend a number of us drove to a bigger town which actually had a movie theater and we chose to see Moulin Rouge! If you have not seen this movie I would describe it as an explosion: intense visual images, singing and dancing, fast-paced editing, and over-the-top in every way. Many people who saw it found it rather overwhelming. My mother told me that a friend of hers went to see it and walked out of the theater because she hated it so much. For our group, which had been on a media fast for all intents and purposes, it was basically a massive sensory overload. We sat there with our mouths hanging open, not even sure what was happening to us.

Afterwards, we laughed about it and told our teammates who didn’t come to the theater with us all about our experience. It was fantastic to have a group of people who could understand. We made jokes about it, sang the songs at night and processed the experience together.

When I returned to the world from the convent, it felt much the same way. The world was loud, intense and overwhelming to my senses. But instead of being a two hour movie, it was constant and never-ending. And I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it, to help me feel normal again.

At first I felt terrible. I thought, “There is something wrong with me!” But gradually I realized that I just needed to give myself time and permission to be human. Instead of forcing myself to hang out with my friends a few times a week, I cut it down to two times, and more if I felt up for it. I also limited my phone conversations. Slowly I adjusted and I could do more than that.

What about you? Did the world feel loud and wild when you returned? If so, how did you handle it? Did your family and friends help you adjust?

Vanity

By Maria Jacinta.

“Humility, humility and humility.” This was St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s response to the question of what the three most important virtues are. During Advent I only pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. I love meditating on Our Lady’s humility when she immediately gave her yes to God at the Annunciation and when she humbly responded with her Magnificat during the Visitation. It is beautiful, but it really baffles me as to how someone without sin could be so humble. My point in this post is not to preach about the importance of humility, but to address its vice: vanity.

In the initial days of being home from the convent, vanity was a real struggle for me, among other things. I believe it was triggered from my reaction to being back in the world. In the convent, I had one outfit to wear every day, and I did not need to spend time fixing my hair. Vanity was not too much of an issue. Now being back in the world, I cannot wear the same thing every day. I have to fix my hair. I have to look nice. All this became an obsession for me. Ah!!! What to do?!

Thanks be to God, I came up with two solutions. If any of you have any other ideas, please do not hesitate to post them.

1) In my last post “Guard Your Heart”, I talked about my struggles with dealing with young men. I noticed that when I would go to Mass I would be focused on if any young men were there and if they would see me and how nice I looked. Yeah, I know, pathetic, right? Well, to help deviate my attention from that I got back into the habit of wearing a veil at Mass. This actually helped to lessen my focus on my hair and my looks so that I could be more focused at Mass. It is amazing! It is a very humbling experience to cover your head.

2) This may sound contradictory, but I also find that dressing nice does help. To learn to overcome vanity, it is easy to play the false humility card and dress like you just rolled out of bed. It dawned on me that we were created with dignity as women of God. We should not be ashamed of our beauty. When I began to wear skirts more often and make myself decently presentable, I noticed my self esteem go up. Obviously, I need to be careful, as I do not want to get too inflated. I try to keep the focus that I am dressing for God and God alone. If you are having trouble finding nice modest clothes, I find that Ross and Good Will (or thrift stores) are good. The prices are not too bad either!

May Our Lady clothe us with her humility. Blessings to you all this Advent!