daughters of mary of nazareth



Last Sunday, our entire immediate family — 15 of us — flew or drove to Quincy, Massachusetts to surprise Erica, Sam's oldest sister. She entered religious life with the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth in July of 2016 and is currently in formation. She was gifted a five-hour long "family day" and was incredibly excited to know that we were coming with Sam's parents. She never dreamed that all 15 of us would be waiting for her. We rented a house and hugged and laughed and cried and ate pastries and soaked up every blessed minute of those five hours. Everyone had a verbal present for Erica — be it song, poem, letter, rap, or in our case, a blog post. Below is what we read aloud to her. Mark took all of these photos. It's a gift in itself to be able to relive the radiating joy which, if you ask us, was probably making the house physically shine. To everyone who loves Erica, we hope you feel like you were there with us, with her. In spirit, you were. —m+s

Currently, 15 of us are under the same roof, either asleep or awake, but no matter the case, there lives a deep and familiar sense of anticipation. Earlier today, all of us were en route to Boston for a two day Rendezvous Of The Highest Order. By way of plane, train, and automobile, our caravan has arrived. Because, as perfect timing would have it, our sister— the one who lives in a convent and is becoming a religious sister — has been given five hours to be with her family, us. And as perfect timing would have it, this week we all found ourselves journeying from Colorado, Ohio, and Vermont to make this given gift a reality. Can't say how we all managed to pull this one off, only that we have and that a reunion of this sort has us intoxicated with gladness.  

When we tell people we have five hours to be with Erica, they tend to be shocked by what sounds like a lack of time. Understandable, sure, as five hours isn't much time. But, ah! It is! Let us shout it from the rooftop, It is enough, It is enough, It is enough! Last summer, when having a nun for a sister felt impossibly hard for Sam to adjust to, Erica wrote that maybe it would be a cathartic and healing process to put into words, here on our blog, what she, Erica, might be thinking and experiencing. It was inconceivable that either of us ever be able to do this. How could we imagine, much less put into words, what Erica— spiritual gangster, brilliant beyond reason, and hilariously lovable Erica—would be thinking? Impossible. Impossible until this evening.

Of all the nuggets of wisdom, of all the emotions felt, of all the letters exchanged, I feel assured that the thing that Erica would want us all to experience is, really, quite simple.
To want what we are given.
That's it. That's it and it's everything.

She would want us to let this truth that says that happiness is Here + Now ring out like a joyous symphony in our hearts. She would want us to know that the Lord she has devoted her life too is Generous + Unceasing in love. She would want us to embrace the reality that what we are given in life, by God, is All Gift, as she puts it. She would want us to feel freed of the bondage of wanting for more, just as she is free in the convent despite a life that, from the outside, must seem terribly Un-Free. She is free and so are we. 

And this is how five hours can be just enough. 
A morning update: Very shortly we're heading to get our Eri. It's an enormous surprise. The 15 of us are in various states of readiness — especially the 15th, a tiny baby girl, no bigger than a mango, who is hard at work growing inside her mama's womb (blog note: that's my future sister-in-law, not me). Today is everything. When you want what you are given, 5 hours is Totally + Completely enough. 




Last weekend, my sister, Erica, and dad came to stay at our “campsite.” We could not offer them a bathroom on-site, or hot water, and my dad would need to sleep in a tent with my husband in order for Erica and I to stay up too late talking. Goats might get out unexpectedly, and all of our meals would have to be cooked outside. We explained that we would enlist their help in feeding the goats, chickens, and pigs. In their words, it sounded like the authentic New England bed + breakfast experience and they wanted in. Everything about the weekend was restorative; beautiful. Family arrived, and with them the comfort of our Midwestern home and the absolute magic of reunion.

This particular reunion was predicated on the understanding that it would be the last of its kind. True, no reunion can ever be replicated. But when your sister is entering a convent to enter into religious life (what I mean is she is becoming a nun!) time feels especially of the essence. Where do you even begin? When you're talking about your sister—who doubles as your best friend—how can three days possibly be enough to say all of the things you want to say, do all of the worldly things you want to do, and cry all of the tears you need to cry?
Well, in short: it can't be enough, and somehow it is.

For just shy of a decade, Erica has been discerning the possibility of religious life. Some call it their calling, some their vocation, others still their True North. Entering into religious life as a priest or sister (sister = nun) is akin to marriage. It is equal, in fact. Except instead of marrying a man or woman, they marry Jesus. Yes, marry. How very complex. How very confusing, I wager, if you have not had the opportunity to speak with a priest or sister. In the case of my own journey through Erica's discernment, I have spent nine years asking questions, feeling frustrated, confused, desperate, joyful, open to it, not open to it, and finally: grateful. Recently, little else fills my mind. My sister will be a new woman as I was a new woman when I married Mark. I have given myself a long time (and I do mean a long time) to contemplate how her decision makes me feel. How difficult it's been for me to pull out those feelings that are True and unmarred by Emotion.

What is True with a capital T?

In my young-but-full life, I have stockpiled a few nuggets of understanding and translated them into deeply rooted beliefs. Some are beneficial for daily level-headedness (example: Dessert Is To Be Eaten Everyday), while others are critical if I am to avoid becoming a self-loathing narcissistic pile of a person. Every day, I work on stepping out of myself. I have found this task strenuous of late. Mentally, physically, and spiritually strenuous. It takes practice to overcome the unfortunate tendency of all human beings to succumb to sadness and self-absorption. As is true in my own life, the times that I succumb to those ill-developed and illusory feelings are the times I experience a dearth of peace in my life. Those are the times that I wail about the woes of This and That.

Throughout my teens and early twenties, I have felt the dearth I described as a result of my reaction to Erica's actions. Action: Erica is visiting convents and sisters around the country. Reaction: I'm going to lose the sister I knew and my life will never be as good as it was. 

Ah, but! Life is compromised of more than Action and Reaction. It is also the minutiae that exists between. That is where I believe Truth is to be found—in life's minutiae. In the quiet spells. As luck would have it, where there is truth, there can be peace. It is in the quiet in-between where thunderous peace can permeate your personhood. I hope you have felt this peace. In my experience, it calls us to gratitude. 

In a decade-long and very roundabout way, I am feeling gratitude for Erica's choice. I am grateful to know a person who possesses so much bravery in her heart. She is the first to tell you the bravery is God-sent and not of her own volition. I wonder if she recognizes that acting on accord of something other than oneself is the bravest of all! She, like a little flower, is sprouting forth from the soil to give to the earth her gifts. I am grateful that she is calling on our family to become more bonded, not less. Rooted, not shallow. Finally, I am grateful that Erica's choice to accept her vocation, no matter the odds, has taught me what can transpire when we surrender to the will of God. There is Truth to be discovered in the unknown; she is headed there, and so go I.

Together the four of us stared up at the night sky—spellbound by the Milky Way and the International Space Station zooming past the Big Dipper. Tears streamed down my face as I experienced the magnitude of creation. A clear night sky might be the quickest ticket to believing there is a master plan for the universe.

Where the profundity of Space once evoked panic in my mind, these days it fills me with deep peace. Curious, that “Space” thing. I can recall expressing to Erica my fear of Space. She is what I will confidently call a hobbyist astrophysicist-bioethics-theologian, and so her response was something to the effect of, “There is no real emptiness in Space, because the entire universe is full of Action and Reaction and stars that we cannot see and xyz . . . The darkness we see is not actually devoid.” At the time, I felt even more overwhelmed. Now, I use that knowledge to guide my faith in all that is to come with Erica's new life as a Daughter of Mary of Nazareth.

Inevitably, I will long for my darling "big little" sister. Selfishly pleading for her to remain as she always has been—I've already done it. Thank God, then, that mercy is our collective human inheritance.
Now then, what untold blessings lie ahead for each of us? 

“And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke