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Life and Death…

There is life. Then, there is death. The past week, I have been contemplating both literal life and death, as well as spiritual life and death. In one way or another we have all had some encounter, in both the literal and spiritual sense. Have you contemplated the Lord’s will in those times? Did you ever question why the all-loving Father would allow His little ones’ to suffer so? Believe me, I have. I do. I probably always will. 

My mom passed away eleven years ago today. As this anniversary approaches every year, it amazes me how unique each anniversary has been. Some years, I haven’t been able to force myself out of bed. Other years, it’s felt just like every other day without her. Then, more often it’s been a day of ups and downs. Tears and laughter. Memories and regrets. That is today for me. 

I look back and remember the unexplainable pain of those first days, after her death. Waking up to literally hundreds of people in our home each day…none of them being the one my heart was aching for. One memory that stands out is the first night we were home. I was overwhelmed and just wanted to be alone…a quiet place to go to let out the gut wrenching sobs I had held in that day. I went to my room and colapsed in a corner. As my heart poured out in sobs, I was praying to feel the Father holding me. All of a sudden, I was being lifted up and embraced by my godfather. Somehow, probably because a father is always aware, he knew I needed that embrace. Our Father knew I needed a physical representation of Himself…so He sent Uncle Tommy. As I continued to look back, I saw how much the Father was carrying me…how He continues to!

This first month in India was terribly hard. Yes, every day was sprinkled with smiles and laughter, but my heart was also in great despair. Adjusting to life here was unexpectedly challenging. The culture is completely new. Living here is one thing, but embracing cultural ways and trying to learn the necessary communication skills (broken english with some Telegu, as well as the indian head bobble), was very trying for my soul. 

When I first came, I hung up a calendar where I could count down the days, until home. I had several conversations with roommates’ about how hard it was. They all said, “…the first month was so hard, but it gets better. You will see.” Every time I thought, ” If I make it an entire month… . ” Now we have passed that mark and, suddenly, life here is normal! I am looking forward to the next three months. 

Last night, I realised that this week was full of literal and spiritual death. The eleventh year without my mom is beginning. I have spiritually gone through another winter of death, and entered into a springtime of acceptance and new life. I have begun to see why our Lord has called me out into the deep…to India. He is stretching the garden of my heart and making me self aware. Little by little, He is speaking tenderly to my heart (Hosea 2:14). A humble soul recently told me, “…try to understand, not to be understood.” This is my daily prayer.

 Prayers for all of you this week. I will be flying to Kolkata for the weekend, know I carry your intentions with me to St. Mother Teresa’s tomb. Please pray for me to continue trying to understand. Love always!

(we are currently without wifi…so no pics this post. I will try to remember to post some later this week)

Surrender…

“The surrender that is asked of us includes complete and absolute trust; it must be like Our Lady’s surrender, without condition and without reservation.” ~ Caryll Houslander ~

The word, “surrender,” has been coming up so much these past months. Throughout my discernment to leave religious life, deciding to live on Kelley’s Island for three months, and then discerning I was called to move to India for a time of service…”surrender” definitely was a theme. Even this morning, at Mass, we sang “I surrender all,” and I thought, “I hear you, Lord.” To which His response, in my heart, seemed to be, “…but do you?”
As I have spent the past couple of weeks here, I have been praying about or reminded of my need to surrender. It is not always easily done or sometimes even heard. I am always learning…especially in the continued adjustment to my daily life here, and the culture in general…it has been more challenging than anticipated. 

Many have asked what my days here are like. My schedule is set up in this way:      

Monday-Saturday                                                                                                   Three hours in the am. Lunch break. Two hours in the late afternoon. Then, I have Sunday’s off.

When I first got here, I experienced great fear or trepidation. I asked myself, “Why? How did I convince myself that this was something I could do? Will I ever feel comfortable here…embracing Indian culture? etc.” Honesty moment…getting off the 13+hr flight to Dubai, I probably would have chosen another long flight, to go home, instead of the short flight to Hyderabad (I giggle remembering that irrational thought).

Over two weeks have passed and I am able to say that the answer is, Yes. Yes, I am more comfortable. I am at peace in being called here. I am loving the children (and volunteers) I am blessed to work with. I am “enough,” when I surrender control (which was never really mine) and focus on the Beloved’s voice alone. 

One day this past week, I woke up thinking about the passage in Mark, “…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” ( 10:15) I found it a little random, but prayed with it anyways. Later that morning, I was jumping on a trampoline with some of the little ones and that verse basically smacked me in the face. Here were these precious children, who in just two weeks I have come to love, reminding me daily of their innocent faith.

One little boy in particular makes my heart leap for joy every morning, when he bows his head for prayer and so intently focuses on praying. That day, on the trampoline, he kept stopping and admiring a beautiful flowering tree that is against the protective net, around their trampoline. Even in his free play time, his innocent heart could not resist the pull of admiring the beautiful flowers that our Lord has blessed us with. All the other kids were yelling, “Sister (women here go by that title…men by “brother”), jump! Jump!” Yet, he was too captivated by beauty. He made me contemplate the fact that while we are in a city and there is much pollution, there is also incredible beauty. “Stop and smell the roses,” so to say. 

God bless, my friends! +

From the Rooftop…

“Here I am before you, falling in love and seeking your Truth. Knowing that your perfect grace has brought me to this place. Because of you I freely live, my life to you, Oh God, I give. So I stand before you, God. I lift my voice ’cause you set me free. So I shout out your name. From the rooftops I proclaim, that I am yours.      I am yours!”                                                          

                                                                               Jesus Culture-Rooftops

I have arrived! Over a week has already come and gone. The days have melded together. I remain overwhelmed. I have so many thoughts. So many emotions. So many insecurities. I also have a deeply abiding joy and peace. Praise God!

This past week has was full of “firsts” for me. Some big ones are:

I flew my first international flight alone…across the other side of the world. 🌎 ✔

I bought indian Kurtas (the traditional daily wear for indian women) which we wear too. ✔

I experienced my first auto ride (I found it nerve wrackingly fun). ✔

I am eating a lot of unusual foods, for me (texture has been a struggle…taste is amazing!). ✔

I am venturing out further and further from my house, alone. ✔
The children! My heart is so full. These beautiful sons and daughters of the Father, have brought such happiness into my life. I am overwhelmed. It has only been one week, yet at times, I feel like I’ve known these souls forever. God is so good. The welcome I receive each morning nearly brings me to tears. 

The beginning of this past week was full of nervousness and being utterly overwhelmed…in the best way. Everything is new. Everything is foreign to my usual way of life. There is so much I need to adjust to. Pray, with me, for an open heart to the stretching work of the Lord. 

I struggle with feeling underqualified to help and love the kids I have been asked to work with. My first few days were more fear of not “being enough,” than anything else. I lost sight of my focus on Christ being the one that is “enough” for them. I am mearly a vessel, carrying His love and light to the world.  Thankfully, today at Mass, I feel like everything started coming back into focus. 

There is more in my heart, but for now it needs further pondering and prayer, before I can share. Know of my continued prayers for all of you, back at home. Have a blessed week! +

As the year ends…

The past year has been such a journey. As we near New Years eve, I am seeing more and more comments on social media about how terrible this year has been…as a whole. I have been conflicted in my response. 

Yes, people died. We, as a society, have mourned the loss of many celebrities this past year. But, how many people have lost a friend or a loved one? How many parents have had to lay a child to rest too early? Personally, I have been to two infant funerals in 2016, and was not able to attend another. Dear friends of mine, who lost their babies all too soon. 

I imagine their pain is overwhelming. Yet, I admire their determination and faith, that in the Lord’s time, all pain and sorrow will be healed. They have not dwelled only on their loss…they have found moments of joy and great blessing. They have chosen to look at the graces of 2016 and to look forward, in hope, to a new year. A new beginning. A fresh start in living out their lives of faith and trust in Divine Providence. 

As I reflect on my own life, this past year, there are many moments of great pain and sadness. There are moments of death. Moments of utter abandonment. Moments where spiritually, there was only great darkness and a deeply penetrating feeling of despair or hopelessness. How easily I could look back and say, “Thank God, this year is finally over! It was such a terrible year. Hopefully 2017 will be better.” Yet, I choose to see God at work in my life. I choose to not focus only on my hard times, losses, etc. 

 In my looking back, this is what I see my year was:

I was living my life, as Sr. Emilia. I lived the life that, for as long as I can remember, I have always dreamed of. Then, in discernement, I began to pray about being called to an openness…to the idea…that I was being called to leave religious life to discern marriage. That was a huge time of fear, faith, trust in the darkness, excitement, etc. It was a gift…even in the pain. 

I attended a Theology of the Body course retreat, in PA. That retreat literally, “changed my life!” I had no idea how beautifully painful that week was going to be. The Lord showed me throughout that week, His great and abiding love. The phrase I used after that week was, “…it felt like I had been stripped and beaten, then hung up to dry, alone.” It took me months to connect that imagery, to that of Christ, on His own Cross. Then, my pain (because it was on that retreat that I discerned I was called to marriage…which meant leaving my life and sisters at the monastery) became beautiful…because it was united with our Bridegroom’s Cross…the marriage bed of the Lamb.

(Now, a quicker version of the rest of the year…)

I left religious life in May. I lived with my Granny for a time. I lived on Kelley’s Island for three months. I applied and was accepted for a time of volunteering in India. I moved home to prepare for that mission. Now, we are just 6 days from my departure to India! I will live the first 5 months of 2017, on the other side of the world. 

There were SO many days of great pain and sadness, as I adjusted to my new life outside of the monastery…without community…without such intense and beautiful prayer. Looking back, I see only growth and the gift of the Father’s love. There are no regrets. Yes, I could focus on the many wounds and struggles, the deaths of family and friends, etc. but I have chosen to look back at 2016, with gratitude. I choose to see the many gifts bestowed upon my life, as well as the times when I failed to live my life in holiness. 

I choose to look forward to 2017…not in the hopes that “2017 will be better,” or “to forget 2016!” No, I look foward to this new year of blessings and growths…trials and pains…adventures and the unknown, while remembering the past year and how it helped to bring me to where I am. 

I implore you, my friends, to take a look at your own lives and focus on the blessings…even in the face of pain. Seek to find the good. What graces were you given this past year? What moments did you see growth in? Have you taken it to prayer? Have you thanked God for His love and blessings? 

Merry Christmas!

Happy New Year! May it be a year of abundant growth and happiness. 

A Mother’s Love

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And the One seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ ”                                                                    Rev. 21:3-5

As the Nativity of our Lord approaches,  my heart is drawn to reflect upon motherhood. This week, especially with the feast of the Immaculate Conception, I reflected on our Lady… on her maternity to Jesus and all of the children of God. I contemplated her humility, her depth of faith and her love.

Every year, I am drawn deeper into reflection by this image.

Mary traveling to Bethlehem - liz lemon swindle:

In this image, I see a young woman, blessed with a child. I see in her face the burden of her call. I imagine her eyes here, closed in prayer and faith…as Joseph leads her on the path God has called them upon. What hurdles they have already crossed, together. What pains and Joys lie ahead! Did she really comprehend the impact this Child would have on the world? Did she know in her heart the depth of pain she would come to endure, because of her great love for the Lord? What were her emotions? What thoughts ran through her and Joseph’s head as they made the slow and long journey to Bethlehem?

Upon further prayer, I then focused on the children I long to see in India. These children anxiously await the birth of the Christ child. They also anxiously await a mother’s love. I see the gift our Lord gave us in Mary…mother of all. But, I also know the ache in the depths of our hearts to be loved by an earthly mother. I experience the desire to feel that love as well.

With the holidays upon us, I cannot help but miss my mom a little (A LOT) more! Every day the pain, the sadness, the emptiness, the longing to see her or hear her say, “I love you, my princess”…grows just a little bit stronger. February 6, 2017, will be 11 years since my mom died. Eleven years…but the pain still runs to the depths of my heart. I cannot help but feel united to the precious orphans I am blessed to be going to love. I offer my pain and sadness in union with theirs.

A beautiful friend of mine called me out of the blue last night…that phone call was so needed. By the end of the call, I had opened up and the many tears, painful thoughts, the ache for “just one more hug,” etc. that I had been holding in for weeks, came flowing out. As I shared with her, I also began to reflect upon, Mother Mary. To remember the way that she has filled that void in a way no other could. Since then, my heart has found peace and rest under the mantle of Our Lady.

My favorite title/icon of Our Lady is called the “Panagia Paramythia Icon.” As I reflect on her motherhood, I am drawn to pray before this image. Panagia-is Greek for, “All Holy.”

theotokos_paramythia_hand-painted_byzantine_icon_1

Because of Our Lady’s, “Yes,” to God’s will, the Savior was born in a manger…born to come and “make all things new.” The pain and aching in orphaned hearts will be healed, the many tears will be wiped away. I can only imagine that Our Lady, in her maternity, will be the one to wipe that final tear from our faces.

So, this third week of Advent, let us be Joyful. Joyful in the hope of Emmanuel. Joyful in the knowledge that there will be an end to suffering and abandonment. Joy in the “mothers” that the Lord blesses all of His children with. Joy…even in the aching pain.

Matthew 19:21

A blessed Thanksgiving week to you all! May it be a time full of the love and joy of Christ.

As we enter into this season of giving, I am continuing to raise funds (tax-deductible), as well as collecting material donations to pack and take along with me to India. I wanted to share with those who may not be able to contribute financially, but who may still want to help the children in one way or another. There are many needs for SCH…prayers being most important!

Some donations I would be willing/able to take with me:

  • Newborn Cloth diapers (any size is welcomed, but there is a high need for the tiny ones!
  • Girls underwear- 2, 3 and 6
  • Girls Sports bras-xs and small
  • Boys Underwear-6
  • Pre-school toys, craft supplies, books, etc. (anything your children/grandchildren would love to have!)

Please feel free to pass along this wishlist for the orphanage. I will gladly make trips (within reason) to pick up donations. The more this blog is shared with others, the more awareness, help and prayers we can have for all who are involved with SCH.

I am so grateful for all of you, who are joining me in this experience. The love and generosity that has been pouring in is overwhelming, in the best way possible. Know of my continued prayers for you all! Peace and God’s blessings! +

 

Spiritual Motherhood

“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in travail! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her that is married, says the Lord. Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitation be stretched out; hold not back, lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.”

Isaiah 54:1-2

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+ St. Emilia, patron saint of Mothers, pray for us! +

As I began the journey, when I was about 12, of discerning religious life, the one thing I could not get past, was not whether I could live without an earthly spouse (because after all, we are all seeking for the eternal marriage to the Lamb), but whether or not I could give up the call of a woman’s heart…the call that the Lord fashioned into a woman…the call of “motherhood.”

In time, I discerned that I was being called to at least enter religious life and see what my heart felt over a time of experiencing the fulfillment of religious life. Even though I have discerned that I was called to leave and discern marriage, I am so grateful for the gift of experiencing years of monastic life. I experienced the beautiful aching pain of living a life of celibacy, for a marriage to the Bridegroom; while also experiencing a bleeding heart, which yearned for my own children…but seeing that ache fulfilled by other people’s children…ah the JOY!

Growing up, I was blessed to witness my mother setting the example of spiritual motherhood as well as biological. That woman could love! If I can learn to be half of the person she was, I will feel like I have achieved great strides! When she passed, I experienced motherhood for the first time with all of my siblings, but most especially the youngest who was only 2 weeks old.

Over time, the Lord would fill my heart with so  many children to love. I was blessed to be a nanny/babysitter before religious life, and came to love these children in a special way. Then, as a sister, the Lord blessed me abundantly with so many special children to love. I love all children greatly, but there were those particular children that the Lord placed in a special spot, deep in my heart. The love for them continues to grow and stretch my heart as time goes on. Since coming back from religious life, in May of this year, I have begun to nanny and be blessed with yet more children to love.

Now, I am preparing to leave for a mission trip to India. To spend almost 5 months living with and loving the “orphans” at SCH (who ultimately are not orphaned, for God promised He would never leave us orphaned), but children who are patiently awaiting their forever family to come and take them home. While I am here- preparing all the documents, funds, immunizations, etc. for my journey- my heart already loves and aches to hold and love the little ones’ who are waiting for me to come.

May we all, whether biologically or spiritually, learn what it is to love a child as our own!

In a conversation Venerable Archbishop Luis Martinez had with his spiritual daughter, Venerable Conchita, he said to her,

“You, too, like Jesus, must love the Father on behalf of all your children [she had 9 of her own] and for all the souls that God has linked with you through the outstanding grace of spiritual maternity. In order to be a mother of souls, you must love on their behalf, as Jesus loved on behalf of all.” 

~To be Jesus Crucified, Ven. Martinez~

T-58 days!!!

“…if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually,…and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”
Isaiah 58:10-11

My heart overflows with gratitude!

I have received over 100% of my goal of $1765 for my trip to SCH. I am so grateful for the generosity of so many people. Between those who have contributed towards my daily needs fund (while in India), to those who have promised to pray for certain children by name, and to those who have sent me money to be used towards immunizations and airfare…the blessings have not ceased! I am amazed!

Now, I continue to pray for those who are already in India…anxious to be where I hear the Beloved’s voice beckoning. In the midst of  my readiness to complete this dream that abides so deeply in my heart, I treasure the time that I have had with my family, especially my little siblings.

In the months ahead, we will all venture into the holiday seasons. Please join me in praying for the children at the orphanage, but more importantly, please join me in praying for the volunteers who will be staying in India and missing the holidays with their family. These volunteers will be providing children with the true gift of the holiday season…that of pure and selfless love. Let us also pray for their families who, undoubtedly, will be missing their children.

Until next time!

Peace and God’s blessings be with you, my friends!

 

Moving along…

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A few weeks have passed since my last blog post. Life has been crazy and I have been sick. Luckily, this week, I have started to feel more like my normal self, so plans for India continue! I have been talking with friends and family and I am getting  very excited to travel to SCH in the new  year.

Some updates:

  1.  My Visa finally arrived! (That was my least favorite part of the process)
  2. I received some books today, that I need to read before going.
  3. I am looking into flight options.
  4. I have talked with my physician and scheduled some vaccine appointments.
  5. My heart is daily being pulled further and further towards India and the children, as well as the volunteers that will become a huge part of my life.

I have been praying for all of you. Thank you to those who have been keeping in touch. I cannot wait to share this journey with you all. As the time draws nearer, I ask you to pray especially that my heart may be vulnerable and open in hearing and responding to the voice of the Shepherd. Know of my love!

 

“Sometimes I just look up, smile, and say, ‘I know that was you God! Thanks!’ ” 

Thoughts as I prepare…

Step one: Apply for a Visa.

The process to go to India has begun. I have applied for a visa to India! Now I must wait, patiently, for the consulate to process and file my application. As soon as it comes in, I will have a visa and the ability to head to India. Even though I am not planning on leaving until after Christmas, I have started the process already, because it can take a few months for the entire visa application to go through.

Now that that is done, I have many thoughts. I am excited to see what the Lord has called me to, in this mission trip. I cannot even begin to imagine what He has planned for me…but my heart is joyfully open to hearing and following His voice!

I see pictures of the babies and kids I will be blessed to work with, I see images of the women I will work alongside and I am encouraged. I see true love. Sacrificial love. I am excited to go to India and serve alongside these women, who have given up months of their lives to love and be loved. What better way can our Lord show us His love than through little children?!

I have always desired to serve in India, with orphaned children in particular. The Lord has made it clear that He is giving me the gift of fulfilling this desire that is rooted deeply within. How many times did I give up on this desire? How many times did I chicken out and make excuses to myself and the Lord on why I can’t go? Now, the Lord is being very clear whenever I try to come up with excuses…now is the time. The Lord wants to grant me this desire!

Sarah’s Covenant Homes (SCH) has recently updated their website and it now has many more pictures and stories. Please go and check out their site. It will not only help you to see exactly what I will be doing and who I will be serving, but you will also be touched yourselves. This ministry is a beautiful thing and there are so many ways that you can reach out to help in their mission. They need prayers, donations and help from here, as well as the help from those who travel to India to serve.

The Facebook link for SCH is here.

The website link is here.

Thank you! Please remember myself and all who aide SCH, in your prayers.