What’s your story?

I’m one of those obnoxious Catholic girls who loves hearing people’s vocation stories. And now that I’ve been on this journey myself, I love it even more. I’ll track down just about anything in a habit and demand to know how it got there, and in recent months I’ve been more brazen than ever. 

As I prepare to enter the postulancy this August, the focus on people’s stories has struck me in a new way. Each of us has a story, and those stories should be shared. Really, they’re begging to be, but so often we don’t bother to ask. For some reason, religious vocation strips away some of those barriers, and I’m constantly surprised, humbled, and yes – delighted by it. 

When you tell people you’re entering a convent, they don’t just ask to hear your story – though they usually want to know – they want to tell you theirs. The receptionist at my dentist’s office told me all about his experience in a Catholic elementary school where he was taught by kind nuns. An old colleague talked about visiting his grandmother in Peru, and playing in the sun in a local convent’s courtyard where she went often to visit. Another colleague talked about being let out of detention in his Catholic high school by a sympathetic sister. Friends and acquaintances have discussed their own discernment experiences, or family members or friends who entered religious life.

I know for myself, I worry about being rude or pushy if I ask people (other than religious, of course) to tell me about themselves – beyond the typical name, place of origin, job description. I struggle with the sense of encroaching on someone’s boundaries if I try to scrape the surface. And I hesitate to share my own story because I don’t want to be the over-sharer. I certainly don’t want to tell my story only to be ignored or half-heard or (worst of all) judged. But I’m coming to realize that our stories aren’t for ourselves alone; they demand to be shared, and there’s a lot of joy in sharing and encountering someone else in a deeper way through hearing about their experiences.

Some of my friends went on a road trip a couple of years ago, and one of them suggested sharing life stories during the long drive. It was a surprising and I think profound experience for them, and I’ve always been a little disappointed that I missed it, though I’ve been filled in on some of the stories since. Even now, it’s great to watch them reminisce about that experience. Clearly, it made their friendship much deeper.

Another friend once surprised me at a large gathering when he asked a complete stranger, clearly searching for a good conversation topic, “So – what’s your story?” Even more surprising was the person’s response. She brightened up and started talking. Granted, some people might find such a question invasive, but I think there’s a universal desire to be drawn out of ourselves in some way. We all want to share our stories, and to have someone else listen to them and even enter into them with us.

Of course, there are some parts of our stories that aren’t meant to be communicated. We each live a unique, individual life, and some parts are meant to be wrapped up in a secret place shared only between ourselves and our Maker. There’s a great moment in C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, when one of the main characters, Aravis, learns that her maid was severely beaten because Aravis tricked her so she could run away from home. She knew when she left that the maid would probably be beaten, but she didn’t care. Now she’s sorry, and she asks Aslan if the girl will be all right. Aslan answers, “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers.”

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There’s a fine line between sharing stories and just plain nosiness, and that can be a hard thing to discover. But we have a duty to be ready to encounter the other, and even to invite them to the encounter, and one of the first ways to do that is through sharing who we are, where we’ve been, what we’ve done.

Like Mary in the gospel of Luke, carrying Christ to her cousin, each of us can and should say, “The Almighty has done great things for me” – and I’m aching to tell you about it, and to hear what he has done for you. 

-Mabel

A new trajectory

I am learning through experience that “the gap” changes and takes on different aspects as you continue to journey through it. Some months it can seem like trudging along at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, while other times it’s just a footbridge over a small creek. There’s a temptation to look at our lives now and assume they’ll always be this way, that we’ve finally got it just about figured out, that the journey will only get easier from here.

Life has thrown me a number of curveballs over the past eighteen months, knocking down each of my carefully constructed paradigms, from my comfortable career, my ambitions and goals, to my narrow self-perception and even my relationships. I have been forced to admit that I don’t know what’s coming next, that I don’t have all the answers (I don’t have many answers at all), that despite all my introspection I don’t even know myself all that well. I’ve been pretty shaken up, readers, and the process of recovery and healing has taken a long time and led me into some situations I never thought I’d be part of, but it has been truly beautiful. I wouldn’t undo it for the world.

The shakeups in my career and the almost subconscious resetting of my ambitions in the last year undid a lot of things for me, but it also opened me up in ways I never expected. Readers, I’ve been grappling with whether or not to broach this on the blog, but I’m far enough in now that to say nothing would be dishonest. After years of assuming my “life in the gap” would end in marriage, I have found myself gently led down a different path. It began to dawn on me during Holy Week last year that perhaps I am being asked to consider a different life. It took a few months for things to become clear, but I have been actively discerning a vocation to the religious life since last summer. Without going into imprudent detail, I will only say I continue to be met with green lights as I walk this unexpected and beautiful path.

For now, I’m still “in the gap,” even if my trajectory is a little bit different now. This blog will go on, and hopefully at least some of my readers will stick with me. I’m excited to continue this journey, to see where my gap leads now that I have taken some first steps, and to share where I can.

-Mabel

Thoughts on the road out of Jericho

I don’t have writer’s block. What I have is almost worse: a long list of posts I should write, and I just don’t want to. Can men and women be “just friends”? That post has been hanging out as an unkept promise for a good year at this point, and every time I sit down to start it, I get fidgety and cranky and have to erase and start a post on something else. I’ve also been meaning to write a bit on vulnerability. But since the very process of publicizing a post on that topic involves being somewhat vulnerable myself, I’ve been bypassing that topic with a backward wave for months. Also on the list: a post on budgeting. I’d love to write this one, actually, but I feel I’d better start keeping a pretty careful budget myself, before I talk about what a great idea it is.

(Okay. Maybe now I’ve let you all see some of these topics, I’ll feel forced to getting around to them eventually.)

The Number 1 topic on my avoidance list since the inception of this blog, though, has been Discernment. Not vocation, which is ostensibly what you end up with at the end of the process of discernment, and not simple joyful acceptance of life in the now before vocation (which is what this blog is all about), but the active, aching, confusing, at times terrifying journey that is discernment. I don’t want to write about it now, either, but I’ve been praying about what topic I should look at next on this blog, and he just keeps throwing this one at me.

Because I don’t really know what I’m talking about, I’ll keep it very simple–I’ll let the Bible do most of the talking for me. We read one of my favorite Gospel passages on Sunday: the story of blind Bartimaeus and his healing on the road leading out of Jericho. In the past I’ve always found myself reflecting on the blind man’s admission of his own need and want. I’m still blown away by his courage in calling after Jesus, despite the people around him telling him to knock it off. As I’ve written before, it takes courage to ask for the things we need, because it involves admitting to ourselves and to others that we aren’t self-sufficient.

Reading the passage this time, though, something else resonated with me. Jesus at last hears the blind man, and the people say to poor Bartimaeus, “Take courage, get up. Jesus is calling you.”

Take courage.

Get up.

Jesus is calling you.

I realize we’re all in different places in our personal discernment processes. It’s a journey each of us makes alone, regardless of who may join us along the way. I’ve left this topic alone very much for that reason. Beyond that, I have to admit to some bitterness about the whole “vocation thing.” After years and years of discerning, praying, and waiting, sometimes I wonder if maybe I’m not called to anything in particular after all. Maybe the grand high purpose of the Christian life really is only for those exceptional people I see around me every day, people God has already called to the priesthood, to the convent, to beautiful, fruitful marriages. Maybe he did his best with me, and I’ve simply failed. I won’t walk you any deeper into the darker musings I sometimes fall into–suffice it to say, in recent years I have left the topic of discernment very much alone because I’m sick and tired of it.

So those words on Sunday morning went off in my head like a cannon. “Jesus is calling you.”

There’s no equivocation in that passage, no second guessing, not even necessarily in this moment a particular something he’s calling me (or you) to or for. So I’m still in the dark about what my main life’s work might end up being and the ultimate vocational setting in which I’ll end up doing it, but I can rest assured that I am called.

The daily process of discernment rests in that trust. Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, the Master has need of you. He’s calling you. Discernment, then, means shutting up and listening. Moreover, it means getting up and going to him. For those of us still in the waiting period, that means making time for him every day. We tend to think of discernment as this grand grappling with God, like Jacob wrestling the angel. Of course, discernment can and probably will have that aspect, especially in the beginning while we’re still bringing our wills into line with his. We don’t just leave it there, though. Beyond that point, discernment should be a daily, quiet, habitual process of growing close to Christ now so that, when at last he’s ready to set us on the road, we’re already there, itching to go, confident that he loves us.

Take courage.  Get up, Jesus is calling you.