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

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Profile No. 13: Joan Nagel

Profiles in the Gap

Joan Nagel

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Joan Nagel is a Registered Dietitian and grad student living in North Dakota. She blogs at Everything is Yours. Follow her on Twitter at @rdgal37.

Did you expect this time of singleness?

Yes and no. Now I realize that a question technically shouldn’t be answered with both yes and no, so I’m going to do my best to explain myself…

I say yes because I’ve dated quite a bit over the past few years and have yet to find “the one” who is “my one.” I’ve sometimes wondered if “the list” of qualities I’ve concocted for my future husband might be impossible to find in one person. But when I listen to the advice of strong, married, Catholic women who stress and stress and stress, “Never settle,” and “Never lower your standards,” I am so thankful that I’m not married yet because I truly haven’t met someone that embodies everything that I’m looking for.

But are there days when I think, “Gosh, will I ever get married?” Definitely! I just have to keep reminding myself that God’s plan is always better than my own, so when he thinks that both me and  ”my one” are ready, it will happen!

So on the flip side, I say no because I have always and probably will always be a very “planny” (please excuse my feeble attempt at trying to add a word to the English language) person. I love making lists (task lists, grocery lists, lists of lists), so when my mental plan of “go to college, graduate college, get married, and have kids” didn’t happen in that order, the “planny” part of me went a little crazy.

Thankfully, I’ve finally learned that it’s okay to keep “get married” on my to-do list, but I’ve realized that this can only happen if and when God decides to check it off of his list, too.  

Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate?

Absolutely! In September 2011, I got my first “big girl” job working as a dietitian at a hospital in my hometown. It was such an amazing learning experience, as I was exposed to so many aspects of clinical dietetics, but it really drained me emotionally. Since I’ve always loved school and learning — I was that little girl who maxed out her library card during the summer months — I started praying about whether or not I should consider going back to school for my M.S. in Dietetics in hopes of landing a job better suited to my personality.

After feeling a great deal of peace about pursuing grad school, I started exploring my options and eventually found myself enrolled in an online program which allowed me to take courses from 9 different universities. The online option appealed to me because I wanted at least one year’s experience in the hospital setting before looking elsewhere. 

I started to pray feverishly for a new job once I hit that monumental one-year mark, and my prayers were answered after being offered a position from the diabetes clinic where I had interned as an undergrad. Although the position was full-time, it was also just a maternity fill, but I felt confident that another opportunity would present itself after if it was meant to be. Thankfully, I was right, and several dietitian opportunities have fallen into my lap since moving!

Currently, I am back at that same diabetes clinic working a few days a week, facilitating a diabetes prevention class, teaching two college-level dietetics courses, and taking a full load of grad courses with plans of graduating in May. I absolutely love helping patients reach their diabetes and weight loss goals in the clinic setting, but I’ve discovered that I also really enjoy teaching! I’m hoping to take and pass my Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) exam this coming June, so it will be exciting to see if any new opportunities come my way once I have M.S. and CDE after my name!  

How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult?

One of my favorite things to hear is, “Joan, you’re always so happy!” Now I’m not going to lie, I definitely have those days when I’m not feeling like this ball of sunshine, but for the most part, I always try to greet people with a smile or simple hello, even if I’m feeling stressed or crabby.

Why? Because a smile can brighten a person’s day. A hello can let others know that someone in the world cares about them. I absolutely believe that a simple act of kindness can go a long way, so that is one example of how I try to allow my faith to influence my daily activities.

As far as my outlook on life as a single young adult goes, it breaks my heart to think of how many young adults are living their lives. I believe that the main reason why many young adults are filling their lives with alcohol, parties, addictions, and promiscuity is because they are trying to fill the gap in their hearts that only God can fill. I know how it feels to have that gap. And I know how it feels trying to fill that gap with things that aren’t from God. It doesn’t work. I know that God can fill that gap. And I know that it can take time to fill that gap, but it can be done through prayer, attending Reconciliation, and more prayer! 

And so it is my hope, that my “cheery disposition” may be contagious or heck, even obnoxious enough to at the very least get someone thinking, “I wonder why Joan always seems so happy?”

Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself? If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?

During the last few years, I’ve developed a love for running, so I have been trying to run at least a few races each summer. This past summer I ran a half marathon and a 15 K, and I’m toying with the idea of signing up for my first full marathon next summer. Go big or go home, right?!

Another challenge I’ve given myself is in trying to spread the Catholic faith via my blog. I started the blog ~1 year ago coining myself an “online missionary,” and this blog has honestly been such a blessing in my life. Blogging has become my new favorite verb, and it’s safe to assume that I can be found sitting at my kitchen table, overhead lights off and candles lit, most nights of the work week (okay, sometimes on the weekends too!) as I blog to my heart’s content.

I’ve really enjoyed connecting with other Catholics and non-Catholics in the blogosphere and have felt my love for the Catholic faith grow leaps and bounds with each post I’ve written. I recently started a series on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit and am hoping to feature more series in the future as well as to host more guest posts to include a variety of perspectives from both girls and guys!

What would I do if I didn’t have to worry about failure? Gosh, good question! Well if money wasn’t an issue, I would quit school, quit my jobs and fly to Rome in hopes of attending a Pope Francis-led Mass. And then after I’d toured every church and museum and tasted the finest coffee and gelato, I’d travel to India to work with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity! A girl’s gotta dream, right?