Thursday will go down in my personal history book as a lifetime highlight.
Last spring, I was asked to be keynote speaker at the annual fundraising brunch for a local religious order, the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, here in Fargo. I have been a guest at this brunch in the past and felt honored to have this opportunity.
After talking through what my presentation might comprise way back then, I suggested I share how my experiences on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana had shaped my faith life. The organizers seemed to be very receptive, and so it went.
Another order, the Carmelite Nuns of the Ancient Observance also here in North Dakota, provided harbor for me as I prepared the bulk of my talk last weekend.
I couldn’t have done this day without them. (For more from that beautiful weekend, see Wednesday’s post).
On the way to the convention center where I was to give the talk, I sent up some prayers to a handful of my favorite saints, asking for guidance and calm. Uttering these words out loud in my van, a great reassurance came over me. I was in capable hands with the likes of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Gianna, St. Gabriel and St. Faustina.
Just that morning, St. Faustina had brought comfort through these words: “O my Jesus, You Yourself must put words into my mouth, that I may praise You worthily.”
The event happened without a hitch, from the delicious brunch and visiting with friends and family…
To the talk itself, through which I noticed the attentive expressions on people’s faces, and received the gift of laughter in just the right spots, and with more enthusiasm than I’d imagined.
It was a beautiful day that gave me an opportunity to share from the heart. At a book signing afterward, I was cheered by the comments of those who had attended.
I loved hearing about how the talk resonated with individuals in a variety of ways. “I’m from Culbertson, Montana,” one said, “so I know the landscape.” “I grew up near White Earth. So much of this rang true.” “This reminded me of my experiences near the Badlands of South Dakota,” another noted. “Thank you for sharing!”
But now, a confession — something I shared with my hairdresser the morning of the talk. I told her that with all the time I’ve spent at monasteries in recent years, I’ve come to think that I might have missed my calling. The sisters at Carmel spend much of their day in prayer, song, and in the simple tasks of living and caring for one another, and more and more I can see the beautiful value in this life.
Did I miss it, I think? Well, it’s too late now! I can hardly go back, and would I really want to?
The thing is, no, I wouldn’t want to not have experienced family life and all of the treasures it offers. But that yearning? It’s still there, too. And I think, perhaps, that it is a yearning that goes beyond this world. I think it is a thirsting for the perfect world of heaven. In the sacred space of Carmel, I have become familiar with the closest thing to heaven outside of bringing five new little souls into the world.
So again, without a doubt, I would not have wanted to forgo family life. But can I imagine myself dedicating my life totally to God in the context of a place that centers its time around praying for all, singing with the angels, and “hiding away” in the cloister, not to shirk the world but to keep it fully in its heart and soul? Yes. I really can!
If I were given a chance to do it all over again, I would hope for more discernment for my life’s direction and looking into all the options. I would search all these out and ask God, “What do you want me to do?” In my early years, it didn’t occur to me God might have a plan different than what I seemed to be seeking.
Did I get it right? Did I step onto the right path? I won’t know this side of the veil. I do believe, however, that God allows us to do things our way, and even if it isn’t the perfect way, as we draw nearer to Him, he helps us make adjustments so that His plan for us begins merging more and more with ours.
So I wouldn’t discount that maybe my visits to the monasteries are God’s way of reminding me what will be someday. For someday I believe, if I stay close to Him, all of this will be a part of my life. In heaven, I won’t have to make a choice or feel conflicted. I won’t wonder, should I have?
It will all be there, the life of unencumbered prayer, of joyful singing, of loving my loved ones fully and completely unconditionally, and being loved back just as completely.
I am grateful for having been shown both of these lives, and for experiencing both, too, in whatever ways have been presented. I am very blessed.
And so I will continue on this path, keeping an eye on what might have been, knowing that someday, quite possibly, it all will be, with nothing lost.
Thank you, Lord, for all of the beautiful opportunities you’ve offered me, despite my imperfect desires, which, I hope, will become more and more formed with what you want of me. And Lord, please help me fulfill your purpose for me on this earth right now. Your will be done.
Q4U: Have you ever wondered, what if?