Sister Marie Elizabeth/Grace, Part 3

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Written on January 30, 2017

One year ago today, Grace entered the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Valparaiso, Nebraska, which is the motherhouse of a cloistered Carmelite order. I remember being the last one out of the guesthouse heading to Mass in the chapel, one of the few places visitors could be. It was cold and the large Mission-style bells started pealing out over the beautiful farmland. They rang out for so long and so loud calling us to Mass and calling her in.

It was work getting everything in order for her entrance and getting 11 of us there. But here we were. Wishing time would stand still. God’s grace swept us along and the enormity of the moment overcame us. Tears flowed freely and would for days.

We had some time for individual good-byes and then one last group hug. It is difficult to put into words how this went and so much of Carmel life is to be hidden. I won’t be able to share all. We had total peace and trust about what she was doing. And then it was done.

We have only since seen our daughter behind the grille. If she stays, and she can come out anytime before final vows are taken, that last hug is the last time we will have physical contact with her. I think most us grew up not realizing that this still exists, men and women choosing this monastic way of life. It is so counter to how we all live. So old-school. So other worldly.

On our long, quiet journey home, Cash said to me, “You had all the time with her.” He meant because we homeschooled that I was with her all the time. It’s true and I’m so grateful.

Sharing a bit of this and your amazing responses and prayers means a lot. If you think of it, pray for now Sister Marie Elizabeth and the other men and women in monasteries. They are for sure praying for us.

Sister Marie Elizabeth/Grace, Part 4

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Written on February 21, 2017

Sometime before Grace entered the Carmel, it all kind of flashed before me and I laughed out loud in wonder at God’s mysterious ways. Grace’s conception and birth were like none of our other kids. Her conception is probably only relatable if you are or were an NFP user. Happy to share about that privately. Even in utero, Grace was fiesty and active. I would wake up and she’d be traverse. She’d be breech. Our doctor had us go to the hospital, me gowned up and in the bed. He wanted to turn her hoping she’d stay put until birth. She had turned *herself* sometime during the night!

She eventually turned breech again and when I was many days overdue, we had to schedule another attempt at turning and induction. But I went into labor the day before! I had a house to clean and toddler to get settled so I ignored it. At some point, I thought it best to call and the nurse sternly said to get in the office. On the way, my water broke! I am still mad that I let Cash, who had met me there, talk me into sloshing up to the office instead of straight to the hospital across the street! 🙂

We were quickly sent over and I felt calm, being reassured that it was possible to deliver breech. But at some point they called it and I was being pushed down the halls and elevators for what turned out to be a crash C-section. They didn’t even take the time to prep Cash. He had to stay outside. I was crying and the sweet nurses were trying to console me but all I could selfishly say was, “I don’t want a c-section.” It’s funny now. Never did I think anything was wrong with our baby.

I woke up from anesthesia for a few seconds asking for my baby. She was somewhere getting checked out. Cash had run back to work to clear his desk. The nurse asked if we had a name. I said Grace. Grace Judith. Two names not even on our list. Then I went back to sleep.

Neither of us saw her being born. She was perfect and beautiful. We learned that as they were wheeling me into the operating room, nurses were crying and the doctor prayed! Now it all feels like such a God moment. Like He knew all along. And of course He did..

Sister Marie Elizabeth/Grace, Part 5

 

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Written on March 6, 2017

Happy 20th birthday Sister Marie Elizabeth, our beautiful girl so far away from us!

Last Fall, someone innocently asked if Grace would be coming home for Thanksgiving. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. When Mother Superior took Grace through the door to the monastery, that was it. Unless a Sister leaves before a final vow is taken, she does not come out of the monastery. There are a few exceptions like if one needs special medical care. Sister Marie Elizabeth did actually go out to have her wisdom teeth pulled and we can’t wait to hear the details when we next visit!

For her Carmelite order, we can visit twice a year, call once on her birthday, and write letters each month, except for Lent and Advent which are quiet. We got to call her last week before Lent began.

Grace was not one to share or talk about herself, her feelings, her plans. Definitely not in her teen years. Definitely not to us. She was sweet and chatty with probably most everyone else outside this home and most definitely with Emily, her sister and best friend, but often seemed annoyed with us and often acted like she couldn’t wait to get out of here. 🙂

Being apart in this dramatic way has changed all that, changed us. There is heartache for me not knowing anything about her day-to-day, if she is happy, sad, struggling, sick. But, there is a deepness now. And love and gratitude and apologies. She thanks us for everything and wonders how we put up with her. The letters especially are what I treasure. There are tears but also much joy and funny stories.

So while we miss her presence in our home and daily living in ways we didn’t know our hearts could, through this separation God has given us the sweet consolation of growing closer to and loving deeper this daughter than we knew possible.

I am a bit of a mess looking at pictures of her infant and childhood today, but happiest of days and all the love to our girl, our Sister Marie Elizabeth! Thank you for your prayers for her!

Sister Marie Elizabeth/Grace – Part 6

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Written on September 16, 2017

I’ve been looking through pictures and found this one of Grace at our beloved ocean. I wonder what she was thinking then. When we visited Sister last April, we could tell something was different. The visit was awesome for so many reasons. We were fortunate to be able to fly. It was not a busy time at the Carmel. The weather was beautiful. We laughed and talked and sang Ed Sheeran’s What Do I Know to her. We’re weird like that and she hadn’t heard it, of course. This made Cash teary-eyed listening to us. It’s my favorite memory of that visit.

During our visits in the speak room, we noticed something interesting. She would say things like, “Do you guys hear that bell? That means it’s time for such-and-such prayer.” Another time, “It’s 11:00. I should go. I’m not going to ask for more time since Mother gave me extra time yesterday.” And, “I think I hear the Sisters going to the chapel.” The older ones of us were thinking, “Are you kidding, we want all the time we can get!” Something almost unnoticeable had changed in her. We sensed in her a desire to want to be back in the monastery doing what she does. A lot of what she does is pray. Our pastor, her spiritual director before she entered, was able to visit her recently. His report was simply that she seemed happy. Very happy.

It’s wasn’t a total surprise, then, when we learned last week that Sister will make a First Profession of Vows on October 13. We are so happy for her. But in speaking with Mother, I learned how serious this vow is. I thought it was just the next thing, another step on the way. An invitation to make this vow is with the expectation that you will make it to Final Vows three years later. It’s like a wedding and the vows taken this day will be repeated on special anniversaries.

When I speak about Sister I almost always preface it with “if she stays” because I’ve known that we could get a call at any time saying to come and pick her up. While she could still come out, it is now less likely.

We prepare for another trip east. To a place we’ve come to love. To see our girl in Carmel. But it feels different for us now as well.

Sister Marie Elizabeth/Grace – Part 7

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Written on October 16, 2017

Sister made her Profession of First Vows. Each time we visit Carmel, I notice more of the beauty that is there. It sits on a hill and is surrounded by beautiful, quiet farmland. But this time it was the chapel.

We sat in the chapel on Friday afternoon, us, my sister’s family, our pastor, and forty of our friends, all who had sacrificed time and money to be there. It was quiet and dark. These vows are made somewhere in the monastery and not at the grille like her Clothing last year. About half way through, the bells rang out loud and clear to announce the Vows had been made. It was beautiful and overwhelming. A Mass of Celebration and visit in the speak room followed the next day. Every family present got to have a private visit and then we all crammed in together. My daughter, the Carmelite, spoke words of wisdom and encouragement. I was proud of her conviction and when her voice faltered because of the seriousness of it all, we all cried too.

It was amazing, all of it. But my heart is strangely heavy. After all had gone, we had our family visits. They were good. So good. She is sure this is her vocation. But she shared some of her sufferings and feelings about how hard this is. Driving away in the dark, I am thinking this was our hardest visit and goodbye yet. I am determined to pray more (not a strength) and make little sacrifices for her and to not forget what she has given up in answering this high call.

The joys, the sufferings, the heartache of separation, the great blessing of being a part of this wondrous Carmelite and cloistered life. God-willing, she will make a Final Vow in three years. For now, I’ll be thinking about the next letter and the next visit.

Sister Marie Elizabeth/Grace – Part 8

 

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Written on January 30, 2018

It’s late on the west coast on this day in January remembering Sister’s entrance at Carmel two years ago. A lifetime ago. I have spent the last hour looking through pictures and, wow, did this girl take a lot of selfies! So many smiling, happy, beautiful pictures. But this is the one for today. Her serious and contemplative look maybe matches my mood today. Because, friends, this cloistered business is hard stuff!

Since her first vow in October, there has been an acceptance, a settling. Like this is it. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it is. We started the simple prayer and penance for priests and religious at the beginnig of this month and on cue the devil did his messing with our girl. After talking to priests and religious, these struggles, these valleys and peaks she’s navigating are normal, they would all say. And then follow up with something like, but the cloistered, that’s a whole other level. We saw so many of these beautiful men and women at the walk in San Francisco and, after the tears, because, gosh, I can’t see a sister in a habit without crying, I felt such a deep appreciation for what they give up and the sacrifices they endure. What a gift they are to the Church and to the world.

We have been doing affirmations for years. We choose a person, usually on a special day or because we sense someone needs it, and everyone goes around and says what they like about that person or things they do well, etc. Words of affirmation. That’s what Sister needed from us. So instead of long letters filled with the happenings of our crazy days, we sent her affirmations. Instead of a hug or a hand held or a tear wiped, we shared words of encouragement. And we pray. That’s all we can do. Ultimately, this is between her and God, and like my oldest said, we can barely understand the sacrifice. I am so proud of her for following what she believes is God’s calling for her. So in awe of what she is doing.

Two years. A lifetime. But I remember every single second of that day. ❤

Sister Marie Elizabeth/Grace – Part 9

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Written on March 6, 2018

Happy 21st birthday, daughter of mine. In keeping with my other kids’ 2018 birthday posts, here is one of Sister looking a bit sad eating her cake (best one we have) and one in our beloved Sierras the summer before she entered.

I promised @hallielord and her listeners a lighter post about Sister. These are a few of the funny things. 😊

There were things that happened that made us wonder if Grace had a vocation, but she was too young for us to take them seriously. After our crazy 2013 when we adopted a baby, nearly lost a child, and sent our oldest off to college, we should have collapsed. But Grace was a Junior and I told her that we needed to think about college and the SAT. She, not my most communicative child, said something so important, so big. She said, “Mom, I don’t think I want to go to college, I think I have a vocation.” And I said, “Oh no, you’re going to college. You can work out your vocation at college.” Yes I did. She didn’t speak of it again.

About five months later, one of our priests, young enough to be my kid, caught me after Mass. He started by asking if we knew that Grace had been talking to him about her vocation. I bet she had since I pretty much shut her down. He shared some things and the seriousness of it all hit me. I started crying. He was probably regretting that he hadn’t caught Cash instead. After sharing, he ever so gently asked, “so about college…?” He is the best. I blubbered something along the lines of who cares about college!

Fast forward and she had visited a monastery and had a plane ticket for another. She’s a senior at this point and on track to graduate early. I remember being in church and her showing me in the missal that St. Therese entered at 15. I’m all let’s see how old St. Teresa was and said that I would make her finish high school! Then somewhere in there she kind of panicked and started saying things about having a back-up plan and taking the SAT and applying just in case the orders might tell her she needed to. Then I panicked thinking we had pretty much slacked off on most things academic. I was doubtful she could even get in.

She signed up for the SAT and I had to force her to study, say things like you are 17 and I am your mom so you must sit at the computer and take practice tests! My homeschool mom pride was all we’re not taking this and failing. But she was miserable. She groaned and moaned sitting there. Then I’d catch her in her room in the evening sitting on her bed surrounded by literature from various orders and notes from different Mothers. She would be glowing! I pointed this out but she was still so confused. Finally at one of our family meetings a few days before the big test, she broke down and dad said the right things and we made the decision to simply postpone the SAT. Instant peace. She flew off for a week-long visit and when she returned college was back off the table. She never took the SAT.

She would graduate, make another monastery visit, and go on an incredible pilgrimage to Lisuiex and Rome before she entered.

This got so long! Happy birthday, Sister Marie Elizabeth! I think I’m going to share these posts with her at our next visit. 😄