Every summer, I went with other youth from my parish on a week-long trip to an orphanage in Honduras.
What always struck me most deeply on these trips was the joy, generosity, and love of the little children. When I found myself among the ten-year-old girls, each one wanted to hold my hand, to smile and pose for a hundred pictures, to sing or play a game, or to give me a woven bracelet that was special to her even though she had only a small cubby filled with her own belongings. Despite their lack of family and of so many material things, and even in the presence of deep wounds and suffering, those children taught me the beauty of simplicity, poverty, and love. At some point in high school, I thought that I would become a pediatrician and go back to Honduras to work with those beautiful children. But amidst this desire, something else began to stir in my heart, though still without name or recognition – I had a sense that maybe God was inviting me to something even more.
Occasionally, thoughts of Mother Teresa, the only religious sister of whom I had ever really heard, darted across my mind. Maybe the Lord wanted something like that of me? But this seemed crazy – I had never heard of or known of anyone becoming a nun. I had never even seen one. Although I knew that Jesus loved me, I felt so distant from Him.
At Williams College, I met some of the Catholic students and FOCUS missionaries who quickly captured my heart and admiration. I accepted almost all of their invitations: “Sure, I’d love to join a Bible Study!” … “Sure, I’d love to pray the rosary with you. (Just don’t tell my roommate where I’m going, lest she think I’m a religious fanatic).” As I began to pray, to kneel before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, in our small, dark campus chapel, I began to perceive a quiet voice, which tugged gently at my heart. I begged the Lord to know His will for me. Despite the sweetness of His voice, the fears and apprehensions were still there, holding me back. At this time, I met the Sisters of Life and was immediately attracted by their joy and their authenticity. As my college years came to a close, and my friendship with the Sisters continued, I began to be able to imagine myself belonging totally to the Lord as a Sister.
Through spiritual direction, prayer, and reflection, I was coming to an intellectual understanding that I was deeply drawn to the Sisters of Life, but my heart was slow to follow in trust. I needed the grace of God to help me move forward. Then, kneeling before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, the answer came: “I want to be free! I want to be free to choose this – to choose LOVE. I want the freedom to choose HIM where I feel so unsure of myself.” In that instant, I felt the joy of true freedom – freedom at the service of love – and my confusion lifted like a cloud. Jesus was whispering to my heart, “I love you…I created you…you are free…trust Me.” This was His gentle invitation, not a dazzling light of absolute certainty, but the sureness of holding the hand of Someone who loves me.
Now, almost nine years later, the sureness of His hand in mine has only gotten stronger. In His great mercy, He is slowly freeing me to love – to love Him, my Sisters, and the pregnant mothers He has entrusted to me – and to become more and more myself in His love. This is where I have found joy; though the giddiness comes and goes, the deep joy abides. This is the joy of knowing that I am His, and He is mine. It is my hand in His that gives me hope, and, yes, even joy, to stand with a pregnant woman in very difficult circumstances, trusting that Jesus will not abandon her, that He also desires her full and true freedom, and that He has somehow entrusted her to my heart and my love.