I can hardly believe that it is March. Today we saw the sun for the first time in weeks. I find myself getting everything ready for my Spring Break trip home, my first Spring Break not spent on Mission since that fateful Spring Break where I got the call from Echo, offering me a full ride to Notre Dame.
As I am sitting here on my bed, eating gluten free cookies, downloading an audiobook of Ian McKellen reading The Odyssey that a friend lent me for my trip, and cleaning out my inbox and answering student emails, I can’t help but think about where I spent my last Spring Break. Last year, I was with some of my ducklings at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice. Last year, I was wearing overalls every day, trudging through the rain, sorting clothes at the thrift store, cleaning Providence Food Pantry with Sister Joseph, planting seeds with Candice, and eating lunch with my sisters. My heart is full of longing for the smell of fresh soil, the feel of the dirt, and—most importantly—the loving embrace of my sisters, associates, and the White Violet community that I so miss.
Photo by Sister Editha Ben, 2014
I haven’t written about my sisters very much lately. With the new adventures of teaching and #phdlife and my new world in Denton, not to mention new books and pens, I’ve barely written about the Sisters of Providence outside of my contributions in
Spiritual Uprising Magazine
, which just published its very last issue last week (more on that another time). But that doesn’t mean I am not thinking about them. To be honest, I’m always thinking about them. I can’t go a day without having something occur to me that I want to share with one of them or smiling at a memory.
It’s hard for me to explain quite what my sisters and fellow associates mean to me. While I am blessed in my life to have many communities of friends who support and love me, my Providence Community is one of my most important communities and my life as an Associate of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods is one of the most important parts of my identity.
Photo by Debi Willy, 2013
My relationship with my sisters has been one of the most formative parts of my life. They have changed me. From the younger sisters (including my best friend) to our retired sisters (some of whom are almost centennials and still emailing me regularly), these women challenge me to be my best self and guide me to find God in new and beautiful ways. My sisters and fellow associates help me find hope when it is most difficult, help me see beauty when the landscape seems barren, and help me experience joy when all I feel is sadness. There is no one in the world who can challenge me to grow (or, sometimes, simply tell me to grow up) quite the way that Hannah does or who can help me find clarity the way that Florence, Francis, and Dawn do. My fellow associates, too, offer friendship and support. I realize that in my love for my sisters, I often forget to write about my love for fellow associates like Kyle, Debbie, Jen, Charles, Pam, Maria, Jude, Joan, and Rae (and too many more to be named) who have been a community to me for almost three years now.
Dina, Arrianne, and Me, enjoying much needed "Sister Time"
I miss these girls so much!
These are the people who met me when I was healing from celiacs, in pain from a bad community experience, and still struggling to accept and love myself. Still, they kept me around (God knows why) and loved away the rough edges that made me so darn difficult. These are the women who taught me how to be who I am without apologizing, to be faithful to the Gospel even when it means being at odds with hierarchy, and to seek out peace in all things. I have learned so much about being a woman, a Christian, a Catholic, an environmental steward, and generally being a human from these people. They introduced me to some of my favorite authors, interests, and hobbies. These are my people, my family, my community.
Hannah and Me at my Associate Commitment in 2013.
Being away from the Woods makes maintaining this relationship tough sometimes. My friend and fellow PA, Maria, who lives only an hour away, has been kind enough to email me regularly to check in, but my busy schedule has kept us from meeting face to face. The younger sisters and I struggle to keep in touch as most of us are not very good at long distance and we are so busy, and my older sisters have diligently emailed me and sent letters, in spite of my unreliability in responding. Facebook has truly been a blessing because it enables me to keep up with many fellow associates and sisters.
The thing about Saint Mary of the Woods is that it gets under your skin. Somehow, Mother Theodore’s words combine with the smell of our organic gardens and the vibrant beauty of the Woods and they all just seep into you, enter your bloodstream, and alter your DNA. Most of my friends who were glad to welcome me back to Dallas have found me changed. Some of them are still struggling with that and have no idea what to do with all my tales about “my sisters.” I carry Mother Theodore, the Woods, my sisters, the WVC, and my fellow associates with me in my heart. When I find myself so homesick for the Woods that I can barely breathe, I can close my eyes and be at St. Joe’s lake, sitting around a campfire with Hannah, Arrianne, Tracey, and Barb and it is as though I were truly there. My heart fills and I can breathe easier.
Saint Joe's Lake, May 2014
I keep the Sisters in mind with much of what I do—which is pretty easy when I’m studying Environmental and Agrarian literature, something that I associate very much with my time at St. Mary of the Woods. I can easily think of ten sisters (not to mention associates and WVC staff) who would LOVE to be in my ecocriticism class at UNT. My passion for the environment was increased by my relationship with them and it was what originally led me to them.
While I sometimes worry about something one of my sisters said to me when I was leaving, asking if I would still be a part of the community when I was no longer in Indiana, I find that I diligently seek out new ways to be part of my community every day. Some days it’s simply praying the reunion prayer, but I think that some days that is enough. I wear my cross proudly.
Every day, I “unite with all my sistersand all who share the charism of Providence, wherever they may be” to praise God, serve the Church, and love the world through love, mercy, and justice. That is my calling and I don’t think it’s going to change any time soon.
You can tell a nun groupie by her sunglasses.
Note: I think that everyone in life needs a community like this. I’m not big on evangelizing—I think that the Gospel involves more actions than words. Every person who encounters me encounters the whole of the Providence Community—which I hope is a good thing. But, if anyone is interested in finding a community of faith that offers spiritual guidance as well as emotional support, I wholeheartedly recommend becoming a Providence Associate.
Who should become a Providence Associate? People (women or men) who identify as Christian, who struggle with or love tradition, who identify as Catholic or not Catholic, who love the environment and want to find new ways to act as stewards of God’s creation, who believe that peace is the solution, who are seeking a community, who are looking for answers, who believe in love, mercy, and justice, and who want to be part of something greater to serve God and others. For more information, visit