A Discernment Story: Part II

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

When I walked into work that Monday morning, the assistant principal at the school approached me about interviewing for the newly posted teaching position. There were two of us in the Professional Practice School who had been asked to apply — one position. In my heart, I knew I didn’t want the job.

The course load was too much; the job, as posted, was inappropriate for any one educator.   Pre-IB English 9, Comprehensive English 10, and Stage Management were the subjects the teacher was being asked to teach. In my two years at the school, I’d covered all of these courses. Individually, I loved them; combined, they were deadly, in my estimation — or again: a recipe for burnout.

The Stage management course alone meant supervising productions and student work on evenings and weekends at the school. Stage Management was a full time job in a school with an active student body and thriving performance arts classes.  The course spilled over from its allotted time into after school hours involving moving vehicles, rental equipment, construction personnel, and collaboration with other faculty, parents and empowered student leaders.  (In my one year of teaching stage management and taking on this role in after school hours,  I recalled being at the school every day straight for the month of March. I still have vivid memories of looking at my watch at 1am  in the auditorium, while wearing an insulation mask and student graffiti artists painted the back wall of the stage for a rock concert production. It was fun. I was tired. It was late. I didn’t need to sign on for more hours than there were in the day to be a good teacher.) I’d happily teach the  English classes. But these two courses to prep for – combined with the stage management responsibilities, were a no go. I knew my limits.

My cousin Jill’s sage counsel still rang in my ears: “Just interview for the job, Melis. Get the position, before you ask to change it.”  The advice from my elder English and theater teaching cousin, coupled with the priest’s prophetic words at mass at Old Saint Pat’s the day before, (“Ask why you are there. If it’s a not a fit, God will show you an open door.“) gave me a kind of peace in my decision: Yes, I would interview. Yes, I would draw on my experience teaching all the courses. Yes, I would trust that God would show me a way out.

We were building a 17 foot volcano out of chicken wire and paper mache’ that day in the stage management class. I came to school dressed for paint and paper and glue mess, not for interviewing with the faculty and administrative team. I still remember wiping green paint off my jeans when I sat down before my colleagues. I smiled. I was already doing the job they were interviewing me for; the irony and humor were not lost on any of us.

***

My colleague accepted the position about two hours later. I felt relief and a kind of holy gratitude and awe. “What next, God?” I wondered. Surely, I wouldn’t have been given such a strong sign and direct words as that from my dream and the priest, that God would leave me flailing.

Within a week, my full time position at North High for summer school was solidified. I left the seeming  beauty and pristine of a more resourced area of the Twin Cities for north Minneapolis. And my life changed. (The Northside was where I would meet the Vis Sisters after all!)

Epilogue:
I was offered a full time job for the regular school year on my last day teaching summer school at North High. My colleague, who accepted the post we had both interviewed for,  resigned two months into the following school year citing mental health issues. I learned this from our mentor at the Professional Practice School. “Does an ‘I told you so” make you feel better, Melis?” she asked.
“Perhaps vindicated,” I think now.

I thank God for the directions my life has taken,  my journey to north Minneapolis, and the way Spirit has lead me.

Invitation to reflect:
What is your story? How have you arrived in your own particular perch or area of the world? What has inspired your course of action or decision making? How has your heart, mind, and prayer lead you? What sage counsel have you sought in discerning your next best step? How have dreams influenced your journey ? What wise, inspired, pastoral presence or mentorship has influenced, or affirmed your discernment process?

I welcome your words.

A Discernment Story: Listening to Dreams and Preachers

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I did not want the job I was invited to interview for. I’d been teaching at this particular Twin Cities public high school for almost two years — student teaching one fall,  long-term subbing in the spring, interning full time the following year. It was great. But I was tired. I was all over the map in preparing different curriculum for the different subjects I was asked to teach, and getting burnt out from the late nights and weekends I was at the school stage managing or directing after-school speech and musical productions. It was invigorating and overwhelming. I knew my limits, and while I was happy the administrators wanted me, I knew that no one would benefit from a “not breathing” me. In my humble opinion, whoever took the job that the administrative team had posted was on the fast track for a nervous break down, or a very early retirement.

I had a long weekend to discern my application — my “yes” or “no” to interview. I was en route to Chicago when the invite came to apply and interview. I had just dropped off “Ayana” at her mother’s house. (Ayana, who had just qualified for State Speech and was the first student in the school’s history to make it that far in Speech competitions.) As her speech coach, I was ecstatic, but I was also very ready for a break and enthusiastic to hit the road and enjoy a long weekend away from my job and home. I wanted to relax. I was going to spend time with my cousin in the Windy City, maybe drink a beer or two, unwind in her downtown warehouse loft, and revel in the energy of another space and set of human stories. This is what I wanted to do. But then the call came.

For the next 48 hours, I basically breathed questions around my calling to teach at this school. I inhaled pros, exhaled cons. Details of my last two years in the classroom flooded my brain as information; images of joy and mental exhaustion filled my mind and informed my spirit.

I arrived in Chicago, after 6 hours of road trip weariness in thought and contemplation, with a resounding “NO” on my lips. I shared all of this with my cousin Jill.

She, the elder, wiser, more learned and seasoned English and theater teacher, advised me otherwise. “Just interview for the job, Melis. Get the position before you turn it down, or ask them to change the position.” I appreciated Jill’s advice, I took it in as wise counsel and went to bed for two nights with a greater sense of peace. On my third day, I rose in the morning unnerved by a vivid dream.

It was Sunday morning, and as my cousin and I were getting ready for mass, I relayed the dream.
“I was stuck in a closet. It was dark. I couldn’t find my way out. I didn’t know why I was there. I was searching for a door.

My cousin responded, laughing, “Well, it’s not about this place! We have no closets in our condo.”

She was right. But it occurred to me: “What if it isn’t about my physical space, but where I am professionally? I feel trapped, and I’m looking for a way out?”

We laughed; we dressed and went to church.

I’ll never forget that Sunday. My cousin and I walked into Old St. Pat’s in Chicago, to a packed house, looking for a place to sit, feeling we must be very late. Was it the homily we walked into, or just a long pre-amble to the service, I wondered. The priest was on fire.

“You have to ask yourself why you are here!” Father exclaimed. He invited us to to tune into the gospel and apply its lessons to our current life situations. When you go into work on Monday morning, you are going to ask yourself why you are there. Some of you may recognize it’s not a fit for you, and you are seeking a way out. You have to trust that God will open a door.”

I got goosebumps. Jill nudged me. “I think God is talking to you.”

Indeed.

Can you imagine what happens next?

***

Stay tuned for part two!

“Discernment is Hard,” Sister Katherine shares a discernment story.

Today we commence the Fall Following the Spirit Discernment Series. What are you discerning? How does joy play a part in your discernment story? Sister Katherine reflects on joy in her own story by taking time to pray, reflect, and observe where she has basked in joy recently in her vowed life. Joy put another way can be an acronym J.O.Y. (just observe yourself). After reading Sister Katherine’s story, we invite you to note when you are deeply happy and engaged in something or someone…and share it with us in the comments section. Sister Katherine’s story grew out of the Writing Our Stories workshop held at St. Jane’s House in July, we will be sharing more stories from other discerners who gathered for the workshop throughout the fall. May we each learn from one another and our stories!

Written by Sister Katherine Mullin, VHM

Discernment is hard…but oh! the benefits if we stick with it!  One of my latest bout with it has to do with my 50th  anniversary of vows as a Vis nun.

Visitation May Day Joy! with the Sisters and community, north Minneapolis, MN

Sister Katherine Living her JOY on the north side! Visitation May Day Joy! with the Sisters and community, north Minneapolis, MN

I did not want to celebrate it in any way- except with just my family and community which could have been as small as 20 people.  But something inside me told me to broaden my invitation list and have a fitting celebration  of fifty years worth of loving my vocation. But inside me, I had this feeling of not wanting to be the center. (Believe me, I like being the center of attention but just not in this way!). I then ‘took it to prayer’  praying with the idea of CELBRATING IT BIG.  As I did that, over time, the feeling of wanting to limit it changed for me and  I realized that inviting many more was the authentic way for me to go.  My earlier thought of hardly having anybody come  was coming out of my ‘small self’, one that often puts limits on things, one that comes more out of self consciousness and fear. As my plans continued to grow and having all of the sisters, my family and others jump in to help me (my younger cousins offered to clean up/ rake the park area  that I had selected to have the mass ), everything was becoming  possible. There were other hurdles too that brought back those old feelings, but as I went step by step, and moved from one new idea to another in prayer, what was happening was I actually “saw” God’s hand working and I began to trust that understanding and my intuition and the ideas of others as I made decisions about details. Step by step I had a deep knowing of trust, trusting that God was transforming me in this process.

“…but as I went step by step, and moved from one new idea to another in prayer, what was happening was I actually “saw” God’s hand working and I began to trust that understanding and my intuition and the ideas of others….Step by step I had a deep knowing of trust, trusting that God was transforming me in this process.”

Now it has been exactly a year since that event, my Golden Jubilee. It is so clear to me that the satisfaction that I knew that day with what seemed like the gathering of hundreds of “my closest friends,” was a deep joy  in God’s providence. Today, as I observe it, that joy has taken the form of energy , energy to love in the ordinary things of my monastic life. I am not being ‘Pollyanna, I feel I am focused (graced?), to just carry out the day -to-day mission of Living Jesus on the north side as the door bell rings, as I empty the dishwasher, as I talk with a neighbor who has just been beaten by her significant other, as I clean the living room , as I am present in the alley with the young boys who found an injured squirrel. It doesn’t matter. And …it does matter a lot.

“…gathering of hundreds of “my closest friends,” was a deep joy  in God’s providence. Today, as I observe it, that joy has taken the form of energy , energy to love in the ordinary things of my monastic life.”

Surprised by Joy

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

A young woman discerning her life said, “I remember adults asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up?” She recalled a moment when her mom suggested a vocation based on her interests. This exchange set a path for her from an early age that she worked religiously toward. She had the aptitude, the success to back the endeavor, and it was not until nearly a decade later she realized she was missing a key ingredient to her pursuit; joy.

We are so concerned as a society with what we do as a means for defining who we are that we forget to be. Perhaps this concern bordering on obsession stems from the Puritan roots of Plymouth Rock that implored good deeds would earn us our grace and redemption. A modern day translation of this thought, that our actions speak louder than words. That we need to earn not only God’s grace and benevolence, but others as well can lead to what Thomas Merton poetically refers to as a “violence of the self.”

Other cultures, other places, outside of the United States view the question, “What do you do?” with disdain, bordering on rudeness. “Be who you are and be that perfectly well,” implores St. Francis de Sales–that perfection and humanness go hand in hand is inviting, even daring us to let go of our Martha-ness and bask in our Mary vibe. Or at the very least to balance the two inclinations: doing with the grace of being.

Yet is discernment a luxury? Are all invited into the conversation on equal footing based on our Baptismal calls? Or even before baptism based on being human? Are those children that grow up in poverty asked enough to dream about what they might want to become? While this question posed at an early age can be restrictive for some, could it implore others? Dare I ask, does socio-economic class matter when the question is posed?

Children at the May Day Celebration, north Minneapolis, MN

Children at the May Day Celebration, north Minneapolis, MN

Fr. Michael O’Connell gave another zinger of a homily this week in reference to Prophet Amos. He started his homily recounting yet another murder of a young person on the north side, this time outside of Ascension’s Church doors. He proclaimed from the pulpit that most of the violence that occurs in north Minnepolis stems from kids under 18 who have dropped out of school. He went on to say, “That as adults guiding our young it is up to us to make sure they get an education.” He invited the congregation present to think about Ascension School, which if needed can be fully subsidized. “A place where 60 more chairs sit empty. A place where 90 percent of the graduating class goes on to pursue college. 90% people!” He was emphatic that as parents it is up to us to guide our children, and to make sure they are being guided by other trustworthy adults.

Visitation May Day, north Minneapolis, MN

Visitation May Day, north Minneapolis, MN

Rumblings in my soul rose up as I reflected on our move two years ago from Santa Fe back to St. Paul largely because of education. Were we shortsighted? Had we overreacted? We gave up more organic outdoor access for a more formal education…was it really this important? According to Fr. O’Connell it was. It is.

While some relish summer, others abhor it. Long windows of unstructured time for youth with a lack of outlets in north Minneapolis leads to an increase in violence. Children are therefore at risk for being hurt, killed or being the one to hurt or kill. Is too much being and not enough doing part of the culprit? Could tightening the tension between being and doing lead to safer summers for children in north Minneapolis? One friend commented, “Money is good for education and travel, after that it only creates distance between people.” The distance right now is too grave not to respond. Education done well, at its best leads a learner toward joy. Deep joy. Let us, adults, be modern day Amos’ and rise up so that quality education invites the children of north Minnepolis to begin to dream about what they want to be, and also relax in the hammock of grace that who they are is already “perfectly well.”

Visitation May Day Joy! with the Sisters and community, north Minneapolis, MN

Visitation May Day Joy! with the Sisters and community, north Minneapolis, MN

___________________

Title “Surprised by Joy” borrowed from C.S. Lewis’ autobiography entitled Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life

More Beauty

How will you make the world more beautiful?

A stunning question really, isn’t it? As today’s rains and last night’s thunderstorms soak into our spring soil promising the bounty of summer around the corner? How am I called to make the world more beautiful? You must see the origins of this question from one of my favorite bloggers Karen Maezen Miller.

Inner Beauty

Inner Beauty

Beauty is a value as an artist I treasure, both inside, and out, aesthetic and the intangible aspects of beauty. I have struggled with beauty since my alopecia has gone full throttle. Having hair or not having hair can be a profound impact on how I perceive myself and on how others encounter me. Shedding more traditional views of beauty has enlivened my spirit, emboldened me to be brave in situations where I might be tempted to shy away from a person’s gaze or unspoken question.

As my hair follicles begin to awaken, I hold hope. I have an awakened heart that has the capacity for beauty, I have open eyes that search for beauty, and I have hands willing to create beauty where one might not think there is any.

How are you making the world more beautiful today? Please share with us here.

No thanks!

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

With our life’s discernment, it is good to take heed about what we have learned that we do not like. Instead of finding this frustrating that once again we find ourselves not loving our work, let’s flip it into an invitation of yet another thing to check off, “No thanks, this is not for me.”

These glimpses into what we find draining us of energy, or avoiding can inform what we need to prune away from our life in order to make room for what we are being called toward.

Often, without awareness, we continue in our tried patterns, our tired treads, because it is habitual and not because it is life giving. When we take the time to pause and ask ourselves why am I resisting this? Or why do I find upon waking I have little energy to attend to my job at hand, whatever that may be, we can gain insight into our discernment–that if left unquestioned we would never gain the wisdom our life is asking of us.

In short, what we dislike, or dare I say hate, is just as important to pay attention to, as to what we often are asked to consider–what gives us joy.

So give thanks for what you do not like! Say Amen, let go. And move on to what does give you joy! You and your community will be better for it in the long run! Take courage and press on!

Community–What does it mean to discern?

by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

What does 'community' mean to you?

Often when we speak of discernment we might faultily think this is regarding individual decision making, but perhaps do not give credit to outside influences or considerations that inform and guide our heart’s true longings. For example, what is in the news today, or yesterday might catch our attention and ask us to consider how our gifts could respond to a need in our immediate or global community.

“St. Francis de Sales implores of us to ‘seek sage counsel, and once we have prayed about the decision, to not look back.'”

This morning at a weekly meeting I was asked, “What does community mean to you?” Our group responded with the following: “Community is people you know and love, people who are families; community is made up of concentric circles from those you may casually interact with to those you know more intimately; there is a virtual community and a live community; community is destined by the architecture of the place both constructed and nature-made.”

When we are asked to discern how our gifts could bless our communities needs, we need to also ask the question, “Does our community need the gifts we want to use at this time?” We can not, nor should we discern in isolation. We are prudent to follow what St. Francis de Sales implores of us to “seek sage counsel, and once we have prayed about the decision, to not look back.”

“…our holy decision-makings do not happen in isolation, nor should they happen solely in community.”

A close confident of mine, spoke to me this evening about what he heard on the news about a three month old dying in interment camp in Afghanistan, and then a subsequent story about a mother in Detroit not able to bring her older kids to school because she could not afford the bus money for all six of her kids. He said, “I feel so far removed from the daily sufferings of others, and while I work hard to improve our natural world, there has to be more I can do in our own backyard to help others who are in need.”

I was moved by what caught his heart’s attention and how God was inviting him toward action. Hearing him speak, also had an effect on me. It invited me to reflect more on how I can respond in kind. And so: a discerning community begets a discerning community.

I share these two events of my past week to further illustrate that our holy decision makings do not happen in isolation, nor should they happen solely in community, but in a delicate dance between solitary reflection and the illumination of community needs and invitations. What is your community asking of you? What is your heart’s longing wanting to give of yourself?

God is in everything part two…

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

If we are to commit to “finding God in all things,” then this informs our discernments; our holy decision making. It colors our perspective, enhances our outlook on life, makes our life feel touched by the sacred, the divine. Our marvelous ordinary life becomes extraordinary, and in its extraordinary space comes forth an expansive humility that St Jane de Chantal and St Francis de Sales speak of when they encourage the little virtues as the road to holiness.

If we really take on this cloak of finding God in all things in our life, we begin to see patterns that emerge, some we might find life giving and others we might be invited to prune in order to make room for more life. This is noted by our interior responses of our heart. that if we stay authentic to the revealing pattern it will lead us toward more life, more love, and more generosity of spirit.

I can look at the apparent chaos of my life and see it as just that chaos. A slew of requests when I am getting the littles ready to go out the door in the morning. Or I can invite myself to find God in my mornings, and breath in the littles simple dependance. With this prayer on my heart their need for me to do, assist, help, or encourage depending on their ages becomes sweet like honey that God gave me these four gifts to nurture and nudge along in their growth from getting dressed, to grasping the intimacy of their loving God. The mere fact that they can trust that I am here with them through the mundane muddle of everyday routines to the bigger questions they pose, “Is God visible?” and be just as in awe at them buttoning their pants alone for the first time as the questions they ask, means together we encounter the sacred as we clothe ourselves in God’s graces. This brings me to my knees; I am humbled by their beauty.

What patterns emerge for you when you contemplate God’s grace flowing in your life?

“God is in Everything…”

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

This was the invitation at this past Sunday’s mass to find our beloved God in everything. The priest giving the homily was quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola, but St. Jane de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales also firmly believed that God was in the ordinary doings of our lives and to seek God no further than there.

Isn’t this lovely and refreshing? Isn’t this what we hope to imprint on the hearts of our little ones, our friends, our family? That God is in everything! Isn’t this what we hope for when things seem apparently bleak that God will still show up, still be present, still give us hearts to see the graces of our lives at hand? Or in the mundane or the joyous that there too we find God. It is like an ongoing love note.

Puddles

Puddles

I remember being taught this, but it was not until I understood at the heart level that God is love and to find God we channel and find love that I really grasped God being in everything. I remember the day it really clicked for me, I was a sophomore at Boston College. It was a glorious sunny spring day and by that afternoon puddles revealed themselves everywhere on campus. I paused by one that earlier had been covered in ice, and remember thinking how miraculous it was that what was hardened had melted. Then my mind made the leap to God melts hearts that are hardened, and I just stared and stared at that puddle. My Jesuit Professors voice echoed in my ear, “God is in everything,” and the Sisters Salesian lessons from my years at Visitation came soaring back, and graces washed over me because I began to see how God was within me and within others and even in the landscape.

In this new year, with another fresh, fine layer of snow outside how is God that fine dusting on your life? How is God outlining your life, tracing your every mark with love? How is God in everything for you?

“Daughters of Prayer:” Sr. Mary Frances shares a bit of the Visitation History

How did the Visitation Sisters come to be in north Minneapolis? What prayer and discernment lead to the founding of this monastery 379 years after St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal first established the Visitation order in Annecy, France?

On Sunday, October 16, 2011, Sr. Mary Frances Reis answered a few of these questions as she spoke to a group of St. Mary’s students staying at the Visitation Sisters’ lay retreat space, St. Jane House, for an urban immersion experience. Sr. Katherine Mullin was on hand to record the question, answer, and story-telling period.

Excerpts from Sr. Mary Frances on the Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis:

“Francis de Sales’ dream for the Visitation was that we would be ‘Daughters of prayer'” and also “those that reached out and took Jesus to the ‘other,’ and there’s where we have the mystery of the Visitation.”

“Sr. Mary Margaret, Sr. Mary Virginia, Sr. Karen are originally from St. Louis.  These three sisters in their prayer kept hearing:    ‘Take the Visitation to the poor.'”

“From 1979 to 1989 three sisters of Visitation St. Louis got together every Sunday morning from 9:30am – 10:30am and just said, ‘Lord, what would you have us do?'”

“What became very clear: we weren’t to establish a school, or a free clothing store, a soup kitchen, day care, shelter, no. …’Simply go and take your bodies to live your life of prayer and community, and when the door bell rings, you will get your agenda,’ says the Lord, ‘because I will be there.'”