On Service: Q & A with Vis Companion Heidi Akpaette

The following is the first in a series of interviews with Visitation Companions -- a lay 
community committed to the ministry of the Visitation through prayer, Salesian study and service.

The Call to Companionship

Heidi Akpaette, Vis Companion

Heidi Akpaette, Vis Companion

Q: In a few words, what inspired your call to become a Companion to the Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis? 

Heidi: I love the vision and mission of the Visitation Sisters and wanted
a tangible way to be involved.

Being a Companion offered me a way
to
invest in the community of North Minneapolis, grow in Salesian Spirituality, and be mentored
by the Visitation Sisters’ life.

Q: What is your favorite saying or teaching of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal?

Heidi: I am inspired by the concept of gentleness-gentleness towards self and gentleness towards others.

On Service

Q: What does the word, “service” mean to you?

Heidi: Service is giving of myself to other people, causes, and missions. It is intentionally moving beyond my own agenda into the agenda of others.

Q: What images of your service come to mind?

Heidi: Learning from the Sister’s wisdom and being in their presence. Advocating for North Minneapolis and the Visitation’s vision of presence to the neighborhood. Bringing ideas and a listening to others on the St Jane House committee. Celebrating Mass with the Sister’s. Planting sunflower seeds. Really seeing people who have their lives on the Northside.

Q: What is the setting for a recent experience of your service?

Heidi: I am at the St Jane house with two other Vis Companions and one of the sisters, we are sitting around a table. We are relaxed in the shared knowledge of the Salesian charisms and our ideas for the St Jane house and it’s mission.

Gifts, Challenges, and Salesian Aspects of Service.

Q: What gifts do you bring to your service?

Heidi: A different generation of experience, a wide variety of connections, networking abilities, and joy in meeting together.

Q: What challenges have you encountered while serving?

Heidi: Not always having the energy to bring more the table and not always having enough space in my personal life from which to give.

Q: What gifts do you receive from serving?

Heidi: Relationships with people that I would otherwise not encounter-hands down that is the best gift.

Q: Where have you found God in your experience of serving?

Heidi: In others-I encounter the living God working and breathing in other people’s lives, sometimes by their actions and sometimes by their words.

Q: What aspects of Salesian spirituality were reflected or manifested in this service experience?

Heidi: Humility in learning from others, seeing the innate dignity in other people, being present with who I am with others doing the same, enjoying a sense of humor with others, and having grace for self in judgment-and challenging myself to grow in my weakness.

Garden or Bust: Visitation Community in Action

PeacePoleGardenBorder

Join us in the garden!

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

On any given Tuesday night this July at the Fremont House, you might hear the splash of water from the garden hose over the tomatoes, beans, and rhubarb; or note the quiet work of fingers digging into the soil to release some pesky weeds from around the cabbage. Perhaps the sound of giggling catches your ear as volunteers delight in the petunia and zinnias’ border growth? It’s summer time at the monastery, and life is in full bloom in the gardens at the corner of 16th and Fremont Avenue North.

Heading up this summer’s gardening ministry with great enthusiasm is Sr. Katherine Mullin.

“Here you have the same old flowers, but the bouquet is new simply because I have arranged it differently.” -St. Francis de Sales in Introduction to the Devout Life

Perusing the Visitation Monastery’s facebook page, you’ll find words and images from Sr. Katherine, or “SK2“, as she signs her posts,  that highlight her time in this Tuesday- night-summertime ministry with fellow northsiders and Companions.

Gardening Vis Companions: Fabio and Sonja

Gardening Vis Companions: Fabio and Sonja

Sr. Katherine reflects on the service of northside Vis Companions Sonja and Fabio Anifrani, describing their work waking up the shade garden,  pruning old branches, and making way for summer growth. Sr. Katherine states:

“[Fabio and Sonja] revived the spirit of the Sisters as they revived these plants after the long winter.”

To join in this gardening ministry or learn more about the Sisters’ outdoor engagements this season, follow their events here or on facebook.

Stay tuned for more on summer in the city with the Sisters!

Advent Musings: We are all Worthy of Snow Angels, Soup, the Christ Child

"love may increase... in knowledge and every kind of perception."

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

It’s Advent. It’s snowing in Minnesota. Sr. Katherine is skyping with friends in Canada and Missouri. I’m making soup across the river. A few of us Vis Companions are preparing for a meeting tomorrow. And we are all waiting, with anticipation, for the Christ child to be born.

What are you up to this second Sunday in Advent? Anyone shoveling a walk? Chopping down a tree? Adorning their place of dwelling with some white lights or setting out their mangers? Who is baking cookies or reviewing recipes for the company that may join them in the coming days ahead? Who has laid themselves in the snow and fluttered furiously to make an angel appear? Anyone stuck in a rut? Depressed? Wondering how to pay a bill, let alone buy a friend a present? Who among us is without joy as the very notion of “belovedness” escapes us?

I think of each of these possible activities, or states of being,  and I return to meditate specifically on my own; I’m simmering a pound of diced potatoes in stock with kale, red pepper and onion as the snow falls, and my heart feels about to burst with the beauty of this quiet Sunday afternoon. But I know what it is to know sorrow at this time of year.

I caught a particularly inspired homily from Fr. Michael O’Connell this morning at Church of the Ascension, that links together all these disparate thoughts. In his reflection, Father spoke of  the debilitating role of shame in our lives — how feeling worthless keeps us stuck — feeling unable to take our next best steps and unworthy to live our callings.  He discussed the role of the Christ child, God being born among us, to remind us of our belovedness, to heal of us our brokenness, and to teach us how to forgive and stand upright. He concluded his homily, reading again this selection from the first Chapter of Paul’s letter to the Phillipians:

Reading 2 

Brothers and sisters:
I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you,
because of your partnership for the gospel
from the first day until now.
I am confident of this,
that the one who began a good work in you
will continue to complete it
until the day of Christ Jesus.
God is my witness,
how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God.

Phil 1:4-6, 8-11

As my closing prayer, I invite you to consider how you are a partner to St. Paul in the gospel. What good work has God begun in you? How will this get complete as Christ makes his way to be born? I join the apostle in my prayers, that we may all know an increase in love; that we may discern what is of value; that we may count ourselves as worthy to receive the child born among us this Advent season.

BLESSINGS!

Falling in Love…with God

Holding hands

"I am thankful for...."

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I love falling in love. I keep thinking and ruminating on this. The falling-in-love-phenomenon that is my life, that is all of our lives, if we are so lucky. That tingly, beside-ourselves school-girl experience that makes you giggle and blush and rejoice in your daily tasks. I know Love. I know God.

These musings bubble up in my prayer as images: the delight in a child’s face, soft skin of chubby cheeks breaking into a smile as I enter the room; the touch of a hand on mine when I gasp during an action scene in the latest 007 film; the connectedness of a faith community circled in prayer reciting the Our Father — all eyes closed, lips moving, palms upright; the sight of a nun driving a mini-van en route to her home town — returning to attend a conference, but shepherding me along the scenic river route to the city where her call originated. In and through all of these, I recognize a benevolent God at work; a Creator firing my own imagination — my heart, mind, spirit.

I’m in love. I know God.

Counting my blessings this day, I keep giving thanks. On facebook, I note the phenomenon that is gratitude list-making  as we count our November days. I am tempted to start a litany of my own: “Ways I know God’s love as we all make our way toward Thanksgiving and the Advent Season.”

Here’s today’s attempt at such a gratitude list:
I am thankful for….Rumi’s poetry. Notes from Claire. Invitations from a Vis Companion. Lunch with Marsha. A joke told by Francois. Crusty homemade bread with butter. Sharp Vermont Cheddar. The wrinkled hand of a sister holding my own in the hospital. A recorded birthday message incorporating a strumming ukulele.

I’m in love. I know God.

***

In the quiet of your day, in your cubicle; as you bow your head before a meal; or before you lay your body down to rest, I invite you to reflect on the ways that you know God’s love. How do you find yourself falling, in deep, abiding, joyful love for your life– for the small ways that you know Love’s invitation to immerse yourself in a moment and say, “Thank you”?