Lord, Please Give Me a Sign: Discerning in Appalachia

Kentucky was the last place I lived before entering the convent. The Lord was very close here. Not just in my interior prayer life, but in the people He placed on my path, in the beautiful natural surroundings, and in the choices and interactions I made each day. As I reflect on the months I spent in Appalachia, I see that every little action, every small detail, was arranged so as to prepare me for entrance day.

Moving In

I arrived in Richmond, Kentucky near the end of March 2011. Richmond is a small town off of I-75, south of Lexington and home to Eastern Kentucky University.

My dad drove down from Michigan to help me search for apartments. We found a spacious two-bedroom, twice the size of my D.C. place, at a fifth of the cost. It was clear that my new public affairs specialist salary would go far in Kentucky.

After a few weeks of living out of a hotel, I was finally able to move in. I hung up my work clothes and made my bed for the first time, then let out a long sigh of relief. No more drifting about the country. No more living out of my car. It was time for me to dig my roots into one place and be settled for a while.

A Tale of Two Fish Fries

After moving in, my next step was to join Saint Mark’s, the only Catholic parish in town. It's a small church near downtown, with its own grade school. I'd arrived in Richmond during Lent, so they also had a weekly fish fry.

My anti-loneliness plan was simple: attend the fish fry every week until people started talking to me.

During the first week, I sat beside a mother and her young son. We chatted for a little while before I drove home.

During the second week, I met Aidan*, the campus/youth minister. He had dark, wavy hair, and blue eyes. He’d heard from the parish welcome committee that I was interested in volunteering with the youth group.

"Let me introduce you to some of my friends, since you're new here," he said.

I followed him across the hall to a table of young adults. When I sat down with them, I soon discovered that most of them lived on High Street, just a block from the church.

"Hi, I'm Candice," said one of the young women at table. "I'm starting a women's Bible study next month about faith. Would you like to join us?"

As I talked to Candice about the Bible study, I noticed a young woman watching me silently from across the table. She wore a navy blue t-shirt and jeans, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail.

She smiled when I looked her way.

"Hi Mary, I'm Therese. I teach at the school here." I loved her sweet Kentucky accent.

"It's nice to meet you," I answered, smiling back. "I just moved here a few weeks ago."

She nodded eagerly. "Yes, I know. The mother of one of my students met you last week. She told me, 'There’s a new girl at the parish, and she looks just like you!'"

I laughed in surprise, then studied Therese a little closer. She was right: we did look like each other. We were the same height and shape, and wore our dark hair the same way. From the back, we probably could have passed for each other.

It was only my second fish fry, and I'd already met the handsome campus minister, got invited to a Bible study, and encountered a potential friend.

Looks like my anti-loneliness plan has been a complete success!

"Well, I hope you'll like it here, Mary." Therese leaned forward a little. "After dinner, would you like to meet my chickens?"

My New Kentucky Home

Therese had set up an incubator in her classroom. The warming machine was home to dozens of chicken eggs. A few of them had started to crack.

“Soon they’ll be hatching,” Therese said with pure delight. "See--that one's trying to break free from his shell."

"Amazing," I agreed, stepping forward for a closer look at the new life hiding within.

Afterwards, we headed over to High Street, where Candice had invited us to her apartment to play cards. The other young adults chatted amiably around the battered coffee table as the game began. Outside, the rain started to fall, soft and sweet. A quiet breeze lifted the curtains covering the open window.

“Aw,” one of the guys sighed, with a gentle shake of his head. “Don’t you just love the sound of the rain falling?”

Everyone murmured in agreement.

I cupped my hands around my playing cards and listened to the rain fall.

No one would ever say something like that, in D.C. They’d be too busy to even notice it, except to pull out their umbrella.

Those simple words about the rain felt like a promise. Maybe my life here could be more than just working hard and earning money. In Kentucky, it was apparently okay to care about other things, like hatching chickens or the falling rain.

Therese and her roommate whispered on the couch close by.

“We’re driving to Louisville to see the fireworks tomorrow,” Therese said, as she turned to face me. “Would you like to come?”

“Yes, I’d love to!" I exclaimed. "Count me in!"

And just like that, our friendship began.

Easter Vigil Epiphany

At the end of Holy Week, I made the seven-hour drive home from Kentucky to Michigan for the first time. On Holy Saturday, my family attended the Easter Vigil at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit.

We chose a pew close to the front, behind a couple of seminarians.

I watched the seminarians, feeling intimidated. Look at them. They’ve given up their whole lives for God. They know so much about the Catholic faith. In comparison, I felt like an inferior breed, sitting there behind them as a lay person, dressed in my simple white blouse and flowered skirt.

But then I remembered the news clippings I'd hidden under my bed at my parent's house, with articles about religious life. What if God was calling me to religious life, too? What if God wanted me to become a sister?

For the first time, the thought made me feel hopeful, excited. For years now, I'd been focused first on finding a job and then on my internship. Now that I was a public affairs specialist, I was free to make more choices for myself and my future.

After receiving communion, I knelt down in prayer and gave the Lord permission to act.

I will be a sister, Lord, if You want me to, I told Him. The Lord's presence pressed all around me, like a fresh anointing of grace. My heart burned with a new desire to do something generous and loving for God.

The Maximum, not the Minimum, I thought, remembering my new Post-It maxim. And: Lord, if You want me to become a sister, please let me know. Please, give me a sign.

He didn't exactly give me the sign that I expected.


*I changed all the names in this blog, for the sake of privacy.

Thank you for reading! Join me next week to learn how my discernment journey takes an unexpected turn.

About the Author:

Mary Rose Kreger lives in the metro Detroit area with her family, where she writes fantasy tales for teens, and blogs about her spiritual journey: before, during, and after the convent. Mary also shares faith-based poems and fantasy quotes on her Instagram account, @faithandfantasy1.

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