That May, there was little time to dwell on Sarah’s* letter and its searing contents. The Motherhouse was buzzing with the activity of hundreds of Sisters—celebrations for the Church’s Year of Faith, our Swan Lake production, Dominican History class, and preparations for the postulant home visit. Soon an entire month had passed by, and I was flying home to Michigan for my first and only home visit for the next 4 years.
It was an overcast day in Nashville, but as the plane rose and soared, we ascended through the thick clouds and reached the sunny blue skies above. The person next to me noticed my unusual outfit, so I explained I was a postulant with the Sisters of Saint Cecilia.
In our ensuing conversation, I mentioned the outside phenomenon.
“Sometimes it feels like everything is darkness, clouded over,” I said. “But God is still with us. His sun is still shining, above the clouds.”
As I flew north for my postulant home visit, my heart was still a murky, cloudy mess. One day I felt God’s healing presence; on the next, both my back and my spirit were ailing again. My newfound wound was far graver and deeper than I'd imagined. I did not know how God would heal me, or when.
But I did know He was there, working in my soul. And not only present, but clothed in infinity beauty, splendor, and light:
Here, there are storm clouds—but there, way up in the sky, in heaven where planes fly—it’s always sunny.
(Journal Entry for June 1, 2013)
Five Days Home
Before I left for Michigan, I wanted the postulant home visit to be longer. How many family members could I see, and how many friends could I call, within a span of 120 hours? Once it began, however, I saw the Sisters’ wisdom in the five day length. There was no way I could keep the frenetic pace up for any longer than five exciting, emotional, exhausting days.
Certain pieces were already in place before I returned. My family had planned a big get-together during my visiting days, and my friend Ellie* had invited me to her wedding on May 25. Sister Anna had asked all the postulants to pray morning and evening prayer each day, but not to worry about saying the community’s other daily prayers.
“This is your time to be with your family, especially your parents,” she counseled us.
One highlight of my home visit was my sister April’s birthday party. My older sister hosted the party in her backyard. I held my newest nephew, caught up with my siblings and in-laws, and enjoyed one of my sister’s delectable homemade cakes. Yum!
After dinner, April and her brand-new fiancé Jack performed a dance and skit to amuse us, and then we took a picture together with the entire family. My older siblings were married and growing their families; my sister April was engaged. My youngest sister was adjusting to high school and had joined a youth orchestra.
For the most part, the future of my loved ones seemed filled with hope.
On another day, my childhood friend Michael* came over with his black Labrador. We hung out together in my parent’s backyard, where there was more space for his new canine companion.
“Thanks so much for coming to visit me,” I said. Our families had lived next door to each other growing up. We’d spent countless hours playing outside together, making up stories and putting on plays. I prayed for him each evening in the convent: “God grant eternal life to all who do us good.” My friendship with Michael had done me a great deal of good.
“No problem,” Michael said in his usual calm way. “Just thought you’d like to meet our new puppy—and here about the latest Star Trek movie.”
I smiled and hopped up and down in my “sensible shoes”. “Ooh, yes, please! Tell me all about it!”
Michael proceeded to narrate the entire plotline of the latest Star Trek movie, Into Darkness. His riveting descriptions created a vivid picture of the film in my mind.
“And then they realize that Benedict Cumberbatch is really Khan!” Michael revealed.
I gasped with excitement. “Awesome! I love the old Wrath of Khan movie!”
“One of Star Trek’s best villains,” he said in agreement.
We continued on in this way until he had to go home. I smiled as I came back inside. My hands were empty, but my heart was full with Michael’s gift. I’d seen many Star Trek films, and enjoyed most of them. Yet the memory of the movie I had not seen, but had been told—that was the sweetest one of all.
My Friend’s Wedding Day
On the final day of my visit was my good friend Ellie’s wedding. The ceremony took place in a lovely old church on the eastside of town, followed by a lively reception at a golf club. Ellie had graciously invited my parents and younger sisters to attend as well. In fact, the event was filled with people we knew: another friend who had recently gotten married, a postulant from another religious community (we got a praying picture together), and members of Ellie’s dream team of close-knit friends. I may or may not have joined in on a few of the dances. Ellie was getting married, and it was time to celebrate!
Ellie and her new husband had dated for many years, ever since she was 18. I was so proud and happy for her, that the Lord had now bound them together in fidelity and love. And I felt so fortunate that of all the 350 days of my postulant year, her wedding should fall on one of the five days I was at home. Certainly, the wedding, and my own presence there, was meant to be. Heart!
As we drove home from the reception, I chatted with my little sisters in the car.
“I don’t want you to leave, Mary,” my youngest sister said, leaning her head on my shoulder.
“I wish you could come to my wedding next year,” April added. “Isn’t there any way you can fly home for it?”
I shook my head. “The Sisters don’t come back home for their siblings’ weddings,” I whispered. “I’m sorry, April.”
I was sorry. I had chosen to enter the convent, and I was confident in my choice. But I didn’t like how my own choice made things difficult for the rest of my family. They were happy for me in my new life, but I knew they missed me like I missed them.
“I’m sorry,” I repeated. “I really wish I could be there.”
“I know, you have to do what God wants,” my sister answered. “But I still wish you could come.”
We Belong Together
After many prolonged hugs, good-byes, and well-wishing, it was time for me to return to Nashville.
As I waited for my flight at the airport, I looked around and saw someone I recognized: Sister Allison, a fellow postulant! She was flying home from out east, and had a layover in Detroit. We soon realized we had the same flight back to Nashville.
While we were boarding, one of the attendants noticed us and put our seats together on the plane. “You looked like you belong together,” she said.
Sister Allison and I did belong together. To our community. To the Sisters of Saint Cecilia.
My family visit was wonderful, but I returned to the convent eager for all the adventures that lay ahead, back in my new home: at the Motherhouse, with the Sisters.
Sister Allison, who was quiet and kind, peacefully read a book during our short flight home. I read some, too, then sketched a detailed picture of the Blessed Sacrament within a monstrance. Even in the skies, suspended between heaven and earth, I was thinking of Him.
…there, way up in the sky, in heaven where planes fly—it’s always sunny.
Thank you so much for reading! Join me in two weeks for more. I am taking a posting break next week to attend Lisa's wedding!!! :D
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