Friday, January 15, 2016

Sister Act: What A Week In A Convent With Nuns Taught Me

Whether you are near or far, you are always needed.

We are called to serve others.  Sometimes it's comes at the most challenging times, other times it's actually perfect timing.

My mission trip to Philly was both.

As a professor at Rockhurst University, I am blessed with the opportunities to participate and lead service immersion trips. Serving over winter break provides me the opportunity to be away when I am not teaching, my kids are in school during the day and there's not much action during the wintry mix of early January. However, it does fall on the first week my kiddos are back in their routine, courses need to be organized for the semester, and the aftermath of Christmas is in high gear.

Helping others is never convenient. It's just not. If it was, everyone would do it. Serving others is a calling, it's done with out the expectation of reciprocation. I flew to Philly thinking I would be serving the homeless and helping in the urban Catholic schools, what I experienced with 9 students and my fellow faculty companion was much more than I could have anticipated.

So I went, and stayed in a convent with a group of nuns for a week.  What does that look like?


It actually looks like this...
    Our last supper serving at a homeless community center in Camden, NJ.

Here are 8 lessons I learned from my week with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill. A group of soldiers who carry out their mission daily without reservation or judgement about those they serve or those who choose not to serve.

1. Let go of judgement you don't know you have.  This is powerful. I had thoughts floating around in my head about the homeless, until I sat down and talked to them. Looked them in the eye and saw what they were sharing...from their soul.

2. We shame so many people without getting to know them.  That person who is on welfare, that person who lives in the multi-million dollar house, it's all relative. We tend to look at others without really seeing who they are.

3. Acting is not always about doing something- most often it's about listening, We don't listen, deeply.  We hear people but do you listen to what they are really saying? How often do we take the time to really listen to someone, without thinking about offering our thoughts or thinking about what we are going to say back?

4. Meet people where they are- not where you think they should be.  Every adult is responsible for their own life. If you are in their life, you are there to support them and to accompany them on their journey. Not to give them a road map, but to show them their options of routes to take. Some take longer than others, there's the chance of getting lost along the way, but usually they will find their way back. Perhaps you are the gas in their tank.

5. Try to greet everyone with a smile.  This is so cliche' but if you do it for a day, you will feel like you are walking on cloud nine. It only takes a second and it will change their day... more so, yours.

6. Quit searching for love. It's there. See it.  I'm not expert on love, but I've learned from my week with Sister Jules, Sister Celeste, Sister Rita and Sister Michelle (and many other of my Sistas) that it is there. RIGHT.IN.FRONT.OF.YOUR.FACE. It may not be pretty, but what a rewarding feeling, to love and experience love unconditionally.

7. Don't help. Serve.  No one is a superhero. Quit trying to be one. When you help someone, there's this feeling of paying back. You changed my tire, you took my kids for an afternoon, you covered lunch, I'll pay ya no no.  Serve people with humility- no strings attached. It all shakes out the way it should in the end.

8. Cross boundaries. Do things that blow your mind.  How many times do you go beyond your comfort zone? Yeah, that's what I thought. In a world of instant gratification we need to challenge ourselves to be patient, to be risk takers, to let our excitement be our passion. You live once, try something new, try helping someone new.

I may not be converting to be a nun, but I am converted. After my week with a house full of nuns, I'm learning to let go of judgments, trying to live more simple, being mindful of my actions and reaching out to those who need it most, no matter their economical status.  It will be a daily challenge, but one I am excited to act on because of my new Sisters.

Turn your magic on. Make someone feel alive.
Get someone through their adventure of life, 
without judgement, without expecting something back.

Sing it Coldplay!

Special thanks to:
  •  Sister Jules, Sister Michelle, and Sister Celeste, who accompanied us daily and put up with our questions, lousy Monopoly game tactics, and card playing sharkness!  You saw the good in us and daily loved us, reminded us to mindful of our actions, to "see" others,  and gave us "treats!".  You changed our lives forever though God's love.
  • Sister Rita- Personally, you forever changed my thinking about serving others with your witness and straightforward, yet loving attitude. You opened my eyes to what it really means to serve, hold people accountable and share kindness to all, no matter what.
  • Sister Delores, Sister Jane, Sister Linda: what you accomplish daily in your ministries is beyond amazing. The passion, humbleness, dedication and soul you put into every task you do, no matter how small it may seem was and is an inspiration to all of us.
  • The Notable Nine: Abigail, Angie, Clare, Emily, Grey, Leanna,  Nellie, Nicole, and Peter- So many memories and quality time together. I am awe of the sacrifice you took to service a week of your time, the happiness you shared constantly with others and each other, but more than anything, your sweet souls that will continue to serve in the ways you are called to do so. Thank you for one of the most memorable weeks of my life!
  • Kenneth Mellard: Thank you for driving us all over Philly and Jersey and being there for us each and every day.  I enjoyed being your co-pilot even though geography is obviously not my strength. Your insight and thoughtful reflection was appreciated and makes me beyond grateful that I was lucky enough to take this journey with you and those who's paths we crossed.