Five years ago this very month I took the biggest risk by making what was probably the most important decision of my life. I want to write about this, because it changed the course of my path drastically but this leap of faith (that we sometimes have to take in the unknown) is what lead me to become accustomed to saying “Jesus, I trust in You” even in the dark. Mary and Her Sorrowful Heart have been in the shadows of my life long before I even knew about Her title of “Mother of Sorrows”. A deep devotion for the Seven Sorrows of Mary formed and began in Rwanda, Africa; Kibeho to be precise! The very village where Our Lady appeared to three Catholic school girls and introduced Herself as “Our Lady of Sorrows”. When I came back to America I wanted nothing but to devote my life to Mary’s Rosary of Seven Sorrows and something incredible happened. Not having enough funds for spending money in Africa, I wasn’t able to go with the rest of the missionaries to buy holy souvenirs in town (Kigali- Rwanda’s capital) and I really wanted to buy that particular Rosary. I stayed behind at the chapel and spent time with the unforgettable Rwandans I made close ties with and waited for the group to return. I think I was definitely hoping one of the missionaries would read my mind and surprise me with one, but Our Lady had a great gift in store, reserved for a more perfect time.
A few weeks later when I was back at my apartment in the States I received a package in the mail; it was from my grandparents. I took it over to the Catholic Church I conveniently lived right across the street from and made it to Mass a little early so I had time to open it in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament ( it was providence I received such a gift in front of Our Lord). I opened the box to find an image of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows staring at me with a list of Her seven promises on the back; underneath that image was one of those moments when we realize everything happens for a reason; there are no coincidences with God. I pulled out a strand of beads with a little note that read “African Jade Beads- Seven Sorrows Rosary”. Not only am I named Jade but the beads were from Africa. Sitting in that pew, I had not the slightest idea that a few years later I would be named after Our Lady of Seven Sorrows as a Carmelite nun with Her September 15th feast day- a name or feast that I did not choose (but very much wanted) as we were not allowed to make any suggestions, the Mother Prioress did all of the decision making in that department.
When I graduated high-school the only thing I knew I MUST do was go to a four year university. It was the “logical” thing to do and at that point in my life- though God was always the center- I only cared about success. No one really tells you why you have to go to a four year university and be thousands of dollars in debt but if you don’t choose that route you are immediately made to feel as though you’re throwing your life away and headed down the wrong path. I somehow made it to Colorado State University as an Animal Science major; I wanted to be a veterinarian (or so I thought). I did everything I could to fit in with the agriculture crowd but deep down something didn’t seem right, I was never really satisfied with it all, I was forcing myself to fit into something I wasn’t made for. I still remember coming home from my first veterinary job in high-school and thinking “is that all? I want more”. Looking back, those were definitely interior whispers and hints from the Holy Ghost that He had other plans, but I didn’t want to know what those were yet. I would always think to myself “Our Lord wouldn’t bring me all the way here to this University to make me leave…” but I always tended to leave that sentence hanging with the question “right..?”
2014-2015 was a year that I will never forget; it was a time full of growth, the “honeymoon” period with Mary but also a season of pain. Yet, it was this particular honeymoon where true devotion to Our Lady was firmly established in my own heart and would save me years later from major trials; that was the year She became my Rock. It was a season I will never forget and I still look back on it and say “that was the best year of my life.” When I returned from Rwanda I was forced to take a year off from Colorado State due to my lack of funds and to my great surprise, I wasn’t sad about it like I thought I would be; I was content (drugged by Our Lady’s grace to be sure). This is the year where I made that important choice I began this post with- referring to a decision that changed everything. I landed a full time job at Ace Hardware and was working in the radiology department at the Veterinary School; I started attending daily Mass and I providentially picked up a book that lead me to something greater than I could have ever imagined.
It was Saint Louis de Montfort’s “True Devotion to Mary”; I underlined almost every page in that book and then I officially consecrated myself to this Queen with a group of other students on the glorious feast of Her Immaculate Conception. The book belonged to the campus Church and our compassionate priest let me keep the copy when I told him I couldn’t help marking every word. That book seemed to be on fire in my hands, you will understand my meaning when you have been searching for something your whole life, yet you don’t really know what it is you’ve been looking for until you have found it, then that incredible moment happens where time seems to stand still and all you can say is “this is it!”
This is what happened when I read what this saint had to say about Mary. I found myself crying, shouting out loud “yes!”when I read how loveable and amiable this Woman is. She was everything I was searching for; I felt a deep longing to fight for Her and love Her the way She deserves, for I could feel Her sweet presence radiating out of the pages… I found myself totally in love with Christ’s greatest Masterpiece of the Immaculate Conception, of Mary! I understand now why Our Lord had to tell the Apostles to not speak much of Mary (many, like Saint Paul had an intense love for Her and visited Her often) because Her triumph is reserved for “the end”. Then there were the passages where you couldn’t help become silent when de Montfort said the time has come where Our Lord no longer wishes Mary to be hidden, words of:
Mary has produced, together with the Holy Ghost, the greatest thing which has been, or ever will be, which is a God- Man; and She will consequently produce the greatest things that there will be in the latter times. The formation and education of the great Saints, who shall come at the end of the world, are reserved for Her.
My daily routine became constant- Mass, work, prayer and True Devotion to Mary. I brought that book everywhere; on my lunch break I would walk over to a coffee shop, choose the most secluded spot and pull it out and learn more about this Lady, this sweet Mother of God Who was becoming more and more the center of my being everyday. My Ace Hardware friends I worked with began bombarding me with numerous questions about Mary, I was never the preachy type, if someone asked about Her I would absolutely discuss it but they all could see in my behavior just how much joy She brought me. The closer I came to Her, the clearer my vision became when I looked upon Her Son. She was leading me to Him, it was a glorious cycle between “the Two”, finding myself caught between these Hearts (One Heart really, who are we kidding?). And it all dawned on me when I chose to love Mary with my whole self, that no one actually knows Christ the way they ought if they don’t know Mary.
That is a very sad and profound truth, because if we look around -even among Catholics- how many souls willingly choose to brush aside this tender Mother? Too many to count. This is where the temper in myself comes to the surface, do we honestly think Our Lord doesn’t care when one makes a cruel remark about His own Mother- think again! This Saint Louis de Montfort became my model, it was comical for me to read about how he too had a fiery temper; if one were to be found talking about the Mother of God in a derogatory way he didn’t waste a moment or a breath in bringing his fist in contact with the very chin who’s mouth said such atrocities against Mary most holy- “ah, there’s hope for me, yet!” I would proclaim.
For almost a solid year, (the year off from school) before my very eyes, Our Lady began removing obstacles that were not necessary for my own personal path of union with Her Son. I couldn’t believe the transformation I was undergoing at the Hands of this sweet and tender of all Mothers and Her Rosary, particularly of the Seven Sorrows- if it were not for Her love I don’t think I would have been able to bear all the changes alone. In JUST the course of that year I was not taking classes, I lost my singing voice almost completely, I stopped wearing make-up as Mary showed me over-time that true beauty is not what the world knows, even my taste in music changed and here was the weirdest part of all, Mary made sure I completely stopped dating. “What on earth is going on?” I thought, “I am losing everything”. But the more I kept conversing with Mary, the more I stopped caring about what the world expected of me and to give Her whatever She was prying from my hand, overtime I began giving Her what I knew She wanted to take simply for the sake of how irresistible this Mother was becoming for me; I wanted to please Her. She was leading me into the hands of the saints who chose something greater- celibacy.
That was not on my radar at all and I honestly did not want to think about it, but the words that changed my mind were profound, and a little scary to hear at first. I attended a Catholic conference with over 10,000 college students (it was overwhelming to be with that many students in one building) and I typically attended all the different lectures with a friend or two, but there was one I chose to attend alone. It was given by a young religious sister who’s topic was on the lives of the saints and as she began, she started showing different slides on her projector of Carmelite saints (typical).I still remember seeing Saints Therese and Elizabeth on that slideshow, but it was what she had to say about Elizabeth that sent shivers down my spine, a statement that had me running back to my hotel room calling my Grandmother and sobbing with what I heard, telling her what I knew had to be my personal invitation from God. As I was sitting with a group of Catholic students (strangers really) this Sister of Life told the story of Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity and how her mother wanted to have her married off, so she had the saint attend all these military balls, but one of the men approached Elizabeth’s mother and said:
We can’t marry her, look at her face…she is already taken.
The image on the screen showed Elizabeth with her hair in a bun; she looked quite ordinary but there was something in her eyes, the expression that confirmed what these men- suitors- thought about her “destiny”. AH, that hit me so hard that as soon as the talk ended I went straight up to the room to process what I had just heard. This was the first moment I realized why women became nuns, it’s not to “get away from it all” or “I couldn’t find a husband”, it is to marry the one true Bridegroom, the Prince- The Lord Jesus Christ. I avoided this “call” for the rest of the year of course, as I made every possible excuse in the world that it was just a phase; it would pass. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As summer was approaching, my very generous paternal Grandfather came to my rescue and paid off my previous overdue college tuition and I was able to register for classes after a year off from school. I was overjoyed that even after all that Mary was taking from my grasp, that She didn’t take Colorado State University; everything was going as planned. I had a good job at the Veterinary School and Ace Hardware; my prayer life was finally what I wanted it to be but then another test came. That same summer I went on a pilgrimage to Spain with a group of eighteen or so Catholic students from my college led by our priest on the famous “the Way of Saint James” (the same priest who led the trip to Africa) and Portugal Fatima to visit my favorite apparition site of Our Lady. I already posted about that experience so I will not go into too much detail, but is what the change that took place in my interior from that two hundred mile walk that officially made me realize that the “call” I had been avoiding never left like I thought it would. I made it back to America and started spending more time with Our Lord in Perpetual Adoration and then another book fell in my lap where Our Lord Himself had something to say about my behavior toward Him. The book I opened was the Diary of Saint Faustina (it was a First Saturday of Our Lady) and the first sentence I read was Our Lord complaining to the saint with these exact words:
How long will you keep putting Me off? And how long must I put up with You. (Later He said- I want you to be My Spouse).
Yikes…what was I to do? At first I reassured myself that He was of course not speaking with me but to the saint in the book, yet the more I read this dialogue between Our Lord and his bride I couldn’t help but fall in love with this Prince. It seemed to be my official first time of hearing Him speak and what sort of sweet disposition He had; it was another moment like I experienced with Mary of “this is it”, in this case it was “You’re the One!” When I contemplated Our Lord’s impatience toward His brides (Who is patience itself), of course I couldn’t help but be moved. This book began to show me Christ’s loving Heart, how even in His Divine Nature is still so much of what we feel in joy, sorrow…pain; His jealousy when souls reject Him, His romantic Heart and even His humor. “Now this is a Man who could satisfy my own heart”, I finally understood the song of songs- “I found the One my soul loves.” It all made sense why I got nothing out of dating; I wanted something that lasted…forever! “Until death do us part” always sounded like a depressing death sentence ( I don’t say that to offend Our Lord’s precious and saintly married couples in the Catholic Church, who I love and admire with all my heart and have supported me through thick and thin on my own endeavors).
So, as classes were starting in just a month’s time, I began truly pondering and discerning being a bride of Christ; I did not dare discuss it with my family, only close Catholic friends of mine and even a few of my Ace Hardware friends who knew how important my faith was to me, they were some of my truest support systems even though they didn’t share the Catholic faith. Certain priests began telling me “just get your degree first, then you can enter the convent”, but that always sounded so wrong too, like a modern, “get with the times” kind of answer. I was privileged to have had two guy friends at the time who were entering religious orders who told me when Our Lord says “follow Me”….He means NOW, not “follow Me…after you get your degree”, I had to laugh when I imagined Our Lord saying that kind of answer. On the weekend of Mary’s Assumption I flew to Kansas City and visited my first convent of Benedictine nuns who celebrated exclusively the Latin Mass, I did not tell my family and when they found out where I was, it was not a pretty picture but that weekend confirmed something for me, that I was definitely interested in monastic life. I couldn’t help be surprised at myself as well, the life of a nun was not only starting to appeal to me, but so was the Holy Habit; the garments these brides wear!
Reading the lives of the saints on fire for love of God made it all so glorious, as though seeing it in the proper light for the first time- without love of Jesus and Mary, the life of virginity doesn’t make sense, but when I saw how it was the very life chosen by Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Apostles of Christ…I wanted to follow them all! This brings me to the choice I had to make, grant you, I did not have very many members in my family at the time I could confide in, because it seemed as though everyone wanted me to be a veterinarian, everyone BUT God. That was such a difficult time, and the priest who led the groups to Spain and Africa once told me profound words from the Gospels of “those who love Father and Mother more than Me are not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:24). Passages like that were bittersweet, they were a relief for my own sorrow, but I was sad to disappoint all my dear family. Especially my Grandfather, who just paid for my tuition.
Classes started at Colorado State and some of the most odd sufferings began to unfold; I started working at the Animal Science meat lab department (basically working inside of a large freezer- it was miserable). I found that I was as happy as I could be off campus, but as soon as my bike tires hit University grounds the most wretched feelings of dread broke over me. I thought I would be so joyful to finally be back in school, but I hated it. I really felt rather guilty too, one can’t help their feelings, but I was doing all my homework, doing rather well in my classes, so what was the issue? Week number two came around and I was absolutely despondent and even depressed. I tried to hide it when I talked to my loved ones in California, but I couldn’t hide it from my friends I went to Mass with. It was a Friday and I was sitting in my last class of the day, biology and right beside my binder of notes I placed a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As I looked at His image full of pain and confusion, the image seemed to say “you know you are not happy.” As soon as the class ended I marched straight to the Animal Science building and went to visit a familiar and friendly face at the front desk, the receptionist of the department. She knew me extremely well and I confided to her what I was experiencing and I couldn’t believe what she said:
Did you ever think that perhaps all the suffering you have faced with trying to stay at this school is because you are NOT meant to be here?
I had never thought of that before and yet, deep down I knew she was right and for once, I was ready to accept that remark. This kind receptionist told me to take the weekend to think about what she said and an appointment would be made with my Animal Science advisor first thing Monday morning. I did exactly what I was told; I took the weekend. Sunday was a pivotal day; I watched a film on one of my favorite Carmelite saints and when I saw how she died at age twenty-four and gave her whole life to God, I knew I had to follow her and that she herself would be with me in the decision that had to be made. I think that was one of the first moments when I saw how my true friends don’t belong on earth, they are the saints- they are in heaven! Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, was that saint. Monday morning arrived, and I would not find out what feast day it was in the Catholic Calendar until I attended daily Mass at the day’s end…when it was all over. I took a deep breath, walked into my advisor’s office and spilled my heart to him. I had not realized how much I had kept to myself and was a little baffled in my telling him everything, I ended my sentence with “I think I am called to be a nun….” Before I go any further, I must tell you that Colorado State was not a school of religion, let alone a Catholic school, but my advisor was a protestant- we saw eye to eye on most things but the Eucharist and Our Lady, but nevertheless a wonderful advisor.
What he said next was the sentence that was shocking to say the least, and I am sure it was Christ speaking through him, he said:
Can I be honest with you? I never saw you at this school or this major. I think you should leave Colorado State University…today. Can I pray over you?
I think all I heard was “today” and “can I pray over you?” I thought he was going to tell me I was crazy, naive and needed to finish my degree, but he was telling me to leave my path of “success” and choose that of “faith”? Here I had “modern day” priests telling me to finish school, and Our Lord spoke through my Animal Science advisor to tell me to drop out, to turn my back on the culture. This was proof God chooses anyone He pleases to give us the nudge we need. He prayed over me and the words he used of “Lord help her pay off all her debt, get that job back for her at Ace Hardware (I quit to go back to school) and get her to the convent” etc. etc. etc. were striking and filled me with a supernatural courage to do exactly what he advised me to do, it is quite beautiful looking back as he was the exact “adviser”, instrument really, that Our Lady worked through to tell me what God was demanding me to do- he was His messenger.
I walked across the campus field to the building where one can withdraw from classes and the look on the employees face when I said “I would like to drop out of all my classes” was something to remember: “all of them?” I never felt more sure when I answered in the affirmative. One of the most liberating moments in my existence was walking out of that building and seeing my path as “I am called to be faithful, not successful”. Later that day I found out it was the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (the day Carmelite nuns renew their wedding vows to Our Lord…) and the next day was the future feast day in Carmel for me of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. That same day I even received my job back at Ace, I was hired on the spot over the phone; my advisor’s prayer was heard! Our Lord triumphed in His cross and came to my rescue and Who was there alongside me the entire time? None other than Our Lady, and Her sweet Seven Sorrows! Our Lord gave me Colorado State University, but Our Lady was asking: “will you give it up?”
It became radically clear that I was unhappy; I was restless because I was running from my own path, from the will of God and I saw how Satan has the whole world fooled, especially the role of women when today’s feminist movement make the woman believe she has to be everything to have a place in society. But THAT is the true chains, because I found by simply being obedient to the will of God and being who He made me to be, I was more free than I had ever been before; of course I remembered Our Lord’s words to the Apostles of poverty on earth and laying up my treasure in heaven. My Treasure of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary; the most Blessed Trinity!
The devil is so clever when he makes the daughter of God believe she is not enough, but when I dropped out of school, I saw just how precious the role of the woman really is to God, she is already everything, we are the one’s who don’t believe it…. all we need to do when we doubt that, is look to the Blessed Virgin Mary, that Queen, that Mother, that Woman, Whom “all generations” call Her blessed, because She said- “fiat!” (let it be done) in Her precious vocation of being the Mother of God. Her very life breathes God- “My soul doth magnify the Lord!” Ah, what a difference from the evil one, the supposed angel of light who said the exact opposite, “I will not serve!” The lesson I want any reader to take away today is we can say “yes” to God numerous times a day, it’s not just a one time “fiat”; how many times does He approach us with a cross, or a favor and what is our attitude, what is our reaction, what is our answer? Let us remember the prayer Our Lord taught Saint Faustina in times of doubt toward the goodness in God’s will for YOU:
Is it “I will not serve” like Satan, the “father of lies” or is it “behold the Handmaid of the Lord” like Our Lady? Even the Son of God was obedient, even unto death. If we want God the Father to be pleased with us, the way He was with His Son, Our Lady, Saint Joseph and all the saints who followed faithfully the path that leads to life, I promise- all we have to do is become accustomed to saying “yes” to the will of God everyday, and be who He made you to be. If we get used to doing the will of God in the small things, when a big request comes along, it will already be second nature to say yes whole-heartedly. Trust, that He designed everything about you and He needs your love. Our God is so gracious, that He doesn’t actually need anything from us, let alone our love, but He WILLED Himself to need it. Let us take courage in that truth; we are indeed dealing with a Father who’s treasury of compassion, mercy, romance and love is inexhaustible; don’t run from who you are, instead, take the hand of Our Lady and run into the Burning Furnace of Charity, the Sacred Heart of Jesus!