Hey everyone! It’s been an amazing couple of days, and I’m just so excited to see what the Lord has in store for my life. As you may or may not know, I recently began a new job. After several agonizing weeks of applications and interviews, I’ve been blessed with the most amazing job offer ever. The Lord is so good to me! As of yesterday, I am officially the assistant Director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (OLMC) Catholic Church in Ridgewood, NJ. For all of my north Jersey friends, feel free to visit! This past week, we began our two-week intensive summer CCD program. I’ve very fondly been referring to it as “CCD on crack.” Because OLMC is such a large parish, the Religious Education office provides families with many options for their children’s catechism classes. In addition to the more traditional “school model” (think Sunday School, but also on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and “home model” (families get together in each other’s homes for CCD classes), OLMC also offers the “When Families Gather” program, where parents teach their own children and also attend monthly classes with their children, and the summer program. Essentially, the children meet everyday for three hours over the course of two weeks and cover the same amount of material that children in the other models will cover throughout the school year. Sounds crazy, right? That’s what I thought, but since beginning the program, I can understand why it’s such a hit. I’ve never seen kids so willing to spend two weeks of their summer in school. I’d venture to say it’s 90% because of the amazing catechists, and 10% because if I was given the option of spending nine afternoons at the beginning of summer in CCD so that I didn’t have to wake up early on Sundays, I’d take it too.
I’m so happy to be doing something I love, but it’s also just a relief to have a job. After those first few weeks of stressing about how I was going to pay bills, I can finally stop worrying. Of course, I also learned that there’s no point to worrying about finding a job, because stressing doesn’t get you anywhere. But what’s that phrase? Oh yeah, only hindsight is 20/20.
Finding a job was only one of the struggles that I faced in the weeks after leaving the convent. That’s probably been the most commonly asked question I’ve heard over the past month and a half: What has been the hardest thing since leaving? My answer is two-fold, and actually, stressing about a job was minimal compared to these two things. The first struggle that I faced was maintaining a strong prayer life. Before I decided to leave the convent, I had heard many people tell me that returning to the secular world can be a major challenge to your faith. To be honest, I didn’t believe it at first. I mean, how can someone who had discerned the religious life lose their faith? The idea sounded preposterous to me, that is, until I was faced with the reality myself. And this is what I learned: it’s hard to maintain a strong prayer life when you’re only accountable to yourself and God. I mean, think about it: for the past eight months, I’ve been told exactly when to be in chapel. Prayers, meditation, Mass, rosary, and spiritual reading were all incorporated into my daily schedule through no efforts of my own. I barely needed to think about it (which is great when prayers begin at 5:40AM), and now, I’m responsible for getting myself up with enough time to say prayers or to go to Mass. I’m in charge of my own prayer life again, and that can be quite the challenge when you’re not used to having that responsibility. I’m grateful that I left the convent aware of this struggle that so many of us face; that little piece of information helped me a great deal in the weeks immediately following my return to the secular world. I’m happy to say that though my faith has been tested many times, the Lord has given me the grace to persevere, though the road hasn’t always been smooth.
That being said, I think that the biggest challenge that I’ve faced since coming home has been with community. Let me just paint this picture for you: though I’ve been a resident of the state of NJ since I was born, I haven’t really been a member of this community in about six years. I spent four of those years in PA doing my undergrad, and then spent a year in DC working on my Master’s degree before I entered. Though I’m a native of this area, I haven’t really lived here in years. Over the past six years, I’ve found myself a member of several communities- at DeSales, at the Institute, and during this past year, in the convent. I still have my friends from PA and DC, but they’re not immediately present to me. My faith community hasn’t been grounded here, not for several years at least. When I left, I came home and realized that for the first time I did not have a community already established for me. There was no campus ministry, no young adult ministry, to turn to. Some of my best friends live in this area, but except those few friends, most of my closest friends live elsewhere. So when I came home, I faced a duel dilemma. On the one hand, my Jersey friends have lived their lives while I’ve been in the convent, and we’ve all had to adjust to my being home. Over the course of the past year, my friends have had to adjust to life without me, and now, suddenly I’m back. On the other hand, in addition to reaffirming past friendships, I also wanted to create some new ones. I wanted to find a faith community that I could belong to, where there were other young people with whom I could share my faith. I’m so happy to say that the Lord has been exceedingly generous in my life, and has blessed me abundantly in both areas. God has blessed me not only with faithful friends who have enthusiastically welcomed me home, but He has also blessed me with a new faith community, which has largely come as a result of my rekindled friendships and my new job. God is so good, and I am so blessed. It’s the little things in life that matter most- like barbecues with friends, being able to have a good cry on a friend’s shoulder, or enjoying each other’s company over French toast, perfect pancakes, and Duck Dynasty. I have definitely found God’s love in the little things of this beautiful life of mine. May God be praised!
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!
Shannon, I just wanted to tell you that I am so happy for you. It is a difficult adjustment, but you are following our Lord and He will lead you through it all. Congratulations on your new job, you are going to do a wonderful job bringing the Salesian spirit into your new workplace. Please know that you are in my prayers.
Community is essential to a good Christian life. God didn’t make us to be alone! I’m glad that you’ve been able to find a new faith community.
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