Offer of a Lifetime
It’s 3am on a Wednesday night. The dark stillness of the house is interrupted by a logging truck thundering through the trees past my house, roaring toward a clear-cut somewhere in the pitch-black hills, its empty trailer clanging behind. By the time they have arrived at the landing to pick up the logs, it will be dawn. Their work day has already started and so has mine.
I live with my brother and his wife and their eight-month-old twins. My sister-in-law has watched them alone all day, so my brother and I take the night shift to give her a semi-full night’s rest. My nephew has just had his second wake up. He has acid reflux, so the only remedy he and I have worked out over the last several months is to change him first, feed him to push down the acid, and then hold him upright, against my chest, his head on my shoulder, and pace the floor until it all goes down for good. I call it the Long Walk. Half asleep now, my nephew reaches for my neck, searching for the cord of my Brown Scapular. Since he discovered it about two weeks ago, he has become obsessed with it and looks for it whenever I am holding him. If he gets to it before I do, he pulls it out of my shirt and sucks on it until it is a sopping piece of brown wool.
Lately, this nightly Scapular bath makes my stomach sink. After visiting the Carmelites in February, I discovered with an odd feeling of calm that I had found my place in the Church. It wasn’t what I expected. There were no jubilant tears of joy at the threshold of the pre-novitiate house or rays of sunlight streaming through stained glass. It was a freak snow storm after a clear morning. At prayer, one of the friars went the wrong way around the prayer stalls and everyone had to stand up to let him through. He walked a quiet gauntlet past his smiling brothers and at that moment I knew. The feeling was subtle but profound. In that instant, my discernment was no longer about where I was supposed to be but had become about what I will learn from sharing my life with these men. My nephew’s penchant for teething on Our Lady of Mount Carmel reminds me again and again that I have, for the time being, turned down the offer of a lifetime and decided to postpone my application to the pre-novitiate until next year in order to stay and help support my brother and his family. I keep wondering if my decision was God’s will or mine. Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:37 ring like an accusation in my ears:“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me”
When I review my decision, as I have done a thousand times since that day, I have to say that if feels like there was really no decision to be made. Intuitively, I knew where the greatest need lay. Each day, I see my brother and his wife pushed to their limit, working 18 and 20 hour days to take care of the twins and maintain the farm and make extra money to pay for all the diapers, formula, clothes, wipes. Exhausted, overwhelmed and blessed, this is the moment, maybe the most challenging moment of their lives, in which my family needs someone to walk that extra mile with them and not count the cost.
I have to believe that there is something at work here, forming me even now, even in the chaos of twins and work and vocation swirling around my head. Nothing is wasted. Even this time I spend outside the Carmelites is forming me to be a better Carmelite in ways I will never fully see. Everything is a gift and a grace. In my more recollected moments, I’ve felt a peace that feels similar to a prayer written by my favorite Carmelite saint, St. Teresa of Avila:
Let nothing disturb thee;
Let nothing dismay thee:
All thing pass;
God never changes.
All that it strives for.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.
My discernment has taken this sharp left turn because I believe that it must, though I don’t know why it must. Every night at about 3am and every moment in between I am growing in patience, in love, in humility and service and I can feel that growth bringing me closer to the God I love. Whether I show that love in solemn vows and service or spit up stains on my shoulder and a sopping wet scapular next to my chest, I lack nothing, for God alone suffices.