Tag Archives: family

On Retreat

Time away you need ... hmmm. Retreat you must go on.
Time away you need … hmmm. Retreat you must go on.

The summer months are a good time for rest, relaxation, and renewal.  Growing up on the East Coast, my family always spent time each summer at the beach. Our preferred beach in question (Ocean City, Maryland) was somewhat busy and offered many opportunities for fun, from skeeball to movies to miniature golf.  Given that I have a late July birthday, I spent many birthdays at the beach.

In addition to the regular summer beach fun, I also learned the value and beauty of the contemplative opportunities the ocean provides from my mother.  While we kids were out and about doing who knows what, my mother was generally settled in on the balcony. Sometimes she’d be reading a book, but most often she would just sit there, gaze out at the ocean, and bask in the freedom to simply be.

As I’ve gotten older, and especially since I’ve entered religious life, the contemplative opportunities of the ocean have become a greater draw for me.

This afternoon I will be heading to the ocean for just such a purpose.  You see, it is time for my annual retreat.  In our CSJP Constitutions we say:

We nurture our life of prayer
by reflective reading, particularly Scripture,
by periods of solitude and silence,
and by an annual retreat. (Constitution 30).

Retreat is a special time to reconnect with my loving God.  No email or Facebook. No meetings or to-do lists. IT is simply a time to pray and reflect on God’s daily invitation to seek justice, love tenderly, and walk in the way of peace.

As it happens, I will also be on retreat on Monday when I turn 43 years old.  I look forward to waking up early to watch the sun rise on this next year of life.

Pure gift.

A Rose by any name

srrosefrancoisI was thinking this morning of Sister Rose Francois, FSPA, my great-great aunt. My friend Julia is making final profession today as an FSPA Sister.  But I’ve also just found myself thinking more and more of Sister Rose of late, even though of course she’s not a person I ever knew.

Sister Rose was born Elizabeth Francois in Weiskirchen, Germany (then Prussia) in 1842. She emigrated to the United States as a toddler with her father, my great-grandfather Peter Francois and his new wife.  The family settled in Wisconsin where they continued the family tradition of farming and the family grew. Their youngest child, my grandfather Joseph Francois, was born in 1852.

Five years later, at the ripe old age of 15, Elizabeth joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Wisconsin.  Thanks to the efforts of my father and brother to gather our family history, I have a copy of her file from the community archivist.  Sister Rose was really one of their pioneer Sisters, joining the community a mere eight years after the first Sisters arrived in Wisconsin from Bavaria.

According to her obituary, she held many positions of responsibility in the new Congregation. Shortly after professing first vows she was named superior of St. Ameliana’s Orphanage. She was Novice Mistress, and in 1865 (at the age of 23 and after just eight years after entering the community), she was elected Assistant to the Mother General, a position she held for a total of 32 and 1/2 years!

So perhaps by now it is obvious why I feel a growing connection with Sister Rose, especially given that I was recently elected to the leadership team of my religious congregation about eight years after I entered.  There’s also another twist … family lore has always held that my middle name (Rose) is after my mother’s Aunt Rose and my Dad’s great-aunt Sister Rose, so she’s always been on my radar.  In any case, I’ve found myself thinking of her from time to time, as a spiritual companion of sorts on my own journey and adventures in leadership.  According to her obituary:

“Everyone felt at home and secure with her, for she was sincerely humble and approachable.  She always regarded failures that occurred from the best side and was indulgent in reprimanding.  It is evident that the good Lord directed her on the thorny path of life, but who ever saw her discouraged or dejected? It was just such equanimity in the most difficult situations that made Archbishop [Michael] Heiss of blessed memory, founder of our community, say: ‘One never knew when anything went crosswise with Sister Rose, she looked always the same. That was the characteristic trend of her life.”

Sister Rose was also administrator of St. Francis Hospital in La Crosse for 20 years.  Her obituary in the local newspaper had this to say:

“The predominant unity and progress in this institution is due to a great extent to her indefatigable activity. She worked faithfully and zealously in the service of the sick, was outstanding for her peaceful disposition and her vivacious congeniality.With exceptional skill she directed the administration of the hospital, and it won’t be easy to replace her.”

St Francis Hospital was also the setting for perhaps the most touching episode I read in her file, when her father (my great-grandfather) died in her arms:

“Mr. Francois  who was suffering for several days happily expired at 4:30 PM. About three o’clock he began to fail rapidly. Father Rheinhardt was sent for, he said the prayers for the dying. Mr. Francois answered the prayers with great fervor, then sat up to recover breath, in a few minutes he was supported by Sister Assistant (Sister Rose) and died in her arms. Rev. Mother and several sisters were present. Funeral will be Saturday.”

I must make the trip to La Crosse some day, both to visit some younger Sister friends I have there and to visit the cemetary.  Apparently both Sister Rose and my great-grandfather are buried there, my great-grandfather in an unmarked grave and Sister Rose beneath a tall monument to her memory.

As for today, I send my prayers and support to my friend Julia, and I ask Sister Rose to pray for her and to pray for me on our journeys as women religious.

Shifting understandings of home

DChitwood_TheresNoPlaceLikeHomeI lived the first 18 years of my life in the same house on Seabury Lane in Bowie, Maryland.  First the house was painted green, later yellow. We were a family of five children and two parents, later adding grandparents to the residential mix even as sibling after sibling went off to college, sometimes returning for a stint after graduation. (I’m the youngest.)

When I went away to college on the left coast in Portland, the Seabury Lane house was still home. As a young adult, I began to create my own home in Portland where I lived for 16 years until I entered community.  But I still spent many holidays back in Bowie with the family.  During the years when my mom was sick, the visits home were more and more frequent as my siblings and I provided a tag team support system.  My Dad sold the family house about a year after my Mom died.  I remember the last day I was there.  I had a little ritual of thanksgiving, thanking God for everything the house had represented as home.

So where is home now?  I’m often perplexed when people ask me where I’m from, or where is home.  I no longer have family in Maryland.  I have moved quite a bit since I entered community.  My home CSJP Western region is Seattle, but I’m also at home in our Eastern region where I’m now living or in our UK region where I just had the pleasure of visiting.  I just spent a few days in Portland for a meeting and visiting with friends.  I have so much history there that it is also a place where I am at home. I just spent 2 1/2 years in Chicago for grad school and my sister and dad now live there, so that place also is special to me.

I have literally been all over the map the past month, travelling for community meetings and leadership/vocation related meetings and a conference and graduation and visiting family and friends and CSJP community.  I’ve been in Seattle, Leicestershire and London, Chicago, and Portland.  Each stop on the journey held elements of home — roots, connection, relationships, past, present, and future. This afternoon as I was on the last flight of this long trip, I found myself once again offering prayers of gratitude for the many places that are home to me, even as my understanding of home continues to shift and evolve.

And now I am sitting in my chair in my room in the place I currently call home.  And it is good to be here, to stop moving and breathe deeply and sink into the present and presence of the people and place that right now make this community house my home.

This day in the history of the US, my family, and me!

meGrandadOn this day 2016 years ago, Abraham Lincoln was born.

On this day, 113 years ago, my grandfather Ludwig Lincoln Schmelzer was born. Yes, his middle name was given to him by his German immigrant parents to honor the illustrious day of his birth in their new country.

On this day 10 years ago, I made the first official step toward becoming a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace and became a pre-candidate. From the way back machine that is my old blog:

Long story short, my discernment has reached the point where it’s time to start discerning whether I’m called to religious life in the context of a particular community. And there’s something about this group of fun dedicated women, working for justice and to spread the gospel of peace. Whereas every Star Wars book and movie has the line, “I have a bad feeling about this,” I can honestly say I have a very GOOD feeling about this. There’s just something about the groovy csjp sisters. Helps me make much more sense of what God might be calling me to.

Ten years later, of course the story continues, in new and interesting ways as I embark on month two of my adventure in elected leadership. Every day confirms what I knew then, that there is something about this group of fun dediated women, working for justice and to spread the gospel of peace. I feel privileged to be part of the mix, and indeed the past ten years has shown me that it is as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace that I can become the me God dreams I can be.

The picture is of me with my grandfather on my 4th birthday. My grandparents were a special part of my early years, and lived with us for many years. He had a scratchy beard and a big heart. Happy birthday granddad!

Closing Chapters

I’m writing this in a room which no longer feels like my own, getting ready to pack up my final batch of belongings and complete my move to New Jersey. I actually started my new adventure two and a half weeks ago, but I still hadn’t closed up shop here in Chicago.  I knew I was coming back for my Dad’s 81st birthday celebration this week, and so I staged the work of moving into two phases. Hence, while I left my grad school life on January 6th to begin my adventures in leadership land January 7th, it’s only now that I really feel closure on this wonderful chapter in my life.

As I woke up this morning, I found myself feeling very grateful for all the learning I was blessed to experience in this room. Reading late into the night, writing drafts of papers, etc…  I also thought of all the skype calls and conference calls I participated in from this room, helping to plan the Giving Voice Conference, engaging in theological reflection with CSJP people, praying together across the miles. I remembered the great conversations with friends, the silly movies and episodes of Project Runway I watched as I colored with markers to reset my brain.  The good nights of eight hours of sleep. Much of the past two and a half years has taken place in this CTU dorm room. It has been so very good and I am incredibly grateful for this chapter of my life.

These days of finishing up packing and finalizing the move have also held chances to visit again with family and friends. Relationships have also been an incredible blessing of this time. This has been the first time in my entire adult life that I have lived in the same city as  family members.  I’ve also been blessed to have a group of Giving Voice friends in town, and even living down the hall! Then there are the wonderful friends I’ve made through CTU. I know the relationships will continue, and for that I am very grateful, but it was also nice to have a chance to visit in person one last time as a fellow resident of Chicago.

In my prayer this morning, I also found myself remembering with gratitude all the chapters of my life so far. Some of them ended quite clearly, as this one has. Others sort of faded out into the next chapter before I even realized it. But each one has had its blessings, its learnings, its opportunities for growth, its challenges and sad moments too. All of it adds up to who I am today as I step onto the pages of the next chapter.

Early last month I shared a video prayer reflection I created set to “Write Your Story” by Francesca Battistelli. I share it here again because it was part of my morning prayer, and seems entirely fitting as I close my CTU Chapter and step more deeply into my new adventure in community leadership.

“I’m an empty page, I’m an open book, write your story on my heart, come on and make your mark.
Author of my hope, maker of the stars, let me be your work of art.
Won’t you write your story on my heart?”

Twice her age … how did that happen?

When I graduated from college (ahem … twenty years ago!) I spent a year living in Switzerland with my brother and his family while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

When I arrived in July 1994 I met my niece Alison who had been born the previous December. I consider having spent that year with her and her big brothers one of the graced times of my life. There is nothing quite like seeing a little one learn something new every minute.

Kids grow up of course, and my little niece Alison somehow turns 21 today. Which makes me exactly twice her age!!

Happy Birthday niece of mine! You are the same age I was when I first met you. Can’t wait to see where the next 21 years take you!

image
Alison and Aunt Susan circa 2002

She had the music in her

Me an Mom, circa 1973
Me an Mom, circa 1973

Today would have been my mom’s 80th birthday. The title of this post comes from a song that’s been stuck in my head today as I’m remembering the gift my mom was in my life and to the world–“You Get What You Give” by the New Radicals.

You’ve got the music in you
Don’t let go
You’ve got the music in you
One dance left
This world is gonna pull through
Don’t give up
You’ve got a reason to live
Can’t forget you only get what you give

It’s a wee bit ironic, because my Mom was basically tone deaf in the musical sense. But she was very in tune with the needs of the world around her, from her own family, to her local community, to our wounded world. She was in tune with the gifts that God had given her and she shared them with a big heart and a belief that things could be better.

My mom raised five children and made it very clear to us that we are supposed to work to make the world a better place, in whatever ways we can.  She loved being a grandmother and how her own kids passed on the dream of a better world.

My mom cared for her own parents through great sacrifice. She modeled the power of presence.

My mom was an equal partner with my Dad, both at home and in the wider world where they were community builders and active participants on behalf of the common good.

My mom campaigned for justice, advocated for the needs of people who were poor, worked on Capitol Hill to help constituents access government resources, and accompanied men and women in prison so that they could rebuild their lives after their release.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over eleven years since she died. A lot has happened in my own life since then, including the decision to become a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace. Yet I feel her presence and know that she is smiling about the many and varied ways her kids have grown, changed, and done their best to make the world a better place.

In the words of the song that’s stuck in my head as I remember her (not that she would have liked the song, especially not the few “bad” words):

“You’ll be ok follow your heart.”

A wonderful lesson that I learned from my mom’s life, witness, and love.

Remembering Mom

Mom with her girls
Mom with her girls

I realized this morning that today is the 11th anniversary of my mother’s death. This is perhaps my favorite picture of her, taken at one of our last big family Thanksgivings. Here she is surrounded by her 3 daughters and two of her granddaughters. I “hosted” the gathering, which meant my Mom helped me find and rent a beach house on the Oregon Coast and did most of the cooking. That’s how she was, and that’s when she was the most happy–organizing, planning, and doing for others, surrounded by family.

In some ways it is very hard to believe that 11 years have past. My mom went through a lot on the medical end of things, with so much pain and suffering towards the end. Yet she was surrounded by family who, inspired by her example, organized and planned and did what needed to be done. What more could a mother ask?

So much has happened in my own life during these past 11 years. In many ways, it was the massive restructuring of my life after her passing, and the maturing and reorienting of my relationship with God that happened as a result, which led me on the path which puts me on the corner of Susan and St. Joseph.

Life is good for me these days, and I cannot tell you how many times I feel the presence of my Mom. Whether it’s knowing what she would say if she were still here (like the moment after I was elected at our Chapter and I knew she’d tell me to go put on a skirt for the blessing ritual!) or a more subtle but very real moment of her actual mysterious presence, nudging me or just being there at the right time.

The communion of saints is a mystery, and yet one that in our heart of hearts we know to be true. Loving someone also means that some day, you have to say goodbye. It’s a comfort to me to know that the connections continue, through our memories and who we have become, and through the nudges and presence that walks with us as we become who will we will be.