Good Zeal

God Changed My Mind

Sr. Karen Ann LortscherThomas Merton said, ‘The will of God is not a “fate” to which we must submit, but a creative act in our life that produces something absolutely new.’

I grew up with nuns, but I never wanted to be one until God changed my mind. Like most people, growing up, I assumed I would marry and have children. I went to a Catholic High School in the late 1960s, and there were still a lot of Sisters teaching there. They were all good, holy women, I am sure, but looking at their lives from the outside, I had no desire to join them. In fact, during my sophomore year, I feared that I was doomed to become a nun, that somehow being around nuns would rub off like cooties. The idea filled me with terror. I got over the fear by reminding myself of God’s love for me and that God wanted the best for me, that God wanted me to be happy with him. I knew this would not make me happy, so I forgot about it.

I began dating in high school and dated through college and my 20s. Some I had a huge crush on. Others, not so much, but they were fun to hang out with. Somehow, no one seemed to be the right one. I began to wonder about my plan. After college, I decided I had time to find the right person. I had a friend whose sister married at 27, and I decided that sounded like a good age to get serious.

I lived in Atlanta when my 27th birthday came and went, and there was still no Mr. Right. I had fallen away from the church by then, so I had no thought of becoming a Sister. One night, I had a scary dream in which I told the frightening person they couldn’t hurt me because I believed in God. I woke up at that moment, and somehow, I felt God present to me. I began to pray the Our Father and Hail Mary for the first time in years.

This began a gradual process of turning back to God, but I only took baby steps. Eventually, I came back to the church. I participated in every committee and every program, but it was as if God was still tugging on me, pulling me onward to something more. It was both exciting and scary, but it was definitely exhilarating.

I had not given up on my plan to marry and have a family. The only difference was that I dated men I met at church or through church friends. Still, they weren’t the ones for me. I got frustrated with God, and my prayer often sounded more like an argument than anything else. One day, during one of these arguments, I felt a sense of surrender. I knew whatever God wanted would be right for me. I told God, “I’ll do anything you want. I’ll even be a nun!” Not that I expected God to take me up on the offer but I trusted and waited for God to show me.

One of my volunteer activities was teaching a Sunday religion class in the parish school. One day, on leaving, I saw a poster on a bulletin board that said, “Have you ever thought of becoming a priest, brother, or sister?” I wrote down the address and sent for information about becoming a sister, just out of curiosity, of course. Not that I would act on it. I received in the mail a catalog of communities of religious women. I enjoyed looking through the first 10 to 20 pages with a different community on each page, but that was confusing. They all blurred together, so I turned to the index in the back to find a community nearby that I could visit. I figured once I visited, I would know religious life was not for me.

I wrote to a Carmelite community in Savannah and to the Benedictine Sisters in Cullman. The Benedictines’ vocation director wrote to me first. Her letter was long and full of information about the Community. It turned out she would soon visit her family in Atlanta and would love to meet me. I felt comfortable with her, and we talked for hours. Next step: visit Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman.

As I was driving north on I-65, getting closer and closer to Cullman, I got very nervous and asked myself, what in the world was I doing going to a convent? At just about every step of my vocation journey, I questioned my sanity. This moment was no different.

My experience not only allayed my fears, but I found myself attracted to the beauty of the place and the warmth and peacefulness of the Sisters. When it was time to leave, I couldn’t wait to return. After my second visit, I asked to apply. I think the vocation director was shocked because the process usually takes more time, but she did not know how long I had already been on this journey to God ever since that dream years before. I was afraid that if I didn’t go ahead and try I would never do it and always wonder if I should have.

In the years since I entered on January 6, 1985, the Feast of the Epiphany, I have been fulfilled in ways I never could have dreamed of on my own. I loved learning more than I learned in Catholic School about the liturgy, the sacraments, and scripture. Praying the liturgy of the hours with my Sisters nourishes my soul, and I am increasingly aware of what a privilege and an honor it is to pray for the Church and the world in the words of the Psalms and the Old and New Testament Canticles. Yes, there are times that I would rather sleep in as I am not a jump-out-of-bed-ready-to-go kind of person, but deep down, I feel it is too important to miss.

I am enlivened by living with others who are committed to seeking God in this Benedictine way of life. Yes, it can be hard to rub shoulders with so many different personalities on a daily basis, but those annoyances are nothing compared to the loving support we give to each other as we strive together to live this life to which God has called us.

Finally, I would never have dreamed that I would teach elementary school, help women discern their vocations, work with college students in campus ministry, and now work as the Community’s Development Director, connecting with the many people whose lives have been touched by my Sisters, both those who came before me and those I get to live with today.

Yes, God did something creative with me all those years ago, and God is creating me anew each and every day of this Benedictine life. I am so grateful that God changed my mind.

By Sister Karen Ann Lortscher, OSB

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