82: A Different Kind of “Higher” Education

82: A Different Kind of “Higher” Education

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

A Different Kind of “Higher” Education

God provides the wind, but man must raise the sails.

~St. Augustine

I was sixteen years old when I fell in love. It was the kind of amazing and wonderful first love that makes your head spin and your heart race. My thoughts and feelings were consumed by this new and exciting relationship. There were gifts of flowers, shared sunsets at the park and late night conversations that brought us even closer.

Since I was so young when it began, I’m sure most people would have dismissed the relationship as a “crush,” an infatuation that would disappear with time and maturity. But I was certain this was going to last forever.

The hardest part was keeping the relationship a secret. But I had to. I knew my parents would never approve and my friends would never understand. I had fallen in love with God.

I come from a Catholic family so I had spent many years attending Sunday Masses, singing in the Church folk group, participating in Christmas Nativity scenes, May Crownings, and Holy Thursday processions. I had years of religion classes in the Catholic School I attended. But at sixteen years of age, the relationship with God became personal. In God I found the love, acceptance and belonging that seemed to be missing from the relationships around me. And soon I knew that I wanted my life to be about developing an even stronger personal relationship with God through prayer and service. I was going to be a nun.

A vocation or calling was something I had often heard about. But who can really explain something so mysterious? Maybe if God used cell phones, pagers and the Internet, God’s invitation to me would have been much clearer. All I had to rely on was the conviction in my heart that no one else could ever fill my life in the same way. Isn’t that really what everyone relies on in finding the love of their life?

My junior and senior years of high school were filled with classes, extra-curricular activities and friends. My girlfriends and I did everything together, but it was actually a boy I met named Jimmy who became the friend I could confide in. I learned more about the life of a religious Sister through an affiliate program. And all the while my relationship with God grew stronger and deeper.

I anxiously awaited my graduation day but I looked forward even more to August 29th when I would enter the convent. Friends planned and prepared for college, while I planned and prepared for my first year in the convent as a postulant.

Toward the end of my senior year, I could no longer avoid the unavoidable. It was time to tell my parents of my decision to become a nun. I imagined they would be upset. My parents’ idea of the convent was a place of sacrifice and hardship. They thought they would never see me again. It was too much to expect them to be supportive of a decision that they couldn’t possibly understand.

I would tell my mother first. I was secretly hoping she would then tell my father for me. I spent a great deal of time trying to find the perfect words and the perfect moment. They never came. So one warm day in June, when my mother and I were together in the kitchen, I blurted out “I’m entering the convent in August.” Her response was unexpected. She said, “What about Jimmy?”

“Well, I don’t think they’ll let him come with me,” I said jokingly, hoping humor would lighten the conversation. The humor fell like a lead balloon as my mother began sobbing and asking why I would do this. I knew there was no answer I could give that would make this decision acceptable.

I was more fearful of telling my father. It was probably not the best idea to bring it up when he was driving me home from school one day. “I’m going to become a nun,” I said. In his anger, he yelled, “If you do that, you’re not my daughter any more!” I cried the rest of the way home. There are some words spoken in defining moments that change a relationship forever.

The topic was off limits in my parent’s house for the rest of the summer. I’m sure they were expecting and hoping that I would change my mind before August came. If you ignore something long enough, it will go away. They painted my bedroom and bought a new mattress for my bed. I joked that they were preparing the room to rent it out after I left. In reality, it was their sweet yet silly attempt to entice me to stay, and to deal with their sense of loss in accepting that I wouldn’t.

My friends were supportive in a disbelieving kind of way. Wasn’t I the girl who in a huge lapse of good judgment drank a bottle of cheap wine with a boy and returned home to throw up repeatedly on my father’s beautiful rose bushes? Wasn’t I the girl who was voted by the senior class as “most likely to try anything?” I certainly wasn’t anyone’s stereotype of who a nun should be. The amazing thing was not that I was in love with God but that God was in love with me.

That summer, my brother got married a week before I would leave for the convent. What different paths our lives would take. My parents were beaming with pride. I imagined their disappointment in me. They would never see me in a beautiful white gown on my wedding day. My father would never walk me down the aisle. I would never give them grandchildren to spoil in their old age. God was definitely not who my parents had in mind for a son-in-law.

August 29th finally arrived. I was packed and ready to go long before the afternoon ceremony. I was happy and scared and nervous and excited. My mother made spaghetti for lunch, my favorite meal. My father washed the car that he would use to drive me to the convent. These were small signs to me that my parents were beginning to accept that their dreams for my life were theirs, not mine.

My father parked the car outside the convent chapel. Before getting out, my parents asked one last time if I had changed my mind. They assured me that I could always come home. “Just call and I’ll pick you up,” my father said.

I walked to the chapel door confident and excited about living my dream. The Sister who greeted us at the door pointed to the reserved seats up front. And so I walked my parents down the aisle knowing that the dream we shared was for my happiness.

~Maria Zawistowski

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