When I was invited by SSND Associate Mary Anne O’Donnell to share a personal reflection at the associate covenant ceremony in Baltimore this June, I wanted to say, “Nope – not me…” But something happened when I opened my mouth to respond to the invitation. My brain quickly rebooted, and much like the analogy we always hear of your life flashing before your eyes, my experience over the past four years with SSND flashed before my eyes and I said yes, thank you. “Trust and Dare!”
Now the hard part – what do I share in a 10 minute reflection that would be meaningful - and especially to those about to embark on their new lives as SSND Associates? For me, not a day has passed in the last four years where I don’t spend a little time reflecting on something related to the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
I could reflect on how God tapped me on the shoulder twice in one week and insisted that I get myself to Caroline Center to meet Sister Pat McLaughlin - because that started it all for me. God called me closer to him through the work of SSND - and I could share any one of a hundred experiences. But I think I’ll save those incidental examples for another time.
In the process of discerning - a word and practice I’m still mastering with the help of the sisters – I had a conversation with Mary Lou Fish, a fellow Associate. At the end of the conversation, she asked ‘Are you giving the reflection Sunday for the covenanting?’ I replied in the affirmative and Mary Lou said, ‘That’s great - talk about commitment.’
I could do that, I thought, but I really wanted to outdo myself as sort of a cross between Mother Caroline Friess and Comedian Shecky Greene, so I started down a different path - but in the end, all the stories, experiences, laughter, smiles, love and understanding I’ve shared in the name of SSND have stemmed from that very thing - commitment – either my own or someone else’s.
So, thanks, Mary Lou – you are right – it’s all about commitment!
For me, my journey started with saying yes to a Board of Trustees opportunity at Caroline Center. The more I learned about Caroline Center’s program and values, the more I was drawn in. I wanted to better understand the mission and connect more with the women and families of Caroline Center and slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, I did.
I say that God and the School Sisters of Notre Dame tapped me on the shoulder and drew me to them, because at the time of my introduction to SSND and Caroline Center in Baltimore, I was already praying about and pursuing a deeper, stronger relationship with God. I was working in ministry and local mission work in my parish and praying about next steps. I listened to faith-filled podcasts on my morning walk. I learned my very favorite prayer from Rick Warren during one of those podcasts. It’s a simple prayer, three words –
‘God, use me.’
I was praying that prayer every single day when the Caroline Center showed up on my radar. The call was soft and almost imperceptible at first. I imagine that you all had similar experiences that led you here.
I asked myself at the beginning of my journey, 'How can I take on another commitment?' I have a job, a family, five of the cutest grandkids in the world, a church and an eight-month old chocolate lab named CoCo. My life is so full - as a caretaker, nurturer, a business leader and wife and mother – can I be true to one more commitment, regardless of its importance and its relevance in my life and the lives of others? I’m so happy to tell you that the answer is yes. The answer is YES. And, in fact, answering yes to God and the SSNDs when they tap you on the shoulder is the key to making that commitment real. “Trust and Dare!”
One of the things I struggle with mightily is “being still,” whether physically, spiritually or metaphorically, I am just not a still person. But I’m working on it, and I urge you to work on it, too. You are here today as part of an amazing sisterhood of women. God placed you here with us. He knew you before you were born; he knew everything that was going to happen to you! Say ‘Yes’ to being here with the sisters whenever invited to do so. Say ‘Yes’ to spending some time to support, strengthen and grow one of the many sponsored works within our community, whether it’s Caroline Center, Notre Dame of Maryland University, Marian House, a co-sponsored work, or Maria Healthcare.
When I first began to move a little closer to the School Sisters of Notre Dame with God’s help, I thought I had to do lots of big things all at once to prove my commitment and assure everyone that I was serious about living the SSND charism. But part of the SSND philosophy has to do with self-care. Sister Debbie Liesen and other sisters in my life helped me tame my childish passion for biting off more than I could chew. They taught me to be still, to say yes to the opportunities that came my way, and to build upon them in God’s time.
When you pray about next steps in your faith walk, be open to all the possibilities that lead you back to SSND and their great works. I’d be very surprised if God isn’t tapping you on the shoulder right now and drawing you toward one of them to learn more.
Here I am, four years later, with the companionship of Associate Mary Anne O’Donnell, still growing in my faith and in my commitment to Caroline Center and the School Sisters of Notre Dame. I dream of ways to be more a part of it all, and I pay careful attention to God’s continuing invitations to commit a little more and draw a little closer.
That’s really what I decided to reflect on with you - the small steps you can take daily toward strengthening your commitment to SSND through a sponsored work or through prayer and meeting.
Just as I said yes to sharing a reflection, even though my knees are knocking and my heart is pounding out of my chest right now, I pray that we will commit ourselves, all of us, to more prayer and celebration in the coming years and remind each other to say yes to God’s desire to pull us out of our comfort zones and to stretch us in new ways as we commit our lives to help carry on the work of Blessed Mother Theresa, Mother Caroline and all of the School Sisters with whom we celebrate today.
This covenanting celebration, for all of us, no matter how long we’ve been hearing the call, is another beginning. It can’t be the end goal or the culmination of your time spent with SSND if we are to fully embrace this opportunity God has given us - to be one with the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
Even though we are raised to dream big in our country - I heard a song this week called “Dream Small.” The lyrics serve as a brilliant reminder of how important it is for us all to remain vigilant to that tap on the shoulder and to respond to the small opportunities that draw us nearer to God and set us up, perhaps someday, if it is God’s will, to take on the larger opportunities.
It’s a momma singing songs about the Lord
It’s a daddy spending family time that the world said he cannot afford
These simple moments change the world
It’s a pastor at a tiny little Church
Forty years of loving on the broken and the hurt
These simple moments change the world
Don’t buy the lie you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways that only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall!
It’s visiting the widow down the street
Or dancing on a Friday with your friend with special needs
These simple moments change the world
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with bigger dreams
Just don’t miss these minutes on your way to your bigger things
‘Cause these simple moments change the world
Keep loving, keep serving
Keep listening, keep learning
Keep praying, keep hoping
Keep seeking, keep searching
Out of these small things and watch them grow bigger
The God who does all things makes oceans
Lisa Benson celebrated her first covenant, promising to live the SSND charism, in June 2017. To learn more about the SSND Associate program, please click here.