As I sit down to write this goodbye after a weekend full of celebrations, I find peace in my heart. How strange that is after all the tearful goodbyes today. As you read this, I will be on my way to Minnesota, saying goodbye to my family, being shown my new convent bedroom… living my new life as a postulant with the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus.
I’ve been pretty open with the parish about my journey to the convent, but until now I haven’t shared my full discernment journey with many people. “Discernment” is the process by which we discover God’s will for us. Vocational discernment is intensely personal, so it is naturally hidden from the public eye for the most part. But I thought I could give a peek into what my experience has been like.
I was in college when I first realized that religious life was an option for me. Though I grew up in a very Catholic area, I didn’t know that sisters or nuns were still a thing. I first encountered them when I started college at Ball State. These sisters wore the habit and had so much joy. They also were normal! After graduation, I took a job in New Albany, which I promptly left a few months later. In the weeks following, I found myself truly asking God for the first time what He wanted me to do with my life. What have I been created for? It was late one night when I was journaling that I first felt “the call.” It was gentle, but quite clear: “Would you consider discerning religious life now?” As with every step since then, the Lord was simply inviting me to take the next step in the process.
I began bookmarking websites for communities all over the country. There’s so many! They’re all so different! After a few months of online research, I reached out to a community and scheduled a time to visit them. As only Providence could have it, this is also when I started working at Holy Family. This community turned out to not be the right place for me, and I ended up putting discernment on the back burner while we all went through the Covid lockdowns.
In the fall of 2020, I discovered the Handmaids. As I looked through their website, I had butterflies in my stomach. Oh how beautiful they were! Minnesota is cold, but surely it’s not that bad? I reached out and asked if I could attend the “Come & See” retreat a few weeks later. Come & See retreats are weekends where young women can get to know a community from the inside by entering into their rhythm of prayer and community life. As I settled in that weekend, my heart was filled with joy and peace. I knew that I wanted to return for an individual visit and continue discerning with them.
Over the next six months, I visited and began the application process. The application was intense, including things like physical and psychological exams, gathering legal paperwork, and writing an autobiography. My discernment journey was personally enlightening as a whole, but the process of recording my entire life (in only eight pages!) was one of the most healing parts.
Now is the point of my story that took a totally unexpected turn: the Handmaids asked me to wait a year to join. I assumed that after my application was reviewed, I would get either a yes or no; a not yet wasn’t on my mind. The community’s vocation director, who I was in frequent contact with, gave me the news. “We really think that you have a vocation here. But we don’t think this is the right time.” Just as marriage takes a yes from both parties, so does religious life. It was a hard pill to swallow at the time, but it’s part of the beauty of the life: I’m not alone in discerning God’s will. My sisters are also praying and seeking Him. They had specific and logical reasons for asking me to wait, but really it was a nudge from the Holy Spirit. This extra year has been such a gift to me, my family and friends, and to the parish.
I spent a lot of time in prayer, but also in counseling and spiritual direction. The healing work that was started with writing my autobiography continued. I realized that I lived with so much fear, which was causing generalized anxiety in my daily life. Once these fears were addressed, I could embrace the gifts that the Lord had given me. I also learned to actually receive the Love that He is always pouring out for me. I can’t tell you how many times I remarked, “It’s like I’m a whole new person now!” Though I’ve always been and always will be just Kelli, I could finally accept that I am special. Not because I am any different or better than others, but because the Lord loves me. That’s all it takes. And that Love is what will guide the rest of my life, no matter where I am.
So what comes next? I will spend this year as a postulate. The work postulate means “to ask.” Even though I’ve been accepted and it seems, through our human eyes, that this is the community and life that I’ve been called to, more discernment is needed. I’ll live, pray, and serve with the Sisters with no commitment. I have the freedom to leave at any time. They will continue discerning my call as well. Though this may seem strange to some, this is the process Holy Mother Church has discovered to be the best at testing the call for each individual.
In your charity, please keep me and the Handmaids in your prayers. I am joining with five other women. They will have different stories but all the same motivation: Love. Pray that we can imitate our Blessed Mother, the first Handmaid, and become who we are created to be.
May the Lord bless you all! Stay close to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and they will guide you to the Eternal Kingdom.