God knows the deepest desires of our hearts and delights in granting them to show us His unconditional, limitless love. Yesterday was a perfect example of that. My dear friend Michele Morris is fast-approaching her August 6, 2013, entry date into the cloistered convent in Carmel, California, The Sisters by the Sea. Her vocation discernment and her faith journey have taken some very interesting twists and turns, but God has made clear to her what the next step is in her walk with Him, and she’s joyful, peaceful, anxious, and excited to take it.
Over the past year, Michele felt kind of disappointed that she wouldn’t get to have a “bridal shower” to celebrate her vocation, rejoice with loved ones, and receive affirmation and encouragement for this momentous undertaking. Some who are close to her haven’t been as supportive or as enthusiastic about her news, which has been difficult and discouraging at times. People generally know enough to congratulate someone who’s gotten engaged and is getting married, but not as many are sure of what to do when someone, especially a female, has announced that God has called her to the religious life.
After attending a wedding shower and serving as a bridesmaid last summer, Michele felt a twinge of sorrow and regret that she wouldn’t have the same sort of joyful gathering in anticipation of her upcoming lifelong commitment. It wasn’t the gifts or anything like that she wanted. Her heart really longed for the camaraderie and support from loved ones coming together and giving her a send-off filled with love, prayers, and encouragement.
The Lord gave her a beautiful bridal shower which was totally unexpected while she was on a special women’s weekend. God loves us extravagantly, and knows the longings in our hearts, because the truest, longest-lasting ones are those He puts there. He takes great joy in blessing us abundantly, often in totally unexpected ways, by granting those desires. The circumstances of a women’s weekend Michele attended included an elegant formal feast with gorgeous decorations, soft music, flowers, candles, and a personal invitation at each spot. When she entered, she was in awe and heard someone remark that the ambiance and décor were that of a wedding feast.
When Michele read the invitation placed at her spot, one line in it really struck her: “and Christ is the host.” At the moment she read those words, it dawned on her that evening, the beauty around her, the women of faith,the atmosphere of love and joy was God’s bridal shower for her. Few people there knew she had been accepted at a cloistered monastery and within a year or so would be entering a Carmelite community on the West Coast.
When she told the person next to her about her realization that this was her bridal shower, she was encouraged to share this with the entire group. Michele felt reluctant to do so, because she didn’t want the special dinner to be about her, but the Holy Spirit practically pushed her to her feet, and she made the announcement that she’s going to become a cloistered Carmelite nun. She spoke briefly of the sadness she experienced thinking she wouldn’t have such a celebration and her subsequent surprise and joy that God had seen fit to give her the delight of her heart at an unexpected time and place. The formal, elegant, and initially rather solemn feast turned into a time of true rejoicing. Someone put on a CD by Danielle Rose with a song that was perfect for the occasion called, "Your Bride." These are the lyrics of the refrain:
"I am your bride.
I am one with my Beloved Crucified.
As you offer me your Body, I offer you my life.
Now and always, I am yours
I am your bride."
Everyone stood in line to dance with Michele and wish her well. There was a great deal of laughter, feasting, and celebrating with women of faith who enthusiastically embraced Michele’s call and share her deep desire to glorify God.
Yesterday was another desire Michele had in her heart, a day out with some close girlfriends, women of faith, to come together and help her find a special dress and shoes to wear the day she enters the monastery. (They’re making her a postulant dress to wear once she enters, but she wanted to arrive in something special that she can wear a few times before she leaves Richmond.) She’d found a dress she really liked at a shop just around the corner from where she lives. It was the first dress she tried on, and as soon as she stepped out of the dressing room, the woman at the shop told her that she didn’t need to try on any of the other dresses, that was the one.
As is her custom, she didn’t buy the dress right away. She decided she’d come back in a week, on the day when she and a few of her friends were free to go shopping and spend the afternoon and evening together. If it was still there, then she’d know she should get it. The store she went to is a secondhand shop with only one of what they have there of anything, so she was very excited to find out whether or not they’d sold the dress.
She went directly to the rack where she’d found it, but it wasn’t there. The salesclerk was the same person who’d been working the day she found the dress, so she asked if it had been sold. The woman pointed up to the top corner of the wall above the dressing rooms where there was a stunning purple dress and matching shawl hanging. It was the dress she’d picked out the week before. She tried it on, and we all knew immediately she’d found the dress.
This freed up the rest of our day to hang out, look for shoes in a number of children’s departments since Michele has such small feet. We didn’t end up finding the perfect pair for her to wear with the perfect dress, but the four of us still had a really wonderful day together.
When Michele had run up to her apartment to put her dress there, her friends Betty, Carrie, and I were sitting in my car. We were wondering if Michele would be interested in doing something like getting a pedicure. We figured we’d walk by a place and pretend one of us was interested and see how she responded. It ended up we didn’t have to do. We walked by a nail salon on our way to Nordstrom’s, and she lit up and said it would be really fun to “have our feet done” (as she put it). The three of us laughed and told her about the earlier conversation we’d had and our plan to deduce if it was something she’d like to do.
We visited Michele’s friend Crystal who works in the make-up department in Nordstrom’s and who did Michele’s make-up for the début performance of the original one woman play she wrote, directed, and performs called “Teresita.” Her student debt, theater background, and the story of her own vocational discernment inspired her to write a one act play based on the life of St. Teresa of Avila, particularly her life leading up to her entry into a Carmelite convent. “Teresita” very closely mirrors the journey of the saint and has some amazing similarities to Michele’s own walk with the Lord.
While getting our spa pedicures, Michele and Betty were singing their hearts out to the music playing. Occasionally, Michele even remembered the lyrics.
It was a fun, relaxing, joyful day out with the girls. We had a delectable dinner at Strawberry Street Café, then we went to a place in Carytown called Bev’s that makes homemade ice cream for dessert.
Lord, thank You for the gift of Michele, for women of faith who inspire, support, encourage, and lift us up on our journey, and help us rejoice in the many blessings You shower up on us!