When I was teaching third grade in Miami for Teach for America, I had a difficult time. I was at an inner-city school, my kids were way below grade level and I felt overwhelmed and lost.
I had agreed to teach for two years, but I contemplated skipping out after the first year. I was emotionally and physically exhausted.
My mother sent me a quote from Winston Churchill to encourage me:
“Never give in—never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
That quote kept me going.
During my summer break I continued to contemplate whether or not I would finish my second year of teaching. One day, my boyfriend and I went to visit the Everglades. While we were there we met a man who was photographing egrets. He was a kind and gentle man, the type of person you sense is actually concerned to know you as an individual. As we turned to leave, he handed me a card with a photograph on it that he had taken. “Here, I’d like you to have this,” he said.
When I opened the card, there was that same quote from Winston Churchill. I was an atheist at the time, but that moment gave me the chills. It was as if the cosmos was communicating with me.
On the way home, I got into an argument with my boyfriend, who was also an atheist, because I insisted that what had just happened was more meaningful than coincidence. He disagreed. I wondered if what my gut told me could actually be possible.
After my conversion, these “communications from the cosmos” became more frequent, or perhaps I just noticed them more.
One time in particular has always stuck in my mind. I was just moving into an apartment. It was my first time living alone. No boyfriend. No roommate. Just me.
I was excited but also scared. As I was driving home one day, I said, “Jesus, I would really like a jade plant. Where can I go to get a jade plant?” Almost as soon as I said this, I drove over a hill and saw a garage sale. A sucker for sales, I stopped my car and was astounded to see that the woman was selling nothing but jade plants.
Nothing but jade plants.
I laughed in disbelief.
I carried home a huge wooden trough of jade plants that sat directly below my window for the rest of my time in that apartment.
These things have continued through my time in the convent, and now I have several running jokes with Jesus. One involves “engagement rings.” I do not consider myself a romantic or the least bit sentimental (see last week’s column). But perhaps precisely because I am this way, Jesus has sent me multiple “engagement rings.”
Before my profession of vows in the convent, I went to the beach with some other novices. We were beachcombing for sea glass, an obsession of mine, and I said to Jesus, “I’d like to find a white one, like a diamond; it can be your gift to me before I make my vows.”
A few minutes later my co-novice Carly, who is now Sr. Carly Paula, found a white piece of sea glass.
I thought, Wrong person, Jesus, geez!
But just then Carly leaned over to me and handed me the piece of sea glass. “Here you go, Theresa, this is for you.”
Another time, after my profession, I was at the airport headed to a parish to give a talk about my book, The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church.
I had not given a lot of talks about the book yet, and I was stressed and anxious. Then I saw something sparkle on the ground. I bent over and there was a diamond. It wasn’t real but it looked very much like the real deal. I slipped it into my pocket, feeling calmer. I wasn’t going to do this alone.
Jesus was with me.
Another time, after a long day I was riding in a car with someone. We were not very compatible personalities; the person had a temperament that seemed to suck every bit of energy out of me. I felt exhausted, and my thoughts were turning pretty dark.
Then I thought, Jesus, I love you, so I am trying to love others, even when it is hard to get along. Please help me.
Just then I looked into the side pocket of the car, and winking in the sun at me was a small diamond button that had probably fallen off someone’s coat.
I smiled, picked it up and slid it into my coat pocket.
These incidents may sound small, easy to dismiss as coincidence. But when you are in relationship with someone, you begin to recognize when he communicates with you.
And God communicates with me. I am sure of this.
Just as he communicates with you. I am sure of this also.
I am known, I am loved.
You are known, you are loved.
In a world that sometimes seems so full of anxiety, violence and fear, that is enough.