It happened one morning during my High School English class when I was asked to select and write about my role model. Mother Teresa’s image with the iconic blue and white habit immediately came into my head. Looking around, I noticed that others were writing about Madonna, Sandra Day O’Conner, and Geraldine Ferraro, to name a few. And, I began to wonder why I had selected a woman so detached from this world living a life of self denial with a singular focus to care for the poorest of the poor. And so began my journey of self discovery.
Upon graduation from High School, I had no idea what I was going to “do” with my life. I knew college was the next logical step so I dispassionately applied, registered, and found myself choosing a major and was still puzzled by what I was going to “do” with my life, a quandary I heartily laugh at now. As a wife and mother of five with a counseling business, I never have to ask THAT question. Thank God!
I settled on a Fine Arts degree with a minor in English. And, upon graduation, I worked in retail stores to begin to tackle the student loans, all the while neither certain of my calling, nor how to identify a calling. I was lonely, lost, and confused for most of my 20’s. I now see this time as a gift that gives me gratitude for the challenges I now face. But at the time, it was painful.
I was living at home and my mother received a letter from a former elementary teacher of mine who was also a friend of my mother’s and a Dominican sister. She was on a temporary leave of absence to care for her ill family members and she made a detour to spend a few days with us. She was a petite bundle of joy and she made me feel like I was important and that I had “gifts” and she set me on my mission. After the visit, she sent me information on a particular discipline that she thought would be a perfect match for my interests and my “gifts,” which I neither saw nor appreciated.
What I didn’t realize, when I set out to explore and ultimately pursue this new discipline known as Art Therapy, was that I was being put on a path towards service to the poorest of the poor in my community. I had two habit wearing women devoted to Christ seemingly pointing me in the direction of service. And, I started to panic. Am I being called to the convent? My immediate reaction was, NO! And, I felt guilty. It took me years to understand that a calling is a message joyfully sent and joyfully received. A calling is not a life sentence. And, I knew in the quiet of my heart that I always wanted to be a wife and mother. So, perhaps what I was hearing was, as Mother Teresa said, a call within a call.
Upon graduation from graduate school, I was employed as a home based therapist. This is like boot camp for counselors. I thought, what have I gotten myself into?! I had to travel to parts of my city I didn’t know existed and wish I didn’t know about now. I entered homes that were filthy, smoke filled, and teeming with rodents and pests. I encountered people that I would never have met had I not set foot on this path. And, there I discovered my gifts. I had a high tolerance for this sort of chaotic mess. And, I could see ways to help, however small, to relieve some of the suffering; to quench His thirst, as Mother Teresa described. My heart began to break for what broke His heart. And, now that I had encountered these souls, I couldn’t rest until I was somehow able to help.
Shortly into my life as a home based therapist, I met the man of my dreams. He brought me joy and filled my life with experiences and people that my introverted self would never have experienced. My primary calling became evident and we married and set out to start a family. Through the gift of our sacramental marriage we experienced an inexplicable increase in zeal for our once lukewarm faith. And again, Mother Teresa helped to give me direction. If I wanted to help others and bring about world peace, I must “go home and love my family.” So, I had the great joy and freedom to stay at home with my children for just over 13 years.
But that persistent “call within a call” led me to seek opportunities over the years to continue my work with those suffering in my community. It was a challenge to balance this with family and I kept Mother Teresa’s words in my head, “charity begins at home.” My family always comes first. My husband fully supports this and recently encouraged me to start my own counseling business. I felt completely unprepared and lacking in the skills to do this. But, then I thought of Mother Teresa’s train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling where she left the comfort and predictability of the convent and demonstrated courage, initiative, and tenacity in pursuing her call within a call. And, I did it.
I am forever grateful to God for giving her to me as an example of self denial and a life of service to others. Who knew that this could be the source of the greatest joys in my life? She continues to inspire me and when I am discouraged, I think of her and I find the strength to go on. I raise my morning cup of jo to this powerhouse of a woman. Saint Teresa, pray for us.
Shiela is a widow and mother of five children from elementary to High school. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and art therapist but her primary vocation is to be a mom. She discovered apologetics while cruising around social networks and finding her faith under attack. She approaches apologetics with humor and everyday stories and hopes to ignite a fire of joyful catholic culture that will spread throughout the world. In the wake of her husband’s death, she will be sharing her grief journey.