Sister Stories

Sister Rachel Terry, IHM: “When we pay attention to the stirrings in our hearts”

When we pay attention to the stirrings in our hearts and the events of our daily lives we become more and more aware that it is in little, ordinary things that God is communicating to us.
Sr. Rachel in ministry

I often am asked to tell my vocation story, and sometimes the hearers are a bit disappointed at how ordinary it is. There are no great signs from the heavens, no apparitions, no miracles. However, I believe what seems to be the ordinary things in life are truly extraordinary if only they are paid attention to. When we pay attention to the stirrings in our hearts and the events of our daily lives we become more and more aware that it is in little, ordinary things that God is communicating to us. Nothing is more extraordinary than to hear the voice of God and believe!

The story of my vocation

The story of my vocation, of course, begins with my family. We were not an especially pious family, but church and prayer were a regular part of our lives. We attended Mass every Sunday and my brother and sisters and I went to CCD every Tuesday. My parents were volunteers in the church as were my grandparents, and most of my family were employed in some form of service to the community. My Dad worked with the mentally handicapped; my Mom gave great service to her children and parish as a stay at home mom; my Grandmom was a nurse and my Mommom was a teacher; my Poppop was a policeman and my Grandpop a deacon in the Methodist church. My family taught me that faith was important and serving God’s people was the natural fruit of belief.

I went through many phases of belief myself, beginning with complete acceptance of whatever my family and the church taught. Acceptance flowed into wonder and awe at the stories and customs of the Catholic faith. I was mesmerized by Eucharistic processions and stories of Marian apparitions. After a period of time, the wonder faded and the questions began. What is this church all about? Who is this God we believe in? Why do I believe? WHAT do I believe? I was troubled and intrigued by these questions and the quest for the answers set me on a path that would lead to my life’s vocation.

As a high school student I did not abandon my faith or forget my questions, but I did not pursue either of them with much fervor. I was enjoying my time, performing in plays, hanging out with friends, and working to save money for a trip overseas after graduation. I did not forget about this God who so intrigued me, but I was too preoccupied to put much energy into figuring things out! However, it was on my overseas trip that I had a reawakening of my desire to know God.

I went on a backpacking trip through England that summer with a friend of mine from work. We went to visit the Royal Botanical Gardens. It was a hot day and I sat down to rest on a bench in the shade while my friend went to get some water. The bush that shaded me from the sun was covered with tiny, delicate, purple flowers. I looked at these flowers with admiration for the detail and thought how wonderful it was that God took such great care to make these flowers so beautiful, and yet one would hardly notice their beauty unless the time was taken to look up close and pay attention to them.

I wanted to pick one of these flowers to crush and dry in my journal, but knew the strict rules about not taking things from the Gardens. As I gazed at one tiny flower it fell straight from the branch into my open hand. At that moment I was filled with a profound sense of God’s presence. Something about that tiny gift opened me up to the knowledge that God was listening to me, present at every moment, and was interested in what I thought and felt and desired and questioned. God was not only listening but responding. This ordinary act of a flower falling from its branch became like a miracle when God’s presence permeated the event. I knew in my depths what God was communicating to me.

“I felt your heart move at the wonder of my Creation. This small flower turned your thoughts toward me and that fills me with joy. Take this gift and remember that I am listening and I want you to know me and love me as I know and love you.”

Seeking & serving God

The following fall I began my freshman year at Marywood University in Scranton, PA. During my years as a student at Marywood, I did not forget my flower and the God who so graciously gave it to me. I continued to seek God and serve God. I became involved in different prayer experiences and participated in service trips. I attended the liturgies and retreats that were offered by Marywood and loved belonging to a community of believers and exploring my relationship with God. Throughout this journey of faith, service and exploration there were some wonderful women who accompanied and encouraged the students as teachers, mentors and friends. They were the IHM Sisters. I was drawn to their warmth and their depth. I was excited that there was a group of people who dedicated their lives to the very things that I had the most passion and energy for: knowing God, serving God, and sharing that knowledge and service creatively and joyfully in a committed community. During my junior year in college I began exploring the possibility of also dedicating my life to God as a Sister, Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Entering Community

After several years of discernment, I entered the community in 2004 and have been on an amazing adventure ever since! I have been lead to people and places I could never have dreamed for myself and have come to know God in surprising and delightful ways. The memory of discovering God’s gift of presence wrapped in a little purple flower continues to be a thread that holds my story together. As I prepared to take my vows in the summer of 2007, I was not at all surprised when I found that my first mission as a professed member of the IHM community was to be, appropriately, Little Flower School. God’s gift continues!

Sister Rachel and the children’s choir at Little Flower School in Bethesda, MD.

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