Guest post by Francella Brown
Hi. My name is Francella. When some of you first met me, I looked like this: [insert your memory of what I looked like, here], and yet others met me when I looked like this: [also insert your memory here]. And now I look like this again [insert current Facebook profile picture]. I’ve had more costume changes than a host at the Academy Awards. I’ve had just as many name changes, too. From Francella to Photini to Sister Ruth and back to Francella, again.
So, what happened, you ask?
Before I tell you, I want to share a funny story with you. 10 years ago I used to watch a show called ‘Family Guy’; the best word I could use to describe this show is ‘savage’! No one is safe from the satirical claws of this show; it’s free game for all. Anyway, I was watching an episode that had a little spoof of Father Abraham and his son, Isaac. They were both walking down from the top of the mountain in awkward silence when Isaac suddenly burst out yelling to his dad, ‘Do you mind telling me what that was all about???!’
I died of laughter! Shortly afterwards I stopped watching that show for a myriad of reasons, but I’ll never forget that episode and how telling it was of the mindset of the people who wrote that scene. You see, from the perspective of some, it would appear that God told Abraham to take his son and sacrifice him on the mountain only to change His mind at the last minute and send them back down no different from the way they came. An appropriate question thereafter would be, ‘What was the point?!’ If we were to put ourselves at the foot of that mountain and watch Abraham ascend with his son, knowing what God was asking of him, we’d have the right to expect Abraham to be somehow different when he came back. Perhaps he’d return alone and distraught after what he had done or maybe he’d be carrying his son’s lifeless body in his hands, or maybe Isaac would come down screaming and running for his life. Regardless of what we saw, we’d all agree that their trip up the mountain would yield some kind of a change; that we’d behold with our naked eye that something was undoubtedly different. Therefore, how fair would it be to fault the writers of ‘Family Guy’ for perceiving the story of Abraham and Isaac as pointless when all they could see was two men ascend up the mountain only to come down unchanged?
Here’s the thing: not all changes are visible to the naked eye. You see, Abraham and Isaac may not have changed in outward appearance, but I guarantee you, they weren’t the same. They were transformed at the top of that mountain. Something indescribable happened there, and because of it, they descended as different men. They came back changed.
I recently descended from a mountain. I’ve climbed many in my life, and I suspect I’ll climb many more. This particular mountain was a journey of my consecration to becoming a Sister. Come and join me at the foot of the mountain as I retrace my steps.
I walked towards that mountain for 7 years (this is how long I prayed to God and sought His guidance about taking up a vocation as a Religious). Many walked with me to that mountain; some even carried me there. When it was time to begin my ascent, I was the girl you knew as ‘Francella’. You saw me off and waved goodbye to me as I began to climb; you hugged me and we cried before I left; some of you cheered me on; some of you struggled with watching me leave; all of you loved me. When I finally reached the top, I became ‘Sister Ruth’. My name changed, my clothing changed, my address changed and my day-to-day life changed as well.
A year-and-a-half later, I descended back down that mountain and became ‘Francella’, again, and much like the writers of the ‘Family Guy’ skit, many people at the foot of the mountain were confused, wondering, ‘So what was that all about? What was the point of the journey if you just returned to being who you were before you left?’
Let’s talk about mountains for a bit. Our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ, invited three of His disciples to climb a mountain with Him. Our father Moses also climbed a mountain as did our father Elijah. Each thought they understood the purpose of that climb. Abraham and Isaac thought they were climbing to offer a sacrifice; Moses thought his climb was to get instructions from God on how to lead His people through the wilderness; Elijah climbed expecting to lay down his head in final rest; the disciples thought they were being invited to an exclusive prayer meeting; and I, myself, thought I would be consecrated as a Sister for the rest of my life. Each of us who climbed those mountains responded to God’s invite thinking these thingswere the purpose of the climb. But they weren’t. Those things were merely the means to an end.
So what is the end? The end is to bask in the presence of the Almighty God and be transformed by His glory.
But we all need a vehicle to get there. My vehicle was my consecration. It didn’t matter how long the consecration lasted because it was never the sole reason for the climb. It was never the end-goal.
What I saw at the top of that mountain, as Sister Ruth, was what James, Peter and John saw when the Lord was transfigured before them in all of His wondrous glory. It was what Moses saw when he spoke to the Great I AM, face-to-face. It was what Elijah saw when he stood in the cave and waited for the Lord to pass by in a still small voice.
Moses descended with a visible change in his appearance, but most of us descend looking the same as when we went up. But if you look at little bit closer, whether it be into our eyes, our souls or in the subtlety of our smiles, you’ll find we’re not the same ones you sent up that mountain. We’re not the same at all.
Yes, my name is Francella, again; yes, my hair is as it used to be and, yes, my clothing has indeed gone back to the way it was before…but I haven’t.
And that, my friends, was the whole point.
As a supplement to this piece, I’d like to share with you that my walk with mental illness (a manageable but life-long diagnosis of clinically severe depression and bipolar 2) plays a role in every aspect of my life and it was a factor in my ability to serve consistently in the role of a Consecrated Sister according to the demands and requirement of the vocation. This was the catalyst to my descent down the mountain—a mountain that I, honestly, did not want to come back down from. It was, indeed, a hard descent. But God, in His sweet, kind and patient way, took me by the hand, and slowly lead me back down. I am now completely at peace and joyful in accepting the will of God, His grace and His plans. So smile when you see me; rejoice with me; wish me ‘congratulations’ even, for a remarkable year and a half as a Sister. What I received in that time is worth a lifetime of His divine love. In the meantime, I have more mountains to climb. We all do.
*For those living with Mental Illness, you do not have to ascend or descend your mountains alone. There is help and there is hope.
1-855-310-COPE (York Region Services)
https://cmha-yr.on.ca Canadian Mental Health Association (Support/Peer groups)
https://www.msh.on.ca/areas-of-care/mental-health/adult-outpatient-services Markham-Stouffville Hospital Mental Health Services