Sister Brenda Rose Szegedy, OSF
It was my very first experience of a major hurricane threat in the early fall of 2003. I was ministering at a retreat house in southern Florida at the time, and we were preparing to evacuate further inland. The Sisters in the area had many experiences of past mandatory evacuations, and cautioned me to take only the essentials; only what personal belongings I would be able to fit in a small suitcase. Food items that we shared in common were packed separately. The reality was that everything left behind potentially might not be there when we returned.
Needless to say, fear gripped my heart as I began packing my suitcase trying to decide what to let go of and what to pack. I quickly grabbed my Bible and journal, family photo, Franciscan Rule book, Liturgy of the Hours, passport, pills, purse, flashlight, clothes and shoes. At that point, my suitcase was quite full and heavy. When I looked at all the precious family keepsakes I was leaving behind, a prayer began to form in my heart, “Lord, please grant me the grace to let go!”
Once we settled in our temporary home, it wasn’t too long when we suddenly lost electrical power. The Sisters were prepared with a couple battery operated lanterns trying to make the best of the situation. We prayed, enjoyed simple meals together, laughed, shared stories, and sang songs. Amid the howling winds outside our shelter, there was a sense of peace in knowing we had one another. It was this simple truth that showed me what is truly essential in life.
After the storm, as we headed back home we were shocked at all the destruction in the area. A voice from the back seat broke our silence as one of the Sisters said with deep conviction, “ Now it’s time for us to pick up the pieces, rearrange our priorities, and begin rebuilding, renewing, and restoring.” Yes, this was now our new mission which we were all ready to accomplish together.
Through this experience I have come to learn in a very real way that the essentials in life are not about the things we can fit in a suitcase but rather about the relationships we form… our dependence on God and our interdependence with one another. Each day offers a new opportunity to reach out beyond ourselves as we pray for a restored sense of solidarity with our God and all Creation. As Sylvania Franciscans we are each called like Francis of Assisi to “go and repair My Church which is falling into ruin.” We remind one another to focus on only the essentials as together we “pick up the pieces, rearrange our priorities, and begin rebuilding, renewing, restoring.”