From The Convent To Hollywood

From The Convent To Hollywood

One Azusa Pacific University professor opens up about how God may take us in strange directions, but we can always trust our lives in his hands.

It’s almost Thanksgiving Break! Which means that it’s right about that time in the semester when everyone starts thinking about changing their major.

Changing your major can be both exciting and scary -- you’re excited because you feel a few steps closer to the right career path, but it's scary, because that path can be a complete 360-degree turn away from what you had originally thought your future would be. Some of you may even feel that you wasted your time in a major or profession that looks like it has no connection to what you want to do next.

Here is a conversation I had with one of my current professors at Azusa Pacific University about her career change. This professor spent nine and a half years in the convent serving as a nun, before she felt called to go to Hollywood. Since then, she has been a screenwriting consultant for movies like "The Passion of the Christ." She has even founded her own comprehensive writing program to help train Christian writers and producers.

Even though it was a scary and incredibly drastic change for her initially, she was able to take her faith and what she had learned in the convent and apply it in, of all places, Hollywood, the entertainment capital of the world.

Here is her story:

Q: Not everyone knows you used to be a nun, so can you elaborate on that? I think it’s just so fascinating.

A: Well, I went from the great books education in my undergrad into the convent, mainly because I read a book that really impacted me, and that was "Story of a Soul" by St. Therese “The Little Flower." Having read all the great books, this one was like a program on life, and it was built around total focus on Jesus, about serving the Church and the people, and that just appealed to me tremendously when I was twenty. I just basically all of a sudden looked up one day, and there were some nuns on [my] campus, and I was like, “Who are you, because I think I want to be one!” I entered three months after having met them, I didn’t discern at all. It turned out that they were nuns who worked in media and publishing and radio, TV, things like that, so it’s weird that they were the [nuns] I happened to see first. The highlight, or keynote, of the nine years that I spent in the convent were the three hours we spent everyday in prayer. For me, that was excruciating because I’m an extrovert. But, I had to learn solitude, I had to learn quiet, I had to learn meditation and prayer, and just being alone with God and it’s a long time -- a lot of people don’t spend three hours in their whole lives praying. So three hours for nine years is a nice chunk.

The rest of the time we spent studying, ministering, being the face of the Church for a lot of people. It’s very interesting being a nun because people project on you all of their thoughts about God, all of their experiences, all of their anger and their joy and their hate and their love, because you’re just this visible symbol there. They’ll just come right up to you and start telling you their life story, and meanwhile, you’re a person, but it doesn’t matter who you are because it’s who they want you to be. I have so many stories like that…I have a story, a couple of times, where I was spat upon, you know, people just screaming epithets at you. And then on the other extreme, there are people coming to you right out of the blue asking for help and counsel. It’s very, very humbling to be a nun.

Q: Did working alongside nuns who worked in the media influence you to enter Hollywood right after?

A: My fellow sisters told me that they felt God was calling me somewhere else. We were all crying, it was like "The Sound of Music," but they were right. I was like a big fish in a little pond [in the convent] -- I would say to the nuns, “We need to have rallies with 10,000 people! We need to be writing screenplays and movies!” And they would say, “We’re nuns, we don’t do that.” We had our cute, little media center but it was nowhere near what I was geared towards. So then I flew to film school at Northwestern, and I had no idea it was the number four school which would open incredible doors for me. I had only wanted to go there because I wanted to live in Chicago. They let me in because they told me they had never had a nun in their program (laughs), or ex-nun, so that was a novelty for them. What was cool was that when I came to L.A., to Hollywood, Northwestern had an amazing network of people who helped me get jobs, and that helped me quite a bit.

Q: Was it an easy adjustment, going from the convent to Hollywood?

A: No, no, not at all! I don’t even know how to compare it. No, it was dreadfully hard. I spent two years in Harvard Square in between taking some school and getting a life, basically, because I had been out of the world for nine and a half years. I couldn’t get a credit card -- people thought I was a felon because I would try to get an apartment, and I would have no records, no credit history, not anything. So I had to get a life pretty fast before graduate school. Everything was an adjustment. I think the main thing was the noise of the world outside, the lack of reflection, the lack of living in the presence of holy thoughts. People [outside the convent] only did that once a week on Sunday for 40 minutes. Also, I had to suddenly care about things that I had not cared about before, like car insurance, shopping, getting furniture.Finally, there’s a kind of dirtiness in the world. There’s a crassness, there’s a lack of decorum, there’s a lack of respect. I mean in the convent, there were sinners, obviously we are all sinners, but there was a veneer of respect for charity and kindness. You come out into the world, and it’s not that at all. That was very shocking for me. Just seeing people say nasty things about people in the workplace, and I'm like, she’s just one office down! I remember at one of the first places I worked, there was an affair going on between two of the people on staff, and they were both married, and everyone just [glossed] over that.Aside from that, it was funny because my older sister at the time brought me out shopping and wanted me to buy shoes, and I asked her, “Why? I already have a pair of shoes!” And she was like, “You can have more than one pair, you know!” And at the time, I would just walk and cross streets without looking because before, I would be wearing the habit and cars would recognize that I was a nun and stop for me. But once I was out of the convent, my sister had to tell me that I just couldn’t do that anymore.

Q: Well, I think your life beautifully mirrors Christ’s life, about how He came out of heaven and went into the world. How did being a nun impact the way you work in Hollywood today?

A: I mean one thing that was cool was that I had an amazing work ethic that I had from being in the convent, because as a nun, you basically did two things -- you prayed and you worked. We had one hour of recreation a day where we walked around, talked, laughed, and then the rest of the time, we were working. We would get up at 5 in the morning, and then after chapel and breakfast, we would work from 8 a.m. until about 6, and then we would engage in sewing and cleaning.

I remember when I had first started out [in a production company] and the producer gave me something to do, and I brought it back to him that afternoon done. He was like, “That was supposed to last you all week!” And then he would give me other things to do, and I would get it done immediately and bring it back to him, and so he said “You can take longer!” But after a while, he would start piling my desk with stuff because he knew I could do it. What you find when you go into the world, very often, in offices, is people saunter in, they read their paper or surf the net, get their coffee, talk for a little bit, maybe they get an hour of work in in the morning, then they go to lunch, there’s a lot of gossiping going on, and not much gets done. So I had a really good work ethic because I didn’t do any of that. So I started in the company in June as the really low man on the totem pole, and I was the number two person in the company by Christmas.

I don’t think people realize that being a nun is very empowering, because there are no men in the convent. So you learn to do stuff, and you don’t just stand around waiting. Most people think of nuns as being helpless, but it’s the exact opposite extreme. I remember this one time when I was in the convent, I came across this room where there were several nuns taking apart a lightbulb, and they were rewiring it.

Also, there was another time I was stationed in L.A. at a house outside of the motherhouse, I was 24, and they had a $4-million construction project going on where they were building a new convent book center. I was placed in charge of the construction and given a hard hat, a blueprint, and a book on reading blueprints, and I had a job site meeting the next week. So, I learned, and I showed up at the job site the next week to meet the architect and contractor, and they were just putting steel things in the cement. I looked, and I was like “You know, there’s a bar here, but I remember that it’s supposed to be a doorway.” And they were like, “Oh Sister!" thinking I had no idea what I was talking about, but when they looked, they realized it had been a $1,500 mistake. Can you imagine another work force where women get to do that? As a nun, we had to learn to do everything by the grace of God.


I hope her story serves as a reminder that life will throw curve balls at us, but don’t be afraid to venture into something completely new, because God will always be there to supply you with the grace you need, whether you’re serving in the church or writing and producing movies. Follow His promptings and guidance, because He will show you which paths to take, and though it may not make sense initially, in the end, you will have a life story that is wonderful, fruitful, and inspiring (Did I mention that Mel Gibson wanted to make this professor’s life into a movie?) Anyway, every experience in life matters, so don’t ever feel that it was a waste of time. Make every moment in your life count.

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8 Reasons Why My Dad Is the Most Important Man In My Life

Forever my number one guy.

Growing up, there's been one consistent man I can always count on, my father. In any aspect of my life, my dad has always been there, showing me unconditional love and respect every day. No matter what, I know that my dad will always be the most important man in my life for many reasons.

1. He has always been there.

Literally. From the day I was born until today, I have never not been able to count on my dad to be there for me, uplift me and be the best dad he can be.

2. He learned to adapt and suffer through girly trends to make me happy.

I'm sure when my dad was younger and pictured his future, he didn't think about the Barbie pretend pageants, dressing up as a princess, perfecting my pigtails and enduring other countless girly events. My dad never turned me down when I wanted to play a game, no matter what and was always willing to help me pick out cute outfits and do my hair before preschool.

3. He sends the cutest texts.

Random text messages since I have gotten my own cell phone have always come my way from my dad. Those randoms "I love you so much" and "I am so proud of you" never fail to make me smile, and I can always count on my dad for an adorable text message when I'm feeling down.

4. He taught me how to be brave.

When I needed to learn how to swim, he threw me in the pool. When I needed to learn how to ride a bike, he went alongside me and made sure I didn't fall too badly. When I needed to learn how to drive, he was there next to me, making sure I didn't crash.

5. He encourages me to best the best I can be.

My dad sees the best in me, no matter how much I fail. He's always there to support me and turn my failures into successes. He can sit on the phone with me for hours, talking future career stuff and listening to me lay out my future plans and goals. He wants the absolute best for me, and no is never an option, he is always willing to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.

6. He gets sentimental way too often, but it's cute.

Whether you're sitting down at the kitchen table, reminiscing about your childhood, or that one song comes on that your dad insists you will dance to together on your wedding day, your dad's emotions often come out in the cutest possible way, forever reminding you how loved you are.

7. He supports you, emotionally and financially.

Need to vent about a guy in your life that isn't treating you well? My dad is there. Need some extra cash to help fund spring break? He's there for that, too.

8. He shows me how I should be treated.

Yes, my dad treats me like a princess, and I don't expect every guy I meet to wait on me hand and foot, but I do expect respect, and that's exactly what my dad showed I deserve. From the way he loves, admires, and respects me, he shows me that there are guys out there who will one day come along and treat me like that. My dad always advises me to not put up with less than I deserve and assures me that the right guy will come along one day.

For these reasons and more, my dad will forever be my No. 1 man. I love you!

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From One Nerd To Another

My contemplation of the complexities between different forms of art.


Aside from reading Guy Harrison's guide to eliminating scientific ignorance called, "At Least Know This: Essential Science to Enhance Your Life" and, "The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer" by Charles Graeber, an informative and emotional historical account explaining the potential use of our own immune systems to cure cancer, I read articles and worked on my own writing in order to keep learning while enjoying my winter break back in December. I also took a trip to the Guggenheim Museum.

I wish I was artistic. Generally, I walk through museums in awe of what artists can do. The colors and dainty details simultaneously inspire me and remind me of what little talent I posses holding a paintbrush. Walking through the Guggenheim was no exception. Most of the pieces are done by Hilma af Klint, a 20th-century Swedish artist expressing her beliefs and curiosity about the universe through her abstract painting. I was mostly at the exhibit to appease my mom (a K - 8th-grade art teacher), but as we continued to look at each piece and read their descriptions, I slowly began to appreciate them and their underlying meanings.

I like writing that integrates symbols, double meanings, and metaphors into its message because I think that the best works of art are the ones that have to be sought after. If the writer simply tells you exactly what they were thinking and how their words should be interpreted, there's no room for imagination. An unpopular opinion in high school was that reading "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne was fun. Well, I thought it was. At the beginning of the book, there's a scene where Hawthorne describes a wild rosebush that sits just outside of the community prison. As you read, you are free to decide whether it's an image of morality, the last taste of freedom and natural beauty for criminals walking toward their doom, or a symbol of the relationship between the Puritans with their prison-like expectations and Hester, the main character, who blossoms into herself throughout the novel. Whichever one you think it is doesn't matter, the point is that the rosebush can symbolize whatever you want it to. It's the same with paintings - they can be interpreted however you want them to be.

As we walked through the building, its spiral design leading us further and further upwards, we were able to catch glimpses of af Klint's life through the strokes of her brush. My favorite of her collections was one titled, "Evolution." As a science nerd myself, the idea that the story of our existence was being incorporated into art intrigued me. One piece represented the eras of geological time through her use of spirals and snails colored abstractly. She clued you into the story she was telling by using different colors and tones to represent different periods. It felt like reading "The Scarlet Letter" and my biology textbook at the same time. Maybe that sounds like the worst thing ever, but to me it was heaven. Art isn't just art and science isn't just science. Aspects of different studies coexist and join together to form something amazing that will speak to even the most untalented patron walking through the museum halls.

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