Friday, March 8, 2013

2012...what a year

So, while sitting here tonight, on this 23rd day of January of this new year of 2013, I realized something.  I realized I never properly gave 2012 the reflection it deserved.  The reflection it was asking for.  The reflection that needs to happen to remind me of what a whirlwind year it was.  The reflection on the wonderful, the good, and the definitely not so good that made 2012 what it was.

 
So I started this reflection on January 23rd, then didn’t touch it again until a month later on February 25th, and now March 5th I sit here hoping to finish what I started, but I also realize that allowing myself to really reflect on all that 2012 was is very important, no matter how long it takes.

 
2012 was a year full of new friends and old, happiness and much sadness, good moments and horrible moments, ending of things and start of others, etc. etc.

 

Where to even begin with 2012?

If you had asked me at the end of 2012 how my year was, my first thought and response was “horrible, I’m so glad it’s over. I’m so done. I hope 2013 is much better. This is by far the worst year ever.”  And yes, my year was pretty darn horrible…or at least the last 5 months of it was.  But even in the midst of those horrible 5 months there were still wonderful things that happened and were overshadowed; just as every other month of 2012 had wonderful things happen as well.  So was 2012 the worst year ever, yeah probably, but it was also full of many blessings.

2012 was a year full of new beginnings.  One thing that was very new about 2012 was I started running.  Yes friends, you read it, running.  I have never, ever been a runner.  Ever!  I played sports from age like 5-16 and absolutely hated running, with a burning passion!  But in January or February of last year I just kept feeling like I wanted to go out for a run, which was totally weird for me.  But my theory is if your body is telling you something, listen.  So listen I did.  I started “running”.  It really wasn’t much of a run for a while.  There was lots of walking and a smidge of running.  When I first started running I couldn’t even run down my whole street, which isn’t very long.  My house is number 16 and it is three-quarters of the way down the street.  When I first started running, getting to my house was a struggle, let alone the final fourth of the way down the street.  But I kept at it.  Running and walking, walking and running.  Lots more walking than running.  I would sometimes go out by myself and other times I would go out with Kristen, but I was getting frustrated with myself for not being able to run more than I was.  Then one day I said to Kristen, “I think I can do it, I think I can finally run one side of Elm Park.  I think I can do a quarter mile!”  And run a quarter mile I did!  You’re probably reading this going “ok, wow, you ran a quarter mile; it’s not that big of a deal.”  But a quarter mile is a HUGE deal, first big milestone, when you are trying to run a distance. 
         I set my mind to it that night, told myself “you just have to keep going”.  I thought I was going to die running that quarter of a mile; I wanted to stop half way so bad!  But Kristen was running next to me and just kept reminding me that I could do it and that it wasn’t too far to the end now, just keep going and I’ll be at the end soon.  But I did it!  I made it to the end and Kristen and I celebrated like I had just finished something huge.  To me, at that moment, it was huge.  And I think that first ¼ of a mile continues to be the reminder to me, I need to set a goal and keep going, even if I don’t think I can make it.  Because I will probably psych myself out and say it’s too much.  But I’ve learned to just keep going, not matter how hard it may seem.  It may seem hard now, but it will get easier, no matter what it is.   What I also learned while trying to run that first ¼ of a mile, is that having someone standing by you and supporting you in your journey in running and in life is very very important.
I am really starting to enjoy running; going out, turning my music on and just letting my body run.  It’s still a challenge to run more, but I know it’s a gradual process.  But each new milestone I hit, I know that I am getting closer and closer to my goal.  And what is my goal you may ask?  Well, I made the decision in September that by the time September 2013 rolled around I would have run a 5k.  A 5k. 3.1 miles.  Me.  The girl who couldn’t even run down the street would run a 5k.  But I knew I needed something to work toward.  Right now 3.1 miles is still daunting, but slowly and surely I am increasing how much I am able to run.  Just 2 weeks ago I ran for 20 minutes non-stop, which ended up being a little more than 1.5 miles! About half-way to my 5k. I am actually hoping that by May of this year I will be running my 5k! And that will be a major milestone in my 2013 I’m sure.

And speaking of milestones, I had another great personal milestone in 2012.  I started my 2012, back in January, a size 24 jeans.  By December of 2012 I was wearing a size 18 jeans!  This was another wonderful step for me, to lose so much weight and to start feeling healthier and better in my own body.  My weight has always been a struggle for me, but something clicked last year that allowed me to be able to stick to losing weight.  And not just losing the weight for a little while, but hopefully for good.  I don’t ever want to find that weight again.  It was sad but also wonderful to get rid of most of my clothes.  Sad because I was getting rid of so much, but wonderful because I lost that much weight that nothing fit anymore.  I think when I was getting rid of my clothes is when I realized just how much my body had changed that everything was hanging on me or falling off.  My body was no longer the same!  Getting rid of the clothes also allowed me a fresh start, with new clothes that fit me and were smaller sizes.


 In 2012 I also started taking dance again! In September I started taking jazz and ballet.  I had forgotten how much I loved dance and how much I really had been missing it.  I was never, nor will I ever be, the best dancer.  But it just feels right when I dance. I get lost in the dance and the feeling of moving in a certain way across the floor.  It is truly wonderful. So for September and October I was taking ballet and jazz, but then in November started taking tap instead.   I’ve always loved watching tap, and even though I’ve tapped since I was like 5, it has never been a strength of mine.  But I trucked along in class, getting my feet to do somewhat what they’re supposed to do.  And in the beginning of December, for the first time in like 4 years, I performed in a recital…doing tap!  So that was a “new” experience.  I was in a recital with people I had only just met in September, doing a dance I had learned in 3 weeks.  I was so used to performing with girls I had danced with for years, doing a dance that I had months to learn.  But truly, even though I was the “new girl” it didn’t feel like it and the winter show was wonderful.  The people in my class are great and performing the dance just felt right.  So chalk that up as another new beginning in 2012!
 

Another new beginning of 2012 was starting my job (and buying a car…but we won’t talk about that, it’s an epic tale of crazy since day 1)!  In August of 2012 I started my job at Assumption Center as program coordinator.  Assumption Center was where I did my volunteer year that ended in July 2012…more to come about that later.  I get to work with the same wonderful people that I did last year and a few new ones.  Every Wednesday and Thursday afternoon I am in charge of 26 kids between ages 6-15 for our afterschool program.  I love it!  The kids bring so much love every day.  Getting a hug from one of those kids is a wonderful feeling.  I also get to work with so many wonderful adults on Tuesday and Thursday mornings in our ESL program.  I love watching the students’ progress during the semester.  Some walk in at the beginning of the semester and know no English and leave being able to speak to others in English, confident in their abilities.  It really is wonderful to be able to witness.
During the last few months of 2012 I forgot for a little while why I was so passionate about my job and why I was doing what I’m doing.  I lost the spark I had during my AMA year for these wonderful people I get to work with and the programs I get to be a part of.  But every so often, one of the mentoring kids would do or say something that would bring me back, at least for that moment, to why I am here.  They reminded me of the passion I have for all that I am doing, the passion I forgot many times as I just went about my days not really pausing to think about what I was doing.  I was so caught up in my own issues in my head that I forgot to be present to what I was doing in the here and now.  Every day that I went to mentoring and ESL and interacted with all of the people in the programs in my new capacity of program coordinator was another day closer to finding myself again, finding my passion again, finding that missing spark again.  And I am so happy that life calmed down a little bit and that I am finally able to really see just how wonderful the people are and how passionate I am about working with them, because this new job was something very exciting to me and my 2012 and my excitement for it has returned after a brief hiatus.  So 2013 is so far filled with passion and excitement for what I’m doing and especially for being with the wonderful kids at mentoring; they fill me with such love every time I see them.

 
2012 also brought with it some endings.  I’m thinking about 2 very specific endings.  Both of which happened in July and happened a little more than a week apart.  One ending I knew was coming…since August of 2011, but the other ending I never could have foreseen coming.

So, back in August of 2011 I embarked on a journey to Worcester, MA to be an AMA.  An Associate Missionary of the Assumption.  A full time, year long, volunteer.  A “year” commitment; August until July.  That year that this blog was meant for.  The time I spent devoted to serving others in the spirit of the Assumption.  A journey I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about.  But this year as an AMA was probably the most rewarding time of my life.  I had been on service trips before and knew how much that they had impacted me.  But I never could have fully understood how giving of myself for one year would change me, would help me grow, would allow me to see so much, would allow me to experience so much all in one short year.  I was blessed to be able to spend my year in such a welcoming community.  We were accepted right away because we were AMAs.  People knew the former AMAs and knew the work they did and the work we would be doing and because of that we were accepted.  It was such a wonderful feeling to be part of such a wonderful community, especially at St. Peter’s where our programs take place.  St. Peter’s is interesting to say the least.  It brings together so many different people from all walks of life.  There are rich and poor, young and old, Hispanic and African and Caucasian and Vietnamese, recent immigrants and people who may have never left the country, etc.  St. Peter’s provides a good cross sample of the residents of Worcester, such diversity in its parishioners.  And I was (and still am!) able and blessed to be part of such a wonderfully diverse place.  I am able to work with some wonderful kids and adults from all parts of the world, all with different backgrounds and each person brings something different to the table.  This is absolutely one of the biggest blessings of my volunteer year, the people.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the people are what made my volunteer year what it was.
We had a goodbye liturgy on July 13th to end mine and Liz’s AMA year.  It was a beautiful celebration of our year, with many of the wonderful people we got to work with and know during our short time together as AMAs in Worcester.  I think one of the most amazing sights at the end of the mass, when Liz and I were saying goodbye to everyone, was one of our ESL students, who is also the mother of some of our mentoring kids and is one of our wonderful gardeners in the community garden.  Liz and I were saying goodbye to all of the kids, Liz for an unknown time, me until the end of August, and this woman, was crying.  We were standing there and she was crying.  We aren’t 100% sure why she was crying, but it was a beautiful thing to see, because obviously something that had been exchanged between us (Liz and I and herself) was very important and powerful.  Liz and I both later talked about how beautiful and sad it was to see her standing there crying.  That is one of those moments you won’t forget.  Those moments are the ones that will forever define my year.  The “little moments”.  Things that could have gone unnoticed, but didn’t.  For years to come I will be thinking about my AMA year, and these moments will come back to me and will seem like yesterday.  Some moments caught on “film” other moments only caught as an image in my mind. 


The mass in July, the end of all of the programs, etc, I knew they all were coming but it didn’t make it easier to end the year. Liz and I had built our own little community. With each other, with Kristen, with St. Peter’s, with the sisters, with the kids, with the ESL students, etc etc. We made Worcester home and we built relationships that will last forever. That is what makes saying goodbye so hard, the relationships you share with people.

But, goodbyes are never easy, are they? We are never fully prepared for any goodbye, are we? We are always asking for more time, for time to go more slowly, to go back in time for just one moment. But we can’t change time, at all, as much as we would like to. And that is a part of life, knowing that we can never go back, that we must keep living life as it is now, not as it was yesterday. We have no control over the time we have been given or the time that has been given to those we love. We have no idea how many “tomorrows” we will have. No idea when a fairly normal day will turn into a day you will remember forever.

July 5, 2012. A day I will never forget as long as I am alive. It started as an ok day, was going to go look at a car to buy, but it had already been sold. Disappointing, but not a big deal at all. At lunch time my dad texts me saying that his cousin Stacy wasn’t doing too good. She had been admitted to the hospital 2 days prior, but really wasn’t doing well that day. He said they were doing tests on her to try to figure out what was wrong, but weren’t 100% sure what was wrong. I told him I would pray for Stacy and ask the sisters to pray for her as well. I sent Stacy a text just saying that I hoped they would be able to figure out what was wrong with her and that I loved her. I went about the rest of my day, getting ready to head out to dinner with Liz and a Worcester friend to celebrate the end of our AMA year. As I was finishing getting ready, my mom called, though I missed the call. I called her back and what she told me was the most unexpected thing I ever expected to hear. I didn’t want to believe it. Stacy had died. I was shocked. Stacy, who I had talked to a week prior about getting together for lunch when I got home from my AMA year was gone. Stacy who was only 30 years old was gone. How was it possible that she could so suddenly be gone? Earlier in the day she was really sick, but people get sick all the time and are fine in a few days. I didn’t know what to do or what to think. Stacy was gone.
The next day passed in a blur of being 5 hours away from my family and friends, waiting to hear about the arrangements and trying to figure out a way for me to get home. There were many texts and messages from friends and former co-workers who knew Stacy, who knew just how wonderful she was.
Then the following day I got up early and got on the long road headed for home. I would say it was the longest of my drives between MA and PA or PA and MA, but I think the drive back to MA from the funeral was the longest. I got home mid afternoon to the relief of myself and my parents. I was finally home with my family and friends, to grieve the loss of Stacy from our lives. I went to Stacy’s parents’ house that night to see everyone and all her parents and her siblings kept saying to me was “do you know how much she loved you? She loved you like a little sisters. She loved you so much.” And I did know. I was lucky enough to know how much she really cared about me and loved me. Stacy wasn’t one to hide her feelings. She told you what she was feeling; good, bad or indifferent.

The rest of the weekend: the viewing and the funeral went by in a blur of tears, hugs, sobs, condolences, shock, disbelief, tissues and laughter. Yes, laughter. It always feels inappropriate to laugh at a viewing or a funeral when everything is supposed to be somber, but Stacy was the kind of person that could bring humor to just about any situation, including her own viewing and funeral.

The morning of the funeral, on the way to the funeral home, I stared out the car window in disbelief of what we were about to do; to go to the funeral for Stacy. But as I was looking out the window, I caught sight of the sky. The sun’s rays were shining through the clouds, in a way that is always so beautiful to me. I remember in elementary school being told that when the sun shines through the clouds like that it means that someone is in heaven looking down on their loved ones. I told myself that Stacy was looking down on all of us, trying to give us all a little bit of her sunshine. The sunshine that she brought into so many lives, especially my own. I knew she would always be watching over me, guiding me and sharing just a bit of sunshine with me when I needed it most.
After the funeral, at the cemetery, there was the graveside service. We all were standing there as the priest was giving final blessings on Stacy before she was lowered into the ground. As the priest is talking I noticed a dragonfly flying around, which I guess isn’t uncommon. But this dragonfly kept circling the casket, circling, circling. Going nowhere else in this expansive cemetery except just circling around the casket. Then it flew over in front of her parents, her siblings and her husband, and then resumed its circling of the casket until the priest gave his final blessing. The dragonfly then flew away. I am positive Stacy was sending us a sign, telling us she was ok. Making sure we knew she was around. Trying to give us some comfort that would seem to elude us for days and weeks and months after her death. Thinking it was weird, later that day I looked up what dragonflies symbolize and found this website: http://www.dragonfly-site.com/meaning-symbolize.html One thing I knew, was that Stacy had many characteristics of a dragonfly, especially living in the moment and the ability to open someone’s eyes. I also then found a poem that is often used at funerals about a dragonfly, which really resonated with me. http://www.funeral-poems.net/eulogy/dragonfly So, dragonflies became a very important thing for me. I saw quite a few for weeks to come. Sometimes by myself, sometimes with other people, but each time I was just as surprised to see a dragonfly wherever I was, because it never quite seemed like the place to find a dragonfly.

After Stacy’s funeral I had to return to Worcester the next day to finish off the last week of my AMA year. So before I returned to Worcester that day after Stacy’s funeral, I stopped at Marywood in admissions to see everyone one more time and to see Stacy’s office one last time. Her office had been one of the places I spent a lot of time during college…
I was lucky enough to spend my four years of college at Marywood working in admissions as a work study and tour guide. When I was applying to schools, Stacy was my admissions counselor and was absolutely thrilled that I was thinking about coming to Marywood. She actually jumped up and down on the steps at an open house saying “I have family here”, because she was so excited. Throughout the process of trying to figure out which school I wanted to go to, she was a constant support as a family member and admissions counselor. She toed the line between the two carefully, not trying to overstep in one way or the other. Ultimately I decided on Marywood, because it “felt like home”, but she knew it would be perfect for me long before I did.
During my 4 years at Marywood and in admissions, Stacy was a constant for me. She was constantly there, acting as my big sister, making sure I was ok and that I wasn’t getting into too much “trouble”. There were many, many lunch dates. There were innumerable texts making sure I was doing my work for class, making sure I had what I needed if I was sick, seeing if I would come in to work in admissions to do something for her or to give a tour when no one else was available. And plenty of texts of Stacy just being herself; goofy and most often inappropriate to get me to laugh, loosen up or cheer up if I was having a bad day. There were also many texts, especially the summer after my senior year of college (while working in admissions for the summer), asking me to come to her office. Most of the time she needed to vent or blow off steam about work or classes or her dissertation. She would say “you have to listen to me complain, you’re family.” Sometimes all it was was that she needed an errand run around campus or other times it was just to say “hi” and ask how my day was going. I spent so many hours in her office during my time at Marywood, laughing and crying, talking and sometimes yelling. Talking about the good, the bad and the ugly in both of our lives. We would talk about our crazy family, whom we would love no matter what, even though they were crazy. We both talked about the classes we were in. We talked about the future, where we both saw ourselves going (and where we saw each other going as well!). We talked about stupid things and serious things. She listened patiently to me babble about unimportant things that seemed important at the time. Stacy was there every step of my college journey always cheering me on and proud of me, even when I didn’t think I could do it or when there really wasn’t much to be proud of. She loved me unconditionally and helped me to see all of the potential that I had. Stacy was the one who actually encouraged me to apply for a volunteer year, long before I ever thought of applying, because she knew it was something I would“be good at” and it would absolutely be perfect for me.
Her office saw every side of me during college and also saw me grow up quite a bit as well. Her office held so many memories for me, I knew I needed to be able to see it one more time, as it was left, with every little detail that I had memorized while staring off into space while talking or working in her office. To see all of the quotes on her wall just one more time, to remember what her office felt like and to remind myself of all of the memories that had happened there.
So after my stop in admissions, I was faced with the long, lonely 5 hour drive back to Worcester to finish what was left of my last week as an AMA.

The next few weeks after the funeral were filled with ending my AMA year, going on a service trip and spending lots of time baking and visiting admissions. There was one night that I was there in admissions to do something I never ever would have thought of doing before. I was there to help clean out Stacy’s office. Pack up everything that made her office “her”. For the 4 of us that cleaned it out, the office had so many different memories for all of us. So we spent the night laughing and crying and remembering so many wonderful moments with Stacy. And at the end of the night we had everything packed up and each of us had something to remember Stacy by; for our own offices. I have a sign that says “LIFE Live life to the fullest”, which is something Stacy absolutely taught me. By example she showed me how to live life and how everyone should be treated and how to treat yourself as well. That sign hangs in my office to remind me of all the various ways Stacy has shown me how to live a good life and how to live it to the fullest.
The months after I returned to Worcester were a whirlwind of emotion trying to “understand” death, but one never ever understands death and that’s just the way it is. I’ve learned to live with it, but not to try to understand it, because it is something far beyond our understanding. That’s one of the things I’ve learned in the last few months, we will never understand death and it’s not worth trying to understand because it makes it worse.


Friendship was a huge theme of my 2012, from beginning to end (literally and figuratively I guess…I spent New Year’s Day 2012 with a group of friends and New Year’s Eve 2012 with another friend). I’ve learned to value your friends and family, you never know how much time is left. But also to cherish the friends that are there for you not only when life is good, but more importantly, are there when life isn’t so good. They are true friends.
This year was all about realizing who would stand by me, no matter what. Who would be there for me is the best of times and the worst of times. Who would sit and listen to me babble about stupid things, but also give advice on more serious things. I also realized how important little cards, letters, texts, phone calls or visits really mean from your friends, especially when it’s just one of those days. Being 5 hours away from home and doing a volunteer year/starting a new job are always hard. I was worried my friends would forget about me or that our relationships would change. But if 2012 taught me anything, it taught me that your true friends will always be there for you and won’t leave you.
I was so blessed in my 2012 to gain new friends and strengthen old friendships and to realize I had more friends than I ever realized. I think this year more than ever I was more aware of my relationships with my friends. I also deeply appreciate the relationships that were strengthened into much greater friendships because of different circumstances. Each friend I have I share a very different, but special relationship with. What I am able to tell one friend I probably would never say to another friend. But I would say I have a “well rounded” group of friends who I can share so many different details of my life with, and some know almost more about me than I do about myself, but that’s what friends are for. I know more about some friends and less about others, but with each person I share something different but very special with, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I mentioned earlier how sometimes a little card, letter, text, phone call or visit can really mean so much from a friend. I can’t tell you how many times I got one of those and it instantly made my day better; just to know that they were thinking about me. There are a few instances that stand out in my mind of special moments of 2012. I remember getting a Valentine card from one friend just reminding me of how much I am loved, which was a nice gentle reminder of the type of relationship we share, reminding each other just how special we are and that we are loved just the way we are. Another occasion, on the night before my birthday, I spent the night celebrating with 3 of my dear friends, having a“Last Supper Party” (my birthday was on Good Friday) and just laughing the night away, being ourselves; this group of old and new friends meshing so nicely, that made it an even better night.
After Stacy died I had many friends texting, calling or messaging me, sending me love and prayers and just making sure I was ok. But one I remember the most was one friend, who had been out of the country, called me about a week after the funeral, while still out of the country; because she was able to make a call and wanted to make sure I was doing ok and holding together. I think that meant so much more to me than I ever can express, because at a time when I was probably my lowest, my friend cared enough to call from another country the first time she was able to just make sure I was alright. Something I will never forget.
I have many other cards and little notes stashed away in my office and in my room from friends; I tend to save them to look back on in the future. These notes and cards all mean something different because of who they were from and what the situation was for the card, but they all mean so much to me. Some days I will catch a card or note out of the corner of my eye and smile thinking about whatever card it is, remembering how I felt getting it. All of the notes and cards and fond memories with friends I just think how all of them are full of love.


So although my 2012 was a whirlwind year, I learned many things. Some things I wish I never had to learn (but really I knew I would have to learn at some point) and other things that I’m glad I learned now and not down the road.

I had a year full of ups and downs, highs and lows, happiness and sadness, love and much more.


I had 525,600 minutes full of daylights, sunsets, midnights, cups of coffee, inches, miles, laughter and strife. :D
 
A year full of family and friends and birthdays and weddings and celebrations as well.

I had a year I could measure in love, so much love!!! And what a year it was!  Measured in love…..

 A few pictures of my year...measured in love!!



New Year's Eve 2011 with Paige, Krystle, Meaghan, Laura and me!



New Year's Eve 2012 Justy and I!
Liz and I Easter 2012


End of mentoring picture at Assumption College (April 2012)
Kristen and I with two of the cutest kids we work with, Erika and Ryan! (April 2012)
 
 
Goodbye to our AMA year!  :(

Liz and I with our "end of AMA year" cake (June 2012)

Liz and I with Srs. Nuala, Mary Ann, Catherine, Jurgita and Therese (June 2012)

4th of July in Worcester (so really July 3rd, because Worcester celebrates a day early)

Me with some of the kids before the end of year AMA mass (July 14, 2012)



Liz and I in front of the Center prior to our end of AMA year mass
The group that gathered for our end of AMA year mass.  <3


Me with some of my loves, saying goodbye until September (July 14, 2012)

 
 
Family!


My family at my grandma's surprise 80th birthday party (May 2012)
My parents, my brother and I at my cousin's wedding (November 2012)







 




Friends!! <3
The wonderful group of girls I got to spend a week with in DE on a service trip (July 15-21 2012)
 


JoAnne and I (August 2012)
Antonia and I (August 2012)



Justine and I for her birthday! (August 2012)

Meaghan's wedding!  The gang of us Marywood girls all together. (September 2012)


Michelle, Liz and I at the Worcester Castle! (October 2012) One AMAzing time.
Akeneta and I with some of our garden kids playing in the leaves (October 2012)





A wonderful Halloween package from a friend and former co-worker (October 2012)




Michelle and I in front of the Christmas tree for her birthday! (December 2012)
Yay for being new housemates!






 



A picture of Stacy and I, from September 2011 in a frame that says
"Memories: Some moments we never forget because our lives are forever changed"    
<3   July 5, 2012   <3
 

 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

So, how do you measure a year? Measure in love...

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.”

Wow, it’s already June 9!!  Which means in a little over a month my AMA year is over.  It has gone amazingly fast, too fast for my own liking.  It has been full of ups and downs and rotaries aka traffic circles (right Sr. Catherine and Liz?) and detours, but I wouldn’t trade any of it at all!
I am now in the process of trying to figure out what all of this has meant to me.  How exactly have I changed?  What exactly is different about me?  Am I any closer to knowing what it is I want to do for the rest of my life?  These are all questions without answers at this point in time…and I’m 100% ok with that for now.  For so long I have told myself that I need to have a solid plan and have every question answered at the beginning and end of everything, but really, sometimes you just have to go with the flow and know that God will bring you closer to where you need to be!
This year has been a lot of learning, growing, cake baking, laughter and love.  I have also learned to love the quirkiness of Worcester residents (Liz and I believe there might be something in the water that adds to the quirkiness, because we may have picked it up too).  I also love all of the people I have been with this year, from my housemates/community mates Kristen and Liz, to the sisters, to all of the kids in our mentoring program, our ESL students, and our garden families.  So many people came into my life this year and have shared so much love with me.  I know in every entry I talk about the love, but to be honest, that is the only way to describe what this year has been all about.  Everyone, including people we had met once during the whole year, has showered Liz and I with so much love and support.  There is no way to describe all of the love, and how it has felt to be loved by so many.
If I was leaving Worcester on July 15th for good, I would be feeling much worse about leaving, but thankfully I will be leaving Worcester for only a month and then returning as the Program Coordinator for Assumption Center.  Assumption Center is where I live right now and is also where all of our programs are run out of.  I am blessed that I will be able to spend another year here in Worcester, working with all of our wonderful kids and adults in all of our programs!
And even though I will be returning in August, I am still sad about this year ending.  It has been a truly wonderful year, totally different than what I had expected, but amazing nonetheless.  This year has opened my eyes to so many things, including my own strengths.  I can never list all this year has been, and will continue to be for the rest of my life.  I still have another month here as an AMA and I know in that time more AMAzing things will happen.

So for now all I can do is just enjoy this last month as an AMA, with whatever comes my way, and try to start really thinking about what this all has been for me…


Our end of the year cake: 525,600 minutes...How do you measure a year?  Measure in love and in laughter, service, joy, icing, faith, friendship, hugs and hope.


Monday, February 20, 2012

"Measure in Love"

Below is my reflection for the February AMA newsletter that I will share with you all:



“We’re completely lost in our own world – egoists!  Or maybe we’re locked into ourselves, and even though we want to break out, we can’t seem to do it.  It takes someone else to help us, a person who breaks in or has a way of letting us out.  Or we stumble into some moment, some situation, that wakes us up, gets us enough off track to open up our eyes, our ears, our musty minds!” – William Carlos Williams

Sometimes we all just need to be taken out of our own world and brought back to reality and we never know what will bring us back.
                All of our programs started up again at the end of January after a break for Christmas and the New Year.  The start of this semester of programs meant something new for me; I was now in charge of our mentoring program.  I wasn’t just helping out; I was totally in charge of it.  This thought, that I would be in charge, totally freaked me out and was the only thing on my mind for weeks prior to the start of mentoring.  This thought consumed all of my thoughts and actions and I was so nervous I would mess something up or do something wrong or fail the program.  One thing I was told by Kristen, the former program director, was that all I needed to do was to love the kids and everything would be fine, not to worry about anything else.  She also told me that there was no way for me to mess anything up because everything would just fall into place the first day no matter how much I planned or freaked out.  Ok, so all I needed to do was to love these kids with all of my heart and everything would be ok?  I was going to try.
                That whole Wednesday I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight and my nerves were already shot before getting to mentoring.  We put all of the supplies out, put snack out and that just left waiting for the kids and mentors to show up, when my role would really kick in.  So as I was anxiously sitting and waiting, about half of our kids showed up.  All that could be heard was “I love you guys”,” I’ve missed you so much”, “where’s my hug?!”, “ahh I’m so excited to be at mentoring again”, and my personal favorite that gave me a good chuckle “what’s for snack?”.   But my favorite part of this moment was when one of our younger kids, Kathy, came running at me full speed, stopped about a foot from me and jumped up into my arms.  As Kathy jumped into my arms, she said “I’ve missed you soooooooo much!!!”.  In that moment everything I had been worrying about melted away.  I that moment I knew everything would go well.
                Without knowing it, Kathy brought me back to the reality of everything, back into the present.  She brought me out of my mind and into the moment.  I knew that even if I did make a mistake, these kids would still love me and shower me with hugs “just because”.  I knew deep down in my heart that my love for these kids is huge and nothing could ever change that. 
                All of these moments that I share with the kids are the special moments that I could possibly miss by staying locked inside of myself but these kids bring me back to the present on a daily basis, just by being themselves.  I am constantly reminded of how blessed I am to have these kids in my life, as all I need is a hug from one of them for my day to be turned around.  They are constantly running into the meeting room where mentoring is held and rushing for hugs.  I also get the occasional “I love you soo much”, which is truly amazing when these kids look into your eyes and say that with such emotion.  It’s hard to believe that I didn’t know these kids prior to August, but yet they have so much love for me, and I them.  These kids bring me back to the reality of what this year is all about just by being themselves.  Being brought back to the reality of this year is exactly what I need, to be reminded that this year is all about the people and experiences with the people; it’s not necessarily about the actual “doing” of things but of the “being” with the people.  
All of the kids I work with in mentoring bring something different to the table.  They all have their different talents and skills, but they all do it with love.  They bring so much love and energy into everything they do and say.  And that’s what this whole year is about…love!!  Back in our AMA Orientation, the 4 of us decided our theme was going to be “525,600 minutes, how do you measure a year?  Measure in love.” And that’s what I am doing, I am measuring this year in love.
If I get nothing else from this year but love, I would say that this is a wildly successful year.  Knowing I have been given so much love by so many people and also am giving so much love to so many, I know that love is more important than anything else I could gain.  Love is something that stays with a person, the kind words, the hugs, and the look in a person’s eye; that is all that matters in life.  Love.

I found this quote in a book I am reading called “The Call of Service” by Robert Coles, and I feel like it describes how I am starting to feel, knowing that over half of my year here in Worcester is over.  “I’ve got four more months here, and when I leave, that’s when I’ll be starting to figure out what this has all meant!  Probably for the rest of my life I’ll be influenced by what happened to me here – I now think differently.  I agree, it all could begin to wear off later.  But I doubt it.  Some of these kids have taught me a million times more than I’ve taught them.” – From “The Call of Service” 
This quote is so true; these kids are teaching me more than I will ever know.  But what I do know is that my heart is constantly full of so much love because of these kids and their families, who without knowing it, bring so much joy and love to my life and so many other lives as well.  So as I begin to think about what this year will have been for me and if I have made a difference at all, I know that this love which is shared is truly all that matters.
 In the words of Kristen “All you’ve got to do is love these kids, that’s all that matters

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"What are you looking for?"

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman
                                           
What are you looking for?
Those words, which Jesus uttered in this Sunday’s Gospel (1/15/12) really struck me.  While thinking about that simple phrase many things come to mind, but mostly what popped into my mind was the question I was asked over break “well then, what’s next after this volunteer year?”  And my honest answer is “I don’t know”.  I am not 100% sure where I will end up come July, and I am OK with that, God has a plan for me.  But the other answer I gave was “I’m still not sure what I want to do for the rest of my life, I can’t really define what it is I am passionate about”.  So, I guess I don’t exactly know what I am looking for in terms of what I want to do come July.  But one thing I do know is that while I don’t know what it is I am looking for, I feel like I will know what it is when I find it.
                I know going into this year I didn’t have many expectations of “what I was looking for”.  But I do know that one of the things I was looking for was to grow deeper in my faith, which I feel as this year progresses I am growing deeper in my faith.  Another thing I was looking for in my year was to form relationships with those with whom I would be working and also with those whom I would be living in community with.  I know I have been changed by all of those whom I work with, I just hope that come July I am not just “another AMA who passed through for the year” I hope that I am remembered for something I did or said. 
                But to answer what I am looking for, I am looking for another 6 months filled with many memories and wonderful moments.  Moments that I know I don’t want to rush through, because those moments will be what I remember.  So these moments are what I am looking for right now...

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Another Year Over and a New One Just Begun.....

“It’s suspended there to remind us before we pop the champagne and celebrate the New Year, to stop and reflect on the year that has gone by. To remember both our triumphs and our missteps - our promises made, and broken. The times we opened ourselves up to great adventures - or closed ourselves down, for fear of getting ...hurt. Because that’s what New Year’s is all about: getting another chance. A chance to forgive, to do better, to do more, to give more, to love more. And stop worrying about ‘what if’ and start embracing what would be. So when that ball drops at midnight - and it will drop - let’s remember to be nice to each other, kind to each other. And not just tonight but all year long.” - Claire Morgan "New Year’s Eve"

As this year comes to a close, I, just like every other human on the face of the earth, am thinking about all that this year has been.  2011 has been an amazing year full of many new and exciting experiences.  The start of 2011 was the end of my undergraduate college career filled with many late nights with friends and fun, sometimes just laughing over nothing.  I went to Mississipi and fell in love with the Gulf Coast and southern small towns and was able to help construct a house for someone affected by Hurricane Katrina. I had so many great memories from that trip and from so many other activities.  I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my time at Marywood than spending many nights with those whom I had grown to love as a family; friends, co-workers, acquaintances all made my 4 years at Marywood what they were.  After 4 great years I had to say good bye to all I had grown to love as “home” and become a graduate of Marywood University.
                My summer was filled with work, seeing friends, and mentally preparing for the year ahead; my AMA volunteer year.
                August came and with it it brought the start of my AMA year and the start of many new experiences.  I am so grateful for all of the experiences and people that have come into my life in the last four and a half months.  I have been blessed with so many opportunities these last few months.  I have also been blessed with the many people who have been brought into my life; they are truly what make the experience.  I love the work that I am doing; teaching ESL and helping with mentoring, learning to knit and occasionally helping in the preschool.  But more than what I am doing, it is the people I am with.  My ESL students have taught me so much about their lives, our mentoring kids have stolen my heart from day 1, the knitting ladies are good for some stories and laughs and the preschoolers have given me so many hugs and love just for coming once a week.  I have also tried many new things in this year, adding much more to my experiences.  But most of all Kristen, Liz and I, my housemates, have shared so many much needed laughs and chats, sometimes laughing until we cry.  Who knows what I will remember after this year, but I know I will remember how much I laughed and loved this year, as that has been the theme for 2011; laughter and love.  And lots of it.

So here’s to what has been a great 2011, I appreciate and am thankful for all that it has been.   And also, here’s to hopefully a great 2012 full of many more new experiences, but more so full of much more laughter and love.

To quote Rent the Musical: "525, 600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife....Measure in love."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why Here?!

“God leads us, and no wiser or more loving hand can guide our destiny.” – St. Marie Eugenie, foundress of the Religious of the Assumption

“Why Here?”

       There have been so many times in the last 2 ½ months that I have been asked “Why here?”  “How did you end up in Worcester?!” “Why did you choose Worcester?  There are so many other places you could have gone!”
      My answer has varied slightly every time, but the general idea of my answer is that God brought me here for a specific reason.  God has a plan for me, that I trust in and know there is so much good that will come out of being here…in Worcester.
      A little under a year ago I started looking into yearlong volunteer programs.  There are so many programs out there to choose from; it was very overwhelming and hard to narrow down my options.  So I let it go for a while, then went back to it and narrowed it down by type of service opportunities, which was still a ton of different programs.  Less than before, but there were still so many options.  I finally narrowed it down to the 4 organizations I would apply to and the whole time kept saying “God, please show me which program is right for me, which is the right place for me.”  After submitting my applications the waiting game began.  Waiting to hear back and waiting to hear about an interview.  Once I had my interviews I then had to wait to hear if I had been accepted to any of the programs. 
       As I was waiting to hear back if I had been accepted I remember talking with many people about my options and “what may be”.  But what I remember most was a conversation I had had with one person about how scary this whole process was and how to know which is the right program for me.  “How will I know which one I am supposed to pick?  How will I know exactly where God is calling me?  What if I pick the wrong place?”  All I remember this person saying in response to my ramblings was: “You will just know which is the right place, it will just feel right to you, it will feel like where you belong.”  To which I responded, “but I have already had 3 of my 4 interviews and still have no clue what feels right!”  “You will know when you need to, you will be able to feel it.”  To which I though “well that wasn’t very helpful…”, not realizing it would be one of the best pieces of advice I got.
       So I continued waiting for responses to my interviews.  Slowly I started getting emails or letters telling me if I was accepted or not.  “Thank you for your interest in our program, but you have not been chosen to work with us, blessings to you for all you do and will continue to do.”  “Thank you for you interest, but at this time we are unable to offer you a 2nd round interview, but can put you on the wait list in case spots open up.”
       OK, so maybe I didn’t have to worry about those 2 programs anymore, that might make my decision easier. “We are very excited to accept you in our program, your gifts seem like they would be a good fit with what we are looking for. We would like to offer you a spot in Worcester, MA.”  Yay!  Finally a yes!  I immediately responded and said “Yes, I accept”, because I knew the other program I was waiting to hear from was my last choice anyway.  I was hoping and praying that this would be the right decision.  About a month later I heard from the 4th program.
       “We liked what you have to offer, we would like to offer you a 2nd round interview.  Do you accept?”  “Can I have the weekend to think it over”.  At this point I was pretty sure I had already made the right decision, but wanted to give myself a chance to think about it.  I called back on Monday and said “I’m sorry, I don’t think I am going to continue in the process, I’ve been accepted to another program and it seems like a better fit for me.  Thank you for this opportunity though.”
       I still had no idea if I made the right decision, but somewhere deep down “it just felt right.” Which is how I was told I would feel about “the right program”.  Something about the whole application and interview process for it seemed different than the others, but also my acceptance letter made me feel very right about my decision.  My other letters were standard [insert your name here] letters, but this letter seemed personal and warm.  So I was starting to believe it was absolutely right, I was hoping I was actually listening to God telling me where to go.
       Over the summer I freaked out a few times, wondering if I had made a mistake, what if it wasn’t right?  But the second I stepped out of the Boston airport and met Beth, I knew I made the right decision.  All of my worry was needless; I was where I belonged.
One thing I think about still was my approach to this year, which I even wrote on most of my applications, which was “I will go wherever God is calling me.  Wherever God feels I am needed.”

       So, why here, why Worcester?

       I am in Worcester because God felt I had some work to do here and some things to learn that I could only learn here in Worcester.  Do I know what all of it is?  By no means do I know the plans God has for me for this year, but I know these plans are something wonderful.  I still have many things to learn this year about myself, about others, about Worcester, about the larger world, about this community I am living in and about God.  All will be revealed in time and I already know that I have been changed, even if I can’t define how quite yet.
       The community I am living in with my 2 other housemates is referred to as “Cana Community”, referencing Jesus’ first miracle; the wedding feast at Cana.  This miracle is all about transformation, Jesus turning water into wine and also I think about Jesus transforming himself, to prepare for the rest of his life and for the rest of the many miracles he would perform in his lifetime.  This was a time of change for him.
       So living in this community is about transformation, about transforming myself and being transformed by others and allowing this transformation to take place within me and through me, while serving God and others.  It’s about allowing God to work through me and show me what I need to see and do.

       So why here?

       Only God knows why, but I know it is for a reason.  He has known all along why here, why other things didn’t work out, even though I may have hoped they would.  He’s got a plan for me. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” – Jeremiah 29:11
       So as I sit and think about these last 2 1/2 months and all that has happened, I know God has been right there with me, moving me along, helping me through.  To take from a reflection we used one night at prayer "God has granted the world with pencils and paired them with courage to do the scripting."  God is working through me as much as he is working through everyone else I am in contact with.  He is helping us all write the stories of our lives.  He is also helping us to live these stories out, not just sit there reading or writing them, but really and truly living our stories out.  Who knows which stories will intertwine, but God will help us to see the meaning for all of it, everything, the big and the small.

    “Don't know just where I'm going
    And tomorrow, it's a little overwhelming
    And the air is cold
    And I'm not the same anymore…
    At least it's the first day of the rest of my life.” – “Brave” – Idina Menzel

       So, even though I may have no idea where I am going, or why I am here in Worcester, I know God is guiding me in the right direction.  Everyday I am here in Worcester, I am able to slowly see a little bit more of God’s plans in the big things, but also in the little things.  It is in the little things, the everyday interactions and occurrences, that our lives, God's plans, are revealed to us. We just have to notice the little things…

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Language of Our Hearts

I felt I would share this, my reflection for the October AMA Newsletter:

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller
            If you had asked me two months ago what my life would be like right now, I don't think I could have given you much.  I was so nervous going into this year, not knowing what to expect for my work and also how living in community would be.  I was worried about so many things, that I don't know if I truly was able to feel excited about this year in Worcester until I was actually on the plane leaving Philadelphia headed to Worcester.
            Upon arriving at the airport in Boston, both Liz and I were wrapped in hugs immediately by Beth.  We had just met her and here she was giving us the most welcoming and comforting hugs a person can get when in a totally new and strange place, or so I thought.  Later that night we had dinner with the sisters for the first time, and again, we were wrapped up in such welcoming and comforting hugs.  I had just met all of these people and I immediately felt ok with whatever would be thrown at me this year, because I knew that I would have all of these people supporting me.  This first day of orientation, of being in Worcester, MA, I knew I belonged here.  I felt in my heart that I belonged.
            This feeling of belonging continued after that first day and continues today.  When we (Liz and I) were introduced to the St. Peter's Church Community, we were embraced by the parish and welcomed as "one of them".  This also put me at ease with the work I would be doing, knowing how much support and prayer was coming from the church for the programs we would be working with.  Also, all of the various organizations we helped with in the first few weeks we were here embraced us and welcomed us whole-heartedly into the Worcester community.  I think all of these experiences of being welcomed, of feeling like I belong, prepared me for all of the work I have done and will be doing this year.  These feelings are something that are felt in the heart and speak to me in such a different way.
            The middle of September meant the start of the mentoring and ESL (English as a Second Language) programs.  I was excited to get started with both, knowing that the bulk of my time, and quite possibly my energy, would be spent with these programs.  September 20th was the first day of ESL, and for the first two classes I was "just" assisting the teacher, or so I thought. The first day I helped out with what I could in the lesson, assisted the students while the teacher was working with someone else, what I thought to be pretty simple things. 
            The next day, September 21st, was the first day of the mentoring program.  Some of the first kids at the program were the daughter and son of one of the students in the ESL class I was helping with.  The woman had spoken about her children the previous day as she was introducing herself to the class, so I had heard a little bit about the kids.  When she walked in to drop her kids off for mentoring she was extremely excited to see me and then said to her kids, "I want you to meet my teacher, this is my teacher."   She was so proud of the fact that I was her teacher and that I, as her teacher, was able to meet her kids, and just the tone in her voice made it evident how happy she was with all of this.  After the mother left the daughter said to me "So you're my mom's teacher?!  That's so cool!  I like that you're my mom's teacher."  I realize that although I felt what I was doing in the class was minimal; I had connected with this woman on a much deeper level, which she had then relayed to her kids through a simple introduction. I have my own ESL class now.  It is exciting to be teaching on my own now, and I also hope that I can have a similar experience connecting with my class.  I know whatever it was that happened in that first day of ESL had some affect on her and definitely impacted me.  Hopefully that will stay with both of us as this year continues.
            I think right from the beginning, all of the feelings of welcome and belonging were showing me what I needed to know for this year.  It all was showing me how to welcome others and make them feel like they belong, to connect on a much deeper level.  While we may not always speak the same language as someone, we can always connect on the much deeper level, the language of the heart, and in that way we all speak the same language.
            A song, "I Was Here" by Lady Antebellum, which I only heard for the first time a few days ago really spoke to me about what I really want to do this year, and I think I am on my way to doing what this song talks about.  I also feel that this year, while I may touch some hearts, I feel like so many people will touch my heart, I know so many already have in such a short time.
"I wanna do something that matters
Say something different
Something that sets the whole world on its ear
I wanna do something better
With the time I've been given
And I wanna try
To touch a few hearts in this life
Leave nothing less
Than something that says 'I was here'"