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'"