Monday, August 3, 2009

"This is your opportunity to let your life be one that lights the way..."

The two best years of my life have now come and gone and as I begin to make sense of them and what is to come, I am hopeful that I can continue to say that each passing year is the best year of my life. You see, one of the most permeating lessons I've learned over the past two years is that joy is in everything because God is joy and God is in everything, sometimes it just takes a little effort to find that joy.
So here I sit, anxiously awaiting the next step of my journey while desperately clinging to the life I'm leaving behind. Ironically, I am not going too far from that life, physically and logically. I will be living just around the corner from the Inn and will also continue to work with the same population as well as the friars (well, one of them). And fortunately, I look forward to living with a former housemate who continues to be a huge source of strength and support for me. Despite all that outwardly remains the same, I have this sinking feeling that there won't be too much about my future that resembles my time with FVM. I am losing the daily and constant interaction with the sisters, friars, and lay team, in addition to the loss of a community that has completely enveloped my being for the past two years.
I think this is where we are called to be bigger than ourselves, to find the joy when it may not be so easy, to let the past two years affect the choices I make and how I live my life. FVM is one of those things that will take years to unfold all that it has done to change and effect me. For someone who appreciated cooking dinner for 350 people because I got to see the finished product, I have come to appreciate the longevity of such an experience because of the intangible ways Saint Francis Inn helps the people it serves.
Since my last post, I have been on closing retreat with my wonderful housemates, Fr. Michael and our program director, Katie. We were joined by Dan Schmidt, a former FVM, and the St. Vincent Pallotti Center, a long-term volunteer support agency. Our trip to Faulkner, Maryland should have only been about 4 hours, but as usual on a Michael Duffy road trip, it took us 7 hours to get there. Stopping for food and bathrooms multiple times each, we finally made it to the Loyola Retreat House only to be up against a silent retreat! Thankfully we weren't under the same requirements! The house overlooked the Potomac River, though not clean, afforded us picturesque views and a nice way to cool off!
(I must say that Katie took this picture, I am not nearly as talented a photographer as she)
With talks on life post-FVM and transition, we were able to relish our final days with each other with some tears and lots of laughs!
We returned to Philly Thursday evening and had dinner all together in New Jersey. Friday was spent cleaning our house for our wonderful successors and we were even able to take in a movie! Saturday brought more tears and our goodbyes to one another.
(also a Katie picture)
I picked up my brand-new car before heading home and drove myself to New Hampshire then on to Boothbay Harbor, Maine to join my family for a vacation. We went on a whale watch and were joined by some family friends for a couple days.

While struggling to enjoy the present and my time at home, I'm still longing for the life that awaits me in Philadelphia! Upon my arrival to Philadelphia on August 18th, I have orientation for graduate school, a trip to New York City with some friends, and then I begin work on the 24th! There is much to look forward to and I am anxious to see what God has in store for me!
Again, thank you all for your continued prayers and support. I will do my best to continue posting but I believe I am being given the honor of writing the blog for Saint Francis Inn, once the new website gets up and running, so if I don't update this, at least read up on that and what's going on there! Much love and blessings poured out for you all!

Friday, July 17, 2009

quick one before bed

I can't write much because I really should be getting my tired behind into bed but I figured I'd quickly update since it's been so astoundingly long since my last post.
So it seems that things DO actually work out. Just as I began to stress about what life post-FVM would entail, a fantastic and exciting job opportunity fell into my lap, housing worked itself out, I managed to buy myself a shiny new car, and have shared more laughs than I could've ever expected.
With just 38.5 hours left until we depart for closing retreat, my reflections for the past two years are far more numerous and indescribable than I can even attempt to articulate in a blog. My heart is both heavier and lighter, my spirit soars and struggles to remain grounded, being further along in my spirituality than I could've ever hoped, I still feel that God has so much more for me to learn. Despite the total upheaval of life that I face, I'm at peace. My entire being rests in the beauty and grace of God and for that I can thank FVM and all that it entails.
My itinerary for the next month or so? Closing retreat (location still unknown), NH, Maine, NH, MA, NY, then back to Philly August 18th for orientation for graduate school. It'll be one of those "Catch-me-if-you-can" kind of months, but I am eager for the rest and comfort that home provides, even if I am busy running around and visiting!
I do honestly hope that I continue to update even beyond my tenure with FVM because I have noticed that, although my readership is not quite vast, it is supportive and interested in my goings-on. Thank you for those of you that have supported and prayed for me in these past two years. My heart, soul, entire being thanks you and only God knows how much it helped me. I can say, though, that I'm certain I would not have felt quite so loved and supported without your help!
I'll hopefully catch you at some point during my travels! Much, much love and peace!

Friday, June 5, 2009

As I begin my quest into the world of adulthood, I find myself retreating more than I anticipated. I've been looking forward to the freedom of owning my own car, of having a job and making more than $75 a month (which would be a change from that past 2 nay, 6 years), of not having any type of community obligations of prayer, dinner, fun and meetings. Over the past couple of weeks, however, our community has become less of a community and more resembles what my future holds; 3 people living in a house together and only really interacting when absolutely necessary or by chance. The consideration level in our house has dropped significantly and our attention to each other's needs seems to have fallen by the wayside.
Because we could all tell this was affecting the livelihood of our community negatively, we decided to have a house meeting about it. Oddly enough, we all recognized the need for a re-establishment and re-commitment of our "covenants" that were signed on opening retreat. The three of us unanimously decided to re-embark on our quest and journey towards community even though we have a mere 7 weeks left together. I'm hopeful that we all may leave this year with positive memories and feelings towards intentional community rather than I think we would've left off had things remained the way they were.
This got me to thinking that although I don't expect for Emily (my future housemate and housemate from last year) and I to have any sort of community obligations, I'm going to thoroughly miss community dinners, fun and prayers. Though we talked about it, Emily and I realistically acknowledge the busy-ness we'll be faced with starting as soon as we move back in. But a creeping sense of nostalgia for my time and community life while in FVM has already permeated and I haven't even left yet! I'm thinking that's not a good sign.
This onslaught of adulthood and futuristic thinking stems from the interview I had earlier this week with Liberty Lutheran Services. The interview went well but I'm not sure that, if offered, I'd take the job. My role would be to provide supportive services to families and children that have been either directly or indirectly affected by sexual abuse within the household. What happens here in Philly is that if there is a claim made against someone, DHS (Department of Human Services) takes the initial steps to alleviate the situation until further investigation is carried out and legal action is settled. Throughout that whole process, Lutheran goes in to investigate and provide support for those who made the claim and for the rest of the family that is dealing with the ordeal.
It's a heavy job, for sure. And it's not that I don't think I can handle it, it's that I'm not entirely sure that I want to. For the most part, I am eager to jump in and get my hands dirty. I'm more than excited to start work. But for this population, so much of my emotional energy would be required that I'm thinking it may be a difficult transition into real life if I'm constantly dealing with the strain of this job. We'll see how things go and no job has been offered yet, but I'm hopeful for some other opportunities God has put before me!
I had an interesting conversation with a guest yesterday regarding his life on the streets and his addiction to alcohol. For awhile, Danny was known as "Drunk Danny" (though it's not a very good descriptor because many of our guests are both named Danny and are drunks but if someone said "Drunk Danny" we'd all instantly know who was in reference). Danny would come into the office with a can of beer up his sleeve and, because he was so drunk, would spill the entire can all over the floor (and this happened on more than one occasion). He constantly had a black eye or a busted lip because he was constantly attacked because he was so drunk he couldn't defend himself or get away. But Danny's most recent attempt at sobriety has given us all hope for not only his recovery but for other who struggle as well. He has 3 weeks sober and never misses a chance to tell us so. He comes to mass daily and recently asked me my name saying, "Now that I'm sober, I'll remember it" ...and he has.
In my conversation with him yesterday he told me how when he was in his early twenties, he was accused of burglary and, when in court, plead guilty because he seriously couldn't remember if he committed the crime or not. Danny sat in jail for 3 years before he found out that it wasn't him who did it but another man that resembled him. Three years of his life were thrown away for something he didn't do!!!
This whole addiction thing kills me. So many people think it's a choice but I choose to believe (thanks to the help of my mom) that there's no way it is a choice because if it were, that would mean that people choose to hurt the ones they love and I have too much faith in people to believe that. I believe there's got to be more to it than a decision to pick up a bottle or a needle or a crackpipe because the effects it has on people are never, ever good. Ever.
And I think talking with Danny this week and since he became sober has given me hope for all those who are addicts and all those who have been affected by addiction. It's a disease that invades, conquers and destroys people, families, and societies but if just one person can do it (and Danny of all people), then we can all hope for the rest.
So anyway, things have been really good down in the City of Brotherly Love! We're looking forward to the next few weeks, which will bring visits from family and friends along with a trip to New York City with Brother Fred! I'll do my best to keep updated (which, I must say, I've been doing a pretty darn good job of lately), but no promises!
Take care and lots of love!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Meat, glorious meat!

For those of you who didn't know, about two months ago I decided to try my hand (again) at vegetarianism. It was something I had been thinking about for most of the past year and was inspired by some friends that visited from Florida who also lived in community and had recently gone meatless. I struggled with how it would affect my very carnivorous community, running the risk of being a hassle more than a new and exciting challenge. Floridian friends said that there were ways to skirt around the community obligations and so I decided that it was worth a shot.
My quest for vegetarianism wasn't morally based in any way. I saw it more as a discipline, a challenge, something that would allow me to turn to God on a more consistent basis. It was also an effort to eat healthier, my logic being that most vegetarian options are far healthier than their meaty counterparts. As with any good new endeavor, consistent and regular re-evaluation is necessary to examine motives, missions, and success. Over the past week or so I began to question the sustainability of my latest attempt to better myself. I thought a lot about how, without any type of moral basis, it wouldn't be something that I could really maintain with any type of success and with minimal misery. Additionally, I was consequently eating more and more sweets to satiate the hunger that was derived from my lack of protein, another far cry from the discipline I'd been seeking.
The result: a delicious dinner of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and broccoli prepared by the sisters at the Team meal last night!
I worried that this would be a cop-out to my self-imposed discipline but resolved myself to the fact that I wasn't really disciplining myself in any way because of the other ways I'd satisfy myself. I challenge myself to find other ways to reach God and to eat healthier, unfortunately I think this whole Water Ice thing Philadelphia has going for it really gets in the way of my goals!
This did, however, get me to thinking about what it is that drives us to act in the way we do and what it is that stops us from doing wrong. It is our moral compass that generally guides our actions. After this experience, I realize how much of what I do depends on my own morality. It is my morals that keeps me in the trenches, serving my brothers and sisters because it is wrong for people to be suffering from anything, let alone hunger. When actions are rooted in morals, it is a whole lot easier to maintain and sustain what is being done because there's a goal, there's a bigger drive that exists outside yourself. My attempt at vegetarianism wasn't rooted in the morality of killing animals or their unjust treatment for our benefit, but was done simply for my own benefit.
I recently had a discussion with a friend who mentioned to someone else what I'd been spending my time doing for the past two years and her response was, "well, most people do that for selfish reasons anyway." Agreed. However, in order to successfully help people, you absolutely cannot be doing it for selfish reasons. Not only does it affect your work, but the people you are serving can tell that your heart just isn't in it. Instead of serving God or serving your brothers and sisters, you serve yourself, which initially can satisfy someone, but certainly is not sustainable.
I certainly didn't expect my stint at vegetarianism to erupt in me this whole thought tangent regarding morality but it is amazing how God works in us in this way. The moral of today's blog? Eat meat. And act with your heart. Love you all!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Some musings...

Over the past month or so, there has been a lot of talk about "civilizing" our guests among some of the team members here at the Inn. There's been this feeling of lack of respect from the guests that has seem to gotten the better of a few of the team members and it appears that there's going to be a serious overhaul to remedy this.
It got me thinking, though, about the sign on our door that says, "Smile, Jesus is at the door." Sure, we're called to see God in those we serve, but if those we serve always treat us respectfully, it's so much easier to see God in them and to smile. It's easy to be patient when people are being patient with the services we provide. It's easy to smile and speak calmly when everyone's listening to you. But what happens when you're faced with the adversity of someone who is yelling in your face? Or starting fights with everyone they see? Or are, for the fourth time that week, asking for a token so they can go to their program or meeting?
I think this is when we show God what we're made of. This is when our true humanity comes out. You get tired, you get frustrated, you've exhausted all your coping mechanisms, yet you're still faced with the challenges of daily life. So what happens then? This is our time to shine! I think our growth of faith and spirituality comes when we are challenged and it is then, when we're crawling on our knees and mustering up the strength for one more step, that we grow in the grace and love of God.
So I do agree that we should be met with the same respect with which we profess to treat our guests, but we also need to recognize our own need for the challenge of faith and love and use each of these confrontations as a gift and chance to grow.
Enough preachy-preachy...
The past few weeks have been full of fun and excitement! We've each taken various trips home for various reasons. Currently Amanda is in Syracuse visiting family and taking a much-needed break from the Inn. Noe was home recently to attend the wedding of his girlfriend's sister. I was home just after him to recruit at Saint Anselm (with some success, I might say). We hosted the annual Spring Fling children's party with the help of Nazareth Academy. We had 20 children ranging in age from 2-11 and had lots and lots of fun! (I would post pictures but wasn't able to take any because of my lack of camera) The following weekend the team was on their Easter retreat, leaving Noe, Amanda and I to run the show. Things went smoothly, as can be expected, but we were certainly exhausted from all the work of the weekend!
My work continues at the Urban Center and I'm loving that part of my ministry more and more! I've gotten to spend a lot of quality time with Brother John, something that many people, even team members, do not get to enjoy! While taking care of some little things around the Urban Center, I also get to pick his brain for some social work-y type tips and information, really preparing myself for the fall!
I am also actively seeking employment in the Philly area for the fall! I know this is a tough time of year to be job-hunting but I'm pretty hopeful that things will work out... they always do!
And as I type this post now, I am sitting on my screened-in back porch with our pond and fountain bubbling beside me, absorbing the hidden beauty that is Kensington. There are roses blooming, our garden is thriving, and there's an ever-so-slight breeze that keeps it just cool enough to need a sweatshirt... my favorite kind of weather! God is good, that's for sure!
I hope this post finds you all well! May the newness of Spring and all its growth and rejuvenation enlighten your hearts!

Much love!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

First of all, I'd like to wish everyone a blessed Easter season! Each year, these liturgical seasons seem to take on more meaning to me and this year is no exception! Up until maybe last year, my excitement for Easter revolved around the breaking of whatever fast I'd been doing since Ash Wednesday. This year as Holy Week approached, I found myself anxiously anticipating not only our services here, but the entire spirit of the miracle of the Resurrection.
Friday at the Good Friday services we went to at Saint Thomas of Villanova parish, I sat contemplating what it meant for the disciples of Jesus to be witnesses to the death of their leader. Jesus was charismatic and somehow convinced everyone to get on board with this whole "salvation" business by performing miracles and teaching the people mercy, justice and love. At the time of his death, I can't even begin to imagine how his followers felt not only at his death but at the prospect that perhaps their "leader" wasn't legitimate at all. When they laid him in the tomb on Friday, their entire comprehension of salvation and their entire faith in God was on the line. Had they opened up the tomb Sunday morning and found Jesus' lifeless body still wrapped in the burial cloths, salvation would only be something that we continue to long for in this day.
As I began to reflect on patience, I realized that my impatience is no match for the disciples of Jesus on that Saturday two thousand years ago. Much more was on the line for them. If Jesus was in that tomb, their discipleship would've been mocked and they would be admonished by all those who sought to discredit and undermine the presence of Jesus as Savior. A lot was at stake and all they could do was wait. It makes my suffering seem a bit more manageable.
So as I approached our Easter Vigil last night, I got more and more excited. You see, we know that Jesus wasn't in the tomb and yet we still maintain this anticipation of the benchmark of our salvation history. It should be that way, that we still get excited, still act as if we don't know what's going to happen. The renewal of our baptismal promises is a reaffirmation of our faith in God's loving kindness for us.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only son

May the coming fifty days of Easter be a time of renewal of hope and faith! Blessings to you!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The past couple of weeks have brought on some fascinating insights, some enlightening conversations and many, many laighs. We had visitors from Lenox, Massachusetts, former FVM Frederick Keator and his lovely wife, Renee just before we left for retreat. We also were invited to a Ball... yep, like Cinderella. Then we departed for our Spring Retreat! With some great conversations along the way, we made it to the Mountain in about 7 hours (it should normally be about 5.5... thanks to my bladder). Reuniting with Emily and Joanne was comforting and so unbelievably necessary, which I didn't realize until I was there.
During retreat, we were at morning prayer one day and one of the favored Scripture meditations at the Mountain is "Be still and know that I am God." We break it down until we are instructed simply to just "be". One particular morning, as Katie was guiding us in this meditation, just as the word "Be" came out of her mouth, this brilliant and all-encompassing ray of sunshine poured through the wall of windows of the chapel that overlooks the mountains of western New York. It was God. There's no doubt in my mind. Later in the day, I mentioned the moment of grace and everyone indicated that they'd taken note of it as well. It got me to thinking how individual God's love is for us that He uses messages/signs that we can see, that I as a person am able to receive. For me, I hear a lot of what God is speaking to me through lyrics, stories... essentially through words. I can take the occasional ethereal sunbeam or moment of "coincidence," but because I thrive so much in the concrete, the written word, that is how God speaks to me. For others, He uses those mystical instances, or other people, or silent meditation, or whatever else it might be, but because He desires so much for us to be close to Him, He'll do whatever He can to get us to that point. It was a pretty comforting and certainly reassuring revelation for me.
So retreat was wonderful. We got back to a week of insanity! Friends of mine from high school came down to visit. I was initially apprehensive because they profess, as their religious views, agnosticism at best. My life here in Philadelphia has become so rooted in my faith I was nervous that either a)it would be too overbearing for them or b)I would find little to talk with them about. However, we spent the weekend as we spent our high school days and many after that, laughing and having a great time. In addition to working, we were able to get out and see the city a bit! My friends and I certainly don't see eye-to-eye on religion or spirituality yet we both thoroughly enjoy serving, we enjoy helping others and we have a lot of fun doing it. It made me realize that all I care about is that people do good for each other, that people help one another and that each person treats everyone they meet with love and respect. It doesn't matter their rationale for doing it or their motivation, but as long as people are being treated fairly and lovingly, then who can really say that they are wrong? Mine so happens to be that we are all children of God and that I try to see God in every person I meet, but that may not work for everyone. So I think we're called to be open to whatever it is that drives people to help others and to recognize them as grace in our lives.
Since the visit from Courtney and Lindsay, I've been spending a lot of time with our summer intern from last year, Will and his friend, David. We've been really busy but it's been a really great couple of days!
Monday, however, we were notified that one of our guests, Cheryl, was murdered about 5 blocks from us here at the Inn. She leaves behind a boyfriend and 6-month-old son, Michael. Please pray for them, they are in great need. We're all dealing with Cheryl's death and are doing what we can to support little Michael's dad so that he can maintain his sobriety and continue to care for his son. Again, any prayers you can send would be greatly appreciated!
Well, I'm sorry this post was so long! Thank you all for all your prayers! Much love and peace are sent your way from the City of Brotherly Love!