Thursday, December 27, 2007
Last Wednesday I headed back to NH with my friends that came down for a few days. After 9 hours, I pulled up to my snow-covered house (from 50 degree weather in Philly), exhausted but excited to see my family and friends! My time home was very, very busy... I got to spend time with Christen, Tara and MC as well as my mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law. We celebrated our family Christmas Saturday evening with a delicious dinner and we opened presents and watched Christmas movies (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a family favorite). It was quiet and relaxing. Sunday was quite the opposite, celebrating Christmas with my dad's side of the family. With about 35 people there, 12 of which were children, it was hectic! We had a lot of fun but I was certainly exhausted by the time we got home.
Although I was sad to leave my parents for the actual Christmas day, because we celebrated it earlier, it felt like Christmas had already passed when it was time to return to Philly. But boy was I surprised when I came back to ChristmasWorld once again! Emily's family came down from Watertown, NY to celebrate Christmas here with us. We went to mass at the chapel at the Inn and then myself, Jamie, Michael, Karen and Mike (New Zealanders), Karen, Barbara and John all went to midnight mass at Saint Vincent de Paul, a beautiful church about 5 miles away. It was such a beautiful mass! The music was absolutely beautiful (I LOVE Christmas music!)!!! We didn't end up getting home until about 1:45am and I woke up Tuesday morning with a big smile on my face, despite my exhaustion!
I usually consume mass quantities of sugar on a daily basis and Christmas was no exception... but by about 10am, I had consumed more than anyone should in a day and was bouncing off the walls! I'd like to think that the Christmas spirit had something to do with it too! But I made it my personal mission to spread Christmas cheer to everyone- so I sang, I hugged, I smiled, I danced, I loved.
At 11:30 the meal started--- you would not believe how FUN it was!!!! I was maitre'd so I got to greet everyone as they came in and I got to enjoy the musicians that came to entertain the guests during the meal! It was such a beautiful day and I am so glad that I made the decision to be here for the actual day.
After the meal, Jamie and I went to the movies (a family tradition I wasn't quite ready to surrender) and then I came back and ate dinner with Emily's family! They were such a wonderful blessing and the love and comfort they shared with me almost made me feel like I was home with my own family!
So, now we're enduring the Christmas hangover. I'm still so excited about the holiday and am hoping that this continues all throughout the year! But the Team is trying to recover from the insanity of the holidays and many are taking vacations to visit their own families that they were not able to see on Christmas day.
Despite all the joy and love that I felt from my family both in NH and in Philly, I really struggled with Christmas this year. I had a hard time receiving gifts because I kept recalling all my kids back here in Philly that wouldn't have gifts to open. I never realized how much I enjoy giving meaningful gifts until this year when I wasn't able to. I felt guilty. Luckily, I was able to talk to both Emily and Joanne who helped me through, but I was very happy to come back to Philly to be among people that were experiencing similar things.
I feel like I am finally realizing what gift Christmas is, in spite of all the gifts and hoopla. I am beginning to understand the true meaning of Christmas apart from all the material gifts and the decorations and the hype. It is about love. It is about God becoming flesh and living among us. I can't grasp the incredible love of God, but I am catching glimpses all over the place, no matter where I am!
This year was the first time my family didn't spend Christmas together and I have a feeling that last year was the last Christmas as the Bagtaz family knows it. This year was a catalyst for change and that's also a little scary. But Christmas isn't about one day, it is about when everyone can gather and I think my family did a pretty good job of really sanctifying our own celebration.
I pray that all your Christmases were filled with blessings and that the love and joy of this season continues to permeate your lives all year long.
Monday, December 17, 2007
After the Kids' Christmas Party last weekend, we decided to buy clothes for all the kids so Jamie, Emily and I went to Target Wednesday morning and bought at least one new outfit for all the kids that came to the party! It was soooo much fun shopping for all the kids!!!
Friday night we celebrated Christmas with the girls in Camden! We did a white elephant secret Santa- I luckily picked Joanne, so I had a lot of fun finding fun presents around the Inn and Bennie's! We had a good time; it was very low-key, but a nice way to celebrate this wonderful time with them.
Saturday I spent the day working on the Inn newsletter getting the house ready for our Team Christmas party which was yesterday. My friends from school (Marcus, Stef and Katie- people that were on my SBA trip last March) arrived Saturday afternoon to avoid the snow that the northeast got pummeled with Sunday. It's been so great having them here, especially because they know how the Inn works and are very competent! Emily also left Saturday to go visit her boyfriend and will return late Wednesday night.
Sunday was the craziest day! I was on deliveries with Fred, which is more fun than you can even imagine! He's so fun and just a great guy to be around! After that, I had a few things to take care of, some final preparations for the Christmas party, and then was able to do our Team Secret Santa with a clear mind! We had some delicious food that everyone brought, each member of the Team brought an ornament to decorate our tree with and then we started our Secret Santa gift exchange! The trick of it is, about 2 weeks ago we each picked a name to get a gift for. I had Brother Xavier who, to everyone else, was easy to get something for. He's the kind of guy that would be happy with anything you gave him. But I wanted to give him something he'd use and like. Sooooo, after a lot of deliberation, I made him a tshirt with a Saint Francis quote "It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching" and then a picture of him and me on it! Everyone loved it! When I got my gift, it was a really cute ornament and then a really cool bowl from Peru... I guessed every single person in the room until I finally rested on Brother John, the person I had put off the longest because I just didn't believe it was him. Actually, I thought Fr. Michael was my secret Santa! What a surprise! It was a lot of fun to hang out with the Team outside of work, although I definitely missed having Emily here!
I will be going home Wednesday after the breakfast shift with Marcus, Katie and Stef! I've got a busy few days at home and will return to Philadelphia the afternoon of Christmas Eve to spend the holiday with the guests and people here. It'll be tough, I'm sure, but I'm eager to see just what it's like to be here for the holidays!
Thank you for your continued support! May the peace and love of the holiday season rest in your hearts!
Saturday, December 8, 2007
This year, Nazareth sponsored 24 SFI children, giving them a stocking, a board game (which they were allowed to open at the party), and a bag full of wrapped presents to open at home on Christmas day.
I've tried to be as neutral as possible while explaining the background of the party, now it is time to gush. The party was incredible! We ended up having about 15 kids attend that were so well-behaved, we almost didn't recognize them! The excitement and anticipation of what was to come (Santa and presents) filled the decorated dining room of the Inn! We had children showing up half an hour before the party started and were running around and screaming outside! When we finally let them all in, they sat patiently and waited for everyone to get there so that we could begin the magic show. One of our regular volunteers, we call him Sunday Jim, offered to perform a magic show for the kids, dazzling them with simple tricks that the kids just ate up! Afterwards, they colored and did arts and crafts with the Nazareth girls, all the while knowing who was coming.
At just the right time Santa came down the stairs with bells and a bag of gifts for the kids! You can imagine the looks on the faces of the children as their dreams were being fulfilled right in front of their eyes. Each child had the opportunity to sit on Santa's lap and the wonderful man (one of the Nazareth girls' father) spent individual time with each child asking them what they wanted for Christmas and about themselves. As they sat with their stockings and wrapped gifts in their hands, we made them wait to open them up until everyone received theirs! Miraculously, they all waited and then when we gave them the word, they tore through those presents!!! Izaiah, a little boy I hadn't met until today, was so excited by everything that he received. I heard him screaming "OH MY GOODNESS!!! I GOT AN ORANGE!!!" It doesn't take much to get these kids excited!
After the present excitement was over, we had pizza and cookies while the kids dabbled in their new presents. We waited until the parents got there to give them the big bag of gifts, but their eyes lit up when they saw more toys coming their way!
I haven't had time to fully process the day but I am overwhelmed by the generosity of Nazareth Academy and the joy I experienced through our kids. Every time I think about them or look at the background on my computer (which is the picture to the left), I cry. I cry because I can't comprehend what it must be like for these kids. These are probably the only gifts they open on Christmas morning. This is probably one of the few times they feel special. This was probably their one day out of the year when they get to be the children they are (I can't get into this now but will have more to say about this another time).
I can't even begin to express how blessed I feel to have been a part of such a special day for these kids! I can probably count on one hand the number of thank-yous we got today from the kids but thank-yous aren't necessary; the looks on their faces were enough. My heart is with these children and I am finally beginning to understand the true meaning of Christmas. It's not about stuff, it's about love. It is because of love that we are given the gift of Christmas and it was in these children that I truly experienced God's love.
The following is a link to an album of pictures I put on the internet:
Please take a look!
I pray you all are able to get into the holiday spirit! I pray that you are able to release the stress you are experiencing surrounding the coming holiday and are able to appreciate your family and friends and can give thanks for the blessings you have been given. God bless you!
Monday, December 3, 2007
Some highlights from the past week or two... one, Fred came over for dinner and to re-decorate our house with the stuff we already had. He was an interior designer in NYC and was Elton John's personal interior designer so we had only the best working for us! Our house now looks like an adult house and we LOVE it!!!
We had the pleasure of having our program director, Katie, over for dinner on Wednesday night! We ate, then had a saltine-eating contest, then sat around talking for 3 hours. I will talk more about this later, but it was such a great conversation with great people!
Thursday night, Michael took us out to eat and then shopping for Christmas decorations for our house!!! He spoils us rotten and I think deep down he really likes having a "sorority", although he'd never admit it! I found out that Michael gave the homily for Fr. Mychal Judge, the first person listed on the death toll from the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. This is the homily he gave, one of hope, love and faith...
Anyway, I also went home for Beckah's bridal shower! I was home for only 24 hours but got to see a lot of family and some friends who are still at Saint Anselm. It is such a blessing to be able to go home when I want and to be received with such love.
I told you earlier that I'd return to the conversation the three of us had with Katie on Wednesday night, so here we go. You know how you can hear something over and over again and then one time you hear it differently and you finally understand what everyone has been talking about all that time? I had one of those moments that night sitting with Katie, Emily and Maureen. We were talking about love and the difference between "universal" love (as we called it) and romantic love. The universal love we discussed entailed the love that we should show everyone as brothers and sisters. After talking a little more and making quite a few jokes, I had an epiphany. I have heard so many times that God is love, but I guess I only ever applied it to the outpouring of love that God showers on us, not really the Earthly relationships here. But for some reason, it finally clicked for me that when I experience love, whether it be "universal" or romantic, that is me experiencing God, that when I love someone God is working through me and God's presence is in that relationship. When someone experiences God, they are allowing God to be present in that relationship. What a beautiful thing! I'm not sure if I'm explaining myself well enough, but I hope that you can understand what I'm trying to say.
Taking the focus off of myself and my relationships with others and trying to recognize God in the relationship allows me to more fully be aware of God's grace in my life. What a cool thing to realize!!!
I hope that even if this is something you've already known, you are reminded of how impactful love is and how integrated in our lives God really is!
In other news, I am working on the Saint Francis Inn Christmas card this year... I've for some reason decided that I am artsy and have taken it upon myself to design the card for the Inn. Yesterday Emily, Maureen and I went to Michael's art store to get the supplies to make the cards next week. We also stopped at David's Bridal so that Maureen could show us the wedding dress she likes and then stopped off at IHOP!!! We came back and had a slumber party and watched Elf! So, despite my sickness, I am trying to make the most out of the holiday season with everyone here!
Thursday, November 22, 2007
We served 357 people today at our Thanksgiving meal! We made all the fix-ins at the Inn and had the turkey catered by Boston Market... apparently it is just too much to cook 20 turkeys on Thanksgiving Day! The meal seemed to go well (although I was outside on bathroom duty) and there also seemed to be a pleasantness about everyone as they entered our doors. There must just be something about the holidays that makes everyone cheerful (at least those in these parts)!
I got to spend the day outside talking to guests around the yard, which is always an interesting job, and was able to greet a lot of people and wish them a Happy Thanksgiving! I asked one particular guests how he was doing today and his response was, "I'm blessed because I woke up today". In the spirit of gratitude, this was a beautiful thing to hear. But this response wasn't atypical for this man. On a daily basis I am confronted with this response which reminds me of my own blessings and the simple gift of life. I guess when you have very little else, the least you can be grateful for is your life. You would think it would be significantly easier for those of us that are materially wealthy to be thankful for such simple things, but I'm finding that it's even harder. I have food, a house, clothes, security, family, friends, love... and I am constantly reminded by the guests that I also have life.
While I very much missed seeing my own family on Thanksgiving, I am so grateful that I got to spend it with my family here. The love and peace that I experienced today made me feel at home. In my time in the yard today, I got to talking to Rambo, a guest I've mentioned before, which always proves to be a good time. Well, recently I've had to talk Rambo out of committing suicide. I don't think he'd ever really follow through and perhaps he says it because he knows I'll talk to him more if he does, but either way, I spend a lot of time telling him that his super-human strength and his bones and muscles made of different-galaxy metal are essential to keeping us safe at the Inn. But I asked Rambo if his mother was cooking dinner and he said "Yes, but my family is here." He's right. I've learned so much about love from Rambo and now I can't end a conversation with him without saying "I love you". Family is not defined by bloodlines, but defined by love.
We had our own Thanksgiving after the big meal and it was a pot-luck where everyone brought something different! Emily and I made desserts yesterday (chocolate trifle, pecan pie and pumpkin cake) and then Emily, Maureen and I went to Michael's house last night to help him make his famous apple pie! On top of all the real Thanksgiving food, I ate way too much dessert and will be recovering for a few days!
Like I said, Thanksgiving is just not the same when it's not spent with your own family, but my definition of family is widening and am so blessed to find more family here. I have so much to be thankful for and I hope to have that attitude of gratitude long after today.
I hope you all had a wonderful day with your families! Love and peace are sent your way!
Sunday, November 18, 2007
We decided that we should celebrate our successful weekend by playing games and having some drinks at our house. After a few hours, Emily and I were hungry so we walked over to where the food is plentiful (the Inn) and scarfed down some delicious donuts. We snagged some other snacks and headed out the door. As usual, there was someone laying on the steps of the Inn so, as usual, we tapped his shoulder and asked him to move. Without response from him, we started shaking him, still to no avail. Some of the guests who regularly hang out on the corner of Kensington and Hagert informed Emily and I that this guy was at the AA/NA meeting across the street at 9pm and they saw him staggering around the Avenue. Debbie, a guest, told us she saw him take a bunch of pills and then he landed himself on the steps. Debbie also told us that prior to him passing out, Mike, as we learned his name was, told her that he wanted to get into a rehab program but because of the location and the pervasive drug problem in this area, one cannot easily receive such treatment. So Mike tried cutting himself to prove mental instability with the hope that it would get him into a program. Still, with no luck, Mike took a handful of seroquel, an anti-dementia/anti-anxiety medication, and was attempting suicide to get into a program.
It took the ambulance 3 different calls and almost an hour to get to us. They aren't typically so quick to come to the Kensington area, especially on a drug-related call. Emily and I sat with Mike to make sure he continued breathing and holding him upright until the ambulance came. He was unable to talk and was unresponsive to any type of touch, even pain. The emergency response team took him away in the ambulance and we were left with Debbie who stood on the street crying.
I asked her what was wrong and she said "I don't want to end up like that". For her, it is a possibility, but for me, it is so far from the life that I lead. Emily and I walked back to our warm house and went to bed. I am left questioning why agencies, hospitals and the government is so reluctant to provide help. Clearly Mike was desperate, but what if no one had called the ambulance? What if Emily and I didn't go to the Inn to get food? Because the hospital didn't want to take the risk on Mike, he very easily could've been there when we went to mass this morning. How did it get to the point that he felt he had to try to kill himself before someone would help him? Well, I'm not entirely convinced that he's getting the help he needs. I fear that his stomach was pumped and he's back on the street left to deal with his addiction on his own.
No, my life here is nothing like my life back home. And no, that was not how I wanted to end my night of celebration. But I am so grateful that I was able to see what I did, that Emily and I went to the Inn when we did, and that for at least last night, Mike got some help and will be able to live another day. I pray that he continues to have the desire to get help and that people are more willing to help.
In just three months (yes, three months today!), my world has changed. My understanding of life, my understanding of gratitude, my understanding of love has changed.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Since the last time I wrote, I got to go to the Jersey Shore to speak at some masses at a Franciscan parish there that is one of our biggest suppliers of monetary donations! Emily and I went with Michael to extend our thanks and share some stories of our experiences here in Philadelphia. Emily and I essentially gave the homily, according to Michael, to all the Catholics on Long Beach Island in New Jersey! It was a lot of fun!!!
As soon as we returned back to Philly, we were heading off to New York for our FVM retreat! We spent the week reflecting on our Myers-Briggs personality types and figuring out how they interact with each other and impact our lives. It was really informative and I think we can all safely say that we learned a lot about ourselves and about the dynamics of our community as well! We went to a retreat house sponsored by Saint Bonaventure University that was up in the mountains! It was absolutely beautiful and such a far cry from the life we live here in Philly and Camden. We got to experience the first snow of the mountain and I was fortunate enough to take a hike around the mountain. I got a little lost and was soooo happy to find my way back! We were well taken care of by the friars that live there and we got to spend some time getting to know them and each other better! You can't ask for anything better!
And, just as soon as we got back from retreat, I headed up to New Hampshire to visit family and friends! It was an incredible weekend and was so happy to see my parents and brother and sister-in-law, along with some good friends! While I LOVE Philadelphia, it was really nice to go somewhere familiar and to be able to drive around without getting lost... I don't have that luxury here in Philly very much.
I landed in Philadelphia late Monday night and woke up to jump back into work! I really missed being here and am really excited to be back! I have a sense of home here, despite the vast difference between my life here and my life in New Hampshire... but the people that I live and work with make it so easy to feel like I belong here.
I'll leave it at that for now... I have to get some laundry done and clean up a little before heading back to work! Sorry for the delay in postings; I'll do my best to keep them updated more frequently!
Friday, October 26, 2007
I went to the Women's Center yesterday for only the second time since I've been here. The night before I spent a lot of time complaining about the Women's Center because I don't feel like I do anything there, but was surprised when I got to spend the day there yesterday and really enjoyed it! Before even getting into Sr. Xavier's car, my day began by picking up a 20-year-old girl who was "dope-sick" and was cold and hungry. If you can call to mind what you'd picture a young drug addict, you've got Brittany. She was scared and has little use of her right hand because it was recently stabbed and is now swollen and infected. Her hair was matted to her head and looked like a big dreadlock, her pants were stained and all she had on was a rain coat and a tshirt. We got to take her with us to the WC and she was able to eat breakfast, shower and participate in some of the activities the women do (group meeting, "flea market", eating lunch). After showering Brittany was transformed. Her hair was still a mess but she looked almost refreshed (aside from being high) and she was given dry warm clothes and a bathrobe to keep warm.
Jan, one of the other women who lives at the WC, helped me while I spent an hour and a half trying to untangle the mess on Brittany's head. Fortunately she was high and could barely feel us tugging at her head, but we made some progress and I'm hoping that Jan was able to finish up last night. Brittany ended up staying at the WC for the night and Sr. Xavier is trying to get her into a detox clinic at Kensington Hospital.
I got to spend time talking to Brittany and another woman at the Center, Bridget, who is just a firecracker! She was telling me that she has HIV, emphysema, bronchitis and perhaps hepatitis and that she's just ready to die. Brittany and I both assured her that despite her many attempts, God still has lots in store for her here... I just hope she realizes it.
After the Women's Center, I came back and worked the evening meal. I was handing out tickets and gave one to a man I've never seen before and legitimately, not having passed me about 20 seconds and only about 10 feet, the man turns around and says, "Ma'am, I lost my ticket, give me another one." We're generally hesitant to give out more than one ticket and this man didn't go very far and hadn't spent any time looking for the ticket I gave him so I told him that he couldn't have another but needed to at least spend some time looking for the ticket I'd given him. I know I'm pretty naive and don't really pick up on a lot of stuff, but the ridiculousness of the situation just made me laugh! I just didn't see how he lost it in the brief time after I'd given it to him... I eventually gave him another and told the maitre'd and the line-up person to keep an eye on him. While that whole ordeal was happening, another man, Zach, was kind of shadowing what I was doing. After the dust settled, Zach informed me that he was just hanging around to make sure that I was okay and that he "had my back" if I needed it. It's such a blessing to have even the guests looking out for us! It was a hectic meal, but in the end, everyone was served and that's what we can ask for the day.
My trip to Siena was wonderful!!! I really enjoyed talking to college students and trying to recruit them to this program that I love already! It was also really great to spend time with Katie and Joanne apart from my community here and in a different setting altogether. It was a fun road trip and I'm really looking forward to our retreat next weekend!
I am spending my second free day this week going into Center City to Barnes and Noble and taking care of some things around the house. Have a great weekend!!!
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
This past weekend we were blessed to have Emily's friend, Anne, visiting us from Rhode Island. Saturday was a great day filled with personal prayer for me, along with some fun times with Emily, Annie, Joanne and I in Center City. We had a nice dinner at a pub and then watched the city come alive at night! We stopped at another pub and had a beer before heading home. It was such a normal night with some incredible people!!!
After the meal on Sunday, Annie left us and Emily and I spent the afternoon napping and then making dinner and doing Pilates! Aaaahhhh, the normal life! We picked Maureen up at the airport (she went home for the weekend) and we spent some time catching up before all heading to bed.
I coordinated the meal last night with few problems. Emily and I planned mass and we had our weekly community meal! After all the insanity, we're all so tired, but we come back to our house and have our community meeting to review our schedule for the upcoming week and plan our community fun night, our community dinner, and our prayer. Well, this week is kind of overloaded with about a billion different things, sending us all in different directions, but we're managing to find some time to spend together, a necessary component to developing and maintaining our community here!
This morning I worked with Barbara on the breakfast shift and got to give out tickets. Our breakfast is a take-out meal so everyone gets the same ticket and it's only an hour long (it's a lot less stressful/confusing). But that did not stop it from being a crazy morning! I had to pacify Hector, a man who has recently become disabled because of his diabetes and is now wheel-chair bound and will soon be a double-amputee, who was riled up from another guest, Harry. Harry isn't allowed in the yard primarily for his own safety. He's very particular about what he wants, yellow cake with white frosting, cinnamon buns with pecans and raisins, pumpkin Tasty-kakes, and juice. I've come to know Harry's likings and do my best to accomodate him, but today he was egging Hector on and I did my best to diffuse a situation that could've been pretty dangerous. Hector carries a knife on him for his own protection, as he is in a wheel-chair, and I just am not quite sure of what Hector is capable so I prevented anything from getting to that point and asked Harry to ride away on his bike.
Right around this time, Darlene, a special-needs woman who is also an alcoholic arrived on the scene drunk and beer in hand. We obviously do not allow alcohol or drugs on our property (to the best of our ability) so I asked Darlene to leave our property until she finished the beer. She put up quite the fight and I had to ask for backup from Karen, another team member. Karen ended up kicking her off our property and Darlene didn't return to get a bagged breakfast.
I also had the blessing of talking to Rambo today... I find that so many people don't take the time to listen to him, which can be really hard, especially if there are a million other things going on, but when you really listen to him and allow yourself to engage in conversation with him, he's actually really funny! We were talking about the tv show Hogan Knows Best, of which I know nothing about, and then I got to catch a glimpse into his past. He used to be a truck driver/mover. I still haven't pinned down the reason for his disability, but I think the more Rambo and I talk, the more I'll be able to find out!
Thank you for your continued prayers! I couldn't do what I do here without them!!!
Much love and peace are sent your way!!!
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Christen came to spend the weekend with me, the first time I've seen her since I left in August! It was so great to finally share this experience with her because it means so much to me and she only experienced it through my stories! She arrived Friday night and me, Christen and Emily watched Grey's Anatomy from the previous night (a Saint A's tradition). Saturday morning we helped to prepare the Inn for the coming meal and then Christen served the meal while I did tickets outside. Every time I was able to break away from tickets and asked her how she was doing, a big smile and "GREAT! I love it!" poured out of her mouth. I really have missed her passion and excitement!
After clean up, I was taken on a surprise birthday adventure! I knew nothing about it and was so excited to hang out with Emily, Joanne, Christen and Yvelisse for the day! It wasn't until we drove for about 45 minutes that I learned what the plan and our destination was. They were taking me on a Fall Foliage tour through small towns with windy roads north of Philadelphia! It was so much like being at home!!! I had been complaining a lot about not being able to see leaves change, or leaves at all, so Joanne decided to take me out of the city for the day! While we were driving around, we stopped by the Delaware River and had a picnic, then continued on to Milford, New Jersey for the big finale! We went to The Ship Inn, the oldest brewery in New Jersey, and had a couple beers! We met this man, Richard, who is from England, and bought all our drinks!
The Delaware River at sunset!
Now this may not seem like the ideal way to celebrate your birthday, but it was absolutely perfect for me! The love and thought that Joanne and Emily put into the adventure really reflected their love and care for me! It is such a blessing to have friends like that here!
Sunday, after walking around Center City for a short while with Christen, I sadly dropped her off at the airport and Maureen, Emily and I headed over to Camden for Inter-Community Prayer. We read Isaiah 55, which I highly recommend, and discussed how it relates to our lives here. Some of the most important things I took from it were that it is my role to be the best me I can be, not to compare myself to others or Jesus, but to strive, wholeheartedly, to really fulfill God's plan for me. Something else I took away from the reading is that at the end of every day, if I can show gratitude to God for the day and give all my anxiety and stress to Him, I can wake up the next morning, beginning a new day to live His will. I'm sure everyone can take something different from it, but this is what spoke to me at this time in my life!
And finally, Emily, Yvelisse, Joanne and I went into Philadelphia and got our noses pierced! It was kind of on a whim, but we had been talking about it for awhile and just decided to take the plunge! Now I know my parents aren't particularly happy about it, but they both asked questions and said, "it's your body". I know I'm 23 years old and am allowed to do what I want, but it was really great to know that they aren't mad. They're pretty great! Fr. Michael, on the other hand, called me a hussy- but I'm convinced it was said with love. :-)
In other news, I will be home November 9th-12th and can't wait to see my family, friends and home!!!
Well, I guess that's a long enough update for now! I hope everyone is having a great week!!!
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Last night we had community prayer night; we take turns planning what prayer will be for the week (in addition to praying intentions together as a community) and it has taken many forms already. We've had some more reflective prayers, the four of us painted a picture together, we took Bible passages and prayed about them... but last night was my turn to plan and something I have been struggling with, especially since I've been here, is discerning my spiritual gifts. So, I decided to take Emily and Maureen along with me in this journey so that we can all assist each other in this discernment process and cater to each other in a way to best utilize our gifts.
Since my time here, I have been really trying to figure out the charisms God has given me because I find it so easy to see my shortcomings, gifts that I haven't received (anything artistic). But a couple of weeks ago, it was Emily's turn to plan prayer and she put lots of quotes, including Biblical quotes, on slips of paper and we drew them at random. One of the quotes I got was in 2 Corinthians, which said, "Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). If I hadn't already known that God speaks to us through many different ways, I certainly learned it that night. I found myself dwelling on my limitations rather than celebrating the gifts I have (which I hadn't realized yet) so after reading and praying about that passage, I am trying my best to embrace the gifts I have and not lament for those I was not given.
We took a 140 question quiz with so many different types of questions pertaining to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and had instant results from the website. I scored the highest in hospitality, then helps, administration, and encouragement. My housemates and I all had different top gifts; it was certainly a moment of grace for us to realize this as we all were given different gifts to form our community. In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about how each of us has a part to play, and that we rely on everybody to make us a unified body in Christ. It cannot ring more true than when you look at my house, or the Team here, or even on the broader scale of the world, that we are all so intimately connected that we must acknowledge and accept everyone so that we can all build God's kingdom together.
As I continue to embrace my gifts and really try to hone in on them and how I can best use them, I am working at being a "cheerful giver".
Sunday, October 7, 2007
We celebrated the feast of Saint Francis starting on Wednesday night with Transitus which is when Francis died and went to heaven. We went to Camden for the celebration, as they are also a Franciscan parish. It was a beautiful ceremony that comemorated the life of Francis and allowed us to reflect on the role he plays in our lives.
I'm not sure how familiar you all are with the life of Saint Francis, but he embodied humility and solidarity with the poor. He never wanted praise or glory, but sought to live among the poor and to rid himself of earthly distractions to focus on his relationship with God. If you get a chance, read up on him, he's a pretty cool guy.
The Franciscans here in Kensington are constantly challenging me and inspiring me to be more like Francis, an ideal that I feel is so unattainable for me. Every day I am reminded of how much I have to learn and how far away I am from how Francis lived his life. Francis never liked power, he never wanted to be in control and really purged himself of everything that was unnecessary in his life. Now, for those of you who know me even in the least bit, you know how much I am a control freak. I like knowing what's going on, I like being the boss (some might even call me bossy), and I certainly have a hard time surrendering that. However, when I see how the Team runs the Inn, with no one person having more control over the others, their sense of community and sharing is so evident that I pray that some of it rubs off on me.
In the Alcoholics Anonymous program, they have a saying, "Let go, let God." I think my struggle comes with not only giving up control here on Earth, but also completely trusting my life in God's hands. I believe that until I can surrender my life to God, there will be a barrier that prevents me from becoming more Franciscan.
In the meantime, I am trying to challenge myself to make smaller sacrifices in my daily life and am really praying for the strength to surrender the control to God. And I think this is the perfect place to help me with that.
As for the other big holiday, my birthday, I got to do pickups with Fr. Michael and then got to relax at home for awhile. I ended up in Camden with Joanne (she didn't want me to be home alone on my birthday) to see Into the Wild- a great movie, but really made me nervous for Paul's departure. He left Saturday morning after mass on his bike. We're praying that he is safe and finally feels as if he is doing what he should be. I went to lunch with my parents and Joanne and then my parents and I went into Center City to do a Duck Tour and walk around. It was a beautiful day and I am so grateful that they came down to spend my birthday with me (and to celebrate my dad's birthday too!). Today they worked the meal at the Inn and I am also grateful that they finally got to experience what I've been talking about so much.
It was a really great weekend and I am looking forward to more visits from them and others! (hint hint)
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
I'm not so sure that I've ever really given too much thought to the idea of guardian angels. And, quite honestly, the Vatican has never officially confirmed or denied the celestial beings that are believed to keep a watchful eye on us humans down here on Earth. So why, then, do we attribute some acts of grace to angels rather than to God Himself?
Today at mass, Fr. Bill talked a lot about our guardian angels as a means of secondary causality; sometimes God speaks to us through other people or uses His heavenly angels to speak to us in ways that we perhaps wouldn't hear ordinarily. I think many people find comfort in the belief of a guardian angel, perhaps a loved one who has died or one's patron saint...
But I wonder why we need the intermediary between ourselves and God? What is so unattainable that we need angels to connect us with the Divine? Fr. Bill also talked about the idea of continuity, whereby living things are ordered in their relation to the Divine, plants, animals, humans, angels, then God. Well, there exists a vast chasm between humans and God that it is the angels that connect us so intimately with the presence and grace of God.
With all of that being said, I'm not sure I've come up with a conclusion on guardian angels. But I do know this, whatever way God chooses to speak to me, either through other people or through angels, I'm trying my best to listen. It's not always easy or what I want, but like in Jeremiah, it is not my will, but God's. What a tough lesson to learn.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
But let's back-track to Thursday, my first day off this week. Emily and I decided to be normal for a little while and go to a nearby mall on the outskirts of Philly to gather some going-away gifts for Paul's journey. It's so funny how my perspective of money has changed so much, in just 6 weeks! Previously I would not have thought twice about spending $40 or even $50 on a pair of jeans, but I was seriously debating a skirt that was $10... and I was seriously conflicted about my desire to spend money and my newfound community and sense of Franciscan spirituality. I am also wrestling with trying not to lose my previous sense of self and balancing it with the new ideals I am developing through my experiences here. It's not been an easy task and will definitely be something that I struggle with throughout the year, and especially when I enter the "real world".
Either way, it was a great day that I spent with Emily and we came back and had community night. Maureen chose for us to watch a movie; it was really nice to just spend some time with the housemates, as our time with Paul is dwindling- he ventures out October 6th.
I spent Friday at the thrift store again (which I've decided is not my favorite job), but I made $130!!! That night we celebrated Emily's birthday by doing a scavenger hunt in Philadelphia with the girls in Camden! Some of the clues included taking a video of someone running up the Rocky steps, taking a group photo in front of the monument in LOVE park, and take a video of a teammate dancing in front of City Hall. We ended up in Camden to eat some birthday cake and sing to Emily! All in all, it was a really great time!
You know those times when you look around and really can't understand how people don't understand that God exists? That was my Saturday... all day. It started with Emily and I doing an AIDS Walk in Camden. It was 3.7 miles in a park on Cooper River and it was just a perfect day. The sun was shining, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, it wasn't too hot... and we got to spend some time away from Kensington! We actually spent the day in Camden just hanging around and going to a block party with the FVMs there. It was such a restful day that reminded me a lot of being at school.
Most of the time I really enjoy being here, but sometimes I just wish I could walk out my door and not walk over people on my way to work, or not worry about people breaking in my house, or have it be quiet at night when I'm trying to fall asleep. I have been blessed to be able to take advantage of opportunities to seek refuge in "normal" situations; my community here is very supportive of that need of mine and do their best to accomodate me in this way.
Sorry again for another update post; I'll have to post more frequently with more reflective ideas! If I haven't bored you yet and you're still reading this, thank you! My love and prayers are sent your way!
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
The weekends are always the laziest because we only serve on meal Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (well, Mondays too, but it's set up differently). I've gotten to spend a lot of time with my housemates and with my friend in Camden, Joanne. It has been really nice to relax and just hang out, I didn't get to do too much of that when I was at school!
Mondays are kind of a strange day because the Team has a meeting in the morning which one of us attends (this week it was Emily), and one of us goes to Saint Benedict's Thrift Store (which was me this week), and someone is in the office at the Inn to answer phones and other random things.
So at Bennie's (the thrift store), I was there for the first time by myself!!!! Eek!!! Our goal at the thrift store is not to make a profit, but to simply cover the rent for the building so everything is reallllllllyyyyyy cheap! But mostly the prices are subjective and depend on whoever is working. I ended up making $112 for the day, which is pretty high, since most people come home with around $50. We tend to charge less for guests of the Inn than for regular customers and, in fact, at the Inn on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, we give out a clothing voucher to the first 25 people who request them. It includes one top, one pair of pants, one pair of underwear and one pair of socks, and then they can request anything they want on top of that. So, especially on those days, we give out a lot of free clothes and shoes to the guests.
At Bennie's there is a volunteer, Bernice, that is there every day, she helps to bag clothes, hang clothes on the racks, and is generally a very crazy fun lady! Each time I am at the thrift store, we talk about how she doesn't like grapes and apples... extensively. I don't quite have the heart to tell her that she already told me, but I just laugh!
After working at Bennie's all day, I came back and worked the meal. I was maitre'd, which is one of my favorite jobs!!! The meal was going really well, I was helping the bussers and talking to the guests as they came in. All the sudden one of our guests, Donald, started fighting with another man whom I've never seen before. Donald was punching the man in the face because apparently that guy sneezed all over Donald's plate. Now Donald is normally a very amiable and pleasant guest; he never gives us trouble and is always very polite. But he is partially deaf and has had to fight for respect his whole life because of his disability so sometimes even the smallest things can set him off. And in Donald's defense, the other man was very high on heroin (I believe) and had been falling asleep in his food for about 15 minutes and Donald kept trying to help the guy out, keeping him awake. There was a lot of excitement after that and trying to get things under control after a fight like that was rather difficult. As far as Donald is concerned, he's been banned for some time because we don't tolerate any kind of violence... we now will give him some food at the fence so that he can still eat, just not inside with the other guests.
Yesterday morning I got to do the clothing vouchers, which is always fun... hahaha. People were very grumpy and thus, making me grumpy, but the meal went okay and had very few problems. I was one of the dishwashers for the meal last night and then quickly headed over to Camden to help in one of their ministries, ESL classes. Joanne has decided to offer child care for the children of the ESL students so I'm helping her out because I've decided I really miss kids! It was a lot of fun and I got to speak Spanish for 2 hours straight with a little girl!!! It was really fun to do something that is so familiar to me (child care) and to hang out with Joanne! I'll be heading over there every Tuesday night to help her out!
Today I am working in the kitchen with Sr. Jude. Cooking dinner for 400 people is quite daunting and you cannot imagine the amount of cucumbers and tomatoes and celery need to be cut for pasta salad for 400 people... working in the kitchen is not my favorite job, but Sr. Jude is incredible and is so sweet and really likes the help, so it's not so bad!
Each week the FVMs plan 2 masses, so we were broken into two groups (Emily and myself, and Paul and Maureen), so Emily and I plan mass on Monday nights (after the meal, before our community meal) and it's sooo fun!!! We get to set the altar and pick the songs. The Gospel for Monday was from Luke where he talks about how we each have a candle and it is our job to light the world... I'm not sure if any of you know the song "Go Light Your World" (for those who have done SBA, it's one of the songs at the retreat), but we played it during Communion because it just seemed so appropriate!
One of the lines in the song says "Take your candle, run to the darkness, seek out the lowly..." Sometimes I can't help but feel like we are clouded here in Kensington; this is the forgotten part, or the part people try to forget. It is literally "dark" because Kensington Avenue is underneath the "El" (the train), but I am doing my best to lighten the darkness that seems to exist here, to show the Light of Christ to our guests, or at least be a light to them when they come to us. But I think Luke, Jesus, and Kathy Troccoli, have it right; it is my job here to light the world using the grace and love of Christ.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
I shopped around (but didn't buy anything, I only have $5 left for the month) and I enjoyed trying clothes on. I also went to a park closer to Kensington, but I laid out in the sun and just enjoyed being outside!
I love Kensington. I love my job. I love the guests. And I love my community. But there are certainly times when I need to bring myself back to what I am comfortable with, do what I did back home, and really be by myself for awhile.
Other than my free day, things have been going pretty much the same around these parts. I got to coordinate yesterday with Renee, a former FVM and current Team member, so I am still trying to learn the ropes, but I have great people supporting me!
We had to call the police the other night because a woman was outside our house screaming for someone to call the cops and there was a man standing over her beating her. Not to worry, we stayed inside so as not to get in the way of anything, but the cops came, the man bolted, and the woman was angry that the cops showed up. Either way, we decided that perhaps by calling the cops we prevented something bad from happening and we can find comfort in that.
Yesterday was a bad day on Kensington as one of our guests, Vito, got hit by a car and is in serious condition at a local hospital, and Tom (who we don't know), died of a drug overdose across the street at The Last Stop, an NA/AA meeting place. Talk about the irony...
Well, that's all for today. I hope your parts of the world are as sunny and beautiful as they are here!
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Since I last wrote, I've been spending a lot of time with my housemates, really trying to take advantage of the time we still have with Paul. Friday night we went to karaoke with the girls in Camden and I actually got up and sang! We sang "Sweet Home Alabama" as a house and some other songs were mixed in there too! It was a really fun night and we all had a really great time!
I had Saturday off so I got to sleep in and be lazy for awhile. It was really nice to be able to just hang around in my pjs, we don't get to do that too often with mass every day at 8:30am. Emily, Maureen, Joanne and I went to see Across the Universe in Center City. I wouldn't say it's the best movie I've ever seen, and certainly not the most boring... I would say for those who were alive in the 60s and 70s, it might be more up your alley. But it was a musical about the 60s with songs from the Beatles... really cool! When we got back from the movie (after driving around Camden for 1/2 an hour trying to find gas), we had community dinner (which I made, stir fry!) and played Pictionary! It's so great to have community members that enjoy board games like me! But it really makes me realize how much we're going to miss having Paul as part of our community. :-(
Today was really great! I got to coordinate with Barbara, who is pretty much my role model here... she embodies humility and patience both with us and with the guests. But she let me run the show and I had a lot of fun doing it! (I know, it's weird for me to like being in control :-) ). While I was coordinating, I was talking to a man who told me that he wanted for us to give him food that he could eat for the week while he was working and before he got his paycheck on Friday. Well, we're not really a food pantry, although we do have a basement full of donations, but we really try to focus on breaking bread with our guests. So, after some smooth talking (completely on his part), he convinced me to get him some food; I got peanut butter and jelly, two cans of tuna fish, and two cans of soup, certainly not enough food to last the week but, if he really tried, he could stretch it. About 15 minutes later, the same man came up to me asking for more food. Well I stood my ground this time and said no. We went back and forth for awhile and he left me by saying, "You call yourself a Christian?"
Yep, it felt like a slap in the face. But I think it was really good for me to hear that because it humbled me a little bit. Given all the support and love you've all showed with me and the encouragement and praise we've been receiving from our community here, it's been really easy to feel pretty good about what we've been doing. But in an effort to embody the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, I must make more of an effort to live the Gospel without feeling like I'm entitled, but should do it because that is what I'm called to do. But it's not always the easy work and needs to be done even when it's not so glamorous or fun.
I recently had a conversation with my brother about this very topic. I've been struggling a lot lately with all the affirmation and praise I've been receiving. It makes me feel guilty because if you knew how much fun I am having here, it's almost not work. I get to work with people I love and, although I expend lots of energy, I end the day with a big smile on my face. I do not feel like I'm doing anything special or great, I am just doing what I feel I'm being called by God to do at this time in my life. But I don't think this is any different from Michael, who is being called to be an incredible and inspiring football coach and tech dork at Hollis-Brookline High School. We all have different callings and they're all necessary for all of us to survive, this just happens to be mine now. Now that is not to say that I don't appreciate your praise and love, because it is that which sustains me here when I'm having a difficult conversation with a guest, or am feeling tired or frustrated with one of my housemates. But I'm not any more deserving of the kind words than everyone else.
Sorry this was such a long post. And thank you for reading! My love and prayers are sent your way!!! xoxo
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Every Thursday one of the female FVMs gets to go to Thea Women's Center, a day-center/residence for women recovering from addiction. It houses 3 women typically (there are currently 2 there) and women can come all throughout the day for some rest, a meal, and "group," a time when they can all share their stories and their struggles with others who are facing similar issues.
I was blessed to be part of such a personal experience for these ladies and really had a great time hanging out with Jan and Monique (among the others who just "dropped in"). Jan, who was wearing pajamas and slippers, showed me around their house and shared with me some of her story. She was addicted to drugs for awhile then cleaned herself up for about 13 years. Back in March she was undergoing surgery and used cocaine as a way to alleviate the pain from her surgery and fell back into her old habits. This time, however, Jan quickly recognized the need to enter into a treatment program so that she could help herself to be a better mother to her two kids, ages 16 and 18. While I was there, Jan received a call from her son who was upset because his father kicked him out of the house. She said that he's been having a hard time lately and used to use drugs but doesn't any longer. She fears that his father will drive him to use drugs again and was torn apart because she wanted to be there to help her son. She knows that she needs to get better herself before she can help her son, but I guess that's just what it's like to be a mom.
I also hung out with Monique... I don't know that there's too much to say about her except she's crazy! She's lots of fun and really loud and outgoing, but is also very quick to offer advice to the other women. I really liked hanging out with her! Please say a prayer for her because she is going to visit her 7 week old son, Victor, today, the first time she's seen him in a month!
I was on pickups today and had lots of fun driving around the city! I'm starting to understand the layout a little more and am having more confidence in my ability to drive the big van (Cappy, as it is called).
Since I'm sitting outside pirating this wireless internet from our next door neighbors and the sky looks like it's about to open up, I guess I'll end here! Thanks again for your continued support and prayers! And if you get the chance, please come down and experience Philadelphia for yourself! I'd love to see you!
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
I was on pick-ups yesterday, driving around Philadelphia and getting TONS of food donations from local grocery stores! It's always nice to get away from Kensington for a little while, even if you are stuck in a big huge van. The way the schedule works at the Inn, regardless of what you were on in the morning, everyone is back for the evening meal to help out. So I went home to rest for a couple hours after pick ups and, for the first time, didn't want to go back for dinner. I must've known that it was going to be a crazy meal...
I was on tickets again and got into an argument with a man, Hector, who is in a wheelchair, because he wasn't there when I was giving out the first 32 tickets so I wasn't able to give him one. Him and his friend Carlos (who looks like a pimp and I'm pretty sure could take me out pretty quickly) walked right past me as I tried to stop them... it's really hard when you don't really have any kind of authority that they trust at the Inn. But after the two of them went in, I was able to find my confidence again and hand out tickets to the rest of the guests that came our way.
I got to talk to a few people that made me laugh, made me go all "social work", and made me really enjoy working with them. One man, Frank, was telling me about how he just got out of jail, another, Leon, spent most of his time with me after the meal, until the yard closed at 6, and yet another, Mike, shared his story with me, right there on Kensington Avenue. Mike is homeless and definitely has a problem with alcohol, and can't seem to get his life together, despite all that he claims to try. Imagine how desperate he must be to share his story if he shared it with me in front of 35o guests waiting for their dinner. I love it here because you never know how deep a conversation can get or where it'll end up!
We had our Kensington Franciscan community dinner with all the friars and lay women last night. It's really great to spend time with the people that we work with outside of the work environment. Plus, they're all crazy and lots of laughs were shared around the table!
So that brings me to today... it is thankfully my prayer day which means I have the day off! I slept in, spent time journaling and listening to some new music I downloaded, and meditating on some of the things I am experiencing here in Philly, both with my community and the guests, and within me.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
The calm before the storm...
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
As you all probably know, I was on retreat for 4 days in central NY on Canandaigua Lake... it was a beautiful, picturesque retreat house overlooking the lake. Both the Philadelphia FVM house and the Camden FVM house spent time praying, laughing and generally spending time with one another. It was a really special way to kick off the craziness that has since ensued in my time in Philly.
We arrived back in Philly Thursday night and were scheduled to work the meal Friday morning... talk about diving in head first!!! I couldn't possibly chronicle each day since then, but I will definitely highlight a few stories to give you an idea...
Friday morning I stepped out of the house on my way to work (which is just about 50 steps down the road) and saw two men yelling in the street. A man, standing in the middle of the street, was yelling at another man in a suitcoat carrying a suitcase walking away from my house saying, "Dude, you just don't shit in the street!" Welcome to Philadelphia! Nope, definitely NOT in Goffstown anymore!
I've been proposed to by a man who couldn't remember how old he was, was hit on blatantly by a man who has no concept of boundaries, pushed aside a razor and hypodermic needle from in front of our house the other day, and have been asked on numerous occasions by a man who chooses to be called "Rambo" if I'd dress him up like a girl... how do you even begin to answer that question? We just start talking about Transformers and walk away, usually...
So I'm not sure how many of you know what poverty smells like, but when you step out my front door and serve a meal at the Inn, you can't really escape it. It is a mix of urine (people, for some reason, really enjoy peeing on our front porch), body odor, and dirt... it still catches me off guard and isn't really a smell I'd like to get used to.
I will try to post some pictures once we actually get internet at our house (which is actually September 13th!), but until then, you'll just have to rely on my shoddy attempt to describe my experience.
Needless to say, I've fallen in love with Philadelphia. The people I work with (the friars, lay volunteers and my fellow FVMs) are constantly challenging and inspiring me to try harder, live love and, most importantly, see God in the work I am doing. I can't really say quite yet what God has in mind for me here, but I am excited and eager to find out!
Hopefully in future posts I'll be able to give more details, tell more stories and share with you all the love and grace that I experience here. Please keep me, my housemates and the guests at Saint Francis Inn in your prayers!!!