Sunday, September 30, 2007

The fortune of one man means less for some...

Sometimes it's hard to explain or even understand why you had a really good day or even a really bad day; it can be derived from the mood of the guests, the mood of the other volunteers, or the baggage that you're bringing to the meal yourself that day. Whatever the reason, you have to do your best to not bring it home with you, otherwise you let the guests and the Inn have too much control (never a good option).
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

Run to the darkness...

I've been real busy since I last wrote and it's taken me some time to find time to write... so here goes...
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.
God bless!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Prayer Day!

I welcomed with open arms my prayer day today, as I decided I needed to do something that didn't involve the guests, didn't involve Kensington, and didn't involve anything that I've been experiencing the past month. I took a drive north on 95 to see what I could find and, by mistake, ended up in a Kohl's about 20 minutes outside of the city!
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

"You call yourself a Christian?"

-Paul, Joanne and I at karaoke in Camden!

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

The past few days have been filled with a lot of laughs, but also a lot of struggles. One of my housemates, Paul, has decided to leave Philadelphia in pursuit of more accurately fulfilling God's will for him at this time. He is planning to depart at the end of the month, but it's been a tough week trying to deal with that and still cater to our community as a whole. I'll keep you all posted on that! We're all trying to be supportive of him and his decision, despite the fact that we're going to miss him lots.
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

"Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?"

The past couple of days have been really fun, but also really tiring. Sunday we all served the meal and then headed into Center City for a commissioning mass at Saint John the Evangelist, a large parish in the heart of Philadelphia. It was really great to be among other volunteers and being at mass there really reminded me of mass at Saint Anselm--- I missed it just for a little while.
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

"You have your own wife, she's mine!"

My housemates: Paul, Maureen, Emily and I
The calm before the storm...
It's been 3 weeks since I moved onto Hagert Street, but it feels like I've been here forever. Faces are looking familiar, people are recognizing me, the crazy Team (that's the staff at the Inn) are starting to give us all more responsibility, and my housemates and I hosted our first party to celebrate Paul's birthday!

I was on "tickets" today, which is basically standing on Kensington Avenue waiting for hungry people to come to the Inn, give them a ticket, and carefully monitor who is coming and going, so as not to give out 2 tickets to one guest. It was my second time doing tickets and it might be one of my favorite jobs at the Inn. The little tiny part of me that is friendly and smiley gets to come out as I greet and bid farewell to guests! I found myself saying similar phrases as when I worked at Carrabba's, "thanks for coming," "how was your meal?" and, most often, "see you tomorrow." I've just started really looking forward to seeing the same guests day after day, despite the fact that it means they are relying on SFI for their food. It's not so much a feeling of hopelessness or despair, but I would like to think of it as another day to get to know another guest, and I am so blessed to be part of their lives in that way!

I've come to know a few guests pretty well, or at least offer them a smile when they come in. Richard and his wife Dorothy are regulars (who I remember from when I was here in March), but every day Richard insists on giving me a hug- so it's really hot and humid today in Philly and two sweaty people hugging is just all kinds of gross, but I graciously take the hug until Bill, a big, tall man with a bandana comes up behind me and says to Richard, "You have your own wife, she's mine!" Bill also complimented me on my new hair-do (pink highlights) and said, slurring his words, "I'll see you tomorrow, beautiful." Now I don't know if he was drunk (I know he used to be an alcoholic), but I'll take the compliments! :-)

So although I look out my window and see prostitutes being dropped off on the corner, some shooting up across the street, and my front door smells like pee, my days are fulfilled by the love and grace I experience every day when I step foot into the Inn.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A new beginning...

So as my first entry, I figured I should probably tell you what I'm doing and where I'm living... I'll do my best to paint the best picture possible for those of you who don't know what I see, hear, smell and deal with every day, but I don't even know where to begin...
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!!!