Thursday, December 27, 2007

"Glory to God in the highest..."

The past week was absolutely incredible! I got to celebrate Christmas with my family and then I returned to Philadelphia to celebrate with my family here. Both were so drastically different from my traditional Christmas but were wonderful and blessed all the same.
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

T-minus 8 days!!!

I guess I can just write a quick update to let you all know what's been going on---
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

Christmas has officially begun in Kensington

Every year, the FVMs plan and facilitate the Christmas party for the children that come to the Inn. We have a partnership with a local all-girls high school, Nazareth Academy (who actually volunteer at the Inn once a week), which sponsors the party. They bring presents for each child in addition to helping us organize and supervise the children at the party.
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


I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to write... between going home for Beckah's shower and starting preparations for our holiday party in a couple weeks, I have barely had time to breathe. In all the craziness, however, I did manage to catch some type of bug that I'm still trying to fight off to no avail.
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!