Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Too much crazy in one place!

After my last post, I was convinced that things would get easier. I had just bought my plane ticket to go home (I leave Thursday afternoon) and was hopeful that it might be smooth sailing until then. Boy was I ever wrong!
Sunday was a great day! After the meal, Emily, Maureen and I went ice skating in Center City and then had a great dinner and watched the Academy Awards over at Barb and Karen's house! It was really fun and relaxing!
Well then Monday happened. I was "trouble-shooter," which basically means that I stayed at the Inn from about 10:30am until 1pm when the coordinator showed up. Ordinarily this is a really laid-back time where that person can catch up on things that need to get done (like order paper goods) or do a little bit of cleaning around the Inn. This Monday, however, a guest came in and from then on, my entire afternoon was shot. Carlos, a regular guest that comes to the Inn, informed me that his wife Diana died the day before. We've been hearing stories about her and have seen pictures, but the three of us have never met her. She had a stroke awhile back and has been in a nursing home since. Carlos spends his days riding his bike from one side of the city to the other to see her and take care of her, often not leaving the nursing home until 11pm. Just within the past week, Diana's condition worsened and I think the rest of us knew her time was coming, but Carlos didn't want to accept it. When he walked through the doors on Monday, I knew something was wrong. I went up to him and, as usual, said, "Carlos, how's Diana doing today?" And all he could do was cry. I spent over an hour and a half with him, trying to console him and then figure out what the next steps would be. It was almost no use talking to him as his words were not making sense. Over the course of the afternoon, each of us took turns talking with Carlos and as the day progressed, Carlos began to deteriorate. His sentences weren't making sense, his emotions were manic and there was no use talking to him. He finally left, leaving us feeling drained.
At one o'clock, when Emily showed up to take over, I was able to slip out and come home and take a shower. I was certain that by the time I returned, Carlos would be gone and I would be able to plan mass and go about my day. Carlos was still there when I got back but Michael was talking to him so I was able to slip upstairs.
As I got to the top of the stairs, I saw Brandy (the young mom with the two little girls) sitting at the dining room table. She had been crying and the two little girls were running around. Come to find out, her situation had worsened as well and her drug-addict boyfriend (she'd previously said husband) got out of jail and went to their house. He cut up all her identification to prevent her from leaving and then left. She came to us asking us for help. After spending the day with Raven and Iana (her daughters), we managed to get her a train ticket to get back to Chicago to move back in with her mom. Jamie and I brought her and the girls to the train station very early this morning and saw her off as she departed for home.
It seems that, around these parts, once things start to get weird, there's just no turning back. It was one heart-breaking event after another that really wrenched my heart on Monday. I was fortunate to have Maureen looking after me so I didn't have to work the meal that evening, but came home feeling defeated. I am grateful that I was able to see Brandy off today, giving me hope for the possibility of happy endings.
I am exhausted today but think that I can hold out until tomorrow afternoon when I board the plane to go home. It was my intent to surprise my mom but with a little bit of miscommunication, she found out! Oops! Either way, it doesn't matter, because I'll get to be with my mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law tomorrow night!
In happier news, Emily, Maureen and I are looking forward to retreat! Less than two weeks and we could not be more excited to get away! It is really nice to be away with each other but not have Kensington as our background music and not having the obligation of work for a few days. We all desperately need the break and when next Sunday comes, we'll welcome even the 8 hour drive up to Mount Irenaeus with the assurance of rest and reflection! Oh yeah, and my aunt and uncle just made their reservations to come and visit at the end of March! I can't wait to see them and for them to see what I've been up to all this time!
Thank you all for bearing with me! I hope this doesn't bum you out as much as it took me down! Have a great weekend!!!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The tunnel months have struck...

For some reason, I thought I'd be immune to the effects that winter has... after all, I'm totally in love with the work I am doing, I'm obsessed with my housemates and our community, and I love who I'm working with. But, as it turns out, I've found myself wanting to be home and wanting some type of familiarity.
Last week was a particularly difficult week... I think a combination of the weather and the gravity of the situations we all dealt with here at the Inn have been weighing me down. Come to find out, I need sunshine. Big time. In addition, I thought I was the "tough one" in my house. The work that we've been doing seems to have been affecting Emily and Maureen moreso than myself. In one of my previous entries I talked about Angela and her baby Bianca as well as her son Jeremy. (If you don't remember, feel free to go take a look) It seemed as though things started to look up for this family. Monday afternoon I was working at the Inn, basically killing time until the meal started and Angela walked in. She had two black eyes and a severe gash with stitches on her face that stretched from the left side of her nose through her ear. She told us that she was walking to the corner store to get cigarettes around midnight last Saturday. A man stopped and, convinced she was a prostitute, tried getting her into his car. Because she refused, he attacked her and tried to rape her. He cut her face with a bottle and the slice ended up cutting her ear in two. She has stitches that go across her face and it is swollen and bruised.
Naturally everyone on the Team was shocked. When we said, "We're so sorry" she simply said "Oh, it happens to the best of us". For the first time since I've been here, I felt overwhelmed. I had to turn away because I had tears in my eyes. It was not an easy day after that.
Luckily I had Tuesday off. I welcomed it because I was in desperate need of a break. I had a doctor's appointment because in my endeavor to begin marathon training, both my feet have been giving me a hard time. After talking to the expert runners on the Team, I was advised to go to the doctor. So, just in time for my doctor's appointment, my left knee began to give me problems as well. I was told that running and even walking is off the docket for right now, at least until I go to physical therapy twice a week for a month. Not only does this not leave me enough time to train for the Broad Street Run, something the three of us were planning to do, but it's also not looking good for marathon training. I'm really bummed but have decided that it's more important not to mess my knees up at 23 years old than to do this marathon thing. And I have hopes that I will make a recovery and maybe will be able to do the Philadelphia marathon in November.
Wednesday and Thursday were basically the same day as I was the "gopher" for the coordinator and Friday I coordinated on a snowy/rainy day. It seemed as if everyone had a catastrophe that they asked me to avert. Brandy, a 22-year-old mother of 3-year-old and 18-month-old little girls told me that her husband was just involved in a big drug bust and is now in jail. She just moved here from Chicago so her welfare hasn't transferred yet. She doesn't even know her way around the city and is feeling lost. She asked me for some food and for a ride home because she didn't want to walk with her little girls all the way to her house. I ended up putting together a big bag of food for Brandy and her young family and asked Renee to bring them home. I am so grateful to have such an incredibly supportive Team that enables me to help these families in the best way possible. Brandy's story is just one example of the dire need of our guests.
Yesterday I was blessed with another day off! I was able to get to the gym as well as relax around the house. Kathy, our outside contact, brought us out for a night on the city! We went to dinner then to a choir concert that her husband was in. It was wonderful to do something "normal" for a little while!
I'm feeling a little re-energized but cannot wait to go on retreat in a couple weeks! Keep my community in your prayers as we plow through the "tunnel months" (appropriately named by Michael). Thank you all for your support!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Peace and ...too quiet

One of my favorite jobs at the Inn is working in the office during the meal. I'm sure I've talked about it before but it's basically answering the phone, answering the door, and checking guest mail. I love it because the office person doesn't need to get caught up in the insane pace of the meal, but works at their own pace. I love the opportunity to sit and talk with guests while they're waiting for their insurance agency or the social security office to pick up their call. Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to be in the office. In between checking mail and answering the phone, I was able to check my email and play games on the computer. With about half an hour left in the meal, a woman who I'd seen before but never really talked to came in to ask for some information about getting an ID. After talking to her, I found out that she lost her ID back in December when her husband died. He had been clean for 7 1/2 years and one day decided to "do a bag" (of what, I'm not sure- my guess is heroin) to see if it still worked (I'm also not sure what this means but I let her continue her story). She told me that she went into the bedroom to after being out for the day and after seeing him doing the drugs (she has now been clean for 4 1/2 years), she turned around and walked out. No sooner was she half way down the stairs did she hear a thud and realized that he had overdosed. Between all the stress of rushing him to the hospital and dealing with all that happens when someone dies, she left her purse in the lobby of the hospital. I asked her how she was dealing with his death and she seems to be doing okay. I asked if it has made her want to use again (dealing with the stress and depression of the loss) and she told me that it was all the more reason why she didn't want to use ever again. I am inspired by her resilience. She continued to tell me more about her life and the struggles that she faced. I told her she should be proud of herself for being as strong as she is in spite of all that has happened and she replied, "I'm not doing anything great." Sometimes I think even in these situations, just getting by is the biggest accomplishment.
Many drug users lose their teeth (I'm not sure why, but it just seems like everyone has at least one tooth missing) and so when I saw Kelly's mouth full of rotting teeth, I attributed it to the drugs. She explained to me that she was in an accident awhile ago and all her teeth got smashed out. She had beautiful dentures that looked like her own teeth. But she attempted suicide by drinking bleach and so in order to keep her alive they had to put her on a respirator. They took her dentures out and her husband was so concerned about being with her and focusing on her that he didn't think to take the dentures. Apparently with insurance agencies, they only allow you to get one set of dentures every 5-7 years and we are still within this time frame. Kelly said that it's so hard to walk around the street with her mouth looking as it does. I gave her the hours to the clinic because there is a dentist there that I hope can help her.
I really enjoyed talking to Kelly. As our conversation was winding down (because it was the end of the meal), Kelly thanked me for asking her how she was doing. She said that no one ever cares or asks... My question is why do people enter the social service field if they don't care? Who is that going to help? Anyway, enough of that, I feel blessed to have been able to talk to Kelly yesterday. Her resilience and strength help me to find strength and courage in my own life.
For the first time since August 18th, I had the house entirely to myself last night! Emily left for Siena College to recruit yesterday afternoon and Maureen headed out to Pittsburgh with Ryan to visit some college friends. I came home from work, napped, then went into Center City with Joanne. We found a really cute little Tea Bar (yep, tea bar- only tea, lots of tea) on a side street and just talked and sipped tea. I came back to a big empty house where I read a little bit and then took advantage of the quiet and did some praying. It was really peaceful until I decided to go to bed when I could hear every creak the house made. And for some reason, I was convinced someone was going to break into the house last night. Luckily for everyone involved, there was no such occurrence and I woke up this morning well-rested and ready to begin my Sunday!
I worked in the yard today, doing lineup. February has been such a weird month as far as our numbers go. They've been particularly low and the pace of the meal is different. We seem to have all our guests come at the beginning and by the end of the meal, we've closed tables because no one is coming and we shut the doors with very few people still in the dining room. It's been a welcomed change, but eerie at the same time.
Thanks for reading! God bless!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Last Thursday evening my housemates and I were cleaning the house so I brought my computer down to listen to some jams, as is customary for our house. Somehow between cleaning and bringing my laptop to my ...lap... on the couch, the screen on my wonderful computer decided it just wasn't going to work anymore. So since last Thursday, I have been computer-less. Luckily, Maureen's fiance fixes computers so he's taken my poor little Compaq under his wing until it gets up and running again.
I must say that it has been a big blessing in disguise that my computer has not been in use. Since one of my Lenten goals is to pray more, not having my computer to distract me has afforded me ample time to read some Henri Nouwen (great, great spiritual writer) and work on some "Praying in Color". As it turns out, my understanding of prayer has broadened and the narrow scope I once thought prayer to be has made room for little old me and my inability to focus or be strapped into tradition. I'm trying new and exciting ways to reach God in my own life and really trying to deepen my own relationship with God so I can better serve others.
This weekend was full of excitement! Saturday Sister Madonna, who gave us retreat in November on Myers-Briggs, graced us with her presence again and gave us a presentation on how the different personality types of the writers of the Gospels impacted their story-telling and thus our perceptions of Jesus. It was very interesting and it was really great see Sr. Madonna again!
During the meal on Sunday I was on deliveries, one of my favorite jobs! Sister Leslie and I delivered 12 boxes of food to families around North Philadelphia. The newest family added to the delivery list, Angela and her boyfriend (or husband) and their 2 kids Bianca and Jeremy, who are regular guests at the Inn. Angela just had Bianca in December so we finally met her for the first time just a couple weeks ago! She is such a beautiful little girl and whenever Angela comes in, I immediately go over and, as I like to think, take the baby off her hands for awhile. I really just love to hold her so I steal her for a little bit! I was really excited to be going to their house this weekend so that I could see the lives they lead outside of the 30 minutes we see them at the Inn. I recently found out that Angela just started methadone treatments (for those of you who don't know, it is a substance replacement for those who suffer from heroin addiction; users will substitute heroin for methadone with the goal to eventually be weaned off methadone). I don't really agree with methadone but I am hopeful and excited that Angela has taken steps towards recovery, especially given the young children she has at home! I was greeted with big smiles from Jeremy and Angela's significant other, who I think was relieved to have someone he knows coming to his home for the first time.
After the meal on Sunday, Patrick, one of the regular volunteers (he comes on Tuesday nights) cooked us a wonderful Peruvian feast! He spent some time in Peru and wanted to "give back" to us all that we do for him. I don't think Patrick realizes how much he really does for us, but we took the delicious meal anyway! It was great to have a relaxing meal with the Team and with Patrick! After our feast, Emily, Maureen and I began preparations for Michael's birthday!
His birthday was on Monday and we had the crazy idea to make t-shirts for ourselves and hats for the rest of the team. We put a picture of Michael on our shirts and wrote in puff paint "I LOVE ...(then his picture)". On the hats for the team, we just wrote "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MICHAEL" on all of them and passed them out to the team before morning prayer on Monday. We had a lot of fun making them and the entire team was on board! He seemed delighted that we put so much time into the hats and shirts, although he said we had too much time on our hands. :-)
When I was here last year for SBA, one of the things we did while here was we went to Saint David's parish, a church that is about 40 minutes away, to help bring donations back to the Inn. Every year, Saint David's does a big clothing and canned food drive to benefit the Inn and so the Team goes to the church for a mass and reception, then loads up all the donations and brings them back. Now it's not just a van-load... we brought all the Inn's cars so that we would have enough room to fit all the donations. That's 8 cars (2 of which are mini-vans and one of which is a big 15 passenger van)!!! It's quite the event and last year I was able to be part of it! Well, this year was round 2!!! At the mass, generally the FVMs speak, telling stories of the Inn and tugging at the heart strings of the parishoners so this year, Emily, Maureen and I spoke at Saint David's! It was such a change of events from last year when I was sitting in the pews listening to Matt and Jay (two of the FVMs from last year)! The talk went well, in fact, Emily and Maureen did a great job as well, and the whole excursion was a big success!
And so that brings me to last night... when Philadelphia gets a threat of snow, the entire city shuts down in fear. Well, last night, as it was sleeting and raining, all of the schools that we normally have volunteer cancelled on us (before 1pm, I might add). This left us with basically just team members to work the meal. For the first time in a long time I got to serve tables! It was so much fun to be able to really serve the guests again, something I love so much but have simply forgotten. It is nice, once in awhile, to do a job that doesn't require me to say "no," or to have to figure out if guests are lying, and to really just have fun with the guests. Although it seemed like we were going to be strapped for help last night, I really think it was good for all of us who got to serve to be able to do such work.
And finally, a Lenten observance for our community is to do a brown-out once a week after the meal. We won't be turning off the heat (we think it's counter-productive), but we will be turning off lights and alarm clocks and hot water for the evening. We had our first mini-brown-out last night so we had our community meeting and community fun night in the dark! It's nice to be aware of these things and we think that this will be a constant reminder to us of the many blessings we've been given.
So, I hope that Lent has gotten off to a good start for you all! I pray that you use this time to deepen your own relationship with God and are given the strength to stand by your Lenten observances! God bless!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday

I'm going to start by re-capping our brown-out. I don't think there's any way to describe our brown-out except cold and eye-opening. We decided to turn our heat down to 50 degrees (just warm enough to prevent the pipes from freezing), so we minimized our movement around the house because coming out from under the blankets that kept us warm just seemed like unnecessary torture. In that, our house was a mess by Saturday afternoon. Since we were not using hot water, dishes did not get done; and since we were not moving around so much, all the things that we'd used during the day (books, cups, shoes, candles, etc) were left around the house.
As the two days passed, we became more and more aware of the little things that we took for granted- warm water to wash our hands, showers, turning the light on when you enter a room, alarm clocks, having use of the van to leave Kensington, a hot cup of tea/coffee, calling home to say thank you for a package or checking email... anyway, you get the idea. Upon the conclusion of the brown-out, Emily, Maureen and I huddled together on the couch in the living room and spent approximately 15 minutes sharing things we were grateful for and resolutions of how to be more mindful of our energy consumption in the future. Last night we were talking about the brown-out and how it was an attempt at being simple but it certainly was not easy- two words I'd previously thought synonymous that now take on two entirely different meanings. Needless to say, we were elated when we turned the heat back on, took hot showers, and went to Camden to see a movie.
Our Team returned Saturday evening and we all were able to work together Sunday morning. It was so great to have them back despite how much we LOVE when they're gone! (There is a certain freedom that is felt when the sisters leave). We all watched the Super Bowl at Jamie and Renee's (which we're just not going to talk about since it was a very sad time in my life). It was fun to see everyone and hang out outside of work, even though much of the Team was sick.
So, I guess that brings us to today. Today is Ash Wednesday- the start of Lent. I am excited for this new liturgical season!!! I am excited because my eyes were opened differently to the Advent season and my guess is it was because of the community which I am involved. I cannot wait to see how I grow and learn during this Lenten season!
My previous conceptions of what Lent entailed involved me being upset because I gave up candy... the entire 40 days were tainted simply because I couldn't eat something I loved so much! This year, I've come to learn that Lent is a three-part season including prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Instead of simply giving up something (which is valuable, don't get me wrong), I have also taken on the challenge of diving deeper into my own spirituality and relationship with God. It is something that I have been thinking about for quite some time but had yet found the avenue to pursue this goal. Just recently Joanne gave me a book she found at her library called "Praying in Color", a wonderful book that instructs those pray-ers that have previously found difficulty in the discipline of solemn and quiet prayer to express their prayers through coloring. I just had my first attempt at praying in color and am very excited to see where it will take me! If you're interested, look it up at your local library!
Anyway, the coming season is now approached with hope and anticipation of the journey and change that can occur. With any luck, the changes that I make for Lent will be carried over into ordinary time, or life beyond Easter.
Apart from all of that, things around the Inn have been really good! We've been warned by Fr. Michael that January, February and March are "the tunnel months" as many volunteers begin to feel the effects of their experience, maybe experience homesickness, and get caught up in the bleakness of winter. Well, perhaps it's the very mild winter we've been having or my wonderful community, or the true joy I feel here, but so far I've managed to bypass the tunnel months!
I am looking forward to what next year will bring (as many asked me while I was home for Michael's wedding what I'm doing next year), exploring my options and saying lots and lots of prayers trying to figure out what's in store for me.
Thank you for all your prayers! (I just tried posting pictures from Michael's wedding and it didn't work... so in a future post, it'll be entirely wedding pics so stay tuned!)