I Choose All!

Working with the poor and writing have been playing a game of tug of war with my heart.  But, in my recent hours of combing through job openings, I came across something illuminating.

(WRITER) ARTIST IN-RESIDENCE

Yale-New Haven Hospital

JOB SUMMARY

Develop, implement and adapt creative writing and spoken word activities for a diverse pediatric patient population in an acute healthcare setting. Facilitate group or individual sessions that engage children of all ages, family members or staff in self-expression through poetry, narrative, theatrical writing and performance to support the healing process. Share patient work through performance and publication.

Wait…I don’t have to choose?? Once again, God has reminded me that He wants to fulfill all of my desires, and put them in my heart for a reason.

Then, this afternoon I really discovered that something I thought only existed in my imagination is a really thing, that many writers do: running writing workshops with disadvantaged populations.

My teenage self would say: duh!  This is why art and music therapy works – because self-expression is an effective form of therapy.  Helping people learn to express themselves gives them power and can even help lift people out of poverty.

Here’s another example of an organization that runs these sorts of workshops: http://nywriterscoalition.org

I made some great connections today and can’t wait to see where they take me!

 

For the Children!

The Holy Family

We just skyped with the 2-year-old niece of one of my roommates and, oh my, her cuteness literally brought tears to my eyes.  She is being raised in a solid Catholic household and her innocent faith reminded me why Jesus told us to be like children.  She prayed the rosary with us (which involved repeatedly kissing the crucifix) and told us the story of Moses.

During this conversation a great truth sunk in: children are the most wonderful creatures on earth.  As frustrating as they can be at times, I feel blessed to spend every day with them.  No matter how bad my day is, having a 3-year-old run into my arms and yell my name can erase the deepest frown from my face.  Even the worst trouble makers know how to melt my heart with a hug and ‘I love you.’

It breaks my heart to hear about the broken homes some of my students have to go back to every night.  I just want to scoop all my children into my arms and shower them with the love they deserve.

I’m all about not using this as a diary, but I think that it’s important for me to reveal some of myself once in a while.  Being around children all the time has made me incredibly sad that I may never have any of my own.  Perhaps it’s my biological clock ticking, or just the natural longing to have a family, but God is making me painfully aware of what He is asking me to give up.  At the same time He is forming me as a spiritual mother, through interactions with my students, housemates, and friends.

Here’s a little poem I wrote a while ago:

A little hand slips into mine;

a head drops to my shoulder.

Little eyes close

as little arms wrap around me.

Innocently trusting I will be here

when he wakes up.

He has known me for a mere three days

yet gives me all his love and trust.

 

Updates!

I haven’t abandoned you my readers!  Life has gotten substantially busier in the last two weeks, but definitely in a good way.  I’m settling into a new routine and getting to know my housemates.  We get along really well and more importantly, everyone can cook delicious things.  It’s wonderful to have a community again – we pray together, challenge one another and hold each other accountable.  Not only do I have this small community, but the larger Catholic community in this area.  God is doing amazing things and I have been overflowing with joy these past two weeks.

As for the five-year olds – they’ve quickly captured my heart despite causing me to lose my voice.  I mean they’re always telling me that I’m pretty and that they love me – it’s hard to stay mad at even the worst trouble makers.  I wasn’t quite sure why God put me in an elementary school but I think he’s continuing to teach me the importance of being present to people.  Right now these children need my presence and I need theirs.  My afternoon may consist of playing frisbee with a six-year-old, but for some reason she needs me in that moment and I need her.

So I realize that this blog is going to become an interesting mixture of many topics.  There will be updates on my volunteer placement and Chi Rho.  Of course I’ll still be writing about my discernment with the TOR Sisters and fundraising efforts (less than a month till the half-marathon – please consider donating!).  Plus my normal thoughts on morality and matters of faith.

Bear with me – it’ll be an interesting year!

The Joy of Community and A New Beginning

Well folks I’ve moved once again.  Can I reiterate how much I hate packing and unpacking?  You would think that a future nun would be able to get by with a lot less stuff…

The place I’m living is quite close to my hometown, so I’ve been hanging out here for the past few weeks.  I have to keep reminding myself that I am here permanently now.  I start at my placement on Tuesday, so that’ll come up fast.

So after trudging up to the third floor and dumping all my stuff, my roommates and I discussed the plan for the day with the director of Chi Rho.  Our first task was to go grocery shopping.  He sent us off on our own with a strict budget of $150.  As one of my fellow volunteers pointed out, frugality will be the order of the day this year.  The three of us managed to get everything we needed and reach the limit almost exactly, with no permanent damages to egos or fists.

We’ll be taking turns cooking dinner, so the person whose turn it was got to work when we got home(I just called it home unconsciously).  He made delicious chicken and to-die-for pumpkin bread to usher in the Fall season.  Don’t worry Mom, I won’t be living on canned soup and peanut butter this year.

Just in time for dinner, our fourth roommate arrived and added some much needed estrogen to the mix.  She speaks fluent polish, which will come in handy with the Polish church right next door.

Dinner was followed by a riveting game of Pictionary, which brought out our competitive sides, but also brought us together.  We learned that none of us are skilled in the drawing department, but are not lacking in creativity.  I have a feeling we’ll get many more laughs out of that game in the weeks and months to come.

Now we’re sitting around watching a movie and I’m anticipating all of the experiences we’ll have.  We all have different placements and I can’t wait to hear everyone’s stories about the people they meet and the lessons they learn.  This year will bring struggles, joys, obstacles and growth.  God is going to ask us to be vulnerable and depend on each other more than we may be comfortable with.  I know that this taste of true Catholic community will be just what I need.  God made us to live in communion with each other – giving and receiving love.  I thank Him for the chance to truly live that out!

You Want Me to Do What?

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

~Isaiah 55:8-9~

I am learning the truth of this the hard way.  Lately God has been asking me to follow him into the dark – to do things that seem to make no sense.

I’m slowly making my way through C.S. Lewis‘s abundant collection of brilliant writings.  Right now I’m conquering his Space Trilogy, which consists of Out of a Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.  They are an interesting mix of science fiction, theology and philosophy.

I was already thinking about how God asks us to do things that we don’t understand sometimes when I came across this passage in That Hideous Strength:

“There you go again! You grumble about being given nothing to do, and as soon as I suggest a bit of real work you expect to have the whole plan of campaign told you before you do it.  It doesn’t make sense… The great thing is to do what you’re told…”

Now the character speaking here is working for an evil company and does not have the sincerest intentions in keeping Mark Studdock(one of the main characters) in the dark, but the idea can be applied to how God works as well.

I like knowing things.  I like knowing why things happen.  I like knowing the future.  All of these tendencies are not conducive to building a trusting relationship with God.  Often when I ask God to reveal his will to me, it is not what I was expecting or what I wanted.  And then I complain.  Sound familiar?  We don’t just want our prayers answered, we want them answered in the way we want.  We ask God to give us a purpose, and then complain when that purpose is different from our own plans.

God is asking me to do something unexpected for reasons that are beyond my understanding.  The only thing I know right now is that he is begging me to trust him.

As you may know, for the next year I will be participating in Chi Rho Service Corps.  I’ve been slowly getting prepared and transitioning to where I’ll be living.  This has been a huge test of trust.  A couple of weeks ago I found out my placement and it was one of those moments when you wonder if God really knows what he’s doing.  I’ll be working at a Catholic elementary school, assisting in a kindergarten classroom and helping with the after school program.  I walked out of my meeting with the principal in a confused daze, with the need to know threatening to take away my sense of peace.  My fellow volunteers are working in soup kitchens, Catholic Charities and a family services center – all places perfectly suited for a social worker.  So why is God asking me to do this?

My need to “figure it out” quickly took over.  Am I supposed to be a teacher after all?(made worse when I was asked to teach a ccd class).  Is this even what I’m supposed to be doing?(squashed by very clear signs).  This is simply what God is asking me to do for the next year.  I’m not supposed to know the whole “campaign,” but trust him with each new day.

“The sooner you drop all that talk about what you came here to do, the better you’ll get on.” – That Hideous Strength

 

The Dawn of a Beautiful New Day in Honduras

Our home for the week! Also, the future home for orphan girls.

I’m so sorry I haven’t written about Honduras yet!!

The top two things I learned: I need to learn how to speak Spanish for real and I need to start working out.

So, as a refresher, I traveled to Honduras two weeks ago with a group of students from my school.  We went to help an organization called Students Helping Honduras.  Their main purpose is to better the lives of children.  They do this by running children’s homes for orphans, building schools and improving the quality of their education.  The village we stayed in – Villa Soleada, was entirely built by this organization with the help of the residents.

My group traveled to another village called Bella Aurora to work on a school being

One of the village classrooms that doubles as a poolhall.

built there.  The first day, Sunday, we took a tour and saw the current “school”.  I put that in quotes because it consists of random classrooms scattered throughout the village.  Additionally, these classrooms double as bars at night.

On Sunday we also had a chance to be immersed in the culture.  We were split up into small groups of 3 or 4 and assigned

Baleadas!

a family.  We scattered to their houses and helped make Baleadas.  Baleadas are the traditional Honduran food.  They consist of a tortilla filled with eggs, refried beans and avacodo.  Sometimes other things are added like chicken, but that is the basic baleada.  My first experience of this national favorite was in the airport and let me tell you, the real thing is 100x better.  I was with the Ramirez-Ortiz family who had numerous adorable children and were very welcoming.  They also made us fresh pineapple juice(delicious!) and plantains.

After eating ourselves into a near coma, someone decided it was time to put us to work.  The task of the day was mixing cement and carrying endless buckets to be poured into the cinder block frame of the school (I think that’s how it works – I know nothing about construction).  Tired after only a few hours of work, we wondered what the next day would hold.

Monday brought 100 degree weather, more cement and salsa dancing.  After a long day of work, we were told the night would hold dance lessons.  Not knowing what we were getting into, we all climbed onto the school bus that was our transportation for the week.  Our driver Geo blasted the obligatory mix of American and Spanish music.  Soon we pulled up to the sketchiest looking bar ever.  It was portable and currently attached to a gas station.  Yup, that sounds even sketchier when I put it into words…

Anyway a couple of the country’s top dancers met us there.  We watched dumbfounded as they moved in ways not entirely humanly possible and then laughed when we were invited try the moves ourselves.  They simplified it though and we got the hang of it (some more than others).  They showed us the basic steps for the merengue, salsa and a few other dances.

Most of the week consisted of working on the school by doing various tasks.  We built a porch for the front, built rebar one day and spent an entire afternoon passing buckets of sand down an assembly line.  There was rain to contend with around Tuesday and then there was mud all over the place after that.  My sneakers are never going to be the same color again.

As I mentioned above, SHH also runs a children’s home.  Currently in Honduras all orphans live at state orphanages, unless they are lucky enough to be private homes, like this organization’s.  There are strict laws against adoption and kids get kicked out at 13, which leads many of them to join gangs.  One morning we went to visit the state orphanage and it was the most heart wrenching experience of the week.  The living conditions were obviously sub par.  The kids begged to be held and played with, because they probably don’t get much attention.  There was one physically and mentally handicapped child crawling on the floor pinching our legs to get attention.  The worst part was finding out that this orphanage is in better condition than the “old” one(which burned down).

On Thursday, we visited the other schools that SHH is in the process of building.  Students were having class at all of the

A "classroom" at another school.

sites so we got to see the current classroom conditions.  One school consisted of makeshift rooms of tarp and wood. At another, 600 students were crammed into about 6 “classrooms”.  Visiting these schools literally made me sick and I was cranky all day over the thought of conditions these children are forced to live and learn in.

As with most Hispanic countries, the Honduran people have a love affair with soccer, or football as it is properly called.  Or course, we couldn’t leave without playing a game of soccer.  Apparently this requirement couldn’t be fulfilled by kicking a ball around with some kids.  No, on Thursday afternoon, we participated in “cage soccer”, which as you might have guessed, consists of playing soccer in a cage.  Now I have zero athletic ability and some of the people I was playing with were way more invested in the game than I was.  My team played against some local girls, which was unfair from the beginning.  These people have soccer in their blood and could play in their sleep!  We lasted for a surprising amount of time though and it turned out to be fun.

Don Jose and his accordian.

The chaplain of my school was one of the chaperones and he managed to make friends with the president and spiritual leader of Bella Aurora, Don Jose.  One day we were invited over his house.  He said that he wanted to play some music for us and I was expecting a guitar but he came out with…an accordian.  We had a grand time listening to him.  He wanted to play a song we knew but we realized that the only Spanish song we might all know is Feliz Navidad.  At the risk of being labeled “crazy americans” we broke out into this well known Christmas tune.

On our last day at the work site, Don Jose revealed that he wanted to have a prayer service to thank God for bringing us all together.  What we thought was going to be a quick prayer turned into an hour of bible readings, reflections from both our priest and Don Jose, and of course singing accompanied by the accordion.  The connection between all of us was tangible and I’m not afraid to admit that I teared up a little.  Simply having a common faith in God makes us all an intimately bonded family, even across borders.

The name Bella Aurora means beautiful dawn.  Honduras has been getting much media attention lately and as usual, the news focuses on the negative events that are occuring.  My brief interactions with the people and glimpse into this country shows me that there is great hope.  I think that through the work of organizations like SHH, Honduras is going to get a chance at a new beginning and the dawn of a beautiful future.

The “G” Word

I want to have a really cool life.  You know those people who are introducedas having spent three years in the bush of the

I want to be her!

Congo, working for the UN and starting their own organization?  I want to be one of those people when I’m older.  As my last year of college flies by and the “G” word approaches, I can’t wait to start building up that list of experiences.  I know that in my last post (I apologize for the severe lack of posting) I was all set to begin applying for the Peace Corps.  However, anyone who knows me knows I change my mind about my life plans every week.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am 99% sure that I am going to do some kind of service overseas after I graduate, but there are just so many options!

I have kept diaries pretty faithfully since middle school and I like to go back and look at them once in a while.  While doing this recently, I was reminded of my deep rooted desire to be a missionary.  I have felt a tug from God towards missions work for many years now and am finally realizing that I could be doing it in a year from now.  The fact that in a year I will probably be leaving the country and my family for at least two years is a terrifying and exhilarating thought.

As you know my faith is the most important thing in my life.  Part of the reason I am no longer interested in joining Peace Corps is because I would like to work with a religious organization which will support me in my faith.  The other reason is that Peace Corps volunteers are very independent and often isolated, whereas I would prefer to live in community with other volunteers and work as part of a team.  I am also thinking and praying about what exactly it means to be a missionary and how this would be different than doing a service program.

Here are some of the different organizations that I am looking at applying to:

Maryknoll Lay Missioners

Society of African Missions

Franciscan Mission Service

While the “G” word is somewhat scary, I am excited to see what God has in store for me!

Peace Corps: The Hardest Job You’ll Ever Love

My office!

The hardest job you’ll ever love; this is the tagline used for the Peace Corps and I think it accurately describes my time there so far.  While my internship is nothing close to serving in a rural village of Kenya, it has been demanding and exciting.

I didn’t start my internship until a week after I arrived in DC, so by the time Wednesday came around I was anxious to get started at the Peace Corps.  The first day was slow going and consisted of a lot of training and waiting around. As part of my internship, I am working with databases, so I, along with my fellow interns, went through training on how to use those. Since the Peace Corps is a federal agency, everything is secure and needs to be accessed through a password, so we also worked on setting up those. A majority of my day was spent on the phone with the IT department getting access to the various programs and databases I need to do my work.  Needless to say, by the end of the day I was frustrated and ready to get my hands on some real work.

Thankfully, on Thursday and Friday I was put right to work with a combination of administrative tasks and bigger projects. My dad asked me if I was making coffee at my internship and I was happy to tell him that the answer was definitely no. My internship is giving me a first hand look at an underfunded and understaffed federal agency. Before I leave in August, at least four people are leaving my department and chances are they won’t be replaced anytime soon.  One of my tasks is to answer emails about the speakers match program which sets up returned peace corps volunteers to talk in classrooms and other venues about their experiences as a volunteer. Some of the emails were from weeks ago, telling me that no one has the time to keep up with them.

Much of my work will consist of work like this with the speaker’s match program. This will include registering new speaker’s and updating their contact information.  However, on Friday we had our first staff meeting and myself and my fellow intern, Emily, were assigned two bigger projects. The office I am working at creates resources for teachers to use in teaching about foreign countries and cultural competence. We were put in charge of creating webpages for each country in which Peace Corps volunteers are serving and making them accessible for children. Since its beginning, Peace Corps volunteers have served in over 130 countries, so this is quite an undertaking.  We are also completing the work of another intern who started a project about the history of the Peace Corps. The employees have already made me feel like a vital part of the office and acknowledge that I have significant insight to offer. Based on the work I have already done in this first week, this internship will be an incredible learning experience.

I’ve been thinking periodically about where I was last summer – Tanzania, and how different this summer is going to be. For one thing I lived in a rural village where time had no meaning and no one was in a hurry to get anywhere. My first day there I simply sat and talked with my students, without worrying about having someplace to be or something to do. I had to learn about a whole new way of life there and to some extent the same is true here. Here in DC it seems like everyone is in a hurry and walks with a purpose; I’m already getting caught up in that life. Whether it is learning to use the metro or introducing myself to a key contact, the professional world of DC is a whole new world to navigate.

Taking Back the Night for Victims of Sexual Violence

See a photo Gallery from Take Back the Night

I think I need to take a class on criminal psychology or understanding criminals or whatever would help me understand why people commit violent crimes, abuse the ones they love and generally hurt their fellow human beings.

As I social work major, it is drilled into my head that I need to empathize with my clients and “tune into” what they are thinking and feeling.  However I find this impossible to do with perpetrators of abuse, murder, rape and other violent crimes.  I just can’t wrap my head around intentionally harming another human to that extent.  It befuddles me how someone can possibly be filled with that much hate, rage or jealousy.  Crimes against children especially disgust me.  How anyone can look at a precious, innocent, vulnerable child and then proceed to harm that child is beyond me.  This is taken a step further when the perpetrator is a parent or other family who should be filled with the instinct to protect and love that child at all costs.  Mental illness aside, there is no excuse for this.

This is on my mind because April is sexual assault awareness month and I have participated in a couple of events having to do with that.  Earlier in this year I helped out at An Empty Place at the Table, which is a memorial to people who have died from domestic violence.  Then I volunteered to help out at Release the Light, my campus’s day for sexual assault awareness.  This all culminated last Thursday night with the nationwide event Take Back the Night.  This rally has a long history, which dates back to October of 1975 in Philadelphia.  Today, cities all over the world hold their own versions of this event.  Here in Scranton, we marched through downtown and then joined with hundreds of students at the University of Scranton for a moving and powerful rally in the courthouse square.

The majority of the night consisted of an open mic during which survivors or friends and family of survivors could come tell their stories.   As person after person went up and told their story, tears began streaming down my face.  There were people from all walks of life; sexual violence does not discriminate.  Some of them had been raped by strangers, others by family members as children and still others by boyfriends who claimed to love them.  The people who shared their stories are only a small percentage of the population of people who have experienced some kind of sexual violence.  Click here for the scary statistics.  I sat there horrified and numbed by the idea of what had happened to these survivors.  Yet, they were survivors and stronger because of what they had gone through.  Gripping my candle for dear life and trying not to melt into a puddle, I vowed to work for a world where sexual violence no longer happens.  Next year I plan to be heavily involved in the RAE (Relationship Awareness and Empowerment) task force.  I feel God tugging on my heart through all of these things and think he may be calling me to work with victims of abuse, especially children.  This has been a surprise since its not really something I had thought about doing before.  This may require me to work with and understand their abusers, which is obviously going to take some work.

I was ruminating on this today and it hit me:  God loves the perpetrators of these crimes.  Jesus died for the people we consider the scum of society: the child molesters, rapists and abusive parents.  He loves them just as much as you and me.  Not only does He love them but we are also called to love them.  Love and forgive them.  These are the enemies we are called to love.  This is what radical Christianity looks like.  How can we learn to love them?  When you figure it out, let me know.

Article from Scranton Times-Tribune

“Bloom Where You’re Planted”: Summer in DC!!

The other day I was thinking about the fact that this time last year I was making my final preparations to go to Tanzania. I can’t believe it has been a year already!

So you’re probably wondering what adventure I’m planning for this summer because obviously I can’t stay at home for an entire summer – my missionary spirit just simply won’t allow it. This past year I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about where God needs me to be right now. In the past year I’ve also had two people whom I admire tell me to “bloom where I’m planted”.

When I first returned from Tanzania I missed it so much that sometimes I didn’t want to think or talk about it. I felt like that was where I was supposed to be and couldn’t understand what God could possibly want me to do here in the States. It took me a while but I’ve finally begun taking that advice to heart and have realized that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.

So this summer I will not be headed to any exotic foreign places. Rather, I will be spending my time in the heart of our nation, Washington D.C. Although its not Africa, I am extremely excited for this opportunity and all that I will learn there.

About two years ago I began looking into a program called The Washington Center, which combines an internship and academics into one incredible and life changing experience. Finally, I decided that this summer was the right time to participate in it. If I can’t live in a foreign country, my dream has always been to work in Washington D.C., where I can make a real difference in the lives of the poor nationally and internationally through organizations like the United Nations or USAID (United States Agency for International Development). This program will give me the chance to get my foot in the door.

The best part of this opportunity is where I’ll be interning…the Peace Corps! I was already planning on applying to join the Peace Corps after graduation and when they contacted me about an interview for an internship I nearly fell out of my chair. This could not have worked out more perfectly. Oddly enough, I will not be doing social work tasks, but rather research and writing. Many of you know that I’ve been struggling to figure out how my passion for writing fits into what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. Anyway, I’ll be working with a program the Peace Corps runs called World Wise Schools. I had never heard of it before but its a neat program which provides an important service. Basically, they gather and organize information about other countries for teachers to use when teaching their students about countries around the world. As our world becomes more connected, it is more important than ever to be culturally competent and this program helps make students more aware of the world around them. Teachers can also request to have their class correspond with a current Peace Corps volunteer and their students can write letters to the volunteer with questions about their country. Returned volunteers also visit classes to talk about their experiences. The World Wise Schools not only creates cultural awareness but also promotes volunteerism. Since these are two things I am passionate about, I think it will be the perfect fit for me!

Going along with the writing theme, I’ll be taking a research and writing class, in which I’ll be concentrating on a research project of my choice throughout the summer. It’ll be a great chance to delve into something I’m passionate about.

As part of this program I also have to participate in a leadership forum, which is a kind of seminar that ensures the students make the most of their internships. We’ll work on career preparation, have speakers and other academic activities to supplement our internships.

So besides the incredible program itself just the fact that I’ll be in DC is amazing. There’s so much history and culture contained in one city, I know that there will be something new to discover every day. I’ve already started looking up lists like free things to do in DC and must see sights. I can’t wait to geek out at the Library of Congress and explore the Smithsonian.

From reading the blogs of current participants (found here) I know that this will be an incredible experience. I also now know that DC is really expensive so my skills for living frugally will really be tested… Like most academic programs this costs a considerable chunk of change so I’ll already be low on cash. However, I know that it will be more than worth it and the experience I will gain will pay off in the   future.

I’m looking forward to meeting new people, especially those from other countries, (apparently there’s a lot of foreign students) and living on my own for a few months. This summer will definitely be a taste of the real world and I expect it to be oh so sweet.