Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Call to Community

As my experience volunteering with the Benedictine Sisters is nearing to the end, I feel the need to reflect upon my time in Virginia.  I am reminded of my expectations at the beginning of my service. Now, I have the opportunity to evaluate those expectations and compared them to reality.
I think that I have found out that the reality about life at the monastery is different than what I initially thought.  I knew that I was going to work both at BARN and at BEACON. But I was wrong in believing that life was always going to be quiet, calm, and peaceful.  As an introvert, such quietude appealed to me, I was going to have lots of time to read, I thought.
In reality though, I barely had any time to read. I was either busy at BARN or BEACON, busy with my graduate school application, or busy watching TV.  At the exception of trying to complete my graduate school application, I did not mind my business at all. In fact, I enjoyed it.  Amidst my business, amidst my daily life, I have found the meaning of community, love, and sisterhood.
In the midst the different background, the diversity in personality, the age differences, or anything that could separate us from each other, I have learned what it means to be charitable, peaceful, joyful, patient, good, and loving.  Furthermore, community calls us to become obedient. It calls us out to go somewhere (or do something) that we would rather not go (do), but should go (do).
For instance, I think of the BARN community.  Since many of the families I serve at BARN work in the morning, I need to set my schedule so that I meet with the residents in the evening.  After working on case notes all morning, lesson planning and teaching at BEACON, I often wanted to stay home and enjoy my evening.  That is until I reminded myself of the purpose of my work.  In other words, community calls us out of our normal agenda, it asks us to make sacrifices, it matures us and shapes us into becoming a loving servant of God.
Ronald Rolheiser beautifully compares our calling to community and service to Paul’s conversion to Christianity. Paul answers to his call of conversion “with eyes wide open, seeing nothing.”  I think of my expectations when I started volunteering. I went with such enthusiasm, expecting something that is so different from what I actually experienced.  In some ways, I was like Paul. I went with eyes wide open, yet seeing nothing, but still trusting. I am leaving feeling blessed and extremely lucky.

I sincerely thank you for this opportunity!


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Who Is Missing at the Table?

“Nations do not lead people to peace: rather people lead nations to peace.”

Though many of us think of peace as the absence of violence, I believe such an image to be incomplete.  In addition to an absence of violence, my image of peace includes a place where each of us holds our relationship with one another as sacred, regardless of race, gender, or economic status.  I believe in a world where each of us recognizes that as a human family, we are interdependent.  We recognize that we are to treat our neighbor as another self.  In other words, we must honor our neighbor including (or especially) the marginalized in our society.  We are called to treat each other with justice, to respect the dignity of every human being.  We are responsible to meet the needs of our sisters and brothers so that everyone would have equal opportunity to achieve her or his potential.
In my work at BEACON and BARN, I have encountered some of the most marginalized in our society.  It is heartbreaking to work with adults who have never being in school.  Not only does the person cannot read, she cannot even copy the alphabet.  Our aim at BEACON is to each English to our learners, which would enable them to acquire a better job.  But there is a need to teach literacy in the person’s native language.  Unfortunately, there are no funds to help such people.  Their native country had failed them, making it extremely hard for them to participate fully in society.
Yet, it is not only Latin American countries and African countries that struggle with illiteracy.  In my work at BARN, the scene of a young fifth and sixth grader who is unable to read is becoming too familiar.  I have been taught that education is one of the most valuable gifts.  But, too often I have encountered those who have giving up: “Those children are with us for just a short period of time, then they will move on.  Let them do what they want… It is up to them to figure out what they desire in life…” In other words, their problem is not my problem. I have to say that what is more heartbreaking than seeing adults and children struggle with reading is witnessing those who have already giving up; those who places the homeless and the immigrants as the ‘other,’ not worth spending time with; those who rely on their discomfort and are unable to see that the ‘other’ is another self.
In the words of Shane Clairborne and Chris Haw, I pray that “God gives us the strength to storm the gates of hell and tear down the walls we have created between us and those whose suffering would disrupt our comfort.  May we become familiar with the suffering of the poor outside of our gates, know their names and taste the salt in their tears.  Then when the ones ‘God has rescued,’ the Lazarus of our world- the baby refugees, [the immigrants] and the homeless outcasts- are seated next to God, we can say, ‘We are with them’.

Peace and Blessed Easter Season,

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Hand

Take a look at the hand and tell me what you see?
Bones covered by flesh,
Veins, tendons, and ligaments,
Palm and knuckles,
Four fingers and a thumb.

Take a deeper look and realize
That the hand
Though it might be dry and raw, wet and clammy, old and wrinkled,
Is so much more
Than an appendage located at the end of an arm.

The hand is so special!
Ponder on how it has served you through your years.
Think of all the lives that the hand has and continues to touch
All the things that the hand has done
All the things that the hand can do.

The hand is nurture
The hand put food in the mouth and clothes on the back.
The hand can cleanse and bandage a wound
The hand can care for and encourage the growth of others.

The hand is inspiration
The hand can draw pictures and sculpt masterpieces
The hand can compose music and write poetry
The hand can influence others in so many ways.

The hand is Justice
The hand can shake in fist of anger when there is injustice
The hand can write policies and wipe away tears
The hand can and should always stand for what is right.

The hand is love
The hand can hug and caress others to show care
The hand can console those that are in need
The hand can show affection, appreciation, and passion.

The hand is hope
Joined by the other hand, they fold in prayer
To ask for forgiveness, mercy and grace

The hand is etched with Love.

                                                                           Christopher L. Desert

It is my deepest desire to be able to make a difference in the world.  I realize that I cannot change all the despair that I encounter, I cannot erase all the hurt that many have been through. But I want to make a difference....
I thought I had a plan.  Indeed, my ultimate goal was to return to Haiti and work with women and children after my graduate studies.  It might still be the case, but I am not so sure now.  My experience this year has been molding me.  I am sure that God has a plan, but I am not so certain of how God wants me to serve Her people. It is confusing, challenging, and frustrating at time, but I am learning to let go and let God!
As a case manager for two of the residents at BARN, my role is to advocate for them and their families, to help them get out of debt, help them set the foundations for a better life while at BARN, and guide them in order for them to transition into their own home.  But what does on do when the person does no want to help oneself?  What does one do when there is a lack of trust?  What happens when one’s client continue to fail? It is easy to give up.  It is easy to become pessimistic in such situation.  But then, I am reminded as the body of Christ on Earth, as the hand of God, we are called to be a blessing for the world.  We are called to create God’s kingdom on Earth.  And I am finding out out that is absolutely not going to be an easy task.  It takes patience and perseverance. And equally important, it takes love.
While I am ready to quickly change the situation (I want to do good and I want to change to happen quickly), I am reminded that “the blessings of the world starts small, grows silently, faces setbacks, but nevertheless permeates the world with love.” I hope that my time with the people that I serve continues to be a blessing to us all.  I hope that no matter how long it takes; I will be waiting and ready to wipe away the tears, to care, and to encourage.  I hope that my hands will be present to nurture, to inspire, to love, and to hope.  I hope that I can use my hands patiently to co-create a just world…
Throughout this Lenten Season, I hope that we can continue to pray for each other.  Please pray that I may become a more compassionate, merciful, and loving hand to the people that I serve.  And I pray that God’s loving care continues to be with you; I ask for God’s blessings as you minister to Her people.

Peace and Blessed Lent,

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Becoming With an Expanded Heart

                  Is it possible to see God in our daily events? Can I truly see God in the people that I encounter? If God is perfect, how can She be present within us with all of our shortcomings and failures? My prayer is that God help me find Her within me, in my seemingly mundane activities, in everyone that I meet, and even in the places of suffering and deep hurt.
                  I believe that our daily events, our past and present experiences continue to mold us and open our hearts. It is my opinion that we are called to see God in these experiences.  In the spirit of today’s gospel, we are also called to be salt and light of the world.  In other words, we are called to become cocreators of God’s world in the ongoing development of creation. What does that truly mean? How can I be a cocreator with the God that is so magnificent?
                  As cocreators, as salt and light of the world, I do not think that God is asking us to do something particularly big in other to change a world that often feels so gloomy.  In my opinion, God is asking us to practice small acts of kindness in our daily activities and with all the people that we meet.  God is asking us to love unconditionally, to love even when we do not see the results, to love without expecting anything in return. God is asking a lot of us.
                  As cocreators of the world, we are asked to let go of our judgments and feeling.  Instead we need to open our hearts to really listen and see a situation with a new perspective.  Listening and seeing with our heart can be a hard task.  This is especially true when we are giving so much of ourselves, yet we are not receiving anything in return.  But it is necessary if we do not want our heart to be hardened.
                  Sometimes, I find it hard to work at BARN.  The hurt of the women at BARN are so deep, they find it hard to trust us, their case managers.  It is not easy to comprehend why a person would choose to leave a place that seeks to help her rather than cleaning their living area when she has nowhere else to go.  Other times, it feels like all I do is scold and punish for a task that is not done. Then I wonder, why should the women at BARN trust me? Why should they understand that my scolding is meant to be an act of love? I am asking a lot of them. With a heart that has been broken so many times, they are unable to give me what I need. Then I realize that it is the system that fails us. We are in a race to get things done quickly. We are trying to correct the bad behaviors (behaviors that the women have acquired for the past 30 years) in about 3 months. But the systems fails to take into consideration the relationship. We underestimate the heart. Can we truly build a relationship in such a short time to be able to make a difference?
                  I come to understand that more than anything, I wish for the women at BARN and myself to become companions on a journey in this period of transition.  I need to believe that this period of transition is giving us all wisdom.  I need to hope that the women I am serving will survive some of their failures.  Realistically, I understand that for some, the cycle of poverty and homelessness will not be broken. Our policies are too broken, our structural system continues to marginalize those that are underprivileged; still I need to believe that at least some of them will overcome.
                  Even for those that will not have the success story that BARN desires, I hope they know that for at least three months, they were understood, cared for, and loved.  For now, that is all I can give.  Even in the moments that I feel most powerless, I hope that in the future, I can be a voice and an advocate for those that are even more powerless than me. But for the moment, I will settle for giving empathy, love, and a listening ear.
                  I have been asked: “What can a single mom, homeless with 3 children, who does not want to clean her room, and find it difficult to become independent teach me?” I did not have an answer then, and I still don’t have a good answer.  But if I were to answer that question now, I would respond:
                  Courage! Courage because despite so many failures and so much hurt, the women I serve get up in the morning and try to do their best the best way that they know how; to do their best in a society that seems to have forgotten about them or worst, to have tossed them aside.  Yes, I would agree that there are times we take 3 steps forward and 1 step back or 2 steps forward and 4 steps back. In those times, I am frustrated. But I am aware that starting all over again is part of the process. Growing and becoming is a long and sometimes painful process.  It takes patience.  But I desire to be a companion, someone who will walk with the family I serve on their journey forward.

Peace and Blessings,