19 Reasons Why: Why I Run, Why I Run for, and Why I Run for Taller de Jose

Saturday, I ran my 19-miler in training for the Chicago marathon. I took the bus up to the start of the Chicago Lakefront Trail, an 18-mile trail that runs 5800 N Sheridan to 7100 S. South Shore (Edgewater to South Shore!!). I added on a mile at the start of the run so it would total 19 miles, which was what my training plan calls for this week. Running Buddy parked at the end of the path and ran 5 miles north to meet me for the last 5 miles of my run, which was a lifesaver to have a buddy for those final miles, but also to have a CAR at the end so I didn’t stink up the bus for an hour bus ride home (THANK YOU, RUNNING BUDDY!). To occupy myself on the run before I had Running Buddy the last 5 miles, I decided to work on this list of why I run, why I run for, and why I run for Taller de José. 

19 mile sunrise
The view on the bus ride north to the start of my 19-miler

Why I run:

  1. I run because it’s a healthy habit to have. Yes, it could potentially be bad for my knees, but so is not exercising. I’ll risk the knee problems for now.  Running is something I can do without a gym membership, it is an “easy” way to exercise anywhere, and it’s a generally accessible way to create an active lifestyle.
  2. I run because running taught/is teaching me discipline. It’s hard to fashion a life that includes all the areas you want it to–relationships, fun, exercise, learning, working, spirituality, etc. The practice of running, and especially of training for races, continues to teach me how to work toward a goal and how to be intentional about how I spend my time, and also to have fun while doing it!
  3. I run because running is a metaphor for life! I learn so much from running, and I find these learnings to be applicable lessons not just to the details of running, but to the larger themes of life, often most applicable to my spiritual life, that is, my relationships with God and neighbor.
  4. I run because running is actually communal. A lot of the time, I run with Running Buddy, so it is a time for us to catch up and connect. But being a runner also connects me to the larger community of people with this same weird habit/passion. It’s a conversation topic and a bridge when meeting new people. It’s one way of being part of something bigger than myself.
  5. I run because running is meditative or at least, good thinking time. Occasionally, when I run by myself, it can almost be meditative, calming, and good for the soul. The other times when I run by myself, it is at least good time to sort through my thoughts. I’m on the introvert side of things, so having time to sort through my thoughts in my head before speaking them aloud is particularly helpful.
  6. I run because I get to. Running is a privilege that I don’t take lightly. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to run for health reasons or otherwise.
  7. I run because it’s fun! Okay, I admit, not always. But between the occasional runner’s high, the time with friends, the joy of a PR, the satisfaction of improvement, the feeling of accomplishment after a long run, the thrill of running in all sorts of weather, the gift of running on beautiful days in this beautiful city, running is not just pain/drudgery/discipline, but actually joy and gift!

Why I run for:

  1. Full stop, this reason is “this category does not have to exist” because the first seven reasons for running would be enough. “Helpers” like myself need to remember that self-care is not selfish and that something that is good exercise and fun and a challenge is enough of a reason to do something. Occasionally spending time and energy on good things for myself helps me be more available to love others well. Remember, we are called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. That being said…
  2. I run for because I am grateful. Running for something else is a way of stewarding this gift I have been given of a two legs that can run (See #6 above). To whom much is given, much is expected (See Luke 12:48)
  3. I run for because it’s a good way to raise funds/awareness on a macro level. Marathons are huge logistical endeavors that require a lot of resources. On a macro level, running for causes takes an event requiring a lot of resources (money, water, volunteers), and makes it dual purpose: a fun/challenging race AND an awareness/fundraiser for many causes. Win-win!
  4. I run for because it’s a good way to raise funds/awareness on a micro level.  I figure I may as well use that huge amount of input on an individual level (money, time, sweat) to further a cause bigger than myself. It’s not that much additional blood/sweat/tears to run for something else too.
  5. I run for because it connects me to non-runners and helps me share this love with people in another avenue that they can appreciate, even if they don’t love running. People (like you, my readers and supporters!) can relate to helping people even if they can’t relate to the crazy world of long-distance running;)
18 mile rainy
A few weeks ago post 18-miler, repping my Taller de Jose shirt and looking like a drowned rat (running in the rain sounds hardcore but it’s pretty darn fun)

Why I run for Taller de José:

  1. I run for Taller de José because I love their model of ministry. They embody the ministry of accompaniment, which is to walk with people in their time of need. Their compañeras “help” connect people to social services through the relational model of being with people in their time of need, not extending a lifeline from on high, not walking ahead as someone “in charge,” but walking with as fellow companions on the shared journey of life.
  2. I run for Taller de José because they are unique. They connect people to services and services to people, trying not to replicate other social services that already exist, but filling the gap between those who need help with the help that is available.
  3. I run for Taller de José  because I personally know many of the people who work or have worked at Taller. They get it. See Megan’s reflection. Or Hillary’s.  They embody mutuality, hospitality, and accompaniment. They don’t just talk the talk!
  4. I run for Taller de José  because I personally know the (newly minted) Executive Director (eek!!!). She is Running Buddy. I hear the stories. I saw her go to school for her Masters in Non-profit Management while working full time so she could put that learning at the service of Taller de José. Basically, I have a front row seat to the behind-the-scenes of Taller, and I still trust Taller. I don’t think everyone could claim that after seeing the behind-the-scenes of a lot of places.
  5. I run for Taller de José  because of the clients they accompany. Two years ago, when Running  Buddy was also running for Taller, she shared many of their stories here.
  6. I run for Taller de José because they are located in Little Village, where I lived during my Amate House year. I love the community and they will always have a place in my heart. The neighborhood is listed 3rd highest on the hardship index for the city, so they face many struggles of course, but it is also a vibrant community full of generous, hard-working people.  (And while Taller serves many people from the neighborhood, they also will accompany anyone from anywhere in the area, at no cost to the client. In-cre-ible!!)
  7. I run for  Taller de José because countless dear people have accompanied me during hard times in my life. I love that Taller de José ensures other people don’t have to go through hard times alone.

7 reason why I run 

+ 5 reason why I run for 

+ 7 reasons why I run for Taller de José

 = 19 reasons why

19 18 mile start
For Saturday’s 19-miler, I ran one mile to the start of the 18-mile trail. So this sign may read “0” but please read, “1” 😉
19 mile endish
18 miles later and… I haven’t moved?
19 mile end
Phew! The other side of the sign shows I did actually run 18 miles since the “0”/”1″ sign 😉

Do you like the sound of Taller de José too? Do you have people who have accompanied you in hard times? Or maybe you just want to wish this crazy runner a happy birthday? 😉 You can support Taller de José through my running efforts here! Thank you SO MUCH, dear friends!

 

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Waiting in Joyful Hope: An Advent Re-post

Choose Hope
In honor of the last two days of Advent, my favorite season of the year, I wanted to share one more Advent-y post. I probably don’t blog frequently enough to warrant a re-post, but oh well, I’m going to do it anyway 🙂 
 
This was a reflection I wrote two years ago during my volunteer year with Amate House. Our house was in charge of writing and sharing an evening of Advent reflections (the other two houses had Lent and Pentecost, later during our year). I was serving in the Parish Transformation department of the Archdiocese of Chicago at the time. As a house, we had just moved houses about a week prior to hosting this evening, and we’d been without heat for almost a week. What a busy and adventurous time! 
 
This is what I shared that night, sans a few lines that I only shared in person. It was first posted back in 2011 on my blog. I would change some things of it now, but it still held a lot of helpful reminders for me this season again. 

Advent Reflection: Waiting in Joyful Hope

Sometimes it makes no sense. Amidst the consumeristic busyness and stressful preparations of what most call the Christmas season, Advent beckons us to wait, and not only wait, but wait in joyful hope. Like most things Christian, this is countercultural.

Waiting? No thanks, there’s too much to be done.

Joy?! That’s not cool either; joy is naïveté, maybe for those who’ve been spared the pain of suffering til now.

Hope?! Heck no. Cynicism is the accepted, adult perspective. Quiet despair and snarky negativity are also standard methods of relating to the world. They’re reasonable. Based in reality right?!

Thank the Lord—literally—for Advent! Advent is my favorite season of the Liturgical year! It doesn’t let me remain in my mess. It calls me out of myself and into the life and hope of Jesus. Jesus, who like waiting in joyful hope, is the epitome of the unexpected, the countercultural and the radical. Who could fathom the Christmas story? We’re talking about the God of the Universe here. We don’t expect a God who is born in a stable in the backwaters of Galilee.  We don’t expect a God who takes on all humility and vulnerability as an infant, lying in a manger.

This unexpectedness teaches me something about God and about hope. Maybe what I define as “reality,” the picture of life that would lend me to despair, is not the end of the story, and even moreso, it’s not the entirety of the present story. Sometimes we miss the “God’s with us in this moment” side of the story. The hope that comes from knowing that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. God is the God of the unexpected.  And so, I dare to listen to the Advent call and wait in joyful hope.

And that dare is a choice, a fight, to wait in joyful hope. We all have the things in our lives that try to steal our hope. Despite my love for Amate and Chicago, these last few months are no exception for me.

My hope is on the line at work one day at the Archdiocese, I had a man walking past me turn and say, “sorry for my cynicism. We just paid $3.2 million for Fr. So-and-so,” referencing a priest sexual-abuse scandal. He used to work with this priest personally. The pain in his voice was tangible.

My hope is on the line when I’m in meetings where we’re talking about different Catholic schools and what’s limiting their potential right now. I’m constantly surprised at how often I hear, “the pastor and principal can’t work together.” I’ve even heard, “they only communicate through email.” Really?! Adult Christian leaders?! If they can’t communicate civilly and constructively, how can they teach the next generation to do so?! Those dear kids hearts are at stake And so is mine.

My hope is on the line when several days a week I see a homeless woman outside the archdiocese silently standing with her hand out, too afraid to tell me her name, while right across the street, cars are sold for $300,000. It makes me sick.

My hope is on the line in day to day community life, when I hear others assume ill-intention of others, speak harsh words with no search for understanding the other, when I myself don’t show the love and patience I desire others to show me. The seeming hopelessness of it all threatens to let me remain in my mess, instead of trusting in the hope of Jesus, God become man, who takes our brokenness and makes it beautiful.

But that’s part of our collective problem I think. We forget God’s goodness and prior faithfulness. We don’t notice the gifts God gives us in every moment. We don’t tell our stories, let alone our stories of hope, of God working in our mess. I could tell many more like the ones I just alluded too, as we all can, but I can also tell you infinite stories of hope.

If I only told you stories like the ones above,  or more importantly, told myself stories like those, joyful hope would not be possible.

I.choose.hope. because my boss sees her work as a consultant for the Archdiocese as avocation not just a job and because she has the courage to serve the church as a businesswoman, butting heads with the male-only hierarchy (slight smile) when-needed  on occasion.

I.choose.hope. because of the lay people at the churches participating in the process of Parish Transformation, a renewal of mission, vision, and finances. They are so excited about strengthening the Body of Christ at their church community, not just filling the pews with people, but with the love of Christ.

I.choose.hope. because of my homeless friend Mike who passes on muffins and gift cards like he has an endless supply and asks me, “Why keep more than I can use?” to which I say, “Amen, brother. Amen.”

I.choose.hope. because of my Little Village community. Despite 9 very distinct perspectives and personalities, we’ve weathered months of the unknown about when we were moving to the new house, the actual move less than about week ago, and an accidental 5 days with no heat, hot water, or stove or oven. And no one has killed each other yet. Now that’s reason to hope, yeah? :-)

And I.choose.hope. because of the little things in my everyday life. As we were reminded at one community night, “Behold, the color purple.” Everyday has thousands of mini miracles that beckon me to “be watchful and alert,” as Jesus said to his disciples. Keeping a journal of gratitude shows me how joy is a function of gratitude and that gratitude is about remembering and noticing the imminence of God’s love. My list has everything from the small things like the color purple and hot coffee and sunset views from the L, to the confusing things like, “I’m not yet able to thank you for this situation, but thank you for being with me in it.” It’s the antidote to my own forgetfulness and cynicism. It reminds me of God’s faithfulness.

It’s a paradigm shift that Advent calls me to. To a perspective that doesn’t ignore that life is unfair, unjust, painful, challenging and sometimes plain ugly. But to a perspective that says yes, life is a mess, but God’s in the middle of it. It’s okay to wait in the question. To live in the pain. But to not let it lead to despair and cynicism. Let’s take the time and be watchful and alert for God at work in our lives. To speak words of hope to one another.  To celebrate the crazy, unexpected, radical divine love of Emmanuel.

Will you dare to wait in joyful hope with me?

Grace and Courage

At the end of my year as an Amate House volunteer, I wrote myself a letter to be opened in one year. (Thank you, Amate, for sending our letters to us!).  I may or may not have written to my 23 3/4 self from my 22 3/4 self. I’m that cool.

This last June, I appreciated getting that letter so much that I decided to do it again.   I wrote myself another letter on my 24th birthday to my 25-year-old self. Thankfully, I have a terrible memory so I already have no idea what I wrote in it other than two paragraphs that I decided to copy into my journal because they’re about things I decided to be intentional about this year:

Grace and Courage.

I know these are life-long pursuits. But I think it’s good to be intentional about things and about becoming the person I want to be.  Here’s what I wrote:

Grace. Seeing people as God sees them. Asking, “who am I to judge?” Remembering, “If God has been merciful with me (constantly!), then so should I be with others. Giving people the benefit of the doubt. Choosing understanding over self-righteousness. Being gentle with myself and others.

Courage. Daring greatly. Living in the arena. “Doing” when called to “do.” “Being” when called to “be.” Choosing to make time for prayer, because, let’s be honest, it feels like such a risk at the time. Living wholeheartedly. Not living small in false humility (or large, in unhealthy pride), but living me, as God calls me to be me. Focusing on God’s strength in me.

Ironically, I didn’t want to share these intentional practices with people. I didn’t have the courage to do so 😉 But that is because it offers others the opportunity to call me out if I am not living grace-filled (note, that is not graceful. I’m a klutz. You don’t have to call me out on that… I’m well aware) or if I’m living small and scared. It offers the opportunity to be critiqued for picking virtues to “focus” on. But I’m going to be courageous and be open to criticism, open to conversation, open to being formed by those around me. Open to not keeping all my thoughts in my head.

Speaking of being open to being formed by those around me, I decided it was time to share these thoughts because someone called me out the other day around the topic of courage. A mentor of mine heard my timidity at accepting a compliment concerning courage and she made me say out loud, “I have courage.” THREE TIMES. Hmmph. So here we are.

All year long, I’m going to be adding to my thoughts on grace and courage… and of course, trying to find opportunities to practice them! I don’t think I have to worry about a lack of opportunity. It’s like praying for patience. God doesn’t give you “patience” per se,  but gives you an opportunity to wait. In my 1+ month of being 24, I’ve had several (daily!) instances to choose grace and practice courage.

And why grace and courage specifically, you ask? Well, first, I should say that practicing these are obviously integrally tied up in other ways of being intentional about my life and becoming the person God calls me to be. But these stuck out to me right now, to my mid-20s self, for a few reasons.  Simply, I’ve read a lot of Brené Brown over the last year, and I’ve been convicted to live life wholeheartedly, to dare greatly, and that takes practice. And answering my vocational call(ings) demands courage. (As does yours of course! And grace? I think I noticed a piece inside of me that didn’t like some of my interior dialogue that I was hearing. And it was affecting my actions. Asking myself to be more grace-filled calls me immediately to rely more on Grace, humbling me to be patient with myself and others.

And you want to hear something cool?!?!

Over a year ago, my running buddy and I met this cool group of runner-women who started an organization/movement of runner-women called Fellow Flowers. They sell different colored flowers that signify different concepts. I chose white: Dreamer. The description?

To show grace and courage. To embrace the challenge and welcome new beginnings. Putting yourself out there. Doing it scared. I WILL RUN THROUGH THE FEAR TO FEEL THE JOY.

Dreamer. To show GRACE and COURAGE.

Didn’t realize that “coincidence.” Pretty cool.

You’re pretty cool too, friends!! Thanks for being part of the conversation. What else would you add to my collection/collecting of thoughts on grace and courage?

With grace and courage,
Melissa

P.S. Do you want to know who else is pretty cool and courageous?! My running buddy. She’s running the Chicago Marathon AGAIN this year. Check out her blog supporting her work and running cause, Taller de José.

On Service: A reflection after a “year of service”

I know it’s been awhile since my last post :/ This is why I don’t make any claims at being a consistent blogger. But I do hope to make some improvements at shortening my hiatuses 😉 This post is a minimally-edited reflection I wrote during our Amate House closing retreat the week of June 11th (I know, I can’t believe it’s over already!). We were encouraged to reflect on our service experience this past year and then we shared our stories with our own community.

When people ask what I’ve learned this year, I often reply, I’ve learned things with my heart that I previously knew in my head. I feel that God has been cementing truths into my heart through the experiences of this year.

Prior to Amate, I almost had an aversion to the word ‘service.’ It felt too top-down, too I-have-all-the-answers-and-the-resources-so-let-me-help-you. When people said, “Wow, you’re doing a volunteer year?! Good for you!” (outside of those who thought it was silly, that is), I responded with “Thanks, but it’s a privilege to be able to grow in this way. I feel so blessed to be here. I truly felt I had more to receive than to give in the realm of service. I wanted to avoid top-down service at all costs.

Fast forward from my Amate interview to my site placement choices. One of them was clearly more admin-oriented (read top-down unfortunately in my mind, not ground-level) than the others. But it also was the most intriguing, it was in a church setting focusing on parish life which is an interest of mine, and oh wait, I can’t lie, the networking opportunities seemed too good to be true in light of my God-given dreams. Every single person I talked to about my choices, including people who normally have diametrically opposed views agreed! I should put that one first. And so I did. I truly am glad I was the one to end up with that job. I believe I was meant to be there.

I spent the first half of the year feeling one of two things: 1. entirely inadequate, fighting with Excel for 3 hrs to complete something that should take 20 mins or 2. thoroughly bored, constantly losing the battle between taking some sort of creative iniative and getting online to browse blogs. The second half of the year was similar except I lost some patience and stopped searching for God in the waiting. A few concrete projects kept me sane but for a few months there, I was at the end of my rope. In the midst of unrelated personal struggles, sitting in front of a computer for 8 hrs a day, with only one hour worth of work to distract me was enough to have me crying at my desk or running to the chapel daily. How ironic—‘complaining’ about not having enough to do, when others were utterly overwhelmed with “real, down-to-earth” problems! First world problem, right?! I felt a little useless, a lot embarrassed, and rightfully humbled.

Remember what I said about thinking that service was a privilege and having to learn that with my heart? Well, I honestly can see that so much more clearly now. I would have originally suspected I would have learned that from all the people I would serve from disadvantaged circumstances but of course God always has different (better) plans.

I learned it by not being able to serve in the way I anticipated. This year of minimal service was humbling, pruning experience as I couldn’t even accept the praise of doing a volunteer year. For example, when someone like Alex Kotlowicz (author of There are No Children Here) comes for a community night and thanks us for doing Amate and working in direct service, I nod, smile and accept that it’s not for me right now. Not being able to have my need for service/for helping fulfilled by a “white-collar” job is ironically humbling. But good in that it takes my need out of the picture and leaves room for God. I learned how much of me I still wanted to offer in service. Not that that’s a bad thing per se. But when serving or helping others is how I find my worth (read, I’m a 2 on the enneagram) that need can be a negative one because our life has seasons where that need can be more tangible fulfilled than others. So offering God through me is a much better, sustainable mindset than offering me.  Searching for God in those I serve is another sustainable service practice I think!

That experience taught me another important truth about service. It is always about presence. When we are present to others, whether our clients or co-workers, we are witnessing to the presence of God. Nothing cements that better than having nothing else to give. Sure I finagled some data in Excel, administered some surveys and organized some parish workshops, but in the grand scheme of things, the work was good but not earth-shaking service. My service was to be a presence of youth, joy, and hope. The bureaucracy of the Church, while full of faithful people can be a place of old age and despair, but more commonly, just a place of the everyday, of boring and needed administration—kind of like the unsung task of changing diapers, sans the cute baby 🙂 It’s a blessing to be able to bring some youth and light and inspiration into that. [And please, don’t misunderstand me. Though different than I expected, I am so thankful for the experience and I seriously think the world of my boss and co-workers].

Another truth I’m currently learning in my heart through this past site experience is to trust in the slow work of God. I have received so much this year during my extra time to reflect at work and about my work. God tells us that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” (Luke 12:48) I know that the pruning of this year that has born little tangible fruit in the immediate sense, will yield much in the years to come. God’s timetable is not my own. God is up to so much in each of our lives. I know this time is a precious piece of the larger picture.

Lastly, outside of the context of community, I don’t think I could have learned so much or trusted that God was in my work. Our “second full-time job” of community obviously took effort and time and sometimes added to the chaos, but knowing that we had each others’ unique experiences of service made me more okay with my own experience. Alone, I would have given up hope of allowing my fruit to be pruned and ripen. My aversion to the word ‘service’ is now lessened. My seemingly top-down job taught me it doesn’t have to be that way. Service can mean we mutually offer God to one another.

My community as we finished our closing retreat for Amate House

Choose Hope.

So, when I wrote my Advent reflection for Amate back in December, I had no idea how helpful and prophetic it would be for my own life. It has the Holy Spirit written all over it, because it’s been exactly what I needed during these last few months (in addition to the love and support of so many wonderful people of course). But I know the Holy Spirit was at work. In case you haven’t read the reflection (go here if you want to!), the main format was, “These things A,B, and C try to steal my hope” but “these things D, E, and F remind me to choose hope.” However, when I originally wrote the reflection, I wrote, “I have hope because of D, E, and F….” not “I choose hope because of D, E, and F.” But two days before the Advent reflection night, when we were practicing it as a house and right before my turn, I leaned over to one of my wonderful housemates and crossed out have  and wrote choose, and then wrote a big ????. She gave me an encouraging nod, YES.

Thank you, Holy Spirit.

And then, we started off our first community night of 2012 for Amate House with this reflection:

Hope opens doors where despair closes them.
Hope discovers what can be done instead of grumbling about what cannot.
Hope draws its power from a deep trust in God and the basic goodness of mankind.
Hope “lights a candle” instead of “cursing the darkness.”
Hope regards problems, small or large, as opportunities.
Hope cherishes no illusions, nor does it yield to cynicism.
Hope sets big goals and is not frustrated by repeated difficulties or setbacks.
Hope pushes ahead when it would be easy to quit.
Hope puts up with modest gains, realizing that “the longest journey starts with one step.”
Hope accepts misunderstandings as the price for serving the greater good of others.
Hope is a good loser because it has the divine assurance of final victory. (James Keller, M.M.)

Oh how much I love this!

It’s exactly what I would need to hear again and again in the weeks and months that would follow. The lies of cynicism and despair and distrust and giving up have been trying to take root. But to them I say, “No, you will not win. I choose hope.” 🙂

I made this at our winter retreat as a reminder to make the daily choice to "Choose Hope"

What do you choose?

Every year, the Little Village community of Amate House is in charge of hosting Advent reflections for all of the Amate community–current volunteers, alumni, staff, and any friends of Amate that want to come!

Last night, in the midst of settling into our new house, and battling the challenge of living with no gas and thus no heat, hot water, stove ,or oven, LV rose to the challenge and hosted our Advent Reflection night. We each shared a reflection on a particular Advent theme. My theme was “Waiting in Joyful Hope.” I’m share it below. I’ve tweaked it only a little bit because some stuff is just better shared in person instead of the internet but this is the most of it. I apologize for its length. I also think it comes off better in person 😉 Enjoy!

Advent Reflection: Waiting in Joyful Hope

Sometimes it makes no sense. Amidst the consumeristic busyness and stressful preparations of what most call the Christmas season, Advent beckons us to wait, and not only wait, but wait in joyful hope. Like most things Christian, this is countercultural.

Waiting? No thanks, there’s too much to be done.

Joy?! That’s not cool either; joy is naïveté, maybe for those who’ve been spared the pain of suffering til now.

Hope?! Heck no. Cynicism is the accepted, adult perspective. Quiet despair and snarky negativity are also standard methods of relating to the world. They’re reasonable. Based in reality right?!

Thank the Lord—literally—for Advent! Advent is my favorite season of the Liturgical year! It doesn’t let me remain in my mess. It calls me out of myself and into the life and hope of Jesus. Jesus, who like waiting in joyful hope, is the epitome of the unexpected, the countercultural and the radical. Who could fathom the Christmas story? We’re talking about the God of the Universe here. We don’t expect a God who is born in a stable in the backwaters of Galilee.  We don’t expect a God who takes on all humility and vulnerability as an infant, lying in a manger.

 This unexpectedness teaches me something about God and about hope. Maybe what I define as “reality,” the picture of life that would lend me to despair, is not the end of the story, and even moreso, it’s not the entirety of the present story. Sometimes we miss the “God’s with us in this moment side of the story. The hope that comes from knowing that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. God is the God of the unexpected.  And so, I dare to listen to the Advent call and wait in joyful hope.

And that dare is a choice, a fight, to wait in joyful hope. We all have the things in our lives that try to steal our hope. Despite my love for Amate and Chicago, these last few months are no exception for me.

My hope is on the line at work one day at the Archdiocese, I had a man walking past me turn and say, “sorry for my cynicism. We just paid $3.2 million for Fr. So-and-so,” referencing a priest sexual-abuse scandal. He used to work with this priest personally. The pain in his voice was tangible.

My hope is on the line when I’m in meetings where we’re talking about different Catholic schools and what’s limiting their potential right now. I’m constantly surprised at how often I hear, “the pastor and principal can’t work together.” I’ve even heard, “they only communicate through email.” Really?! Adult Christian leaders?! If they can’t communicate civilly and constructively, how can they teach the next generation to do so?! Those dear kids hearts are at stake And so is mine.

My hope is on the line when several days a week I see a homeless woman outside the archdiocese silently standing with her hand out, too afraid to tell me her name, while right across the street, cars are sold for $300,000. It makes me sick.

My hope is on the line in day to day community life, when I hear others assume ill-intention of others, speak harsh words with no search for understanding the other, when I myself don’t show the love and patience I desire others to show me. The seeming hopelessness of it all threatens to let me remain in my mess, instead of trusting in the hope of Jesus, God become man, who takes our brokenness and makes it beautiful.

But that’s part of our collective problem I think. We forget God’s goodness and prior faithfulness. We don’t notice the gifts God gives us in every moment. We don’t tell our stories, let alone our stories of hope, of God working in our mess. I could tell many more like the ones I just alluded too, as we all can, but I can also tell you infinite stories of hope.

If I only told you stories like the ones above,  or more importantly, told myself stories like those, joyful hope would not be possible.

I.choose.hope. because my boss sees her work as a consultant for the Archdiocese as a vocation not just a job and because she has the courage to serve the church as a business woman, butting heads with the male-only hierarchy (slight smile) when-needed  on occasion.

I.choose.hope. because of the lay people at the churches participating in the process of Parish Transformation, a renewal of mission, vision, and finances. They are so excited about strengthening the Body of Christ at their church community, not just filling the pews with people, but with the love of Christ.

I.choose.hope. because of my homeless friend Mike who passes on muffins and gift cards like he has an endless supply and asks me, “Why keep more than I can use?” to which I say, “Amen, brother. Amen.”

I.choose.hope. because of my Little Village community. Despite 9 very distinct perspectives and personalities, we’ve weathered months of the unknown about when we were moving to the new house, the actual move less than about week ago, and an accidental 5 days with no heat, hot water, or stove or oven. And no one has killed each other yet. Now that’s reason to hope, yeah? 🙂

And I.choose.hope. because of the little things in my everyday life. As we were reminded at one community night, “Behold, the color purple.” Everyday has thousands of mini miracles that beckon me to “be watchful and alert,” as Jesus said to his disciples. Keeping a journal of gratitude shows me how joy is a function of gratitude and that gratitude is about remembering and noticing the imminence of God’s love. My list has everything from the small things like the color purple and hot coffee and sunset views from the L, to the confusing things like, “I’m not yet able to thank you for this situation, but thank you for being with me in it.” It’s the antidote to my own forgetfulness and cynicism. It reminds me of God’s faithfulness.

It’s a paradigm shift that Advent calls me to. To a perspective that doesn’t ignore that life is unfair, unjust, painful, challenging and sometimes plain ugly. But to a perspective that says yes, life is a mess, but God’s in the middle of it. It’s okay to wait in the question. To live in the pain. But to not let it lead to despair and cynicism. Let’s take the time and be watchful and alert for God at work in our lives. To speak words of hope to one another.  To celebrate the crazy, unexpected, radical divine love of Emmanuel.

Will you dare to wait in joyful hope with me?

An Amate House shoutout

So click on over here to read my letter that I sent to family and friends as part of a semi-annual letter-writing update and fundraising effort that Amate asks of the volunteers every year.

Of course, it’s never comfortable to ask for donations but I just really looked at it as an opportunity to reconnect with people and update family and friends about my experience this year, especially those that might otherwise have no idea what I’m (actually) doing this year. I didn’t have to pay for the stamps so I wanted to make use of this opportunity for sharing and I just snuck the appeal part in at the end 😉 And I really do believe in the value of the Amate House program, so in that sense, it was the least I could do!

So if you feel so inclineed… check out my letter!

P.S. For my few faithful blog readers (all 3 of you or so!), please ignore some overlap between my Community post and my letter.  I will admit to plagiarizing myself 😀

Community

First off, I’m going to blame community time as one of the main reasons I haven’t blogged in awhile 😉 Forming an intentional community takes time and energy… and so does blogging. Community time is thus definitely a higher priority as we learn to live together and build relationships. And as I spend most of my days at work on a computer right now, that’s not encouraged me to want to be on the computer any more than necessary at home.

That being said, I’ve been pondering the concept of community so much lately… and not only pondering it, but living it. Living in community is simultaneously one of the greatest joys and greatest challenges of this year… but I don’t think that’s surprising for anyone who has lived in intentional community before. It’s like a family I suppose 😉

Why live in intentional community?

There are so many reasons I could choose but I’d like to point out a cool way to answer the “Why?” question: it’s an alternative way of being formed.

If we’re not being formed intentionally, then we’re being formed unintentionally by whatever unknowing influences happen upon our hearts and minds. I wish everyone could have this experience of intentional communal living, because it really is a microcosm of larger humanity. As one speaker joked to us, “there will be war, poverty, hunger…”

But really, as we live life together—sharing chores and stories, mixing personalities, perspectives and life goals, and facing the difficulties of conflicting schedules, simple living, and communal decision-making—we are being “forced” to constructively deal with issues that everyone  must deal with throughout their lives.  If you think about it, we’re all part of countless communities–families, work places, friend groups, churches, etc.  I wish everyone could have this opportunity to help us live better in relation with one another.

What does living in community look like here?

  • We eat community dinners Sunday-Thursday. Two people cook together per night. I’m lovin’ learning how to cook!!
  • We have community nights once a week on Wednesdays, sometimes with just our house, sometimes with all 3. This time is sacred! We really shouldn’t miss unless it’s for a work something that we must be at. I really like these… others are probably a little less enthusiastic about them 😉
  • We live on $15/person/per week for food. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s plenty when we you put it all together!
  • We divide chores up (grocery, lawn, kitchen, bathroom, petty cash, common spaces).
  • We have prayer nights almost every Sunday evening.
  • We started the year by going on “dates” with each other to ensure that we cultivate individual relationships with every member of the house.
  • We have Theocentric Thursdays where we take time at dinner to share a how we’ve seen God in the last week.  They tease me because I usually can’t pick just one 😉
  • We learn about one social justice issue per month via a house member and his/her particular passions.
  • We make sure that AT LEAST once a month, we do a fun activity that involves all 9 of us (This month it was the zoo!).
  • We go to Mass together (all 9 of us) at least once a month.
  • (These last 4 were our SMART goals for the year).
And of course, it means so much more than what we “put on the calendar.” It’s just hanging out and having fun together.  It’s spontaneous late night conversations (both ocean deep ones and deep end of the pool ones) and laughing til we’re on the floor. It’s bananagrams and unidentifiable vegetable donations. Dressing up as the L for Halloween and picking each other up from the L when it’s dark. Going for runs and “going Dog Whisperer” to save each other from stray dogs.  It’s letting your roommate cut your hair to save money and baking for hours while making Tshirts for our “ending homelessness” 5K run (which we dominated by the way).  Ultimately, it’s learning how to live as “we” in a “me”- centered world.
Little Village at the zoo... finally!!!
LV as the "L" for Halloween (Chicago's train system)

So… Anna from Illinois, Anna from Utah, Katie from Minnesota, Katy from Hawaii, Nicole from Illinois, Courtney from Kentucky, Felipe from Massachusetts and Earl from the Phillipines/Florida/Hawaii (how cool?!) are my wonderful, aforementioned microcosm of humanity.  This year of service would not have half its formative power without their presence. And my life would not be as rich.

More thoughts soon on what I’m learning in community I’m sure.

Peace,

Melissa

Live simply…

….so others may simply live.

You’ve probably heard that statement before. If not, I think it’s a good one to know 😉

This year is an exercise in learning to live simply, among many other things!

What does that mean practically for us?

  • Our house gets $15/person/week for food.
  • Several of us ride public transportation to work
  • We each get $100/month stipends… and we’re challenged to live off of only that, regardless of access to outside resources. This is for toiletries, weekend fun, hobbies, personal transportation needs, etc.
  • many other small things that is more of a mindset than a checklist!

But why live simply?!

Because we’re trying to be good stewards of God’s creation… of all His gifts! As you’ll remember from my Amate tenets post, I shared that a big part of the Amate experience is learning about stewardship. Amate House depends entirely on donations, so it would be wrong and unwise to live in a way that does not respect the donations we are dependent upon.

A broader reason though, is that living simply is a way to show our respect for the human family- both in a broad sense of the phrase, and in the narrow sense of those right near and with us. Our world is teeming with inequality. Some live in lavish wealth, while others die of starvation and malnutrition. Being mindful of that massive inequality calls us to live in a simple, intentional manner.

Similarly, living simply helps us to live in solidarity with the neighborhood we live in, where such a high percentage are immigrants living below the poverty line.  It is a privilege to choose to live on a limited budget when so many must live on a tight tight budget. And by doing so, we begin to understand how it feels to have to make choices based on that limited resources.

Also, living simply is soooo freeing on a personal level.  It’s entirely counterintuitive to what society tells us. “Buy more and you’ll be happier” says our consumeristic mentality. False. Living simply liberates us from that lie. Living simply really means living with more– more time and experiences and relationships and gratitude and love.

Random “fruit” I see from living more simply:

  •  “Gifts” mean so much more! Say someone says to me, “I’ll buy that coffee for you.” Prior to this year, I would feel so much worse (because I have a guilt complex ;)), because I knew I could pay for it. But I didn’t quite internalize what a gift it was to have someone offer that.   But now, when that coffee is 3% of my stipend, it means the world to me if someone offers that! [PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t read this as a plea for money/coffee/gifts/anything. This is me being honest about this tenet and how it’s affected me personally. It is not a plea for anything because 1. I have everything I need and there are plenty of worthy causes/people that don’t and 2. that would be contrary to simple living 😉  Okay, just had to make that clear since I’m awkwardly talking about money and I feel like that’s a no-no].
  • On the coffee note, I’m not tempted by coffee shops as much! Not having the “freedom” to stop in coffee shops downtown was one of the main things I missed trying to live off the stipend at first. Now… I feel considerably more “free” because I’m 86% less tempted by them now. And I still have my $3 and I have my travel coffee mug from home.
  • FREE means so much more now. As in free food, free samples (well, those have always been happy), free (useful) items, etc.
  • I’m beginning to understand the meaning of living in solidarity with those who have less.

And I must close with a sidenote: I feel like a fraud for even writing this. I have so far to go in living more simply, our community can of course always improve in this endeavor, and most significantly, I have everything I need/want, and my life live feels so full right now, that it doesn’t feel like the austerity that “simple living” implies. It feels like ABUNDANT LIFE. But I guess that’s has little do to with materially living with less, and a lot to do with filling  my life with more Love 😉

Happy Fall, friends!!  May we all learn to live with less so we can ultimately live with more 😀

A quick two things

1. I forgot to include this yesterday: I was interviewed for an archdiocesan radio program concerning the Archdiocese’s “Year of Teens and Young Adults” back in August. This particular program was about the Amate House. If you for some reason want to hear the 30 min interview of me and two Amate alums, click here for the podcast and scroll down to 8/24.

      And here is the discussion guide they provided if youth groups wanted to used the radio program: Discussion_Guide_August_2011[1]. I just thought it was kinda cool 😉

2. A quote , from the daily Sojourners “Verse and Voice” email. It applied so perfectly to yesterday’s post, I just had to share!

“Do not think that saintliness comes from occupation; it depends rather on what one is. The kind of work we do does not make us holy, but we may make it holy.”
– Meister Eckhart

Ok, have a great rest of your Tuesday!