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!

 

Life’s Better When We’re Connected

Another “running is a metaphor for life” post 🙂 

Life’s better when we’re connected.

Darn Corporate America tugging at my heart in their advertising. They got me. “Life’s better when we’re connected” was the theme of this year’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon. And it couldn’t me more true.

This is going to sound ridiculous but I have to say it because it’s true: the marathon passed quickly for me this year because we spent almost every few miles looking for fans. At 20 points along the way, we saw someone or a group of people that Running Buddy or I knew! We were at Mile 17 when I was like, “How are we already here? I’m not getting ahead of myself or anything, but…. This is going by so fast!” Two years ago, I was all like, “Baahhh… if we don’t see our fans like we’re supposed to at mile 16, I don’t think I’m going to make it.” (Needless to say, Running Buddy was getting worried about me at that point two years ago).

But what I notice about both of my experiences is how important our spectators were to me. Seriously, they kept me going! With our names plastered on our shirts, even strangers were cheering for us, the whole way!! And then we saw our families at SEVEN spots along the way. They win at “Competitive Spectating” for sure. And despite a bunch of friends not being able to make it who were originally planning to (I was getting worried the week of), a bunch of other friends came out of the woodwork and told me where they were going to be along the route. Amazing!

I am bursting with gratitude for all those who cheered us on on marathon day, for all those who supported me with encouraging words before and after the race, and for all who donated to our Taller de Jose running team.  I’m one lucky marathon runner.

Life sure is better when we’re connected… as runners, as spectators, as friends and family, as strangers, as a human family. Who would have thought that would be one of the life/running lessons of 26.2 miles?? But my tired legs can testify, they didn’t run it alone. They ran supported by you. Just as I live my life thanks to the beautiful known and unknown people with whom I am connected.

Thank you.

Some of our fans (Sans PaPa Mayer taking the picture)
Some of our fans (Sans PaPa Mayer taking the picture)

 

 

Blessed for the Journey

(This is Post #3 about my trip to Korea. If you missed Post #1 or Post #2, you can find them here and here.)
 
I leave tomorrow morning, that is Thursday, the 24th at 7am! I will arrive in Seoul on Friday, the 25th at 3pm, 18 hours later.  I expect to be up for well over 24hrs (eek!) unless a miracle happens and I can sleep on the plane. One can hope 😉 

This post, post #3 of my Korea musings, was half-way finished as a post called “what is GETI?” but it has now transformed itself and “what is GETI?” has been relegated to Post #4. So stay tuned for that! In the meantime, I just had a few night-before-big-trip thoughts to share.

Today, in my class, my fellow students organized a blessing for me as I embark on this journey. The class is called “Religious Life for the 21st Century: Creating Communities of Hope on a Global Scale.” Long title! But a beautiful, hope-filled, challenging, inspiring class. For those of you outside of the Catholic bubble, the term “Religious Life” is not meant generically but is Catholic jargon used to denote vowed life as sisters and brothers in community, i.e., nuns/sisters, brothers, priests who are in orders, etc. My class, like the rest of CTU, is incredibly diverse. We are young, old, male, female, from the U.S, from Bangladesh, China, Korea, Mexico, you name it, (vowed) religious, and lay students (2 of us!).

To have this community pray for me.

To be blessed in Korean, for my trip to Korea.

To be blessed in song.

To have my forehead signed with the cross by each classmate and my professor.

To hear words of encouragement and hope.

To be told “May you find joy in the friends you meet there, like the joy you exhibit with people here.”

To be “welcomed” to Asia.

To be sent from one community of beautiful diversity to another.

To have my hands and my heart held.

These graced moments.

They touched my heart and freed me to leave behind my fear, my to-do list, my anxiety.

Nothing could have made me more ready. Or reminded me it’s okay if I don’t feel “ready.”
Not the 3 hours of packing I did this morning, not my triple-checked lists, not my self pep-talks.

I’m so excited. I’m leaving on a jet plane. At 7am tomorrow morning. I will fly to San Francisco first, which ironically will be the exact same flight that is previously my longest flight I’ve ever taken (4 1/2 hrs to SFO). Then I will embark on my longest flight yet in my life, to my first place outside of North America I will have ever been! My only other experience of international travel was living in Mexico for two months. An international conference for two weeks in Asia will be quite different! And I am so grateful for this opportunity. To expand my horizons, my heart, my relationships.

One of the poignant ponderings from our Religious Life class readings for today was on our relational “web.” I know I don’t make this journey alone. I take my communities with me. I take you with me.  And I will return with magnificent additions to our web, our communities of hope. And that gives me such encouragement.

Thank you for journeying with me. Thanks for being excited with me. Thanks for asking for updates. Thank you for your blessings.

With joy on the journey,
Melissa

An 18 mile grab bag

1. I ran 18 miles for the first time today. I never thought I’d have any reason to write that sentence. But in honor of that, I’m writing a post that is an odd combination of updates and reflective musings because one’s mind goes through an odd combination of thoughts when running for that long. (Today’s thoughts were mostly 14 miles of gratitude and positive running vibes followed by 4 miles of stomach cramps and an epic mental battle to keep going). I can only imagine what lies ahead after 26.2 miles. 26.2 thoughts?

2. Failure. I knew this whole running thing would teach me some life lessons. Of course, one of them is about failure. The first time I tried to run 8 miles, and then the first time I tried to run 14, I failed. Tears fell. My body shut down. Walking ensued. But I have no choice but to try again next time. And not let the doubt and “failure” win but let it motivate me. And “victory” (over those miles) tastes that much sweeter!

3. Trust. Tied in with failure, during those weeks of disappointing, unfulfilled attempts at new mileage, I just have to trust the hard work will pay off and that next time will be better. Looming negative thoughts of “What if that happens on the marathon day?” or “If I can’t run 14, why do I think I can run 26.2?” beg me to give in. Similarly, during July, running in 90% humidity and 90 degree weather in sunny Florida and thus running at a pace that is 1-2 minutes slower than normal, does not do much to help one’s confidence. But it does tell me a lot about trust. Trusting in the slow work of God. Trusting that though we can’t always see our tiny bits of progress amidst the mess of sweat and tears, God is there.

4. Part-time job #1. Since moving back to Chicago, I have been working full-time at the Archdiocese, my site placement last year. Since school starts this week, I will change to being at part-time employee at the Arch.

5. Part-time job #2. I will also being working at Catholic Theological Union (CTU, my grad school) as the student enrollment ambassador. It’s a new position. We’ll see what that means! I’m very thankful for both these jobs to help supplement my loans.

6.  Catholics on Call. The first week of August, I had the privilege of attending a conference/retreat (“contreat” so to speak) that happened to be at CTU for young adults discerning ministry in the Church. It was a beautiful week of needed reflection, engaging speakers, heartfelt small group discussion,  beautiful Liturgies, and melt-in-your-mouth cookies. And wonderful, precious people, like my small group:

Beautiful people. Precious hearts

7. My apartment. The building. We live in a 4th-floor walk-up, i.e., there are NO ELEVATORS! And you Chicagoans know that we’re talking steep stairs!  Moving our furniture in would have been impossible without our dads. But it is only 3 blocks from CTU. Lucky me!

So.Many.Stairs.

8. My apartment. The roommates. I live with two Annas, two of my housemates from last year at Amate House. We formed our own little “baby community” because the thought of living without “community” after last year was just a bit unpleasant. I am so very thankful for them!

9. Catholic Heart Workcamp (CHWC). When I was home in Florida for the month of July, the first week I actually spent chaperoning a high school mission trip to Knoxville, TN with my home church. It was a blessing to return to a camp that had been so formative for me just a few years prior.  My FAVORITE PART was spending time with the high schoolers (esp. the girls from my church every night!) and getting to share our hearts. To listen. To pray for them. And to share my story with them. And ok, I’m not gonna lie, I LOVED hanging out with the other chaperones too 🙂

10. Catholic Heart Workcamp. The plants. Ok, so my service group of 6 was assigned to work on a community farm for the week with another group. Let me tell you, my passion for turning work/life/play/everything into life analogies and lessons, was in full swing. I mean, planting, harvesting, watering, not seeing the end result, etc…. the possibilities are endless! I do believe the lesson that friends are like fertilizer was one life lesson we learned 😉

11.  Running for a cause. If you missed my previous post where I explain that my marathon efforts are to raise money for Catholic Charities of Chicago, you should check that post out!  Then, you should listen to your heart and see what it says about supporting those in need in Chicago through this amazing organization that reaches over 1 million people per year! Through my link of course 🙂 http://www.active.com/donate/ccofchicago12/melissamarathon

12.  Public Transportation. Still breaking me out of my bubble since August 2011. I love it 80% of the time. 10 % of the time I feel neutral but still grateful for such a helpful system. And the other 10% of the time- like Friday- it is utterly frustrating.

13. Madison Half-Marathon. I ran my first half-marathon a few weeks ago in Madison, WI! It was my first trip to WI and my first trip to see my midwestern buddy, Marissa (MoMo!!), on her turf. It went surprisingly well for Ace (my roommate, friend, and running buddy) and me. Nice weather. Stayed on pace. Beer (icky tho!) afterwards. Gorgeous route. Even a few hills didn’t ruin our spirit 🙂

Marissa, our #1 fan and my emergency contact 🙂

14. My Baby. My nephew, that is. In July, I got to spend lots of time with him. He is precious and I miss him. That is all.

Auntie misses those big, round blue eyes.

15. CTU. School starts Wednesday. A big day 😉 I’m SOOOOOO excited!! The people there are just wonderful. But grad school is a bit overwhelming too of course. The student body is incredibly diverse- from so many countries, of all different ages and life experiences, of all different colors and backgrounds, I can’t wait to learn from my fellow students!

16. Hyde Park. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park. It’s one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city, as to which my own apartment building is a testament! Hyde Park is home to the University of Chicago, in addition to many other theological schools like CTU. It’s got a small-town feel in the big city. Love it.

17. A running tradition. Gratitude. On our long runs, my running buddy and I try to say something we’re grateful for every mile. It keeps us in the right mindset and pulls us out of that self-focused, negative talk that can try to work it’s way in there, especially as the mileage increases. What are you thankful today? Speaking of my running buddy, check out her marathon blog! It makes her boss cry. Maybe it will make you cry too 😉

18. Imani. Faith. My running Angel. So today, you may have seen in #1 that the last four miles of my run were… rough. I was battling so many fear-filled thoughts (about this happening in the marathon) as the last four miles were filled with stomach cramps that felt like someone was holding a broom stick into my side. Enter Imani, my running angel. At mile 17, I passed a woman I had never met and asked her, “I can do this right? One more mile?” She gave me an affirmative answer. About a tenth of a mile later, she was running next to me and ran with me almost til the end (until her street came up). She helped me finish only about a minute behind my running buddy (I sent her on ahead since I kept having to stop!) and most importantly, she saved my mental health and helped distract me from the negative thoughts that I was battling that were ruining what had been an other-wise good run. I told her she was my running angel. I truly think she was. And cool fact… her name means Faith!

Thanks for sticking with me for the 18-mile grab bag that goes here, there, and everywhere like my thoughts during a run! Almost all of these could be a post in and of itself, so let me know if you want to hear more about any topic in particular!

Also, shameless plug. Read #11 again. Ponder. Click here. Thanks!!

Much love,

Melissa

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

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?

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

What exactly IS the Amate House?

You may have noticed that I link to the Amate House website a lot, but just in case you haven’t clicked that link and still wanted to know about the Amate House, I thought I’d share about where I am this year 🙂

The basic gist: I live in community with 8 other volunteers. We go to work for approximately 40hrs/ week at our different site placements. We come home and share cooking and meals together. We take care of the house and we have lots of fun together! But it’s so much more than that.

There a lot of reasons I chose Amate House for a year of volunteer service, including:

  1. it was alphabetically at the beginning of the volunteer book. Time was limited (silly DigiCom class!) and thus, I couldn’t look up all the progams I wanted. Amate had a leg up with their “A” name. You think i’m joking, but I’m not!
  2. Also, it has the most informative and engaging website.  Big ups.
  3. I wanted to try a big city and Chicago sounded new, fun, and exciting. Also not kidding, I knew nothing about Chicago or really the midwest before coming. It’s made life more exciting 😉
  4. It had everything I was looking for in this year.  I wanted to learn, grow, give, and share. Amate provided that space.

The tenets of the program are: SERVICE, COMMUNITY, FAITH (FORMATION), SOCIAL JUSTICE, and STEWARDSHIP.

Service: The Amate House is not just concerned with connecting those who want to volunteer and are privileged enough to do so with the organizations that need volunteers, but it is concerned with forming us volunteers into young adult Christians who can lead the Church and our society with humility and love.  When we speak of service, we’re talking about about giving our lives for the benefit of all God’s people, in our own unique capacities.

Community: We talk about this so much that screaming “Community!” after just about anything is already a joke in our house. But community is the backbone of this program because it is the backbone of Catholic Social Teaching. We are created as social beings in the image of our Triune God, the ultimate example of community.  As we learn to live in community, we learn to become more fully human.

Faith/Faith Formation: This program is motivated by the belief that our faith in God’s love is what sustains us and challenges us, calling us to action, to community, to love. And the formative aspect of the Amate House program, is the unique aspect I found. Here at Amate, there is much intentional focus on transforming us, the young adult volunteers, into aware, compassionate, and loving people who can lead the church and the professional world into making the Kingdom of God more present here and now.

Social Justice: Direct attention to people’s immediate needs is necessary but not enough. Formation of young people is necessary but not sufficient as well.  Attention must be given to the way society is organized and the systemic injustices that we take part in.  Education, awareness, and advocacy are also necessary elements in the continual transformation of our society into a more just and loving place.

Stewardship: The recognition of everything as gift from God. What we do with our gifts shows our respect for the gift-giver.  So we seek to honor God, and all those who support the Amate House, by being wise stewards of our time, money, talent, relationships, and life experiences.

For some more details on how this all is lived out, feel free to check out our volunteer handbook.

And feel free to ask questions! I’m in love with Amate already 🙂

Voluntary Displacement

For our orientation here, we had to read one of three books. Since I already owned one of the options, Compassion, by Henri Nouwen (thanks to a recommendation by Ali Boyd!), I chose that one. And I LOVED IT. I highly recommend it. But anybody who knows me probably is letting that go in one ear and out the other because I LOVE books a lot and recommend too many too often lol.  However, It’s a book that put words to the desires of my heart.

The book is so full of wisdom, I couldn’t read it too fast and still process the awesomeness. One chapter is called, “Voluntary Displacement” and it follows the chapter on “Community”

I’m here. In Chicago. A city to which I’d never been. But I now live here. For almost one year.

I’m voluntarily displaced. In response to a call of sorts.

In the words of Henri Nouwen,

The paradox of the Christian community is that people are gathered together in voluntary displacement.

Since a big focus of this year with the Amate House is community, I guess the fact that we’re all voluntarily displaced is a good thing 😉

Nouwen talks about how in our voluntary displacement we cast off the illusion of “having it all together” and thus experience our true (and shared) condition.  In our common displacement, following our displaced Lord,

 we are called out of our familiar places to unknown territories, out of our ordinary and proper places to the places where people hurt and where we can experience with them our common human brokenness and our common need for healing.

We’re beginning to experience what this means and will continue to do so over the course of the year. How beautiful. Brokenness transformed.

And of course… Nouwen qualifies his statements a lot (like we all know I do) so I like him even more.   Voluntary displacement is not actually voluntary, but in response to a call. And it often is not physical displacement, but can be inner displacement. And of course, lots of people are involuntarily displaced all the time, so this is not to romanticize displacement but to call us to solidarity with the millions who live disrupted lives.

All this to say… I’m embracing my voluntary displacement and my call to be here in Chicago.

I’m loving getting to know my housemates.

I jumped up and down the first time I saw the Chicago skyline and the Lake Michigan horizon. Well… as much as you can jump while buckled in a car 🙂

Lake Michigan! (from the car)

I’m enjoying the reflections and other exercises that are part of our orientation. The orientation that reminds me of RA training… the Catholic version! Good thing Housing and CCM were my main Furman things 🙂

More soon. On Nouwen. On Chicago. On Amate. On Community.

And one more thing… my address. I love mail. You love mail. Give me yours if you want some mail!

3108 W. 24th Street Chicago, IL 60623