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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Stick-shift driving, GSWs, and Afterschool Care

Stick-shift driving, GSWs, and Afterschool Care: A Summer’s Tale and Accompaniment Appeal

Stick-shift driving

This summer, I’ve learned to drive a manual car. My roommate, aka Running Buddy, aka Ace, owns a manual car which I’ve never been able to drive. This was okay when we had a third roommate (Amici), who used to let me borrow her car if needed, and I take a lot of public transit too, of course. But Amici moved to a place called OK (miss you, Amici!), and Ace was going to be in Europe for three weeks this summer and her car would be here with me, all alone.  It was decided in early June that by July 13th, I would somehow magically be able to drive her car home, after dropping her in the suburbs where her group was leaving from on that day. And by “it was decided,” I mean, Ace decided this, having way more confidence in me than I had in myself.

So off we went to empty parking lots to practice stalling, I mean, practice driving stick-shift. Before we started practicing, it felt like I was humoring Ace and maybe humoring myself, pretending that this would somehow happen that I would be able to learn to competently drive a manual car… in CHICAGO. But after that first practice session, and after another one or two, I realized learning stick shift was like training for a marathon. When you painfully endure 5 miles for the first time and it takes every ounce of strength you have, if you imagine running 26 miles, you’ll never think you’ll be able to complete this marathon you signed up for on a whim (that was me 2+ years ago).  But if you painfully learn to endure those 5 miles, and then eventually you can run 10 miles, running 12 miles after that doesn’t seem so terrible. Twelve becomes 14 becomes 18 and so on til you  train to eventually hobble across the finish line after 26.2 miles.  Thus it was with driving. First gear in the parking lot led to 2nd and 3rd gears on empty roads, which led to stop signs and neighborhood driving. This was the gateway to Ace saying, “today you’re going to drive on the highway” and next comes parallel parking. Eventually, I drove her car home after dropping her in the suburbs on July 13th as she anticipated so assuredly. And I’ve been smiling like a 16-year-old behind the wheel for the first time as I have enjoyed this new skill of mine these last few weeks.

GSWs

This is one of those acronyms I didn’t know until less than 2 months ago and now I wish I didn’t have to use it so frequently. It means “Gun Shot Wound.” This summer, I’m doing a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) internship as a hospital chaplain at a Trauma I hospital on Chicago’s South(west) side. We throw around the term like we’ve used it our whole lives and like we didn’t see a hole in a person where there should never be a hole and like we didn’t hold an anxious mother for hours while she awaited an life-changing update from a busy ER doctor. “Patient X was multiple GSW to the abdomen… Pastoral care provided: prayer with family, water, tissues, and non-anxious presence” are normal parts of our updates with fellow chaplains. More on this internship is still to come for sure (the internship is well known to be an intense experience with little time for outside activity, thus the absence of time to blog about it). But for now, maybe take a minute to say a hold all those suffering from GSWs and all forms of violence in your thoughts and prayers?

Afterschool Care

My internship at Mt. Sinai hospital where I’ve been seeing these GSWs and otherwise meeting patients in various stages of illness is only 1 mile from the Roommate’s work. Due to various meetings at her work in the meeting that I was attending too, or coordinating rides home, or doing laundry in her work’s basement (yes, you read that right), or just going to eat lunch there after an on-call shift and before heading home, I ended up at her work many times in the first few weeks of the summer. I started joking that her work felt like my “Afterschool care.” When Roommate was in Europe, I even went to “afterschool” once to do my laundry still, after an encouraging text from Roommate’s boss that I was missed at “Afterschool.” How many people can do laundry at their roommate’s workplace, when their roommate is not even there?!?! I’m one lucky gal with a lucky roommate with a great place to work.

So what does driving a stick-shift, learning about GSWs, and going to “afterschool care” have in common, aside from all existing in my summer?!

Accompaniment.

Stick-shift driving: Roommate/Running Buddy/Ace believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. She was a patient and encouraging teacher and I was driving stick-shift by myself after about 5 lessons. I never thought it possible. She accompanied me.

GSWs: As chaplains, we accompany families and patients when they are in trauma in the ER. As chaplain interns, we have accompanied each other this summer as we process these intense experiences. I could not ask for a better cohort of CPE interns than the ones that God has placed with me at Mt. Sinai. We accompany one another.

Afterschool Care: Roommate’s place of work mentioned above? Taller de Jose!  The team I’m running the marathon for! They have accompanied me this summer and I am seeking to accompany them in their ministry of accompaniment. 

 

So my last post explained why I dropped off the face of the planet and stopped fundraising suddenly for my half-marathon in April. I also explained in that post that I would be running the Chicago Marathon, for Team Taller de Jose, just as I had anticipated running the half-marathon for them in April. At that time, I was still in the throes of recovering from mono. I am beyond words thrilled to be able to say that after the requisite 6 weeks of getting over the exhaustion affectionately known as “mono,” I was back to my regular self, and I am now almost half-way through training for that marathon!

Will you accompany me during my summer of accompaniment  as I run for Taller’s ministry of accompaniment? Your prayers and/or financial support are much appreciated! If you would consider donating, please check out my fundraising page here! No donation is too small! Or large 🙂

In the spirit of accompaniment,
Melissa

Who is Taller de Jose?

As I shared in my last post, I’m running the Half Marathon in Champaign-Urbana on April 26th for Team Taller de José. Instead of a monetary goal,  I have the goal of finding 13 people to contribute to my fundraising efforts for Team Taller.  So far, I have 4 of my 13! THANK YOU to my first four contributors- Jessie, John, Beth aka MaMa Ash, and Nicole!!!! Would you consider being number 5 or 6? 

But who and what is Taller de José, aside from where Running Buddy works?

Well, I went to their 5th annual Builder’s Day celebration on Sunday, so I’ve been especially reminded of all the needed and beautiful work that they do.

Joaquin receiving the Companion Award at the 5th Annual Builder's Day Celebration
Joaquin receiving the Companion Award at the 5th Annual Builder’s Day Celebration

Who is Taller?

Taller was founded by Sr. Kathy Brazda, a Sister of St. Joseph who is still the Executive Director, along with Fr. Bob Casey, the Board President, and another sister, Sr. Carol Crepeau.  Since the founding, the full-time staff has been very small, including Sr. Kathy, one Amate volunteer a year, and the Amate House volunteers that then got hired as staff in addition to a office manager. The way they are able to do so much work is that they have several committed volunteers that in “retirement” serve as compañeras for several days a week, in addition to social work and seminary interns that also are compañeras.

What does Taller do?

The founders wished to establish a ministry which would meet the most pressing needs of the residents of the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago,  (that’s where Fr. Bob was serving at the time). So they actually asked the community what those needs were. They embodied the Buechner definition of vocation:

Vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world deep need.

They melded the deep gladness of the sisters, that is, their congregation’s charism of witnessing to the unifying love of God, and the community’s deep need of connecting to the available services. Their mission was formed: to connect services to people and people to services in a ministry of  accompaniment.

Taller’s compañeras accompany clients to court, to the doctor’s office, to government agencies. They help with paperwork and with translation, both oral and written.

Where does Taller serve?

Taller is in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago. It is a predominantly Mexican(-American) neighborhood with a large Spanish-speaking population.  Thus, a large part of Taller’s client base is grateful for not only the accompaniment of the compañeras, but also the interpretation they can provide when a fluent grasp of the language is often a barrier to appropriate access not only to resources, but to justice in court or medical advice from a doctor.

But Taller’s impact extends beyond Little Village as well. Clients come from over 41 different zip codes in Chicago and over 36 suburbs, and Taller de José partners with over 140 partner agencies to provide resources for its clients.

When…?

Ok, this question is kind of unnecessary. But, in fitting with the theme…. NOW? of course! They opened their doors in 2008 after 2-3 years of dreaming and planning. This year has included a series of events to celebrate their 5 years of service to the city of Chicago.

Why does Taller do what they do?

Because they heard of a need and have sought to fill it. Because we all need someone to accompany us through our challenges, through our fear, through our barriers to health and success. Because language should not be a reason to be denied services and justice. Because the love of God compels them. Because they work so that all may be one.

Fun Fact

Taller de José (Pronounced, “Thai- yair,” remember, no gringo “Tall-er”) is Spanish for Joseph’s Workshop. Their annual dinner and fundraiser is called Builder’s Day. It took me three years to figure out it’s called Builder’s Day in honor of the Joseph theme (St. Joseph, Jesus’ earthly adopted dad so to speak, was a carpenter). I’m a little slow on the uptake!

Thank you

Thanks for reading about this great organization that I’m running for! I’m looking for 13 people to financially support them through my running of this Half Marathon, one donation in honor of each mile.  I’ve had four people join me on this journey already. Will you be the next one?

The move. (Part 2)

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Let’s hope that’s a false cliche. My division of this topic into two posts was supposed to help me write with less time in between posts, not more. Alas, January happened (we might get back to that), and my intention went down the tubes. If you’ll allow me one more cliche…. better late than never, right?! 

If you missed Part 1, you should go there first!

Where did we leave off? Oh yeah? With our gas accidentally getting turned off! The day after we moved in. An accident that left us with no hot water, no stove, oven or hot water for 5 days.

And oh yeah, we hosted Amate Advent Reflections during that next week.  That event preparation included writing individual reflections, a rehearsal with just our house, baking lots of refreshment goodies (which we did at South House). Needless to say, the stress we were experiencing during the move quadrupled with these additional challenges.

It became pretty hard to see how God was moving in our moving.

The stress wore on us. We became a little bit less understanding with each other than we previously were.  We had less time together just to enjoy one another’s company.  Minor inconveniences began to accumulate instead of dissipating.

[Necessary qualification before I move on: I say every word of this including myself and with no less love or respect for any of my wonderful housemates. This is an honest reflection on that time (obviously from my perspective), not a judgement of it].

But we survived. We hosted our Advent reflections, we had fun celebrating Christmas a few days early together, and then we headed home for a week or so break before reconvening in January.

A needed break. To reflect on why we live in community. To reflect on our Amate time thus far. To see how God was moving in our moving. It may have been tough to see it in that time and I think it still is in a way, because January brought with it its own set of challenges, including a beloved community member deciding to leave for personal reasons (part of January’s craziness that leaves more reflection for a later date).  But I’ll tell you this:

God was moving in our moving. And still is.

God was moving in our Advent reflections. We were a bit of a mess–short on patience, off key, nervous, not as organized as we intended, afraid of sounding stupid–yet they somehow worked. More than that. They were beautiful and needed and unifying.  Several people from other houses said after they came in totally crappy moods and left feeling uplifted and reinvigorated. Praise the Lord!

God was moving when we began to taste the difference between voluntary simplicity/poverty and involuntary poverty. As I noticed our patience wearing thin during the days of no gas and no way to turn it back on, I also realized that this is a reality for countless numbers of people who can’t afford to pay their gas or electricity bill and must live with the consequences. This was a solidarity we didn’t anticipate. We learned that the freedom that comes from voluntarily simplifying our lives is the exact opposite of the stress that comes from the daily grind of poverty and unmet needs.

God was moving when we began January on a precipace.  The stress of December was far from distant (pardon the pun?) and the challenge of January only pushed us further out into that precipace. We could have gone either way, pulling farther away from each other , or we could have rallied around each other and let the challenges draw us closer together. I think there was the temptation of the former, to deal with it individually and lett this challenge drive us further that apart, but I’d like to think the latter is the direction we’re heading! To a place of hard-fought joy and community and trust and support. A place that is unreachable without pain and risk and vulnerability. I think God is calling us to that scary, beautiful place.

I thank God for these few insights into His movements that just a tiny bit of hindsight has begun to unfold. I bet there are more to come!

Thanks for bearing with me in my hiatus, friends!

Eating breakfast by a heater during our infamous week of no gas. Please note my excessive amount of layers 🙂
During our Christmas party: gingerbread house making!
uhoh! caught in the act 😉

The move. (Part 1)

A little background:

The plan was for us to never move into the old Little Village house (a former convent that they’ve rented from the Archdiocese for 12ish years). They had bought an old apartment building in the same neighborhood and had begun renovations that were hopefully to be finished by the time we arrived at the end of July. Alas, it was not to be and they had to battle many setbacks and challenges as they tried to get the house ready–additions finished, renovations completed, and the whole house furnished–for us to move.

The completion date was perpetually uncertain, not because of anyone’s fault, but because of every detail in a major renovation presents its own set of challenges to surmount. That uncertainty led to some understandable stress for some of our house.

It’s hard to not know when we have to be packed and ready, what weekend will probably have more unpacking than unwinding, and to generally know that what is beginning to feel like home, will only be for….. who knows how long?

And of course, regardless of the fact that we were for sure moving, everyone had feelings on whether they actually wanted to move or not.  I gauged three major sentiments:

  1. “I can’t wait to move. This house has too much err…. character. The mold, the cracks in the walls, the plaster that perpetually falls on the counters. The new house will just be nicer. Let’s move asap.”
  2. “Let’s not move. We’re settled here…It’s home.  The character is part of the Amate experience, particularly the LV one.”
  3. (in true Melissa-fashion, I fall into the third category, half/half). “We get the best of both worlds. Living in the old house lets us connect with prior Amate volunteers and their experience. They can still think of us as legit LV-ers. 😉 But, we also get to experience the joy of the new house since volunteers will live in it anyway from now on!”

The move.

Fast-forward to mid-november. We learn our move date: December 9th. Yay! Ok, we get into moving gear and start getting in the packing mindset post-Thanksgiving.

Then December begins: Oh wait… you’re moving December 8th! Ok, so we get in EXTREME packing mode and prepare for the move. I wasn’t too stressed about the move at first. Moving has never made me too stressed before. I mean, I moved to Chicago via airplane without ever stepping into the Midwest before (that’s just a personality thing not a tooting my own horn sort of thing just to clarify lol). Some good insight prior to the move came from a friend who told me she would be really stressed in that situation because change is hard for her. That was so helpful to keep in mind as I saw the stress settle into my roommates early on in the process.

And then…it turns out that even though I don’t get overly stressed moving on my own, moving with 8 others is a whole other ball game 😉 It was great to see everyone pitch in and prepare the house for moving but it was also sooooo interesting to see where everyone’s priorities and preferences lay.

Picture this during the packing process:

Melissa: Don’t throw that out!!!! It could be used for hospitality or future Amate volunteers.

Everyone else: “We’re throwing it out. We’ve only used it once/not at all…

In my defense, sometimes holding on to extra sets of mugs or a crockpot is helpful for hospitality.  In their defense, purging is good for the soul and for living simply! All that to say, the stress began to wear on us 😉

Anyway, the timing worked out really well as far as our December 8th move date. I had off work because of the Immaculate Conception (perk of working for the Archdiocese!), so I was able to be a liaison between the movers, Amate staff, and the LV volunteers! And then at the end of the day, I had a meeting with my spiritual companion, where she challenged me to ask the question,

“How is God moving in our moving?”

What a GREAT question! And an even more important question beginning the next day, when our gas got turned off. And stayed off for a week. For the next week, we had no heat, hot water, stove, or oven.

But we’ll save that for part 2! Stay tuned 😉

The Amate family in front of our new 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?

Where I Live

Well, we know I live in Chicago, but within that, I live in a neighborhood called Little Village or La Villita. And don’t think of neighborhood like a subdivision. Think neighborhood as in 3 mile by 2 mile area (totally approximate).  Chicago is on a grid and all parts of the city divided into neighborhoods. It’s much easier to navigate that way. I LOVE learning my way around. I love beginning to learn to navigate a new city. Just ask my housemates, I’m sure they’ll tell you that I spent an inordinate amount of time asking and re-asking for the explanation of how the streets work in Chicago.

Little Village is a mostly Mexican-American neighborhood. During my first few days here, I had a moment, about 10-seconds long, where I forgot I wasn’t in Mexico. I hear Spanish outside from my window at night. There is a taco stand across the street from us that sets up every day in an abandoned lot. Most of the store signs are in Spanish. As a tall white girl (guera or gringa, whichever you prefer), I stand out like a sore thumb. Because it is a largely Latino  immigrant neighborhood, it is definitely on the impoverished side. One of my housemates works for an organization that provided her with all the statistics about our area. I can’t remember the numbers but the Little Village-Pilsen area has much higher unemployment, poverty, crime, etc. than the average for Illinois, probably unsurprisingly.

But I LOVE IT! For one, I had always considered spending more time in Latin America post graduation, but this seems like another way of fulfilling that desire 😉 Also, it’s immersion into a new way of life, to living in solidarity with others. When you live in an area different from the one you grew up in (aka not the burbs, complete with gang activity- don’t worry, we take lots of precautions!), your perspective on life and circumstance changes immensely.  It’s walking in the shoes of another, not just for the sake of it, but for the sake of the gospel.

Shane Claiborne, in his book, Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers,  reminds us that we are not taught to pray that we are to be kept from pain; suffering is the inevitable plight of Christians who are disturbed by the comfort of their neighbors. He comments,

Most of us live in such fear of death that it’s no small wonder few people believe in resurrection anymore. Sometimes people ask us if we are scared , living in the inner city. We usually reply with something like, “We’re more afraid of shopping malls.” (p53)

It may not be what we’re used to, but it’s many people’s reality, and now it’s ours too. We’re getting to know more of the human family this way and we’ll be changed from the inside out. And hopefully, it will makes us more powerful instruments of change too.

[Side note: My madre and others, don’t stress too much. This probably makes it sound more threatening than it is. It’s just different. And we don’t do anything stupid to put ourselves in harm’s way. Most people in the neighborhood are nice and friendly. It’s not like a war zone or anything. It’s city-ish. Just want to make that clear 😉 ]

But I don’t work in this neighborhood. Where I live and where I work are night and day from each other. But that’s for next post 😉

For now, some pics!

Bienvenidos a Little Village
Our current house, a former convent. We love it but it's falling apart on the inside a bit so we're moving a few blocks down in Oct/Nov
The main street in Little Village... lots of little shops and bodegas and moving cart stands
More Little Village! Including the sign for the Walgreens that sells Cacahuates Japones (Japanese Peanuts lol)... one of my fave snack foods in Mexico!

Compliments to my housemates for taking the pics! I hardly took any so far.