Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lessons from the Fig Tree

But I tell you if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did" Luke 13:1-9

    Reflection by Kristen Daniels, St. Joseph Worker Program Alumna

    
    Today’s Gospel is one of the more applicable parables for those volunteering. The parable calls to mind one of my most difficult clients during my year as a St. Joseph Worker. He could have easily been the barren fig tree, just as easily as I could’ve been the man eager to cut down that tree. At every turn we were met with what seemed like insurmountable barriers to achieving stable housing. There were so many times I became disappointed, frustrated, and eager to throw in the towel. 

It took me what seems like an impossible amount of time to learn and apply the true meaning of today’s Gospel. When Jesus was telling the parable he made it clear that fruit takes time, tilling, and tending. Or in case management terms: patience, cultivation, and compassion. I was never there to judge; I was there to walk with my client and give him the tools necessary to find his own version of success, on his own terms. 

In the end, my client wasn’t anywhere near my original expectations. Rather he enjoyed more success than I could ever have imagined possible. God has a much better view from where He is. He can see the whole picture where we can’t. He knows what each of us is fully capable of and what works is being done behind the scenes. As we continue to serve others both in our volunteer year and beyond, let us remember to trust in God’s mighty and wondrous plans.


Prayer
Ever merciful and loving God, 

You always see my full potential, even when I can’t. May I
 always trust in the grand design You have for me. As 
I place my utmost trust in You, I leave my expectations
 and my timelines at Your holy feet, especially when I 
find it most difficult. Lord I thank You for entrusting 
me with being an instrument of Your unending love and 
compassion. As I always seek to emulate Your patience and
 compassion, let me come to Your people with no agendas 
but Your own. 

Amen.


Focus on: Community 

In this Gospel, God is asking us for patience, compassion and understanding with those around us. While this lesson can certainly be applied to our daily ministries, it is often more difficult to extend that grace to those closest to us. What expectations (good or bad) do you bring to your community? Are any of these expectations affecting your relationships with those around you? Do you see yourself giving up on others or yourself when you do not meet these expectations? If you feel comfortable, these questions may be a great discussion starter among your community.


Service Suggestion:


The fig tree can be a very real representation of how today’s society values certain people. Society is quick to dismiss and give-up on those who are experiencing homelessness, facing addictions, have been incarcerated, among other experiences. How is God calling you to protect and cultivate our brothers and sisters in Christ? How is God calling you to stand up for those who are deemed barren and unfruitful? Consider smaller actions such as talking to a person you pass on the streets that is experiencing homelessness or writing a letter to a person who is incarcerated.



This reflection is part of our Lenten Series - Download the Lenten Guide Here

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Remember Who You Are

“This is my chosen Son; Listen to Him” Luke 9:28b-36

    Reflection by Tom Carani, ECHO Program
    

“Remember who you are.” 

      It’s my grandpa’s favorite catchphrase to use when I’m leaving family gatherings.  He says it while gripping my hand and looking me straight in the eye.  His stare reminds me that when I go out into the world, I bring my family’s reputation and love along with me.  It’s a nice thing for a grandpa to say, but in the context of this Gospel story my grandpa’s advice takes on a greater meaning.  Luke paints a picture of the Divine breaking into the everyday and blinding us with the truth that our primary identity that we carry into the world is that we are God’s beloved daughters and sons, and our destiny is eternal glory.

  Often we choose to reject our belovedness and choose to identify only as broken and incapable of repair.  Lent usually exacerbates this feeling, but this penitential season does not have to be a time for self-rejection.  We are not so broken that the mercy and love of God cannot fix us.  In fact, this mid-Lent Gospel reminds me that despite our brokenness, God still has our glory in mind.  

Let us use the remainder of Lent to remember who we really are.  We are not children of the world or people without a future.  We are chosen, beloved daughters and sons of God, and it is our joyful task to open ourselves to God’s transforming love so that we might appear in glory with Him at the end of time.

Prayer

[Insert your name here],
 All I want to say to you is “You are the Beloved,” and all I 
hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with 
all the tenderness and force that love can hold.  My only desire 
to make these words reverberate in every corner of your
 being—“You are the Beloved.” (Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen) 
Lord, I give your Spirit permission to enter into my wounds 
and isolation with the healing light of Jesus’ Transfiguration.  
May His light illumine the deepest truth of my identity: 
that I am a beloved child of God. 

Amen.


Focus on: Spirituality

We’re so comfortable hiding behind our brokenness that it is difficult to believe God loves us unconditionally and destines us for greatness. Like Peter, we stand gawking at other holy people when God’s plan for us is to follow Jesus and become holy ourselves.  The path to holiness is difficult and requires that we expose our wounds to our Father so He can bathe them in His love and transform them. This Lent, consecrate your weaknesses to God so that He might make them the cause of your glory.


Service Suggestion:

Whether the idea of being God’s beloved is easy for you to grasp or not, it’s a message the world needs to hear. Uniquely and authentically communicate your love for another person today. Write your spouse a letter reminding him/her why you love him/her and what it is you love about him/her. Do a great act of service for that friend who listens to your griping and complaining. Perform some action today in order to show others that they, too, are the beloved.





This reflection is part of our Lenten Series - Download the Lenten Guide Here

Finding My Mission

“This is my chosen Son; Listen to Him” Luke 9:28b-36

    Reflection by Sarah Raven, Good Shepherd Volunteers
    

        Mission, witness, and identity are three overarching themes that can be taken from this text. It is important to note that what precedes this section of text is Jesus talking to his disciples about his upcoming death and resurrection, and the need for believers to take up their cross and follow him. After he gave this impassioned sermon, he retreated to a mountain to pray and took with him three of his closest disciples. What happened next would not have been believed by anyone had there not been witnesses to later testify to the event. Through prayer, God bears witness to Jesus’ redemptive mission on earth. Even the face of Jesus changed and his clothes became dazzling white. In the story of Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:21-22) God testifies concerning Jesus’ identity; Jesus is a beloved son, the chosen one. 
All of my life I have struggled finding my mission. I have looked for an exact calling, a voice from God, a dove, or at least a cloud of witnesses to tell me that I am on the right path. Deciding who I am and what I stand for in the face of so many competing messages from society is not an easy task and I sometimes find myself getting discouraged about my own lack of clarity about what I am called to do. What helps me in these moments of doubt is to take some time and earnestly pray to God for His wisdom and guidance.

Prayer
Lord,

 We thank you and praise you on this Transfiguration 
Sunday for your gifts of mission, identity, and purpose. 
Grant that we remember to seek your guidance 
as we bear witness to your 
transformational love. 

Amen. 


Focus on: Simple Living

Simplicity is the most difficult pillar for me. I love my cell phone and I hardly go a day without access to social media, my tablet, and computer. However, simple living is not just about taking breaks from technology, or living on a stipend, it is also about freeing your mind and being present to the moment without clouding your thoughts with budgets, agendas, or what should happen next. Sometimes God tries to bring transformations into our lives and we miss it entirely. Peter saw Jesus standing with Moses and Elijah and his first thought was to build sukkot (or temporary dwellings) for the three, the text tells us he had no idea what he was really saying because he was caught up in day to day concerns. 


Service Suggestion:

Talk to someone you serve or a co-worker about their mission. What do they feel called to do and what are the steps they need to take to get/stay on that path? Ask them how you can assist them in their mission whether it is looking over their resume, being a reference, or simply providing a listening ear.


This reflection is part of our Lenten Series - Download the Lenten Guide Here

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

God Willing: A volunteer's experience working with refugees

By Chris Bargeron, currently serving with Dominican Volunteers


They say that if you look at a picture at a different angle, something new will speak to you. Maybe you didn’t catch that shade of blue in the sky when you looked at it before or you didn’t realize the true emotion of someone’s mannerisms until you looked at it in a different angle. Last year when I was serving as an ESL teacher in Chicago, I was moved by this phrase, “Insha’Allah” which means “God willing.” I think I have a different perspective of that phrase after some of my experiences in Atlanta this year.

As an employment specialist, there are a lot of different moving parts that I need to control at the same time in order for a refugee to be happy. “Is that job close to home? Is it accessible by bus? Does it pay well? Can I work second shift?” are a few of the many questions I get asked in deciding if this is a job that a particular refugee wants. It gets tough sometimes— having to reject a refugee’s desires to work in a sushi restaurant because you know that they will not be able to live off of the unjust wages that most workers working in Asian restaurants in Georgia receive. Sometimes, with all my might, prayers and power, I am not able to sway refugees in the direction that I perceive as correct. Are these the type of outcomes that God wills? Am I doing something wrong in not trying harder? There’s an incredible amount of pressure trying not to “drop the ball” on these refugees. At any given time, I am helping out 30-35 refugees, at different points in their lives, find gainful employment in order to be self-sufficient, a term that is highly taken for granted by many people in this country.

I’ve realized that there are many aspects of life that are taken for granted by Americans in general. I have come to this realization on a deeper level after the catastrophic attacks in Paris. I had no idea that I would continue to be mentally impacted by this event for weeks and months afterward.


Here is a photograph I took before the Paris attacks of a wonderful little picture showing Atlanta endorsing the lives of refugees moving and resettling here, making Atlanta their home. It says, “Refugees, Welcome… Bring your families.”



Here is a picture I took of the same place, three days after the Paris attacks.

As I drove past this, my heart sank. Not to mention, I’m living in a country that has condemned not only Syrian refugees, but all refugees. Syrian refugees were being denied to come into this country, to receive benefits, food stamps, to live. I thought, “What a disgusting moment in time for America.”

It was a rough time to wake up every morning and go to work knowing that I might be hated by many, many people that don’t even know me around the country. It was hard for me to also hear that fellow resettlement agencies had received death threats and cryptic phone calls in the weeks following the Paris attacks. I was wondering at the time if God willed these incredulous acts and responses, and if some kind of devastating attack on my resettlement agency would happen because of such hate towards ones that are what, escaping fear themselves and the ones helping them rebuild a new life? I also remembered that God also gave each individual free will. To me, the thought of each person having free will allowed me to be peaceful just the slightest bit and continue my work every day. I know that God will protect not only me but also all of us trying to rebuild the lives of those displaced.

To make it even better, during those 4-6 weeks of what I want to consider as a dark moral time in America, I had the incredible honor to place a Syrian refugee in a job. That was the moment in time that made everything worth it. And it continues to drive my passion to continue to help these refugees gain employment, live a life that they deserve to live and not have to fear anymore.

This is a time in America to become more educated about who lives around us and about the refugees that come to this country to live a better life, to live a life without fear. It is not the time to be shunning the existence of those who haven’t even committed crimes. If things were to turn for the worst in our own country, I’m sure that many of us wouldn’t want to be denied entrance into other countries. I continue to be blessed everyday with refugees that come in with different stories and journeys with the same common goal. They want to be able to provide for their family. They want to be able to know the feeling of living how an average American feels, without fear. So I will continue to advocate for refugees and to be their rock and their helper in their continuing journeys, Insha’Allah. But I know that God will always will my actions.

Chris Bargeron currently serves as a Dominican Volunteer at Catholic Charities Atlanta in Refugee Resettlement as an employment specialist with Dominican Volunteers USA. He lives in community at the Penn Community in Atlanta, GA. For more information about serving with Dominican Volunteers USA, please click here


This post originally appeared on the Dominican Volunteers USA blog, Disputatio.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Finding Strength in Weakness

“You shall not put the Lord, Your God to the test.” Luke 4:1-13

    Reflection by Monica Patti, St. Joseph Worker Program in Orange, California
    

One of my favorite places to go during this mission year is Regina House, a retirement home for religious sisters. Regina House is so special to me because it feels like going to grandma’s house, except there are a hundred loving grandmas, all consecrated to God. When I’m there, it’s easy to give and receive their love.

What makes the Sisters so easy to love? I think it has to do with their surrender and weakness. At this stage in their lives, the retired Sisters have surrendered the care of many physical needs. These strong women spent their lives caring for others and now allow others to care for them. I’m sure that’s not easy. I know I sure do fight my weaknesses. And I think that makes me hard to love sometimes. When I was little I was easier to love. I was honest about my needs; I asked for help. I knew I needed love, so I would snuggle with my parents, unashamed. The truth is that the weakest among us are easier to love, because they claim their weaknesses, they don’t fight help.

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus intentionally makes Himself physically weak. He chooses harsh conditions; the desert and fasting from food and water for forty whole days. Think about how thirsty you’d be after forty days?

What is Jesus trying to tell us about weakness? I think he’s setting an example. Jesus wants us to know that it is our weaknesses, not our strengths that invite His love and care into our lives. I think He’s saying “If only you could see how beautiful your weaknesses are to me, you would give them to me wholeheartedly. I long to love you through your weaknesses, will you let me?”

Prayer
Dear Jesus, 
You embraced Your weaknesses in the desert but You never 
struggled alone. Please show me how I can depend, as You did, on 
the Father for strength. Please show me how I can claim my weakness and
 offer them to You. Please grant me the graces necessary to open up to You 
in prayer about my struggles.  Please teach me to reach out my hand to grasp 
yours, so that You can accompany me during my times of struggle. Please 
show me who I can talk to about my weaknesses, so that I journey with the 
strength You provide through community. 

Amen.


Focus on: Spirituality

In order to grow spiritually and connect within our communities, we need to be able to talk about our weaknesses.  Weaknesses are all the things we deem imperfections: our flaws, our struggles, even our sins.  Jesus wants them all.  It’s scary to tell someone your deepest weaknesses.  But we need to.  Hiding our weaknesses isolates us.   Don’t forget that Jesus was never alone in the desert!  His Father was with Him.  And Jesus doesn’t want us to be alone either.  How can you begin to talk and pray about your weaknesses?  Could you journal about them to Jesus?  Could you find a trusted friend, priest, or counselor?  Start small, just write it down and give it to Jesus, ask for the grace to keep being open. 


Service Suggestion:

Visit the elderly, especially those who dedicated their lives to service, such as vets, retirement communities for religious, or anyone living in a retirement community or nursing home.  Be a listening ear to those who are alone and isolated by age or disability, they just might listen to you as well.





This reflection is part of our Lenten Series - Download the Lenten Guide Here.





Interested in serving alongside sisters? Check out our From Service to Sisterhood program!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Service in Secret

“When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

    Reflection by Caitlin Wolford, Urban Catholic Teacher Corps of  Boston College
    

    Praise can be a wonderful—or difficult—expression to accept. It feels nice to be appreciated, noticed, and needed…but it can feel even better to give and not receive. When it’s your faith that drives your actions, your works will be authentic and you will find the intrinsic motivation to dig deeper and to serve more secretly. When your actions are controlled by righteous deeds that beg for attention, you will soon lose sight of how (and who) you are being called serve.

    I’m sure my community members can attest: While living in an intentional community with 17 others, it is difficult to do anything in private. Someone is in the family room while you’re making a phone call; somebody else is in the bathroom while you’re trying to take a shower…the only time during the day that you’re not surrounded by the community is when you are in your classroom—and even then, you are encircled by your students! Although it is nice to be surrounded by loving individuals, you may feel that your actions (and inactions) never go unnoticed.

    In the midst of busy, demanding schedules and community expectations, it’s important to reflect on how you spend your time—and how you can restructure your time to make more room for humble service and heartfelt prayer. It may be as simple as waking up a few minutes early to sneak into the kitchen and make the morning coffee, or cleaning the snow off of your neighbor’s windshield. It may involve putting down your phone before bed and saying an extra prayer for those who are experiencing difficulty in their lives. There’s something about making God’s love felt and not seeking the praise for your own gain that makes such endeavors warm and worthwhile.

Prayer
Heavenly Father, 

Guide me as I walk by faith and not by sight. 
Allow me to trust in You in moments when I step out 
of my comfort zone to faithfully serve You and live in solidarity 
with Your people. For in this moment, I know no reward 
that could ever compare to the everlasting reward 
that is your kingdom in heaven. Help me to
 hear Your call and do Your will. 

Amen.


Focus on: Social Justice

    As part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, what better opportunity to intentionally show others the mercy of God than during the Lenten season? Even more so, challenge yourself to live out a message of mercy in secret.  Delve deeper into these works at USCCB Jubilee year of Mercy.

Service Suggestion:

    Humble thyself to secretly serve. Complete random acts of kindness in your intentional or greater community. Become involved in at least one Spiritual and Corporal Work of Mercy and truly dedicate yourself to it—while no one is watching.


This reflection is part of our Lenten Series - Download the Lenten Guide Here

Threads of Prayer and Justice

“When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Reflection by Dannis Matteson, Sisters of St Joseph of Rochester Volunteer Corps Alumni

Reflection        

        Prayer and justice go together. This is the theme that we find Jesus teaching in our Ash Wednesday scripture. It stems from a long tradition of the liberating God of the Exodus who calls people to lives of both prayer and justice. This prominent thread weaves its way through Judeo-Christian history and emerges in the prophetic outcries of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Isaiah exemplifies this prophetic conviction about prayer and justice:
Is this the manner of fasting I would choose, a day to afflict oneself? ... Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh? (Is. 58:5-7)

If you look carefully, you might notice that the lectionary omits a section right in the middle of today’s Gospel reading. What do you find between verses 6 and 16? That’s right, the Lord’s Prayer! The Our Father! Jesus is teaching his followers to pray about very specific acts similar to Isaiah: Daily bread: making sure all have enough to eat! Debts: unbinding the enslaved! Temptation: refusing the temptation to use violent tactics to bring about the Kingdom of God, rather, committing to nonviolence!*  In essence, the Our Father is a call to justice wrapped up in prayer. I believe that is the call of Ash Wednesday. That, as both the prophets and Jesus taught, our attempts at prayer be wrapped up in justice and that our just acts may be wrapped up in prayer.

Prayer

God of Justice, 

Help me to follow Your call 
in prayer, through listening to Your still, small voice
in life, through listening to the needs of the world
in silence, through listening to my own heart’s desires
Lead me to the joy of answering your call
over and over again.

Amen.

Focus on: Spirituality


      Responding to God's call to us is key to cultivating a lifestyle of prayer and justice. Remember that the passion and desire that emerge within you often indicate the direction in which God is calling you. The call of prayer and justice often leads to hardship and challenge. But ultimately, it leads to deep joy. Spend time this Lenten season journaling about ways that you feel called to embody a lifestyle of prayer and justice today, this year, and in the future. 


Service Suggestion:


      As a CVN Volunteer, you serve every day! Perhaps you might spend time this Lent contemplating how you will continue your lifestyle of service once your volunteering concludes. As an example, both my husband and I participated in CVN years ago. And, we have continued living out service by answering the call to help start an intentional community called the Hope House that serves Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood through The Port Ministries. Our Hope House community is committed to communal prayer, as well as practical justice in a variety of ways. As we have found, when you follow God’s call, anything is possible!

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This reflection is part of our Lenten series - Download the Lenten Guide Here


Monday, February 8, 2016

Remaining Teachable

By Maureen Paley, serving with Mercy Volunteer Corps in Sacramento, CA

“Maureen, what living in community does,” she paused—a note of gentle, knowing laughter in her voice—“is unearth all of your personal demons.”

I was sitting in McKinley Park in Sacramento, about a mile from the house I share with three community mates and fellow volunteers, all 12 years younger than me, having an early morning call with my spiritual director. It was a sunny morning in mid-October, and I had been holding a dark, dense heaviness in my chest and stomach since arriving in Sacramento in August. I was transitioning from two years of living alone in the Bay Area to living with new roommates in a new city, at a new job, and with an entirely new lifestyle and life focus.

MVC member Maureen Paley harvests fruit from an orange tree
at her service site in Sacramento, CA 
I was hurting. It wasn’t physical pain, but it may as well have been. Deep inside, right in the center of my discomfort, my intuition was telling me exactly what I didn’t want to hear: I needed to change.

“Yep, it does,” I responded. The tears that had been brimming in my eyelids finally fell down my cheeks.

My spiritual director, a Sister of Mercy, was helping me take an honest look at the work I needed to do, the way she has done for years. She told me that living in community is, indeed, hard, and she suggested it may be an opportunity to learn everything I could about myself and the human condition.

After I hung up, I watched the wind ripple through the park’s palm trees. Fortunately, I didn’t have any doubts about the decision to commit to a year of service. I felt I was exactly where I should be and somehow everything would work out. I held onto this conviction as I got on my bike and rode home.

As I opened the backyard gate, a familiar commentary started churning in my head—the incessant itemizing of all the things my roommates were doing wrong mixed with the rehearsing of everything I wanted to get off my chest in our next community meeting.

I took a breath and asked myself: Is this what you want to give to community? This?

The commentary twisted community life into “me” versus “them” and kept my community mates at a safe distance. I realized that I didn’t want to get to the end of the year and say: You didn’t even try. I didn’t want to keep my heart locked up. But I had no idea how to will my heart to open.

My service site is a permanent supportive housing community. Many residents manage mental illness and/or a history of drug and alcohol addiction, and many are in recovery. I am a Personal Development Coach there, supporting the residents’ wellness and independence. In working with people in recovery, a funny thing happens—they keep you honest. They talk about taking inventory, letting go of resentments, and making amends. And, in hearing their stories, I started taking an honest look at my story—how I put my will before God’s, how I hold on to resentments, how I fail to make amends.

A few weeks after the call with my spiritual director, one of the residents told me that she makes intentions every morning to keep herself on track in her recovery. She starts with: “I intend to remain teachable.” The next morning, I took out my journal and wrote: “I intend to remain teachable. I intend to learn everything I can about myself and others as I live in community.”

After a few weeks, I tiptoed a little deeper into this place of trust adding: “Dear Jesus, I intend to give your gifts of love, peace, compassion, mercy, and gentleness to myself, to my community mates, to my service site…” With a long history of having a tyrant for an inner critic, I knew I needed to give these gifts to myself first. Then, I might be able to offer them to others.  So, I made intentions every morning. And slowly, quietly, something in me started to open up.

I found myself looking my community mates in the eye more, asking them how their days were, sharing more about myself. I’d sit down while they were watching a show on TV. I’d join them cooking in the kitchen. They made me laugh. Gradually, I cared about them. When it came to having those uncomfortable community conversations about mutual respect, chores, and finances, I took some risks. Though painfully uncomfortable at times, I communicated as honestly and gently as I could.

To my surprise, they seemed to listen. And, that gift was greater than whether or not they changed their behaviors or met my expectations. My taking the risk and their listening were enough.

Admittedly, it’s strange. I’m 34 years old, and living in intentional community with women who have just graduated from college allowed me the opportunity to have the first real, vulnerable conversations of my life.

A part of me was set free with each talk. I no longer needed to be in control. I no longer needed to be liked. I just needed to be honest—with myself and with them.

Doing this work in community has helped me help the residents at my service site—having difficult conversations with them, meeting them where they are, and coaching them on their paths.  In this year of service, I’ve learned that community life, not to mention the overall service experience itself, is partly intentional but mostly mystery. God’s mystery. God takes over and does the work for you. I may never know how it happened—how the discomfort of community life unfolded into peace. I just know I am grateful for it.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
– Anaïs Nin
To learn more about Mercy Volunteer Corps, click here

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Dear Extraordinary You: A Letter to a Future Volunteer

By: Ari Alvarez, Current Loretto Volunteer

Realizing that I am halfway through my Loretto experience, I can’t believe how fast time has gone…and how slow it has gone. These past five or so months have come with great highs and great lows. But, the most freeing realization is the acceptance that this is to be expected. I am growing, and sometimes growing is painful. My time away from home has made me grow in a deep love and appreciation for my family and friends. I always knew I won the lottery with those I call family and friends, but now, my gratitude towards them is beyond me.

Coping with these emotions has been a process. Yet, the most healing practice that has helped me feel appreciated and loved, all while challenging me to honestly communicate my appreciation towards others, is letter writing. Everything from picking the right stationary for each person, the decorating of the envelope, the emphasizing of words and sentences through the thickening strokes of your pen.  There is an intimate intention behind it all. There is such a thrill to realizing you’ve received an envelope in the mail with your name on it; a response to all the questions you had asked, all the emotions you had spilled out, all the stories you shared.

Letter writing requires more effort than a quick typing of words and clicking of a send button. It takes thought, time, effort, and patience. Letter writing is a detail of this experience that I will take with me everywhere I go. Therefore, because of how healing this has been for me, I thought it’d be appropriate to write a letter to a future volunteer;
Dear extraordinary you, 
I’ve been there before. Hitting the snooze button a couple of times before you finally roll out of bed and gear up for the day ahead of you. Your surroundings might still feel unfamiliar, but I promise you, a routine will develop. Very soon, the creaky wood at your feet will signal the familiarity of home. String up some holiday lights in your room; hang up pictures, motivational quotes, whatever you need. Just do it. This is your time to take care of yourself. You’re in for a wild ride where sometimes the only company you keep is yourself, the book in your hand, and the cup of coffee that cools as the minutes go by. And, trust me, there’s nothing wrong with that.
 
Allow yourself to indulge in that cup of Starbucks, even though you know how terrible capitalism is and that you should be supporting local producers. Drive to Target and just walk around, search for the treasures in the dollar section, and never feel bad about buying the overpriced candle for your room (you’ll appreciate it later). Take a break from Instagram, Facebook, and texting. Instead, go outside and simply go for a walk. Grow in comfort of your surroundings. Go the meeting that sounds really awesome, even though you’re going alone and won’t know anyone. Don’t feel pathetic for staying in on a Friday or Saturday night, indulging in Netflix or a good book…or just Netflix…is perfectly fine.
Write people letters, and request that letters be written to you. It’s a good day when you get home from work and see that there’s an envelope with your name written on it. Sleep in often- these may be the last years of being able to sleep in without any major consequences. Sad, I know. Cook with real, fresh food. And…it’s okay if you burn the rice or brownies the first time, you’ll get better with time. Listen to Adele, because, well…Adele just heals the heart. Look through old pictures every once in a while, it’ll make you smile and there’s nothing wrong with that! Also, genuinely challenge yourself to only spend your monthly stipend- it’s hard, but you’ll be surprised at how much you can simplify your life.
 
You are without a doubt an amazing person. You’ve probably travelled into intimate depths of your community and the world. You’re someone’s best friend, someone’s child, someone’s soul mate, and they’re most likely all missing you as much as you are missing them. Nonetheless, never forget how brave you are. You left all you knew and accepted to start over, for 11 months, committing yourself to simple and intentional living. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Trust that very soon, you’ll pack up the suitcase you put away months ago. That suitcase will travel back into familiarity with you. Your favorite café, your favorite restaurant, your family and friends will all be waiting for you. You’ll see how distance strengthens relationships, and most importantly, strengthens you.
 
This year could be one of the most exhilarating years of your life, or it could be one of the most frustrating years of your life. No matter where your heart and emotions settle, know this is all happening for a reason. You are exactly where you need to be. There’s a lovely little saying that says, “Bloom where you are planted.” Don’t take that as being complacent, but take that as a challenge. Actually aim to grow exactly where you are right now, even when it’s painful to begin a new day. You’ve got this.
 
Marianne Williamson said, “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” Sit with yourself every day, discover your light. It will frighten you, but that’s okay. Unpack it, embrace it, and grow from it all. Lean on those who love you. Tomorrow is a new day. You are not alone.
 
But most importantly, you are capable and are fighting a fight for a better tomorrow. Keep your head up.
 
Love,Me, your fellow social justice warrior.
 
PS- Ordering a pizza when you don’t feel like cooking is always a good choice. Always.


Ari Alvarez is from Clayton, CA and graduated from St. Mary's College in 2015 with a degree in Sociology and Women's and Gender Studies. Ari is currently serving with Loretto Volunteers, living in the St. Louis community and working as a campus minister at loretto-founded high school, Nerinx Hall.​ This reflection originally appeared on Loretto Volunteer's "Reflections."