Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Calling

First let me preface this post by saying there is a lot of religion in it. It is deep, spiritual, and will not make sense to everyone. My interpretations of the events which transpired may be different to your interpretations due to your own faith system/preference. You can doubt me, admire me or question me but do not criticize me. I'm proud of my faith but I don't push it on other people and I don't go out and try to turn everyone into Christians OK. Disclaimer done.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a ballerina. I was attracted to the pink Tu Tu but I never took lessons. Then I wanted to be a firefighter, because I loved the red fire trucks. However, I'm terrified of fire. So I set on the path to become a veterinarian. I knew it would take a lot of schooling but I was always considered one of the "smart kids" in my school so I figured I had what it took. This career choice stayed with me for a good four years. But I'm allergic to half the animal kingdom so this was a no go. Then I wanted to be an actress but my parents told me to put my feet back on the ground and consider something more realistic. Honestly I wish my career choice would stay as consistent as my favorite color. As soon as I could talk I declared my favorite color was Orange and it still is today. Why couldn't my career choice be like that?

When I took career tests and things, (I even went to a career camp at one point) they told me I could be a farmer, archaeologist, social worker, actress, radio DJ, engineer, and a writer. Ok. That is a lot of options. I really enjoyed writing. At a young age I wrote my first chapter book. It was about a unicorn on another planet and each page was a new chapter. I never finished it. This is one of my biggest flaws. I never finish anything. ANYTHING. I have started my autobiography about a million times and failed to finish anything worth reading. I have half empty notebooks filled with poetry, short stories with no endings and life plans.

Anyway, so career stuff. When I entered William and Mary I was dead set on being an English and Theatre double major. My advisor was really against this, suggesting I major in one subject and minor in another so I could take lots of honors classes and try to be inducted into the PBK honor society. No thanks, I had enough honor in high school. I just wanted to have fun, get decent grades and graduate with two B.A.s I was having a love affair with journalism at the time. William and Mary's very own "Flat Hat" became my arch enemy. I decided I wanted to write for them as an uncorrupted freshman. I covered my first story and they didn't even print it. Nor did they tell me what I did wrong. They just ignored my existence. When this happened for a second time, I quit. Bump them, I thought. I realized that British Literature was not going to prepare me for a career in journalism so I switched to Sociology. Much more applicable, the study of society from theories to actual research papers, I found this field to be my home.

So I held fast to the journalism dream. Until senior year when things well, changed. I started investigating law enforcement careers and soon found myself dreaming up a police officer rises to the FBI career plan. But the recession temporarily nipped that in the butt.

In the fall of my senior year I attended a retreat called the REACH retreat. Some people like to call this retreat 'hazing for Catholics.' Um, thats a myth, kids. When the REACH retreat was introduced to the W&M Catholic Community by Fr. Mike Joley, I was requested to be a team leader on this super awesome life changing experience. I obliged but I was fighting a lot of demons at the time. Things were falling apart like a taped up china plate between me and an influential guy in my life. School was kicking my ass all over the place and for some odd reason I thought that dedicating my life and soul and spare time (of which I had none of) to this retreat would be a good idea. No. Actually I had my first nervous breakdown. I quit the team, faced resistance and sort of stepped back away from the church for a bit. I went, but my heart didn't. I wasn't mad at anyone in particular I just was trying to recover from the things falling apart at the time.

Anyway fast forward back to the fall of Senior year. I finally agreed to go on this infamous (in my eyes) retreat. I was excited but nervous about it. During the first oh say hour or two I just thought (why the hell didn't I be a team leader). See, I'm the kind of person who can't watch a parade without wishing I was in it. Its bizarre and called "only child syndrome." Symptoms include the need to be in the spotlight at all times, constant attention, constant affection oh yes, and constant reassurance you're doing the right thing. So, I went on the retreat and kicked myself for not giving up everything to be a team leader.

But this retreat made me think. First of all it made me evaluate my own behavior over the past 21 years. A lot of my partying was kind of....out of hand. I had managed not to get killed or severely hurt or severely ill in my party career, but there are some things that I've done which I regret. Funny thing is, this retreat barely talked about such behavior. The next thing I realized was that half my sorority was on this retreat (ok like 5 of my sisters) and they needed me. I needed them too. Then I started contemplating about the career front. There is an old Bible passage about a king and three servants. The king gives each one a talent. One servant goes out and multiplies his talents a lot. The other servant goes out and multiplies his talents a little. The third servant is scared shitless and buries his talent. I didn't want to bury my talents. So I began to investigate them. I'm funny, I make people smile, I care about people, I put myself out there to help people. Then I thought about all the difficult situations that I've had to overcome in my life with other people. Friends attempting suicide, friends getting raped, friends dealing with the loss of a loved one, friends with unexpected pregnancies....the list goes on. I'm comforted/consoled/counseled and hopefully helped even if it was just for a minute many people. This isn't me bragging but reflecting on my talents. Numerous people have told me that I should be a counselor, I would make a great counselor...etc. I've denied that because I didn't want my whole life to be listening to the problems of others. However, I really thrive on that.

So then I realized that being a cop only to be an FBI agent only to have a badass job was kind of selfish. Sure I'd be helping people, but not in the way God intended. A lot of other things happened on this retreat including my third encounter with the feeling of the physical presence of God, unexplained crying fits which were not unpleasant but surely exhausting, friendships and bonds I never thought I'd make and more life changing epiphanies. My favorite was when I was driving back to Williamsburg to catch Mass with a few of my retreat friends. This mass was the final part of the retreat. I was on a "Jesus high" so to speak and wanted to listen to some Christian music. As I flipped through the stations I found a love song. "Sweet I found Jesus music!" I proudly announced to the whole car. One of the girls in the back said "Um, MA, this is just a country love song..." It was the first time in my life that I heard a secular love song and the first love that came to mind was God's love not the love of a guy or the love of my future husband or the love of just anyone. I surprised myself.

I continued through senior year with a tiny flame of hope and love from this retreat burning inside my heart. It blew out several times but like magic it continued to light up again. By Easter, things got really interesting. I had already applied for about 15 journalism jobs. I was dead set on being the single woman at the bar in a big city with my martini. I'd rock my power suit have a few great girlfriends. I would have several serious lovers (none of which at the same time). I'd stress about deadlines but my life would be oh-so-fab! Yeah...forget about burying talents.

Well I couldn't forget about burying talents. Holy Thursday, the first day of the Easter Triduum for Catholics, marked a special day for me. At this point of my senior career, I was an assistant stage manager for a main stage play to finish my theatre degree. This involved me to be in the theatre from 5:30pm until about 11pm every night. Sometimes I could come in at 6:30pm. In any case I was hating life at the time. My senior year was rapidly coming to a close and I was spending it not with my friends but invisible behind the curtains of the stage...sipping rum and coke out of a coffee mug for solace.

Anyway, so I was granted permission to be late to rehearsal for Holy Week which was nice. Holy Thursday mass ends with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament until 12am. After the service, I did not want to leave the church but I had to go to rehearsal. Luckily, rehearsal let out early and I raced back to the church to spend some time with Jesus. I needed him. Well, I had a conversation with God that day. I wasn't to happy with him and sort of lashed out at him in my head. But God is kind of patient with people like me. So after I had this crazy rant in my head I sat and waited. Silence...a cough from someone behind me...then, God started talking.

In my rant I asked "why can't I be with a guy that I want?" All the guys I had liked throughout college had been really decent guys...I just couldn't understand why God wanted me to be unhappy and single. I had been single forever (4 years) and I had been tortured by the blatant public displays of affection and happiness by all my roommates and friends and their significant others. All four years my roommates had boyfriends. I always felt so lonely around most of them. The second part of my rant was "what the hell am I supposed to do with my life?" I always wanted to be the girl with the plan. I swore, in sophomore year of college, that when I graduated I would have a job and a plan. When people asked that dreaded questions "so what are your plans after graduation?" I could smile and answer honestly. "I'm doing XYZ." Well I let God have it. I just bitched out the Almighty. This was all in my head, thoughts....please don't think I stood cursing at the heavens in a church out loud. my head.

I guess God was smiling. I heard "Mary Anna, lets look at the gentlemen you've been interested in the past, shall we? I want you to examine each situation and think about them for a minute then get back to me." So I did. After about a half hours worth of reflection I realized that some very impacting incidents and situations in the lives of those young men have occurred. Throughout my four years at William and Mary it was more than "hes just not that into you." Huge things have prevented me from being with said guys. Divine intervention maybe? I'm not sure. Then I took that thought pattern and ventured into my next question. I can't take a man with me where ever I am going to end up after college. While this sounds really weird, it actually makes perfect sense. I'm supposed to go somewhere kind of far. When I go there, I'll meet someone there. I can't take a W&M man with me because the distance won't work. So I figured out 3/4 of the equation. Then I sat, prayed, meditated and thought some more. God wanted me to use my talents. My talent for counseling. I needed to look into volunteer opportunities with Catholic organizations. I was supposed to do some kind of social work after graduating. Yet develop me faith in a community setting. I finally had some direction.

So the next night at rehearsal when I was supposed to be taking line notes I googled Catholic Volunteer Services. I found a ton. I narrowed down the results by perks which would help me out the best. a) the Americorps award a $4,700 award granted to volunteers after one year of service to pay off student loans or future tuition (aka grad school stuff). b) room and board (because you volunteer...that means no steady salary.....and I didn't have enough money to get started somewhere anyway. c) Loan deferment - one year of deferring the loans d) Catholic community - I'm not that picky, I could live with anyone, but I'd prefer to live in my own faith community for the strongest faith building experience and e) on the East Coast.

Immediately I found Catholic Volunteer Service Corps, an organization located in New York. But not New York the New York bordering Lake Eerie/Canada. The program would require me to work with troubled youth or elderly. I'd get all the benefits listed above. I'd have to really challenge myself by cell phone fasting for a month or two and using my stipend for community living expenses (no free meals...). I liked the challenge but it also scared me. I wouldn't see my family for a whole year. My mother told me I'd have to sell the car to pay off some of my bills. But the director from the program called me personally two days after I submitted my inquiry form. She told me all about the program and offered to get me in touch with current volunteers. This was it. This was my calling.

Or so I thought. I was really starting to feel like one of the Disciples...."sell all your belongings, pick up your sandals and follow Me." Sell all my was starting to look that way and I wasn't happy about it.

I consulted one of my friends about my situation. He was one of the guys I met before the retreat but really got to know a bit after the fact. He suggested what was already on my mind. Go find other programs like this one but closer to home and more feasible. Another reason why I had to stay close to home was because I just invested in a $300 muzzleloader rifle so I could go hunting white tail deer with my dad in the fall. Even if I could just come down for a weekend or two, it would mean the world to him. After all, he gave me half his camo supplies. :-)

So I started researching programs again...trying really hard not to stalk which was a routine now ingrained in my brain. I still loved journalism, I knew it was a selfish profession at the moment. First off, I would be so busy I probably wouldn't have a lot of time to spare for God. I might even have to miss Mass because of deadlines. Secondly, in order to work my way up the corporate food chain I'd have to kiss ass and exploit people, skewing stories for public appeal...aka telling lies. I could be that woman at the bar with her martini and powersuit but I'd be awfully lonely.

I found a few promising programs, including one with Fransician Friars in DC. This was perfect. It was pretty local, I could bring my car, the work was what I was interested in and it seemed like a very do or die situation. So I submitted an initial inquiry form. A few days later I hadn't heard back. So I submitted another one. Nothing. So I e-mailed the director. Nothing. Two weeks after all of this I called the main office. I was forwarded to the same guy I e-mailed and now I felt like a stalker. Hmmm. I got his voicemail and left a message which got higher in pitch by the end of the message. Crap.

After this phone call I felt so defeated. I had been listening to Third Day's "Revelation" over and over again. The lyrics go Give me a revelation, show me what to do, I've been trying to find my way, I haven't got a clue, Tell me should I stay here, or do I need to move, give me a revelation, I've got nothing without You. And this is exactly how I felt. I was parked outside the post office at the University Center. I apparently had a package so I thought now is a good time to get it. I figured it was something from my parents because they are the only people that send me stuff. My mom denied sending me anything, but I still thought it could be her. The package turned out to be a golden envelope postmarked Huntingdon Valley, PA. It was from Redeemer Ministry Corps...another service corp that I had applied to, almost on a whim. I found out that Philly wasn't too far from where I lived and that I could apply to programs there. I didn't think I'd hear back from them even though they e-mailed me about sending me the application materials.

I opened the package and it contained a two page personalized letter explaining everything I needed to know about RMC. A package of volunteer opportunities with ones highlighted with a highlighter that they thought I would be interested in. They also included their creed, health care system packet, volunteer testimonies, newsletter and all in a green folder decorated with a Redeemer Ministry Corps paper on front. I was blown away. Talk about a revelation.

I told my parents about it and was surprised when they responded with support and reason. They weren't too keen on me spending a year working for nothing when I had loans and bills to pay. I told my friends and I felt certain that this was God's plan for me. I'd take a year off, work volunteering, then decide if I wanted to pursue journalism still or social work. Then figure out if grad school or the real world was the next step. After all, I'd finally have experience. Everyone has been very happy for me. I have to keep saying "my application is pending" instead of "so I'm going to work in Philly this year." As more challenges arise, more solutions appear as well. I had no idea how I was going to get up to Philly to work, interview or get back to the Shore to visit. It was my father who suggested looking into Greyhound prices. Apparently a Greyhound bus stops in the town next to mine and goes straight up to Philly. So that problem is solved.

There is still a great deal of uncertainty. A lot of which I was forced to reconcile with during my beloved Beach Week in Ocean City, Maryland with my close friends. I am going to come out of this experience broke. I have no clue what is going to happen afterwards. I even got a little mad at God for taking away my dreams of being rich and famous and replacing them with a more humble look on life. I always wanted to be famous. That isn't going to happen. I've had financial difficulties a lot recently and I'd like to not have to worry about money. That isn't going to happen. But God has plans for me. A wise campus minister once shared a short story about a little girl. There was this girl with her Dad and she needed to go to the barn but it was dark out. Her dad gave her a lantern and told her to go to the end of the light. So she did and stopped. Her dad told her to hold the lantern out and go to the end of the light again. She kept doing this and she eventually reached the barn door. That is what I need to do. Go to the end of the light and wait for further instructions. God has provided so far so what makes me think he'll stop providing? I'm learning to trust. I'm learning to rely on faith. I hope this experience will provide me with the tools necessary to trust even more.

There is always the possibility that I am not a good fit for their organization. Or, if I do not get a job or two this summer to put a dent in the credit card debt, I won't be able to volunteer. In that case I'm kicking myself for ignoring the Friars who called several days after I left my high pitched message. I'm supposed to be in Philly, I feel it. I just hope that everything works out so I can get there.

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