Friday, December 25, 2009

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

Merry Christmas to all! Today is Christmas day, a day that I feel like I've been waiting for, for quite some time. It isn't because I was excited about presents or that Christmas is my favorite holiday. (I enjoy it but it isn't...the 4th of July is my favorite holiday haha). I think it has something to do with attending Advent prayer every Sunday night for the past four weeks. There is a heavy focus on "waiting." Waiting for the birth of Christ, waiting to spend some quality time with my family, waiting for a break from work.

Christmas was nice. While my mother kept apologizing for "lack of presents," I worked hard to make sure my family had a great Christmas present wise. "It isn't much dear, I'm sorry," my mother said. I really didn't mind. All I wanted for Christmas was Greys Anatomy Season 5 and I got it. I also got a beautiful dress, some clothes, a nice blanket made for my college graduation, a photo album and a pillow. I am thankful for everything ! Christmas isn't about presents anyway. I'll be sure to reinforce that mindset when my friends call me, bragging about their new Wiis, Iphones, cameras and Blackberries.

Even though I only get $100 a month and am in credit card debt up to my eyeballs, I bought my parents each a DVD, my mom a bottle of Irish Cream and a WWII book. I used the rest of my birthday gift card to get my grandmother a Philadelphia Book (Philadelphia Then and Now) which she loved. No gift could ever bring me as much joy as watching my grandmother immerse herself in that Philadelphia book, recollecting all her fond Philadelphia memories. I finally got her something she will enjoy and cherish.

This Christmas season was reinforced with Advent prayer. I got to enjoy a beautiful December snow. I got to help decorate our house and participate in what felt like multiple Christmases.

The true meaning of the season is God, friends, family and joy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spirit of Christmas

I think my four Christmas seasons at College came and went due to finals. Christmas was a blur, a single day to enjoy gifts, God and seafood. (My family has a traditional seafood Christmas dinner). This Christmas is different. While, I really don't think I got into Advent as much as my peers and the Sisters did, I did feel that certain warmth and joy that comes with the season.

Exhibit 1: I've never ever for as long as I can remember, gotten my grandmother something on my own. My family will get her a sweatshirt or a picture frame or a movie each Christmas. It isn't because I don't care, or don't love her. No, it is because she is 86 and she doesn't need/want anything. This year I originally got her a book on WWII, but then my mother had told me she wanted that book. My mother NEVER asks for anything for Christmas. I have no clue what to get her...ever. So I was stunned that she spoke up with interest in the book. I decided to give her the book and find something else for my grandmother. I went to Barnes and Noble and sure enough I found the PERFECT gift. "Philadelphia Then and Now." A book with pictures of Old Philly and present day Philly. I knew she would love this book with all its landmarks of her past. This is something she would read, enjoy and possibly cherish. I decided to use the other half of my Barnes and Noble gift card from my birthday to help pay for the present. The thing is, I didn't even think twice about it. "Christmas is about not being selfish" I thought to myself as I happily handed the remainder of my birthday present over to the cashier. I was too happy to get something my mother wanted AND something my grandmother would actually love.

Exhibit 2: I've been privileged to witness people being kind to others. One day I was in Dollar Tree and the woman in the checkout line behind me was crying. A man gently asked her if she was ok. She said "No...I'm sorry....I just recently lost my mother and this Christmas music is really screwing me up." As it turns out, the cashier lost her mother 10 years ago and she still felt like it was yesterday. AND the man had lost his mother 5 years ago. My friend and I couldn't express empathy but instead, expressed sympathy. My friend said "People who tell you that everything is going to be ok are full of shit." To which the woman started laughing. Then she began to cry some more and said "I'm sorry, this is so embarrassing. Now I'm crying because you all are being so nice to me." She left the store but not after all of us wished her a Happy Holidays. It really was one of those moments you watch in the movies.

Exhibit 3: At work I helped set up a Holiday Door Decorating Contest for the residents. I had seven participants and I asked three Sisters to be the judges. A winner on each floor would win a new watch. The contest was a huge success. Winners were chosen and the Sisters decided they would donate $10 for each contestant who did not win a prize. So everyone won! It was such a touching day. In fact, one of the winning doors had a letter to Santa. The first thing the letter asked for was "A house for Mommy..." Yes, the entire staff got chills. It was the sweetest, most innocent thing ever. I was pleased how everything turned out.

Today I also was given a gift card from a co-worker which is great because I'm broke. AND, another co-worker gave me her prized nativity with the instructions "when you look at this think of me." I wasn't expecting anything, not even the wonderful Christmas cards I've received so far this year.

The generosity is almost abundant. A few days ago I had to unexpectedly work a 12 hour day. I didn't have money for food and I was kind of worried about getting hungry. Another co-worker gave me $10 so I could get something for dinner. There really is something truly magical about the season.

I have also witnessed a 23 year old guy come to a holiday party for our residents, volunteer, and play Santa for the little kids. My friend Sarai bought me a Phillies Santa hat for all the nice things I do for her and with her. Strangers just seem happier and more friendly this time of year.

So in the spirit of Christmas I share this good news with you.

Until next time...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Let's take a look back,shall we?

It has been almost four months since I began my adventures with Redeemer Ministry Corps. I endured with joy the honeymoon stage where everything seemed in perfect harmony. Then I fell into reality where life wasn't perfect all of the time but it wasn't bad either. My body had to adjust to waking up early (for me) five days a week and working 8-12 hours a day.

In 3.5 almost 4 months I have changed a lot. The biggest change is physical, for I am now happy to report to the world that I have lost a total of 20lbs. It is starting to really show on the outside. This rapid weight loss is due to working out three days a week and trying to eat somewhat healthy or healthier than I have been in the past. My hair is a lot longer and is almost half light brown and half blond for my roots continue to grow each day.

I think I have grown in flexibility and adaptability. My position at Project Rainbow did not exist until I became a full time volunteer here. Now I'm not sure this facility could operate as well as it does without this position. Notice I say position, not me. In 3.5 to 4 months I now have two fully functioning tutoring programs that the kids really look forward to going to. I have created a fully functioning library that the moms love to visit and check out books and games for their families. I have been given other responsibilities such as setting up and facilitating the monthly birthday parties for the residents. I'm getting better at teaching my social and emotional class for my school aged kids. I've been on top of completing my assessments for kids 5 and under. I think I've gotten the swing of things. I can give you a tour of our facility and sound like I've worked here for over 20 years. :) Looking back, it feels as if I literally fell into this ministry site and was fortunate enough to make all the right choices (for the most part).

I can honestly say that I've prayed more in the past 3.5 to 4 months than I have in the past four years. I'm still working on that aspect of my life even though I have abundant resources to help me out.

I find that going without certain things/people allows you to appreciate them more. Therefore I really miss my family and I am stoked to go home for Christmas! I miss William and Mary more than ever. We lost our semi final game against Villanova the other day. Yesterday was Gaudete Sunday. I kind of felt a little homesick for Williamsburg since CCM puts on a beautiful Gaudete mass. I was lucky enough to go to Mary Mother of the Redeemer for mass yesterday. (I think I've mentioned it before but it is a church 30 min away that I really enjoy).

Our community really feels like a family. Sister Alphonse (who I affectionately call Alphie) is my drink/snack buddy. She was also my baseball buddy during the Phillies post season. Sister Kathy Rose is my tv show buddy, we watch Greys Anatomy and House together. Whenever I need a little sunshine I can go to Sister Barbara. She always has the best stories and she is a really good cook too. Speaking of good cooks, Joan has been baking a lot of Christmas cookies lately! I go to Joan when I need a laugh and also when I have something deep and personal I want to share. I connect to Sister Katharina on a deep level too.

Connie and Stephen and I have made an active effort to build our own community. We went ice skating at Penn's Landing on Saturday night. We had a great time even though I was never meant to be on ice. I clung to the wall most of the evening. At one point three Navy guys tried to help me out but I think I was beyond help. Last night Connie and I watched White Christmas. I love that movie since it reminds me of home. My family watches it every Christmas. :)

This weekend (Saturday night actually) Stephen and I also went to a JVC party. We got to meet a lot of the JVC volunteers from the East Coast. I'm glad we got the opportunity to network with more individuals our age. It was a blast and I'm pretty sure we got back home in the wee hours of the morning.

Personally I'm working on my listening skills. I want to talk less and listen more. There is a certain value to conversation. It is a two or four or even seven way street. I need to continually remind myself that it is not a one way street. :)

It has only been 3.5 to 4 months and look how far I've come. There is still much to be explored. Much to be experienced. Much more to be developed and improved within and about myself, my ministry and my life. At times I get frustrated and down on myself because I'm naturally hard on myself but then I get these breaks when I remember all the things I've already overcome. I can't even imagine what the remainder of the volunteer year has in store for me!

Until next time...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mirror Mirror on the Wall....

...what does my future hold, if anything at all?

-corny I know. (and to think I call myself a writer).

Tomorrow I'll be headed to a meeting at the School District of Philadelphia to learn more about the resources we have to improve homeless children's' education. Part of me is like, woah, I've got another meeting at the School District of Philadelphia, I'm a grown up! The other part of me is like woah, the School District of Philadelphia headquarters is right next to the Philadelphia Inquirer building.

What am I going to do as I pass the Inquirer to go to my meeting?

Stare at it. For approx. 15 seconds and sigh.

I really don't understand the point of living in the present. I know it has something to do with realizing what you've got and not what you can attain. The one thing I struggle with the most in this program is figuring out what to do after it. I'm not in a rush to get out of here. If anything, I wish I could sign up for an additional year. I don't really trust anyone to do my job next year as a Youth Advocate yet sources tell me this facility relies on interns and unpaid volunteers to run. Therefore I'll surely be replaced. After all, this non-profit does not have the money to hire me after my work for free year is over.

So I'm trying to prepare myself for what is next. The fun part is, I have no idea! Part of me wants to slink back to journalism and write my ass off while sucking up to corporate America. The good, wholesome, do-gooder part of me wants to find a job that serves people and makes changes for good OR another volunteer position that pays more and allows me to serve people and do good. Journalism and social work are two very different fields. Journalism is kind of a self-gratifying career. Its almost selfish. You write for your readers but your name is highlighted in bold on the byline. Social work is a work for nothing but change lives kind of career. You get paid crap, you put up with crap, you realize that you can't help everyone but you do get an opportunity to change a life or two. How many people can say journalism changed their life?

When I get out of this program I need something that pays enough for me to knock out my bills, live on my own and pay for insurance on my car/self/life. I know I won't be a minute made millionaire but I'd like to not live below the poverty line. Ideally, I've said this before, I'd like to stay in Philly. There is a lot of opportunity here and I really love the area.

Its funny. People tell you that you don't have to have one career your whole life. They say you can write, serve, sing and invest. When you're in my position you have to make all the right moves. I can try to work for another non-profit but that's to get money to get on my feet. If I want to make money to oh, I don't know, buy a dog or a new car, I need to seek a promotion. Promotions come with advanced education. So what would I go back to school for? That is where it gets difficult. I don't even have money to go back to school. If I did, what would I study? I only get one chance until I make enough money to go and study something else for a new career. So it is a one shot kind of thing. If I go to school for social work I could be a case worker, counselor, youth advocate or program director. If I go to school for marketing I could be a marketing professional designing advertisements and stuff. If I just get an MBA I can work in college administration as an admissions advisor or some sort of high up job in college. If I go to school for journalism, I could possibly get hired by a big newspaper such as the Inquirer. The possibilities are endless and that's not always a good thing.

Much like a chess game, I have to plan my first step and hope its the right one. Yet everyone gets on me for constantly thinking about the future. "Make the most of the present!" Ok, but I worry I'll still be clueless in a year and I'll be working for McDonald's with non English speaking individuals. What am I qualified for? How can I make the most impact on the world?

My dream job would involve me being a journalist for a travel magazine. I'd get paid to travel the world and write about it. I'd settle for covering stories about murder, drugs, and political scandals for Philadelphia though.

While I'm at work I sometimes stop and think about the present moment. "Woah, I'm at MY desk. Woah, this is MY workplace. Woah, I have to lead a meeting today or assess a family tomorrow." I realize that this is the real world and I have a lot of responsibility for someone who just graduated college and I LOVE IT.

I suppose every 20 something goes though this phase in life. That is, unless you're in law school, business school or some other graduate school. Then you know what you want to do. I don't think I'm cut out for law school but I am toying with the idea of going to business school. I can't help but feel limited by the unlimited.

All in all work has been fine, its picking up because of the holidays. Community is fine, half my house is sick and I think I've just caught the bug myself. Spiritual life is shaky as usual. Love life is non-existent. I am doing just fine but yes, I miss my family and all my friends very much. I'll be home for Christmas the 23rd-29th. :)

Until next time...

What if I'm not a Writer?

I've mentioned this before. My first book I ever wrote was a few chapters long. Each page was a new chapter. I was in second or third ...