Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Geronimo!

M.Y.

Mike & Gracie jumping in with both feet on retreat
One year ago, I was starting my last year as a Boston College undergraduate, finishing up a BA in Theology.  Somewhere along the way, life provided a plan for me.  A perfect storm of coincidences eventually brought me here, to be sitting on the third flood of the Marquard Center, at a computer that is slower than a snail in molasses, writing this blog post. 

How exactly I got here isn't important.  The most important thing I've learned as a result of the experiences I've been blessed to have, is no matter where you are in life it is of the utmost importance to jump in with both feet.

Looking back, this is a philosophy that has served me fairly well.  After I took a fairly rudimentary theology class, my interest was piqued. The next year, I did what any irresponsible 20 year old with zero foresight would do, and I switched my major from Pre-Med to Theology.  And I didn't drown.  By jumping in with both feet, I found more than just a major, I was changed by it.  It ignited a passion within me for the close study of scripture that I still carry with me.

Wining team for "Chopped Challege" Community night
There are other instances of jumping in with both feet that I found have served me equally well--by deciding to fully and ambitiously explore my faith, I can confidently say I've found a deeper relationship with God.  Fully trusting in myself and the future allowed me to travel to South Africa and have some of the most adventurous times of my life.  But it is in the work that we do at Franciscan Outreach every day that I see this lesson fully realized.  One of my community member's once wrote on our quote board, "throw your heart into your work, and jump in after it".  I fully believe that in order to gain the most from any experience, especially a year of service, it is important to jump in with both feet, and, keeping with the metaphor, swim away from the ledge into deeper waters.

Mike & Timo at the Open House event
At Franciscan Outreach, we work directly with those who are homeless.  But you already knew that.  Daily we come in direct contact with human beings in various situations, many of them in crisis.  We stare at hunger, substance abuse, mental illness, and poverty in the face, every single day.  We prepare food for our guests and provide them a safe place to sit down, relax, and have a meal.  Nothing that happens in the building can ever be half-assed.  In fact, it is the opposite.  Every day, I find that we have to give more of ourselves to our guests and our work than we expect.  We share more with our guests than food and a building--their struggles become ours, their heartaches ours, and their defeats ours.  When Chris* was kicked in the leg by some punk when he was sleeping, or when Brian* is threatened and kicked into the street by his ex-wife, or when Curtis* has all his belongings stolen, those struggles become ours and part of the weight we bear.  When you make a commitment to serve a marginalized population, you should be prepared to take their sorrows and make them your own.  If you insist on keeping a distance between yourself and the people you serve, of only living with them half of the time, you'll drown.  It's not all bad though.  With the sorrows and defeats also comes incredible joy and life.  When Julie* got a job or when David* got housing, we rejoiced with them.

Making dinner
Committing fully and jumping in with both feet is a theme that consistently comes up in the Bible, and oftentimes it is the measure of a great person.  When Abraham left his ancestral land of Ur, he did not do so apprehensively.  He heard God's call and followed, leaving his home and country behind in the hopes of a better life ahead.  When Joshua led his people from the wilderness into the land of Canaan, he faced seemingly insurmountable odds.  And yet, he trusted in God and carved out a country for his people. In these instances, neither one said, "Oh I'll just dip one foot in and see how it is".  The patriarchal stories lose their ring if after Abraham heard God he said, "Okay, but I won't sell my hut just yet, maybe I'll sublet it for a few months in case things don't work out.  Sarai, can you put some of the appliances in storage"? In both instances, these men were called to do something and they answered with a resounding "Yes".

If you are thinking about doing a year of service, listen to your heart.  Do you feel that you can fully commit to giving yourself to a population desperately in need, homeless or otherwise?  Do you feel drawn to do it?  If you're like me, you may not be able to articulate exactly what draws you toward service, but that's fine.  If you're going to do it, do it all and do it well.

There is a very simple reason that a year of service demands that you jump in with both feet and hold nothing back: a year of service is a year of living out love.  Giving yourself to those who are homeless, or orphans, or refugees, or homeless orphan refugees, or any marginalized demographic is an act of love, and an act of love is to give yourself wholly and fully to another.  And it's not easy.  There may be days when you don't feel like working or days when you feel crushed by everything--the systems of poverty, hopelessness and despair.  But that doesn't matter.  You agreed to live in love.  You agreed to be love.  Trust in yourself, your heart, and whatever God you choose, and things will turn out for the best.

*Names changed

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