Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Message from Home

One of my last nights at our despedida, goodbye party.
I promised this last post a long time ago. There have been a lot of times when I've almost written it or written it all out in my head, then haven't actually done it. I can't say exactly why. Laziness probably. Busyness. Tiredness. There's probably a little subconscious stuff going on too, but there you have it.

Levin, the time he decided, totally on his own,
to dress up as a king for the day.
So an update! I am happy to say that I have a job back here in the States. I am extremely fortunate. My Mom heard about the job and I applied and interviewed via Skype while I was still in Honduras. I came back to the states on August 12 and I started work on September 2. I am the "social ministries communicator" for Catholic Charities and the Diocese of Camden. I basically have two people I report to, one the executive director of Catholic Charities Camden, and the other the communications director for the diocese. For the latter I get to write news stories about social ministry going on in the diocese -- out of parishes, out of Catholic Charities, from parishioners -- for the diocesan website and newspaper, the Catholic Star Herald. For Catholic Charities my job is a little broader, doing general communications and a little bit of marketing. I manage their website news content and a few other pages, work with social media, and write press releases and stories. I hope to do some more newsletter-type things in the future too. It's nice when both responsibilities overlap, which they often do. Really it's an amazingly ideal situation. I'm writing, and about things I care about, good work people are doing, and I'm meeting inspiring, incredible people.

The three boys who came to the home around Christmas
and became my students in January.
And I work about ten minutes away from my house where I've moved back in and taken over the third floor guest bedroom. It was a major dream come true the day I took out all of my books from their boxes in storage and arranged them on the bookshelves up here. Fiction, non-fiction, religion, philosophy. I felt a little like I was back in my library in Honduras while I was doing it. I love just looking at them. Once an English major, always an English major. It's nice living at home again. I'm wrapped once again in that blanket of love I grew up with, and I get to be part of my younger siblings' lives. And I'm surrounded, still, by children. The noisiness of our dinner table is a little like the craziness of the comedor, but don't tell my mom that. She's seen the comedor.

My special needs one-on-one student, Rana.
One of the best parts of my job are my Spanish-speaking co-workers. There are a lot of them in the office and a few who will only speak to me in Spanish. It's been so great. One of my worst fears was losing my Spanish, but I don't think it's gotten too much worse. My job also has me covering Spanish stories once in a while, too. I recently went to our Diocese's Hispanic family celebration, a day that was entirely in Spanish, and I got to even interview people in Spanish! It was amazing.

Another strange development has been the Amigos kids' use of Facebook, and even Skype! After we left some of the older boys figured out how to download Skype on their phones and I've skyped several times with them! It's crazy to see them on my computer screen, to speak in Spanish with them. I really can't describe it. In September, four of the kids came to the States for the annual fundraising visit Amigos has. Our executive offices are right in Malvern, P.A., so I was close enough to go to a lot of events, even to meet them in the airport. There was a magnetism to their visit. I couldn't stay a way, even though I felt them scratching away the scabs I had made. It was so beyond wonderful to be with them, to laugh with them, play with them, remember inside jokes we had. I felt again that belonging and was reassured that I still have my place with them. But each night when I went home, and especially when I had left, the reality of our apartness had to be faced.

Levin and his little brother Wilbur.
The pictures you see are the ones I've been using as the desktop backgrounds on my computer (and the really good ones are courtesy of my amazing fellow volunteer, Emily Pettinger). Every time I open my computer I see their faces and I smile. I miss them so much. I think of them so often. Being at work is usually my saving grace. When I'm there, I become consumed by the work at hand and I've been pushing myself there like a crazy person, which is entirely characteristic anyways, but also sort of a necessity now. But even there I'll see their faces suddenly in something someone says. Some location will stir up a memory. The slightest thing takes me back there, to the road to San Pedro Sula, to the school, to Buen Samaritano and the wheelchair-bound people there, to the soccer field and a child telling me he used to eat dirt, to our porch and boy saying he wishes he knew where his mother was, to our kitchen where I once spent hours with a teenager scanning google maps of Honduras searching for some kind of needle in a haystack that only he understood. And to happy moments too. The way the sun would set behind the hills, the warmth of a summer night, the stars, listening to Spanish romantic songs from the 70's with my friend Jacob, sitting with Levin on my lap one night after dinner, feeling the bone-crush of little Edgar barreling into me one morning before school. I'm back there in an instant, so many times a day.
Getting asked to be my student's godmother at his Baptism.

In one of my favorite novels of all time The Brothers Karamazov (I'm really not trying to be pretentious -- if you've read it you know it's great stuff!) the brother Ivan makes his case that freedom is not worth the suffering of innocent children, that the world order set down by God in the form of free will, and atonement, is not worth the blood and tears of one abused child. "Why, the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child's prayer to 'dear, kind, God.'"

Dostoevsky had an answer for that, and it's all somewhere in the God who didn't remain just God but became man and died, and somewhere deep in my own personal culpability, which I am to spend my life atoning for. But the logic of Ivan sometimes is clearer, more seductive, more plain. Then again, it's no way to live.

That personal culpability sometimes takes more concrete and immediate terms. I left them after a year of getting to love them, I needed to leave, and I went into it knowing I would. I took so much from them, then I left. I might have given a little, too, but ultimately I'm gone. That's an incredible responsibility. The story doesn't have to end there, unless I let it. But distance and forgetfulness are funny things; I feel them creeping up on me already.

Really all this wrestling is something everyone does anyway, I've just given it my own twist. The truth is, when I think back on my time there now, what I remember most is being happy.

And when I think on my life now, the proper response is gratefulness.

Thanks again for reading this blog. Many of you supported me financially too, which I am so very grateful for. I may post just one more time to let you know when I'll be giving a presentation on my time in Honduras at my parish, St. Stephen's in Pennsauken, N.J. I've been working with the pastor there to set a date and when it's all settled I'll let you know. Most of all, I know many of you were with me in prayer this year, and that was such a blessing. I can't thank you all enough for your love and support on this journey!

There's a beautiful prayer, written to commemorate the martyrdom of Msgr. Oscar Romero in El Salvador, that tells how all work like this must necessarily be incomplete. I was reminded of it recently by my boss at Catholic Charities. So I won't try to wrap this blog up too neatly either, but will instead use those words.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. 

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church's mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

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