Friday, December 20, 2013

Transformation through Rebirth

The following is written by Katie Kouchi, one of this year's Little Village Volunteers, for her community's Los Posadas Advent Reflections.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Luke 1: 8-15

Have you ever stopped and looked around and realized how unique it all is?  The people especially.   The people you live with, your coworkers, the clients, students, elders, families, and toddlers you serve, the people around you are all so special, treasured and amazing because it easily could be so different.

I came to Amate House a year after I’d originally planned.  What can I say?  It’s a long journey from Hawaii to Chicago.  I was all ready to join Amate right after college, but in June of 2012 we found out about my grandfather’s terminal illness and I decided to stay at home with my family.  It was the best thing for me, and I am so thankful for that time.  When he passed in January of 2013, I found myself applying to Amate again.

In my head, it seemed very normal.  I would be in Chicago, working at Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, just like I’d planned in 2012.  But it’s not exactly the same.  The people I live with, the elders I visit, my coworkers, are all different from those I would've had last year.  And not just different, but unique and needed.  Every interaction, every individual is special and there for a reason.  It’s all connected and blows my mind.

In other circumstances, I would've come my first year around and had a completely different experience, not better or worse, just different.  And in knowing the chain of events it took me to arrive at this very moment, I value this experience in a way I originally wouldn't have.

There are times on this journey I am confused, frustrated and desperate to understand how all the pieces connect, but when I pause for a moment and realize how it’s all connected so far in the people I've met and spent time with, I am comforted that in time, all will be made clear.

This journey of life naturally has its ups and downs, and I find stability, comfort, and growth in those around me.  The shepherds went out to seek their Messiah and were so moved to share the good news with others.  They were moved and their lives were changed.

Every day, minute, second we are changing, we are different people than we were yesterday and I believe it has a lot to do with our interactions with others.  To me, the people of your life have the ability to shape your world and by recognizing the profound value they possess in all that they are, you can add that much more meaning to your life.  I see it in my family, friends, Little Village community, elders at work, and larger Amate community.  May we continue to revel in the complicated web of life that has brought us together, knowing we are each here for a reason, cherishing the gift of hope, love and each other this Advent season.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Be Watchful

The following is written by Liz Skora, one of this year's Little Village Volunteers, for her community's Los Posadas Advent Reflections.

“Be Watchful! Be Alert! You do not know when the time will come.”
Mark 13:33

This honest reminder from Mark that we do not know when the time will come stirs up a sense of anxiety in my often impatient heart. I love to make plans. I like to know where and when things will happen so I can plan accordingly and hopefully control the details. If it were up to me, I would have an outfit layed out the night before Jesus’ coming rather than live each day with this sense of the looming unknown. The concept of God’s plan and His timing seems completely foreign to my detail-oriented mind, yet as I immerse myself in the Amate experience I find more and more that God is calling me to learn how to release control and wait on His timing rather than my own. To wait, but not grow tired of waiting. For me, my time here at Amate thus far has felt like an extended lesson in the virtue of patience, but not my begrudging version of patience, rather, patience with a smile.

I had hoped that Amate would be a magical place where once I arrived I would suddenly know God’s plan for my life. All energy was focused on just getting to Chicago and then, in my version of the plan, God would reveal to me His will for my life. But four months in, I have realized that much less than knowing a plan for my life, I honestly haven’t even figured out God’s plan and purpose for these 11 months at Amate. And that’s perfectly okay. On my first day of work in August, I found out that the tutoring program I had volunteered to coordinate didn’t begin until October. I was so anxious for the kids to arrive, to get the ball rolling, to feel like I had come to Chicago for a reason. It seemed to me like I was wasting time with empty waiting. Why couldn’t the kids just start now? Why could I just know my purpose now? What am I waiting for?

While I felt like it was me waiting all this time for something to happen, in truth it was God waiting on me. Waiting for me to realize that His plan and timing are better than my own. I always thought that surrendering to God’s plan would be giving up and blindly following instead of forging ahead with my own plans and ideas. Instead, God has showed me that by trusting in Him and waiting on His timing I am not blindly following but instead faithfully surrendering the need to lead my own path. I often grow impatient, wondering why God hasn’t answered a prayer, only to find months later that he provided for me in a way far beyond anything I could have planned or asked for myself. And instead of gritting my teeth and waiting in annoyance, God calls me to wait in joyful hope.

Each morning, I try to pray an Our Father, focusing especially on the line “Give us this day, our daily bread”. This daily bread that I am asking for is the hope for each day that God is alive, and God is love. He is not lost in the world and has not forgotten about me. He is working each day on a plan for my life. By actively seeking out this glimmer of hope each day, I am able to wait joyfully as I discover step by step where God is calling me. This has been a tremendous blessing for me in waiting for work to start, waiting for my community to learn to trust, waiting to feel more adjusted in Chicago. These little breadcrumbs of hope, leading me on God’s path, have come in many forms. A handshake of thanks from a parent when picking their child up from my tutoring program. The smile on a student’s face when he FINALLY understood long division. Affirmation from a housemate. An unexpected phone call from a friend. I often find myself surprised by the joy in each of these moments of hope throughout my day, especially on the days when I become bogged down with my own worries and forget to be on the lookout for God in my day. The surprise of hope inspires me to watch more vigilantly for living signs of God in the world. This advent, let us each seek out our daily bread, asking God to teach us how to watch and wait in joyful hope.

“What I say to you, I say to all: “Watch!”

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Sound of a Bird

The following is a poem written by Arielle Zelinski, one of this year's Little Village Volunteers, for her community's Los Posadas Advent Reflections.

Not so long and yet so long ago,
I, a wanderer, perched and slumped in the
chair of the day’s controlled routine
and intrudes
only to intrude and welcome again
an inevitable friend and foe, outside my window
            and inside my soul,
is a bird singing, hope,
following me with my heavy backpack
filled with fears, regrets, and longings
but hope persists,
“Hope” is the thing with feathers - *
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
the bird rests on a branch
emptying out reminders, remembering my past:
driving in a car up to college
            waving good-bye to high school
            and unknowingly stepping back
            into self-doubt, with my first C in English
two days before departure to Italy
hands drenched in tears, fear of the unknown—
living across the ocean, with strangers,
for three and a half months
and the possibility of not making friends

calling a friend, and considering
staying back from South Carolina
a week-long service trip to help build houses
to instead work on deserted papers and unread books

a year later, another week long service trip,
to Chicago, another trail of questions
but yet at a school, working with middle schoolers,
and staying with volunteers at Amate, Little Village

all these fears and longings,
but as I stand and reflect,
reflect and stand,
I open my window, allowing the overcast,
the obscurity inside
and with my once fearful eyes
opens them to a bird, chirping,
this bird and this woman grown
            driven with hope
cross into a darkly lit opening
and I, a wanderer,
gently merge
onto another wanderer’s path
carrying personal baggage up, up
packed with intrigue and curiosity
as uncertainty dresses their new walls
while one by one they uncover
their reality
unfamiliar voices echo in different places
dusting the past insides of a present dresser
once another’s,
in a world intersected by people and stories and places
            this other wanderer, a new community member,
a traveller from the west, a tall black woman with dreads
experiences so similar and different
   shepherds her community as she beautifully articulates
   truth and experience
   for she bears wisdom,
reliant yet deviant, trustworthy and honest
            she, the Holy Spirit in disguise, the bird
            with hope, God sent her with great purpose
but this traveller needs to break free
of her cage, for Amate,
her two and a half months,
she must continue onwards, a different direction
sooner than the other eight, she leaves behind,

the other woman uncertain again
and clenches a fist
and releases
only to cry
and cry

but a week later
before closing my window
I open it a crack
to listen to
a faint sound of a bird

*First Stanza from "'Hope' is the Thing with Feathers", by Emily Dickinson.