It’s been nearly four months since I first stepped foot on Minnesota soil. (Or airport carpet, if you want to get technical.)  I can’t believe it.  I look back on these 100+ days and marvel at how far we’ve come as a community, the things I’ve learned from the nuns, the priceless experiences I’ve had with the youth at my placement, and the ups and downs.

The holidays thus far have been different than any I’ve experienced.  Usually around this time I am losing hair over final exams, replacing about 43% of the water in my system with Starbucks’ dirty chai lattes (chai with a shot of espresso… try it, now!), and fretting about getting gifts for everyone that I can’t afford.  I drink A LOT less coffee these days, maybe a smidgen more than the Sisters do, but I’m good after two cups.  A total one-eighty from my old, naive, over-caffeinated self.  I’m not nearly as worried about gifts this year.  Something about being Franciscan has changed the things I obsess over, and being the young radical I am, I’ve been particularly disgusted with commercialism.  Most of my gifts this year have been hand made and I’m proud of that.  And, the friendships.  I’ve had some beautiful friendships blossom since I’ve been here and I’ve met some really solid people.  So, I would say that less coffee and commercialism and more genuine friendships are good things, definitely holiday “uppers”.

Segue to a couple “downers”… The Christmas season here at the Children’s Home is an exciting, yet somber time for most of the kids.  Many have never had a holiday to celebrate, or many other reasons to celebrate anyway.  This is perhaps the best Christmas they’ve ever had – as I’ve heard from a former treatment student – and the staff/faculty make sure the holidays are as festive and joyful as possible.  Every other day there is some sort of event, service or decorating party for the kids to be a part of.  Last Wednesday I got to be a part of the “Tree Lighting” ceremony.  All of the kids came and they indulged in cookies and cocoa; poems were read; children were blessed with a sprinkling of real holy water from a sprig of spruce branches (complete with lots of wet/giggly kids); skits were performed.  I got to be one of the “lucky” volunteers chosen from the audience to act out one of the skits.  My character?  Priscilla, a curly blond with Harry Potter glasses and a red feather boa ’round my neck.  I was all alone on Christmas Eve, until my long-lost love, Josh, shows up on my doorstep, and we proceed to do the Macarena around the Christmas tree.

My Theatre Debut

Me, being totally out of my comfort zone. It's for the kids... it's for the kids.

I am the biggest introvert I know, and this was so hard for me to do.  One of the (very extroverted) teachers was reading off the script for us as we went.  Lots of mandatory jumping up and down, screaming, and general  ridiculousness.  This job takes me more and more out of what I think is my comfort zone every new week.  But, as I was reminded before and after my little performance, it’s all about the kids, and it did make them laugh a whole lot.  I suppose that even though my face turns beet red when the kids yell “Heeey Priscilla!” to me down the hall, it’s all worth it.

I’ve also been able to continue developing relationships with the children here.  It is obvious that they’re more and more comfortable with me, and I with them.  One of the girls who’s been in treatment here for over a year, we’ll call her Janet, has a special place in my heart.  I’ve gotten to know her over the past four months, and when we first met she wouldn’t talk to me.  She had lots of self-esteem issues and always talked down about herself, and tried to heal those insecurities with a myriad of inappropriate things.  I have tried to be a positive energy in her life, and my prayer is that God has encouraged her through me, and let her know that she is precious because she is His beloved and beautiful work of art.  She’s gone from being hurtful and negative to sassy and confident.  It’s been a miracle to see her transform before my eyes!  We went out to lunch this week (McDonalds, her favorite because of their milkshakes) and had a good chat and general good time together.  She shared her anxieties with me, a little of her past and her exciting plans for the future.  She wants to be an LPN and get a nursing degree like her mom.  This morning, Janet was discharged from the Children’s Home.  I got up at the butt-crack of dawn to say good bye to her; we hugged about five times and I gave her a card.

It’s enormously bittersweet to say goodbye to Janet and others.  She still has a lot of growing to do, and she isn’t going to the best situation back home.  But she has changed hugely since I first met her, she is so much more cheery, more outgoing, more satisfied.  I’m happy for her.  Definitely a holiday “upper”!