This is the end!  I packed for two weeks, said goodbye to everyone at the Chlidren’s Home and just finished a three day retreat at Clare’s Well, a healing farm run by the Franciscan Sisters.  It is simply a fantastical place, entirely secluded, forty plus acres, a perfect showcase of the Minnesota sky at night, plentiful goats, guinea hens (and their babies), kitties, a blind dog and thousands of native birds.  Nature just thrives in this place.  It was a perfect ending to the program — only I wish I finalized more things like packing and my flight back home before we went, since I just seemed to dive back into anxiety as soon as we returned this afternoon.  Regardless I am incredibly thankful for Srs. Paula, Jan and Carol for creating such a beautiful, peaceful and healing community at Clare’s Well and for letting us crash the hammocks for three days.  I know I will do my crying on the plane ride tomorrow morning and I’m eager for this anxiety to leave.  I know the morning will be hectic, or it usually is, so I’m trying to keep centered and peaceful and not let my circumstances take over.

Auf wiedersehen, Minnesota!  I learned a lot from your eccentric climate, Catholic tradition and amiable neighborliness.  I will hopefully never forget “Minnesota nice” and probably consider my self Minnesotan for the next year at least!

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Here we are in the home stretch!  Amazing to think it has been ten whopping long months already — !

Today we are scouring our rooms & the volunteer house like mad.  To help prepare us Sister Clara made omelets this morning, which I need to eat more of, I decided.  I can’t remember the last time I had hot breakfast & Clara is a master cook, so omelets shot to the top of my list of favorite foods this morning.

This Thursday the Children’s Home said goodbye to me in normal fashion, with ice-cream & a big “Thank You Alicia!” poster with all the kids’ signatures & notes.

A sweet send-off

It was a sweet send-off.  My supervisor was dead set on getting a picture of me on my bike that I rode to my placement everyday, and we decided to add balloons from my party — I thought it turned out nice!  We tried for an action shot, but turns out it’s incredibly difficult to ride while a dozen balloons are smacking your face.

Bike and balloons

Then we had a final fiesta with most of our best Minnesotan friends.

Minnesota pals

It’s been a fine last week.  Now it’s time to clean like there’s no tomorrow…

I don’t know, at all, how to say my goodbyes to the children this upcoming week.  Not even an iota.  I already had one girl flip out on me when she was inadvertently told about my departure in just seven days, right in front of me.  What do I say to someone who threatens to hurt herself and others just because I’m going back home — indefinitely?  I feel empty and helpless when I try to buffer any explanation to the kids.

I’m not as attached to this place as I’d like to be and you know, I can’t help that. The feel what I feel.  So as kids freak out over my leaving it’s so hard to relate or sympathize and I’m entirely unable to give them sound or comforting advice.  Now I do love the kids, developing relationships with dozens of them over the past ten months — but I’m pretty mild when it comes to the idea of saying goodbye forever.  I’m not as nonchalant as I was when I left college and all my friends last May, because I’ve grown a lot relationally since then.  So I’m really thankful for that.  Maybe I just have a difficult time reconciling my feelings to my experience, and I don’t know how to be open or wholly honest about them… but back to today.

Today the thought that I could barely console a girl who was in tears over the announcement of my leaving, left me in tears.  She was already depressed, angry and had quite a few reasons for being so, and I had nothing to give.  How could I comfort her when I experience depression as well, or did?  I know where she’s coming from, but I can’t verbalize that lest I belittle her reality and upset the societal trend of “No one understands me!”.  Knowing where she is coming from makes it hard for me to encourage — at my lowest, nothing encouraged me.  All I can think to do is listen to her and agree that she is as sad as she is, and in my heart know exactly how valid her feelings are.  I’m sick that I couldn’t think of anything to do or say that might exhort her or shed new perspective — more doubts about why I’m here or the vocation I want to pursue working with kids.  My experience today was terrible, and I never want anymore goodbyes, in the next week and next hundred weeks, to be that low.

If anyone out there knows how to say goodbye, the gentlest, wisest way to give my farewell to dozens of at-risk youth who are already hurting — please, please fill me in!

In the last few days — literally — of this commitment to service, of course I am reflecting constantly on what the program and my time at the residential treatment home for kids has meant for me. I’m writing in the middle of the day and I need to go back to work, so I’ll keep this short.

It is true that there is significance in our suffering and stumbles — how deep it turns out to be depends on me and my perspective. I am naturally a negative person, not necessarily pessimistic, but I zero in on flaws rather than perfections, struggles rather than successes. And I haven’t really kept those particular experiences a secret on my blog, though they were considerably toned down when I figured out that many are capable of finding and reading my blog, i.e. coworkers and supervisors, and I didn’t want to step on toes or discourage anyone by mistake.  Also I’m unable to talk about particular hardships that concern kids because of policies on privacy.  Regardless of specifics, it’s been a hard year. I’m still recovering from a less-than-mild (traumatic in my hindsight — !) beginning with these children, and my confidence has been rebuilding itself with painstaking slowness. But the significance in these stumbles is surfacing, and if nothing else, they served to shape my character and God’s as well.  For instance.

I know that I have a gift of calmness that automatically rears itself in otherwise frazzling circumstances. That is such a gem when working with frustrated, on-edge, at-risk kids.  Perseverance, too, has shined when both staff and students let me down or don’t follow through. And I’m learning flexibility when dealing with the childrens’ mood swings.  In general, I’m learning, and that is satisfying.

On the flip side, I’m ridiculously self-conscious around kids. I always have been. That triggers doubts in my recent decision to pursue a career teaching/mentoring kids, despite the feeling that I am intentionally nudged by God to do so.  I’ve realized how little trust I put in God and how much I put in the kids’ perception of me. Getting that improper source of validation out of my system, which has honestly been in place for a decade, is a hard pill to swallow (or regurgitate, if you will).

As far as my relationship with God is concerned, I have a more rooted understanding of the deep impact of grace in my life.  I also understand that God is good and works out good things through anything and everything — especially amidst the terror in the world of the poor and marginalized, and the hurt and battered children I see every day. I don’t think I would have made it through these challenging months without a firm grasp of His goodness, because without it there is such little purpose to the suffering that goes on in these kids’ lives. God has to be infinitely and supremely good, otherwise we would go insane. That is more truth than I’ll ever spout again on this blog — !

There’s more, so much more. I’m determined to make the most of these last few days with the kids; I know God wants me to take advantage of this time of service, to grasp the blessings and experience sincere joy by caring for the marginalized. I pray this is my perspective as I wind down my time as a volunteer, I pray that I finish strong and give God the glory.

At times I am a huge grump about my placement. There are legit days when, as I ride my bike on my thirty-second commute, my mantra is, I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to be here.

It’s really awful, I know.  I am blessed to be a part of a supportive community as with the Sisters and other volunteers.  I am enormously blessed in general.  But sometimes, my heart is in a low place, my shoulders are burdened, and I dread the day ahead surrounded by people and at-risk youth, knowing that I’ll be spread thin even more thanks to my introversion.

But other days I am exuberant.  Some times I really, supremely love my niche in the kids’ lives, regardless of how positive or negative my interactions are with them.  Some times, I will spend an entire class period with one student, guiding, redirecting, teaching and talking with them, and it is so natural — !  I find that I enjoy this singular time, and to a degree, I am good at it.  Knowing that I am potentially a positive part of their treatment is extremely satisfying, and so much more awesome to me considering how hard this experience has been.  It is the type of encouragement that gives me a deep peace about my placement, and it is the type of fruit that seems to confirm God’s direction in it.

I don’t know why there are these extremes, but I do know that the latter experience is becoming as prevalent now, in the last weeks, as the former was in the first months.  Praise God for my gift of perseverance — truly, it is an unmerited gift.  Without it, I would not have come this far.  This kind of peace is, I believe, a taste of that which surpasses all understanding, and it hums lively in my work and community life.  I imagine that as I run toward this seemingly elusive, Godly peace of my mind and soul, it trickles in small ways into other aspects of my life, such as my daily interactions with children that intimidate me or my living community that is beginning to resemble family.

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand…
– Philippians 4:7

It is because of this peace I received recently that I now want to pursue a vocation working with youth.  It may not work out.  There are a number of other paths I pursued in the past because I felt drawn or convicted by God, that blatantly failed, and seemed to only serve as a means to humble.  Of course, there is still time yet to reap the fruits of those failures, just as there is a lifetime ahead of me to reap the fruits of my successes.  Each venture I pursue, however, shows me less cocky, less prideful and less naive, which I may only attribute to God’s graceful direction, my better self-discipline, and my subsequent growth from both.  What comforts me this time is the peace of understanding that despite closed opportunities and wayward paths, my vocation will always be, as I exist, a lover of God and of people.  I will always have provision to pursue that vocation and as such, I hope it will remain my primary one, the job I pursue above all of the acceptance and approval of men.

Perhaps this teaching path is not so clear, and definitely not without doubt, but I am solid in knowing that no matter what the outcome, it does not define me, and that understanding is leaps and bounds away from my perspective merely a year ago.

Wordle: CAP Essay

Here is the world cloud for my Christian Appalachian Project essay I’m submitting this week. Happy to see “community” right on top!

Wordle: Jeannespeaks Blog

This is a poor representation of what is sparsely on my mind and heart right now… Pretty lazy but I love these little things! If you are reading for updates, please know I am thinking of you and I know you deserve something more substantial. I sincerely hope to post at least a few more times before the program is out in six weeks. (Eep!)