Defeat is inevitable, now GET UP!

2 Oct

I find myself thinking I can change the world, I certainly felt this way when I joined Change A Heart. But since I’ve begun my placement at Casa San Jose, I’ve felt more defeated than I had expected.

Let me back up a little and explain how this placement thing works….

The format of the program connects each volunteer with a non-profit organization in the Pittsburgh area. My site is Casa San Jose, a resource center for Latino immigrants. I am the Director and Coordinator of After School Bilingual programs including an Educational Enrichment Program for K-First graders and a Secondary Mentoring program for teens. I am also the Volunteer Coordinator for all the other programs we have. For the past 3 weeks I have been doing mostly administrative things and not so much one-one work with the clients. I’ve been developing this after-school program, meeting with university officials, creating partnerships, and so forth.

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I’ve also been accompanying people to court, helping abused women, meeting unaccompanied minors, and helping people get their library cards. In the midst of so much busyness I have felt tired and defeated, frustrated and overwhelmed by the needs of the Latino community in Pittsburgh. I can truly say I was sheltered back in New York. While I know the difficulties of being an immigrant, the people I work with have it ten times worse. Hospitals have no translators, many schools do not have people to translate registration, DACA kids are having trouble getting promised money for college, and people don’t know the community exists. People have been surprised when I tell them that there are Latinos in Pittsburgh; and of course you’ll never find them Downtown. They are scared and cautious to come out in public. They are looked down upon and judged, they are vulnerable and poor. They need help.

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I think the greatest issue is the misconception that people cross over because they “felt like it” or because they are criminals. There is a real crisis going on in Latina America right now. According to information provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 6,800 children in Fiscal Year: 2004-2011 have crossed, 14,000 in FY: 2013, 24,000 in FY: 2013, and the 60,000 expected in FY 2014 have already been exceeded.  30% are coming from Honduras, 26% from El Salvador, 37% from Guatemala,  3% from Mexico and 2% Ecuador. The main reasons for migration are: flee community violence, escape poverty and hunger, reunify with family in U.S. (safe place), education and employment opportunities, escape situations of family breakdown, abuse, abandonment. Flight from violence seems to be the primary reason children mention (gangs, community violence, lack of ability of government to protect its citizens). Children report being victims of extortion, rape, and are targeted to join the gangs.

My work at Casa San Jose is a difficult one. I get frustrated many times because of people’s lack of understanding and sensitivity. However, I am recognizing that this is an opportunity in which a small thing can cause a big impact. I sat down as a panelist, representing the Latino community, for Cultural Competency, to a group of AmeriCorps students and the Department of Human Services. I think it begins there, with education, awareness and sensitivity, not only from the non-immigrants, but also from the immigrants. We must be open to each other, to loving each other.
And regardless of my frustration and my defeat, I need to rise up. I cannot let these frustrations and road blocks hold me back. i have two options, either stay down, lamenting how devastating the people’s situation is, or GET UP and actually do something about it…like getting a 4 year old a library card so he and his mom can start learning English.

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As St. Francis said: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible”. I pray that God teaches me to be sensitive to others and their struggles, specially in community, so then I can teach the children i work with how to be sensitive and love those who live in ignorance. I also pray that God’s love overflows the work we are doing and transforms the hearts and lives of the people we are working with. While it might seem much to ask, it is possible. Today as i sat waiting for the train reading over some registration papers for the After-School program, a little girl said “I have one of those, my name is ***”. She happened to be one of my 1st graders who will start their program with me very soon. She sat next to me in the train and showed me how she’s starting to read in English. She’s excited for the program! She wants to go back and learn more! That is all I need. One child, one soul, inspired to do great things, to learn and persevere. A soul willing to fight for itself, to show God’s love embodied in their innocence and curiosity.

Lord, make us humble instruments of your peace.

In Christ,

Tracy

When What You Desired Was Not What You Expected, It Came As Disguised Joy

5 Sep

You know that moment when you think you had it all figured out? When you thought that Community, Spirituality, Service and Simplicity were a piece of cake? Well there is also that moment when you realize that you were all wrong. That:

  • Living with three men sometimes lets you feeling a bit alone, wanting that female company.
  • On your second day of work you arrive home, frustrated with the system and injustice, after spending 3 hours in Family Court.
  • Although you setup a prayer space, spiritual practice remains pretty damn hard.
  • Living on a budget might seem okay, but then there is Starbucks…IMG_1905

My Community House “La Fuerza” – Ryan, Luke, Mike & Me

This first week as a full time volunteer I’ve found myself asking “what the hell am I doing here?” many times. I keep on asking myself: why I made this decision? or if it was the right one? I mean why would I do this? Is it false humility? Am I trying to prove somethings?

You many ask why all the questions? Why not just talk about how fulfilling and beautiful service is? Well, believe it or not I am human, and as I learn to accept my fragility and mortality, I realize that I need to ask these questions. I cannot speak of fulfillment when I am still discovering why I need fulfillment. It is important that when you make any decision in life you ask yourself the most mundane AND deepest questions. This will help you discover your intentions, your heart, your motivations. I didn’t ask these questions before I began Change A Heart. Now, I am questioning myself more deeply because I am actually experiencing what it’s like. The most important question is: whether this is worth it regardless of the challenges.

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Today I started to realize that it is more important to overcome these difficulties with a joyful spirit, than to let them drown you. We must never dwell on the bad, we can analyze it and learn from it, but always light up the darkness with the joy around you. The Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumman Communities are an example of that joy that can overcome darkness. They have set up prayer partners for each volunteer, and just invited us to a BBQ to hang out with out prayer sisters. They also keep us encouraged by sending us notes and mail; we will visit them once a month as well. There are other types of joy, like today when one of my community members, Samantha, brought me all her old piano books because she saw me trying to play.

10387550_10154569316295444_2831874760833704952_nAlthough I might have been frustrated in Family Court, my client felt more confident because I was there. And I had three great guys waiting for me at home, ready to hear how my day went, ready to offer their support.  We prayed and shared a meal; it gave me much needed peace. I was also given my own independent project as Head Coordinator for After School Program for latino immigrants in grade school. I will be able to tailor an entire program to help these children and their parents; what a joy!

Regardless of the difficulties, volunteering is a joy. It is the joy of suffering, of suffering when others suffer, of using that suffering to bring justice. Dwell on the joy of service, move forward, learn, experience, love and enjoy! No bad day beats my wonderful community and support group. No troublesome day at work can take away the joy of serving. Particularly, serving one hundred homeless people and low-income families with Miss Nancy  on Labor day. No struggle beats God’s presence in the work that we are doing.

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When What You Desired Isn’t What You Expected.

29 Aug

“We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.” ― St. Francis of Assisi

How do you do it?

Before I started the Change A Heart program I was very restless, both spiritually and mentally. For years I had developed an idea of what I was supposed to do with my life. The typical 5-year plan was my guide throughout High School and college; but things weren’t working out as I expected them to. The opportunities I thought I had were suddenly covered by road blocks; I was not sure where I was or where I was going. I then decided that I needed to re-group, I needed to find joy and it was not in my 5-year plan.  So I decided to give a year of my life, to take the risk of rejecting a job offer in my field, to move to a new city, live simply and with strangers. 

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When I decided to join Change A Heart I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, I was completely wrong. This has been one of the most challenging weeks of my life, and I think that this is exactly what I needed. When I arrived the awkwardness of living in community, learning I was living with three guys, that things will be just a little different than I expected, expanded as I was challenged to take time for myself. When we gather together we are asked to sit in silence, to breathe and meditate. These are the things I’ve always wanted to have in my life, those little moments of active peace in which I could experience God. And yet, this has been the most challenging part of my first week in Pittsburgh. My community cares for me and thats hard to accept. I am realizing that though we are strangers to each other, we are willing to love and cherish each other, not with our own love, but with the love of Christ.

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I joined Change A Heart not just to serve people. I came here seeking joy, trying to find God, and I am slowly encountering that, and for some reason it scares the hell out of me. It scared me that I was filled with joy when we served with Miss Nancy at the Boulevard of the Allies, when we fed and clothed 200 or so homeless people and low-income families. It scared me that I was attracted to the work this 70 year old in high heels has been doing for the past 20 years. That I joined her prayer of “loaves and fishes, Lord” when we were running out of lunches. It makes me wonder what does this say about me? Is God trying to tell me something? What I am supposed to do? These questions I am willing to explore with the help of God and my community. While we are still in that awkward getting-to-know-each-other phase, I am confident that with the help of God and the prayers of the Sisters of St. Francis, we will thrive and be who God has called us to be, individually and communally. The sweetness and love we have received from the sisters has captivated me and I feel compelled to preach the gospel as they do: only using words when necessary. With this Franciscan mindset I pray to preach to my spirit, my community, the birds, the trees and all creation, to preach that God loves us all, especially the poor. 

We are all in need of the love of God, we are all searching for something greater, for a connection with our true essence: the breath of Life. I am hesitant and even a bit frightened but I am willing to take the risk to love strangers and be loved by strangers, to become their sister and they my brethren, to love the poor as God loves them.

Here is to a year of transition, love, forgiveness, and trust into the arms of God through service and simplicity.

If only “just having faith” actually worked…

7 Aug

Hello beautiful people,

Yesterday I watched one of those independent and sentimental movies. The story is about two orphan girls who live on their own after their mother dies of cancer. The eldest stopped believing in God after her prayers for her mother to survive were not answered. After, their teacher finds out about their secret and runs after the youngest girl who is very upset about her mother. The teacher is hit by a car and ends up in a coma. The teacher’s husband and young girl are convinced that God will heal the teacher; the eldest sister is convinced that he won’t. Towards the end of the film the youngest sister starts praying for a miracle, she convinces her sister to join. The eldest girl prays to God fervently, she says that if God doesn’t heal the teacher she will definitely know that He doesn’t exist. She then exclaims “I am stepping out in faith” (whatever that means) and that He must heal the teacher, if He doesn’t, it means that He does not love her. As expected the teacher wakes up. The End.

I must admit the movie made me shed some tears; however, at the end I was puzzled by the message of this movie. Was it about the faithfulness of God? or how we try to manipulate God to justify our faith? I don’t believe God answers prayers. I believe he listens to them and acts according to His will. He listens to our supplication, He gives us comfort and love, but He doesn’t answer them. If he did, this would be a very confusing world, more than what it already is. I am not saying that “miracles” don’t happen, they happen every day. Waking up is a miracle, science is a miracle, life is a miracle. A miracle is God’s hand at work in a situation. But we live in a world of free will, of violence, of diseases. God brings love, comfort, and hope that LOVE can overcome evil – that is the greatest miracle embodied in Christ.

When people say “just have faith and it’ll happen”, well what the hell is that supposed to mean? How do I have faith? What does it look like? Is having faith having all my prayers answered? Manipulating God into giving me what I want so he can prove His love for me? Well if you’re a Christian you should know that God already proved His love to us, to the entire world, not just the well-behaved Christians. Faith is a conviction and gift as much as it is a choice. Four years ago a very special little girl was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 6. I prayed so hard, we all prayed so hard. When she got better we all said “God is so good”. Then, one day the doctors send her home. She was going to die and they couldn’t save her. She died less than 25 days after her 8th birthday.

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Today Pamela would have been ten years old. It wasn’t fair! but it was not God’s fault. People can’t say that we didn’t have faith that she would get better, we did. Things happen, unexplainable unfair things happen. Faith is choosing to believe in something that sometimes doesn’t make sense, to accept that our Faith is mysterious and complicated. That life happens and God is constantly involved in aiding us through the difficulties. So when people say just have faith, I tell them: “No! don’t JUST have faith, have courage, have will, have hope, have love!. Remember that we are all prone to pain but we cannot exchange favors with God to make it go away. That’s not how it works.” Remember that we are physical, emotional and spiritual beings. Remember that hope is not just expecting a better world to come, a paradise, that’s just a reward. Hope is expecting a better world here. That when others suffer people rise up to help them overcome that suffering, to ease the pain. That God actively empowers us to actively love our neighbor, to be whom we were created to be.

xoxo,

Tracy

The End is the Beginning; Italy it was a pleasure!

30 Jul

Hello dear readers,

Many of you might be wondering how life has been treating me in Italy. Well after visiting Venice and some local monuments I am on my way back to New York. However, I don’t want to talk about “Italy” per se. I would like to share with you some reflections from my time in Italy and my current reading of “The Witch of Portobello” by Paulo Coelho.

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Life can be monotonous. Within our busy schedules we rarely find time for our family, friends, lovers. I’m guilty of this monotony in which we concentrate on our goals, on this “fake happiness” which sometimes restricts you from enjoying the process of living.

We do the same thing over and over again believing that it means we are happy the truth is we are not. For example, poverty might make you unhappy but money does not necessarily make you happy. If we were happy with our lives we wouldn’t seek joy, love, or feel like we need something more. The truth is that we are not happy, we are seeking happiness, we are not yet satisfied.

When I was in college I was so concentrated on doing well, finishing my thesis, earning a degree, that at times I forgot to enjoy the experience of the college. I think I’m more guilty of this during the summer. Instead of trying to fulfill a goal, I do the opposite and give into passivity. I’ve always known this to be true but I’ve just realized how much it can affect us. Here is an example from TWP,

Have you ever considered that those bits of paper have a life and feelings, have requests to make and stories to tell? I don’t think you’re giving life the attention it deserves” (136)

We have so many things to do and yet we ignore them, we forget to participate in life. Time passes us without letting us know.  Either we lean towards passivity or towards over-activity. I think it’s time we rethink the reasons why we live, why we get up every morning. As spiritual and physical beings we must find a balance in our life the same way that the universe and nature balance themselves. As Edda says to Athena, “Let go of the idea that the path will lead you to your goal. The truth is that with each step we take, we arrive (136). While in Italy I found this balance. I was still  accompanied by the fear of being to passive, of not doing or enjoying as much but I did find it.

IMG-20140720-WA0086I’m not sure about others but I want to embrace my purpose in this life. Each one of us has a formulation of that purpose, of that “meaning”. I think mine is to experience the transformation of God in my life, not necessarily in a “religious” form, but in a human and relational form. I am meant to be a part of some intimate bonding between heaven and earth, of spirit and flesh. As a future scientist this faith, this belief, might seem non-scientific but I think it’s very scientific. In science we strive to learn, research, find, experiment. That’s exactly what life is. The act of living is a series of experiments which are a result of a desire; this desire fosters the faith we have about our identity, about our purpose.

Yet, “faith is not Desire. Faith is Will. Desires are things that need to be satisfied, whereas Will is a force. Will changes the space around us (132)”. Italy was that moment in the Kronos in which I remembered to live, to be passive and active at the same time. Most importantly, it was the time that I gave myself a break from myself and realized where beauty might be found, where I re-encountered my faith as a transformative force. As people say, everything is an experience and this one has certainly been a wonderful sort-of life changing one. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to the future generations to seek more intently who we truly are, aside from the social trends (though we deny it we still follow them) and false uniqueness that is sold like cake to us youth. We need to stop and experience the now, they joy, and the sadness. We must search deep within our faith and ourselves to be transformed. And we have this hope that one day we might  finally experience complete happiness.

Tutto è bene, tutto è bene!

22 Jul

Ciao,

All is well.

Life passes by too quickly. I can’t believe that I’ve been in Italy 2 weeks and I’m almost heading back to the U.S. I’m not hating the idea of returning home as I though I would. Actually, I’m looking forward to seeing my family and starting my life in a new city with a new position. What I am dreading is the feeling of quickness and velocity of the West. Here in Italy I wake up at 9am, take a short nap and do many things or nothing at all —and time passes so slowly. It seems I have more time to enjoy life; though technically not true, it feels that way. I’m dreading losing my morning runs by the vineyards and corn fields, the blue sky that radiates through my bedroom window, and the strong Italian coffee which smells delicious. I don’t want to lose those pleasurable afternoons sitting in the gallery, reading under the fresh air and being illuminated by the sun.  Truthfully, I want to stay and at the same time I want to leave. I want to live this adventure of exploring new foods, practicing a language, meeting new people, enjoying new places. I want to stay because it feels good to let go, to be free, to not worry. wpid-img_20140722_145441.jpgMi piace (it is pleasing to me) to enjoy dull afternoons reading Paulo Coelho and listening to Italian sonnets. I want to stay because it is beautiful here, because I can escape my boring life for a while. Yet, I want to leave. I want to leave because I’ve been inspired to change that “boring” life, inspired to take risks, to do the things I want regardless of my limitations. Life is such that we want to remain in those pleasurable and adventurous moments, we don’t want to go back to “reality”, to our old lives. But the beauty of travel, of exploration, is that it has the power to transform that reality. Joyful moments are simply that: moments. We, I, must learn to guard that joy, that good feeling, and release into our busy and dull lives so that we may live with purpose, with joy.

All is well.

I’ve worked through my post-Rome flare by enjoying rest, by enjoying exactly what I’ll miss. All is well because this trip has helped me find something that I needed for a long time, some abstract and relative thing…At first I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, I’m still not so sure but I did find something. That something seems to be a type of inner strength or better yet, desire. Italy has awakened an inner desire to surpass the obstacles that I have placed on myself, and those that others have placed on me. Italia is the omen which the old king told Santiago about in The Alchemist:

God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left for you”

Italia became a sort of wake up call filled with faith, love and inspiration. It has been God’s way of awakening me to be better, to chase my dreams. I must admit there is a sense of fear in this experience. There is a fear of the unknown, of venturing alone in this new path, job, relationship. Yet, I am excited! When I was younger I always thought I would be dependent; I didn’t think it was possible for me to achieve anything, to have a job, meet knew people, or love. But as time has passed and I’ve had those momentary lapses of thoughtfulness, I’ve realized that everything is a phase which helps you flourish into the next. I am excited because though I’m afraid, that fear means that something new is coming, something I haven’t experienced before.

I must say that all is well because it can always get better, it can never get worse. Situations might feel like they are getting worse but what matters is not the battle but the soldier. Today as I sat and read, prayed, and pondered on my travels, family and relationships I was grateful for the innumerable moments in which I’ve encountered trials. I was grateful for coming out alive, grateful for being able to feel, smell, touch, and experience the good and the bad. I am grateful because I am living life, all of it! Sometimes it will be difficult, and I will probably complain and feel like things won’t change (I’m only human). But I have the hope that He who inspired me and gave me the strength to come through a situation, He will do it again. Remember, i’s not over until it’s over.

xoxo,

Tracy

Post-Rome Descent

19 Jul

Rome was wonderful! Post-Rome not so much. I knew while I was in Rome that I was pushing myself a little too much. I mean it was wonderful to explore as much as I did. And as I said in my previous post, it is good to go beyond our limits, but some of us must not go too far. The words of Brianna are in my mind constantly now: ” have fun but listen to your body”. I ignored these words; and thus I’ve spent the past two post-Rome days flaring up and having much difficulty walking. I think I almost destroyed my knee. Next time be more careful: Lesson learned!

On the up side, I did go for a walk today in the fields to work on my knee and keep it active. It helped bring the swelling down and alleviate some of the pain.

20140719_115928 20140719_115934I know there isn’t much excitement in this post. There aren’t photos of exotic places and italian adventures, though i did have Riso Freddo (a cold rice with cold vegetables and sausages. in Italy many times its made on extremely hot days, like today} , but its a good reminder that travel and living require rest. it’s wonderful to enjoy and challenge ourselves to explore novelty but we must be careful to not get hurt and remain away from danger. I think about it now, if I had stayed an extra day I would’ve gotten more hurt and that meant that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my last days here. This is also a good reminder that we live in “reality”. We are not daydreaming in some fantasy that’s filled with sweetness and pleasure. No, we are living in a time in which we are all prone to different types of pain and joy. It is up to us to choose what we do with those moments, how do we use them to bear good fruit. Life is beautiful, not because its easy, but because it makes you bring out the best of each person and the worst of all of us. It makes us show our true colors and forces us to choose which way we will go.

Ciao,

Tracy

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