I’d prefer to avoid the cliché that I can’t believe how quickly the week has gone, but it really has.  I’m on the train from Rochester to Chicago now.

I think that generosity became my personal theme of the trip. I volunteered with Christina at Morning Star, a foster home for newborns to eighteen year olds who have disabilities. It’s run by the Sisters of St. Joseph, who have shown my group warm hospitality. (Dare I say it was worthy of Zeus Xenios?)

Upon arrival Sunday afternoon, my SOUL group was given time to rest before an informal bus tour of the various service sites. (Two others and I ended up taking an eventful walk instead.) Only Morning Star was open that day; thus, it’s the only place we went into that day.

I admit, when I first saw the 18-month-old baby who’d been born four months premature who had myriad tubes and machines all around his room, I questioned myself. Can I really do this? decided to attempt to host a hundred meter dash in my mind. But I shut that down with tranquilizing thoughts such as take things as they come. I do have to say that it was a wonderful experience overall, feeling the love I became almost overwhelmed with for this baby, then for all of the other children I met at Morning Star. The week with the children has been one of the more profound experiences in my life both on a spiritual and emotional level, and all of the children’s smiles are beautiful beyond description. They awe me that they can smile so brightly despite their obvious and not-so-obvious struggles.

Now I feel as though I’m drifting too far into the waters of sentimentality, so let’s guide the ship back to the mental panic of wondering whether I could handle volunteering at Morning star. In addition to the aforementioned tranquilizing thoughts, I also prayed for God’s grace to be able to serve well the children at Morning Star and work well with Christina and the sisters there (mainly Sister Jeanne, then also Sister Ann, and also one day Sister Liz).

I firmly believe and feel so blessed that He answered my prayer and then some. There’s more than a decent amount o joy that I get just thinking about the kids now. This is not to say that there were no difficulties and awkward moments, for there most certainly were. But joy overshadows, and what I learned from these moments enable me to appreciate them, though I hope to not glamour or discount them. I think that it’s essential to feel uncomfortable, for how can we mature in love and faith and so on or gain new perspectives otherwise?

Of course I felt worn at times. Cleaning all morning most days and taking care of/playing with children the rest of the day sapped my energy, but it also refreshed my mind since I no longer found myself worrying about homework and classes and work and finances and et cetera. I could live more fully in the moment and give of myself.

On the other hand, while I found interacting with the children abundantly joyous and refreshing, I struggled with interacting with my group as a whole much of the time. I became indignant at times, somewhat isolated, rather irked…. I’m sure at least part of the reason why is due to my quietness and feeling awkward with most peers. I felt annoyed at times when somebody would comment about how all of us were getting to be so close and that we were like a family and so on and so forth, and it seemed as though nobody noticed how awkward I felt quite a bit of the time. I am grateful, though, and feel blessed to have gotten to know Christina better while cleaning so much together and other parts of the week’s trek.

A major transforming point within myself came Wednesday. While feeling especially tense after dinner, I came to realize that I needed to strive to see God in each member of my group just as much as I did in the children at Morning Star.  And I needed to (to put it bluntly) “get over myself.” And so this became something new for me to work on the rest of the week. I prayed for grace throughout the day and made myself try to interact more, initiate conversation or add something to the current one. I still felt as though the group would be better off without my awkward presence, but was happier that I knew I was making a genuine effort.

Reflections felt strained all the way around for everybody at first, but they gradually warmed after Thursday evening when we were joined by students from the college next door (Nazareth) for Mass and dinner, then the social justice talk/activities after those students left. During that,  I made myself open up and be more vulnerable and deeply personal when sharing how the dignity of human life is something that especially stands out to me. I think that this “risk” on my part helped to form stronger bonds between the others and me.

I found the prayer aspect rather lacking with regard to what was planned (just briefly during morning reflection and evening reflection), but felt incredibly blessed to be able to sit in the chapel with Jesus each morning and night if I got there beforehand or stayed after group reflection. I think in this way, I had to be self-motivated to devote time to pray if I wanted a deeper prayer experience (just as one has to be to get a deeper experience in many other matters). But I do have to say that while sharing Holy Communion during the Mass on Thursday, I felt another more profound spiritual movement within me when offering the chalice to Nicole.

Each of the sisters made a strong impression on me. Sister Ann for so much gentleness and patience, especially with one particularly energetic 3-year old at Morning Star. Sister Jeanne for so much dedication to the children at Morning Star. Sister Liz for her concern that Christina and I take a break when we needed. (And the gratitude from all three for Christina’s and my service.) Sister Lorraine for her more quiet, sweet presence (who reminds my whole group of the elderly insurance claim lady from the Incredibles). Sister Barb for her presence despite her being sick. Sisters Marilyn and Jeanne for such hospitality, keeping track of everything, and being so dedicated as well to their work/social justice.

I feel so blessed to have met the sisters and the children. I thank them, my group, and God for the blessings I believe God gave me through them throughout this SOUL trip. And I still pray for the graces necessary to love all equally in Him and to find joy in doing so as I have while serving at Morning Star. I pray that we can all genuinely love and find joy in each other (and act accordingly). I hope that we can continue serving each other and many more in these ways.

I fear this drifted again to the deeper waters of sentimentality. I will quite possibly (who am I kidding, I certainly am going to) look back on this and think, Kati. Stop. What on earth are you babbling on about? Get a dang grip.

But there’s too short a time crunch to get off the “joy high” this trip has bestowed upon me. So I’ll stop myself here and say thank you for reading.
Pax tibi.