Notes from the Field includes reports from young people volunteering in ministries of Catholic sisters. A partnership with Catholic Volunteer Network, the project began in the summer of 2015. This is our fifth round of bloggers: Katie Delaney is a Good Shepherd Volunteer with the Fundación Madre Josefa (Mother Joseph Foundation) in Santiago, Chile, and Lauren Magee is a Good Shepherd Volunteer at Hands of Hope, an income-generating project that provides dignified employment for villagers living with HIV/AIDS in Nong Khai, Thailand.
My first Notes from the Field blog featured a photo from the morning I arrived in Chile in August, with a flowering tree in the background marking the start of spring and my year of service as a Good Shepherd Volunteer (GSV). Now, as the trees shed their leaves and prepare for winter, nature has provided another perfect metaphor as I move into my final two months of service.
While flipping through Midwives of an Unnamed Future, a book celebrating feminine spirituality by Mercy Sr. Mary Ruth Broz and Barbara Flynn, I came across a section called "Surrendering to the Seasons," which explores the seasons' spiritual significance. Broz and Flynn write that fall, in particular, invites us to practice "holding the tension between gratitude and lamentation, learning how to let go and give thanks all at once." I couldn't imagine a more apt sentiment as I approach this time of transition in my own life.
In my initial fundraising blog for GSV, I wrote: "One of the greatest gifts I've been given is the ability to call so many places 'home.' From my childhood in Maryland, to attending college in Pennsylvania, to serving as a Lasallian Volunteer in Wisconsin and now earning my master's degree in leadership in California, I have been blessed to find myself embraced in diverse cities, climates, cultures, and communities." I came to Chile hoping to build that same sense of home for the first time across international borders.
As my GSV year progressed, moments of natural homesickness yielded themselves to opportunities for new connections. I have felt welcomed and embraced by so many during my time here: the family who are next-door neighbors to my fellow GSVs and me, friends from the local church and CrossFit classes, the senior citizens of the dance group on our property, the women in Raíces de la Paz, the youth and adults in our English classes, colleagues and mentors of La Fundación Madre Josefa, and the neighboring Sisters of the Good Shepherd.
Over the course of the year, we were invited to celebrate birthdays and baptisms, holidays and house visits, and coffee dates or Chilean onces. In a deeply personal way, I was reminded of the fundamental goodness of people. With so much division and fear across our world, I experienced the ability to forge connections not in spite of our differences, but because of them. In short, I found a home here, too.
My gratitude for all the people who made Chile home for me emerges so quickly and easily — there is so much for which to give thanks. But Broz and Flynn also encourage us to "let go." For someone who has always struggled with saying goodbye, this part of the equation seems more problematic: How am I supposed to let go of all that goodness?
With metaphors from faith and the seasons, Broz and Flynn provide encouragement in this respect, too. As a Christian, I take comfort in the hope of resurrection: We are an "Easter people," who, with the risen Jesus, celebrate that life does, in fact, exist after death. But religion is not the only source of this example. If we follow the arc of one day, or the rhythm of the changing seasons, the sun always rises after the night, and spring follows every winter. Nature itself shows us from moment to moment that every change marks the beginning of new life.
And so it is with our personal changes and transitions, too. I can "let go" of the home I've found in Chile because I know that my physical departure does not signify the end of everything this experience has come to mean. The people I've met, the places I've visited, the accomplishments I've celebrated, the mistakes I've mourned, and all the lessons I've learned along the way, have become a part of me in a way that is impossible to leave behind. This will always be home to me, because it lives within me. What's more, I know that it will grow, evolve, and continue to impact my life in the years to come.
So, how can I "let go and give thanks all at once"? I think it comes down to honoring my experience as a GSV in the way that I choose to live my life moving forward. Welcoming the stranger, building connections, celebrating differences and discovering commonalities — these are the gifts which, having been blessed with in Chile, I hope to offer all whom I encounter in the future. With this intention, I open my heart to my final months in this home with love and appreciation, offering this prayer from Wisdom's Path by Jan L. Richardson:
That our receiving may be like breathing: taking in, letting go.
That our holding may be like loving: taking care, setting free.
That our giving may be like leaving: singing thanks, moving on.
[Katie Delaney is a Good Shepherd Volunteer in Santiago, Chile.]