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.
Last spring, I felt myself yearning for a few things: writing, reading, yoga, prayer, music, nature — essentially, space and time for practices I knew rejuvenated me.
I had just finished my Master of Arts in Leadership program at St. Mary's College of California and was accepted to Good Shepherd Volunteers International, with orientation in late July. Anticipating the intense demands I knew service could require, especially in an international context for the first time, I relished the thought of rest and relaxation to prepare for the year ahead.
Despite my hopes, my summer quickly filled up with my cross-country move from California back to Maryland, an unexpected opportunity to help out at F&M College Prep, final fundraising efforts for the Good Shepherd Volunteers, and all the necessary preparations involved with leaving the country for one year. As my countdown to Chile continued day by day, I felt myself growing more and more anxious; I was afraid to start an experience that would need all of my energy with my gas tank already on empty.
No doubt, my year of service held its fair share of challenges. But much to my surprise, it also turned out to provide me with everything I was yearning for last spring. What aspect of my experience did I find particularly life-giving? I'd say it was a happy combination of circumstances, conditions and creativity, all rooted in one of the Good Shepherd Volunteers' tenets: simplicity.
I thought I wanted time and space to prepare for the year ahead, but in reality, years of running around nonstop had finally caught up to me. Since graduating from undergrad in 2012, I had completed two years of service, held internships every summer, earned my graduate degree while working two jobs, and did some heavy internal work with the help of therapists and spiritual directors.
I was blessed to have all the opportunities I did, but in order to meet them, I made sure to squeeze the most out of every minute of every day. Productivity not only made me feel fulfilled; it was a part of my identity.
Life in Chile and at Fundación Madre Josefa didn't just invite me to stop — it demanded it of me. During the first two months, my lack of language ability and knowledge of our foundation left me with one job: learning Spanish and listening.
While I struggled with insecurities about my lack of contributions, for the first time in what felt like forever, I had spare time, and not just on the weekends!
When my role developed — helping with administrative tasks, developing Salesforce, and teaching English, Zumba and Roots of Peace classes — I discovered I was able to do much of my work from the foundation's local office, which is on the same property as our home. Having a two-minute walk for a commute, I learned that simplicity could mean having fewer to-dos in your schedule and living at a slower pace.
With my newfound time, I started learning to cook, committed to self-care practices and enjoyed authentically connecting with people without the pressure of a following appointment or obligation weighing on my mind.
Simplicity also showed up through one aspect of my life I had taken for granted in the United States: unlimited internet access. While we could access Wi-Fi at our neighbor's house or in the office on our property, we didn't have Wi-Fi in the Good Shepherd Volunteers house or on my cellphone this year.
Rather than being frustrated, though, I felt noticeably more relaxed. I hadn't realized before how my constant access to Wi-Fi contributed to my overall anxiety. It was almost like a current that was constantly buzzing through my body that would spike with Facebook updates, news pings and incoming emails.
Here, the buzzing stopped. Without a constant attachment to my phone, I felt like I was coming down from an overstimulated, frenetic state of being in the world to a more grounded, centered one. I found new space for me to breathe, feel and experience life right in front of me.
Simplicity through the lack of Wi-Fi didn't just create space mentally and emotionally — it also helped me come to appreciate the physical space all around me. Rather than aimlessly scrolling through Facebook or checking and re-checking emails, I picked my head up and experienced the world. I sat outside on our beautiful property, maintained impeccably by Rafael and Juan, and watched the flutter of leaves on the trees, observed the snow-covered peaks of the Cordilleras or a sunset painting the sky in multicolored hues.
I was fully there — sight, scent, touch, sounds — moments I'm sure I had often missed in the rush from one thing to the next.
Simplicity and presence
Simplicity didn't just challenge my attachments to money and things, even though that was part of my experience as a Good Shepherd Volunteer. Before Chile, I thought I could do just about anything, sometimes at the expense of everything.
I've learned that part of living simply is acknowledging that I have limits, honoring those limits, and letting God take care of the rest. I've learned how to rest and re-energize, and as a result, I live a more grounded, fulfilled, energetic, joy-filled and overall more connected life. I've learned the gift of being present to myself and others.
As a wise friend once told me: Presence truly is the greatest present.
[Katie Delaney is a Good Shepherd Volunteer in Santiago, Chile.]
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