Monthly Archives: January 2017

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Heather Marsh: An Uncomfortable Love

Heather Marsh 15-17, San Miguel School, Tulsa, OK

Heather Marsh 15-17, San Miguel School, Tulsa, OK

During the Sunday afternoon portion of our Midyear Retreat, Kevin Regan challenged us with the words “God is Love, but we have to open ourselves up to being vulnerable to God’s love. So often we’re scared of that, but He’s not something that’s going to harm us or cause us pain.” While this thought caused me to stop and pause for just a moment, it quickly became one of many, drowned in the sea of profound quotes and wisdom that came forth during the weekend retreat. It wasn’t until I was standing at the airport discussing the impact of the weekend that this quote came up again as one that had struck not just me but each person in the group. This time, however, it didn’t fade back into the background as it had once before. In fact, I spent a good deal of the flight back to Tulsa with it running through my mind, trying to dig deeper into these words and pull them apart. Even as I sat down the next day to begin working on this blog post, the first thoughts that came to mind revolved around this very idea.

I firmly believe the words echoed for me, taking root somewhere deep within, because they were true. If this was the case, though, then why was I afraid to open myself up to God’s love? What was standing between me and something so wonderful? As these thoughts mingled with my reflection on my time as a Lasallian Volunteer and the experience of the Midyear Retreat, an answer slowly began to take shape. God’s love may not be painful or mean to cause us harm, but there are times where it seems like it may not be far off. God’s love is not a love that calls us to be comfortable, a fact that we see revealed many times over in the holy men and women we look up to for guidance. Even St. John Baptist de La Salle, the Founder himself, was called to give up the comforts of his financial and social status in order to better serve his fellow teachers and their students. While it may not be something to be afraid of, God’s love is something that challenges us to grow and change in ways that we’ve never imagined and in ways that, at times, seem to push us near our breaking points and beyond. It is something that calls us to do more and be better than we are, and for that reason it can be very difficult to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to it moving within us.

image2If anything could have made the difficulties of making myself vulnerable to God’s love clear, it was in the service I was doing as an LV. As much as giving yourself to a year (or two, in my case) of service was making myself vulnerable, I didn’t give the individual pieces that would make up this challenge the amount of thought that I probably should have. Surely giving myself over was enough, right? The fact that I was moving halfway across the country to a city I’d never been to, was beginning my first year as a teacher (which I’d been told would be hard and I would cry), and was doing all of this while living simply seemed like prime examples of making myself vulnerable. These challenges, however, I found myself comfortable with facing (or so I thought), but this is not a story of comfort.

I have experienced God’s love in many ways since I became an LV, but these moments have come just as often in the challenges and tough moments as they have in those that are bright and beautiful. Some days God’s love would show itself in a breakthrough, like when a student who had previously turned in no work to me in a semester would come to me with even a single Book Club journal or when another gifted me a drawing she had done for me because she knew of my love of Captain America. These moments, however, also come in much more frustrating scenarios. They come in the moments when I have to take my class outside to practice lining up for the third time that period because they can’t come in quietly. They come, again, in the moments when a student tells me that I don’t understand them, or when students have called me out on my numerous shortcomings as a first and second-year educator. Perhaps, most strikingly, these moments come in the casual glimpses into the challenges that are part of our students’ lives- it happens in talks on the bus on the way to a field trip, or in the brief chats before or after study hall begins each day. It is in each of these small pieces of time, often only just a few seconds or a few minutes at most, that I am exposed to God’s love and asked to be vulnerable.

image1Why these moments? Admittedly, most of these moments don’t leave me with any sort of positive feeling when they initially spring up. Frustration, anger, and heartbreak often feel like far better descriptions of what goes through my head when a student talks back or fills me in on their most recent trip to the hospital to translate grim details for a family member. It is in these moments, however, that I understand that God’s love is not a comfortable love. It is in these short pieces of time that I have found myself being called to open myself and become vulnerable to God’s love through and for my students. I am asked to share in pain, suffering, frustration, and triumph. In the unpleasant moments, however, I am called to be more patient, more understanding, and more kind- to be a face of love to my kids at the end of the day even if there have been more moments of frustration. It is God’s love that allows me to see my kids as more than the behavior issues, the frustrations, and the challenges- which allows me to hit the “reset” button each day at the end of class, remind them I care, and to start the next day on a fresh note. This is difficult, sometimes feeling impossible, but I think it is in these moments I am most often reminded of how much I need to open myself up to God’s love. It is only when we do this, become truly vulnerable, that we can be images of it to our students in turn.

Heather Marsh is a second year LV serving at San Miguel School in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a 2015 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California.

By |January 25th, 2017|Categories: blog, news + events|Comments Off on Heather Marsh: An Uncomfortable Love

LVs Reflect and Discern at Midyear Retreat

Kat-Varone-Bianca-Desamour-webThe 2016-2017 Lasallian Volunteers (LVs) gathered together for the annual Midyear Retreat January 13-16. “One Call, Many Voices” was the theme for the retreat, which mirrors the Lasallian theme for the 2016-2017 liturgical year. The gathering was held at Point O’Pines in upstate New York where the LVs reflected on how community has impacted their discernment and how this year of faith, service and community has shaped their vocations.

Second-year LV Heather Marsh, who is serving at San Miguel Tulsa as a reading teacher, said, “Midyear helped me prepare for the future, putting to rest some fears and helped me look forward to what’s coming in the future – whether that’s the rest of my service year or beyond.”

The Midyear Retreat was co-facilitated by Kevin Regan, a counselor at The San Miguel School of Providence in Providence, Rhode Island, and Chris Trinidad a religious studies instructor and campus minister at De La Salle High School in Concord, California. Brothers Brian Henderson (DENA), Ed Phelan (DENA), Francis Eells (DENA), Ralph Bucci (DENA), James Martino (DENA) and Jack Henderson (SFNO) accompanied the LVs on their weekend journey.

Kacie-Kusinski-John-Schatz-Abbey-Sorensen-Jeff-Lucia-web“Midyear was a calming and rejuvenating weekend spent amongst people with common struggles, stories and, most of all, missions,” said Kat Varone, first-year LV and 8th grade teacher at San Miguel School Chicago.

This year’s cohort of 39 Lasallian Volunteers will gather one more time as a group for the LV Debriefing Retreat at the end of May.

By |January 17th, 2017|Categories: news + events|Comments Off on LVs Reflect and Discern at Midyear Retreat

January 2017: La Salle Academy-Philadelphia

In this month’s Lasallian Volunteers “Ministry of the Month,” The District of Eastern North America is featured. The ministry is La Salle Academy in Philadelphia. The Lasallian Volunteer is first year volunteer, Nicholas Quinlan. Nick is a graduate of Lewis University, Class of 2016.

WHAT IS LA SALLE ACADEMY?

La Salle Academy of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is an independent Catholic grade school conducted in the traditions of the Brothers of the Christian Schools and the Sisters of Saint Joseph. In the tradition of these communities, La Salle Academy is dedicated to educating children in grades 3 through 8 whose potential is limited by financial, social, academic, or emotional challenges, and whose parents and guardians desire, but cannot afford, a Catholic education. Like many of our other San Miguel model schools, La Salle Academy has small class sizes, an extended day and year, and an emphasis is placed on literacy and getting students to grade level in reading and math.

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Nick with some of his mathematics students

WHAT SERVICE IS NICK DOING AT LA SALLE ACADEMY?

Nick is the physical education teacher for third through eighth grade at the Academy. He plans their curriculum, runs classes, and teaches skills. He also works as a teachers’ aid in the third grade, helping with the math assignments. In addition, Nick is a one-on-one tutor for an eighth-grade student for math. He is also involved after school in La Salle Academy’s Homework Club in Math and assists with the coaching of the basketball team.

HOW DID NICK BECOME A LASALLIAN VOLUNTEER?

Nick credits his time at Lewis for inspiring him to become a post-graduate volunteer. He was involved in the University Ministry program and grew in his passion for service.  Nick felt called to give back after gaining so much from his time at Lewis. He says, “I wanted to share the blessings I had received and live out my favorite scripture passage that I learned while I was an undergrad from Micah: ‘Act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God.’”

HOW DOES NICK TOUCH THE MINDS AND HEARTS OF THOSE ENTRUSTED TO HIS CARE?

Nick with students from La Salle Academy

Nick with students from La Salle Academy

Nick is affable and funny, perfect traits in working with middle school students. A lifelong lover of sports, he makes it his goal to create games and activities that all students will enjoy. He took the advice of his favorite bible quote and built up those relationships with students gradually. Nick articulates this by saying, “I felt welcomed right away by the handshakes and the ‘Welcome to La Salle Academy,’ from the students. As I have spent more time here, I have seen the students open up to me and talk to me about their days.”

HOW HAS LIVING WITH THE BROTHERS OF THE CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS IMPACTED NICK?

Nick has been truly impacted in his faith journey. While he was at Lewis, he experienced Brothers of the Christian Schools on the campus in classes in the dining hall, and at sporting events on campus, he did not truly begin to pray until he became a member of the community at La Salle College High School, where he lives. He says, “Living with the Brothers of the Christian Schools has opened my eyes to my own faith. I have learned how to really pray. It is a totally different feeling to pray with them and share our faith together.”

Nick and a group of La Salle Academy students

Nick and a group of La Salle Academy students

WHAT DOES NICK WANT TO SAY TO COLLEGE SENIORS ABOUT THE LASALLIAN VOLUNTEER PROGRAM?

Nick articulates his love for the Lasallian volunteer program in the following way: “You are giving of yourself in a totally different way. You make a difference in other people’s life, but they make a difference in your life. I see myself continuing to promote the Lasallian Volunteers by spreading the word about this great program to everyone I encounter in my life. I will forever be grateful to the Lasallian Volunteer program and all that I have been given in my time of service.”

By |January 10th, 2017|Categories: lv of the month, news + events|Comments Off on January 2017: La Salle Academy-Philadelphia

Abby Michels: Power of Prayer

Coming into Lasallian Volunteers, I wanted to look for new ways to deepen my faith. I figured that being in community with Christian Brothers and serving at a Catholic school would do the trick to continuously feel God’s presence in my life; something I longed for. But while these settings have done a great deal for me– daily mass and evening prayer with the Brothers, morning reflection and masses at the Academy– I have come to realize this year that I have to put in a little more effort on my end, rather than just “being” somewhere. I have to pray on my own time.

Abby Michels, 15-17, De La Salle Academy, Concord, CA

Abby Michels, 15-17, De La Salle Academy, Concord, CA

Before my second year as a Lasallian Volunteer I considered myself a “prayer.” Like any healthy workout routine, I would say that I prayed about 4-5 nights a week. The problem was; however, I was praying snuggled up in bed with my eyes closed. I started off my prayers strong, but would either doze off or subconsciously change my thoughts as time went on. Not very focused at all. So, when my second year started, and I felt a greater distance from God than the year before, I knew I needed to change my ways. It sounds cheesy, but I have started kneeling beside my bed each night. Yep, the way we’ve seen little kids do it in the movies. That’s me now. And let me tell you– it’s helped. Kneeling against my bed has made me more aware of what I am actually saying to God. No more dozing off, no more wandering thoughts. In order to get into my beloved bed, a devoted prayer must be said. To actually feel myself having a conversation with the Lord Our God; that is powerful to me.

But praying isn’t always about having a conversation. It is also about listening. This year I have also picked up the practice of mediation. Personally, listening to God is so much more difficult than speaking to Him. But it is the peace of mind and the focus of that “I am in the holy presence of God” that really makes it a form of prayer for me. As mediation guru Brother Camillus says, “The most important journey you can ever take is the internal journey of meditation where you will discover the benefit for yourself.” Knowing the positive effects mediation has on the mind, body, and spirit, I decided to bring it into my 5th grade Guidance class. They LOVE it. It surprised me just how much each 5th grader looks forward to meditating each time we meet Wednesday afternoon. For about 15 minutes in the beginning of each class, we listen to the words of Brother Camillus. (Can you tell I’m a fan of his yet?) As a class, we hold the proper posture, close our eyes, and even turn off the lights. For a whole 15 minutes, sixteen 5th graders do not move or speak. It’s fabulous. But it is because they know this is a form of prayer we practice together that they respect this time. We reflect on how they felt before the experience, what they felt during, and how the meditation has helped them to the state they are in now. With Brother Camillus’s assistance, I have witnessed my students “see” Mary and Jesus. They share his meditation page with their families so that they can pray too. They look for meaning in the words of a man who they’ve never met, so that they too can be in the holy presence of God. Now that’s powerful.

abby-michelsBut what actually is the power of prayer? How do you explain it? Again, in my second year, an event occurred in our community that made me question: what really is the power of prayer? A recent graduate from De La Salle High School who had gone away to college had slipped and fallen down the stairs while he was cleaning his house. The fall– being as hard as it was– had put the De La Salle alum into a coma. The whole school went into shock. The morning mass that I so often shared with eight people had turned into a mass of dozens of hopefuls, looking for answers during this dark time. They came to pray. The chapel was so full of faculty and students that the high school boys had to sit on the floor. For over a week, my house community shared its Chapel with the school community. We prayed together for this boy; each and every day, hoping that our words and love would save this his life. For two weeks, we gathered, and we heard news of his improvement, until one day I came home from school only to find he was taken off life support. His brain was too damaged beyond repair.

So, if prayer is powerful, how come our efforts weren’t enough? If we know that the end result is either in God’s hands or the force of nature, why do we even bother to pray? Why is prayer powerful? Does it strengthen one’s communication and relationship with God? Does it inspire the youth to seek peace and understanding? Does it bring a community together in the name of hope? Or does it do all three and more? To help end this blog, I looked to our Saint Teresa of Kolkata for quotes on prayer. And I just so happened to find this one: “I used to believe prayer changes things, but now I know prayer changes us, and we change things.” Instead of focusing on what prayer can do for me, I need to focus on what prayer can do to me– to us. Prayers cannot save the world. But it is the prayers we make and how we are moved by those prayers that can. The prayers I make at my bedside can move me to do better tomorrow. Meditation can move my students to hear God when it’s time to listen. And communal prayer can move one to believe in the simple act of hope and the power of love. Those are some powers of prayer.

Abby Michels is a second year LV serving at De La Salle Academy in Concord, California and is a 2015 graduate of Lewis University.

By |January 5th, 2017|Categories: blog, news + events|Comments Off on Abby Michels: Power of Prayer