Thursday, December 17, 2015

"What Do You Want Me To Do For You?"

Navigating a new workplace, a special project, or uncharted territory (whatever that may be) can be a challenge. In my first couple of months at the MBCE, I tried to figure out what the expectations for my volunteer work here were. I was able to settle in, dive into our work at the Center, and try my best to meet those expectations. As the year moves along, I continue to add to my understanding of what is expected of a Marist Volunteer. This helps foster a reflective process where I ask “Why do we do this work?” The answer becomes clearer and clearer.
Expectation is a fitting word for the season of Advent. This Sunday, a fourth candle will be lit on advent wreaths worldwide in preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. That’s who we’re expecting! Even the name of the season, advent, signals us towards an arrival. Someone is on their way. In our chapel there is a banner that reads: “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God fourteen hundred years ago, if I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be mothers of God. God is always needing to be born.”
This quote from Meister Eckhart made me consider “How do I bring Jesus to other people?” In terms of expectations, part of the vision of our Center is to make Jesus known and loved, especially among young people. Our volunteer program has offered me a great opportunity to “give birth to Jesus” through our mission here at the Center. Through our ministry to youth, hospitality, manual labor, and intentional community, Christ has been present with us. A big part of our work is to help people experience that presence as well!
A lot of people have commented over the past months: “There is a lot to do up here.” or “So you and the staff work on all of this?” Yes, together as a property community we do! We also receive help from generous volunteers and the groups that join us throughout the year. It is a group effort. The work can be tough, but that is okay. After all, childbirth is not easy! We must consider that the story of Jesus’ birth is beautiful, but the actual event could not have been easy. Mary and Joseph had to travel, find a place to stay, and then Mary had to give birth to a child. It was not easy then, and it is not easy now. That is something to consider as we struggle or find our own work difficult. Through all of this, the work remains worthwhile and valuable.
In the way of Mary, we should be open to the work. When we are called to some type of work, a willingness and a desire usually accompany that work. A response is also necessary. At the Annunciation (another beautiful story that must have been at least a shock or surprise), Mary accepts God’s call saying “I am the Lord's servant, May your word to me be fulfilled." She accepts the work of carrying Christ, and raising him. I am reminded of the question Jesus asks Bartimaeus, the blind man in the Mark and Luke accounts. “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replies, “Rabbi, I want to see.” This man’s desire became a reality, and it was Jesus’ response to help him. The model of a servant leader.
When we are fulfilled, blessed, struggling, desiring, what do we do with that? Do we hold on to it? Mary gave of herself, Bartimaeus shares his desire, and Jesus acts in His power. All is being given, a full effort. I think maybe that is God’s expectation this advent, and likely His desire.

This Advent season calls us to expectation, to “birthing”, to express our desires, and to serve. As Christ draws near, we need to ask “What do you want me to do for you?” and “What do you want me to do with you?” Listening, expecting an answer, with some burning desire in our hearts, we wait...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Hello all! I hope that you're doing well and enjoying Thanksgiving week. This might be my favorite holiday (or maybe it is Christmas)! One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is the intentional pause it gives to many people in our country. Time is separated to give thanks, pause, and consider what blessings exist in our lives.

To pause might be rare for many of us. Here at the MBCE, we normally have a lot going on. A streak of a few groups during a week is normal, and there is always something to do. Although I knew volunteering would be a lot of work, I never worried about having time to myself. While some of the most fun moments have been spend with our property community and groups, I have also benefited from quiet times where I can pray and be with God.

Interestingly, my mediation on a moment to pause comes at a time when I find myself saying the phrase "#Blessed" out loud a lot. Normally when someone tells me something I find really amazing or something good happens, I will say "Blessed!" to them. If it is a message, I will normally use the hashtag symbol before it. A little 21st century humor to accompany the sentiment.

There is definitely something to that hashtag symbol. It has everything to do with the notion of pausing. A hashtag is a short phrase or word used on the Internet (normally Twitter) that allows you to search what people are saying about that particular phrase. So a hashtag of the word "Blessed" will show you all of the people using that word. A hashtag is something quick...

As I said that word in a flash a few times this past month, my thoughts were geared towards a practice I began once I moved to Esopus. During a walk through the retreat house, a task out in the Courtyard, or any brief moment during the day, I try to say short prayers or have a quick conversation with God. Sometimes I will consider something that I believe is a blessing, a meditation for 30 seconds. That is what #Blessed is all about! A quick consideration, an encounter with God, an experience that is much deeper than you imagine it to be in that short span.

The students and guests that pass through our doors, the smiles and greetings they bring, and the work that goes on here contributes greatly to my development as a volunteer, a Christian, and a Marist. Marcellin Champagnat often practiced recognition of the presence of God in his daily life. Jesus is so present that he asks the blind man (Mark 10) "What do you want me to do?", and I think that the question is extended to us as well with many variations. These moments are a time to chat with Christ and let Him know what that might be. A time to say "Thanks".

Whatever your routine or schedule is, take advantage of a few seconds to center your thoughts and your heart on whatever blessings are present in your life. Those quick moments are refreshment for the mind and soul. It is not just some quick pick me up. It is a true practice of prayer, and a worthwhile way to spend the time that we don't realize we lose. A walk to the car in the parking lot, food shopping, or cleaning the house. All that time that we are normally silent or maybe just preoccupied with what we are about in that moment. Use that time! Be blessed my friends...



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Out of the Ordinary

I am not just any ordinary college student. I am a volunteer at the Marist Brothers Center at Esopus. During the week I attend classes and complete assignments like every other person on campus, however, my home life is very different.

Some days are easier than others in the sense that I can do more for myself and the property that I live on. You see, I love finding an area that needs love and letting myself be completely engulfed by the project. At first it started small. I would rake leaves and mow small areas with a push mower. I love smelling the grass and seeing how much better this place looks after simply giving the ground a haircut. I then learned how to drive a riding mower. This new skill allowed me to make larger areas of the property more beautiful. And yet my most impressive task happened during Lavalla Service Weekend.

I was entrusted with the job of leading various groups of Marist students to help clean out the ice house. The ice house had a simple purpose when it was originally built. It was the building where all of the ice was stored for the property, hence its’ name. This beautiful stone building is a staple of many gorgeous photos with our pond and fountain. It was a building that served such a great purpose for the people that lived on this property before freezers were invented. We no longer store ice in the ice house because technology has allowed for our lives to be simple and convenient. For many years it has been used as a large storage unit. It became the house for bed frames, wood couches, pool materials, and so many other forgotten treasures.

Over the years however it had become a little neglected, messy and crowded. So during the Lavalla weekend I made it a mission to show this historic building some good old fashioned love. We removed every single item that had been placed inside that house. We then sorted the items and cleaned the items that we decided to donate to an amazing woman that needed furniture more than we did. We discarded some of the items that were simply too old and dirty to be loved any longer. Before placing any items that we wanted to keep inside the house we cleaned every inch of the furniture. The end result was truly breathtaking.

I love manual labor. I love the way that my muscles feel after a long day of work. I enjoy the satisfaction of making an area look so much more beautiful and welcoming. I am not an average college student. I have chosen to live in a community that will allow my mind, heart and soul to grow in ways that I never thought possible. 

Friday, October 16, 2015


I’ve been trying for some time to focus on the little things.

Which can be difficult at times, because it’s not always what the world wants of us. Society expects big things… tasks accomplished, lists checked off, goals achieved as fast as possible - which can be good! But I wonder, when the focus is on making big things happen quickly, what do we let slip through the cracks?

I am a full time volunteer at the Marist Brothers Center at Esopus (MBCE), just starting my second year of service. Presence is one element of our charism, and I have found that practicing presence is both easier and more meaningful when I focus on small gestures that show my care and respect for those around me.

A large part of my work here is hospitality. And the little things are exceptionally important when it comes to making someone feel welcome. Some might question if it really matters whether the bed is perfectly straight against the wall. If a lamp isn’t exactly in the middle of the bedside table, will anyone even notice? If I don’t look someone in the eye while I’m serving them dinner, will they really care? Yes. In my past year here, I’ve come to learn that these small touches really do matter.

You see, if we make sure that the beds and lamps look their best, we’re more likely to remember to include everything a guest might need in their room. If we take care of a guest like this before he or she even arrives, we are much more likely to look them in the eyes when they come through the door and truly mean “Welcome home” when we say it. And if we do this, and treat each person with kindness from the beginning, we are not only meeting their human needs… we are also honoring the God within them.

For me, there’s no better way to practice being truly present. A knowing smile across the room, a surprise bag of favorite chips, a handwritten thank you note instead of a text… A shared prayer when I am worried, giving me a reason to go for a drive when I have something to process...  These things stand out in my memories of people who really know what it means to be where your feet are, and sometimes I even remember them better than big displays of affection. I think this is because they involve someone with a dedication to getting things done right, and the attention to know exactly the small gesture that will make me smile, or put my heart at ease. These actions say, “I’m here, and I want you to know that.”

Presence is a trait of someone who is Marist, and it can be practiced every day. So I challenge you to do the little things, and to be more aware of what is being done for you - it could make all the difference!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Working In and Out

Extreme Home Makeover was a pretty good show. A big crew gets together, works on house projects, and gives a true makeover to a home that needs it. It's probably safe to say that the end of each episode brings a tear to many an eye. There is always a great spirit among the people that gather to complete the task. Something similar happened here at the MBCE this past weekend. This time, it was the Holy Sprit working in our midst!

The long holiday weekend is a favorite among students, faculty, and staff. Its the first small break of the school year, and it is just long enough for fun and play. This past weekend Marists from across our nation gathered at the Marist Brothers Center at Esopus for the annual LaValla Work Weekend.

Whether it was a revamping of the Rock Room, moving new mattresses into bedrooms, or creating a new downslope path of stairs on property, our students truly gave their all to the weekend. An openness to the meaning of this work, however, was what made their gifts so special. The students didn't do the work because they needed to, but because they wanted to. It was not so much to their own immediate benefit to help build, clean, and transform areas of property. These works would benefit people who came to visit after them, the people who visit our Center throughout the year. In this sense, they labored selflessly.

The focal project this weekend was the completion of the new labyrinth, on land that was cleared during a previous LaValla Work Weekend. It is fitting that the labyrinth, a tool for mediation and prayer, was a central focus. Prayer and meditation were a major part of the process for participants this weekend. Reflecting on the work experience in small groups, individual mediation, and community prayer was the most important part of this weekend. It was even more important than the work itself!

What did you do today? Where was God in today's work? What do you take back with you? What will you do with this experience? What does God ask of you moving forward? These are just a few of the important questions that students reflected on. Thinking of the impact that this weekend has had on students is incredible. Trying to see God in work, relationships, and everyday occurrences is part of the interior work students did this weekend. Students grew this weekend, as did the Marist family.

Our youth are an amazing treasure. Their energy, their willingness to serve, and their openness to God and one another made this weekend a success. "Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain." (Ps. 127:1) This center is certainly a house that the Lord has built, and this weekend, the builders labored in joy, community, love, and the Spirit. This weekend a group of 80+ were the builders. Others came before and more will come after. I pray that the same Holy Spirit will guide all who labor here to make Jesus known and loved.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

New Beginnings, Familiar Place

Oftentimes it is easy to see a single space for what you know it to be. It's easy to see school as JUST school. Work as JUST work. It even becomes easy for us to see life as JUST life. My first week as a volunteer here has reminded me of just how diverse the Marist Brother's Center at Esopus is.

I've been visiting this place, a place I have called home, for about 7 to 8 years now. I felt familiar with it, with how it operates, and with all that goes on here. Having moved in last week and spending a full week volunteering here... so much new information! Whether it was finding a room that I didn't know existed or completing a task I hadn't known about, I learned a lot about this new home of mine.

The Hudson at Black Creek Preserve
Surely a lot of what I did know still stands, but I'm in for a lot of good new experiences during my yearlong volunteer experience. Even learning about the surrounding area has been a change! I got to hike at the Black Creek Preserve (literally down the road from us), and explore New Paltz and Kingston a little bit.

Retreats, meetings, camps, and spiritual activities all occur here. I'm excited to get a look at all that occurs at the Center, and all the good that comes from it.

Allow yourself the opportunity to learn something new about a space that you feel fully familiar with. Start anew in a place you've been for weeks, months, or years. You'll be surprised at what you discover. It's a new beginning in a familiar place.

Talk soon,