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.