Thursday January 4, 2018

Marianist PULSE--Community, Work and God

By Jessica deGroot

Jessica deGroot '17 is serving as a year-long full-time volunteer in the Marianist PULSE program in Dayton. Her reflections provide great insight into what that experience is like:
 
Community Life and Work
Five months into my PULSE experience, one realization that has continually resurfaced for me is how people are formed very deeply—and differently—by their life experiences. There are 8 members in PULSE this year. I live in a house community with three others I did not know before we met at the start of our PULSE year. We all come from very different backgrounds: I am from the rolling countryside of Maryland, Hannah is from Guam, Kateri from Dayton, and Demarcus from St. Louis.
 
In our first month together, one of the challenges we faced was learning how to hear each other's experiences and truly understand from where they are coming. It dawned on me that before PULSE, we each had learned how to communicate in different "languages." Yes, we all speak English. But because of the very different home and college experiences we had, we also had different understandings of concepts and ideas. Simply talking about "community" or "intentionality" was confusing, because those words held different meanings and implications for each of us. We dedicated a lot of time and energy in our first two months learning how to understand each other. It was a process of staying at the table—literally, during our community meetings—when we had difficulty getting on the same page. Now, I think our community has the unique strength of truly hearing and supporting one another because we have chosen to cultivate this strength. It has been beautiful to watch how we each have softened, come together, and created a language of our own. Although this is a strength that is continually tested, and needs to be worked out to keep it strong.
 

The idea of softening toward a middle ground and choosing to stand through discomfort is part of my daily experience at work. Not in a bad way--in a wisdom kind of a way. I have simply come to realize that an atmosphere of comfort rarely gives enough space or motivation for true growth. I work at Victory Project, a faith-based after school program for urban-dwelling teenage boys. I could not be more different from the boys I serve. I am a female who went to a high school that was surrounded by corn fields and cows. They live in poverty-stricken urban areas struggling with a heroin epidemic. Despite our differences, each day we show up and choose to spend time together. 

It is easy to be a good friend, a good person, a good community member, when you are serving people who are just like you. If I have learned one thing from my experience so far, it is that when you find yourself uncomfortable and hesitant of your abilities, it is likely God is calling you to do some good, hard work. He is also asking you to trust He will fill in the gaps. He will qualify whomever He calls.

 

Me and God

Since starting PULSE, as I encounter things that I am struggling with, I have continually been brought back into a prayer for an open and humble heart.

It seems like an open heart is the only way to faithfully work out interpersonal difficulties with community members, staff members, and also my journey of discerning what my future might look like. There are times when I've felt so hurt by others, and found myself praying for God to open my heart to other realities beyond what I am perceiving as the truth. Anyone who knows me well knows that I thrive in harmony, and conflict grates on me. Therefore, in misunderstandings, I need God to show me what other possibilities might exist, or the weight of anxiety and self-blame threaten to crush me. Giving outcomes up to God has been an incredibly liberating practice of trust.

Likewise, whenever I try to nail down what my next steps in life will be, my heart has felt like a towel in washing machine: saturated in unknowing, and tossed and pulled in 6 different directions. (I hope that weird analogy resonates with someone.) Through it all, I am learning the difficult truth of what it means to remain faithfully grateful and open to the Lord's plan. I have to humble myself, and sink into the not-knowing, choosing to trust that God's got it taken care of. He will show me the way when I am ready for it. It's all on His time, not mine.

This morning, I received an encouragement from a dear friend to "be thankful for a God who keeps us guessing." What a hard thing to be thankful for, when I would much rather tell God what I want and have it appear as if I ordered it off a menu. "God, I would like God-centered relationships that work perfectly and give me all the support I could ever need. I would like community members who are never stubborn and always agree with what I want. I would like to know what job I would be perfect at. I would like to get a graduate degree for free." Yeah....okay, Jess.

That prayer of thanks for a "God who keeps us guessing" impresses upon me the importance of continuing to be thankful in the midst of not-knowing. It doesn't have to be thanking God for the current difficulty, but rather searching out the places God has been answering my prayers, and celebrating that. Or thanking God for an opportunity to surrender and trust in Him once more. If I can get to that state of surrender, the fruit of that work is deeper trust in God. I'm starting to realize that that is a much greater reward than anything I could order off my menu. But there's no short-cut to get there. I have to go through the challenge of surrendering control.

"You are so young. You stand before beginnings. I would like to beg of you, dear friend, as much as I can to have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign tongue. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot be given to you, you could not live with them. It is a question of experiencing everything: you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer some distant day." -Rainer Maria Rilke

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