Saturday, September 27, 2014

Loras College: What the Hell is a Duhawk Anyway?

Right before Easter 2010, we welcomed Loras College, a small school in Dubuque, Iowa, to The Farm. This was a week that would definitely be one of those roll with the punches type of weeks and actually was the harbinger of just how much we would have to roll with the punches in the coming months.

Thankfully this group was full of volunteers who were certainly willing to be flexible. Their good humor and easy going attitude definitely made what could have been a really difficult week one that was focused on service and supporting each other.

Their student leader, Cassie, had been to the Farm the year before, and I think that experience was a real help to her and provided a strong base for her leadership. This might seem like a pretty obvious statement by me. You might think that "Of course being familiar with the Farm would be a strength". And while that seems pretty logical, it's not always the case. One of the key charisms of The Farm is the concept of God's Time and living in the present. Our time, with its agendas, plans and schedules to keep often gets us locked into a mindset where the ticks on a clock become more precious than the people we meet. We get more excited about finding a new way to increase efficiency than we do about the opportunity to connect with someone. The Farm, with is emphasis on being present, really challenges us to remove ourselves from this trap. Being present means just that, living in the here and now. However, for those that return to the Farm, they can just as easily fall into the trap of living in the past. I think it's safe to assume that those who return to the Farm had a decent experience the time before that. When they return, things aren't brand new anymore. They have expectations, the burden of the past. Some come back with the unconscious hope to recreate their prior experience. So while they may be able to give in to the Farm's call to keep their eyes from straying toward the horizon, they ironically struggle to keep both feet planted firmly in the present, dragging their one foot behind them to tyr and anchor themselves in the past. But Cassie did a great job in allowing the week to take her where it would and not attempting to try and steer it in a direction she thought it should go based on what she had come to know the year before.

There was also a volunteer who had a relatively prominent stutter. But instead of letting that limit his enjoyment or his participation during reflection, he used it as a point of connection. He would crack jokes about it, using it as a "threat" whenever there was a pregnant pause after we asked for volunteers to lead prayer. He never shortened reflections or minced words on account of his stutter. I thought that there was a important lesson and poignancy in that. First of all, it really showed that it doesn't matter the way in which a thought is conveyed that makes it particularly profound; the message itself is what matters. There are plenty of reflections that I've heard that are simple, yet powerful and plenty that get so twisted up in their fancy verbage that it's hard to discern the point. I suppose it's the embodiment of the Shakespearean mantra: "brevity is the soul of wit". Secondly, I think his reflections were a great lesson to us in patience and its rewards. I'll be honest, there were times where I would be siting in reflections, hoping they would wrap up in a timely manner so I could squeeze more precious moments of sleep out of the night (Farm Managers often struggle with the lessons of The Farm as much as volunteers do, despite the appearance that we are CharismBots).

So listening to a reflection that was slowed by a series of stutters wasn't necessarily easy. Many times when he was stuck on a particular word or phrase I would have to resist the urge to finish it for him, partly out of frustration and partly out of a desire to help. Instead of focusing on what he was saying, I was too wrapped up in what I thought about how he was saying it. Once I was able to let go of that, I could actually begin to internalize the message he was trying to convey. It was the prefect lesson in patience and what happens when you employ it.

Likely the thing that stands out the most about this week is what happened with the chaperone. After we gave the normal tour of The Farm and were finishing dinner, their chaperone came into the kitchen asking if he could talk to us. He told us, on the verge of tears, that there had been a family emergency right before he left for The Farm and he was hoping we would understand if he needed to use the phone a little more than normally was allowed (there's only one line for the Farm so we tend to limit its use). We told him that, of course we understood. We also informed him that if he wanted to, we could drive him to an airport so he could get home. He seemed really relieved about it and said that he would see how the situation progressed and make a decision from there. As it turned out, he needed to return home the next day. I volunteered to take him to the Columbus airport. While I was bummed about having to miss a day at the Farm, I felt fortunate to get this opportunity to connect with the chaperone. I learned that he worked in the maintenance department, which I thought was interesting. Most of the time, the chaperones are teachers, professors, or parents of students on the the trip. I asked him how he came to be connected to the trip. He told me that it was just a decision he came to while walking by the sign up table the students had set up. Service trips were something he tried to do as often as he could. He said he liked how they humbled him and how they were generally good for his soul. He started opening up and telling me about how the family emergency had literally happened just hours before the group was scheduled to leave. Instead of delaying their departure or trying to find a replacement, he made sure everything was as stable as he could leave it and trusted that it would work out. He said that he felt a responsibility to the group and that he realized that he couldn't deprive them of this opportunity. It was a great conversation and one of those moments I loved the most about being at The Farm. It was an example of a pure, profound example of service and sacrifice from an unexpected source. Here was this man who didn't necessarily have the most lucrative job in the world sacrificing to benefit a group of people he had met with only a few times before this (the volunteers) and a group of people he had never met before (the people of Lewis County). It really showed to me that the capacity for service isn't limited by status or occupation but by the capacity to love and share with others.

March Madness Week 3:

From March 14-20 we welcomed students from Eastern Illinois University (EIU), University of Wisconsin LaCrosse and St. Edward's University in Texas. This being the third week or March Madness, Jamie, Colleen, and I were a little loopy but the volunteers did a great job of being involved and pulling us through.

First, I will apologize for my lack of detail for this week. The aforementioned fatigue meant that I didn't absorb everything as well as I normally did plus the fact that I'm a lazy bum and didn't update this blog for almost a year means the next batch of posts will likely suffer from a dearth of clear recollections.

This week's group was memorable for its interesting make up. First, there was one student and one leader from St. Eds who were graduates of Hoban H.S. in the AK Rowdy. It's no secret that The Farm loves Hobanites, so this was a welcome surprise. St. Ed's is reppin' the cross and anchor of Holy Cross along with Basil Moreau's thousand yard stare, which also was a welcome addition to The Farm.

Secondly, we actually had 2 girls (and a guy who happened to be one of the girl's fiancee but honestly, no one seems to give a crap about the groom at these wedding things) who were preparing to get married in the near future. They were from different schools and so it was a cool thing that they happened to end up as part of the same mission trip to Northeastern Kentucky. Because of my unparallelled laissez faire attitude when it comes to the completion of this blog, both Julie and Lisa (and Kyle, don't worry I appreciate the importance of the groom beyond a wedding cake accessory) have tied the knot. Marital props and snaps go out to you all. Hope you were able to take some of the lessons from The Farm into your respective marriages. If nothing else, you can realize that if your husband or wife doesn't feel like showering for a day or two, it's no big deal.

Thirdly, we had the embodiment of Hanz and Franz that week in Wesley and Dan. Both were lacrosse players and were the outward embodiment of the athlete type with plenty of muscle jokes and Anchorman quotes. I think it's part of the beauty of the Farm that it can welcome volunteers of all types. Some would think the sort of bravado and ridiculousness of these two would be incongruous with service but to believe so would be pretty narrow minded. Service, at its heart, is giving yourself to others. The way in which you do it matters little as long as your heart is in it. And while the guys certainly maintained their outward appearance, I could tell they truly gave of themselves during the week. So proud.

The group from Wisconsin also brought a priest with them, which is always a great thing to have at the Farm. First, as I've mentioned here before, it's great to have the option of Mass in the Chapel since it can really frame a work day and provide a good time for reflection. In addition to giving us the option of mass, priests come with a mindset that is already so attuned to what The Farm is all about. Obviously the various vows of a Priest are very much in line with the charisms of the Farm. So in a sense, having a Priest on board is like having an extra Farm Manager when it comes to making sure the volunteers grasp the charisms. I remember distinctly how during one particular reflection, one of the volunteers began reflecting on the struggle to bring lessons learned during experiences like The Farm back home. Fr. Mark, who followed with his reflection gently reminded her that we were only a few days into our experience. We hadn't even learned everything we needed to from the journey yet, so how could we worry about bringing lessons back with us yet? It was the perfect embodiment of the charism of God's Time living in the present. And the impact of having someone in their own group say it was really very important. Farm Managers tell chaperones before the work week begins that having them buy into the charisms is so much more meaningful to the volunteers that seeing the Farm Managers do it. The volunteers don't know us outside any other context than The Farm but they do know their chaperones outside of Tne Farm. So the chaperones buying into The Farm is a tangible change whereas with the Farm Managers it's status quo.

At the end of this week, the Farm Managers were all ready for a well deserved break. But the mixture of different people in the group was a good reminder to us that The Farm is a special place where people with different backgrounds, pesonalities and places in life can all come together and serve. As long as service remains at the core of what we are doing, The Farm will always be that place of solidarity and community. The people who volunteer are those who shape the weeks but they are united by the desire to serve those who need it.