Reflection courtesy of Chay Tanchanco
From the writings of St. John Baptist de la Salle: “To touch the hearts of your students is the greatest miracle you can perform.”
This miracle of being a Lasallian Volunteer became unquestionably clear as we gathered together for our Midyear retreat. After 5 months of service work that took each of us out of our comfort zones, we finally had the chance to express and unravel our experiences.
We began our retreat at Point O’ Pines around the beautiful, newly frozen Brant Lake, and took time unpacking our suitcases as well as the lives we have led over the past few months. It took little time getting reacquainted with the supportive nets that are our fellow volunteers and LV staff.
The retreat centered around sessions inspired by key quotes from St. John Baptist de la Salle. LV alumna and her husband, Melissa and Peter Altman led many large and small group discussions, opening up the space to share our experiences and to understand the struggles of others while celebrating our triumphs. It became clear that each of us had truly been “chosen to do God’s work”–and through acknowledging the difficulties of touching the hearts of our students or clients we also realized that “it’s not supposed to be easy.” We had the amazing opportunity to talk about our sites and our communities, focusing on how we “inspire and lead others by encouraging them”.
Some of us braved the cold and the ice for the chance to walk over the frozen lake, and found we were inspired anew. I found myself more deeply motivated than I had been in a long time, simply because of the encouragement that exists through naming and sharing experiences with others in service clear across the country.
A true mark of a Lasallian Volunteer is shown through the ability for each individual to contribute to and to grow within the community where he or she lives. There were two specific occasions in which this really stood out to me. The first came as we gathered for mass at a small local church, St. Isaac Jogues in Chestertown, NY. We filled nearly half of the church and naturally we were quite a presence! Most of the mass-goers silently marveled at the increased size of their ordinary Saturday evening service, and the cantor decided to jump on the opportunity to invite us to come up and sing with her. There could be no doubt that, in a church of volunteers, we as LVs answered the call to serve at mass with a wholehearted and spirited, “Yes!”
The second moment happened within the intimacy of our own community–all of us gathered around and watched the shiny new LVs Ride documentary. As I watched the bike riders discuss their arduous trip, I was struck by the generosity of others in opening up their homes and their lives to this group of people. And our experiences of community as LVs are not unlike theirs. Not only did we get to look back on the journey that the riders took across the country to raise awareness for our program and service, we were also reminded of the long journey each of us had just taken from our Orientation in the July heat of Chicago to the cold of a January winter in Upstate NY.
Midyear has given us each so much; the strength to carry on for the next few months or even years, the chance to rekindle the friendships we began in July, the courage to continue to grow in the spirit of love and compassion for service, and the space to breathe and enjoy what we have accomplished thus far. We have committed ourselves once more to faith, service and community, and of course reaching a deeper understanding of ourselves. In this renewed understanding, we continue to learn how to perform God’s most pressing miracle–the ability to touch hearts, no matter where we are.