Home is Not Places

Final Part of the “Home” series

Just like the source of my blog’s name, this song perfectly pinpoints how I felt when I was making the decision about what to do after college. For the longest time, well ever since my first visit to NPH El Salvador back in 2008, I was pushed and pulled in this direction. To be a volunteer not just within the greater NPH family, but specifically El Salvador. It’s as if God said, “This is your home too. Go.”

So, I went. I came. I am living here in El Salvador.

“Home is Not Places” by The Apache Relay is one of my favorite songs. It came into my life during college, right when my concept of what home was to me began to morph into something bigger than I could have ever imagined. In comparison to the other songs in this series, this song helps me understand and explain the feeling that I had to move, to leave. Rather, it helped me understand that my life was moving forward in a slightly different direction than most of my friends and peers…and that it was okay and perfectly normal. Granted, moving to another country and culture and simultaneously giving up your settled way of life is not something everyone does, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. But it was for me.

Feel it burn in my soul.
Like a wound that is exposed.
I need to run, I need to go.
I took my time, I got no more.
So take me somewhere I don’t know
‘cause home is not places it is love.

There was this indescribable feeling within me. I’m pretty sure the decision had been made long before I was truly conscious of it, if that makes any sense. I knew that in order to be the person that God wants me to be, leaving was part of the deal. Be the person I think I should be, or be the person God calls me to be?

I would be lying if I said that it’s easy to be the God calls us to be. Sometimes that path is easy, but sometimes it is not so much a walk of cake rather that it is more like walking across hot coals (or cement that’s been baking in the sun all day, in my case ha!) However, in this particular point of my life, being the person God wants to me to be, making that step of coming to NPH El Salvador, that was easy. It isn’t often that I have those moments of clarity and know exactly what God asks of me. NPH was and is one of those things that God doesn’t have to hit me on the head to know.

Though I did take my time getting around to doing it, as the song says, I finally had no more time to keep this part of my life at bay. I have been here before, so I had a pretty good idea of what things looked like as a visitor. However, life as a truly entrenched member of this family is something completely different. So instead of coming to a place I didn’t know, in essence, I came to an unknown role.

The one thing I did and do know is that the song is right, home is not a place. It is love. I may not be back in Tennessee or Ohio with my family members and friends, but I feel their love and carry it with me. I am living in a place full of love. At first it was a few buildings and a room that looked nothing like my old apartment or parents’ house. Now, it is my big house. I’ve got a couple hundred people I love and who love me back.

And I, I don’t want no control,
‘cause home is not places it is love.
It is love.
It is love.
It is love.
It is love.

Part of our life’s journey and God’s plan may involve leaving what we think we know and are supposed to do. Take comfort in knowing that a home is not a place. A home is where there is love, where you feel it and give it in return. That can be anywhere in the world!

The time for me to leave NPH is rapidly approaching. I hate it. However, I take comfort in knowing that this will always be my home too. Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos El Salvador has become (well, has been) part of the fabric of my being. It’s not a home or an institution, but rather a place of love.

And so, there is the conclusion to the Home series. I hope it helped you in figuring what home is and means to you!

Don’t forget to go to the main page to check out the song “Home is Not Places” by the ever wonderful The Apache Relay.

Paz y bien.

*Oh! Also! I couldn’t resist the connection as this song is too great to not mention more about my experience with the band. I’ve been lucky enough to see The Apache Relay four times. Not only are they incredibly talented musicians and put on a great show, but they are very humble and wonderful people to talk to. As is my penchant at any concert or for any artist, I like to hang around after shows in the event that I have the wicked cool opportunity to meet them.

I’ve talked to Michael, the lead singer a few times. The first time I met him was after my third time seeing them. Michael gave me this big old bear hug after I told him that I still hadn’t heard them play my favorite song of theirs live, “Home is Not Places.” We then chatted about some other things, and then right before we parted, he gave me a handwritten set list…which is so awesome!

A few days before I saw them in March 2013, I sent out a tweet to the band/Michael, casually but not so subtly asking if they might have tossed Home back into the set list. I realize that any band might get a bit tired of playing certain things, but I still had to see. The evening came. My sister and I drove an hour to see them, ate overpriced Chinese food next to the venue, got front row/stage view standing positions, and the show was awesome. After playing a mix of old and new tunes, the show had ended and Home was not played. Admittedly very bummed, I still was looking forward to the encore. Then Michael came back out on stage by himself with an acoustic guitar. I thought it was odd.

Then he started playing a stripped down version of Home is Not Places, and I almost cried it was so beautiful.

After the show was really over, Ape (my sister) and I hung around. I was fortunate enough to talk to Michael again, and I profusely thanked him for playing Home. “No problem!” he said. He told me that he had seen the tweet I sent, and instead of replying, he thought he’d make a surprise of it and just played it at the end of the show. How cool and sweet and awesome is he? Very. Moral of my concert story – people are awesome.

Now, for real. Paz y bien!

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April in Review

The month of April was, to say the least, awesome. A lot of fun and cool things happened here at NPH El Salvador, not least among them being Holy Week and Easter. Lent is my favorite liturgical season, but there’s something about Holy Week that I can’t explain. I love it! It was very neat to have experienced new traditions here with my NPH family.

Here is the month of April in photo review at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos El Salvador! I included a lot of pictures in this post (more than usual) because of how much went on and simply due to the fact that I cannot make a decision on which picture to use. I hope you don’t mind that (but really, why would you mind more pictures?)

Also, I should note that at some point after Easter, something happened with the inner workings of my camera, and now a black mark appears in the corner of every picture. Unfortunately I have not been able to figure out how to make it go away.

Enjoy!

Paz y bien.

The boys are working (mostly) on some drawings, but near the end of the afternoon they spent more time goofing off than working, ha!

The boys are working (mostly) on some drawings, but near the end of the afternoon they spent more time goofing off than working, ha!

On our way to see FAS play! (FAS is a professional soccer team!)

On our way to see FAS play! (FAS is a professional soccer team!)

Our special treat to the boys was going on the field. In this shot, the players are going back inside to change before the game. Those are my boys lining the tunnel. How cool!? The leading scorer in all of El Salvador is the guy in blue about to give out some high fives.

Our special treat to the boys was going on the field. In this shot, the players are going back inside to change before the game. Those are my boys lining the tunnel. How cool!? The leading scorer in all of El Salvador is the guy in blue about to give out some high fives.

The story of my life – an unsuccessful group picture, ha. I got a few of the boys and some of the players looking at my camera.

The story of my life – an unsuccessful group picture, ha. I got a few of the boys and some of the players looking at my camera.

It wasn’t actually raining, but she needed a picture with an umbrella. So we improvised!

It wasn’t actually raining, but she needed a picture with an umbrella. So we improvised!

With the boys and their homework assignment. Kudos go to the Tía who helped them make the very delicious pudín.

With the boys and their homework assignment. Kudos go to the Tía who helped them make the very delicious pudín.

With the girls while they prepare chilaquiles…

With the girls while they prepare chilaquiles…

The finished product, chilaquiles. I know it doesn’t look like much, but I promise you. IT IS AWESOME.

The finished product, chilaquiles. I know it doesn’t look like much, but I promise you. IT IS AWESOME.

How the frontlines look just before dinner time.

How the frontlines look just before dinner time.

Beans and cream for dinner, one of my favs.

Beans and cream for dinner, one of my favs.

The life of that beheaded piñata was short. There was still candy inside!

The life of that beheaded piñata was short. There was still candy inside!

April birthdays!

April birthdays!

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Going for a spin on the track! I gave some of the girls a ride later on because they don’t know how to ride a bike, but they still wanted to experience it.

Going for a spin on the track! I gave some of the girls a ride later on because they don’t know how to ride a bike, but they still wanted to experience it.

Palm Sunday procession!

Palm Sunday procession!

An NPH El Salvador Holy Week tradition is to go to the Lempa River. It’s a 2 hour walk from the foundation. This is a bridge you have to cross. Really. Haha. I opted to walk through the stream. On the way home, I walked across. It was mildly terrifying as you’d imagine.

An NPH El Salvador Holy Week tradition is to go to the Lempa River. It’s a 2 hour walk from the foundation. This is a bridge you have to cross. Really. Haha. I opted to walk through the stream. On the way home, I walked across. It was mildly terrifying as you’d imagine.

She needed to borrow my shoes, but I wouldn’t let her until I took a picture documenting the stark difference between our feet, ha.

She needed to borrow my shoes, but I wouldn’t let her until I took a picture documenting the stark difference between our feet, ha.

All 3 of the gallinas at the river.  Gallina means hen in Spanish. Our nickname for each other happened because of a misunderstanding between the word for flip flop and the word for hen. The silliness will never go away, and the nickname stuck.

All 3 of the gallinas at the river. Gallina means hen in Spanish. Our nickname for each other happened because of a misunderstanding between the word for flip flop and the word for hen. The silliness will never go away, and the nickname stuck.

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In order to cross the strong current to get to the other side, you had to use the rope that the year of service boys somehow managed to string across. They’re awesome.

In order to cross the strong current to get to the other side, you had to use the rope that the year of service boys somehow managed to string across. They’re awesome.

I kept walking around making kissy faces with my algae mustache. The girls hated it, I loved it.

I kept walking around making kissy faces with my algae mustache. The girls hated it, I loved it.

The boy in the middle had just basically fallen off his seat, which happens to be a water jug that caved in on itself. Haha.

The boy in the middle had just basically fallen off his seat, which happens to be a water jug that caved in on itself. Haha.

Walking home

Walking home

Enjoying a lovely sunset. I walked home with 3 girls in less than 2 hours! We were very proud of ourselves.

Enjoying a lovely sunset. I walked home with 3 girls in less than 2 hours! We were very proud of ourselves.

Holy Thursday is my favorite! Washing of the feet.

Holy Thursday is my favorite! Washing of the feet.

On Good Friday, the year of service youth put on their production of the Stations of the Cross. We all lined the field to watch.

On Good Friday, the year of service youth put on their production of the Stations of the Cross. We all lined the field to watch.

I love Pilate’s outfit. It makes me giggle, especially since this guy is always so serious!

I love Pilate’s outfit. It makes me giggle, especially since this guy is always so serious!

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It was awesome watching the guys put the crosses up, so very smooth and skilled.

It was awesome watching the guys put the crosses up, so very smooth and skilled.

This is the thief who defended Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him when he arrived in the Kingdom…well that guy happens to be my little brother, E, who said those words. Although Holy Thursday is my favorite of the Triduum, Good Friday ALWAYS gets me and makes me cry. I lost it, internally, when E said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” This time it wasn’t just words I heard from a lector. It was my brother, hanging from a cross, who said them.

This is the thief who defended Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him when he arrived in the Kingdom…well that guy happens to be my little brother, E, who said those words. Although Holy Thursday is my favorite of the Triduum, Good Friday ALWAYS gets me and makes me cry. I lost it, internally, when E said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” This time it wasn’t just words I heard from a lector. It was my brother, hanging from a cross, who said them.

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Good Friday was…good...to say the least.

Good Friday was…good…to say the least.

Veneration of the Cross

Veneration of the Cross

All of the year of service youth and Padre Ron being silly!

All of the year of service youth and Padre Ron being silly!

Blessing of the fire on Easter Vigil

Blessing of the fire on Easter Vigil

I could make an album just from pictures from that night, titled “Boys who squint because of the flash.”

I could make an album just from pictures from that night, titled “Boys who squint because of the flash.”

Easter morning’s only light at 4:30am was a path lined with these votive candles in sand.

Easter morning’s only light at 4:30am was a path lined with these votive candles in sand.

Padre and the guys before Mass started

Padre and the guys before Mass started

Happy Easter! The sun has risen, Christ has risen! Alleluia.

Happy Easter! The sun has risen, Christ has risen! Alleluia.

With my friend! He studies on the other side of the country, so we rarely see him.

With my friend! He studies on the other side of the country, so we rarely see him.

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Hahaha. This is a beautiful and silly picture.

Hahaha. This is a beautiful and silly picture.

The week’s other Peter Parker.

The week’s other Peter Parker.

“This is my beloved family, with whom I am well pleased.”

“This is my beloved family, with whom I am well pleased.”

One of the tías and her girls

One of the tías and her girls

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Easter Sunday activities…I promise, she clears it and makes a big ol’ splash.

Easter Sunday activities…I promise, she clears it and makes a big ol’ splash.

This kid is awesome. He asked to see the picture, and when he saw it he yelled, “WOW I LOOK SOOOOO COOL!”

This kid is awesome. He asked to see the picture, and when he saw it he yelled, “WOW I LOOK SOOOOO COOL!”

Even the year of service girls got in on the fun.

Even the year of service girls got in on the fun.

I love the smiles.

I love the smiles.

I spent part of my Easter afternoon in the clinic because of a gnarly blister I got on our hike to the river.

I spent part of my Easter afternoon in the clinic because of a gnarly blister I got on our hike to the river.

More homework time in the kitchen, this time it was sopes! Delicious.

More homework time in the kitchen, this time it was sopes! Delicious.

This year of service guy, who is not assigned to work in the kitchen, randomly stopped by and started helping the tía prepare beans without being asked. I love it! Yet another reason why my kids are way cool.

This year of service guy, who is not assigned to work in the kitchen, randomly stopped by and started helping the tía prepare beans without being asked. I love it! Yet another reason why my kids are way cool.

“Haciendo la paja” is what the boys told me (doing the lie, literally). The boys didn’t actually make the tortillas, the girls helped them ha. So I took a picture of them pretending to work.

“Haciendo la paja” is what the boys told me (doing the lie, literally). The boys didn’t actually make the tortillas, the girls helped them ha. So I took a picture of them pretending to work.

Their final product was chilaquilas (though the name is only one letter different from what the girls made – see the earlier picture – it is in fact much different but still just as delicious!).

Their final product was chilaquilas (though the name is only one letter different from what the girls made – see the earlier picture – it is in fact much different but still just as delicious!).

My best friend Katie Ann came to visit me for a little over a week. She’s so cool!

My best friend Katie Ann came to visit me for a little over a week. She’s so cool!

She made friends in the clinic too, haha.

She made friends in the clinic too, haha.

Photographic evidence that I do in fact wash my clothes by hand…

Photographic evidence that I do in fact wash my clothes by hand…

…and then almost cry because the sun is shining in my eyes when I hang them up to dry. Ha.

…and then almost cry because the sun is shining in my eyes when I hang them up to dry. Ha.

Friends making friendship bracelets

Friends making friendship bracelets

After a few days at NPH, Katie Ann and I went to the beach!!! This is looking at the tide pool area at high tide!

After a few days at NPH, Katie Ann and I went to the beach!!! This is looking at the tide pool area at high tide!

First time for me swimming in an ocean, ever. First time for Katie Ann seeing the Pacific Ocean (I’ve seen it before but had only gotten my feet wet.)

First time for me swimming in an ocean, ever. First time for Katie Ann seeing the Pacific Ocean (I’ve seen it before but had only gotten my feet wet.)

Low tide! Such awesome views.

Low tide! Such awesome views.

The tide pool when you can actually swim in it.

The tide pool when you can actually swim in it.

Let’s just say, I was nerding out after witnessing the tides come and go and what is left behind.

Let’s just say, I was nerding out after witnessing the tides come and go and what is left behind.

Lens kept fogging up, which annoyed me, but I did get some cool pictures.

Lens kept fogging up, which annoyed me, but I did get some cool pictures.

Ah, if only that pesky black spot weren’t there.

Ah, if only that pesky black spot weren’t there.

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot (Not) Like Christmas – In a Good Way

The Christmas season and experience here in El Salvador was excellent, awesome, and at some points it seemed altogether unreal. So why did I paint my Christmas experience with such terms? One would think Christmas is Christmas…right?

Wrong.

Sure, the feast day itself is the same. It is the recognition of, remembrance of, and opening of our hearts to the coming of and birth of Christ.

Unfortunately, this world-altering day isn’t celebrated the way it ought to be in many places, and I’ll come right out and say that the United States is one of those places. For quite some time now, I’ve felt that the US is a little too commercialized in its celebration of Christmas. From my perspective, too much is placed on the value and quantity of things that one receives (or even gives) during the season. The center and focus is not the Church and Jesus, but instead is a store and a sweet deal.

This sentiment was confirmed after experiencing Christmas here in El Salvador at NPH.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my family’s traditions, and I still believe in the magic of Santa Claus. I’m blessed to have the family that I do because we value the time we have with each other; my grandparents come over to our house in the morning and then we go to theirs later in the day. We celebrate my Grandpa’s birthday, since he’s so cool that his birthday falls on Christmas. We open presents, but we also go to Mass. We also have a terrible tradition of at least one person being miserably sick each year. I think I started that tradition, haha.

Anyway, I think what I’ve been hungering for is a culture that places more emphasis where it rightly belongs, on Christ. I found that culture here in El Salvador and especially here at NPH.

The quite beautiful and large nativity scene just outside of the cafeteria

The quite beautiful and large nativity scene just outside of the cafeteria

We began the season with the novena for Our Lady of Guadalupe, which started on December 4th.  Every night, a different house or group of employees was in charge of leading the novena. A novena is a special prayer and devotion that lasts for nine days; in this case, the novena was for Our Lady of Guadalupe, asking for her intercession for us. So we all gathered and prayed the rosary together, and afterwards we had a little snack. What I particularly enjoyed witnessing was the community novena, in which we invited those who live along the road outside of our home to come in and pray with us. We then served them dinner.

With boys before the novena, waiting for the others to arrive.

With boys before the novena, waiting for the others to arrive.

Our Lady of Guadalupe outside of the boys’ home – Casa San José

Our Lady of Guadalupe outside of the boys’ home – Casa San José

With the boys who led the rosary on the first night of the novena (and the house director too)

With the boys who led the rosary on the first night of the novena (and the house director too)

Second day of the novena, this time held at the girls’ house – Casa Santa María. Here’s my living room!

Second day of the novena, this time held at the girls’ house – Casa Santa María. Here’s my living room!

With the girls who led the rosary

With the girls who led the rosary

Third day of the novena, held at the babies’ house – Casa Niño Jesús

Third day of the novena, held at the babies’ house – Casa Niño Jesús

You see! Father Wasson’s practice of unconditional love isn’t just within the confines of NPH, but instead extends itself into the practice of loving your neighbors.

On the night of the community novena, serving food to the community members who came

On the night of the community novena, serving food to the community members who came

I’m pretty sure this is from the night the novena was held by the year of service pequeños. Every night the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was place in a different area and decorated differently.

I’m pretty sure this is from the night the novena was held by the year of service pequeños. Every night the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was place in a different area and decorated differently.

The novena finished on December 12th, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day, and in addition to the rosary, a mixture of high school students and year of service pequeños did a nice dramatization of the story of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady’s appearances to him.

The final night of the novena, held by the cafeteria staff. Here are some photos from the production of the story of St. Juan Diego

The final night of the novena, held by the cafeteria staff. Here are some photos from the production of the story of St. Juan Diego

DSC_1565 DSC_1578Another really cool thing that we did was the posadas. A posada is an activity in which we remember the journey Joseph and Mary took just before Jesus was born. A group seeking a place to stay goes house to house, asking for a room. The occupants deny the travelers, and this is all done in song. The different parties sing a number of stanzas back and forth (the ask, then the refusal), until the traveling party moves on to the final home. When the group is finally granted room and received into the home, there is usually some kind of fun activity or party and of course, food. Posadas are usually done in the week leading up to Christmas, with the last posada falling on Christmas Eve.

So in our case here at NPH, the different houses took turns hosting the posada and being the traveling party. For example, our first posada was done by Casa San José, which is our boys’ house. They went singing to Casa Niño Jesús (the babies’ house) and then to Casa Santa María (the girls’ house). After they were refused entrance, they traveled to la cancha (the playing courts) where everyone was waiting for them. At la cancha, they were finally welcomed and given a room.

The boys arriving at the babies’ house to begin the posada

The boys arriving at the babies’ house to begin the posada

The babies, year of service girls, and tías on the other side waiting to refuse the traveler’s request

The babies, year of service girls, and tías on the other side waiting to refuse the traveler’s request

The boys on their way to the girls’ house, with images of Joseph and Mary up front

The boys on their way to the girls’ house, with images of Joseph and Mary up front

Attempt #2 at lodging

Attempt #2 at lodging

Yay! They finally found a place to stay…

Yay! They finally found a place to stay…

After everyone took a seat in la cancha, some of the boys put on a little skit and dance. It was great! Their creativity always surprises me, and as always, they made the crowd laugh. After the presentation, we began with the piñatas! Every section of boys and girls got their own piñata, so breaking those took some time. Once they were all done, we had dinner outside (it hasn’t rained in 2 months, so we’ve been able to eat outside almost every night.)

Their skit was about the value of Christmas and about a young boy who learned the value of giving rather than receiving

Their skit was about the value of Christmas and about a young boy who learned the value of giving rather than receiving

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And now, for the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer dance!

And now, for the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer dance!

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With the boys after their skit and dance

With the boys after their skit and dance

Only the beginning of a week full of piñatas and lots of candy…

Only the beginning of a week full of piñatas and lots of candy…

One of the year of service boys really enjoying his job of working the piñata

One of the year of service boys really enjoying his job of working the piñata

In total, we had 5 posadas. And again, displaying that wonderful NPH spirit and love, we had a posada for the community one night. I missed the girls’ posada because I was quite ill one afternoon/night, but I was fortunate to see their dance during the last posada a few days later. The last one was held in honor of the Hermanos Mayores (big/older brothers and sisters), who are former pequeños. We had about 25 come for Mass and then the posada, and because it was the last one, all of the houses performed their dramas/skits/dances.

The community posada

The community posada

More chaos and candy!

More chaos and candy!

The posada for “Hermanos Mayores”

The posada for “Hermanos Mayores”

Inside the babies house, waiting to refuse the traveler’s request for a room

Inside the babies house, waiting to refuse the traveler’s request for a room

Piñatas, piñatas, and more piñatas

Piñatas, piñatas, and more piñatas

The babies’ house did a dance about the 3 Kings

The babies’ house did a dance about the 3 Kings

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The girls’ did a fun and comical dance with Santa as the star

The girls’ did a fun and comical dance with Santa as the star

So beautiful!

So beautiful!

I never tire of watching kids snatch up candy after a piñata breaks.

I never tire of watching kids snatch up candy after a piñata breaks.

The boys taking care of business and demolishing the piñata in record time.

The boys taking care of business and demolishing the piñata in record time.

On Christmas Eve morning, all of the children assembled in our multipurpose room to receive their gifts. It took less than an hour to hand them all out, especially because many of our children are not here right now and are instead on vacation with any family members they may have (who are capable of hosting them for a short time.) I was expecting Christmastime to be a bit sad, what with us missing almost half the population, but it was far from being sad. I was also unsure about their reactions…admittedly, I’m used to multiple presents under the tree, not just one item (although their bags had tons of cool stuff inside!) From my perspective, it seemed quite joyful and full of laughter.

Handing out gifts on Christmas Eve morning

Handing out gifts on Christmas Eve morning

DSC_3866 DSC_3873 DSC_3959Later that night, we had Mass in near darkness, with just a few candles to illuminate the altar and the choir. It was unimaginably beautiful. I returned to my seat after serving as a Eucharistic minister and closed my eyes. The children were singing and it seemed as if I were in the largest cathedral ever built with the biggest choir in the world. The sound lifted us up into the night sky.

Our manger scene in front of the altar

Our manger scene in front of the altar

The church just before the kids came

The church just before the kids came

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The church just before the last lights were turned off and Mass began

The church just before the last lights were turned off and Mass began

After Mass, our walk to la cancha was lit up by a few hundred candles. We prayed and then ate a traditional dinner. After dessert, we all piled onto one side of the court to watch the fireworks.

These 2 university students saved me a spot and grabbed a plate of food for me at dinner since I was walking around taking pictures. So sweet!

These 2 university students saved me a spot and grabbed a plate of food for me at dinner since I was walking around taking pictures. So sweet!

Fireworks!

Fireworks!

Yes! Fireworks. That’s a Christmas tradition I’ll take to the bank, and I think the United States should definitely adopt it, of course! What’s better than fireworks on the eve of Christ’s birthday?

We were all out later than usual that night, but I stayed out even later and hung out with two of my friends, watching a movie (one is a nurse/tía who was a former pequeña here and the other is a university student/pequeña who also works at the home.) I didn’t go to bed until around 12:30am.

For me, our Christmas Eve celebration felt more like Christmas Day back in the United States. Christmas Day was actually like a normal day here, the only exception being that we woke up and ate breakfast much later than usual.

The many traditions I experienced truly lengthened the Christmas season and celebration for me. Instead of just one thing or a singular event with many parts, like Mass on Christmas Eve/Day and then the opening of presents, the entire month of December seemed like one big long celebration interwoven with various events and activities that combined the Divine with the rich cultural and secular festivities.

And I really, really love that.

Paz y bien.

Wash Away

During the retreat with 4th grade, it started raining while we were in the chapel. At that time we were almost finished with the few kids brave enough to share a story (or stories) about how they know and feel that they are loved by God. There were some tears by those who talked, and there were also tears from those who simply listened. Though, it was more than just listening. It was feeling and perhaps reliving a story that they didn’t want to or just couldn’t share.

It was a “from the heart and deep within the soul” kind of moment. We’ve had a few retreats before with other grades of varying ages. Some shared more, others have shared less. But what made this particular retreat so different and so very special for me, and perhaps for them, was that it rained.

The rain not only washed away the stuffy heat inside the chapel, but it also washed away some of the hurt, I think. At least, it felt like a cleansing rain. During the brief shower, the kids also had to write something – a short letter to God. I didn’t want to hover or stare while they were writing, so I turned to look outside at the cornfields. I just stared and stared at the landscape and got lost in the view, in my thoughts, in my prayers of thanksgiving for the rain.

Out of nowhere, I started softly humming a song to myself. It was Joe Purdy’s “Wash Away (Reprise)”…

I got troubles oh but not today

Cause they’re gonna wash away, they’re gonna wash away

And I have sins oh but not today

Cause they’re gonna wash away, they’re gonna wash away

With each retreat, I learn something new, something different. For example – that the blood of Christ washed (and washes) away our sins. I have learned that in the pains and the sorrows of this life, we often struggle with our relationships – with our own selves, with family members, even with God. I have also seen that, at least through the stories shared, that even amidst the pains, sorrows, and tremendous hurts, God is there. He is always there, and oh how much He loves us. It’s an incalculable value. However, sometimes we fail to see Him. Sometimes we deliberately turn away.

Whatever the reason, sometimes there are blocks and walls between us and God. Despite our many shortcomings, God knows us well, and in all his infinite wisdom and love, He sent us the Way to wash away those sins, stumbling blocks, and pains.

The blood of Christ alone does the washing, but sometimes, God simply lets the rain do all the work.

(Now go listen to the song in the playlist on the main page!)

Awake My Soul – The Follow Up to Investments

Sometime ago, I wrote a short post, posing the question – where are your investments? Meaning…we can put stock in things that help us be present, but we can also put stock in things and even people that hinder us from being present to the people and situations we are in. I know that there are times when we deliberately steer away from better, healthier options to less than suitable and yet still gratifying options. I’m also certain that at times, we just don’t realize that we may be paying more attention to the things that hinder us.

For example, one of my vices is spending quite a bit of time on my phone/laptop in the evenings. Some of the kids have pointed this out to me and gently cajole me for it. In all seriousness though, evenings sans rain (and it rains almost every night here, so those “windows” are hit or miss) and weekends are the only good times that I have to connect with family and friends.

But the point is, I do invest in “technology and communication time.” Maybe I spend too much time, maybe I don’t. The jury is still out on that one. However, whenever I am on my phone or laptop, it does take away quality time from the relationships I have here, from the moments I could be sharing with the children and staff here at NPH El Salvador.

My vice is a more specific example, but in general, we all have things that take the place of others. So why talk about it? Isn’t it embarrassing to call ourselves out? I think that we’d rather just not talk about the bad things we sometimes do. However…as I mentioned in the thematic precursory post, “where you invest your love, you invest your life.”

If I were only to read those words, and not hear them sung by the lovely gentlemen of Mumford & Sons, I could still feel the impact from such a powerful, beautiful statement. Think about it. It almost doesn’t warrant an explanation, it’s so simple. Where you invest your love, therein rests your life.

If we invest in good seeds, we produce and see beautiful fruit. However, if we invest in bad seeds, we may produce fruit, but it isn’t the best quality. In fact, it’s pretty terrible. Choosing good over bad is not always sunshine and daisies, rainbows and butterflies, as they say. As it always goes, choosing the bad things in life seems to come much easier. That’s how vices and other not-so-healthy-for-you things go. And therein lies the challenge! The difficulty! Oh but what opportunities are we afforded with choice.

We have the ability to do with our lives whatever we want. It has been my experience so far that the best route is listening to God first, and then acting. Kinda like thinking before you speak (which I totally struggle with, still.) When we listen to the voice of God, let the Spirit in, and conform our lives to Jesus’ teachings, we are transformed. Our very souls are awakened!

That’s why investments are so important. What we invest our love in changes our lives, for better or for worse: loving bad things, loving good things, and all of it in between.

Being here and serving Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos has been one of the greatest investments of my life. I’ve still got plenty of growing to do, so I like to think of myself as a wee little sapling. This NPH-seed was planted 5 years ago with my first visit here to the El Salvador home. Oh but what a seed it was! And oh what a marvelous thing it is now.

It has awakened my soul.

Just remember:

In these bodies we will live

In these bodies we will die

Where you invest your love

You invest your life.

Paz y bien.

 (Now go listen to the song in the playlist on the main page!)

On Being Vulnerable

Part of my morning prayer every day is asking God to be vulnerable. Not the kind of vulnerability that would put me in the hospital or something drastic like that, but the vulnerability that comes with being completely open to people and situations. I want to be open and be willing to step outside of my “box” so to speak. I pray for this vulnerability with my Spanish, so that I can get past my failures and inability to speak at times. I pray for this vulnerability so that walls are broken down and relationships are fostered and strengthened.

With all of that being said, I firmly believe that God has a sense of humor. So when I was informed 3 hours before an athletic event/activity began that I was going to be on a team and play basketball and volleyball, I laughed. I first laughed out of disbelief, then mild hysteria. Then I started thinking of any possible way to get out of it. Not because I was going to have to play some sports with the tíos and tías (it was an event put on by us for the kids to sit back and enjoy), but because all of the children and any staff members who were not playing were all going to watch. That’s like, at least 300 people.

¡Qué vergüenza! (How embarrassing!)

300 people that were going to see just how uncoordinated I am, just how not good I am at playing sports. Factor in that I had no idea the event was going to happen, let alone that I was actually going to play! So, the afternoon seemed to move faster than usual. Oh and those excuses I was searching for, well the only two that I could think of didn’t work. The timing of what I had to do at the office didn’t interfere with the game, and I was also given permission to leave the office early to go play. But then…I noticed that the sky got darker and cloudier. I then started wishing for rain. I don’t usually go out of my way to ask for rain. And guess what? It never rained.

And you know what? After all of my inner turmoil and complaining to my friend, I could not have been happier that my excuses did not pan out and that it did not rain. I had so much fun! At one point, I started laughing so hard that my stomach hurt. Painfully so. It was all I had to not stop, fall on the ground, and just cry because I was laughing so much – we were in the middle of a game…pull yourself together Ashley!

My team won the first round of volleyball. We were actually really awesome. However, we lost the basketball game. And by lost, I mean we totally tanked. I totally tanked. My few shot attempts didn’t achieve anything but moans from my teammates, teehee. After a short break, we came back to play in the volleyball final. For some reason, what little skill I possessed earlier went on hiatus. I was terrible! But it was during that game that I had the most fun and laughed the most.

By then, everyone on the opposing team knew that serving the ball in my direction was the quickest way to earn points…and they actually did that for a while. In fact, one guy would shout across that he was going to serve the ball to me and then smile!

At the end of the event, my team did not do well. I received a healthy dose of being on the receiving end of athletic ability jokes. During dinner, a girl and I were talking about the evening’s events. I told her how my team did, and I said that it went pretty poorly for us. I played terribly. She looked at me and said, but you had fun right…well, that’s all that matters.

She’s right. That’s all that matters. I had fun. I had so much fun that I really didn’t care that the whole world could see how bad I was.

You just have to go and be. Sometimes, we spend too much time thinking and overanalyzing things. We put up walls and at any hint of vulnerability, we run away. We always have to be strong, to be invincible. I tried to run away, but it didn’t work. Vulnerability hit me in the face (literally – I went for a rebound and the ball landed on my face.)

But you know what? Vulnerability is a powerful tool and a great teacher. Though I never expected to be vulnerable in such a way, I definitely wasn’t expecting to learn so much from such a short experience. I prayed for vulnerability and for a chance to learn. God smiled (maybe even chuckled) and put me on a sports team.

A Life Well Lived

A few posts ago, I wrote a little blurb on providence. I’d like to revisit the subject, because it is relevant again! Well, it is always relevant and a part of life, but you know what I mean.

Today we celebrated the life of Father William Wasson, the man who founded Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos. He was born to eternal life on August 16, 2006. Every year since his passing, the NPH homes do something special to remember his life. For without Fr. Wasson, NPH wouldn’t be here.

NPH is here because of providence. Really, the story is incredible. At least, it is for me being here and being able to live and breathe a part of NPH. Not too long ago, I was thinking about Fr. Wasson’s life and how I came to be at NPH.

It all started when Fr. Wasson was told that he couldn’t be a priest, though he wanted to be one. He had an illness and wasn’t healthy enough. At that time in the United States, there was no concept of a shortage of priests, so it was no big deal to tell him that he couldn’t be a priest. So, he moved from the US to Mexico to learn Spanish. He went to daily Mass, and the bishop took notice. Upon learning more about him, the bishop then asked Fr. Wasson to be a priest for him in his diocese. He needed someone to be able to celebrate Mass in English. And so finally, Fr. Wasson was ordained. So here you have a providence example already – he couldn’t be a priest! Then he was ordained!

One day in 1954, a young boy stole from the poor box in Fr. Wasson’s church. The judge was going to send the boy to prison, but instead Fr. Wasson asked the judge for custody of the boy. He would take care of him. Putting the boy in jail would do nothing for him, and it would only repeat the cycle of poverty and desperation.

A week later, the judge sent Fr. Wasson 8 more boys. And so, Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos was born in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Over the next 50 years, Fr. Wasson went on to create 8 more homes in 8 other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (our house here in El Salvador was founded in 1999.) Since its inception, NPH has cared for more than 16,000 children, and we are currently caring for around 3,000 in all 9 of the NPH homes/countries. Every NPH home is different, but many have outreach programs for their surrounding communities in addition to the mission of caring for orphaned and abandoned children. Through Fr. Wasson’s 5 principles of love, security, sharing, work, and responsibility, our children are cared for in a loving, safe environment. They are provided the skills needed to break the cycle of poverty that they were born into. Unconditional love guides NPH.

I do my best to share my experiences with you, but some words and a few pictures can never do adequate justice to living and breathing NPH. You just have to see it for yourself! What Fr. Wasson and countless others have done for orphaned and abandoned children is beyond comprehension; at least, it is for me. It’s incredible.

Back in July, I had the chance to go to San Salvador with my friends who came for a visit. We went to a few places, one of them being the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA). In the lobby of the museum dedicated to Monseñor Oscar Romero and the Jesuits, there is a wall with pictures of influential bishops and archbishops of Latin America. Of course, Romero is there. What surprised me though was that the bishop who ordained Fr. Wasson was on the wall. What?! Could that not be any cooler? Think about it! That bishop saw Fr. Wasson, saw what he was capable of doing and of being, and he ordained him. Fr. Wasson then went on to be the founder of NPH. NPH has changed the lives of so many children. It has also changed my life.

One of the cool things about NPH is that there is beautiful, what I would like to call “return rate” of former pequeños. Those who grew up in the NPH family often come back to serve in some capacity or other. Tío Olegario is a wonderful example of this. He’s an ex-pequeño from Mexico, but he has worked with Fr. Wasson and NPH for nearly his entire life. He’s been the director of our house here in El Salvador since Fr. Wasson asked Tío Ole to help him build the home here in 1999. Also, I love this picture because of the three individuals in it: Tío Olegario, Jesus Christ, and Fr. William Wasson. That’s a pretty good group right there. Powerful stuff!

One of the cool things about NPH is that there is beautiful, what I would like to call “return rate” of former pequeños. Those who grew up in the NPH family often come back to serve in some capacity or other. Tío Olegario is a wonderful example of this. He’s an ex-pequeño from Mexico, but he has worked with Fr. Wasson and NPH for nearly his entire life. He’s been the director of our house here in El Salvador since Fr. Wasson asked Tío Ole to help him build the home here in 1999. Also, I love this picture because of the three individuals in it: Tío Olegario, Jesus Christ, and Fr. William Wasson. That’s a pretty good group right there. Powerful stuff!

You see, with providence we never really know what’s going to come our way. Though he wanted to be a priest, Fr. Wasson wasn’t supposed to be/wasn’t going to be a priest. Boom! He was ordained after all. That young boy from 1954 normally would have gone to jail. Bam! Fr. Wasson said no, I’ll take care of him.

And so, that’s how the story began. Fr. Wasson’s life was a life well lived. In reality, it is still being lived through each and every one of his pequeños.

Two Things

Just two things to consider/ponder…

– We really are all one people, all children of God. We may not speak the same language, like the same foods, look the same or at least look similar, but we are brothers and sisters. We are connected in a very big way, even if we don’t realize it or choose not to acknowledge that connection! This somehow rang true to me while driving back from San Salvador (the capital) a week or so ago. I was looking out the window at the gorgeous countryside when the radio station started playing a Frank Sinatra song. Good ol’ Frank in the middle of El Salvador? You betcha. Universal people we are. And oh how universal is music!? I can’t say that enough.

Some friends of mine came down to visit the NPH home for a few days. Part of our day trip to San Salvador included a visit to the chapel where Monseñor Oscar Romero was martyred. We celebrated Mass together and then went to see his house, which has been converted into a museum. What a beautiful man, such a beautiful life. He did what Christ calls us all to do, which is love our neighbor.

And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ – Matthew 25:40

– Providence is an awesome, amazing, and sometimes just plain unbelievable thing. There is no such thing as coincidence with God. There is a plan, and it may not be what we had in mind. Just look at Romero, a man who was devoted to a life of books and writing in service to God. Instead of continuing that life, he became the Archbishop and led his people during a terrible, trying time. He died for Christ, in service to the people he was called to shepherd. He preached a message of love and forgiveness, especially to those responsible for the atrocities that occurred during El Salvador’s civil war. Amidst all of those horrible things, Romero still understood the great commandment to love thy neighbor. To love your brother.

Romero has been a very influential figure in my life. In light of his life and where I am and how I came to be here in El Salvador, I’m learning more and more about the beautiful gift that is divine providence.