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Never Alone

"Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." ~ Lao Tzu

Since my Sending Ceremony on December 14, I've been at home. All the other missioners in my orientation group (the wonderful Greg, Brenda, and Julie) have since left their respective homes and arrived in their host countries of Kenya and Cambodia. Having nearly two weeks extra time has been both a blessing and a struggle (I accidentally left my ukulele in New York so that was shipped to me). Blessings include seeing and visiting a lot of people I won't get to see and doing a lot of activities I won't get to do for a while. Saying goodbye is a process, not while I'm walking out the door. Thank goodness I have all this extra time then! I got to celebrate Christmas with family and New Year's with close friends. Nearly every other day I had lunch with different people like my childhood best friends, who I have not seen in years, spending nearly 3 hours with them at a Panera and concerning our parents whether or not we were going to make it home. Walking the halls of my elementary school, I met some of my old teachers who were surprised it's been ten years since I've left, remembering like it was only the day before I was a little girl asking if I could sharpen my pencil. The music director of my parish welcomed me into the bell choir and choir for Lessons and Carols even though I emailed her only the day before asking about it. I've had breakfast with other friends, met with members of the Archdiocese, eaten lunch with mentors, gone on family outings to the museum and ice cream, visited a book store with my sister, took a fun trip to Louisville with my brother, received a parish blessing, played golf with my dad (got an Eagle!!!), went to the conservatory with my mom, and spent time just relaxing at home or seeing a movie... and NOT getting sick like the rest of my family (here's to not jinxing myself...).

These past few weeks I've also been able to take time to reflect and ponder over the questions that I heard most: What are you most excited for? What are you most nervous about? Of course, I am excited to finally go on mission, serve others, and meet my new community there, but I am also looking forward to ending the waiting and have a schedule again and to have time again. During orientation, someone said that people abroad say that America has the watches, but we (not Americans) have the time. From my time in Malawi with Determined to Develop, that rings so true. There's more time to just be with people and not always have another place to be. There's more time to develop hobbies. There's more time to stop and pray. I am excited to embrace that life.

On the flip side, there are also many things I am nervous about as well. Learning a new language, making friends, having a successful and sustainable ministry, being so far from family, and bonding with my new community. Part of the curse of spending so much time at home is overthinking. I make myself more nervous the more I am at home and my poor mother recently said to me that while she was originally happy to have me home for longer, the wait is now becoming difficult. We've said our goodbyes and now we are just waiting, waiting...

It's been since about April that I knew I was going to Haiti. Personal prepping included watching videos, reading the history and current events, talking to other people who have gone there, talking to people currently there, and lots of prayer and discernment. There is an inexhaustible list of things to learn about another culture and being a missioner traveling to another culture. Most of which cannot actually be learned until living in that culture for 50 years... so preparation can be intimidating. Thankfully, I haven't been alone. A lot of people--friends, family, and strangers alike--have supported me along the way. I will go together with them on mission and I just want to thank them for their love and support.

Around Thanksgiving, my siblings slung their arms around me and said, "Jill, we'll take care of you." Planning on having a book club during my time in Haiti, my dear brother and sister are worried about money and if I can afford the books in our book club (I will...). They also worry that I will have trouble supporting myself in the future and, both a little tipsy, said they would look after me. Thank you Kim. Thank you Chris.

In the summer, a relative of mine gifted me with a LifeStaw water bottle. Half a year later, that water bottle was recommended to me by one of the women I'll be living with in Haiti. He and his wife also let me stay at their house while visiting them and other friends and family. Thank you Bob. Thank you Biggi.

A neighbor sent me an old Chinese purse that used to belong to her aunt. Her aunt had traveled to California and hopped on a boat to China to become a missioner there. My neighbor wanted to give me a token from her. Thank you Phyllis.

Orientation was a special time for me as well. I loved all the other missioner candidates and our leaders and presenters who prepared us for this journey. Thank you Greg, Brenda, Julie, and Sr. Rolande. Thank you Jaclyn. Thank you Debbie, Vicki, and Irene. Thank you presenters and all Maryknoll Lay Missioner staff.

For those who helped prepare me to go on mission to Haiti (of whom some are mentioned above). Thank you Peter and Melissa. Thank you so much Abby and Sami.

For the Maryknoll sisters, brothers and priests who guided me and were interested in me and what I was doing. To name a few: Thank you Sr. Maureen and Sr. Theresa. Thank you Brother Ray and Father Jack.

For the people of my parish, I feel so blessed to be a part of that community! Thank you Deacons Michael, Jerry, Jim, Father Larry and Dave. I will keep you all in my prayers.

My dear college roommates, who are wonderful women with beautiful hearts and sharp minds. I miss you guys so much! Thank you Delanie. Thank you Katie (O). Thank you Katie (P). I love you guys!

For letting me use their houses as a waystation from New York to home and back as well as just being my really good friends. Thank you Mike. Thank you Katie (O). Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Opacich.

All my dear friends from college as well. I had a great time seeing you guys during New Year's eve and day. It was so great seeing you! Thank you Stephen and Katie (Z). Thank you Eamonn and Christy. Christy's Friend Carly, it was nice to meet you. Thank you Katie (P). Thank you Caleb. And yes, thank you Brandon.

For my family that I saw over Christmas, my family at the River, and my family far, far away, I love you all so much!

For my friends who I don't get to see that much either from high school or college or elsewhere, I wish you all happiness and joy!

For my L'Arche and FrancisCorps community who helped me grow, God bless you all! You remain in my thoughts and prayers.

For the people I met only once or twice and expressed a great interest in my mission. Your generosity towards me despite not knowing me has touched my heart.

Thank you to everyone who has touched my life, mentioned and not mentioned.

Most of all, I want to thank my parents. The words escape me... how can I ever express to them what they mean to me? They raised me and cared for me. They helped me when I was down and challenged me to work harder and be a better person. They also taught me that life isn't about the grades you get in school, and while my siblings and I were always encouraged to do our best and maintain our grades, none of us felt pressured to be the best and get straight A's. Mom and Dad taught me to think of the future and to remember that actions have consequences. I learned to respect others and to never lose my sense of awe. It's important to be grateful and to give to others. Say please and thank you. So Mom, Dad, THANK YOU. I love you so much.

Thank you, Lord, for life you have given me and the people who make it worth living.

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