As a self-professed extrovert, I have never leaned into my introverted side more than I have in the past 3.5 months since moving to Chicago. This isn’t a drag on my housemates or on the Amate House program, just a harsh reality that I was not expecting to face. Before coming up here I really did not think that I would grow tired of being with people. By the nature of my past jobs/involvement in college programs, I have a very long-lasting social battery. But the combination of working 40(+) hours a week, having at least one Amate meeting a week, doing social things, going to Mass, and keeping up with friends and family from back home has been a hard balance for me to find. Not to mention, there must be some time for rest and self-care in there too. Much like my freshman year of college, I have fluctuated between two extremes. All or nothing. You either get the classic, outgoing Marti or you get the “my door is shut, do NOT disturb!” Marti. In a lot of ways, that is unfair to my housemates, and even myself.
My housemates – eight wonderful people from all different backgrounds and walks of life that I get to share my existence with. How I could go on and on about them. Their pursuit of me, their encouragement on all days, and their love for me are all things that I never thought I would love so dearly. We often sit back and reflect on how crazy it is that we have only known each other since August. Yet, these women feel like home to me. Being 900+ miles from home has not been easy, especially with the weather getting colder and colder. But I am thankful to be able to come home to people who feel so familiar and warm. I am grateful for the random eye contact with Gillian that pushes us both into tear-filled laughter. For the way Jasmyne listens so attentively. For Eliza and her invitations to watch movies together. For Kaycee’s excitement to share stories. For the times Brooke sits on the heater and listens to me ramble when I cook. For the times Claire leaves little notes on my bathroom mirror to remind me that I’m *cool*. For Katelyn’s reminders to take care of myself. For the way Siobhan gives such a ridiculous nickname that it just has to stick. (I’ll only answer to “Moo” from now on).
Many of these examples could be passed off as basic human interactions but there is something so much more to them. Often, it is the power of an invitation. Everyone likes to be included. Everyone likes to be reminded that they are seen, even when they feel small. Maybe these interactions don’t come in the form of “Do you want to do ‘x’ with me?” but rather, exist in the form of a presence. These little actions are beautiful reminders of Amate’s motto: “Putting love into action.” In the Little Village House, I am always invited to be loved. To belong.
Through the examples of my housemates, I am better able to shape my mindset towards invitation, inclusion, acceptance, and love at my work site. My work focuses on volunteer coordination, running parish-wide community outreach events, and maintaining relationships with partner organizations in the Lincoln Park area. Usually, those are basic tasks – sending emails, making phone calls, and having meetings. With tasks like that, it is difficult to remember that your actions have the power to add to or subtract from someone’s day. Being reminded of the love I receive at home; it is easier to be more intentional in my interactions. I often feel conflicted when I’m inviting someone or offering someone a service. I think, “Am I offering this so I’ll feel better about myself? Am I trying to be their superhero?” Sometimes, this is especially tricky since I work at a church. While I do offer meals and clothing items, what I truly intend for people to receive is the knowledge that they belong at Saint Clement; they are welcome in the Catholic Church. Regardless of faith background, marital status, sexual orientation, ethnic background – they belong here. The intentionality in invitation that I receive at home helps me to be more transparent in offering a place for others and inviting them to belong. The Catholic Church is far from perfect, but I truly believe in the desire of many of its members to be good and to do good in the communities that are so broken and lost. The Church is a sanctuary, and it should be exactly that for everyone.
The Amate House program does a great job at providing us with necessary tools and opportunities to be active learners. I could list countless examples of in-depth discussions, reflections, seminars, and trainings. What I’ve found, though, is that most of my learning is done aside from those materials and presentations. Most of my learning is done at home or at work with real individuals with real stories. While it is extremely important to be well-informed and open to new ideas, it is also important to remember that one’s story is not just a culmination of all facts and statistics about demographics and projections. One’s story is an opening of their heart and mind to yours in a hope that they will be received and loved. Moving to Chicago and participating in this program has taught me a lot about love. Love is a presence. It is an unconditional form of receiving another person exactly as they are in that moment. Love is an invitation to belong.