Tag Archives: Service

Chocolate Chip Spirituality

DSC00924It is a good thing that I did not give up cookies for Lent!

Last week was Reading Week at Northwestern University, and the Student Advisory Board at the Sheil Catholic Center enthusiastically hosts “study days”, where we dole out an extra dose of Sheil hospitality.  Our volunteers conjure up inordinate amounts of snack food while the staff pours out endless amounts of encouragement onto hard studying students.

As a special treat, I decided to mix up a batch of the perfect chocolate cookies! Not long after setting out this tray of sweet treats, I ran into Kelsey – who quickly snagged a cookie and later asked if I had a secret recipe! 

There is no secret, just a couple of tricks that I learned in the kitchen.  Kelsey and I swapped our favorite baking techniques, including this one straight from the cookie recipe, which requires that you remove the cookies from the oven while they’re still a bit under-done and let them sit on the hot cookie sheet for 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.  The secret to soft chewy cookies is to not over bake them!  Remember, cookies continue to bake, even after removing them from the oven. 

I must admit, the first batch was a bit crispy for my own taste, but no one else seemed to notice.  Three dozen cookies were devoured within a matter of hours!  I decided to make a second batch the next night, and put the “cookies continue to bake” theory to the test. 

With every batch, I winced at taking them out too soon, yet resisted the urge to keep them in the oven for just one more minute.  After precisely 12 minutes, I removed them from the oven while they were puffy, domed, beginning to brown, and still looking slightly under cooked.  Then I diligently set the timer for another 5 minutes, letting the cookies continue to bake outside the oven.  

As I waited for dough to settle, I wondered (metaphorically of course), “How often are we tempted to keep the cookies in the oven just a little bit longer?” 

How often are we so elated after a spiritual experience that we proclaim with excitement, “I wish we could just stay here!”  For some it is an enriching retreat weekend or a much needed vacation.  I hear students say this after a life-changing service immersion trip or an unforgettable study abroad experience.  It might be an encounter with an unbelievably beautiful sunset or the energizing runner’s high at the end of a long run. 

Like Peter, James, and John who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration, we long to remain on the mountain top.  We wish for the intensity of the moment to last forever.  Yet despite the joy they bring or the insights we gain, we know that these dramatic experiences cannot be sustained for long.  What appears to the untrained eye to be a bit “not long enough” is in fact the perfect amount of time.  Those moments continue to bake to completion, and we appreciate their rich gooey goodness even more once they’re incorporated into our everyday lives.

Every year I hear this from our students who return from our international service immersion trips.  They spend weeks and months making sense of their time spent with the poor of Nicaragua or Haiti.  It was Kelsey herself who offered this reflection just days after our cookie conversation!  They wonder about the ways their lives have been changed.  They see the impact it has on their world view.  It makes a difference in the ways they see themselves, and their understanding of God.  Their priorities shift, it may impact how they make decisions about life after college, and their lives continue to be transformed.

The same could be said about an intense retreat experience.  I continue to watch the graces unfold and reach back to some of the more profound moments in prayer from some of my more memorable retreats. 

Today, it strikes me that we could also use the cookie analogy with this great season of Lent.  40 days is certainly enough time to break old habits and start new patterns of living.  In other ways, though, there is much that feels “slightly underdone”. 

Perhaps that is something to pay attention to as we enter into Holy Week.  What work has God begun throughout this Lenten season, and what still needs to be brought to completion as we bask in the glow of Easter?

Remember, the cookies will continue to bake even after you take them out of the oven!

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Change for Haiti

I will be posting some updates in the coming weeks about our mission to Haiti.  This is the full text of the letter that I sent to our donors and support team.  Thanks for your prayers and support!

Dear Friends – A wise mentor once reminded me that when God asks us to follow him, we cannot put limits or restrictions on that call. We have to let go of everything.  E.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.  

Those words landed with a thud in the pit of my stomach almost a year ago.  I’ve had this itch to try something new for several years now, but I’ve not had a clear sense of what that’s all about. Some say I have a case of the “travel bug”. Others call it the prompting of the Holy Spirit. My spiritual director from the 30-day retreat said I have the heart of someone on pilgrimage – a traveler on the journey to a holy place. Whatever it is, I’ve known for a while (in that intuitive, spiritual sense of ‘knowing’) that God’s got something up his sleeve once again. Following him is not optional; it is the only way I know.

A year ago, I could not imagine myself NOT spending Winter Break in Nicaragua. If there is anything that I have held onto with great joy and a ferocious cling, it is the experience of leading student groups to Nicaragua. Letting go would not be easy, so God made it undeniably obvious.

Several months ago, it looked like we would NOT be making our annual trip to Nicaragua.  The Northwestern academic calendar ends “late” this year, and our partners in Nicaragua were hesitant about pushing our trip right into Christmas. As the prospect of not returning to Nicaragua became clear, I knew it was time to begin searching for something new.

I don’t claim to have a crystal ball, but I sensed this was coming. I was disappointed, but not heart-broken. I am very committed to our work with Fabretto, but open to what else God has in store for us. Our student leaders engaged in a long, late-night brainstorming session. We agreed that an international trip over Winter Break was still our best option. We have many contacts across Central America and many initial signs pointed to Haiti. As the summer progressed, the Holy Spirit began working overtime on our behalf. 

My colleague Tim traveled to Haiti with his family many years ago, and one of his Haiti contacts happened to be in Chicago that very same week. We also have a campus ministry colleague at Eastern Illinois University who has been to Haiti many times, and he offered to let us tag along on their trip.  I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of going to Haiti, but my heart was open.  All signs pointed to Haiti – dates, details, and mission partners began falling into place. I felt a tremendous sense of openness and freedom that comes from trusting in the Holy Spirit.  It became so evident to me that Haiti was the right choice, and I needed to do whatever God asked of me in order to make this trip to Haiti happen.

It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.  This I command you: love one another.  (Jn 15:16-17)

Just as we were committing ourselves to Haiti, I received a visit from our contact at Fabretto. We talked again about the December dates, and much to my surprise, he asked if we would still be willing to come to Nicaragua. I think we can make this work, he said.

Yes!! (But … we’re going to Haiti … I think?) I could not have been more thrilled to know that the Nicaragua trip was back on our schedule. With a heart wide open, our staff discussed the potential for two trips at the same time over Winter Break. The more we talked, the more we saw the endless possibilities for Sheil students to be of service to others around the world.  And then the big question, how will we staff two trips at the same time?

Leading the Nicaragua trip seemed like the logical choice for me. (I would fly to Nicaragua tomorrow if I knew that’s what God wanted!)  But for whatever reason, my heart is set on some new, unknown adventure. We invited three experienced and enthusiastic students to serve as our Nicaragua leadership team. Meanwhile, my co-worker Tim and I are embarking to Haiti along with our colleague from Eastern Illinois University.

People keep asking me, why are you going to Haiti?  I’m going to Haiti because this is where God wants me this year. I don’t know what to expect, but I’ve been “here” before.  I know what it is like to stand on the threshold of something new, unsure of where the road in front of me will lead, but absolutely certainty that God’s work is being done. There is a reason I need to go to Haiti this year, and I need your help in making this happen!

First and foremost, I need your prayers. It is a privilege to serve God and God’s people, but there are many unknowns on this first time trip. I ask you to join me in prayer – for the courage to follow God’s plan every step of the way, for openness to new people and new experiences, and for the wisdom to discern what God is asking of us.  We know that we will be visiting several parishes and communities, and working on some light construction. We are also hoping to make connections for future projects. Pray that those plans will fall into place.

Although the Sheil Center generously covers the cost of staff, it is always my goal to fundraise my own expenses. There are 8 students and 2 staff from the Sheil Center traveling to Haiti, and a team of 13 students traveling to Nicaragua. As you know, many of our students request scholarship funds as well.  Anything you can give would be greatly appreciated.

I cannot wait to see what God has in store for us! I look forward to your prayers and to sharing the graces of this experience with you.  Know that I hold you close in my prayers, too. Thank-you for being a partner in this important work.



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