The author admires a redwood tree in Redwood National Park in California before embarking on her Good Shepherd Volunteer international year of service in Chile. (Provided photo)

Bloom where you are planted

Notes from the Field includes reports from young people volunteering in ministries of Catholic sisters. A partnership with Catholic Volunteer Network, the project began in the summer of 2015. This is our fifth round of bloggers: Katie Delaney is a Good Shepherd Volunteer with the Fundación Madre Josefa (Mother Joseph Foundation) in Santiago, Chile, and Lauren Magee is a Good Shepherd Volunteer at Hands of Hope, an income generating project that provides dignified employment for villagers living with HIV/AIDS in Nong Khai, Thailand. This is Katie's first blog. Read more about her here.

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"The wonderful work you are doing is a tree of love and life."
— St. Mary Euphrasia

Redwood trees are renowned for their glorious height. Redwood National Park, stretching along the Pacific coast in the United States, is home to trees that have grown over 350 feet.

But what often goes overlooked about these magnificent giants are their roots. For the trees' expansive heights, redwood roots extend only 10 to 13 feet below ground. This has taken on greater meaning for me in my year as a Good Shepherd Volunteer.

A year and a half ago found me halfway through St. Mary's College of California's Master of Arts in Leadership program. My boss at the time urged me to look at a job description that was in line with what were then my career aspirations. I had worked for three years with high school students who hoped to be the first in their families to graduate from college. I was confident that I knew my next step — supporting first-generation students in higher education — and this job was everything I wanted.

Yet as I read the description, I felt ... nothing. No passion, no excitement, no connection, nothing. All of a sudden, my roots didn't seem as strong as I thought they were.

The author's visual reflection on her journey to Chile. The hearts represent each place she has lived in the United States, along with the lessons learned, all leading up to her current home near Santiago, Chile. (Provided photo)

Feeling uprooted by my uncertainty, I started discerning my next step. While I wasn't sure of the specifics, I did know I felt called to a few things: I wanted to learn Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country. I wanted to return to living in an intentional community. And I wanted to explore some type of social justice work I had not yet been exposed to.

I had never left the United States, so I hoped to expand my life experience by immersing myself in another culture, country, people and history. And by rooting this immersion in service to social justice, I hoped to learn more about my life's purpose while still positively contributing to others and the world.

I learned about the Good Shepherd Volunteers from a mentor I had met while serving with the Lasallian Volunteers from 2012 to 2014. I was immediately inspired by Good Shepherd Volunteers' mission to "serve women, adolescents, and children affected by poverty, violence, and neglect in domestic and international placements" in partnership with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, which has ministries in 73 countries.

I was also captivated by GSV's four tenets: social justice, simplicity, community, and spirituality, informed by the sisters' core values of individual dignity, mercy, reconciliation, and zeal. It seemed that the Good Shepherd Volunteers and the Good Shepherd Sisters were rooted in the same values that motivated my work with first-generation students. Maybe I hadn't been entirely uprooted after all.

The author outside of her house on her first day arriving in Chile in August, the start of Chile's spring season. (Provided photo)

After more discernment, an application, and many discussions with the Good Shepherd Volunteers staff and their site in Chile, I was accepted to GSV International. We arrived in Chile at the end of August, which in Chile marked the start of spring. Laying my roots here in Chile alongside the blossoming trees and flowers has provided a unique opportunity to discover how I can grow and bloom.

In Chile, our service site is the Fundación Madre Josefa (Mother Joseph Foundation), a ministry of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Santiago. The foundation's mission is to "welcome, accompany and empower women, girls and adolescents in situations of vulnerability, especially immigrants, for their full integration in the country, development of their families, and economic autonomy." With six different "missions," or branches, throughout Chile, the foundation offers job training, spiritual accompaniment, psychological support, and access to legal and social services to over 1,000 program participants. The foundation also oversees Chalice, an international child-sponsorship program based out of Canada.

Upon my arrival, I could not have anticipated how I would contribute to this mission. Without a grasp on the Spanish language or any experience in social work, I struggled to remember my purpose. Yet again, my roots felt weaker than I thought. How did those redwoods, with such shallow roots, reach such great heights?

This scripted "Just Love," the tagline of Good Shepherd Volunteers, serves as a visible reminder to the author of the invitation open to her every day. (Provided photo)

As it turns out, what redwood roots lack in depth, they make up for in breadth. In addition to downward, their roots grow 60 to 80 feet outward, connecting and intertwining with those of neighboring trees. Together, they form an expansive network that provides the strength needed for each other's growth.

My service experience up to this point has followed a similar trajectory. After a few months of listening and learning with the foundation, I have taken on a few varied roles. My service has included teaching English and Zumba classes; helping the foundation implement Salesforce, software to organize participant and program information; and transitioning paper records to electronic files for over 1,000 Chalice participants.

I've come to appreciate that working for social justice requires gifts of all types. Whether it's direct service or administrative work, every role and task is as valuable and essential as the next. What is most important are our shared roots, which unite us and give us purpose. My hope is that these blog posts, another manifestation of these roots, help us to grow and blossom together as well.

My experience thus far as a Good Shepherd Volunteers has provided a unique opportunity for me to reflect on where I am planted and how I can help myself and others blossom. But after traveling thousands of miles, I don't think this is something we have to leave the country to do. This invitation is open to all of us.

As Sogyal Rinpoche shares in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: "Every day, life gives us innumerable chances to open our hearts, if we can only take them." Our work may not seem to be groundbreaking, life-changing, or newsworthy. Those we serve might not appear in the way we anticipate or expect: loved ones, friends, co-workers, strangers, even those we struggle to understand or get along with. But if we stay rooted together, our trees of love and life may reach new heights.

[Katie Delaney is a Good Shepherd Volunteer in Santiago, Chile.]

As the Lenten season comes to a close this Holy Week, explore 2017 Lenten journeys written from sisters and GSR writers.
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