This post, by IVC Chicago Spiritual Reflector and alum, Theresa Stanner, appeared first in IVC Chicago’s Footprints Blog.
I joined the Ignatian Volunteer Corps in the fall of 2002. I was excited when I was accepted as a volunteer at St. Martin de Porres House of Hope, a recovery home for women and children on the south side of Chicago. When I inquired about where I would fit in as a volunteer, I was asked to work with the preschool children. Although I wasn’t laughing at the time, I look back and think God placed me there and smile broadly. It was hard work! The children were sad and afraid and their behavior showed it. However, it didn’t take long to realize that when the mothers got better, the children got better. After several years, my assignment evolved and I began to co-facilitate groups for Anger Management, Parenting and Feelings. When not involved in those circles, I simply met with the women and listened.
Through those ongoing conversations I have learned and continue to learn about the 12 Steps of AA and NA and the Traditions. As I listened to the women gain an understanding of what the recovery process demands, I, too, began to understand, recognize and acknowledge how God works through us and for us. Listening to wounded women struggle with an understanding of their Higher Power, I often hear expressions of humility, gratitude, commitment, acceptance, support and authenticity. With that, my own soul yearns to acknowledge great gratitude for the recognition of God’s continuous presence in my life.
For the past few years, I have had the privilege of being a spiritual reflector for several IVC members. Through interactions with the women in recovery, I have come to understand that what they want and need is to be heard—truly heard—and that authentic listening requires patience and energy, not answers. Effective listening must exclude anxiety which is often attached to a need to fix the problem. Being a companion, as volunteer and reflector, asks me to listen without judging. Conversations, whether between volunteer and client or reflector and reflectee, help us acknowledge the experience of God’s presence in our daily lives. The connection between two people in search of the God of their understanding is the work of the soul.
In the grateful hug of an overwrought mother, the smile of a child correctly doing a math paper, a confused teen accepting help on college applications, the anticipation of a senior awaiting the volunteer who has become a friend, we recognize the signs of God’s presence and grace. By simply being truly present, we allow for those moments of grace that fill our souls. And in doing so, our presence may be a hopeful sign to another of the real Presence.
Discovering how God is working in my life and in the lives of others has truly been one of my greatest blessings. It may not have happened had I not become a member of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps.
Theresa Stanner, a member of the IVC community since 2002, now serves as an IVC Reflector and continues at her initial placement, St. Martin DePorres House of Hope on the southside of Chicago. Theresa’s involvement in IVC led her to the Ignatian Spirituality Project which offers retreats for those who are homeless and seeking recovery. She lives in downtown Chicago and has her large family nearby.