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A Typical Day for a Non-Typical Volunteer: A Glimpse Into My Baltimore MVC Experience

My name is Silvana Arevalo, and I am a Mercy Volunteer in Baltimore, MD, working at Mercy Medical Center (MMC) as a chaplain in Pastoral Care. I am not your typical volunteer; I am 38 years-old and it has been a few years since I graduated from college. Why am I doing MVC? Part of it certainly has to do with MVC’s willingness to develop and offer a service placement that fits my experience, skills, and gifts. Ultimately, however, my decision only makes sense through my relationship with God and seeking to be faithful to God’s call in my life. The whole story is for another time. For now, my trust in God’s invitation to be a Mercy Volunteer has not been misplaced.

God has had my back, even in the little details. Today started off with the usual morning routine of getting ready for work. My community mate, Faith, and I were lucky to have been placed at the same site, MMC, and so we often carpool together. This morning, as I opened the door to step outside, I gasped in surprise and delight. The front yard of our cozy two-bedroom row home was covered in white. It had snowed! As I happily took a picture of the first snowfall of the year, I thanked God once again that Faith was a Nebraska native, who was not intimidated by snow on the car or the streets. I, on the other hand, had spent the past 16 years in sunny California, and navigating winter with a car made me nervous. 

After scraping off the ice and snow, we were off! On the way, we sang along to Christmas carols, bouncing in our seats and waving our arms around when a dance song unexpectedly got mixed in. My community mate is more of an extroverted Tigger, which I really appreciate as I get to be in community with someone who enjoys singing, dancing, and being silly with me. We complement each other in wonderful ways, as I am an introvert and need quiet time to rest and reflect.

At work, our team of chaplains begin our day with prayer. Throughout our days, we will chat and casually joke around with each other in passing, depending on what we have going on in our units and other projects. As chaplains, we offer emotional, spiritual, and religious support to patients, families, and staff in the different units at MMC. I am currently covering a staff chaplain’s Medical/Surgical unit while he is out on paternity leave. Before going to the floor, however, I led a workshop for MMC’s Centering Pregnancy Program on Mindfulness and Self-Compassion. MMC births the most babies than any other hospital in Baltimore, and through the Centering Program, offers health education and support for during and after pregnancy. It is my first time facilitating this topic with the program, and while I am nervous at first, I am encouraged to see warm smiles in the group as I introduce myself. The couples are open and engaged; they find the breathing meditation “calming” and we have a lively conversation on the topic of self-compassion. At the end of the session, one of the mothers asks where the Pastoral Care office is, and whether I have a card. I am touched by her curiosity and desire to connect further with our team.

After chatting with the program facilitator and midwife, gathering their thoughts and feedback, I make my way to the chapel, where Mass is celebrated daily at noon. The Catholic staff in Pastoral Care take turns in lectoring and as sacristan, and today is my day. As I light the second Advent candle, I ease into the silence and stillness of the chapel. Mass is an opportunity for me to pause and be still in the middle of my day. While public speaking is outside of my comfort zone, I perceive God behind the invitation to be a lector. Today, I notice that my spirit feels “out of sync” with the deeper sense of God within me. Reading the Word agitates me within, like water hitting a rock. After Mass, I hold the question of what God might be trying to reveal through these inner movements, as I blow out the Advent candles. The priest notes that I “missed” one, the candle of Hope. As I walk back to blow out the flame, I am touched and encouraged as I perceive an invitation to keep hope burning bright within me. 

After lunch, I head to my unit floor. Having been working extra hard on new projects and groups in the past week, I am feeling a little more drained than usual. Visits with patients can range from being a short introduction, check-in, and reassurance of support and availability, to spending time with someone who is lonely, to more emotionally intense encounters. I am grateful to discover that the majority of the patients I visit are in good spirits and feeling supported, they are not in need of a chaplain at this time. But my presence is not in vain, as my third visit is with a patient in tears. As she tells me what is going on with her, I listen, holding space and her hand, as she expresses her sorrows. I reflect back to her what she says so that she knows I am listening and understanding. That I am with her in what she is going through. Eventually, her sobs are less intense, the wave of grief is passing. I offer her encouragement to trust and to hope that what seems so impossible to overcome will also pass. I offer to pray for her and her needs. When we say goodbye, she thanks me. She is no longer crying.

As I wrap up my final visit in my unit, I remember that a colleague has asked for help with a unit she was covering for another colleague, who was out. She was not feeling well that day and needed to leave early. Replying quickly to my check-in text, she asks me to visit a patient in the Intensive Care Unit. In the quiet of my heart, I pray that the visit may not demand more of me than I feel capable of at the time. However, I know that I can also call on my fellow chaplains for back-up if I need it. As I knock and enter the patient’s room, he greets me with a friendly wave, which makes me smile. The patient is in good spirits, and thanks me for visiting, but that he does not need any chaplain support at this time. 

Back in my office, I noticed that the next day was the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Overhearing my howl of sadness, a coworker asks me what is up, and I tell her how I am going to miss the mañanitas that I used to go to in California to honor and celebrate our beloved Mother. She tells me about a parish that most likely celebrates the feast, and as I look it up online, my heart warms to see that indeed, they have mañanitas. YES!! Will my adventurous community mate want to join me?

On the way home, Faith and I will often share stories about our day and patient encounters. We will gush about the sweet patients and staff we met and also have our fair share of venting and groaning about the less-than-sweet ones.  I really appreciate and delight in the fact that we can connect and understand each other in this way, as the hospital can often feel like “another world” for those who are not familiar.

Looking back on my life as a Mercy Volunteer so far, I see God’s love and mercy throughout my experience: in my community, in the circumstances and happy coincidences of my day, in the meaningful encounters I have with patients and staff, and in the growing life of God within me. I see God’s grace moving not only for my own good, but for the good of all. 

So, did Faith want to join me for a 5AM mañanitas to celebrate our Lady of Guadalupe? Absolutely!

Silvana Arevalo: Baltimore, Maryland

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Thank you for posting this delightful slice of your life as an MVC. The Mañanitas in honor of Our Lady of Mercy sounded wonderful and it is great to think that there is a group that gathers to celebrate these events so fully and with such joy. Hope you have a blessed Easter!

  2. This is a beautiful and touching glimpse into your work as a chaplain. The details you provide paint a vivid picture of your day, from the initial feeling of being drained to the emotionally intense encounter with the tearful patient. Your description of actively listening, offering comfort, and expressing empathy is heartwarming. It’s also commendable that you acknowledge your own limitations and the support system you have in place with your colleagues. Even the brief, positive interaction with the patient in the ICU demonstrates the value of your presence and willingness to visit.

  3. Silvana, thank you for sharing your experiences with us and for offering your special gifts to Mercy through Mercy Corps Volunteers. Know that I keep you in prayer as you discern “what next” after MVC. Lenten blessings, Sr. Jeanne

  4. Dear Silvana, thank you for inviting us to walk through your chaplain’s day with you, and for your open, trusting heart!
    Donna Conroy

  5. Beautiful and open reflection on your day. Certainly God is with you and is leading you. I will certainly pray you can continue to listen to God’s lead. Blessings!

  6. Thanks Silvana for your deep sharing of your day. I pray for you and all the Mercy Volunteers every day. Perhaps God is leading you to become a Sister of Mercy someday.

    1. Thank you Margaret! I deeply appreciate your prayers. As to vocation, I join you in trusting God’s plan!

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