“What is an adequate response to the love that I have received?”  New Missioner Annemarie tries to answer that question after spending the last month saying goodbyes to friends and family before leaving for her two-year mission in Bolivia.

How can I not smile? When I am surrounded by so much love from family, from friends, from mentors and people I’ve just met, how can I not smile and thank God for the joy and courage fostered in community?

I was not sure what to expect from my last few days in the United States before moving to Cochabamba, Bolivia for two years.

I was not sure if there would be more tears than laughter, more fear than excitement. I was not sure if there would be more sadness than joy.

But in reality, there has been at least a little bit of everything, and the common denominator has been gratitude.

At the end of each day this week, I have found a quiet space to recall the quality time I have spent with so many people I love. And then I recall all of the quality time I have spent with so many people I love in the past month. So many coffee dates and so much good conversation. So much gratitude.

It is a little overwhelming and entirely beautiful.

Whether in Illinois or Colorado, Minnesota or through phone calls, emails and letters, I have been able to share quality time with close friends and family, to receive and give so much love.

And in the midst of that awesome love, I am reminded of a the words of Mark Ravizza, SJ, in a lecture he gave years ago, “What is an adequate response to the love that I have received?”

I first heard these words after I returned from studying abroad in El Salvador and was working through what it meant for me to live out of the love I had received in relationships there. These words have continued to echo in my mind and heart as I applied to Franciscan Mission Service and am now preparing to live and learn with communities in Bolivia.

To me, these words are both challenging and consoling. They invite me, not to hold on too tightly to the love that I receive in relationships, but to share that love, to grow into it, to have faith in it. And especially to have faith in the ways God is working through that love and those relationships.

Today these words help me process this transition and the many goodbyes I am saying everyday.

They remind me to have faith. As I move from all that I know to so much that I do not know about what is to come next, they remind me how important it is to stay centered in that love and let it compel me forward, to have the courage to respond to the challenges ahead.

To my friends and family and my whole community of support, thank you for sharing that love. I pray that I may continue to share that love as you have shared it so generously with me.

From St. Paul, Minnesota, Annemarie Barrett graduated from Loyola University in Chicago in 2012 with a degree in Communications. Possessing a strong interest in social justice issues and some experience with international travel, she is in Bolivia on mission for two years.