I have fun buying souvenirs. I'm a sucker for street vendors and kiosks at local markets. I came back from my recent trip to Mexico with four tiny clay animals, each about the size of a walnut. I put them on my kitchen windowsill and every time the wind blows, their heads bob. They make me smile because they're cute and they are simple reminders of a wonderfully relaxing week. That's what I love most about souvenirs - the memories . . . and when you happen upon one of them years later, those good and happy memories come rushing back.

As part of our preparation for the junior high mission trip last month, we had each participant make a bracelet. Nothing fancy - beads and leather. Fr. Parkin blessed the bracelets prior to us boarding the vans for our service project in Chicago. We told the kids that if they ever felt nervous or scared, uncomfortable or incompetent, tired or frustrated, the bracelets would give them strength. It wasn't some hocus pocus magic trick; the bracelets symbolized teamwork and served as a reminder that, no matter what job they were asked to do and regardless of the scary neighborhood they might be working in, they were never alone. They were part of a team - and that team would always have your back. I love my bracelet - six wooden beads, two square, four round, strung and knotted on a piece of leather. It will always remind me of the people we met, the neighborhoods we discovered, the unusual food we ate, and the amazing work we accomplished. But mostly it will remind me of our junior high students with whom I had the great fortune of sharing the weekend. It was an adventure for all of us.

We did the same bracelet project with the high school group on our Chicago mission trip a couple of years ago - my first experience organizing and participating in such a trip. I was overwhelmed, stressed out, and pretty uptight most of the trip, but I forced them, much to the dismay of many, to string beads! The trip ended up being great, but I vowed never to do a mission trip - or even work with teenagers - again. As we now finalize plans for our third high school mission trip (the second time going to Nicaragua), I have forgotten (or at least made peace with) the hassels of that first trip. Since that first trip, I've learned the right way to plan a mission trip with teenagers - and I've discovered a real passion for youth ministry. 

When I returned from the junior high trip, I found myself still wearing the bracelet. It made me think about that first bracelet from the high school trip. I dug through my jewlry box (which is filled with a lot of junk/broken/outdated jewlry) and found my high school bracelet. Again, a simple bracelet with three black glass beads. I put it on and smiled.

These are the souvenirs that are most precious to me.