Thursday, November 26, 2015

Taking on a big challenge

For family, friends, God, my home, my dogs, my school, my country...

All these things and plenty more I have been thankful for over the years. This year? I'm grateful for the challenge.

The challenge that comes with moving back home, with school, with life. In my daily prayers the first thing I say is 'thank you'. I can't remember who told me about this habit, but I like it. If you can't think of anything else to tell God, just say thank you. So coming up with something to be grateful for this year wasn't hard. I make that list daily because I am beyond blessed with so many great people and gifts in my life. What I try and do now is find the silver lining (sometimes it's really thin and hard to see) in all of my challenges. I am thankful for the challenge because it makes everything I thank God for on a daily basis that much more meaningful.

It has taken me truly ALL semester to find a time to sit down and write this post. I have barely taken a breath but as tired as I am, I love it. It is a series of challenges that I am learning a lot from. I am learning that not everything should be started the day before its due, but sometimes that happens. I am learning that talking about how stressed I am takes up too much time so it's faster and easier to just push through. I am learning that group projects are less about the paper and more about the people. I am learning that it's hard to miss a family dinner, but the leftovers for lunch are really nice...I am learning that my parents and sisters notice that I'm not around very often, but it makes the time I am home that much better.

About a week ago, when I wasn't sure the silver lining was there, I reached out to a friend about how much harder grad school is than I anticipated. I knew it was going to be more difficult than undergrad, and I knew WashU was going to be tough, but DANG it is kicking my butt. I knew I reached out to the right person because she can always find the silver lining. Always. She reminded me that the academic stress is temporary, that I am building plenty of new relationships with all my classmates, and I get to learn a new campus (let's be honest, I love college campuses!) So as much as I feel like I'm drowning in papers, projects and reading, I am learning SO much. Both what is in those textbooks and what I am made of.

I am loving my fellowship with Resident Life. I get to build relationships with people from all different walks of life. I get to have conversations and experiences I never thought I'd have and I get to (hopefully positively) influence the undergrads. I get to be behind the fun they are having on campus.

Next semester I am starting a practicum at The MICA (Migrant and Immigrant Community Action) Project here in Saint Louis. It provides legal aid and community resources to the needs of the migrant and immigrant populations and I will be helping with the nonlegal needs of the community. More to come on that once I start but I figured I would give those interested an update.

I'd like to say I will be posting more regularly but I can't make promises.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Though My Voice May Tremble

As some people know, I have started intensive training for my graduate fellowship with Residential Life at WashU. And I mean intensive. The quality of training by WashU Res Life is apparent in the level of satisfaction in the students. I can already tell how much I am going to love my staff, supervisors and the other grad-fellows. The environment is so inclusive and open-minded, I can understand why people love working in student administration. 

That being said, WashU goes to great lengths to make sure the RAs are prepared for the year. Everything from what it means to be a leader, Title IX and emergency procedures, to Mental Health and Diversity Inclusion activities. Today,  two Social Justice facilitators were brought in to discuss the reality of microagressions and biases towards marginalized populations. 

We were asked to walk around the room and look at images, social media platforms and incidents from past university settings that displayed racist, ignorant and/or biased comments. In other trainings we were made aware that some of this may be triggering and difficult information to digest, however there was no warning before today's activity. And it hit many like a brick wall.

I was made very aware of the fact that I am in the majority in most aspects of my life. Aside from being aware that I am a woman, which has a lengthy history of struggle, I am white, middle class and heterosexual. I have never had to fight for my right to marry the person I love. I have never had to defend myself to an authority figure based on the color of my skin. Rarely do I have to defend my religion-one that is relatively standard and accepted in America. 

This isn't the first time I have been made aware of my 'standing' or my privilege. In the past this privilege has led to a lot of guilt, which surfaced today. I have worked damn hard to engage in education and conversation that would lead to me being cognizant of my surroundings. Lead me to be more understanding and to be an advocate for those who may not look or act like me. Deserving of recognition nonetheless.

In the time we had to ourselves, I pulled my phone out and began writing. I don't exactly know what I wrote-if it is classified as poetry, creative writing, etc (I wasn't an English major) but as I have blogged about before, this is what I do when I have too many thoughts bouncing around. So, here it goes. 

 I am sitting in a silent room that could not be screaming louder cries. Witnessing those who have hurt for so long be re-traumatized, re-living their greatest fear, facing their biggest enemy. My internal cry asks why is this still an issue? Why are we still struggling for acceptance? 

I hope those who have been marginalized know if they are not loved by all, they are at least loved by one.

 I hurt because I cannot reach out to everyone. I cannot scream loud enough for all to hear that they are enough. They are worthy. They are strong. I hurt because being an advocate is not enough in this instance. Advocating for the future does not fix the past. It does not erase their struggle. A positive outlook doesn't eliminate the present pain. 

I am not gay, bi or transsexual. I am not Black or Latino. I am not Muslim or Jewish. I am not an overshadowed minority. Though I am a woman, I am privileged. I am guilty. 

My voice is strong but trembles when I hear stories of those who have been beaten. Those who have been ignored. I am infuriated by peers, elders and those younger than myself who exert dominance over any group. Over any person different from themselves. 

Though I am angered, I refuse to believe this is a loss. I refuse to give up on the idea that one person can love all. That my thoughts can have an impact. Though my voice may tremble, it is still a voice. One to be taken seriously. One to be heard. 

While this exercise was draining for all and traumatizing for many, it taught me something. It taught me that I have to do more than simply engage in conversation. It is my hope to build my reputation as one of love, respect and advocacy. Working in ResLife is a great start, but this need for acceptance and recognition reaches far beyond a college campus. It infiltrates our personal and professional lives. 

I can't think of a better way to tie my faith into my training then by quoting 1 Peter 4:8 "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins." We are all human. With recognition of our differences must come love and respect, or no progress can be made. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Living with intention, on and off the mat

Like I said in the last post my Spring has flown by and the summer-like weather outside has made me feel like I should update this blog a bit. 

I was doing yoga today and it got me thinking. In both online videos and live classes most of the time I am asked to set an intention for the length of the practice. It can be one word or it can be a thought-anything that I want to dedicate my practice to. It gives me the opportunity to focus on what is happening on the mat and nothing else. It also allows me to have a tighter grip on what I want to do, how I want to feel and who I want to be when I leave the mat. 

We were asked at the beginning of our service year what we wanted to accomplish. Why we were here, what we wanted to get out of it-our intention. At the start, I was focused on everyone else. I wanted to serve the poor and build community-like a good Augustinian. I thought it would be the perfect way to put my needs and life on hold and focus on others. 

At mid-year, I came back to 'my mat' and realized my intention had changed. While living as a good Augustinian made me feel accomplished, I wasn't recognizing my own needs. Thinking I could put my life on hold for a year while I served others was a crazy thought. Life has been moving at lightning speed and there are days I wish I were anywhere but serving in Philadelphia but I try to still live with intention. I'm leaning into the vulnerability of being on my own. 

I came back to my mat for grad school applications. That became my main focus for months. It was really hard not to base my worth on the potential outcomes of my applications. My intention for that time period was to believe in myself. To believe that whatever the outcome, I was moving in the right direction. I was good enough. Boy, was it a surprise to read "Congratulations, Abigail..." in an email from all 5 schools. Choosing Washington University in Saint Louis was a very hard decision. One that I spent a lot of time praying about and discussing with friends, family and roommates. Leaving the mat, I am able to rest comfortably knowing it is where I really want to be. 

One of the hardest days of this year was May 1st. It was the day I lost my sweet Grandma Janet. It was also the hardest time I've had trying to set and keep an intention for yoga. As I did the different poses with tears in my eyes I kept repeating, "May she rest peacefully in the arms of the Lord. May she be at peace." And you know what? It worked for me. It has been so comforting to know she is free and at peace. So while it was the hardest day yet for me to return to my mat, and stay focused on my intention, I am a firm believer in the power of yoga. I am confident that the focus it allows for is beneficial to the mind and heart. 

I believe with all that I am that my Grandmother lived with intention. Everything she did, she believed had meaning behind it. Everything mattered to her. She listened to the sounds of nature because wanted the birds to know they were heard. She painted portraits of her children and grandchildren so they knew they were seen. She held my grandfather's hand so he knew he was loved. She left her mat, this world, living out her intention. In the words of one of my friends, I believe now she is 'painting a mural on the walls of heaven'.  She accomplished what she was here to do and I can only hope to do the same. 

I came back to the mat today with the intention of "letting it be". One that I often return to. My anxious mind has had a hard time lately with the idea that in one month I am essentially starting over. I am moving back home, starting graduate school, diving into a new job. I am returning to the ever changing world I thought I could put on hold a year ago. While my mind constantly wants to move forward, I cherish those 45 minute to an hour times that I get to sit on the mat, take deep breaths in and out and focus on calming my mind and heart. While I am far from being an expert in yoga, I have fully embraced the mindset.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sewing seeds for the rest of my life

We can shape but can't control

These possibilities to grow
Weeds amongst the push and pull
Waiting on the wind to take us
We can write with ink and pen
But we will sew with seeds instead
Starting with words we've said
And we will all be changed
-Seryn, "We Will All Be Changed"

My Spring is about to FLY by so I wanted to slow down for a second and get back to this blog. 

When my parents come to Philadelphia next week it will mark the 7th month that I have been in Philadelphia. SEVENTH. Some days I'll admit it feels like I've been here forever and other days I feel like everything is still so new. A lot has happened in the last 7 months, both for me and those at home and I never could have predicted such an experience. One that has been a HUGE lesson on vulnerability. A word and an action I'm not so comfortable with. 

Coming into a new job in a new city with new roommates can be a little nerve-wrecking. It's an experience that screams vulnerability and at the beginning I was forcing myself to be okay with it. I opened myself up to my roommates from the get-go- I think we all did. We were going to be sharing a similar experience for the next 10 months, there was no use in sugar coating anything. In this, I found myself really happy. I didn't know why I was ever so cautious to be open about myself with others in the past. Then stuff got hard. I was missing out on exciting family events, I wasn't able to be there for a friend going through the loss of a parent and I had no one 'familiar' to talk to, to hug, to be near. This was the true test of vulnerability-not moving to a new city or going through awkward "get to know you" activities. It was realizing that this was my life for the next 10 months and whether the girls I lived with liked it or not, they became my familiarity. They became the ones I talked to and hugged and cried with. 

As for my job, I hate to brag but I think I'm pretty good at what I do-at least that's what it seemed like at my mid-year evaluation. Though vulnerability takes a new shape with this job. I have learned that this job is not always go-go-go like I may wish it were sometimes. I have to find a way to be grateful for the time this job has given me to take a break and breathe sometimes. I don't always see immediate change like all social workers wish they could. I have realized I am not meant to teach three year-olds and that third grade math is hard for third matter how easy it comes to my mind. It has made me vulnerable in the sense that I can't always do exactly what I want to do when I want to do it. God is giving me this time to figure out my next step and I'm not exactly comfortable with how much time He has given me. I feel like I'm SO ready to move forward and do more and He keeps pumping the breaks. As my good friend Margaret reminds me, I'm still experiencing a big life choice, I don't need to worry about the next one yet"

Speaking of-graduate school. Holy cow I didn't realize that the application process would be so much different than undergraduate. After MANY Skype sessions with my mom and having my roommates read and reread my essays, I have submitted applications to five schools for a Master in Social Work program. Saint Louis University, Washington University in Saint Louis, Temple University, Boston College and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While I still wait (very anxiously) to hear back from the first four schools, I am happy to announce I got in to University of Illinois! I obviously have made no decisions but it has been a long, hard, process and I am happy to know I at least got into one school!

So what's with the song lyrics above? I'm sure you're wondering. This has been one of the songs that has gotten me through some tough parts of the year as a volunteer. Not necessarily tough as in feeling like I can't make it through but tough as in remember not to simply go through the motions. In remembering that I chose to do this year for a reason, not just to be a resume builder. The line "we can write with ink and pen but we will sew with seeds instead" has been a huge mantra for me. It continues to say 'start with words we've said and we will all be changed' which mirrors what I am doing. I spent four years of college writing with ink and pen, studying, researching, writing papers, all on what I want to do in the future. What will that get me if I never actually do it? I can be the best student in the world, but if I haven't experienced vulnerability, hard work, and joy, what is there to relay to others? 

As a volunteer, I am using what I have studied-I am starting with the words I've said, and using it to push myself forward into a real world experience. I am sewing seeds to grow something, my future self, into what I want it to look like. So while there are some days I feel I am just going through the motions, and not actually letting myself feel vulnerable, or even powerful, I remember that this year was meant to sew seeds. I meant for it to be a year of action to spring me forward for the rest of my life. For that I am grateful. 

I hope this catches everyone up on what I've been experiencing the last 7 months-it has been a huge lesson on vulnerability-what it is, what it feels like and how to deal with it. Luckily I have 3 more months of it. Wish me luck! 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sing With Me

"O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples." Psalm 96:1-3

Music, whether you are singing to it, listening to it or creating it, is pretty incredible-isn't it? I was home last weekend for a wedding (congrats to the happy couple!) and when I got back to Philly I realized how profound an impact music and song had on me last weekend and every weekend.

On Saturday I sat down on a pew next to friends as we were getting ready to watch two more friends get married. I looked down on the program and saw the song to be sung and my heart was happy. As I read the words and sang along, I instantly felt better-not that I didn't feel good before, but the song improved my already happy mood.

The following day I went to church for mass and I was most excited for the music. The CSC at Washington University has a top-notch band and choir, one that makes everyone want to sing along. My grandmother was next to me and we sang along in our not so top notch, yet beautiful in their own way voices. I looked to the choir and saw the raw joy in one of the choir members faces. I saw the confidence in another's sway as they sang along. No doubt about it, everyone in the choir was there because they liked it. Because music means something to them. That joy, that confidence, seeps into those listening. Enough to make us sing along no matter how good or bad our voices are.

I have a roommate who goes to church many times for the joy of listening to music. Another for the joy of singing. Church hymns and song lyrics provide a certain comfort that simply spoken words may not. I have been known to turn on my favorite song when I need a reminder that everything will be okay. There's a song for every type of mood, isn't there? Music to calm us down or pump us up. Memories, good or bad, are attached to certain songs. There is music for certain occasions that would be wildly inappropriate if played in another setting.

So what is it about music, or song that is so great? Surely there are songs in the world I could go without hearing (the majority of country songs), but what is it that makes music in general, so appealing? Have you ever heard someone say "no...I don't like music of any kind."? You would call them crazy, because we all have our own reasons for liking the music we like.

Sitting in the different pews this weekend it dawned on me. I like music because it brings people together to make something beautiful. Alone, my voice isn't so beautiful. Many people aren't blessed with my a good singing voice. But if you go into my church or any other that has people that excited about singing, you can hear it. You can hear the beauty of what joy sounds like. If you come into our apartment when our roommate is playing her guitar and singing, you can hear the comfort in her voice and the song she wrote.

Waking up Monday morning I read the devotional I get by email each day. Included was Psalm 96:1-3, quoted above. It asks us to sing, literally or figuratively. To show our comfort and our devotion to God. To show what His love has done for us.

How perfect? Alone our voices, whether sung or spoken, written or in action, may not seem like a lot. But if you sit back, close your eyes and listen to the praises and the joy in all of our voices together, something beautiful is heard.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I am happy here.

My apologies for neglecting to post on here for too long! I tried to think of a good reason(okay, excuse) as to why I haven't been posting and I cannot think of one other than living in Philly has been totally different than I expected and I'm not quite sure how to put into words the experience I'm having. So let me back up to the last time I blogged and see if I can fill you guys in.

Last you heard I was on a bus with one of the women in the assisted living program that shares a building with the Parish. Not much has changed there, I still say hello to Ms. Elizabeth and I still take the bus each morning and night. If anything I am branching out more and more into the city and all its neighborhoods. If you didn't hear, Philadelphia is the NY Times' #3 city to visit in 2015 (thanks, Dad, for sharing the article with me!) and after living here for 5 months, I can see why! It has taken me a while but I really feel comfortable navigating around the city now. My parents came to visit in November and I think they were impressed by my navigation skills.

Since I've written last I have celebrated my first Thanksgiving away from home (something I was reluctant to agree to) and I have to admit-it wasn't so bad. I successfully cooked a turkey and stuffing and I celebrated with my three roommates by going to the parade in center city. We shared stories and traditions over a turkey dinner and I ended up being grateful for the experience-that being said, Kirkwood's Thanksgiving tradition still has my heart.

Also since you've last read, I have been home! I was blessed with two weeks home for Christmas and New Years-a time which went by WAY too fast but was just what I needed to be energized for this next half of my service year. I didn't quite realize how homesick I was was waiting to de-board the plane. As physically tired as I was after the two weeks of seeing just about everyone as I could, my heart was so happy and full. I actually felt ready to come back to Philly-which I was nervous being home would only make it harder being away longer.

Before going back to work all the volunteers from all the different sites came together for a midyear retreat in Ocean City, NJ-about an hour away from Philadelphia. A bunch of the previous volunteers raved about how great midyear retreat was for them but the entire time I thought 'who wants to go to the beach in January with 20+ people in one house?'-now I know why. It was SO great to see all the other volunteers and to just be present, in that moment, with the people who were serving different communities. I learned a lot about the different sites, how everyone was getting along and that I wasn't alone in some of the hesitations I had both about my current position and what is coming after this year is over.

Speaking of, I just turned in my first of many graduate school applications today! I have decided to apply to different schools for a Master's degree in Social Work. If this year has taught me anything it is that my heart is in social service (that may not come as a surprise to anyone). There's an odd sense of satisfaction when you realize where you're being called but aren't quite able to describe it to anyone. Or even yourself for that matter. I am happy to know I am moving in the right direction. I am happy I have options and I am happy that I have support from my friends and family even if they don't know how to describe what I want to do. Short answer-I want to help people.

My roommates and I are big quote people. Much of our dedicated prayer time is centered around different quotes because that is where we find comfort. One of my favorites lately is "Let yourself be drawn by the pull of what you really love. You'll be happy there. Promise." It was a pinterest find so I'm not sure who said it, but whoever you are, thank you. Thank you for the confirmation. Thank you for the confidence.

I really LOVE helping others, and truth be told, I think I'm damn good at it! So in the year ahead I have decided to have confidence in knowing that doing what I love is enough. While I could go CRAZY with trying to figure out the best option for a career is, I am trying to be calm and go with what I know. What I love.

(I also made a new year's resolution to blog at least once a month-hopefully I can keep to it!)