My Service Break Experience in Denver

Well, it’s been about two weeks since my Service Break Experience in Denver where I served people who are hungry, homeless, and in poverty with seven other members of the St. Edward’s community during spring break. Friends and family keep asking me about it, but it so hard to even know where to start. I am still trying to digest the whole week, and I think I will be for a good while.

For right now, I can definitely say it was a challenging, transformative, and refreshing trip. I wouldn’t say it was dramatically life-changing, but I was made aware of things in my life that need adjustment. Going into a trip like this, I would have thought its main effects would take place in the communities we served, but instead it was in each of our hearts.

I went on this trip because I knew I needed to be challenged and shaken a bit. I had become too comfortable with how I lived my life, and I felt a calling to something new. I had no idea what God had in store, but I knew I needed to take some leaps of faith and find out.

The first leap was giving up my spring break months before I knew what my other options were for it. I have yet to go home this semester, which is unusual for me. I love life in Austin, but home is home and something I cling to, maybe a little too much. God was calling me to let go of this comfort.

The next leap was disconnecting from almost everything familiar. I could not have my phone or any contact with family and friends. I didn’t get to know our schedule and had to let go of knowing what time it was during the day. I was in an unfamiliar city dependent on a student leader and faculty adviser to get us to where we needed to be. Surprisingly, my favorite part of the trip was not having my iPhone. It allowed me to be more present to the people I was serving, to the people I was serving with, and to what was going on in my heart.

Another leap was being completely open to whatever happened. I realized towards the beginning of the trip I needed to stop trying to MAKE IT a great experience and LET IT BE a great experience. So many times I want to control how things happen, where I go, and what I do. We split up and went to four different sites for Monday and Tuesday. While discussing where we might want to go, I was a bit anxious about making up my mind because I wanted to be sure I got the best site or the one most relevant to me. Did I want to work with kids? Would I enjoy the work at a emergency food bank? I finally had to make myself say, “Put me wherever.” No matter where I served, God had a plan and something to teach me.

Taking these leaps of faith I was able to do more than go on an awesome trip but truly experience it while we were there. Each day since returning, I have continued to experience it. When I stop at the light on Ben White and S. Congress and see my friend Stuart holding a cardboard sign, I don’t feel like I have to have something concrete to give him in order to roll down my window and treat him like my brother. When my personality doesn’t rub well with another person’s personality, I try to remember to see him or her as a unique child of God like me. When world problems seem to big and I feel helpless, I try to remember that I can still throw a few starfish back into the sea and make a difference in their lives. When I am confronted with stereotypes and single stories, I try to think about all the other situations or stories I haven’t heard. When I am quick to judge, I am reminded of my own faults and short-comings.

I am still sometimes selfish and lazy, sometimes wasteful, and sometimes don’t treat everyone I encounter with the respect they deserve, but life is a journey for growth. My service break experience was a checkpoint and renewal for this growth.

From iPhone to noPhone

Thursday, I had the opportunity to be on a panel during a SXSW event called mobile.faith. It was sponsored by Patheos.com and Cadabra Media. The event featured innovators in the field of technology and faith that addressed “one of the great challenges of our age: to live connected to one another through technology and to do so in ways that are beneficial to our soulwork, connected in our communities, and useful to the world.”

I was invited along with four other St. Edward’s students to be a part of a panel to discuss how technology plays a role in our faith communities and spiritual lives (Check out a recording of it here. We go on about 37 minutes into the video). It was an awesome and blessed experience! Technology and media can and are truly enhancing the religious lives and faith experiences of many people. It provides a space for mass communication, conversation, and connection. I am a strong believer in the good that can come from it, but I also recognized the ‘bad’ it can create.

All that being said, today I will turn off my iphone and leave it on my desk for one whole week. I will be participating in a program called Alternative Spring Break in which I will spend a week with seven other people from St. Ed’s serving those in poverty in Denver, Colorado. We will be building community, doing justice, living simply, and engaging spiritually. That means no phones, laptops, social media, homework, watches, daily showers, etc.

I signed up for this program because I felt I needed to get uncomfortable. I felt I needed something new. I wanted to let go of distractions and be 100% present in what I was doing for once. I depend on my iphone and other technologies for so many things, but it’s time to refocus and depend on someone who can do much more than tell me when my next meeting is or where to closest coffee shop is. Being connected to the world and having a world of knowledge in the palm of my hand is great, but what does it all matter if I am not connected to myself, the one who created me, and the people I am in community with.

The group I will spend the next week with!

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