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.

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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!

St. Edward’s University Homecoming 2012

I love February! Not just because it is my birthday month, but because it holds my favorite week of the whole year: Homecoming week.

Homecoming week at St. Edward’s is the most fun, spirited, and exciting week in the entire year. I never feel more at home on the Hilltop than I do during this week. Why? It is a time to simply celebrate being a part of one big family, a time to celebrate being a Hilltopper, a time to celebrate our mission, values, and the impact St. Edward’s has had on so many lives. There is a spirit in the air during Homecoming week that I can’t help but react to.

Competing for the Topper Cup, gambling and dancing at Casino Night, tailgating with friends, cheering on our athletic teams, celebrating mass with and blessing our parents (or pseudo-parents), eating the best brunch ever made. These are a few of my favorite (Homecoming) things. Here they are in pictures:

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Growth

Houston, Texas might not be the prettiest, coolest, or most fun town, but to me, it’s home. It’s where I was born and raised and where I have my roots. The idea of home has always been super important to me. Feeling comfortable and accepted is what always draws me back to my home roots. Even though I have found a new home at St. Edward’s in Austin, it’s a different kind of home. It is still a bit unfamiliar and new. Recently, I have discovered how exciting the unfamiliar and unknown can be.

A few weeks ago, my Aunt Jane was in town being honored as a 2011 University of Texas Distinguished Alum. I hadn’t seen her in maybe five years due to the fact that she lives in New York and was the editor in chief of a major magazine my entire life up until about two years ago. I had also never had the opportunity to spend so much time with her in such a context where I could learn from her many career and life experiences. She spoke to a few UT Journalism classes while she was in town and invited me to accompany her.  I absorbed everything she had to say and came out with a whole new perspective on how I should be preparing for my future.

Since coming to college, I felt like I was missing out on so many things going on at home when I was at school in Austin. So much that not going home during the summer was out of the question. I always had a job at a summer camp to come home to, my friends and family were there, and my life in Houston was always familiar and easy to slip back into.

One lesson I learned from my aunt seems so obvious now, but it hadn’t hit me until she started talking about how she ended up where she is today. My aunt seemed to be constantly saying yes to new opportunities and challenges over the years. She didn’t stay where she was comfortable. This is how she went from being the oldest of five in small town Texas to an editor-in-chief in big city New York. What if she had said no to going to New York on a whim with a friend? What if she stuck to being a health editor and didn’t take on the challenge of adding beauty and fashion? What if I go home next summer and do the same thing I did last year? What will I learn from being comfortable?

I need to open my eyes, branch out, and be proactive about my future. Home is definitely not out of the question this summer because Houston has a lot to offer, but so does Austin, New York, Arizona and more. I have chosen not to limit myself and to be open to any opportunity.

This lesson doesn’t just apply to life, but to industries especially the PR industry. Having an open mind leads to creativity and the courage to be open minded is a major trait one needs to be in the PR industry. Culture, technology, PR,  and the way people communicate is not just changing, it is growing because people are taking risks and grabbing at opportunity.

I don’t simply what to change, I want to grow.

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