Saturday, April 26, 2014

Serving Others, Nourishing My Soul

In January of this year, I started working for a law enforcement agency as a Records Clerk.  It's not somewhere I ever saw my career or life path taking me. I'm often asked how I like it, and I'm not sure how to respond.  I took the position primarily for more stability:  it was a full time position that provided better benefits than the administrative assistant position I was currently holding.  The job itself, however, requires maddening attention to detail, deals with subject matter that is not particularly pleasant, and requires interaction with members of the public who are not particularly happy to be having to require your services. It can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.

I've been trying to use my spiritual life to help keep me centered and disconnect from work.  I still haven't reached the consistency I'd like to have in my prayer life, but as I was confiding in a coworker who asked "Have you been praying?" I was very much reminded how essential and necessary prayer is to protect to exposure of the dark and evil side of the world.

Today in particular, I joined some fellow Catholic Young Adults from the metro area in the heart of my Archdiocese to volunteer with a grocery delivery service for families in need.  I participated in thirteen deliveries today, while receiving an immeasurable amount of spiritual nourishment.

We traveled to a part of the city that is out of my comfort zone, as well as the other two people in my delivery group.  There are worse parts of the city we could venture into, at worse times, but it was definitely a reminder to me that I am pretty well off.  As I reflected on things from my own personal life, I realized what grace there is that.  My family and I have certainly had our struggles, but I have never been in truly dire circumstances.  Everything has happened in a way that I have been spared the worst the world has to offer.  I have done nothing to merit the good fortune of being dealt a hand that has its own advantages (birth location, family status, ethnic favor).  I have done nothing to earn God's favor, I couldn't possibly earn the grace that is freely given.  I fall short constantly, and repeatedly, sometimes almost unrepentantly and stubbornly.  I fail, at one time or anything, everyone I love.

Likewise, I can't apologize for having life advantages beyond my control, but I do have a responsibility to take the time, treasure, and talent I have and use it for the good of others.  Today I met a woman who cried tears of gratitude over the food we delivered, and shared with us some of her struggles and prayer concerns, which concerned another family member and not herself.  Several people wanted to know how to refer other families for assistance through the program we were a part of.  Another woman warned us to be cautious of the weather this evening (we live in tornado alley after all).  Sharing a piece of these people's lives for a brief moment did as much good for my soul as it did for them, I hope.

In the car between deliveries my fellow volunteers and I shared stories about our lives and our faith journeys.  We talked about things we do daily for our spiritual health, and I can always benefit from others' ideas as I work to find the best fit for my own personal spirituality.  After all deliveries were completed, the other half of our young adult volunteers joined with those available for lunch near the lake.  We talked about secular things, as well as one person's conversion story and what it's like to be a cradle Catholic versus a convert, how sometimes those raised in the faith can take it for granted.

I suppose the take away from the whole day for me is how important community is for the spiritual life. Our relationship with each other, the love we show to other humans, is critical to our spiritual health.  Take the time to have some real, genuine fellowship with members of your community and to serve others.

"Whatsoever you do for the least of my people, that you do also for me."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Here's what's happening in my neck of the woods. . .

From a very young age, I have been a procrastinator.  I put the "pro" in it y'all!  One thing I've been putting off lately (and for quite some time really) is the urge to commit myself to writing in this blog.  I have many excuse, and one of them is I didn't know a good place to start.  Well, I think I will just bite the bullet and begin this evening by giving an overview of what has been going on in my life lately.

The Daily Grind
Since January I've been working as an administrative assistant at a small financial planning office.  I like to describe myself as and Administrative Artist and Manager of Mischief.  Administrative Artist because I do things like taking an example form on paper, recreating it with our office logo, and turning it into an Excel worksheet that produces recommendations just from plugging in the numbers according to a client's circumstances.  I have to give a shout out to one of my sorority sisters for helping me work around Excel's dismal lack of a subtraction formula.  Manager of Mischief comes from trying to read people's minds and work through the bureaucracy of the financial industry.   How did I get here?  What are these numbers and accounts?

Teaching Dance
In September I started teaching dance again.  I teach two classes at a community theatre/arts education ministry.  My students are ages 4 - 7 and are full of surprises.  In October I started the hire process at the Y to teach 3 - 8 year olds.  I'm still getting settled in at the Y.  Kids definitely teach you a thing or two and can be quite humbling to be around.  It's not just teaching them to dance, but sometimes teaching manners, discipline, and conflict resolution.  Oh to be seven years old. . .

Catholic Young Adults
I've been getting very involved in Catholic Young Adult events in the metro area of my city.  My parish is supportive of its own young adult group, but there is definitely room for growth in my archdiocese.  I'm the type of person who likes to be in the middle of things and enjoys meeting new people, so I'm happy to be involved.

Friends, Birthdays, and Nerdiness
When I'm not doing any of the above mentioned activities or retreating in my humble abode, I'm hanging out with friends, often celebrating birthdays in October (a great month for birthdays, I must say).  I've also managed to watch 3 seasons of Doctor Who in a couple of months during weekend viewing binges.  I may or may not be waiting for a man in a blue box to show up. . .

So that's the overview of what I've been up to lately.  Now that I've broken the silence I will try to be better about actually writing more than once in a blue moon.  :)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Life Loyal: Sorority Recruitment from an Alumna's Eyes

As a new school year begins at college campuses across the nation, Greek women (and men as well) are preparing for their annual fall recruitment.  As part of that preparation, alumnae are invited to their chapter to stay connected and see how their younger sisters are doing.  Tonight, I went to my chapter's alumnae event.

It's only been three years since I became an alumna (and I haven't left the city), but the drive onto my small alma mater's campus does bring back four and a half years of memories.  As I stepped through the door, the alumnae chair greeted me and introduced herself, which feels oddly formal and reminds me that I'm not there every day any more.  Yet when I walk through the door, despite not recognizing any collegiate members (at least not immediately, there are a few I know from my super senior semester) I still know I'm home.  The energy in the room is familiar.  Girls are spread throughout the chapter room chatting, with a few milling around the kitchen.  A few other alums start to arrive and we chat catching up about life, families, jobs, etc while intermittently meeting collegiate members who are on their A game when it comes to making a good first impression.

Formality gives way to that underlying bond that transcends familiarity from member to member.  As I chat with a group of three girls, all in various studies of theatre, I find out that one of them is in my "family" (the line of mentorship known as big, little, grand big, great grand big, etc).  I share with them the story of how I think the family name has changed, along with an anecdote of the year I became a big and dressed up like a ninja to drop off a gift to my little.  They love the story, and I think I have resurrected the Ninja Fam as a group name.  Which is awesome.

Moving from the kitchen into the couches of the chapter room with two alums, some of the collegiate members join us and want to hear stories from our days in the house.  What has changed?  At first it seems like not much has changed, aside from our chapter doubling in size from when we were first initiated.  Then I realize that I went to school there as the dance school was just starting its pedagogy program and before it had a creepy scale that talked to you.  I feel the distance of the years a bit more keenly with that realization.  They ask what I'm doing now, and I'm so glad that I will be teaching dance in the fall so I have some aspect of my life still related to my degree.  

The alums get to see a bit of what the collegiate members will be sharing with potential new roommates during recruitment and my heart swells with joy watching them share their talents with us and watching a video montage of their involvement with our philanthropy.  Afterward we share stories, alumnae and collegiate members, of what our sisterhood means to us.  Many themes are repeated:  life long friendships, support through difficult times, helping each other meet our full potential, networking and gaining leadership opportunities.  So much of my adult life has taken shape thanks to this sisterhood.  I see pieces of myself and other sisters in the collegiate members.  Each woman is unique, but we are all real, strong women who are genuine, fun-loving, and passionate.  The traits that define the chapter now are still those that defined it during my college days.

As the evening draws to a close for alums (the collegiates still have work to do in preparation for recruitment) our younger sisters thank us graciously for joining them this evening and let us know that they look forward to seeing us again throughout the semester.  I stay and chat with a few older collegiates and some alums.  I wish my younger sisters the best of luck this week with recruitment and can't wait for them to welcome fantastic new women into our house on Sunday!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Loving My Life, While Still Appreciating Yours

*****Disclaimer***** I read a blog today that was someone's thoughts after attending a rehearsal dinner for a wedding with a group of people whose lives were quite different from her own.  Possibly not thinking that anyone from the table would read her post (and also possibly out of habit, because she posts every day) she candidly shared her thoughts, which hurt someone who was at the table, as well as friends who felt that their lives were misunderstood.  The original post has been taken down, but it got me thinking about how it feels when someone trivializes your life because it doesn't match their own or meet their expectations.  This entry reflects my thoughts on the topic.

How do you respond when you are thrown out of your comfort zone, when you are at an event seated with people who may not reflect your own life's path?  Do you learn from others and find common ground?  Do you focus on the differences and feel the need to ponder why your way is the "right" way, not necessarily just right for you but absolutely Right and better than others?

Life in your twenties is a decade of "finding" yourself and laying the foundation for your adult life.  Across this great land of ours, 20 somethings are committing themselves to family, career, self discovery, military service, etc.  Sometimes it feels like in the South and in the church circles (I say church circles, because it's not relegated to Catholic or Christian churches, I have a Muslim friend who has had pressure from her family as well) there's a strong push to get married and start a family.  Now, getting married and starting a family is a good and noble calling.  God willing, I look forward to meeting my life's partner and starting a family some day.  In the mean time, however, there is still a great deal for me to accomplish on my own.

Things I am grateful for at this point in my life:

*Living on my own: learning to be self-reliant, self-disciplined (a work in progress), and to be at peace in the solitude that will some day be distant memory
*Being able to embark on adventures on a whim.  To decide to travel near or far, or even to just stay home for the weekend if that suits me.
*Being able to cook whatever I want, eat out wherever I want, or just eat whatever shamefully indulgent thing is easier than cooking or leaving my apartment for.
*Dedicating time to volunteer (and hopefully doing more of that in the future) or get involved in activities that suit me, without having to consult anyone else's schedule.
*Not having to pick between families for holidays (except for having to choose what friends house to celebrate at when I stay in town for a holiday)

My Facebook friends list is a beautiful tapestry of various walks of life.  My newsfeed is flooded with production photos, show announcements, travel pictures, derby pictures, prayer requests, engagement photos, wedding photos, baby photos, updates on moves, and updates on deployments.  My friends are artists, performers, mothers, fathers, military, civilians, cousins, friends, aunts, sorority sisters, and various roller derby affiliates.  There is an abundance of humor, wisdom, rants, raves, recipes, tips, and tricks in the updates I scroll through during my day.  I wouldn't have it any other way!  I appreciate the diversity of those I have come in contact with, even though I may not agree with all opinions expressed.  Sometimes I learn a little bit from those I don't immediately agree with.  Sometimes I read and just scroll on.

There is a great deal to learn from those around us, even if they do not mirror us.  I get to look at beautiful pictures from all over the world, thanks to my military and vagabond performing friends.  When I'm at that place in my life where I am planning a wedding and eventually starting a family, I have friends that I KNOW have been there and can answer questions I might have.  If I'm travelling anywhere, pretty literally, I can throw the question of "What to see?" out there and I'm pretty likely to get a response from someone who has visited that location before.

My life is not better than yours, yours is not better than mine.  We are all taking the gifts, talents, and experiences that our Creator has given us and using them to the best of our abilities to share with others.  At least I hope we all are.  Just because I don't have a husband and children (yet) doesn't mean that I am waiting for my life to begin.  I am living it right now, as a daughter, niece, cousin, friend, sister, coworker, employee, volunteer, teacher, and inhabitant of this beautiful world.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Welcome to the Center of the Universe

When I went to college and was looking for a way to meet people and form strong, reliable connections 500 miles from home, I decided to go through Panhellenic Recruitment (sorority rush) and consider joining a sorority.  My friend Kim, who is a music theatre and Lord of the Rings nerd, told me about her positive experience while gushing "I'm SOOOOO not the stereotypical sorority girl!"  I found many kindred spirits in Alpha Chi Omega's Gamma Tau chapter and accepted an invitation to become one of their sisters.

As you join a sorority, you immediately have a mentor to help you transition through the process from accepting a bid to becoming an initiated member.  Your first mentor is paired randomly, but my Guardian Angel, as she is lovingly called, Twila, is amazing!  She is originally from Tulsa, a little over a hundred miles from where we attended college.  After she graduated and I visited her for the first time, she our other sister Amy took me to this spot in downtown Tulsa around 2:00 a.m.

They called it the "center of the universe," and it's a lot easier to experience than it is to explain.  There's a lot of unique, interesting architecture in downtown Tulsa but there is also a special spot, a parabolic anomaly, that people who have lived in Tulsa their entire lives may not know of.  Your voice echoes, only to you, in this spot, and the sounds all around you are heightened.  Rulers would design their throne rooms to have this effect so they could clearly hear what people thought they were saying in secret.

This past weekend I found out that the Brady Arts District was having their first ever Center of the Universe Festival to raise money for the district and to upgrade their trolley system.  Free concerts from up and coming bands, as well as headliners such as One Republic, OK Go, and Neon Trees.  What better excuse to visit my lovely Twila and enjoy a quick get away?

Sitting with Twila, watching OK Go on a big LED screen

During Neon Trees set, we worked our way up to the entrance to Cain's Ballroom, a favorite smaller concert venue in Tulsa.

As close as you can get without being one of the "fancy people" as OK Go liked to call the folks who paid for closer concert access.

Twila told me there are special events and free concerts fairly frequently in downtown Tulsa.  This was definitely a fun event and one of my favorite weekends recently.  Actually, to be fair, this has probably been one of the most fun months I've had.  I'll have to write a catch up entry about my road trip to Phoenix, and this weekend I'm going to float the Illinois River with some friends.  Hurray for summer adventures!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Spirit of Oklahoma

As a little girl, I had recurring nightmares about tornadoes.  I grew up in Louisiana where tornadoes happened occasionally, but weren't frequent.  Still, I can remember being extremely anxious during a storm in 5th grade in a class room that had a wall full of windows and a door that opened to an outdoor hallway.  With the recurring dreams about tornadoes, you'd never think I'd move to tornado alley (and stay there) for college.

I remember hearing my first tornado siren.  It was a sunny Saturday morning, I was a bit confused and alarmed, until a friend who grew up hear reassured me it was only a weekly test.  During my first storm season I was notably anxious.  Over the years, I've grown a bit less panicky (I don't jump at EVERY thunderstorm anymore, I realize the sirens go off for the entire county when a funnel is spotted, etc).  Nonetheless, when sever weather coverage is happening, I worry for my friends in the high risk areas and fret until the storm has passed and I can reach them.  People speak about past devastating storms with reverence to their destruction.  Everyone knows about the May 3rd tornadoes, and if you're new hear, they'll fill you in.

Yesterday I got a phone call from a friend who checks in occasionally (but not frequently) with me in the afternoon during a typical, not super scary, thunderstorm.  Her greeting after I said "Hello" was "Thank God you're alive!"  Well, it wasn't scary at MY home.  I turned on the TV and couldn't believe my eyes.  If my best friend wasn't in Arizona, I would have been hysterical.  Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb just south of Oklahoma City and hometown to a few friends of mine, was hit.  Hard.  Right by the exit to go to her house. At the movie theater I'd made plans to go to this weekend.  At another friend's house.  All over the town.  I made phone calls and sent texts, trying to make sure those I know who live there were ok.  Some calls wouldn't go through.  My mother couldn't even reach me, and I didn't know it until I had received text messages from friends in Hawaii and Georgia and decided I should probably post a status on Facebook letting everyone know I was safe.

My home had made national, even international news.

For the past 24 hours it's been both gut wrenching to watch television and hard to look away.  Seeing areas I've driven by often, usually on the way to see people I love, to escape from a long week and enjoy a movie or anime or just good company, were leveled.  It's been absolutely heartbreaking.

Oklahoma has a sense of community that is unshakable though.  So many people were checking on each other and asking about friends and family as well, people they are not close to or know personally, but that they know mean a great deal to someone they are close to.  In the aftermath of an E5 tornado that was two miles wide and literally scattered debris across the state, over 3,000 people have applied to volunteer with Red Cross, maxing out their volunteer capacity.  A news station has collected over $65,000 in cash donations in 24 hours.  Multiple corporations have donated $1 million dollars, EACH.  Kevin Durant, the face of our NBA team, has pledged $1 million dollars from his charitable organization.  Every Oklahoman is pitching in however they can.  Restaurants and food trucks are cooking and donating food to relief workers. Local businesses are collecting donations.  Artists are planning benefit performances and workshops.  People are giving their time, talents, and treasure to help their neighbor.  Humans are being cared for, animals are being cared for.  Homes are being opened, dormitories are made available, rental properties are being donated for free use.  Whatever resources we have, they are made available to those who are affected across the state.  Moore isn't the only town that has experienced loss.  It is a focal point because of the massive devastation, but we are reminded of Shawnee and Carney are in need as well.

I'm thankful that those I know and am close to are safe.  They may have experienced damage to vehicles, or even to their house, but those material things aren't what really matters.  We will come together, replace, and rebuild.

God bless Oklahoma.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What a week! Praying for Boston while remembering 4/19/95 in OKC

This week was quite a tumultuous week.  The news of the bombings at the Boston marathon were shocking and devastating.  I immediately tried to mentally go through the list of people I know who moved to Boston after high school or college.  They are all safe, and I didn't have any real reason to believe that any of them were at the marathon, but that is the same reaction I had on 9/11 (I have family in NYC.  Only one cousin lived in Manhattan, so it wasn't probable that he was there, but in my mind there was shock, sadness, and "Please God don't let anyone I know be near there).

These kind of actions are heartbreaking and unfathomable to me, and yet, I live in a city that experienced its own tragedy 18 years ago.  Everyone who lives here understands how the events of April 19, 1995 affected this community, even if they were not here at the time.  Military stationed at Tinker Air Force Base come here as part of their orientation, as do members of the Oklahoma City Thunder.  If you speak with someone who lived in the metro area at the time, they will share their memories of that day and how far away they were, yet still felt the after shock.  

I already had plans to make a trip to the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial this week, but after everything else in the world seemed especially crazy the need to go, reflect, and pray was greater than ever.  In this post, I will share some pictures I took at the memorial.

This is a statue on the corner of NW 5th and Hudson.  Jesus is weeping with his back to the site.

A closer look at the face of Jesus covering his face and weeping.


The view from outside the memorial, across the street from the statue.

This is part of the original fence used to protect the site.  People began bringing tokens of love, hope, and remembrance. 

People continue to bring and leave mementos today.  Some are archived in the museum.

A view through the chain link fence into the outdoor memorial.

Remembering lost loved ones.

My sorority letters, left by or remembering an unknown sister.

Letters and pictures left by children who lost their mother in the bombing.  They now have their own children and told their mother about her grandchildren and ways that they know she is still with them.

The reflecting pool, facing the 9:01 a.m. gate, the time of innocence one minute before the blast.

A sign explaining the field of empty chairs, which symbolize the 168 lives lost.

The field of chairs.

Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, in the surviving building next door.

The field of empty chairs and flags flying half mast for Boston.

The flags against the skyline.  The large tower is the Devon Tower, fairly new to the OKC skyline.

Each chair has the name of a victim.  There are smaller chairs for the children lost.  Families leave things for their loved ones.

The Survivor Tree, a 90+ year old oak tree that survived the blast and now stands for human resiliency.

Surviving structure on the east wall.

The surviving east wall with a list of survivors from surrounding buildings.  The granite was taken from the wreckage.

The reflecting pool, facing the field of empty chairs and the 9:03 am gate marking the time when everything changed after the blast.

The Survivor Tree

The gates of time frame 9:02 am, the time of the explosion.

A message spray painted on the wall of the building next door by a member of one of the rescue teams.

Sunshine through the limbs of the Survivor Tree.

View from under the Survivor Tree

The reflecting pool is where NW 5th Street used to run.

I could hear families explaining the events that happened hear to their children.  One child asked if they used airplanes.  How sad that in my lifetime so many acts of terror have occurred and I will have to explain these events to my children.  There is another area for children that I didn't venture to where they can share their art and feelings in chalk, near some painted tiles sent by other children in response to the event.

Surviving structure

Next weekend will be the Memorial Marathon.  Many runners will wear green shoe laces and red socks in honor of Boston.

This life size crucifix is located in the east wall of St. Joseph's Old Cathedral at NW 4th and Hudson.  The building had some damage from the explosion, but the crucifix on this wall was not damaged.  You could literally sit at the feet of Jesus and pray during quite times at this church.

I had thought about going back and taking some pictures at night to include (the gates and chairs light up) but I think I have more than enough pictures for one post.  I will continue to pray for those in Boston and remember that this is most unfortunately, not the first event of its kind.