Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Life of Joyful Gratitude

Our latest blog post comes from Dominican Volunteer Kateri Golbiw. Kateri serves as Assistant Campus Minister at Immaculate Conception Academy Cristo Rey High School in San Francisco, California. She reflects on her journey to San Francisco and how her two friends and coworkers, “Joyful” and “Gratitude” have shaped her along the way.

     For years, my favorite adjective has been ‘joyful’. Happiness isn’t the same thing as joy, for it is fleeting and caused by an outer force. Joy, however, is deeply rooted, and can be present even in the midst of sorrow. However, it can fade when a person becomes lost to who they are meant to be.

     One year ago I had just been matched with my ministry site, ICA Cristo Rey, as their potential Assistant Campus Minister (and work-study commute chaperone...and lunch lady...and sometimes choir director/piano player...volunteers wear many hats!). My mom, the occasional helicopter, "encouraged" me to not leave for San Francisco once the position was secured. And I, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for adventure, brushed off her warnings of missing home (and of leaving my heart in SF...which happened in my first week. This city has me wrapped around its little peninsula!). For the month leading up to my actual departure, since I am truly a homebody and not Nellie Bly, I was inclined to agree with her. However, I had this pull on my heart, and despite the nerves, I was at peace: I knew God was calling, and I had to heed that call.
Gypsy Aroon, age 7

     After I moved to SF, I began to realize that I had become so negative, that I could hardly find any joy. I had left home, family, friends, and my baby (aka my dog), Gypsy. I was beyond any form of homesickness that I could recognize. I’d been in a school of some sort for 21 of my 25 years, and working in a school wasn’t the same as being a student. I was completely lost.

     My inner joy kept fading, slowly disappearing “like baby teeth, losing parts of me I thought I needed.” [1] I became the person I always swore I wouldn’t. Not only was I negative and dark, but I didn’t appreciate what I had right in front on me. Here I thought that the part of me I was losing was no longer needed, when it was really ALL I needed. Instead of recognizing that I have good friends right here in SF, my dream job, an amazing support system, and I'm living in the most wonderful city, room and board free, all I saw is what I was lacking. I have no family here. No old friends. A huge, strange city. “We all want something beautiful,” [2] but do we actually recognize that beauty, when it is right in front of us?
     Enter two of my co-workers-turned-friends.

     The first is the most joyous person I know. Scarves are her "thing," it's rare to see her without a smile on her face, and whenever I need a hug (which is often, because I'm a hugger!), she's ready. This woman has been through so much, and faces struggles I’ll never be able to imagine. Through it all, she is positive. She is Joyful, and has led me to find and recognize joy in all that I do.

Joyful (with a scarf...), me, and Gratitude!
     The second appeared in a Thanksgiving video my Campus Ministry team put together about what people are thankful for. His simple response was that he is “thankful for everything.” He is Gratitude, and he reminds me to express my gratitude for everything, even (and most especially), for the hard things. Even when he's cutting a wisdom tooth, he's smiling and talking my Irish temper down, reminding me to be thankful for the beautiful day.

     “There’ll be days like this…when your boots will fill with rain, and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment. And those are the very days you have all the more reason to say ‘thank you.’ You will put the ‘win’ in winsome…lose some. You will put the ‘star’ in starting over…and over. And no matter how many landmines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life.”[3a] 

     I’m trying to live a life of Joyful Gratitude, because otherwise there will always be another force pulling me with it, like the moon pulls the ocean. I, like the ocean, may not have any control over being swept away when others work in my life, but I CAN choose to kiss the shore with joy and in gratitude upon my return.[3b] Of all the things that I can choose...

I can choose to be affirming, joyful, loving, and grateful.

[1]       “When Love Arrives” by Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye
[2]       ‘Mr Jones’ by Counting Crows
[3a,b] ‘B’ (If I Should Have a Daughter) by Sarah Kay

Thursday, February 22, 2018

I’d Be Surprised and Comforted By How Much I’ve Grown and Changed

Dominican Volunteer Sydney Boyer serves as a teacher at the Opening Word, a support center for immigrant women in Amityville New York. In this post, she shares a letter to her senior-year self.

Dear Me,

     Recently I was asked to give advice to the graduating seniors of Xavier University through a 30 second video. It was hard for me to limit myself to a mere 30 seconds when I felt that I could write an entire book on post-graduate transition. I don’t think any amount of advice can totally prepare you for the changes that come once you graduate. However, I think if senior year me could see post-graduate me now, I’d be surprised and comforted by how much I’ve grown and changed. If I were to talk to myself last year, I think these are some of the things she would need to here. These are only some of the lessons I have learned, and I will continue to gain more as the year progresses.
1.    Believe in yourself
     For the last four years, Xavier University built me in up in so much love from the community around me. Through retreats, like Approach, I learned about how much God loves me through the people he’s put into my life. I don’t think that I could have made it through some of the hard moments without this love to fall back on. However, amidst all the retreats and service trips, I forgot how to rely just on myself.
     This year of service has been challenging and at times lonely. Upon arriving in New York, I was blinded by the excitement of change. Once the excitement wore off, I was lost and felt alone because no one from my Xavier community was right next to me. These moments gave me time to develop a relationship with myself rather than just the people around me. They gave me time to learn to trust my own opinions and my own instincts. These moments are still helping me learn to love myself.
2.    Love the little moments

     This year, it has been harder to find God through traditional prayer and scripture readings. Every morning I wake up at 7:00 AM to be at prayer by 7:15 AM. During this time we traditionally read from the Dominican Praise book and the bible. While some may find God through these daily routines, I have found them more monotonous than fruitful. After leaving Xavier, it has been hard to find a faith community and where I see God in my every day. It wasn’t until I started to slow down that I truly found God in the small moments.
     Throughout the year I have learned that God can present himself to us in small ways everyday if we learn to take time to stop and observe the world around us. What may seem like a challenging moment can quite easily turn into a God moment. For me these moments may look beautiful and radiant while others may just be happy coincidences. A few weeks ago I flew to San Francisco with my fellow volunteer for a mid-year retreat. We didn’t realize how long the flight was and that we wouldn’t be offered any food on the flight. Needless to say, we were very hungry. However, my thoughts of hunger were calmed by the sunset. The sun hadn’t looked so beautiful since my time in New York. As we started flying, I had the privilege of watching that sunset for 3 hours. For me, God was so clearly presenting himself in that moment. It’s moments like these that I have learned to love and found prayer and meditation in.

3.    Explore the full story

     For those of you who don’t know, I come from a very small town in Ohio. In this small town diversity is a rare thing to find. Therefore, much of my information came from what I saw on television and from the people around me. This barrier was broken once I went to college, because I was discussing issues based around race, privilege and status.

     This year I have continued to explore what these issues mean and what I can do with my privilege to positively affect change. I have learned the importance of exploring both sides of the story, because truth only comes when you listen to all the facts and opinions. Not only that, but I have learned the privilege I have as an American citizen to seek out truth, to advocate to my representative for change and to vote for what I believe will be the best for everyone in our country. We have a long way to go, but progress starts with exploring the full story.

4.    Embrace your roots

     Throughout high school all I thought about was leaving small town Ohio. I wanted to get away and start new in a big city with big ideas and opportunities. When I moved away to Cincinnati I was relieved to be away from my small town, and I was able to reinvent myself. As I was faced with moving again, I was excited at the chance to live in one of the biggest cities in the world and embrace being a New Yorker.

     From this experience, I have realized that I am not a very good New Yorker, let alone a very good East Coaster. Ohio is in my blood, and there is nothing I can do to change that. Instead of running from where I come from, I learned that it’s important to embrace your roots. Ultimately they are the basis of who you are. Use these roots to define your future, and ultimately you’ll find more pride telling people about the journey you made to get to where you are.

5.    Change is ok
     For a long time, I wanted to be a part of the United Nations. I wanted to sit amongst some of the most powerful people in the world and have the chance to influence their ideas. In college, I realized that I may not want to do this anymore, but I was scared of changed. I was scared to let go of the dream of 12 year old me.
     This year has really taught me though that change is alright. It’s ok to change your dreams, because something bigger may be waiting for you at the end. No matter what, there will always be someone to encourage you in this transition and to tell you that it will all be ok in the end. Thankfully I have found that person in my fellow volunteer, Sean, in my family, and still in my Xavier friends. I am confident in my new decision to become a social worker and the future that lies ahead.