Finding Direction

The Presidents Interfaith and Community service Campus Challenge

Recently I applied to a journalism internship. For the application I wrote a personal bio on why I wanted to be a journalist. I find it fascinating that as we look back on our lives all the small turns, conversations, and moments add up to one clear direction. I wish it was as clear at the beginning as it is in retrospect, alas that would not give me the breadth of experience I need to discern. Sometimes we find out what we shouldn’t be doing before we find what we need to be doing. While each of these jobs and careers were what I needed to do at the time, it wasn’t what I needed to do for all time.

As I negotiated the changes of the last two years I have been reviewing my life searching for patterns, taking the next steps that presented. Working even if I wasn’t sure each step was the right one. This living in ambiguity has been hard and it is revealing an exciting and passionate focus I look forward to developing.

Below is the bio I submitted for my applications. 

The exhumed grave of a child killed at the Lukodi Massacre is an image that will never leave me. While in Uganda, I heard the stories, saw the scars, and visited the graves arising from the 20-year-old conflict.

Nearly 12 years earlier, just three months before the second intifada began in Israel/ Palestine, I visited the closed markets of Hebron. Learning about the history and current situation in Hebron, at 19 years old I became acutely aware of the power of American spending abroad. I also became curious about the role of religion in a conflict, traditionally characterized along religious lines. The next year, in 2001, I began university and a journey to understand the intersection of religion, politics, history, and the people caught in the crossfire.

After my BA in religious studies, still questioning the link between religion, politics, and conflict, I enrolled in graduate school in Northern Ireland. Determined to learn more about the elements of conflict and unwilling to join the vilifying of Islam, I wrote my dissertation on Islamic non-violence in Palestine. I discovered that the lack of evidence and understanding for the complexity of Islam and the Middle East was driving a dangerous rhetoric, which oversimplified and clouded the truth. Newspaper headlines and academia focused on the bleeding headlines and not on the large community of people working to bridge understanding.

I found that each question leads to another question, revealing layers of answers. Ultimately, this questioning and peeling back of answers lead me to believe that the smallest acts can change a world, and an opinion. I also discovered that it is often small acts built up over years that lead to huge changes, good or bad.

This realization is what led me to leave academia and engage in community development, first with AmeriCorps NCCC in Louisiana for hurricane recovery efforts, then in California working with teenagers at a local church. Working with people dedicated to the everyday struggle of doing more with less, I gained a deep appreciation for all that gets accomplished in this world.

I also discovered that time and again I was answering questions and translating for people the reality of working with few resources. After finishing my year of work in Louisiana, friends, family, and strangers asked me how much longer until the recovery would be complete. My response was that I could work my whole life and the recovery would still be incomplete. The problem was not the hurricane; it was a legacy of poverty and neglect.

The six years I spent working with AmeriCorps and other community organizations revealed that while I loved working in the field, I also relished the challenge of digging deeper into the questions surrounding issues. I found myself drawn back to the challenge of distilling large pieces of information to find surprising connections, all for the goal of providing a bite-size nugget to enhance understanding.

This drive brought me to the field where I stood beside the grave of a child in northern Uganda. I wanted to discover what was happening after the conflict was over, to learn how people were reclaiming their lives.

What I discovered was a community struggling to navigate development after the multilateral NGOs had withdrawn. Today, UN envoys use Gulu only as a quick overnight stay on the way to Juba. I saw Americans and others working on the ground to empower people through relatively small, daily acts. I learned how, in the midst of conflict, community workers reached across previously un-crossable divides to find safety for the region’s children.

In Uganda I learned that I needed to be part of the community who translates these events into stories; creating a glimpse of understanding that would otherwise remain clouded in misunderstanding. Bringing these small stories to the world can seem insignificant; yet revealing a new understanding is never a small act.

The Sarajevo Commitment, launched at the 2000 World Media Assembly sums up my professional aim: “We shall combine freedom with responsibility, talent with humility, privilege with service, comfort with sacrifice and concern with courage.”

Is your job your ministry?

Yes Pope Francis and I got cozy at the Catholic Press Associations gathering.  He was really nice, though a bit flat and didn't talk much.

Yes Pope Francis and I got cozy at the Catholic Press Associations gathering. He was really nice, though a bit flat and didn’t talk much.

Yesterday journalism and the role that it plays in my ministry to the world became clear.

I attended the regional gathering of the Catholic Press Association of about 50 Catholic Press professionals. Two of the sessions I attended were led by people of faith working in the secular press and the third was a mix of Catholic and secular. Throughout the day’s sessions, the concept of being a witness, an educator, a minister found its way into comments, questions, and prepared statements.

In his opening remarks, Father Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, evaluated the history of catholic social involvement in the United States. During his opening remarks, he mentioned the ministry of journalism as an integral part in serving the community and the poor. He spoke of how the Catholic Press has been key in bringing the personal stories into the immigration reform debate.

Mike Walter, anchor at CCTV and producer, writer, and narrator of the documentary Breaking News, Breaking Down. A documentary exploring the trauma that journalists experience from repeated exposure to traumatic events. He is challenging the old boys model of drinking your troubles away after a traumatic experience. He spoke of ministering to the people in the news room, of taking time to minister to your own soul. He remembered trying to interview the family of a girl brutally murdered,”I wanted to tell the story of her life not her death. On these days, more important than a note pad and pen, is your open heart and ears.” Walter said, for him this is a very real part of healing for the families and the community.

The conversations at this gathering reminded me of my time with a spiritual director last April, when I was discerning a new path for myself as I negotiated a career change. Describing why I loved working with teenagers,again and again I said I loved watching people grow, seeing that moment when something finally clicks, and the subtle growth over years. “This,” she said, “is being a witness.”

A witness was a vocational description I had heard before, though at the time I wasn’t sure what that meant for a career. It was in the subsequent year with my work researching conflict and my time in Uganda observing and learning, that I discovered that, for me, to be a witness is to be a journalist. To translate for the world the stories that seem foreign, to strip away the vagueness, the ambiguity, and misdirection to reveal a story of humanity attempting to make a better life, everyday.

When I listened to the speakers yesterday, whether they worked in the Catholic Press or in the secular press, I knew I had truly found my vocational community. People concerned with humanity, with bringing the story to the world, so that we can be better informed, and better prepared to address the worlds greatest needs. This is my ministry. We so often confuse THE ministry with our ministry.  As a United Methodist I believe that we are ALL called to be ministers to minister to the world.  If we think the only way to do that is by working in The ministry than we are missing and denying the incredible breadth of talent, of callings and of opportunities to transform the world.

 

To Read more about how, in retrospect I came to decide on a career in Journalism read this post, Finding Direction

2 years & 35 lbs later

Running ShoesFor a long time, partly in a bid to be better than the body conscious people obsessed with being thin, I have detached myself from my body. However, in reality, I was body conscious and I didn’t like what I saw. I mostly just didn’t pay much attention to my body though I ate a well balanced diet and was fairly active.

In my 20’s, I did learn to appreciate my body yet, my weight loss and fitness level seemed to happen by accident. I realize now that the love I had for my body was limited by my belief that I wasn’t choosing my shape. It chose me. There was little participation and no intention for my body. I took the phrase, “it doesn’t matter what you look like, it matters who you are” to a space that meant it was ok to neglect my body in fact, it was preferable.

A few years ago, I found a 2nd place ribbon from the 2nd grade, for cross-country running.  I was shocked that I couldn’t remember being a cross country runner though, even 20 years later, I could somehow remember loving to run.  Soon after I began to run with friends and on my own. Then I ran my first half marathon 2 years ago, at 30 years old.

This winter, when I was in Uganda, so much attention was placed on my body, especially as a white woman that, at times, I almost felt naked walking the streets fully clothed. At the end of the 2 months, I saw an ad for a half marathon in DC occurring 2 days after I returned. In that moment I realized just how little exercise and just how much posho (maize), and matoke (plantains) I had eaten.  I decided that I was going to kick my fitness level into the next gear, the moment I got off the plane.

Just a few days before I boarded the plane to return home, I also realized just how little attention I had paid to my body in my life.  For the 2 months I was in Uganda, I had noticed and paid attention to every piece of food I ate, applied copious amounts of sunscreen and bug spray daily, felt the heat, encountered new bugs and animals that held unknown poisons, and took daily pills to ward off malaria. I wrote about this vulnerability in an earlier post.

A Buddhist proverb states, (that)

When the student is ready, the teacher will arrive.

Last Thanksgiving I was blessed with a sad gift. My grandmother passed away days before her 89 birthday and I was given a small inheritance, just enough to extend my 3 months of retraining and career exploration into a year.  It also meant that when I returned from Uganda I could hire my friend, Errick McAdams, to be my personal trainer to help me kick my fitness level up.

By all measurements I was overweight, even if I was happy. Errick asked me what my weight goal was, so I picked a number that the BMI said I should aim for, but assured him my weight was less important than my fitness level. He was/is the teacher I needed for this new re-meeting of my soul and my body.  He pushed me when I needed it and pulled me back when I pushed myself too hard. He taught me and listened to me. And when we reached the 20 pounds that I previously thought was an unreachable goal, he listened again and we painted a picture of a new reality. He helped me shape this amazing body. He also helped me experience and develop a new partnership with my gene’s, my food, and my activity. Together I lost 35 pounds and dropped 4 pant sizes.

In writing a thank you note to him, I realized an important lesson from these 6 months. Yes I loved my body when I was a size 14 and 200 pounds.  I thought I was beautiful and spent a lot of time working through my hangups.  I loved its shape and could really rock my curves. I was fit enough to enjoy the activities I loved and I ate pretty well.  However, it was a love based on my view that it was a shape gifted to me without my say and only superficially affected by my participation.  The new love of my body, is an appreciation for the hard work of the last 6 months, its also a re-acquaintance with the shape and feel of this body.

This weight loss and fitness journey was an embodiment of this past 2 years learning, of leaving my job at the church and moving across country. My gift of ministry to teenagers and people is a very real gift, that I love. Though in the years I worked at the church, I was only utilizing a very small portion of my gifts.  More than a year ago, as I began to contemplate my move, I began again to participate and shape a new future for myself. I began to dive deeper, to explore ALL that moved me, and enlivened me. I began to create a future where I listened to ALL that God had shown me and laid on my heart, as both passions and concerns.

I could’t have begun to discover the depth of my gifts, until I began to use, embrace, and experience my first gifts.  Its like Maya Angelou says,

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.

The more of my gifts that I use, the more I discover, that is God’s true abundance and riches. I have started to see my gifts, concerns, and abilities as a partnership with God to engage the world and my soul.  As I do so, those gifts appear to be unending. The truth is that when we begin to embrace our blessings, we are healed and challenged to continue birthing and rediscovering, new blessings as they emerge.

Light success in Uganda with Solar Lanterns

Graduation at Restore International school

Check out this great video interviewing the class valedictorian at the last graduation from Restore Leadership Academy in Gulu, Uganda.

Obomo-Restore Leadership Academy

Help us grow this story to include many other students.  Burning the midnight oil is not an option for theses students when you can’t afford the repeated purchase of oil or candles.

Help the school purchase solar lanterns for students.

Go to Light Success on Indigogo to donate today.

This Friday is the last day to donate.