My break into journalism took me to San Francisco

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This is the detailed version of one of the most incredible, pivotal moments of my life. An experience where I can truly see God working through me rather than it being on my own accord. I’ve shared pieces of it to people in talks and different ways, but this includes everything. It’s a long write-up, so I’ve broken it up into three parts. I’ll share part two tomorrow and part three on Friday.

By January 2007, I had been volunteering with The Tidings for about 3 full months. I learned about the third annual Walk for Life, a similar event to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., but this would be in San Francisco. I asked the publisher of the paper if the San Francisco event is something they planned to cover. I told him I was interested in being part of the experience. Maybe to help out in some way.

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Beaches, hiking and skiing: The active part of California

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A shop near our apartments

When I got to California, I knew I was deep in the land of Hollywood celebrities. An environment focused on outer beauty, fashion, success and other superficial things. But I was surprised to learn that, like every other state, one highlight or landmark does not define the entire place. All of California or even Southern California is not Hollywood. It’s filled with hardworking people, too. People who are living in multi-million dollar mansions and, not far away, people barely getting by on the streets.

I was surprised to find a strong, thriving group of young adults living out their Catholic faith. Growing up in South Carolina, Catholics are a minority, making up barely 5 percent of the population. But here, at least a third of the population identifies as Catholic. Mass was celebrated in more than 30 languages.

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Discovering self by journaling

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At the beginning of the notebook where I found the details of the sensory walk, I saw that I purposefully sought out to renew my journaling efforts as a way of learning more about myself. It was an effort for record, accountability and self-discovery. I had gotten away from this practice and my creative writing especially during my senior year of college because of my student teaching responsibilities.

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Finding peace in prayer

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

There was a 24-hour period while I was in Los Angeles when I got some distressing news from three different people that just weighed on my heart. I didn’t know how to react, what to do, what to say in response. My words seemed so inadequate.

I learned someone I worked with at the paper had lost her sister. A friend I met in college shared that her cousin had committed suicide. And I received an email from another friend who shared about how he was going through a very difficult time.

It was a lot to take in and process. I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t know what to do.

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A sensory walk in Los Angeles

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My favorite sign that I spotted at the end of our block. The broken English was endearing to me for some reason. But seriously, how bad do things have to be that you create a sign like this for the side of your building? And this is much bigger than a sheet of paper. It was a huge sign.

Over the course of my time in Los Angeles, I made an effort to re-engage my creative side. I had a few books with writing prompts to help me focus on something. One of those prompts meant going on a detail hunt. Take a walk and jot down all the interesting details you observe. Focus on sensory impressions. And while looking for the extraordinary, don’t ignore the ordinary.

I wish I had pictures of many of these items, especially the trees. I found their formation fascinating. Sadly, I didn’t take pictures. While I doubt many of these items will be as intriguing to someone who hasn’t walked this neighborhood, I figured I’d go ahead and share anyway.

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Extrovert versus introvert: The roommate struggle

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Among the biggest challenges in this volunteer experience was figuring out a way to adjust to living with a roommate. The final two years of college, I didn’t have a roommate. As a junior, my roommate transferred to a different room the first week of the semester and I never got a replacement. During my senior year, I was able to live with a family I met through church. I lived with other people, but it wasn’t the same thing as having a roommate.

But the focal part of this new experience was living with someone much older than me. The best way to explain why this relationship was so challenging is that we were polar opposites. This was truly my introduction to the differences between extroverts and introverts. She was a solid extrovert, and I was a bottled up introvert.

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Finding value in mundane jobs

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One of the first big lessons I learned during my time in Los Angeles was the purpose and value of work. All work matters. Some positions may be more glamorous than others, but when it joins together it all has a purpose. Some roles are more public while others happen behind the scenes where fewer see the details. Every position is needed.

What’s more, this revelation came while I was earning $100 a month. It wasn’t about how much I made. It was about doing my best, being challenged. It meant doing some tasks that felt small at the time but would eventually serve as a powerful foundation for bigger jobs. If you feel like a particular task is menial and not worth doing, take a step back and see how your contribution fits in with the bigger picture.

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New year, stronger me: Affirmations

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I’ve learned a lot about myself in these last 9 months with this blog. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to explore and dive in to these moments from my past, to better understand who I am. I’m working on improving the way I view myself and what I have to offer to others, and I’ve made a lot of progress. Still plenty more to go, but at least there’s improvement.

I’m trying to think more positively about myself. See myself more as others see me (the ones who have a more balanced view of me), rather than just zeroing in on the ways I’ve fallen short. Those negative moments shouldn’t be the things that define who I am or how I measure myself.

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Getting settled into the volunteer community

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View of MacArthur Park, with downtown Los Angeles in the background. This park was a few blocks from where I was living.

The adventures to California began with a cross-country road trip with Mom in my little Honda Civic. Not exactly the kind of transportation I would recommend on such a long drive, as it got cramped very fast, but we made it!

Mom drove with me and then flew back to South Carolina so that I would have a vehicle with me. She didn’t want me to have to make such a long trip by myself. I was strongly encouraged to arrive in Los Angeles with transportation.

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Choosing a year in Los Angeles

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Journal I received as a college graduation gift. What a perfect quote for inspiration.

Yes, I applied to two volunteer programs that would have taken me far away from the comforts of my familiar South Carolina home where I was used to being a few hours away from family, but neither seemed very scary. It also didn’t seem like I was taking much of a risk. But I think mostly that was because I didn’t really feel like there was an option. Since I didn’t want to teach, what choice did I really have? Well, I guess I overlooked the real possibility of simply staying home with my parents and finding some retail job as a short term fix. But that didn’t seem like an option either. It was time to get out in the world.

But another reason moving far away didn’t seem like too big of a deal was because it wouldn’t be a permanent move. These would be a one-year commitment. Plus, there was the promise of living with a community of people who had the same goals and shared the same faith. I found comfort in that.

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