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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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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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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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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The hope of Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Today is a day of hope and joy as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s the day where Mary’s humble yes officially came into the world. The day where God entered our existence in person, flesh and blood. Entering in total poverty, without all the flash and power of a traditional king.

I marvel at the obedience and surrender that Mary and Joseph model for everyone. There was so much that didn’t seem to be going “according to plan” and yet they agreed and carried out what they had been called to do.

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College graduation: Now what?

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I finished college in four years. That wasn’t necessarily viewed as a major accomplishment. It was an expectation. You go to college and get a degree. There’s nothing extraordinary in that. And at this point in my life accomplishments required doing extraordinary things. Talk about setting the bar result high for yourself!

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Learning through example of family life

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As junior year began, I no longer had 8 am classes yet I wanted to continue going to daily mass. There was some relief. The time was changed to 7, so I could sleep in some!

The later time brought in a new demographic of the parish. No longer solely retirees and individuals rushing off to work, now there were also mothers with children. The home schooling crowd.

There was a wide range in ages. I was impressed by their reverence, how serious they were about being there. The younger ones weren’t always cooperative; they are human of course. Generally speaking, though, they seemed to have a greater sense of awareness of what was going on than I did at that age.

Introductions were made. Though life was busy and chaotic for them, I was fortunate to meet women who had found a sense of calm within their routines so they could be open to welcoming a stranger.

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Life is more than drafting a hypothesis

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I love these images! They’re relevant for illustrating the idea of sitting with questions and letting them almost hold you hostage, rather than as a starting point for consideration and then action.

At the start of junior year, I continued going to daily Mass, even though I no longer had 8 a.m. classes. I had come to appreciate the benefits of beginning my day in this way.

On my birthday, I remember contemplating once again if I was being called to religious life. With a brother in seminary, that question popped up more frequently.

In the middle of this internal questioning, a religious sister walked in the chapel. I had never seen her before. What does this mean? And then another entered. And another. Maybe seven total. Ok, God, is this a coincidence or are you trying to give me an answer? I was always questioning. There was no sense of being at peace and allowing things to unfold. I obsessed about wanting clear answers.

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