It’s been a year (almost)

**WARNING** This post is not for closed minds **WARNING**

To preface this post, I’m going to do a little confession-I am a spoiled young adult-I have been given much, and freely, and have been aware of this. Secondly, I was in Tampa for about 6 months, and it was a great challenge for me, and I have had reflection time, and therefore have come up with what could be my most controversial post to date.

I have just returned from 2 weeks abroad in Poland, visiting the 4 missionaries Catherine and I had the pleasure of serving with-to me this was a big deal considering the last I had seen them was a few weeks before Christmas, and for those of you who aren’t up to snuff on the happenings in South Sudan, it is currently in a time of great distress, fighting, hunger-torn, completely opposite of peaceful, state. And they had to experience many things that us comfortable Americans will go our whole lives without-and for that we should be ENTIRELY groveling/grateful.

As I transitioned back to this comfort state, I began to become so incredibly uncomfortable with that-comfort. Knowing my friends I had made in Wau were going without basic necessities-even more than they already were (lack of electricity, clean, running water, just to make more obvious the previous statement) made me feel greatly upset. Because of my illness, and the ability for me to be removed from South Sudan, had me feeling all sorts of guilt. And then it happened.

I began to see the frivolities of the places I was in. Reflecting on the parish church in South Sudan-how beautiful was, even though it had nothing-I realized the THINGS were not the beautiful part. See, war-stricken South Sudanese FLOCKED to Sunday morning mass, the mosh pit was to find a seat, participate, and then exit before the next wave of wonderful humans who were awaiting the Arabic mass, was the beauty I was in awe of. People make the world beautiful, not things. Homemade instruments, people wearing the best clothes they owned (most the SAME OUTFIT EVERY SUNDAY **shocked gasps rock the world right now) but their spirits, their spirits were and are the most beautiful. Can you imagine surviving nights of gunshots, grenades, RPG’s, and still, with a full, loving, contrite heart, attend Mass with the same love and fervor, grateful for all the beauty still left in the world. PEOPLE HERE COMPLAIN ABOUT THE MOST TINIEST THINGS. Granted-I WILL ADMIT- that we have not had to experience this, and for that we should be grateful.

BUT-in the early mornings, as you make your cup of coffee-or purchase the overly expensive cup that “satisfies” you, and you watch the news, and you say “oh poor Syrians”, “oh those refugees” or some might even say “well Europe, you opened your borders to them, so tsk tsk” AND THAT’S HOW YOU REACT. Then you continue on with your day, because you are not presently affected by this because it is not interfering with your life. And that is where my issue lies, America, Mr. President. It took flooding in our country, for someone to say “TAKE SOME ACTION, END YOUR VACATION EARLY MR. PRESIDENT!” It took shootings of the innocent by people who are supposed to protect us, for us to care about something. You are capable of forgetting and moving on with your day.

Something about the Salesian way spoke to me deeply in my year of mission. Salesians are always looking to PREVENT something, to stop it from happening, in anyway that we can. We on this earth are all the same-well we should be. All of our lives matter the same. Whether you’re a multi-millionaire who is giving money to fund cancer research, down to the unemployed 25 year old chick who’s typing this from her parents comfy home, to the refugees, fleeing for their lives-and if you were in the same boat-you would be too. We all have the capability to raise awareness for the sake of one another.

Speaking directly to those who identify as Catholics. This year, the year of MERCY, Pope Francis (the people’s pope) has told us time and time again, this is not a time to witch hunt-who should be receiving love and mercy, YOU SHOULD BE LIVING LOVE AND MERCY. “I think we too are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy. ”  Pope Francis. The beauty of our Church does not rest in statues, paintings, stained-glass windows. It’s the love, mercy, and fervor of the people who attend the celebration of the Eucharist in a building. Jesus is housed in simple tabernacle in Wau, not a gold encrusted box like many places in America, and He loves them the same.

We, the people of the world, are called to assist, love, and strengthen one another. We can be divided by imaginary city/state/county/country/continental lines, but we are all hearts on a journey, seeking something great, and the ways we seek it should not condemn us, or cause us to hate, kill, or negatively destroy one another, but we need to realize we are all brothers and sisters on a journey, the depth of our pockets does not matter, but what we do for others, and the intention that goes with it does.

 

May you pray for peace in all nations that are in need, and for a recognition for the dignity of human life in all its forms. 

 

Tampa Bay Times

Mary Help of Christians is a wonderful, time sucking vortex. (That being said in the most loving way) Most people have no idea of what I’ve been doing. (lol me neither) So I’m going to attempt a summarization/explanation/word vomit of my 2 months! here in Tampa.

Since arriving so late in the year, my main role is with Mary Help of Christians Summer Camp, All 4 God! I have been put in charge of the interviewing counselors/hiring process, and the director of the faith curriculum for the summer. It’s been interesting being on the other end of the process and seeing how people present themselves on paper and then in person. It’s provided some frustrations, great belly laughs, and good reflection on how I must’ve been in high school.

The idea that “it takes a village” is very true here. There are many parts to get the events we host going, and it’s been great insight on how teamwork, actually works. We’ve had a 2 day Pro-Life Rally with Mary Bielski for high schoolers and parishes, where Dan and I presented on Pro-Life Saints, we killed it. Then we’ve had multiple retreats, confirmation, RCIA, high school, youth groups, etc. We either run the day-presenting sessions, games, icebreakers etc. We had a school here, St. Peter Claver, where we made the biggest part of the day a challenge course. They got to experience things they’ve never done before; i.e. seeing and interacting with a lot of the animals we have on the property.

We’ve had 2 really big events back to back- Holy Week/Easter Sunrise Mass and Divine Mercy Sunday/Parish Picnic. Holy Week was a lot of prayer, work, and preparation for Easter. Our youth group had one day of practice for their passion play, but with their talents, it truly was one of the most moving performances I’ve experienced. They gave it their all despite challenges. #blessed. Holy Thursday, my roommate and I attended Christ the Kings mass, and then joined their young adult group on an adoration crawl. We were able to go to 6 parishes all over Tampa who had the Eucharist exposed until midnight! Easter Vigil was a new experience for me, for I had the pleasure of doing a crash course RCIA program for 2 of our youth group members to enter the Church by the Vigil. Their belief and perseverance is quite inspiring, and I am still overjoyed by their night. Post-vigil, the work was not done because we had a sunrise service at our beautiful outdoor altar overlooking the lake Mary Help rests on. It’s BYOLC (Bring your own lawn chair) with an egg hunt for kiddos and breakfast for everyone after. Being away from family is weird on holidays, but having 45 of us celebrate Easter with a huge meal created by Fr. Bruce, entertainment provided by the FMA Sisters, and cake upon cake because of a birthday celebration, boat rides around the lake, and the glory post-food, pre-coma nap made it all worthwhile.

Divine Mercy Sunday was also our Parish picnic where the Mary Help community and Korean community got together to celebrate mercy, love, food, Fr. Joseph before he returns to Korea, music, horses, and games. Something special about Mary Help is how active the Knights of Columbus and the Council of Catholic Women groups are. Completely preparing and serving the food, and stepping in when help is needed. We set up Sunday in torrential downpour, but we were blessed with a wonderful, sunny Spring day. I had the pleasure of running the games for the kiddos. Egg toss turned into crushing the yolk everywhere and handing it to me, or my favorite, overhand throw it at your partner and laugh maniacally-but fun was had by all. Mass at the outdoor altar is breathtaking, with the peaceful, serene lake, sometimes broken up by seagulls or alligators, but a whole community taking a moment to praise and glorify our Lord in the midst of it all.

Here and there little adventures have been taking place, hiking, the strawberry festival, outings to Gaspar’s, many Wawa trips, golf cart trips to McDonalds, plenty of visitors, Theology on Tap, mission groups, the Saint Patrick’s Day Dance, fish fry, and a lot of insanity. But, it’s been a wonderful ride thus far.

Things I’m currently grateful for: Easter Baskets, adoration, decorating my room, summer camp, fire pits, kayaking, aloe, facetime to see my missionary friends still in Wau, PLANE TICKETS TO POLAND, warm weather while the north is getting snow in April, finding out we have a dryer, Divine Mercy, spreading my wings. The priests and brothers here. Game nights with the FMA sisters. Trips to Disney.

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Divine Mercy Mass

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Hiking!

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Gaspar’s!

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Fr. Mike and me ft. his glasses

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SLM’s (post/present) Easter Sunrise Mass

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Easter Vigil

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Grigio costume was found

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Villa Madonna’s presentation of Mulan Jr.

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Jennyfer became a citizen!

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Shawn Carney 40 Days for Life Founder

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Mr. Ryan and I at the State Fair.

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Fitz da pig❤

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Christ The King Young Adult Adoration Crawl

We Were In Screaming Color

What is service. This is a question I’ve been contemplating for probably my entire practicing-Catholicism existence. I have 3 very special people to thank for defining this to me. These 3 humans serve the Church in their unique ways and lead inspiring lives and I’m blessed to call them my best friends and a product of their witness. 1 is an Americorps member serving with Teach For America in North Carolina, her dream. Another works in a parish setting in the great state of Illinois. The third, currently a grad student at Franciscan University after realizing her call after pursuing her service dream at The Pines in Texas.

They have shown me how to be Christ to others in the workplace, in the school, in their studies, with their families, and to one another. Truly we build each other up, call each other on, and teach each other a lot about ourselves.

It’s Lent. A time you associate with sacrifice, diets that lasts 40 days, or just “ugh I can’t get a (free!!) Chipotle burrito Friday.” (okay, that last one is just me, I know.) But these 3 have shown me service and Lent can be unified. How can we love our coworkers when we’re annoyed by them? We pray for them. It’s one of those moment when you don’t know how you’ll come off to your friends, but then you realize how deep your love is for one another and how faith has rooted your companionship.

You may be wondering how I’m tying my time in Tampa, Lent, and BFF’s. Well Jesus is at the center of all these things. To be the best missionary I can be, I need the Lord, and the friends who keep me on track to seeking him in all ways. Between all the “dying alone with a billion cats” conversations and emojis, we have fruitful discussions all stemmed from our divinely inspired forced love by entering the same Household, Regina Angelorum, at Franciscan University.

In discussions with these nameless friends, I have come to grips(I’m testing out new vocab) with my transition to Tampa. I don’t need to be in that lovely city in South Sudan to serve Christ, it doesn’t have to be physical labor where I can see my actual real-time result of change. But it’s from conversations where I’ve realized that I have changed from all these great moments and that this is for the better. I’ve loved, prayed, and interacted better from the circumstances I have been in. And these friends are the ones reminding me that I am worthy of this change for the better.

The title of this blogpost is taken from T.Swifts, Out of the Woods. The line before it states that the world is black and white, followed by “and we were in screaming color.” Super cheesy, but the world has been formed, molded, and revolutionized by people. Each of our “colors” has impacted the world in little ways or large ways. Your city would be different without you, and at the same time you take on a bit of the city. So this Lent is a good time to see if you’re putting in good color or bad color to your surroundings and relationships.

Lent is a time of change, a time of constant re-evaluation. A time where you acknowledge your short-comings, where growth is lacking, and how you can better yourself in all aspects. I hope you all have humans you can go to that will always be seeking Christ for you and from you. I’m blessed to have this support system as I learn my role at Mary Help, which still seems to be a lot, but my strength is taken from my Provider and those who also seek Him.

A poem about my friends that wasn’t written by Pope Francis or myself.

We need saints without veil or cassock.
We need saints who wear jeans and sneakers. (Though one of my friends wouldn’t be caught dead in jeans AND sneakers) 
We need saints who go to the movies, listen to music and hang out with friends.
We need saints who put God in first place, but who let go of their power.
We need saints who have time everyday to pray and who know how to date in purity and chastity, or who consecrate their chastity.
We need modern saints, Saints of the 21st century with a spirituality that is part of our time.
We need saints committed to the poor and the necessary social changes.
We need saints who live in the world and who are sanctified in the world, who are not afraid to live in the world.
We need saints who drink Coke and eat hot dogs, who wear jeans, who are Internet-savvy, who listen to CDs.
We need saints who passionately love the Eucharist and who are not ashamed to drink a soda or eat pizza on weekends with friends.
We need saints who like movies, the theater, music, dance, sports.
We need saints who are social, open, normal, friendly, happy and who are good companions.
We need saints who are in the world and know how to taste the pure and nice things of the world but who aren’t of the world.

I get by with a little help from my friends.

Almost Tampa time!

So I’m SOOO excited to be going to Tampa next week-but, in my free-ish time I’ve been making a small video of pictures and hilarious videos from Wau. If you want to view, go for it, if not, that’s okay!

Go here!

There isn’t music, but if you feel like setting the mood, please play this song during non-video parts.

 

Enjoy.

May your days be filled with peace and a whole lot of joy and grace.

-Taylor

These are my reflections.

If you didn’t sing/read the title with the classic Usher tune, “These are my confessions”, please listen to that line, then re-read, once you’ve done that you can return to the blog already in progress.

I have been in America for approximately 3.5 weeks. As I type that sentence I sip my keurig coffee, pet my adorable puppy, Pumpkin, use Wifi with ease, but stare longingly at 3 letters I received yesterday from South Sudan via the post office in Ethiopia and Sr. Thuy. All of these are things, but one holds more value than the rest (okay, I’m removing Pumpkin from this equation because she is literally the cutest). 3 months in Africa has my heart in a weird place, and trying to imagine myself returning from a year over there has it in an even weirder place.

America is nice, don’t get me wrong, but it’s been a little hard transitioning back. I would hope to say I’m at least a little different. My first instance of believing this was unpacking my life. That isn’t a deep sentence, I literally had to pack up my entire room before I left because my sister moved into my room. So, that moment of going into my basement and just looking at all my stuff was an awkward moment. I was wrestling with I HATE THINGS/BUT I LOVE THIS DRESS/WHO LET ME GET ALL THIS CRAP/THANKS MOM AND DAD FOR SUPPORTING ME BUT SAY NO MORE.

I feel weird driving on paved roads, no wild goats running into the compound, not spending 24/7 with a community where we would Zumba and craft and just share our cultures. But, I am grateful for puppy kisses, that the Mass is unifying my soul to where my feet want to be, real coffee, surprise letters, that the internet can connect people separated by thousands of miles, that I can leave my phone at home, mainly because I sometimes forget its useful here, and that photos can recreate the happiest of memories.

Sure it was weird to eat meat again, and, I have had chipotle 3 times, and no e.coli, though I feel like getting that will be nothing compared to malaria.

I did get to visit the school I did City Year at last year (check this link for info on this great organization) and talk to my students from last year about conditions in Africa, a topic that they’re studying right now (about the whole world, not just Africa). They were attentive and asked super great and random questions. Such as, “Did you use the thing Ariel does to wash her clothes?”, “Did you know anyone who fell in a cesspit?”, “If I donate 10 cents a day, will they actually get it?”. I informed them that fourth graders in Africa are just as sassy as them, and one of my students informed me “I doubt it.”. She is probably right, but maybe just her. I also had the opportunity to attend a reunion of a school mission trip I was able to chaperone last year to Nicaragua. The students are either seniors in high school or their first year of college. It was wonderful to see where service had influenced them and how they were adjusting to a new time in their lives.

I’ve had productive time at home, and a lot of lazy-catch-up-on-netflix-time, but I am now slowly preparing for my next adventure! I am headed to Tampa, Florida to join a fellow SLM (who is also from Massachusetts!) to join Fr. Steve and the crew down at Mary Help. I am so excited to be back with the organization, some of the greatest people I met on orientation way back in the day, and to be somewhere warm. And of course, close to Catherine’s hometown. I have no idea what Florida will hold, but I do know I’m absolutely thrilled to be continuing on this crazy adventure.

If you need me, I’ll be the only one at Costco picking up sunblock by the gallon and shorts, while the rest of Boston buckles down for wintahhh. #sorrynotsorry.

 

 

Home. The dictionary defines it as both a place of origin and a goal or destination

Cliché’s always seem to punch us in the face whenever we least expect it; which leads us to the cliché itself “it’ll happen when you least expect it.” Now that I have officially surprised my father’s side of the family Christmas morning, I can release this information on social media. Due to a string of tough illnesses, culminating in some kidney issues, after much prayer and discussion, it was determined that the best course of action was for me to return to America to rest, recouperate, and make a few visits to el doctor. Clearly I didn’t plan to return after 3 (wonderful/absurd/enlightening/insane/beautiful/unique) months of service, but, it was the necessary course of action for the moment. But alas, this year wasn’t meant to be what I planned, because, things never go as they are planned, nor it is always up to me. See what I mean about all the clichés?

 

Wau is a beautiful place that chewed me up, embraced me, guided me, and allowed me to see parts of myself that I didn’t know existed. I was gifted with the presence of too many wonderful, selfless, loving, caring, faithful, hilarious, and strange people. The students, community members, religious, and my loving volunteer #wausquad crew, all mean a great deal to me, and I am fortunate for our time together. I don’t believe it was the last time I’ll see them, and I’ll hold on to that hope very close to my heart.

 

The decision was made on December 12th, a Saturday, and I flew to Juba on the 14th. I spent 4 wonderful days in Juba, resting, recovering, and of course helping out at the Salesian summer camp with 3 wonderful SLM volunteers whom I had the absolute pleasure of getting to know this past summer at our orientation, pre-South Sudan. My heart is filled with so much gratitude, still, from that time with more kids, volunteers, and religious. I’m also thankful for the support of the communities as I transitioned home.

 

My last few weeks in Wau were filled with bed rest, IV’s, prescriptions, and so many selfless actions by my fellow volunteers, and religious community and I don’t know if I can thank them enough for all that they did for me. Huge shout out of thanks to Catherine (my live in nurse and one of the most patient humans I’ve ever met), Ania, Marta, Kazik, and Bartek, you guys are inspiring people.

 

Coming back to America was filled with so many tears, a multitude of joyful encounters, less sleep, and a lot of adjustment. But I did get to meet the puppy my parents replaced me with, (she’s def cuter than me, but I’m housetrained so I think I win that battle) experience a paved road, not have to tuck in my mosquito net, and was greeted by what seems to be the most freezing temperature I’ve ever experienced. This is a wild ride, but it’s not over, it’s just continuing in different places I wasn’t expecting, but life is never what you expect, and we should be grateful for that.

 

to sum up my time is impossible. it’s a work in progress. just know gratitude is the only word i’m using right now.

 

enjoy photos since they are much easier to upload in America.

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My group at oratory and their tearjerker goodbye.

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the middle girl is just comedy

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every sunset/sunrise was memorable and something that i’ll never forget

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…we found a box.

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one time i was Mary in a Wau-wide eucharistic procession. comedy.

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almost our whole community in a nutshell.

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yup, we had fun on the compound

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banana plants

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#africa

My Life is My Message

As I stood under the awning of the roof having dirty water flow over me, it was then I realized how even the littlest of moments have made me feel the most joy. You may be thinking, “this is it, Taylor has gone crazy.” This may be true, but, when you experience possibly the final great thunderstorm of the rainy season after 2.5 weeks without precipitation, and are headed for a few months of dry season, you can’t help but stand and take in all of what’s around you. As I stood there with Catherine and Marta, yelling MOYA FI! (WATER HERE!), and having the men working on the Sisters’ new home laugh and talk with us, I saw joy in each and every single second. What a beautiful thing.

I’ve seen joy in the most insane of moments. I see it in the classroom when I have to yell “SILAS WHY ARE YOUR PANTS OFF?” (True story), you need to laugh through the insane to get to the beautiful, the light at the end of a weird, weird tunnel that you never saw yourself in. I’ve experienced it in the face of a student when they finally get how to write a real sentence, and even better, a real paragraph. Their accomplishment, their deserved pride, their smile, causes a ripple (city year language!), their friends are happy for them, and I am beside myself with joy, because of their hard work.

Joy and silliness and ridiculousness overcome me with my daily marriage proposals, and my solid no every time, and how we continue with a conversation irrelevant like nothing has happened. It inundates me when we visit the 3 stores we’ve become ‘regulars’ at, Blue Nile, Nameless Arabic Store, and Africa Supermarket, where they let us go behind the counters to pick out our weekly cookies, Juba Cokes, orange soda cans, or the great Choco-Loco. When the Asian UN workers are loading up their truck with beverages and we ask them if it’s gonna be a big party. Even when we encounter more white people and stare at them like we’ve never seen white people before.

I’ve seen joy in incredibly frustrating moments. When I have to wake up in the morning, and see that my friends back home are awake, because it’s still technically yesterday, while I’m struggling not to make my “morning noise” (truly it’s just groaning/weird/yelping/whale speak sounds); but, I pour myself a cup of coffee, grab some bread, and watch the sky transition from an early, starry dawn, to the gorgeous breathtaking sunrise that happens EVERY. SINGLE. MORNING. I’ve felt joy when I lose my cool with 4th graders who just yell “TEACHER TEACHER RAPID ARABIC I OBVIOUSLY DON’T UNDERSTAND” and I go to give them the ‘Ms. Taylor face’ that my students from last year would become mute in a second, but, the kiddos here just mimic it, and I have to laugh at how absurd I feel. Also when I try to journal, because I hate journaling, and you can even message Catherine and ask her how I try to postpone writing about my day, but as I look back into what I’ve written in the early days, I see all the moments where I was gifted joy since arriving in Africa.

In the daily moments of riding in the bed of truck, feeling the wind whip around my face, children yelling ‘CAWAIJJA’, Daily Mass, Student Patricia doing what she thinks is an American accent-truly, she sounds like a man from Texas and I cry from laughing whenever I hear it. Seeing my students in public places, because, GASP, teachers are humans too and leave their compounds, and they come over at the market or after mass and they want to talk. Of course, I always lovingly remind them of their homework they have due for me. When a street boy asks “mashi Don Bosco?” AND I UNDERSTOOD A QUESTION IN ARABIC AND ANSWERED IT! (Are you going to Don Bosco? ‘La.’ No.)

With my fellow volunteers, joy comes in abundance. Whether it’s doing the Don Bosco voice, pretending to be Mary, riddles to figure out English words, being taught Polish words, celebrating each other’s holidays, Ralph the Well Man, having the One Direction album downloaded, weekly movie nights, sharing treats from the homeland, talking of loved ones, dance parties, community prayer evenings, sharing colds (malesh {sorry} that was entirely my fault), having things happen that are completely #justafricaproblems, forming a band, having our hit song be “Typhoid or Malaria”, photo shoots with banana trees, being someone to lean on, to cry with, to be absolutely confused with, morning tea/coffee parties, and simply just being with one another on this wacky journey we were all destined for.

The past few weeks have been filled to the brim with activities and business. The best by far was our Community Thanksgiving. After 3 weeks of prayerful preparation, we had a Friday evening and a full Saturday of prayer, gratitude, food, and affirmation. To see how events like these occur truly allows for us to see what special occasions are like and how they should be treated. We used special plates and silverware, were gifted Angry Birds pencil cases, soap, pens, and a squeaky mouse toy, and we even got the true treat of CHOCOLATE. We wrote how each person in community is truly a missionary of joy, and we watched a slideshow of what each person wrote about another, viewed the videos of Pope Francis, and wore crowns of smiley faces and affirmations about us. We had a community photo shoot and learned how to work a timer on a camera.

Clearly this was my first Thanksgiving that lacked commerciality, and truly focused on how immaterial things bring true joy and gratitude. We had a wonderful day with an early morning prayer, mass, the celebration of Sr. Ninet’s 60th birthday-cake for breakfast!, bread baked with eggs and bacon (slathered that ish with peanut butter, America Forever) and then we got to leave the compound (oh boy‼‼) and ventured to CHTI, Catholic Health and Technical Institute (a university in Wau, that I’m like 78% sure is the right name) where we played Mafia with the sisters, had a game of trivia, threw a Frisbee, and feasted on spaghetti, kimbolitos (bread baked with wine), and lemonade. The day was filled with relaxation, prayer-filled conversations, a performance by the Cawaijettes, a day spent with all 10 of the community, which isn’t going to happen again til March, and most of all, void of any talk of looming exams. The sisters recognized every aspect of our community, besides the religious sisters, and the volunteers, they also thought of house personnel, and the workers who are building their new home. We would not be functioning without their presence, and presence is key.

How can we be a community if we are not truly with one another? ‘Surely’ you must be thinking ‘surely Taylor it’s easy to be present.’ False my dear friends, obviously we have Wi-Fi, books, headphones, and things to think about that we think are more important than the human in front of us. The 3 teachers have exams coming up, lack of teachers, and stresses about the school and students in general, the nurse has to run the dispensary for 2 days, people who come in with more than physical injuries and problems, and we all experience moments where we are thinking of home, missing people (just Chipotle on my behalf) and experiencing sorrow and losing our immediate focus. But, we just need to dial it back a sec, and see this child/patient/sister/volunteer in front of us needs just us here and they aren’t asking for more in that moment. It’s easy to get caught up, we’re human, we have faults, needs, and desires, but it’s not the Aveda Kedvara/kiss of death, it’s forgivable, and we have the ability to continue onward and improve ourselves. Just because tragedy strikes, it doesn’t mean we should be saying, “I love you” more or bonding together the world, we should constantly be striving for that harmony. Now I’m not saying lets hold hands and sing kumbaya, but look at who’s in front of you, see them truly as they’re meant to be seen, and love them there as much as you can. True presence brings about true joy, and true joy leads to a more loving and peaceful heart.

 

“My life is my message”- Gandhi

(hopefully people don’t look back on this and think my life message was to be a banana tree model.)

My Life Is My Message

As I stood under the awning of the roof having dirty water flow over me, it was then I realized how even the littlest of moments have made me feel the most joy. You may be thinking, “this is it, Taylor has gone crazy.” This may be true, but, when you experience possibly the final great thunderstorm of the rainy season after 2.5 weeks without precipitation, and are headed for a few months of dry season, you can’t help but stand and take in all of what’s around you. As I stood there with Catherine and Marta, yelling MOYA FI! (WATER HERE!), and having the men working on the Sisters’ new home laugh and talk with us, I saw joy in each and every single second. What a beautiful thing.

I’ve seen joy in the most insane of moments. I see it in the classroom when I have to yell “SILAS WHY ARE YOUR PANTS OFF?” (True story), you need to laugh through the insane to get to the beautiful, the light at the end of a weird, weird tunnel that you never saw yourself in. I’ve experienced it in the face of a student when they finally get how to write a real sentence, and even better, a real paragraph. Their accomplishment, their deserved pride, their smile, causes a ripple (city year language!), their friends are happy for them, and I am beside myself with joy, because of their hard work.

Joy and silliness and ridiculousness overcome me with my daily marriage proposals, and my solid no every time, and how we continue with a conversation irrelevant like nothing has happened. It inundates me when we visit the 3 stores we’ve become ‘regulars’ at, Blue Nile, Nameless Arabic Store, and Africa Supermarket, where they let us go behind the counters to pick out our weekly cookies, Juba Cokes, orange soda cans, or the great Choco-Loco. When the Asian UN workers are loading up their truck with beverages and we ask them if it’s gonna be a big party. Even when we encounter more white people and stare at them like we’ve never seen white people before.

I’ve seen joy in incredibly frustrating moments. When I have to wake up in the morning, and see that my friends back home are awake, because it’s still technically yesterday, while I’m struggling not to make my “morning noise” (truly it’s just groaning/weird/yelping/whale speak sounds); but, I pour myself a cup of coffee, grab some bread, and watch the sky transition from an early, starry dawn, to the gorgeous breathtaking sunrise that happens EVERY. SINGLE. MORNING. I’ve felt joy when I lose my cool with 4th graders who just yell “TEACHER TEACHER RAPID ARABIC I OBVIOUSLY DON’T UNDERSTAND” and I go to give them the ‘Ms. Taylor face’ that my students from last year would become mute in a second, but, the kiddos here just mimic it, and I have to laugh at how absurd I feel. Also when I try to journal, because I hate journaling, and you can even message Catherine and ask her how I try to postpone writing about my day, but as I look back into what I’ve written in the early days, I see all the moments where I was gifted joy since arriving in Africa.

In the daily moments of riding in the bed of truck, feeling the wind whip around my face, children yelling ‘CAWAIJJA’, Daily Mass, Student Patricia doing what she thinks is an American accent-truly, she sounds like a man from Texas and I cry from laughing whenever I hear it. Seeing my students in public places, because, GASP, teachers are humans too and leave their compounds, and they come over at the market or after mass and they want to talk. Of course, I always lovingly remind them of their homework they have due for me. When a street boy asks “mashi Don Bosco?” AND I UNDERSTOOD A QUESTION IN ARABIC AND ANSWERED IT! (Are you going to Don Bosco? ‘La.’ No.)

With my fellow volunteers, joy comes in abundance. Whether it’s doing the Don Bosco voice, pretending to be Mary, riddles to figure out English words, being taught Polish words, celebrating each other’s holidays, Ralph the Well Man, having the One Direction album downloaded, weekly movie nights, sharing treats from the homeland, talking of loved ones, dance parties, community prayer evenings, sharing colds (malesh {sorry} that was entirely my fault), having things happen that are completely #justafricaproblems, forming a band, having our hit song be “Typhoid or Malaria”, photo shoots with banana trees, being someone to lean on, to cry with, to be absolutely confused with, morning tea/coffee parties, and simply just being with one another on this wacky journey we were all destined for.

The past few weeks have been filled to the brim with activities and business. The best by far was our Community Thanksgiving. After 3 weeks of prayerful preparation, we had a Friday evening and a full Saturday of prayer, gratitude, food, and affirmation. To see how events like these occur truly allows for us to see what special occasions are like and how they should be treated. We used special plates and silverware, were gifted Angry Birds pencil cases, soap, pens, and a squeaky mouse toy, and we even got the true treat of CHOCOLATE. We wrote how each person in community is truly a missionary of joy, and we watched a slideshow of what each person wrote about another, viewed the videos of Pope Francis, and wore crowns of smiley faces and affirmations about us. We had a community photo shoot and learned how to work a timer on a camera.

Clearly this was my first Thanksgiving that lacked commerciality, and truly focused on how immaterial things bring true joy and gratitude. We had a wonderful day with an early morning prayer, mass, the celebration of Sr. Ninet’s 60th birthday-cake for breakfast!, bread baked with eggs and bacon (slathered that ish with peanut butter, America Forever) and then we got to leave the compound (oh boy‼‼) and ventured to CHTI, Catholic Health and Technical Institute (a university in Wau, that I’m like 78% sure is the right name) where we played Mafia with the sisters, had a game of trivia, threw a Frisbee, and feasted on spaghetti, kimbolitos (bread baked with wine), and lemonade. The day was filled with relaxation, prayer-filled conversations, a performance by the Cawaijettes, a day spent with all 10 of the community, which isn’t going to happen again til March, and most of all, void of any talk of looming exams. The sisters recognized every aspect of our community, besides the religious sisters, and the volunteers, they also thought of house personnel, and the workers who are building their new home. We would not be functioning without their presence, and presence is key.

How can we be a community if we are not truly with one another? ‘Surely’ you must be thinking ‘surely Taylor it’s easy to be present.’ False my dear friends, obviously we have Wi-Fi, books, headphones, and things to think about that we think are more important than the human in front of us. The 3 teachers have exams coming up, lack of teachers, and stresses about the school and students in general, the nurse has to run the dispensary for 2 days, people who come in with more than physical injuries and problems, and we all experience moments where we are thinking of home, missing people (just Chipotle on my behalf) and experiencing sorrow and losing our immediate focus. But, we just need to dial it back a sec, and see this child/patient/sister/volunteer in front of us needs just us here and they aren’t asking for more in that moment. It’s easy to get caught up, we’re human, we have faults, needs, and desires, but it’s not the Aveda Kedvara/kiss of death, it’s forgivable, and we have the ability to continue onward and improve ourselves. Just because tragedy strikes, it doesn’t mean we should be saying, “I love you” more or bonding together the world, we should constantly be striving for that harmony. Now I’m not saying lets hold hands and sing kumbaya, but look at who’s in front of you, see them truly as they’re meant to be seen, and love them there as much as you can. True presence brings about true joy, and true joy leads to a more loving and peaceful heart.

 

“My life is my message”- Gandhi

(hopefully people don’t look back on this and think my life message was to be a banana tree model.)

P4 Girls before their performance

Feel Your Feelings

I need to thank a few people at home for the title of this blog post, and don’t worry, this won’t be a gush-fest. (You know who you are) Feel your feelings, from the idea that we have feelings, and you need to have them, and what you feel about your feelings. We normally use it in a very sarcastic way, but this one is genuine, I promise.

Nearing 2 months in Africa, I’ve had a lot of times to feel a variety of feelings. I have felt sadness, homesickness, absolute joy, lively faith, anger, frustration, and indifference. Now I know what you must be saying “Taylor, what! In your monthly email you said Africa sprinkles flowers of joy from your heart and you vomit rainbows” Okay, I’ve never said it, nor have I been sending monthly emails, but you get the gist. Authentic emotions are raw and necessary to truly experience life.

Anger and frustration are the ones I’m going to tackle first-just so you don’t skip my entire awesome blog post to read if Catherine has done something terrible to me (she hasn’t.) These are feelings I knew I was going to feel, but I didn’t know how or when it would occur. Frustration came first, about a week ago, when I finally began to see the relationships with my students strengthen and become something real. I became frustrated that these joyful, sometimes angelic children have been faced with too many difficult things long before they needed to (in my eyes.) Why have they seen poverty, war, loss, death, and hunger before they could write a paragraph? How could this sweet girl/boy laugh at recess with her/his friends, when she lost her family in some horrible, tragic way. Then the frustration turned into anger. How could I, a sheltered, white, American girl say things like “ugh if I don’t get Chipotle today, my day is going to be the worst.” That thought did it for me, I realized “how could I even think about me right now?” That’s when I looked at the students, looked at them each, individually for the first time. Then anger and frustration dissolved, and everywhere I looked, I saw love, joy, patience, and faith.

Break at Auxilium (recess for you Americans), is my favorite time. For an hour, I’m not teaching, or chastising someone for throwing something across the classroom. I see so many games being played with nothing more than dirt, rocks, water bottles, cans, and people. There’s an intricate game of lines drawn in the dirt and running from line to line without getting tagged- I lose every time. Then the rock game that kind of seems like they make it up as they go, followed by the game of football (soccer) they play with a water bottle, and they laugh very hard at me trying to play in a maxi skirt. (I didn’t bring anything fashionable for a soccer game) Their smiles brighten my day, their laughter warms my soul, even when they’re trying to impersonate me and imitate my laugh and it makes me sound like a dog mixed with a donkey, it’s still music to my ears. It’s how they try so hard in class, writing even when they’re frustrated because they don’t understand me, and not giving up. When they ask absurd questions to make me laugh and they make me realize when I need to lighten up. Their selfless love and actions move me. They want to hear about America, see pictures of my family, pose in ridiculous ways for me to take their photos. How can I not see joy in every interaction? When they ask me how old I am, and tell me I’m so young and have so much time for life, I see a genuine care, interest, and desire into getting to know me as a person, which shows that they have begun to accept crazy, white, redheaded me. They show me what I should have been searching for since day 1. Them, getting to know them as individuals, not as P6, or P4, not as war-torn individuals, because they are more than that, they are not their circumstances. Each day I’m grateful that they were able to know that long before my slow mind pieced it together.

We’ve had a busy few weeks at our schools and in our community. Saint Joseph’s had their School Festival last week, complete with a little carnival of games and prizes, just like we had on Mission Sunday, Mass at school, and all of it culminating last Saturday with the big event the students, Ania, and Sr. Thuy had been prepping for, for a long time. Each grade learned a song and dance, and performed for their family members and community. After we had a little dance party and a rap battle happened between the head boy and some of his fellow classmates. Catherine and I got to show off our sweet American dance moves, and listened to the battle that had the lyrics “South Sudan…Superstar” and something about Saint Joseph’s being better than the rest.

KG stealing the show and hearts.Cathy and I on HalloweenMarta and I pre-crazy day at Aux

Auxilium hosted their Education Day on the 31st, also this blogger’s favorite Americanized holiday, Halloween. Students from each grade have been prepping for a while for their performance. Nursery/Kindergarten stole the show and the hearts of the crowd. Singing ‘This Little Light Of Mine’ with an older student playing the Devil and then Jesus was easily the highlight of my 2 months in Africa. The P6 boys I have the pleasure of teaching and coaching in forming pyramids and acrobatics did a few things that made my heart stop beating for a moment, but they too caused a silent wave of awe through the crowd. There were a few empowering moments, with a girl doing an interpretive dance to a poem and song about South Sudan finding freedom and seeing the light of independence and being proud to be South Sudanese.

P6 DanceAuxilium

That leads me to a recent classwork assignment I gave my P6 students. “Write me 4 paragraphs on what it means to you to be South Sudanese, or from South Sudan.” Frustration came back to me, after weeks of explaining that a single sentence isn’t a paragraph, we’re clearly still learning. But, the frustration was eased by a few students who blew me out of the water. “Being South Sudanese means that I am free, we have lost people, but they have done this for me to be free, and to get an education, and to make a better South Sudan for those who come after me.” Or they explained the flag and what it represents, and what that means to them. I feel honored that students share so much with me. Sure I’ve been feeling frustrated with students when they aren’t getting what I’m saying, but it’s caused me to look at what I can do for them; when I was in school I learned a different way and teachers took their time to teach me in the way I needed to learn, how can I not continue with the ways I was blessed, for someone else?

two of my wonderful P6 boys.P6 Boys doing their variety of pyramid stunts.

On the personal/community prayer life front, each week a sister in the community is “Bishop” and she leads all prayers, Angelus, grace, evening and morning prayers etc. On Tuesdays they have a community meeting so we don’t attend evening prayer with them, so we talked about having our own prayer time. Catherine kicked us off last week talking about offering all of us to God, and how we have all these things, but we only offer what we think He needs, and keep things to ourselves. We need to fully empty ourselves to be His vessels. We prayed with a song called All I Am. The verses we reflected on were “Take these hands, I know they’re empty but with You they can be used for beauty in Your perfect plan, all I am is Yours. Take these feet, I know they stumble but You use the weak, You use the humble, so please use me.” Today I’m the “Bishop” and it’s something I’ve been thinking about it. We need to be grateful for our time and interactions here because they are for a purpose that is greater than this year. So I’m making November a month of Gratitude. I’m using a quote from Henri Nouwen, “Every time we decide to be grateful, it will be easier to see new things to be grateful for.” I was reading an article in Relevant (online) Magazine about curbing cynicism. The best section and most relevant (hehehe see what I did there) was titled “Believe the Best about the World.” Raise your hand if you’ve heard of a positive thing about South Sudan. (excluding the visits of Tom Hiddleston and George Clooney.) This correlates with the beginning of my post. The things you’ve heard about South Sudan haven’t been great, but the world thrives on negativity and cynicism. We are drawn to car crashes for a reason. Humans love tragedy. But, we should love beauty and truth more than these things. Each person is an “image-bearer of God.” So while children here have had to grow up faster and have seen terrible things, their faith, love, joy, and strength overflows and dissolves the negative, hatred, and cynicism we’ve grown accustomed to love in some sick manner.

P4 Girls before their performance

                                    Ephesians 3:14-21

Prayer for the Readers: For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen

This may be a moment where I’ve used a Bible passage and skewed it to what I think it means, so apologies in advance for that. But #mywordsmyblog #idowhatiwant.

Lastly, our community is doing something AWESOME. Well, we normally are, so this is double the awesome. The sisters have decided to do a 3 week preparation for our Community Day, our own little Thanksgiving (not the American holiday). So for 3 weeks, we are preparing ourselves by 1) focusing on the mission the FMA Sisters have deemed for this time period, becoming missionaries of joy and hope, 2) taking each week to have a theme, last week was Think Positive, this week is Speak Positive, and next week is Act Positive, 3) having an intention for each day of the 3 weeks, so each of us has a day where we are prayed for, so far we’ve prayed for other communities, our schools, and our clinic. We are praying and living with these specific intentions to spread the Gospel, care, good attitude, and love. As someone who is known for feeling joy often, and sometimes, apparently, too loudly, my heart was and is very grateful for this time as a community. Today we are praying for House Personnel, so please throw up a prayer for them if you have time!

Things I’m Currently Grateful For: Lazy holiday mornings. Peanut Brittle. Halloween. Coffee. Sleep. Water. Surprise cards hidden in my luggage. School events. The boys at Oratory. Hugs. Pope Saint John Paul II. Emails. Chipotle not closing on the East Coast, gratitude for all my friends who emailed me of such an important update. Dance Parties. Craft time. Walks around Wau. Riding in the beds of trucks. Cemeteries. Photos. St. Louis de Montfort. Scary Stories. Linda Traini. MB Rosa and JP Manning on their birthday weeks. Messages from BAM;Megan Nash. A lizard falling on me and only crying a little. The new One Direction album I look forward to listening to eventually.

ice cream!Cemetery on All Souls Day in LokolokoAuxilia and I post school day.

Lions, Tigers, Feast Days, Oh My!

Just to preface, I tricked you to get here. There are lions and tigers in Africa….but I haven’t seen them. BUT, I have been a part of many feast days and celebrations, and I truly want to share about all the excitement. I’ve also been waiting to use that silly expression with my time here in Africa because it’s punny and lame. Sorry, not sorry.

Our first major celebration was the arrival of Sister Chantal from Rome. The Salesian spirituality is very big on being welcoming. With that, comes creating welcoming songs. So this celebration coincided with the creation of South Sudan’s first all white, all female pop/praise and worship group. The Cawaijettes, (White/Foreigner in Arabic with American spelling) made their debut with their only song, The Stand, from their soon-to-never-be-released album, Typhoid or Malaria. Sister Chantal is probably one of the sweetest, most humble, faithful, and joyful spirits I’ve ever encountered. She radiated gratitude and the true spirit of Don Bosco. Each time she was welcomed, to our community, St. Joseph’s Primary School, the Dispensary, Auxilium Basic School, and our Oratory in Bilfam, her genuine love and gratefulness for each child and adult was beautiful. Sister was here to see our programs, successes, struggles, and divinely inspired adventures. The volunteers were lucky enough to have our own meeting with her. Personally, after the meeting, I felt and still feel lucky to have been called to South Sudan, to be grateful that I get to meet some of the most amazing youth that have walked earth, and to glorify God in each action and encounter.

I am lucky/fortunate/blessed to have the people of Wau. Sr. Chantal’s visit was capped with all the sisters in South Sudan descending upon Wau. Tonj, Wau, and Juba were all represented for a 1-day conference. I was truly appreciative of seeing such a reunion. It was like a coming home, very familial, and a sign of the universality of the Church in a community. My second favorite moment of this time was at Oratory. After some chasing-mainly a game, secondly children fearful of getting their face painted by me (I understand, I’ve never been an artist, so I validate their running), I had one of the best interactions ever. The boys in 11-15 are hard shells to crack. I’m new, I don’t speak their language, I’m just different. So face painting was a hard no, until I gathered the courage, go to their “leader” and make a deal. I get to draw on his face, he gets to draw on mine. Hopefully if I can attach pictures to this post, you’ll see his artwork. I drew a heart, he drew a 3D cross. My heart and mind were blown. I was humbled and filled with a joyful heart after this that nothing could change my feelings about this place. Lastly, I got to hold a baby that didn’t scream in terror when seeing this strange creature known as a white human with flaming orange hair. It’s the little things, folks.

Our second celebration was the feast day of St. Daniel Comboni. This was to be a weekend-long feasting. We were invited to the mass at St. Comboni parish on 10/10/15, and lucky us, we non-Arabic-speaking folk were seated front row. These Arabic masses seem lengthy, but they’re captivating and Spirit filled. I may have zero idea what is going on, but you know when the Lord is present. People are so welcoming, I still can’t get over it. Coming over to shake our hands and greet us, and using the same common phrase, “Arabic mafi? English mafi!” Basically saying “you know no Arabic? My English is just as bad!” And then we laugh and try to communicate anyway. What I love about Arabic feast masses is the art and culture that is integrated. Girls in colorful skirts and holding baskets, dance down the aisles with intricate handwork, the boys, wear grass skirts and hold sticks and do some crafty footwork that I think I can pick up. There is so much singing, praising, and joy flowing throughout the Mass. Something that stood out to me was the rosary some Sisters had. It was multicolored and looked so familiar. Then it hit me, I have that rosary.

Cool Africa moment in the making story about to happen! A few years ago, my really awesome friend from Franciscan did some missionary work in Romania. There she encountered Sisters with these rosaries and brought a couple back, with the promise that those people who get it would pray for Africa. I was one of the few who received this rosary. Little did I know the man on it was St. Daniel Comboni, and that I would be celebrating his feast day in South Sudan. One of those small moments revealing to me that I’m meant to be here, lucky/blessed/fortunate me. Look up St. Daniel Comboni and you will see the missionary spirit that captivated peoples for so long. After Mass we got to see the church and began taking pictures, which then turned into ‘everyone takes pictures with us like we’re Taylor Swift and her posse’, I’m beginning to see how celebrities punch paparazzi’s in the face back in America, I can’t imagine never having personal time. (Not condoning violence at all, my friends). Moving on to the next day, we were invited to a big lunch where we learned about St. Daniel Comboni, eat foods that I still don’t know what they were, and get to meet more volunteers, religious, and families of Wau. Each day I’m meeting more and more people who have been sent on a crazy journey to Wau and with that I’m realizing what Mother Teresa meant when she said that we are a drop in the ocean, and the ocean would be that drop less if we weren’t here. Obviously paraphrased as my memory recalls, but it is true. Wau would be having a different year if a different volunteer was sent here-that thought is hard to grasp, but something I’ve been reflecting a lot on.

The last big day for us that I’m going to reflect on was yesterday! World Mission day, as we lovingly called “our feast day” was a giant, tiring, party. The Sisters basically create a carnival with games like Ring Toss, Lucky Number, and Pin the Tail on the Cat. We’ve been prepping for a couple weeks, stamping and cutting out hundreds of tickets, learning our games, and making decorations. Trying to sell a game to people speaking in Arabic, while knowing only English, has made me confident I could get a job in sales back in America. The games were fun, the time spent meeting more of the community was great, but truly the message of Mission Sunday was moving. We are called to be the Gospel everywhere. At home, in friendships, across the country, but mainly as Pope Francis is hitting home, in the family. Families look different everywhere, you have your blood relatives that you can’t switch out, no matter how hard you try (5 year old Taylor tried to drive a hard bargain, so knowing this lesson sooner would of saved a lot of time) or the people that become family to you through a variety of ways. I began to reflect (I do this often in case you didn’t pick up on it) on those who have been this person to me. I have many people to thank for being my guides into Catholicism, to those who kept me on the path, and to those who kicked my butt (here’s to you Linda Traini).

When I was in college, good ol’ Franciscan University of Steubenville, I was siting in Finnegan Fieldhouse when I heard this line “if being Catholic became a crime, would you be convicted?” College Taylor was still searching for her place in the faith, and this line would cause nights of distress, questioning, and then ultimately peace. The past is the past, and I can’t change things I’ve done or said, but from here on out, I can choose my actions, words, and life. I wanted to live my life, so that if my faith became a crime, I would spend some time in the slammer. Thinking of World Mission Day, just because I’m in Africa, here with the Salesian Sisters, doesn’t mean I’d get arrested. And I really like that. I need to work each day to live as a Catholic, I can’t get comfortable, complacent, or even just say “but I’m a missionary” (I haven’t said that, and I want someone to hit me very hard if those words ever leave my mouth.) We need to live our faith in moments of trial, in venting to friends in e-mails, in the pew, in the pulpit, and in our conversations with God. This could be irrelevant to the rest of my post, but hey, my blog, my life.

Things I’m Currently Grateful For: Bags of Choco’ Loco-chocolate cream-filled wafers. The bread I like at lunch. Telling fairytales to P6. Group hugs shared by volunteers. Catholic’s being creatures of habit and finally having “our pew” at morning mass. Pumpkin, the dog my family decided to buy without me. Catherine letting me have “let me think about my life and how I got here and I feel overwhelmed” moments. Finally having my students call me Teacher Taylor and not Sister Taylor. Country music and how it makes me feel like I’m in America for a few moments. People who selflessly think of me first. Planning Halloween for the volunteers. Already talking about Christmas. Planning a party for when all the sisters leave us in Wau in December. I love you texts from mom. Sunsets. Wearing a cardigan in the morning because I thought 79 was chilly. And Lion King sing alongs when we’re tired and goofy.

What a boy in my Oratory group drew!

What a boy in my Oratory group drew!

Catherine's photography

Catherine’s photography