Giving and Receiving

For the past two years I have been looking for a way to help other people. I brainstormed ideas of starting non-profits to help kids in the inner-city of Milwaukee or comfort people with terminal illnesses, but nothing clicked. Then the perfect opportunity was placed in my lap: one of my mom’s co-workers and close family friend Pam Borgardt’s husband was going through a very challenging medical journey, which had left him in the hospital for the past four months. All of that originated from a spider bite twenty years ago while he was in training for a new job in the Wisconsin Dells. Because of that bite he endured an amputation and complications with multiple major organs. The stress from work, bills, and getting to spend time with her husband weighed heavily on Pam. That is when it was proposed to hold a fundraiser for Pam and the Borgardts.

My mom presented the idea to me as a summer project and I was overjoyed. I have known Pam for years and the opportunity to help her warmed my heart. The Borgardt’s motto for life is to give more than they receive, and now it was our turn to give to them. The family is active in their church and Cedarburg community and they are always looking to help others before themselves. Pam gratefully accepted our gift. Unfortunately, a few weeks later on June 11th Scott passed away. We decided to continue the fundraiser to honor Scott and Pam.

   Discovery House   is a service based gap year experience for individuals ages 18-24.   Participants can select commitments of one month, a semester or a full academic year. 

Discovery House is a service based gap year experience for individuals ages 18-24.   Participants can select commitments of one month, a semester or a full academic year. 

Whereas most fundraisers come together in nine or more months, my mom and I had two. In a month we pulled together a venue and I created a website. The last month was organizing raffle donations and more. This past Sunday, July 22nd was the event: the Borgardt Benefit. Our high-estimate was that 250 people would attend the event. The day before the event, we had over 330 RSVP’s, and the head count at the event was over 400. Families drove from Minnesota, Illinois, and some even flew in from Florida. The amount of people that attended to celebrate Scott and support the family was overwhelming.

I can do all things through Jesus who strengthens me.
— Phillipians 4:13

The Borgardt Benefit has been so much more than getting individuals to give us their money, it has been a reminder and lesson about how to live and appreciate life. The horrific medical journey Scott went through can happen to any of us. In any moment our lives can be dramatically changed; loved ones can be ripped away, we can get sick or injured. Nothing can be taken for granted. The past few months have also taught me how to treat other people. Pam and Scott have been receiving support from people all across the nation purely because of the way they treat people: with kindness, integrity, and an open heart. Anyone that meets them instantly wants to become their friend. And all the years of compassion and humility have demonstrated their significance in the past few months. People practically lined the streets to help them. It reminds us that simply being a good person goes a long way.

We hope you will take time to learn more about the Borgardts and consider a gift to support them. 

 

Questions for Reflection

·       What do you take for granted?

·       How are you looking to help others?

 
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Amira Elsafy, a rising senior at Dominican High School, lives in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.  She attended the local public schools until high school where she has become active at Dominican.  She has been the class Student Council President,  a member of the honor roll for the past four years and loves to volunteer.  Outside of the academic world, you will find Amira on the stage, recently winning an award for playing the Witch in “Big Fish”. In the next year, she will share her experiences of failure and success, friendships, family her senior journey through the college process and ultimately how all of this impacts her faith.

Dad Jokes and Blackberry Joy

Apparently, I smile a lot.

Not that this is a bad thing.  My students, back when I was a classroom theology teacher, used to tell me that I smiled all the time.  While I certainly didn't feel this way, they insisted that they could not imagine me getting angry because I just seemed so happy all the time.  I would tell them with a wry smile that they should talk to my children because they definitely knew that I get angry at times!  But it is with a bit of wistfulness that I do remember feeling a general sense of happiness and a more-or-less pervasive positivity in the not-too-distant past.

            Sadly, it's been awhile since I have felt that way.

I think there are many reasons for this.  I have traversed some unexpected personal and emotional terrain during the past couple of years that have taken my soul by surprise.  The trek through this tundra, although necessary and meaningful, has been arduous, painful at times, and wearing on my spirit.  Additionally, I think the nearly continuous news streams of distressing societal events has similarly taken a toll on my spirit.  There have definitely been moments when I've been near despair and have had difficulty hanging onto a thread of hope, despite being a person of deep faith.  I also think that, if I'm honest with myself, I've fallen into one of the traps of being a "good person," which is to lose sight of the very good that I'm hoping to embody.  Elizabeth Gilbert, in an interview with Krista Tippett from The On Being Project, shared, "And you know, you have to be careful about this, especially when you have an impulse to be a good person — a “good person,” and your definition of a good person is somebody who gives everything to others. It's a beautiful impulse, but if it's done from a place of only giving darkness and suffering your attention, then you become somebody who's very difficult to be around. [laughs] There's a lovely line that this British columnist said, one time, that “You can always tell people who live for others by the anguished expressions on the faces of the others. [laughs]”[1]

            This is not what I want for myself.

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So, with the awareness that I am experiencing a disconnect between the person that I hope to be (and perhaps even the person that I project to others) and the person that I perceive myself to actually be, I have decided to pray during these summer months for the gift of joy.  Ironically, it's with a little internal chuckle that I acknowledge that this is not the first time that I've prayed for joy.  I distinctly remember starting a journal at the 2015 New Year with the first page boldly reminding myself to, "Choose Joy!"  Then, only a year and a half later, as I turned 40 years old, I found myself purchasing a daily reminder in the form of a bracelet that says, "LIVE joyfully."  I still wear that bracelet almost every day.  Clearly, living joyfully has not been my natural impulse for a number of years!

But I read something recently that might just become a game-changer for me.  I have begun to experience unexpected joy from reading about...

                                    wait for it...

                                                            the incarnation! 

                        "Huh," you might be thinking?

I mean, yes, yes, of course the incarnation (God becoming human!) is a reason for joy.  Yes, certainly this is true.  But is it really a practical, game-changing experience for someone's real, everyday life?  Surprisingly, I think that it is! 

I have been reading Ronald Rolheiser's classic book on spirituality, The Holy Longing, and my entire perspective on prayer has shifted... and it's all because of the incarnation.  Here's what Rolheiser writes,

"When we pray 'through Christ' we are praying through the Body of Christ, which then includes Jesus, the Eucharist, and the body of believers (ourselves) here on Earth. We are praying through all of these.  Thus, not only God in heaven is being petitioned and asked to act. We are also charging ourselves, as part of the Body of Christ, with some responsibility for answering the prayer."[2]

This is a game-changer.

 Learn more about   Discovery House  , a Gap Year experience for participants between the ages of 18-24.

Learn more about Discovery House, a Gap Year experience for participants between the ages of 18-24.

While I have long believed that God desires our action in the world as co-creators of the Kingdom of God, I now have a clearer sense as to why this is so.  It's because we are part of the Body of Christ.  We are implicating ourselves towards action whenever we pray.

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I've taken this to heart.  I've realized that if I'm going to pray for joy that, more than simply "choosing" joy, that I must "work" for joy!  As a result, I've downloaded a couple of apps on my phone... apps with titles like, "Corny Jokes" and "Dad Jokes," to strengthen my punny muscles.  I've finally started paying attention to the wisdom of my very funny husband who loves to listen to comedians... and is our raising our children to love comedians too!  Life definitely becomes lighter when one takes time to laugh!  Finally, I'm training my eye to look for delight!  I find it easier in the summer to be delighted... in a colorful community garden, in spotting a beautiful mural on the side of a building, or in discovering wild blackberries along a favorite hiking trail... but I also know that the dreary days of February will return.  So, as best I'm able, I'm taking little snapshots of these moments of delight.  While I hope that my delight-sight will be sufficiently strengthened after a summer of joy-workouts, I also take comfort in knowing that if I need a little vision boost mid-winter or when times get rough, that I'll have some images to which I can return.

            The incarnation.

                        What a game-changer.

God is with us.  God is with us in our every day, as we pray our every prayer, and as we work towards answering those prayers as part of the Body of Christ.

                                    What a reason for joy.

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
— Thich Nhat Hahn

[1] Source: https://onbeing.org/programs/elizabeth-gilbert-choosing-curiosity-over-fear-may2018/

[2] Rolheiser, Ronald. The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality. New York: Image, 1998.

 

Questions for Reflection

  • What brings you joy?

  • What are strategies you can try to be joyful? 

  • Reflect on the idea of the incarnation.  Where do you see the presence of Christ embodied in creation

 
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Laura Gilmartin Hancock is delighted to be a campus minister at Messmer High School.  She takes joy in companioning young people on their journeys of faith, service, and leadership.  She is married to her husband, Erik, who has made her laugh for more than 25 years and is mom to two very punny kids.

Habit and Intent

By the time this is posted I will be back on US soil!  I’m having a hard time imagining what that will feel like. I’ve been dreaming about it for weeks. Every time I think about seeing my family at the airport I get weepy. Being away from your family for a year is emotional. I know seeing them again will bring me so much joy. But what about the rest of my life? What about my day to day endeavors? Like my life when I’m sixty (If you haven’t, check out my first Human Experience blog post, 28 Going on 60!), I’m having a hard time picturing it.

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I fought pretty hard against forming a routine in China but eventually it sunk in. Humans are habitual creatures. It’s what we do. Feeling comfortable in my life here was inevitable. Despite this, I was constantly saying things like “I’ll never enjoy drinking hot water” and “I’ll never like tofu” and after twenty-seven years of American habits I slowly swapped them for more eastern ones while stuffing my face with hot water and tofu. I spit chicken bones out on the sidewalk. I speak at an unnecessarily loud volume. I tell people to have a rest and drink more hot water when they are not feeling well. I prefer squatting to sitting.  Things I thought were gross or absurd have now become a part of me. We can make a habit out of anything.

So here’s the problem. Over the last year I have gotten in the habit of keeping my faith private. I’ve been to temples galore and other significant places of worship, but faith is not something that, in my experience, is talked about in China. This was a huge struggle for me. I missed the community that was such an integral part of my faith. But now, after a year of writing a prayer journal and Sundays spent alone I am intimidated at the prospect of going back to church. I get anxious just thinking about. I am mortified to admit this, but it is the truth. I am terrified.

In the last year, I have been in one Catholic Church, St. Josephs Cathedral in Tianjin, China. It took two taxis, a subway and three hours to get there. Before entering the church, I stood across the street for a few moments looking at the building. It was beautiful. The afternoon light filtered through the stain glass windows. The red brick stood out softly against the steel industrial buildings surrounding it. I felt like I was about the run into the arms of a loved one I had not seen in ages. Then I entered the church. I was confused. I knew this was a tourist destination during the week so I expected a bit of noise but I was not prepared for this. I was bombarded by people. People talking loudly into their phones. People playing video games with the volume on max. People snoring in the pews. Children jumping from bench to bench. I was outraged.

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Livid, I fought my way to the front of the church and sat. I stewed in that pew, angry thoughts racing. These people had ruined it. I knew my chances to enter a church would be far and few between and these tourists had taken it from me. I started to cry. At this time, I had only been in the country for a month and I felt so lost. For an entire week I had been thinking about this moment. How I would enter this church and I would feel at home. That the fear would leave my heart and I would find the strength to continue on this journey. The fear left my heart alright, but it was replaced with anger not peace. I don’t know how long I sat there but eventually I looked up at the altar. The same beautiful sunlight I had admired as it draped across the windows and doors at the font of the church was now lighting up the space before me. I glanced around and realized how different the front of the church was. The first few pews were almost empty. Their inhabitants all had their heads quietly bowed in prayer. Somehow the din from the tourists did make its way to us. I looked up again and my angry tears became joyful ones. I was home. I just had to but my ego aside to find it.

I never made it back to that church. I lived too far away to make it there for the one English service they offer but I thought of it often when I sat in bed on Sundays with my prayer journal. I let go of the anger I felt and being an introvert I quickly came to love my new version of church. Just me, God and my journal. It was perfect. I do miss the community of church. I miss communion. I miss the nourishment I get from it. The encouragement I need to go out and share my faith. But this habit has formed and I can feel myself in a rut that I’m terrified to climb out of.

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Not unlike my life, my faith journey has been a unique one. I have not spent large amounts of time in church. I was recently confirmed and right up there with moving to China, it was easily one of the best decisions I have ever made. I love that I found a place where my heart feels at home. It’s been a long time coming. However, I have not formed the habits that make me feel totally comfortable there. From singing to the sign of peace. It makes it makes me anxious. How can something I love so much, something I miss dearly, something that I know is rooted so deeply in me still intimidate me so much? Is it really because I am out of the habit of practicing my faith with others?

No, it’s my ego again. It’s my anxiety. I was so quick to judge those tourist so many months ago and I worry others are doing the same to me. In today’s society it is so easy to place judgment on others. From the social media to happy hour we dole out our opinions, our judgments like facts and that is a habit we desperately need to break. I know this. Chances are you know this too. Yet here I am, petrified to go back to church because of what others may or may not be thinking of me as I continue to grow in my faith.  So what’s a girl to do?

Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.
— Vince Lombardi

Break the habit and live with intention. How do you break the habit of caring so much what other people think of you? I have no idea. I’m going to start by caring more about what I think of myself. By realizing my opinions are not facts and my judgments benefit no one. By living intentionally. By embracing the community that I so confidently joined a year ago. By loving others and myself the same way God does, unconditionally. Like accepting that I cannot plan what my life will look like when I am sixty, I know that this is something that will take time. But thankfully I’m about to head home to a beautiful community that’s going to help me through it.

 Learn more about   Discovery House  , a Gap Year experience for participants between the ages of 18-24.

Learn more about Discovery House, a Gap Year experience for participants between the ages of 18-24.

 

Questions for Reflection

  • What habits to deepen your spirituality would you like to intentionally develop in yourself? 

  • What destructive habits might you need to break?

  • How do you overcome fear or worry about what others think of you?

 
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Margaret Russell is an almost thirty something who has looked for God just about everywhere – even China. Nothing about her journey has been traditional and it turns out that is exactly how it was supposed to be. She thinks. Maybe. With a background in education, a self-awarded doctoral degree in tacos and a propensity for the ridiculous, Maggie hopes to spend the rest of her life loving as loudly as she laughs and sharing the joy that is her faith.

A Note to the Reader:

If you like to journal like me, you are constantly looking for a new book to hold your thoughts. I am not often a fan of guided journaling, but this book was given to me as a gift before I left for China and it quickly became my prized possession. Be Still and Know that I am God (Signature Journal) can be found here. Each entry contains several quotes and scripture passages based on a specific theme. I found these reading passages so inspiring that I often ran out of room on the blank page that accompanies each of them. I have a few pages to go but when I finish I plan on exploring the rest of Ellie Claire’s signature Journals.

Faith Journey

As a young child I acknowledged God’s existence, but I didn’t understand who or what God is: someone that watched over me, a being that was everywhere I went, or a force very far away. Needless to say, the farthest my faith education went was the show “Veggie Tales.” My family did celebrate Christmas however it was more out of custom than the celebration of Christ’s birth. My parents’ focus was raising me to be a kind, intelligent, and thoughtful person, which can be achieved without a faith upbringing. Ironically, they were not raised that way: both of their upbringings were centered around God.

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My mom was born and raised in Shorewood near where I currently live. She and her two older brothers were taught the Catholic faith. My dad, on the other hand, was raised Muslim. Born in Cairo, Egypt, my dad immigrated to the United States at the age of four. For both of my parents, faith was a very large aspect of their lives, and just the thought of marrying one another seemed so abstract. Although they idolized the same God, the idea of a Catholic and a Muslim dating—and later marrying—seemed strange on both sides. Over time both families opened their hearts to one another and quickly learned how incredible not only the individual was, but their family was as well.

When it came time for mine and my siblings’ upbringing, faith was not the foreground. And it did not concern me until I reached middle school. Throughout the years I have juggled ideas of atheism, undeveloped versions of Christianity, Agnosticism, Deism, and more. When I came to Dominican High School, nothing scared me more than faith. I could make friends and get good grades, but I cared so much about not revealing to people I wasn’t Catholic. My dad’s biggest concern was that my beliefs shaped simply because of those around me, and I am sad to admit that they did. Although I may have developed understanding of some aspects of the Christian faith, I really didn’t believe any of it to be true. The issue was that while I was trying to open my mind to God, I was also trying to prove myself to my school and friends. I demonstrated some internal conflict I had to them, but many did not understand. They didn’t get that my faith was not integrated into every single aspect of my life growing up. Once when I was trying to explain this to my friend, she responded by saying “Amira, God is real. He just is.” But she didn’t understand that that was not enough for me. And if I did decide to develop a faith, why is it automatic that I turn to Christianity; I should get the chance to explore other denominations as well. All of it was easier said than done.

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In time my faith grew, and I could discuss and debate it with my friends; we all broadened each other’s perspectives. What really established my faith was my Junior Kairos retreat this past fall. The retreat opened my eyes to the incredible talents of myself and my peers. Additionally, I learned that God places obstacles in front of you that he knows you can conquer; this idea was put to the test the day I returned from the retreat and had to learn a new role for Dominican’s fall show in ONLY 6 days. This challenge tested my strength and capabilities, yet I rose above it. Without my renewed faith I do not know if I could I overcome that obstacle.

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.
— Proverbs 3:3

Faith is a very personal thing. Although I accept many Catholic beliefs, I would not call myself a Catholic. Throughout the rest of my life I know that my faith will alter, evolve, and may change entirely. Over the next few months I will share with you a monthly blog about how my faith is evolving especially during my senior year in high school.  Who knows how my faith will be impacted by school work, retreats, school activities and the planning of my post high school life?  No matter what happens; what will never change, no matter the faith, is that I know humans must treat each other with compassion, equality, and tolerance.

 

Questions for Reflection

  • What has influenced your journey of faith? 

  • What makes you proud of your faith tradition?  What questions or uncertainties do you have about your faith tradition?

 
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Amira Elsafy, a rising senior at Dominican High School, lives in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.  She attended the local public schools until high school where she has become active at Dominican.  She has been the class Student Council President,  a member of the honor roll for the past four years and loves to volunteer.  Outside of the academic world, you will find Amira on the stage, recently winning an award for playing the Witch in “Big Fish”. In the next year, she will share her experiences of failure and success, friendships, family her senior journey through the college process and ultimately how all of this impacts her faith.

Moving From... To...

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Laura Gilmartin Hancock is the Campus Minister at Messmer High School.  She is blessed to be accompany young people as they grow in their lives of faith, service, and leadership. 

 

I've been thinking a lot about transitions lately.  I'm not totally sure why.  I don't think I'm in the midst of any great life transitions... at least not that I'm aware of yet.  I mean, I know that as an educator I'm in the (awesome!) transition between one school year and the next (hello, summer vacation!!). I also know that I've just completed a major project that took years to move from the visioning stage into a lived reality.  So, I do have a sense of needing to reflect on the fullness of that experience, and to consider what the impact that this project will have, not only on my personal world view, but also on how it will impact what I do as a professional.

But, beyond these two contexts, I have been unsure why "transition" has been such a strong word for me lately.  I'm not getting married.  I'm not changing jobs.  The size of my family is not changing.  I'm not going off to start college or to live in a new city.  I mean, these are the major transitions of life, right?  I'm not in any of them!

And still, none the less, "transition" is with me.  So, instead of fighting against the word and declaring to be irrelevant at this stage of my life, I've been praying with the word and watching it rise up in my consciousness.  And as I've done so, I've come to realize that I need to transition from the person I was in the world yesterday, or last year, or five years ago, into the person who is needed in the world today.

I think as an educator and as a parent I am completely comfortable with thinking of transitions within the context of developmental milestones.  I've definitely exclaimed, "Ooooh, will you look at that?? My baby started walking today!!"  Or, as an educator, I have transitioned from one unit of study to the next and am trained to look for the signs of readiness and proficiency. Or, even looking back at my own personal growth, I vividly remember the transition from college student into... ??? what will come next for me?  This developmental transition is part of the beauty of a gap year program like 12 plus 1 for young people who are struggling with identifying their personal transition into, "what's next?"

But, putting all of this aside, I think the reason the word "transition" has been so present in my life lately is precisely because I'm not in a developmental moment. The transition occurring in my soul is the transition of daily life. 

 

                                    Can you relate to this?

 

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Can you sense a tension in your soul... not a bad tension... but a tension between what was and what is being called forth TODAY?  I feel it all the time.  I feel it as I scroll through my various news feeds and on social media. I feel my soul wondering, "What am I being called to do here?  How am I being called forth to engage in the world at this particular moment in history?"  I feel it as I continually seek to be a better parent.  I feel my soul stretching, "Is there another way to handle this situation?  What does my child need in this particular moment to help her grow into the strong child of God that I know her to be?"  I feel it as I navigate relationships of various kinds. I struggle mightily to figure out, "What are the right words to say here?  How can I best respond to this situation?"

I was recently at the Milwaukee Public Museum with my family.  As we typically do, we started our experience in the museum by wandering through The Streets of Old Milwaukee and generally having a fun time exploring local history.  And, eventually, as we often do, my daughter and I made it down to the butterfly pavilion.  This is NOT my favorite place.  The butterfly pavilion has live butterflies flying around and, although the goal for my daughter is always to have one land on her, the butterflies actually kind of creep me out.  However, on this visit, for the first time, I saw a display of actual, active, cocoons that were in the midst of their transition from caterpillar to butterfly. I had never noticed this display before.

 

And let me tell you: they are not pretty.

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And that's when it hit me.

 

these small daily transitions from who I was to who I am called to be, can have monumental impacts on our collective experience.

The truth is: these transitions that I'm experiencing are not monumental moments.  These transitions of daily life are not the moments of getting a driver's license or getting married or divorced.  They are not the cocoons of big becoming.  Rather, they are often small and insignificant.  So insignificant, in fact, that they can be overlooked.  But when noticed as opportunities of transition, these small moments can suddenly feel huge.  At least, they feel huge to me.  When I become mindful of the many opportunities for daily transition in my life, I find the need to summon immense courage to live into them... and that can feel ugly, just like those cocoons.  It takes tremendous courage to be aware of one's context, to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and to take one more step into becoming... even when it's uncomfortable.

The transition of daily life is not made up of monumental personal milestones, like a cocoon is in the life of a butterfly.  But rather, these small daily transitions from who I was to who I am called to be, can have monumental impacts on our collective experience.  We have the opportunity in each of these transitional moments, throughout our days, to bring more love into our relationships, into our neighborhoods, into our workplaces, and into our shared civic spaces.

 

Questions for Reflection

  • What are the ways that you are being called into the transition of daily life?

  • Can you identify ways of being that no longer fit your present reality? What can you do to begin moving beyond them?

  • Where is your sphere of influence?  How can you bring more love into those spaces?