providence |ˈprävədəns; -ˌdens| 1. the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power: "they found their trust
in divine providence to be a source of comfort" 2. God or nature as providing such care: "I live out my life as Providence
decrees" 3. timely preparation for future eventualities: "it was considered a duty to encourage providence" (see provide)

Providence |ˈprävəˌdens; -dəns| 1. the capital of Rhode Island, a port near the head of the Providence River, on
the Atlantic coast; pop. 173,618. It was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams (1604–83) as a haven for religious dissenters.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Community in the Capital: Friday & Saturday

St. Christopher's Cathedral
By Friday I found myself in a familiar and comfortable routine that was unique to Canberra - 7:05am wake up, 7:10am shower, 7:30am toast and coffee, 8:00am departure from my homestay, 8:30am arrival at the Youth Center. All of our preparations for the Forum that night were complete, so Joe and I spent a few hours dabbling in graphic design! We helped Liam make some advertisements (pronounced "ad-vEr-tis-mint"), and we provided him with one very manly poster and one very girly one. After a few hours, the team took us to a local bakery for a classic Aussie lunch of meat pies. Lots of laughs and jokes later, we returned to the Youth Center and began setting up for the forum! This reminded me of getting the Campus Ministry Center ready for "Dinner with Dominicans" and "The Spring Thing," just with nicer furniture and a bigger budget :)

Sr. Rosemary and Jane then swung by the Youth Center and brought us over to Australian National University, where Sr. Rosemary did her graduate studies before joining the Dominican Sisters! As most students commute to uni in Australia, dorm life is not as popular as it is in The States. But because ANU is such a large university, they provide housing for students traveling from "the country," as well as international students. Instead of calling housing "dorms" as we do, they call them "colleges" (And suddenly the "uni-college" distinction makes sense). And while ANU does not have any religious affiliation, many of the colleges do! And wouldn't you know, one of the colleges has a Catholic and Dominican affiliation - John XXIII College! So naturally, we made a detour.

Something not as popular at PC - bicycles! 
Sister and Jane arranged for us to meet one of the administrators of the college, and funnily enough, she hails from Chicago! She came to Australia on a study abroad trip when she was studying at uni, but loved it so much she decided to relocate! (Don't worry Mom... not yet, at least...) She was so gracious and took us on a tour of the campus, holding a plate of chocolate cake slices for us the entire time (not that you can buy my attention, but...), and it was so lovely to be surrounded by little reminders of PC - the cafeteria was very Ray-esque, the Chapel atmosphere was warm just like St. Dominic's, and the dorm rooms were very, ummm, cozy. However, I don't miss communal bathrooms - thank goodness for PC apartments!

After exploring the college, we made our way back into town and properly explored St. Christopher's Cathedral. The stained glass windows were absolutely incredible, and we found a lovely statue of St. Dominic in the foyer - he is just following us everywhere (good thing)! We enjoyed an early dinner at a local cafe before Sister and Jane brought us back to the Youth Center, where we spent the rest of the night at the Youth Conference! Donning super cool name tags (I teased Joe for the rest of the night because mine read "Providence College Student Leader" while his only read "Providence College Student") we helped the members of the Archdiocese of Canberra create a new plan regarding how to approach the evangelization of youths in the area. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the Catholic faith in Australia, and how the clergy and lay ministers are working to build a stronger Catholic identity for the Australian people.
My lovely abode, courtesy of the wonderful Morgan's

With the conference running late into the night - and staying even later by getting caught up in the friendly chatter - Nick and Jess were already fast asleep by the time I arrived home. As I tip-toed down the dark hallway planning what I would write in a thank-you note to them, I flicked the light on in my room and was met with bright orange gift bag, as well as a card with my name on it. This has become a theme of my fellowship - immeasurable hospitality, and my struggle to accept it. Inside the bag were a package of Tim Tams and a copy of a poster that I had admired in their home - I had mentioned these two things to the lovely couple on my first night with them during dinner. Not only had they remembered, but they went out of their way to make sure I left with them. When I woke the next morning and gave them each a farewell hug, I couldn't find the words to express my gratitude. Another moment of pure speechlessness. The look on Jess' face said it all, and I was thankful she understood how overwhelmed by joy I felt.

The Youth Center Staff
Saying goodbye to the Youth Center staff was incredibly surreal. As we sat in a circle enjoying a lunch of sausage rolls, I kept glancing through the windows toward the parking lot. Sister and Jane were coming around 1pm to pick us up, and I felt like five-year-old Emmy at a birthday party, stubborn about not wanting to leave. But during our three hour trip home, Joe was able to put this surreal feeling into words. Our reality is ever-changing - we've never been in one place for very long. But against all odds, we are forming bonds and friendships of such trust, respect, and joy - ones that you rarely come across, ones that take time to build. And just as our minds are beginning to take this in, we are forced to say goodbye - a very indefinite goodbye. But that's just it - indefinite. Not forever. As long as I can learn to hang on to that bit of hope, I know I will continue to live in the moment and create friendships that will last for more than indefinitely.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Community in the Capital: Wednesday & Thursday

While it wasn't a part of the original plan, Joe and I went in to the Youth Center early on Wednesday to help the staff out with some busy work! They were in the middle of preparations for their Youth and Young Adults Forum scheduled for Friday and Saturday, which Joe and I were signed up and eager for! We accomplished lots of little tasks, from cutting posters to rolling them into mini packages, to laminating prayer cards, stuffing gift bags, and cutting business cards. It was a fun-filled and productive morning that would have otherwise been wasted sleeping. Joe and I noted that we were both having Lighthouse flashbacks (Joe and I respectively directed and coordinated the sophomore retreat at PC this past February, and last minute preparations and packing kept us up pretty late the night before the retreat), but they were very welcome as they brought some great PC memories!

Marie posing with all of our busy work!
We worked with Marie the entire time, who was so sweet and insightful. She didn’t ask the typical questions we’ve been hearing from everyone, like “What are you doing here?” “Where are you from?” or “Why are you in Canberra?” Instead, she really challenged us to be reflective and asked “What have you gotten out of your trip so far?” It was the first time I had been asked this question, and so I was shocked at how fluid and clear my musings sounded when spoken. It was a really great chance to reflect out loud and recognize all of the graces this trip has given me. It's also really neat to hear how Joe and I are taking different lessons from similar experiences, as well as similar lessons from different experiences! Never underestimate the power of a travel buddy.

ACU has over 14,000 undergraduates across Australia!
While the busy work was both fun and therapeutic, my favorite part of the morning was when the staff came together for prayer and praise. Liam played some contemporary Christian music on his guitar and we all joined in with some Matt Maher lyrics. One of the songs we sang, titled "Alive Again," was particularly moving. I had never heard the song before, and so the lyrics really stood out to me as the others sang them aloud. The chorus reads, "You called and you shouted, broke through my deafness, now I'm breathing in and breathing out, I'm alive again. You shattered my darkness, washed away my blindness, now I'm breathing in and breathing out, I'm alive again." I cannot think of more accurate lyrics to describe this fellowship experience for me - I truly feel "alive again."

A few hours later, Nick brought us to ACU and we met with Dr. Prasser, one of the university's Health Policy professors. He explained how healthcare in Australia works (they have Universal Healthcare with a Private Healthcare option), which was particularly interesting as Obamacare was to be decided on in the Supreme Court that day! (or the next day... or the day before? Time travel...) Afterward we went to Mass at the campus chapel, which was said by ACU's Chaplain Fr. Jaison! We then enjoyed some lunch with him and Liam at the cafe. Fr. Jaison was really interested to hear how Campus Ministry works at PC, and so we took some time to explain the model and the various opportunities for involvement. He was absolutely thrilled and really liked the six-cluster structure we have!

Coat of Arms: The kangaroo & emu can't walk backwards!
Talking with Fr. Jaison about PC Campus Ministry was really exciting. Though it is no credit to our own, it felt great to share the success of our Campus Ministry with someone that really cares about revamping their program. Being so involved in Campus Ministry at PC, we are often very hard on ourselves - we see 1/4 of the college community somehow involved in Campus Ministry as a failure, as not good enough. But talking with Fr. Jaison, who said on a good day they have 1% student attendance at daily mass, really put into perspective the hard work we have been doing to making Campus Ministry a stronger presence on the PC campus. It was also incredibly rewarding to know that we were helping Fr. Jaison, even if we were simply explaining a model that was developed by someone else years ago.

After lunch, Liam, Joe and I met up with Nick and we all toured Parliament House! The house is very modern compared with Capitol Hill, but is still rich with history - they even have a copy of the Magna Carta! We were lucky enough to be able to sit in the chamber and watch the politician’s debate a hot-button issue in Australian politics at the moment - immigration and refugee status. Just the week before, Australian newspapers and headlines were buzzing when a boat from Malaysia carrying 90 refugees capsized off the Australian Coast, killing everyone on board. The politicians were debating a change to their refugee laws, arguing whether they need to make Australia more or less accessible for refugees. It was incredible to witness such a pivotal topic in Australian affairs, as the closest we could ever get to this in the US is C-SPAN (not exactly my cup of tea).

Australian Parliament! 
On a brighter note, it was pretty funny to watch the politicians interact with each other - they were literally pointing and laughing at their opponents, talking over one another, and flat out leaving the room at times! I was reminded of what one of the teachers at St. Lucy's told me one day - "No need to be polite. This is Australia - we take everyone at face value here." I'll keep that in mind for the future.

After our afternoon of politics, we made our way back to the Youth Center and helped with some busy work a little more! After sunset the staff took us into town, were we enjoyed some drinks and a classic dinner of fish and chips! We followed the endless laughs and jokes with dessert and coffees at a local bakery, where I think I burned all of the calories in my ice cream by laughing so much. Suite 501 beware - the staff told us a boatload of pranks they've played on their friends, and dare I say I saw a glimmer in Joe's eye.

Modern classrooms at Rosary Primary School! 
On Thursday, it was back to the Youth Center in the morning for more laminating, paper cutting, and package stuffing! Around 10am, we headed into ACU and met with Dr. McArdle, who took us on a tour of a nearby Dominican-run primary school. Seeing the little ones wandering the building made me miss the munchkins from St. Lucy's and Del Monte, but it was really incredible to see the technology that Australian's are putting into their education system. Smartboards, iPads - you name it, they're utilizing it in some way! Afterward our tour and bidding a final farewell to Dr. McArdle, we toured the ACU library and grabbed some lunch with Jane. The librarian was really sweet and gave Joe the Lord of the Rings trilogy for free!

Inside St. Christopher's Cathedral! 
After lunch, we made our way to Clare Holland House, a local hospice founded by the Dominicans. There we met with one of the nurses named Rachel, and we were able to see the excellent care that is afforded to their patients. After leaving and taking a self-guided driving tour around the city to see more Embassies, we met up with Liam and made our way back to his place. A cup of tea and a few snacks later, we made our way to St. Christopher’s Cathedral for adoration and the rosary with the youth group Liam is involved in. We followed our prayer with some Thai food in town with Liam's friends from the youth group! It was another wonderful day of food, fellowship, and fun!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Community in the Capital: Monday & Tuesday

As the sun rose on the Monday morning that commenced Week Five of our Aussie adventure, we began a new journey. Leaving Sydney behind, we traveled the East Coast of Australia for two weeks, encountering no internet, bitter cold temperatures, and an overwhelming amount of love. Here is everything that happened, beginning with our trip to the Capital - Canberra.

"Lake" George - you can see some water in the distance!
Jane and Joe picked me up at home on Monday morning, and after an incredibly surreal goodbye to Sarah P (who was heading off for holiday with some friends in Europe, no big deal) we picked up Sr. Rosemary and enjoyed the relaxing three-hour drive to Canberra. We stopped at an old country café for lunch and coffees, and even made a stop at “Lake George” (well, what used to be Lake George - it's a tad dried up now.. even a flock of sheep have found home there). Upon our arrival to the capital city in the late afternoon, we made our way to Australian Catholic University’s Signadou Campus. "Signadou" was founded by the Dominican Sisters in the 1960's and means "Sign of God" in aboriginal tribal language.

We took a tour of the campus, and Sr. Rosemary recounted stories of the "Dominican Days" (the staff is now run by lay faculty). During our wanderings we happened to meet Matt, the president of Signadou's Student Center (kind of like PC’s BOP), who was super friendly and showed us some of the posters from the events they put on last semester! We then made our way back to the administrative offices and met with Dr. Patrick McArdle, the Dean of Signadou - the same man we met back in the States in April! It was really great to see a face from home, even if America isn't exactly his home.
ACU's Signadou Campus!

(Recap: After being awarded Fr. Smith Fellowships, Fr. Robb informed us that Dr. McArdle was attending a few conferences in the New England area in April and wanted to stop by Providence to meet Joe and myself, as well as Clare and Cayla, the two Fr. Smith Fellows heading to Sydney and the Solomon Islands after us! We had dinner at a local eatery on a Friday night and Dr. McArdle talked about Australian culture and history with us for hours - it was the very first moment where the reality of Australia became... well, a reality!)

After catching up and debriefing him on our four week journey, we made our way over to ACU’s Campus Ministry office where we met Nick Seseljia, the ACU Campus Minister! Nick took us under his wing and brought us to the Center for Youth and Young Adults for the Diocese of Canberra. There, we met Daniela, Mary-Rose, and Liam, and enjoyed lots of laughs. Again, just like when we visited the JPII Center at Sydney Uni three weeks ago, I felt like I was transported back to PC’s Campus Ministry Center - the funny jokes, the teasing, the zero productivity (just kidding... kinda). Another taste of home, and I was beginning to like Canberra - against all of Sydney's warnings.

Casual mosaic in the hallway
Daniela was kind enough to take me and my luggage to my homestay for the week, which was with the lovely Nick and Jess, a young newlywed couple! We enjoyed some delicious lasagna and hummingbird cake prepared by Jess, and chatted for a good while about everything from food to college to the Catholic Church. When I got on to raving about PC, I learned that when Nick was in uni he actually studied abroad for a semester at Boston College! He said he remembered going to a PC vs. BC hockey game, but his memory of our mascot wasn't as clear ("It's a Phantom, right?") (I guess if you Google "PC mascot" he wasn't too far off). We followed up dinner with a viewing of Master Chef (One of the most popular shows Down Under, modeled after Top Chef) and Kath & Kim (an "Aussie Staple" that kind of makes fun of Aussie lifestyle – think of pretty much any NBC comedy).

Tuesday began with a refreshing shower, followed by some coffee and toast with Jess and Nick. Nick was then kind enough to drive me to the Youth Center, but first took me on a tour of all the unique Embassies around Canberra! The American Embassy was a cute, red-brick building complete with a white picket fence and an overzealous amount of security. At the Youth Center I met up with Joe and Nick, and we made our way to ACU for the day. From there, Nick introduced me to some of his friends taking the Religious Education course that I was scheduled to sit in on - one of whom was Matt that we met the day before! - and before I knew it, I was sitting in a classroom of 40 future teachers, taking notes in a college course. We spent the class discussing Catholic Social Teaching, a personal favorite of mine! It was really funny being back in the college classroom setting - besides the larger class size and the presence of a TA, it didn’t feel too different from PC. Mike and Matt really helped this by introducing me to everyone as their “exchange student friend, so be nice."

Fun Fact: Canberra was designed by an American architect!
After class I met Jane, Sr. Rosemary and Joe at the café for lunch and we chatted about the presence of Catholic parishes in US communities. It has been phenomenal having Joe with me during this trip, not only because he's a great friend, but because despite our similarities we have very different backstories. From our families (he is the oldest of six, I am the youngest of two), to our hometowns (he is from rural Maryland, I'm from suburban New York), to our schooling (he attended an all-boy's Catholic high school, I attended a co-ed public school), to our interests (he is studying biology, I avoid science like the plague), we have different perspectives to bring to the table that really highlight just how diverse America is. We may seem similar - white, Catholic, students (heck, we've been mistaken for siblings on this trip more times than I can count) - but we have had very different experiences in our lives. The amazing thing is how we have anything in common with these diverse experiences and different upbringings. God is pretty awesome like that.

The Australian War Memorial
After enjoying our coffees, we went to visit the Dhara Dooleridge Center at ACU and met Christine, the director of aboriginal students at the university. After chatting with her, Joe and I bid farewell to Sister and Jane for the evening and met up with Nick, who gave us a little tour of Canberra! He took us to the War Memorial, where the history geek in me relished in the ancient artifacts and the Australian perspective of the World Wars. Afterwards, we drove over to the Youth Center and met with Liam, Daniela and her sister Marie, who volunteers at the center. We made our way to Liam’s house (where Joe is staying for the week) for some tea and pizzas, and then went to the cinema! Liam and his roommates were great, and he even showed off some of his musical talent by playing some tunes for us on his electric fiddle! The night concluded with more tea, good conversation, and great company – in my opinion, the perfect ending to a wonderful day.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sydney Sign Off

As Week Four officially came to an end, so did our time in Sydney. But no worries, friends - there was nothing to be down about! Here's what we took advantage of during our last Sydney-filled weekend!

After returning home from the retreat on Friday, I collapsed onto the couch and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon of pumpkin soup, TV, and sister time with Rachel and Sarah. After a long and wonderful shower, Rachel and I picked up her hilarious friend Bec and made our way to the North Shore of Sydney, where we met Sarah V, Dan, and Joe for dinner. We enjoyed some Aussie pies and I caught up with Joe, who had spent the week in Melbourne! Chatting with each other about our independent adventures from the week reminded me just how blessed I am to have such a good friend here with me. We finished the night with dessert at a local café – it was the perfect welcome home after a long week of missing my Sydney family.
The view of the South Pacific from Sydney's tallest point!
On Saturday I caught the train into the city with Sarah P, Rachel, and Joe for our final weekend of Sydney sightseeing! We walked around the Queen Victoria Building (a lovely mall in the downtown district) and headed for the Sydney Tour to do the Skywalk! After watching a funny 4D movie and taking a super fast elevator ride to the top of the tower, we experienced the incredible city from its tallest point!
So happy! :)
After lots of goofy pictures and fun facts about the city, we enjoyed some lunch at a local food court and took the train back to Strathfield. We then made our way to a Netball tournament, which Louise, Sarah P, and Laura were all competing in. Rachel, Joe and I made our way between the three games within the hour – Netball is Australia’s most popular female sport – and experienced an exciting win for Louise’s team! After a day in the sun, The Pow’s and the The Vaccari’s took Joe and I out for our last full family dinner. We enjoyed the views from a rotating restaurant, which overlooked the city.

Louise's netball game!
Sunday was a true blessing, as it was our first lazy day of the entire trip! I woke up early and went out to breakfast with the Pow's and their cousins, following the delicious meal with Mass with Rachel. Afterward, I enjoyed a lazy day of resting, laundry, packing for Canberra, and quality time with my homestay family. The girls and I made sandwiches for the homeless we were going to meet that night on Night Patrol, enjoyed a quick dinner, and then, well, it was off to Night Patrol!
Our food truck during Night Patrol.
Joe, Sarah P. and I made our way to the Mary MacKillop Center and met Jane, who talked us through our tasks for the evening. Then we were on our way with four other Sydney residents, and we spent the night delivering food and clothing to the homeless around Sydney at popular locations such as Central Station and Martin Place! It was a night filled with good conversation, genuine gratitude, and a humbling perspective on what is important in life.
The Pow's and The Vaccari's - our family :)
This weekend provided a flurry of emotions - joy, gratitude, sadness, and hope. The blessings that God has provided me with on this journey are overwhelming. Namely, the Pow's - their love and care has been such a comfort to me over the past month. Not once have I felt homesick (sorry, Mom and Dad) or uncomfortable, and that is because of the way in which they have taken me under their wing and treated me as a sister, a daughter - as family. So I feel joy when I am with them, gratitude toward them, sadness at saying goodbye to them, and hope that we will meet again in the future.

But here's to remaining positive - our time isn't over yet! In fact, a new leg of our journey is just beginning. Here's to a fruitful week in Canberra!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Be Still And Know That I Am God

As part of my fellowship with Santa Sabina College, I was graciously invited by Dominique and the Santa Sabina staff to attend their annual three-day retreat for the girls in Year 11! So on a chilly Wednesday morning I packed up my trusty navy Jansport, hopped on a bus with 60 eager teenage girls, and we made our way to Kiah Ridge Camp in the beautiful mountains of the Great Dividing Range!
Enjoying the sun on a chilly afternoon :)
The theme of the retreat was "Be Still And Know That I Am God" (from Psalm 46:10), and the goal of the Santa Sabina staff was to help the girls come to a deeper understanding of themselves, as well as an understanding of the role that God plays in their life.

Wednesday's activities began with a small group exercise in which the girls were handed a paper suitcase, asked to recognize all of their "baggage" - everything in their life that was nagging at them - and to write it down on the paper suitcase. We then discussed the importance of having an open mind on the retreat, which would encourage the girls to fully embrace all of the activities we had planned for them over the next three days. From there we watched "Mona Lisa Smile," a film about young women studying at Wellesley College in the 1950s, and the expectations of women during that period in history. The girls were surprised to learn that Wellesley still exists, that it's only about one hour from PC, and it is still an all female university!
What's a retreat without a sing-a-long around the piano?
After a hearty dinner, we commenced my favorite activity of the entire retreat - creating a "Life Graph." The staff were really excited for this activity as well, as they had never done this on a Santa Sabina retreat before. Dominique said she was inspired by a Jesuit retreat she had attended, and thought it would be fitting for the theme! We all gathered in the common room in front of two white boards (life stories can get pretty lengthy...) and Dominique took us through all of the up's and down's of her life.
Dominique demonstrating her Life Graph
From the high's and low's of high school, to meeting her husband, to trying to find meaning in her life, to having her daughter, Dominique explained that the greatest moments of her life were only so because of the sufferings she endured. And having the difficulties and successes drawn out right in front of us, we were able to see, as Dominique so beautifully articulated, how "the angels carried her up again." A few Kleenex and lots of hugs later, we returned to our small groups and mapped out our own Life Graphs, and I was shocked at just how beneficial this was for me.
Celebrating the first day of winter in Aussie!
To have the time to sit down and physically draw out the happy times, the sad times, and the confusing times really helped me to acknowledge how I came to be where I am today. And with every downward line, there was always a wonderfully joyful event to bring me out of it. It was the perfect way to physically see how God carried me through my darkest hours, and it reminded me of a beautiful quote I had recently discovered: "God sometimes takes us into troubled waters not to drown us, but to cleanse us."
I even got to see my first wild kangaroo (with baby in pouch!)
On Thursday I was blessed with the opportunity to lead the girls in morning prayer, and I began our reflection with a song that was used by a fellow leader of mine on this year's Lighthouse Retreat for sophomores at PC. The song, "It's Alright" by Brandon Heath, conveys the difficulty of letting go of control in our lives and giving it up to God. I remembered being a junior in high school, just like these girls, and worrying so much about college, SATs, grades, dance competitions, and track races. But in hindsight, I now see that I shouldn't have worried so much, but instead, I should have "been still" and known that God would carry me through. The lyrics of the song read, "It's alright, everything will be okay. Just hold tight, I'll be with you the whole way. When you're weak, I'll be strong. Keep fighting, we're almost home. It's alright, everything will be okay."
My lovely small group :)
After prayer the activities continued, and perhaps the most prominent was the mask activity. After discussing personalities and relationship dynamics in our small groups, we encouraged the girls to decorate a mask with the personality that is truly theirs - not like the masks they feel they have to wear or hide behind sometimes. This activity was beneficial, as it taught the girls to think about what makes them their authentic selves, and how they act and feel when they are most comfortable.
All smiles on the massage train!
When the girls finished decorating their masks and shared with the group what their designs represented, we asked the girls to think of someone that they feel they never have to wear a mask around. Interestingly enough, all of the girls answered with, "my family." Lucky for them, we were prepared, and pulled out a stack of envelopes - letters addressed to each of the girls, from their families.
Our prayer space - very peaceful!
Later that evening, after lots of free time, a yummy dinner, a massage train and some Bollywood dancing, we constructed a Liturgy of the Word to celebrate together. Each of the small groups took on a task of piecing the liturgy together, which really encouraged the girls to get involved! My small group took on writing the Prayer of the Faithful. One of the groups was assigned with designing the "prayer space" and used all of the masks that had been designed earlier as a centerpiece! I was truly amazed at the creativity of these 16 year old girls!
Santa Sabina College, Year 11 (and 20 year old Em!)
Praying with all of the girls and the Santa Staff was not only a highlight of the weekend, but definitely a highlight of my entire Aussie experience. And packing up to head back to Strathfield the next morning was truly difficult! I have to admit - I was slightly skeptical and nervous during the two-hour bus ride to Kiah Ridge... this was Day Three without Joe by my side, and I was starting to feel a little lonely without my travel buddy. Now I was being taken away from my homestay family and forced to put on the big girl pants and be a leader to 60 teenage girls. But God was a work in me, and not only gave me the strength to find comfort with my Santa family, but I saw that God gave me this retreat so that I could retreat as well. After three and a half weeks of the fellowship, this retreat was the ideal opportunity to reflect on all of the blessings in my life, to refocus my prayer life, and to mentally prepare for the changes to come with the two weeks of travel ahead.

And to that I say, "Bring it on" :)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Lessons From the Little Ones

Sporting a super attractive sunburn and coming off of my "Cairns High," I eagerly jumped into my last two days of service in Sydney for my Fr. Smith Fellowship - talk about surreal. But also talk about going out with a bang - I was blessed to be able to spend these final two days with the children at St. Lucy's School and Santa Maria Del Monte Primary School! Here's a sampling of the joys I experienced!

Monday officially began my last day at St. Lucy’s School, and that same "natural routine" I experienced on my last day at Santa occurred again. I purchased my last "return" ticket to Wahroonga (now knowing exactly how to articulate it so the teller understands), found a window seat on the right side of the train (where the morning sun comes in and the best view of the Opera House is offered), enjoyed the relaxing four minute walk from the station to the school, stuck my lunch in the teacher's fridge, and commenced another day. Everything just felt so natural, as if I had lived the same routine one hundred times over in another life.

St. Lucy's School... they just get it.
The only break from my usual St. Lucy's routine was my new classroom assignment - Year One! The little munchkins were absolute angels, and I assisted them with writing the alphabet, learning about textures, creating patterns with blocks, and I helped a few of them with their lunch! And as I began the commute home, I reflected on my time at St. Lucy's and realized something incredibly beautiful about these little children. My first three weeks in Sydney had been filled with excited and giddy responses, by children and adults alike, any time I was introduced as an American. I was bombarded with both silly and serious questions, suddenly five times more interesting then I was before. And I probably got away with saying heaps of awkward, boring, and bland statements, only because my accent made up for it.

But the children at St. Lucy's were not phased in the slightest by my heritage, by my nationality, or by my accent. I wasn't bombarded with questions about "Life in New York" or asked to "Say anything because it will sound fabulous!" I was simply another hand to hold when walking to gym class, another lap to sit on during movie time, another head of hair to comb hands through... another friend. These children don't discriminate. To them, everyone is the same - a gift from God.

Despite my protests, 7am arrived on Tuesday morning, indicating my final day of service in Sydney. But on the bright side there was some excitement, as it was my first (and only) day serving at Santa Maria Del Monte Primary School, Santa Sabina College's K-5 campus! I shadowed the Year 4 class and the "Kinder" class, and boy lemme tell you they were adorable! I began my day with the Year 4's, helping out with their reading comprehension assignment! A few hours later, I made my way to Kindergarten (I knew I had found the correct classroom when the chairs looked as if they were made for stuffed animals), where I helped the wee one's play "Reading Bingo" and watched as they colored in pictures of the Sacred Heart (always hilarious to note color selection when it comes to five year old's).

The Del Monte Year 4's - be still my heart.
It was particularly hilarious, though, to compare the dynamic of the boys and girls between the two classes. In Year 4, the boys had their own table in the corner, and the girls avoided them like the plague. And when Anna, their teacher, even suggested that they work together on their reading comp assignment, the sounds of disgust and disapproval could be heard down the street! On the other hand, the Kinder boys and girls worked beautifully together, chatting as if they had known each other for decades.

After prayer time with the Kinder's, I made my way back to the Year 4's, where we practiced Italian and had a Maths lesson. To cap it all off, Anna asked if I would entertain the class with a reading of a Judy Blume novel! I surprised myself by not melting into a pile of goo at the offer. Eventually the bell rang - too soon - and after "signing autographs" (really, this has been terrible for the ego) I enjoyed a sunny walk home through the neighborhood. Rachel, Sarah V. and I ended the day with a leisurely walk with Metro, the Pow family dog, and some great conversation! God I love having sisters.

While the two days flew by in the blink of an eye, I really could not imagine a more significant and perspective-filled way of ending my service in Sydney. These young children have such an innocent way of viewing the world, but it was incredibly humbling for me to bear witness to them. It is so easy to get caught up in where we're going and what the future holds. But children never worry about tomorrow - they live in the moment. They keep their eyes on the stars, but their feet on the ground. And that has perhaps been the greatest lesson I have learned thus far.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Life From the Bright Side of the Road

After two weeks of traveling around the east coast of Australia and experiencing some very spotty internet access, Joe and I are back in Sydney and ready to post lots of updates! So... where did I leave off? Oh yes, at the halfway mark of our trip, which we celebrated in true Aussie style with a weekend trip to The Great Barrier Reef! Here's what happened in Cairns!
Quote of the Weekend: "Where ARE we?!"
After the Wisdom Mass at Santa Sabina on Thursday, Sim brought me and Joe to Sydney International Airport, where we boarded our flight to Cairns, Queensland! After catching a bus to our hostel, we unpacked and enjoyed a hearty backpackers meal (does the sarcasm translate well here?), met our German (?) roommates and spent the night playing cards, eating cookies, and listening to music – just like many nights and weekends with our friends at PC.
Yes you are seeing this right - keep reading!
On Friday we woke up bright and early, enjoyed a brekky of apples, peanut butter and coffee, and met the Uncle Brian’s Waterfalls and Rainforest bus on the curbside of our hostel – What. A. Day. Our tour guide's name was "Cuz Rohan," an enthusiastic and hilarious bloke who took us through the mountains and forest, cracking heaps of hilarious jokes and providing the history of everything along the way. Our first stop for the day was to the "Devil’s Pools," named for the dangerous nature of the rapids along the creek. After doing some exploring on the trails, we enjoyed some morning tea before taking a dip in a "refreshing" (Cuz's vocabulary suggestion to substitute "cold") nearby pond.
I promise this isn't photoshopped!
After warming up in the sun we drove to our second destination, Josephine Falls, where we experienced an incredible waterfall and the most amazing natural water slide! We all took turns sliding down the rocks, and Cuz even took a bunch of pictures on his waterproof camera for us. And although the water was nearly freezing, Cuz reminded us, “This is WINTER in far-north Queensland!” Good perspective.
Beats summers waiting for the slide at the town pool.
From there we drove a long while to lunch, but enjoyed some fun bus games along the way, including the super awkward game of matchsticks (which, funnily enough, was exactly how Joe and I met... just replace the matchsticks and lifesavers with passing an orange from my neck to his). But Cuz rewarded us with some chocolate, which made the whole event pretty forgivable. We stopped at a cute roadside café for lunch that overlooked the incredible Atherton Tablelands, and I was reminded of the road trip I took with my family two summers ago along Skyline Drive!
Did you ever imagine Australia looked like this?
Completely dry and warm with full bellies, we made our way to the famous Milla Milla Falls and experienced the most incredible waterfall I've ever witnessed – it was like something out of the movies! We braved the frigid water and took lots of funny pictures in front of the falls, before heading off for our last swim in a crater lake! The water was nice and warm here, and we even experienced some not-totally-allowed-by-park-rangers fun by taking turns jumping out of a gum tree into the lake! Rebellious. 
On the set of Lost... just kidding! I think...
After changing into dry clothes, we headed off to a nearby creek and enjoyed some afternoon tea, even spotting a cute little platypus! As the sun set, we packed up our things and began the journey back to Cairns - but not without some epic dancing and singing the entire way. We even sang along and made up a dance to "Hey Baby," the McPhail's (PC's on-campus bar) last call song! Look at that - PC in Australia. It was an incredible day of experiencing the truly beautiful world we live in - both the nature and the people.
I feel like my life has become a postcard... no complaints.
While Friday's activities set the bar high, Saturday was just as enjoyable! After another modest brekky, Joe and I enjoyed a sunny walk to the docks where we hopped a boat to The Great Barrier Reef! (What is our life?!) We enjoyed a day of snorkeling and experienced some of the most incredible colors and fish I have ever seen! I couldn't find Nemo or Marlin anywhere, but I think I spotted a Dory! We even saw an eel/snake-like creature, which gave us the heebie-geebies.
Hmmm, are we sure this isn't Lost? It IS the South Pacific.
It was a very relaxing day at the beach that provided quite the sunburn, but to say it was worth it would be quite the understatement. We ferried back to the mainland and enjoyed a walk around the waterfront, which is apparently infested with crocodiles. We capped the night off with another hearty backpackers meal and some good ol' rugby (The Wallabies won it again). It was another fabulous day with an even more fabulous friend!
Ummm... YOLO?!
On Sunday we checked out and proceed to backpack our way 20 Kilometers across town, in search of a church. Upon arriving at one too late and another that didn’t even offer a Sunday Mass, we collapsed in a heap at a nearby park. But that didn't get us down - we refueled with some PowerAde, found some shade and caught up on some leisurely reading instead! We eventually grabbed some lunch and continued our day of reading, warm weather and good friendship. And as the sun began to set, we said goodbye to paradise and caught our flight back to Sydney.
The Australian mainland has become our homeland. 
Cairns was the perfect holiday - arriving at the exact halfway mark of our trip, it was the ideal opportunity to reflect on everything we had experienced to that point, to take a short break and refuel, and mentally prepare for the three weeks to come. The greatest lesson I learned while in Cairns came from good ol' Cuz Rohan on Friday, when he played Van Morrisen's "Bright Side of the Road" for us in the tour bus. The lyrics read, "Into this life we're born, Baby sometimes, sometimes we don't know why, And time seems to go by so fast, In the twinkling of an eye, Let's enjoy it while we can, Won't you help me sing my song, From the dark end of the street, To the bright side of the road." I realized that much of our happiness in this life will come from seeing the good in the little things. Of course, I experienced much joy in witnessing The Great Barrier Reef and in hiking through the world's oldest rain forest. But it was also the smaller, seemingly insignificant moments during the weekend - reading in the park, playing cards in the common kitchen room, walking 20K in search of a church - these were the moments that no one could recommend in any tourist magazine, that no one could predict. And seeing life from the bright side of the road means seeing these little moments as little blessings, not as blips. And when I look back on my excursion to the Gold Coast 20 years from now, my memory of the colors of the fish at the reef or the temperature of the water in the rain forest may fade. But that feeling of content, of being in the presence of a true friend and a loving God, will remain steadfast and certain forever.