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Ode to a Girl Scout

Saturday, June 24, 2017

I tried many things as a kid - dance, soccer, Girl Scouts, flute, altar-serving, just to name those I can remember. Most didn't last for long, probably because there wasn't anything I enjoyed quite as much as reading books.

So, it's very ironic that now I'm the leader of a little Girl Scout troop. The Girl Scouts have a terrific program for fellow non-profits so they can have their own special closed troops. I connected with them about doing activities with our after-school girls and then it evolved into a troop. And then somehow I became the troop leader. An advice often given to women who have left religious life is "Take up something new and different after you leave community". I just wasn't expecting this one.

Not my troop. But you get the point.
As much as I fumble through it with the help of another troop leader, this really is the perfect group of girls for me. Our girls aren't your stereotypical middle-class vanilla troop. Out of the stories I know, three girls are cases with Child Protective Services, two girls are former foster-kids that were adopted last year, one girl has a father in jail, and almost all of the girls live in poverty, their afterschool care paid for by childcare subsidies. Their transition and raggedness mirrors my own.

But it's Tatiana (not her real name), who I specifically want to focus on.

We have only a few girls that are not Daisies (the littlest of the Girl Scouts) and Tatiana is one of them. And if I had to pick one of my favorites, Tatiana would be one of them. It's not because she's one of the most well-behaved...because she's not. In fact, the teachers are frustrated with her, searching endlessly for what might actually make Tatiana happy.

At first, I thought this attachment to Tatiana was because she reminded me so much of another girl I knew about ten years ago - a girl that was in my dorm in the hogar in Bolivia, a girl whose hard shell I wish I could have cracked, a girl I wish I would have treated better.

But as time passed, I realized that it wasn't just that. It was because I saw myself in Tatiana. I saw the anger. I saw the unhappiness. I saw the brokenness. I saw that it's still not okay.

See, Tatiana's mom is also my client, so I knew her story perhaps better than the teachers did. Tatiana's mom struggles to pay the bills and when her boyfriend, the only dad Tatiana knew, was arrested and put in jail, it was devastating both financially and emotionally for the family. Tatiana was already a rebellious girl but that was the tipping point.

While Tatiana's little brother was a bit more of a blabbermouth, Tatiana herself was tight-lipped. And if you asked her about her situation, she probably would have said "Why would I care about that?"

In Tatiana, I saw everything I was feeling - but kept hidden - played out in front of me. Every time she disrespected authority (which was often), I thought of the times I wanted to do the same when I disagreed with a decision but didn't. Every time I caught of a glimpse of her brokenness, I thought of my own.

Maybe you're reading this and thinking "um, I don't think her behavior is the way a Girl Scout should act". And you're right. But, at the same time, I see qualities in Tatiana that were exactly what a Girl Scout should be. I've seen her open doors for others without being prompted. I've seen her smile. I've seen her cry when the same things that she's complained about are taken away. I've seen her progress, each step as slow as a snail, but still. Seeing that little progress in her gives me hope for mine.

Tatiana is the type of girl I see that would make the world a better place, truly living out the Girl Scout Law I'm slowly memorizing. Because Tatiana is strong. Because Tatiana is honest (maybe too much) with herself and her feelings. Because I truly believe that one day, Tatiana will heal and use that healing to help others.

Through the Tunnel

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"The future belongs to God, not to us. Man does not have the imagination of God, so when we think of the future, we think of it being like the past... 
The future is like a tunnel. You can’t see anything inside, and only a fool would expect it to look the same upon exiting as upon entering it." 
- Brother Christian de Cherge
(from "The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria")
When I left the Daughters eight and a half months ago, I had no idea what the future held. I had some resemblance of a practical plan - I had a residence, a job, and a bank account - but there was no predicting what would happen next. What I couldn't predict was the loss of some friendships, the growth of others, general awkwardness, and a spiritual and emotional transition.

It would be nice if I could have easily slid back into being the person I was five-plus years ago. After all, I was happy with a good job, good friends, and on my way to getting a Master's degree. And I had a plan for my life. I left it for the Daughters because I felt that religious life was the "missing piece" I was looking for - that culmination of my desires to serve God and serve the poor. I felt that God was calling me.

But the future is not like the past. I can't be that person from five years ago. I can't be the same exiting the tunnel as I did entering it. There was so much I had yet to learn and so much yet to experience, both good and bad.

I had yet to experience the best and worst of community life, yet to experience the deaths of a number of my friends (including a housemate) and sing "Salve Regina" at their burials, yet to meet several people that are the most Christ-like people I know, yet to know the joys and perils of intergenerational living.

I had yet to see modern-day segregation firsthand or listen to an immigrant working in inhumane conditions in a shrimp factory, yet to be kissed on the hand by an elderly Eastern European refugee, yet to deliver milk cartons to kids in housing projects, yet to hear the words "we didn't eat dinner last night; we're saving the food for the kids".

I believe there's a misconception (one that even I fall into sometimes) that because one leaves religious life, they must have misheard God's call. Perhaps it was the result of poor discernment. Perhaps because they didn't pray enough before entering. Perhaps they rushed into it. In a way, all of these misconceptions imply that their time with their community was somehow a mistake. As if they entered a tunnel that wasn't meant for them after all.
I would challenge that.

I believe God did call me to be a Daughter (and called me to leave too). I believe that those experiences and lessons from the past five years were within God's crazy imagination for my life, each piece somehow fitting in the big puzzle that is me.

And, if that's the truth, then I have to believe and trust that there's so much more wonderment to discover as I journey through this tunnel into the unknown.


The New Me...Or Not

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Maybe it was rebellion, maybe it was a chance to do something simply because now I could, maybe because it was a small way to reinvent myself...but I dyed my hair.

Or at least attempted to.

I dyed it the color auburn because it was a change but not too absurdly far away from my natural color, medium brown. So, last Saturday, with the support of my co-worker and friend, I did it by myself.
Definitely NOT how I did it.
Oh my goodness, I can't even imagine.....
It was barely noticeable. In fact, almost no one at work even said a word.

So, I did it again today - this time with my friend there, doing it for me, using the whole bottle.
And, you know, it's still not that noticeable.

As I waited for it to air-dry, all I could think of was "this is so freakin' indicative of my journey so far"

Just as I checked the mirror every five minutes or so (okay, maybe even shorter than that) as my hair was drying to see if the color was brighter, I too am impatient for a "new me" since leaving the Daughters.
I didn't just leave behind a cross or a habit when I left the Daughters; I left behind an identity. I left behind a life. I left behind people that shaped who I am. I left behind a future.

I grow impatient with myself as I try to build a new life. Why do some things still hurt? Why haven't I figured it all out yet? Why hasn't my support system grown yet? Why do I feel stuck?

What friends have to tell me over and over again is that it takes time.

As I stared at my hair that still more or less looked like my natural hair color, I realized that it's true. My identity as a Daughter of Charity and Sister is so embedded in me that it's hard to so quickly cover up "with a new color", so to speak. Granted, this revelation probably happened because I found that my natural hair color is much darker than I thought. Anyway, having a post-Sister identity doesn't mean that it won't happen, just that it's not that simple. Color kits you buy in the stores only last a few months anyway.

I don't want this post-Daughter "new me" to be one that only lasts a few months. I want it to be one that lasts, one that's thought out, one that I'm happy with.

That means time. That also means graciously accepting that part of me will always be a Daughter of Charity, no matter what...just as I have to graciously accept that, no matter how many times I try to dye my hair auburn, those dark brown strands will still be there.

(And don't worry, I'm done dying my hair for now 😏)
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