This reflection was originally given on March 16, 2017 at the Reunion Service for the Spring 2017 Service & Justice Trips.
Hello everyone! For those of you who do not know me, my name is Bridget Sebby and I am a senior studying theology. I was a member of the service & justice trips core team last year and I just got back from my fifth service & justice trip. So first of all, I know that we have been back for about five days now, but I want to welcome everyone back to campus! I really hope that you all have had fruitful experiences and have been able to catch up on some sleep since being back. Tonight, I am going to be speaking to you all about some of the personal challenges I have had coming back from my trips, how I overcame these challenges, and finally, how I have been able to use my experiences on service & justice trips to shape my life at Creighton and in the future.
When I think about the SCSJ and specifically these trips, the first symbol that comes to mind is the praxis spiral. This is the logo for the SCSJ and can be found (in half) on our trip t-shirts. The praxis spiral is the on-going reflection method that asks three main questions that ultimately leads to further reflection and action. It asks what? So what? And now what? For the what: you ask yourself, what happened and what did I experience? For the so what: why does this matter? And for the now what: now what do I do? The praxis spiral has been extremely helpful to me in understanding, facing, and overcoming the challenges that come with returning from service & justice trips.
One of the greatest challenges I have faced coming back from my trips has to do with the “WHAT” question. My challenge is how to talk about my trip to those who did not go on it with me. Each trip is a new experience with a new group of people to a new community. No two trips are ever the same. On these trips you learn about the realities of justice issues, you meet the human beings being impacted, you hear their stories, and you create connections and relationships with new people in your life. After each trip, I come back to Omaha with a feeling of exhausted eagerness. Exhausted from the long and experience-filled week but eager to share my experiences with my friends and family. But we are faced with the question of how to even begin talking about what we experienced, saw, and heard that week.
Each time when I get back I hear the same question from my family and friends. “How was your trip?!” I am always tempted to answer with the cordial response, “it was really good!” But this statement doesn’t do my trip any justice. Instead, I have changed my response to “it was a great experience. I would love to tell you about it sometime!” I have found that this response is an invitation for further conversation instead of an easy one-liner and it usually picks out those who actually are interested in hearing about the trip. Before these conversations occur, I find myself asking myself, “Where do I even begin? How can I do justice to the stories of the different humans that I have met this week?” For me, the answer has been to think about the “what” of the praxis spiral and reflect on what happened and what I experienced on my trip.
After reflecting on my trip, I have found that the best way to talk about the trip is to simply tell specific stories of my experience that I found meaning in. For me, each trip has taught me something about life, about others, and about myself. In my story telling, I attempt to answer the questions of the praxis spiral by talking about what actually happened on my trip, why it matters, and what am I going to do now that I have had this experience? Tonight, I will tell you all a few short stories from my past trips, specifically focusing on what I have learned from them, how they have impacted my life, and how I have attempted to bring it back to Creighton.
On my first service & justice trip, I went to Little Rock, Arkansas. The focus of the trip was on hunger. For the last night there, our group travelled about an hour and a half south to stay with some Daughters of Charity in the small town of Gould, Arkansas. In this town, the population is about 800. When it was time for our group to go to the community center to spend time with some local children, I opted to ride with one of the sisters that we were staying with, Sister Judy. The drive was only about 5 minutes, but through conversation, it had come up that I am from a suburb of Chicago and that Sr. Judy spent time teaching in a high school in that area. After talking more, we discovered that she had taught at Marillac, the high school that had merged with my high school in the early 1990s. Taking it one step further, I told Sr. Judy that my mother was a member of the first graduating class at Marillac and it turns out that she taught, and still remembers, my mother as a student. So in this rural town of about 800, in southeast Arkansas, I found a very personal connection with Sr. Judy through my mother. This experience impacted my life because it taught me that the world really is a small place when you begin to be open to making connections with others. After this experience, I have attempted to live in a way that searches for these connections and builds relationships with others because you never truly know who might have taught your mother in high school.
Another impactful experience I had was on my trip to Morton, Mississippi, where I spent the week with a fourth grade class of students in a local school. One day, I was sitting next to a little girl named Hailey who I had become close with throughout the week. She seemed especially tired that day, so I asked her if she was tired today and if everything was okay. Her answer shook me. She told me that last night her father and her uncle had gotten in a fight at her uncle’s house and her father had been shot by her uncle and was taken to the hospital. She told me that she was tired because she was up all night with her mom who was on the phone with the hospital trying to understand what happened and making sure he was going to be okay. After she finished telling me this, she wiped her tears and gave me a smile and asked if I wanted to play Little Sally Walker again at recess today, which of course I did. This experience impacted me because Hailey taught me to stay positive and continue to smile and laugh even during the difficult times. This experience impacted my vocational calling by realizing that I am being called to work with students as a school counselor or campus minister. This experience also impacted and strengthened my world view that every person is going through something difficult, so be nice to each other and support one another.
The last story I am going to share with you is about my trip to Denver, Colorado. I spent one of the days at a center for people who are experiencing homelessness to come, receive a hot meal, garden and craft, and ultimately form and be a member of community. That day, out in the garden, there was a giant mural of a tree in which people were signing their names in permanent marker. I was speaking with the woman, Katherine, who had the idea of and painted most of the mural and she told me that all of the names by the base of the tree surrounding the pond were the names of all of the members of their community who have died. I was astounded by the amount of names I saw. She said, “even if they pass on from this earth, they never leave our hearts or our community.” This interaction impacted me because Katherine taught me that life really is short, but community can last much longer. I have attempted to bring this experience back by understanding why it is important to love people and your community, now, and what communities I am a part of. After this trip, I finally felt like a true member of the Omaha community, and not just the Creighton community. And I fell in love with my community and the people of Omaha. As a senior, coming to the end of college is a scary thing, but, after this change in view that Katherine gave me, I have found solace in the fact that community does not end even if our time with them does.
Each of these experiences that I have shared with you has taught me something about life and about myself. But more importantly, moving through the praxis spiral, I ask myself now what? How am I going to carry these experiences and stories with me and bring them back to Creighton? These questions move us towards action. For me, these experiences have led me to action through changing my world views, living in a more intentional way, going on more S&J trips, advocating for what I believe in, and sharing my story with others.
This past week, I have had the privilege of hearing some stories from some of you about your service & justice trips and from what I have heard, I can tell that there were some very amazing and impactful experiences that happened last week. For me, in order to turn my experiences into action, required reflection. So I am going to invite everyone to reflect with me. So, because every trip experience is different, the first thing I want everyone to do is to reflect back to their trip last week. I want everyone to call to mind one specific person, one story, or one experience that had an impact on you in some way. Now, I want you to go through the praxis spiral and ask yourself “what did I experience? What happened?”…. Then, ask yourself, “why did this impact me? What did I learn from that person, story, or experience?”… Finally, ask yourself “how am I going to bring this back to Creighton and my whole life? What am I going to do now that I have had this experience?”
Theology and Secondary Education
Class of 2017
The SCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the SCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.