Stories of Renewal: Mind

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2

Our world moves quickly. And we get stuck in patterns, in ruts, mental or otherwise, that do not serve us well. We end up serving the cause of efficiency, or success, or an organization–and our mind begins to form to the values and desires of the world we are engrossed in. Sometimes these are healthy causes, healthy motivations, but often not, and often they aren’t created for the flourishing of humanity. Our minds are being formed in that way all the time whether we are aware of it or not, hence the need to ‘be transformed by the renewing of our minds.’ The very form of our mind needs to be changed. Here are some stories about how peoples’ minds were renewed over break.

“I am a person whose personality lies at the anxious/worrisome end of the spectrum. Being so, I find renewal and relaxation through reassurance. I spend time doing things that allow me to reconfirm my passion for, or decision to pursue, different activities, beliefs and schoolwork. As a result, I spent this winter break recharging at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo (my workplace for the past 8 years). I am fortunate enough that my current work is my passion. At the zoo, I was able to recharge and reconcile the discrepancies of my thoughts and feelings. I addressed the doubt that I, and surely others, experience as we sit in classes that we absolutely hate but are told we’re supposed to enjoy. I woke up at 6:00 AM, 5 days a week including holidays, to sift through wood chips on my hands and knees looking for fecals and to scrub remnants of the previous day’s dinner off enclosure walls. Like all other past experiences at the zoo, I absolutely loved it! It was another chance to calm my anxiousness and renew myself for the upcoming semester.”
-Dominic Dongilli, Cortinian

“When I left Creighton for winter break I had no idea that I would end up having a “change-of-mind.” Last semester was the busiest 4 months of my life. Not only was I taking 19 credits, but I also had 2 jobs, was the co-president of a student organization, and was involved in multiple other activities. Needless to say, I did not allow myself very much quiet time, alone time, nor reflection about the person I was, the things I was doing, and the people I was surrounding myself with. It wasn’t until I had these past 4 weeks of no commitments that I was able to step back and evaluate my situation.

Giving myself the ability to take a breather over break has been more beneficial than I could ever explain. It has allowed me to reflect on my relationships, both at home and at school, that I really value and cherish; it has opened my eyes to those relationships that I have that are really unhealthy and that I need to either work on or distance myself from; and it has helped me realize that I have a lot of people at school who I really want to get to know better. When I am around a lot of people and don’t allow myself sufficient alone time, it is hard for me to separate the friendships that bring out the best in me from those that bring out the worst. Because when I am around certain people, I can unwillingly change into someone I don’t want to be. But by stepping back, I have had a change of mind, and now everything seems so much clearer; I know who I am, where I am going, and who I want to be. This change of mind has definitely been for the better.”
-Haley Warren, Cortinian

“Over the course of this winter break, I’ve experienced something I hadn’t known in a very long time: nothing was due.  Though I am far from spending all of my time during the semester working, there is always the knowledge that there is something I should be working on, particularly this past semester with graduate application deadlines all at the end of the calendar year.  That was all essentially complete before Christmas though, allowing me to enjoy time with my family and then something very different: true free time.  And in that period I discovered something about myself—I don’t know what to do with true free time.  While I enjoy getting the chance to read, watch TV, etc., it doesn’t provide the same level of satisfaction I find in the classroom, the research lab, with my friends at school and in the Cortina Community.  The break has afforded me the possibility of a mental renewal, a ‘hard reset’ on my own thoughts, to let me face the new semester with a fresh mind.  I’m glad I had the break, but now it is time to start again, and I’m excited to do so.”
-John Otto, Cortina RA


Stories of Renewal: Body

“There is more wisdom in your body than your deepest philosophy.”

The above quotation would not be accepted by all. But, it makes an important point–our bodies are more than just vehicles that carry around our minds. In fact, our minds can be deeply affected by our bodies, and vice versa. Bodies have a kind of unquantifiable knowledge that, however much we want to dismiss it, is highly important to our functioning and flourishing in the world. Here are some stories about ways our community members were renewed in body over break.:

“I had a wonderful Christmas Break this year.  While all of the students were gone, my wife and I stayed behind and enjoyed a lot of quiet time around McGloin.  We entertained visitors and were able to take some much needed time for ourselves.  One of the things we began in December that we continued throughout the break is that we have begun a new workout regimen.  My weight and overall level of fitness is something I have struggled with my entire life.  Within the past year and a half, I have switched over to a mostly plant-based diet, heavily restricting animal sources of protein.  In December, we began and have really committed ourselves to an 8-week workout routine from a wonderful and FREE site, (I promise, this is not product-placement!  I just love that all of these videos are completely, 100% free. No signing up, no information needed!).  After having completed five weeks, I can say that I really feel great and have noticed an overall change in energy.  I’m also staying off the scale and focusing more on overall health and wellness.  Doing that, I’m staying positive and focused excited for the future.  While I work in a “helping profession,” I think this is true for everyone…In order to take care of others, we must take care of ourselves first.  Happy 2013!”
-Kevin Cleary, Cortina Director

“I started training for my first triathlon the same summer my baby cousin was diagnosed with Leukemia. I had signed up for an all women’s triathlon in January and was beginning to start to figure out how to be athletic when we got the call that the smallest member of my family had cancer. I began to feel guilty about the things my body was beginning to do. I felt strong and alive. I knew that Bridget would never be able to have this experience. Her body, for no reason, was attacking her.  It seemed remarkably unfair that my body was capable of so much while hers was shutting down. But, I had to race in a few months, so I had to continue to train.

I began to pray for her as I ran.

I learned then, that my whole body could be a prayer. I had the ability, indeed the obligation, to move myself as gift, as thanks, as praise.
It’s easy to fall out of that. It is easy to get caught up in repetitions and muscle mass and cute new running clothes. I found myself falling out of that. I found myself using exercise as only exercise.

This winter, we got the call that Bridget, my now five year old baby cousin is officially a survivor. The renewal of her body made me reexamine the renewal of my own. Knowing that her body was healing made me stop and think again about the way I move and the power in my own body. Exercise, movement, the way I carry myself throughout the world is a declaration of life. The way that Bridget moves and tumbles and lives is a continuation of life, of praise, a declaration. We have the power to use our bodies as honest expression, as prayer, as rejoicing. So, I invite you—take your new year’s resolution to exercise as a chance to renew and reorient yourself. Take the renewal of your body as a reminder of what it’s really all about.”
-Sarah Peraud, Cortinian

“I have always struggled with depression. Some days I will wake up and my body says, “No. No, I can’t do anything right now. Or maybe ever.” Sometimes I have no choice but to listen to it. I have no will or desire to resist the thousand pounds of weight that pins me to my bed or my couch or wherever I am when it is dropped on me. For much of my life, this was not a huge problem. I just napped a lot. And did things when I felt like I could. And when I couldn’t, I couldn’t. Being a teenager, there weren’t so many responsibilities that made it imperative that I get out of bed (not to mention being a 3 sport athlete seriously increased my level of movement and health).

Being a quasi-grown-up with responsibility to many outside of myself, and feeling the added weight of becoming a mature human who has hopes of some kind of joy-filled, meaningful work in the world, it hit me over break that this depression thing is deeply unsustainable. In previous years, I had assumed that the root of my particular depression was rooted in my mind, if I could just get my mind right, things would be fine. I always tend to de-emphasize the importance or impact that the body and its chemistry has on the mind and on living. I have been known to say things about germs like, ‘If I can’t see them, they aren’t there.’ This, of course, was said in jest, but the flippancy of my attitude towards them should illustrate my level of concern for all things biological.

Over break, my mom invited me to start a cleanse with her called ‘CLEAN: Restoring the body’s natural ability to heal.’ Without going into specific details, the cleanse is doing just that. My energy levels are at an all-time high, mornings are exciting times to be alive, and naps (which I love) are impossible to take. I do not assume that this will be how it is every day, or that depression will not sneak it’s way in other ways, or that this would be the fix for everyone who suffers from it. However, the cleanse and the focus on renewing my body has been an incredibly liberating experience and I am grateful to have the time and resources to do it.”
-Annie Dimond, Cortina Graduate Assistant Director


Stories of Renewal: Spirit

“The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year, but rather that we should have a new soul.”
–G.K. Chesterton

This seems a bit intense. What a change! Does the movement from December 31 to January 1=new soul? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I can envision a very strange science fiction novel that adopts that kind of plot line. But in all seriousness, at the rollover to the new year we are usually at home, enjoying a crazy-long break (1 month?! What?!). Things are fundamentally different than they are during the semester. If there is any time best suited as a season for renewal, that was it. Listening to the experiences of people in our community, whether Cortina students, alumni, staff, or community partners, can help us understand what the break and the New Year has brought in the way of renewal for some, and remind us to reflect on ways we received renewal this break, maybe even ways we weren’t cognizant of at the time.

We need to be renewed. It gets old to feel old. Today we will hear stories about ways people were renewed in Spirit over break.

“As a gardener, I find the winter season somewhat challenging. When that first freeze hits and all the plants die, my spirit can plummet just like the temperatures. I live for the warm days of spring, filled with the smell of fresh rain, the sight of tiny green sprouts and the feel of the sun and the sounds of birds filling the air. Just so you know how much I love spring… I start counting the days from the December Solstice – 64 days now til spring!
But then I have to remind myself that the winter also brings opportunities. The cold days are great for sitting in a comfy chair with a beverage, studying seed catalogs, dreaming about the new varieties of plants I will try in the garden this season. I think back on how the past season went, what I will do differently, what I considered to be successful. It provides a time for the soil to regenerate, for the remains of last year’s crops to break down in the compost pile, returning valuable nutrients to the soil.
But then I have to remind myself that the winter also brings opportunities. The cold days are great for sitting in a comfy chair with a beverage, studying seed catalogs, dreaming about the new varieties of plants I will try in the garden this season. I think back on how the past season went, what I will do differently, what I considered to be successful. It provides a time for the soil to regenerate, for the remains of last year’s crops to break down in the compost pile, returning valuable nutrients to the soil.
These cold, gray, snowy days remind me that in August I may be cursing the hot, humid, scorching days. Many people enjoy living in the Midwest because we get to experience the change of seasons, each with its own joys and disappointments. As Ecclesiastes says, “For every thing there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” My goal is to use each season to renew my joy, energy and passion and appreciate all that each change offers.
-Roxanne Williams, City Sprouts

“The holiday break of 2012 was on my mind since about August. Even though I have been out of college for a few years, the break before the start of a new calendar year must have become part of my biological clock. For the past few years, the holiday break has meant intentional quiet time with my family. To step away from work which exhausts a lot of my mental and physical energy, and there never seems to be a time when you ‘clock out.’
That quiet time with family leads up to one of my favorite things about the holiday break : Our New Years Eve party. A time when all of my community comes together to celebrate and reflect on our year together, eat good food and drink good drink, and to anticipate together how we can be better for the upcoming year. The part that is renewing for me is that the New Years Eve party is a reminder that I am continually shaped by who I invite into my life. Those who are in my life have permission to make me better, to continue to stretch my definition of ‘neighbor’ that I am called to love. It also is a constant reminder to always be considering ‘who else should I invite to this circle?’ and ‘whose voice is not being heard that needs to speak into my life.’ So over the break, I would say my community helped ‘renew a right spirit within me’…and it wasn’t just the spirits we were drinking on New Years Eve!”
-Jeff Spiehs, inCommon Community Development

“Hello, my name is Tim McDermott, and I am a new member of the Cortina Community this Spring Semester. During my Fall Break Service Trip to El Paso, Texas this past semester, I discerned that if it was possible I should take the chance to apply for transfer into the Cortina Community halfway through the year. I decided to take this chance because of all the stories and opportunities I heard about from some of my fellow group members on the service trip who were already part of the community. This was out of the ordinary but thankfully I was able to take the place of a Cortinian who is studying abroad in the Encuentro Dominicano program. Although I was not a part of the community last semester, I am extremely excited to be a part of it in this coming semester!
This past Christmas break has been a great time for renewal of my spirit. It was good to be home with my family from whom I have learned many lessons about love and service.  My home was also the foundation for my Catholic faith and identity. Returning to my parish at home as well as visiting with some close friends reminded me of where I have come from in terms of my faith and my spirit. I have much to look forward to this semester in terms of service with my weekly service site, which is the Crestview Apartments Group. I also will be coordinating a CCSJ Spring Break Service Trip to Stroud, Oklahoma. With both of these things to look forward to, as well as the Cortina Community as a whole I can tell that I have a great semester ahead of me!”
-Tim McDermott, Cortinian

“I had been dreading Christmas since about Thanksgiving. I felt like the consumerism was all in my face. I missed my grandpa and my dog and the friends I made last Christmas. I asked for nothing, which to my grandma made me difficult and a party-pooper, but she did come with me to a church in Springfield on Christmas Eve. The service was about ‘coming home.’ The pastor described ‘home’ as where ever you are welcomed with open arms, loved regardless of where you’ve been, and the party isn’t complete without you. I thought about a lot of people and places, some feeling more home-y by this definition than others. Even though I was feeling out-of-sync with my family Christmas, they welcomed me, loved me, and missed me. I can’t fully describe it here, but Christmas finally felt like home when our family friends stopped by Christmas night. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t seen them in almost two years. The sequence of being reminded how to find God in the spirit of coming home and the joy of catching up and laughing with old friends was the spiritual renewal I think my whole family needed.”
-Jordan Kellerstrass, Cortina Class Co-Chair

“During my time at Creighton, my family has changed as extremely as my worldview. In the past two years my parents divorced, by sister moved to middle-of-nowhere Missouri, my mom remarried, I suddenly had two stepsisters, ages 11 and 15, and my dad moved to New Jersey.
To some, this might seem like a story that should shake me to my emotional core—a true restructuring of my foundation that should have dramatic effects on my psyche. To a 19-year-old me trying to establish myself as a free and potentially independent semi-adult, I saw this potential for emotional disaster and instead responded in the best way I knew how—total detachment. I refused to let myself become emotionally involved in what I affectionately called “the family fiasco back home,” instead casually watching from the sheltered Creighton sidelines.
This strategy was particularly taxing on my relationship with my mother. We have never been particularly close, not because we don’t like each other, but because we just have very little in common. I have always been remarkably similar to my dad, which as you may imagine, now became a source of tension. Christmas break of last year, my mother and I had a conversation in which she told me she had a hard time being around me because she couldn’t get over how similar I was to my father. After a lot of tears and messy explanations, we mutually established a desire to “at least be cordial” in our future as family. Needless to say, the goal of “cordial” was not much of a motivator to hurry home and invest in my family relationships.
I delayed going home for Christmas this year as long as I could, longing for anything to do other than go home and ‘be cordial.’ But when I finally arrived, it was immediately clear that there was a renewal occurring both in myself and in my mother that stemmed from a love and a dedication far greater than anything her and I could muster. For reasons that I can only explain as ‘I guess God does, in fact, give a damn about our family,’ my mother began to clearly see me as her son independent of her ex-husband, and I began to love her for the simple fact that she is my mother—a reason that I usually find uncompelling. This love created space for the most enjoyable and beautiful time I have ever spent with my mother, and God’s gift of loving her for family’s sake created a foundation to love her for reasons specific to her as a person.
I left home with a completely renewed capacity to love my mother and to allow her to love me, and it was the first trip home I have ever wished was longer.”
-Westin Miller, Cortina RA


“Do they know it’s Christmas time?”

“Do they know it’s Christmas time?” used to be one of my favorite holiday jams, but now it bothers me. I don’t want to disregard the fact that people are suffering in the world, but I spent last Christmas in Rwanda, and I know they know it’s Christmas time. Without going into detail, the song paints a picture of Africa like it’s a single story of dreaded fear in need of joy from our world of plenty. It paints a single story of Christmas too. My Christmas in Rwanda went more like this…

Last night we had dinner with a group in rural Rwanda called Rwandera which translates to “Educate Rwanda.” We ate outside in a big circle. Before getting our food, we listened to a few group leaders explain their objectives, hopes, and dreams and partnership with FACE AIDS. While they were talking, a young girl came and sat next to me and held my hand like it was the normal thing to do. She’s the one I remember when I think of the money we raise to help PIH pay for kids’ school fees. That night a few of us stayed with a member of Rwandera and her family. Gusenga is the name of the 16 year old boy and the only one in the house who spoke English. The first thing he told us was that his mom said we were new sisters in their family. We shared pictures of our families and talked about Christmas traditions. It made me super uncomfortable when one of the girls showed Gusenga a picture of her house and others talked about stocking stuffers and opening presents… We asked him what his family does on Christmas. He said, “We smile.”

A local doctor friend of our coordinator picked up three out of ten of us to go to church this morning. It was a beautiful day and there were smiling people everywhere out and about talking and waiting for the first service to get out. The inside was big. It had tall ceilings, simple stained glass windows, two nice Christmas trees in front, clean wooden pews on each side and rows of lawn chairs in the middle.

I thanked the doctor for bringing us to the church. He said it was his pleasure and he was surprised anyone on our side wanted to come to church. He said he used to be the same way as his friend/ our coordinator, thinking that everything he did, all the good work, was because of his education and not much else – thinking God wasn’t a part of it – just me, my education, and my personality out to save the world. But he doesn’t believe that anymore. He believes there is more to it and faith gives his life a greater sense of purpose.

When we first sat down, I was bummed because I had to sit on the little gap between two benches and knew it was going to be a long service. I got over it quickly when more people started coming and everyone was squishing together and kids were sitting on laps. The protocol (ushers) were going up and down isles to tell people to squish even more so everyone could fit, and they did so enthusiastically. There were so many people and everyone was singing and dancing. You would have thought this was a huge birthday party for Jesus Christ or something. It was a great place to be on Christmas morning.

The service was in Kinyarwanda, but we recognized the melody of Christmas songs. The prime minister was there. They had visitors stand and be welcomed. Children acted out the nativity. As we were leaving, the pastor shook my hand and made me say Merry Christmas in Kinyarwanda before we could leave.

Last night we went to the perfect Christmas party in Kigali. We got to Jean d’Amour’s house around four and were greeted by his group, Acts of Gratitude. To introduce each other in the AoG fashion, we went around and said our names plus one thing we like and one thing we didn’t like. Most of Jean d’Amour’s friends liked things such as making new friends, love, honesty, and disliked things like lies, hate… Some likes from our American group: food, friends, dancing, traveling. Dislikes: mushrooms, running out of snacks, being away from family, not getting enough sleep, and mine was mosquito bites. I wished I had said wastefulness or something more dislikable, but today I told Jean d’Amour I felt silly for saying mosquito bites and he said not to worry, people can say any like or dislike. It doesn’t matter. That’s the point.

Then we ate. There was rice and fruit and whatever everyone else ate. We dispersed to have conversations with new friends. One guy told me he tries to be like Jean d’Amour because he is so kind and generous and hard working. He said sometimes he will go to bed and Jean d’Amour is up working and find him in the same place the next morning, still working. Some personal stories were shared with the whole group. I don’t remember details, but the theme was young people coming together to make a difference and being brothers and sisters. We played an icebreaker game that turned into a dance party and everyone hung out like old friends. The best part of the day was being around people, especially Acts of Gratitude, who really understand and embody the spirit of Christmas and treat new friends like close family.

Let’s not let them know it’s Christmas time by giving to charities once a year. Let’s let them know [that we know] it’s Christmas time by prioritizing our faith and family / friend time over shopping and wish lists.