Change

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First of all, I apologize for not writing a blog post since January.  Nearly 5 months later, here is a new one.  As you read, listen to this song by John Mayer.

Secondly, in April, I started a new part time work placement.  I still work at YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly.  But I am also an “intern” at Black Mountain Presbyterian Church (BMPC)!  I have been a youth advisor there since January and I am still helping with the youth group as well as viewing the behind the scenes roles that happen in a church.  This church has done nothing but support and love me throughout this year.  The members have made me a part of their church family and for that, I am eternally grateful.  Leaving this church at the end of my YAV year will be the hardest part about leaving Asheville.

Third, after this YAV year, I will be attending Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary!!  YAY!!!!!  I know me going to seminary may come as a shock to you (kidding), but I am excited.  I am hoping to get my Masters of Divinity as well as my Masters of Social Work.  What I want to do with both of those degrees, I have no idea.  For now, I am taking a break from discerning and will just enjoy being a seminary student.

As part of my work with BMPC, I attended a Montreat Youth Conference with 14 youth and 4 other adults from BMPC.  I was also a small group leader where I had 31 youth and 4 adults in my Small Group.  The theme for this summer’s Youth Conferences is “A World of Difference”.  We spent the first couple of days talking about how differences are good and God made each of us different for a reason (Tower of Babel Story and 1 Corinthians 12 – Unity and Diversity in the Body).  The second half of the week, we talked about how to be the difference among our families, churches, peers, and in the world.

As a youth group later in the week, we took time to discuss and reflect on what happened in Orlando early Sunday morning at 2:00 am.  When we get into the rhythm of our lives, we make no time to process events that happen in the world.  We might feel sad or angry, but then we go back to our normal lives.  It is easier and happier to turn away and not pay attention to what is happening in the world around you.  But, when we take the time to process events like Orlando, we allow ourselves to break up our rhythmic cycle of life so we can more deeply feel and sit with those emotions.  Our emotions help us to realize that something needs to change.  We want to take a stand for something, like gun control, because what we are seeing in our world makes us angry and most people I know do not like to be angry.

I also believe that when we do not take the time to process events in our lives and do not take the time to grieve for our brothers and sisters in Christ and when we keep seeing these tragic events year after year, then it is easy for us to become a little desensitized. We grieve for a day, and then we move on with our lives until the next tragedy happens where we will then be angered yet again.  But how do we keep those feelings of anger and sadness long enough to make us want to take a stand?  And how do we create change?  This week, the biggest mass shooting in U.S. history happened in Orlando.  Last year, nearly a year before, 9 church-goers were shot and killed during their weekly Bible Study.  When will this end?

Buzzfeed is usually a source of funny videos.  But, after the shooting in Orlando, some of the Buzzfeed Staff created this serious video that pretty much sums up my feelings and our time of processing with the youth.  Watch it here.

“I turn on the news; I try to understand.  But we fight and we argue. Nobody is to blame and everybody is to blame…We are to blame but we aren’t doing anything.  Throwing opinions like punches…But nobody listens. Nothing changes.  And it happens again and again and again.  So tell me.  What do I do?…And what are WE doing?  I am offended that our children are growing up in a world afraid of going to school or the movies or the club…I am offended that this is our new normal.  There is NOTHING normal about this…I am tired of talking.  Tired of praying, tired of wet cheeks and raw eyes.  I. Am. Tired.  Do we love freely or restrict freedom?  Do we change our laws or acknowledge our illnesses? Do we crack down or straighten up?  Or maybe, we do all of the above, because I don’t know much, but I know I have had enough.”

Friday during keynote, we listened to John Mayer’s song “Waiting on the World to Change”.  “Me and all my friends we are all misunderstood…Now we see everything that’s going wrong with the world and those who lead it.  We just feel like we don’t have the means to rise above and beat it.  So we keep waiting, waiting for the world to change.”  This speaks to every single human.  We are so far removed from the problems of our world.  We think there is no way a tragedy like this could happen to us so we go on with our normal routine in life.  We were urged by our keynoter to not be like John Mayer and his friends and to take a stand.  But how?  How do we create change in our society?  If you have been following the news this week, Congress voted on four different measures.  Two came from the Democrats and the other two came from the GOP.  They both voted to block each other’s measures.  In other words, nothing has changed in the realm of gun control.  So what do we do?  If Congress is not creating change, who is?  How do we, as young people who care about our world, create change?  What if Congress creates change but nothing in our world changes?  These questions are often asked rhetorically.  But this time, they are not rhetorical.  What do young people like me do?  What can we do?  Is speaking out about our frustrations enough?

I asked my small group a question not really expecting an answer: “Why does it take tragedy to bring people together?”  On this day, we were talking about Job and Job’s friends before they sucked at giving pastoral care.  Our Keynoter, Rodger put it in a good way.  Job’s friends sat with Job in silence for 7 days and then as soon as they opened their mouths, they messed it up.”  When tragedy happens, it seems as if communities come together to support one another in this chaotic world.  After tragedies, no one cares about the color of your skin or what God you believe in or who you will vote for.  The community supports one another.  What would our world look like if we loved on each other every single day instead of just when tragedy strikes?  What would the world look like if we took the love and acceptance we have on Sunday mornings and every summer at a Montreat Youth Conference and made that be a part of our daily lives?  The days following the event in Orlando when there was much anger, sadness, confusion, and frustration present on social media and in our lives, I was grateful to be in Montreat surrounded by 1200 youth who have so much hope and so many dreams for a better world.

The last thing I will leave you with is a song written by the Head and the Heart right after the shooting in Newtown, CT at Sandy Hook Elementary.  Give it a listen.

 

Let Your Light Shine

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A few weeks ago, I was asked to help out with the youth group at Black Mountain Presbyterian until I leave in August.  I said yes. I have mad respect for all of the youth advisors at Black Mountain Presbyterian: there is so much to learn from this group.  They are incredible.  This past weekend, I went with 20 senior high youth to a water-front house on Folly Beach.  It was amazing.  For one of the first times since leaving Hollywood, I was truly happy to be where I was: to just be for the whole weekend.  It was incredible to spend time with such bright and energetic youth.

[On Sunday I was able to experience what, for me, was one of the most defining experiences of the trip]. On Sunday morning, the 8 white youth advisors took our 20 white youth to Mother Emanuel A.M.E. for their two hour church service.  Now, in case you didn’t know Mother Emanuel by name, this is the church where, on June 17, 2015, 9 people, including the head pastor, were shot and killed during their Bible Study.  It was a hate crime. Most people know this.  What most people don’t know is that there was at least one other person in that room who lived, and 5 or 6 other people elsewhere in the church, some of whom belong to the family of the church’s pastor.  This church has a wonderful and hard history. It has always been a leading church when it comes to civil rights. MLK Jr. spoke there during the civil rights movement.  The church was destroyed and rebuilt twice; once because of an earthquake and then because it was burned down by whites.  This church is a community that has every right to be grieving and down in the dumps, but sitting with that community in worship on Sunday morning, I saw a church that- is grieving, yes- but is also strong and remains happy and is full of hope.  How the hell does the interim pastor continue to grieve but also remain positive, so full of hope, and give his congregation a sense of peace which they desperately need?

The advisors met on Saturday night to discuss how Sunday morning would play out.  Our original plan was to take half the group to an African American PC(USA) church and the other half to Mother Emanuel- we didn’t want to overwhelm either church with our group of 28 white people.  Berry (the BPMC youth pastor) called ahead to Mother Emanuel to ask if it was okay to bring a bunch of white kids to the service, and the response was “Come on, honey.  We have people coming through here all the time.”  Even with their welcome, we still discussed if it was appropriate for us to bring that many white people.  We wanted this to be a worship experience, rather than a field trip, that would take the kids (and probably some adults) out of their comfort zones.  And, really, what better weekend to attend an African American church than MLK Jr. weekend?!  That night we also discussed white privilege and how that would affect our group’s experience. The last thought we talked about was how this church grieved.  How can you grieve together as a community if other people were constantly coming to every church function?  That would be so frustrating and so hard.  In the end, we decided to take all of the youth and youth advisors to the same church.  And before we left the house Sunday morning, we talked to the youth about this new worshiping experience and the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as well as helping the kids be aware of the privileges they get just for the color of their skin.  We probably instilled some fear in the youth as I talked about white privilege and the last time they were scared to go through security at an airport or worship in their own faith community.

Church on Sunday was many of the youth’s first time to be the minority.  We made the kids split up into groups of two or three and sit in different places in the church, and everyone obeyed.  Berry sat by himself surrounded by church members.  We were welcomed from the very beginning.  For the first 10 minutes, all I was thinking about was how hard it must have been to step foot back into that church when such an awful thing happened in such a spiritual space.  And from the moment we entered the church, I could tell some of the youth were a little timid and maybe even scared.  It was a new place, they were out of their comfort zones.  I loved every second of it.  It was incredible.  New places and new faces are such a blessing; they always bring new adventures.  And this church service was one of the greatest adventures I’ve had in awhile.  There was so much positive energy and passion from everyone that participated in the service.  There were two different choirs (one at the front and one at the back)  and both were absolutely magnificent sounding.  There was an organ, a trumpet, and drums that played together.  The first hymn we sang, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, is known as the Black American National Anthem, and whenever we sing this hymn at my home church it seems to go by slowly and is not very energetic.  At Mother Emanuel however, it had so much passion and soul, probably because the words in that hymn are perfect for Martin Luther King Jr. weekend: “Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us, Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us March on till victory is won.” Every person in that congregation could sing better than I could, which made it that much better.  And that is how every hymn was.  It was so great.

Later that day at lunch, Berry, the youth pastor who sat by himself during worship, told us a story.  He told us how at one point during the service, he was crying because of how moved he was, when all of a sudden, he felt four hands on his back. The older lady sitting next to him reached over and grabbed his hand and held it. The members of this community, who have been through so much, are not supposed be the ones holding the outside community in prayer and helping them mourn; rather the surrounding community is supposed to comfort those members inside of the church. But that is not what happened on Sunday.  Instead, Berry was comforted by five black women as he grieved.  That church is so strong and so full of hope and so full of love.  They truly welcomed all people, even the white people who oppressed them and their ancestors, with open arms.

This particular Sunday was not a normal Sunday at Mother Emanuel A.M.E.  This was an opportunity these kids will probably never get again.  So many influential people were there and had the opportunity to say a few words.  Here’s the list: Bernie Sanders (I shook his hand); Attorney General – Eric Holder; Trayvon Martin’s mother – Sybrina Fulton; U.S. Representative from California – Maxine Waters (who is the longest woman of color to have a seat in Congress); Mayor of Baltimore; U.S. Representative from Maryland – Elijah Cummings; State Senator who took the seat of the Pastor who died during the shooting; Cornel West; U.S. Representative from Texas – Sheila Jackson Lee; and a couple of other former politicians.  John Lewis was supposed to be there, but, unfortunately, he was not.  When else will all of these people be in a room together that is full of so much grief and yet still find a way to offer up words of hope and encouragement?  This was an incredible and amazing opportunity; one that I will never forget.

Given this amazing group of people, I managed to write down some quotes from the service. Here are some of my favorites:  “Martin Luther King Jr. must have been talking about freedom ringing up above because how can freedom ring down here when we show each other so little love?” – Mother Emanuel staff.  “Once you’ve entered our doors, you are family to us… Turn to your neighbor and tell them ‘you love them and there ain’t nothin you can do about it.” – Interim head pastor.  Trayvon Martin’s mother told us to, “put our pain and grief into action.”  She also talked a lot about forgiveness, although I still cannot understand how you can lose a son and find strength to forgive the person who took your son away from you.  One of the preachers said, “God will not bring you to anything that he won’t bring you through”. All of those people, even Bernie, had something to say about marching on and working towards every person in the United States being treated with the same dignity and respect.  “…I don’t know of another place I would rather live, even with all its warts and pimples and its scars, don’t let anyone tell you, don’t let anyone reduce you that you are not just as much of an American as someone else. Because, we, too sing: ‘My country, ’tis of thee.” – Interim head pastor.  

For a group of nearly 30 “Frozen Chosen” folk, there was a lot of clapping and standing and swaying to the music.  We all clapped when the people around us clapped because apparently in new and unfamiliar situations, we are followers and not the leaders.  Now, a couple of times, the preacher said something about his congregation’s ancestors and their oppression.  And both times people were cheering and hollering and clapping, so I, being a follower, also clapped.  Then a second or two later, I realized that I probably should not have been clapping because my race was the cause of the oppression that the preacher was speaking of. It was too late though.  I was already clapping.  I did not want to clap.  Instead, I wanted to apologize.     

Emanuel in Hebrew means “God with us”.  That is a perfect name for that church.  God definitely is present in that church and in those members’ lives.  As I think about Mother Emanuel, I think of one of the most interesting books in the Bible: Job.  Job is a story about tragedy and how God allowed Job’s possessions, including his family, to be gone forever.  Job laments to God a number of times.  God finally comes out of the whirlwind to tell Job that Job cannot see all that God can see.  And sometimes God does things to help the chaotic world not be so chaotic.  Sometimes we cannot see all the things that come from the tragic losses.  I thought about that a lot this weekend.  Because of this tragic shooting, the state of South Carolina took down their confederate flag at the State Capitol; Obama urged Congress to do something about gun violence.  People like Sybrina Fulton have been trying to spread awareness about gun violence since her son was shot and killed.  Maybe now after this maddening event, more people will stand up to their representatives and senators to finally create change around gun violence.

My other favorite portion of the weekend happened on Saturday night.  We were told to grab a candle, walk in silence to two of the adult leaders who were a little ways away from our house, light our candle from their candles, and walk back to the house with our candles still lit.  We could use each other’s light to light our own if our candle went out, but it should be done in silence.  We each went out one by one.  As soon as I got outside and set foot onto the beach, I could see the youth huddled together laughing as they tried to keep their candles lit.  They had not made it far at all.  So, I walked to the adult leader and lit my candle, turned around and started walking back towards the house.  I had not made it more than 5 steps when my flame was extinguished by the wind.  Even the adult leaders from whom we got the light were having trouble keeping their flame lit.  It probably took me 20 or so minutes to walk 20 yards back to the house.  The beach was windy.  It was incredibly hard to keep our lights shining.  One 9th grader went back to the house to grab a lantern he had found.  This lantern held a candle and had a door you could open and close.  He would open the door to the flame to help someone light their candle, then close the door so he could keep his light.  Some youth said he had cheated; but in reality, he just thought outside of the box.  And many of us made it back to the house with our candles lit because of this smart youth.  When all of us were back inside of the house with our lit candles, we had a discussion.  Our lit candles were supposed to signify our passion and the light that shines within us.  And sometimes, our light is extinguished and we burn out.  We asked the youth questions about what they noticed in this exercise.  Some of their responses included “Sometimes, we need other people’s help to help us find or reignite our light”; “It isn’t always the best idea to go facing-forward”; and my personal favorite “Sometimes it can be risky to share your light with others”.  When sharing your light, you had to stop and allow other people to take your light.  Often times when this happened, your light would be extinguished by the wind.  And sometimes, you have to block the wind by walking backwards.  This exercise is obviously a metaphor for getting burned out in whatever you do in life, but it adds depth and insight to our lives.  It was incredible to hear what some of the youth said on this topic.

This retreat helped to re-light my candle.  There was so much exploring, so many new adventures, and so many new stories to tell and to hear.  This youth group is a blessing to my life.  These youth leaders have so much to teach me, but act as if they have so much to learn from me.  They have been in youth ministry for such a long time.  I have not.  What could they possibly learn from me?

 

 

 

 

Being in the Wilderness

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For over a month, I have struggled to write a new blog post.  I think mainly because I have been internally processing things and just trying to live my life in Asheville.

About a month ago, YAV held a transition retreat for all of the YAVs who had just finished their year.  This was run by the National YAV office and was held at the beautiful Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian Conference Center in New Mexico.  My housemates from LA were there along with many other YAVs that I had already been friends with or befriended at Orientation.

The weekend was long and intense.  We talked about the process of transitioning and the different emotions involved. The process includes three stages – Letting Go (endings), Letting Be (being, aka wandering in the wilderness stage), and Letting Begin (new beginnings). I still think I am processing my year and am in the second of the three stages.  Although I have began a new life here in Asheville, I think I am still in the wilderness looking ahead towards my life after this YAV year…wandering and wondering what and who God is calling me to be after my YAV years.  Overall, it was a wonderful weekend full of useful information.

There were a lot of great parts of the weekend but one in particular that was my favorite.  This favorite part happened during a worship time when we spent time in prayer with our site group.  It was the first time the five of us had spent time together, just us, that whole weekend.  It was the last night.  In our small group time before worship, we had traced and cut out our hands.  I gathered that we were supposed to write down names of people or places we wanted to pray for.  Other people in my Hollywood house heard other instructions about this particular activity.  In true Hollywood YAV fashion, we did not fully understand what was supposed to happen, so we winged it and it turned out beautifully, like always.  The only thing we really understood was that we were supposed to wash each others’ hands at some point during this activity since after all, it was a Wholeness and Reconciliation worship service.

We ended up just talking about our individual prayer requests, which is what we did at least once a week during our year together.  So this activity was nothing new to us.  It just felt normal.  Within the first 10 minutes, we were all crying.  And I’m not talking like a few tears, I’m talking like full on weeping.  We had to stop our prayer time to get tissues for all of us.  Also in true Hollywood fashion, we could not go a full three minutes without laughter.  This was supposed to be a serious activity.  But my Hollywood housemates always find a way to insert some humor and silliness into whatever activity we do.  And somehow we manage to reign in our silliness for a few minutes to get through the serious parts.  So, there we sat in a circle that was full of prayers and tears that were broken up by lots of laughter.

We were crying because we did not want to leave each other.  The weekend was a huge tease.  We had already said bye to each other and gotten used to being apart from one another just a month before in Hollywood.  Then we came back together for a grand total of 4 days.  At the end of those 4 days, we then had to say bye to each other for real this time and went our separate ways without knowing the next time we would all be together. The weekend was great but also extremely cruel.  As I write this, I am tearing up because I miss my Hollywood housemates so much.  This time of prayer with my housemates was my favorite because my housemates still to this day are my family and it was so obvious in our circle that there was nothing but love for each other.  A lot of this love and pure joy from being with one another had to do with the fact that there were no dishes or dirty house for us to fight over.

I still am having trouble deciphering if I actually loved LA as a city or if the people I surrounded myself with helped to make the city bearable.

I have been keeping up with one co-worker from PATH.  She recently gave me an update.  One client of ours passed away and two other clients called me by name and asked where I was and if I was coming back.  These two clients, I never knew that they knew my name.  I realized after I left Hollywood that these clients had impacted me more than I initially thought.  Some days, I would rather be back in Hollywood having a rough day because clients are frustrated with me for not having a bed available for them in our shelter than to be in Asheville where I am having an easy, very uneventful, but rainy and very cold day.  Some days when I was in LA, I wish I could have been hiking in the mountains of North Carolina.  I am really trying to live in the present and fully enjoy my time in Asheville.  Sometimes, it is hard to do that.

Enough about Hollywood.  Let’s talk about Asheville.

Asheville is great.  I love my housemates a lot.  We all love adventuring and most of us love One Direction and chick flicks.  So that is a big plus.  A few weeks ago, I got to dog sit for a family friend.  Their dog is so cute and we became buds.

Work is going well.  I work at Blue Ridge Assembly with their service learning program.  Groups will come and stay with us at Blue Ridge. We plan service projects out in the Buncombe County area for each day of their stay.  It is our hope that we can teach youth and young adults about problems the Asheville area is facing and why service is important to help those people being affected by those problems.

This past weekend, we had our first group.  One day, we were in a low-income housing apartment complex working in their community garden and orchard.  We planted two new apple trees.  It was great to hear how this orchard provides that community with so many pounds of apples and how we can have a positive impact just by planting a couple of apple trees.

I am so thankful I can be in a place that I already know fairly well and already have so many connections.  It has made this transition much easier.  This past Sunday, we got to go to a cookout at a pastor’s house who happens to live in Montreat.  It was perfect and beautiful as always.

That is my update to y’all.  I have always wanted to live in the wilderness, so here I am just wandering and wondering as one often does in nature.  John Muir once stated that “in every walk with nature, one receives far more than [s]he seeks”.  I am hoping that rings true after I wander in the wilderness for a little longer.

Serving Others

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“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Ghandi

I have posted a video above for you to watch if you would like to. It goes along with this post.

This week is my second week of work at YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly (BRA) in Black Mountain.  I work with the program staff.  Next week, I will be trained in their challenge course/ropes course so I can help lead activities and belay people whenever I am needed.  The other part of my job will be working with BRA’s service learning program.  Youth/College/School groups travel to BRA to participate in this program.  I will help plan, facilitate, and debrief their week.  They will volunteer for different organizations around the Black Mountain/Asheville area to learn more about the problems this area faces.  Some of the places they might volunteer are a food bank, a home for orphans or kids in the foster care system, a homeless shelter, or an organization that helps to keep the streams and rivers clean.  I love youth and I love non-profit work and this job combines both. So, I think this is where I need to be right now.

This past Saturday, my housemate, Lisa, and I went on a retreat in Montreat with Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church.  We had a speaker come talk with us about race and being bridge builders between the “haves” and “have nots”.  During our conversation as a large group, multiple people mentioned how doing good things for others not only was needed but made themselves feel good.

This week at work, I am attending a conference for youth workers within the YMCA.  Today, we talked a lot about doing service.  In 1853, when the YMCA was founded in England, it was run by all volunteers.  The YMCA was run ONLY by volunteers (NO PAID STAFF) for a couple of decades.

A person from the national YMCA office, Jorge, spoke to us tonight.  His message was all about getting more volunteers at the Y.  The YMCA’s already have a strong community within the walls.  Jorge challenged those YMCA workers to give back to the community outside of their walls of the YMCA to make that community stronger and healthier.  He stated that many people love to serve not because it is the right thing to do, but because people feel a sense of purpose and they feel wanted and needed.

Another speaker today had us watch the video that is posted at the start of this blog post.  Here are some quotes I pulled from it that resonated with me.   “Everyone helped everyone.”  “Average people. They stepped up when they needed to.  They showed me when American people need to come together and pull together, they will do it.”  “The greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”  “The largest sea evactuation in history.  On 9/11, 500,000 civilians were rescued by boat.  It took less than 9 hours.”

Why does it take a catastrophic event to make people work together?  Nobody was left behind.  EVERYBODY helped EVERYBODY.  It did not matter who it was, every person was helped that day.  And why have a lot of us never heard about this heroic act?  Desmond Tutu states “When we have actually served others, we discover a deep contentment.”  I definitely felt some happiness while watching that video.

Tom Shadyac, who is a director of many movies such as “Ace Ventura”, made a documentary “I Am”.  In his documentary, Shadyac sets out to discover what’s wrong with our world and what can we do about it.  Shadyac interviews his father, Richard. Richard was very involved in the hospital St. Jude’s that treats kids with cancer for free.  Richard helped to found it and was the national executive director for 13 years. In the documentary, they discuss how St. Jude’s is a perfect example of “love you neighbor as yourself” and debate why that philosophy does not spread.  Richard speaks about when he goes to mass every Sunday, he watches the congregation hug and embrace and kiss each other on the cheek. But after the service, they leave and don’t have that affection towards anyone during the week.  They don’t have that kind of love for one another except for at church.  This is tragic.

What would the world look like if we took that love outside of where we worship?  Would we have more compassion for each other and therefore help each other more?

Jorge (tonight’s speaker at the conference) also spoke about when a youth feels that deep contentment from serving, his or her whole life is changed.  That youth now knows that it is important to serve others not just for the purpose of serving but also to feel that contentment and feel as if they have gained something.  Serving others can sometimes be outside of a youth’s comfort zone.  And we all know that when you step outside your comfort zone, that is often when you grow and learn the most.

It is no wonder why so many YAVs go into ministry or some other type of non-profit work.  After serving others for a year, we are hooked to that feeling of deep contentment.

Last year I wrote about helping people before I judged them.  I think I did a pretty good job of doing that both at work and outside of my work at PATH.  This year, I hope to take that love that we have for each other in church with me during the week. Gandhi said that we find ourselves when we get lost in the service to others.  So here’s to stepping outside our comfort zones and getting lost in order to serve others so that we may find ourselves, grow, and learn.

Home

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Monday, I left Little Rock.

Yesterday, I arrived in Asheville.

I was home for nearly 3 weeks. It was the first time I had been home since Christmas. That was the longest I had ever gone without a trip home…8 whole months.

I made Hollywood my home. I had to or I would’ve been really sad all of the time. The last few months, I did not want to leave. I knew the end of my time was coming in Hollywood but did not want to believe that I had to leave sunny Southern California.

I hate leaving places. Always have. Always will. That is when I get the saddest. The first few days at home I did not want to be in Little Rock. I wanted to be back in Cali with my funny and weird housemates. I was and still am mourning the loss of my community.

No one in Little Rock understood what I went through in L.A. My housemates understood. I wanted them back.

There are times when I get real vivid pictures that pop into my brain of spaces around Hollywood. They are so vivid that I could almost tell you whose star I’m standing by on the Walk of Fame. It’s almost as if I closed my eyes, I could feel like I were back in Hollywood. These images have usually been on Hollywood Blvd, the church, in West Hollywood, or walking around my neighborhood. What brings these images to mind, I have no idea.

Needless to say, being at home started out really rough. It was as if Little Rock was not my home anymore. I did not know the streets as well as I once did. There was nothing to do in the city that I had not already done.

As days went by, being at home got easier. I hung out with some friends from Hendrix. I helped a staff member at church. It felt as if I had a purpose for being home.

And as I left for Asheville, I was sad. I did not want to say bye to my parents. I did not want to have to make new friends in a new and somewhat unfamiliar place.

And now, I am in Asheville with my 5 lovely housemates. I am writing this while we watch Jeapordy. And after Jeapordy, we are watching a chick flick. Did I mention I am living with 5 other girls? And we have a huge porch. Our site coordinator has a baby AND a dog. I’d say I’m living a pretty good life.

Tomorrow, we start work. I am working in Black Mountain, which I am much more familiar with. So that will be really nice.

It has not been an easy transition. But I guess transitions are never easy. I miss Hollywood so much. I miss my job and my friends and housemates. I do not really know what time zone I am in. Whenever I think about calling my dad or mom, I still add two hours to what time my watch says. So that will take some adjusting. Through this time of transition into my second YAV year, I hope my housemates will be respectful of my need to process my year in Hollywood.

Although I might seem sad, I am really excited for my life here in Asheville. We have the cutest house. After I know more about my job and settle into it a little, I will write another blog post. But for now, enjoy these pictures.

Christian and I crashed the Parking Lot Party at church and it was AWESOME.


Christian in his velcro suit about to throw himself on to the velcro wall.


I have not seen some of my friends since graduation. So the reunions were sweet.


Shirttails was a great night of reunions


50 Cent took a picture with and dissed one of my HOUSED clients


Molly drove through Little Rock on her way to her next adventure, so we got to see her!!!!!!!


My sister made a welcome home sign for me at Christmas. My parents had not taken it down yet.


On our final retreat, we went to Salvation Mountain. It is a hill covered in paper mache.





Leaving

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Listen to this song as you read this blog post.

Suitcases are being packed.

The house is starting to be cleaned.

Goodbyes are being said.

The “lasts” are happening – the last community day, the last day of work…

Tears are coming more often.

We see pictures of other YAVs at home.

August, the time we have to leave this home, has come.  It is here.

We are leaving.  It is at the forefront of all of our minds.  It really is happening.

Soon, we will have to leave this place where we are surrounded by support and love that is freely given; where we have grown together as a family; where we have been called to give a year of our lives to working with people living homelessly.  We have been touched by our clients, our friends, our coworkers, and by each other.

We will soon enter back into those places where we came from just for a little bit.  And then we will be off on other adventures.  We will answer so many questions to the people we have not seen in so long.  These people, perhaps our families and closest friends, will try their hardest to listen to our experiences and give us space to process this year.  No matter how hard we try to make the people around us understand our experiences, they simply will not fully understand.  They were not here with us.  They did not live in community with 5 of the most caring and fun people.  They did not have two of the best site coordinators.  They did not get the privilege of knowing the YAVAs here in Hollywood that did nothing but love us and create safe spaces and ears for listening when we needed someone or someplace outside of our house.

And yet, these people that will welcome us with open arms, have not stopped loving us during this year.  Nor will they stop loving us.  They have supported us before this year started and continuously supported us during the year, and will not stop.

There is no doubt in my mind that I have changed and grown so much this year.  I have learned and gained so much knowledge.  I have heard and seen so many hard stories.  I have been touched by the people around me.  And I know that my friends and family that I go back to will see changes in me.  But, just like God, their love for me will be unchanged.

So, thanks be to God for all those people in our lives that we met a long time ago or we met this year that we can call our friends and some of our best supporters.  And thanks be to God for this experience to adventure, learn, and find God in new faces and places.

Being Broken

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A year ago today, I broke my back. And then I worked the next day. How I broke it does not really matter…let’s just say I fell. What is important is how much I’ve learned from this one experience.

I broke it at a lock-in with my Jr. High clubbies (campers) around 1:00 or 2:00 am. The next morning I was in the nurse’s office right when it opened. She said I shouldn’t work. After I left the nurse, I worked. It hurt to move my left leg. It hurt to sit. It hurt to stand. I was in a lot of pain.

The next day, I got some sense and did not work. My boss told me I had to go to the doctor. So I did. He said my back was just badly bruised and I shouldn’t worry about getting an x-ray. He told me I shouldn’t work for one week and should not run or walk very much for the next  2 to 3 weeks. I was at work the next day.

About a month later, I was still in a good bit of pain. Every time I moved my leg, I at least didn’t want to cry as I had after it first happened. So that was an improvement; but I was still in pain. I went to a chiropractor who had x-rays taken of my back. She informed me that I had fractured two vertebrae.

In the last year I have gone to 5 different doctors and one physical therapist in 3 different states. I am still in some pain. But what have I learned from this experience? A whole lot.

We live in the midst of a lot of brokenness. Most of us, if not all, are physically or emotionally broken, perhaps now, or maybe that part of us in our past. Whatever the case, we are all in need of a little light.

One way This light can come is in the form of self-care. Self-care is important. It can allow us time and space to clear our heads and to focus on a part of us that is not broken. I have had to find new ways of practicing self-care this last year. In the past, I would go for a drive, or hike, or run, all of which I could not easily do this year. So I’ve had to find other ways of bringing a little joy into my life, like doing pottery or going to a park. I have learned that it is not easy to  just leave behind your brokenness. It goes with you wherever you go, but with a little light, or a different perspective, the brokenness will not define who you are.  When seen in a different light, the brokenness can become a teacher.  In practicing self-care, the whole parts of your life can be remembered.

I had a conversation with my housemate the other day. She is thinking about leaving her job because of problems she has noticed with the organization. She is new to this position. I think perhaps she shouldn’t leave the position and then just leave the problem to be fixed by someone else. Perhaps she should attempt to change the problem before leaving. Or at least bring it up with her boss. If we see and live among broken systems or people, we should try to bring light into the dark, shine light on that which is broken.

When I think of all the brokenness of our world, I am hopeful of the potential for a better world, for a better way of life for each one of us. I get excited about finding solutions to our broken and messed up world. Ben Harper sings exactly what I am getting at:

“What good is a man
Who won’t take a stand
What good is a cynic
With no better plan
I believe in a better way”

If you break a bone, you wouldn’t just leave it there with no treatment, right?  I had to learn to trust my body when it was telling me something was broken.  I had to learn to advocate for myself – look for treatment from someone who would listen to me.

Sometimes it is hard for those who are broken or in the midst of broken systems to find their voice in order to advocate for themselves.  Sometimes we may need to shed some light on the brokenness we can see in our world.  Find your voice.  Shed some light.


How to support me as a YAV:

  • If you would like to support me financially, please go to the PCUSA website to donate for me. http://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/E051907/
  • If you are broke and cannot support me financially, you can support me by reading this blog, which I will continue to keep during next year, and praying for me.  Also, nice texts/letters/cards/packages are appreciated to help me know that people still love me even when I live outside of Arkansas.