As I brisk-walk out of my house this morning to catch the 8.12am bus to work—which is always a few minutes late or early, never on time—I am very suddenly seized with anxiety: I need a hobby.
I had spent the morning slowly letting myself wake up. I sat cross-legged before the tall mirror on my bedroom floor, gazing at the reflection of the mess of furnishings—perfectly scattered form—in my dimly lit room, starkly—but not intrusively—eclipsed by the outside trees swaying in the mellow morning sun, peeking through the kaleidoscope colored stained glass windows above my cupboards. They invited me to sit and watch them. So, I did for a little while.
Change is a funny concept isn’t it? I mean think about it, change can be great, or it can be terrible. If someone tells you that you’ve changed, odds are you’ll either be offended or complimented. Even thinking of it from a more macro level, change can be good or bad. I think it’s also relative. With the mid-term elections still fresh there is a lot of change that has happened and some are elated while others are deflated. On a personal level, I moved from a suburb of Cleveland, to Los Angeles California, went from seeing my family and friends daily, to not seeing them for months at a time. And it wasn’t just me that experienced this change. My family had to get use to me not being there every day, my friends had to get use to not being able to hit me up whenever they want. This is why when posed with the question, “In what ways have I changed?” I had a hard time deciding at first. So I did what I always do and started to think of some lighter ways to start out.
One of the things I think about often is, how did we all end up here together in this program? What would life look like if I hadn’t decided to take the leap to move to LA for a “year or service”? Some of my EUIP friends thought this would be a great next step right after graduating college, a few others like myself spent a year or two exploring life after college and then decided to take this opportunity and a handful decided the month before or even in LESS time than that took the leap and committed to this program.
This quarter has brought me a lot of life changes, most prominently my increased sense of interconnectedness in community. Contrasting with my recent time in undergrad, seldom do I think of myself in the context of self. Now it is often myself in relation to the community.
This community may be that of my house, my clients, my coworkers, or even those sleepy folks I share a bus ride with in my morning commute.
How will my schedule affect those around me? What community am I prioritizing today in my choices?
The emotions I bring home from work are those I present to my housemates. These emotions were often given to me by clients whom I interact with each day. Each day I am a product of the community I entered. Yet I am not just a product of others, for I am also a source for others.
I often think to myself about the emotions and experiences I’m bringing towards others, and whether those are productive. This thought has been challenging, for it’s easy to think that one should simply bring the positive experiences and attempt to process the rest. But it’s those less than stellar times that too bring growth and depth in experiences. I’m learning to be ok with bringing forward these moments, both good and bad, and put them to good use.
But before you go thinking, “oof, he’s gone through some stuff these past few months”, lets not forget the times that have made me smile beyond belief. Amidst the stress, I’ve met 13 other incredible individuals and am continuously grateful to belong to a house of 8 true stars. I would be nothing without my housemates who build me up each day with affirmation and celebrate each night with good food and discussion.
This EUIP life is challenging, but I haven’t stopped laughing through it all.
I have always dreamt of moving to Los Angeles, and now that I’ve lived here for just over a month, I can confidently say that it’s nothing like I expected.
This experience has been tough. I have never been so emotionally and physically drained from all the things that happen week to week. Serve. Commute. House Meeting. Spiritual Practice. Commute. Eat. Shower. Serve. I have not loved every moment of this year, but I have grown significantly. Grown through the serving, the commuting, and the community building in ways I could have never imagined. For that growth I appreciate the experience and opportunity I have been given with the Episcopal Urban Intern Program and St. Joseph Center.
Part of my growth involves my realization that I am not meant to directly serve the homeless. This is not the path God chose for me to pursue, and if it weren’t for EUIP and SJC, I never would have known that. Don’t get me wrong- this discovery does not mean that I regret my decision to serve in EUIP at St. Joseph Center- it means I’m one step closer to finding my calling.
I came to this realization through one of my clients. After six months of unsuccessful attempts to contact, I was able to catch her at her home. Finally able to hear her story. Hear about how a week after she moved into her unit, a bullet shot through her window and landed next to her and her children. Hear about how someone was murdered in her driveway. Hear about how her kids were taken away from her and how she is doing all possible to get them back. Hear about how it has been hard for her and her kids to be separated. Hear about how much her daughter desperately wants to be reunited with her mother. Hear about how the system keeps sending her daughter to hospitals because her daughter refuses to go to school and threatens to harm herself. How her daughter says these things while also saying how much she wants to be at home with her mom. And so her mom asks me, “How do you even fix the system? I can see the holes with my daughter and my housing, how do you even begin to fix it?”
I drew a blank. I didn’t want to sugarcoat it. I told her I have seen the holes with clients reentering homelessness and all my clients, including her, who request to move after obtaining housing. I told her that’s why we have to keep going no matter how tiresome it gets (and I’m tired). She has us to help her. Even though I don’t know the real answer I will help her find it.
Homelessness is a complex issue that has to be dealt with at all of its stages- but this isn’t for me. In this year I am discovering my draw to actively work with children and their parents. Whichever path I choose to pursue in my social work career, I am forever thankful for the experience I have gained from EUIP and SJC. I appreciate the relationships I have built and the constant push to think critically about social justice issues to make sense of the larger picture.
If my year has taught me anything, it’s that sugarcoating is only good for donuts and frosted flakes. This year has taught me that life is real and I need to keep pushing on the broken systems to make the changes I want to see. Change for myself, for my clients, for my people. I have been tested many times to see if I can keep going and growing and pushing through the struggle I see. It’s definitely hard, but we all have to keep trying. If we give up, there will be nothing left. In this year I have grown in that sense- to keep pushing through the broken systems to find the missing pieces.
When growing into your own person, you go through phases of figuring out who you are. What you want to look like, what clothes you wanna wear, the one pair of sneakers you keep no matter how old and beat up they are because of the memories they hold. Think back to 7th grade and who you were at the time. You’re probably cringing at the idea of what you thought was cool and thankful for puberty. That same process is true for those who consider themselves artist. There are times where your work, your process, and your inspiration changes. Photography has been my means of expression for a long time, and to be honest it’s a love hate relationship at times. Sometimes it’s the most amazing thing I could do, capturing moments and emotions, but sometimes it’s the most stressful thing and can bring me so much anxiety.
Recently, I’ve been struggling to rework my portfolio and develop my own style and understanding of my work (whatever that might mean) and in times like that it’s only right to do one thing that I know can help, nothing. Not so much doing nothing at all, but just taking a break and observing. I recently went to a art show in downtown LA called “Into Action” and was extremely moved. Not only moved at the great pieces that I was able to see, but more so because these works all combined two of my passions, Art and Social Justice. For the first time I was in a room with a community of works that all described some of the things I’ve been feeling and questions that I had. For a split second I felt like I had a place and I didn’t have to choose between two loves. I know that I am an artivist, an artist and an activist. I can’t tell you what that means just yet but I know that I will create with something to say. Maybe not all the time because I’m human, but I will create with honesty and reality in mind.
First photo is from the show, the B&W is an original piece
In the land of Uz there lived a man named Job; and he was blameless and upright
One day a messenger comes to Job and says, some have enemies stolen all your Oxen and killed all your servants and I alone have escaped to tell you."
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "Lightning has fallen from heaven and has completely burned up the sheep and the servants, and I alone have escaped to tell you."
While this man was still speaking, another messenger came and said, some have enemies stolen all your camels killed all your servants and I alone have escaped to tell you."
While this one was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “a great wind came from across the wilderness and knocked down the house where your sons and daughters were killed them. I alone have escaped to tell you."
What makes the story so interesting is that despite all of this hardship Job says
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
You see, despite all of this hardship, and adversity, and suffering. Job never lost his faith in God, he never lost his belief.
And that’s what I see every day at work: the power of belief.
Each day I get to watch men and women battle a flawed system holding onto the tiny hope becoming a U.S. citizen. They do this despite incendiary political rhetoric, vicious rumors, not to mention the daily obstacles that crop up in all immigrants. Yet they still believe defining the expectations that are placed upon them and the barriers blocking them.
I guess that’s why the story of Job seems like an appropriate expectation. As the story of Job goes on the expectations of his friends and family to curse God are frequent and persuasive. Yet Job resists. Despite his sudden poverty, health issues, loss of family and prestige, he chooses to believe. He chooses to believe that his current circumstances are not his final options. He chooses to believe that God has a plan for his life. He chooses to believe in a better future. I want to choose to believe in one too.
My daily planner assigns each week with an inspirational or seasonally-relevant quote. While checking to see if I have any plans this upcoming week I found this week’s quote to be applicable to the start of any new adventure, but particularly my year long commitment to EUIP in Los Angeles. Fred Brooks says, “Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from good judgement.” This year marks a journey unlike any other I have embarked on before.
Sure, I have moved to a new city with no friends before, I even moved to a new country not knowing the language, but there has always been a definitive end to the experience. I always knew that after the summer or semester I would return to the familiarity of Elon or my family at home. Now I am living in Los Angeles with no idea what will happen at the end of this year. I have no plan after this year, and am truly living on my own, as an adult. This is an exhilarating feeling, but also overwhelming. I anticipate I will make many poor choices while attempting to navigate this new territory as a young professional serving in Los Angeles, but as Fred Brooks points out, this is the best way to figure it out. I can’t wait to learn so much about myself and this remarkable city.. ❁❀❁❀❁
There’s so much on my mind at the moment but this weekend I really gained a greater level of respect from one of my good friends.
I’ll never forget meeting Bernard. I was at a bible study on campus that was talking about marriage and how it's a difficult/beautiful relationship. The pastor was talking about how the relationship is naturally difficult because you have 2 imperfect people coming together to become one. At the end of the sermon Bernard asked a question that I always asked myself. He stood up and asked what’s the point of getting married? (now I know the answer). I started to laugh out loud and everybody looked at me.
After the meeting he approached me because I laughed at him. Right there was the beginning of our relationship. That encounter describes the foundation of our relationship.
Me and him are very bold in our quest for truth. Most of the times we don’t care how people view us as we search for truth. Bernard actually helped me grow in my relationship with Christ as we often had talks about different things and he taught me several biblical truths. Bernard is a really great guy who takes pride on doing things with excellence. Also he is from Haiti and moved to the United States at a very young age. He told me that he lived most of his life in the hood of fort Lauderdale. I was somewhat surprised he told me he was from the hood because of the way he carries himself. This is no shots to anybody from rough neighborhoods but environments in general take a role in personality formation, mind you this is not absolute, this is merely an observation.
This past weekend I went to a wedding in Florida and I was able to visit Bernard in Fort Lauderdale. I remember he told me he was from the hood but I did not know what to expect. Because sometimes when people say they’re from the hood they like to glamorize and exaggerate where they come from. However when I pulled into the apartment complex it wasn’t anything I imagined. It was around 2 am in the morning and there were a lot of people outside. You could see some drug deals happening as I drove through the neighborhood.
I wanted to park and go inside his house but I didn’t think that was a good idea. There was a group of about 10 guys just standing outside in the courtyard of the apartment complex. I thought to myself this is not a good idea because I’m wearing a suit because I just got back from a wedding and if I walk to his apartment they might possibly rob me because they think I have money. Bernard didn’t want us to go inside anyways and I think that was probably for the better. He told us to drive around the parking lot to pick him up.
Later on in the night he told me about a time when he had a nice new bike and he bought it back to his place. He said he made a mistake because a group of guys saw him put the bike in his apartment. Later he left the house and as he returned he noticed the door was broken into and his bike was gone. He told me now he never wears or shows any sign of wealth because he could be a potential candidate to get robbed.
As he was telling me this I could only imagine being in his shoes. If I was brought up in an environment when people have to fight for resources to survive then I would have been a different person. He’s truly a leader that does not conform to his environment. After going to visit him my heart was so heavy because I could only think about his family and his safety. Then I began to wonder and ask myself WHY? What’s the difference between me and him? The only difference between us is the chances of the circumstances we are given. I could only ask God these questions because he has the answers. How come God you put me in a position of privilege and others in a less fortunate situation? I ask these questions out of curiosity, not anger or bitterness but truly asking what makes me so special. How come I am so fortunate?
Below is a video of a movie that illustrates the random chance of someone being born into poverty or wealth
There are many things I could write about with what’s happening in this world today and the things I have learned since I begun this adventure in LA. But.. I just watched- well scrolled down and stopped on- this video from facebook.
On our last retreat we took time to talk about race. We were given space to sit and search our minds for what race means to us. We were given time to sit and search our minds and share what race means to US.
I sat and I thought and I shared that race confuses me. Race is a social construct, but it is still a very real element in our society. Some people can pretend it’s not there while others cannot. They cannot because it slaps them in the face everywhere they turn: going to get food, walking down the street, deciding where to shop. Agree or disagree, it doesn’t matter much to me-- I just challenge you to TAKE THE TIME to decipher why you agree or disagree.
Anyway, I thought about how I am confused by race. I have not given myself the chance to fully express to others how I have struggled with my identity due to being mixed. It’s still hard to put into words, but I think the video helps me voice one aspect of it.
--My Spanish is me. My Spanish is who I am. My Spanish is my culture. My Spanish is my struggle. My Spanish goes beyond me. My Spanish is judged and criticized. My Spanish cannot be taken from me. My Spanish cannot be stripped of me no matter how hard you try. Bring on the tow truck, jackhammer, or strongest force in the world. My Spanish is mine. It is mine and you may not understand it. You may not understand it, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. My Spanish is how I understand the world and is what keeps me open to seeing everything else.--
I love working at Hillsides.
Honestly when I can remember when I had my interview with Lupe and literally feeling like this is where I needed to be and now that I'm there, I'm right. Being there is like a CRAZY mirror to myself. Working with my teens really makes me look at where I was at their age and try to really understand where they're coming from on top of all they're going through and experiencing.
My first couple of days there I already could tell a lot and it made it easy for me to jump into the groove of things. Understanding more about how things work and not instantly trying to change things. It's also super comforting knowing that everyone who's there REALLY loves what they do. I want to help them do more but I don't know how. I'm trying to learn to let that come to me and focus on all of the teens I'm working with one at a time. I'm also trying to not go into this mentality of trying to save my kids. I know that's not my job and I'm trying to just be someone to listen and remind them of how great they are and how much they are able to do.
There's one particular kid named Daniel. I lowkey wanna say he's one of my favorites but I really think it's because he reminds me of me A LOT. I know he has a super rough background but this kid has a lot of potential. Ever since I've gotten to Hillsides we've related on a lot of different topics and he's an artist that's super talented. Right now I'm working with him so that he can understand the importance of school and staying out of trouble. I know he understands for the most part but I want for him to show me he understands. That's one of the major parts we relate. I say “okay, I get it” a lot but I have a tendency to not show it. I'm teaching him about being more responsible and reliable in his work so that he can do more. Like doing all his class work, participating, doing homework etc. I want all the best for him but I'm learning to be patient and be open to know that he will grow at his own pace and may understand what I'm saying long after I'm gone.
I'm working on a contract for him that if he can complete all his work, and continue to get great grades and a point sheet no lower than 45/60, that next semester I can work to have him have lunch with some who illustrates or has their own fashion line. I want him to see that a future for him beyond what he's seeing everyday is real.
Overall, these kids are making me want to do better and take my own advice. I want to be a living example of the things I'm telling them to do.
As a sixteen-year-old Haitian refugee, my birthmother climbed out of a refugee boat with her boyfriend onto the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The protective shield of the refugee camp became a tiresome burden once the young immigrant realized she was pregnant with a baby boy. After a long pregnancy, on June 4th 1995 I was born into the anxious arms of frightened teenaged parents who did not realize their new family would be soon torn apart. Three weeks later, my birthmother and I were sent to Grand Rapids, Michigan to be raised in foster care; presenting a better opportunity than being returned to Haiti. Unfortunately, my birthfather, after being considered too old, would be sent back to Haiti, disappearing for almost two decades.
Previously my birth mother and I tried living on our own; she refused to accept help from welfare and our former foster family and determinedly set out to make ends meet on her own. She was wrong. Due to her minimum wage job we could only afford food for six out of the seven days in a week. At first, the malnutrition brought anger: I would watch T.V. and be jealous of the kids on the other side of the screen smiling behind full plates of food with their gleeful families. As I watched those food commercials over the years, my jealousy and anger gave way to a solid determination. I promised myself that when I got bigger and older, I would be like the people on T.V. and always have enough food and a full stomach. That promise came quickly after I was adopted; in a new family I experienced the privileges of having enough food and gratefully accepted anything offered to me. The years spent with my new family reshaped my identity around moving forward from the past and creating success from my humble beginnings.
That feeling is what led me to California. For many it might seem strange take a year after college and instead of working, or going onto more school, start an internship with a small nonprofit. Yet for me, I know this to be a crucial time to rediscover and reclaim a distant path. Right now, I am a Volunteer Coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Service. As a refugee and an immigrant working with refugees and immigrants, the very people I serve represent a piece of my identity. For someone who frequently studies the past to discover deeper meanings about the present and future I often overlook my own. I sometimes forget that my identity is shaped around the complexities of belonging to more than one place. I am more than just one place. I am both refugee and immigrant, American and Haitian, foreigner and familiar.
Every day in my job I serve people who represent that multifaceted truth. Eager immigrants who are excited to learn English while teaching me new words in Armenian and Spanish. Cautious refugees who are relieved to be in the United States but also sad to leave behind part of their cultural heritage. Dedicated volunteers who patiently go through immigration forms line by line because they want our clients to successfully become citizens. Kind anonymous strangers who donate $150 bedsheets hoping that the refugee family that receives them can sleep feeling peace and safety. Joyful church groups excited just to financially commit to families they’ve never met who worship a different God they probably wouldn’t agree on. Watching these simple acts of hospitality unfold leaves me hopeful that I too will be able to reaffirm my past and embrace my future.
As an Episcopal Urban Intern in Los Angeles, I talk often with other corps members about privilege. We actually have several times where we all meet to discuss difficult topics like race, sexual orientation, and gender, among other things. These conversations can make people uncomfortable for many reasons, but I enjoy them. I acknowledge my privilege, and also recognize how in some ways I don’t have certain privileges that others have. My privilege is most easily seen in contrast to my clients at Chrysalis, where I work as an Employment Specialist.
The clients who walk through my door aren’t the ones who are going to easily get the job. I don’t see those clients. They don’t need Chrysalis. I see the clients who have significant barriers to success, such as a criminal background, lack of work experience, homelessness, and so many other reasons. Recently I’ve seen several elderly, unemployed homeless men, which has moved me greatly. They are living in their cars or sleeping in the library parking lot. Clients like these are the most vulnerable in our society. They are the ones we pass on the street and try not to make eye contact with. I’ve done that, too. It’s uncomfortable when we see this vulnerability and don’t know what to do about it.
I’ve never had much trouble getting a job. I’m white, young, and in my hometown of Pensacola I know enough people that I wouldn’t stay unemployed long. But being white, young, from a familiar family is nothing I earned. The idea that any of us are successful purely because of hard work is not realistic. It may be a part of it. It may even be a large part of it for some. But it is never the whole story.
I think Jesus talked a lot about privilege as well and it made many people really uncomfortable. Jesus was crucified for talking about privilege. I’m not trying to compare my conversations with the words of Christ, but I do think he would want us to have these conversations. It can be difficult to talk about when privilege and race are such hot topics. And to clarify, privilege isn’t just race. It can be gender, sexual orientation, or any of the things an employer promises not to discriminate against in all its paperwork.
So when you see something about your or another’s privilege that makes you uncomfortable? My suggestion would be to think deeply about your own privilege. Maybe have a conversation with someone who is different from you, and gain some knowledge from someone of another race, gender, or sexual orientation. Ignoring privilege is not going to help. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer as to what will, but a little knowledge surely cannot hurt.
For more information, please visit: changelives.org
(Bear with me, Dear Reader. These are not my most organized thoughts.)
I asked myself this question everyday for the my first month here. I honestly didn’t want to leave. Lakeland, while admittedly not my favorite place in the world, is a good place. I love the communities I shared life with. I love the ‘feel’ of smaller towns. I love the secluded parks and outdoor spaces, the coffee shops and conversations, the music-making and artistic communities, and the academic spaces that have shaped me. I miss being close to my family. I miss running into friends everywhere. I miss Jordan and Rob. Shoot, I miss parking lots… and Wawa.
But there are conversations I couldn’t have in Lakeland; spaces I couldn’t stand in as an ally; things I couldn’t learn.
I have friends in Lakeland that have to keep themselves tucked away for fear that the dominant group will treat them as hostile or other (and here I’m only referencing those of us who claim to be simultaneously Christians and Democrats ;) ). These are people that I love. Good people, committed to bringing about sustainable change in the world. I wish I could tell you that a commitment to the flourishing of humanity helps people treat you with dignity, but it doesn’t. Particularly not in religious circles. Some of my friends are kept from the table because of who they are.
I suppose now would be a good time to mention that I love Jesus.
What’s more, I believe in Jesus. I believe that Jesus shows people what God is really like. And, if I’m reading the Bible correctly, God is total, unconditional, incomprehensible love. One thing that really strikes me about Jesus is that he invited everyone to the table. After studying theology, I became really attracted to radical inclusion as an idea. But what good is an idea that never takes shape? I asked myself that question everyday after I decided to become an EUI.
Radical inclusion, or unconditional love, is something I want to model in my own life. Unfortunately, I found that hard to do in Lakeland. It’s not that I’m afraid to have difficult conversations (time is too short to continue avoiding discomfort because of my fragility). It’s that I need people to learn from. I find that, in order to be radically inclusive, I must immerse myself in community with people who are also radically inclusive. I must spend time trying to love those that are different than I am. I must listen. I must not insist on my own way. Because, if I’m honest, my natural ability to love – to extend myself freely in the direction of other humans – is quite weak. I think that’s how it works. The wine of love, it would seem, is always pressed by the often messy feet of a community. I need the pressing. I need the discomfort. Is it too trite to say that wine is not wine without the pressing? In a similar way, love is not love without discomfort. That’s why I came to L.A. To lean into discomfort and find the total, unconditional, incomprehensible love of Jesus. (Perhaps my song will help explain.)
Hey readers! Month one is dead and gone and I can already tell the year is going to blow by. A whole month of waking up early, grinding out that morning commute, drinking two to four cups of coffee in the office, scrambling to find free food for lunch, eventually trudging back home, and finally, conversing with newfound family. A few weekends spent at the beach have come and gone. A few services at new churches equipped with grand webs of outstretched hands ready to support our community.
And just like that, I’m realizing all of things that I call “new” really aren’t all that new any more.
I already feel as though my roommate and I have known each other since grade school. My co-worker and commute buddy understands my sass and sarcasm better than most people I’ve known my whole life. All of us in some way or another have bonded, and deeply! These friendships already seem timeless. Therefore, I rejoice!!!
But that is such a dangerous trap to fall into. Complacency – where people, communities, and revolutions go to lose all hope of progression and become blind to the very purpose established at the forefront of it all. I can’t just sit and appreciate the fading away of the “new” as the world spins on. There is so much more to appreciate; so much undiscovered and unrealized “newness” hidden behind what has now become the “newly familiar.”
So now what? We can’t go living in the world refusing to settle into the familiar and solely search for newness. We work towards comfort, but then we press beyond it! I believe that is what this community has committed itself to this year. We have all sought out meaningful experiences this year. Most of them wildly new and unfamiliar, but all of them uniquely fulfilling. The challenge then comes to push through the approaching familiarity-threshold that so often results in complacency. It is so easy to live in the comfortable, but no growth happens there. No change happens there. No progression. And we are here to grow as people and to help various communities in LA to grow along with us. That happens when we stretch past our comfort bubbles. That’s where we discover what we can do and what we truly can’t. That’s where we illuminate hidden strengths. That’s where we find ourselves.
I keep finding myself thinking, “I live here?!? I LIVE HERE!” But that doesn’t mean much if I solely revel in the excitement of it all without taking the time and putting forth the energy to truly be here. Just like there is a difference in hearing and listening, there is a real difference between living and being present. Already a month has gone by and it’s felt like a blink of an eye. The next ten could just as easily be a single heartbeat.
So going forward, I hope, plan, and pray to really be here – invest in myself by investing in this wonderful place called LA. Every minute things are happening around us. And if we wait to settle, we will settle in the dust of what used to be, and the world will move on without us.
The world is like a time bomb ticking away. We can look at it, pondering its shiny knobs and buttons, the wires and bright lights. We can sit back, scared of what could happen if we mess up. We can choose to ignore it altogether. All of these options have an unfortunate ending, however, and sound decently unsatisfying.
The other option we have is to go at it giving all that we have, diving in headfirst and committing ourselves to figuring this what’s really going on.
So while the world spins, our memories remain, and the friendships and bonds we’ve made live on within us.
As some of you in the Episcopalian community know, I have joined the Episcopal Service Corps (ESC) as a member of the Episcopal Urban Intern Program (EUIP) in Los Angeles. ESC is a national organization affiliated with the Episcopal Church, and EUIP is one of many programs throughout the country. Members of EUIP are placed with a service site, and they live in “intentional community” with 4-5 other people in a house. It was quite a journey to decide to join this program, but I am so thrilled that this is where I am in my life.
Currently, I am serving as an Employment Specialist at Chrysalis. I encourage you to learn more about Chrysalis at changelives.org, because they do very meaningful, important work. I help individuals find work who have significant barriers to finding employment. While they are not a religious organization, they are truly doing the work of the Lord!
I have had the most amazing, rewarding, and meaningful experiences of my life, and I’ve only been here a few weeks. But before you think everything is perfect, I will admit that living in an intentional community is hard. I had never heard of intentional community before, but basically it means that 4-5 strangers are living in a house together and having to discern what that looks like for each of us. We each have very different personalities so it can be very difficult navigating how we cohabitate as a community. There have already been some challenges, but I love my community members dearly.
If you are considering joining ESC or EUIP, I would encourage you to pray and think about it. Feel free to reach out to me (through Jessica Babcock of Christ Church). If you’re not sure where you are in life, that’s actually a perfect place to be for this program. I wasn’t quite sure where I stood in my career, with God, and I had been questioning whether I was heading in the right direction at all. Serving with ESC and EUIP is a great way to discover yourself and what God wants for you. It’s also an amazing (and affordable) way to discover a new part of the country. Be bold, be brave, and do something different. It could change your life.
When you stare out and see the line of smog that covers the world as you’re at the summit of the hill. Inhale. It’s what we’re all dealing with.
When you need to sort your mind out on the trail. Exhale. It’s part of living, be thankful someone is hiking beside you.
When you don’t understand why the world doesn’t learn from its mistakes. Catch your breath.Recognize that we’re all a part of it.
When the pepper that you’ve finely chopped for the guacamole accidently spills over (because you’re thinking about how much is out of your control). Let it go. It’s the second law of thermodynamics.
When you’re hungry and your friend tries a new recipe and then takes 5 minutes to pray before you eat. Take it in. It was funny to see him scramble.
When you can’t put to words how you feel. Let it out. It’s an elephant.
When you have a fight with your bestfriend on a drive back from Santa Monica. Open up. Even though you’re both tired, you’re just trying to listen and care for each other.
When your body is weighing you down. Gasp. You’re in the thick of it.
When you wake up at 5 in the morning to make oatmeal pancakes to surprise your friend on her birthday. Breathe. Enjoy.
When you’re exasperated by someone that keeps misinterpreting you. Wheeze. It’s human nature.
When you’ve learned that you’re scared about losing the relationships around you. Inhale. They will only be different.
When you make the most spectacular mozzarella basil pizza. Exhale. Relish who you spend your days with.
When you hodgepodge the most spectacular meal. Respira. The people around you are real.
When you learn that it’s alright to just be. Inhale. The world is yours for the taking.
When the world feels like it has spit you out. Exhale. At least it’s being honest.
When your attempt to make chocolate cookies, causes all the chocolate to scatter. Inhale. It’s entropy.
When you realize you’re learning to fall in love. Exhale. It’s a mess; that’s natural.
When you’ve found joy and comfort in other people. Draw it in. That’s love.
When you’re frustrated by other people. Exhale. That’s also love (remember it’s a mess).
When you’re looking for support and the people you love bring you down. Give it time. It’s all about grace.
When you make pozole out of the random things in the fridge with your homie. Marinate. It’s delicious.
When you want to learn to be a better person. Let it Breathe. You can’t wait, because the world will never catch up.
Thanks to EUIP I’ve been learning how to let experiences sit. Let them marinate. My friends say that my catch phrase for the year is “Let’s just let it breathe.” They say I should tattoo it, but instead I tried to write a list of things that I’ve learned that I need to give a space to, in order to properly process. I’m still learning. But this year has given me the space to challenge myself and my assumptions of others. And acknowledge that there are so many things that we don’t know as a society.
Over time the meaning of community has changed and shifted for me in many different ways. Growing up I always thought of my family and friends as community, but it’s more than that. I always thought of the people that I formed meaningful relationships with. Community is more than just the people you choose to be around you. They are the people we try to love, support and forgive . They are the people that are there because of your current setting and situation. Community always starts with one common thread. There is something that draws y’all together.
In my case it’s the intentional community I decided to join.
This past year for me was learning to live with others in an intentional way. It wasn’t about me, but my community. We had to come together, at all times, even when we didn’t want to. Whether that be talking about our next meal, cleaning the dishes, cleaning the house, planning our next outing and even talking through our disagreements.
It wasn’t easy, but worth it. We challenged each other to be better people. We challenged each other to serve. We challenged each other to understand each other’s realities and upbringings. A community are people that want to see you grow. A community are people that challenge you. A community are people that are honest with you. A community are people that you learn to love.”
~ Alex Pagán-Mejía
“Jordan here. For me, community is more of a verb than a noun. You can have a community, but being a community is something very distinct. It means engaging when it’d be easier to just be passive. It means staying to figure things out when it’d be easier to just walk away. It means loving and forgiving even when everything inside of you tells you to do otherwise.
Community is a daily decision. When I woke up each morning, I would ask myself, “Will I give my everything for my housemates? Will I choose to walk with them through their daily lives? Will I continue committing to community?” The answer to this question was always YES. Some days that YES came out with a squeak, and some days it came out with a boom.
Much of my frustration at the beginning of my year with EUIP stemmed from the huge difference between the intimacy I’d thought my housemates and I would establish and the intimacy we actually established. Throughout the year, though, I gradually learned that it mattered much less whether I was best friends with all my housemates and much more whether I continued to “show up” for my housemates. By this, I mean that as long as I continued to engage, to pursue a deeper understanding of who my housemates are, and to put forth all my effort into simply being present with my housemates, I would be successfully living into my commitment to community.
A simple checklist or an attitude of “being a community” is one thing. Living it out as a verb, however, is what makes community a reality.”
~ Jordan Castillo
Dear Megan Circa 2015,
Right now, you’re somewhere in the middle of Texas with your mom on your way from Rochester NY to Los Angeles to start EUIP. Tomorrow you will find out that your service site is Saint Joseph Center and that you’ll be living in the Inglewood House. Spoiler alert: you’re not ready.
I know it sounds harsh but I need to be honest with you, you are not ready for this. I know you’re trying your best to keep an open mind and not try to predict what this year’s going to be like because I guarantee you that you’ll be wrong. Trust me, on this one.
I don’t mean to make it sound like this year will be some dark and tenuous trial that will have you counting down the days until you’re done. It’s going to be a good year and a complete year with amazing moments and challenges that will blindside you.
Don’t worry though, as best you can, and try to go with the flow.
This year will be filled with late-night kitchen bonding with housemates, coffee runs with coworkers, vegan caramel, grocery trips, random adventures with other EUIs, bacon, introspection, growth, friendship, and the coming together of a family in your little house in Inglewood.
I know for a fact that you don’t see the last part coming but it is and it is the best part of this year.
You’re gonna be fine <3
You circa 2016
After an intense conversation with my house, everyone was very uncomfortable and the tension was thick. We walked to the train station in silence. While waiting for the train we heard this man soulfully sing “It’s not about you, it’s not about me”.. We looked for this man but he was no where to be found. Once we couldn’t find the man we all looked at each other hugged. We spent time finishing his song but it’s still on going. Here’s what we have so far:
It’s not about you,
it’s not about me,
it’s about love and family
we need love, peace, and humanity
an open heart and eyes to see
it’s not about us
it’s about community
we’re here to love and just be free
As my year of service with EUIP comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about all of the amazing and life-changing experiences I’ve had. What’s coming next for me is exciting, but there are many things that I’ll miss about this year at the Hollywood House and as a member of the Episcopal Service Corps. In no particular order, here are just a few of the things I will miss:
1) Starting every gathering with hugs: Seriously, no matter how little time has passed since the last time we’ve all seen each other, every gathering of EUI’s seems to start with hugs and “how are you’s?”.
2) Getting all the leftover food to take home from any event, ever: Leftover pizza? Extra cookies? Jugs of juice? The answer is always “take it home to your housemates!”
3) The look people give you when you tell them you’ve been getting around LA by public transit all year or that you’ve been living with 7 other people in one home: The best way I can describe it is Jenna Marble’s “The Face” (enjoy the little throwback ).
4) Trying to explain EXACTLY what it is you’re doing with this whole “year of service” and “intentional community” business to your family, friends, and co-workers: This experience is definitely unique and hard to imagine until you’re really in it which is why you should definitely apply and see for yourself!
5) Squishing as many corps members as you can on the couch downstairs for a movie or an episode of “The Bachelorette”: What can I say? It’s bonding.
6) Monthly dates and special retreats with the whole corps: Even if they’re stressful at times, Second Sundays and Retreats are special, rare times to get to see everyone in one place.
7) Never having to go to the grocery store alone: 9 times out of 10 somebody will be willing to go with you, even if just to keep you company
8) Cooking and eating together most nights of the week: It’s way more fun than eating alone and if you’re lucky and have some amazing chefs in your house like I do, it’s a double win!
9) Routinely having conversations that matter: These conversations go deep into topics like feelings, race, privilege, injustice, and other big ideas. It goes beyond small-talk which is really refreshing.
10) Coming home from work to some of my favorite people every night: Though once strangers, my corps members have transformed into friends and family and I am endlessly grateful for them.
This year has been hard but beautiful; stressful but exciting; exhausting but necessary.
Thank you EUIP for changing me and for helping me to truly become the soil.
Voices of Service
These are reflections from corps members and alumni of Jubilee Year and the Episcopal Urban Intern Program. They cover topics ranging from the sun, fun and friends in in Los Angeles to the uncensored experiences of serving vulnerable populations in our beautiful city. These are Voices of Service. For more, go through our archives below