This year of service is going to be hard,” they told me. I imagined that serving full-time would get exhausting, that learning to live out values of social justice would be challenging, or that all the changes that come with life after college would be tough to adjust to. No one ever told me, though, that my year would be challenging because of a simple chore like washing the dishes.
At the beginning of this service year, the program staff even joked about how keeping the dishes clean would be one of our biggest struggles as a household. I was convinced, though, that this could be solved if we just stayed proactive and cleaned the dishes as we used them. It’s easy, right? You just devote a few minutes of your day to wash your dishes and put them away when they are dry. Simple.
But as the weeks rolled by, I realized it was really not that easy.
At first, I wasn’t surprised. Sometimes my day would start with washing someone one else’s dirty dishes that I wanted to use for breakfast. I knew that, had everyone washed their dishes, I would have normally been able to just grab a clean bowl and spoon and start eating. I definitely felt a bit frustrated, but quickly reminded myself that this was part of living in community. I had to learn that some people clean their dishes at a different pace than others, and I had to accept that maybe not everyone was used to having to wash their own dishes everyday. Sometimes, I would just wash every dish in the sink and try to expect nothing in return. This tactic worked for about… two weeks. Then the bitterness started setting in.
Actually, everyone started feeling bitter. For several weeks in a row, “the dishes” became the hot topic of our weekly house meetings. Someone would start off like, “Ok, I want to bring up the dishes again. Can we make a new house rule? Everybody do their dang dishes!” Then I would pipe in, “Yeah, honestly there’s no reason to leave dirty dishes, right? Just do ‘em right away and we won’t have to deal with any of this frustration and confusion about who left dirty dishes.” Fixing the dirty dishes issue seemed like it should have been so simple and logical, but I quickly learned that you can’t change people’s habits just by telling them, “do your dang dishes.”
So for the most part, the dirty dishes continued. I often thought, “how can I help us all stay on track with our dishes? I kept trying to just wash everyone’s dishes. More bitterness. That didn’t work. So I tried washing ONLY my own. This still lead to bitterness as soon as I would see the sink full of plates, pots, and pans. I felt like this was never going to end.
Finally, it was time to seek advice. I talked to my co-workers. I talked to adults within the Episcopal Church. They had some suggestions, but it was apparent that establishing peace in the kitchen would be something that my house community would ultimately have to work out ourselves, and it would require a lot more work than just telling people to “do your dang dishes.”
The frustration persisted. I kept thinking, “What the heck is the solution to all of this?” I tried ignoring the issue. I tried fixing the problem by doing all the dishes myself. I tried coming up with creative ways to divide the duty of washing dishes. And then I realized that there was one thing I hadn’t tried: forgiveness. I hadn’t tried forgiveness.
Contrary to what people often grow up believing, forgiveness is so much more than just deciding to stop holding grudges. Forgiveness is a daily self-sacrifice, a constant dying to self that actively affirms the reason that Jesus died for us. Forgiveness means turning away from those voices that tell me that I deserve an apology, that I am “right”, that my transgressor deserves punishment. Forgiveness means turning away from wishing harm upon the other. Forgiveness is ultimately saying “YES” to a right relationship by letting go of everything that is holding me back from fully loving the person that committed the “wrong”.
Before I go on, I must briefly add what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not admitting that whatever was done to you is acceptable. Forgiveness is not a weak submission to the transgressor. It is not the tolerating of an evil act. Forgiveness is not a weak act–it is a brave one, even a revolutionary one. Hear me out.
In my situation, forgiveness meant that I didn’t have to carry the bitterness I felt every time I saw the dirty dishes. It meant that, whether I decided to clean everyone’s dishes or just let them clean their own dishes, I could live in peace knowing that it is not up to me to change my housemates’ habits. However, it is up to me to love my housemates. Yes, I can absolutely influence and challenge them to be more proactive about cleaning their dishes, but I don’t have to let their dirty dishes discourage me from fully loving them.
Like I said before, forgiveness is a discipline. This decision to forgive is something I must practice constantly. Whenever I walk into the kitchen, I must consciously decide that I will not let dirty dishes cause me distress or bitterness. Instead, I decide that dirty dishes are going to exist, and that Jesus’ forgiveness allows me to love beyond what my circumstances lead me to feel.
Whether or not we feel that the crime committed against us was forgivable, if we hope to live in the full reality of love that Jesus intends for us, we must choose forgiveness. Jesus never said that our sins were acceptable, but rather His life shows us that the transformative, loving relationship He desires with us transcends all limitations imposed by unforgiveness. I have chosen to accept the challenge of living in the reality of forgiveness. Instead of bitterly saying “do your dang dishes already,” I can turn inward and ask, “how will my actions reflect an attitude of grace and forgiveness?”.
So to all who are reading this blog, I will leave you with mission: How will you live in the reality of forgiveness today?
Since starting my new life and job in Los Angeles I have realized many new things about myself, I learn something new about myself every day. I’ve learned that “Living Simply” can not only be challenging, but sometimes it is necessary. Living simply helps you grow, mature and appreciate the true value of money. There is no one specific definition of what living simply means. Living simply means something different to everyone. To some of my housemates it could mean, spending less time in the shower to conserve water or reusing plastic containers that you might normally throw out. For myself it meant to take the bus twice a week instead of driving the full work week, and whereas before my year of service I would get Starbucks a few times a week I now only get it a few times every OTHER week; hence, when I do get it I appreciate it way more! I have also learned that being a working, functional, contributing member of society is self-rewarding. For my first blog post, I am going to be extremely transparent and list the following challenges and successes I personally have experienced since moving to LA.
1. Coffee has become my best friend! Before moving to L.A. I drank mostly Frappuccino’s or Macchiato’s. Now I drink regular coffee, sometimes black with no cream. I find that my mornings are incomplete without that wonderful cup (or two) of caffeine to get me going.
2. LA traffic is horrible.
(Wherever you go, count on it taking a hour, both car or metro) This hasn’t been too hard for me to accept, except for on those few occasions where I’m running late or am in a rush. The metro isn’t that bad most days and since this is nothing I can personally change about it I don’t get try to fight it, I just accept it. However, I would strongly advise that if you are fortunate to have a vehicle bring it with you. It has been a big help not only to me, but to my housemates as well.
3. Waking up at 5:30 am every day is a struggle and will continue to be. I thought that I would be used to waking up so early by now, but nothing has changed. I still hit the snooze button at least twice in the mornings.
Starting my job at 8:00 am, means that I will have to get up 2 1/2 hours ahead of time so that I can make it to work on time! (As we all know…. early is on time and on time is late.) I do my best to get to work at least 10 to 15 minutes early. However, it can be a real chore to wake up so early 5 times a week. This is something that I have to get used to, but I am hopeful that by the end of the year waking up at 5:30 am will be a piece of cake. (Once again, this is real world training)
4. My ideal bedtime is 10:00 pm, I usually fall asleep by 11:00 pm. This is because if I even want to give myself a chance of waking up on time… I need SLEEP.
5. I have no time to run errands on the weekdays, so basically my Friday evenings and Saturday mornings always start with a full list of errands I have to complete. (Bank, appointments, groceries, working out.) This I have come to realize this is just a part of being an adult.
6. Besides Trader Joe’s and VONS the 99 cent store is my favorite place to shop. They literally have EVERYTHING. Since I am living simply I am very selective about making the best choices when it comes to the price of food, gas, and other miscellaneous items. Where I might have usually spent money on all name brand things, I find I can usually find the same exact thing (sometimes even the brand) at a different store for half the price. Also, food stamps are a lifesaver! I save hundreds of dollars every month on food, and most of the time my housemates and I have so much food it can hardly fit in the fridge.
7. Making meals ahead of time is a MUST. After being up since 5:30 am and not getting home until 6:15 pm, I don’t feel like cooking anything. When I get home, I am so tired that I would never even dream of cooking on a weekday and because I am living simply and cannot afford to go out and buy fast food or eat at a restaurant….
8. I should probably learn how to cook… better.
9. Even though I love my job (or work site), at least once a day the thought “I don’t get paid enough for this” runs through my head. (Lol I told you I was going to be honest and transparent). My job is stressful and challenging. My team is expected to absorb a lot of information in short amounts of time and multitask a number of different things at one time. Not to mention, remember scheduled staff meetings, appointments with clients, events and due dates for projects or data. It is then, that I take a step back, re-access myself and remember that this is not only a job but this is service as well. It’s not about the money at all, it’s about the experience and making a small difference in someone’s life that can turn into a big blessing. When these times of stress happen I remind myself how lucky I am to be at my service site and also how blessed I am for this opportunity. I have no doubt I will become a better person because of my EUI Year of Service and a better future employee because of my year as an Employment Specialist at Chrysalis.
(Also, a few perks of working for Chrysalis is that I have my own office. A legitimate office, with a personal phone, computer etc. It’s pretty awesome. The next perk is that Chrysalis has a resource closet full of professional clothing. There have been a couple times where I have had to run to the resource closet to grab a blazer, cardigan, and not to mention my Halloween costume!)
10. Being Self-sufficient is totally WORTH IT!
Even though it is hard living on such a small budget, already this year is teaching me responsibility, accountability and what it truly means to Iive, learn and grow with other people. From my fellow EUI program members to my colleagues at my job, I truly believe God has put each person in my life for a reason. Whether I have good days or bad, positive or negative experiences, I will use each experience as a lesson for the future.
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