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.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about our environment are the times and places I feel most connected to nature during a busy, urban life in LA. These instances have mostly been during hikes, where the air feels crisper and easier to breathe, and I can see above the layer of smog. A city that can feel so hectic and hurried suddenly feels small and manageable.
Every other Friday, my fellow classroom staff and I have started taking our kids out on hikes. Most of our students flourish, running ahead and exploring in ways we don’t always see in the classroom. One student who refused to go on any field trips earlier this year has been coming hiking with us, and quickly emerged as a leader, helping the other kids figure out which rocks to step on when crossing a stream. We’ve seen peers who often struggle with friendships connect over finding a salamander or sharing a good walking stick. A student who always finds a reason to be negative can’t help but smile as we tromp through the forest. Another splashed around in the creek, and exclaimed that he “loves nature water!”
Despite these positives, one of our students did not have such a fun time. He told us during the first hike that it was his “first time in nature,” and spent much of the time frustrated, complaining about getting his pants dirty, and claiming that he was only excited for the part where we’d eat lunch. The second wasn’t much better.
I often find myself resorting to this dichotomy between “nature” and “city,” but I think this distinction is problematic. “Nature” shouldn’t be so foreign to us that we classify it as a completely separate place, and are so unfamiliar with our surroundings that, like my student, we can’t wait to leave. I think this (false) dichotomy is ultimately harmful to the environment, because we are more able to separate ourselves from the ways in which our planet is suffering. It’s much easier to ignore a drought when you don’t see the way a river has been reduced to a trickle, flanked by dry, desolate banks where water once was.
Feeling connected to the environment, for me, is synonymous with feeling connected to humanity. The poem I was assigned during our month focusing on the Environment reflects this synergy.
Its words remind me of the ways I’ve seen my own students connect, with nature as the catalyst. It also reaffirms that recognizing nature is intimately connected to appreciating humankind, as it changes our perspective and invites us to interact with one another. As much as I dread my early morning weekday wake-up, for example, I love that I get to watch the sunrise every morning. That is an experience I am sharing with so many others around me at that very moment. My challenge moving forward will be to find (and appreciate) those instances more frequently, and maybe “nature” won’t feel so far away after all.
There’s this strange feeling of familiarity I feel when I recognize the homeless people in Hollywood. Or the musicians that play their guitar and sing their songs. It’s the air of desperation in search of dreams that may never come true. I see it all on their face. An expression I know all too well. Hopefully hopeless. Chasing a dream deferred and being side tracked by life’s tackles. They hold on. They are hopeful. They believe that by risking their life and jeopardizing their health. Each one of them having a story.
Each one of them actively seeking solace in the one place they find their peace. Their gift from God they so freely offer to us in hopes that you would spare some change.
Spare some change.
change in society.
change in community.
change your mind.
redirect your life.
True hopes lies in between the lines of strength and behind your eyes.
Last weekend I had the privilege of participating in “Called to the Wall,” the annual Lenten Via Crucis pilgrimage to the U.S. – Mexico border in support of immigrants that is co-sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, and the Anglican Church of Mexico. I’ve never payed much attention to what is happening in the world of immigration, so it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be able to celebrate the Eucharist at the border as one community in Christ.
This was my first time at the border, and in a way it felt like the people on the other side were in jail. I couldn’t help but wonder what it felt like to them. We were all at the border for the same reason, to celebrate the love of Christ, but we couldn’t physically celebrate the Eucharist together because of a physical barrier. I began to think about the barriers we put up in our own lives that prevent us from sharing God’s love with one another. I think fear is the biggest barrier in my life. I fear what will happen if I stop and talk to the homeless man on the street who looks like he could use a conversation just as much as he could use a hot meal. I am scared to talk to people from other races, religions, and cultures about their life because I’m afraid I will say something stupid or offensive. I think a big part of my EUIP year has been learning how to combat this fear in order to live in communion with others.
It was especially powerful to experience this day with fellow EUI Edgar. On the way home he told us the story of how his family crossed the border. He also told us about some of the difficult times his family has gone through as a result of them being immigrants to this country. I am grateful that EUIP has opened doors for me to have experiences like this and conversations with people who don’t have the same background as I do.
At the beginning of the Eucharist, we prayed, “Strengthen us to welcome those from other lands, cultures, and religions, that we may live in human solidarity and in hope. Give us courage to open the door to our neighbors and grace to build a society of justice so that we may proclaim the undying love of our Savior Jesus Christ.” It is our job as children of God to be welcoming to our neighbor, but how many of us actually practice this in our everyday lives? How many of us continue to live in our own little worlds because we feel safe and comfortable? I think we forget that Jesus was an immigrant – from heaven to earth.
Los Angeles. A place full of opportunity. A place teeming with desire. A place that welcomes all. I have only lived here for a short amount of time. Seven months to be exact. When you move to a new city, especially one the size of LA, feeling overwhelmed is almost an inevitability. More times than not, what’s needed for this feeling to be quenched is simply TIME. It takes time spent in this new place of residence to get comfortable with it and to understand it and to explore it and to find what it has to offer and what it doesn’t. Living in a big city is not easy to get used to, but it’s possible. It just takes patience and a heart of exploration to truly thrive. All that being said, that’s just for you: the individual.
Here’s a scenario for you. You move to a city, and you have a great time getting to know it. You love it. You give it time to teach you new things. You expect things out of it. You work with and for it. You’re now months in and have fallen for the city. It offers you so much of what you’ve wanted for a long time now. Not only do you fall for the place, but it’s the people as well. You have made relationships, and still are making them; whether at work or in your community. These relationships have now given you more purpose and created a new dynamic in your life in the city. Not only do you have to cultivate your individual self in this new place you love, but you also have to nurture these new-found relationships. You love them just as much as the city.
What am I getting at here? We are humans. We have incredible brains and bodies. However, as awesome as we are, we need balance. We need priorities. We need boundaries. And all of these need to be in healthy states. To have these in healthy states we must make healthy choices. Here’s an example as to why this is so important: I am highly interested in attending an event in the city that I believe will grow me as a person. I have been looking forward to this for a long time. Unfortunately, that same night, a dear friend of mine, who I have been desiring a deeper connection with, wants to hang out, and this night is the only night he/she has time for a while. At the same time, a group of people I love have something going on that highly interests me as well on that same night. So now I have three choices on the same night, and each thing means the world to me. What do I do?
In a city like this, with so much in front of you, it’s important you give yourself space, and time, and slack. If you don’t, you may, like I have many times already, find that you’ve piled on so many arrangements and said yes to so many people without remembering you already have prior engagements, that now you have to make a choice that could hurt or offend someone by backing out. So, be mindful of your yes’s, and don’t spread yourself too thin. Prioritize ahead of time so that your “yes” is yes and your “no” is no. It may hurt sometimes, but it’s better to be clear and blunt upfront than dance around “maybe”s and, even worse, back out of your “yes” and lose credibility from your loved ones.
I am confident that I have spent more time on a bus this year as an Episcopal Urban Intern than ever before in my life. I’d be a liar if I said I loved it always, but I have to admit it’s growing on me lately.
It isn’t the graffiti on the back of the bus seats (though it is occasionally pretty poetic) or the characters you meet (Turtle Guy: I’m looking at you) that have helped me change my perspective about my daily commute, but rather it has been my Lenten promise for this season. This year I have committed myself to spending part of my commute in the morning during these 40 days of intentional practice in meditation and gratitude. There is so much about this year and life in general that I have to be thankful for and I think that by dedicating time to this during an activity I used to really dislike, I will be able to shift my mindset and see the beauty of the day to day.
Here is a small sampling of the things for which I am grateful that I have been reflecting on as I start out this season:
1) My fellow corps members: I have the absolute privilege of being surrounded by some of the most compassionate, thoughtful, and unique people. We all have come from different places both literally and metaphorically, but we all came here to commit to a year serving the community in LA. Laughing with them, crying with them, and growing with them has been truly incredible.
2) My worksite: Working at Chrysalis has brought me much joy in the almost 7 months that I’ve been there. I have met clients and co-workers that inspire me. My favorite thing, I think, has been seeing the pride in a client’s eyes when the light switches and they realize that they can succeed, they are employable, and that they can really believe in themselves. To say that I’m lucky to get to witness that is a gross understatement and I’m endlessly grateful for the chance to share in that moment.
3) The challenges: I’ll be frank here—living in intentional community with 7 other people in one house is hard. Giving career advice and correcting misbehavior of grown men twice your age is hard. Seeing your own privilege and witnessing the stark differences between the stars on Hollywood Blvd and the poverty-stricken people sleeping there is hard. While it may not always be comfortable I am grateful for the opportunity to grow and stretch that make it worth it.
4) The little things: My time in this program is short, but it is so full of small opportunities and experiences that make me smile and remind me how beautiful this existence really is. Every Friday I visit a coffee shop on my walk from the bus stop to work and catch up with Peter, the kind and very generous owner who usually finds a way to send me off with extra cookies and pastries to go with my coffee. On that walk I pass a smiling guy I like to call Guy on a Bike who always gives a wave and a “good morning!” my way. How wonderful is that? These little blessings are not limited to my walk to work, of course, and include encouraging messages from house mates and shared food (because they know how much I hate cooking), thought-provoking sermons with the youth during church and good fellowship afterwards, beach trips on weekends and sunburns in February.
Though it has just begun, I can already see a shift in my thoughts about my commute. I’m hoping by the end of Lent I will have a greater appreciation for my time here as an EUI and a more generally positive outlook on the many blessings in my life.
I am Whitney
I am Tyler
and together we make the wake up crew
Fighting for Justice
Whitney: fighting for change
Tyler: helping the homeless
Both: Uplifiting the broken
Whitney: What your struggle girl
Tyler: Helping the students feel uplifted and empowered
Whitney: Getting Schooled
Tyler: Fighting society but I am underpowered
Whitney: Getting Schooled
Tyler: It is difficult living in community – But I see it as an opportunity
Tyler: Whats your struggle homegirl
Whitney: 5:30am me and the bathroom meet
Tyler: headed to work
Whitney: clients making my emotions peak
Tyler: headed to work
Whitney: Conflict at h-wood got my mind like a maze woulddd
Both: Damn! I just missed my metro
(take a pause, look around and be stressed)
Tyler: Homeless seeking shelter in the subway station
Both: their lives matter!
Whitney: People push them outta the way, so impatient!
Both: their lives matter!
Tyler: Weeping from hunger no food to eat
Both: their lives matter!
Whitney: My brother got shot in the street
Both: black lives matter!
Tyler: Hands up, not resisting, dont speak
Both: black lives matter!
Whitney: can I get some spare change?
Tyler: No you ni***
Both: cover mouth “dont say that”)
Whitney: Black women are beautiful
Both: justice for women
Tyler: Why is she wearing booty shorts? pitiful!
Both: justice for women
Whitney: My body is not the template for you to dispose your criticism
Both: justice for women
Tyler: Yo! Baby girl can I get in them jeans
Whitney: Im just tryna pass through if you please
Tyler: Youre so beautiful, my queen. (strokes arm)
Whitney: You are not my king
Both: Your words hold no ownership over me
Both: What are you doing in your community!
Tyler: Living together
Whitney: Praying together
Tyler: Working together
Fighting for Justice
Whitney: fighting for change
Tyler: helping the homeless
Both: Uplifiting the broken
Whitney: Continue fighting for justice
Tyler: The homeless!
Whitney: respect their humanity
Whitney: respect is not optional
Tyler: Black people!
Both: black lives matter
The world is rotten
we are the soil
Produce strong fruit
Wake Up! And use your power!
When I think about community, what comes to mind is a common goal, or a common foundation. If this common goal/foundation is vague or even lost, the community will inevitably suffer and possibly fall apart. This goes for all kinds of communities, whether it be neighborhoods, houses full of people, churches, etc. This foundation needs to be clearly stated and strongly pursued, for pursuit can create progression, and progression can then manifest into stronger and better relationships. All Communities should strive for this and must strive for it if it wishes to flourish.
What I’ve learned from past experiences and from moving to Los Angeles is that this is a difficult thing to succeed at building AND maintaining. There are so many moving parts and they can often change. There are people who have different ideas, thoughts, ways of living, beliefs, pet peeves, you name it, and when they have to coexist, times can get a little hairy. In order for these kinds of times to be kept at bay, the community MUST define what community means and looks like to them and what they are looking to get out of it AND put into it. Otherwise, you will see heads clash and frustration brew, for one may put forth more effort than the other, thinking that’s what community should be, while another thinks their putting more effort in because they see something else needed that they aren’t receiving. Already there’s division and all because one wanted something different out of it all than the other.
What’s my point? My point is that community isn’t just about making the house or the church or the neighborhood run and/or function smoothly. It’s way more than that. Someone can do all the chores and carry out all the responsibilities and run all the specs and do all the behind the scenes work all day, but if they don’t feel appreciated, if they don’t receive help, if the most important thing was to do all of this and make it all look nice and run efficiently and nothing more, you’ll just have a nice looking, well working (from the outside) entity with zero heart. What happens after a VERY short amount of time? It crumbles and dies from the inside and before you know it, the emptiness will be seen from the outside and it will no longer matter who does what. Destruction is imminent. So, be open. Be clear. Be flexible. Realize you’re not the only one working towards something. Be vocal in what you’re moving towards and have an open dialogue about the moving parts and be available and willing to put forth the effort. Communities are beautiful things and can be life savers for some, so, before joining one, ask yourself what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to put into the hat, for laziness and a lack of flexibility will be the downfall of it all if not careful.
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.
I came into EUIP and did not know what to expect but I’m enjoying the ride. I’m a social worker who is fighting for social justice.
It’s hard living intentionally when you grew up with amenities that you don’t have now like air during the summer and the money to splurge on unnecessary goodies.
This experience is making me grateful for the things God has blessed me with. God has given me more of a passion to serve. I wake up and see hundreds of homeless lined along the street and I tell myself, ‘Whitney will do her part’.
I am determined and focused on helping those that need a little support and encouragement to make it. I am focused on fighting for social justice with every fiber of my being.
Well, Edgar, you are a teacher for the next 4 months. The whole shebang parent teacher conferences, lesson plans, discipline, just all of it. You were Mr. Soto and asserted that and owned that role so here’s your attempt to give yourself advice. Now, you tell yourself that you wouldn’t have been able to see it a year ago, but don’t believe it. You can try and lie that you never would have guessed that this is how you would spend your time. But look deep and you’ll know that YOU put your life in this trajectory. You’re kind of responsible for your life choices. The world didn’t make you do it, the program didn’t make you do it, I guess your worksite kind of did; but not really. Just be honest, a part of you wanted to do it. Don’t lie to yourself, you could have said no. There is always a way out. I mean your co-interns left. That was a thing, but I guess that’s another story. And the thing to take away is: it’s great that you know that you don’t want to spend the rest of your life as a teacher.
OK, so you’ve acknowledged it. Now that you’ve gotten past that, you’re left trying to manage the stress that results from being a teacher. Yes, there’s stress. Can’t forget about that stress! By THAT stress I mean the whole being directly responsible for about one hundred and twenty 7th graders. Let me clarify, by directly responsible I mean, calling parents and telling them how they should behave, act and be responsible. No, don’t tell the kids that, the kids already know that by how you interact with them! I’m talking about the parents, the so-called “adults”. You’ll tell the parents to think about how their actions affect the rest of their lives, how education is important, how health is important and it’ll feel like it’s falling on deaf ears. OK, I’ll be honest, you have to somehow hold face. Yes, you have to pretend that you know what you’re doing. The parents are going to try and break you down. DON’T LET IT HAPPEN. That defeats the whole purpose of being there, (plus it helps that you know that they know that nobody really knows what they’re doing).
Now the responsibility is really the hardest part. No I’m not lying, it doesn’t seem that hard, but it is. The thing, that I’m trying to talk to you about, carries with it so much weight. Just so much context and you won’t be able to understand it all; that’s ok. You’ll be frustrated by all the self-defeat and ignorance. But it’s ok, because you’re not the only one that’s carrying this responsibility. You’re just one of the few that has acknowledged it. MOST IMPORTANTLY you can’t forget that there are good things! For instance the easiest part is the teaching, the Math, the logic. Yes, some of the kids won’t understand the material, but that shouldn’t let you down, because you’re taking over near the end of the term and you can’t save them. In this way at least. But you’ve already recognized that in october so you should be good.
I’m saying that you should be good because there will be days when you’ll look at the kids and get tired of seeing them so tired. It’ll be depressing. There’s no getting around the fact that you can’t do systemic change, right now, because of all the systemic factors. That doesn’t mean that the work you’re doing isn’t meaningful. You’re impacting their lives. Though the kids and the staff don’t seem like it, how you interact with them is going to impact how they interact with others later. I know it sounds hard to believe right now. And yes, saying this out loud probably won’t help all the time. But most of the time, when you interact with love, which is how you interact, then it’ll help. It’s not immediately tangible. But it’s real. It’s a microcosm of the world. And you’ll remember these interactions for the rest of your life; let them teach you.
What am I here for? What does God want me to do? What makes me happy? What brings me joy? What does it mean to live in solidarity?
I have committed myself to serving. I have committed myself to a year of vulnerability, a year of challenges, a year of happiness, a year of joy, a year of growth and I have committed myself to a year of reflection through journaling and meditation. Part of these reflections come from Healing for Damaged Emotions. A book which has been difficult but rewarding. It is a book about emotional healing through a spiritual and psychological lens. Throughout the book, I have learned more about myself and the power of slowing down and pausing.
Slowing down for me comes in many forms, but when I slow down I mean it as a form of prayer and self-care. The best form for me is being in nature. For instance, going to the beach and walking on the sand or putting my feet in the water. Also, enjoying the view of the hills, the mountains, the sky and the sun. It all reminds me of God: His grace, His mercy, and His love for me.
This year I work at St. Joseph Center, a nonprofit organization focused on helping the homeless. In the morning, I speak with at least 100 clients, to sign them up for a shower or lunch. In the afternoon, I work as a case manager. On any given day, I can wake up at 6:30am, rush to get ready, eat breakfast, get in the car and head to work. I can just sign up my clients and rush throughout the day to make it home. Or I can wake up at 6:00am and be intentional. I can acknowledge the presence of my housemates by saying good morning. I can take in the view as I am driving to work. As I am signup clients I can look them in the eye and have a conversation. I can interact with them and let them know that I am serving because I know that I can meet them where they are and they can meet me where I am. I can take the time to get to know them. I can laugh with them, cry with them and learn from them.
Personally, I need moments to recharge; to just be by myself in a quiet space. As you can imagine, sometimes pausing can be hard to do and when I find myself stressed or overworked I force myself to make time for self-care. Serving can easily become just a job. There needs to be a constant awareness of being in solidarity with the community you are serving because it can easily become just a routine.
During my interview for the Episcopal Urban Intern Program (EUIP), I was told to discuss my thoughts about this quote. I invite you to take a minute to read it carefully:
“We learn almost nothing until we make commitments to stick together in marriage, friendship, and community — for better or for worse. Until then we are running away from our real learning tasks looking for better people, better opportunities, better neighborhoods that more nearly fit our likes and dislikes. We are in love with our ideal community and miss the real people God has given us to love and be reconciled with who are always different from us. Of course, young people need a stage of life to explore different places and discover themselves in those contrasts, but that learning only becomes useful when we commit to love the people God has given us to love in a particular place.
Quote from A How-To for Intentional Christian Community: A Q&A with David Janzen.
Before my service year, I thought I had a pretty decent grasp on the full meaning of this quote.
I knew that some of the most rewarding relationships in my life had been the ones that presented me with the most challenges which I could have easily chosen to dismiss and ignore but instead chose to confront and push through. Several of my most painful experiences have happened with people in my innermost circles. I also knew how easy it would be to choose a post-college opportunity that was comfortable, predictable, and stable. That kind of opportunity, however, would not encourage me to rely on God or to persevere through tough moments of significant learning. Reading this quote before the interview gave me peace and comfort because, embracing the lessons that come from life’s most difficult moments, I was used to assuming a mindset of committing to experiences and relationships that would be challenging and often uncomfortable. Little did I know the full extent to which I would be stretched during my service year.
Without going into too much detail, I will say that I certainly had tough moments with my housemates. Really tough. We had different perspectives on what it means to be vulnerable with each other, what it means to have a clean house, how much time we should spend with each other, the extent to which our lives would be shared and communal, and what it meant to live out the values of EUIP. We approached conflict resolution and relationships very differently. After work, we had very different ideas of what it meant to recharge and decompress. These differences were sometimes intriguing points of conversation, and often they were points of conflict and misunderstanding.
At times throughout the year, I remember reaching intense moments of frustration with my house community, and I thought, “Is this all worth it?” I remember feeling tempted to just run away to my college friends or to good friends from church. I so wanted to just spend time with people that I felt would understand me and challenge me in ways that I wanted to grow. What I slowly realized from living with my housemates, though, was that they held many of the most important lessons for me. At times I wanted to avoid them, but they were perhaps the ones from whom I had the most to learn.
The quote that begins this blog post is reminiscent of The Greatest Commandment given by Jesus (in Matthew 22:36-40). He tells us that the most important thing in life is for us to love God and love our neighbor. Sounds simple, but we can all think of those “neighbors” that we would rather just pass by and ignore rather than approach and engage. Throughout my service year I realized that my house community was one of the greatest places to practice the Greatest Commandment. At times, my house was also certainly the toughest place to practice this Commandment. While following Jesus’ words, moments of disagreement and frustration with housemates became opportunities to practice Jesus’ kind of radical forgiveness, grace, and love.
It’s such a sobering experience when you get schooled by a lesson you feel like you’ve already mastered. I came to EUIP having spent some time living in intentional community, and I already felt a deep conviction that loving one’s neighbors is such an essential part of life. I knew that the service year would be incredibly challenging, and I was ready to stretch myself. However, there was no way for me to predict the ways that I would confront my own brokenness and limits in loving those with whom I would be sharing a living space for almost a whole year.
I began the year with what I thought was a boundless love for my community, and God revealed His boundless love for my community through my moments of weakness and limitation. When I wanted to give up, Jesus’ words along with the quote that began this blog echoed in my head and gave me reason and strength to push forward when everything within me (and even some people in my life) told me to give up and move on. But does God give up after we mistreat him? Does He forget about us and just “move on” when we don’t return His agape love? If that’s the God I served, I’m certain that He would have left me long, long ago. Of course, by no means am I saying that I was ever nearly as faithful to my housemates as God is with us. My point is that His way of loving us has inspired me to love, even when it makes no sense to love.
So the question for you and for myself is, how long will we wait to choose to commit to true community and to truly love our neighbors?
Thanks for reading. =)
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