My Not-So-Secret Garden

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I don’t know how I haven’t written a blog about our community garden. It is easily my favorite space at my home here in Hollywood. I guess I would rather be in my garden than writing about it. However, it is currently cold outside (aka 65 degrees and slightly windy), so I will take some time to reflect inside about what the dirt patch in front of our community house means to me.

My family in Phoenix has a garden in our backyard, and it is one of my favorite places to be in Arizona. There is always some delicious surprise waiting for me in there. Growing up, I loved to sit and eat as many sweet peas as possible when I got home from school or try and find a strawberry or two that the birds had not discovered and consumed before I woke up that day. My dad spends hours in the garden planting it, tilling it, and taking special care to be sure every chemical balance of the soil is perfect, the nets to keep the birds away are intact, and all the plants have enough shade or warmth. I remember having to walk through the damp cold grass to cover all the plants in the garden with sheets in winter, so they would not freeze. It was not a hard task, but I really did not like taking those twenty minutes to ensure we had a crop in the morning because it took me out of my warm house and away from whatever I was doing (Selfish teenagers, am I right?)

When I arrived in LA, I volunteered right away to be in charge of the garden here because I had experience, and no one else in my house liked gardening (this fact has now changed). We started off with an eggplant, some tomato and pepper plants, and a few trees, the main one being a weird lime/lemon hybrid that to this day I cannot figure out why it produces both fruits alternating months. Over the course of the year, and in addition to the beginning plants, we have grown carrots, potatoes, radishes, lettuce, broccoli, sweet peas, strawberries, zucchini, scallions, yellow squash, rosemary, and various types of flowers. Most of these plants we planted as seeds, and it has been one of my greatest joys to watch the tiny, baby plants poke through the earth and mature into large producing plants that provide for our community and our house.

Each day, I check the garden before I go to work and after I return home in the evening. We water the garden every Tuesday and Thursday during community hours, so our kids can help us and learn about growing food and composting (Some kids are very interested in plants and gardening, but let’s be real, they mostly like playing in the hose water as I try to get them to water each plants gently.). We also have garden day every second Sunday of the month, where we weed, harvest, turn the compost pile, and generally clean the area. Several cats live in the garden, and people from the neighborhood put water and food in there for them to make sure they do not starve. Our neighbors Becky and Michael, and Michael and Annabelle also have separate boxes where they grow their own plants.

I think one reason I like the garden so much is because of the sense of harmony and community that naturally permeates it. Since it is a community garden, our neighbors are free to come in any time they want and take produce or contribute to the compost pile (They can also plant things, but we ask that they tell us first). I often see people picking tomatoes to use in their dinner that night or wandering along the brick paths with their children who want to look at the brightly colored flowers we have growing in a few spots. I have met most of my neighbors because they were walking by while I was in the garden, and we started talking. I have also learned some wonderful new recipes by talking with people about what they are planning on making with the vegetables they pick. The foundation for my relationship with one of my housemates, Jordan, is our meaningful conversations and silent time just being with each other we share while sitting and weeding the garden. One of our regular community hours kids has taken it upon herself to care for one strawberry plant in particular that she calls her own, and it is beautiful how much pride she has in caring for this plant.

The garden is a gathering space where all are equal, and all have a place. I do not think it is any wonder why God decided to start humans in a garden. Gardens require hard work, patience, and love. In addition, it is difficult not to be amazed by the miracles that are plants. They start as nothing and bloom into huge organisms that provide balance and joy to life. They take what they need and give back infinitely more than was given to them (insert Christian metaphor for how we should live our lives in a similar manner).

I think I also love the garden because it is a simple place where I can be alone with my thoughts and God. It is my quiet happy space. Plants do not get frustrated with me or call me a bitch because I brought them the wrong fish head fertilizer or because I did not allow them to have more water. Plants do not question my motives for spraying them with a natural compound that will cure their disease. Plants do not make me feel guilty because I am white, privileged, American, straight, female, and housed. I never question whether I am living in solidarity with the plants or just being charitable to them by spreading compost around their base. There is no doubt in my mind whether my desire to shade the lettuce from the sun is deriving from some white savior complex I have or not. Gardening is simple. I try my best, and the plants do their best. There is no need for trauma informed services or deep thoughts about how to preserve the dignity of the plants or how to best support their local leadership. And in my world, where every single other area of my life from work to church to my place in the neighborhood/LA/America/the world is clouded with these constant questions and considerations, it is a breath of fresh air to have some place that is easy where I can simply be with God, the radishes, and the cats.

I hope the future Dwellers continue the garden. Because California has basically no water left (seriously guys, it’s bad), there has been some talk of letting the garden die next year. I sincerely hope this does not happen because the garden has been one of the best ways we as a YAV/DOOR house have reached out into our community and contributed to our neighborhood in a meaningful way. Also, I want to acknowledge before this blog entry ends that my housemates and neighbors/past Dwellers have been amazingly helpful this year regarding the garden. They show up and do their best weeding and watering every time I ask them to help. They care for the garden as much as I do even though it is not everyone’s favorite activity.

In conclusion, the garden will be one of the things I miss most when I leave for DC in August. It is a place to be patient and kind without hesitation. It is a place to be adventurous and try new things through experimentation. It is a place to be surprised by what turns up, whether that is a mint plant you never planted or a bag of lettuce sitting in the path that disappears the next day without you touching it or Keurig coffee pods in the compost that make you giggle because it is a clear example of good intentions, bad execution by one of your neighbors. Our garden is not an exact science. It does not take a ton of time or money. It is uncomplicated. It is colorful. It is a splendid example of how to live life in relationship with God. Like the plants, we try our best to grow, be fruitful, and make the world better, and God asks little else.

I will end my blog here before it gets too cluttered with garden metaphors for life, faith, and Jesus because I am not the first to draw these comparisons nor will I be the last. The Bible is filled with garden/plant analogies because they work perfectly, and people much brighter than I and more eloquent have already exhausted this line of writing. Therefore, let me end with these two thoughts: our garden is the best, and I will find another when I move to DC because I want to continue to get my hands and feet dirty and to learn from the people and plants in gardens about how to be a better Christian.

(PS-Science has proved that gardening makes you happier, so go get your hands dirty too!)

Us vs. Them

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It is very natural for humans to try and separate each other into the groups of us versus them. We want to feel like we belong and that we can distinguish ourselves from someone else who we identify as not belonging. We want to identify what we are not and to keep the people who are not us as far away from us as possible or to eliminate them.

Over my YAV year, I have noticed a few of society’s favorite and (in my opinion) more destructive distinctions between people. Using the language I hear often, these categories include: the normal people vs. the crazy people, the law-abiding people vs. the criminals, the people who are strong enough/smart enough to stay away from drugs/alcohol/tobacco vs. the people who use such deadly substances, and the people who contribute to society in meaningful ways vs. those people who do not and therefore, are only burdens to the rest of humanity (this half can include people experiencing homelessness, people receiving government aid for whatever reason, people who have babies at the wrong time according to culture, etc.). All of these separations metaphorically divide society into tiny boxes, and often these metaphorical walls become physical walls that cage people and limit them. We want to limit them, so they cannot hurt us or damage what we are building.

It is so easy to identify someone as a them. It is so easy to justify their suffering or their pain or their choices that we see as negative because we already assume they are inferior to us because they are not us. We would never suffer from psychosis because we are mentally stable and can handle ourselves no matter what. We would never assault anyone because we were raised correctly and know that violence does not solve anything. We maybe smoked weed or drank a little too much in high school or college because we wanted to experiment and have fun, but we would never think about using them as coping mechanisms or try anything more serious because we know what substances like heroine and meth can do. And of course, we do not need to be told that we are valued members of society who will accomplish great things because we know we are super special snowflakes who’s dreams and ideas are worth pursueing and posting everywhere on the Internet/being published because they are wise and brilliant and will save the world. (Yes, I know this blog is on the Internet. Do not think I am excluding myself from all the other snowflakes).

I struggle every day to not separate myself from them. I struggle every single day not to define a them. It is hard. No, that is an understatement. It is nearly impossible for me. In my head, I create sides regarding almost everything. I create sides regarding matters among my housemates. I create sides between my boyfriend and I. I create sides between my clients at work and staff. I create sides between Christians and non-Christians. Dear blog readers, seriously, I am really bad at not dividing people. I want to think of everyone as equal, but it is so difficult to improve my current habits.

God does not divide. Everyone is included in His eyes. Yes, there are problems that must be resolved, but He does not care about the macro or micro categories that we humans love to wrap around ourselves and snuggle into. God asks us to love our neighbors and to treat them how we would want to be treated. It is a good thing that most cultures teach this idea starting from birth because I am coming to realize there is probably nothing harder you can ask of someone. This command orders a person to surrender his or her ideas of power, of justice, of mercy, of grace, of forgiveness. It asks a person to practice genuine empathy and to love like God does. Our world, myself included, is pretty bad at these responses. We are pretty bad about caring about everyone and not putting up walls because we cannot see how quickly the world can shift, and us suddenly find ourselves on their side of the wall.

I know divisions are necessary sometimes, but I think only God knows when they are definitively necessary. Therefore, at the current time, I seek to be more empathetic. I seek to be more compassionate. I seek to be more understanding. I seek to be more humble. I seek to be more patient. I seek to be more loving. I seek to train my mind not to divide and to fight the structures and ideas that separate us versus them. Finally, on a personal level, I seek to be more vulnerable and talk more with people about our individual conflicts (two things in which I thought I excelled until this year) because I am growing more and more convinced that they are pretty much the only ways to defeat the demon of us versus them on any level. I know I may never be great at any of these, but I can at least try.

What’s in a Name?

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From a very young age, we are taught not to call people names. We are taught that it is wrong to label others in ways that are intentionally cruel and hurtful. However as we grow older, we must figure out what names are cruel and hurtful. There are the obvious answers (well, hopefully obvious for most decent human beings) for what are mean names like whore, faggot, and retard. But what about other names that do not clearly fall into the category of hate speech? Is it wrong to call someone who is addicted to meth a drug addict or someone who does not have a stable place to live a homeless person?

I think much of my year has been spent trying to understand and explain to myself and others what I am doing in Hollywood. This process of contemplation and sharing involves me trying to choose the most accurate and respectful words for the people, places, and experiences I meet, visit, and have. For example, the quick description I have settled on for My Friend’s Place where I work is a drop-in day center for youth currently experiencing homelessness. That quick description of MFP took me six months practically to choose.

Another example of how confusing names/words can be involves what to call the people who walk into MFP wanting our services. All the agencies my housemates and I work for call the people we try and help different things. The Lord’s Lighthouse at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, calls them friends. The people who work at PATH call them clients. Many people at MFP call them young people. It is no problem for most of my co-workers to call the people who come in young people because most of them are at least five years older than the clients we serve. I am not. They are my peers. Some of them are older than me. If I met them in a different context, we could be very good friends. This fact sometimes makes my job a lot harder to do because I cannot give life advice when they have lived just as long as me. I spoke with our amazing Director of Programming about my issue with what to call the people who I try and be there for every day, and she said that my age can actually be a wonderful empowering thing for the people I meet at MFP because it opens up doors for us to talk about how I came to work at MFP at my age and share in their uncertainty about the future. I cannot always be a mentor, but I can listen and sometimes offer advice as a peer if the situation is correct. All of this advice was helpful for my soul,but not in the naming issue.

This post was inspired by a news segment I saw about a month ago (I know, my reaction time between idea and published a blog is astounding). The news segment was a nice piece on another Hollywood agency that provides similar services to MFP called Covenant House. The segment was about their center, housing programs, and street outreach. Covenant House is a great place, and the segment was short, informative, and hopeful, exactly what it was supposed to be. I would have liked it except for the fundamental flaw that they misnamed people I know and love and used labels to take focus away from their humanity. Part of the segment involved a short interview with a young man who regularly visits MFP. He is sweet, smart, and caring. He loves nature and is someone I enjoy talking to on a regular basis. The news shared none of these parts of his personality though because they instead highlighted his anger issues, which he has also discussed with me and many other staff members at MFP. They used his struggles with emotional regulation as a way to prove what a good thing the CH outreach team was doing by bringing sandwiches to emotionally unstable homeless youth who choose not to go into shelter. The worse part of this whole interview was that underneath where his name was printed on the screen, it simply said homeless. Not even homeless youth. He wasn’t a person according to the news screen. They reduced his entire wonderful self down to one fact of his life. I understand that the news was not trying to deny this man’s humanity. I know I cannot expect every person on a news crew to form a great relationship with every person they meet and interview in order to portray holistically him or her in a story. He was needed for a segment on Covenant House and that was it. But the story was an epiphany for me.

We label each other as a way to make sense of the world. Time is short. Facts (or supposed facts) are critical. You are black. You are a woman. You are a person who practices Islam. You smoke cigarettes. You sell weed. You forgot to pay a credit card bill. All damning facts according to large parts of our society. Our society has no time to get to know people and so it just categorizes them. And these names and categories are permanent, whether we like it or not and shape how we act. There is a reason I always try to be very careful about what I say and how I act around people who are in relationships. For one thing, I respect love and their choice to be with each other, but for another, I was called a home-wrecker in ninth grade by a mean  girl who was dating a boy with whom I was close friends. Names, even said once, stay with a person. So is it so hard to believe that a person who has been labeled homeless for years has trouble staying in permanent housing?

I know that the idea that names are powerful is not new. However, it is one of the most important things I have learned and come to better understand while being a YAV. Since language is merely a system of labels, the problems associated with that fact will not go away. However, we all can fight to change our own preconceptions about others and change the language we use when talking about people to make it as considerate and caring as possible. We are all children of God, and I promise to not forget that most important name and strive to honor it in every way.

Six Months Down, Six (ish) Months to Go

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All the YAVs were sent an midway evaluation to fill out since last week was our halfway mark through our year of service (WHAT?!?!?!). These are my answers.

1) Please describe your overall experience at your work placement.

I love where I work. (For those of you just joining me, I work at a drop-in day shelter for homeless youth called My Friends Place. We offer case management, basic needs like showers, food, and clothing, and transformative education classes like painting, yoga, circus arts, and guitar. We also have things like medical clinics, legal clinics, and HIV testing weekly. Okay, now back to the evaluation). I spend my mornings working in the Administration and Development departments. There, I get to accomplish tasks that help the organization behind the scenes. These include getting mail and food donations from a local high school, sorting files, and helping development with random tasks like sending thank you letters to donors. In the afternoons, I work with the Safe Haven team, where I work directly with the homeless youth we serve in the dayroom. My favorite of my jobs is cleaning the showers because showers are something people need and make them feel good, and it allows me the most time to move around the dayroom and talk to people.

The staff and clients at MFP feel like a giant family, and management at MFP is as good about caring for the staff’s mental and personal health as they are about caring for the overall health of the homeless youth we serve. For example, we had a group supervision session a few weeks ago where we started with meditation and then engaged in something called story therapy. It is a way to process your life as an ongoing story that you have the ability to control how events are interpreted. As an exercise in this therapy method, we were asked to write a newspaper headline and article summary for how we were feeling about work, and it was amazing to see how many people at work felt similar to me. We all felt joy everyday working with the amazing youth at MFP but had trouble processing some of the intense things we deal with and our clients deal with everyday such as helping people dealing with intimate partner abuse (IPA), substance addiction, mental health struggles, and death. Another few amazing traits about the entire staff at MFP is that they are united and welcoming. I never feel awkward asking someone a question when I need help. Finally, I love getting to spend time talking with the clients who come in every day and listen to their stories and opinions. They are incredible people, and although I get really frustrated some days, there are just as many, if not more, days where I feel so lucky to work in an environment where I am able to learn so much about life and the people who inhabit this earth. On a more logistical level, my hours are consistent, and my boss is very good about being careful to give me breaks and allow me time off. Overall, I love working at MFP. It is an experience I will never forget.

2) Please describe your overall experience at your site (including your YAV group, site coordinator, community life, etc) How often do you officially meet as a group?

There are six of us who live in the house. There are five YAVs, and one student at Azusa Pacific University. I think we all get along very well. We work hard to be open with our communication and set aside time every Monday for a formal community day where we explore the city together and check-in emotionally. Every Tuesday, we have a house meeting after everyone has completed their chores to discuss matters that do not directly involve our site coordinators who are with us on Mondays. Our site coordinator, Matthew Schmitt, is great. He is very good at allowing us to figure out our own problems and solutions yet supportive and helpful when he needs to be. We have monthly check-ins with either Matthew or Marvin, who is our assistant site director, one-on-one, in order to discuss our work, emotional state, and house dynamics. Matthew and Marvin also try to be at our community hours at least once a week. Community life outside of the house is also good. We are very connected at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, and there is a close community of YAVAs in the city who all are so willing to help us, support us, and treat us to lunch occasionally. The house spends a lot of time together, so I think it has been a challenge for each of us trying to find our own personal time away from the other YAVs. However, we mostly spend time together because we like to be around each other and support each other, not because we are forced to.

3) Through the challenges and your work described above, how do you sense God working in you toward personal growth and spiritual development?

I see God working through me every day at MFP. While I have opportunities to share with my clients and help them, my job is largely to form relationships with them and listen to them because the world often ignores homeless people. God has shown me countless broken people who still have hope and faith in Him. Their joy is remarkable to me. I think that living in LA, with all of its noise and chaos, has also forced me to find time to be still and listen to God. I cherish my conversations with my housemates, co-workers, clients, and frankly, everyone here because everyone is so unique. It is so clear that God is not only working through me, but everyone I meet. I have always prayed for humility, patience, and better listening skills, and I think that God is using this year to help me develop all of these traits.

4) What are you and/or your site group doing to explore vocational discernment?

I am trying to explore all parts of my agency in order to learn about what jobs in a non-profit at which I excel since I want to continue to work in non-profits after my YAV year and also what gifts, such as my ability to approach strangers and strike up conversations, with which I am blessed. Our site directors also stress to us that we must search for God’s purpose for our lives, and I think that this year is confirming that I am called to be with people and to help them tell their stories. (Maybe this is why I love movies and museums so much. Each in its own way records human stories and preserves them for generations.) I think by constantly exploring the city, we are also working on discerning where physically our vocations might be. Some of my housemates feel very comfortable in the huge metropolis of LA, and others have had trouble adjusting to it. I love living in the city, but I am realizing how important things such as parks and gardens are to me. Beautiful mountains, which I see on a daily basis, also surround LA. They remind me of Phoenix and make me feel less trapped in a concrete box.

5) What are you learning about working in partnership with your local hosts? How are you developing your own sense of leadership?

MFP partners with many other agencies that specialize in other aspects regarding homelessness, such as Step Up, PATH, FPCH, and others. It has set a good example for me to understand how systemic problems like homelessness occur, keep occurring, and how they need radical systemic changes involving the entire community to be solved eventually. Working with DOOR and its partners such as the youth in the neighborhood in DOOR’s Discern program, our local neighbors, the groups who come and visit for Discover weekends, and First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood has also shown me the importance of staying in areas in order to really impact them and improve them. La Casa de la Communidad, where we live, has been in our neighborhood for over twenty-five years, and FPCH has been in Hollywood for over one hundred years. Although the YAVs may only stay one year, our partners continue to shape the community in positive ways, which is a very powerful example of dedication to me.

I am developing my own sense of leadership by trying to be creative and contribute useful ideas to my agency and its operations such as forming partnerships between Hollywood High School, the Center at Blessed Sacrament where one of my housemates works, and MFP so that all the excess food, fruit, and milk HHS has can better be distributed to the homeless in the Hollywood area. I am also trying to speak more at our daily meetings regarding our clients, which can be difficult for me because it is easy to assume the case managers or older staff know better than me. In my neighborhood, I am trying to be diligent about tending to our community garden and getting more of our neighborhood involved and invested in it so that the garden thrives from year to year. I see our garden becoming a point of pride for the street, but other members of the community need to care about it because they contribute to it for that to happen. Finally, I am trying to meet as many people as I can at FPCH and volunteer in services. I also am involved with a young adult Bible study called CityLights that is currently studying what it means to view God as a god of justice.

6) What are your goals for the remainder of your year as a YAV? How will you know when you’ve fulfilled them?

One goal I have is to become even more involved in our neighborhood. I have never lived in a neighborhood where I know my neighbors, and I want to change that this year. I want to try to get to know the parents of the children who attend our community hours every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. I also want to push myself to ask more questions of the clients at MFP and get to know them more. As I said, I feel like I am learning so much every day, even the days that are awful, and I do not want to waste a minute of time I have in such a unique environment with such wonderful and wise people. Thirdly, I want to challenge myself to be an even better housemate. I want to continue to care for and support my other housemates, while still having as much fun as possible with them. Next, I also want to challenge myself to continue to practice living within my budget and seek what “living simply” means to me and for my relationship with God. My final goal is to continue to explore the Hollywood area and city of Los Angeles. There are so many different neighborhoods, cultures, and ethnicities in this city, and I want to push myself to explore and get to know as many as possible.

Many of my goals do not have specific ends. I think they are almost all good goals for the rest of my life. I will never master “simple living” or caring for others and listening to them, so I am not sure how I will know when or if I will fulfill these goals.

 

7) Now that you have been at your site for several months, what aspects of YAV Orientation have you found most helpful? Changes, additions?

I think the one thing that has been most helpful and critical to my success here is not a seminar that was taught at orientation but rather the strong bond I feel to my other YAVs. I speak with many of my fellow national and international YAVs on a regular basis, and it is incredibly powerful knowing that I have a network of people all around the world who are all thinking of and praying for me, and for whom I am thinking and praying. Although we all spent less than two weeks together, we formed a strong bond that has kept me encouraged and mindful of what is important during my year of service. Along the same lines, I think that the small groups at YAV orientation and the stories of the YAVA are both critical. Small groups reiterated the importance of sharing my story and emotions with a group and not only looking at myself for success. In addition, I often think of the stories the YAVA told and form in my mind my own select stories I can tell people in my life.

One thing I would add is a time to talk about getting involved in the community outside of our agencies and houses. Practices like finding local art classes, intramural sports, or Bible studies outside of the YAV community are healthy, and I think it is good to remind new YAVs that they need to practice self-care and that self-care can be things other than reading the Bible and praying. Life does not stop when you are a YAV, and I think it is important to remind new YAVs of that. I know I felt guilty in the beginning when I was trying to be intentional about every single thing in my life and with each person I met because I had unrealistic expectations for myself. I was trying to be the perfect missionary and YAV, and I had no real idea what that meant. (I still have no idea what being perfect in either role means or if it is even possible, but I am trying my best). I finally came to peace with the fact that it is okay to stay in and watch a movie instead of going to a seminar about human trafficking once in a while, and as silly as that sounds, it was important for me.

8) Anything else to share?

I am having an incredible YAV year, and I cannot wait to see what God does with the next six months of my time here in Hollywood.

Generosity and Gratitude

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Generosity is a virtue that I have been taught since I was born. Growing up, my parents constantly opened our home to our friends and family for parties, dinners, weddings, and many more  events. Not only was it modeled to me to be generous with my time and home, but financial generosity has always been a priority in the lives of the people who raised me (my parents and the countless other people at my home church in Phoenix, etc.). Christ calls us to be generous, and I am glad that it has been demonstrated to me in so many ways. However, I am not sure if I really understood what generosity, both being and receiving it, meant until this year. Let me highlight a couple of examples of the generosity I have received so far as a YAV.

As a national YAV/Dweller with the DOOR program, you are asked to raise a minimum of $3000 as a personal goal. The YAV office also suggests you try to raise another $3000 for your site in order to help continue the program and make it self-sustaining. Fundraising is daunting. It can be uncomfortable and feel presumptuous to send letters/make personal requests for people to support you and something about which you are passionate monetarily. However, I was able to raise the entire amount for my personal goal, my site goal, and beyond. The financial (and personal, spiritual, and all other forms of) generosity of those in my church family back in Phoenix and other close family friends from around the country leaves me speechless. I knew that I left for Hollywood with the full love and support of my community back in Arizona; however, the outpouring of physical support cemented this belief and let me fully know how much people trusted me and had confidence in God’s plan.

Another few examples of generosity I have felt here stem from our neighbors, the past Dwellers, and the members of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. Since the last time I wrote, (which was a while ago for anyone keeping tally…oops…sorry) the holiday season has come and gone. The Psych House (a nearby house where several past Dwellers live [it used to be an old psychic office-hence the odd nickname]) opened their home and held Friendsgiving, a dinner where members of the DOOR community and others gathered for food, laughter, and conversation. This event is just one example of the wonderful hospitality of these fine humans. The Dwellers hosted a potluck Thanksgiving party at our house, where our neighbors brought over food to share, and we all were able to have a wonderful meal together. We and FPCH transformed La Casa de la Communidad into a Christmas store stocked with new toys donated by our neighbors and members of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood (where I attend). At the store, the toys were sold for 75% off the original price, so people in the congregation and in our neighborhood could provide gifts for their families without having to accept free hand-outs, which can detract from the dignity of the person receiving them no matter the intentions of the giver. We were also presented with Christmas gifts from our neighbors like a poinsettia, and gifts from the church deacons, like cleaning supplies for our Community House. This entire season of the year has highlighted to me the true goodness in people and how giving people can be. I think what struck me most about these last two months of unrelenting kindness is that I never got the sense anyone felt obligated to give. There were no expectations of reciprocity, and each time someone was generous, his or her attitude always struck me as genuinely joyful. This obvious demonstration of care for every member in the community is remarkable.

(This last paragraph is not meant to discredit or diminish the generosity of my past communities. I have experienced such great love and selflessness before. However, I think I am better able to notice it this year. Because it is a year where I am trying to be as intentional as possible in trying to understand such concepts and how they play out in my life, and because it is a year where I do not have many material resources to offer others and therefore, must rely more heavily on my community.)

I could continue to list the countless acts of generosity (our neighbor, Becky, inviting us over for scones on Saturday mornings, my boss driving me to the airport on Christmas Eve, our site director, Marvin, inviting us to watch the Rose Bowl at his house, etc.) that I have encountered in my four months living in LA thus far. However, I think all of these acts of generosity have not only made me better grasp the idea of true, selfless, bountiful generosity, they also make me better understand how to be thankful. Since a posture of gratitude is something Christians are called to have and since my generation is often accused of being entitled (on which I have many thoughts and responses if anyone is ever bored and needing to kill some time), I think that getting to live a year where I am bombarded with the generosity of others, near and far, in so many forms, able to show my thankfulness to those who support me, and challenged to reciprocate the same generosity to everyone with whom I meet/live/work/see/etc., is really special and something that I will cherish forever.

So, thank you to everyone who helped me in 2014, and I cannot wait for 2015 to try and return your altruism!

Silence in the City

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Today, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie preach at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. Dr. Ogilvie was the senior pastor at FPCH from 1972-1995 when he was called to be the Chaplain of the US Senate. He then served in this position from 1995-2003. When I walked into church with my housemates this morning, I looked at the bulletin and saw that Dr. Ogilvie would be preaching on Micah 6:8, a fantastic verse, but one that I had heard messages about hundreds of times (especially this year in the YAV program). I prepared to cruise through the service, gleaning what little I could from the message, because I sometimes act like an arrogant 22 year old Christian who thinks that one of the most important Presbyterian ministers alive can’t teach her new things about the Bible and today was one of those times. Well, Dr. Ogilvie surprised me and preached on this verse in a way that was new, engaging (because of course he did), and in a way that actually spoke to and comforted me.

Dr. Ogilvie focused almost his entire sermon on the mistranslation of the word humbly in the verse. He said that the original Hebrew word is actually better translated as silently or reverently. Now obviously, there are a lot of verses in the Bible about silence and as Dr. Ogilvie reminded us, countless brilliant scholars, both religious and secular, have written about the need for silence and reflection. So, I am not sure why his sermon on it as it related to Micah 6:8 was so powerful for me. I think one reason is probably because living in LA, there is not much silence. From the tamale man shouting at 8:00am almost every morning in our neighborhood to the never ending traffic to the sound of helicopters circling Hollywood, noise is everywhere. I cannot hop in my car and drive to Greenbluff (a large collection of farms north of Whitworth) in order to spend time in silence as I did in college. I think the flood of noises in the city is one reason so many people, including myself, constantly have their earbuds in when we are out traveling around Hollywood. We are not trying to be impersonal towards our fellow humans, but rather practice some self-care and claim the fact that if we must be surrounded by sound, we, at least, will choose which sounds wash over us. When I lived in Belgium, one of the best things I learned was how to find silence in a city and how to be silent myself. I went for runs. I spent time in parks and museums, where I was alone with myself and had time to be. I am trying to do the same here, and it is hard.

Although, Dr. Ogilvie spoke of being alone with God in the silence, he was not simply referring to the times when we escape and can be alone to concentrate on God. Dr. Ogilvie also stressed that we must find tiny moments of silence in daily life surrounded by others. This point was another reason his message related to me personally. Dr. Ogilvie stated we can be alone with God in the milliseconds between when a person tells us his or her name and when we say it is nice to meet him or her. We can offer prayers in these times consciously or unconsciously and live with an attitude of stillness and peace that can only be provided by God. Again, this concept is hard to remember in a place like LA, where I am constantly meeting new and interesting people and can easily feel overwhelmed by life.

A final reason I enjoyed his sermon so much is because it came at a time when I have been in LA for almost 2 months and have settled into my job, my home, my routine. I am feeling a little more comfortable in my life here as a YAV, and the settling scares me. In a year where I am suppose to be living intentionally in every aspect of my life and constantly pushing myself, it was nice to hear a man whose voice is so deep and rich that I swear God Himself was speaking in the sanctuary of FPCH, tell me that it the inner peace I feel about my life here, even if it is crazy and full, is good. Also, the small silent moments that I am able to find and are my absolute favorite, such as my walk home from work, are some of the most important times of my day to be with God and be myself. And since, this year, as we were reminded over and over again at YAV orientation is about being, I know that my continual search to be me, a child of God, in this city, whether drowning in its sound waves or blissfully floating, is good.

(I apologize if this post is slightly scatter-brained. I am a little sick and therefore, am struggling to be as eloquent as Dr. Ogilvie.)

Beginning Work at MFP

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These last two weeks have been slightly chaotic and exhausting because they were my first to weeks of work at my job at My Friend’s Place, my placement during my YAV year here in Hollywood. I work in Direct Services, which means I am part of the team that helps manage the services we offer in our day room, such as showers, clothing distribution, food distribution, and so on. I love working at MFP so far for many reasons, but the main reason is that I love working with the clients we serve. Our center offers services to youth ages 12-24, and over the last two weeks, I have begun to get to know some of the clients. I had no idea what to expect when I started at MFP, mostly because, in my mind, the homeless youth I would be serving couldn’t possibly be like the youth I was used to working with every summer at my home church in Phoenix (hurray for unintentional prejudices!) However, my mental image of who a homeless youth is was so wrong. The young adults I have the privilege of serving four days a week are exactly like every other teenager with whom I have ever worked. They want to be accepted my their friends. They want to be treated with dignity and respect. They want the world to stop expecting them to have everything figured out by the age of 18, when society declares them legal adults. Being the same age as many of the clients has made it so easy for me to relate to and empathize with them. Again, when I started this program five short weeks ago, I thought this would be hard, but it is not.

Although I may be able to relate to the common struggles all teenagers and young adults face, I will not pretend that I understand everything the people with whom I work experience or that I am not shocked, angered, and frustrated with the things that occur in their lives. It is infuriating to hear a young woman with a toddler tell me how she parked her truck in a “nicer” neighborhood in hopes of feeling safer while she and her daughter tried to sleep for the night and found herself awoken by a woman at 6:00am, threatening to call the cops on her for child abuse. In addition to forcing her to leave, the neighbor also informed the young mother, that she was a devout church-goer and that God did not want her child to live like this. It is also distressing to hear one client casually mention that it seems to her like all of her friends from high school are either in college or dead due to gang involvement. I have already found it hard to process these stories and not let my feelings about the clients’ lives deeply affect me. However, being able to relate on fundamental levels helps me sometimes be more patient and try harder to get to know them because I know I would probably act the same way they are when put into a similar situation.

Working at MFP is like slowly being lowered into a chaotic storm of humanity. There are moments of such joy, like getting to watch a child take her first steps, and moments of pain, like every single time one particular client tells the staff to “enjoy our houses,” which he does almost daily, as a way to express his anger and frustration at his circumstances. I was told that my placement was intense, and it is. However, its intensity comes not from having to deescalate fights or deal with clients who are coming down from being high on Meth. It comes from the constant struggle of learning to love each person who walks through the door exactly as they are and trying to serve them exactly as they are.

I am the same as many of the clients in so many ways, and I am radically different from many of the clients in so many ways. I think the important thing for me to remember over this year is that neither of us is better or worse than the other and that we are all precious children of God.