Sunday, May 29, 2011

My first full length sermon

This is the script of the sermon I preached today at Faith Presbyterian Church in Sierra Vista, AZ. The reading was from Philipians 2:1-11, 14

Thank y’all for inviting me and my housemates to be with you this Sunday to share our journey as Young Adult Volunteers with you. You heard Ali talk briefly about who becomes YAVs, and what it means to be a YAV. I’d like to share with you now a bit about my experience as a YAV in Tucson, AZ.

I sought out the YAV program for its call to service. The motto is “A year of service for a lifetime of change”. I went into my year with the idea of, “I will change the world. I will bring people together. I will cross borders, both figuratively and literally. Ultimately, I will win the award for ‘best yav ever.”
“do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.”
Humility- I’m working on it. It’s the journey, not the destination-right?

When I first spoke with Brandon, the site coordinator for Tucson YAV program, my focus was on sorting out the different opportunities I’d have to serve for a year, while he kept trying to reiterate that, also important, was the experience of living in intentional Christian Community.

Like I said, I chose the YAV program because I was going to save the world. I wasn’t really concerned or thinking about the other parts of the program. I’d lived with roommates before, I didn’t see the importance of “community living.”

What I’ve realized is that community isn’t something that’s just one-third of what it means to be a YAV, it’s interwoven into everything.

Community speaks to the interconnectedness of us all. While I can’t work to make a change for someone else, I can strive to be as an example, a support, a hand, shoulder. So, what has this meant in regards to the three “bullet points” of being YAV that you heard Ali talk about earlier- a year of service, vocational discernment, and intentional Christian community. Well, that’s what I’m here to talk about.

Boy I was lost at YAV orientation when they kept reiterating that it was a mission of prescence- That’s its more about being, not doing. Wait- so I’m not to be concerned with what I’ll be do- ing, where I’ll be go-ing and who I’ll be help-ing?
No no no, that’s the reason I signed up- “a year of service for a lifetime of change, remember?”
They kept repeating, time and time again the importance of relationships, and being with one another. And you know what- I didn’t really know how to “do” that. And I’m grateful for the experience I had at YAV orientation that began to shed light on how to “be not do”.

Loren had lost her mother two weeks earlier. I kept wondering how I could be there for her. I asked what I could “do” for her. One mistake was believing that I needed to do anything in the first place.
And, while sitting with Loren one afternoon, I was reminded of the night before Christ’s death, while he was praying then realized all of his disciples had fallen asleep. In His moment of need, they weren’t available to bear witness. We were called to be a presence to one another, companions; when Loren experienced a breaking moment, a moment of struggle, she needs someone to sit with her, pray with her, be with her.
I often find myself wondering, “what’s next, what should I do” but out of this relationship with Loren, and watching her struggle in her own way and wonder what I can do, I was reminded to first, bear witness. The relationship should be primary, and in real relationship- then the actions, and what we do to be with one another, will be organic. With real relationships comes honest interpersonal interaction.

Because we can’t calculate the change we will have on another, we can’t predict when the most jarring, humbling and emotionally deep experiences will occur. But, if we go into each day striving to “in humility consider others better than [ourselves],” it can open the doors to a lot of opportunities to connect with others, learn from others, be with others. I’d like to read you a poem one of my roommates, Luke, wrote a few Easters ago. I think it speaks to the idea that, when we let go of our qualifications, classes, boundaries, that is when we are most able to be with others- When passing moments of togetherness can be made:

I spent a little time talking with a good man by the road today
He's 43 looks 65 but he's got a lot to say
He says to me "son listen up right quick we don't have much time
The good Lord gives and he takes away but things have turned out fine
I ran away at the age of 18 learned the ropes from a wine-o others took to be mean
I pick up cans and eat from the trash I've had gangs in LA kick my ass
But Luke I tell you theres nothing that I need the Lord provides and takes care of me
But do one thing if you would my brother
Just pray for me
Pray for me.
Pray for me."
I spent a little time talking with a good man by the road today.
I sat there in my slacks and tie and I listened to what he had to say.
He tells me of the time he was making big cash but the roof caved in
I took my eyes off the Lord he tells me and he turns to me with a grin
"I tell you son you gotta have big faith the Lord will smile and show his face
I trust people Luke and it can turn out bad but Luke I'll tell you bout the times I've had
I've had a court date for 20 years but I've never shown up and I stopped drinking beers
I choose this lifestyle is that so wrong? Me and "real life" just never got along..."
I said "Damn..Wayne. I agree."
He raises an eyebrow and he turns to me.
Before he said anything a car drove past...they waved for Wayne and he hopped up to greet them.
They gave him a flannel to help keep warm...and he gave it to me. Instantaneously.
Without question. Or recognition. Wayne gave it to me.
I sat there, speechless for a couple long moments.
I said thank you Wayne for thinking of me.
He smiles, says “I got my coveralls bro but you don't got nothing!”
As I got up to leave I asked him one more time "Wayne how can I help I feel I've wasted your time!"
And he thanks me then for stopping by
and I gave him my number as we said goodbye
God will take care of me he said he's always given me a place to lay my head
So go on home and don't you worry but Luke please
Pray for me.
Pray for me.
Pray for me.
I spent some time with a wise friend on the road today.”
That flannel, given instantly to Luke, means so much more than just a shirt. In symbolizes their connection, their togetherness, the warmth of their conversation together. If we cut away our preconceived notions about homeless, service, service provider, us, them and instead treat others with love and without judgement, we allow those raw moments of real life and real connection to happen. We open ourselves up to learn from one another.

Another aspect of the YAV program is allowing time and space for vocational discernment. As a part of this process, we try to make sense of the world around us, looking to moments where we most feel engaged and alive, and trying to figure out what a life path may look like that incorporates those. I originally thought it would involve lots of sitting alone, journaling answers to “how do you feel when...what do you wanna be when you grow up?” Its actually been quite dynamic. Like most things, it’s a lifetime process. Ali describes the difficulties involved pretty well:

“Life is challenging, and I probably shouldn’t ever think I’ve figured it out. Luke and I were just joking — basically all our struggles to discern what we should do next year and how to live in community this year boil down to, “But Mooooom, life is haaaard!” Here’s to the hard things, and the ways they shape us.”

Figuring out the way they shape us, and how that mixes with the way we each want to be shaped, help along the process of “vocational discernment.”

And now, to talk about the part of the experience that I tried initially very much to resist, and has turned out to be a great learning experience- The “intentional Christian community” part of being a yav. Rob, a former volunteer from Hollywood, says this about Intentional Christian Community- “Christian community sounds ideal- surrounded by people of common faith and purpose, it should be perfect, right? But, no one tells you Christian Community’s dirty secret- its hard…and it leaves us raw. It leaves us emotionally vulnerable…we are all broken, and we are all in need of love and redemtion…but, these hardest moments are fruitful! When we can view one another as broken creatures…our patience flourishes, love grows.” It’s in accepting and understanding that brokenness that help build strong foundations, deep connections, and further community.
Within our first week together in Tucson, we established a house covenant- we had great goals for how we were going to be with each other in the coming year. Three months later, we realized we needed to take another look at the covenant, and perhaps make a new one. To better understand where we are each coming from as individuals, we each took one night to share about our own journeys- trying to answer “what has made you who you are” By sharing those experiences with one another, we would better understand each other, and be able to create a covenant that reflects and appreciates each of us.
I’d like to conclude with an excerpt from the journaling I did just prior to telling “my story.”
My experience so far here in Tucson and in Mexico has been as an ear and a shoulder. An ear for stories, and a shoulder for those to lean on. Today it is my turn to share- to tell my story, to try and make sense of it all.

In my time here, I have been continually touched by the different faces of desperation. I am beginning to know that look all to well- the one of simultaneous confusion, hurt, loss, and fear. I see it at here in Tucson, at the Operation Streamline proceedings, on the faces of those 70 people pleading ‘guilty’ in unison. I see it in Mexico at Grupos Beta, a federally funded program in Mexico for repatriated migrants, on the faces of those who have just been deported- some after a few days in the US, and some after having spent almost a lifetime here. I see it on the faces of the women we speak to at a women’s shelter in Nogales, while listening to their stories of being lost in the desert, abandoned, violated.

Perhaps these moments move me because I hope that our moment together, our brief embrace, our passing conversation, can serve as a hand extended, helping to pull her upward. A sign of hope. A moment of togetherness
What has made me who I am are the hands that have pulled me up, when I thought I had lost all hope. The hands of the community around me. Emotionally spent, desperate, angry, lost and confused- at seventeen I had no words to express myself, no inkling of how to relate to another, but Chris was there a smile, a hug, and loads of patience. I was broken and falling fast- he was there with arms outstretched to catch me. He had just the right words to say, just the right mix of shoulder for me to cry on and humor to help me laugh again. Those mornings where getting out of bed was a grand feat by itself, were made easier knowing that I could call him for an encouraging word or a small affirmation to get me on my way.
More friends outstretched their hands. I was eventually pulled up. It’s not the desperation of that moment that resonates with me now- it’s the strength of the arms pulling me up, patient with me as I figured out a way to be Stevie again.
Five years later, when Chris passed away, I circled through the stages of grief. I crept into myself- stopped answering the phone, laid in bed hours longer, shut myself off from my friends that were trying so desperately to be there for me. Sometimes I was angry- with myself, with him, with everyone around me. Sometimes I wondered if I would smile again.
But, you know what- I did. Just like when Chris helped me learn how to smile again five years earlier, friends and family continue to outstretch their hands to me, and help to lift me up.
I am who I am because of the community that supports and surrounds me, that loves me, that teaches me what it means to be with one another, that challenges me, that accepts and sits with the broken me.

We’re all broken. We’re all sinners. And you know the coolest part about it all- we’re all in this, together. And, yes, “it’s haaaaaaaard.” We’re called to live together, and “do it all without complaining.” We’ll complain, we’ll mess up we’ll cry, we’ll celebrate, and we’ll learn from each other, together.
I understand now that I won’t save the world. It’s not about what I can do. It’s about how we can learn from other people and become a better examples of how to love your neighbor in a broken world.
In community together, supporting each other, loving one another, we can learn to be a more loving, patient, useful persons of Christ Jesus. And yes, there will be moments where we’ll want to say, “but mom, it’s harrrrd.”

Friday, May 13, 2011

Downward glances

We forget we struggled
our speech has become perfected
our walk easy
We forget we were once learning
slurring words together
falling down

We forget we struggled
the pictures capture smiles
happy endings are recorded
We forget we were once fighting ourselves
broken homes

We forget we struggled
we have degrees, qualifications
the proper supplies to begin
we forget we were once lost
failed tests
endless confusion

We forget we struggled
the walk wasn't easy
there were bumps along the way
Happiness was an idea
we thought we could get to someday
Learning was a process
with confusion and more questions

We forget we struggled
we can't remember slurring
we don't recall falling

It's a pretty picture we've created
for ourselves, our lives, our nation
that we hold high in our memory
We are the winners
the losers, forgotten

Lost like memories of confusion, doubt, failure
hopelessless forgotten

We put on our mask, replacing the hard times with confidence, smiles, purpose

After all,
we don't slur
we don't fall
we haven't been broken
we've never failed
we don't slur
we don't fall

We don't fail. We don't mess up. We don't fight. We don't get hopeless. We don't fall.

And we don't want those who do.

We don't understand.
We've hidden any tools we may have had to remember. Put them under the pedestal where we put ourselves and our livelihood

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Disgust, confusion, absence, and a whirlwind of other emotions

On Tuesday night there was a protest. All of my roommates went, and I did not. I'm still trying to figure out how to understand the stories, how to be there for them, and how to continue on as a player in a system I feel like continually shows its flaws rather than its strengths.

Here's Ali's first hand account of the protest (there are three parts to this- I highly recommend you read all three)

And here's an article including some photos and some video

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


On May 29, 2011 I'm preaching to a church in Sierra Vista, AZ. I'd love to share some of your stories.

What does community mean to you?
How do you feel a part of your community?
Or any other "community" stories you may have to share with me. Please email, or fb me if you want to share! I'll keep your tales anonymous, I promise.

Friday, April 29, 2011

If you're reading this

Thank a teacher.

And while you're at it, pray for school systems everywhere. Budgets everywhere seem to be decreasing. This prayer request came to me a few days ago from a friend who's a teacher in Austin, Texas. Please pray for the education of students in Texas and the hardworking teachers that already have or will lose their job because of the budget crisis. It's not just jobs that are being lost, but the bright futures of our children in the state of Texas that will be forever changed.

Who was one of your favorite teachers? Why? Here are some lessons I remember from some of my teachers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's less messy that way

Coming into this year as a YAV I really envisioned being moved and changed as a person because of the service, volunteering, and "helping others" of this experience. That's not really the case. For me, this year has been about the people I've gotten to know along the way. Tucson is full of really neat people doing some really neat work, and if it weren't for this year as a YAV, I probably would never have known about them, much less gotten to meet and gotten to know some of them!

I'm currently reading Prisoner of Conscience, a memoir by Ken Kennon. This book sits on our library at BorderLinks, but for whatever reason, I hadn't picked it up until I won it earlier this month! At BorderLinks' annual event earlier this month, Ken, who happens to be co-president of our board, handed me ten raffle tickets and said, "it would be inappropriate if I were to win anything, so here you go!" Among other things being raffled, there was a Mata Ortiz pot, to a home-cooked gourmet dinner, to some original artwork. I decided to stick to the two things I wanted most to win out of the 20 items, trying to better the odds I'd actually walk away with something. I ended up winning both the things I put in to win! One of them was Ken's book, and a lunch with him. We're having lunch in a little less than two hours at Maya Quetzal. I'm really excited!

I also highly recommend you pick up a copy of this book and start reading. Ken is an ordained pastor in the Disciples of Christ church, but he and his wife regularly attend Southside. In the last 8 months I've gotten to know him and his wife, Mary Ellen, both through both BorderLinks and Southside Presbyterian Church. I don't want to give away the whole book, but it's about Ken's time in Federal Prison. I bet you didn't guess that one from the title! On a more serious note, it's really moving. The book is his journal from his days incarcerated, and scattered throughout are poems he wrote. One poem, paperwork, really jumped out at me.
"May 19
I received a poem yesterday afternoon inspired by noticing a case worker through her office window poring over her paperwork. That appears to be all that we inmates are in this system.
No little boys here
with bloody skinned knees or stubbed toes
No little boys here
healing hugs or wiping our nose
It's less messy that way

No wounded souls here
seeking forgiveness, grieving blows
No wounded souls here
reaching out, risking other noes
It's less messy that way

We are paper men
computer punched analyzed woes
We are paper men
just numbers in digital rows
It's less messy that way

We are paper men
more blips on society's screens
We are paper men
bytes of the statistical means
It's less messy that way" - Ken Kennon, Prisoners of Conscience, 141.

(apologies English teachers and MLA fanatics everywhere- that was not cited properly).

How many things do we do in our daily lives that seem like the easy way out because "it's less messy that way."

Thank you Ken, for really making me think- about myself, relationships, work, community, love, and what we do because "it's less messy that way." My gramma says that, when you're baking, the messier the kitchen the more delicious the treat. Maybe avoiding the mess isn't really the right path.

I'm really excited about finishing the book, sitting with the words, and sharing a meal with Ken at Maya Quetzal later today.

Ken signed the book, "Life is messy. Embrace it!"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Grey to Good Day

I started the day looking at the weather. Grey, cloudy, duststorms, and about 20 degrees colder than it has been. "ugh," I thought to myself.

But, its a good day!

It's days like today that I enjoy.

Work was work. There was plenty to do, but not too much to do that I couldn't focus. Around 4:00pm you could smell the rain outside! Rainy days in the desert are wonderful. It made for a wonderful, breezy ride home from work.
All day I'd been planning on running after work. And then, as I'm sure many of you have experienced, the 3pm tired waves set in- and a nap after a cold beer sounded lots better than changing clothes, lacing up the shoes, and hitting the pavement. I decided I'd suit up anyways, and try and talk myself into it along the way. After much stalling, I finally, hesitantly, put on my shoes, and headed toward the front door to head out. Although, I was pretty convinced I was just going to walk to the store rather than actually go for a run. Ali was sitting on the front porch, enjoying the good weather with a book. I told her I was probably going to the store and asked if I could bring something back for her, then she decided to put on some running clothes and go with me. We ended up going for a nice run together after all- what a great way to enjoy the clouds and breeze!
Its the random, organic, unplanned moments of today that really make me enjoy it- in this case, a run with a friend enjoying both the good weather and each others' company.
We came back from our run, put on some fresh beets, and started cooking up a scrumptious dinner together. Now I'm eagerly waiting for the quiche to finish baking. It smells absolutely delicious.

And hey, Ali just yelled "dinner's ready" from the kitchen! Just in time! What a great turnout for what I thought would be an altogether grey day- both the sun and the mood.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Weapons of mass distraction

This past Friday, my housies and I headed to UA campus for a talk from a speaker series. Featured- Cornel West.

And- it was absolutely amazing. I found this blog,, about his publications, and it has some excellent commentary about what Dr. West shared.

One thing that really hit the nail on the head, so to speak, is how he talked about what it means to be human. The title for this post comes from what he said about current culture in the US. It's not common nor encouraged to examine ourselves, our roles, our collective humanity. Any nudge in that direction is masked by the massive push towards success and consumerism. We're in a culture making lots and lots of weapons of mass distraction.
I'm not going to try and re-cap what Dr. West shared on Friday- but following are some quotations that stuck with me.

He opened his lecture with a discussion about humanity. Among the quotations he shared were the words of Seneca, "He or she who learns how to die unlearns slavery."

Following are some excerpts from what Dr. West shared:

"As human beings we all emerge in the funk. & there's love in that funk."

"We all came into this world between urine and feces."

in talking about current "culture"-
"...a culture that specializes in weapons of mass distraction."
"[a culture of] materials, toys, and well adjusted to injustice."

"indifference to evil is more evil."

"Courage to go against the grain...not to fit in... we need more misfits."

"301 BILLION dollars on prison marshalls since 1975, don't tell me about your budgetary defecit if you can't get your priorities right."

"[we don't need to be] colorblind, but lovestruck."

"Don't be obsessed with your job, tell me what your life task is."

After the lecture, there was a question and answer period. A young boy got up and said something like "I'm in highschool, I'm 14 years old, and my mom's been taking me to these things for a long time now. I want to be a hiphop artist and shit and can I share this with you?" I'm not going to try and re-write the mini-rap he shared, but it ended with "Cornel West for president." To which, after Dr. West called the boy up on stage for a hug, he replied saying, "I'm a free man and you can't really be free in politics."

And he ended with saying, "It's all about us together...we all have a role to play."

He's coming to Texas Tech on April 15th. If you're near there or can make it out there, I HIGHLY recommend it!

Friday, April 1, 2011

The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step

Or in my case, a foot on the pedal and a push forward.
It's (semi) confirmed that my sister and I will bike east together when I finish this program. She's been a committed cyclist for 10+ years in Brooklyn, NY, and I'm just a wee-beginner. I have a few months under my sleeve of riding just a few miles daily. Needless to say, I'm in for quite a change of pace coming up to prepare for a 300+ mile bike ride.

Now, I'd really like to say that me and all of my stuff will be heading east all the way from Tucson to Dallas at the completion of my time here in Tucson. However- I just don't think that logistically that is possible. With a best-friend's wedding a few weeks after I get back in town, and (hopefully) a job or grad-school to begin, I just don't think it'd be feasible. But- Tucson to El Paso should be feasible- if the heat or my three-speed bicycle don't get me first!

Any and all are welcome to join on this endeavor! We'll be hittin' the pavement mid-august. Come along for a day, come along for the whole thing. Join in!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Desert Sojourn

A few weeks ago, the Tucson YAVs had our "lenten retreat" (although, a few weeks early). We spent Wednesday and Thursday night camping together in Cascabel, then Friday and Saturday night on our own, solo-sojourns in the desert.
Here are some photos from it:

(more photos to come soon)

window rock (tilt head 90 degrees)
the fish barrier
the first sight of water flowing in the desert
a view
a view from my "living room" on my sojourn

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My housemates are very wise

As a commitment to the new year, my four housemates and I sat down together and took a look at the covenant we'd made together at the beginning of the year. Brandon reiterated many times during the conception of this covenant, that it was to be a "living document" and looked at, thought about, and brought back to the table. Even though we had gone from six to five in the house almost two months before that, we hadn't re-looked at the covenant since then. It was a treasure hunt to find, even, since we couldn't remember exactly where it was. I didn't remember much of what was originally put on that covenant- goes to show how little we'd brought it back up together as the living document it is.

So, we looked at it together, after a month or so of sharing our own personal stories- which you can read a bit about here. We have really come together as friends since arriving in Tucson. When asked what its been like for me, living in Intentional Community with four others, who until August were strangers, my response is usually this: "I've been really blessed. I was really anxious about the idea of living with people I'd never met before, going through a new experience together, and still, at the end of the day, having to figure out how to live in community. I could be living with only house-mates, or with house-mates that I have to 'put up with' (so to speak) in the name of community. I, however, have received not only house mates in intentional community, but also close, supportive and loving friends, that I'm lucky enough to live with."
Most of the time we embrace each others personality characteristics. When we sat around our coffee table re-vamping our covenant to fit our commitment to each other as five adults in the house together, this came out in our covenant. It says we'll "Rock together Fridayzzzz."
And, on a Friday in January, all five of us and our site coordinator went to a Presbytery meeting to share with them about our experiences so far as YAVs.

And, to over 100 preachers, pastors, and elders, coming from a variety of walks of life, theological, and political perspectives, we rocked it.

The whole time I was listening I was giddy, thinking, "my roommates are awesome." We are five adults, living in the same house, all a part of the same program. But the presbytery heard five different descriptions, five unique experiences, five beautiful, inspiring and thoughtful stories.

"The mission field is anywhere God's kingdom is not fully realized. And that is everywhere." - Ali

"I don't know what the past tense of being is. But we be-ed." -Luke

"There is love, even in the brokenness." -Meredith

"Not because of a business degree, but because of the power of real human relationships." -Jacob

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Here I sit.

"Patience asks us to live the moment to its fullest, to be completely present in the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. Let's be patient and trust the treasure we look for is hidden on the ground on which we stand." -Henri Nowen

The instructions are- go and find a place to sit alone. Experience what if feels like to be alone- in solitude- for a moment.

So, I climb. I climb up and see a nice rock and think, there's a nice place to sit for a little bit. But, the summit is just a little bit further. Only that much more to go and I'll be at the top, with a birds-eye view of the beauty and grandeur, dry lands and trickling water running through it. The contrasts of the shades of green and shades of brown will be so accented from way up there. I'll get a beautiful, vast, panoramic view of this area where we're hiking.
But, that's not the point. Achievement isn't the idea. Summit-ing isn't what we're doing. An outside view looking inward is not what I should be looking for right now.
And so I sit. From where I am, I can see the top of the hill- just that much further- and I can see the steep, sandy, slippery path where I came from just below me. And surrounding me are the trees, cacti, rocks, branches and thorns I stepped over and around to get here. And right in the middle, surrounding by all of that, is where I sit.
That is where I am.
Not looking downward on a bigger, prettier, landscape view of it all. Not climbing upwards to summit this little hill. Not striving for one more step.
Instead, I sit here, in the middle of everything, surrounded. Here I can still feel the wind blowing around me, the sunshine on my back, and the pebble in my shoe. Looking around, I can see only what's right in front of me. The rest lies hidden behind the rocks, thorns, branches, cacti, and trees. If I focus really hard I can see beyond them. But, I don't. I examine my place- exactly where I am and it is exactly where I am supposed to be.

What matters most to me and why

A friend asked me this question a while ago, and I thought I'd share my reflections. I find myself continually re-asking myself about what my priorities are.

I operate and think in numbers, lists, properties, definitions, and subdefinitions. So, in its most basic form, the answer to this prompt, is “I = i + c”- read as what is most important to me is the sum of what is most important to me as an individual (i) and me as I relate to the world (c).

As an individual commenting in regards to my autonomy and self-sufficiency, my health is the most important thing. On one hand, my health reflects my upbringing; malnutrition and hunger were never a concern. Because of my good health growing up, I was able to be more attentive in class, and better aprovechar of my education (more on that later), rather than worrying about dysentery or a grumbly belly. More importantly, I appreciate my health for another reason-

It’s no secret that I love to run. My long runs on the weekends are sometimes the one thing that gets me through the weekdays. According to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, I’m nearly all “E” and little “I.” Growing up in a big family, perhaps I learned early on how to be away from it all and think, while still being active. I don’t pray regularly; I journal sporadically; the thought of having “alone time” normally makes me anxious. But thinking is so clear and easy when I run. I can escape for hours with just the pavement and me. Some think with pen and paper while writing, some with a guitar playing music- for me its with a sports bra and tennis shoes, logging miles one after another.

My thighs are big. My butt is bumpy. And my legs are awkward and gangly- and I couldn’t be more proud of the thousands of miles they’ve run, and the thousands more they’ll go.

But, I cannot function in the world as one, singular, unrelated part. In the words of Desmond Tutu, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human beings together.” So, basically- cast out those last 300 words as filler, superfluous, extra, but not necessarily unnecessary. After all, my legs and the miles they go, consequential of my good health, are incredibly important to me and my well-being.

(photos- sisters and brother in the photo on left, my 1229 community here in Tucson on the right)

I am who I am because of the community that surrounds me. Wrapped up in the importance of community, is my family, my education, my friends, and of course- love. To me, the definitions of all of those are wholly dependent on one another.

I attended some of the best schools in the city growing up- connecting me with other curious spirits along the way. Education impassions my community. Questions and inquisitiveness intrigue me. Through my education, I have learned one thing to be fact- there are few facts. Beyond scientific laws and mathematical formulas, little is as simple as cause and effect. Now, if you recall from my introduction, I appreciate the tangible, the predictable, the algorithms, the traceable, and the cause-and-effect relationships. So, needless to say, the more I learn, the more the way I’d like for the world to be and how life actually is collides.

It would be nice and mathematically sexy if your actions and my actions and his actions were directly related in a predictable quadratic equation of a sort. But, both of us have our lives behind us, filled with the crapshoots, the pitfalls, the ecstasy, and all of the places in-between. All of those stories, experiences, and interrelated webs of human existence completely fuck over any notion of predictability, formula, black-and-white, or binary code. But, as a community we continue to function. We continue to question each other, to converse, to build relationships, and to educate ourselves.

When I was younger after a fight with one of my sisters, I’d swear off speaking to them forever and ever. My mother, upon hearing that, would remind me- “cherish your siblings, because someday they may be all you have.” But, in a way, my mother was mistaken. It’s not that family is all I have- its that family is what I have that knows all of me. From the five year old ballerina, to the fifteen year old actress, to the twenty-two year old lacrosse player, my family has been around to celebrate with my and cry with me. They’ve seen me broken and they’ve seen me whole, and continue to love me.

My friends chose to stand beside me. They chose to grab my hand for a boost up, and to grab mine when it was extended. Friendship is built through laughter, through visiting a grave together, through stories, through experiences. We are all tied together through relationships; humanity is not an isolated occurrence.

I have a tattoo on my right ribcage that says "love." The tattoo itself serves as a visual reminder to myself about that word, that action, that commitment I've made to love myself and love others. Love is not something tangible, touchable, nor embraceable- but it is hidden within all of that. I speak of love in all of its forms- agápe, éros, philía, and storgē. As a community we are nothing worthwhile if we fail to love one another. "And the greatest commandment is this, to love your neighbor as yourself."

As a closing, I’ll leave you with a quote from Ellie Roscher, taken from her book that I just finished reading, about her reflections on a year of service in a very isolated community in rural Uruguay- “Community matters. Relationships matter. It makes life more bearable, more enjoyable, and more beautiful.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rattlesnakes and Mountain Lions

Tomorrow, our 1229 community + Brandon (site coordinator) leave for Cascabel. Cascabel is a sleepy little tiny desert town about an hour and a half outside of Tucson. Aside from the fact that its in the middle of seemingly nowhere, and there's a lot of land and not so many people, there's nothing really sleepy about it. Everybody I met there the last time we were there is passionate and excited about their community in Cascabel.
We're going to eat some locally made goat cheese, talk to a CSA along the way, camp together in the desert, among a plethora of other activities. Most of which really excites me.
we're going on solo-desert-sojourns.

Yes, me, the EXTREME E, will be completely by myself in the desert for two nights. Sometimes, I think the butterflies in my stomach are signs of excitement, and other times I think they're reminders of how nervous about it I am. Excitement or nerves, though, it will definitely be a growing experience.

And, hopefully, provided I don't get lost wandering the desert alone, I'll report back about it.

Monday, February 21, 2011


As a house we've begun reading Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. In the past, I've not been one for book clubs nor spiritual guidance, so I was a little apprehensive about this book experience. But- I said yes to the opportunity for a new challenge a long time ago, and I'm really grateful I did.
I've only just begun the book, but a few excerpts that have me really excited about what else is to come:

"Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people but for deep people." (1)

WHAT a great beginning! I'm hooked.

"Our world is hungry for genuinely changed people. Leo Tolstoy observed, 'Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.' Let up be among those who believe that the inner transformation of our lives is a goal worthy of our best effort." (9)

Ver Pensar Actuar

Another insight into the work I do at BorderLinks- the newsletter. All of the submissions are written by past participants or staff, reflecting on their experience along the Border.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Dia del Amistad!

"Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!"

~Hamilton Wright Mabie

That quotation was on a Christmas card that some friends sent our YAV house in Tucson. I wish it was also relevant to the season around Valentine's Day!

There's a commercial on the radio right now that goes something like this:

"Valentine's Day isn't about how much you love him. It's about how how much you both loves 'us'." I have no clue what they're trying to sell in that commercial, but it got me thinking about today. What if we spent today focused on our community, our families, and our friendships. The bigger "us" to which we all belong. What if, we took Valentine's day as a reminder of the love that bonds us all together. All the types of love that have come in and out of our lives- Phileo, Eros, Storge, Agape.

Two years ago tomorrow, a good friend of mine passed away. My heart gets tied up in knots when I think about it. I could take the anniversary of his passing as a reminder of all the sadness, confusion, and horror that exists and will continue to surround us in this walk of life. But, I am going to try and do my best to celebrate the beauty that comes out of it. I think its kind of fitting that I'll be having dinner with his mother tonight, the day everyone celebrates love. We'll have an opportunity to celebrate his love- the one he shared with the world, and the friendship we now share with each other.

Like the other holidays, this day too has been taken over by Hallmark. But unlike Christmas and Easter, that bring people and families together, I think Valentines day tends to separate people- those that have a date tonight from those that don't. And instead of promoting self-acceptance, belonging, and good friends, people get lost in who and what they don't have today. Instead of celebrating romance and candles, I'm going to take today to celebrate my friends.

In Guatemala, the 14th of Febraury is celebrated as "dia del amistad," "Day of friendship." I really like this approach to today. Everyone can celebrate their friends!

I think we should all celebrate the day of friendship! Focus more on what brings you closer to the people around you rather than what separates you. Invite an acquaintance into a conversation today. Ask someone "how are you," and really mean it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I just finished reading Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel. I highly recommend you go to your local library right now, find it, and read it.

And- if you’re planning on reading it and haven’t yet (which I do hope you are), I don’t think this blog will be a huge spoiler for you. Just like Life of Pi, this book is open to a plethora of interpretations and understandings.

Some excerpts that caught my attention:

“But, the worst enemy of taxidermy, and also of animals, is indifference.” (97)

“But, the worst enemy…is indifference.” (97)

“I wanted to see if something could be saved once the irreparable had been done. That is why I became a taxidermist, to bear witness.” (98)

“Faith is like being in the sun. When you are in the sun, can you avoid creating a shadow? Can you shake that area of darkness that clings to you, always shaped like you, as if constantly reminding you of yourself? You can’t. This shadow is doubt. And it goes wherever you go as long as you stay in the sun. And who wouldn’t want to be in the sun?” (103)

“They insulted me repeatedly, though, I wouldn’t say they were angry or worked up. They were just doing their job.

It ended later in the day, around five-o-clock, I suppose, after a day’s work was done. Home beckoned. They unstrapped me from the harness and threw me into a small cell. After two days and nights of solitary confinement, pain-ridden and foodless, I was released. They opened my cell door, stood me up, marched me out, and left me outside the gate. Not a word was said. I didn’t know where you were and you didn’t know where I was” (179).

That last one is a quote from the book where Beatrice is describing the “Horrors."

I’d heard those words before. Not from Yann Martel.

But from migrants, recently deported.

Perhaps Yann Martel writes that to warn us against the hatred that leads us in the wrong direction.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Love in any Language

I posted a few days ago some reflections on the shootings that happened here in Tucson January 8th. It took me a while, over three weeks, to put my reactions out to the world, for all who wanted, to see. I kept writing and re-writing different drafts. Some were too raw, some were too edited, some were too manicured. For whatever reason, I kept changing the words. There was too much emotion, too many tears were shed, for my words to be sufficient to explain anything.

Despite being completely exhausted from the stress of the day and from leading people throughout Nogales and Altar, Sonora, Mexico, and Tucson, Arizona- I did manage to write something down. I guess with all the hubbub of the delegation and everything else, somehow I’d completely forgotten about it until today, as I just stumbled upon that page in my journal.

Love in any language

Today, tragedy changed the world. On a national scale, policy will be affected, method changed, and the “how” of “representing the people,” will be compromised. On a local scale, families are changed, loved-ones taken, and tears are shed. Lots of tears are shed.

I walked into the Ed office this evening to see Ali and Meredith hugging.

How stupid I’d been to not think about how this would impact her, given her previous experience. She cried. Meredith held her. I joined in the embrace for just a moment before Polita walked in- a little confused at the situation, so Ali explained in Spanish. I thought about stepping in, and explaining it for Ali, something tangible I could do to alleviate the stress of explaining pain again, and then the further stress of explaining it in a second language.

But, I refrained.

We continued conversing in Spanish. Ali told Polita how one of the leaders had said, in commenting about a desert-walk they’d done together that day, “If I’d known there’d be snakes and insects in the desert, I wouldn’t have okayed the experience.”

Polita made a joke about giving him a snowglobe and saying, “here’s your land.” And we all laughed together. We embraced. We shed tears together.

And, although Meredith speaks little Spanish, she was present with us in all of those moments- embracing, crying, and laughing. The words didn’t matter. Nothing could be done. But, her presence meant everything. The language may not have been the same, but the love was.

As long as I have eyes with which to see, I’ll have tears to shed. As long as I have a mouth with which to share stories, I’ll have a smile to give. If only the whole world could now of the smiles they are called to continue to share so that the tears don’t feel as heavy.

A few days later, Obama came to Tucson to be with the grieving city. There was a lot of pomp and circumstance. There was a lot of waiting. And, there was a lot of talking.

It was really hard to not shut myself off entirely when Jan Brewer addressed the stadium, the city, and the nation. Especially when she said, “I know Arizona.”

A friend whispered in my ear while she was speaking, “It’s like having a liar give a keynote speech about truth.”

But- Obama had some great sound-bites. Sound-bites that I really hope do more than just capture a brief, passing moment of air-time, but rather serve as inspiration for change.

“Make sure that we’re talking to each other in a way that heals, not wounds.” (Which, given my tacky comment above, you can tell I’m still working on it. But hopefully- aren’t we all still working on it?)

“…but how much we have loved.”

“…prompts though and debate. Let’s make sure its worthy of those that we’ve lost.”

“Whether that change will make us afraid, or whether it will inspire us toward a change for a better world.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Remember, it's our world. together

I just sat and listened to someone talk at impressionable young minds, presenting a tough topic in a very factual manner, in a way and with a meaning with which I very much struggle and disagree.
And I didn't speak up, and I didn't leave; over time I have learned that would have been impolite, rude, and inappropriate. After all, she had the floor, and it was her opinion that was the important one.
Looking back, it could have been an optimal starting point for conversation, together- to learn together.

It made me think beyond the scripture, beyond my understanding of a preacher/parishoner relationship, and beyond the moments where I felt my soul being irked.

Something is wrong. Our system is inherently broken. The "our" in everything is broken. We don't know of an our. We know of teacher, student, city, country, yankee, southern belle, easterner, westerner, preacher, parishioner, leader, follower. The "our" in everything we learn is obliterated. We're not taught about the communal "us" here together; we're taught about "these guys" and "those guys." From early on we're taught: to listen to our teachers. That learning and memorizing are one in the same. To put answers on a piece of paper. That the x is bad and the check is good. That the teacher knows the distinction. Instead of being guided to learn how to think, we're taught what to think. We're taught that, over time, our once empty brain will be filled by these teachers with knowledge. We're taught that we will learn that one "right answer." That there is a right answer.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Just a little drip

Today was a good day. Not even an "all things considered" sort of good day. Just a good day. Which, when thinking about the events of this morning, it's pretty wonderful it worked out afterall.
This morning began early, and Meredith, Kady (Luke's girlfriend), Jacob and I were feeling a bit lazy, so instead of the normal bike-ride to Southside, we decided to take a ride in the car. Which, as you'll find out, turned out to save the day in the end.
CrossStreets was wonderful, as usual. And then we piled back to drive home, grab our bikes, and head to work for the day after dropping Meredith's bike off for a tune-up.

As we were walking out the door to go to work, I looked up in the kitchen, and saw a little drip from the side. "Oops, its leaking." I said, kind of laughing- because the day before one of our toilets had flooded the back of the house, and we still hadn't heard back from our Landlord about someone coming to fix that. Ali, being the rational thinker, put a pot for the drip.
Then we realized our living room floor was a bit wet in places from some drips over there. And, pretty soon, we'd run out of towels and pots to put under, and the little drip in one isolated spot had turned into a flood throughout the entire living room, and the indoor rain continued still. Water was coming out the ceiling, through the walls, and seemingly everywhere.
We hurried to move all of the stuff out of the rooms that were flooding. Within a matter of minutes, our well-furnished living room with a tiny little drip had turned into an empty room with an inch of water on the floor and water still coming out of the walls and ceiling. We had rushed around the living room moving every bit of furniture anywhere there was space in another room. Our couch sat ontop of our dining room table all day, because that's where there was dry-space for it. Eventually, the repair guy arrived. Since he'd just been told there was a leaky toilet, he was a bit surprised to see four girls frantically running around an empty room trying to barricade off the flooding from getting to everything.
Over the next few hours we dumped the pots and buckets of water into our new garden, the repair guy climbed around in the attic to fix the problem, and, while we waited for him to finish up, we played some Yahtzee in the one little dry corner of our empty living room.

Had we not decided to sleep in a tiny bit this morning and take the car to CrossStreets, we probably would have all been at work, while the water just continued to build throughout our house. Good thing we were feeling lazy this morning!

All in all, it was a pretty hilarious morning of channeling water, ringing out towels, and laughing about it all, together.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 8, 2011

I can't really say that day started as any other, because it didn't. I was on a delegation at the time- which, is BorderLinks lingo for saying that I was leading a group of people on an organized, educational experience through the border area. We had just returned from Nogales and Altar, Sonora, Mexico, to Tucson, Arizona the night before. That morning, the group was going with Humane Borders to go on a Water Run in the desert. It was an early morning- the water trucks pull out at 7:00 am, and my plan was to crawl right back into bed after dropping them off. Which I did for a while, then got up and hung out with some of the roommates. Around 11:00 or so, I headed back out to pick up the participants from their water run.
I really enjoy when I'm driving by myself, because I get to pick the radio station- always country, of course. After singing along to Garth, the DJ interrupted to talk about shots that were fired at a grocery store. At this point, that's all that I knew. I continued on to pick up my group. As the day continued, I learned more and more about what had happened at that Safeway. I never really took a moment to let it sink in; my main concern at the time was delegating the 8 participants' experience in the Border Area. Throughout the day, I got texts and phone calls from friends and family back home, asking about it, asking if we were okay, etc. I'm not entirely sure if I'll ever fully understand the why or what happened.
One of my roommates, Ali graduated from Virgina Tech last May, and it completely slipped my mind when I texted her about what was happening in Tucson. Since she was in Mexico for the day leading a delegation, I wanted her to have some information about it to be prepared for the questions when she got back. That evening, she returned with her group to the dorms at BorderLinks. It would have been a long and stressful day on its own. She had asked another roommate Meredith to meet her at BorderLinks. Once the groups were doing their own thing elsewhere, I walked in the office where Ali and Meredith were hugging, and just after me entered Polita.
Polita saw us embracing and asked, in Spanish, what happened. And Ali, in Spanish, began explaining, about the shooting at Tech, the shooting in Tucson, the stress of the trip. Polita was wonderful, she hugged Ali, and said really kind words in Spanish to calm her down and try to make Ali smile.
Meanwhile, Meredith and I were both standing there next to Ali and Polita while the conversation was going on. I didn't translate the conversation to Meredith, who speaks enough to follow the basics. But- you never would have known based on Meredith's reactions that there was a language barrier.
And meredith stood there laughing when we laughed, crying when we cried together, and just stood there with us, as we tried to comfort ourselves- regardless that the whole conversation was in Spanish
so- i guess love can really be in any language.

"Let this tragedy serve as a catalyst for change."

Twin Maps

BorderLinks' dorm rooms are full of super-cool people.

Like the twins, Richard and Max. They just graduated from college, and instead of jumping into the career fields with their respective backgrounds in Religious Studies and Broadcast Journalism, they figured out a way to be both engage in community service, and see a good amount of the US along the way. They applied for a grant from the United Church of Christ to spend a year going to different cities documenting, through both video and blogging, outreach programs (like their Young Adult Volunteer program) and other youth/young adult involvement in the community through the UCC.

I highly suggest you follow their blog:

Another reason to follow that blog: Ali, Meredith and I were all interviewed for it- so maybe you'll see us there!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Most of the time, I enjoy my experience here in Tucson. The city, with its very agreeable weather and tons of character, is great. My four roommates are, quite possibly, one of the biggest blessings in my life. If not for the year as a YAV with them, I otherwise would not have gotten to know any of them. Even though Ali, Luke and I attended the same conference years before becoming roommates, we had no clue about each other. Each of the people I live with has pushed my way of thinking, comforted me when I've been upset, made me fall over laughing, and overall just been an amazing presence in our 1229 family. Most of the time I'm energized by the lessons I learn here, and by the thought of being able to share them in a variety of venues, and help others to open their eyes to the tragedy that is "the border towns." Most of the time I can understand this year of service, realize it will shape me in some way that I may never fully comprehend, and recall why I decided to do it in the first place.
Like I said- most of the time, I enjoy it here. Yesterday, however, I wanted to buy a one-way ticket and never look back.
Yesterday, I woke up sick. When I'm sick is when I'm also most home-sick. So, I went about my as usual, and left during work to go to the doctor. Upon leaving it hit me that I really couldn't afford to go to the doctor, as the deductible alone makes up 1/3 of my monthly stipend. Luckily in normal months the stipend has been enough to cover the bills, food, personal stuff, and even have a bit left over to save for a rainy day- or in this case- a sick day. On the drive back to work from the doctor I started thinking:
Why did I decide to do this, anyhow- what a stupid idea... spend a year without an actual income, so that when something happens I'm 15 again asking mommy for help. I'm just playing- I'm ready for "real life" to start again.
I'm so frustrated with crummy insurance... but I guess I'm grateful to have insurance, and a mommy to call when I can't even afford the co-pay.
I was more financially sound two years ago upon graduation.

It's a good thing I didn't write this yesterday, also- because I probably would have left it right there, with the message being "my decision to do this year of service was stupid- i'm playing for a year and not doing anything real, and I can't even afford to take care of myself beyond just the basics."

Luckily though, I slept on it. err--- laid in bed trying to remember what it was like to breathe through my nose, and thought about sleeping, is more like it.

And this is real life. It started a quarter of a century ago for me. I know when I am settled down- whatever that may look like- I'll be glad to have had this experience. I know right now I'm glad to have this experience. I meet so many people that, after the small talk questions of "what do you do?" and find out what I'm doing in Tucson this year respond with something along the lines of "Oh, I wish I could do something like that." And I could- I wasn't turning down anything that wouldn't still be available to me after this year. I'll make ends meet for now, and return to a steady paycheck and a normal routine someday. But right now, my eyes are more opened to the world around me. The ills and beauty of people, nature, and policy have come alive to me in the desert here, and I'm happy to be here to have it bring me life.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happiness is coming home again

The song, "Happiness" was stuck in my head as I landed in Tucson yesterday. Following the song, (which you should all listen to following that link below), is an excerpt from my journal from when I landed last night.


From “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown

Happiness is finding a pencil.

Knowing a secret

Telling the time.

Happiness is learning to whistle

Tying your shoe for the very first time.

Happiness is playing the drum in your own school band

And happiness is walking hand in hand.

Happiness is two kinds of ice cream

Pizza with sausage.

Climbing a tree,

Happiness is five different crayons

Catching a firefly

Setting him free.

Happiness is being alone every now and then

And happiness is coming home again.

Happiness is morning and evening

Day time and night time too

For happiness is anyone and anything at all

That’s loved by you.

Happiness is having a sister

Sharing a sandwich

Getting along.

Happiness is singing together when day is through

And happiness is those who sing with you!

Happiness is morning and evening

Day time and night time too

For happiness is anyone and anything at all

That’s loved by you.


I'm landing during the sunset again. It's like a salute to a new beginning. The sun is toasting my arrival as I return to what I left a week ago calling home. The first time I touched down in Tucson, the sun cheered its multi-colored salute to me and my other roommates. Then, I felt very inbetween- mildly nomadic. Having left my homes in Irving and Dallas, but not yet having found a place to call home in Tucson.

Thanks for the welcome home, Tucson sunset!