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.
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.”