Change and transition make my inner control freak, well, freak out. But alas, as Layne tells us, these are vital opportunities for growth. Learning to stand grounded and steady during stressful circumstances has been a huge practice as of late. I’m exceedingly grateful to Layne, our site coordinator and makeshift life coach, for consistently reminding me to look for God (read: meaning) in the midst of these messy past few months.

I realize I’m being quite vague so let me fill you in, as much as I feel comfortable, with the gory details in all of their glory. As you know, I’ve been working full-time (M-F, 9 to 5) at YMCA Educational Services teaching adult literacy at the public library downtown. The relationships I’ve created with the students have filled me up with so much joy and connection. I’ve truly enjoyed teaching new and familiar skills alike, watching students have those lightbulb moments and thank me for my effort and persistence. I’ve given them my best, with the tools I’ve had this year, and I feel proud of myself and of them. We’ve come a long way together and it will be hard to say goodbye. Despite the full and joyful relationships I’ve created with the students, there have been many bumps along the way concerning communication and relations among staff and supervision. I’ve felt discouraged, betrayed, angry, and sad by the way things have been handled concerning my performance. I feel I’ve been treated unfairly and have been misrepresented by members of the staff. My natural inclination is anger and resentment, but after many conversations, I’m trying to use this experience as a window into empathy for others, many of my students perhaps, who’ve also experienced unfair or discriminatory situations in the workplace. At the end of the day, I get to leave. My privilege allows me to be transient.

All this to say, I’m now working only part-time at YMCA Educational Services (from 9 to 2) and the rest of my day is spent at Okra Abbey, a community garden and worshipping community through PC(USA)’s 1001 New Worshipping Communities. The transition was hard. I felt ungrounded and uprooted as my daily routine was thrown into flux and I found my footing in a new workplace while still sorting through many emotions at my other workplace. I was overwhelmed by this sudden change and tensions in my personal life. My mental health started to slip and I doubted my ability to cope. I had one really bad night, full of fear and grief, then awoke in the morning with renewed courage and strength. The resilience I’ve cultivated over the past few years, and this year in particular, allowed me (with gentle reminders) to zoom back and remember how much I have to be grateful for. I remembered that I am not my emotions but instead a person that feels emotions–transient as sand in the wind are these. Even the beautiful ones pass just as quickly as they come. Deep in my core, I knew I would be okay. And, as I started spending my afternoons in Okra Abbey, I realized very soon that God had something really amazing in mind.

Okra Abbey is…

A center for spiritual recreation and re-creation
A place to come and be nourished and refreshed
A sacred space where vegetables are grown for the neighborhood
A space where we gather for prayer and a meal every Wednesday at noon
A refuge for peace and a place of refreshment and love for people of all walks of life.
A place of learning to grow in faith, fellowship, and unity
A place to come as you are – embrace the dirt and the soil
A place of sharing joy where we learn how to do this game of growing and sharing food together

This year has been all about relationships and awareness of how I think/act/feel in them and for that I am so grateful. Because people–loving them and in turn loving God–is what this whole thing is all about, right? The garden has given me another space in which I can practice being present with people, cultivating authenticity and connection. The garden has given me that already–tenfold. Whether it’s sitting on the painted benches chatting about anything and everything with Shaq or playing chess (badly) with Amal or corralling rowdy but lovable kids  or even just waving and smiling from across the fence. I’m practicing the ministry of showing up, even in fear, and being present to the people and needs of the community of Pigeon Town. I want to be someone who shows up before they feel ready, with a heart of courage and love, because I believe that’s enough. I’m imperfect and vulnerable and fearful but I’m brave and open with a lot of faith that this is where I am supposed to be.

Throughout all of these contradictory feelings and experiences, we’ve done a lot as a YAV community. We’ve danced to Lorde at Jazzfest, had a murder mystery party for Hillary’s birthday, served pounds of crawfish all day at Lakeview Presbyterian Church, led services for Pentecost at First Presbyterian in Hammond, traveled to DeRidder for an overnight Presbytery meeting, and celebrated NOLA YAV’s 10-year anniversary for three long, but fun days. All of these experiences were full of laughter, stress, joy, and connection for my housemates and I. It’s been a whirlwind these past two months. I am beyond glad to have these six beautiful humans in my life. They are a constant source of comfort, support, and love. It’s difficult as hell, yes, but it’s worth it–more than words can say. Saying goodbye in six weeks is a thought I am trying very hard to repress.

As for me right now, in this moment? I’m sitting in the dark living room, too in the zone to think about getting up to turn on a light, grateful for this window of time to finally put the metaphorical pen to paper and let you in on my life. This past weekend was overwhelming for my introverted self as we participated in all the events for NOLA YAV’s 10-year anniversary. I’m feeling a bit stretched thin, but trying to remain present because I know this is a precious time. The transitions and difficulties at work have taken up a lot of my energy, as have personal relationships. Honestly, things got really bad before they got better. I’m still grieving the loss of a relationship, even if it was my decision, and I’m saying a difficult goodbye on Friday night. Even in the darkness, I’m still grateful for this precious period of growth. I can feel myself getting stronger in all of it. At the end of the day, I’m proud that I’ve remained true to myself.  I will say I’m finally feeling steady in the work situation. I’ve gained perspective and I know I can handle it. I’m currently in this strange mix of excited-for-next-year (CAN’T WAIT TO TELL YOU WHERE I’M GOING! Blog post coming up…) while still-trying-to-be-present-where-I-am-now. The act of trying feels like enough today. Love and blessings to y’all.

Update: I wrote this blog post on a Wednesday night and it’s now Sunday, June 18th. After our last community day at a waterpark yesterday, I spent today on Frenchman Street with my housemates Hillary and Savannah and it was grand. Piercings, alcohol, and live music made it a v New Orleans outing. My mission to be present and enjoy the city while I can is underway and successful thus far :)

Roll away your stone, I will roll away mine

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m into the moon. I have a waxing crescent tattooed on the inside of my right ankle to symbolize an increasing towards fullness–a moving forward and a hope of more to come. I got that tattoo two years ago on April 10th–the anniversary of my father’s death–because new life is constantly emerging from pain. This year, the anniversary was on a full moon. I believe in Sunday Resurrections, the transformation that comes from walking through suffering with a patient trust, hope, and surrender. I choose Christianity because of this very cycle of resurrection, because of a God who didn’t so much die for us but is instead continually dying with us–in our pain and in our suffering–as we die to ourselves. In solidarity with complete and overwhelming Love. Richard Rohr says ,”It is always ‘we,’ in our youth, in our beauty, in our power and over-protectedness that must be handed over. Otherwise, we will never grow up, big enough to ‘eat’ of the Mystery of God and Love. It really is about ‘passing over’ to the next level of faith and life. And that never happens without some kind of ‘dying to the previous levels’.”

I read a post from Glennon Doyle Melton which puts it like this: First comes the pain, then the waiting, then the rising. Friday, Saturday, Sunday. This cycle is at the heart of my faith. It gives me real hope. Not just a vague belief that “all will work out,” but rather a certainty that all things have a deeper meaning no matter how they turn out. This cycle allows me to look back at my life and understand, and to live forward with hope.

Because Jesus disrupted the status quo by shamelessly owning who and what He loved, because Jesus trusted in a deeper meaning and bigger picture, I am given motivation and courage to be honest in the same way. You may remember that one thing I let go of for Lent was other people’s perceptions of me. I’ve always relied on external affirmation to validate my worthiness–I think a lot of us do. I don’t think we are to blame. Andrea Gibson says, “It is no measure of good health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.” I was well-adjusted, yes, but deeply out of touch with my True Self, that real holiness we all contain. For Lent, I made a firm and deliberate decision to at least practice re-adjustment. To at least start the process of unlearning my self that is shaped by the world. And to start believing the Love that’s calling my name.

Being honest will piss people off and their reactions can sting, especially when they are tied up in religion or family systems. The truth will set you free but it’ll piss you off first, right? We’ve got to wade through the murky Fridays and Saturdays before Sunday Truth rolls around. It was my intention during Lent to stand strong and grounded despite external forces and practice equanimity. The very intention was enough to make a difference. I was able to tell my truths over and over again. I keep telling them. The cycle tells me that it will hurt, but my God there is hope. My God it will be beautiful when Sunday rolls around. Anne Lamott said, “Easter means you can put the truth in a grave but you can’t keep it there.” With that said, here’s something I wrote months ago.

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal or shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.” – Audre Lorde

I have so much story that I need to tell. I swallow the truth so often that I’m afraid it’ll kill me, still clogged in my throat, unspoken. It is time for you to know me better. There’s so much of me that I want you to know. There are bridges to be built. I think it’s due time we get on that.

My YAV year has been all kinds of hard and beautiful. I can tell you about intentional community living and my work placement and this crazy city. You will read my blog posts and feel like you’re getting a glimpse into my year. And that’s because you are. I intend to write true and clear. But I feel a disconnect. I feel a disconnect because I’m letting you see true reflections in the prisms of my life, but I’m keeping an essential part of me from you. I thought it was for my protection. Your reactions may wound me. You may feel uncomfortable. You may have questions. You may not approve. I thought I needed privacy and protection from your responses.

Here’s my conclusion: That’s epic BS. My silence will not protect me. Your silence will not protect you. Audre Lorde said that. I believe it, too. Maybe you’ll misunderstand me and your reactions will hurt me. But that’s a hurt I can stand. After all, I am not responsible for your discomfort. My self-inflicted hurt, my own cruel suppression, that’s the real crime.

Listen closely so you hear me when I say that I am loving her. In this moment. She is earnest and kind, thoughtful and deliberate. She has a sense of humor, too, thank God. She is important to me and I want you to know.  We’ve chosen each other and we keep choosing each other. My life is more full with her in it. She has increased my capacity to love. And love will change the world.

There’s the Truth. The truth that’s become too important not to tell.

I’m learning so much this year. So much about communication and social justice and vocation and community. But radical self-acceptance and love is the greatest of them all. Owning my queerness, owning the things and people I love, feels like freedom. Hear me when I say it again. My capacity to love, to love well, has expanded.

Don’t you dare tell me that’s anything but beautiful. But even if you do, I’ll be okay.

Le(n)t go and Le(n)t God

This Lent, instead of giving up chocolate or putting some restriction on myself equally as violent and unpleasant as “no chocolate ever!” (the horror–just personally), I will instead, as Kayla McClurg from Inward/Outward puts it, “[follow] my deeper intuition to embrace the disciplines that will help me ‘let go and let God.'”

Letting go. Letting go not as a static, one-time event that leaves me free from all future suffering and self-inflicted misery but as a constant cycle of moving in and out of conflicting emotions. It is a process of embracing our multitudes (“Do I contradict myself? Very well then; I contradict myself–I am large, I contain multitudes.” -Walt Whitman) and releasing old ways of being, over and over again. It is falling down and getting back up, always in a spirit of humility that says, “I trust you, God–I trust that I am loved and that You’ve got this.”

Last Thursday night, our community’s weekly spirituality night, Hillary began leading our Lenten study for the month of March. During the meeting, Hillary shared the following words from Kayla McClurg (love her and highly recommend exploring Inward/Outward) when talking about going inward towards our deep, dark places in the season of Lent: “All of us will face such times, when the crowded life must be left behind, when we must peer into the dark well of our own need, our lust for what we do not have, our weariness with what we do have, our temptation to do and be and possess far beyond our capacity, beyond God’s callings for us. Maybe our temptation is to rise high above our plain existence, or maybe we are scrambling to win last place. Neither is the humble path. Kneeling in secret on stones and barbed wire will not prove our devotion.” The words hit me hard–I knew it would be difficult for me to speak when we went around the circle to share our Lenten intentions and practices (anticipated by reading the thoughtfully assembled handout from my girl Hill). The words in bold felt like they were directly aimed at me, a marker of good writing, of universal truth. She clearly spoke with personal experience and her vulnerability was a gift–it caused me to reflect on what was stirring in my soul.

I’m tired of being tired of my worn out ways of being. I’ve been falling down a lot lately. This seems to be expected if you’re doing relationships with a hefty amount of vulnerability. I’ve been falling down and trying to pick myself back up–relying on self-knowledge and a determination to “BE BETTER!” In retrospect, I realize this is where I was getting stuck. I’m addicted to being in control. My temptation “to do and be possess far beyond [my] capacity” was plunging me into darkness every time. I am weary with myself and I haven’t been cutting myself much slack. St. Therese of Lisieux once wisely said, “If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.” This particular idea of acceptance, of accepting being displeasing in any way, proves difficult for me to bear. But I know what it looks like on the other side of all my self-deprecating self-talk, I’ve tasted the freedom, and I long to stay there. The problem is I’ve been relying on myself–coaching myself through it with discipline and knowledge. Here’s the thing. Knowledge informs my faith but it does not precede it. Feeling God’s love and letting Him pull me back up in humility is what makes my faith feel full and expansive. This is when I feel like I can breathe, finally offered space to love myself and the people around me. It’s an easy hole to fall in, and I’m learning to circumvent it more often, but it’s God who gets down in the hole with me, who offers his shoulders for me to stand on in order to crawl my way out. Maybe one day I’ll find a new path altogether–one without so many holes. Maybe come Easter morning there will be life anew.

Aside from my own played-out storytelling, I’m also trying to let go of controlling other people’s stories about me–whatever those may be… because how do I really know? It makes sense why I do it though–if I want so badly to control my own feelings, to distort them into something shinier and therefore more bearable, then of course, of course, I want to control other people’s thoughts and feelings about me. Because believing what they think is so much easier than figuring out what I think. For so long I’ve let other people define who I am, unable to fully grasp my own understanding of myself. The kaleidoscope of feelings constantly shifting inside of me made it hard to get a firm hold on my sense of self. Once I realized that I am not my feelings but instead a soul who feels feelings, I was able to start coming home to myself. It was a simple yet profound discovery and it changed everything. Something else that profoundly influenced me was reading Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved. Reading his words, I was reaffirmed in my identity as Beloved. When I can hold onto this core truth and distance myself from my feelings, which can be so easily swayed by outside forces, I am able to stay clear and grounded. Again, it’s a process of falling down and getting back up. It’s a lifelong practice. But I’m trying to let go of needing outside affirmation and instead turning inward to receive the Love that has always existed. This is who I am. This is who we all are.

This Lent, along with letting go, I’m taking up. 1) I’m taking up the daily practice of writing down the things that delighted me throughout the day. Mary Oliver says the instructions to living a life are to pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it. I pray to have the eyes to see and ears to hear this Lent–cries of the hungry calling out for justice, but also the beauty that puts itself in my way moment by moment. I don’t want to miss the beauty always searching for what’s missing. I want to cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving and wonder. 2) I’m taking up radical self-compassion. The practice of being kind to myself in difficult emotions. 3) I’m taking up reading a daily devotional. For Lent, I am reading Wondrous Encounters by Richard Rohr. They are short reflections for Lent that include a piece of scripture and a “starter prayer” of sorts to get the pen flowing. I’ve learned a lot in the darkness of these early mornings, accompanied by just a book, pen, journal, and Bible. 4) I’m taking up running/yoga/park-walking during the weekdays. I’m taking up getting in touch with my body by moving it and listening to it.

So there you have it. My Lenten longings and laments. In this moment, I find myself in a space between grieving who I thought I was, the story I’ve always told myself, and stretching toward who God wants me to be–maybe who I was all along. Wherever you are and whatever story you’ve been telling yourself, hear me when I say you are precious and loved. Let that be where you start.

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” -Mary Oliver

Two months of joy and sorrow in the city of contradictions

It has been almost two months to the day since we’ve last spoken! Ah, how tauntingly “write a blog post” has been staring at me from my to-do list. I have so much to tell you that it’s been overwhelming to even know where to start. There are things on my heart that I want you to know. Soon, so soon. For the time being, I’m going to just share the highlights of January and February. I could delve deep into any one of these updates, so to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the options and probably much too wordy, I’ll just lay it all out there. Life feels full over here–my heart is tearing at the seams with love and hope. I feel excited by and at peace with the future as opposed to terrified by the possibilities and unknown outcomes (aka anxiety). Ah, the retrospective growth. What are these new days of delight and trust?? It’s almost unnerving. Almost.

At the beginning of January, the New Orleans YAV house began reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, a civil rights litigator and legal scholar. I’d previously heard an interview with Alexander by Krista Tippet for On Being, so I was eager to dive into the text they so passionately spoke about in the podcast. I went into it assuming I knew nothing and was proven right pretty quickly. There was and still are a lot of political aspects that go unlearned and untalked (this can’t be a word) about in mainstream culture. My heart feels close to the issue of mass incarceration this year living in New Orleans, the city that puts more people of color behind bars than any other city in the world. Yes, the world. The house also watched 13th, a documentary that explores the history of race and the criminal justice system in the United States. It was a hard watch, emotionally draining, but incredibly important. Both are definitely required reading and watching for all Americans who advocate for racial justice.

Shortly after starting The New Jim Crow, we visited the Whitney Plantation. “As a site of memory and consciousness, the Whitney Plantation Museum is meant to pay homage to all slaves on the plantation itself and to all of those who lived elsewhere in the US South,” is how they describe themselves on the website. It’s the only plantation in the country that honors the slave experience and doesn’t try to romanticize the era or gloss over the horror and inhumanity. At the end of the tour, our guide urged us to remember that America’s wealth came from the free labor of our African brothers and sisters. I couldn’t help but hear Trump’s voice at his inauguration speech saying, “Make American Wealthy Again!” Does he remember where our wealth came from? Is he simply romanticizing injustice? Upon leaving the plantation, Hillary and I drove straight back into New Orleans for the Women’s March where we walked until our feet were sore. I was marching in response and resistance to Cheeto’s inauguration, but also against anti-LGBT laws, our criminal justice system, and white supremacy itself–just to begin. The resistance is real you guys. By the end of January, I was starting to feel burnt out.

It was indeed a heavy month so it was only fitting that I was tasked with the job of leading mediation at our Thursday meetings (spirituality night) for the month of February. I felt myself fall into more of an alignment that month and the overall state of our country became less overwhelming (slightly) as I figured out manageable ways of taking action and staying informed. I am deeply grateful to the Call Your Girlfriend podcast for keeping my spirits up and giving me laughter while still convicting me to take action and stay involved. Another podcast, The Daily by NYTimes, has keep me informed with fantastic reporting and storytelling. I love listening to their 20-minute daily show while making my breakfast. February was full of reading (Blue Like Jazz and My Name is Lucy Barton), meditation, and City Park walks. I also started a vocational discernment course through McCormick Seminary which has been illuminating, albeit a definite time commitment. I’ve been working on applications (going to stay vague on that one for now), keeping up with reading and classwork, attending our tri-weekly house meetings, and spending time outside the house as well. My plate feels full but in a really good way. Hoping I can keep the balance.

Speaking of balance, MARDI GRAS (!!!) held none of that ish. I ate an entire (gluten-free vegan) King Cake by myself and loved every minute of it. It was an exhausting couple of weeks and I could write a novel on it all so let me just leave you with some pictures.

Highlights were catching my first Muses shoe, Zulu morning with my housemates, watching the beautiful floats at Orpheus, and being eating cake for the first time in forever. The house was a wreck by the end of it as were our emotional lives but…worth it. We seem to be recovered and solidly stepping into the Lenten season.

As I type this, I’m sitting upstairs listening to St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ recent album Sea of Noise and it is well with my soul. Highly recommend for any and all humans who need some satiating tunes in this time of social and political turmoil. Just throwing it out there. On the table to my left lies my Lent devotional called Wondrous Encounters written by the Christian mystic Richard Rohr. Since it’s been so long since I’ve written, I aim to write more than just once this month. Coming up is a post on my intentions for this season of Lent and a reflection on Ash Wednesday, as well as some happy happenings that will help you know me better and get a sense of what my life really looks and feels like these days. As always, thank you for your support, in whatever form. I will forever be deeply grateful for the support the propelled me into this YAV year because it is, with absolute certainty, transforming me daily. Blown away by all of it.

So much love until next time!

I Am Deliberate and Afraid of Nothing

…says Audre Lorde at the end of her poem “New Year’s Day” in From a Land Where Other People Live.

A couple days after Christmas, my family and I flew down to Miami for a quick vacation. Call it a forced time together or a willing choice by all; either way, the trip was happening and by the time we left, I (and I think everyone else) was better for it. The plane ride there was fine as I was happily medicated by a potent anti-anxiety pill. However, on the way back, our flight wasn’t arriving until midnight and I knew I had to drive the six hours back to New Orleans the next day so I decided to brave the flight with my own creative tactics since the pills make me hella groggy. Cheryl Strayed said something in Wild that has always stuck with me: “Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked.” With Cheryl’s help and many others, I’ve learned that I can control my thoughts. Yes, genetics play a factor in mental health and I didn’t exactly hit the lotto, but I control at least 40%. This slow realization and practice of telling myself a different story has made the largest impact on my overall happiness and peace of mind.

In the hours leading up to the flight and on the actual plane, I repeated silently to myself, “I am not afraid.” I can’t say the strategy is foolproof  (I still had moments at the beginning of that flight where I thought we were for sure goners) but alas, we landed in Houston and I couldn’t help but feel proud of myself for not having a full-on freak-out. 2016 was rough on me physically and mentally, but I will say that I’m more resilient because of it and a hell of a lot braver.

Friday was a symbolic day: Epiphany, the start of Carnival season, Joan of Arc’s birthday. On Epiphany we sit in the full realization of the Light that has come to earth and Carnival begins a months-long celebration (Mardi Gras being on February 28th) that brings us all the way to the crushing reality of Ash Wednesday. Joy, however, is a reality too. Joan of Arc said, “I am not afraid. I was born to do this.” We were born to experience ALL of it–joy and sorrow and celebration and mourning and fearlessness and utter terror. The problem comes then we judge any one of these emotions as “bad”. At least, that’s when I run into suffering. When I don’t let myself just be where I am. Last year was largely about this lesson and about courage. Courage to face my multitudes and speak them truthfully.

One of my intentions in this new year is to continue being intentional about the way I speak to myself and others. Deliberate about acknowledging my feelings and examining them and putting words to them.

December was a monumental month for me. I spent time each day of Advent journaling and I had a lot of difficult conversations in which I spoke my truth. The hard conversations felt right and fulfilling because they were real. I spent time with people I love. I walked away from the Christmas season feeling more clarity and peace. I stored these conversations and lessons in my heart to ponder and I’m feeling okay with not having all the answers.

If I felt peace in Advent, I hope to feel more joy in Carnival season. Layne, our beloved site coordinator, quoted something over our Advent retreat that has stuck with me: “Joy is peace up dancing.” As in, they are one in the same. I intend to be more deliberate about welcoming joy into my days and calling on that deep well of peace and trust to sustain me through the ups and downs I know are inevitable.

Things are good in New Orleans. When I say good, I mean a steady good that remains through the bad days. I feel present to and with God and that is pulling me along in a satisfying flow. I’ve just gone back to work after a two-week break and I’m happy to be getting into a routine again. I missed Camille and Micah and my housemates. Their loving support makes everything worth it and I’m grateful to know them. I plan to write more regularly this year and keep you updated. Thank you to everyone who is supporting me this year, whether it be financially or in prayer. Please know this wouldn’t be possible without you and I appreciate your belief in me. And because it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t, I want to end this post with some of my intentions for the new year!

2017 Intentions

1.  I want to focus first and foremost on tending to relationships and fostering community in the YAV house. I want to be more intentional about keeping up individual relationships and in the way I spend time with people and communicate with them.
2.  Read more novels! I read a ton of nonfiction, which I’m sure I will keep doing, but I’ve missed that feeling of unconscious delight when lost in a story.
3.  Write more; especially on this blog. I journal almost every day, but I want to keep up this space and write in a more structured way.
4.  Meditate and pray daily. I’ve been meditating regularly over the last three months and I want to continue this. I can’t recommend Insight Timer enough. Download it and add me on there!
5.  Get outside as much as possible and move my body. Whether that be exercising at the park or checking out a new spot in the city.

Word of the Year

1.  done consciously and intentionally
2.  fully considered; not impulsive
synonyms: ponder, steady, intentional, willful, purposeful, knowing, reflection.

I wish you blessings and love and peace and joy in 2017. Go forth and live deliberately, y’all ;)

A lesson from Whitman + catching up on the past two months

I’m learning to love myself–to lean into and accept those parts of myself which make me most uncomfortable. Transforming what once was fear, into love. Sitting in stillness and willing myself to feel that I’m magical and divine and loved is quite literally changing my life. I’m learning that my multitudes, messy and contradicting as they may be, are valid and maybe even beautiful.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman

^ this quote is quickly becoming my life mantra.

I’m learning to tell myself the truth, and even better, tell my truth to other people. To sit in my being and listen to the still, small voice that says, “Who you are is enough.” I’m practicing courage, because courage in the face of fear is what it takes to be honest with myself and everyone else.

I’ve been filling my head with poetry and music and silence and laughter. I’ve been putting myself in the way of beauty, as Cheryl Strayed once said so eloquently. Surrounding myself with those who affirm my belovedness so that I am full enough to bless back. Sitting in the silence and breathing myself full again.

There has been a lot on my mind and I’m not ready to talk about it. I’m not confident that I can put it into words yet. I just want you all to know that I’m learning and growing. That I’ve been walking through both darkness and light and it’s changing me. I’m in a transitioning and weeding out phase. Letting parts of myself that don’t serve me be gently pulled away. Growing into a fuller expression of myself. I am grateful for stillness, spirit, and friends who are willing to stand alongside me in this time of confusion and beauty.

Highlights from October: 

1. Jason Isbell show with Hillary. Nothing will ever beat live music with a dear friend.

2. Halloween celebrations with my housemates! Including Voodoo Fest with Courtney and Hillary. Dancing barefoot in the grass at the back of Arcade Fire.

3. Laughing with Camille and Micah (just count this one as a repeat for every month). They brighten every day at work and I don’t know where I’d be without their kindness and humor.

4. Being invited to the Jewish Sukkot by Micah and her AVODAH housemates. The opportunity to learn about other religions and be graciously welcomed at a celebration that is not my own.

5. Having a picnic in Audubon Park with Hillary, Camille, and Micah. Watching the sunset while drinking wine and, later, lying on our backs looking at the stars.

Highlights from November: 

1. Looking at the supermoon from the back stairs on the YAV house.

2. The YAV Enneagram Retreat and learning more about myself in all my four-wing-five-ness.

3. Second Line for Literacy 5k and the Thanksgiving Potluck at YMCA Educational Services.

4. Finally seeing the community garden where Haley works and experiencing Grace and Greens. Hanging out with kids in the neighborhood.

5. Spending Thanksgiving in Dauphin Island, seeing my little brother and sisters, Alabama sunsets, and having my housemate Hillary by my side for all of it!

November was incredibly tough (the election, health issues, weather changes, holidays) but I am so grateful for friends and housemates who are willing to sit with me in pain and not try to fix it. I am blessed to have friends and family (all sorts of families) who love me well during times of despair. Those days and weeks where it feels like my life is falling apart are the very moments where parts of myself that no longer serve me are being sifted out, if only I allow it to happen. To come out of these experiences stronger and more whole requires showing grace and love to myself. I am grateful for the practice. As difficult as November was, I still am coming away from this month with so much be happy about. I kept a gratitude list throughout the month and here are some lines from my journal…

for housemates who surprise me with dairy-free ice cream

for thoughtful “have a good day” texts

for starting to drink coffee again

for the Gilmore girls and their comforting chatter

for sunset walks at City Park

for my little window of time to meditate every morning

for Camille and Micah’s friendship and support

for cooler weather and breaking out my winter clothes

for getting 8 hours of sleep

for weekly phone calls with a best friend from high school, James

for the patio on the YAV house

for a moon that lights up the whole sky even under the clouds

for Andrea Gibson poems

for eating an orange at the bus stop and watching the sunset

for staring contests with a little girl on the bus

for waking up earlier than planned and having extra time to do yoga before work

for hot tea when I’m feeling sick

for the bus driver who greets me by name every morning

for clean water and electricity to keep me clean and healthy and warm

for reassuring texts from my mom

for understanding myself better

for a loving, supportive New Orleans family

for sharing family traditions and special places with my housemate Hillary 

for the nonjudgmental listening and kindness of my housemate Courtney

for a roommate who sat on the floor next to my bed for two hours when I was sick and terrified

for a random hug while I was brushing my teeth from my housemate Patrick

for the knocks on my bedroom door when my housemate Haley knows I’m feeling down

for words of affirmation and the contagious energy of my housemate Cherokee 

Much love to you all.

Dear C

“What’s your best advice?” is a question I recently asked one of my students as we got to know each other over fractions.

Said student, let’s call him C, is a black man around 60+ years old. Physically, we could not be more opposite of each other. If you saw us standing on a street corner together, you would not assume us friends, as sad of a fact that may be. But alas, here we were sitting together and his answer to my question was immediate: “Keep an open mind and be spiritually inclined.”

I must tell you that I love collecting stories. One of my favorite parts of my job so far is the connections I’ve made. My students have lived full lives and they offer their stories freely, just as they would their gumbo on a Sunday afternoon. They have generous hearts and open spirits. Some of them pray as often as they breathe and let me know it. What I mean to say is, I asked C this question because I know he’s my teacher this year. They all are.

The things that proceeded to come out of this man’s mouth blew me away. My unconscious bias tells me that a man who can barely read or write couldn’t possibly have the kind of insight he has. Society casts illiterate people to the margins, giving them no value. No chance to share their wisdom or contribute their gifts. It is an enormous loss. I want to live against that, to sit with people in the margins and let them teach me as much as I’m teaching them. That is my job this year. Give and take and give and take.

C went on to tell me that maintaining an open mind is the most important thing we can practice. He said hate and fear is what’s killing young black boys. He said we have to open our minds and hearts to love if we want to get better. That we need to keep our eyes to the sky and remember where we come from. What a beautiful point of view from a man who comes from a generation that has every reason to be angry and closed-off. He said so many things, speaking on mass incarceration, absent fathers, and discipline in schools. The details are beside the point in this blog post, though. I just want you to know that his commentary on our world’s problems were refreshingly simple, and when his words hit my ears, they felt like truth. They felt like love.

“You just have to sit down and talk with folks,” he told me.

C, my friend and brother, it is an honor to sit down and talk with you every week. May your voice never be silenced. 

Just the Tip

Get your mind out of the gutter.

If my YAV year were an iceberg, I’m at the tip. This terrible metaphor is what first came to mind when deciding how to start this post. One of my housemates, Patrick, suggested I use part of said metaphor as my title. So there’s that. Maybe it’s my love of Titanic, maybe I’m just really cliché; regardless, the sentiment rings true.

My toe is in the water as I’ve tentatively stepped into this year. I still feel a bit guarded. Living in a house of seven people leaves me vulnerable to misunderstanding. So many personalities, so many different ways of interpreting each other. I crave being known. This leaves me missing a lot of people–people who do know me… my people. With that said, I feel really good about my new people. Each person in the house is their own island and I’m slowly building bridges. I love getting to know their favorite things and learning about their pasts. They each have a unique story to offer. They each have lessons to teach me. We are still figuring out how to live with each other–how to stretch our food budget to where we don’t run out of food on Fridays. How to interact with each other in a way that respects each person’s experience. One of my housemates, Haley (who is a second year NOLA YAV), says we are still in the honeymoon stage and I’d have to agree. But I feel it getting real–the remnants of newness and excitement fading away as we walk deeper into our respective jobs and year together. Conflict is inevitable, but so is facing it.  One terrifying/beautiful thing about living in community is that you can’t avoid conflict. We have no choice but to be real and vulnerable. About everything; not just conflict. I think it’s such an opportunity for growth and to be validated in how we’re feeling. We belong to each other.

Aside from community happenings, my days have mostly been consumed with my new job at YMCA Educational Services (YES!). I work in a library (dream come true) with some pretty amazing humans. There are three other service corps members serving at my site and I’m so grateful to have them. Micah is an AVODAH Jewish Service Corps member and Camille is with Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Hillary, my fellow YAV, is also working for YES! but she will be doing Community Education at the New Orleans East branch. She’s been at the Main branch with us these past two weeks for training and it’s been so nice having a buddy on the bus, which I now take to and from work each day. Working for YES! is overwhelming and already so rewarding. I spend three days of the week doing one-on-one tutoring sessions with students. One day is spent upstairs helping in the main classroom and Fridays are for staff meetings and professional development. The tutoring sessions are in one-hour time slots and my students range from 20s to 60s age-wise. We spend most of the hour working on reading and writing, but I also teach basic math and life skills.

Yes, I, certified English teacher, am TEACHING MATH. This blows my mind. I’ve been relearning fractions, long division, algebra, and so much more. Some of my favorite moments have been teaching a math skill because I never knew I could do it. It makes me feel proud and happy. I remember sitting in math classes in high school and feeling so stupid and small. It triggered a lot of insecurity when I first started relearning the skills a couple weeks ago. I can understand, even if it’s just a little bit, what my students must feel like when they look at a page of words they can’t comprehend. I can teach with empathy and love knowing what it’s like to feel inadequate. One thing my students have that I didn’t have for math in high school is the passion and desire to learn. It’s incredibly rewarding to teach people who soak in what I’m saying and ask questions. I feel so much more able to give of myself and my gifts when the other end is willing to receive.

A beautiful thing about teaching adult education is hearing their stories. My students have lived full lives, full of beauty and pain, and they want to share it with me. I am honored to hold their stories in my heart and become a part of them. I’d love to share some stories this year, with their permission, and hope I can do so.

Another highlight of these past few weeks has been returning to St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church as an adult. I went to SCAPC as a little girl and have been returning throughout the years on random Sundays and most Easters. It’s a beautiful building with a strong congregation, especially in the 20s/30s department, which is very exciting. I’m looking forward to actually sticking around this time and getting involved. I attended youth group tonight and I plan on continuing to volunteer there throughout this year.

As I write this I’m sitting around the living room with my housemates, the smell of Patrick’s roast filling the air. It’s 8:11 pm and we are hungry. Very soon (I hope) we will sit at the table together and share a meal. As I sit here now, I’m feeling a lot of things: anxiety, excitement, a little loneliness even, but most of all is gratitude. The opportunities before me are opportunities for growth; at work, in the YAV house, at church. All the new relationships and experiences are set before me and I am open and ready to dig in. 

Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.

– Daniel Iverson

“But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

– Isaiah 64:8


Louisiana Flood Relief = our first community day. From left to right: Courtney, Hillary, Haley, Cherokee, me, Savannah, Patrick, and Joey (not a YAV), whose mother owns the house where we worked on Saturday in Denham Springs, LA.


The chapel in St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church.


Fam at Chick-fil-A for a snack attack after deconstructing a house all day.


Leaning into the discomfort of not having answers, of not knowing the plan, has been the great struggle of my life. Fear, in so many forms, has taken over my mind more times than I can tell you. 

Making friends with fear while distancing myself from it is a contradiction that can sometimes take all my energy and willpower.

I’m currently on a plane from Philly to New Orleans. Flying is terrifying for me. Fearful, intrusive thoughts begin days before I board the plane. It happened before orientation and during orientation, as I anticipated the flights to Stony Point and then back to NOLA. The thoughts would arise, especially during vespers at night, and I would resent them. If my first instinct was resentment, my second was acceptance. Every time a thought came up, I tried to remember Jesus saying, “Peace. Be still.” Be still and know that I am God. With all that said, I’m proud of myself. And so damn grateful to be alive. 

I’m flying away from an intense week of YAV (dis)orientation in Stony Point, New York. I’m leaving with 68 new friends and, more importantly, a supportive and loving community. The unity we cultivated and the bonds we forged are beautiful. I am incredibly thankful for this program and the investment they and many others have made in us. We go forth to do the best we can with the tools we have. 

YAV brought 68 of us, from many different parts of the country, to a common space and assured us: you are not needed. When we arrive at our placements, we are not needed. They are already doing good work; they’ve got it covered. This reminder is not what most “missionaries” keep at the forefront of their minds during their service. But I appreciated the truth. The charge for us to remain humble enough to realize they we are there to learn from our new community. Whether we like it or not, we will be consuming their precious resources. Training us takes time and energy. Each clarifying question takes focus away from the work being done. My presence for a mere year doesn’t make much of a dent. I get to walk away. Most of the adult students I’ll be tutoring this year do not have the freedom of movement that I possess. The ability to step out of a life and into a different one. 

This week was intense. Our days were long and packed with information. The week started out with a day and half training session called Critical Cultural Competency. It was an anti-racism training that focused mainly on white supremacy and power arrangements in the US. The content was intriguing to me as I’ve been so interested in this topic anyways, but it delved deeper that I realized it would. I’d like to share 10 main takeaways from the training that I found valuable:

1. My liberation is bound up in the liberation of all people. Until all people experience equity and live a life that preserves dignity, I cannot live in integrity with myself. 

2. Colorblindness is dangerous. In order to heal, you must become conscious of race and your thoughts surrounding it. We are complicit if we cannot see someone in their full identity. 

3. I know nothing or very little. Assuming I know more is to blindly use my privilege. Always assume a learning posture.

4. Live in the discomfort of knowing that you can walk away at any moment. Become uncomfortable with this privilege and learn to be okay with being uncomfortable. 

5. Let other people share their truth without inserting your own “understanding” or comparable story.

6. Be okay with no answers or resolution.

7. Be aware of the space you occupy in a room; ask yourself “Am I pushing my own agenda or can I step back and let someone else lead the way?” Practice analyzing your impact in a room. 

8. Work on being a co-conspirator rather than an ally; an ally says, “I’m not that, but I’m still with you”, while co-conspirator says, “I have skin in the game and I’m willing to risk with you.” Bear the weight of your whiteness.

9. Practice WAIT: Why Am I Talking? Ask yourself, “Am I improving upon the silence or can I simply listen?”

10. Do your own internal work and practice following the leadership of people of color. Practice coming to the table rather than setting it. 

I’m walking into my YAV year with these tools in my pocket and I hope to be intentional enough to use them every day. 
As I sit here, I’m not quite sure how to name my current state of emotions. Like I said, the week was a lot. I’m messy and disoriented and I think that was the point. I can say I’m excited to be in New Orleans; every time I think about it, I get an electric shock that radiates into my gut. It’s visceral and real. I’m feeling a little anxious about walking into our home of seven, meeting three new housemates, and beginning our life together. I leaning into the anxiety because if I wasn’t nervous, it would mean I didn’t care.

I’m all in this thing. I’m showing up with my whole self, fears and insecurities still there, but not in control. 

I want to end with a definition of “mission” that Hunter Farrell, director of Presbyterian World Mission Agency, gave us this week:

Following the border-crossing God in weaving mercy, peace, justice, and love in the common life of a God’s people in the way of Jesus Christ. 

I am not going to New Orleans to save anyone. I am not going with new ideas. I am following God into this city to weave mercy, peace, justice, and love into the lives of all people because their liberation is bound up in mine. As I do this, I am actively trying to act in the way of Jesus Christ. Rick Ufford-Chase, co-director at Stony Point, said this week, “The act of trying is the most faithful thing you can do.” I fail over and over again, but I hold onto grace. 

When I figure out how I’m feeling and where I am right now, I’ll get back to you. For now I bask in the light of love and grace. 

“And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” 
– Micah 6:8

Talking about Whiteness in Whole Foods

Oh man, nothing makes me more aware of my privilege than typing on my iPad in Whole Foods Uptown New Orleans.

Please note the sparkling water. 

I drove in from Pensacola yesterday afternoon and spent the day lounging around in my family’s Uptown home and grabbing snacks from Whole Foods down the street.  I sprawled out on a cushy bed, wrapped up in cool, clean air as I binge-watched episodes of Gilmore Girls and deleted pictures from my new iPhone while simealtanously checking Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook. Dear Lord, just typing that makes me crave a digital detox and major perspective check. It also makes me feel a little embarrassed and guilty. 

I move into the YAV house in a couple hours and orientation in Stony Point, New York is coming up in just a couple days. I’ve been reading a lot of articles and watching videos related to the topic of privilege and race in preparation for orientation. It’s something I’ve become very interested in learning about this past year so the content is firing me up even more. I’ve been trying hard to educate myself in order to steer away from white ignorance, denial, and avoidance. I’ve been railing against my own learned “colorblindness” and becoming glaringly aware of my frequent biases. It went from revalationary to uncomfortable to burdensome to despairing to frustrating very quickly. I feel like I’m now at a point where I can do the work with at least a little clarity. 

Something I really love about YAV is the commitment to not coming in as a “white helper” but instead getting on the level of the people in the community and actually doing good work without some grand illusion of being a savior. It’s not always this explicit and I think most people don’t realize when they are playing a role that enforces institutional racism. I think this is why knowledge is so important. All I can do is work on my own thinking and write about it so maybe other people will start examining their privilege and engrained ways of thinking as well. 

I’ve been listening to so many podcasts, reading so many articles, and just having so many conversations this past year, but I know I’m probably still on the edge of the abyss. I’ve got 24 years of thinking to unlearn and then reshape. That may sound dramatic to some, but I swear, I’m more aware every day and it’s terrifying. It’s so tempting to take the easy way out. It’s scary for me to write about out of fear of being judged. Though the fear seems to be fading quite a bit lately. I’m not sure I care much anymore if someone disagrees or gets angry. I’m willing to hear them out and consider their viewpoint seriously. It’s just that staying silent is no longer an option. I will not be complacent in my thinking or complicit in the system, no matter how comfortable and safe it has become. Oh, how easy it would be to stay surrounded by people who look like me. Who are of the same class as me. How comfortable that would feel. How cushy, yet empty and utterly unfulfilling. Empty and unfulfilling because now I know what I’m made from. And I’m hungry for something different. 

In a couple hours, I’ll be living in the YAV house, starting my year of simple living and service. Yes, my car is overpacked. My iPad will stay with me. I won’t deny my privilege or my Whiteness (not necessarily color but the system of it). I will remain aware of the foundation on which my life has been built, a foundation that I did not choose but that was set underneath me before birth to keep me secure and safe. I will not give away all my possessions or resent my skin color. But I will accept that the guilt will probably remain until the day when all people of color are liberated from oppression. This year, my goal is to work on my own liberation from Whiteness will also accepting that it is a part of me, it is the system that shaped me, and a fragment will always remain. 

Here are some excepts from the article “Greiving the White Void” by Abe Lateiner (one of the readings for orientation), which inspired this post:

“I cannot face the flames if I think that I’m in this on behalf of someone else. Comfort and safety await me the moment I turn back. It makes no sense to abandon that. Only faith, a belief that beyond the veil of Whiteness, I can be forged again, can steel me for the leap through the flames.

Once burned and reforged as a fighter for my own freedom, I will no longer retreat when the struggle becomes risky. When I see the fight against White supremacy as a fight for both the lives of people of color and White souls, retreat ceases to be an option.”

“I am no longer going to waste incredible quantities of energy and time trying to be the “exceptional White person,” the one who magically isn’t also complicit in systemic racism. Such dissimulation makes me a White infiltrator, taking up space and dispersing the momentum of racial justice efforts with my ego-driven posturing. Instead, I can allow myself to close my eyes and breathe into the reality that is my unavoidable complicity in White supremacy. There is no need to frantically and furiously deny it. I was born into this mess, which isn’t my fault, and now it is my responsibility to fight for freedom from it.” 

The work I’m doing this year is not to “help” people of color, as if my Whiteness and privilege is the remedy for their struggle. It’s to share the gift of education (which is a resource) with people in poverty, who are disproportionally Black in NOLA, while working on my own liberation in community. I am there to listen to people, but not to “fix” them or prove myself as the “good White person”. 

Agree or disagree, I encourage you to read the article I linked and make up your own mind. I’m also linking to a TEDx talk by Camara Jones that explores race and racism through story, which is a good place to start. These resources were shared with me by the YAV program. I’m sure we will be exploring these in much more depth. I promise to take notes and share more after orientation. I know you’re pumped… I am :)