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 :)

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