operation streamline: people as livestock

This is my second time going to this court proceeding. I don’t think I will ever forget either one.

Operation Streamline occurs five days a week, 52 weeks of the year in Tucson at the federal court house. 70 migrants a day who have been picked up within the last few days are tried for illegal reentry and illegal border crossing. The former is a felony and the latter a misdemeanor. The judges have no leniency, the sentence increases based on the number of times they have been apprehended.


That right there should tell you it is not effective. If it was effective the mandatory sentence wouldn’t need to increase. But it does. From one month to six. To, as I understand from one trial today, unless I was mistaken in what I was hearing, the defendant is unable to plead guilty and agree to a plea deal and must proceed to court to be charged with the felony, which carries a sentence of two to twenty years and a fine of up to 250000. These are people who have traveled from their homelands for whatever reasons. If they come from Central or South America, they have walked to take “La Bestia” or “El tren del la muerte”. Many are severely injured or die just doing that. Then the trek through the desert with or without coyotes. If they don’t die, or aren’t killed, in our case to get to this trial they are detained and caught.


That brings us to court. They are bused in from detention centers or border patrol holding and  meet with court appointed lawyers for a little bit. Each lawyer has 5-6 clients. They have to assess if they speak and understand enough english or spanish to proceed. Plea bargains are written and signed, and then court begins. At any point, a migrant may make a statement of fear. If they make one to border patrol, they shouldn’t wind up going to court. Today, a few did. The agents know that they should not, this means they are seeking asylum and in fear for their life, afraid to return home.


Last year, I remember the sound of chains as seventy people, men and women, young and old were brought in. Their personal affects are taken. When deported they are often never returned. Today, they were not all in the court together, and as each line was brought in, there were no chains and no one in prison garb.


The attempt to play at humanizing the inhumane was obvious. But this practice, this costly ineffective practice is still inhumane. It was like watching cattle be stamped and processed for sale. I will never forget it as long as I live. The chains may not have been visible this time, but I could still hear and see them.


The Power of a Story, to be seen as Human, to be seen as Woman

I should tell you now, most of the stories I will have to tell of clients at Sister Jose’s will not be easy to write or read. Many may be triggering. But they deserve to be heard because it is rare that someone sees these women, let alone listens.


People experiencing homelessness are often highly visible and yet unseen. Think about it, especially if you live in a city. How often do you see someone with a sign and keep your eyes facing front and keep driving. If they approach you, do you give a grimacing smile and keep walking, if any acknowledgement at all, possibly thinking silent judgments in your head? If you, like me, spend most of your time on a bike, or on foot, or public transport you come more and more in contact, do you skirt around, switching sides of the street going out of your way to avoid? Do you know which parks to avoid in town? Really think. Do you see the homeless? Do you actually actively look and see them or do you just look and try to avoid thinking about the reality that you have no idea what brought them to that point.


I do the data at Sister Jose Women’s Center, and I will slowly bring more numbers, but the reality is this. We are the only center for unaccompanied women, both cis and trans,  experiencing homelessness in Tucson. There are no children and no men. As in I’m not going to debate with you about your thoughts on trans rights because transwomen are women. Period. The rate of PTSD and mental illness among the population we work with is particularly high because of the rate of domestic and sexual violence both prior to homelessness, leading to homelessness and during homelessness. The lack of services available without men present is staggering. Many women won’t seek help because of this, because the mere presence of men can be triggering to them. We don’t allow them inside the gate unless they’re dropping off donations/deliveries/contractors. You can call it sexist, we’re more concerned for the safety of our guests.


I’m not blogging to talk about that though, after figuring out what was best for safety and power dynamics in story telling, I wanted to talk about some of what I have experienced at the center. Some of these stories will be from our night program, some from day guests. I’ll tell more about day to day operations as I go along. Names and identifying details will always be changed to keep the lovely and wonderful ladies safe.


First, I would like to start with Eugenia. She is in her late sixties, I would guess, which is not uncommon for our population. Our average age is late 40s to 60s mostly, which surprises most. She’s a petite lady with fiery hair, which I’m not sure is dyed or real, you never know! One of the things I absolutely adore about her is her fashion sense. I hope that I am half as cool as her when I grow up. She puts together the coolest things. Sparkly, colorful, pattern. She wears funky shoes she gets from our “shop” (we get donations and ladies may pick things for free). She often feels sick, but boy, she is a spitfire no less. She really made me want to write more about stories, because the other night during dinner when I overnighted, she looked at me and said “Rachel, I just appreciate that you listen and really make me feel human again.” It kind of shocked me. I don’t know that I’ve every thought about it? Sometimes I feel like I’m too rushed and short with some of the ladies, just like I know I could get with my students, but something about Eugenia pulls at my heartstrings. She doesn’t always eat much, she doesn’t feel up to it, which reminds me of my own Nanny Lovins, but she proudly tells me when she does, and I tell her I’m proud, and ask her what was in the lunches from Caridad that she liked best. Or if she liked dinner the night before and I wasn’t there I ask. It’s little things. My wish for her is that she continues to eat and we get her strong and healthy to find her housing!


The other story from this week is from the day program and does come with a strong trigger warning. I was actually getting to leave from my overnight that same night, making sure the desk was clear, when a woman, clearly in pain, came in. We don’t open until 9am, but before I could say anything, she asked to use the restroom. They had just started to be cleaned, floors were wet. I let her know that they were being cleaned and asked if she wanted to wait. She let me know she had just started bleeding, that she was in her first trimester and was miscarrying. This is I think one of those moments where there is no preparation for what to do. I asked if she needed me to call the hospital and she said no. I knew that if I called, as much as I wanted to, they would say that she was an adult and if she refused treatment they’d leave. She went back outside. When I came back for my later shift, she was still there and in pain. I don’t think anything has ever been in my head so much as that. The matter-of-fact way with which she stated it, that it had happened before, that there was nothing the doctors could do. I was distraught. Angry for her because she had no where to go. Angry at the system because the reality is there are people who would blame her for that without knowing the whole story. I never even learned her name. I still don’t think I will ever forget her face.

So, what can you do? First, pray for me, for the women at the center, and for those on the street who have no where to turn. Push for better places for them and better laws to help those experiencing homelessness. Donate to centers for homelessness instead of thrift stores. They need it. Donate to my year. And don’t look through those you see on the street. Look at them. See them. Find a place to do the work. Volunteer. It won’t be easy, I guarantee, but someone has to help. Maybe it should be you.


In love.



Sistering, in pursuit of Humanity

When I decided to do a second year of the Young Adult Volunteer program, I didn’t really know what it was that God had in store for me. I just knew that I would be in Tucson doing something. I knew I would have an intentional community and spend time discerning more about what my call was. My vocation. I didn’t really know that already, a month in, it would be a vastly more emotional journey than I feel like the first month of my first year even came close to being. Admittedly part of that lay at the feet of Transition Retreat, which, on the whole, was a wonderfully needed experience. There was some closure to be had in that place, in the cold, in the rain, watching the Aspens change with the weather and being reunited with the YAV class of 16-17.

This year is all about Sistering for me. I work at the Sister Jose Women’s Center. I live with three other women. It is truly a year that makes me think of the one women’s retreat I got to attend with NAPC and the idea of Sistering, the note I closed with at the Community Food Bank last year. Incidentally, it was an agency write up about Sister Jose. Sistering is a construction term. It uses sister beams to support a beam that has been under stress where it sits in the structure. Sometimes one, or two. You can sister a sister beam. Whenever you use this technique, the person doing the building has to figure out where to put the support would be, how many it needs, and so on, because each beam is unique and is carrying a unique burden. Not any one has the same situation going on. The builder recognizes that we don’t throw away the beams, we don’t discard them, because each of these beams is essential, it has a purpose. We put others alongside it to take care and hold it up, to help it carry what it can no longer bear alone.

In my first YAV year, I learned that there are many things that we can bear when we have those who come alongside us in covenant community. Without the support of my community, both my YAV-mates and my friends I made in the larger Tucson community, I don’t know if I would have made it through my year. I struggled with it, especially the medical diagnosis, adjusting to meds, to the change in freedom, but I had people alongside me to help bolster me. I was held up to be able to bear my burden.

This year, I live in a community with three other women. I work at an organization that is run by women in support and care of women experiencing homelessness. My year is all about sistering. Some days, I leave Sister Jose’s and I wonder who the sister beam really is. I know the women I work with are there to receive services and I am there as a volunteer to help with showers, laundry, clothes, data entry, and just about anything else you could think of, but often I think I have stepped into a place where I might just receive more from the laughter and interactions I have. Certainly, there are difficult days. Anytime someone asks for something we can’t provide, a deodorant, a bed, a lunch if we’ve run out, I hurt for the inability to give them something. But when I can find them exactly what they need, or when they come in for something they need and it also happens to be something they enjoy. Like last night, there was cake with dinner, and one of the ladies who stayed was so excited. She hadn’t had cake in years and you could tell she was savoring every taste. Something as simple as the skill of learning names quickly, being able to remember faces and using that. It is that small human connection that we all crave. Just today, I was calling ladies back for the night program, called a name of a returning guest and even though I always have her down she was shocked. “I wouldn’t forget you! Don’t worry!” She smiled and laughed when I told her that, but it’s so true. It hurts me to know that, at some point, I think she has learned that she is forgettable.

We’re only a month in. None of these women are forgettable. I know I will think of their stories daily after I finish this year. I hope others do as well, because they deserve that. They do. They deserve people that know their names, that notice who loves color, who loves sparkle and print and handbags and that for some reason people don’t think that women experiencing homelessness are still women. They donate things women don’t use, which is odd to me. So in sistering, I think about this, we are all brought close to disaster at different times in our lives. Very often, it is nothing short of chance that prevents you from being where you are. Think about that. See the people, and think about who they are. You never know, they all have stories. I’m lucky enough to be along side them, while we sister each other.

In wonderment and peace,




PS, as always, I’m fundraising for my year. National YAVs are asked to raise $4000 this year. If 100 of you donate $40 dollars, that’s all I need! I’m going to donate to myself as well.  You can go to tucsonborderlandsyav.org to donate online or send a check to 400 E University Blvd Tucson AZ 85705. Make them payable to Tucson Borderlands YAV.

If you would like to support Sister Jose Women’s Center, we always need items. Contact me directly and I can tell you what we need most and where to send them. I see what’s in our warehouse everyday and interact with the women directly and know what they like. They are women just like the women you know. So if you want to send some stuff, let me know and I’ll let you know what we’re really running low on, or what kinds of things would really brighten their day!

Your Five and Two

First, let me say, going home is 1) for a visit, and 2) always to two places for me at this point: Atlanta and Tallahassee. We’ll get to Five and Two later.

This blog has been brewing and thinking since the beginning of April, and I’ve almost started it several times, but haven’t. I don’t think that was purely my own procrastinatory (is that a real word?) habits, but some of the spirit wanting me to fully be present for everything the month had for me. All the learning in this Lenten and Easter season, as well as my trips to both of the places I call home and to all the people I consider family, both biological, church, musical, and any other kind of family there could possibly be.

We’ll start with how these trips came to be. I wasn’t expecting to really get to go to Atlanta or Tallahassee at all this year. Plane tickets are expensive, and I had resolved myself not to GoFundMe a trip for this YAV year, thinking that if I did a second year, I’d do it then. I’ve never had a year where I lived away from family where I haven’t been able to visit them, and I know that’s a reality for many folks, and if that was part of this year, that was a part of this year. Clearly, other plans were in the works. I’m thankful for those plans, really and truly. My wonderful friends John and Jen Washburn (does it feel cool to see that in writing guys? It feels so good and right to write it!) wanted me to sing their first dance song. I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten a better Christmas present in my life. Maybe the present that was Linda Tracy before I was born, but I didn’t know about that then 🙂 So I got to go to Atlanta. And then, the now Rev. Linda Pitts wanted me to sing with a quartet for her Ordination to ministry (she’s now officially a hospital chaplain. What an amazing ministry! She’s an amazing person, and I’m so thankful to have her in my life and have grown up with her and her husband as role models!) and so I got to come visit home as well!

So I went from a first year in my life of not getting to see any of my family, which if you know me, is odd. My family has always been close. Very close. And by family, I mean extended and immediate. We don’t always agree on things, we differ in views. Some folks don’t understand my opinions or beliefs, but we love each other. We’ve struggled through so much together, and to not get to see anyone, that was going to be hard. So I’ve been blessed by this. And the community there in Atlanta, that is family. Yes, we’re not related by blood that runs through our veins, but we are rooted together in the blood of Jesus Christ and a love for each other and for building community and a better understanding of what it is to be friends and to be together. I really do feel that the Young Adults, more commonly known as the “Humans of North Ave” helped lead me back around to becoming a YAV. Back to this program I’ve thought and prayed and interacted with so frequently throughout my life.

So that brings me to the last piece of this, what I’ve learned. I’ll write more soon about the trips and more specifics, because there’s a lot to unpack and a lot I’ve thought about and prayed about and everything. But the five and two. So during the service of Ordination, a young pastor named Bobby Hulme-Lippert (I say young, I have no idea how old he actually is, but you’re as young as you feel, and he seemed young to me, so we’re going with young!) preached a marvelous sermon using Psalm 23 and the Feeding of the Multitude (I can’t remember which version now, I want to say it was either Matthew or Mark though). He had a few points, all of which seemed to call to me about my YAV year this year. The Disciples had been sent out to preach and heal and come back telling Jesus everything they’d done. Jesus tells them to come away and rest. Emily Curtin (shout out) said before I left she had a feeling this year, while difficult and stretching, would be a rest for my soul and would rebuild so much. Emily, I want you to know, that was such a prophetic word to me. It has been. Jesus called me away. It has been hard, yes, but so much has been right. I’ve learned so much.

That being said, as Bobby pointed out, the story tells us, the crowd sees them as they travel to the deserted places, and goes ahead and meets them there. Jesus has compassion. Compassion. This year has taught me what it is to have compassion for myself. Also for others, but really, to be compassionate towards myself in a way I never knew was possible. I don’t know that I have EVER realized how little care I have taken for myself before. I’ve spent so much time in the care of others that I just forget, or ignore. Self-care doesn’t mean neglecting compassion to others though, it’s a healthy balance. That’s what I’ve learned here. The balance of self-care and care for community. I’m certainly not done with that learning, and I am so grateful to Mirra, Mary, Erik, and Graham for being amazing community members who struggle in that learning with me, and Alison for helping us along in our learning. I’m thankful for Leona and Dora and Alma and Candace for being amazing co-workers and leaders in teaching me how to care for others in the work we do, and Pam and Barb and Ed for being the best Ambassadors and Rubin and Greg and Efrain for being the feet and hands who provide the food people need through our agencies. There are so many others of course, but just those immediate folks come to mind when I think about folks teaching me compassion. Finally, Jesus doesn’t call us to think about what we don’t have. He calls us to think about what we do have. Go and see what you have, he tells the disciples. That’s your five and two. Sometimes, I think back to this point last year. I don’t know that I thought I even had five and two. Some days now, I don’t know how in the heck my five and two will fit into some kind of call, but I’m learning so much. This past discernment with Amy Beth Willis and Katie (whose last name I can’t remember) and Emily Miller and my whole community…it seemed so much more tangible. And that brings me to the last piece here. I’m going to continue to discern more of what to do with my five and two, how to use them, where God is calling me and what he is calling me to by coming back for another year here in Tucson as a YAV. I don’t know yet what my work site will be, but I am working on that mutual discernment process now, and am looking forward to seeing what God has in store for me here in my second year!


Peace and love, Y’all!




PS: If you’re in Tallahassee, go see Tallahassee Community Chorus perform Bach St. John’s Passion with period instruments. I heard their dress rehearsal last night and it is going to be STUNNING.


And as always, I need your support, prayers, letters, care packages, comments, emails, cards, and financial donations! I’ve got another year to fundraise and the amount is increased for 2017-2017 to $4000. Obviously we’re still working on this year, but please  be thinking and praying about next year. Donations can be made via the pay pal button on tucsonborderlandsyav.org or you can send a check to 400 E University Blvd Tucson AZ 85705. Checks made out to Tucson Borderlands YAV. Just make sure to put my name in a memo or a note so they know who you sent it to support!

Adventures in Health or Making the Choice for Self-Care and Adulting

So I’ve been thinking about how to write this blog post for about a week, since this whole saga began. It’s tough to know where to start and it’s something that a lot of people don’t talk about, but here we are and here I am deciding once again that, well, life lived as an open book can be a good thing.

Last Wednesday (March 8) on International Women’s Day, I decided to go for a well women visit at Planned Parenthood. I felt good about it. It felt like fighting by doing something I needed to do anyway, which made me even happier. Adulting and resisting at the same time? GO ME! Started off as one would expect, people with nothing better to do than to shame women (and men, incidentally) coming in to use accessible, affordable healthcare. That was kind of annoying, but I just rolled my eyes and moved on. I was met with very kind, able staff who listened and a doctor who listened to me for the first time and said she wanted to do both a test for a thyroid disorder and PCOS. Which would require blood work. No big deal, and I was actually excited because for once someone wasn’t just saying “well just try harder and we’re sure you could lose weight quickly and easily and all of these other things that are totally symptomatic of these disorders will disappear!”  She listened. And then the nurse managed to get my vein without bruising, without hurting, without sticking and re-sticking like so many others or rolling veins, it was magical. And then it all went wrong. In the space of less than a minute, I went from perfectly fine to passing out and seizing. When I came to I had no idea where I was. It took a while to reorient, but I felt okay and went home.

So that brings us to now. I’m not allowed to bike by myself. I can’t drive. The latter is less concerning, but the former absolutely feels soul-crushing almost. I just got to the point where being on my bike feels like freedom and joy. Wind in my helmet and sun on my face like where I want to be. And I can only do that with other people. So for the past week I’ve had to ride the bus everywhere. I’ve been feeling fairly up, but this has brought me to a place where I’m fighting feeling low to an extent that I recognize is dangerous as someone with depression. And seeing that happening means I’m also holding the anxiety at bay. And not having an outlet for energy as I have been means my ADHD has been absolutely intolerable in a way I have never experienced. Living in my own mind and body for this last week has been an absolute trial of epic proportions. But I’ve reached the light at the end of the first tunnel, because today I got in to see a doctor. And she also listened. Not about the same things as the other doc (unfortunate, but we’ll take what we can get, and hopefully the blood work from before will provide justification for other things).

So as of today, I’m starting back on a course of meds for different things. That’s why I say the first tunnel, because if you’ve ever been on any kind of meds for any kind of mental illness, you know it can be messy. And seizure meds are messy, and I’m back on anti-migraine and ADHD meds now, too. So it’s a lot. I’m worried, but also relieved. We have somewhere to start. And at the same time, going in, finding out how much these meds were going to cost after insurance, and realizing how much it would be without insurance made me realize how vastly privileged I am. That right there is going to be a whole other blog post (one I almost started here, until I realized how very long this was going to get).

But here’s what I want you to take away, dear reader person. Health is messy. Mental health is messy. It’s okay to feel down about the answers you’re given and to be worried. And there is no reason not to be open. Screw the stigma. I’m saying screw the stigma because there are millions and billions of people suffering in silence and dying because we don’t talk about it. I am Mentally Ill. Shout it from the damn hilltops. God made me this way. I said it. It’s a fucking struggle and some days I wonder if it’s worth it. And other days I feel like a super hero. Today I feel like I’m starting a long slog towards something and I’m pissed off that I came somewhere because I wanted to push myself to ride a fucking bike to commute and I can’t ride my bike alone. I realize that I have craved that time on my bike. Not wanted or needed. Craved. I’m angry because I don’t know why this thing happened or what God wants me to learn from this, or if he does want me to learn from this. And that’s okay. And I’m struggling with sitting in that okay-ness. So here we sit.

I also hope you know that God created you in all your grandness and flaws and that you should shout those flaws from the hilltops because it might save someone. Some days, I honestly think the reason I am candid about mental illness is because shouting my flaws saves me from myself and that is pretty cool too. I’m not sure though.

P.S. This is the last blog post you will get from me before going on the meds for my ADHD, I have intentionally left it as stream of consciousness as I can. Most of my blogs have been. I’m curious to see the difference. Maybe there won’t be a difference. We’ll find out I guess.

To “My Kids”

I’m writing this as a letter to my former students. I don’t know that any of them will read it, but if they do, I want them to know I mean EVERY word.

Dear kiddos,

I know the world is kind of scary right now. There are lots of people saying lots of things that aren’t very nice. Heck, I’ve said some not nice things in the last number of months, and I’m sure some of you have too (because you’re human beings with opinions. Opinions that often get ignored.) I also know I left and am not your teacher anymore. You have a new teacher (who seems like a wonderful person, by the way, and I hope you’re giving him a chance, just like you gave me a chance!) and that may still seem weird, even after almost a year. I know it was still strange in my first year towards the end of the year. Some of you still wanted Mr. Hillard back. And it can be very confusing when people move on in life and you’re still kind of in the same place. Trust me, I know. I’m the one who left, and it is still confusing.

I know that may seem weird. I’m an adult, right, so I should have everything figured out, right? I don’t know if I told you the secret about that while I was still your teacher in the classroom, but, well, I don’t. Chances are, most of the adults you see don’t. Yes, we have more experience, we’re older, and we’re expected to have the stuff figured out. I went to school for the subject I taught you, but one of the things I knew everyday in that classroom was, I didn’t have all the answers. And that I wasn’t just supposed to teach you how to sing and read and play and make music. Part of what I was supposed to do was teach you how to be a wonderful, unique, confident, thoughtful person. That was the more important thing really, for all that I harped and chided, coaxed and encouraged you to learn that a quarter note in common (4/4) time got one beat or that Elvis Gets Busted Driving Fast, you put your FACE in the space, Great Big Dragons Fly Around, and All Cows Eat Grass. Those things were important, yes, but they weren’t always the most important. The most important thing for me was, and is, that you connected to the music, and through that, connected to each other, and other people around the world and through time, even if that connection was short lived and just for a fleeting moment.

And I can tell you, there were some moments. You see, I’m an adult, but I would call my parents sometimes after you had a great day and just tell them ALL the things you’d done. How you’d read that rhythm perfectly the first time, how my fifth graders were composers, how my Middle School chorus sang in three parts a capella and when the piano came back in they were right in tune, how my general music middle schoolers were talking about real world issues through music and how I thought that, maybe, just maybe, you were getting it. And how happy that made me. I hope I told you that enough, that I was so very proud to be your teacher and so very proud of the learning you were doing. I don’t think I did. I think I should have said that more. So very much more.

Because, guys, I have to confess that leaving that classroom was one of the scariest things I have ever done. Scarier than packing up all my things and moving to a new state (which I still did), scarier than walking into a classroom with no chairs and no music and having to figure it out. Because what if I’d made a huge mistake? What if I had left something so wonderful and magical and full of joy and real human interaction only to find nothing here in Tucson was as good? What if no one came along to teach you how to be wonderful, vulnerable, sensitive, kind people?

Part of me feels guilty for saying I was worried. Part of me feels guilty for saying that I found wonderful things here. Because, guys, I want you to know that YOU MATTER. There are things going on in our country and world that people have different opinions on and, let’s be quite honest here, friends, adults are being really ugly to each other. And they’re angry. I promise I won’t lie to you and I confess, I’m ANGRY. I know, I said a lot in classes that I wasn’t mad, I was intense about things (stolen from my own chorus teacher, because it was true!) but that was because it was you guys! I couldn’t get mad at you, although sometimes we had hard days and it was rough. Because you’re kids! You’re still learning! But with adults, they’re supposed to have it together! So I want you to know, that we don’t. We’re trying really hard. I’m trying really hard. I want the world to be a better place for you because even though I’m not your mom, I’m still your teacher, even when I’m not there to teach you. I worry about each and every one of you each and every day. I told you that when I left. That even though I was going away, doing something different, there was not a snowball’s chance in a very warm place of me ever ever ever forgetting what you each meant to me. Each one of you made my life better. Each one of you taught me something new, did you know that? You taught me. I hope you know that.

And so, here I sit at 3pm on a drizzly gray day in Tucson, out in the desert, thinking about how I hope I taught you half as much about life as you taught me. Tuesday (because we have a holiday tomorrow) I will go into my office, and sit at a desk, and work very hard to help feed people in need. And not just to feed them, but to help them find a way out of the line for food, to be able to provide on their own. And sometimes it feels easier than teaching and other days, guys, I am overwhelmed by the scope and range of the need that their is in the world, and how people can be so very ugly about it. And I think of how many of the people in line are kids, just like you, with stories, like yours. They want to play minecraft and post on instagram, and they want the latest phone, and sing in chorus, or play in band, or wish that their teacher would let them play the recorder all day everyday. They like to draw and laugh, watch football and dance. They have normal kid worries, just like yours, and are probably really kind of confused about what’s going on. I hope they have friends like yours, and teachers like yours. And I hope that maybe, just maybe, the little bit I do here, this letter, my adventures (because let me tell you, this is an adventure.) may still teach you that you can do and be anything you want to. And that the thing I hope you choose to be most often is compassionate, caring, and kind. I hope you choose to be risk-takers and thinkers. That you choose being curious inquirers over taking someone’s word for something (but be nice about it!) and knowledgeable in an age of misinformation. I hope beyond hope you will be principled when others aren’t. The world needs more people who are as kind and wonderful as you are. And if you aren’t sure what to do, guys, before you worry about being anything else, BE YOU. There’s only one. I may not have it all figured out, but I can tell you right now, that is one thing I can do.

So I’ve written enough words. I’m not sure if this counts as “teacher talk” like it would have in a classroom, but if it does, I’m way over my allotment. I’m cheering for you from exactly 1731 miles (or 25 hours and two time zones) away. Don’t give up! Keep learning! I believe in you!


Love always,


Ms. Lovins

The Everyday Things

I started this blog back on Jan. 7 and never finished it. So now, I’m going to finish it!


So as we’ve been staycationing, I’ve realized that I haven’t really talked a ton about what I do at work or what my day to day life really looks like. Silly Rachel, these things are important. So I’m going to talk about that today.

Right now, I’m in charge of most of the Food Safety and Dignity trainings as well as the Civil Rights trainings. The Food Safety and Dignity training is for organizations that run pantries on donated food and is a requirement of Feeding America, which “is a United States-based nonprofit organization that is a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks that feed more than 46 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community-based agencies.”The dignity piece is based on a handbook written by a Hunger Fellow, Dani, who worked with the Agency Partnerships team a year or so ago, and is all about ensuring a dignified experience with program participants. Our society tends to look down on those who ask for help, so anything that makes a person feel less than makes asking for necessary help more difficult. There’s a sense of stigma and judgement, and we just want to use this training to help eliminate those feelings. It’s a skit, and I have to say, I’ve discovered that even in imagined scenarios (which could be close to accurate if not accurate for some folks) are difficult to process. Every time I play the judgmental party in the skit, I feel so awful. The Civil Rights training is required by DES for frontline volunteers at the food bank and any organization that participates in TEFAP. It goes through the guidelines of what organizations who receive Federal monies and commodities can and can’t do by law. It’s based entirely on a number of Civil Rights laws and it makes me realize how much I feel that if those protections weren’t in place, our society would steam roll over protected groups, and also how very far we have to go in those protections. Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation are not protected classes, so discrimination is not considered a federal offense. I have an issue with this.

I also do trainings on site for different groups, so I’ve gotten to go to Cochise county for a few things, Sierra Vista a couple of times, and Vail. It’s pretty cool. I get to drive a foodbank car and see different parts of Arizona and that’s neat. There are moments where it looks like I’ve been transported back to the SouthEast and it’s so weird!

I also work on various projects as needed. Recently, I wrote up our team’s section of our DES report, compiled data for Agency Capacity Self-Assessments, have been helping digitize our agency files, and picking catering for our team retreat. All of these are things I’ve never done before, and I’m learning a lot.

The biggest piece I’ve worked on lately though is writing some poverty scenarios for our Ambassador training. So a few things about that, the Ambassador program is for volunteers who are around a lot, or who have been identified by various staff and things as possibly being able to actively communicate what it is we do to outside parties. I participated a number of weeks ago and it was quite educational. I could probably write a blog on what that program alone taught me. Part of the 3 day ambassador training is a section where participants are split up into groups and given fictitious scenarios about people in poverty. While they are fictitious, they are based on things and scenarios that are very real. After reading the brief, participants are given a certain amount of time to accomplish the tasks prevented. For most of them that is to make a budget and make sure all of your needs are met and, if possible, save for emergencies. I can tell you now, it’s super stressful as you go through. And writing the one* I’ve written already was stressful. Not because of the writing itself. I love writing, that wasn’t hard, what was hard was looking at the reality of people who exist. While the scenario is made up, the statistics and facts it is based on are very real. It made me feel helpless and hopeless to help. Poverty is systemic and cyclic. That is reality. It’s not born of laziness and lack of care, it’s born of things people can’t always control, budget, and plan for. When you live in poverty or near poverty, the reality is you’re one emergency or mistake away from even worse things. If there is anything I have learned this year, it’s that we tar the poor with a brush that is absolutely full of inaccuracy, misinformation, and rumor born of an “us vs them” mentality. I am my sibling’s keeper. I have a responsibility to do something to help. As a former educator, I feel helping people make connections and understand is helping. I strove to create empathy in my students, and I strive to create empathy in people I come in contact with.


We just recently had our Agency Partnerships retreat, so I’m also developing some self-monitoring forms for agencies and will be monitoring my own set of agencies as well. So lots of new things to look forward to this year! If you have any questions about what I do, please feel free to talk to me!


*side note: I’ve finished the second one. It was also stressful to write. Yeah. Very stressful.

Inauguration Day Statement

Inauguration Day Statement from the Tucson Borderlands Young Adult Volunteers

This statement was written entirely by the 2016-2017 volunteers, and reflects their views and experiences.

In light of the political climate and statements made during the recent election, we, the Tucson Borderlands Young Adult Volunteers, feel moved to speak out against all forms of prejudice. We denounce the remarks made in hatred by President Trump and the incoming administration. We recommit ourselves to actively work in solidarity alongside those on the margins of society and labeled as “less than” by the incoming administration.

Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, in which the poor and the meek are blessed, and those who hunger and thirst for justice will be filled. God’s Kingdom transcends national borders and human-created boundaries. Jesus broke the division between Jew and Gentile by coming to save all people and inviting in workers for his vineyard from East and West and all nations. Discrimination based on worldly divisions contradicts the values of this Kingdom we are called to build together. Before we are citizens of the United States and its government we are citizens of God’s country.

Jesus was born a Middle-Eastern Jew in Roman-occupied Palestine, spent time in Egypt as a refugee (1), was homeless (2), lived in poverty, and worked against the occupying state with peaceful preaching and teaching. Not only did he speak, but he directly defied the social norms of his day, healing and teaching on the Sabbath (3), casting out the money-changers from the temple (4), and upsetting the status quo upheld by the temple elites by uplifting the reviled members of that society (5). In accordance with Christ’s example, we refuse to sit idly by as members of our community in Christ, and in love, are persecuted, belittled, and treated as “less than.” We will love our neighbors not in spite of, but because of their race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and every other thing that makes them who they are.

The following scriptures give us hope and the desire to continue our work through this difficult time:

Exodus 23:9 You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Esther 4: 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Isaiah 1:17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

Matthew 35:40 The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

God came for all, lived and worked with those on the margins, and calls us to do the same. We will not be moved, we will work, and we will be co-conspirators with those in oppression here in the United States and around the world.

Erik Sandstrom   Graham Duncan   Mary Baldwin   Mirra Matheson   Rachel Lovins

2016-2017 Tucson Borderlands Young Adult Volunteers



1 Matthew 2:13

2 Luke 9:58

3 Mark 3:1-6; John 5:1-17

4 Matthew 21:12

5 John 4:1-44; Luke 19:1-10

Here comes 2017

So I’m writing this at 9:46, but I won’t publish till midnight, because I feel like that’s a fun thing. 2016 has been a crazy year. There have been lots of ups and downs, but I feel like I’ve grown and learned. Summarizing it isn’t really the easiest thing to do right now, but I feel like I’ve learned more about myself and what I need in life and God’s plan for me.

As I sit here watching Harry Potter 3 with Erik and Graham (because HP marathon for the new year, heck yes) I’m inspired to make goals for the new year. I’m just going to call them goals, not resolutions, because I resolve simply to pay attention to what I need in this year, and what others need as well.

  1. I want to eat healthy. I’ve more than once discovered that eliminating pretty much all sugar and processed food from my life makes me feel better. So here we go again
  2. I want to ride my bike daily, increasing my daily distance by one mile every month. We’re starting with at least 2 miles a day in January.
  3. I want to walk more as well, I’d like to get 10000 steps a day on the ole fitbit (new one, mine broke, so fitbit support, which is amazing, is sending me a new one)
  4. read more for pleasure, but also more scripture. I got really good about it this summer, but then got more lax with the yav year starting and getting into other things. I feel like that’s probably not how it should be (haha)
  5. drink more water. IT’S SO DRY HERE. I’m always thirsty. It’s a constant state of being.
  6. practice self-care. Simple stuff like journaling, laughing at cat videos, laying in a hammock, whatever fits.
  7. keep up with mental health. I’ve gotten back into therapy (which was a goal for this year) and am working on getting a pcm so I can actively start medication again
  8. be open to change. This one is rough. I don’t know what those changes are, but I want to go for it.
  9. finally figure out how to take care of my stuff and keep things clean (I’m such a messy person) my stuff is actually organized right now, I’d like to keep it that way (MIRRA IT’S INSANE, YOU’RE GOING TO FREAK OUT WHEN YOU SEE IT)
  10. work to continue to see justice, love, hope, truth and so much more manifest in the world. That includes working against those who would oppress and persecute others. Yes I’m including our president-elect in this. I will be blogging more about that later. Yes I’m aware that this is an incendiary statement. I’m still saying it.

That’s it really. I’m just excited and ready for this new year, ready to continue the work to which I’ve been called for this year, and beyond. I’m beyond thankful for another year. I hope you all are safe and sound tonight, please remember not to drink and drive, don’t take yourself or someone else from loved ones tonight. Please be safe and have fun!



When Christmas Feels Blue

So, it’s been a while since I went home for Christmas, but this year feels different. Maybe my first Christmas in Atlanta felt this way too, I can’t really remember. I’m thankful for my roommate Erik, because it means I’m not the only one here in the house. Going from all kinds of time with people to a fairly quiet, empty house is difficult. I’m missing friends and family all over, but especially my friends from Atlanta right now. Seeing pictures of services at North Avenue, remembering late night dinner at IHOP, gingerbread house builds (and smashes), and so much more has been tough. Remembering the feeling of overwhelming joy at the end of the winter concert, the feeling of accomplishment not because of what I did, but because of what my kids did, these are things I am struggling with now.

I’ve talked some about it, but right now, I’m feeling called away from the thing I felt was my purpose for most of my young adult life. I’ve spent the season feeling this loss, trying to avoid dealing with it. Seeing videos shared by folks at IAS or who are no longer at IAS of past concerts, has brought this up multiple times and I haven’t known how to address it. I think there’s not just the feeling of this loss of something I love so dearly, but also a sense of guilt. I know I could easily go back to the classroom, and given that I’m still young, I could very much be called back, but the idea of being called away is like losing a little piece of myself. Part of me will always, always live in that space, watching kids figure things out, struggle with classroom lessons and life lessons, laugh, sing, dance, work, and everything that happens there. But right now, I’m feeling distinctly that I’m being called away from that. Understanding that God doesn’t call us to what is easy has been a piece of learning for me this year. Not that teaching is or was easy. It’s some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. I miss the classroom. Realizing that missing something and being called back to it are not the same thing is a painful lesson I’m struggling with. I hope that one day, missing it and being called to it will be the same thing. So there’s one piece of this Blue Christmas feeling.

I’m also missing the familiar. Family, my cat (who, my brother has informed me, has been changed from “Abela Minerva” to “Softcastle”, as in Softcastle McCormick, of Wizard People. If you are a harry potter fan, please, do yourself a favor and look this up if you haven’t. It’s quite ridiculous), my friends in Atlanta and Tallahassee, even the weather of a Southeastern Christmas.

All this being said, they also feel like relatively small things, compared to missing loved ones who are gone. I know it’s also a hard Christmas for many who are celebrating without loved ones for the first time, my own family included. Sometimes, I feel in the hustle and bustle of feeling Merry, as we are expected to in this season, we forget these feelings of blue, of hurt, of loss, of confusion, of loneliness. Sometimes, they are our own feelings and we avoid them, because it’s easier to smile and put the star on top of the tree, light the candles, eat the food, sing the songs, however you celebrate, than to stop and say “I’m hurting.” Sometimes, like right now for me, it’s hard because there are so many things you are really enjoying! It seems too extreme, too much, to have all these same conflicting feelings at once. It makes me feel like Ron Weasley, “One person can’t feel all that at the same time, they’d explode.” But then we realize that we can and do.

So, if you’re having a Blue Christmas, for reasons large or small, I hope you know you aren’t alone. Not at all. I’m there with you and so are countless others, for whatever reasons they are there. Please, be kind to yourself, allow yourself to feel it. But then know that it’s perfectly okay to not feel merry. I got to go to Catalina UMC last night, it’s right across the street from us, and at the 9pm service, the pastor talked about why God sent Jesus to us in the flesh, and it really hit me in a deep way. He experienced all of the best and worst that life has to offer. He experienced real and true pain, joy, grief, elation, everything we do. Even if you aren’t a Christian, I think that’s pretty powerful. We all experience all of these feelings at some point. We are not alone in our experiences. For me, I have a Savior that came in the same broken, damaged form that I live in and experience the same kinds of things I do, and more. There’s something quite strong about knowing you’re not alone.

If you’re reading this, I hope you take a moment right now to think or pray or feel for those who are experiencing a Blue Christmas (or Holiday, whatever you would like to call it. Honest.) for whatever reasons they are having that feeling, be they small, large, circumstantial, chronic, or any other number of things. I pray and hope that if you are experiencing a less than Happy Holiday, that you know you are loved, cared for, and cherished. That you find a small thing to make you happy today, that you know you are not alone and that it is perfectly okay to not feel like being merry and celebrating when you are hurt. But mostly, I hope and pray that you know you are not alone. I pray for you that something brings you joy amidst the pain, whether that pain is physical or emotional, even if only for a moment.

Thanks as always for reading.