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.

 

Rachel

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On Organizing

The last number of weeks have been a roller coaster. I know I’ve posted about some things, but I want to post about a number of others. It still won’t even scratch the surface of everything that’s going on. So let’s dive. Also, a note, these are my views and I can’t vouch for how the PC(USA) feels about some political statements. So please be aware of that.

To start with, I had the great pleasure of participating in a community organizing class with others in the food bank. (shout out to three of my team, Candace, Dora, and Alma, and fellow interns Nina and Sam for hanging out with me there, and for my supervisor, Leona, for making sure I could go!) It was a lot of things I’ve thought about on a surface level, but never had terms for or ideas of what I could do with them. So I did the class (we can talk specifics if you want, either in a later post, or one on one!) and thought about it, thought about what it meant for me, and kind of set it on the back burner.

Then, we went to the border delegation. Twelve YAVs from Denver, Austin, and Tucson. There were so many emotions felt, I haven’t fully processed everything, but I’m definitely working on it. For today, though, the thing I want to think and talk about is a little place called Cafe Justo. You can find their website HERE. The story of this company is quite amazing, I encourage you to poke around their website. The first thing you notice when you walk in is the simple interior, but then, the smell of coffee just hits you. It’s amazing, some of the best smelling coffee I’ve ever experienced. We toured the area where they roast the beans and learned their story (translated by a YAV from Agua Prieta last year, Jake Crowther, who spent the whole week translating, so kudos to him!)  Immediately, I could see hints of people using things like I’d learned in my Organizing training. The coffee growers in Chiapas used to make fairly good money, if I remember correctly, around 1200-1300 pesos per bag of coffee. The peso was strong, and people could raise a family and send children to school. Then, middle men came in, under cutting the cost. Suddenly, farmers were being paid less than a third of the former price for the same coffee. And the peso was weak. Children had to come home to help work. Fathers and mothers began to struggle to feed their families. So many people left, looking for work. Meanwhile, in the states, we’re still paying the same amount or more for coffee, because these folks were selling it to people for a higher price and making tons of money. Daniel Cifuentes, our guide and the roasting plant manager, explained that he came north from Chiapas not to cross, but to find work there in Agua Prieta. At some point, a dream was realized, to begin a farming co-op to grow coffee, which Cafe Justo would buy and sell directly to consumers, cutting out the middle man and paying farmers for the product and work they do. Fast forward, and there are now two co-ops to grow, all the coffee is certified organic, the decaf is produced through a process that is water-based instead of any weird chemicals, and there are plans for another roaster and I believe another co-op, but in Haiti.

The people of Cafe Justo made a concrete, tangible way to end the cycle of poverty and allow people to have a life where they can support their families in their own communities. You want to head off migration and people dying in the desert to cross a wall we built that will not keep them out? Give them a way to sustainable support their families. Taller walls will only mean taller ladders. You have to address the root cause to change things.

So now, today, we’re two days after an election where someone has promised to build a “beautiful, big wall”. It’s not going to work. People will keep coming. Not only that, but this person has created a feeling of safety for people who have remained somewhat muzzled for a long time. Yes, deplorables. I’ll use that word. I’m not really scared of Trump, I’m scared of the followers who have assaulted people, who vandalize other people’s properties, who threaten the physical well-being of others. I’m scared of some of the possible policies, yes, but that’s not the scariest thing. And so after the election, I was scared and sad, and then, then it turned to anger. Not set stuff on fire anger, but do something to change things anger. As it stands right this moment, Hillary won the popular vote by 337,636 votes. While that seems like not much, I ask you to consider that this amount is more than half the population of Wyoming. Yet Trump has won the election, because of how the electoral college works. I find this to be very suspect. Say all you want that it’s because I supported Clinton, but the reality is, the electoral college is antiquated and outdated. It silences the minority voters in so called “safe” states, because of the winner take all nature of it. It’s high time we changed it.

So, for me, all this leads to this. I’m not satisfied with the system. I wasn’t after the primaries, I’m not after the election, and I feel it’s time I, to use a turn of phrase, nut up or shut up. So, I’m actively working to create a group to organize around reform. It may take many forms, I’m not really 100% sure yet, but if I learned one thing in the class, it’s that a well organized group of people who can effectively communicate with power can effect change. I intend to organize, to talk back, to be an active part of my country’s political process, to vote, to run for office (maybe, we’ll see, I’m skeptical of my personal desire to do this one, but I’d support friends who did, based on issues of course!), to write letters, to petition, to protest, and yes, to participate in civil disobedience. I do not intend to encourage blatant obstructionism, because that’s been part of my issue with the GOP in Washington and the country over the last number of years, but in as much as people are stripping away the rights of others, I intend to be that mosquito buzzing in their ear, that pimple that never comes to a head, that itch you can quite scratch until you get it just right. I will not give up, and I will not be alone. If you read this and are like “heck yes! let’s do this!” let me know. I’d love to talk and include you, wherever you are currently located.

So, lovely people of web land, I hope this has been a blog that inspires you to drink some fair trade plus coffee from cafe justo (you can order online!), think about what you can do to impact the lives of others in tangible ways, and ways you can stay engaged and aware throughout the next months and years to make sure that the country you live in is the country YOU want.

For now, I’m out. I’ve got some DA/OotP business to attend to.

Rachel

A Letter to my Mother

It’s been an interesting week, to say the least. Given the closeness to Dia De Los Muertos, All Saint’s day and All Soul’s day, and just…being reminded of so much, I decided that today’s entry will be in the form of a letter to my mother. As I was writing this, Barber Adagio for Strings came on my Pandora, so I’ve linked it here as suggested listening if you’re reading. Adagio for Strings

 

Dear Mom,

This week has been a lot, both beautiful and difficult. I’m writing to you about it because yesterday I was desperately struck by the desire to talk to you about everything I’ve been experiencing here, both in my year in general, but especially in our border delegation. Experiencing the wall reminded me so much of stories you and dad told me about the wall in Berlin and everything it symbolized. It was hard, because it went from this….intangible thing that, while I knew what it was and thought I understood what it stood for, was little more than a way to separate brothers and sisters from one another. It separates families, friends, and communities in a way that I find to be repulsive and discomfiting. In the name of our “security” we have expanded and reinforced to the extent that people are driven into a desert and die. I feel unhappy and uncomfortable with what this wall has done, does, and will continue to do until such a time as we choose to change it.

I remember you talking about the differences in appearance in the sides of the wall, the brightly colored West side and the drab, downtrodden feeling and looking East side. I remember you talking about families and friends being separated and the restriction of movement and the helpless feeling people experienced. The crazy thing is both sides of this wall contain elements of both sides of the Berlin wall. The Mexico side is brightly colored, the community and artists have painted murals. The US side is just drab and untouched in the area we experienced at least. The community in Agua Prieta seems to exist all the way up to the edge of the wall, a riot of color in the structures, signs, and advertisements, while the Douglas side seems to have a demarcation where life almost stops. As it is, this community is two halves of a whole separated by an eighteen foot wall. Many people refer to it as Douglaprieta. It is one place, not two. We separated this community.

Yesterday was the start of this sudden bought of missing you and wishing I could talk to you. We went first to a conference, and talking about “traditional knowledge” and where we encounter it led to a thought that you held so much knowledge that I won’t ever be able to talk to you about. Knowledge that left when you left. After lunch we went to the Procession of the Little Angels. I didn’t know we were going, and experiencing the altars and physical signs of grief and celebration of life was somewhat overwhelming. At the same time, it was joy filled and peaceful. It was something you would have loved and I know you would have participated somehow had we lived here. It’s absolutely a time of grief and remembrance, but also a celebration of life. There are costumes and face paint and crafts and music. The altars are handmade, brightly colored, lavishly decorated, and absolutely beautiful. Walking through made me realize how I wish I had seen or experienced something like this when you died, to realize that it is okay to grieve and that pain isn’t something ugly to be hidden away, but a part of the beautiful, complex, crazy life we live. It is necessary to experience it and live into the pain and discomfort in a way that is difficult, but also something that makes us grow.

Sometimes the reality of you seems so distant and far away, like a dream that I’m not sure happened. I’ve long since forgotten your voice, the smell of your perfume, and the sound of your laugh. Unless I look at your picture, I forget the wholeness of your face, save for when I see the echo of it, however strong, in my own. The pain of missing you sometimes overwhelms me to the point that it takes my breath away, and I wonder if the happiness, even joy, that I feel will ever return. I’m often struck by how much I want to talk to you about the things I’m experiencing. I’m so thankful that you, and Dad and Linda, taught me to care deeply for others and work to give every fiber of my person to that. As much as I wish I could share my experiences with you, I also realize that, if I could, perhaps I would not be here doing this at all. If I hadn’t lost you, perhaps my life would have taken a very different trajectory. I’m thankful we went to the procession. It hurts, I think it always will, but sometimes, I think the pain exists to remind me that you were really here. To remind me that, when you died, you took a piece of me with you, but you left pieces of yourself here within the world for me to find. Those pieces help me find joy and beauty and to know myself.

I’m so incredibly proud to be your daughter, and hope you would be proud of me. I can’t wait to share everything with you again someday. I love you and miss you, and I promise always to be careful with the candles.

 

Love,

 

Rachel

Perceived infallibility

So yesterday, we watched the PBS documentary about Hamilton, and it was really fascinating. More than anything, something that stuck with me was this discussion of the perceived infallibility of totally fallible men and women. It’s so strange to me to look back on history and process that the founding fathers and mothers of our country were just regular, everyday people. Perhaps even stranger to think about their arguments, pettiness, inability to apologize, and so much more. They were just like us, minus the technological advancement, and like….”equal” rights and such. The idea of Hamilton and Burr continuing an argument via letters that were length and such, and a wound that festered to the point that it caused that fatal duel, as opposed to using the time to cool off, rethink, apologize, or reassess, is so strange to me. This historical twitter war happened not over seconds, but months! There was so much time for them to calm down and resolve their differences, and yet, they didn’t.

This puts into perspective, for me, my habit of being what I call a “keyboard warrior”. I will argue about things until the cows come home, especially on the internet. Sometimes, I feel it’s necessary, and I don’t think I’m totally wrong about that, but sometimes, is it really? It’s a hard judgement call to make, but how much of that tirade I so desperately want to unless on someone who is ignoring reality and facts (because I’m not going to pretend that, in many cases, this is going on) is really needed? Am I going to change their mind, or am I better off calmly stating “look, here are some sources, please read and think about it”. But then my question for myself is, what about issues where the reality faced by others is being written of or ignored. In short, where the majority is, for all intents and purposes, trying to gas-light the minority. If you don’t know what gas-lighting is, here is a really great, wikipedia article about it. I know, not scholarly and such, but it’s a pretty good explanation either way, this is a blog, not a term paper. I read this, and I think about inequality and injustice in our country and wonder how many people realize that this is exactly what they’re trying to do to people facing said injustice. It’s so odd to me. When someone says “This is what I experience” saying “no, you don’t” doesn’t make it not true, it just negates that person’s experience. You ignore them, you don’t change reality. Add to that our habit as a culture of explaining why the statement of injustice experienced can’t be true by saying “Well, I’m not racist/sexist/xenophobic/homophobic/islamiphobic/transphobic, but….” and capping that with “because I have black/women/gay/muslim/trans/insert other minority here friends”.

It doesn’t work that way. But is a word that negates everything before it. That’s actually how it functions in the English language. Your desire for that not to be true does not change the reality. (see how that works like that?) Every time I find myself wanting to start a sentence like that, I stop and think, is this something I actually want to say or is it something I need to sit with and think about why I feel the need to justify it? I’ve been trying to do that for a while in those situations, yet I find myself wondering if this needs to happen more often. When I’m ready to wade into a comment thread anywhere online, am I contributing to the vitriol and nonsense, or am I actually trying to actively make someone aware of something. If it’s the latter, does that actually serve a purpose, other than for the joy of getting to make someone be wrong? Am I trying to actively correct a common misconception, offer proof either of the argument made or the opposing argument, or add to the background knowledge of people already embroiled in what is possibly a heated argument or something that could become one? Am I likely to help or hurt my cause? I’ve never really thought about it, but I’m starting to feel that perhaps I should.

I can think of an example, I was browsing reddit (if you don’t know what it is, it’s basically a forum of forums that range in topics to include oh…well..like everything. It’s also potentially a massive time sink and a scary place.) and came across a thread of cartoons describing weird bible stories, that, while they are definitely weird, make sense in the context of the time and culture. So somethings were wrong, and I posted about how, while it’s still weird, here’s why it says this or here’s what it actually says. I was actually pleasant, and just went “still weird, but hey, here’s why” and folks were like “oh, cool, that’s actually kind of interesting.” And now that I think on it, I wonder how much more I could effectively discuss and potentially educate instead of being the “angry liberal” stereotype (I was accused just the other day…I didn’t know that was a thing….)

I do, at the same time, feel like it speaks of privilege I have that I can calmly discuss certain hot-button topics calmly and without ire, even if I feel angry about it, because I do not have to go through the things others are going through. It’s an odd place to be, and perhaps is overthinking more than anything. But at the same time, I wonder if it’s fair that I get to think about changing my tone to one that is acceptable to those who find certain issues to be untrue or just a concoction of the media, or if it is a situation where, yes, many people will say speak softly and carry a big stick, but the actions of the systems and institutions that have created and perpetuated these issues for generations are so loud that others can’t hear what is being said, especially by those suffering the most. That’s what I’m wondering about, if the idea that I must be infallible, sweet, soft-spoken, likable, kind, and potentially sanitize how I think and feel about something is really accurate to the Christian experience and, indeed, the American Experience.

As always, thank you for reading, feel free to comment, email, write, text, facebook, whatever, if you would like to talk to me about this, I’m always happy to discuss, listen, and wonder through life together! If you can, please donate. Information can be found on the “about” page of my blog.

Last but not least, and this one is for John Washburn, Nisha Dixon, and Graham Duncan (among others I’m sure)….

GO CUBS!!!!!!!!!

When you can’t think of what to write

but you have a blog you need to do, and so you procrastinate it for almost two weeks. Really. Honestly. Ask my roommates and they’ll tell you I’ve said pretty much daily for the past two weeks “I’m going to write a blog” and yet here we are, and I’m just now doing it. Just like I’ve said daily since I got here that I was going to make sure all my stuff was organized and put away. It still isn’t, but we’re closer. Which is a big step for me, because I am super bad about ever fully unpacking. The advantage here is I have almost no stuff. Although I’ve acquired more things, mostly Community Food Bank polos and stuff. And these super comfy CFB hoodies that I wear when it gets chilly. Which is totally a thing. So take the humidity out of the air and you realize what the actual temperature feels like, and let me say, 60 with a max of 20% humidity is not so warm guys. Like, not at all.

So, the routine has been pretty established, but over the next couple of weeks is about to go crazy. I’m starting to feel more comfortable on the bike, but it’s still tough. It gets slowly easier, so hopefully as it cools off it gets easier.

Work is pretty awesome. I love working for the Community Food Bank. I’m finding the field of food justice to be fascinating. Food is a basic human right, and yet we (as a nation) act as if those who don’t have the means to procure shelter and food on the money they earn are somehow just not trying hard enough. Every day, regardless of how early I get to CFB, there is a line waiting for the TEFAP program, and every day, unless I leave after our hours in the warehouse are over, it’s still busy downstairs as people come in to get what the USDA and donations have made available to them. The YAVs are considered a partner agency (which are the groups my department works with) so we can shop at agency market. We eat a good deal of food that is what is called “Grocery Rescue”, in other words, things that supermarkets and other stores couldn’t sell, so they donate it. Sometimes you go in and the food is healthy and beautiful and delicious, sometimes it’s slim pickings. This has raised an interesting question for me. At what point do we recognize that we, as a nation, are not doing enough to help support those who have, to use a euphemism, “fallen on hard times”. At what point do we view human worth as more important than the almighty dollar.

Part of the work I’m doing revolves around training volunteers and agencies on civil rights, food safety, and the dignity of clients. They don’t initially seem related, but when you think about it, it boils down to caring for people. One of the ways I have always cared about people is through food. If you know me, I love to cook. I come by it honestly, as my family is a family that cooks together, and laughs over our meals, especially when we’re with our extended family. No matter the circumstances, marriage, birth, death, holidays, and anything in between will find us laughing and talking over a meal. It’s what we do. I’m privileged to have grown up this way. I wrote in a letter to my NAPC family today and explained that food was formative to my experience there. So much of my becoming part of the #humansofnorthave happened over shared meals. Here, our community of YAVs share meals. We plan them together, we eat together (most nights). Some nights it’s quick and we’re all tired and moderately quiet, some nights, it’s loud and raucous and we’re laughing so hard it takes us forever to finish a plate. Our table is a re-purposed communion table from Ghost Ranch. Many people can sit at it. I love the table, it draws that parallel between Holy Communion, or the Eucharist, and our everyday meals. I’m constantly reminded of one of my favorite scriptures, which became a favorite in high school. I don’t have it memorized in English, but because of a version of it we sang in choir, I do have it memorized in Spanish. I’ve looked it up so I can make sure it’s spelled right and what not. You can listen to a recording HERE. I really wish I had the recording from when we sang it in high school, I remember that year in that specific chorus (Belle Chantique) being some kind of magical. The text, I imagine, is a more singable rendering.

 

Mateo 18:19-20 19Además les digo que si dos de ustedes en la tierra se ponen de acuerdo sobre cualquier cosa que pidan, les será concedida por mi Padre que está en el cielo. 20 Porque donde dos o tres se reúnen en mi nombre, allí estoy yo en medio de ellos.

Matthew 18:19-20 19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

For me, this text is pretty fantastic, but can also be pretty tricky. Because how many times have I prayed with others for an end to poverty, to violence, to prejudice, racisim, sexism, xenophobia, and so much more. Our cry goes up, “How long?!”. As I’ve been working here, it’s pretty constantly on my mind. But today, in this blog, we’re talking about it in the context of people who need food. People, who often work 40+ hours a week, who can’t afford to feed their families. People for whom that time of a meal is not something they see as stable, a transformative force. I’m not sure how to say it, but there is a problem. I see it, and I see it not just in the systems that cause people to be in this situation, but in the way we view how we help people. Asking for help is hard, I’m sure you all know. In our individualistic society, it can feel akin to admitting that you have failed and can’t do it yourself. We glorify the ability to do it yourself. It has given rise to all kinds of magazines, a channel, pinterest, and so much more. America, the land of the free and home of the diy-ers. Think about it. We glorify it in a hipster-y, “wow, how cool you have an etsy shop?” sort of way. And to some extent, there’s nothing wrong with it. Until we humiliate people for things over which they have no control. And sometimes we humiliate them unknowingly with good intentions to help. It comes in the form of rushing someone along in a food bank line where they don’t get to choose anything themselves. It comes in the form of not offering culturally appropriate food (in other words, something people recognize and can cook). It comes in the form of offering sub-par food. If you wouldn’t eat it, why should someone else be forced to. And that’s just some of it. We act as if this necessity isn’t something we should worry about for other people, as if, by helping someone feed their family, we are being burdened with all that extra. We judge people for their inability to budget, to make ends meet, to not “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. I encourage you, find the local food bank. Reach out, email, find out what you can do to help. And then just take it in. Don’t assume. Because often, we know far less than we think we do.

 

Yesterday, I got to travel with another intern to visit three different branch banks, in Nogales (Arizona side, we’re going to discuss the border and such in a later blog), Amado, and Green Valley. All three pantries operate what we call a “client-choice” model, and all three client-choice models look different, but the idea is the same. Basically, instead of being handed all of the items, they’re given a choice of what they would like. TEFAP (the emergency food assistance program) must be the same for everyone (federal law, more on that another time), but the bonus food that food banks and pantries receive can be selected by the client, based on their needs and preferences. It makes it feel more like shopping in a grocery store. So that’s what I want you to think about, how does food affect your life, how much control do you have over what you eat? How would you feel if you had no choice in what that was, let alone if you were then treated as “less than” in the process? These are the things I’m exploring this year, and some of the things I’m currently addressing. I’m sure I’ll talk more about it as the year goes on, but for now, that’s what I’ve got.

In other news, I’ve almost reached my individual fundraising goal! I’ve raised $2,855 so far, which is quite amazing. Thank you to everyone who has contributed so far, I really do appreciate it, and it means a lot. You’ll be getting more thanks soon, each of you individually, but I wanted to be sure I acknowledged you here, in my blog! I can now really focus in on our house goal of $7500 dollars as a house. If we succeed, we’re going to the Grand Canyon, so there’s definitely motivation! I’ve never been, and I’m pretty sure it’d be an amazing experience. If you have the ability to donate, please click the about page to find more information, or contact me here or on facebook or email to get a link or an address to donate! Anything helps! I also welcome any and all cards, letters, prayers, emails, whatever you want to brighten my day! It may take me a while, but I promise I’ll respond (I’ve got quite the backlog I’m working on, go figure!) For now, I hope you have all registered to vote, have done your absentee ballots, or whatever it is you need to do to participate. Please go vote. It’s so important. I’m about to do my early voting ballot right now (Arizona does mail in, it’s super cool!)

 

I love you all, hope you’ve had a great week and are going to have a good weekend.

Rachel

PS HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY EVELYN MARIS, JEFF MEYERS, and BETH MCKINNON 😀 I haven’t done a blog so no bday shout outs yet, but there’s some 😉

 

Never Forget

15 years ago, I was sitting in a classroom at Deerlake Middle School, watching endless loops of the same planes crashing into the same towers. A friend, who lived right across the street from the school had said it had happened and none of us believed him. I think it was because, as a young teen (13 to be exact) I believed our country to be somewhat invincible. Something that couldn’t be hurt. That year, 2001-2002, taught me a lot about my perceptions of invincibility. I define that year as less pre and post 9/11 and more pre and post mom, if I’m quite honest. Yes, like everyone, the future was changed by this catastrophic event, but for me, the loss of my mom some seven months later was far more life changing. It’s not to say that 9/11/2001 wasn’t a horrible, sad, transformative day for my future and the future of our country. It’s just to say that, if I had to really balance it in the scales of my own life, it would not be the day that changed me most in that year. That day would be May 23, 2002. Yes, technically that’s the next year, but in a life that has been defined in school years since preschool, it’s hard to break the habit.

 

This year, 15 years later, I sit in Tucson, Arizona, 1781 miles from the place I grew up, contemplating the changes occurring in my life, my discernment, and what God has planned for me. It’s hard to explain, I feel simultaneously adrift and anchored. It’s hard to explain the loss of the purpose that has defined who I was for the last 10 years. I’m not sure it’s gone for good, but things are already shifting. For the last 10 years, I knew, without a doubt, that I was a music educator. Even in the times where the path muddied, where it seemed impossible to find, with no light to show the way, I knew that’s what I was. What I was going to be. There is most definitely a deep sense of loss, when I see posts of friends discussing their classrooms, talking about “a-ha” moments their students are having, sharing worries and frustrations I, too, had experienced, it’s difficult to understand what it all means. Why it is what it is right now. I’ve been so defined by this one thing, as a student and teacher, for so long that without it, I feel confused and lost.

 

And at the same time, in working this last week at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, I’ve felt so in place, so alive and overwhelmingly aware of the things I’m working for. I’m working for the chance to help shorten the line. Not just to feed the line. We spend so much time worrying about feeding the line that I think many people forget that we really and truly do need to shorten the line. To some extent, this work is changing my view on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Yes, in a traditional classroom setting, a student cannot learn if they have not had their basic needs met. At the same time, saying we must give food before helping others find a way to sustainably meet the need to have consistently available nutritious food is somewhat self-righteous and self-serving. They have to go hand in hand. And yet, there is another layer, we can give a man a fish while teaching him to fish, but if the man doesn’t have access to a place to fish or the equipment needed to fish, what is the point? It’s something I’m still trying to explore, wrestle with, ponder, notice, and understand. I’m sure that will be part of this year.

 

In the mean time, I’m also trying to keep the balance of who I am involved. So I found a church choir. And as a result, have found a community choir. It’s kind of a fun story. I was riding home on my bike from Mercado San Augustin, where CFBSA has a Thursday evening farmer’s market, with great live music (the band this week was killer! Great cover band, every single member sang at some point, it was awesome) and great regional food and just an all around cool vibe. So I was planning to ride all the way home (about 5 miles) and go to the church across the street. If you didn’t know, biking and consistent physical activity is pretty new to me (Like, I knew how to ride a bike, but I’ve never done tons of distance etc etc.) so I’d already done about 10 miles that day. Add to that, Tucson is kind of tilted. going East and….North (I think?) it’s a slow but fairly steady incline. That means going West and South is cake. It’s just a constant slow downhill. Getting back though, is hard. So I stopped both to take a minute, cause my legs were jello, like they do after 10 miles when you’re new at it, and to make sure I wasn’t lost (cause that’s happened a few times already) and noticed people getting out of cars and heading into Trinity Presbyterian. So, being extroverted and nosy, I asked what was going on. I was told that it was choir practice (on a Thursday! That was new for me!) and then asked “Do you sing? You should come and sing.” So, I did. I was quickly informed that the choir director was Dr. Bruce Chamberlain of the UofA music school. It was a great rehearsal with music I knew and music I didn’t. At the end, he let me know about the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Chorus that meets on Monday evenings from 700-930 (a time that is very familiar for a rehearsal!)  and invited me to come sing with them. They’re doing Ein Deutches Requiem, which I would find difficult to pass up regardless of how much I had on my plate. So in one evening, I found myself back in the heart of what I knew, in a place that was still new, while figuring out what it is that my life will become. It’s truly an odd combination, feeling so at home and yet so displaced at the same time. I just have to keep trusting the process, the path, and all that jazz, that there is something to learn here, something that will help me find what the next step is, in God’s time, and not in mine.

 

A year of service for a lifetime of change, right? It’s difficult to know what that change is, but I’m sure it’ll come. As always, thanks for reading. If you have the ability to donate towards my year, the info is on the About page, or you can contact me directly for help. I’ll have some fun things being posted in a couple weeks to add to my fundraising efforts. I’d love to write to you, so please, send letters or emails or whatever. I’ve already got a stack I need to send out.

 

Peace and Love

 

Rachel

Doc, We’ve gone back in time!

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No, Marty, it’s just time zones!!

So, our time at “disorientation” is complete, and we’ve also finished the first leg of our journey to Tucson. It is currently 1:53 PM MDT here in Denver. I’ve been awake since 3:00 AM EDT. Which was 1:00 AM here. We will arrive at 4:40 MST, because Tucson does not do Daylight Savings (PRAISE!) But that is also 5:40 PM MDT, or 8:40 EDT. I am not sure what our schedule really looks like tonight, as far as anything other than going to our new house and unpacking, but I doubt I will be in bed until 9 or 10. So 1 or 2 EDT. In short, I will have been awake for almost a full 24 hours.

Which means it’s totally a great idea to unpack some of what went on this week! Right? Right. A week ago today, after driving up to Bremen, GA from Tallahassee, FL on Sunday, my folks drove me to the airport at 3:45am. I met two other YAVs, Jonathan Freeman (Indianapolis) and Elizabeth Reid (Atlanta) there and we flew from Atlanta to Newark, where we met Savannah Caccamo (Miami) by a cool stroke of luck, and decided to take our train adventure together. Well, our train from the station at Newark got stuck behind another train that had broken down and we had to route around it. This meant we missed the connection we wanted to make and had to wait another hour and fifteen minutes for that train. After taking that train, we were picked up by the van to head to Stony Point. It was about a 30 minute drive (I think? Time is kind of fuzzy right now) We checked in and had some time to meet people before our first activity, so we played cards. Then we had worship and our first small group meeting.

The real disorientation began the next day.  We discussed racism, racial prejudice, institutions, and other such topics with Jessica and Kara from crossroads. It was an exceptionally difficult session. The topics and discussions we had really made me realize that, for all the reading I do, for all the learning I seek, and for all the support I’ve tried to give to friends in the borderlands, I’m still a part of the dominant center, and through unintentional, subconscious actions, I am complicit in the structures that promote the disenfranchisement of marginalized groups. And it made me uncomfortable. There was a lot of language used that made this so readily apparent. The Center/borderlands relationship being just one of those things. Jessica talked about the idea of ally vs. co-conspirator and it really affected how I view my stance around issues of race, gender identification, and sexuality. And really, human rights in general. There are many things that will take so much time to unpack, and I’m glad to have this blog as a tool for processing.

One of the things I’m really going to work on early, and something I struggled with at the disorientation is using the idea of W.A.I.T. in conversation. It stands for “Why Am I Talking?” If you know me, you know I like to talk, and will happily rule a conversation, regardless of how many people are involved. I talk because I find silence in social interaction to be uncomfortable. I find it to be almost oppressive at times, and feel the need to fill it. This is likely because I tend to process out loud, whether it’s spoken or written. I’m hoping writing this blog and really beginning to journal will be a help. The real thing here is, I’ve got to practice and work to allow processing time for those who process differently and then allow space for people to express it. I know it is going to be a struggle in serious conversation, and often times in casual conversation. I’m hoping the people I interact with will be able to call me in on my tendency to just run with a conversation to the point that it almost becomes one sided. Admitting this is not necessarily uncomfortable here, but is certainly not the easiest thing I’ve ever done.

This week over all has been a wonderful week, I’ve certainly not even scratched the surface here of the more difficult things to process, but I will be doing that in other blogs. I also want to unpack some of the things that made my heart light. My small group leader, Kaley, encouraged me to keep true to my experience, to not leave out the parts that might make me uncomfortable, even in their positivity, so I will start as I mean to go on.

I was exceptionally worried that I would back-track, coming to orientation and then Tucson, in my growth I’ve made over the last three years in developing relationships with others. That I would allow myself to become the person who redirects personal questions, only allows people to know them on a surface level, and pulls back from relationships when they seem to be going to a place on vulnerability (on my part). I was also worried, that if I did manage to avoid this, it would be mentally and emotionally draining in such a way that it made me stop trying as hard. I was worried that the things the Humans of North Ave have taught me would slip away as I left, and I would return to old habits of avoidance. Much to my surprise, it was not a struggle. It seems that symptom of my anxiety has been practiced out in Atlanta, and hopefully the habit of developing close relationships will stick. I know I’m going to need it this year!

For now, this is it, I’ll have more in the next few weeks to finish unpacking “disorientation”, and update on site orientation and such. As my brain is steadily turning into mush from lack of sleep, I think it’s a good idea to stop before I cease to communicate any pertinent information! Have a lovely day, friends!

 

Peace and Love,

Rachel