Monday, June 29, 2015

Stop Crying

There have been a lot of things worth crying over lately.  There have been cries of sadness, of joy, of anger.  These United States have seen a lot of news recently.  A terrible shooting in South Carolina.  Marriage equality for the LGBT community.  The passing of the Affordable Care Act.  There has also been a lot of news and continued heartache abroad.  The kidnapped girls of Chibok and their dying and displaced parents.  The corrupt and ongoing terror of Boko Haram and ISIS.  The poisoned relationship of Palestinians and Israelis.  A lot of celebration, yet still a dominating appearance of fear and pain exists.  A lot worth crying over.  

I've cried a lot over the past couple of days.  On Friday evening the EYN Women’s Choir of Nigeria visited Elgin.  They are traveling the country giving concerts singing songs of their culture to give us thanks for our support and to share their stories.  Some of these women are displaced and all of them are hurting.  They sang joyful songs of letting the light shine for God.  But not all their songs were happy.  They sang of despair, sadness, and terror for their people. 

Being a privileged white woman, I couldn’t imagine their pain and I wept for them.  It is so difficult to imagine a life on the run from Boko Haram, not knowing where your next meal is coming from, and being separated from family.

And yet, as their songs continued, I realized something.  These women are the most thankful people I have ever encountered. 

Yes, they sang of pain, but they also sang with a heart of thankfulness.  They are thankful for their children and especially for the love of God.  Terror abducts their lives but the love of God overcomes all.

Back in the states there was an act of terror in South Carolina.  A young man broke up a peaceful bible study by murdering those participating.  Of course there is outrage.  Weeping for the lost.  Cursing at the murderer.  Plenty to cry about.

But then there was the President’s Eulogy.  He didn’t speak of condemnation for the murderer nor did he focus on hatred.  Instead, he spoke of forgiveness and grace.  Not just grace, but AMAZING Grace.  He spoke of faith and how we all need to strive for justice for ALL.  Not just those who abide by the law or who live their lives by the bible, but for every human being on the planet. 

Many tears were shed at the funeral.  Many tears are shed at the expense of our Nigerian brothers and sisters.  Many tears are shed for all who are treated unjustly.

But I'm telling you to STOP CRYING.  

Terrible things are happening every day, but sitting around and crying about it isn’t going to change anything.  We can’t just wait for good to come.  We can’t keep waiting for a leader to empower us.  Injustices themselves should empower us to make change. 

Take the recent story of Marriage Equality for the USA.  For decades the LGBT community and their allies have been rallying and striving for equality.  Now that it has passed, we have to remember what it took to reach this goal.  We rallied, we spoke to legislators, we shared articles and had table conversations about the issues to those who didn’t know much about it.  The passing of marriage equality didn’t happen by crying over the fact that not all of us could marry whomever we loved.  It happened because people DID something about it. 

Stop crying. 

Some of us choose to be neutral.  We don’t cry and we don’t advocate.  We remain silent.  We sit in the sidelines and wait for everyone to just get along.  Some might see this as good.  But I’m telling you that if you aren’t mad then you’re part of the problem.  Ignorance might be bliss, but there are no redeeming qualities of being blind to the injustices that surround us.  You don’t have to live in an impoverished community to be near unjust situations.  They could very well be happening in your back yard or even in your house.

Let me be clear by stating that this is not to say you need to grab a pitchfork and a torch and raid the streets screaming at everyone.  No.  I’m saying that God calls us to help those who are hurting.  In the Christian faith, we are called to love.  We are to love everyone no exceptions.  NO.  EXCEPTIONS.  This means that we love everyone under the sun.  Gays, Muslims, terrorists, those in poverty, those who are rich, EVERYONE.  It doesn’t matter who they are or what they look like.  We are all called to love. 

So….whatever you do, whomever you advocate for, go out and do it. 

Donate money to organizations that strive for justice.  Volunteer with these organizations.  Give a family in need food or shelter.  Take a person who is without a home out for a meal.  Attend rallies.  Provide space for support groups.  Pray.  Share stories with friends.  Have a peaceful conversation with someone of differing opinions. 

Whatever you do, do it with LOVE. 

And stop crying. 


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Keeping in text

As we move into our summer months, we find that the bond we've formed as kindred Elginites these past months has become pretty strong. That said, it's difficult to be away from each other for long periods of time, especially when we know that there are some end-of-service dates looming not too far off. Because we're hip, modern young adults, we've improvised. Texting can be a beautiful thing. Here are some samples of how we've kept in touch with each other these past few weeks.

Hey, Laura! Check out what I put in my YAC evaluation form! B-)

Kristen sent this one to me earlier today. From outside the house. While I was inside. Y'know, because yeah. But let's focus... Our peas are blooming! There was a lot of squealing. (Yes, it was from me.)

Kristen saw this while walking home (her choice - we didn't abandon her) one day. She thought it was funny. I agreed.

Hannah loves bounce houses. We seem to spot them all over our neighborhood when we're out walking or running. She was traveling to New Orleans for her second workcamp today so she's not in Elgin. Those of us here, though, could see a bounce house from our kitchen window. Hannah was super jealous.

So I sent her another one I encountered elsewhere in the neighborhood. More jealousy ensued.

This came from Hannah and Jessie at their workcamp this past week down in Georgia. They'd been working on and around farms all week and sent Kristen and me a picture of the scenery to let us know the farming reminded them of us. (Kristen's response: "That's what that was? I was wondering why they sent me a picture of a road!")

When Laura was gone for more than a week, this was the picture I sent her to let her know how excited we were to have her coming back. :-D

In the midst of all this, one of us (whose name rhymes with "Zeresa") had a birthday!

She was in the Dominican Republic for her first workcamp of the summer, so we couldn't celebrate with her on her actual birthday (have no fear - a cake has been made since then [and mostly consumed]). Tessa loves blueberries or, as she calls them, "bluebs," so I sent her a pic of the ones we had in our lunch bag on her day.

It only seemed appropriate to show her that they didn't go to waste and that we enjoyed them, too.

As I think about past housemates that have already moved away, I am beginning to have a new appreciation for these texts. While a good old-fashioned hand-written letter is always nice, sometimes it's just as nice to get the quick picture that let's you know that someone saw something that reminded them of you. Maybe it's kinda insignificant, but it helps to reaffirm our value as a community that has coexisted, struggled together, and moved on to the next steps in life. I certainly hope there will be plenty more texts to come (and send).

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Thoughts of a Volunteer

Here I am, sitting in the blanket fort we made last rainy Saturday and haven’t taken down yet.  I am writing a post to put on our community house blog.  Hannah is cleaning up from dinner, Ben is gardening, and Laura and Kristen are talking on the phone with good friends.  All are in anticipation for our late night Van’s Frozen Custard run which will commence shortly.  We’re all tired from being at work all day but enjoying our post-work relaxations.  We are all missing Theresa who is in the Dominican Republic for the summer’s first workcamp and wishing she was here because it’s her Birthday.

This is a typical night at the Elgin BVS House.  Not all of us are here.  We just finished a long dinner with each other full of delicious food and lots of laughter.  We’re all doing our separate things now, but we’ll soon be together to share our mutual love for frozen custard.

We are a colorful mix of working and personality styles.  We don’t always get along.  Sometimes we can’t wait to be alone and have our own space, other times we love being around each other.  We gossip, we hug, we complain, we love.

It seems that very soon, four of the six housemates will be gone.  Done with their BVS year.  Onto whatever is next for them.  Then soon after that, we will gain TWO NEW housemates, followed very quickly by a former housemate to leave.  Then, just like that, Jessie will very quickly go from being the newest housemate to the oldest.

All this turnover seems so crazy.  Just one year ago there was a completely different set of people living here.  And in just a few months there will be a whole new set apart from this years’.  And it’s not just the house that experiences this change.  The offices and the church see it too. 

It must be difficult to get to know a set of people so well only to have them leave months later and new ones take their place.  I know that we as a house are extremely grateful for the people in our Elgin lives have cared for us and been there for us.  Church families invite us for dinner.  Work folks give us free produce from their gardens.  Our bosses invite us to have lunch with them.  We are a blessed group of young adults.

Volunteers are special.  They go to communities in which they’ve never been and are expected to make friends, find their niches, and engage with the locals on a personal level.  All the while we are emotional from leaving behind our families and friends yet excited for the promise of tomorrow.  We are constantly getting criticized for not getting a “real job” after college and are often not taken seriously when we say that we are devoting at least a year of our lives to take care of kids or the homeless or the emotionally unstable. 

I can’t speak for all volunteers in the world, but I know that this is not just the way BVSers feel.  We have difficult jobs and lives.  Yes, being a volunteer is a job.  It’s not easy or time wasting.  It’s not silly or frivolous, it’s a big deal.  Sometimes it doesn’t feel like we’re all that important.  Other times we feel so overwhelmed with love and respect from others that we are truly humbled.  We have uneventful days and stressful days.  All of which we are grateful for at the end of our yearlong volunteering journey.

Frozen Custard.  Outgoing and incoming housemates.  Stressful days.  Meaningful blog posts.

These are thoughts of this volunteer.  What are yours?


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Season of Change

Spring is one of my favorite times of year. It marks the end of a season which sometimes feels eternal, and brings a sense of new beginnings. The snow has been melted in Elgin for quite some time now and there is freshness that abounds from the Earth as we see new flowers blooming and as the first of our veggies in the garden are ready to be harvested. I love the way the world smells in the early morning in the spring. We walked out of our house this morning to go to work and the sun was already warm, there was a light dew on the grass and you could hear birds singing.

For me, every season means something. Even though I’m out of school now (temporarily, at least) fall still means back to school, changing leaves, warm sweaters and pumpkin spice drinks. Winter makes me think of Christmas, snowy days, long nights and warm fires. Spring has always been a time of transition. School ending, anticipation for the summer. In the past few years, early summer, this time where we now find ourselves, has meant camp. I was on program staff at Camp Swatara for two summers where I spent my days as a counselor, playing four square, going swimming, and singing around campfires. 

As this time of year has approached once again, our whole house was lucky enough to find ourselves at Camp Swatara last weekend for Young Adult Conference. We had a wonderful weekend connecting with other young adults of the Church of the Brethren, worshiping, hearing from amazing speakers, and exploring the many beautiful natural settings camp has to offer.

That weekend was a much needed time of renewal for me. It was great to be back at a place I’ve learned to call home, and to revisit some of my favorite spots at camp. On Sunday morning two of my friends and I hiked up the mountain to a spot called the rock pile where we watched the sunrise. The world is unbelievably peaceful at this time of day. God’s presence surrounded us as we watched the sun appear from behind the ridge to our left and shine light to the valley below us. We then walked down to a spot called Vesper Hill where we met Theresa, Kristen and Don who were spending the early morning journaling. Camp is a place of healing, of beauty, of light and of love.

This year, although I’m not returning to Camp Swatara for the summer, I am still preparing myself for a season of camp. I leave in six days to start the great adventure of traveling around the country leading workcamps. My first workcamp is in Americus, Georgia on a beautiful farm called Koinonia. I’m nervous and excited but feel ready to get on the road.

Late spring/early summer is a season of change. The Earth sheds its winter cloak, animals reappear, the ground softens, flowers bloom, leaves come back to trees, and the sun stays around longer. For some, the world slows down. Kids are off of school, families go on vacation, and people take time to simply be. For others, this is just the beginning. Theresa and I will spend the summer traveling, Kristen and Ben head to Junior High Conference in a few weeks, and Jessie will be at summer orientation in a little over a month. Change, I’ve come to realize, is bittersweet. Goodbyes are hard, so instead I’ll say “see you later.”