Yesterday we traveled back to Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico for the day. We were traveling with one of the Co-Moderators of the General Assembly, so the point of this visit was for her to experience the borderlands. What is happening and how the Presbyterian Church is responding.
Because of the delegation that we did in November and other various experiences I have had while here, much of what we were talking about yesterday wasn’t new to me. At one point I was even questioning what I was getting out of this. “What is the point in me being here today?”
Our last stop of the day was at CAME, a shelter for migrants to stay in while they wait to make their assylum petition. I had been in this shelter before and heard about the good work taking place there, but yesterday, in a few moments of downtime, I was drawn to a mural painted on the wall that I hadn’t seen before.
The mural was of “La Bestia” a train that travels regularly from southern to northern Mexico. It is a common way for migrants to travel. The mural depicted migrants sitting atop the train and with them sat Jesus.
He wasn’t doing anything other than sitting and being present with the people on the train. Being present is part of what Jesus asks us to do and that is what is happening at CAME.
But what struck me more was how many different versions of the human experience there are. When I think of people catching a ride on the roof of a train, I think of the 1920s or earlier. That doesn’t feel like a 21st century thing to me.
The point of me being in Agua Prieta yesterday may not have been to be exposed to 100 new things and challenging ideas like it has been the last few times I have visited the city. But I can still learn and recognize that the people sitting in the tents along the border, the people doing puzzles and waiting for dinner at CAME, the people on La Bestia currently all have vastly different life experiences than I do in life.
The moments of looking at this mural brought me back to the reality that I am privileged to be born a white woman from in the United States. I carry that privileged with me everywhere I go. And I need to open my heart more to embrace everyone in all of their experiences.
Sunsets are stunning in Tucson. It’s a well known fact that I was hearing about long before I arrived here in August. But that doesn’t change how much I am continuously amazed by them.
I recently heard from a former YAV that during her last month of YAVing, she made it a goal to watch the sunset every night. As a fellow lover of sunsets, this stuck in my brain and I recalled it last week at the same time that I was thinking about the fact that I have one month left until I turn 25.
Turning 25 has put me into a small quarter life crisis. I realized mere minutes into this year how old I would be. It isn’t so much of me thinking I’ll be old and questioning what I am doing with my life. It’s a time to reflect on life and joke about my grey hairs.
These feelings and the idea of taking time to watch the sunset merged in my head and left me asking, “Can I see 25 more sunsets before I turn 25?”
It’s been a little over a week since first posing that question and I have taken time to notice 5 sunsets, but to really sit and watch 3 of them.
Tonight as I sat on the front porch and watched the light outside dim, I thought of a few things.
One was how it was nice to have a few minutes in the evening to sit, breathe, and enjoy nature. I have been thinking a lot about what spiritual practices I have or could have. One that was suggested to me was to take time to sit still and breathe. Is this moment of watching the sky change colors and reflecting on my day a spiritual practice? Maybe.
Another thought was of intentionality. That is a big part of the YAV experience. We are asked to embrace and intentional Christian community as a YAV group. And the practice of simple living involves making many intentional choices and having intentional conversations.
But sunsets are a different kind of intentional. For one, I cannot change when and how they happen. So if I want to watch it. I have to be ready and make that time. It is going to happen with or without me being present which is humbling. Additionally, I can choose to use that time to pause and think or I can use that time to notice the sky and keep moving. The choice to sit and notice has to be intentional. Not just with the sunset, but with all things happening around me.
Finally, I thought of change. It was amazing me that with every moment the sky looked different. I could look away for a just a moment, but when I looked back, there would be new colors.
This is comforting. It reminds me that in this broken world that we are all participating in, change is possible. It may not happen as quickly as the sunset colors change in the sky, but those quick, noticable changes only happen because the sun is moving slowly though the sky all day to get to that point.
The position of the sun is ever changing. So are we. Hopefully for the better.
I have 31 days until I turn 25. In that time, I will watch 22 more sunsets and be intentional about enjoying every one. And hopefully I can take time to reflect on what changes I wish to enact in my world in this coming phase of my life.
On Saturday I was tasked with writing a story about myself and peace. But I was anything but peaceful so I wrote about that and upon reflection thought that it was worth sharing on here:
As I am writing this, I am sitting outside. The sky is a nice blue with few clouds. It was a warm day today, but is now getting cooler as the sun is going down. I had a giant spoonful of chocolate chip cookie dough to help me start this blog. This all sounds peaceful, but I don’t feel at peace currently.
It has been a rough day. Last night, my bike was stolen while I was in the grocery store buying things for dinner with my housemates. I came outside after being gone for less than 20 minutes and my bike was gone. Only the front tire remained. That’s not very helpful. It was a long evening of stress and police reports.
Today, I was planning on accomplishing a lot, including writing a blog post, but that proved difficult. I am anything but peaceful right now, so how can I write about anything on the topic of peace?
I have been feeling lots of things throughout the day: anger, sadness, loss, hope, tiredness. But peace is so far from that list. Come to think of it, I don’t know precisely when I last felt fully at peace. There are peaceful moments where I can sit and talk with a friend, or drink some tea, or cook food, but I am rarely at peace fully.
Feeling at peace is hard for me right now because I want to constantly be doing something. I see brokenness in the world around me. A world where my bike was stolen. I assume the motivation in the theft was to sell it for a profit. I am also assuming that this is necessary because the capitalist world we live in has made it so that person cannot care for themselves well by other means. Even if those assumptions aren’t true in this case, they apply to many other situations so well.
There is so little peace to be seen in the world. There is so much pain for so many people. Peace is hard for me to find, but easy to dream about, so that is where I am starting. Dreaming of a world of peace and if I can dream it, then I can take steps to make that happen. Right?
That is what I am choosing to believe and I want a community to help me achieve it. So that maybe one day, even if it is generations from now, there can exist a world where we can all find peace inside us and around us. A world where bikes, food, land, people, or anything else won’t have to be stolen in order to survive.
On November 3 we were able to participate in the All Souls Procession: An annual Tucson event that, for almost 30 years, and is a beautiful space for creatively processing loss.
I was told that this is specifically a procession and not a parade because it is designed to be participated in rather than just observed.
The evening began with a celebration prior to the procession. The area where the procession was to begin was filled with food trucks, mariachi bands, and face painting. It was a joyful celebration.
When the procession began, we stood to the side of the road a watched the Urn pass by. This was a spherical container to collect written names of those who were being grieved. The Urn led the procession and was followed by groups and individuals showing their mourning in a variety of ways.
The woman who started this procession in 1990 did so as a way of publicly and artistically grieving the death of her father. This artistic foundation has continued and is evident throughout the event in the music, banners, and costumes.
Many of these costumes were black or white to represent grief. Some had skeletons on them and many people had sugar skull art on their faces. Lots of the costumes were also adorned with lights and bright colors.
Much like a parade, there were performers, bands, and church groups. It felt familiar, yet drastically different because every where I looked there was someone with stunning face paint of a sugar skull or a banner with images of someone who has died.
But that was beautiful in every way. The idea of being able to publicly grieve and be in community with thousands of people in their mourning process was an incredible experience.
After watching for a while, were walked the two mile route with everyone as we all grieved. Even the many people just like me who didn’t make a sign for those that we love that have died were grieving.
I had time during that procession to reflect on times where I have been grieving. To remember dead friends and family in an intentional way. And more importantly, in that moment, I was able to acknowledge the importance of that grieving space.
Grief isn’t a process to get through and then check off as being done. It is on-going. During this event, the community grieved together for loved ones that have died both recently and many years ago.
Other people were grieving for groups who have died or are victim to injustices of the world. For example, there was a group that was grieving the thousands of migrant deaths in the Sonoran Desert due to inhumane border policies. There were others wearing Black Lives Matter shirts to acknowledge all of the black and brown people who have needlessly died.
As I think of the grieving process, I think of how in moments of grief, both years ago and more recently, I have felt the need to keep my feelings internalized and put on a happy face for everyone around me. I feel lots of cultural pressure always show only my best self and grief doesn’t easily fit into that picture.
However, this public space of grieving made room for so many emotions. Everyone could celebrate the lives of loved ones and be sad that those people weren’t here to share in our daily lives anymore. And as a community there was support for everyone in each of our places of grieving.
At the end of the processional route, everyone gathered at to see the lighting of the Urn, which was full of written names and objects remembering all those who were being mourned that night. It was a meaningful and symbolic way to end the procession but not put a camp on the grieving process. And the celebration continued after with more painting faces, eating, and music because even in grieving there is still room for love and celebration.
Flash Blog! This was written and published in 10 minutes so get ready for some stream of consciousness!
Being “In Mission Service” feels weird to me. What does that even mean?
It makes me feel uncomfy because I think of the harm that people with the title “missionary” have done in the past and are continuing to do. There is a lot of oppression, killing, and erasing of culture that has come in the form of what has been called mission work.
I am not in Tucson to do any of that though because of all of that is horrible and part of the horrible narrative of white supremacy. But that brings up the question of why am I here at all?
I am here to learn, grow, and change. I am here to serve others. I am here to show love and build realtionships.
I don’t consider that to be mission work. But also, isn’t that kind of the definition of mission work?
Being “in mission service” to me is just showing up for people. I do that by showing up to repair houses with CHRPA. I have shown up to events around the city to support other groups doing good work.
But in all of this I am learning so much, which is part of why I feel weird calling it mission work. But I think that is ok.
Mission service to me is serving others and learning from them. I don’t know how to best serve people unless I first listen to what they need. That is mission to me.
A few weeks ago, the Tucson YAVs all attended a Pride Festival together as a community event!
I love pride! This was my second Pride Festival and I fully believe that Pride, not Disney World is the happiest place on earth. There is so much joy. Its a celebration of everyone getting to express their gender, sexuality, and self in anyway they chose.
We did all of the typical Pride things: collected free stuff with rainbows on it, watched live performances, and took lots of pictures. And it was so much fun!
Pride is a great time knowing that I can be fully open about my sexuality with everyone there and I will be celebrated and affirmed.
Even as much as I love the affirming space that was created at Pride, I recently had another experience that affirmed me in my identity more.
This event was a worship service called More Light Sunday.
More Light Presbyterians is an organization within the Presbyterian Church (USA) that has been advocating for LGBTQ people in the PC(USA) since 1992. The name comes from saying that there was “yet more light to shine forth on the scriptures” in terms of LGBTQIA+ inclusion.
When walking into the sanctuary on that Sunday, the first thing I saw were ribbons hanging from the center over the communion table. One set of ribbons hung down to form a rainbow pride flag and the others made the pink, blue and white trans+ flag.
Everyone was given a sticker that said “Be-Loved” on a background of either the gay pride flag or the trans+ flag. And many people donned rainbows on their shirts and other parts of their clothes.
For all of those aspects and the joy felt within the room, it was very simliar to Pride. But the difference came during worship.
Many of the songs and liturgy could be used in a variety of contexts. Micah 6:8 was one of the scriptures and “this little light of mine” was one of the songs. These are used in a variety of worship contexts.
But even with scriptures and songs that I am familiar with, it was so powerful to hear them in this context. To hear it being said from the pulpit and directed toward the LGBTQIA+ community. A community of people who are all too often forgotten about and demonized by the church.
It was so powerful to be able to listen to a woman preach who was invited there not despite her sexuality, but because of it. It was more than a church saying that they are inclusive. It was showing it right there from the pulpit as they literally preached inclusivity.
This was a much different feeling for me than the Pride Festival because it was at church. I have been affirmed in my sexuality by family, friends, and strangers countless times. But this may be the first time that I have felt affirmed by an institution.
I have always had weird feelings about being open about my sexuality in the church. This isn’t because I think that homosexuality is a sin. I believe that God created me this way and will always love me just as I am. Embracing my sexuality makes me feel closer to God, not farther way.
No, the reason I have weird feelings about my sexuality and the church is that I never know how other Christians are going to react if I say that I am not straight. It has always been the judgement of people that makes me more nervous than the judgement of God.
But having a worship service dedicated to LGBTQIA+ inclusion and affirmation changes that narrative entirely.
Seeing a rainbow flag hanging at a church is great, but it having an entire worship service planned out and dedicated to praising God with the LGBTQ community that was so impactful for me.
A couple times during worship I was close to tears. There were so many LGBTQ people leading parts of the service. It was incredible.
To be fully affirmed by a church for who I am was so powerful. This may be the first time that I have felt fully included into a church and it was only my second time being there.
This made me take time to reflect on how important inclusion is. Not just LGBTQ inclusion, but the inclusion of all ethnicities, languages, beliefs and people.
Standing there and witnessing a church taking steps to be completely inclusive of LGBTQ people meant more to me than the secular world being accepting of me.
Christianity as a whole has so much power as one of the major world religions. This power can either be used to make every person feel included or it can be used to create divisions among us.
I hope there are more instances of the former. I have hope that people can be amazed and moved by how inclusive and loving Christians can be of all of God’s people.
I have a pretty clear memory of being in Sunday school as a child and hearing a Bible story about a woman giving all she had.
Jesus and his disciples were in the Temple watching as people were giving their offerings, many had lots of wealth and were giving a lot, but one woman only gave two copper coins. Jesus points out that in giving those two coins, she had given all she had to live on, which is worth more than all that the others put into the treasury. (Mark 12:41-44)
In Sunday school, we read this story, colored a picture of a woman placing two coins into a box, and were told to give all we have to the Lord.
That was easy for me as a small child who received a quarter on Sunday mornings for the offering. All I had to do was keep track of the quarter for 45 minutes and put it into the offering plate as it came by. But flash forward 15 years, and that idea of giving everything I have to live on to the Lord has gotten more complicated.
It is easy for me to say, “Yes! Of course I am giving everything to the Lord. After all, I am giving a year of my life to serve here in Tucson.” But when I sit down and actually think on this, I don’t think that is a true at all.
For this year, I am working at Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona (CHRPA). CHRPA provides home repairs and adaptations to low-income homeowners in order to make their homes safer, more energy efficient, and better places to live. Each day I, along with a CHRPA employee, go to people’s homes to do anything from repairing an evaporative cooler to replacing a hot water heater, from building an access ramp to re-wiring a house.
One of my favorite parts of this work placement is the interactions I have with the clients we serve. Its an opportunity to hear stories from their lives.
One woman, lets call her Linda, was telling me how she never expected to end up in a place where it was difficult to make ends meet. She is struggling to keep up with bills and find work, and she is also dealing with many health problems.
The thing that shocked me while talking to Linda was the incredible amount of love she shows people. She told me of how she cares for her friends and neighbors; two friends who have also been struggling financially are living in her home. She also is housing a friend’s dog that he couldn’t keep at his place. Linda had many stories of how she was looking out for people in her life and helping in any way she could.
My first thought was one of wonder. How does she do all this when she doesn’t have much to give? But that didn’t matter to Linda. What mattered was that she was supporting people, in every way she could, to make their lives better.
Linda is generous with her time, money, and resources, which is more than I can say about myself.
I am not saying I am not generous at all. I give my time and energy to lots of people. If someone asks me to do something for them, it’s pretty likely I’ll do it.
But honestly, I am not generous when it comes to gifts. Either physical or monetary gifts. Even though I have an abundance of everything I need, I don’t like to give money, or food, or even possessions in a lot of cases. Its a hard thing for me to do.
Part of it is that I like to be prepared financially in case something were to happen where I need that money. What if I need to go to the doctor? What if I need maintenance done on my car?
I could what if this to death… But why should I?
Did Jesus say about the woman in the temple, “She gave all that she had to live on. Except her savings account. She is saving that just in case she has an emergency.”? NO! He didn’t!
I can try so hard to be prepared for anything, but is it worth it if I am not being generous in my everyday life?
To me, generosity doesn’t look like only giving money to the offering on Sunday mornings. Sure that is giving to God, but God is in many more places than those pews. What about offering food to my neighbors, giving a woman who is homeless some cash, donating to organizations that are doing good work?
And that doesn’t even begin to address all of the giving that I can do with excessive possessions I have…
I have the joy of being able to witness generosity every day: Through those of you who have made donations or sacrifices to help me be able to spend this year serving others and through experiences with clients like Linda.
Being generous like Jesus suggested looks like the woman who brought us jars of peaches as a snack each day that we were at her house building an access ramp for her husband. It looks like the mother who said she didn’t have much but wanted to make sure we had food for lunch, so she gave us a bag of snacks to take with us as we left. It looks like a man giving us cold bottles of water on a hot day as we fixed his kitchen sink.
Generosity like Jesus wanted is giving when it isn’t expected,required, or easy.
I will continue to be humbled and challenged each time a client gives me even the smallest thing because that is giving of themselves and their possessions to a complete stranger.
Giving to strangers sounds like what Jesus did.
I think it could make the world a little brighter.
I want to do that but I’m not good at it, yet.
I have so much to learn and thankfully God gives us endless grace as we learn to love better.
I have never been so aware of the color of my skin.
That was my main reflection after spending a day of YAV orientation in New York City.
My time as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) started with all 48 YAVs gathering for orientation, or as it is affectionately called “Dis-orientation.” There was no time wasted in disorienting us! We jumped into Crossroads Antiracism training on the first day which focused training people to have the tools to dismantle racism.
As one of the first activities, we were asked to work in our small groups to write a six word essay about why it was important to have these conversations about race before we go out to do a year of service. One group wrote “Because white supremacy isn’t extinct yet.”
This statement first stuck out to me because the use of the word “yet” reminded me of an inside joke. But as we continued this training, my thoughts kept coming back to that sentence. Even though I am guilty of thinking it is a thing of the past, white supremacy isn’t extinct. But it can be.
During training, we discussed what characteristics, abilities, and qualities are valued and seen as good or the norm. Some examples were white, cisgender, straight, able-bodied, English speaking, educated, healthy, employed, well dressed, clean. These characteristics allow people to be in the center of society.
From there we dove into the harder question: What characteristics don’t fall into this narrative that we have painted to be right and good? Who are the people that we cast into the borderlands, the outskirts of society? Maybe you are already thinking of some. The qualities that make you uncomfortable and put people on the outskirts of society. Things that we tend to view as bad or wrong. A few of the examples we used were: brown or black skin, overweight, uneducated, having an accent, not speaking English, illiterate, depressed, unwealthy, old, weak.
That may have been hard to read. But it’s real. And one thing I learned from this is to not brush away the hard feelings, but to lament.
We are built around a center of white supremacy and that leaves many people in the borderlands-the area that surrounds this center of norms. Not just in this country, but around the world. There are characteristics that are seen as good and bad and the value of people is based around how well they fit into the center of our social hierarchy. And the center of this system is white.
It’s okay for it to be hard to hear this. Its okay for this to be bringing up a lot of feelings. It did for me. I had so many hard feelings while doing this training. All of them in a big jumbled mess to the point where I couldn’t tell you what I was feeling or thinking. I still don’t know if I can. I know that there is anger toward our systems of oppression, sadness for the pain and trauma white people have caused throughout history and today, and guilt for my complacency in seeing problems but doing nothing about them.
But white guilt and shame gets us nowhere. White supremacy isn’t extinct yet. It can be, but it isn’t an easy road to get there.
I sat in this training wanting to do something about all of this but not knowing what to do. I was hoping the facilitators would tell us how we can fix it. I wanted to have a checklist of things I can do to make me not be racist and to fight systemic racism.
But that is not how this works.
New York City
We took a trip to New York City the day after we officially completed the Crossroads Antiracism training, but the discussions of race had not stopped there. The excursion was to help us put into practice some of what we had been learning and notice the systems of White Supremacy all around us.
I was very aware of my white skin the entire time. The fact that I have lived for 24 years never having to think about how my skin color is affecting me and those around me shows how White Supremacy is ingrained as a norm. I was aware of my whiteness as I sat on the subway and walked through the streets.
I was aware of my white skin as my group walked into a small visitors center and gift shop to use the restrooms. The employee at the counter happily greeted us and talked with us. As we milled about waiting to use the restrooms but buying nothing, our presence of eight white adults did not seem to be an issue for him. Would it have been the same story if eight black young adults walked in off the street in search of a bathroom? I think not.
I don’t want to make this seem like I am saying I am now so aware of my white skin and I am ready and equipped to fight racism in every way. I am so far from perfect. I mess up. I messed up less than 24 hours out from this training as we were in New York City.
As we walked down the streets of Harlem, we saw a black man laying on the sidewalk, obviously in pain and needing help. There were two people who had stopped to help him and were calling an ambulance. Many people were walking right past him with little regard for what was happening. Classic bystander effect.
As we walked toward him on the sidewalk, I had time to think of what I was going to do. When we got to him, laying on the sidewalk in pain, I did nothing. I kept walking. Didn’t ask if I could help in any way.
I was thinking about being white and walking through a predominantly black neighborhood. I didn’t want to be seen as a white savior. I was so hyper aware of my white skin, aware of all the harm that white people have done trying to fix things. I knew I didn’t want to fall into that category, so I did nothing.
Two weeks later I am still thinking of that specific moment and feeling the same thing for how I acted. I feel ashamed and sad that I did nothing. It makes me feel sick.
Inaction is an action
After learning what I have, I cannot be complacent in this unjust world any longer.
With the constant reminder that white supremacy isn’t extinct yet, I am spurred to take action. I can’t go back and change that moment in Harlem, but I can change how I react in this world of white supremacy each day going forward.
It is hard to think about, but I would rather acknowledge that I have benefited from my ancestors oppressing people and work to fix that rather than ignore the damage that was caused and keep the unjust systems going.
Two weeks after this training, it is still fresh in my brain. I hope it stays there for the rest of my time as a YAV and long into my life. Taking action to break down the borders that oppress people is the only way I see to move forward and that’s what I plan to do during this year.
Interested in what I am doing this year in Tucson? Follow this blog to keep up to date on my work. Pray for all the current YAVs as we go out to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. And donate to the Tucson Borderlands YAV program to fund this program.
Hi friends! Thanks for joining me. Here’s a little bit about who I am and what I am hoping for my YAV year.
I am a Virginia native, growing up in Millboro and attending Randolph-Macon College in Ashland. Since graduating college in 2017, I have been teaching outdoor education in Texas, Colorado, and Virginia. In my free time, I enjoy spending time in creation and having quality time with people. As a YAV, I am most excited to learn how I can live a faithful life in service with others through partnering with those already doing fantastic work in Tucson. I am looking forward to having more opportunities to take a active role in issues of social justice and to see how God will work through me, challenging me to grow in many new ways.
I am looking forward to this journey and would love for you to be a part of it with me. I am seeking partners to pray for me, encourage me, and help in meeting my fundraising goal of $4000. If you would like to contribute financially, you can donate online by clicking here!
Or, checks can be made out to Tucson Borderlands YAV and sent to:
Tucson Borderlands YAV
400 E University
Tucson, AZ 85705
I am confident that God is calling me to Tucson to be a faithful servant, and to learn from the relationships I will build. I am excited to see how God will work through me, challenging me to grow in many new ways during this coming year. Thank you for walking with me in this journey.