Well it has been a while since I’ve put anything on here…oops, sorry about that y’all! There’s been a lot that has happened recently and I wanted to share them with everyone who has waited eagerly for another post from yours truly.
So February was a crazy month. Who knew 28 days could be so crazy? The highlight was easily visiting home for the first time in six months. I never realized how much of a home body I’d been in my life to this point, but the first six months of this year were the longest I’d been away from home. Talk about an adjustment. I was so looking forward to going home that I let my focus on my experience in Tucson slip. I started dealing with a mental dissonance as I became increasingly dissatisfied with being stuck in Tucson when all I wanted to do was be home. My relationships in my community went downhill and people could tell something was wrong even though I closed myself off from their attempts to find out what was eating me. It’s not something I’m super proud of, but it’s something I’m working through. I had lost the reason why I wanted to be here and do this crazy year of service and the homesickness hit me hard. I don’t say that to excuse my attitude (and I do sincerely apologize to my housemates…truly I’m sorry) but I say it to attempt to explain why my mood went downhill and why I was so happy to go home.
My trip home aside, a second event was coming at the end of February that I was also looking forward to. The Tucson YAVs take a sojourn into the desert to kick off the season of Lent. It is our mid year retreat and it’s an experience in finding refuge in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place where God shows up time and time again in Scripture. He is a guiding presence through the wildernesses present in the bible story and the wilderness serves as a place of exile, but also as a place of deliverance. We delved into these seemingly incompatible pictures of the wilderness prior to our sojourn and it was something that I wrestled with during my time in solitude in the desert. Did I not mention that? Yeah, this week was about being in nature and, for part of the week, being isolated and alone in the wilderness to find God. Think Naked and Afraid, but with slightly more clothes and more than a little bit more of a devotional attitude. This retreat was the one that I was most looking forward to and it did not disappoint. I can’t say for sure that I found God out there in the desert, but I did confront some fairly deep issues in my personal walk all of which centered around forgiveness. I have a tattoo on my left wrist that reads “the water” in Greek. I got it to remind me of the waters of baptism and the awesome symbolism of the sacrament. We are washed clean of our sin as we are accepted into God’s family. My struggle is living into the fact that I am, that we are, forgiven. God’s grace covers us and always seeks to grow us, to lead us into the people we were created to be. I have a hard time recognizing that forgiveness in my life. I struggle with forgiving myself and God has forgiven me. I’m still exploring this, but it was a huge realization that came from my time in solitude. Also, if you ever have the chance to escape into the desert, I highly recommend it. You will grow in remarkable ways even from just a short time out there alone.
That now brings me to Lent. What a great season in the life of the church. But it’s one that I think is easy to overlook in our eagerness to get to Easter and the promise of the Resurrection. After the solitude and exploring some spiritual disciplines, I decided to immerse myself in the spirit of Lent and to adopt the practice of Fasting during this blessed time of preparation. My fasts fall on Fridays, technically from dinner on Thursday until dinner on Friday. In my (limited) study of the purpose behind this season, I’ve found that the practice of forgoing something (whatever that may be) is undertaken so that something else may be added. During my fasts, I plan on engaging scripture on a deeper level outside of my normal devotional time and also during those times when I am most tempted to eat (aka normal meal times). Fasting is hard and after this past week (my second fast of the Lenten season), I’m beginning to appreciate just how much I eat during the day and how easy it is to get caught up in food. I’m eagerly awaiting to see how God will move during the coming weeks and I pray fervently for his strength to assist me, especially when the temptation to eat becomes almost too strong to resist.
Things in Tucson are, on the whole, good. We survived February craziness, we are moving through March and looking forward (aka dreading) to the steadily climbing temperatures. It already feels like a Kentucky June and we’re not even halfway through March. Oh the joys of desert living! We also had a group fundraiser today that consisted of a competition between us YAVs and a handful of pastors from the Presbytery de Cristo, which supports our site. We did a Family Feud-style competition and got our butts handed to us by the pastors. As much as I loved watching Family Feud in college, I learned tonight that I am not cut out to compete in that particular game.
Thank you, Father God, for forgiveness, for grace, for time at home and time alone.
And so we go.
Every month – when my housemates and I divide up our chores – I tend to volunteer most often for compost. There is something extremely meditative, relaxing and relieving in turning a compost pile. I’d like to think that there is a spiritual practice found in the sifting and digging of dirt, moldy grapefruit, diluted coffee grounds, slimy bell peppers.
Honestly, I’m not going to pretend that there is anything fancy or elegant about this compost pile. Frankly, it’s dirt.
However, today as I assessed the rotten, moldy, gooey bag of bananas sitting on the counter, I began to see the compost in a whole new light: our spiritual process of healing and regenerating our identity in Christ.
We are only human after all! How could we not want to bury the icky, gross, unpleasant, moldy, stinky insecurities and imperfections that rot at the bottom of the produce bin and the back of our refrigerators? When we take the fermenting broccoli to the compost pile of our lives, the last thing that we want to do is expose it to the sun! Bury that sucker into the dirt! (and then forget about it! Don’t dig it up! Are you crazy?!)
Honestly, we have to be submerged to the dark places in our lives before we can resurface again, refreshed and healed. Just as we retreat to places of refuge, Christ retreated to the garden, Gethsemane when he was in his darkest hour: Matthew 26:
36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and *said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”
Through the resurrection, Christ Himself was simultaneously one of the weakest, defeated, vulnerable, celebrated, exalted, strongest, invincible resilient and hard-core individuals to ever walk the face of the Earth. Essentially, he was the “Compost King”; he took the dirt and filth and grim of all the world and turned it into something new.
Compost = Our Healing Process: once the food is buried in the ground, it may resurface at times yet each time, it comes up a little smaller and a little more broken down. You are not going to see immediate results. The rind may sit in the dark, damp quarters of the garden for a few weeks, maybe months until it has had the time and space to create a refined byproduct. We continually are working on breaking down the negative things that undermine who we are created to be. The remaining mold and slime seems to vanish into the rich soil that will fortify the kale, okra, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots of our future.
However, the fact of the matter is: Not everyone has a compost pile. Heck, a lot of people have garbage. You know where garbage ends up? The land fill. A lot of people choose to throw their rotten leftovers away.
Garbage lets its product become its defeat. Compost cannot be defeated. Yes, compost will take more maintenance and care. However, garbage is the lazy yet less physically demanding alternative. However, at the end of the day, which one is sustainable? Which one creates results? Which one creates a future?
One of my favoriteTED Talks is by a man named Ron Finley who plants vegetables in “abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs,” in South Central Los Angeles. He claims that his community needs to find an “alternative to fast food” because “the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys” (Finley).
In this talk, Finley passionately impressed upon his crowd, “You’d be surprised what the soil can do if you let it be your canvas.”
As I thought longer on this analogy of the resurrection through compost, I thought to the refugees that I work alongside at Iskashitaa Refugee Network. They are master gardeners. One of the refugees from Bhutan grows marigolds and takes care of his apartment complex’s garden with fervor, passion, attention, care and precision. One of our services through Iskashitaa is to use create compost out of any excess produce. Then, the compost goes to one of the refugees and their family in order to sustain their gardens. They let their soil and their gardens be their “canvas.”
It speaks very clearly to their arduous journey: They are renewing their lives through the therapeutic practice of gardening. Their canvas is clearing up and they are able to start anew. Even as many negative memories come into their minds, they are building a hopeful life among the ruins. They are resurrecting from the ashes of their past and allowing themselves to be transformed by their new culture, identity and perspective.
Just next to our compost pile are three bins filled with “finished” soil. (I’m not sure we’re ever quite “finished” soil ourselves….but I digress). In the first bin, I reached down and saw a bunch of green stems. I picked it up and found this radiant red onion right underneath the surface. Sometimes, even when we think as though there is no more hope for change, the red onion lies just beneath the surface.