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.
“Oh, no! Honey, I prayed to God last night that you wouldn’t be back here.”
This is not the way that I’d expect to be greeted by a client on my second day at the same job. But she didn’t mean it the way it sounds out of context.
Vern and I arrived on a Thursday to a little trailer up on a hill with a wide view of the Tucson Mountains. We were investigating a water leak which was pouring into the void at forty gallons an hour. It was a bit of a mystery, as there was no obvious outpouring or plant growth except for where gray water drained into the yard. But the main line ran from the meter, up the pitted, rocky driveway, and under the trailer all the way to the far side, where it connected to the house and then ran to the water heater on the street side. The leak could have been anywhere or in multiple places but it was certainly nowhere obvious.
Just to ensure it wasn’t in the pipes under the house we could access, because I heard running water, and also because I wanted to, I decided it would be best to take some skirting off and go investigate with a flashlight. It was dark and moist under there from ages-old drips coming from some of the drain lines, but on the street side at least there was plenty of crawling room so I explored about to the middle of the house until I could be sure that those lines weren’t pouring the forty gallons an hour. There were, however, a few droplets coming steadily from the calcified old plastic piping to the bathrooms, leading me to believe it would be best to replumb the whole house.
As I was coming out, I heard Ms. Willard – as her friend Dave, who greeted us initially, called her – yelling at Vern. “You let that baby girl crawl under my trailer?!” She was leaning her head out the bedroom window which overlooked our workspace and stared at me in shock and disbelief as I came out unscathed and unconcerned.
“I do this all the time,” I said with a shrug and nonchalant smile. She shook her head at me.
Vern and I started to dig for the waterline, and ended up with almost an eight-foot trench (“maybe it’s just a little further this way…”). I threw my jacket off as the sun shone strong on our shoulders. Ms. Willard came out with coffee and observed me heaving massive piles of red dirt around in her yard. “How did you get into this sort of work?” she asked me.
“I volunteered.” I grinned to show her I was having fun and kept digging.
Vern asked her for a wire coat hanger and cut it into two rods to try and locate the waterline. I was delighted at the opportunity to use witchcraft at work. We found the waterline in the exact center of the house, barely six inches underground and making our sixteen-inch-deep trench feel quite silly. It was ancient and encased in rusty flakes that chipped off at the slightest touch, destroying our initial idea of attaching it to the near side of the trailer and bypassing the busted part. The whole thing was begging for death.
When I told Ms. Willard we would be back the next day and collected all the necessary documents, she asked, “So I’m approved, then?”
“Of course,” I said, not even realizing that was a question. She hugged me out of relief. She’d been putting up with having her water off for two weeks by the time we came, and plumbers had estimated the cost of repairs at thousands of dollars.
When Albert, Vern, and I came back on Monday to get the real business done, aside from expressing her wish that I wasn’t there to endanger myself again, Ms. Willard offered us coffee and homemade banana bread. “I just couldn’t sleep last night worrying about this,” she said, “so I made this to help me calm down.”
I did my part in being the smallest and youngest person there and helped Albert repipe under the trailer while Vern dug the trench alongside the old waterline. Ms. Willard was not pleased about this. “Where’s your mask?” she demanded. I fetched a dust mask from the car. “Tie your hair up in a bun so it doesn’t get stuff in it! Put this bandana around it. Wear this jacket.”
“I’m not even going under at this point,” I protested, as I passed Albert, who was lying under the house, a new coupling. There was considerably less room to wiggle on the far side, and he was using bits of skirting and scrap plywood as a bed. I considered it distinctly unfair that she’d let Albert go under with just a T-shirt.
“Put the damn jacket on!”
When it was my turn to bring the main new Pex lines towards the back of the trailer I became more grateful for the jacket. A fact about pack rats that I didn’t know before is that they store cacti in insulation, eat the cacti, and leave the spines. They had been doing that under this house for years. I’m no stranger to cactus spines at this point, but it’s been a week and I am still finding them in my body.
In a quieter moment I crouched on the bathroom floor, inside, next to a hole I’d drilled and waited for Albert to send me the new toilet supply line. Ms. Willard waited with me. “I’m sorry I’m so distracted and not much help today,” she said suddenly, and I looked up to realize she had tears running down her cheeks. “I just was waiting on this doctor’s appointment, and now my paperwork hasn’t been processed and I don’t know if I have cancer in my throat, too, and all this…”
A reason I like CHRPA is that usually I am faced with problems I can fix. This was not one of them.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. I set the drill down. “Do you want a hug?”
She did. I patted her back and held her. “I keep telling all these women in my life to be strong,” she said. “Now I gotta do that, too.”
Her daughters came to visit that day, as did her twelve-year-old granddaughter, who helped pull up the kitchen supply lines. Ms. Willard pointed at me and bragged to her granddaughter. “See this girl?” she said. “She’s been crawling under that house all day, with all those spiders and whatnot!” I waved to her on my way out the door.
Vern, a champion among champions, dug the entire trench himself. Every time I’d go back to the truck to get something he would be a few feet closer to the meter, swinging a pickaxe non-stop. By the end of the day he was done, and so were we. We left it nearly ready to be hooked in.
I was not assigned to go back the next day and see the final result. Ms. Willard made me keep the jacket and bandana. I will not forget about her and I hope that our work relieved some part of the heavy burden on her shoulders that kept her up at night, baking banana bread.
I’m writing this as a letter to my former students. I don’t know that any of them will read it, but if they do, I want them to know I mean EVERY word.
I know the world is kind of scary right now. There are lots of people saying lots of things that aren’t very nice. Heck, I’ve said some not nice things in the last number of months, and I’m sure some of you have too (because you’re human beings with opinions. Opinions that often get ignored.) I also know I left and am not your teacher anymore. You have a new teacher (who seems like a wonderful person, by the way, and I hope you’re giving him a chance, just like you gave me a chance!) and that may still seem weird, even after almost a year. I know it was still strange in my first year towards the end of the year. Some of you still wanted Mr. Hillard back. And it can be very confusing when people move on in life and you’re still kind of in the same place. Trust me, I know. I’m the one who left, and it is still confusing.
I know that may seem weird. I’m an adult, right, so I should have everything figured out, right? I don’t know if I told you the secret about that while I was still your teacher in the classroom, but, well, I don’t. Chances are, most of the adults you see don’t. Yes, we have more experience, we’re older, and we’re expected to have the stuff figured out. I went to school for the subject I taught you, but one of the things I knew everyday in that classroom was, I didn’t have all the answers. And that I wasn’t just supposed to teach you how to sing and read and play and make music. Part of what I was supposed to do was teach you how to be a wonderful, unique, confident, thoughtful person. That was the more important thing really, for all that I harped and chided, coaxed and encouraged you to learn that a quarter note in common (4/4) time got one beat or that Elvis Gets Busted Driving Fast, you put your FACE in the space, Great Big Dragons Fly Around, and All Cows Eat Grass. Those things were important, yes, but they weren’t always the most important. The most important thing for me was, and is, that you connected to the music, and through that, connected to each other, and other people around the world and through time, even if that connection was short lived and just for a fleeting moment.
And I can tell you, there were some moments. You see, I’m an adult, but I would call my parents sometimes after you had a great day and just tell them ALL the things you’d done. How you’d read that rhythm perfectly the first time, how my fifth graders were composers, how my Middle School chorus sang in three parts a capella and when the piano came back in they were right in tune, how my general music middle schoolers were talking about real world issues through music and how I thought that, maybe, just maybe, you were getting it. And how happy that made me. I hope I told you that enough, that I was so very proud to be your teacher and so very proud of the learning you were doing. I don’t think I did. I think I should have said that more. So very much more.
Because, guys, I have to confess that leaving that classroom was one of the scariest things I have ever done. Scarier than packing up all my things and moving to a new state (which I still did), scarier than walking into a classroom with no chairs and no music and having to figure it out. Because what if I’d made a huge mistake? What if I had left something so wonderful and magical and full of joy and real human interaction only to find nothing here in Tucson was as good? What if no one came along to teach you how to be wonderful, vulnerable, sensitive, kind people?
Part of me feels guilty for saying I was worried. Part of me feels guilty for saying that I found wonderful things here. Because, guys, I want you to know that YOU MATTER. There are things going on in our country and world that people have different opinions on and, let’s be quite honest here, friends, adults are being really ugly to each other. And they’re angry. I promise I won’t lie to you and I confess, I’m ANGRY. I know, I said a lot in classes that I wasn’t mad, I was intense about things (stolen from my own chorus teacher, because it was true!) but that was because it was you guys! I couldn’t get mad at you, although sometimes we had hard days and it was rough. Because you’re kids! You’re still learning! But with adults, they’re supposed to have it together! So I want you to know, that we don’t. We’re trying really hard. I’m trying really hard. I want the world to be a better place for you because even though I’m not your mom, I’m still your teacher, even when I’m not there to teach you. I worry about each and every one of you each and every day. I told you that when I left. That even though I was going away, doing something different, there was not a snowball’s chance in a very warm place of me ever ever ever forgetting what you each meant to me. Each one of you made my life better. Each one of you taught me something new, did you know that? You taught me. I hope you know that.
And so, here I sit at 3pm on a drizzly gray day in Tucson, out in the desert, thinking about how I hope I taught you half as much about life as you taught me. Tuesday (because we have a holiday tomorrow) I will go into my office, and sit at a desk, and work very hard to help feed people in need. And not just to feed them, but to help them find a way out of the line for food, to be able to provide on their own. And sometimes it feels easier than teaching and other days, guys, I am overwhelmed by the scope and range of the need that their is in the world, and how people can be so very ugly about it. And I think of how many of the people in line are kids, just like you, with stories, like yours. They want to play minecraft and post on instagram, and they want the latest phone, and sing in chorus, or play in band, or wish that their teacher would let them play the recorder all day everyday. They like to draw and laugh, watch football and dance. They have normal kid worries, just like yours, and are probably really kind of confused about what’s going on. I hope they have friends like yours, and teachers like yours. And I hope that maybe, just maybe, the little bit I do here, this letter, my adventures (because let me tell you, this is an adventure.) may still teach you that you can do and be anything you want to. And that the thing I hope you choose to be most often is compassionate, caring, and kind. I hope you choose to be risk-takers and thinkers. That you choose being curious inquirers over taking someone’s word for something (but be nice about it!) and knowledgeable in an age of misinformation. I hope beyond hope you will be principled when others aren’t. The world needs more people who are as kind and wonderful as you are. And if you aren’t sure what to do, guys, before you worry about being anything else, BE YOU. There’s only one. I may not have it all figured out, but I can tell you right now, that is one thing I can do.
So I’ve written enough words. I’m not sure if this counts as “teacher talk” like it would have in a classroom, but if it does, I’m way over my allotment. I’m cheering for you from exactly 1731 miles (or 25 hours and two time zones) away. Don’t give up! Keep learning! I believe in you!
The title of this post is the opening line of one of my all-time favorite songs that we sang in chorus in high school. I forget the full title of the song, but we always just called it Majesty and it was a favorite of just about everyone I knew in chorus. The words of the song are derived from the words of Psalm 8, when David is proclaiming the glory of God.
Psalm 8: Lord, our Lord, How majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You have made them rulers over the works of your hands; you have put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim in the paths of the seas. LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Davis is astounded that God would have such regard for man that He would make “them [men] a little lower than the angels”. As I reflect on this, I am filled with the same astonishment as David. God, Creator of the Universe, designer of mountains, sculptor of the seas, all powerful and omnipotent God, regards us humans as only a little lower than the angels. It seems impossible to me sometimes because there are time when the vastness of creation seems to shrink me down in comparison and it becomes easy to forget that God knows me, that He resides in me, and that it’s possible for me to know Him too. He chooses this, and I must choose it too.
In the psalm, David also praises the works of God’s fingers. The actual created world: mountains, valleys, rivers, oceans, stars, planets, and all the rest of creation. And what a wondrous creation it is! Last weekend, we took a trip for our fall retreat. We went down to Cochise County and stayed at the Half Moon Ranch, nestled in the Dragoon Mountains near the Cochise Stronghold. Like so many times in this beautiful corner of the country, I was confronted by the beauty of creation.
Far from city centers, the stars popped out. And there were more than I ever could have thought possible. I also saw several shooting stars, a new(ish) experience for me. The vastness of the night sky and the seclusion of the ranch where we were also afforded me my first glimpse of the Milky Way. Needless to say I felt small and insignificant. But I marveled at God’s creative genius and I wondered how it could be that the God who created the vastness of space is mindful of me, an infinitely small being in the “grand scheme of things”…
The highlight of the fall retreat came on Saturday morning, our last full day in Cochise County. Mirra, Mary, Alison, and I left the ranch around 7:30 in the morning to hike, boulder, and climb our way to the Cochise Stronghold, where a tribe of Native Americans held out against a US Army force. What a climb. During the course of our 3.5 hour journey, we walked almost seven miles, climbed the equivalent of 113 floors, and burned almost 2,000 calories (statistics provided by fitbit). We confronted the challenges of the trail, climbed open rock faces and pushed through jelly legs and tired minds. The reward was one of those rare views of the world from on high. Houses were small, other mountains were at eye level, and we could see far into the distance. We witnessed some awesome rock formations. We witnessed the quiet of isolation. We appreciated the beauty of the desert and the mountainous terrain. Most of all, we reveled together in the counqering of a challenge and in the beauty that God is. He is there in the mountain, in the challenge, and in the overcoming. And, even in our smallness, He knows and loves us. It is an incredible, wonderful, overwhelming, amazing feeling. Last weekend was good for me to remember that feeling, to appreciate creation, and to reconnect with my housemates.
The night before the climb, before finding the Milky Way and playing some awesome games, we had an impromptu praise session. With only a ukulele and our voices, we praised God with songs familiar and unfamiliar. With one voice we praised our Creator. And that moment of communal singing rivaled the climb to the Stronghold as a high point for me.
Salmo 8: ¡Oh Jehová, Señor nuestro, cuán glorioso es tu nombre en toda la tierra! Has puesto tu gloria sobre los cielos; de la boca de los niños y de los que maman, fundaste la fortaleza, a causa de tus enemigos, para hacer callar al enemigo y al vengativo. Cuando veo tus cielos, obra de tus dedos, la luna y las estrellas que tú formaste, digo ¿qué es el hombre, para que tengas de él memoria, y el hijo del hombre, para que lo visites? Le has hecho poco menor que los ángeles, y lo coronaste de gloria y de honra. Le hiciste señorear sobre las obras de tus manos; todo lo pusiste debajo de sus pies: Ovejas y bueyes, todo ello, y asimismo las bestias del campo, las aves de los cielos y los peces del mar; todo cuanto pasa por los senderos del mar. ¡Oh Jehová, Señor nuestro, cuán grande es tu nombre en toda la tierra!
Thank you, Creator God, for your creation, for your knowledge of us, and for community.
And so we go.
So we’re coming to the end of Veteran’s Day. This is always one of my favorite days of the year because of the outpouring of support and recognition for and of our servicemen and servicewomen. It’s something I wish I could see all year round.
The past couple weeks have been crazy busy. Last week we joined with the YAVs from Denver and Austin (shout out to y’all for hanging with us for a week) for a border delegation that took place in Tucson, Douglas, AZ, and Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. Over the course of this trip we were exposed to parts of our immigration system, the border, and life in Agua Prieta, as influenced by the border. We learned about Cafe Justo, a direct source, no middleman coffee roastery that partners with co-op farmers living in communities around Mexico. We learned about the journey, or part of it, of migrants through the desert to the border. We learned about organizations in Agua Prieta that work with migrants on their journey to the US. We talked with a Border Patrol agent and a federal judge who oversaw proceedings for Operation Streamline, which expedites the sentencing process for migrants who are caught crossing into the US illegally. We learned about and were exposed to the humanitarian crisis at the border, the dangers of crossing, and some of the details of the antiquated system of immigration used by this country. We confronted the difficulty of finding solutions to the problems surrounding the border.
The humanitarian need surrounding the border was hardest for me to confront. It’s one thing to hear about the deaths and the wall; it’s quite another to experience that firsthand. I know that my opinions and ideas and potential solutions probably differ widely from my brethren in the YAV program, but I also know it’s impossible to deny that something should be done. Our system should be updated. Bilateral solutions should be found that include both sides. Ideas should be considered from all parts of the political spectrum, and real debate on those ideas should be encouraged. Consensus should be formed. And then, I think real solutions, lasting solutions, can be found and utilized. This is my hope. This is my prayer. Because, if I learned anything last week, it’s that something needs to be done.
Now to the election, the other big happening of the last two weeks. I don’t want to dwell on this, but I do want to say something. And that something is to share the thoughts of someone in the sports world, Ernie Johnson, who comments on the NBA for TNT. Please take a moment to listen to what he has to say. You can find the video of this here. In the aftermath of a contentious election, his words encapsulate my thoughts and how I want to conduct myself moving forward. That and he says everything much more coherently and succinctly than I could ever hope to.
Señor, nos guarde en su palma. Nos sane. Nos consuele. Abra nuestros ojos al valor inherente de nuestro prójimo.
And so we go.
Hey y’all. This blog is something that I love doing. I love being able to share my thoughts and experiences with people back home, with others in the YAV program, and any other random people that may be following this blog (y’all are the real MVPs). Thank you for the feedback I’ve received and all the support from afar.
I really wanted to share one particular story from this past week that had a profound impact on me. So this past Wednesday was like any other. It started with my FitBit going off at 6:30 telling me that it was time to go swim. I dragged myself out of bed and to the pool, but, since I had a meeting at 9 that morning, I had to cut my workout short to make it to work on time. The work meeting was an orientation of sorts for new staff members at Primavera. It was a three hour affair that, I’ll admit, was hard to stay awake for by the end. All told, it was a good morning with lots of activity and lots of good information thrown my way. It also helped that the meeting ran a little long and shortened the rest of the day considerable.
After the meeting, Cody and I returned to Las Abuelitas to prepare for the day and to prepare for the UA public health students. Wednesdays are our long days with the kids getting to the program around 2 instead of the usual 3. Once the kids began arriving I could tell it was going to be an interesting day. Karl, one of our recurring problem children, was in a fine fettle for some unknown reason. After only about fifteen minutes Karl was causing issues prompting me to have a conversation with him. That conversation started out in the usually unproductive way with Karl making faces at me, mimicking the things I was saying, and not giving me any hint as to what was bothering him. I finally got him to calm down and, after arranging a “spot” for him to go when he was upset, tell me what was wrong. There had been an incident on the bus with another student and he was upset that there wasn’t any computer time that day (which is normal for a Wednesday). So I left him to calm himself down and told him he could join the day’s activity whenever he was ready. Things were going relatively well. Then, before he decided to come join the activity, Karl’s attitude took a turn for the worst. He began verbally and physically acting out and, despite numerous pleas from me to stop, his actions began escalating. After giving him way more warnings than I should have I told him he needed to go take a break (our “timeout” and not a favorite punishment for Karl)…about fifteen times. Once he realized I was serious (and because he didn’t want to go take a break) he started crying, loudly and seemingly without end. I sat next to him and let him throw his tantrum. Once he stopped, he got up and left the playroom (where this entire episode had gone down to this point). I waited a minute then left the room to find out where he had gone. Not being able to find him, and figuring he’d try to return to the playroom at some point, I closed the door and waited for him to come back. Sure enough, about two minutes later, here comes Karl. After denying him entrance to the playroom, I again told him that he needed to take a break. This time, even through tears and yelling, he acquiesced. I gave him a moment to calm down then began talking him through why he was sitting out, even though he hates that punishment, and, though it felt like pulling teeth, got him to promise to improve his attitude and behavior. I told him he could leave whenever he was ready.
I tell this long story to illustrate how a typical encounter with Karl goes. And this one was relatively successful; most of them aren’t. I don’t know why I feel such a bond with Karl, but I think it stems from seeing a reflection of my younger self in his attitude, in the way he acts out, and in the things he says when he’s mad. All these things earned me the nickname “Grizz” from my grandpa and also led to a lot of personal issues in my formative years. I feel drawn to Karl because I know what it’s like to be an angry kid, to react to situations with anger first and then sulking afterwards when forced to confront the consequences for our angry actions. I want to help Karl see a different way, like so many people did for me, and, hopefully, help him avoid some of the results my anger had for me.
I also told that story to juxtapose it with another involving Karl from later that same day. We were playing Knockout again, and, like last week, things were going well. I had to step inside for something and when I returned to the court, I found that disaster had struck. And incident had occurred between Karl and another kid, Mark. I was able to separate Karl from Mark (who went to talk through things with one of the public health students). I asked Karl to tell me what had occurred and, without any fuss at all, he told me what happened between him and Mark. Mark had taken a ball intended for Karl. Karl got mad and called Mark a name, which was followed by the typical playground scuffle as payment for someone being called a name. The public health students had told both kids that they couldn’t play basketball anymore because of the fight; I saw an opening in Karl’s dissatisfaction with this punishment. Without him crying or mimicking me or yelling, I was able to talk him through what happened, where it went wrong and how his choices in the incident had directly impacted what happened afterwards. I told him that he can’t control a lot in life, but he can control how he reacts to adverse situations. Did he want to lash out and risk negative consequences? Or did he want to be more constructive in his reactions and build relationships instead of breaking them? It was remarkable to see how, in the space of one day, Karl came to at least acknowledge that there might be another way to approach life. I don’t know what impact this will have going forward, but it is heartening to see progress like that. And it’s nice to use the word heartening when talking about my experiences with the after school program.
Thank you Loving God.
And so we go.
This is one of the best moments of the year so far for me. And that has nothing to do with things that are happening to me as a YAV. I’m currently listening to a stream of the Cubs v. Dodgers NLCS Game 6 at Wrigley Field. I’ve been a Cubs fan for quite a few years now, not lifelong by any means, but long enough to have become a more die-hard fan than I would have thought back when I was a young kid experiencing my first Cubs game in Wrigley with my family. That day (an extra-innings win versus the Giants in a year after the Giants had won the World Series) cemented in my heart a love for the Cubs, for Wrigley Field, for the city of Chicago, and, more broadly, baseball. I love sports and there is something about the competition, the effort given, watching guys play and succeed at a game they’ve worked their entire lives to be great at…there is something about that that resonates with me on a deep, deep level. As I listen to the Cubs shake off their history, as I watch Cubs hype videos, as I talk about what this means with my friends who also love the Cubs, my heart is strangely full. I love the game of baseball and the memories I have that are related to the Cubs are some of the dearest I have. Go Cubs Go!
So anyway, back to the year and things I’m experiencing firsthand. I have kind of slacked lately on recording my daily thoughts and feelings. Coming off the kids’ fall break last week (and thus not having to run the after school program) made me lazy. It was also a really quiet week last week. Not a whole lot happened and there wasn’t a whole lot that I felt I needed to record. But this week is a very different story. This week was awesome.
I said not a whole lot happened last week, and, because of the quiet on the child front, Cody and I were able to take some needed time to revamp parts of our program, inventory and sort donations we had received the week before, and, generally, catch our breaths from the whirlwind that had been the last few weeks. By and large, we got all these things accomplished. That was awesome for me as I’ve come to learn that I value accomplishing tasks and setting an agenda and getting those agenda things done. I also had the chance to work with Destinee on a lot of garden stuff. We planned the bed layouts for one of the gardens that is (very nominally) under my control and we worked on prepping the compost piles we are building at Las Abuelitas. Last Saturday I also had the opportunity to work with students from UA to plant the beds we had planned earlier in the week. What a success that was! I love being able to work in the gardens and working with the students (who know a lot more about gardening than I do) was an awesome experience for me. We got all three beds planted, spruced up our stock of wildflowers (for color and bee attraction), and, as I hinted above, I got to learn a lot about gardening and caring for plants. It was a wonderful week last week, but, like all good things, it had to come to an end.
Monday came and Cody and I rolled out our updated rules and discipline policy while also incorporating our more strict enforcement of said rules. Surprisingly, the kids responded really well to this and I noticed a marked improvement in their behavior. I think being able to make sure the kids actually knew the rules and understood that their actions in contrary to those rules would be punished helped a lot!
On the whole, Monday and Tuesday were unremarkable in terms of things happening. The kids were good and they were just two smooth days! But Wednesday was awesome. We had the public health students in to help us (as usual) so Cody and I were able to take a backseat and ensure that the kids paid attention to the students. Once the students were done with their activity, the program resumed its normal flow. I went outside with some of the older boys (as normally happens) and we played a game called Knockout on the basketball court for about an hour. The amazing part of this was that the kids played well together. The original three that I went out with respected each other and had a lot of fun. Then another two of the younger kids came out and the older kids let them play and the respect and fun continued. We shared, worked with each other to accommodate one of the boys who has a broken arm, followed the rules, and everyone enjoyed playing together! I think I can honestly say my heart has never been as full as it was today playing with those kids. They showed themselves what they can have fun while playing within the rules. They showed me that they CAN actually show the behaviors that we are trying to teach them. I haven’t been that happy during this year yet and I thank God for these glimpses into what is possible when working with kids. Those moments are what make this work worth it.
After the high that was Wednesday, Thursday was a day without the program. Cody was going out of town and Destinee needed some help with gardening stuff so we decided to cancel the program. I got to do some garden work and get my hands dirty. Even though it was a tiring day (we did some work at three different gardens over the course of four hours) it was a good end to the week for me.
Now I sit here in the middle of my weekend, trying to remind myself that I still have one more day off before I go back to work. I’m preparing myself for Sunday and going back to church. I’m preparing myself for a full week of the program again (followed by a week off for a retreat with the YAVs). And I’m preparing myself for watching the World Series with my Cubs playing for the championship. Literally haven’t had a chance to experience this in my entire life. I can’t believe this is happening. Excuse me for ending this on a slightly unorganized note, but I can’t contain or quantify my emotions right now. Go Cubs Go!
Thank you, Redeeming God, for kids, who provide small windows through which we can see your face, for good weeks, tired legs, and cooler weather. And thank you for the Chicago Cubs!
And so we go.
We have now reached October and, as hard as it is to believe that, it’s also crazy that it hasn’t been longer. The “normalization” of this year is becoming more complete. I have a routine now; instead of trying to find that, my daily “quest”, if you will, is searching to tweak that routine to take the most advantage of YAV life in Tucson. A housemate of mine recently gave me a little note of affirmation (because we’re all fans of words of affirmation in Tucson house) and at the end she mentioned something about admiring the fact that I seek to be present here in Tucson even though my heart is somewhere else. In reflecting on that, I’m taken back to one of my first thoughts coming into this year. I’m living life in two separate places this year, and sometimes the desire to be back home is stronger than the desire to be here in Tucson. So much of orientation spoke of living life in tension between where we are and where we want to be, and I feel like I just add this into the mix of everything else that I’m am presented with in this crazy life. And some days, I miss the simple fact of being around familiar things. Even more than a month into this journey, I miss my dogs. I miss Mariah. I miss my family. I even miss Owensboro, something I never thought I would be caught saying. The struggle between the familiar and the new haunts me every day, and it is a struggle that I’m slowly, but surely, starting to embrace.
I’ve most noticed this “settling in” effect every time I look at my personal calendar. There are so many events that I’ve agreed to go to. And, regrettably, so many that I have forgotten about and been unable to take part in. Another side effect of settling in has been the continued comfort in biking. I always remember to pack a change of clothes if my biking clothes are not appropriate for my destination, I remember to factor in the increased time it takes to bike somewhere compared to driving, and then to factor in extra time to change clothes once I reach my destination. These calculations have slowly become second nature. Last week alone I biked almost 80 miles. That’s basically just to work and to swim, with the occasional extra group adventure thrown in for fun. One thing that never ceases to amaze me about the human body is how long it takes to adjust to a change in activity (i.e. biking), but how quickly it “forgets” the muscle built if the activity is not performed even for one day. For me, this adjustment to biking continues to occur, and will probably for the rest of the year.
The vistas in Arizona never cease to disappoint me. These sunsets only tell half the picture. I once heard a fellow volunteer from another program say the sunsets here were really disappointing. I don’t know which skies he is looking at, but these come on an almost daily basis. When it’s not the sunsets, it’s the mountains. I wish I had a good picture to show y’all the mountains that are everywhere around Tucson. The city is so flat that it’s hard to believe the mountains are as close as they are. God’s beauty is so evident here in the desert. I used to think of the desert as a place where not much happened. Things hid during the day (when it’s too hot to do anything) and became active at night. The desert, to me, was always a barren place. But there is creativity and diversity in the way the sun’s rays find the clouds every afternoon. There is majesty in the rugged edges of the mountains, clawing their way into the sky. There is life here. And there is abundant life. Part of my adventures of the past week was planting my first bed at Las Abuelitas with Destinee (the garden program is finally getting off the ground!!). In this one bed alone, we planted broccoli, cauliflower, onions, dill, arugula (which I didn’t even know was a thing), kale, spinach, lettuce, parsley, and cilantro…in the desert. Now we may find that this was too much for one bed. We may find that we should have transplanted most of these into the bed following their sprouting in another, more sheltered place (that is true, but we’re hopeful they’ll all still grow). But that’s what I love about gardening. It’s an experiment. It’s about taking chances, making mistakes, and finding out what works. It’s interacting with God’s creation to bring forth life from the soil. That sounds really familiar to me (if you’re interested see Genesis 2) and I enjoy being a partner in God’s creative story, even in the desert.
I’m glad it’s Friday. My weekend began yesterday at the conclusion of the after school program and I’m really going to miss these four day work weeks when I return to the “real world”. I’m also super excited because next week we don’t have the after school program at all. Our program schedule follows the Tucson United School District’s calendar, so when the kids don’t have school, we don’t have the program. I will miss seeing the kids every day, but after this week I’m glad we get a chance to breathe before moving through the rest of October. Cody and I have the chance to recharge and, in light of the past rough week, revamp some of the rules and consequences of our program.
As I mentioned, a couple times, this past week was crazy. The kids were, simply put, ready to misbehave at any and every opportunity they could. We could not get in front of the disciplining curve and as such spent a frustrating week leading from behind. Thursday was better and gave me hope that we do have this thing somewhat under control, even though I don’t feel prepared at all to work with children. I’m still feeling my way in that regard. I mentioned above that Destinee and I planted our first bed at Las Abuelitas. Things are smoothing themselves out. We are attempting to bring life out of the desert soil (albeit in a raised bed). We are attempting to direct the life and energies of the students that come into the after school program. We are attempting to join in and contribute to the diversity and beauty of God’s world. We are attempting to understand what it means to take these 20 kids in every day and be a positive influence in their lives while also seeking to understand their situations and “walk in their shoes” for the altogether too short time that we get to know them. We are finding our way, day by day.
And so we go.
Thank you, Loving God, for challenging weeks, restful weekends, and reminders of your beauty in unexpected places.
Wow. Monday (tomorrow) marks three weeks since my arrival in Tucson. I can’t believe it’s been that long. But at the same time it feels like I’ve been here forever. After a whirlwind couple of weeks, things have settled down, the changes aren’t coming quite as quickly. About a month ago, I said goodbye to Owensboro and my family for what is realistically the last time (more on that later). I flew to New York and spent a week there for some serious disorientation in preparation for my YAV year. At the end of that week, I took a two-leg trip to Tucson where a week long orientation commenced. After that week, I started my position with Primavera and had another week of orientation for the work I will be doing there. Then, last week, I helped to kick off the after school program that I will be helping with throughout the next year. Every single week there has been some sort of change, but those are starting to slow down. Life in Tucson is taking on some semblance of normalcy, for this I’m extremely grateful.
The after school program, as I mentioned above, is one of my responsibilities with my position at the Primavera Foundation. It started this past week on Wednesday and what an experience that was! The kids are awesome, they really are, but they are also difficult (as most children can be right?). You never know what they’re going to do and the job definitely keeps me on my toes. I can’t wait until I can get my feet more fully under me and I understand more what my position looks like. This after school program has definitely sucked up a lot of my time as we only had effectively four days to prepare for our first week and beyond. I can’t wait to get some good planning done and to implement mine and Cody’s plan for this program. I am so excited for what this year can be and to put our stamp on this program, but I’m slightly frustrated that we haven’t made more progress along those lines. I just have to keep reminding myself that our time has been short and eventually we’ll get there.
So that was my week and that led into the weekend. Let me just say that I love having an automatic three day weekend every weekend. Even if we have community events (like our ongoing discernment activities) on Fridays, we still don’t have to work and that is awesome to me. Anyway, part of our activities this weekend included a bike safety class that started Wednesday evening with a classroom portion and ended this Saturday with a scheduled six hour long practical skills portion. That Saturday portion was particularly hard to get through. We ended up getting up before 6 AM to prepare ourselves for the 30 minute ride to the Shalom Mennonite Fellowship where we were to begin our course. I began the journey there extremely resentfully. I wanted to sleep in, I wanted to enjoy my Saturday, do some laundry, journal a little, and finish up writing my thank you notes. Thus I set out to the site of the class with a less than positive outlook on the day. I saw this in myself, and, instead of living with that, I decided to pray. I asked God to help me “flip the switch”; instead of looking at the negatives of what I was doing, I wanted to see the positives and I wanted to enjoy the day. Living into that, allowing those changes to occur in my psyche, turned my potentially bad morning into a fun day. I got to learn some new bike skills, help Mirra through yet another flat that she got on the trip back home, I was able to finish more thank you notes to those at FPC-Owensboro who have made my year possible, and I got to go to a pool party with the other volunteers serving this year in Tucson. It was an awesome day, and I thank God for that change.
Earlier I mentioned the beginning of this adventure involved me leaving my home for what is basically the last time. Well, since I’m getting married a month after returning from Tucson means that I’ll be living between Ashland and Owensboro after I get back. It means I’ll be moving away without much chance to live at 311 Resolution Way. Another thing that hit me today regarding my future marriage is how far away I am from Kentucky and the decisions that are being made surrounding the wedding. Mariah (my fiancée) got her wedding dress yesterday. Admittedly, that is a part of this process that I would not have been a part of even if I was available, but it did highlight to me that I am very much removed from that process except via FaceTime and text messages. This process is hard.
But I want to end with a new person I met this week. She came to the after school program on Thursday as the younger sister of another boy in the program. Her name is Soledad. She is four and she is adorable. We played “soccer” for the last 30 minutes or so of the program on Thursday and her laugh and smile were so infectious that I was cheered up considerably. Before that moment, Thursday had been tough. I was dragging from the day before and just wasn’t sure I could make it through the entirety of the program. Seeing Soledad’s simple joy in kicking the soccer ball with me, and in everything that she did that day was just a wonderful reminder that we can find joy wherever we are. The saddest part of the day was when it was time for Soledad to leave, she didn’t want to go and she was really upset that she had to leave. It broke my heart, but I hope she returns on Monday and I can’t wait to see what else she has to show me about life throughout this year.
Thank you, Faithful God, for changing circumstances, changing mindsets, and the joy of children.
On Tuesday night around 10pm, the heavens opened up and rain poured down for almost 24 hours. Rain in the desert is unlike the temperamental Eastern storms. The streets flood, the ever-present sun is disconcertingly absent, the air tastes vastly different and dry riverbeds run with brown water. Flowers open up, and swarms of enervated insects crowd the air.
Wednesday was my first full day of work at Community Home Repair. Heeding my new coworkers’ warnings, I took the bus to avoid getting soaked and damaging my bike in the thigh-high puddles. At 6am, when I got on the bus, the sky barely had any light to it. Despite the gloomy morning, I found a friendly environment in the office. I received two CHRPA shirts and a hat, gloves, and a pocketknife. My teammate Dustin and I set out in Daedalus, one of the official trucks, a little after 7 for the first job of the day. I had very little idea what to expect, and it’s a good thing because if someone had warned me I probably would have stayed behind.
The first job was a clogged kitchen sink in a mobile home. I’ve unclogged a sink or two before, I thought. You just get a plunger or poke around with a coat hanger or dump Draino in it until something happens, right?
But CHRPA doesn’t not get paid to unclog sinks with plungers. I made two new friends that day. First, the Snake. An electric and air powered machine with a body vaguely reminiscent of a shop vacuum cleaner, a long neck, and a metal extension with a swirly tip that reaches unknowable lengths out of the neck and swirled around when turned on.
Then there was the Drain King. A rubber bladder that attaches to the end of a hose, which fills up until it can’t handle the pressure anymore and spits high-powered bursts of water down a pipe to dislodge whatever dares stand in its way. You know in cartoons when someone pinches a running hose, it swells up to ridiculous size, and they shoot it at their unwitting friend? It’s that, but bent to good purpose.
After testing the water and noting that the sink indeed did not drain, we carefully sidestepped a skeletal house cat with matted fur that periodically sneezed huge chunks of green mucus on the floor to get back out the door and look under the house. We needed to see where the drain pipes led because there was a strange puddle growing right under the kitchen. Good news: it was dry under the house. Bad news: about five feral cats were living under the home, and judging by the weathered skull of one of their ancestors, they had been living there quite some time. And feral cats do not need litterboxes because they live in one.
The smell was apparent even from outside. I looked down at my new, soft blue CHRPA shirt and recently bought pants. I shrugged and crawled under that house, shoving aside piles of dried excrement. Rain dripped down the walls outside. Dustin pointed at the underside of the house. “See the problem?”
I am not a plumbing expert (yet), but even my untrained eyes recognized the fact that pipes should not have a huge, dripping gap between them.
I said that it was dry under the house. It was not dry after we ran the Snake. Fetid brown water poured out of the gap, and then we were crawling in mud made of desert sand, sink offal, and cat filth. We ran the Drain King from above and flooded the kitchen with backwash, providing me with the opportunity to scream “TURN IT OFF! TURN IT OFF!!!” on my very first day. We ran the Snake from below again, lying in the leftovers from the Drain King. Betty, the homeowner, took pity and offered us Pepsi. We ran the Drain King, the Snake, and the Drain King and finally the kitchen sink drained and did not overflow. Dustin bravely reconnected the pipe while I provided moral support from the driest position I could find.
“Please get sink catchers,” we pleaded with Betty, crying and covered in mud and unmentionable other substances in her flooded kitchen. “Please get them. They are cheap.”
“I’ll think about it,” she said, relatively nonchalant about the state of her kitchen for a 78-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis. I know this because she wouldn’t let me mop, boasting that she did all her own chores. She showed off a party favor from her twin great-grandsons’ birthday party, and pointed out how nice her new kitchen windows were until I agreed with her. She asked us to mail her donation to PCOA, the society that had connected her with CHRPA. Meeting her was the best part of that morning; she was cheerful and chatty and kept me sane and helped me remember why I was going through this. It wasn’t just a sink. It was water, the source of life, the gift of God to the desert.
We cleaned up the tools. We drank our Pepsi. And we got in the truck and went to our next job.