My year in Tucson started out really rough. I was intimidated by a lot of things and I questioned if doing a second YAV year while still deep in grief after leaving Asheville was the right move for me. I started out not really feeling connected to anything or anyone. I missed trees and grass and rain. At Christmas, I really started to miss the snow. Up until Christmas day, I didn’t feel the “Christmas spirit” at work in this holiday season. Nothing around me was bringing holiday cheer. Families were separated in detention, work was busier than ever, and the desert was the same as it had been. But on Christmas eve, we attended a candlelight service at Southside Presbyterian Church, a social justice church in town, that put on a moving Nativity play with a woman who gave birth in the desert playing Mary and the baby as Jesus. It brought an interesting perspective to the Christmas narrative, having baby Jesus played by this tiny babe born in the desert. Joseph, was absent; this “holy family” was separated at the border and Joseph was serving time in a detention center awaiting trial. He was a client of our legal aid clinic I worked for. This night brought a new meaning to Christmas and how I felt about the dessert. I spent Christmas day with my boss and her family, learning Hispanic holiday traditions and hearing stories from her wife about how the desert has changed over time. How global warming and the border crisis has really helped in shaping this place into the desecration I see, instead of the beauty and mystery that it holds.
In January and February, I threw myself into connecting more with the community and the people. I tried to make a lot of friends and get out whenever I could to go talk to people. I met so many families that had never left Tucson and got to hear about how much they loved this place. I was introduced to local food trucks, Sonoran style hotdogs, and lots of burros. This spring, in light of COVID -19, we spent a lot of time hiking and when we weren’t hiking, we were watching videos and learning more about the town we were living in, the people, and the history of the desert. We watched a documentary on biosphere 2, just up the road from us, and later we went on hikes to Marshal Gultch where I notice that the mountains hold the mystery of the dessert that is more than Tucson’s saguaros but also holds trees and running water.
My year in Tucson has really been a lesson in not judging a book from its cover. Its been a journey in not letting fear intimidate me. I was scared of moving to Tucson, of saying the wrong thing, but that ended up delaying a lot of really impactful conversations. It makes me wonder how many opportunities fear steals us from.
The Parable of the Sower Matthew 13: 1-23
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
When I read this scripture the first time, I got very caught up in what type of seed I was. Verses 20- 21 really stood out to me. I felt connected to the seeds planted on Rocky ground. Enjoying the gifts and privilege around me, but only at a base level and not really for the long haul. Refusing to put down my roots. I entered my YAV year with a sense of theological tourism. I wanted to travel the world and escape the small community I came from. I wanted to see fun places and learn about the world, embrace the many diverse cultures. I wanted excitement and adventure. However, this year had other ideas in mind and instead of fun and adventure, I was hit with some heavy grief and experiences that challenged my privilege and questioned the things I got excited over.
The more I think about this year, the less I feel like a particular seed and the more I relate to the sower who, had one job: plant the seeds and grow the crops. But, the seeds went everywhere, there were too many outside factors around them that prevented all of the seed being planted properly in the ground. Thinking back to our year, I realize how little was in our control. Ruby’s bike accident, and COVID 19, for example… I resonate with the sower this year. I too have not really been planting my seeds, but rather, dropping them and scattering them along the path not knowing where they were ending up.
The first lesson I learned this year on the borderlands, was that you can’t ignore the pain. It engulfs you. To me, the desert had always been an image of death, despair, and pain., Even before extensively studying the issues of immigration at the border, the desert projected an image of death. At a Thanksgiving meal, we were invited to this year, I was shocked to hear so many being thankful for “the beauty of the desert”. Nothing seems to grow here, it’s hot, there are snakes… but, after MANY months and quite a few hikes, I have also come to embrace the many species of cactus, I have fallen in love with the sunsets AS WELL AS some sunrises, and although I haven’t warmed up to the many predators in the desert, javelinas are a pretty fun animal. I have also come to realize there is a deep sense of community here. In a city of half a million people, I didn’t think it was possible. But, there truly is one degree of separation between most people. Despite the tourists and snowbirds that inhabit this place, there are also some that have been here “as long as the deeply-rooted mesquite tree” my boss Lupe Castillo says. I am sad that COVID has taken away so much of our time to connect with this community. However, it has also blessed me with the reflection that stay or go, I am still a tourist here. This land was home to many others before it became a space for me. I want to remember that. To remember that as my roots continue to grow and take hold of the desert clay, I remain respectful and aware of the plants growing near me and the sacred land that was once already inhabited.
Despite my seeds ending up everywhere this year, few managed to avoid the rocks, thorns, and birds in order to properly be planted. The seeds I have planted this year are ones of awareness. Awareness of the privilege I carry as a tourist with a passport. Awareness of the injustice all around me all the time. Awareness of the issue of immigration and humanities history as a migrant people. Awareness of the greed and misconception we allow ourselves to play into by not being agents of ourselves. Awareness of the systems that benefit me at the costs of those around me.
I also have planted seeds of action this year. I refuse to be the silent oppressor. I am learning what it means to have a voice and eventually, I will have to open up to the lesson of confrontation. I have spent this year, realizing that despite being young, privileged, and most of the time spacey, I do have thoughts, opinions, and ideas, that are worthy to share. This, this is where I see God, God is the sun that provides light to the seeds and warmth for them to grow. There to watch and look over them, but has no active role in their care. We have to be the ones to provide the seeds with water and to take them out of the sun every now and again. We are our own agents, set forth with our goal of planting an orchard.
In my understanding, God doesn’t care where the seeds are planted, just that a few, continue to grow.
July begins the final month of YAV. Just 4 more weeks until my YAV term has come to a close. Many people are asking about what reflections I have on this last year of my life. What am I taking with me?
But how do I sum up the last year of my life into a nice picture for everyone to see? How do I make all the moments make sense? All the interactions with CHPRA clients, the days when I’ve come home from work exhausted and yet fulfilled, the moments of laughter with my housemates, the moments of deep raw emotion too. All the good, bad, draining, fulfilling, inspiring, loving, hard, and growth moments.
I don’t think I can sum up any year of my life into a conversation. Much less this one.
Living in Tucson for the last year has been so impactful. So fulfilling. So educational. So life changing.
I can think of takeaways, but that phrase feels strange to me because that makes it seem like there is a concrete thing I am taking with me. That isn’t how I feel at all. I feel like I am leaving from this experience with a trail behind me that I have already walked and a trail in front of me. This is just a moment of change in the journey of my life, but not an ending.
Thinking of this as a journey reminded me of “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. A poem that I used to love when I was in high school.
A camp I went to as a kid showed us a video every summer based around this poem. It was a classic at camp. Many of us long time campers knew all the words. The message of the film was that in order to curb global warming and have a good earth to live on, we need to take the road less traveled. Go against the norm to “all the difference.”
That is the message that I am reflecting on most as my YAV experience is coming to an end. I don’t want to go to a post YAV life that is fitting into the norms of society. These norms uphold systemic inequalities and I don’t want to be passive in these systems.
It seems like most people would agree that there is a lot of brokenness everywhere right now. But that brokenness doesn’t just fix itself. It requires work through analysing biases and injustices on personal and systemic levels. And it requires the work of going against the grain. Being open to new ideas. Refusing to participate in this brokenness.
The road less traveled isn’t easy but it is so worth it to have human rights and equality for everyone.
I believe we need radical changes to have justice for all people. And that requires all of us taking the road less traveled. We all have to go against these norms and put in the time to create a better world for each other. Post YAV, that is exactly what I want to do. My takeaway is the same one that I learned at camp as a teenager: keep taking that road less traveled because it does make a difference. And that difference is needed.
When I googled Tucson last winter/spring after applying to the Tucson Borderlands YAV site, I learned that it is a pretty large city, there is a beautiful National park, and there are some pretty cool festivals in Tucson. When I arrived in Tucson, I was so shocked to see a saguaro cactus right outside of the airport. During the week of YAV orientation in Tucson, Alison took us all outside of the YAV house to our back yard and showed us the four mountain ranges that serve as a compass for the city.
The Catalina Mountains are north and they are right behind the house. In Asheville, locals are always complaining about the tourists that are in town all the time it seems. Tucson has snowbirds who come to live in Tucson for the winter months. At The Inn, we have several volunteers who are snowbirds but will volunteer a couple of times a week for the few months they are in Tucson! I think I prefer Tucson’s snowbirds to Asheville’s tourists just because at least the snowbirds I have met get involved with the Tucson community usually through volunteer work.
Tucson is a very warm city. It is very welcoming, sort of like if a city could give you a hug. The weather is also very warm. At least there isn’t a lot of humidity, but it is still very hot. It does still get cool. I only packed one pair of jeans and was very unprepared for the night time coolness and winter weather. One of my favorite things to experience was being out later one night in the early fall and feeling how quickly the temperature dropped without the sun!
Tucson is very bike-friendly. I was incredibly nervous about biking, but after seeing nice big bike lanes, bike crosswalks, and bike boulevards, I felt better. I still prefer not to bike on busy or main roads, but it is usually easy to avoid that because I can find a less busy street that will get me to the same place. During orientation, I took a bike safety class. That also helped to calm my nerves about biking.
I think my favorite part about Tucson is the sun. It just seems to spread everywhere. Even in the winter. I have never seen or felt sun like that. The sunsets are also spectacular. There are so many colors and you can just see the sun’s rays extend as the sun disappears behind the mountains. I have learned many things from Tucson, and can’t wait to learn and experience more.
* Disclaimer: Please disregard any grammatical errors, words are hard right now, do not even get me started with my constant struggle with grammar!**
Last week, my roommates committed to working on a shark puzzle for the second time this year. I really hope that YAVA’s from Tucson will read this blog so that I can hopefully identify the origin story of this horrendous puzzle. This weapon of madness is a JIGSAW puzzle filled with many different shapes and sizes of pieces; ranging from large like a poker chip and smaller than a pencil eraser (note: these may be broken chunks of other pieces). The box says that the puzzle is 800+ pieces (not an exact number) and the border is curved into the outline of sea and Sharks. As previously stated, we attempted this puzzle once before but gave up due to how complicated it was. Now though, as we are “sheltering in place” and rarely leave the house, we were committed. What better time to be frustrated with a puzzle?
As I think about the frustrations I have with this puzzle however, I am wondering how much of it can be a metaphor and outlet for the anxiety I have around the Corona Virus. This virus has many unknown and everchanging variables: who is the targeted population it is affecting, is it small immune-compromised children, or elderly adults? Will it last a month, a year; are the precautions we are taking necessary? How is the virus spreading, what boundaries are necessary and which ones are fear-induced? Do we trust fear or does it lead to chaos?
The puzzle was a slow start, we grumbled at how none of the pieces seemed to fit, it did not make sense, but we remained hopeful that maybe the more pieces we got to work together, the better it would get. We just needed some time. This is similar to how the U.S. was reacting three LONG weeks ago about the pandemic. It’s fine, the affected people are mostly overseas, wash your hands, no problem.
Then the panic set in. The more pieces that fit together the more we noticed how unprepared we were. Of the 800+ pieces that were supposed to be there, only maybe 400 seemed to be. Slowly but surely, panic grew as more and more pieces seemed to be missing. Missing just like the toilet paper in the stores. My boss joked to me on a Costco run that she would just have to use paper towels and discard the paper “Mexico style”- all because some idiot thought they could make an easy buck by buying up the stocks.
After the panic, came dread and lack of hope. Why are we working on a puzzle that will never get done? What better do we have to do? Sure, we are too far back to quit now but also- what is the point? This is the phase I am currently struggling through with the virus and it affected most of my week last week. Why dedicate so many hours on something that will inevitably be canceled, postponed, or extended. Sure, it is scary right now because we DON’T KNOW. But eventually, things will fall into place and everything will close down and hopefully, then people will start to understand and help one another. … This is the goal- but where is the follow-through? Right now, my community partner organization is representing 53 clients who are in immigration detention centers. Courts across the country are closing down and inmates that prove unharmful to society are being released so that the disease does not spread through mass confinement. Our clients that are not in detention, all have their hearings postponed for the next month. Judges, mostly old white men, have taken time off from work and refuse to come to court for the risk of germs spreading. Yet, my boss who should for many reasons be sheltering at home is still having to go to Eloy and Florence to cover hearings. Our clients are not being released from detention centers and our volunteers are working overtime to file applications to make it happen.
Meanwhile, I wonder what’s the point? Won’t we slowly but surely realize (like we have been) the impacts this virus is causing? It is a TERRIBLE thing to admit and I see my privilege in the statement. I can afford to look for a better day and hope for change. I work for a program that looks out for my safety and although my job is essential, asks that I work from home. I do not have to worry about catching a virus because I do not have to go anywhere or see anybody. I do not have to wait in a cell until someone realizes I am a person of worth. I, I do not have to face the fear that most likely, that moment will never come. I do not know, nor will I ever realize, what it is like to have society hate me because of the color of my skin and the way I sought refuge from unexplainable horror. I will never have to put into words and have to justify why my life has value. Instead, I can choose to sleep in an extra hour or spend my weekends binging Netflix. I do not have to worry if, by the time people do understand, it is too late.
We stuck with the puzzle. We knew it was lacking pieces but it was not as many as we thought and although it is no longer on our dining room table, we left it mostly put together and are hoping that in doing other puzzles in our house, we can find more of the missing pieces. There is no throwing in the towel with this virus, it is not a puzzle we can put back in its box. So, we have to remain hopeful, I remain hopeful. That this experience is more than a puzzle metaphor and that this time brings us all deep reflection.
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.
As a Tucson Borderland YAV at the beginning of the year I got to pick out my very own bike and helmet that has become my main mode of transportation around the city. This was perhaps one of the things I felt most hesitant about coming to Tucson, I have never really liked biking. I was uncomfortable feeling unbalanced as well as not feeling in control of the speed of my body. I got a pretty cool bike; we took a bike safety class, and I’ve been riding almost everyday since I got my bike. I feel much more comfortable, even confident on my bike. And I am actually loving biking! When we took our bike safety class we learned about the ABC Quick ✓, which a good bicyclist will do before each ride. ABC Quick ✓ stands for Air, Brakes, Chains (or cranks and cassette) Quick releases, and yay all checked, ready to ride! I’m going to go through a little different ABC Quick ✓ to give a little bit of a glimpse of my everyday with my beloved bike.
ABC Quick ✓
No Air in My Tires…
Every so often in the desert little goat-heads, love to get in my tires. I’ve fixed more than a handful of flat tires in the few months I’ve had biking as my main mode of transportation. Just last week I was looking at my tire and pulled out a goat-head and immediately heard a hissing sound come from my bike. Inside of bike tires are tubes that get pumped up with air, so when there’s a hole from whatever pokey thing I’ve ran over in the desert I remove the tube and put a patch to seal up the hole. The tube is good as new.
Sometimes the hole is hard to find, and one of the easiest ways to find the hole is with a bucket of water. First you fill the tube up with air and then submerge part of the tube and work your way around the tube until a stream of bubbles starts coming from the tube.
Flat tires will sometimes come at the most inconvenient times, especially when me and Laura are ready to head to work or partially through our uphill morning ride adding some extra effort for my legs.
However some of the fun moments in changing flat tires is sitting in the living room the night before an early morning ride, while my roommates sitting on our couches. Our bikes, including the many pesky flat tires is a big part of community life.
Though biking doesn’t give most my muscles a rest, it gives my brain a break. Growing up as an athlete being able to be active has always been a space for me to process or just get completely out of my head. Biking after a long day of work gives me time to decompress, listen to music, and talk to my housemate Laura.
Recently we had a week of border delegations, which was a very powerful and emotional week that I hope to blog about when I can find the words to explain the experience. We were in Agua Prieta for half a week and then returned to Tucson to continue learning about different organizations that are doing work with the border and immigration. I was so excited to be back with my bike.
Especially on some of the most emotionally draining days being able to bike allows me to breathe, focus on the ground in front of me and changing gears and pedaling. It allows me to feel like me time to look around at the mountains and the sunrise or sunset. It allows me to focus solely on my physical body, what I’m seeing, what I’m hearing, the air that I feel rushing against my skin. It allows me for a small amount of time not feel overwhelmed by my emotions
A very big part of my YAV year is my site placement, CHRPA, also know as Community Home Repair. Like all of my housemates commuting by bike is a part of our everyday workdays. However, my housemate Laura and I have the longest commute in the house. We bike 9 miles each way.
Our first couple of months work started work at 6, so we can climb on top of roofs and work on coolers during the cooler part of the hot summer days. Our 9 mile bike ride in the morning is mostly uphill and started out being about an hour and a half, as we got faster and began to know our way better our ride is a little bit under an hour. Somedays on the trails we see a few of our coworkers, who are a little bit faster riders than us, pass us. Once we get to work our bikes get hung about on a bike hooks enough for the many biking workers at CHRPA.
Many of my coworkers have been able to give me advice about biking in the cold, how to avoid knee pain, and many different fun bike trails.
Quirky bike things
Each of my housemates have our own bikes, we got to pick out ourselves. Mine has a green basket that comes in handy for holding my lock, water bottle and a bag.
I’m convinced mine and Laura’s bikes are best friends, after all they spend all day together.
Tucson has a bike repair shop called BICAS that recycles bikes and bike parts as much as possible. Whether it’s reusing bike parts for another bike or in art pieces. They have pros that will help people learn how to use the tools to fix and do maintenance to their bike.
And Check! I’m ready to keep riding!
All these different parts of biking have been a big part of my YAV experience. I’ve found a new activity I really enjoy, and it has also brought me together with community, that shares similar experiences of the many joys and some of the annoying parts of biking.
On my first Sunday in Tucson, the YAV’s and I went to Trinity Presbyterian Church for worship and fellowship. As we worshiped Will You Come and Follow Me (The Summons) is a hymn I’ve heard many times before. As we had already spent a week in New York and a week in Tucson thinking about what service means to us and reflecting on what the year ahead may hold, the fourth verse has stuck with me:
Will you learn to love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
Alongside the powerful verses, the sermon has also stuck with me. The pastor talked about confidence in one’s self is something God calls us to do. But she noted an important distinction between arrogance and confidence. In order to be in relationship and use our gifts as God calls us, confidence in those gifts and one’s self is necessary.
There’s a lot of me I hide that I know comes from fears of vulnerability. A lot of insecurities I deflect through laughter and sarcasm. These parts of me require vulnerability, because there often parts of me I don’t really love or are confident enough in to share with others. There are big parts of me I remain hesitant to share. Some of the ‘me’ I hide, includes parts of me that help drive my passions. When I’m not confident in the parts of me that are very entwined with what I’m passionate about how can I be confident in the work I will do to serve others. I think even more so thinking about gifts and talents, I have; if I am not confident in the gifts I have been given, if I am hesitant to share my gifts, how am I really serving or being in relationship with others to the best of my abilities. I feel like I really struggle being confident in all parts of who I am, because I have many fears of what others may think of me, or whether my most vulnerable parts of myself will be accepted.
Perhaps a reason I’ve struggled even writing this first blog post, and sharing with a lot of my community the different experiences I’ve had thus far, is a pretty big fear of vulnerability and putting my thoughts out there for others to read.
I hold a lot of fears everyday. Fears of being a women out and about each day, especially at night if I’m ever biking alone. Fears about biking and being on the road with cars that may not be paying attention. Fears of being vulnerable around my roommates or my co-workers. Fears about saying something wrong or hurtful to others in my community. Fears of causing tension in the house. I have lots of questions about these fears. I wonder often where they come from, what places of privilege some of them come from and what places of past trauma they come from. And my biggest question what do I do to acknowledge them, but not be crippled by them. If I learn to not just suppress or ignore fears I have but quell the fear inside can that lead me to never be the same. Googling the definition of quell it means “to put an end to, typically by the use of force.” I like the use of this specific word, cause it call attention to some of the intentionality necessary to combat fears that are rooted in privilege, racism, or holding on to past traumatic experiences. Put an end to fears of vulnerability or saying the wrong thing, or being scared of people based on stereotypes by using force, by making conscious decisions to take a second to look at where this fear is coming from and how healthy it is to continue to hold on to that fear. I think there are fears and gut feelings that keep us safe, but I think there a lot of my fears that just keep me feeling comfortable. If I learn to recognize some of these fears and put an end to them, how can that allow me to be open to many different experiences, community with different people, and connect with them in a very intentional and deep way where vulnerability is appreciated and necessary.
I will learn many things from my year of service. Some may be new physical skills like how to use power tools or install a water heater, some may be how to listen, and discuss tension and conflict with housemates. But what I think or hope I will learn about most is myself. Learn why I hide parts of myself from others, what confidence can look like, where my fears come from and how can I confront them, and perhaps one of the harder questions I’ve had a harder time thinking through, the question the verse of the Summon ends with will I use the faith I found to reshape the world around? I hope in a year of service, with a program focused on intentional Christian community I can start to think through how me and my faith (something I have hesitance in sharing) can be used to confidently and fearlessly serve and help others.
A month before I left Asheville, I made a decision to do a second YAV year. It was in no way an easy decision. As soon as spring hit, I began to think seriously about the options that laid ahead of me for the next year. I was supposed to have been using the whole year as a “gap year” focusing what came next after college and what interested me. I went into Asheville, hoping that it would possibly even lead to a future job or career path. As I got closer to the end, that dream became more and more of a reality as several options to stay came my way. Job offers, Americorps years, even options to go to my Illinois home for the year. None of them seemed right though. I was convinced that as much as I wanted to stay in Asheville, by staying, I would be taking an opportunity away from someone else. Also, I had came into Asheville knowing that the experience would only be a year and so in some ways, my subconscious was ready to move onto whatever came next. My heart may not have been ready, but every other part of me seemed to be- my muscles for instance were counting down the days as we entered June and they didn’t have to carry heavy sofas and prove themselves to old men who looked at me sideways. Going home also seemed like a step back- I had convinced myself that moving forward into the future had to mean a step forward. So, when a representative from the giving’s department of the PCUSA church came for a visit and asked us what came next in continuing this knowledge of faith in action, only one answer really made sense. In discerning my call last year, I started thinking about seminary, but am not yet ready. I need more hands-on experience and learning. There is so much of the social justice world that I am just beginning to get a flavor for. A year on the border stepping FAR out of my comfort zone, seemed like the perfect opportunity for change and growth. With a half an hour left on the clock to submit my application, I had committed to a second year.
The commitment has taken a while to sink in.
I left Asheville feeling like I was prepared and fully expecting the challenges ahead. However, writing this two weeks in, I can tell you that everyday here so far has proven me wrong. Although I am doing a second year of service through the PCUSA Missions Agency, the comparisons between my years end there. I am living with 5 women again, but they are completely different from my roommates last year. My current site supervisor may be friends with my past one, but their guidance styles are very different. Last year, I had a job where I was constantly on the move and lifting furniture; so far this year, I have had a lot of office work and sorting in the nice air conditioning. Last year, I had my car and relied on that privilege more often than I should; this year the temptation is gone, and my primary mode of transportation is a bicycle. The years are drastically different and although everybody was telling me not to compare, I did not realize how much I was doing so until I came face to face with the pre-conceived notions I carried. I am almost two weeks into the year and apart from realizing that it is different from my first, here are some other things I have discovered and learned about Tucson in particular:
It’s hot here but it’s a “dry heat”. It took me two days to realize that means dehydration becomes a problem as the heat inevitably sneaks up on you. I am living in a house in the midst of a neighborhood with a lot of U of A students. Our yard is full of “goat-heads” (or how I always knew them- sand burrs). To avoid getting flat tires on our bikes, we carry them anywhere there is not pavement. There is no grass here in Arizona, just cacti, gravel, and sand. The lady at the post office was joking with me yesterday and called Arizona the country’s largest beach without the water. My bike ride to work is about a three-mile ride through downtown Tucson. Two days into the year, we took an 8-hour intensive bike course where we had both a written and riding portion. I am certified in all biking endeavors but my “quick-stop” could use some work as the practice portion sent me flying over the handlebars. Helmets are not fashionable, but I learned in that instance they are in fact necessary. So, I am learning to adjust and live with it- my bun however is not so becoming bald may be in my future. My work placement this year is at Keep Tucson Together (KTT). It is a nonprofit organization that helps in providing legal assistance for members of the community that need representation in legal hearings, aid in filling out and filing court documents, and help understanding their current situations and figuring out options. The team is comprised of a few full-time employees but mostly it consists of retired lawyers and other volunteers (we are all volunteers as I am often reminded) who are looking to provide hands on assistance and help wherever they can. My job so far has been in going through and organizing client’s files and getting used to the “a# system”. I am quickly realizing how although it is not required, being able to speak Spanish in the workplace and community would be tremendously helpful. I start an intermediate level Spanish class on the 9th and as a house, we are reading and practicing vocab words together.
Two weeks in, I can see where my time in Asheville was an asset to my learning and how it can in some ways contribute to my year this year. However ultimately, these are two VERY different experiences and being able to live each of them has been a blessing and has helped in understanding just how diverse God has created this vast world. I am excited and obviously nervous to continue embracing each and every challenge, difference, and change that lies ahead.
It’s about 9 pm on a Tuesday night. I’m in the back seat of our YAV car, the 1998 small Saturn that my housemates and I share. Alison is driving. Ryan and Tanner are fast asleep. We are on our way home from Agua Prieta/Douglas where we attended a binational Posada along the border wall, led by Frontera de Cristo. During and after the Posada, I chatted with new and old friends. As I sit in the backseat, look at the other people in this car, remember my evening, and reflect on my last four months, I feel a deep happiness bubbling inside of me. I love my life. It has been years since I have experienced this level of joy and contentment.
On Friday, three days from now, I will fly home to see family for Christmas. While I am excited to be with my loved ones, going home also means confronting family conflict and being in my small home town. I greatly appreciate the community I grew up in, but in some ways, I am very different than I was in high school. So although I am going home for the holidays, I am leaving the home and life that I have established in Tucson.
I did not instantly call Tucson home upon arrival. It took a while (a couple of months) to appreciate the city. In fact, during my first week here, I detested it. I told myself that it was only a year-long commitment, and I could return to Texas- or go anywhere- upon completion of my YAV year. Now, I am considering staying in Tucson, or in another part of Arizona, after the program concludes. I love the people here. I love the culture here. I don’t love the cacti yet, but they are growing on me.
My perception of the physical space in which I live has also transformed over the last four months. It was difficult to leave the cute one-bedroom apartment in San Antonio that was mine and Tanner’s first place together. Over the year and a half that we lived there, I meticulously decorated and organized every inch of that apartment. Moving into a new house with others meant relinquishing some of that control and perfectionism. I was overwhelmed when we first moved into our house. I did not expect the physical space adjustment to be as difficult as it was. The house that I moved into four months ago with two strangers, 50 dinner plates, and four mismatching couches, has become a cozy home.
My life in Tucson has come to feel like home. It has come to mean comfort, adjustment, learning, growing, challenging myself, developing relationships, and speaking up. I am nervous to leave all of that. As I prepare to “leave home” for the holidays, I hope to take with me my newfound confidence and joy. And the best part is, I get to come back in January!
As always, thank you for reading my blog. Part of gaining confidence and using my voice this year has come via my blog, so your readership means a lot to me! Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone!