We had our final retreat this week. It was an exciting time. We all got to say our last goodbyes, wish each other good luck, and some of us even got to meet each other for the first time. I think it’s interesting that some of us can live in the same house for so long and not really even communicate with each other. Some people said they had never had a conversation with certain other individuals in the house before. I had always tried to communicate with each person in the house, so to hear this was shocking to me.

In the beginning of LEVN, we wrote down goals we wished to achieve. During the retreat, we wrote down our accomplishments and looked to see if we achieved any of those goals. I definitely felt like my time at LSS was a great achievement. It was a time to learn about who I was and what I liked to do. I discovered my passion for helping others. Other achievements I accomplished were making new friends, experiencing new things, and staying in touch with old friends. The latter is especially hard at times. I do not like to talk on the phone. It’s actually something I hate to do the most.

We also got to look at the program. I am glad that I joined LEVN because it was right for me. LEVN isn’t right for everyone, however. I wanted a volunteer experience. I knew that I would live in poverty and that I wouldn’t be able to eat my favorite foods every night. I accepted that early on. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t rough in the beginning. It really was, especially the first few days without a stipend. However, I got it to work in the long run.

It was often hard to make the two dinners every week. We eat dinners together on Sundays with just the housemates and on Mondays, with the pastors included. After work on Mondays it is really hard to focus at times. We work almost a full day, go to worship, listen to a discussion, and then eat dinner. It’s really tiring. At times I’m so tired I can’t even listen that well. I do think this should be changed eventually and I will be writing about it in my evaluation of the program. It was nice to have the dinners and I enjoyed the discussions, it was just too much for one day for me.

Sunday dinners were a little different. Each person is resting on the weekend and the dinners are either expected with enthusiasm or with dismay that our time for relaxation is coming to an end. I found the Sunday dinners the most tolerable. My roommate was quite pleasant to cook with and we often shared ideas. Sunday dinners were still tiring for me though, as after a full work week, I wished to sleep more or enjoy a hobby.

The retreat was at a Catholic convent. It was a really nice area in Auburn. The retreat was very short. It was less than 24 hours. Outside there were the stations of the cross and statues of saints. It was pleasant. I felt like this was a good area to conclude my LEVN experience.

One of the final things we did together at LEVN was evaluate each other. We were each given a sheet of paper and told to use the questions as prompts to evaluate the other LEVN members. I thought this was very appropriate for the household. I had some recommendations for everyone and how they can improve, and I enjoyed the feedback I received as well. Because our household gets along quite well, there were no issues when giving the feedback. It was really pleasant actually. We each went off in groups of twos and talked. We enjoyed sharing our positive experiences and discussed all the trips that we had made together. One of the fondest memories I have is all of us going to the beach. We set off on a Saturday to go to the Bay Area and enjoyed the beach water for a whole day. It was a really excellent time for bonding.

I would suggest that future LEVNs also take the time to enjoy California while they are here. Your time in California will go extremely fast and will come to an end before you know it. Eleven months really isn’t too long. I would hope that the future households will also become really close with each other so that they can also go on trips together. People in your house don’t have to be your best friends, and at times your relationships with them will feel slightly forced. It’s more important to make the most of these situations however. LEVN will occur for most of us only once, so it should be appreciated while you have it.

On the retreat we talked about pilgrimage. LEVN is a pilgrimage for me and the others. It’s been really hard at times, but very rewarding. Half way through LEVN I thought I wasn’t growing at all. I became rather frustrated at this. However, looking back, I definitely have changed. We discussed how it sometimes takes time to see the change that has occurred in your life. I think this is true for me and the others. Maybe it’ll take a few years, but when we look back, I’m sure we will notice a difference. I am glad that I was able to take this opportunity to live in intentional community and do not regret my decision.

I am considering now whether I want to try a similar program abroad in the future. One of my housemates is planning to move to Spain in the fall, and I believe such a venture would offer even more opportunity for growth and exploration than this past year has. Living in a new country and learning a new language would be extremely rewarding, and it is well within the realm of possibility to do so. Before this year, I had never lived anywhere outside of Texas, but now I have a marginally greater understanding of what the world looks like for other people. I am going to continue to contemplate such a journey, and will perhaps undertake it in the future.

In the more immediate future, I will be moving back to the Dallas area soon. I am greatly looking forward to this as I will be living near to some of my closest friends, and will have my own apartment for the first time. In a way moving into the LEVN house felt like a step backward because I went from having an apartment with one other person to sharing a building with up to seven people at a time. I do enjoy my privacy and alone time, so my new living situation is eagerly awaited. I will also be moving in a completely different direction regarding work. The past year has been an excellent introduction to working full time, but soon I will be back to working hourly and will not have nearly so rewarding of clients. This year has taught me that my time working is very valuable, and I will want to do it justice in the future.

-Lewis

Lutheran Social Services of Northern California