Chess

During my early teenage years, I somehow ended up being the Georgia State Champion in Blindfold Chess. I had three coaches that I worked with daily, went to two or three tournaments a week and even had a little, miniature chess board I carried around in my pocket to play. And because I loved myself, I decided to make this already seemingly impossible game even more complicated, by taking all the pieces away and basing every move off of memory and theories I had learned. Now the main difference between playing “chess” and “blindfold chess”, minus the absence of visible pieces, is that the strategy becomes completely different; the objective in blindfold chess is to capture the King, just like a normal game, however, you can also win if your opponent makes an invalid move. That key caveat is what makes blindfold chess hated by most. If you make a single mistake, you automatically lose.

 

I have lived the majority of my life by that standard. To me, my subjective idea of failure is just not an option. Jaded as that may sound, failing, to me, is something that I strive to never have: In my relationships, I try to stay in contact with all of my close friends, making it a point to call each of them at least once a week. At Impact Foundry, I try to stay on top of my work and then some, creating new graphics and contributing to the continual discussions and programs that we offer. I even accepted the opportunity to coach Berkeley’s Speech team and spend hours in the Bay, critiquing, editing and blocking speeches for these undergraduates. In other words, I do too much.

 

This program is starting to open my eyes and make me realize that I am 100% an achiever. I aim to do everything I possibly can, please as many people as I can and most importantly, I’m hurting myself because of it. A normal 24-year-old would not try and run tech for a YMCA Convention, single- handedly host 15 college speech and debate programs, play in 4 different soccer leagues, run the social media for 3 different organizations and be a newlywed. That’s insane. It’s no secret that I am a people pleaser. I always want people to be happy, and if that means at the expense of myself, I am more than willing to do it.

 

While I have been told it is never a bad thing to do as much as you can, I have learned that accepting more responsibility than you should is not a strength, but a weakness. While I try to do everything that I possibly can, if I try to do too much, it becomes devalued and I’m unable to give my full attention. Throughout my entire life I have been focusing and participate in most things that I have a passion for: chess, clarinet, soccer, speech. I was blessed with the opportunity to receive the proper coaches, teachers to aid in my passions. And while there will always be a debate about focusing and harnessing your skills and passions into a few, selective or broadening them even further, I have come to the conclusion that at the end of the day, if you’re happy with the end result, then that’s all that matters.

 

I’m tired. While I am attempting to complete so many tasks and help out every single person I come into contact with, I understand that sometimes, prioritizing your needs is a necessity. My yearning for having positive emotions from my friends and people I’ve met out here, while with good intentions, is hurting me. This may seem like something pretty basic to see and to understand, but coming from a background where I was taught to literally put other people first is a hard adjustment. I have become blinded by my desire to be a people pleaser to the point of physically and mentally exhausting my body. At the speech tournament I hosted, I didn’t sleep or eat for almost 60 hours, while editing and updating social media, then drove directly back and played two soccer games back to back, all the while trying to spend quality time with my wife. Learning a balance in my life is a huge necessity and I am improving on it. But the days of spreading myself out so thin that I snap is something that cannot happen anymore, and will not.

 

In blindfold chess, you play the opponent rather than the game. Instead of trying to take away the opponent’s most important piece, you instead make the opponent make a mistake. I have grown accustomed to playing the game. I continually try to win by ensuring that everyone around me is happy and that I help them in any way that I can. I know there’s nothing wrong with that, but unless I find a true balance with that, I will continue to be exhausted and feel like I’m being stretched to my breaking point. Prioritize and optimize is the name of the game. I’m just trying to get through it.

 

-Nicky

 

Impact Foundry

The Light

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

 

-John 1:1-5 (NIV)

The last two months, light has been on my mind a lot. There’s a reason that it has been a significant symbol for humanity throughout the ages, whether it represents goodness, faith, knowledge, life, or something else entirely. There is an undeniable mystical and alluring quality to flames, from a tiny candle to a warming bonfire. It gives us hope and helps us see. Even a seemingly tiny amount of light can make a huge difference in a dark room. If you have somehow forgotten this, I encourage you to find a space without any windows and then light a candle in the center to see how far the light can reach.

When I was a middle school student in youth group, our pastor would light a “Christ candle” at the beginning of each teaching time to remind us that Christ is always with us. At our own campus ministry at UC Davis, The Belfry, the Christ candle in the chapel always stays lit regardless of whether someone is present. I have found comfort and solitude there when I needed to sit in my feelings without anyone around. When you live with six other people, it can sometimes be exasperating to find a place indoors to be alone. That place for me has become that chapel. Alone. With the presence of Christ, that is.

All too often the darkest and brightest moments of our lives happen near the same time. This has certainly been true for me lately, as I have been so grateful for my time in LEVN and all the experiences I have had so far, but have, at the same time, been coming to terms with the death of a friend back home. It is one thing to experience the death of a loved one when you are close by and able to say goodbye; it is a different process to be 2,000 miles away both from the person who died and the community who is grieving. When I found out she was likely not going to make it through the night, I didn’t know how to handle it. So I sought shelter in the Belfry, the darkness, and that one candle.

She was one of the most loving people I have ever known. She shared her kind heart and good humor with all she encountered. She was young and vibrant and hardworking and so real. She meant a great deal to many people – both those to whom she had ministered and those who called her a dear friend.

How could someone who had been so alive, be dead?

How could someone, who was a light for so many, suddenly not be in her own body?

These impossible questions linger in my mind.

She died on October 30th. And in the world’s horrible/divine timing, we would be celebrating Dia de los Muertos two days later. One of the wonderful (light-emitting) experiences I have had in LEVN is living with people from such a variety of backgrounds. Our housemate, Leo, is Mexican and helped us have a legit Day of the Dead altar in The Belfry. I had been anticipating this for a few weeks; the celebration aspect of this tradition excited me.

Then October 30th happened. And I started to get anxious.

Would I be able to handle participating in our Dia de los Muertos-Reformation Day-All Saints Day festivities? Would everything be too fresh? Would lighting candles for my friend and others I have known be helpful or just all too much?

I had to risk it anyway. The potential healing outweighed the potential aggravation of grief.

But the experience of contributing to the altar, lighting candles during our service with the UC Davis students, and observing the items afterward alone (alone, with the presence of Christ) exceeded any expectations I had for a meaningful experience. I cannot explain what happened. But the images were raw and the lights were overpowering and I was devastated and OK all at once.

I had actually planned to video-chat with a friend—my past youth pastor who had lit the Christ candle for me so many years ago—that night. But I told her I needed to reschedule and sent her a photo of the altar. She understood.

A few weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity to attend a Service of Remembrance for LGBT people who had been murdered due to their identity or perceived identity that was sponsored by my placement site, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. I walked in and noticed that the altar up front had candles that were to be lit during the service. This was not unusual, but what was unexpectedly emotionally impactful for me (someone raised in a non-LGBT-affirming church tradition) was that the colors of the individual candles together created a rainbow. Watching people light each candle while others read passages from different faiths and cultures – all focusing on love and connection—was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. It was both a sorrowful reflection and an ecstatic celebration of the diversity of God’s creation. Light piercing the vast darkness. Expressions of grief and delight co-existing and overlapping and somehow creating music.

I write about these experiences not to provide answers or establish one clear point but rather to wade around in the mystery for a while. I grew up in a tradition of children’s worship called Godly Play, which engages children in the presence of God through a unique mode of storytelling. This program invites them (and us, as adults) to imagine what these pivotal stories of the church might mean. There is time set aside to wonder freely out loud. Coming to distinct conclusions or reciting back a “moral” are hardly the point.

One central theme of Godly Play is The Light. The storyteller talks about how Jesus said, “I am the light” and that “those who love the light can become one with the light.” She lights a Christ candle and proceeds to light a candle from that original candle for each child in the room.

“I wonder how so much light could be given away and the Light still be the same?”

The group enjoys the light for a while. The storyteller then ends the story by explaining that, when the light is changed, it can be in many places at once. She snuffs out the candles one by one and encourages the children to watch how the light changes as the smoke fills the room.

The night that I sat before the Dia de los Muertos altar, I knew that before I could go back to the LEVN house, I would have to put out all the candles. (At the end of the day, even within the most sacred of rituals, safety is first). At first, I was sad at the prospect of all the little lights going away, when the candles represented someone I was not yet ready to let go of. But the candle snuffer propped against the wall reminded me of the story of The Light. And I was suddenly interested to see how the smoke would gradually disseminate throughout the room.

“The Light that was just in one place at one time is in all places at all times…So the Light can be everywhere in this room and even in other places…”

Although I was just beginning the grieving process in some ways, it was time to rest for the night, and I was surprised to find myself ready for the light to change.

Somehow it became even more mysterious than it was when it was burning.

Thanks be to God.

 

-Hannah

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral

Next Move

Presence

At the time that I’m writing this blog, it’s the week of Thanksgiving. We’re heading into December, which brings us into winter, one of my favorite times of the year. Christmas is coming! Wow, wow, wow. Have three months of LEVN really gone by already? Time truly does pass in the blink of an eye.

It’s amazing to me how fast this experience is moving along. I feel like just yesterday I moved into our little yellow house, unpacked my suitcases, and ate my very first In-N-Out burger (which definitely did not disappoint). Where has the time gone? I often feel like I’m dreaming with my eyes open. Sometimes, it still doesn’t feel real to me that I’m living in California. It really doesn’t feel real when I think about the fact that I’m living here and not paying rent!

All joking aside, I really do feel overwhelmed sometimes by just how quickly time is passing. It doesn’t help when I spend much of my time physically being present here, but mentally flying away to any number of far off places. I take mental trips to the east coast to check in on my friends and family, imagining each little detail of their busy lives there. I take trips to next fall where I imagine I have a full time job, a cozy apartment, and a sweet puppy that my husband and I will have just adopted. I take trips to a Christmas ten years from now where I see my growing family decorating a tree inside a home that we own. Lately, I’ve been taking a lot of trips to my parent’s home in Florida on Thanksgiving…imagining the sound of the Macy’s Parade coming from the television and the smell of turkey, cranberry, and pumpkin pie drifting from the kitchen.

These trips are just day dreams of course, figments of my imagination. While they are beautiful and bring me much joy to think about, they happen far, far away and distract me from the many beautiful, joyful things that are happening all around me RIGHT NOW. Sometimes I imagine a little Lizzie McGuire like figure on my shoulder shouting into my ear, “Look! Over here, you dummy! You’re missing it!” While it’s wonderful to day dream and it’s great to think about your future, it’s not very helpful when it comes to the practice of being present and really savoring the moment that you’re in.

I don’t think any of us will ever truly master the practice of being present. I’d like to think that I’m not alone in struggling with it. We’re all human after all; however, I do think we can help each other with this struggle. My housemates and coworkers already help me with this without even realizing it. Just the other day, one of my coworkers and I were walking together when she pulled me out of my daydream, drawing my attention to a tree that is growing next to our office. “Look how beautiful this tree is!” she exclaimed with so much excitement in her voice, it was contagious. The tree was at the peak of its leaf-changing season. The leaves that used to be colored a mellow green had exploded into rich burgundies, sunset oranges, and candy apple reds. It was absolutely breathtaking. If she hadn’t drawn my attention to the tree, I would’ve continued on my merry way without even a glance up from the ground in front of me. She has no idea what a blessing it was to me that she decided to look up.

I’d like to leave you all with a few quotes (by people that are much more articulate than me) that are particularly meaningful to me as I work through this challenge of being present. I hope they are as inspirational to you as they are to me.

“The only time you ever have in which to learn anything or see anything or feel anything, or express any feeling or emotion, or respond to an event, or grow, or heal, is this moment, because this is the only moment any of us ever gets. You’re only here now; you’re only alive in this moment.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

“Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.” Oprah Winfrey

 

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this.” Henry David Thoreau

– Nicolette

Lutheran Social Services of Northern California

Distance and Thanksgiving (not the turkey kind)

By the time you read this, I will have driven over seven thousand miles since leaving my home in Virginia to join the LEVN program. I’m really only about thirty-five hundred miles from the DC area, but thinking about that kind of distance is still mind-boggling. I’ve tried to focus my mind elsewhere besides home since arriving in California, but this past month has made me painfully aware of how far away I am as I’ve suffered the loss of some dear friends and my childhood dog, Clipper. The suddenness of these deaths meant that not only could I not be there to say farewell, I couldn’t be there to to ease the pain of other loved ones struck by these losses. I feel loved, welcomed, and to truly be a member of the community of LEVN, but the result of these events is an overwhelming sense of isolation since I cannot be with my loved ones who are grieving for the same reason. It’s unreasonable to expect any of my fellow LEVNs to be completely empathetic over the death of people they don’t know, and of course I don’t; everyone here has been a big help keeping me on track and away from wallowing for too long. But I am physically isolated from my community on the East Coast, and my desire to be there is in turn causing me to be emotionally isolated from my present community here. Part of me feels that going back, even for just a Christmas visit, and confirming their absence would provide me with the closure I feel that I need. In reality I know I would most likely be more upset and angry at myself for not being there. I am grieving and I’m really, really homesick.

So far I’d say I’m dealing with all of this fairly well? I’m still functioning for the most part and taking care of myself, and I’ve been making progress at my placement sites even though work feels overwhelming. I’m taking extra measures to try and​ immerse myself back into my present community too; I recently went to a concert (Con Bro Chill if you happen to be wondering) for the first time in ages and it was pretty fun, popping balloons aside. My fellow LEVN members are doing all sorts of activities and while some of them are unfamiliar, I’m taking the leap and participating in hopes of expanding my horizons. The near future will be especially busy as some of us will go and see the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church speak, immediately followed by others of us helping out with a speech and debate competition. In the blink of an eye it will be Thanksgiving and I will be meeting even more new people over the dinner table. I’m doing my best to get more involved in my church community as well; I look forward to helping out with their holiday craft fair during the same week we at LEVN will be helping out with a toy drive/holiday dinner. It definitely doesn’t feel as though time is flying right now but I can guarantee at Christmas I’m going to look back at all of this and ask myself where the time went.

This evening (around last Monday if you’re reading this) we talked a lot about gratitude (while we ate turkey burgers no less, ha ha) and there was a quote from Victor Hugo that really struck me. He said “To give thanks in solitude is enough. Thanksgiving has wings and goes where it must go. Your prayer knows much more about it than you do.” Part of why I am grieving is because I am so thankful to those who have passed for all they have done for me, and I feel like I never thanked them enough. This quote helps me keep in mind that whether I am with my loved ones or not, my gratitude to them, both living and deceased, will find its way to them. Thanksgiving really does have wings, and no, they aren’t just crispy turkey wings. While I deeply wish I could have seen Clipper one last time, I am so grateful to have spent fifteen amazing years with him in my life. I’m sure he knew I loved him even at the end.  Likewise, those activities I’ll be doing that currently look like a laundry list? Those are probably going to be some of the times from this year I am most grateful for. I may as well start being grateful now by having the best time possible. My gratitude will reach everyone; my prayers know much more about it than I do.

 

– Livvy

 

The Belfry

Sierra Pacific Synod of the ELCA

 

Gratitude

As I thought about how I had to write this post I couldn’t help but think about how fast time as gone. Didn’t I just write one of these bad boys like a week ago?? Certainly feels as though it was, but of course that isn’t the case. With my exaggerations aside I found myself rather excited to start this post. It’s something I wish I did more of. I wish I journaled or wrote down my thoughts and experiences more than I do. So with all that being said I want to thank Casey and Jocelynn, my program director and coordinator, for assigning the task of coming up with a lucid framework to express our journey through this program and our lives thus far. Writing out your journey allows the self to take a step out of the driver’s seat, and become in tuned with what’s going on with yourself in a multitude of meaningful ways. I have been given the honor so far to feel grateful and to be blessed with a life of richness and hindrances. Being able to write it down for the purpose of reflection and mindfulness has been helpful for me and is a tool many other individuals use too.

My mantra recently in life is revolved around this overwhelming feeling of gratefulness I get from time to time. I find myself, as much as most of us do, stuck in the cycle of routine and habituation. I wake up, make breakfast and lunch, have my coffee (essential), brush my teeth and I’m off for service. Once I get to my work site I’m on the go, or planning my next move. I come home to a warm house, full of equally exhausted people, and we have our time of peace and community. It all sounds pretty privileged huh? Well, that’s because it is. Privilege can be looked at through different lenses, one being a sense of entitlement and advantages and another being a way of grace and gratitude. I think that it is both but also neither. We as a society have created a stigma and attitudes against those who are privileged and rightly so if it’s at the expense of another species. But privilege can also be awakening and provide one with the chance of growth and enlightenment. Once we realize what we have been taken advantage of we can then see its effect on our own lives as well the lives around us. If we all used our privileges for the betterment of ourselves and our community the world would be in a very different place than it is in now.

Gratefulness has great as its root. Great can be misleading in that it has to be something pleasurable or rewarding. It is not always the case that we are grateful for something that’s positive. For instance I find that in my life, and especially recently I have been faced with the challenge of loving my fellow brothers and sisters, even when I feel deliberately attacked and belittled. Lately I have been feeling this way in the workplace and at home, as well as dealing with past feelings and relationships just a few months before starting this program. There have been individuals that have pushed my buttons, attacked my livelihood and shut me down. I have and continue to learn how to cope with people who challenge my ideologies and my inner peace. It has been a journey of discovering my authentic morals and sticking to them, but being open minded to the thoughts of others and really empathically listening. Non-violent communication is key especially when conversing with those who debunk your virtues. I feel grateful to have the opportunity for growth and ability to understand. We as humans are completely unpredictable, but also habitual so it creates a sense of dissonance within ourselves and our views on the world. I think that when we think of being grateful it is vital that we can look at the word great and think of its size and the impact that it has on us, not the subjective attribution of it being enjoyable.

I’ve also been able to use that same sense of gratitude to combat the feelings of sadness I feel from missing my family and friends. As I frequently do, I find myself scrolling through my photo albums on my phone thinking fondly of the memories I’ve created with the people I hold so near and dear to my heart. Feelings of somber and fear overtake me when I think about how I am not physically present in their lives and vice versa. As much as I miss their physical touch and support, I know that they are still present in my life and their love travels with me as mine does for them. I am able to look past the sorrow of nostalgia and look forward to the joyous embrace that awaits us. This is the time in my life where I feel as if it is both necessary and beneficial to focus on myself and my own growth. There should also be a focus on yourself to create the bridge of love for inner and outer peace. As I continue on this miniscule yet medicinal part of my life I will continue to check in with myself and evaluate if I am being authentic and grateful. I will try and continue to fuel my mind and body with positivity and create a conducive environment for tranquility.

I want to end my blog on a thought-provoking note that has challenged me to think deeply about my own wants and outcomes for life. It was spoken at the service I went to today and it resonated with me. Rev. Robin began her message by saying that “all we are is what we have loved.” She asked us to think about who and what we love and how that creates our lens of life. We are focused and driven by what we have loved and but mostly what we continue to love. Love can change day to day or can stay stagnant for our whole life. It can be as broad or as subjective as you see fit. Love is everywhere, and it’s up to us to see it in everything and be love in all we do. As the wise and respected Rumi once said, “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” What you get from that quote may be different then what I take from it, but the message is still clear in that love is the answer for most problems and should be the driving factor of your life.

– Andrea

Lutheran Social Services of Northern California

To be and to be for others

Right now, my life is pretty rad. I get free lodging. I get to experience the rest of this year and next with six wonderful peeps. I get to experience Christianity in a whole new light. I get to go on retreats and experience nature in its finest form! I get to experience my first full-time job. And the best part, I get a ton of free food! I do not live a life of financial riches, yet I feel enriched each day.

I do feel I am missing something important, though. Throughout my life, I have surrounded myself with people I have immediately clicked with and with people I would not have qualms with. In these relationships, tension and conflict existed, but rarely would that tension and conflict lead to a state of interactions that became especially awkward and of ill-feelings. Maybe a few of my relationships have gotten to that point, but never has it been an ongoing feud or an immediate thing that I needed to deal with. I either left a failing relationship and moved on or I dealt with whatever the relationship issue was and resolved it quickly. Right now, I do not have the capacity to leave several of my relationships. Nor have I done enough to address or remedy the issues in several of my relationships. This might be the first time I’ve been compelled to maintain relationships that aren’t so easy to maintain. Even if I wasn’t compelled, I must remind myself that it is important going forward to fixate my time and efforts on addressing whatever needs to be resolved. If I want to combat my feeling of losing out on relationships with lovely people, I must act promptly.

For my spiritual sake, for my sanity, and for the happiness of those I am attempting to cultivate a healthy relationship with, it is imperative for me to change. Change is not easy, but I, over the course of my time with LEVN, have been told that I need to work on several things, particularly my communication skills and listening skills. I have concrete things to work on! I once thought I was okay at communicating and listening to others, however, more than few people have told me to work on these skills, so I must be wrong. Is it easy to make these changes? Heck no. Still, learning to adapt and to alter my behavior to be more responsive to the needs of others is what will guide me in my endeavor of cultivating healthy relationships. It is important for me on a personal level and it is key if I desire my relationships to endure going forward. That is what I’ve been told, and I truly hope these advices will push me towards a better path.

Nevertheless, it has already been demonstrated to be a difficult endeavor to journey on. How is it possible to connect with others and empathize when I have a different perspective? How and when will I be able to express my feelings when I am told there is much that I must work on to alleviate my harms on others? How should I come to terms that I have indeed harmed others? How can I envision myself changing behaviors that I never thought were so harmful? How do I be the person others need me to be? I still ask these questions and ponder more.

Though I have pondered these questions in the past several weeks, I cannot yet confidently answer them or even imagine how to answer them. The last time I had to reflect to this extent and needed to answer difficult questions was when I was beginning as a student of sociology. I questioned my privilege as a white heterosexual man. I questioned my privilege as an American. I questioned a lot. Now, for the first time, I question my very core as a person. A person that routinely interacts with others. Did it really take this struggle with a few of my peers to realize that I’ve been finding shortcuts to escape those I do not respond well to? Who knows, but what I do know is that I must find ways to connect with others, listen to others, and communicate in a manner that does not disrespect the other. I am thankful for these advices even if I fail to show that appreciation.

I remember now the advice my aunt and uncle gave me before I applied to LEVN. The gist of this advise was to be uncomfortable. Up to this point in my life, I think that I’ve resisted the fact that I could be entirely wrong in what I find to be the case; I think that I’ve jumped ship whenever a situation felt out of my control and not worthy of my time; I think I’ve done so much to avoid being uncomfortable that I’ve ultimately missed opportunities to grow. I cannot do this anymore. Even if I feel to my core that I am right, I must question that feeling. I must ask of my peers to lift me up in my time of struggle. I must be uncomfortable to then find comfortability in all other areas. There is so much work to be done, but life tends to favor growth.

Altogether, changing and entering uncomfortable situations may be what needs to happen to position us forward. I have heard throughout my life that change is bad. I have heard that while we ought to listen to others, we should not change ourselves for the sake of others. Starting now, I would like to scrap both of those sayings. I must say that I am worthy of change if it is for the other. I must say that I am willing to listen to others. I must say I am willing to be myself and will build onto myself to bring joy to others. We are not self-made. We are made with the other and I will not hold back anymore the opportunity to grow with others.

 

– Zach

Lutheran Social Services of Northern California

Inevitable Change

We are already a little over two months into the LEVN program. I feel like each day flies by so much faster than the day before. Our first retreat, which this year took place in Tahoe instead of Berkeley, came and went in the blink of an eye. In a little under two months, another year will end, and we’ll be starting 2018. It was just yesterday when Alexander, Allyson, and I went to Café Bernardo on December 31, 2016 to celebrate our last brunch of the year.  I feel like the pace of this year was a little erratic for me.  The summer days were eternal while the fall season has been too fast for me to catch up to.

I’ve been trying to do different things throughout the day so that I can slow down and hopefully feel like the days are longer and that I’m not in some sort of race. One thing that I did differently over the summer which I know can help me be present today was putting down my phone and fighting the feeling of having to instantly reply to text messages especially if it’s not urgent.  If you really know me, you know that I have trouble sitting still or doing things that require me to slow down (like laundry, watching a movie, or commuting on the bus). Rarely do I do these things without listening to music or without having my phone on me so that I can constantly be checking for updates. I know I haven’t been too successful at spending less time on my phone, but I do notice the difference when I set it aside. When I have my phone and music on me, my eyes are glued to the screen and my ears can’t hear past the song. I am not being part of the community and the people around me.

I am learning to not block out feelings that I normally would not know how to process. Life will present happy moments, sad moments, moments when I feel hurt and moments of remorse. Dealing with the feelings instead of pushing them down has been a new and overwhelming practice. I’m reminding myself that the reason it is difficult to manage my own emotions is because I have grown up thinking that the only way to deal with feelings is by ignoring them. I chose to ignore mainly the “negative” feelings such as anger, sadness, jealousy, and fear but eventually the “positive” feelings such as joy and love also became uncomfortable to feel. It quickly became easier to rely on material objects and other distractions in order to not feel.

I’m learning that instead of looking for the distractions, I need to slow down, take deep breaths, and allow myself to feel whatever is going on but to also use this time to communicate with God. When I slow down, and I’m not stuck in my head, I remember that God is guiding me and will help me process the feelings that are overwhelming. Even though there’s been a great deal of uncertainty in the last three months, God has given me a lot of love and is slowly but surely helping me see and experience the world so differently from how it has been for the past 26 years. I’m accepting that there are struggles that I cannot overcome alone and must give up control over to God. It feels as if God has given me a pair of glasses so that life doesn’t look so shadowy and they are slowly starting to work.

Three years ago, I was getting ready to begin a new chapter in my life that had always appeared impossible. I was getting ready to let go of the person that I had been trained and expected to be for 24 years. Making this decision did not happen overnight, in fact it was over a decade of self-acceptance. Making the choice to take the necessary steps to live my life more authentically and following through with it in November 2014 was the difficult part. I’m surprised how right it felt to start becoming me and I was eager for changes, new experiences, and friendships.  Back then I thought I knew who I was going to be today, and I was wrong. I’ll be 27 years old in January and I am still transforming into a different person which I didn’t think was possible.

Next year will present even more change and I cannot deny that part of me is feeling anxious about it. I have developed a connection to the city of Davis and both the LEVN house and program have truly been home for me since August of last year. Next year I’ll be leaving this home and starting a new chapter in my life. My plans for next year may not be set in stone so I’m trying to find the balance between planning ahead and experiencing each second of this program to the fullest.

Change is inevitable and all I can do is trust God’s plan for me.

 

– Leo

Computers 4 Kids

The Value of a Dollar

        In the United States, there are 540 million $1 bills printed every single day. Each dollar has a unique serial mark on it, making it its very own kind. That means every month there approximately 16.2 billion $1 dollar bills printed. In other words, that’s a lot of bags of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. However, with all of these printed every day, of every month, of every year, one would believe that the value of a dollar decreases just by mass production in itself; you lose the sense of what a dollar is really worth. If these past two months have taught me anything being a part of this program, it’s the value of a dollar.

When I graduated from college, I got lucky. I had a salary-paying job, benefits and even my own office on the 18th floor overlooking downtown Atlanta. I lived in a nice apartment, had nice materialistic objects, and honestly hated every moment of it. The work environment I had to deal with every day, the structure of the company, the stereotypical “corporate sell out” mindset all contributed to a repetitive, subpar life to my standards. I was not happy. I didn’t like being perfectly groomed with a matching suit every day outfit, the constant belittling, yelling and cursing on a daily basis and most of all, I didn’t connect with a single person at the entire corporate office, besides the coffee lady who gave me free coffee everyday out of pity. I had to get out. So once the opportunity presented itself to move across the country with my wife, I jumped at the chance. And the result of this change in my life has been all for the better.

Every day when I wake up, I pull out of the LEVN House and start my drive to my work site at 7:50 to Impact Foundry (Northern California’s Nonprofit Resource Center) in Sacramento. And as I’m driving, my heart leaps. There are tens of bikers on every street corner and trees all around with the sunlight hiding behind them. There are no lifted trucks with 30 inch tires, no confederate flags waving, no deer antlers on the porches of houses for decoration. Every time I go to a grocery store, I have to bring my own bags for groceries or I get charged. It’s just a different pace, and I appreciate that.

Impact Foundry has changed my entire perspective on the workforce. The respect that my supervisors show me, the genuine care that goes into the nonprofit world and the real passion I see while working with other nonprofits, really distinguishes itself from any other work experience I’ve ever had. We even hosted our annual WHAT IF Conference, where nonprofits from all over California came together to listen to some great, nationally recognized speakers, attend workshops and network all day. The entire atmosphere of the place was just uplifting and people wanted to be there. Though there were some last-minute accommodations that needed to be addressed, everything was handled in the most professional way I’ve ever seen, with a smile on every worker at Impact Foundry’s face. My co-workers were uplifting, supportive and were just actually nice human beings.

I ramble on and on about the changes I’ve seen here and the complete 180 shift at work because it just baffles me how little I really knew. I thought I understood the whole career aspect of what it meant to be successful in the workplace and what it took to succeed, but then I came out here, across the entire country, and everything is different. These nonprofit organizations are built on the very foundation of a passionate idea. They aren’t built with the focus of making a profit, but making a difference. It sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. The amount of conversations I have had with an executive director or a marketing expert who want to talk about their mission statement and share their nonprofit’s goals as opposed to simply talking about numbers and financial well-being is insane! Of course, these nonprofits need money and donations and sponsors, but they do it for the betterment of their organization’s aspirations, whether that be helping youth’s literacy rate in the Sacramento area, providing shelters for the homeless or even trying to help create self-sustaining produce to recycle to oxygen levels in our air. They care about their nonprofit, they care about their goals. It’s something I’ve still had to process. And yes, working at a nonprofit is difficult, the turnover rate is astounding, and it’s even advised not to start a nonprofit with the current economic conditions and competition for donors and sponsors. The bottom line is that, in my opinion, the main difference between the corporate world and nonprofit world is the passion. I believe that this next year will allow me to identify and differentiate my passions, and what I was raised to believe was successful.

The Sacramento area, per capita, has the most nonprofits in the nation. I spent the better part of my first two weeks reaching out to hundreds of them, and still there were hundreds more. With all of these nonprofits in such a close proximity, you would think that people would undervalue their worth. That’s just not the case. There are all of these nonprofits working, trying to share their passion with anyone that they possibly can with budgets that shouldn’t be able to sustain them. But they find a way. They stretch that value of a buck far more than I thought possible. And if I’ve seen and learned all this within two months, I can’t even fathom what I will learn by the end of my time here, and how far I can make $1 go.

– Nicky

Impact Foundry

To Thine Own Self Be True

As odd as it might seem, I love cemeteries, especially ones with an abundance of trees. In my Indiana hometown there is one named for its maple trees that could entice even the least morbid of folks in the fall with its stunning colors and crunchy leaves. For me, it was a sanctuary of wandering, wondering, and the occasional unabashed cry, when one needs the space for that sort of thing. The Davis cemetery (that I obviously looked up in the first month of being here) did not disappoint. As I reveled in some of the plants and statues I noticed a bench with the inscription: “’To Thine Own Self Be True’ – William Shakespeare.” I thought this an unusual quote to be in a cemetery, but the unusual tends to lure me in. So, of course, I had to sit on it and think for a while about who I am. In other words, I would like to apologize in advance for the quite self-absorbed blog post that you have found yourself reading.

When I think about what it has meant throughout my life to be true to myself, I mostly think about being obsessed with being different from everyone else. When I was a kid I usually felt like I didn’t fit in whether it was my clothing or my hair or the fact that I found gossiping about boys to be the epitome of boredom. I thought learning was fun, I tended to side with the outsider, and I could definitely be an awkward human sometimes. In response to feeling left out, I staked my identity on being different. I leaned into wearing unusual clothes and liking unpopular things and demanding that everyone see everyone else’s point of view–even if, or perhaps especially if, they weren’t ready for it.

During college I began to let some of that stuff go and practiced enjoying activities that I had previously disliked just to go against the grain. I also started playing around with what prayer could look like and trying actually to live into an identity in Christ, rather than just intellectualize one. As my family was in crisis, I was forced to find some constants in my life to build my hope on. And it sure as hell wasn’t going to be that I sure was “my own person,” as so many people had described me. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with being unique, but it certainly cannot lift up your head when the loneliness and grief of being human are threatening to drown you.

After college I worked three years at an eating disorder treatment center for girls and women. During this time it seemed like I fell into a role in of being the quirky staff who showed people that it’s okay to be different or to just be yourself. I am grateful that these girls who were catastrophically struggling with identity seemed to receive this message, but I, perhaps selfishly, wondered at times if this was going to be my label for life: the different one.

Having spent the last 25 years in the same place and having significant life-long connections there, it’s been interesting for me to meet new people at different times of my adult life to see how they perceive me (essentially, to gauge if I have actually grown in the ways I think I have). I was excited to meet my new housemates and quickly learned that they are all caring, hard-working, and fascinating individuals. I truly enjoy them and am looking forward to our time together. While sitting on the Shakespeare bench and thinking about identity, I realized that in the time I have known my new friends, “different” or “unique” have yet to make the list of adjectives they have used to describe me. And, although I have been working on trying to base my identity in being a child of God for a long time, something has clicked for me in the last month. It just doesn’t seem important anymore for people to think I am interesting or colorful or have good taste in unusual films. And the most obvious and freeing part of it all is that now I can stop feeling conflicted about all the things that have defined me and instead allow them to take their natural back seat in my life. Looking back, I can see that my need to be special has hindered the flow of the Spirit in my relationships. Ego has a tendency to do that, after all.

So what does being true to myself look like without it all riding on being my own person? I will still (somewhat reluctantly) claim being a 4 on the Enneagram (The Individualist). And I will still enjoy feeling free to live outside and inside the mainstream – good gifts are everywhere. But, as Pastor Jocelynn reminded us during orientation, all personality tests “are all already false.” When we can see our characteristics and roles as tools for insight and growth and delight in our diversity, we can enjoy those parts of ourselves without expecting them to prove something to the world. In other words, good gifts make bad gods.

In his many writings, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr (one of my favorite spiritual gurus) talks about the true self and the false self as a way to understand identity. The false self is any way we identify ourselves other than being in union with God. For me, these have been things like daughter, student, mental health worker, pianist, outsider, lover-of-the-color-purple, etc. Rohr talks about how these things are not necessarily bad and are certainly an important place to start. But none of these things can get at ultimate reality. The true self then is our divine image or belovedness to God. When we can tap into this belonging and enough-ness, we are finally defined solely by our very being itself –not anything we do or say or own. We can then accept the paradox of being both dust and divine, both nothing and somehow in connection with everything that exists. It’s all the upside down ways of Jesus and being at peace regardless of circumstances. In the moments that I accept this truth, it affects everything, from how I treat strangers to how I see bugs to how much I allow myself to procrastinate.

So, who am I?

Someone who knows who she WANTS to be. Someone who is trying to realize more and more who she already IS.

Someone who’s trying to let some things go.

And get some other things going.

All of these things I hope to ponder from time to time on my little cemetery bench throughout the next ten months. Thank God that we’re just getting started and that it’s an enchanted universe. Amen.

 

– Hannah

Next Move

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral

I’m Here, Lord. What Now?

The past six months of my life have been focused entirely on achieving two goals: marrying the love of my life and moving to California with him. Those two things have been the motivation behind everything I’ve been doing since around April of this year. I’m very much a “Type A” person, so naturally I created a list of steps that needed to be taken in order to make these two things happen. For each of the steps on that list, I created mini lists made up of items I believed would help me achieve them. In case it’s not already obvious, I LOVE lists.

Step one was to graduate from college. On May 6th, I completed that step. Step two was to plan the wedding. I spent the entirety of June and July checking off the millions of items that made up that list. Even as a Type A individual, I found myself overwhelmed at times by the amount of things that needed to be done. Nevertheless, the wedding planning was completed just in the nick of time, and I married my wonderful husband on August 12th. It was the most beautiful moment of my life thus far. I wish I were better with my words because any description I try to give you all of that event or my husband simply won’t do either justice. I truly can’t express how blessed I feel to wake up next to him everyday.

With step three completed, I moved onto step four: pack up and drive across the country. This was surprisingly easier than I initially anticipated. We only got lost a few times, and my husband and I were still married by the time we reached Davis! Needless to say, I was VERY happy to check that off of my list when we finally arrived in California. Overall, it was a beautiful drive filled with many memorable moments, and I’m grateful that my husband and I were able to share such a unique experience together.

The last step was to move into the house in Davis and unpack. I felt so satisfied when I finally checked off that final step. After all, it’s not every day that you complete something that’s been six months in the making! What a relief it was to finally be in the place I had worked so very hard to get to. I mean this both literally and metaphorically. For the first time in a long time, I found myself without a list.

The relief I felt started to fade quickly. What was I supposed to do without something to do?  Of course I had to go to orientation, and I knew I would have things to do in my role at Lutheran Social Services, but I kept thinking, “What’s the point of it all? What’s my goal?” I realized that with everything going on, I hadn’t really had a chance to think about what would come next after it was all said and done. I had been so busy planning, doing, checking, and going, going, going that I didn’t know what to do with myself now that it was all over. I sat in my room silently panicking. Over the next three to four weeks, I found myself questioning myself more than ever. I thought, “This is exactly why I hate having too much time on my hands! It’s so much better to be busy.”

It wasn’t until I had my first meeting with my spiritual director (SD) that I finally started to see the blessing in all of this. We talked about many things during that first meeting, but one point in our conversation was especially impactful for me. My SD asked me what I wanted to get out of our meetings together, and I completely froze. “Um…if you’re asking me what my goals are,” I began, “I’m not really sure.” I started to fumble through some ideas, and then I finally just gave up and said, “I really don’t know.” I was embarrassed, and I started to feel uncomfortable.

Then my SD said something I wasn’t expecting, “It’s okay not to know. That’s part of the beauty of this experience. You don’t have to know.” After months and months of feeling like I had to have a plan…of feeling like I had to know what was going to happen…of feeling like I had to have things under control, someone was telling me that wasn’t necessary. It felt so counter-intuitive that I wasn’t sure what to make of her comment at the time, but I carried it with me out of that meeting and it’s stuck with me ever since. Of course, I’ve been told that it’s okay not know before, but I always found it hard to believe when everything moving around me seemed to say otherwise. From what I’ve seen, our culture perceives someone without a plan as lazy and/or unmotivated, and I certainly never want to be categorized as either of those things. But my SD reminded me that God himself says it’s okay not to know. Scripture is filled with verses about the Lord’s plan for us. Some of my favorite examples of this come from the book of Proverbs.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” –Proverbs 3:5-6

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” –Proverbs 16:9

I’m not sure why that particular interaction with my spiritual director made the lesson finally sink in for me, but I am so grateful for the Lord’s hand in all of that. His timing could not have been more perfect. I feel comfortable now answering questions about what I’ll be doing after my LEVN year with a response of, “I don’t know.” In fact, I say it with a smile and more confidence than ever before. I’m going to do my best to embrace this uncertain time in my life and to use it to explore the possibility of God’s plan for my life instead of relying on my own. Here’s to a year of being okay with unanswered questions and of much less list making. I’m here, Lord. What now?

– Nicolette

Lutheran Social Services of Northern California