28 (well, 29 really) Days Later

Has it really been almost a full month already? I’ll be honest, everything I’ve experienced here so far feels like it’s been happening to another person instead of me. It’s as if there’s a secret Livvy who has very kindly taken over as pilot while I watch from a back corner and try to process all of this. Am I happy here?  Absolutely; my work, home, and community are all better than I dared to dream! Am I still low-key panicking even after an entire month of settling in? Well, maybe…

If you know me, you probably also know that I 100% have no idea what I want; not from work, not from life, not even from myself. I mean, of course I want material things like a new iron or my favorite snack foods, but in this case I’m talking about wanting some kind of direction to go for personal growth/ stability in life. If anything, the only thing I want is to actually want something. I was waaay calmer about this when I applied to the LEVN program back in January when I still had months until graduation.  “Surely” I thought, “surely once I get there I’ll find something I want.” Well guess what, me from the past? The entire first month has already gone by and you’re still stuck on that. Things seem to be happening so fast I can’t even find the time to look for That Something; what will happen if the year ends and I still have no ideas? It all makes my head spin. Up until now, everything that’s been expected of me has been laid out in various syllabi and by my parents. Now I’m thousands of miles away from all of those things, and my life is up to me more than it ever was, even with LEVN program and community guidelines to follow.  A year seems so short, and I can’t help but feel required to find my “permanent place in society” within that time frame lest I be left with nothing and nowhere to go. I know that this won’t be the case even if I can’t figure out where I want to go; I have a wonderful family and friends both old and new that I can ask for help. In the end I think this fear is ultimately driven by a fear of being left behind by everyone. If I stay unsure about everything while everyone moves forward, it’s unreasonable for me (in my opinion) to continually ask them for help.  I try to live by “plan for the worst and hope for the best” but since I don’t know what to do with my life, I don’t really know what the best is.

Actually, articulating this internal yarn-tangle into words reminds me of a recent happening. I tagged along with a couple of my housemates to the thrift store one Sunday (as one does) and as we walked, I saw something I don’t think I’ll ever get to see again in my lifetime.  Have you ever seen a hairdryer outdoors, unboxed, and surrounded by flora? Well neither had I, up until that day. The abandoned appliance lay forlornly beneath a tree near the sidewalk; its cord almost seemed to be reaching out like a plea for help. It was so jarring that I had to stop and stare as my brain tried to parse what I was seeing. My friends eventually noticed and we continued on while laughing about the weirdness of it all, but it really was the most unexpected thing I have seen in my life thus far. What does this have to do with my worries about the future? Of all possible things, the strangely placed hairdryer was an experiential reminder of rhetoric I’ve been spouting for years: being Open to Outcomes. It’s a phrase that reflects how holding expectations for an experience can change the nature of the experience itself, and I really haven’t been as open as I like to think. Of course I’m stressed all the time; I’ve been looking for that Something I Want this entire time when I don’t even know what it looks like at all, and it’s making me blind to other important experiences and opportunities. It’s time for me to work on keeping my heart open!

– Livvy

The Belfry & Sierra Pacific Synod of the ELCA

Discovering the Depths of the Self

We all come into this world without really having much thought other than to learn and discover what is and what it all means. We do so in many ways, and it all starts from our roots which for most of us is our families. We learn how to behave and what is essentially the “right and wrongs” of life. As we develop more into the intellectual and unique beings that we are, we create experiences that mold our personalities, interpersonal relationships, and our outlooks on the world. This happens very subtly, but it can also seem like it’s happening all at once. It all depends on where your mindset is at in life. When we feel like our growth and development is slow and progressive, we are probably more focused on external events or other worldly aspects in our lives. When we take the time to look deep into ourselves and into our own realms, it is then that we are conscious enough to realize and understand the changes that are happening within us. To me, it’s when I’m aware of the now and my presence within the world that I feel change happening all at once.

Everyday I’m overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude and enrichment for the blessing of a new day in which I am alive and healthy. I find myself taking in deep breaths of curiosity and exhaling any anxieties that may be attached to my thoughts, actions, or serenity. I do this to keep myself centered and to remind myself that I am alive, I am here, and I am ready. I am alive. Being alive means much more to me than the ability to pump blood from my heart to the other organs in my body. It means that I have the capability to live a life full of love, compassion, and humility. It means that I can walk outside and feel the wind brush against me, while listening to the sweet sounds of the world hum around their glorious tunes. I am here. I am here in Davis, California, with my fellow brothers and sisters in solidarity as they shower me with their love and support.  I am ready. I am ready to continue my journey in discovering parts of myself, the world, my community, and relationships. I am ready to drive into tranquility, and find my inner peace.

So far Davis has been everything and more than I imagined it being. The people in the community are so loving, kind, and passionate. There is this feeling of belongingness that I felt within a week of living here. From the churches I’ve sat in service for, to the farmers market, and even the night life at the local bars! Everyone I have met has already offered me more than I ever thought of receiving. I don’t mean that in a materialistic or subjective way, but more so in creating an environment of openness and love. In just a few weeks I have experienced and seen things that have just made my heart soar. Memories I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

As I started my service at Lutheran Social Services of Northern California (LSS), I was very apprehensive and nervous for what was going to unfold. I didn’t know what to expect and I was told that it would be an emotionally heavy position. I am a very compassionate and empathic individual so I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. I was worried about how my vulnerability would play a role in my position as a LEVN volunteer at LSS. So far, I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of passion and drive this wonderful organization has. Everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting has greeted me with open arms, and each with a different fire that flickers through them lighting the fire in those around them. I was given the honor to sit in on a Women’s Empowerment graduation ceremony just a few days ago. I cannot describe with words the feelings I had while listening to the stories of these women and just how far they came in 9 weeks. Most, if not all, of these women, came into this program broken, lost, and with a clouded mindset. Each woman, with the help from the services provided, as well as the discovery of themselves and their own self-worth, have allowed them to blossom into beautiful, strong-willed individuals ready to take on their lives and start fresh. It was truly inspiring and heartwarming to see and FEEL all the love that encompassed those women, and everyone watching and supporting them on their big day. There was tears all around; tears of pain, sorrow, loss, and confusion, but they all turned to tears of pride, joy, and EMPOWERMENT. These women not only empowered themselves, but they also empowered me. They showed me that it doesn’t matter how lost you are or how far away you are from where you want to be, there’s always a way out of a negative situation or mind frame. Discovering your self-worth, and knowing that you are enough, you always have been, and you always will be is easier said than done. Having self-love is incredibly important; without it, how can you love others and accept love? The answer is that you can’t, but once you’ve achieved it, you are in the driver’s seat of your life and can begin a sincere journey with an open and loving heart.

I still feel like I either don’t have enough self-love or that it may be missing from my life. I do love myself to a certain extent and have been showing my body specifically the love it deserves. Recently, I became vegan after learning about the negative impact of eating meat has on our carbon and water footprint, as well as the animal cruelty that these animals are forced to undergo. I also did so because I wanted to be more mindful of what I am putting into my body and how it helps me. I want to fuel my body with the most nutrients and vitamins to sustain my equilibrium. I want to achieve optimal health for my body as well as my overall wellbeing. Becoming vegan has also made me more spiritually involved in my food. Knowing where my food is coming from and what its components are gives me an indescribable feeling of satisfaction and peace. I have only started this new lifestyle, but it is one that I will continue to learn about and grow from in both a spiritual and profound way.

I want to wrap this blog up in a way that will leave me and whoever has decided to take the time to read this with the perspective that there is still so much to see, do, and learn in this life. As so many of us do, I have yet to find and discover parts of myself I didn’t know existed. We are never done flourishing and that’s one of the beauties of the world and being human. We can always learn and grow, even when it seems like we are stuck in a rut or slowly regressing. There is still so much out there for me during this year, and hopefully just being conscientious and aware of where I am, will lead me to the great depths of love and peace. I AM ALIVE. I AM HERE. I AM READY.

 

-Andrea

Lutheran Social Services of Northern California

Don’t Take Anything Personally

“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering” — The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

Do I take anything personally? I often act like I don’t take things personally. I often tell people I don’t take things personally. Am I being true to myself and others? Probably not. Intuitively, I believe I don’t take things personally, but when I reflect, I find that I do indeed spend a lot of time being frustrated with how individuals behave and act. It seems I need to acknowledge my frustrations for what they are, and I must orient myself toward becoming “immune to the opinions and actions of others.” I do not want to suffer, and I am surely embracing needless suffering in my life. For instance, whenever I drive and see people not using their blinkers, my first thought is, “UGH! Do they not care about anyone or have any consideration for others?!” To be frustrated about freaking blinkers, in the context of assuming who and what that person is, is so pointless! I must stop doing that. Even if we all expected people to use their blinkers, whatever the reason may be, there are so many other ways to address that. Needless suffering or needless frustration is introducing harm upon me, and the person with which I am frustrated may not even know what they did or what I perceived them as doing. I really must stop taking these inconsequential interactions to such high extremes, and maybe if I controlled that, I wouldn’t be unnecessarily suffering.

Readers, I am sorry if you are lost. The blocked section under the title comes from The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. It is a book our supervisor, Jason, at Lutheran Social Services of Northern California (LSS), is encouraging my LEVN co-workers and me to read. I am excited to get started with this read! I am more excited to see how Jason plans to incorporate this book into our work setting going forward, and I do wonder if the four agreements could be incorporated within our LEVN setting. From what I understand, Jason wants us, the new interns, to orient our work and interactions around these agreements. If we do, it may afford us the chance to generate a ton of success in serving the most vulnerable people in Sacramento, and it may foster union and favor across our team. I am all in!

For the next 11 months, it is imperative that I take on the challenge of not taking anything personally. I cannot come to work and toxify my team. Nor can I add to the hardships and suffering of those I am meant to serve. If I do, I am not only harming myself but I am inflicting harm on those around me. I cannot do that. What I can do is be a positive light for those suffering. What I can do is encourage my team as they afford others their goodwill. What I can do is leave needless suffering on the side of the road and let the wind lift it up, up, and away. I must be immune to needless suffering. If I am able do this, I think I will be a healthy addition to LSS. I, again, wonder if I can incorporate this within the LEVN setting. If I can, it will offer me more opportunity to practice this second agreement.

Also for these next 11 months, I will be living with 6 housemates. 7 people living in one house?! Am I crazy?! I don’t think so. In San Diego, I lived with 4 housemates and it was an incredible year. It had its moments of conflict, but from what I recall, not taking things personally led to moments of growth for our household. Still, I tend to forget these things. I tend to forget the need to practice these things daily. For this year, I must remind myself not to take anything personally. I must practice not taking anything personally. I must do this throughout my life. If I continue to take things personally, I may be inserting needless suffering for myself and for others, and that is something I never want to do. If I stop taking things personally, I may be able to recycle the personal anguish of others into a moment of growth for all involved. I am here for growth. I am not here to maintain my tendency for needless suffering. Once I read the book, I will have to ask my housemates if we can incorporate these four agreements into our household. From what I gather about my housemates, up to this point, they seem like warm and compassionate people. I think we can all at least agree not to take things personally, especially if we are all meant to intentionally live together. With this bunch, I envision a ton of joy and many moments for growth.

To reach the place I want to end up, growth is key. I cannot grow into that person if I continue to take things personally. This shift is not going to be a quick and easy thing to do, but it will be a lifelong process planting the seed of my growth. As I enter into this, I must use my growth to uplift others; to care and love my housemates; to inspire my team; and to tend to the suffering of others. Once I am immune to needless suffering, life may flow to the person I want to grow into. That is who I need to be, especially in a world where anything is possible…

 

– Zach

Lutheran Social Services of Northern California

#LEVNlife Part 2

I am so unbelievably excited for my second year of LEVN!

Part of me cannot believe that we already had move-in day, it feels like it was just yesterday when I met Pastor Casey in person and she welcomed us with bright pink cookies. It feels like it was just yesterday when my parents drove me to Davis for the first time and when we arrived to the Belfry I couldn’t find the right door but then I saw Megan and she guided me to the correct/back house. Alexander, Jon, and Megan helped me carry my bags into my room. I said bye to my parents and then the four of us went to In-N-Out for some delicious burgers. It was not my first time eating there but it was for those moving from another state. This year I was in the house before my new housemates arrived and I was the person who was there to make sure that they’d find the LEVN house and help them with their luggage. In a strange way, I too felt like I was moving into a new house once everyone arrived. This is probably because I’m in a different room now.

It feels like it was just yesterday when the 2016-2017 LEVN house walked in together to the Belfry on Monday morning to start orientation. I cannot believe that we are done with orientation this year!  My favorite parts about orientation last year and this year were the spiritual autobiographies and taking the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs tests. I really appreciate the spiritual autobiography portion of orientation week because it gives us all the opportunity to open up to the group and start getting to know each other at a deeper level. I enjoy taking the personality tests because they are fun and scary accurate. It was even more interesting for me to take the personality tests this year because I did not get the same results. My enneagram result this year was 6 and last year I got 8. I guess the numbers alone make no sense but a type 6 is “The Loyalist. The committed, security oriented type: engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.” A type 8 is “The Challenger. The powerful, dominating type: self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational.” Last year I wasn’t terribly surprised with my result but I was not expecting a 6 this year, however, this type is much more accurate to how I am this year.

I cannot believe that we’ve already started service at our placement sites! A year ago, I arrived to my site feeling very anxious because I didn’t know what to expect. This year I arrived a day early because I knew exactly what work I needed to get done. Last year I was nervous (but also happy) to meet my new coworkers, this year I was eager to see everyone again and hear about their summer adventures.

I realize that the reason I am shocked by how quickly this new LEVN year is going is because I didn’t end last year’s LEVN program in the way that I had planned. My departure from the program was a little early and sort of abrupt. I had planned to say good bye to my housemates after the closing retreat but we ended up saying good bye after a last family dinner a week before the official move-out date. Even though we said good bye and took a last group picture, something inside me felt like I was going to return to the house and somehow the housemates were going to be there. Let’s fast forward to the end of August when I returned to the LEVN house, only four days before the new housemates arrived. It was a different feeling being in the house by myself. My conscious self was cleaning and making sure that the house was ready for the new LEVN volunteers but my subconscious mind was waiting for last year’s LEVN volunteers to return home from their site. As the week went by and I was getting ready to meet my new LEVN family, I was thinking how the 2016-2017 was such an amazing cohort and all the great adventures we had. I felt like it was more positive compared to the experiences that past volunteers shared in their blogs. I also realized that I had to accept that the new year was coming and change is positive. I acknowledged that even though the 2016-2017 cohort was terrific, this year can be phenomenal in its own unique way.

Today I am filled with enthusiasm and hope because the energy and compatibility of this year’s group is remarkable! I’m aware that we are in the honeymoon phase and that conflict is inevitable (and healthy?). In a very awesome way, this year’s LEVN volunteers all seem to vibe in such a natural and comfortable way. During orientation week, we made a list of activities that we want to do together and we’ve already checked off a couple of them. Just like last year, we made the trip to In-N-Out on their first night in town. Since I was now familiar with the Davis town I decided to introduce the group to kava that same night!

Last year’s LEVN experience was something unique. While I am still processing the entire experience, I know that being part of this program helped grow spiritually and professionally. There were also many things I would have done differently but I have been blessed with the opportunity to continue personal, spiritual, and professional growth in this second year of service and intentional community. In this second year of LEVN I look forward to connecting with every one of my housemates on personal level, to take care of myself, and to fully accept God in my life.

I’ll be living in the same house for a second year but I am excited to see how my new housemates and I build a home together.

 

– Leo

Computers 4 Kids

Free Bird

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with the fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
The above poem is titled “I know why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. I think it’s a perfect poem to open this blog with, It indeed has been in the back of my mind throughout this entire journey, a constant reminder of how blessed I am, always a reminder of what could be, what was, what is not, and what’s to come. I felt like a caged bird before coming to LEVN, many things were holding me back, mainly myself. I’m glad to finally be free and fly!
1. There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
 When People say Time Flys I think they are specifically talking about the LEVN program. I remember when I first discovered LEVN, I was at home trying to figure out how I could get out of the constant grind of working in restaurants. I had recently had a breakup and I knew I wasn’t following my dreams or even really helping people. If I’m honest with my self I was pretty depressed and was drinking way more than I should have.  There was a void I was trying to fill, I was filling it with food but even that started to bore me. I tried to fill it with unrealistic and unhealthy relationships, I poured my self into others and never ever refilled my self.  I think we know how those situations usually turn out.  I was at the end of my rope and in a quarter life crisis. When one of my good friends suggested a year of service I knew that LEVN could be the perfect program for me. It also didn’t hurt that it was close to San Francisco and the closer to San Francisco the closer I am to the beach.  Which for me has always been a place I can relax and collect myself.  I’ve always had an attraction to water. Water can literally do anything. One of my favorite YouTubers said it best ” It has the power to heal, crush, clean, quench thirst, and even has the power of becoming an energy source. It can conform or expand to practically any shape or form. It can even capture or reflect qualities of things that can’t even be physically contained such as light.” So for me being near water was a no brainer. I quickly applied. Plus, the thought of helping people while also being apart of a community, and being close to the beach was extremely appealing to me. It felt like it was my time to make a change, so I applied, prayed, and hoped that I would get my opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others as well create change within my self.
2. A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
Throughout this Journey, I’ve lost a lot of people. I feel like I’ve said that so many times it started to feel surreal.  During the constant loss of people I love,  I kept trying to figure out how to “bounce back” and I didn’t realize that this was causing me great harm. I lost people in various ways, Car accidents, Suicide, Heart Attack,  and various other ways the human experience is lost. Instead of trying to individually deal with each blow, (which until this day seems impossible)  I would simply sweep it away. Never really finding any closure from my losses. It affected me greatly, in my personal time, and as well as at my work site. I missed many days where I just couldn’t get out of bed, I would literally sit in bed with horrible anxiety. The work of dealing with my emotions was too much for me, and the idea of dealing with work also become extremely overwhelming. I look back at that time now and I know depression was at work. However that’s the journey and the irony of the disease, when you are deep in it, it becomes extremely hard to swim to shore. The work at LSS was an entire other “thing”.    Working for LSS this year was complex. In some moments I felt like I was really connecting with clients, I was proud that the few interactions I had with clients, they felt like they could truly open up to me. Their personal issues become my own. Their job struggles become my mission. The feeling of being able to help someone find employment is really life changing.  I saw first hand the issues that sprouted from not being employed. A lot of the clients didn’t see how useful and important they were to the world, many of them had come from very dysfunctional situations and were really lost. It felt nice to be a little bit of sunshine in a dark day. My feelings of being helpful didn’t last long. As things started to change at LSS my job as an employment specialist started to become very different than what I expected. While I use to look forward to coming in and interacting with clients, that quickly changed, when instead of employment I became a certified mover. Now let me be honest, as far as service work, It’s not always going to be pretty. Sometimes you have to clean garbage, Sometimes you have to clean apartments with panties, needles, old food, and mold. Did I sign up for a glossy year of service? No. Did I know that things weren’t always going to be easy? Yes. However, I didn’t realize that moving clients, moving boxes, moving, in general, would become my everyday. If I had of known that I would have just worked for a moving company over a year, saved money and moved to California with a few bucks and a dream.  But with all jobs, there will always be good and bad. So for anyone reading this, I don’t want to give a bad impression of LSS. Nonprofits have a hard time and while in transition they have it even harder. Unfortunately I suffered because of it. I am confident that next year’s volunteers will have a better experience. My only advice in regards to LSS would be “Don’t take any shit, Stand up for yourself,  Be open and honest, communicate communicate communicate, and always always leave your work at work!!”
3. A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build.
  Before I joined LEVN I was so accustomed to being surrounded by my friends and artistic community, so when I arrived here it was a shock to my senses. I felt so alone in a house of 7 people. It took me a really long time to adjust. In my life, I have prided my self on having a diverse group of friends, people who I could connect with, people  I could create with, people who would listen objectively. People who shared common ground with me, similar experiences, and even were pretty close in my age range. Things were shockingly different in Davis, there weren’t many people who looked like me, and not that I wasn’t warned about the lack of diversity but actually living in it was a lot different. Even at my job site, I had to deal with a lot of microaggressions from co-workers, jokes about blacks, jokes about women, and gross stereotypes were thrown at me on a daily basis, with only me protecting me. It was hard adjusting and to be honest there were times I wanted to be just as cruel and disgusting back to some of the people I was surrounded by, but I  knew that I didn’t have the energy for it. Instead, I took comfort in meeting new people every chance I got. I would head out to Sacramento and pop up at a poetry spot, sneak off to my favorite dive bar (GOLDEN BEAR), or lock my self in my room and create. I did whatever I could to let time heal me. There were a few times I felt torn down completely, but every time God gave me gifts as a reminder to keep going. She has constantly reminded me that I can get through anything with my ancestors protecting and guiding me, also a cheap glass of Trader Joe’s wine also never hurt.
4. A time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

I think I cried a lot during my time in LEVN. but I also laughed just as much, and I don’t mean some light hearted giggles. I mean full on belly laughs.  This experience has taught me a lot about my self, and every tear that came from my face was watering who I’ve become. There were so many times when I was just genuinely happy. In my life, there is a sure fire way to change my mood, and it’s always been with dancing. I’m not very good at it, however, It’s some of the best stress relief I’ve found. I’ve danced my way all over Davis, San Francisco, and Oakland. I’ve sweated my cares away to songs I didn’t even enjoy that much.As this service year comes to an end I am overwhelmed with the compassion of the directors of this program. If someone asks me about how I survived this experience I would definitely say that check -ins have been the key to my survival.  Both Pastor Casey & Pastor  Jocelynn have been beside me every step of the way, through every trial and tribulation. Their truly unconditional understanding has really renewed my faith in organized religion, I’ve never been able to be so honest and open with someone who was a leader in a church. I’m so grateful that God has put me on this path, not only has it restored my faith but it has allowed me to question the hang ups I had about organized religion before hand. I know they were rooted in being raised Catholic as well as going to Catholic school, but it was refreshing to get to learn about the origin and traditions of other religions.  As the last week of our Service year comes to an end, I am extremely appreciative of all the experiences bad or good I’ve had this year. I am glad to have interacted with my roommates in meaningful ways, I am overjoyed to have seen beautiful unforgettable parts of California during retreats, I’m thankful for the time I’ve shared with my new friends and love ones who I wouldn’t have met if I never took on this journey, I am thankful for everything Davis has given me, Everything my placement site has taught me, and I’m especially thankful to my self for being brave. I’m ready to Fly!

-Allyson
Lutheran Social Services of Northern California

Finis

I had always known to keep plans loose when coming into LEVN. When I started this program, I planned on getting residency in California to start graduate school here. The programs here are simply more diverse than in Idaho, so it was an obvious win-win for any future graduate student. I also planned to visit a Sikh temple, try new things, eat healthier, and just try to be more a little more extroverted (though not too much, extroverts are strange creatures).

I feel like most of my goals were achieved, with the exception of the Sikh temple, which I simply lost interest in. I also failed to achieve residency in California due to my lack of desire to go to graduate school right away. I want to explore more of who I am and what my interests are before i commit to graduate school. There are so many possibilities out there, and I’m not really interested in the cost of graduate school in California at this point in my life (especially after LEVN!). The most fun things I did in California were the unexpected things. I loved trying the Kava bar downtown, which is a root which relaxes you. It was probably one of the best self-care things I went through on. When I first was told about it by god-knows-who-now, I thought they were on some hard core drug and was repulsed. When I later realized it’s a large commercialized root, I was pretty excited to try it. It was an amazing experience that all should try while here. We don’t have kava bars where I’m from, but I’m definitely taking 50 dollars worth home to Idaho. God wants us to be happy. Why not let God do all the work?

My placement site was in the field I was interested in. I was told by my priest back home if given the choice that I should go outside my comfort zone and not work in a church or school. I am so grateful I did just that.  I had an interest in Psychology and public health, so being a case manager was a good fit. It was challenging at times, but worth the experiences. It also will look good for future school applications when my interest in going to graduate school returns. I am still highly interested in the two topics. I have clarified my interests even further however. I would definitely prefer not to be a counselor in the field. It’s just not my interest. I am still highly interested in how Psychiatry works as well as research. I’m not too sure where else this will take me. I’ve also started to develop an interest in School Psychology, mostly because of its influence in the educational field, but I’m not sure where that will take me.

Many of my hobbies when I first came here didn’t stay as strong as they were back at my hometown. For instance, violin is a hobby I dearly love. When I first started my placement site, I woke up at 5:30 AM, left at 6 AM, got home at 7 PM, and went to bed at 9 PM. I had no time to practice, and it left me sad. I had spent so many hours in this instrument, and I have no time to practice now.

Violin practice for me is still every morning at 5:30 AM. It’s become almost a religious practice. My spiritual director is strongly supportive of it. I will practice every day for an hour, and when people ask me why I am so invested every day in violin, they often ask what my end goal is. Usually I just chuckle at this.

As the year went on, especially once I brought a car and my position was slightly elevated in autonomy, I had the time to practice violin again. I even enrolled in lessons in May to increase my skills. It was the most relieving time in my LEVN experience. I was happy to have the time to do the things I loved most: play the violin, teach others the basics of music, talk about my interests in religion, study Spanish, research computer programming, etc.

I learned that as an intern, you need to stand up for yourself. You need to really be aware of your rights as an intern. People do not have the right to stomp over you – whether that be a client, employee, whoever. You must keep communication open with the pastors and report anything that is wary to them for your own health or safety.

When I first arrived in Sacramento, I had never really seen so much poverty. My home state of Idaho has poverty, but on a much smaller scale (at least visible). I had never been spat on before in my life. I had never been offered illegal drugs while walking to work before. All of this was new to me, and I think I forgot that this was a possibility.

Some of my clients tested me on this. I work hard to make them comfortable. I go in all my clients’ home to make sure they’re safe (something which not all employees will do, but I will). I will go in there and talk to them about their day. I’ll even sit on their sofas if it’s a budget meeting. Now, some of these clients feel so safe with me, they will talk in very crude ways during our meetings. I remind them if they go too far, but a lot of the time, it’s just how they grew up. Clients can be homophobic, sexist, ageist, and you must stand up for yourself and remind them of standards and expectations. But sometimes they sincerely just are different in their culture. They will cuss much more than you’re use to and will throw you off guard. They will lie to you every day and will mislead you into believing their false stories. This part the of my job I sincerely love. It was so fascinating, especially because I have a Social Science degree. It was so amusing to find this different social standard and be totally at odds with social norms. I have never met someone who would prefer to pay for cat nip for cats on the street than pay their rent. Definitely a learning experience everyone should have.

I’m extremely grateful for being able to branch out and make friends outside of the LEVN house. I think this was a smart decision in the long run. Every now and then, people will need to escape the LEVN house, especially us introverts who are delicate geniuses by default. I would definitely recommend student clubs and trying thing likes the Kava bar downtown. Long walks have also been a coping mechanism. I would say this year I’ve probably walked about an an hour or two each day. It’s been a great help with stress.

I enjoyed the retreats a lot. My favorite was the Berkley retreat. There was a lot to do and a lot of walking. We even walked up a hill to oversee all of the university. I liked the Berkley retreat probably because we were able to go explore as a group, but is also offered some ability to recollect my thoughts. The others, especially the 2nd retreat, felt a little hard for me for some reason. I’m still not too sure why, possibly due to the fact that I had allergies acting up.

I would say that the medical field is one thing I experienced that allowed me to relate most with the poor while in LEVN. I have waited long hours in the local community clinic waiting for a simple card saying that I can get my allergy medicine. It was hard and annoying. It definitely helped me relate to those less fortunate than me in terms of the medical field.

As for religion, I find it really fascinating that in terms of theology, I am quite liberal in Idaho, but very conservative in California. I once saw an individual play an electric guitar in a church. I thought Satan had become incarnate and that the antichrist was imminent. It was disturbing. Little things like these will cross my mind every now and then when I talk to others about religion. I have to remember that many times, even though we both belong to the same branch of Christianity, we can think very differently. Many times it feels alienating. Christianity in California is just rather different. I don’t know if I could ever effectively work in the church system here.

Every few months I think about how my life has been. It’s kind of like a three month evaluation of my life. I ask myself if I had stood up for myself enough, if I had tried to take risks, and if I had fun. Easy things like that. I also try to see where my mind was the entire time. I’ve tried especially hard this year to be mindful. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “I have arrived, I am home. In the here, and in the now. I am solid, I am free. In the ultimate I dwell”. Like many people I tend to ruminate about past failures or be concerned with future anxieties. Out of the two, I definitely live in the future the most. I love pondering all my possibilities, and because I can’t settle on one thing, I keep a variety of routes I could take in my head. It’s also quite tiring. It’s something I’ve tamed more and more as this year has gone on.

People won’t change too much over the course of just a year. A little, definitely, but not anything life-changing. Interests may get more specific, but I would say probably not much else. This is a unique experience, but people shouldn’t make it overly dramatic. Intentional community for me has been rather loosely constructed. I felt like at times i was the only one who took it as a religious experience, and that made it feel lonely in my thinking. At other times, I felt like it was for a good cause, like helping the poor, which made me feel very supported. And then there are the times, which all will have, when you ask yourself if it’s really what the program meant by community. Each community will answer this differently. I’m mostly satisfied by what I’ve obtained, but I feel like some may not be in the long run.

Besides this mindset, I also recommend just being very devoted to something. Violin was obviously my escape route. Anything will do. Have a hobby when you come into intentional community and focus your energy into that. Be on the lookout for possibilities and always remember that LEVN will come to an end much sooner than you expect it to. Once you pack your stuff, just be ready for a very fun experience. If you hate it, eleven months will go, sometimes slowly, but it will. If you love it, well, don’t get too cozy. I would say that’s the most strange awkwardness about LEVN. It’s long enough where you get cozy and then you’re told to get out, but short enough to allow other opportunities to arise to show off what you’ve learned. I suppose everything comes to an end eventually.

-Alexander

Next Move

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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

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What an interesting year. I have learned a lot and have grown a lot. I am not entirely sure what to say. I wrote a poem about the Belfry that I would like to share.

 

Doubt

The music of worship inside the Belfry

Echoes through the walls

And tries to wring out the doubt inside me

 

And all the while I find

the weight of the threshold

bearing down on top of me

 

But the inescapable boundary

of my own predicament alludes my efforts

despite the change of scenery

 

Regardless of this door or the next

The uncertainty plagues my mind

And I wander aimlessly

 

The fear which resides inside my head

remains in control

while hesitation follows every step

 

The songs still sing

And the next day

Less will ring

I found myself doubting less. I am not entirely sure of the changes that took place within me, or if anything truly changed, expect for that. Which isn’t a bad thing, getting over doubt is a big deal, doubt seizes upon us and wrestles our dreams away. It can freeze us and keep stagnant all that we hope to accomplish. So for me, while I might not have accomplished a lot in terms of number of accomplishments, I definitely accomplished the one that counts.

I also met an amazing woman named Megan this year. She is so great! Even though we are moving apart (me back to Minnesota, her to Livermore) we will continue to date. I hope in about a year we can move in together, either after I am in grad school, or she is back in grad school. Although California is nice, I don’t know if I want to make a life here, I would rather move to Oregon or Washington. California really is too hot for me. It is always hot. But being with Megan this last year has made it not just bearable but enjoyable. I am seriously going to miss our movie/tv marathons, and our late night talks. Waking up on Saturday mornings and smelling pancakes she is making in the kitchen, or really just her nervous laugh whenever I do something embarrassing. Sometimes I just like to look at her until she turns all red in the face and has to hide.

But I am also looking forward to our numerous Skype dates and late night phone calls. Or early afternoon for her really, we plan on skyping while we both go to Applebee’s and eat dinner together. Maybe it is sappy I don’t know, and I certainly don’t care. I will miss her a lot.

I am going to miss my housemates a lot too. All of them. Lewis I am going to miss a lot, he was my first roommate I ever had, and just a down to earth guy. Truly a remarkable person, and I believe he will do great things in the future, I hope he makes a career out of social work, I think he would be great at it. Alexander is also a standup guy, and I am so excited for him to go to Spain next year. It will be such an excellent experience. Leo, is such a good guy too, everyone really was great. I hope I get to see Leo again not too far into the future. Allyson was a really great friend as well, she was sort of a match maker for me and Megan, I remember her giving me some advice, don’t recall exactly what it was but it worked! And she told me how she told Megan, to just go kiss him, and Megan just blushed horribly! So funny, but Allyson is incredibly funny. I hope to see her in a blockbuster pretty soon! You hear me Allyson? LOL

I am excited to see Minnesota though. GOD I MISS THAT FROZEN TUNDRA. . . no really. Did I mention how hot it is here? I want to see Minnesota, and I want to see my family again. My mom and her sister are driving out here to pick me up, and then we turn around and go back, something like 1 whole week in a car! So much fun! Road trips are the best.

We are going to go through Yellowstone national park. I was there when I was 6, but the only thing I remember was the buffalo. And old faithful. I am excited to see it again and maybe catch a buffalo. Or see that super volcano that supposedly is due for a major eruption any day now.

I guess some advice I would give to the next group would be to keep the kitchen clean. If the kitchen is clean everyone is happy. It is the main reason for disagreement I found, so just be really as proactive as possible. The couch folds out; it makes life so much easier, because everyone can just cuddle up on the couch and watch a movie together. The tiger painting with duct tape is mine, you can do with it what you want. I think it looks great. I would also say carpooling is ok, but taking the bus is more fun, at least try it. Get a laundry schedule, you don’t want to have to go to work in smelly clothes because someone else got into the laundry first. Be mindful of the air-conditioning. It gets pretty easy to make the two rooms on the main floor super cold. A few times people got some sniffles because of it.

Grilling out is a lot of fun, consider it for your next family meal plan.

Coordinate your time off with each other, so that way you can do fun stuff like road trips. I never got to but I really wanted to. Do not be afraid of sharing food, one of the best ways to make it trough the year is by sharing some food. You can buy more food collectively than separately. And be mindful of what you buy. Do you REALLY need that $6 coffee from Peet’s? Or would you rather have food for two more days? That sort of stuff.

So with my final remarks I would say to the next incoming LEVN volunteers, have fun, try new things, go boldly.

-Jon

The Belfry

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral

Oh, The Things I Have Learned

How do I begin? How do I summarize an experience that has spanned two years of my life? What words could possibly communicate what I feel? The answers to these questions elude me as I contemplate LEVN and all that it means to me.

LEVN has been a roller coaster ride from the start to the finish. There have been tears almost as much as there has been joy. There has been frustration and pain for every laugh and smile. I have learned a lot about myself, about life, and about God and I know that the learning will not end just because my time in LEVN has ended. No, the learning continues because an experience like LEVN leaves an impact in almost every aspect of your life. An impact whose full force cannot be completely understood right away.

As a LEVN volunteer, I have gained invaluable life experiences from my placement sites. The two years I spent as a volunteer at Saint Francis Episcopal Church have been especially significant. During my last week at Saint Francis, I spent a few hours training one of the parishioners how to do some of my primary tasks. Tasks like producing the monthly digital newsletter, managing the church website, and uploading videos to YouTube. Tasks that were once new and strange but were now habitual. I had become the expert when not two years ago I was the novice.

As a volunteer at Saint Francis, I have also been exposed to and become a part of a church quite different than the one I was raised in. And I don’t just mean because Saint Francis is an Episcopal Church and I was raised in a Lutheran Church. Saint Francis is a small aging congregation that has been through a lot. As a result, the people of Saint Francis have a certain quality about them that’s hard to describe. I suppose the word I’m searching for is fortitude, but it’s more than that.

Saint Francis is a very faith-driven community that excels in hospitality and empathy. What’s more, they genuinely just want to help those in need, particularly those in their community who are suffering from pain or loss. However, they are limited in what they can do by their age and lack of resources. So, they do the one thing they can do: they pray. Even though I still consider myself a Lutheran, I have started to use the royal “we” when talking about Saint Francis because, in many ways, I have become one of them.

Moreover, I have been repeatedly inspired by the people of Saint Francis. Even in the face of potentially problematic issues like racial prejudice, same-sex marriage, and death, they have stood firm in their faith. In short, they have taught me about the kind of Christian I want to be. And I thank them for that.

My role as the Social Media and Outreach Intern with The Impact Foundry has also taught me a great deal. I would say that the most important thing that I learned there was a new respect and understanding of the nonprofit sector.

I can’t tell you how many times over the course of the year someone came to The Impact Foundry’s office inquiring about how to start a nonprofit. I have heard The Impact Foundry’s Resource Manager give the “How to Start a Nonprofit” spiel so many times I feel I can almost recite it. And let me tell you, it is not easy. To start a nonprofit, it usually requires a lot from the person/people who bring it into existence in terms of both money and time. In fact, it is recommended that people not start a new nonprofit because of the amount of the work it takes and the oversaturation of the market.

What’s more, due to my position as the resident social media expert, I have read a lot of nonprofit blogs and have communicated with many nonprofit organizations who are members of The Impact Foundry. In doing so, I have gained a general awareness of nonprofits outside of Sacramento and come to realize just how important and how prevalent the work of nonprofits is. The fact is, nonprofits are everywhere and I didn’t even realize it.

For instance, I have been to the Davis Community Clinic several times over the course of the last two years. And guess what? Davis Community Clinic is a nonprofit organization. The fact that the clinic I sought medical advice from is a nonprofit really struck me. Because I realized that by attending Davis Community Clinic, I was living in solidarity with others who are reliant on the services provided by nonprofits.

Blogger NonprofitAF says that nonprofits “[fill] in gaps that the government especially sucks at doing.” I first read these words while looking for potential blogs to post on The Impact Foundry’s Facebook page, and I was really moved by them. They speak to the very reason why nonprofits exist. Nonprofits exist to provide services, the kind of services that everyone as a human being has a right to, whether they can afford it or not. Services like healthcare and education and shelter and so much more. Moreover, we as human beings should support the work of nonprofits because they do more than we know.

LEVN has been also period of personal growth. I discovered a lot about myself, some good and some not-so-good. I discovered parts of myself that I wasn’t previously aware of, parts of myself that I want to change because those parts don’t reflect the person I want to be.

For instance, I realized that I tend to judge people too quickly, and most of my judgement is based on preconceived notions and my own expectations. I found myself judging my housemates on several occasions, especially at the beginning of my first year as a volunteer. The fact is my housemates were nothing like I would have expected and I didn’t know what to make of them. Even with my newfound awareness, I still judge people on occasion. However, now that I have a greater awareness of it, I often catch myself before my judgment of another gets out of control.

In addition to my tendency to judge people, I also realized that I take offense a bit too easily. That is, I take criticism a bit too personally. And I tend to react poorly. Now, this is not always the case. In fact, in many situations, I welcome criticism so that I can improve my performance and skill sets. However, I have found that in certain situations, where I was not expecting criticism, I feel that I am being personally attacked and I don’t react very well. Hopefully, my greater awareness of this will help me prevent such reactions in the future.

I have also become more aware of my confidence or lack thereof when in new situations. Now, this is by no means a new issue for me. However, I have become more mindful of it. And by mindful, I mean that I have realized that I can prepare myself mentally when I know such a situation is about to occur so that I have a game plan going in and don’t just freeze up, which is what I tend to do.

On the flip side, I also learned where my passion lies, or at least one of my passions. And it is with the church. No real surprise there. However, what I realized is that my passion for the church translates into passion for any work that I do for the church. Again, this seems obvious. But it took me working two part-time jobs at the same time, one in the church and one outside the church, for me to really understand this. The fact is I just felt more driven to do my work at Saint Francis and more wanting and willing to put in the extra hours when needed.

The discovery, or rediscovery I should say, of my passion for the church only adds more questions to my mind as I continue to discern my path in life. What is my role in the church? I have been told by the people of Saint Francis that I display a certain level of leadership, but I don’t feel like leadership material sometimes. And yet I do find enjoyment and enlightenment from writing sermons. And developing worship services has always been a highlight for me. I still ponder the meaning of these things and how to proceed in terms of my life and career choices.

As I reflect on my LEVN experience, I would say that, more than anything else, LEVN has taught me self-awareness about who I am, who I want to be, and why I am the way that I am. I have become more aware of my talents are as well as my flaws. However, what’s even more important, it that I have started to question many of the things that I once thought to be true. Things that were ingrained in me from an early age due to my upbringing and due to the types of people that I surrounded myself with. Not that those people were wrong or bad. It’s just that they were like me. LEVN allowed me the opportunity to live with and be around people who were not like me. People who I would not normally gravitate to because they looked or thought different than me. And I will never be the same.

As LEVN ends, I find myself feeling empty. I need rest. I need to be refilled. I need Jesus. I feel I have exhausted all my energy and have nothing left to give. And yet there remains so much to process, but to process such an experience will take time. And yet there is also much work to be done and many questions to answer. What now? Where will I end up next? These questions linger in my mind and yet only time will tell the answers.

-Megan

St. Francis Episcopal Church

Impact Foundry

Ever Truly

I always struggle to write, I think mainly because a lot of the things that I’ve gone through have been pretty miserable. It’s almost like ripping off a bandaid before the wound has healed, however, I’m going to try and throw some bits and pieces of sunshine into this post. The month of June was for the most part pretty damn amazing. I got to spend a lot of time going to different beaches and being the mermaid I am. I went to Oakland a lot and danced till my feet hurt, I took in sites in San Francisco and talked way too much about my personal life after maybe one too many vodka tonics. I held hands in The Castro,  I  switched my hips to Bay bounce at my first Pride and ate way too much barbecue at my CaliBae’s house. It’s been one new experience after another and I’m majorly grateful to have reached the tender age of 31 this year! I can’t say enough how wonderful it feels to have these many beautiful experiences.  But with the good, there is always a little bad.

The day before my birthday my uncle passed away and it took a really huge toll on me, my entire life my father has always spoken so highly of my Uncle Harry. He would light up when talking about all the wonderful things that my Uncle accomplished. Those accomplishments include: Being a founding member of the Black Panther Party, Being one of the first students to desegregate The University of Memphis, Having a long and successful career as a professor at UCLA, and of course being a loving big brother to my father. Harry always lived on the west coast and besides a few phone calls I never really got to spend much time with him. My first time meeting with him in person was about 5 years ago when I and my then-fiancé decided to take a trip to San Francisco, I called him up and to my surprise, he sounded just like my father. The resemblance was uncanny and his humor was sharp. He took me to get Chicken and Waffles and gave me a mini History lesson about the Truly Family. It was because of him I knew the origin of my last name, which according to him came about some time after slavery. During those times most newly freed slaves would hold to the last name given to them. That name usually being the last name of their oppressors or their occupation on the plantation. That’s where names like blacksmith come from. However after some slaves were free they got the option to change their last names, For example, a lot of former slaves changed their names to Freeman or Freedman. That last name still being extremely popular in southern POC families. Anyways my great-great-great-grandfather decided he wanted a last name with some power so he chose Truly.  Harry telling me that story will always stick with me for two reasons: One is that it’s powerful that my family’s last name wasn’t given rather gifted to us by my ancestor who endured a life I couldn’t even imagine, and Two because it was so beautiful to connect with my family. In that moment I was so elated to be sitting down speaking with my powerful elder Uncle Harry.

As I reflect on my life and the life of my ancestors, I’m so grateful to have those powerful people protecting and guiding me every day.  I can only hope that I can be a support system to my cousins as they deal with such a heavy blow. I visited them in Oakland the day after my birthday and the pain in their eyes was all too familiar. I kissed and hugged them and let them know that I’d be there if they needed a shoulder to lean on. I don’t know the pain of losing a father but I  have felt the loss of a brother, and pain like that is sharp and stays forever.  I just hope that whoever is reading this has gotten a tiny peek into how much my Uncle will be missed and how he touched the lives of not only my family but the world.

-Allyson

Lutheran Social Services of Northern California