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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

El tiempo no se detiene

A few days ago, I was going through my Facebook page and looking at some old pictures.  I really like how Facebook reminds us of things we were doing a year ago (and two, and five years ago) because it’s like a journal but with pictures instead of words.  Last summer I did spend a good amount of time reflecting but I have very little memory of what I actually wrote in my journal and I’m a little bit hesitant to go back and read those entries. A year ago, I was not feeling well. It was a strange mixture of feelings.  I felt both empty inside but also so emotional that I didn’t quite know how to deal with the different feelings and I eventually exploded.   When I see pictures that I took of myself a year ago I see how unstable I was.  I realize now that it was during this time of emotional chaos that God stepped in.  I understand that God had always been there to support me but it wasn’t until this time that I had to accept God and his guidance because I had nothing else that was going to help me get back up….

Sometimes I look at old pictures to see what I would have told myself if I could go back in time and give myself advice. If I were to go back to July 2016, I would probably just tell myself to “hold on and trust that things will be ok – time does not stop.” Last summer I also spent a good amount of time wishing that things would have been different but I realize now that if things wouldn’t have been so chaotic then, maybe my life now would have been worse now. Chaos needed to happen so that I could “wake up” and make different choices. I was living an unhappy life, making the same mistake repeatedly without noticing any of it. Perhaps God saw that I wasn’t learning anything and needed to shake me a little so that I could start thinking a little clearer.

By the end of 2016 I was feeling a lot better. I was more present and could recognize a little better why it was that my decisions were not healthy. I was starting to accept that I am very stubborn and that I don’t always know what is best for me. I also realized that I had not been grateful for the blessings that God had been giving me this entire time. God has always protected me and my family but I had been numb for the past seven years that I couldn’t look past myself. I felt alone and would tell myself that only I could really make a change for myself, God had nothing to do with it. I was wrong because God is everything.

In my first blog of this year I wrote about the things I had been grateful for in 2016. I don’t want to wait until 2017 to do the same since it’s only just July and I know that my life has been absolutely wonderful. Things have not been easy but I feel like I’m slowly unlearning how to live life (the wrong way) while also allowing myself to experience the positive things in life. I’m trying to no longer struggle with the idea that I shouldn’t be happy unless I’ve earned it. Everyone deserves to be happy.

I’m thankful for a lot of things that happened this year but the one I’m most grateful for is that my parents had the opportunity to visit our home country after 21 years. My parents and I are from Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico. We came to the US on a tourist visa back in 1992 but we overstayed our visa which meant that at that point we were undocumented. I was undocumented until I was 21 and my parents were undocumented up until last year. I remember being young and not really understanding why I hadn’t met my grandparents or how our family trip to Mexico would fall apart every winter break. The reality was that we couldn’t leave the country…technically we could have left but we wouldn’t have been able to come back in. Once I was older I remember feeling like it was going to be impossible for my parents and I to ever go back and visit. Right now, my parents are in Mexico reconnecting with their family. They arrived to Zihuatanejo on Saturday July 8th. I can’t even imagine the happiness they must have felt to see their mothers (both of my grandfathers passed away) after two decades. My dad says that all their family members have been crying nonstop because they cannot believe that my mom and dad are finally there. My mother was a little worried before heading out to Mexico because she had learned that her grandmother, which is the person who raised her and plays the mom role in her life, was starting to lose her memory. My mother worried that her grandmother wouldn’t recognize her. After they had spent a day in Mexico my parents called me and said that my mom’s grandmother started crying the second she saw her—she recognized her!

I guess what I have learned from this experience is that time never stops and nothing is permanent. Time keeps going and we need to remember that especially when life seems extra chaotic.

-Leo

Computers 4 Kids

Viole

My placement site continues to be as usual. I have definitely grown into the routine of seeing certain clients on a regular basis. I feel I will miss them a lot when my time at LEVN comes to an end. For some of them, I worry they will miss me too much actually. LEVN and all internships are an interesting time for individuals. Clients become attached to the intern, whether you want to them or not, and they feel sadness when you leave. I feel slightly awkward when they mention past LEVNs at work. We are not allowed to talk about past employees or their future. However, I also feel awkward not just because of this inability to update clients on what past LEVNs are doing now, but also that I will be one of those people in as little as two weeks. One client in particular I know will be affected by me leaving. Another two clients have been very rebellious towards me lately due to them having to move out of their unit soon and they’ve been skipping on my appointments. That’s okay though, as they are beloved by God. Even if they piss me off when they skip an appointment I made with them…thrice.

When individuals reach the end of their LEVN year, they will definitely feel ready for a little bit of a break. While I was fortunate to have a job guaranteed by May of this year, many of the other housemates are still searching for what they want to do after their service year. It will be an interesting time for them. My biggest recommendation for anyone who reads these blogs is to definitely start your job search early. I started in December in fact (many of the programs I became interested in that allow you to travel overseas and pay you a decent size paycheck have deadlines in mid to late winter). I had initially been interested in joining another religious based service year program that sends you abroad. Needless to say, the programs asked individuals to raise over two thousand dollars. I thought that was rather ridiculous because you most other secular programs or Catholic school programs, you could pay for only the plane ticket and get a much larger stipend where you would not be in poverty. This is just my mindset however. Volunteer work is inherently classist. I am not sure why anyone would want to be in poverty in a foreign country, that sounds rather awful.

I have definitely tried to improve my Spanish while I still have time. I am extremely nervous about trying to find an apartment in Spain, but I have already found that the rentals there are far cheaper than in the United States. I will also have all my paperwork by Monday to send off to the consulate. I will be trying to find a way to get my visa sooner than later, so that is a bit of an anxiety builder.

One major expectation that has changed while in LEVN was what intentional community meant. I quickly realized that I was the only one who, outside of those placed in churches, went to church. It was a bit hard to accept at first, I had expected everyone to go to church simply because the program was religious based. I feel like the program is much more social justice oriented rather than religious at times. Of course, officially the program is both, however, in practice it’s a bit harder to tell at times on an every day basis. Of course, I have decided to live for only me this year, and I wanted to make this a religious experience. I go to church regularly, I am a lector for the church, and I try to talk to the priests at the Episcopal Church whenever I can. I’ve gone to a monastery with one of the housemates, I went to spiritual direction, and I have gone to confession. In the end, I made it as best I could.

I won’t miss cooking dinners on Mondays and Sundays. It’s rather flustering trying to remember the days people do cook. I would definitely recommend keeping a calendar handy if anyone is joining this program. You must remember your work schedule, your personal appointments, LEVN blog due dates, and LEVN dinner days. It may not seem like a lot at first, but it really does start to add up. A blog is a few days late here and there, someone forgets they are cooking a dinner every now and then, and by God you’re getting told to get your act together at your next monthly check-in.

Over all, it’s been a good experience. I definitely would do it again if I could. As for another year in the Episcopal Service Corps, I don’t think I could do it. I feel like the Episcopal Service Corps for most people (with a few exceptions), can be done only once.

-Alexander

Next Move

What do I stand for?

For the most recent LEVN night, we were asked to derive a personal mission statement. To get us contemplating about who we were and what we stood for, we were told to jot down a list of twenty of our talents and twenty of our passions (i.e. things that excite us or anger us or that make us want to share whatever it is with others). Right off the bat, I struggled with this.

The truth is I have been asking myself these very same questions for the past three years and have yet to come up with an answer that satisfies me. I managed to write down twelve talents and about the same number of passions.

Looking over my talents, I didn’t really see how any of the things I wrote down were supposed to help me discern my path in life and ultimately find a paying job. The person leading our discussion told us to think of our biggest fan and what that person would say were our talents. The only person I could think of that matched that description for me was my mother. I admit thinking of her led me to write down a few talents I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of, but it still got me nowhere close to twenty. I mean, how is choreographing and performing hand motions to Vacation Bible School songs applicable to my career?

I had even more trouble coming up with my passions after the first few obvious ones like church and mathematics and music. When I considered things that angered me, I found myself writing stuff like dishonesty and unreliability. By the end, I still couldn’t conjure many things I’m passionate about.

After contemplating talents and passions, it was time to start constructing our mission statements. First, we were given a list of action verbs and told to select three of them that best described what we wanted to do in our life. Unlike the previous tasks, I didn’t find this too stressful. My words ended up being accomplish, serve, and discover. Rethinking about it, I feel these words aptly describe what I want to do.

My choice of the word “accomplish” is pretty self-explanatory, although accomplish what exactly I’m not sure, but I want to accomplish something.  As for my decision to include the word “serve,” I feel that that word relates to my desire to just be helpful or to be of use or, another way to put it, to serve a purpose, but also to serve others and God. Lastly, the word “discover” speaks to my constant feeling that there is something out there, something just waiting for me beyond my grasp, something that I need to find. Maybe this feeling is my just wishful thinking that there is something more to life than life as I know it. Maybe there is nothing to find. Either way, I want to discover what life is really about and if there’s nothing more out there, then I want to discover that, too.

Next, we were told to select our core value. Our core value was described to us as that one thing that we would die for or that which is most important to us. I initially wrote down close relationships, but in recent years, I have come to realize more and more that close relationships alone don’t satisfy me. I need something else. And that something else is meaningful work. I need both. In past few years, I’ve experienced periods where I had one but not the other and then it switched. I feel it is a combination of the people in my life and what I do with my life that make life worth living.

Lastly, we were instructed to come up with the group of people or the institution that we most wanted to impact. A few groups stood out to me from the list we were given, but in the end, there was only one answer: churches. The homeless and youth also piqued my interest, but the issue of homelessness makes me sad more than anything and is such a huge problem that I’m not sure I want to make them my life’s work.

Youth actually ranks pretty high up there for me, even above homelessness. I think the reason for this is that I feel that so much or who we are as humans, or at least who I am, is due to my experiences in my youth. I feel especially strongly about church youth groups because my closest friendships were developed at church youth group, and I owe my passion for church due to people who influenced me as a youth growing up in church. Experiences and habits developed in our youth have the power to make us or break us when we reach adulthood, so I feel the youth deserve attention.

However, even with all that said about youth, I still selected churches as the one group I wanted to impact the most.

When all was said and done, my personal mission statement ended up being the following: I want to accomplish, serve, and discover close relationships and meaningful work for churches. Now, I know it doesn’t quite make sense and I intend to reword it a bit, but I feel it is a relatively apt description of who I am. What’s more, the process of coming up with it gave me a lot to think about.

For instance, if the church is the main group I want to influence, then what does that look like? What would I do in the church? Would it be my career? Or would it be something I do just in my free time? How about my interest in youth? Can that have any meaning for me? So may questions and so few answers.

– Megan

St. Francis Episcopal Church

Impact Foundry

Vio Vio Vio

One thing I have discovered about myself in my time in LEVN is my increased amount of time devoted to music. Every day I wake up at 6 AM and prepare all my sheet music. I grab my violin and head off to the Belfry. I am sure to be loud in doing all of this to wake up my roommate, as is tradition. In the Belfry, I get the music stand and adjust it so that it is not set up for someone two feet tall. After I adjust it, I get the lights, look for ghosts, and practice violin for about an hour.

I have taken such an interest in music again that I have even begun to take music lessons once more. I had taken them previously for many years, but decided I wanted to continue to excel in it. I find this as a pastime that I have rediscovered my enjoyment in.

I have also been practicing my Spanish lately. I am attempting to read The Alchemist in Spanish. I am, hopefully, moving to Spain in August or September. I am very excited, but also very flustered by all the paperwork involved. On top of that I am trying to decide if I should go to graduate school after Spain. It’s a little nerve wracking going to a foreign country, but also worrying about finding a place to live there. On top of that, trying to figure out how to send academic documents from across an ocean is pretty tedious.

LEVN is a program that at first seems to go by pretty fast. It slows down tremendously in the middle, but then seems to pick up a little pace towards the end. We were told in orientation that there are people who count down the days till the end of their placement site. Supposedly it’s a tactic to calm individuals down and show them that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I think that is more nerve wracking however. I think instead time should just be devoted into a hobby, like violin or soccer. At least, that was my coping mechanism this year.

In LEVN there will be a lot of things people promise to do. Most people don’t do half of them. I find coming just for the adventure of it all as more rewarding. LEVN has been lonely for some individuals it seems. For me, it’s been the opposite. As an introvert, there’s always people jolting in and out of rooms. Finding any quiet is very rare, and actually is one reason I enjoy leaving for church on Sundays.

In the first week, LEVNs will create a house rule. It will be strict at first. People will think that they will follow every rule to the very dot. The rules become less strict and eventually people realize how silly it is to have such harsh rules. The best rules are probably loose rules. There’s no need to create a jail in Davis right across from the university. The people who will have trouble in LEVN will be those who struggle with forgiveness. Once someone learns that forgiveness is accepting the past can’t be any better, I think it comes to them to just enjoy the current time.

My time here has been enjoyable and I will enjoy seeing what happens to my roommates and myself afterwards. This year has been fairly easy going. I wouldn’t say it’s been too difficult overall. Overwhelming at times, definitely, but very easy going. No one will come out a perfect saint at the end of this program. No one has to, and it wasn’t made for that. If it was, I can only imagine how hard it would be telling people I wasn’t joining some random cult in the middle of California!

My final goal in LEVN will be to memorize a few more pieces by Mozart. Supposedly he said that people cannot shame themselves if they are away from home. Hopefully this is true.

– Alexander

Next Move

Belfry Sermon for May 24

A note from Pastor Casey: At the end of each school year, our campus ministry at UC Davis gives the pulpit to any students who are graduating as well as to our ministry intern. Since Jon has been serving with us, he preached on Wednesday, May 24. Enjoy!

Recently I have had to tackle whether I was going to move back to Minnesota or stay here in California, which is a question a few years ago I would never have thought I would be contemplating. As my time in the LEVN community winds down, my attention moves more and more towards this question.

What am I going to do? Where am I going to move? And who with?

Jesus understood that his time with his friends was coming to a close and that soon he would have to depart the 11. Worried that his friends might struggle significantly or that they may panic we come into today’s gospel reading.

We see time and time again how the disciples are not the brightest bunch, Jesus didn’t go looking for students in the same places that another rabbi would have looked. He didn’t try and find prodigies’ in the typical sense. He wasn’t interested in finding the next high-priest to be. Instead he found a bunch of blue collar workers, and a hated tax collector.

So it should be no surprise that up through today’s reading the disciples continually mess up. They fall asleep when Jesus tells them to stay awake. They miss the entire points of Jesus stories, and they bicker amongst themselves about who is the smartest, who is the wisest, and who Jesus loves most. Jesus finds them at this point to be completely helpless.

This is entirely understandable. Just weeks ago, their best friend and teacher died, and they were left aimless, they drifted apart, all in different directions. Some held up in a single house, some tried high-tailing it out of town. Some went back to fishing like nothing even happened.

Jesus second attempt of finding his disciples during his last few days on earth mirrors the first time he collected them. They are understandably in shock.  In the last few weeks they have witnessed horror and hardship, and they have feared for their own lives, and they were witness to Jesus risen from the dead. So it is again understandable that they now think there are some sort of dream state or shock and they revert back to what they were before they ever met Jesus.

But Jesus obviously as all of you already know has different plans for his chosen 11.

In one of his last moments with his disciples, Jesus looks to reassure them. He tells them that he will send down another comforter. This comforter that Jesus is talking about is the Holy Spirit. And he is speaking prophetically because soon is Pentecost when the holy spirit does descend on the 11+1.

But this story is much more than a foreshadowing. Jesus is seriously trying to comfort his friends. And he does this not only by telling them that he will always be with them. But by bringing them together.

Jesus could have gone to each disciple alone and told him to go out and start churches, blah blah blah. But he took the time to gather them all up, he went travelling to different towns, and lakes, just to bring the group back together.

Humans crave company. We are social creatures by genetics and evolution. You take any intro to child development or psychology class and you learn how just being around adults who visibly show signs of love is not just important to development but it is vital for the baby to live.

We need love in our lives. We need companionship in our lives, and Jesus knew this. Where two-or-three are gathered in his name… the verse goes, so he too will be there. The holy spirit moves us to help each other. It moves us to be friends and support one-another in grim times. So the holy spirit almost has a placebo affect at times. Because just by brining two people together they can be healed. I don’t think it is God’s direct power is going to heal us, but that God calls on some to be doctors and some to be lawyers, some to be cops, and some to be firefighters. Or simply friends and people with an ear to listen.

That is what Jesus is talking about when he says he will be there with us. That he will provide these comforters in our lives.

I am moving back to Minnesota at the end of July. I am a little nervous, which is saying a lot from someone who seldom gets nervous. But I am nervous because I need to payoff my student loans. And I had no place really to move into. And I leaving (for a time anyway) some people I care deeply about.

But I have great friends. God has placed comforters in my life. My friend Jordan is letting me move in with him, and letting me get by without paying rent for the first month or so.

I am saying all of this today because this year academically is coming to an end for most of you UC Davis students. And while none of you are seniors, most of you will still face some obstacles this summer. Or in the coming year. Maybe you are switching majors, moving across the ocean, or simply returning home.

And you might be afraid. Because maybe you are leaving a friend, mentor, or a community that you feel like you finally fit in with.

Well that is what this story and this sermon is really about. Jesus is just talking to the disciples in this story, and he isn’t talking simply about his looming accession that waits just around the corner like a melancholy end to a remarkable story, in the eyes of the disciples.  No, this story is also for you. And for me too.

Because God will put comforters in your lives, you might not see them now, but they are there. And God is waiting.

– Jon

The Belfry

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral

Hometown

Our hometown can be the place where we were born. Or it can be the place where we were raised…or it can also be something completely different. When people ask me about my hometown sometimes I struggle with my answer. There are times when I say Zihuatanejo, which is where I was born. Other times I say Modesto, which is where I was raised. Every now and then I say both. Lately I have been feeling uncomfortable with either answer because I do not feel a genuine connection with either.

I struggle with choosing Zihuatanejo as my hometown because I lived there up until I was one year old and then we moved to the US. I don’t have any memory of Zihuatanejo or of my extended family. I know the stories but I don’t know them or the place. I struggle with choosing Modesto as my hometown because even though I lived there for 18 years, I was not living as my genuine self. I used to think of Modesto as my past hometown because my “past” self lived there.  My “past” self did enjoy living in Modesto, that’s where they grew up. The love for Modesto wasn’t genuine even though they wanted it to be genuine.

Because my present self is finally the genuine me, it is difficult to continue associating my past with me now. Modesto may have been my past but because I’m now living a more truthful life I find it hard to associate Modesto to my childhood. Leo didn’t grow up in Modesto. Leo didn’t go to school there. Leo did spend a summer there but it was a very short period of time.

I have been living as myself mostly in the Bay Area and in Davis. I realize that neither the Bay Area or Davis can be considered a hometown but I’m learning that it’s ok to refer to them as home.  When I was living in Berkeley I really considered it home. When I would visit my family in Modesto it felt as if I was going into an unfamiliar place. I didn’t feel the safety from Berkeley.

In Berkeley, I had the chance to reflect on my true self and on the direction I was choosing to live my life. I had to be honest with myself and build the courage to start living a happy life. When that happened, it felt like a new beginning. It didn’t mean I was letting go of the past, instead it meant that things were going to be different. This new beginning started in Berkeley and even though it’s not my hometown, that place will always be very dear to me that it can feel like my hometown. 

Within the last year I’ve been thinking again about hometown and the bay. I miss the Bay Area and my friends but I am learning that I have learned to really love Davis so much that I didn’t realize it how much I missed it until recently. This new love for Davis is making me think about not caring about what I consider my hometown but instead on enjoying and being present in the current home. This past year in Davis has provided a lot of stability. Of course, there were days that were difficult but overall, it gave me the time and place to really focus on the present and start letting go of the past. 

As I reflect on what home means to me, I realize that I don’t have a definite answer or even a set of characteristics in mind that would label a place as a home. I suppose that not having a set answer shows that “home” changes for me but overall Davis has been a unique home and one of the few places where I’ve experienced a strong sense of peace. So why Davis? Well, one thing that I’ve noticed that I’m doing different is that I’ve been challenging myself to be more present in my life. Because it is easier to dwell on the past and overthink the future, I found myself taking the present for granted.  

During my time at Berkeley, I focused too much energy on completing my degree and mapping out my life after college as oppose to working on myself at that time.  I just wanted to cross off the days from my calendar and meet deadlines. I didn’t realize how I was missing on the present until I moved out of my home in Berkeley and would no longer be an undergraduate student.  I felt like Andy from The Office when he says: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”  I know this show is silly but I thought that was a deep quote to follow. Understanding that I chose not to enjoy Berkeley as much as I wanted to motivated me to start making a change in the way I approach life and my relationships with everyone around me. Moving to Davis did not erase my problems, instead it has been teaching me how to confront change without ignoring life now. 

– Leo

Computers 4 Kids