With my days dwindling down to a little less than three weeks in LA, I think it is only natural to write a blog post about how I changed during this year or what I’m going to take away from my year of volunteering. After all, the expected “cookie cutter Christian,” thing to do would be to blog about “the top 10 things I learned this year,” however I am not a “cookie cutter Christian.” In essence, there is nothing wrong with blogging about how I changed over the past eleven months, because I can definitely feel a change within me, but a huge part of me feels like it is too soon to express what exactly that change is. I was told that it takes Dwellers several months, maybe even years, to fully unpack and process the events they experienced during their year of service. I deeply believe that no matter how hard I try to explain the impact of the experiences I had during my YAV year, I will never be able to express the beauty and insight I have encountered throughout my YAV year. In fact, if I tried to explain or express the importance of this transformative year to anyone, then I wouldn’t be doing my YAV year justice, because the most important things close to our hearts are often the most difficult to explain to people.
If a person had the opportunity to spend one Earth day in Heaven, could that person articulate the eternal love and cosmic beauty they experienced? If a person spent one Earth day in Hell, could that person express the agonizing damnation they felt of their soul slowly being ripped to shreds? The answer to both of those questions is no, intense emotions and experiences cannot be experienced without loosing some of its intensity. That is why I cannot express my overall experiences of my YAV year in a mere blog, because if I did I would be loosing the meaningful impact of what this year meant to me. Humans were meant to share experiences and stories, but sometimes their stories are so personal and impactful that the storyteller cannot share the beauty of their story they endured. The experiences I had during my YAV year are mine and mine alone that is why while many can sympathize with my stories, but none of them can really empathize with my stories because they have not lived through it. There is nothing wrong with this, it just means that I can’t find the final resting words for my YAV year, because in a way I feel that my YAV year isn’t over even when I return home to start seminary.
So then the question becomes: Why am I writing blog about my final thoughts of this year if I just stated that I cannot find my final thoughts on this year? Simple, it gives me peace. It gives me closure. I’ve been through so many unique challenges this year, but despite the challenges I am able to rise above them and have peace about this year. This peace is not happy, nor is it sad, but it is peace in knowing that I was in and apart of the place where God wanted me to be at the time. I was where I needed to be in this point of my life in order for me to grow. I was challenged to find peace when I did not feel at peace, and I was challenged to find joy when I could not feel joy. I always knew who I was and I always knew who God was, but I was able to deepen my relationship with myself and with God on a much intimate dimension; a dimension that I cannot explain, but is filled with love, compassion, and courage. After all, I am much more braver and stronger than I think I, because I am called to be brave and strong.
Several months ago if you would have asked my to explain my challenges, I would have explained them from a place that isn’t coming from a place of peace and understanding, but rather from a place of grief and resentment. While my emotions I wrestled with this year of grief and understanding are validated, I cannot grow if I continue to be blocked by my emotions that do not bring myself joy. I can only get so far in life if I am dictated by resentment and not being at peace. This perspective switch I had comes from a lot of aspects of this year. The most visible aspect to me right now is my recent vacation to San Francisco with my parents. My brother is part of a fraternity in Purdue that participates in the Journey of Hope (I forget the official name.) This is a 60-day bike ride across the United States in the summer. Typically seniors in the fraternity participate in this before they enter the professional world or grad school, but a couple other guys are allowed to do this bike ride their junior year. This ride is to help educate and advocate for individuals with disabilities or challenges, so each night the guys will help out at a local agency promoting advocacy for individuals with disabilities.
I’m proud of my brother for being one of the 100 or so men participating in this ride. There are three routes that they take, one being the route out of San Francisco with about 30 or so fraternity members. My parents and I decided to make a small vacation out of Mark departing from San Francisco. My parents flew in Thursday and we took Friday and Saturday to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. Originally we were going to push it and make the drive the PCH in one day, but we decided to take two days so we can stop in nearby towns along the way like Santa Barbra and Solvang. We barely had an hour Saturday before we had to meet the group for dinner the night before their send off. Early Sunday morning was the send off and it was much more meaningful than I expected. Not going to lie, a lot of it had to do with the send off being at the Golden Gate Bridge and watching the bikers bike across the bridge. Another big part of it had to do with the realization that I probably won’t see my brother again until Thanksgiving because he will still be biking when I move into my apartment in Louisville.
My parents and I explored the city Sunday through Wednesday doing the typical tourist thing; Muir Woods and wine tour, Alcatraz, Lombard, Chinatown, etc. This vacation was so nice and much needed because I did not get a retreat this year like I was originally promised at the start of my year. In many ways, this vacation was the retreat that I was supposed to have. It was definitely seeing things from a tourist perspective again; I almost had to take a mental step back at times to process the sudden change from living in LA to visiting San Francisco. It felt weird seeing people who were homeless without my PATH polo on. I am not saying that I should feel ashamed or guilty for being a tourist, but I had to be more mindful of the role I was playing. By mentally stepping back I even realized how much knowledge I gained on social issues such as homelessness.
In fact, on the ride over to Santa Barbra I couldn’t stop talking about the homelessness phenomenon: about how people fall into homelessness and the biggest struggles for them and PATH when it comes to homelessness. I talked about patterns I see at work and why they exist (which can be several reasons depending on who you ask.) I’m not sure if I will work with people who are homeless in the future as a therapist (but who knows) but I do know that my understanding and perspective on homelessness has changed based on the amount of stuff I rambled on to my parents about. It is in that moment of passionately talking about homelessness on my way to Santa Barbra that I realized the way I interpret the world has changed. Being at a physical and emotional distance from LA, I was able to see how the way I interpret the world has changed, thus allowing me to understand that the way I see and interpret my year in LA has changed. I can see a change, but I cannot see the details of the change. Like I wrote earlier I know that I have changed but I still need time to truly discover what that change is. I told Mary that before my trip to San Francisco I was ready to leave LA, but I wouldn’t be leaving LA with a positive mindset. After San Francisco, I can positively say that I will be leaving LA with a positive mindset. I also told her that while I am aware that my days are coming to a close, I am not doing a countdown. I am beyond excited to go to the seminary of my dreams, but if I do a countdown, I will be too focused on getting out of here instead of enjoying the time I have left. I still have to finish up with my obligations at PATH, clean (hardcore), and say my goodbyes. I got to let LA know what my final words are before I leave. So I may write another blog post in the future, I may not. For now I think I’ll be too busy wrapping things up to write another blog post.
If I don’t get the chance to write another blog post in the future, I would like to thank everyone who has supported me financially and emotionally of this crazy and insanely beautiful ride. Thank you all for reading my blog posts as I navigate my thoughts and feelings about my YAV year, despite if they make since or not. I have along way to go, but I know I am better equipped to have the courage, empathy, and understanding to authentically live out my stories. And you, dear readers, I encourage you to have the courage and empathy to go forward and live out the amazing and beautiful stories you have to show the world. After all, I’m going to need some company when basking in the sun.