Sunday, May 21, 2017

Confronting Feelings Of Depression and Settling Down

As well as my other writing endeavors, I have been having trouble articulating this blog. Even now as I write this, I am afraid that my words will not flow as smoothly as I want them today. Recently, I came out of a small depression. I’ve had worse depression seasons, but regardless of the intensity of the depression, it always makes processing emotions rationally almost impossible. One of the emotions and thoughts I struggled to process was the idea of being present and in the moment. I always wanted to give people my sincere and present attention when I am with them, but my depression made that almost impossible. I didn’t like how selfish my depression made me feel.

I am an extrovert, so when I am depressed it is usually from a lack of social contact, so in order for me to work through my depression I need to get out of the house and interact with people. However, because of my depression it would be impossible to leave the house on the weekends, thus only intensify my depression. When I do get interact with others on the weekends, I am not fully there or present because of my depression and some times I wish I were just at home. Why would I wish I were just at home if that is the cause of my depression? And I would I not want to be engaged with my friends when I had the chance because it helps my depression? I felt like it was a cruel circle that I was living out. Let me tell you, depression is a b*tch.

I can’t pin point the exact reason I was depressed (then again, can anyone?); part of it had to do with loneliness being the only one in the house and part of it has to do with this feeling of acknowledging the fact that I would be leaving California in a little over a month to prepare for seminary. This is an exciting chapter in my life; I wanted to go to Louisville Seminary for about two years now. It’s been a dream of mine to be a licensed therapist, and now it feels like I am finally making that happen. I am ready to move to Louisville, but I am not ready to say goodbye to my friends in LA yet. (It has also been hard focusing on the present moment when I am just over this year and ready to leave.) I feel a lot conflicted feelings about leaving, mainly being having to leave a community that I established here.

I am a traveller, a drifter, a wanderer. It’s always been my dream to travel to all six continents; the iceberg formally known as Antarctica is up for debate.  When all my friends were graduating college, getting engaged, or married; they were all looking to settle down. Well, not to compare my dreams and wishes with theirs, but I wasn’t ready to settle down. I’m happy for them, but I knew that there was something bigger out there for me. I knew that Indiana was not the place I wanted to settle down. Looking back, I had no problem doing this program because I was very unattached to a community. However, now that I established a community, a place of acceptance, it’s hard to say goodbye. I assume this feeling is natural for many people in my position, but in a way it is harder for me because this is my first community. It is like saying goodbye to your first pet. You knew the pain would be intense, but you never knew how much intensity it was going to be because this was your first pet. City Lights is my first pet.

There is also some irony in this. For so long I’ve loved being a wandering traveller, that I didn’t mind not settling down. However, now that I experienced what it’s like to be apart of an agape community, I suddenly have this urge to settle down. So while mentally and emotionally preparing myself to leave is hard enough, I’m also really excited about Louisville. I don’t think I’ll settle down in Louisville, my desire to live on the east coast is still strong, but there is something comforting in knowing that I am committed to live there for at least three years (unlike the YAV program where it was just a one year commitment.)

I don’t know if I will continue to harbor the friendships I made here in LA when I am back in the Midwest. I don’t know if I when or where I’ll settle down, despite my desire for it to be sometime soon. I don’t know what my social life at Louisville Seminary is going to look like. The only thing I can be for certain of is that the concept of belonging to a community will help me later in life when I do find a community that I can settle down with. And the truth maybe there may not be “one” community we settle down with, maybe in life we are never truly settled down or never truly belonging to one community. Maybe we are all travelers looking to belong to that “one place,” but we make friends along the way to help us discover what that one place is. Then again, I am only in my early twenties, what do I know about life?

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Girl Without a Race...Or So She Thought

I sit at my chair staring at a blank screen. My mind is lost in thought, wondering what I should write about next. Something inside me is telling me that I should write another blog post. That same feeling is telling me that I should write about race. “Ok, feminism,” my mind argued, “I can write about the sexism I’ve experience since coming out LA and how it’s different than that of the Midwest.”
            “No,” that feeling inside me whispers, “Race.”
            “Ok so I can write about race, which I have no idea what I’m going to say,” I thought, “Or I can write about feminism, or being an extrovert (and the struggle with coming to that term.)”
            As I wrestle with what to write, I look through my pictures on my phone of the last month in order to generate idea. Disneyland! I can write about going to Disneyland with Mary. While that day excursion was a fun experience, there is only so much I can write about. Upon further introspection, I realize that I must write about race despite my hesitation. In the DOOR program, especially at DOOR LA, a social phenomenon that we discuss a lot is racial reconciliation. LA is the city of storytellers, and that includes telling the story of our racial identity. We are called not only to reconcile with our own racial identity, but we are called to embrace each other’s racial identities in order to build bridges with each other.
            However, how am I supposed embrace racial reconciliation if I can’t even reconcile with my own racial identity? I don’t consider myself hateful towards other races than my own, and I encourage embracing a world of diversity, but for me race is extremely difficult to discuss because of my lack of racial identity. I am white, but I am still struggling to understand what that means.
            Being white does not mean I lounge around by the pool of a local country club as I sip my Arnold Palmer while my brother plays tennis on the nearby courts. I do not have a trust fund and I’m not the type of girl to casually wear pearls. Instead, being white means…
            Well, it means that I am born to privilege that I have no say over. Society indicates that I have an unfair advantage because of the color of my skin. It makes me feel uncomfortable and guilty. But most importantly, being white means I can’t talk about my race otherwise it would feel like I am being racist.
            Think about this, if a group of black people talked about their race, that would be seen as them having black pride. If a group of Asian people talked about their race that would be seen as Asian pride. If a group of white people talked about their race, since they are what society deems “superior”, than it would look bad. White pride could never exist because the stigma society assigns us tells us that it’s racist.
            So I’m born into a world of privilege, which I didn’t ask for? I don’t feel comfortable with the “superiority,” label society has assigned me! And I’m not even allowed to talk about my whiteness otherwise I’ll be seen as racist?
            How am I supposed to reconcile with that? Looking back, throughout the years I didn’t want to discuss my whiteness because in many ways I did not feel like I had a racial identity. The event that actually changed this notion was not an event that happened this year, but something that happened in college. I have a bachelors in social work, which means that I took a lot of classes confronting human behavior and social phenomenon. Talking about race was not a foreign concept to my during orientation in New York (although the emotional intensity I felt would say differently.) One of the classes, which ended up being my favorite, was a summer course “Teaching in a Diverse Society.”
            This class, while it was required for education majors, did not just apply to those interested in pursuing teaching. In fact, subjects about discussing how or what to teach was barely discussed. Instead, the course was mainly composed of theories behind social structures such as race, and the steps taken towards racial reconciliation. I loved how interactive and nonjudgmental the professor was, he gave us the space to process what we were needed to personally digest. During the middle of the course, he asked us what would we do if we woke up as a different race. I forget what my classmates said, but I told the professor that I would enjoy that. When he asked why, I told him that being white is boring and it would be interesting to experience what that would be like. That generated an interesting discussion, but the main thing I took away from that discussion was that by saying white is “boring” or “has no culture,” I am actually being prejudiced towards my own race. How am I supposed to discuss racial issues with others, if I am prejudiced towards my own race?

            While I was able to confront some of my colorblindness during the class, I still consider myself having a long way to go before I am comfortable with my own racial identity. I recognize the bias belief that “being white is boring,” but I can’t help but feel that way. Regardless of this notion I have, I must be willing to become comfortable with my own racial identity. Being able to be comfortable with my own racial identity is the only way I can be sensitive with others’ racial identities. If I choose to ignore my own racial identity, and the racial identity of others, then I am choosing to ignore a huge part of a person’s life. True, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but if I choose to ignore one’s racial identity, I am still choosing to ignore one’s identity. Just because my racial identity isn’t important to me, doesn’t mean that someone else’s racial isn’t important to them. In order to reconcile with race and what race means to others, I just be able to reconcile with what race means to me.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Pious Priest and the Homeless Drug Addict Are Equal

“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” Luke 6:35-36   

Abba’s compassion is boundless for it succeeds human expectations. I always knew this to be true, but this year challenged me more than any other year to keep that truth in my heart. This blog post touches on a sensitive subject regarding that and might make some readers uncomfortable. I wanted to mention that it contains mature subject matter so readers won’t be blind sighted. If you feel any discomfort, I invite you to wrestle with that feeling because that is something that your gut is telling you. Listen to what your gut is saying with an open heart and open mind…

At first I did not enjoy working at PATH, but ever since I changed outreach teams in January, my perspective on PATH has changed for the better. Gaining knowledge about the homeless epidemic, myself, and what it means to be a child of God is only a fraction of what I learned. I have grown so much, originally I wanted to do a list of what I am able to take away from working at PATH; but I feel like it would be hard to write everything I gained in a short blog. Instead, I decided to write about the main thing I learned this year: to meet people where they are at in life.

In outreach, we are literally meeting people where they are, such as on the streets, an underpass, or in a park; we are coming to people who are homeless rather then them coming to us. When I was asked about this after church, I told that that person, that so many people who are homeless struggle with being able to take that first step into the PATH doors; many people have lost hope that their situation will ever get better. With outreach, we are not forcing anybody to step through our doors but we are building a bridge for them so that they are not intimidated by walking into PATH. I’ve seen many clients start to have hope while working with the outreach or case management team. While doing outreach our goal is not to give our clients hope, but meet them where they are at both mentally and physically.

I like to think that I am able to shine a light of God’s presence when I am able to meet them where they are. For instance, once I meet with this man as well as another teammate. This man started casually using curse words in his conversation because he was familiar with the other teammate. When he noticed me, he apologized for his cursing. I thought that was a nice gesture but I told him, “Don’t apologize. I don’t care. You are free to be you.” Since this event was several months ago I forgot the exact wording of the conversation, but I still remembered the emotions behind the conversation. He thanked me for saying that and I can tell that I brightened up his day when I said that. I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but I assume that not that many people who are homeless hear the words, “You are free to be you.” The meaning behind those words are, “I accept you as you are.” As society, we need to remember accepting people who are homeless, is different from accepting homelessness.

Accepting people for who they are is why I choose to follow Christ, to me that is what it means to bring the kingdom of God on Earth. This radical love is much easier said then done, and I admit that I’ve fallen short of this. In order to accept people as they are, regardless of their situation, we must meet them where they are. While PATH is not a faith-based agency, I can see the Holy Spirit working in there. In PATH, meeting people where they are at is a part of a harm reduction model. Harm reduction is what it sounds like, actions taken to reduce the harm for an individual. For example, if a client has an alcohol problem, the case manager would take steps with the client to reduce the harm that the alcohol might cause to the client. A solution based upon the harm reduction model might be reducing the number of drinks that person can have, or require that person to drink water in between drinks. While these solutions do not eliminate the client’s behavior, they reduce the potential for harm.

At first glance, one might wonder, “Well that’s great that the harm of the client is reduced, but why doesn’t the case worker work with the client to eliminate the problematic behavior in the first place?” That’s the thing, we might see it as a problematic behavior, but the client may not. They just see the behavior as part of their daily life. We are never meant to go where the client doesn’t ask us to go. If we do, then we are dehumanizing the client. Harm reduction is a model that not only reduces harm from a certain behavior, but it also empowers the client. But I realize to some, the harm reduction model maybe hard to accept because it brings our biases to the table.

For me, I definitely had a hard time accept this concept because it challenged my biases and values. When we had a speaker come in to talk about this model he gave the example of a female prostitute. I come from a background that was not tolerable of sexual promiscuity; I became friends with a girl in college who strongly advocated ending human and sex trafficking. In my mind, prostitution was taboo; it was an evil sin. However, the man giving the presentation said that the woman did not want to stop her behavior because it gave her a sense of sexual power. To her, prostitution was not a taboo or an evil sin, but part of her life. In order to meet the woman where she was, he gave her condoms without judgment. By giving her condoms, he was engaging in the harm reduction model.

I could not have done that if I was in his shoes, I could not nonjudgmentally give her condoms and allow her to continue in her behavior. To me, prostitution is wrong and I would have encouraged her to stop. His example made me extremely uncomfortable because it was a sensitive subject for me. In essence, I appreciate how non-judgmental and empowering the harm reduction model can be, but when it addresses something that I find immoral, for a lack of terms, I don’t know how to react. In this case, I want to make sure the client is safe and feels self determined, but how am I suppose to just let her engage in this behavior that I consider taboo? On the one hand, I can live into my bias and encourage her to stop her prostitution habit, or on the other hand I can rise above my bias and engage in the harm reduction model? This was a really hard question to answer because I wanted to keep my beliefs that prostitution is wrong, but I also want to engage in a model of self-determination for the client. How do I do both?

Even as I am writing this scenario, I cannot help but feel a bit of disgust. This is why social services can be emotionally draining, it forces us to confront our biases, values and ideals about what is and isn’t acceptable. People in the helping profession have to non-judgmentally and without shame provide services regardless of their personal opinion. When thinking about this scenario, the most important thing worth noting is that I am not the client, I cannot tell her what to do because it is not my life. I have to let make her own decisions regardless of my feelings because I have no right in telling her how to live her life. If I do, I am dehumanizing her and am coming off as self-righteous. I have to support and assist the client regardless of a difference in values. If I allowed myself to act upon my belief that prostitution is wrong, then I am shaming the client and causing more harm then good. I also have to see myself for who I am, otherwise I cannot see others for who they are; this includes being true to my authentic self. I think there is a great maturity in seeing past by biases in order to see a person for who they really are. That doesn’t mean that I change my position on the issue to help the client, but rather draw the appropriate boundaries in order to assist her to the best of my ability. It is not my job to shame her both her behavior or tell her how to act nor is it her job to persuade that prostitution is acceptable.

While I still wrestle with what the speaker said, I was able to take away one thing from the presentation; it is really hard to meet people where they are at in life. It takes strong boundaries, knowledge or personal biases, a bit of humility, and a whole lot of self-care and self-discovery. I truly believe that accepting and meeting people for where they are at is a spiritual and noble act. To gain a Christian perspective on this, it is shown constantly through out the Gospel that Jesus constantly met people where they were, he associated with women, prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, basically people in ancient Israel who were considered outcasts at the time. Jesus did not see them for outcasts though; he saw them for who they truly were. And Jesus did not have to change who he was in order to do so; he did not have to engage in prostitution in order to hang out with the prostitutes. He associated with different groups of people because he was ministering and illustrating what Peace on Earth looks like. Seeing people for who they are, while still seeing oneself who she/he is, is an act, which I believe, is that we are called to do in order to bring Peace on Earth. It is not for the cowardly or faint of heart, but rather for the bold and daring. Bringing the Kingdom of God on Earth should be an act of courageous love.

 It is going to make people uncomfortable because we all have different interpretations of what that love looks like. We all have different backgrounds and believes, which are going to be challenged while bring the Kingdom to Earth. We are going to question our identity and we are going to question if we are doing right. And while it is A LOT to rap our minds and hearts around, that’s ok. I don’t think the movement to bring Peace to Earth would be a genuine and authentic one if it weren’t radical and brought up the difficult questions. Because unconditionally loving someone is a radical notion.

Saying the Kingdom of God is for everyone is a radical statement.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Things That We Cannot Say (Update on Life)

I wish I knew how to write this blog post, I wish I knew the words to say. Truth is I’ve written a post, and it is decent post, but it is not my best post. The wording accurately describes how I feel, but for some reason I do not have an emotional connection with what I wrote. 9 times out of 10 I have an emotional connection with what I wrote. I’m proud of my blog post, but for some reason I wasn’t proud of this one. I tried writing it through different angles as well, but it still felt emotionally empty. Whenever I have trouble writing a post it is because I still need time to fully process and reconcile with what happened.

I am tired of processing what happened, seriously how much time do I need to process this? If I try to explain what I’m processing or reconciling with, I will naturally pass blame, inflict shame, and come off as being accusing. Even though those rare emotions have a time and a place, now is not the time and the place. I am better than that, my emotions are my guide but my soul knows when not to listen to my emotions. Right now my spirit is telling me that I will not be able to process these emotions until I am at seminary and am able to put some distance between this year and me. While I cannot go into the details of what I am processing for mental and emotional reason, I will say this….

I am the only Dweller left this year, which means I’m the only one living at the hose. While things worked out for the best, it has been really hard dealing with loneliness and the fear of loneliness.

I wish I could explain more dear reader, but alas I cannot. Not until I’ve put distance between my YAV year and I. I want to be honest and vulnerable with my readers.