Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tales of the Holidays

     Well, it looks like the advent season is upon us, and time is flying by faster than I could've believed! I can remember when I was counting down nine weeks until I'm home for the holidays, and now it's a little more than two days! As grateful as I am to be here, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't missing home, sometimes more than I'd like to admit... But home is in sight!

      One great thing about this year is that I'm experiencing the most "Christmas spirit" I've felt in years! From helping out with the bulletin pieces and making individual ornaments for the MEYO gift exchange, it's everywhere! I've now been to the Nutcracker, my first ballet experience, as a field trip with the kids from Peace Pals, (granted, it didn't seem to appeal to a group of 3rd through 5th graders, but they managed to stay for a full two hours before having to duck out early. When we got out, they couldn't stop twirling down the sidewalk to the car, so I imagine they enjoyed it a little more than they let on at least.)
(From L to R) Top Row: Matt, Julius; Middle Row: Tori,
Caroline, Rogelio; Bottom Row: Mallory, Abby
     Speaking of the holidays, Thanksgiving was a fabulous celebration! For the first time in any of our lives, we hosted the party. We were up in the morning cooking, we watched the Macy's Day Parade, and had what we originally thought would be 9 people (which ended up being 5) over plus the six of us! Rogelio and his family were able to join us for the evening as well as Mallory's mother who flew all the way Connecticut.

     For those of you have been keeping up with my blog might have been waiting for news on Rogelio. He has been out of the hospital for about a month now. Thus far, he has been recovering at home, and after many discussions about what would be best for him, it has been decided that he won't be returning to the Saunders House this year. As hard as this was for me to accept, we've all come to terms with this reality and have decided to compromise in keeping him as a part of our community since he lives here in San Antonio!

     Just last week, the house participated in La Tamalada y Posada, which is a church tradition. In the morning at 8am women from the church get up to make tamales, so we went and learned how to make them as well. Then at night we joined the community with all the Peace Pals kids dressed up as Mary, Joseph, Angels, Shepherds, and Wise Men. We processed to seven different houses singing the Posada song with tells the story of Mary and Joseph searching for an Inn or any place to have the baby. As the story goes, each place turned us down. When we finally showed up to the church, the realized who we were and welcomed us in the doors. The children then put on a short nativity story with Christmas songs from both Mexican and American culture, and together we ate the tamales, which were my first and quite delicious if I do say so myself!

     In other news, please be praying for Tori and her family. A childhood friend passed away this week after getting an infection from his third liver transplant. She flew home early for the funeral and will be there until after Christmas. I have to admit, waking up without her in the room is quite strange, and having yet another person out of the house makes an often full house feel a little empty, but I am glad (and maybe a little jealous) that she is getting this extra time with her family! I'm sure she is appreciating a break, which we've all been ready for!

I want to thank each of you for supporting me this year.

Friday, October 24, 2014

It's Been A While...

Gosh, September really got away from me, and now we're more than half way through October! How did this happen?! It's definitely time for an update post!

New and old: Naturally, I still love the Spurs! I'm relatively positive that isn't ever changing, but it's way cool to talk to and form relationships with others who care about pre-season as much as I do! I mean, one guy has a Spurs tattoo he loves it so much! GO SPURS GO! Welcome to Texas, the world of paletas! I didn't realize what a wonderful gift to creation they were until Danielle (our site coordinator) brought some over. Disclaimer: I've never tried the Pickle flavor... An adventure for another day?

Some of the highlights from the past few weeks have been attending 1) the Austin Gay Pride Festival, which is something I've never participated in. It was wonderful to attend as an ally and walk alongside those who have been struggling with this issue their whole lives simply because it is made a big deal of. 2) Eric, my boyfriend, came to visit two weeks ago as part of his Fall Break from school! It was an absolutely wonderful weekend, to finally show him around and introduce him to people who he's only heard about over the phone was amazing. The only down-side was that I finally had a piece of home here, and it reminded me of how much I actually miss home. I'll definitely be glad to visit when Christmas rolls around!

For three weeks, one our own was in the hospital after getting a cold, but with his pre-existing aplastic anemia, it resulted in four blood transfusions and some chemotherapy to help his blood platelets along. He finally got out a week ago Friday with full expectations of "coming home," which he specified as the YAV house, but has been at his mom's house all week, and we're all beginning to worry if he'll be coming back at all... Any prayers for his return would be greatly appreciated. It feels a little like we're missing a piece to our puzzle here.

This past weekend, the entire house went to the HEB Retreat with our church, Divine Redeemer Presbyterian. For those of you who aren't aware, HEB is our local grocery store, but what sets them apart from others that I've noticed, HEB actually takes an interest in the communities it serves, and to help them accomplish this, they set up an entire retreat area in the middle of nowhere (literally... There's no service for 15 miles on either side!) And let us all stay there free of charge once a year as long as we provided our own food! It was such a fabulous weekend to spend getting to know our community.
I helped lead music with Los Holy Boys, which at first was a little difficult because ALL the songs were in Spanish, but by the end of the weekend, I was so much more confident about singing in a language I barely know how to speak! And on the plus side, I feel like it's helping me read and understand Spanish, which is getting me closer to my goal. I also got to hang out with House of Teens kids outside of program, which was important and helped me develop relationships in another setting. The time I spent here was amazing, and it was good to have a relaxing time with my housemates.

All in all, life in San Antonio, TX is a wonderful thing, and I am so grateful for this opportunity to be developing my relationship with God by serving others and learning more about myself. Thank you for all who are supporting me! I can feel your love all the way in Texas!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Chanting for Change

     Please take a moment to watch Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner bring an entire room of world leaders to their feet. Chosen from 500 applicants, this woman speaks from a perspective I've never heard from before, which just makes it that much more compelling, and the ending... Well, you'll have to see!

     As I'm sure many of you have  noticed, this issue has been steadily rising over the last few weeks. The people are once again taking a stand against climate injustice, and I'm beginning to find that this time, the rest of the world is ready to listen.

     There are a few things about this video that really bring it home for me:

1) Yes, Leonardo Dicaprio beat her to the punch, but this woman is not a "celebrity." She's a mother, much like my own. She cares about her child, like any mother would, and what she's fighting for is "the most important race of all, the race to save humanity." This video shows the difference one person can make, a person just like you and me.

2) This year, I'm living with two second-year YAVs, one of which just spent the last year in the Philippines. Hearing the stories Mallory tells and the pictures from her time there, make this place more real to me. I'll be honest, before I applied to the Young Adult Volunteer Program, I thought very little about this area, but being that it was a location I was interested in spending this year, I learned a lot from Dessa Palm (one of the site coordinators) about its history. "We've seen waves crashing into our homes and our breadfruit trees wither from the salt and drought." Especially after the typhoons that have happened recently, there is no way we can continue ignore this issue.

3) What I might consider the most exciting point on this list is that I am the proud sister of a one who participated in, to quote the man himself (Ben Evans), "the largest climate march in history (400,000 people committed to climate justice!!)" Of course her speech made a difference, and if it simply stood alone, I'm sure it would still cause these world leaders to second guess themselves, but pair that with each protest, speech, and video coming to light in the recent weeks, they have no choice but to notice and take action. "And there are thousands out on the streets, marching hand-in-hand, chanting for change NOW. And they're marching for you, baby. They're marching for us."

"The people united can NEVER be defeated!" - Ben Evans

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Learning to Live Loved"

     As some of you may know, I've been reading The Shack... Gosh, I feel like this book is blowing my mind, and to be honest, really helping me think about and develop my own faith. I've been recommending this book to just about everyone, so if you have not had a chance to read it, you really should take the time. It's not a book where I believe everything to a "T," but I do think the author uses actual conversations with the trinity to explain concepts in a much more tangible way.

     I'm about three-fourths of the way in, and in this time, Mackenzie Phillips has learned a lot about what God's love really means and how we, as children of God, can respond to this love. The more I read, the more I'm realizing what a gift this is, to be unconditionally loved by the God powerful enough to create it all! It wasn't until Saturday while reading that I truly realized what this meant. Mack is struggling to find a way to balance work and bills and a family with his growing relationship with God, Mack asks Jesus:
"So what do I do now?"
"What you're already doing, Mack--learning to live loved."
     Upon reading this, tears filled my eyes. What does it mean to live every day knowing that you are loved unconditionally? What does it mean to to walk this life with God, where the only happiness you seek comes from the Creator? The more I reflected on this, I realized that there would be no need to put down others, or judge them in any sense of the word. You would give your whole self to helping others simply because God calls us to love one another. And the best part is, this love isn't something you have to strive for, it is freely given, and in doing so, it frees us love out loud.

After thought:
     I posted all of this yesterday, but again, I see how God works in mysterious ways... As I'm editing the PowerPoint for this Sunday's service, our Prayer of Confession reads as follows:
Made in your image, we are hard wired for relationships, Lord.  And yet, it seems that relationships are where we struggle most arduously to live out the command to love one another.  Instead of living in communion with the mutual respect and grace we witness in the relationships of the Trinity, we prefer to dominate and subject one another to imposed authority. Forgive us. Teach us. Lead us in a better way.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

YAVs Do "Tacky Tourist Day"

     Yesterday, all seven residents of 2305 W. Saunders Ave. explored the downtown area of San Antonio, TX, and I'm pleased to report: It was a blast!

     We've been living here for just under two weeks now, so we were definitely due for some time getting to know our city! Since my work at Divine Redeemer is walking distance for the house, I finally had a chance to experience the bus system, which I will admit was a little confusing. Luckily, I had people with me that are very experienced with how to get to and from downtown, but I'm adding "become familiar with the bus system" to my to-do list!

     I wasn't sure I realized how much of a tourist area San Antonio was, but everywhere we went, there were what I would definitely call "tourist attractions:" Texas shirts sold here! Everything about the Alamo! San Antonio Spurs merchandise! It was a little overwhelming, especially when we got swept into a few of the shops, but where else was I going to buy postcards to send all my friends?

     Regardless, through the mess, we did find our way to the Alamo, which I must admit was a little, as Tori put it, "underwhelming" simply because it was so much smaller that we anticipated. I was interesting to read the history though, especially since it had so much to do with how San Antonio came about.

     Eventually, we made our way to the Riverwalk, which is an amazing part of the city. We all agreed we'd have to come back here again for a night out on the town. All in all, the day turned out to be rather wonderful and just another reason I can add to why I'm very glad to be here!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Work Begins

     After a restful Labor Day, the time came for our jobs to start up...

     I will admit that this morning was a bit of a challenge, but not in the way you'd expect. I didn't have to report to Divine Redeemer until 1:30 pm, and once the house was empty, with each member at their own respective sites, I was beginning to feel a little useless. (Luckily, not every day will be like this, but I am hoping to use my longer mornings to do something productive, like work out or study up on my Spanish.)

     Once I got to the church though, it was amazing how fast time flew!

     Hope and Ignacia are the women in charge of Peace Pals (where I'll be helping every Tuesday and Thursday.) When I arrived, they gave me a run-down of the afternoon and the expectations they have for me as well as a bit of advice, which was much appreciated. We walked the four blocks from Crockett Elementary with a train of 16 children. During this time, I tried to get to know a few of them, but it wasn't until I was talking to a second grader named Pablo that I realized not all of these children spoke English and come to find out that about a third of the children only speak Spanish...

     I will admit, this worried me a bit. For as many Spanish classes as I've had in my life, I still wasn't sure it was going to be enough to tutor these kids if I couldn't explain things well. I guess you could say I had my work cut out for me.

     When the first question came, my teacher instincts kicked in. I actually taught fifth graders decimal place value and second graders number lines, while reading directions all in Spanish! I ran a reading circle with a group of first graders, of which only half spoke English, and eventually I found myself speaking in Spanish to everyone, and they understood me, and I was proud!

     It was amazing to see that in the span of four hours, I actually built relationships with these kids to the point where they hugged me goodbye, and I am so glad to have had experience teaching to where I feel like these kids are going home not having the right answers, but knowing how to find them!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Picture Time

Naturally, I had to get a picture of
the first San Antonio Spurs flag
I saw when I arrived. After
backing the team a few games
before the finals (just because
I was moving here) to
following them to victory, has
definitely sealed my allegiance!
San Antonio Spurs - MBA
We met Rob Muler, the pastor of Divine
Redeemer PCUSA. He showed us
around a bit and introduced us to
every person we came across.
A random connection with Rob
arose when we realized we
both knew my mother, seems to
happen a lot to me these days.
Divine Redeemer Presbyterian Church USA
Julius Lorenzi is a housemate of mine who has had the privilege of growing up in San Antonio all his life. When we first arrived, he said, "Westside is the poorest part of San Antonio, but it is also the richest." Our portion of the city has the most murals, we find them everywhere: the community garden, the playground, the bathroom door!

Finally, I leave you with this; a quote on service. I don't know who it's by, but it was posted on the refrigerator at Divine Redeemer, and I loved it so much, I had to take a picture in order remember and reflect on it again and again. Sometimes, we need a reminder like this.