The Privilege of ‘Roughing’ It

Something that has stayed with me since leaving Miami almost a year ago is simple living. I am certainly no longer living as simple a life as I once did, but I find myself thinking through my expenses often.

One of the many lessons simple living taught me is to value experience over tangible items. Just today I was reminiscing about the weekend when my housemates and I went on two different road trips. We drove through some of the Keys and watched the stars and the next day we drove west to Naples and saw dolphins in the waves.

Last year, as Christmas was approaching, my best friend from high school*, Hope, asked me what I wanted for a gift. Not having any possessions that we truly needed, we promised that our gifts for each other would be to save money for a future trip together.

It was hard to narrow down a place to visit. In November, we were in Asheville together for a concert (staying with some of my YAVA friends!) and we decided to kill some time by exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway. While looking at an interactive map of the scenic route that goes through the Virginia and North Carolina portions of the Appalachians, each of us had a moment of clarity – this road was going to be our trip.

We decided we would camp along the Parkway to save money. We did save money. I’m so happy we did not spend $80/night to drive 15 miles off of the Parkway each night and stay in a hotel. Between what our families already owned and what friends kindly lent to us, we were pretty much set on camping gear.

Throughout the trip, I couldn’t help but comment on how even camping felt a bit like a privilege at some points. The hatchback all of our things could fit in? The four-person tent for the two of us? Gas stove? Wireless internet at one of the campgrounds? All of these were items of privilege that made camping comfortable for us. In our hometown of Durham, many who are homeless “camp” in the woods each night out of necessity and here we were taking time off from our jobs and driving hours to sleep outside.

Despite these thoughts, I do not regret taking that trip. It gave me time to catch up with my best friend, journal my thoughts, get some reading done, and spend time in the nature that I craved for so long in Miami. We hiked up mountains and through cow pastures. We saw waterfalls and soaked in natural mineral water. We went kayaking and horseback riding. For the first time in a while, I felt inspired to blog. The trip was a great way to begin this stage of transition for me.

While going through our pictures and my journal, I can continue to add onto my experience by supporting national and state parks programs so others can have the opportunity to learn about and be in creation. I can persist in helping my local homeless population find housing. I can encourage friends to give their ‘old’ gear to nonprofits and outdoor consignment stores. I can work on taking advantage of my privilege to help others.

*We’ve known each other since middle school. Adolescence was hard on us.


a year of yolo (…or discernment)

I’ve officially been in North Carolina for a month now and things are slowly falling into place. Everyone I talk to lovingly asks me what I’m doing with my life now, so here’s a quick update!

  1. I’m applying to grad school for Fall 2017.
  2. My original plan was to work at a non-profit in the Triangle for a few years and then make my way back to school. One morning, I woke up with the urge (also known as God’s call, perhaps) to stop avoiding the obvious. It didn’t seem fair or sustainable to work at a NP for 10 months and leave, so my job search changed.
  3. I’m now working part-time at a local cider bar! One of my favorite parts of my year in Miami was getting to hear life stories of my clients, my coworkers, my housemates, and the rest of my community. I think the bar/restaurant setting is a great place to practice these listening skills as well as a way to learn more about the people that live in this city.
  4. Many, many people with years of wisdom and life experience have talked to me and encouraged me to simply enjoy this year. I know that I will likely not be lucky enough to just take off with little responsibility once this stage of my life is over. For example, this morning I was able to go to Raleigh to deliver a Moral Declaration to our government officials. I would love to have a career in the future that allows me to be a part of these petitions and actions, but that’s not always the case.
  5. I’m finding ways to be more involved in Durham. I quickly found ways to get involved with my home church once again. I learned a lot about Miami while only living there for a year, but now am realizing how little I know about my hometown. I’ve got a pile of book and documentary recommendations about its history and am excited to work my way through these.
  6. To locals reading this: I’m very available for any kind of sitting – babysitting, housesitting, petsitting throughout the next year. 🙂

“Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses”

Last night, my housemates and I hosted a final get together and commissioning service before we all leave early next week. Below is what I shared!

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” Hebrews 12:1

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Natalie and I spent my year working at Miami Rescue Mission’s Center for Women and Children as their administrative assistant. My tasks varied from answering phones to serving meals to creating new forms for the rest of the staff to use. Working at the Center for Women and Children, I gained confidence in my own skills, experience working closely with clients, and absorbed advice and tips from my manager, Ms. Aline. Frequently, I would sit in her office while filing or working on a project together and clients or staff would walk in and out with questions, ideas, and dilemmas for her. During these moments, I got to be a fly on the wall and watch how she handled each situation. After our guest left, 9 times out of 10, she would turn to me and say, “Natalie. Manager tip number 531” and proceed to explain what just happened in the conversation as well as how to prevent it from happening again or how to make a situation better. I thought a lot this year about how Ms. Aline and the rest of the staff could have treated me as what I was on paper – an intern, a volunteer. But they didn’t. Everyone I worked with made sure there were ways for me to learn daily and opened up the space for me to ask any and every question about life in Miami, life as a non-profit worker, life as a mother, life as an immigrant, and many, many other topics.

A part of the DOOR Program in Miami is that each of us is matched up with a mentor in the Miami area. My mentor, Diana, and I got along really well. She is an alumnus of the Young Adult Volunteer program in Tucson and Nashville, and therefore, understands the challenges of living simply and being a year-long volunteer. Diana met me frequently for meals and conversation. She’s been a huge help this year in guiding me toward my next steps and simply being there for me to vent about things going on in my life.

As YAVs, we are expected to be involved in a faith community in the area. I’ve had the privilege of attending Riviera Presbyterian Church regularly this year and have loved how quickly the wrapped my housemates and myself with love. I turned 23 in March and my birthday landed on a Sunday. That morning, all of my roommates went to Riviera to begin celebrating my birthday together. It was weird spending a birthday without seeing life-long friends and family. However, as soon as I walked into the sanctuary, everyone already knew it was my birthday and I was greeted as if they’d known me for years. The congregation even sang “Happy Birthday” to me during the announcements. For someone who typically does not care much about birthdays, this year’s was filled with such a wide range of emotions, but I look back on it fondly, mostly because I got to begin the day with people who love me and see me as a child of God. Beyond this one example, the members of Riviera have done such beautiful acts of kindness toward us like giving us home-cooked meals, inviting us over for Thanksgiving dinner, and including us on trips to the zoo and the beach.

Another group our house has had the opportunity to get together with is the United Methodist Church’s Young Adult Missional Movement participants. It’s been great to come together with young adults who also have somewhat strange (but awesome!) callings in life. When we gather together, we typically just play board games and eat pizza, but there’s always space during these evenings together to discuss the problems we encounter as intentional communities, as interns at our workplaces, and as young adults in general.

"Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses".jpg

I tell you about these special people in my Miami life because I don’t think I realized the community I was going to get out of this year. We all knew we would be expected to live respectfully with other volunteers as one community, but I hadn’t anticipated becoming a part of so many unique communities in the span of one year. I certainly brought with me a cloud of witnesses that are mostly stationed in North Carolina, but now I get to leave this year with so many more witnesses.

At my home church in Durham, NC, when a child is baptized, there’s a lot of focus on the importance of the congregation making a commitment together for that child. We vow to “undertake the shared responsibility for the Christian nurture of [the] person, to try to set forth an example of faithful discipleship, and to get to know [the] person and play with, share our love, and teach them about God.”

Every person I have named and thought of throughout this reflection, perhaps unknowingly, took these vows from my home church seriously in walking with me through this year. I have my reasons for being excited to return home and my reasons to be dreading leaving this year. A major part of this dread comes from saying goodbye to these faces, not knowing when or if I will see them next. But I will leave thinking of the hymn “Blest Be The Tie That Binds” — “When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.”

Thank you to everyone here for nurturing the four of us. I ask you to keep up with us and we will do the same in the coming years. I hope that you will continue to have close ties to the DOOR Miami Program, becoming a cloud of witnesses for future Dwell/YAV groups. Thank you!



Lessons from the CFWC

With three weeks left of work in Miami, I have had time to reflect on what I’ve learned and will take with my back home from my position at MRM’s Center for Women and Children.

  1. People remember the helpers and the not so helpful. It’s not surprising that our clients develop closer relationships and trust with certain staff members over others, but this happens with the women who come to our door daily for meals and showers. Even when we don’t take the time that we probably should to learn the names that go with each face, they are paying attention to us. Just today, I answered a phone and the woman on the other end asked to speak to my coworker who had the day off. When I told her that, she asked, “Is this the woman with green eyes and curly hair?” I have no clue who the woman speaking to me was, but she clearly knew who I was. I’ve even had people recognize me at bus stops miles away from the Rescue Mission. It’s a bit alarming when these situations happen, but these interactions matter and remind me to try harder each time I answer the door and phone to treat these women fairly and patiently.
  2. You have to laugh. Non-profit work, especially with such a vulnerable population, can be incredibly stressful. On a daily basis, I share laughter with my co-workers over interactions with clients, things that happened at home yesterday, or a funny picture on Instagram. These breaks are so important.
  3. It takes a village. I’ve had the pleasure of watching first steps, rocking children to sleep, being asked to read a book, and congratulating graduates from one grade to the next. We sometimes joke that some of our kids probably think they have 5 or so moms. Obviously they know who their mother is, but I’ve seen almost every child look up to an adult in the Center, whether it’s another mom, one of our single clients, or an employee, with a trusting light in their eyes. A homeless shelter is one’s last resort and it can be an anxiety-inducing environment for everyone involved, especially children. It’s important that these kids receive love and safety during their time at the CFWC.
  4. It might be impossible to make everyone happy. I’m not the biggest optimist, but there’s still part of me that wants everyone to be happy, and it hurt to write “You can’t make everyone happy.” This was probably the hardest part of my job this year. Admittedly, I believe I have the easiest job at the CFWC, yet it still bothers me a lot when I can’t accept everyone into our program because we are at full capacity or when we don’t have the exact size of pants for an outside guest. I’ve had to learn how  to recognize when I need to separate myself emotionally from certain situations at work.
  5. Women get things done. I’ve loved working with all females this year. The women I work with are powerful in their own ways and I have picked up meaningful lessons and inspiration from each one.
  6. I love Microsoft Office. When I write on job applications “Proficient in Microsoft Office,” I want to add “No, but really. I am and I love it. Please hire me for that alone.” Today, I learned a new trick on Excel and am guilty of running into my manager’s office (who shares my love!) to tell her. I am grateful to work in a space that does not judge me too much for moments like those.
  7. I’ve learned to cook new things! Earlier, I mentioned being terrible at making coffee. One of my coworkers has spoiled me with her own coffee concoction and she took the time a few weeks ago to show me how she makes it. I’m slowly perfecting it on my own time. On Monday, another coworker took me into the kitchen and declared, “Today, I am going to teach you how to fry fish and make real macaroni and cheese.” My southern heart was satisfied.
  8. Babies make me happy. My days are rated by how many babies I got to hold at work. When a mom trusts me with her children, even for 30 seconds while she gets something from her room, it makes my day.

My year with the Center for Women and Children has been amazingly positive. I am thankful for my coworkers’ and clients’ patience with my questions, my love of my “Jesus sandals,” and my moments of poor judgement and for giving me the time I need to come out of the shell I tend to cling onto. I’m sorry that I’m seemingly abandoning y’all for the great state of North Carolina, but I hope you trust that this is the best next step for my life right now.

Do not hesitate to leave your old ways behind

As I’m about to complete my year of service, a lot of my quiet time is spent trying to figure out how I will make sure I don’t revert back to where I was a year ago. It’s not that I was in a bad place. A year ago, I was a happy college graduate. I was living the life: bar hopping with friends, tubing down the New River, and binge-watching Netflix originals. It was an important summer for me. It was (hopefully) the last time in my life that I’d be working a part-time job with an easily customizable schedule, living off of late-night pizza, and not having any major responsibilities. It was the summer that I forced myself to stick to a bucket list before I left the Blue Ridge Mountains for an unknown amount of time.
Weekly, I still crave to live next to a National Parkway and to go to a brewery that is full of flannel and cornhole. My best friend has written in her planner the approximate day I will return to North Carolina. Yesterday, I caught myself daydreaming about driving to her house and being reunited with her family’s dog. I’m almost there and it’s obvious.
I am looking forward so much to being back in the Triangle and reuniting with pulled pork, bluegrass, and my favorite people, but part of me is very aware of the dangers of going back to this place of comfort. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about being an active member of each community I am a part of. I’ve watched my fellow Miami YAVs/Dwellers inspire me to be a better person – Patrick advocating for the rights of society’s marginalized workers, Shinhye teaching us that words are powerful devices that can hurt or help, and Quinten speaking to his program’s graduates about the importance of taking care of their home city. I don’t want to return and forget all of these lessons.
In a similar light, I don’t want our country to recover from this weekend’s massacre in Orlando and return to our idling ways in regards to violence in our nation. My favorite YouTuber, Hannah Hart uploaded this video on Tuesday and I encourage you to watch it. She echoes many of the thoughts I have had this week.

While I take steps to return to my home as the new and improved Natalie, please consider taking the steps to remind our elected officials in D.C. that we don’t want to continue doing nothing. We want to create ways to prevent yet another relapse. We must not give in to fear, silence, and submission. Go out and be brave, loud, and active.

The stories you tell one another…

Before the Young Adult Volunteer year begins, all first-year YAVs attend a week-long orientation. Each night at this year’s orientation, the same poem was read during worship.  It’s called “Passover Remembered” by Alla Renee Bozarth and begins with “Pack nothing. Bring only your determination to serve and your willingness to be free.” You can read the poem here or listen to the poem here. It refers to the Exodus, but I have been able to come back to it from time to time and find new connections to stories of my year in Miami after each read.

passover remembered-2.png

This weekend, my roommates, Michelle (site coordinator), and I drove 15 hours to go to the beach (in Alabama). We were joined by 25 other YAVs from 5 different cities and we got to spend a few days relaxing, sleeping, laughing, playing, singing, and reapplying sunscreen together. Leading up to this retreat, I was unsure of how it would play out. I honestly thought it was going to be a really awkward weekend of trying to figure out how to relate to people who I only got to know for one week beforehand, who don’t live in Miami, and who don’t do the same work as me. As with nearly all of my other expectations for my YAV year, I was wrong.

Our time together was definitely filled with a lot of goofy and less-thoughtful moments, but I was able to be a part of several conversations, whether while sitting in the sand or during a guided reflection, about times of discomfort and feeling lost. I was able to share stories of the funny moments that happened in our house as well as voice my thoughts of uncertainty to fresh ears. Hearing that YAVs in Atlanta, Nashville, Asheville, Little Rock, and New Orleans experience some of the same struggles as me was surprisingly comforting. The retreat gave me the clarification and rejuvenation that I had no clue I needed. The stories I shared and heard have made me strong. Today, I’m back in Miami and have newfound energy to better seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.


My beautiful housemates and coordinator


The other day, my roommate said to me, “I think you like the church as an institution more than you like Jesus.” This analyzation made me angry. Mostly because he knew that I had no comeback. Because it was something I had never considered before and the more I thought about it, the more I knew he might be right.

I’ve spent this week trying to figure out if he’s actually correct and, if so, why? I have had a lot of moments in the past few weeks that have made me incredibly proud to have been raised at Westminster and lucky to have found Riviera in Miami. I either see a post on Facebook by a church member that makes me smile or I answer a job interview question referencing a minister who nurtured my faith life as a child. I think I tend to love the church because I don’t personally have a lot of reason not to.

Without further ado, here are some bullet points of appreciation toward the worshipping communities and people who have made me struggle with the fact that I may like the church more than I like Jesus.

  • to Haywood, Betty, Monica, Jack, Chris, Nancy, Paul, Barbara, Taylor, Barb, Kara, Heather, Tommy, Stephanie, Beth, Michelle, Missy, Danny, and Barbie (and anyone else I likely forgot…sorry!): thank you for showing me the many, diverse ways ministry can look.
  • to Westminster: thank you for backing all that you do with “seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”
  • to the Presbyterian-Episcopal Campus Ministry/3rd Place: thank you for teaching me that worship can happen anywhere and at any time of day.
  • to Riviera: thank you for energetically welcoming my roommates and I into your family this year.

One of my best friends has been doing research on millennials who are staying with the Church. He has asked me about my own story and input, but I don’t have much to say on the subject. I’m “choosing” to stay with the Church because, for me, there’s no better option. It hasn’t been a question for me up to this point in my life and I believe that’s because of the communities I have been a part of. I’m not saying that Westminster, PECM, and Riviera are perfect examples of how to be the Church, but they have definitely been positive forces in my life. Yes, I need to do some personal work on my spirituality, but (right now) I’m not ashamed of my love for the institutional church.

11169730_677804389012566_4130009939041788123_o-2.jpg PECM fam

RPC fam

Image-5387493-53682777-2-WebSmall_0_5c13dc345c11971ff70e97393a49e174_1.jpgWPC fam (you’re welcome)