The Privilege of My Naivety

I’ve been working at Miami Rescue Mission’s Center for Women and Children for about two months now and I’m gradually getting more and more comfortable with my position. The Center has been around for years now and the programming they provide is very well-established. It can be incredibly intimidating to be the new person who brings forward new ideas to a system that has been running for 10+ years.

When women come to stay at the Center, they typically have the option to join a 3-month program or a 6-month program. In order to be in the 6-month program, they must participate in Alpha classes. Alpha is a weekly Bible-based program focused on overcoming addictions (with an emphasis that we all have addictions in our lives, not necessarily drug-related), growing a relationship with God, and making better choices. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend these weekly classes with about 9 other clients.

After attending the first two sessions, I was really encouraged about how open the women were being with each other already. This encouragement sent me into a Presbyterian spiral thinking back to small groups at Montreat and other relationships I’ve built in the Presby world that are similar to the relationships these women are building with each other. That’s when I realized what was missing. The covenant.

Presbyterians love covenants. I dare you to find a conference that involves small groups where you don’t create a covenant with the group. Our house has a covenant that includes a list of agreements about how we will live together. We won’t be too loud after a certain time at night. We will wash our dishes after we’re done. We will have fun. We’ve signed it and are able to hold each other accountable for our actions. It makes confrontations less awkward,

I approached one of our case managers who helps lead the Alpha classes and offered the idea of creating a covenant with the ladies. Despite it being a new concept to her, she allowed me to help lead part of the next class.

Usually, writing a covenant only takes 15 or 20 minutes. In my experience, most of the agreements in a group covenant are easily agreed upon. There will be a few rules that people feel uncertain about, but it gets worked out quickly. The Alpha group spent an hour on writing their covenant. Initially, I was very frustrated. It was almost like they were taking the assignment too seriously. Because it was a covenant mostly for them, I decided to sit back and see where the conversation took them. One of the biggest issues that emerged from creating the vows was that these women have had so many levels of trust broken in their past, that they were not comfortable diving into the covenant. They have been hurt so many times by lovers, coworkers, and even their parents, that asking them to blindly trust 8 other women with some of the most intimate details of their lives was not possible.

This year, I’m gradually learning more and more about my own privileges. I have a lot of them. Being a part of that conversation added another privilege to my list. The ability to trust the world around me. I have never really been hurt. It is easy for me to assume the best about the world around me. I chose to move in with four strangers a few months ago, trusting them to see the most vulnerable sides of me and it wasn’t a hard decision.

I see the things that are happening in Missouri on social media every day. I’ve tried so hard to imagine what it would be like to not feel safe on my college campus. I can’t imagine it. When I read updates on the situation, I feel like I”m reading a dystopian novel. Similarly, I can’t imagine being in the same city as my sister, but choosing to stay at a homeless shelter because it is truly the safer situation for me.

By the end of our time together in Alpha yesterday, we had come up with a list of agreements for our covenant. It’s going to be challenging for all of us to stick to the covenant. Safe spaces don’t just create themselves. We’ve all been broken and hurt in different ways and to varying extremes. We have to work together, use our words, and encourage one another in order to grow individually and as a community.

신혜와 함께 다시 배우는 모국의 ëŹ¸í™”

(The title roughly translates to “Learning About My Country’s Culture With Shinhye.” Thanks, ě‹ í˜œ!)

It’s becoming my favorite time of year. I feel like it’s so clichĂŠ for someone of my demographic to love the changing leaves (okay, that’s not happening in Miami), going out with friends on Halloween, making pumpkin-flavored treats, suddenly reflecting on what I’m thankful for, and listening to Christmas music.

This year, I have a reason not to be so self-conscious about my basic white girl status, thanks to my roommate, Shinhye. She has come to live in Miami all the way from Incheon, Korea, and has been so eager to take in as much as she can about North American life. She apologizes regularly for asking us so many questions and for filling her sentences of impressive English with pauses. She thanks us daily for being patient with her as we get over the occasional language and cultural barriers that we encounter. I often want to thank her for being patient with us as we assume she already knows everything there is to know about the United States or as we assume she knows nothing about the United States. Long story short, she’s a great person to live and learn with.

Living with Shinhye has encouraged me to learn more about the traditions that I’ve embraced for 22 years. This afternoon, we were discussing our plans for Halloween and Shinhye asked about the history of Halloween in the USA. When I realized I genuinely had no answer for her, we sat down and did some research. Moments like these have helped me better appreciate the traditions I have grown up with.

To prepare for Halloween, our house spent a Saturday doing October-y things. We carved pumpkins (lesson learned: you REALLY shouldn’t expect them to last longer than two weeks), roasted pumpkin seeds (at the request of Quinten. They turned out terribly because none of us knew what we were doing), made pumpkin chocolate chip bread (I messed up the recipe and only half it actually baked), and watched scary movies (Shinhye didn’t have a good night of sleep after watching Saw). Halloween isn’t even a big holiday for me or my family, but living with new people makes each holiday even more fun. I already have all kinds of plans for the best holiday of all – Christmas (and really the entire Advent season).

Experiencing the holiday season through Shinhye’s eyes is like experiencing them for the first time and it’s so, so enjoyable. It gives me energy to go out and do things that I think are a waste of time (carving pumpkins) and to step back and let myself appreciate old and new traditions.

20151018_125041

IMG_1130

Our pumpkins the day after we carved them and our pumpkins today. We learned our lesson.

“It’s still an eye an eye and a tooth for tooth but it’s not too late to lend an ear and stop all this hating before we all disappear”

The video below just popped up in my Facebook feed and I had to share it. The girl’s parents are divorced and she is fed up with her mom and dad arguing. While I thankfully have never felt the pain she feels, the tension that happens to me when people that I love don’t get along sounds very similar. She needs to be a motivational speaker when she grows up (or right now…).

“My heart is something. Everyone else’s heart is something, too. And if we live in a world where everyone’s being mean, everyone’s going to be a monster in the future.”

If you like her message, then now is my chance to turn you into an Old Crow Medicine Show fan. Old Crow, also known as the band that made “Wagon Wheel” a hit before Darius Rucker ruined it (sorry, not sorry), is a folky-bluegrass-old time band that writes a lot of songs about drugs, alcohol, and partying, but always manages to include a few songs on each album with profound messages. Take a listen to a song from their most recent album, called “Mean Enough World.” I know I am most definitely guilty of being mean-spirited from time to time, but I have learned that it is exhausting and destructive to carry on like that in everything one does.

As Ellen (and Jesus) would say, “Be kind to one another.”

There’s No Room for Selfish Bridezillas in Intentional Community

This summer, I watched a lot of “Four Weddings,” a TLC show in which four brides attend each other’s weddings and rate them based on different categories like dress, venue, and food. In the end, the bride with the highest overall score wins a honeymoon for her and her partner. A pet peeve that I developed during my bored hours of watching was overly picky brides. Countless women would give another bride lower points for her dress because she doesn’t like ballgowns or lower points for her winter wedding because she prefers spring time. I decided that I would be a terrible contestant on the show because I would give everyone the same score. Who cares if you’re a cat person and therefore didn’t like that the groom’s golden retriever was the ring bearer? All that matters is that the couple enjoyed a special day with their loved ones and it was worthwhile.

Yesterday, my housemates, our site coordinator, and I visited a local church, as we are doing every Sunday for the next few weeks so that we can have a little taste of our many options here.* To be honest, I was uncomfortable from the start. There was nothing wrong with this church, its members, its leadership team, or its worship style. Yet, I still found myself a little anxious because it was different than what I see as my ideal worship experience.

One of the most powerful lessons I learned in my four years of college is that worship does not have to be at 11:00AM every Sunday morning with people who live on the same side of town as you, with a predictable order of hymns, text reading, movements. This style of worship continues to be the one that makes me feel the most at home, but I have been more conscious about making an effort to open myself up to new experiences in worship. This Sunday, I think it was the combination of still not being completely confident in a new city and introverted exhaustion that brought about my mental shutdown. Typically, church events are some of the few occasions during which I feel confident in my own abilities and can truly relax. Yesterday was not one of those times for me. I didn’t know the words to the songs, there was no convenient bulletin for me to follow along with, and the food served to us following the service was not a casserole. By the time we made it back to our house, I was in a terrible mood. I was frustrated with myself for not appreciating worship and fellowship as much as my housemates did.

After some time trying to figure out what specifically went wrong that morning, I realized the only wrong thing that happened was with myself. I was so focused on one style of music not being my preferred style that I forgot to see the beauty in my friends’ faces as they sang along with the praise band. I was so focused on trying to eat with unfamiliar utensils that I forgot to watch the joy of my housemate who was finally able to speak her mother tongue to other native speakers. I forgot that community does not mean that everyone is going to be super thrilled with what is happening all of the time, and that’s okay. I had momentarily turned into one of the bridezillas from Four Weddings who wants everybody’s wedding to be just like her own wedding. Living in intentional Christian community means that these amazing people I live and serve with are my family and, just as I want them to be happy alongside me, they deserve for me to be happy alongside them.

To end this somewhat serious reflection, here is a quote by Oscar Wilde that I found through a 20 second Google search, but is a new personal favorite.

“Selfishness is not living as one wishes, it is asking others to live as one wishes.”


*Thank you so much to the churches that have already welcomed us with open arms to experience worship with them. It really has been meaningful to know that people who have never met my housemates and me are praying for us and going out of their ways to make our transition into this new time in our lives as ~flawless~ as possible.