Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Some Thoughts on Community

Recently I "choose" to put together a page of my thoughts on intentional community per the request of my site supervisor. This is what I produced:

We build communities all throughout our lives. We often join churches, social clubs, or an athletic team. Community is also created in families, and groups of friends. There is a unique type of community that I have come to be apart of that is known as “Intentional Community.”

I am a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV), and I live in an intentional community. I believe that I was called to serve in New Orleans, and to actively be a member of intentional community. I was called to by God to draw closer to him and to get to know myself better through my faith. It was being in intentional community that helped me seek out my personal relationship with God. Hearing other members of my community share their stories, and being able to tell mine pushed me to identify the moments in life where God is present and to remain faithful when He is not present.

Intentional community was described by Henri Nouwen as “[A] fellowship of little people who together make God visible in the world.” This reflects how I feel about my position in my own intentional community. I see my intentional community as not just those whom I live with, but the larger geographic community. I am working intentionally in New Orleans and in Chinese Presbyterian Church (where I work) to show love and compassion to others. It is important to become a force of positivity in the community that exists outside of your home as a source of bonding within the group. To work together as different parts of the body of Christ builds hope not only in us as an intentional community, but we are able to pass on that hope to people we meet so that they may wonder what it is we are a part of.

I know that I have been changed by the members of my intentional community. They have been able to show me where I must grow, and where I have been given gifts of the Spirit. 

I was recently about to embark on a day of service with my community. We had to be up very early, and I was in a negative mood and not at all excited about clearing lots. We arrived at our worksite, and they had set up an area with blankets and books for children of the neighbor hood to come by and enjoy. When we were asked if anyone wanted to help with that, my hand shot up. I was excited to help with reading because I knew I was good at that. However, after some time passed and no children were showing up I was asked to help start on clearing the lot I was next to. I begrudgingly picked up a shovel began to dig up some very deep rooted weeds. After about an hour or so, I was getting tired but the progress with four other women helping was amazing. We had cleared the entire front of the lot, including a large amount of trash and debris that was hidden by all the foliage. I felt so enthuse and accomplished.

That is what intentional community is. We don’t always have the best attitude, and sometimes we enter with some negative baggage. With a request for help and hands dedicated to a similar goal we are able to dig up the deep rooted weeds that bind us and clear away our littered hearts to find something new and amazing in each other and in ourselves. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

2012: It is now 2012.

So I have not been diligent in my blog posting, this is obvious. However, it is a new year and I am rededicating myself to the process. Therefore, as is the regular fashion we will do a small rewind of 2011/from the last time I blogged.

Last you heard from me I was just beginning my 2nd YAV year. It was the first day of September, and the summer heat was still lingering in the city. I was getting to know my new six roommates which grew to eight. The happiness I felt to be back in my city, and amongst fellow YAVs was strong and vibrant.

Soon, the NFL lockout ended and Who Dat nation was ready and excited! We are now in the second round of playoffs and ready to take another win against the 49ers. On a more personal note I was beginning to get things rolling with my work here at Chinese Presbyterian Church. However, I was struggling with all the work I had done in my last YAV year and finding where my work for this new time would be. I focused on youth and reaching out to the Chinese immigrants in our church.

October peeked into the scene faster than you can say, BOO! And I took our Chinese youth to the pumpkin patch at First Presbyterian Church! 

They had a great time throwing away all the pumpkins that were no longer good, and we did our best to communicate across our language barrier. They are truly joyful and helpful youth.

Following our pumpkin patch outing, I began to hit my own rough patch. I was having a hard time getting all my youth on the same page, and participation was waning. My confidence was also waning.

However, Halloween was close and I knew that my good friend was coming to visit and I would get a chance to have a good time with my roommates as the city would be celebrating. 

Well don't you know it, but next came November. The weather began changing just a little bit. By a little bit I mean the humidity let up and the 70 degrees began to stay the steady temperature. This when my Pastor and I begin to talk more about where I can focus my energy and I start to find a slight momentum in the approaching holiday season. November also means, Fall Retreat!

So all is YAVs and my fellow community members pile into Carlos (our van) and our Site Coordinators spacious prius (that is sarcasm the prius is a tiny yet fuel efficient vehicle.) We head over to Austin, TX for a chance to see Austin Seminary's campus and the wonderful Smoot house where we lodged. We also visited the capitol building!
From left: Eric, Allison, Jillian, Emma (me), Ashley, Lauren, Bueana, Tyrone, Laura. 
It was a great retreat and I was feeling much better about my direction in my year.

Next came December, and I was pulling out poinsettias to decorate then church. There were children's gift bags to assemble and the annual "Journey to Bethlehem" at Parkway Presbyterian. Before I knew it I was on my flight to Raleigh, NC to see my friends and family. It was a beautiful and happy time as usual and after the New Year came I headed off to Montreat, NC for the College Conference. I went to the conference to recruit new YAVs.
I had a great time in Montreat trying to stay warm and learning some new things. I will go into more detail about the conference in my next blog post (I think it deserves it's own page).

Which brings me to today. I had an amazing Skype conversation with the ladies of Cann Memorial Presbyterian. Being a Presbyterian and a member of a church is a special thing. It is easy to lose sight of that with all the day to day difficulties of being a member of a church. But those ladies keep me grounded in a community that shows me love and keeps me going.

I am also running around to get things together for a Martin Luther King Jr. service day, and beginning the plans for a Women's Retreat. So stay with me friends, and pray with me too. It is a jungle out there full of snares and confusing paths but He sends us each other, and that is where we find grace.

Hence my diatribe...and Happy 2012.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Same sights, same sounds, new heart

YAV year take two began with an “Oh Snap!” as my new roommates picked me up from the airport and I proceeded to get them lost. Just when I think I figured how to get around the city, I am humbled by the streets of New Orleans.

I then proceeded to break out into what I like to call a sweat-a-thon by moving in my things in the sweltering heat of a southern summer. We (the 2011-2012 YAVs) are now living in a house in Uptown. It is a two-story duplex type house, however we do have an indoor staircase.

After a few days of getting re-oriented with my lovely city and her story, it was right back to the skies. We caught a flight to New York for a weeklong YAV orientation. It was an intense week for me, because I was caught between decompressing from my last year of service and being excited and prepared for this year. Regardless of working through residual vicissitudes, I had a blast meeting new YAVs and hanging out with the other “Super Seniors” of the YAV program.

As I make my way through the air back to NOLA, I am reminded of a couple things. First, I am never going to enjoy flying because every little bump causes heart palpitations and it is too confining. Second, I may never be able to be able to give a definitive answer to the question everyone has been asking: “Why are you doing a second year in the same place?” The only thing I can tell you is, same sights, same, sounds, new heart.

With my heart and soul attached to New Orleans, and passionately fixed on justice, I can’t turn away. It is my prayer that all of you who have been so supportive will continue to keep me in your prayers, and stay in this walk towards change and progress with me. 

Stoney Point
"So do not worry tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring it's own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today." Matthew 6:34

Friday, August 19, 2011

Making for Lost Time

Well, my first YAV year has come to a close. It was such a crazy time during the last few months of year one. CPC (Chinese Presbyterian Church) launched our first year of "Happy Summer English Camp," which is a three week day camp for Chinese kids to learn English or improve their English skills.
Me, teaching the K-3rd grade class.

It was so much fun working with the children. They made me laugh every single day, a couple of times they made me laugh when I really shouldn't have been laughing. It was a truly life enriching experience to be able to improve their communication skills and begin to prepare them for their next steps in the regular classroom. 

Most all it helped me affirm my passion for working with children. Even though I had some days where I was ready to give up, I knew the next day could be better. So I would spend time after all the children left each day to prepare for our next time 

together. My favorite time with the kids was when we would go outside to blow bubbles or write with sidewalk chalk. Seeing them so joyful and willing to express themselves was such a blessing. 

As soon as Happy Summer English Camp (HSEC) came to a close, it was time to gear up for Vacation Bible School (VBS). Our theme for VBS this year was "God is Wild About You!" It was a blast since I got a chance to focus on what I do best, crafts! We had a new story each night, but tried to really focus on conveying the message of God's love for those of our children and youth who are new to not only America, but Christianity as well. 
The Story of Esther Play!
Then as everything began to calm down and my first year with CPC began to come to a close I got a chance to share my gratitude and year through a sermon (you can find it on the "Things You May Like" page).

After all us YAVs packed away their things, and prepared to leave the Blue House it was time for our final retreat, and our final days together. We got to go our closing retreat in Navarre Beach, FL. It was a really beautiful place and we had a lot of fun in the gulf and watching cable! Our lastnight at the beach was a very emotional one, as we did washing of the feet. It's really hard to say good-bye to such a roller-coaster ride of a year. But I know that all of my roommates are for better or worse apart of my life altering year in New Orleans.
All the 2010-2011 YAVs & Mentors and Kathy

I will be starting my experience over with a new house and new set of roommates, which is kinda stressful and exciting at the same time. I am just hoping that all these new YAVs will be open to my sage advice (this is sarcasm). I hope that despite my tendency to abandon my blog when I am not feeling inspired enough to write, has not scared off all five of my avid readers. I will do my best in my new year and new adventures to keep you clued in so I do not have to make up for lost time.

 Thanks to all of you who have been so supportive over last year and I pray that you will keep me in your prayers and continue to support me.

Hence my diatribe...


Tuesday, May 10, 2011


This is my twentieth blog. A major feat for me, as I have in the past created blogs that did not make it this far. 

I have even been extra productive at work, trying to get things done ahead of time, in order to focus on others things I am trying to finish. 

Who is this Emma? Concerned with deadlines, and security? I don't know. I would actually like for her to back into her hiding place, and let the former me come up with ways to defer action. 

Growing up is a strange thing, because it always seems that yesterday you were drawing your growing empire in chalk in your driveway. Instead of losing your temper in the car, because for what seems like the twentieth time today someone in traffic has either cut you off or decided they should follow so closely that you can literally see them taking breaths.

Becoming older is also a strange thing, because you seem to take a longer pause in reaction to things.

I am currently listening to the NPR program "This American Life," which is covering individuals reactions to the death of Osama Bin Lauden. It seems to me, that I have been stuck in a dryer with this story, tumbling over it again and again. The noise of it humming and overwhelming my thoughts. I finally think I've come to stop and figured out exactly the right reaction is and then someone else's opinion gets thrown in and I'm spinning again.

I'm still not sure what's right. Should I be proud of my country and my president? Or should I feel upset that we solve our problems with violence? Maybe it's right to stop evil and stand up against evil people. Maybe it isn't for us to decide who or what is evil.

So you see my confusion. Most of all in everything I have seen on facebook, or heard on the news, or read in the press, I feel a sense of that "longer pause" in myself. I did not make any rash jumps to an emotional reaction. I just felt stunned, and let that sit.

The cycle continues. Therefore, I suppose this whole "adult life" I hear so much about isn't the future. I am the adult, but it isn't a linear process. I am just that lost sock, toppling over the top and circling the bottom. I'm going to make to end of this cycle, and I may even be looking forward to the next.

Hence my diatribe...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I Got A Feeling.

Sometimes you flee a place, running full steam ahead. You are full of excitement and you are sure that where you fled is behind you. The urge will never cease for you to return there and put your feet in the water of the place of your origin.

I love New Orleans. It is really that simple. I even secretly love the things I complain about the most. My job and my community here is fantastic.

However, like any human being there are days when I look around and everything looks so unfamiliar, so vastly different from my childhood surroundings that I am filled with sadness and longing. I want to not just Skype my parents but, to be able to put my arms around them. Being homesick is temporary, and I know that. Yet, I still feel the need to physically be around my family members.

I recently read the book Water for Elephants (I know I am late to the party, thanks). This book struck a huge cord with me. Not only is it an amazing recant of a unique and exciting life, but it is about human frailty. More specifically, it is about a man in his 90's who finds himself in an unfamiliar place (a retirement home), physically longing to be surrounded by the place where he found his true home. Through his dreams the reader sees his vivid memories of working in and on a circus. When he wakes up he does not recognize his aging body and is frustrated by his inability to recognize family members, and the waning visits with him they make.

This man's story reverberates in me. I consider deeply what this means in my own life. It not only speaks to the reality that I have a grandmother who is going through a similar situation, but to a part of me that wonders what home means to me. Also, what does it mean to dream big and chase the things that seem the most impossible?

While my tumbling thoughts race around in my mind, I am learning to find solace in the good times. Remembering the times that brought me joy, always fulfills new joy. Most of all it is important to know that I am something small that makes up something vast and beautiful. The way one star, when seen with many, makes up the night sky.

Hence My Diatribe...

Side Diatribe: In our current times, let us all consider the words of Martin Luther King Jr.,

"Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."  

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Discerning to Discern my Discernment

"True teaching will issue from Zion, God's revelation from Jerusalem. He'll establish justice in the rabble of nations and settle disputes in faraway places. They'll trade in their swords for shovels, their spears for rakes and hoes. Nations will quit fighting each other, quit learning how to kill one another. Each man will sit under his own shade tree, each woman in safety to tend to her own garden." Micah 4:1-4

Currently in YAVsphere we are working both individually and as a group to complete vocational discernment. Ultimately, what that means is each one of us to trying to figure out where we feel called to go in the future. For some of us it could be grad school, or what career field we want to pursue in first place. 

For me this is very confusing. I have no idea where exactly I feel called. The above quote from Micah was apart of one of our discernment exercises. In the exercise we were supposed to paint a picture of God's will in that scripture, figuring out what it would look like, who would be in it, and what are people doing, and most of all what am I doing?

My gut reaction to this exercise was "really?" How is anyone supposed to gain something specific from something so abstract? 

We recently had a young adult meeting for volunteers across the city at a church in the lower 9th ward. The lower 9th ward is one of the poorest districts in New Orleans. We went to a Episcopal church and the Reverend Lionel Edmonds spoke to us about the ministry they do in that neighborhood. About the children who are ten and eleven years old reading at third grade level, and the young girls with low self esteem falling into bad habits. He spoke to the importance of education and the tutoring program they use to intercede into the lives of these kids to help them strive for something better. Listening to this man speak with such conviction and emotion left me feeling reassured about the things I am passionate about. 

That is when this excerpt from Micah and the question of exercise came to mean a lot more.  What am I doing? I am working hard to create sustainable Christian Education programs for my church, to inspire the youth in my church to meet once a week, to change New Orleans one interaction at a time. Most all I am pushing to find out what it means to truly live out the passion that the Spirit fills me with. I tutor a young boy who is like many of the children Rev. Edmonds sees in his program. Working with him as taught me a lot about myself, what I want for America and our education system. Children like him can so easily falls through the cracks, and they do not deserve to. 

What does that picture look like in Micah? It looks like a nation who stops waging war on foreign soil and comes back to focus on reaping and sowing the greatness within their own citizens to create a place for every man and woman. We talk of peace, but what are we doing in our lives to create it? Each man with a tree, each woman with a garden. Something for everyone through hard work. We must pick up the shovels and pipe down our egos. 

I might still be unclear on the exact path I am taking and figuring it all out might take a while. But I will stick with what I know deep in my heart is right. I will reach out my hand to those who need it, and I will not pick and choose what those people look like. Most of all I will live God's way. "But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way the fruit appears in an orchard - things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely" (Galatians 5:22-23). 

I cannot change the choices others make, but I can determine my own. Our choices are all we have. I choose to love. 

Hence my Diatribe...
My tutee Manny and Me