Sunday, May 17, 2015

How I Got to Where I'm Going


For the 2015-2016 year, I will be serving a second year as a Young Adult Volunteer in Washington, DC!

For the next significant life change, I have decided to let my trusty toothbrush make the decision for me!

At the Seminary Fair during YAV Orientation, every school gave out "Seminary Swag." This trusty travel toothbrush has accompanied me everywhere that wasn't home this year.

That’s right, I will move to Austin, Texas, to begin my seminary studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary! I am interested in pursuing the four-year dual degree program for the Master of Divinity and Master of Science in Social Work with University of Texas at Austin.

Most of the time, I can’t keep a secret or wait to announce big news to save my life. I decided on Austin during Holy Week, but I didn’t want to announce anything until I finished the YAV discernment process. That may have been the longest I’ve ever kept mum about anything.

One of the central tenets of the YAV program is vocational discernment. Those of you reading this are counted in my wonderful support system, and I just wanted to share with you a little bit about my call and discernment process.

As a cradle Presbyterian and Pastor’s kid (PK), the church has always felt like home to me, perhaps a bit too much at times. I was active in anything and everything related to church from kindergarten through high school, including being the obnoxious kid in Sunday School who always won Bible trivia. I first felt the call to follow in my dad’s footsteps and go to seminary when I was about twelve years old. Throughout high school and college, many church members asked me when I was starting seminary (Some of them now feel that their prophecies have been fulfilled…looking at you, Sally Herlong ;) ).

During my years at Washington and Lee, I was a little less plugged in to the Presbyterian Church, but that gave me more opportunities to explore other ways of being the church. Throughout my two summers volunteering with Christian Appalachian Project, I learned more about the Catholic tradition, intentional community, and a year of service. Studying abroad in Jerusalem introduced interfaith relations and Modern Hebrew to me. (But now I’ll be the obnoxious kid in Hebrew class who writes in script letters rather than block. No one will be in my study group.) All of these awesome communities helped to pave the way to my post-graduate path. First stop: the YAV program.

Senior year brought a plethora of opportunities. I could go anywhere and do anything. I had already traveled to the places I had dreamed of visiting for years (Thanks, W&L Study Abroad!). I was pretty set on moving somewhere new and doing a year of volunteering before seminary. I applied to multiple yearlong volunteer programs, but YAV was clearly where I would find my home. I did not want to have to narrow my choices down. I felt God would act through others to show me where to go, since I had not felt any sort of significant pull in any direction. I was open to anywhere doing anything.

Obviously I ended up in a small rural town in the Philippines, serving as a Guidance Counselor at National Heroes Institute, a private school associated with United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

That openness to anywhere and anything bled into this year and the seminary application process. Having internet access, albeit a slow connection, gave me the sign that it was time to start applying. As I applied to 9 seminaries and at least 4 degree programs, I kept waiting for some sort of sign from God about where I should go and what I should do. Every application asked which areas of ministry you are considering for a vocation. My answer for every one of these questions was a laundry list of just about any ministry…except parish ministry. Working in a church in the traditional sense, as in preaching every Sunday, has never quite piqued my interest. I am much more drawn to the amazing work happening outside of the four walls of the church. I hadn’t really considered or planned on a second YAV year so I thought I would just go straight to seminary in the fall.

Then November 8 happened. It was the one-year anniversary after Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan hit the Philippines. I was in Tacloban with three other volunteers and my host family at an ecumenical service marking the anniversary. Thousands of people attended the service and subsequent march to city hall. To my knowledge, my volunteer friends and I were the only white people in attendance. I definitely felt like I did not belong, but I wanted to show my solidarity and anger that the government has not released the billions of pesos of international aid designated to help in the recovery efforts. Immediately after the service ended, the people got to work. This was a huge undertaking. An estimated 20,000 people from Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao had organized to take a stand and show that they would not accept a corrupt and irresponsible government. A woman standing on top of a Jeepney armed with a megaphone called out the groups as they began the procession.

In that moment, I finally felt a call, a pull, a nudge, however you want to word it. In contrast to all of my openness from the previous processes, I finally felt something stronger, something definite. God was telling me this is what I want you to do. You are going to work in activism, advocacy, and community organizing. I want you to speak truth to power. I want you to be an active participant in movements to end injustice and open space for my kingdom to come here and now. Wow. Talk about powerful.

That night, I immediately started looking at YAV sites that would offer those opportunities. I knew I was going to do a second YAV year. Washington, DC, stood out to me instantly. What better place to speak truth to power than in one of the most powerful cities in the world? As I continue through this year and discerning God’s call, I feel pulled to work for the church at a mid-council or denominational level. I truly believe that this next year of service will be a wonderful opportunity to gain experience working with the larger body of the church. 

Even though my original “call experience” was in the middle of a grassroots on the ground demonstration, I am fully aware of and prepared to do the less romantic behind-the-scenes work that is writing letters, making phone calls, doing research, garnering support, and visiting offices. Earlier this year I read David LaMotte’s new book Worldchanging 101, and his approach to social change resonated with me. 

Aside: I recommend his book to anyone and everyone. If you will be, are, or were a YAV (or not), read the book. If you are graduating (or not), read the book. If you feel stuck in a rut (or not), read the book. It’s wonderful, and I can’t give him enough praise on challenging the traditional narratives pervasive in our society. It’s not about being a hero or a strong leader. It’s about movements, which need many people doing all sorts of things, some of which are small and boring. We all have a call and something we can do, and it’s about taking the first step of showing up. Seriously, read this book.

I am so excited, overwhelmed, inspired, motivated, and slightly anxious for what this next year of service holds. I hope that you will continue to follow me, as I will struggle through navigating reverse culture shock, a new form of intentional community, and the DC bus system. I will also need to raise support for this year of service. I am so appreciative for all of the wonderful emails, Christmas cards, and financial gifts I have received for this year. They have truly helped me persevere on this journey. Next year, I will need to raise $3,000 for my site individually, and I hope we can add an additional $3,000 toward a team goal. I will publicize more details about how to give once I receive that information.

As for the rest of my seminary discernment, I decided that I would pursue the MDiv/MSSW dual degree program, which narrowed my choices down to five schools. In January, I knew that Austin had everything I was looking for in a school and city. I got to the point that I even asked myself, “If you like it so much, why don’t you just go there?” Typically, I rely on a methodical process of elimination, or at least waiting for the information (like acceptance and financial aid) needed to make that decision, so that was a pretty revolutionary thought for me!

As I continued to have conversations with so many people about my discernment process, I kept returning to a conversation I had during YAV Orientation. During the seminary fair, I met Holly Clark-Porter, an alumna who was representing Austin Seminary. We had a fruitful conversation, during which she told me, “You belong at Austin.” I remembered these words as Holly and her wife Kaci were in the news in March for their joint ordination service. These awesome women are making history, and now I have the opportunity to follow in their footsteps in Austin. I am so excited to join the community, and I am equally thankful for the opportunities I have had at General Assembly and YAV Orientation to meet future, current, and former students of the Austin Seminary community.

These next few years will be full of challenges, joy, tears, laughter, music, growing, changing, refining, learning, and a whole lot more! Even though it seems like I have done a significant amount of vocational discernment, this is only the beginning. I have only figured out the next steps, which is all I need for now. Plus, this five-year plan is more than I have had “figured out” since eighth grade.

Thanks for the love, support, prayers, and reading, friends.

No comments:

Post a Comment