Friday, October 3, 2014

New Year and the Melting of Shame

This is a new year for me as a second year YAV in New Orleans! I am serving as the new Mission YAV for the Presbytery of South Louisiana (PSL). My title is the new Hunger Action Enabler (HAE) for the PSL where I will be developing a hunger action network among church representatives, churches, and clusters. I will work to strengthen the ties between the hunger ministries and the presbytery, while also striving to kickstart new food justice programs. Throughout the year, I plan to help host presbytery-wide hunger mission days. Encouraging congregations to participate in hunger programs and purchasing fair trade products are also goals for this new year.

I also have new housemates! There are 3 men and 3 other women, totaling our house to 7 people! So far, we are having a blast together. We are naturally hanging out together, throwing spontaneous dance parties and sing-a-longs, exploring the city together, and taking turns each week cooking dinner for the house. I am eager to continue to laugh, love, and learn from them.

This past week at the needs-based outreach Program of Hope, where I served my first YAV year, I was spontaneously asked to preach the short sermonette before opening the stations. I talked about the Prodigal Son, shame, and the love of God. Vulnerability and shame researcher Brene Brown has profoundly impacted my life and my perspective. Here is a snippet:

What I love about the Prodigal Son story is that the father's love is louder than the son's shame. This is a lesson that is really hard for me remember, but it's comforting to be able to bring my shame and fear to the cross, especially through prayer. This song is a prayer when I am soaked in shame and can't see a way out. It's called "Give Me Love" by Ed Sheeran.

May you know that God's affection for you is stronger than your shame, that through the work of the Spirit your shame will be melted down to experience empathy and compassion to its fullness.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Gratitude List 10/24

        A few years ago, I started keeping a prayer journal. In my prayers, I would include long lists of things, gifts, for which I am thankful. I still keep a prayer journal and still keep these lists.
      The author of the book I am currently also chose to keep track of God's gifts. In the book, One Thousand Gifts, she describes her journey of learning gratitude through challenging herself to create a list of one thousand gifts from God. Slowly, she unpacks gratitude as a spiritual discipline that slows down time and as an act of "unwrapping love". I highly recommend the book for her thoughtful meditations on gratitude and her exquisitely poetic writing voice.
     With that said, here is my gratitude list for today:

  • Thursday nights are my Friday nights because I have Fridays off. My Sabbath is near.
  • My gracious housemate, Colleen, shared her pumpkin curry lentils and rice with me for dinner. Best meal with lentils I have ever had. 
  • Andrew Bird's cover of Townes Van Zandt's "If I Needed You".
  • My tutoring kids. They challenge me, on numerous levels in all kinds of ways. 
  • Square dancing at First Presbyterian every other Monday night. It's only Thursday, and I can't wait until Monday. 
  • Cold milk and warm banana bread for dessert from my other lovely housemate, Kalyn. For her friendship and generosity. 
  • A roof over my head, electricity, a food budget, a van to drive, and even traffic to sit in. Not only are these each gifts in themselves but the fact that these gifts are all here in New Orleans, my favorite city, is an entirely different story. My blessings are countless. 
  • I have never experienced grace in so many different forms in such a short amount of time. More on this later when I figure out how to talk about it because right now it's overwhelming...
  • My housemates are family to me. My favorite nights of the week are when we are all together. We each have somewhat crazy schedules, so it's definitely a treat to spend time with all of us together. But during the week, we'll share meals, stories, homesickness, movies, or whatever else in small groups, which is just as beautiful, if not more so. 
  • My books. A few weeks ago, my parents sent me six boxes (SIX!) of books and clothing. My books mean the world to me, but I could not bring many to New Orleans because I traveled by plane. Ripping up those packages felt better than Christmas morning for a small child. 
  • The changing of the weather here. I saw a commercial this morning for an "End of Summer" furniture sale because "summer's ending quickly". It's late October, and for this Jersey girl, the summer's been over for a while. Yet the drop in humidity and increase in cool breezes brings me joy. Hot cups of tea don't seem as silly anymore. 
  • The Presbytery of South Louisiana. This presbytery is wildly supportive of the YAV program. Everyone is so generous and welcoming that it's overwhelming. Churches, YAV mentors, and presbytery members have hosted us for dinner several times already. The YAV Board is gracious towards our needs by providing each of us with a mentor from the presbytery. We as YAV's have been invited to help serve at different ministries throughout the state. To say that we are being taken care of is an understatement. My site coordinator said that the Presbytery of South Louisiana loves YAV's the most. I cannot imagine how they could support us more. I have no idea how to receive these gifts, let alone thank the presbytery for them. 
For these gifts and for the countless others I am not aware of, I give thanks. 

What have you given thanks for lately? What do you praise God for? What would your list look like? 

Thanks for reading! 


Friday, October 18, 2013

October Update

First, let me apologize for my delay in posting. I have spent the last month absorbing and learning to adjust to life in New Orleans. Here are some snippets of my adventures thus far:
  • With Mid-City Ministries, I am tutoring 3rd and 4th graders on Tuesdays and Thursdays and co-leading a teen bible study on Wednesday nights. We are currently working through the first chapter of 1 John. Oh the stories I could share about my kids...Next week, we will be hosting a Hispanic Week in honor of National Hispanic Heritage month. (We'll be celebrating a little late, but that's alright.)
  • At First Presbyterian, I am volunteering with the Program of Hope homeless outreach ministry on Wednesdays, which provides bus tokens, Salvation Army vouchers, lunches, toiletries, and transportation to medical appointments. I'm making friends with some of our guests, which has been a true blessing and treat. One of my main projects that I am working on is creating a manual for incoming volunteers to learn about how to run the ministry. Also, I am hosting a book study for the young adults at a local coffee shop on Rob Bell's latest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I am thrilled to lead this study because of the enticing questions that come to mind while diligently preparing for its fruition. 
  • Sunday nights are held sacred here in the Zimpel house. It's our one time to guarantee to cook and eat together. Sundays here are still my favorite day of the week. 
  • There was a warning for New Orleans to witness the effects of Hurricane Karen that ended up amounting to about an hour of rain total spread throughout the day two weeks ago. Concerts were cancelled, grocery stores were packed, and some parts of LA within an hour evacuated. Not New Orleans. The worst we were anticipating were heavy rains and the possibility of the power going out. Yet there were none of the above. We got very lucky. The last hurricane I witnessed was Hurricane Sandy, just about one year ago. My family and I were very lucky to only lose power during the storm. Therefore, thankfully, I have very little experience with severe storms. Because of this lack of experience, when I talk with everyone who survived Hurricane Katrina, all I can offer is sympathy. I cannot even begin to fathom their experience. This is easily the most difficult challenge I have come across. As a house, the YAV's have been watching Spike Lee's documentary on Katrina called When The Levees Broke. Here is a clip from the film that will certainly give you the chills. The depth and complexity of the wounds left here create a backdrop for every living thing here. The rehabilitating city and its thread-bare citizens have grown humbly strong. They are the walking wounded. Katrina left wounds on everyone and everything. Continued prayers for healing for this exquisite place and its remarkable people. 
  • According to my mentor from Presbytery, there are palm trees here that are not native to New Orleans. In fact, there were very few in the city before Katrina hit. Yet when the city was starting to rebuild, the government chose to plant them everywhere. I have yet to speak with someone who knows why. It's interesting how something as simple as a tree can be seen as a peeling band-aid for a city that lost so much blood, literally and figuratively. 
  • Homesickness comes in waves, usually unexpectedly. A stranger at the Rite Aid might look like a close friend, or a song on the radio might trigger a memory from the summer. Sometimes these moments nip at my heart and swiftly leave; other times, the pain feels like a genuine and deep omission. Yet my housemates have been the best cure. Their humor, compassion, understanding, empathy, and authenticity have been my remedies for these aches. 
  • Adjusting to the climate of South Louisiana has been a challenge. Despite loving the spring-like weather in January two years ago on a mission trip to this beautiful city, I am truly grieving the cold weather. I find so much joy in the changing of the seasons, more than I was aware. However, today was the first day I could legitimately wear a sweater because of the wind! The little things...
  • I am pumping my own gas with confidence, I might add. I am a Jersey girl to my marrow, so before moving to New Orleans, I had only pumped gas literally twice by myself. Ever. I've pumped my own gas a whopping five times since moving here. Again, that's literally over double my previous experience in about one month. I find this simple "accomplishment" quite satisfying. Again, the little things...
  • A handful of weekend highlights: watching roller derby, free tickets to the WWII museum,  listening to incredible local music for cheap, thrift shops, square dancing twice a month at First Presbyterian, amazing food everywhere, outdoor evening art markets, visiting the library that's only 3 blocks from my house, and cooking with my housemates. 
  • Last weekend, we YAV's went to the Feliciana Retreat Center for the Presbytery meeting for the Presbytery of South Louisiana. As an amateur treehugger and PC(USA) nerd, I was thrilled for this opportunity. We had a blast getting to know our Presbytery and cheering on our own site coordinator, Layne, for the Presbytery's approval of her ordination!
  • Tomorrow, I am actually headed back to Feliciana for a Presbytery-wide youth group retreat! My housemate, Alex, and I are leaving in the morning and coming back Sunday night, just in time to have dinner with Layne and our other housemates! 
  • And finally, this evening I took a solo trip to the French Quarter around dinner time to hear Kristin Diable, a local musician I've known for quite some time. I got to meet and chat with her for a bit, finding to her to be a great dancer, an old soul, and as playful and passionate as a kid. 
Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Highlights from the YAV Orientation at Stony Point

Two weeks ago was the week-long orientation for all 70 YAV's, both national and international, at Stony Point Conference Center in NY. On Monday morning, my housemates and I (totaling to eight of us) woke up at 3-something to arrive at Newark airport late afternoon. I was the only one who had a layover, so when I got to the airport, I had to look for college-aged students who looked like they had packed to move away for a year. I soon found them huddled and quiet by the windows with their enormous bags protecting them from these strangers. After a while, we quietly packed in the van and rode the hour to Stony Point in silence. As I sat in the front row of the van, I quietly smiled, knowing that friendship, laughter, and tears were inevitable for the week ahead. (All of which beautifully unfolded by the end of the week.) With that said, let me map out the events and words that were spoken during this gracefully challenging week:

Disclaimer: This blog showcases my opinions exclusively, not the opinions held by the PC(USA) or the Presbytery of South Louisiana. This is all my own voice.
  1. The most important lesson I learned this week was the most surprising and confusing one. I learned that I am an "intimate extrovert", meaning that I primarily get my energy from very small groups of people rather than from being alone or from large groups of people. To my friends, I am commonly known as an extrovert because I gain energy from being around people. However, spending time with a handful of friends is very different from being surrounded by over 80 people all day three days in a row. I was getting tired and even sick, trying to figure out what was wrong with me until one of our presenters explained that she was an intimate extrovert, and the lights went on. I had been so exhausted because I was spending my energy just being around so many people. This lesson, I think, is important because it has made me aware of my needs and keep in mind this year when it comes to working in ministry full-time and living in a house with seven other women. 
  2. I learned to stop feeling guilty for parts of my identity that are out of my control and start focusing on using my voice to speak out. What I mean is that certain pieces of my identity each have their own history and meaning in the world. I am a young, white, straight, middle-class, Christian woman. With each of these terms comes certain assumptions, privileges, and even responsibilities and powers. What is even more interesting and challenging is that I am not even aware of all of these facets completely. There was a great quote from our speaker who said, "It's not about how we give up power but how we use our power." I pray that my communities and the Spirit through these communities would teach me more about power dynamics, awareness of my own privileges, and give me the strength and the ability to find my voice to speak out against these boundaries that separate and confine us so easily. 
  3. I realized that I do not take culture-shock that seriously, which could be a problem in New Orleans. Although I am not leaving the country, I am moving to a completely different part of U.S. in a dramatically different context. I am entering a city that is not without its wounds, its pride, and its strength. The suburbs of New Jersey and the Uptown of New Orleans are more different than I am fully aware. To state a basic distinction, there are palm trees everywhere around here, which is itself a shock to my system as I am used to the wooded hills, pines, and oaks of my neighborhood and farmland of NJ. I could go on about Mardis Gras, Second Line parades, and festivals happening virtually every weekend...I need to remember that culture-shock can often involve homesickness, anxiety, anger, confusion, and withdrawal, among other things. Therefore, for my own growth, it would be wise for me to remember to be gentle to myself as I am trying to learn what it's like to live and breath in the lifestyle that New Orleans has to offer. It's been awesome so far because it feels like I'm on vacation in my favorite city, but I know that this feeling will wear down soon. 
Prayers for me as I continue to watch and participate in the unfolding of this new chapter of my life, living in New Orleans...

Starting My Placements and Building Community

Hello friends,

Last week, I started working at my two placements at the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans and Mid-City Ministries!

At the FPCNO,  I will be working with their ministry, Program of Hope, which is an outreach program for those suffering from homelessness. I will also being working on educational projects, both within the Program of Hope and through the Christian Education committee. I was thrilled to finally meet the congregation and get commissioned on Sunday! My new church family is so welcoming and generous; I am blessed to have the opportunity to work with and serve them.

My second part-time placement is at Mid-City Ministries where I will be helping tutor 3rd and 4th graders after school twice a week and leading a bible study for middle school students on Wednesday nights! I am so excited to meet the students I will be working with, starting tomorrow!

While I am very excited to start these ministries, I am also in need of your prayers. I want to learn about the communities I am serving, both on as a body and as individuals, so that I can learn how to love them and how my strengths and weaknesses will interact within these communities. I am also eager to see how these beautiful communities will teach me in the coming weeks and months.

Not only have I loved my placements so far, I have also been loving my housemates. I live with seven incredible women who are all smart, hysterical, fun, and committed Christians. I am blessed by each one of them in many unique ways. The house definitely feels different even if one of us is missing. They are already teaching me about myself, community, compassion, active listening, and what it means to build a covenant.

Last week, we built a community covenant as an effort to define who we are as a Christian community and what it looks like to work together, eat together, clean together, worship together, and love together. We spent six hours hashing out the covenant over two days, only to come to the conclusion that this is a "living" document that will continue to be shaped and re-molded through time. I am eager to see how this document changes, how the covenant changes us, how we change each other, and how the Spirit moves and blesses through all of this.

Thank you for your prayers and support throughout my YAV year so far! Look for postcards in mailbox soon!