Monday, October 20, 2014

Living The Defining Decade

The following is a reflection written by Christina Cunha, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

“Eighty percent of life’s most defining moments take place by age thirty-five”.  My jaw dropped and eyebrows lifted as I heard more and more of the facts: Personality changes in our twenties more than any other time in our lives.  Our brains cap off their second and last growth spurt in our twenties.  Our twenties are the defining decade of our adulthood.  I suddenly had a reality check hearing all of this just a couple of weeks ago at our Amate fall in-service day.  Thirty is not the new twenty.

Our fall in-service was a time for the 28 of us to reflect on wise words from our staff about Dr. Meg Jay’s book The Defining Decade - Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now. Our day was divided into three parts: work, love, and spirituality in our twenties.  I think it is safe to say that I was not the only one feeling uneasy when talking about how to take control of our twenties, and ultimately the rest of our lives.  This unsettling feeling slowly passed however by the end of the day, and was replaced by a sense of empowerment—once I realized how I can take control.  

Coming to Amate House was definitely an opportunity that I could not resist.  Meg Jay describes twenty-somethings as airplanes taking off from LAX.  One slight change in course can cause the plane to go to a completely different part of the world, just as one good break can have an inordinate impact on a twenty-something’s life.  I just finished Dr. Jay’s book, and I couldn't help but think she was directly speaking to me in this part, given that only two months ago I myself flew away from my home in California to my new home with Amate—LAX to Chicago.  The sense of empowerment that I walked away with after the in-service was from the realization that I have a great amount of power and influence in how I want the rest of my life to look.  Fortunately, Amate House is a way that I am investing in myself and positively influencing the course of my twenties.

Dr. Jay talks about how important it is for every twenty-something to invest in identity capital and to grow by forcing yourself outside your closed circle.  Identity capital comes from choosing to do something that adds value to who you are and is an investment in who you want to become.  I never thought that I would be teaching phonics reading classes to high school students this year with Amate.  I feel challenged, overwhelmed, and often incompetent as a teacher.  Luckily, Meg Jay notes in her book that if I have these feelings, I am working in a job that is allowing me to reach my full potential (thanks Dr. Jay!)  I feel that in this position I am growing, while also ensuring that I gain identity capital. Dr. Jay also emphasized how important it is to not huddle together with like-minded peers.  We grow by using weak ties, finding new jobs, new friends, and new opportunities outside our comfort zones.  Well, I can’t really think of a better way to do all of these things than moving to the other side of the country and joining the Amate fleet.  I've realized how important it is to always be slightly outside my comfort zone.  There is no certainty in the future, but as Dr. Jay says, by challenging myself I can claim my adulthood now.      

Although Dr. Jay does not directly mention spirituality in her book, we had the opportunity to explore how spirituality plays a part in our twenties at the in-service.  We were introduced to our prayer partners for the year, (another Amate member) and were able to delve into what our spirituality looks like now that we are in our twenties, out of college, and away from our families and loved ones.  In Amate, we talk about how this year is a “year of growth”, and through this in-service I realized how important it is for me to take ownership and become aware of how I am individually shaping my spirituality.  I have realized that I have so many more questions about my spirituality now that I am an adult, which I think means that I am growing or at least open to growth.  Thank you Dr. Jay and Amate for giving me assurance that this time in my life isn't random, and that I actually have a great amount of control in dictating my future.  I can’t wait to begin more adventures in my defining decade—my mom always says “every day is a gift” and I now know that especially in my twenties, every day is an opportunity.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Finding Life in Vulnerability

The following is a reflection written by Maddie Jarrett, one of this year's North House Volunteers.

Over fall retreat, I was opened to a number of new experiences, ideas, and relationships. But perhaps most powerfully of all, my heart and mind were opened to the life-giving power of vulnerability. From this revelation, my reflection is born:

Finding Life in Vulnerability

Living in community is not easy. Here are some examples of non-easy things: Not having Wi-Fi; making dinner for ten; giving up energy and lots and lots of time for your community; trusting people whom you’ve only known for two months; trying to understand those who are very different from you; navigating conflict in an open, peaceful, and productive way; and last but not least, being vulnerable. In a way, vulnerability encompasses many of these difficult tasks. For instance, vulnerability is the foundation of mutual understanding, and rarely is conflict productive without vulnerability from all sides.

But, as I previously mentioned, vulnerability is not easy. It takes courage and strength. It requires the difficult and sometimes painful task of removing both our own and others’ emotional, spiritual, and interpersonal barriers. It asks us to let go of what is familiar, known, and comfortable and to reach toward the unknown, the unexplored, and sometimes, the uncomfortable. In this brave and often frightening extension, we break the barriers of social stigma, isolation, and interpersonal limitations, opening up a new space in which joy, creativity, meaning, and love flourish.

It is critical to note that this type of life-giving vulnerability requires two intentional movements. Firstly, it necessitates a personal submission to vulnerability. Secondly, it calls for willingness and concrete effort to understand the wounds of others.

In order to walk with others in the experience of their wounds, we must first tend to our own. Albeit painful, we must be willing to open ourselves, reveal our wounds, so that by the power and grace found in a (literal and figurative) communal embrace, our scars may be redeemed. In the communal embrace of acceptance, solidarity and love, the wounds are transformed into beacons of hope for all. Just as Christ’s wounds were redeemed by his death and resurrection, our wounds are also redeemed by self-giving actions of unconditional acceptance and love. Opening oneself to others is a terrifying experience, but it allows one to truly experience the love of community.

Life-giving vulnerability also requires action to understand the wounds of others. Cultivate curiosity (™ Catherine Scallen) about the words and actions of housemates or those encountered in the work-setting. Instead of protesting (e.g. “I cannot believe he/she did x, y or z!”), ask (e.g. “What caused him/her to act this way? And what do his/her actions indicate about his/her needs for love, acceptance, healing, etc?”). Over the weekend, I was reminded of the fact that people act the way they do for certain reasons. There is always so much more to the story, as understood in both good and bad contexts, than the eye can see. Judgment leaves no room for compassion or connection via understanding, and thus, no room for healing. It is important to note that none of this involves trying to change or fix another person, but rather necessitates a deep, compassionate, and intentional mutual understanding such that the “looking upon from a distance” of judgment becomes the “walking with” of compassion.

This retreat opened my eyes to how expansive our mission as Amate Volunteers, and moreover, as members of the human race, actually is. We are not just being called to serve. We are being called to create and participate in a community of acceptance, solidarity, healing, and love. In order for this community to flourish, we must be vulnerable, both recognizing our own wounds and seeking to understand the wounds of others. In this vulnerability, the mission to heal wounds and sow love, that is, the mission of a service community, is brought to life.