Writer’s note: This is coming late because I struggled to get up to some undefined standard for post-worthy. Not sure if it ever got there, but felt it best to post all the same. As always, give me thoughts.
Last week, we got back from a retreat to Tarapoto and Moyobamba, Peru in the jungle state of San Martin. The purpose of the retreat was largely to debrief in community after the first two and a half months, or stage, or our YAV year. We sought to tell our stories, the good, the bad and the ugly, and look toward a better future together.
I went seeking a renewal after a highly challenging start to my YAV year. I am not baiting for compliments here, so I will not spend time describing these challenges. Just trust me that due to my own shortcomings, the shortcomings of others around me, and circumstances beyond my control, I’d lost any sense of purpose in being here.
At the retreat, I found a way to recommit to the year. This was an essential moment for me, so I’d like to speak a bit about getting there. Well, more specifically, the fantastic people I am here with who helped me arrive there. This is also a small attempt at thanks, even if it is slightly “behind schedule.”
First, there’s Jed and Jenny, and the amazing hospitality they display. I was in a vulnerable place upon departing Ayacucho and they opened their home to me. Of course, this meant access to a full mattress, stable internet, a dryer, and other perks, but most importantly it was a secure space where I felt safe. It was a place to process what had occurred and heal at my own rate, a privilege which so many do not get.
Privilege, of course, has been a large part of the process. I had the privilege to take a retreat to a fantastic lodge in the jungles of western Peru. A privilege that I only find defensible in that it helped me process such that I might continue to work for positive change in the world, as difficult and idealistic as that notion may be.
In addition to the amenities, the company on the retreat helped immensely. Obviously, it was a blast to just be with the YAVs and share stories of our years, but even more important was the empathy within our group. It’s not shocking, since our experiences are the most similar of anyone else on the planet.
More importantly though was the intentionality and creativity with which our group shows empathy. After sharing our stories, it became clear that I had the most objectively challenging first few months. Possibly predictably, there were words of support and empathy, and thankfully not of advice. Yet, I was truly touched by the creativity with which they express this empathy.
Specifically, AJ asked to do a laying on of hands for me. I was surprised and did not remotely expect this to occur, but I consented, as I felt touched by the gesture and hopeful that it might help. I have conflicted feelings about this particular practice. I have seen it as a powerful way to show solidarity and connection to another person through commissioning ceremonies, yet I’ve also seen and heard of it used to heal an individual “afflicted” with a sin like a premarital pregnancy or depression.
Somehow, that moment helped me relax more than I had not for months. I realized that though I’ve lost the excitement and positive attitude I had in September, there is still much of me that would like to be here to continue learning and helping in that process. And I saw the value of grace to forgive myself for the mistakes I made and things beyond my control, instead of losing myself to unrealizable reconciliation. As a result, I’m extra thankful to AJ for the gesture, which offered me another positive association with this particular ritual.
Another critical moment of the retreat was the optimism. We’re a bunch of jokesters and focus heavily on making one another laugh. Plus, I am always impressed by Rachel’s optimism and extroversion with which she approaches Peru. She has had her own share of challenges this year and yet, since finds a way to keep a notably infectious optimism. Watching that, I felt invigorated to give it all another shot, especially having grieved the challenges of my year and felt the supportive response of my fellow YAVs.
So hospitality, empathy, and optimism from my community here has helped me reclaim my call as a YAV and I am so thankful for that. And thanks to you, supporters for reaffirming that call through love and genuine interest in my year.
There has been incredible support via social media from both my friends and family, but I also received several letters of support. Letters from friends, fellow church members, and the deacons at Trinity Church helped bring a smile to my face. Yet a letter from one Sara LaLone, a former member of our community here in Peru, who had to leave following her own challenges helped me know I am making the right choice. She is member of both worlds, those who know the life of a Peru YAV and those living back home, providing her a nuanced view on all this. That nuanced view combined with a lot of care helped create a highly motivating and affirming letter.
So, I guess overall, I am thankful for the support I am receiving. Without it, I may have done more than just waver in my commitment to this year.