At the beginning of August, 86 volunteers, 10 staff, and 11 board members gathered in Chicago at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago for five days of celebration and challenges at our annual Nation Orientation. The theme of National Orientation this year was “Upholding Commitment to Our Internal Work for the Sake of Community.” The five day stay in Chicago was filled with presentations and trainings for the Volunteers – from conflict resolution training and anti-racism training to self-care conversations and preparation for journey conversations – each hour was carefully planned to prepare and challenge Volunteers before their LVC year began.
The first day of National Orientation began with new faces, new names, and new anxieties. The reality of this new journey set in as Volunteers filled their time with forms they conveniently *forgot* to fill out previously, recognized names on name tags of others that would become their new housemates, and crammed themselves into their temporary “houses” with eleven or so others for the week only imagining what their soon to be homes would look like. That night as everyone gathered in the LSTC Sanctuary, Volunteers participated in sharing their hopes and fears, as well as questions and insights by writing them on post it notes and placing them on the wall of the sanctuary. Red, yellow, and green thoughts were scattered across the walls –
“Can I do everything?”
”How do I tell my story? How should I listen to others stories and learn from them?”
“How do you become a part of the community?”
Next came “Just Speak” speakers Rev. Jonathon “Pastah J” Brooks and Rev. Rebecca Anderson. Both shared beautiful stories of first knowing yourself, and therefore being able to share and serve others. Pastah J shared that of the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, and “why” of justice work, “where” is the most important. Once we know where, we know the answers to all of the other questions – and we can place our roots into a community. Rev. Rebecca invited everyone to practice storytelling by asking folks to share with the people around them moments when they had met someone who ended up being very important to us, or moments when they thought they were in danger (whether they really were or not). Rev. Rebecca reminded the Volunteers to remember the importance of telling their story, and that this is an important part of the work of social justice. As everyone began the process of sharing themselves and their stories with one another, in true Lutheran Volunteer Corps style, we shared in even more community over a couple of beers to finish off the night.
Throughout the five days, Volunteers spent some crucial time getting to know one another and their house groups. Conversations about personality types, eco-friendly living, and music preferences were fun and exciting, but other conversations about dishes and potential conflicts could be gritty and hard. Story after story was told as Volunteers found communities of support in different affinity groups – groups of Multiracial and Volunteers of Color, LGBTQ+ Volunteers, and Volunteers who weren’t Christian, or Lutheran, for that matter. Most importantly, Volunteers were finally able to meet their housemates and share their hopes for the year.
At the end of the five days we gathered together to sing and speak one final time before we all left for our local cities. Each day, a Volunteer or staff member shared a “centering” for the day – and we had one additional centering during the Sending Ceremony. Bay Area Volunteer Maggie Schaller shared a piece titled “Transitions” that she had written about the anxieties and exciting possibilities she was already experiencing in this new journey with LVC.
On the first move, I said goodbye to the most beautiful place I’d ever lived.
It was a big yellow house, with a front porch made for heart to hearts, colorful stained glass windows, and a conspicuous spot in our carpet we could never quite get out. This place became my sanctuary and the women within it my sisters. Together, we battled a world that was not always friendly to who we wanted to be. There, I could be me; throwing on my bedroom walls every story I’d ever lived.
I was the last one in the house, gingerly stepping through an empty and barren place once filled with so much laughter and love.
With one last look, I closed the door.
On the second move, I said goodbye to the most comfortable place I’d ever lived.
It was a simple duplex in a neighborhood filled with families of all shapes, sizes and colors. It was the first place my mother made home after the divorce and it took time, but I made it mine to. For once, I got to pick my own furniture-a big black bed with silver studs and Japanese-styled side tables-I still dream of it. There, we were free to eat, think and love. It was simple, but it was us. I couldn’t be angry-she was moving to be with her husband she was living with for the first time in 18 months of marriage for her dream job-but it was still a goodbye to the place I ran to when the rest of the world seemed to be closing in.
Again, I was the last one out, gazing at where the family photos, wall of crosses and stacks and stacks of books used to be.
With one last look, I closed the door.
On the third move, I left the earliest place I’d ever lived.
It’s a simple brick house, at the top of a non-descript suburban street. Nothing matches on the inside-lavender walls, black and blue couches, with art that was eclectic, like the lives lived in that house. My room, unlike anything I’ve owned in years, is ballet slipper pink with rose trimmed wallpaper near the top. The bed is the same one I’ve slept in since I was three, and many of the displayed items are books for high school freshman and small girlish trinkets. This home was built of familiarity-I know every creak, every dusty book, kitchen-floor groove. I spent my last night sporadically sleeping and frantically packing all of my life in some desperate attempt at order.
I left my passport, so I ran in for one last look, drinking in old memories and a reminder of the girl I used to be.
And I closed the last door.
I wonder about the comfortable, beautiful places you left behind. The family and friends you waved goodbye to. The rooms and faces you could paint with your mind that will not see, at least not yet. I wonder what doors you’ve closed.
For me, I never thought I’d be fortunate enough to have one home much less three. But in two months, I’ve said my goodbye to each, closing a chapter of my life I’ll never get to revisit. And yet, my next chapter has not quite yet opened. So, the metaphors come in waves-no man’s land, limbo, purgatory, nebulous, the in-between, Han Solo in carbonite-the idea changes every time I think about this transition. I’m not really a student, or a worker. I’m not in community or in family, or on my own. Both my chosen and biological family are scattered to the winds, and here I am, swirling in whatever it is just waiting for what’s next. Waiting to become who I want. Waiting to build the life I long for, filled with interesting things, and beautiful people, and rich ideas and-vibrant life. Just-waiting.
But we cannot move forward, we cannot read trials and triumphs in the next chapter if we do not take the time to flip the page. It isn’t fun-but it is necessary for the protagonist and the reader alike. To take a moment, a breath and readying to dive in.
I don’t know my next house. I’ve watched the YouTube video, and walked the streets via Google Maps, but I’ve yet to see the way that the sun dances across it’s walls. It cannot be mine yet. But today, just maybe, I can open the door and take a glimpse. A peek.
I wonder what doors will open for you-where you will thrive, and be challenged. What surprises will arise when you step on the other side, when you let yourself fall into a year you could never predict. The people you will be in that little bit of time. I’m sad I won’t be able to see it.
I am thankful for that next step. I’m thankful for the beginning of the next page. But I am just as grateful to have been frozen for a second, to see where I ended up and to reflect on the door. And I think I’m just about ready to walk through.
And maybe, just maybe-you are too.
On the last day, the sanctuary was filled with song as this new group began their journey with LVC and left for their brand new homes.
Today, our Volunteers have been serving their placements and new communities for nearly a month. This year of possibilities has just begun for our Volunteers, and we are so excited to see the doors they open for themselves, and for others.