Thursday, May 9, 2013

Simply Living in Community

The YAV program in Tucson calls us to explore intentional community. The idea seemed pretty straight forward to me until all ten of us were in the same room, shortly after meeting one another, trying to define intentional community. We struggled not only to clearly articulate a definition, but to agree.
Even now, I struggle with the definition of intentional community, but I can say that we as a community have learned and continue to learn to be together, to care for one another exactly where we are.

A few months ago we as YAVs were asked to prepare a meal and be present with the U of A Campus Ministries on one of their Tuesday night worship services. As we tried to explain what it means to live a simple lifestyle and why that is important to us, we again struggled to articulate exactly the beauty we see in the way we choose to live simply.

During the conversation, the question, “How simple is simply?” was asked. My immediate response for this student was concrete. For many months we didn't have enough dining room chairs for all of us, much less all of our guests. After a few moments of reflection, I realized lacking dining room chairs hadn't really changed anything about our community--other than bringing us together to find chair substitutes when we had more guests than chairs. It was in response to this question that I recognized the clear connection of living simply and living in intentional community. By having less attachment to consumerism and material goods, by wiping away that worry, we choose to be more focused on one another. We spend more time thinking about how we can live more sustainably with respect for our bodies, the earth and our world neighbors than worrying about if we have matching furniture. We can spend more time supporting and learning from each other in all aspects of life from a marathon to evening conversations, grocery shopping, and movie nights. We are intentional witnesses and active participants in each other’s lives.

My gratitude for this community and the YAV program is overflowing. I could not be where I am today without this group of wonderful people. I am grateful for the love I have felt not only on my good days, but on the days when I struggle to love myself. Living with this community, encouraged by the YAV program, over the last year and the year before in Guatemala has given me a new perspective on how to live radically while honoring my faith, my body, my heart and my mind within the greater context of seeking justice.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


I was tired and homesick. My stomach hurt. I was nearly in tears over my failing ability to translate Spanish and I was put out by my brown surroundings. I was cold in the desert where whoever built my house didn't think that heat was necessary. I really wanted to talk to my dad, but with the inconvenience of time zones, it would require waking him. I was nearly at the edge of what I could handle, blind to the light at the end of the tunnel. In that moment, I remembered sitting in the shade of trees at an outdoor cafe with the Guatemala YAVs discussing gratitude as a spiritual discipline.

I reached back and began to quietly call into focus all the things, in the midst of my long and challenging transition, for which I am grateful. I had allowed myself to fall so far into despair over the difficulties on my path that at first it was difficult to recall my many blessings. I started small with things like my blanket and my wool socks, eventually beginning to tear up at the thought of my wonderful parents and my excellent education that I often take for granted.

That day I decided that in the midst of the difficulty I was going to intentionally take time to be grateful each day. The transformation was astonishing. I recovered my inner peace and stability even in the most difficult situations. I found the strength and patience to confront several of the biggest set backs I have encountered here. That day marks the turning point in my transition to Tucson. Not too many months later, I now feel at home in Tucson and in my community. There may always be rocks in the path, but calling out gratitude, I have found the strength to push forward on the trail. 

Lenten Retreat and Solitude

Today, I would describe myself with several adjectives. One of those is really inconsistent blogger on my almost now, nonexistent blog. I beg your pardon. I have six drafts saved and only one published blog since January. I feel so blessed to have such patient supporters. 

Back in early February, I saw God falling from the sky in the form of snow on the desert. Though the snow did not wrap me in a warm blanket and hold me tight, I with my blue lips and frozen toes felt comforted by the morning snow. It was majestic and surreal to be out on the desert alone on the Lenten Spirituality Retreat. It was mind boggling to be in the desert sleeping near a stream with snow on both cottonwoods and saguaros. 

The retreat, one of the unique facets of the YAV program in Tucson, started with two days of retreat at the main camp ground with my community members. We had times of fellowship and more serious focused moments as we acclimated to the idea of solitude in the desert. On the third morning we moved to our individual sites--spread out along the canyon. 

In my time of solitude, I was pleased to discover, I am very comfortable with myself. Even if I cannot proclaim to know myself through and through, I am absolutely comfortable with me. I felt so much peace sitting on a rock next to the small stream that morphs into a raging river during the monsoon season. I felt joy when I hiked up the canyon wall only to see the peaks of mountains all around me and no sign of urban or human development. I felt so small on God's big earth. I was out of control of what might come my way. I had to let go and be wrapped in his beautiful, intricate quilt or else be overcome by fear. I am so blessed to have experienced so deeply a reminder that God is SO big and that he envelops us each in his hands--his creation, everyday. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Confronting the T-word

     The last six months of my journey have been wrapped up in transition. Transition from Guatemala to North Carolina, to Tuscon. From life with my host family and chicken buses to a house with ten peers and fifteen bicycles. From a position where I was outside in the sun engaging my body and mind every day, to a job where I sit at a desk to work my mind and go to the gym to separately to work my body. Transition, a word I didn't write about in my application, but that has been the main theme of my journey. At first I was surprised, even shocked, at the difficulty of transition. I came to abhor and fear yet another change, longing for some kind of stability. 
     Some days, the struggle seems unreal, far away. Like today, January the 21st, MLK day, over seven months since I last wrote a blog. As I sit here on my porch contemplating transition in no shoes, shorts and a t-shirt with a few of my housemates soaking up the sun and the spring-like weather, I wonder if transition is the definition of life. We read the bible, looking to it for life, and in its most basic state it is a set of stories and poems about migration and transition--physically and spiritually. Noah may not have migrated to a new land leaving everything behind, but everything on earth where he had made his life was wiped away in an instant. Simultaneously he was trapped in a boat only to return to the same land which, without people, livestock, birds, or other living creatures did not resemble the land before the flood. God called him out of his comfort zone to be entrenched in transition and love. Sounds simple, right? 
     When I first moved to Tucson, to the desert, I could feel my insides being tugged at by the simple fact that my yard is gravel and everything that is green has more thorns than green. I cannot even begin to imagine the emotional difficulty that comes with a loss of all that lives and breaths on earth. 
      Ruth and Naomi were pulled by God through transition after transition a midst despair and desperation.  god was present as the women. After arriving in Ruth's homeland, unknown to Naomi, Boaz was an instrument of God's grace toward Naomi as she gleaned the fields instructing his works to leave more. Even through the most trying transitions, God is with us and helping us plod along only to arrive more fully in his love. After my rather minimal changes, in comparison, I can't imagine how dizzying these transitions, maybe better called trials, were for the two women. 
     For me, transition has meant fear, grief, pain, trial, and yet, more powerfully love, grace, and mercy. In the middle of it all, the discomfort, the unknowing, the wandering, God is with me and has shown me his face as he takes control in each of our crossing transitory lives. Through these transitions, I have had the privilege of discovering more of who I am and whose I am each day. 
     Transition is biblical, everyone experiences it. Even in the most stable job and household, there is change. Change of procedure, salary, staff, friends, or children who grow up and move out.  Perhaps transition is also the definition of faith- a transition from self reliance to reliance on a more divine being often discovered when in over your head. Transition from being in control of our own lives to Him taking over even those bits where we try to feign control. Through transition, there is faith, hope and love. So perhaps, if we simply wait for transition to pass, or try to push it off with tunnel vision, we might miss life or the next circles of light that God sends to us. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


     This year is rapidly coming to a close. I look back and I see a blur of beauty, pain, community, loneliness, fear, change, grief and love. The ever changing mixed emotions have not allowed my insides to settle for more than a moment. I miss my family in the USA, but I don't know that I am ready to leave this place where I have so clearly seen God.

     Two weekends ago we as Guatemala YAVs had our final retreat. As we talked about going home, we thought about all that we have learned. I struggled to articulate all the changes I feel within myself, but I believe that all I am learning can be summed up in three categories:    

          1.  God knows our needs. Have Faith.
          2.  God is with us. We are not alone.
          3.  God gave us value. What we DO is not what defines us or how we should define our love.   

     Maybe these are all phrases that you know and can say to yourself. I, however, think that in the North American culture living these phrases out and truly believing each in its entirety is an extreme test of faith, hope, and love--not to mention endurance. For example, number one. God knows our needs. Have Faith. If we were living within that statement, we would not constantly be stressing about the things that turn our hair grey only to worry about our hair turning grey. Most of these things are out of our control in the first place yet we insist on a power struggle with God. Every time this year when I have made it to the edge, God has had his hand at the cliff to keep me from falling over. Let go. Sit still and be. Don't stress when you are three minutes late for Sunday School and your hair is still wet. Jesus surely didn't shower everyday. Wet hair probably isn't a huge factor in the relationship status with our heavenly father. He will hold us anyway.

    God is with us. We are not alone. God comes to us everyday in people we encounter, the erupting volcano, in our emotions, in the flowers, the breeze, and the (sometimes never ending) rain. This year I have experienced on several occasions the sense of extreme loneliness and isolation brought on by language and cultural barriers--and tunnel vision. 

    Last week I was accompanying a group of youth from Albany Presbytery which required me to remove myself from my normal environment for an extended period of time. After they left, I was sad. I felt their love for me and enjoyed their presence and the presence of God among them everyday. The connections were intentional and therefore, easily visible to me. There were moments in which I felt a longing for this kind of connection in my daily life. And this is exactly where I caught myself. I do have these connections in Guatemala. Even when I have felt alone and disconnected, the workers on the farm, my friends at the gym, my bible study group, my host family, and the other YAVs are the face of God with me. I couldn't see it until I was disconnected. The face of God, the hugs of God never look or feel the same. Perhaps, this is why we have a hard time recognizing His constant presence and falsely sense loneliness. If when we feel alone, we use that emotion as a trigger to remember to open our eyes and look for God we can possibly experience the love of God more fully. 

      Our God who loves us created us uniquely. He formed us to love one another. We are like puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly to form a greater, more beautiful picture. A puzzle with missing pieces begins to lose its value. Therefore, each piece, just as it is (whether it graduated summa cum laude or last in its class) is valuable to the constructor. I think it is easy to get caught up in the North American culture where quality of performance often becomes the root of our own self-worth. When we put so much pressure on ourselves to make good grades, to get first place at the swim meet, to play a flawless concert,to translate perfectly we expose the symptoms of our misplaced value. This is NOT loving our neighbor as ourselves because we are NOT allowing ourselves to be loved.

     Perhaps this lesson is the most important thing I have lived and learned this year. I left my saxophone behind and have not used much music this year. I have gained more than twenty pounds and I have been terrible about keeping up my blogs and doing my reading assignments. These things that have I have used to define myself for so long were suddenly gone. GONE. And my reaction? Grief. I experienced grief. Not over a dying relative or lost friend, but over my definition of self. the definition that was a constant stress to maintain. The Vanderbilt graduate, Blair School of Music student, and athlete was lost. You would think I would have felt freed. But as it turns out, I am a little shy and I had nothing left to hide behind. It is probable that the current language and cultural barrier that I live with exaggerated these intense emotions of completely shedding my stressful comfort zones, but when I finally let go, when I finally escaped not only my expectations to perform but learned to ignore those around me, I was joyfully free. I have never experienced such liberty and grace in my life. Its a wonderful feeling. I recommend it highly. Let go of your idols and live in faith that God knows our needs and he is with us.

     I was really struggling to articulate what I have discovered this year, but thanks to the Youth of Albany Presbytery and the two other facilitators Hector and Luis, my experiences of the last week solidified some of my newly learned lessons. God knows my need. He sent me an extraordinary group of youth, their chaperons, and  my two co-facilitators. God is with me. These wonderful people reminded me how much I am loved and what a huge capacity we each have to love others. God gave me value. I am full of worth no matter how well I translate songs, sermons, and games.

Friday, June 15, 2012

What Next?

From the time I was a teenager beginning to think about the next step from high school, I heard and contemplated--more like agonized--over the question "What’s next?”. This question alone, I believe, is the root cause of all stress in life especially when you don't know the answer and just want a vacation from dealing with the constant pressure of the future. I feel that my teenage years and thus far into my twenties has been a constant rehearsal of how to deal with the unknown, untested, boundless future. Where does it all go? Which path is the "right" choice? The torment and anxiety that develops from the endless questions of others and from within has the ability to send a person into cardiac arrest with the slightest hint of more stress. But the beauty in all that is found when you score the next job or living arrangement; when God has knocked on your door and shown you how to follow through. It is such a relief to know that I have even just one more year mapped out--granted that even maps are updated regularly.
This year I have been constantly immersed in the theme of US Immigration. Living here has really brought to my attention how the US impacts other world citizens in ways that we, US citizens, may not always realize. It has been such a blessing and a spotlight to live with a family that has been directly affected by immigration. I have learned and absorbed more than I could have living in any other situation. It has been alternating comforting, infuriating, frustrating, enlightening, educational, and always beautiful to live with my host family. They have inspired in me a passion to learn more and act on the theme of US immigration. I, as a US citizen, should know the impact of my country in the lives of wonderful people trying to do what is best for their family. I should know the truths and the myths about this theme that has more impact than any foreign relations department lets on. I cannot even begin to count how many people--men, women, and children--I have had immigration based discussions with during this year.
As the "What’s Next?" question was lingering in my mind, I began to look into possibilities for next year. I felt that between all the lessons learned from this year, I would like to solidify my growing passion for understanding my new definition of foreign relations through immigration, another YAV year in Tucson, AZ would be the perfect fit.
Therefore, after interviews with numerous YAV sites, past YAVs and friends via Skype, I have decided (and been accepted) to work at Borderlinks in a second YAV year. My position will entail coordinating and accompanying groups of Americans in the exploration of the immigration topic. I am excited to explore the next circle of light that God has illuminated for me in Tucson, Arizona.
If you are interested in supporting me in the next steps, I would ask for prayer for me and for the people with whom I will live. You will be able to follow my year through my blog at this same address (where I always love comments and questions). If you feel called to give financially to my next year of service you can do so by sending a check made out to Tucson Borderlands YAV with Austin Langley in the Memo Line to
Linda Marshal 
716 S. Lucinda Drive
Tucson, AZ 85748
Thank you so much for your continuing support and interest in my current and next year of service with YAV PC(USA).

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I accidentally forgot to post the remarkable hand made (by my six year old host brother) carpet and procession that passed in our carport. 

Alfonso's 15th!!!

The cookie cake we made.
Alfonso checking out his new wallet!

My wonderful birthday party.

Receiving the gifts from my aunts, including the handmade bag I am holding and scarf in the picture! Wow!