Finding Home

Finding Home

Originally uploaded by lizpurdy05

It would appear as though I’ve let over a full month go by without any update and I must admit that things at Jubilee are much different in April than in February. Spring in Georgia most certainly feels more like summer in Seattle (meals outside and time spent laying in a hammock to name a few of the more pleasurable activities, fire ants and wasps in my sleeping loft to name a few annoyances). But rather than mention small talk about weather and seasonal patterns that are inevitable, more notably our time has been incredibly full of lots of community activities: a rafting trip on the Chatooga River, Easter and Holy Week celebrations with TONS of family visitors, a trip to a monastery for a silent retreat, three weeks of various college groups coming and serving with us, trips to local contra dances, volunteer morning runs and night walks, outings to watch NCAA basketball, etc. Not to mention continuing work with refugees: English classes, a children’s art show, sharing meals together at the Welcome Center, moving two families to Clarkston and preparing for the arrival of more families. So with the rapidly progressing weeks and the change of seasons, I feel torn between wanting to give a rapid fire list of all the events that have occurred and wanting to take some time to write reflections on what has happened and the many ways in which I have been growing here. Though the events have been fun, the significance of any of my time here lies in my reflections and the actions I take based on those realizations, especially after I leave here. I feel more compelled to write not about the what and the where, but about the why? and so what? of my time here.

Yesterday, I went back to previous blog entries and read my commentary from the beginning of my time here. There are a couple things that are evident: 1) I was hung up on being in the south. I’m not saying that I particularly feel as though I “fit” here now, but perhaps some of the initial shock and intrigue of southern culture have worn off. 2) Writing the blog initially acts as a way for me to communicate to others what I’m up to and how I’m doing, but other than my mom, I’m pretty sure not many people return to previous entries to read about my life. Being able to look back seems to be how the blog serves me, and I must admit I’m disappointed I haven’t kept better records of life here.

In just five weeks I’ll be somewhere else. I don’t know where exactly, perhaps only a few hours away at a campground at the beginning of my road trip home, but I won’t be at Jubilee and that causes me to experience a slight tightening in my chest—not the beginning of a heart attack, or even mild heart burn from the hot sauce on my lunch, but it’s a reminder that I’ve put a lot more of my self and my soul into this place than I ever expected or intended to. Sometime around the end of February it occurred to me that I’ve done something here that I haven’t done in several months anywhere else… I’ve invested. And I must admit that came as a bit of a shock, because, 1) as previous established, I didn’t think I could really tolerate life in Georgia for very long and 2) when I arrived here I intended to have my time at Jubilee be just another experience that I would eventually stuff into my “bag o’ memories” and bring up every so often when I needed a good story to share over a beer or at the next family gathering. But since being “on the run” virtually every moment since I crossed the stage at graduation last May—with a trip to Zambia, another summer at Grand Teton, a five-week road trip around the country, a few weeks skiing in Utah, and several pit stops in Seattle in between it all—I finally acknowledged that if I’m not rooted, I’m certainly not growing. I’m definitely grateful for many of the experiences I had during all those various adventures, but after a while, that’s all it was… another experience I wasn’t processing, I wasn’t gaining much personal growth from, and that didn’t have much depth because I wasn’t taking time to discover what it all meant. I seemed to have a backlog of experiences I needed to process and the worry of not being able to answer the daunting “what’s next?” question of post college life, kept me on the run, never fully understanding the last event I’d just finished.

All that to say, that Jubilee has given me a great opportunity to find the rest I needed and process some of those backlogged experiences, while still being really engaged in an enriching community and meaningful work. Did I mention having a lot of fun during all of that also? So really, what could be better?

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest and hopefully conveyed what a beautiful and important place Jubilee is to me, I’ll say a little more about the what and the where. Concerning our work with refugees, we have seen two families complete their time here at Jubilee and move to Clarkston, a suburb of Atlanta with a growing international community (for a great story concerning refugee resettlement in Clarkston and a youth soccer team check out the book “Outcasts United”). These two families arrived at Jubilee in late January and since we as volunteers were here for the entirety of their two month stay we all grew very close to them. We watched as they became more confident interacting with us; the children literally ran into our arms when we opened the doors to childcare instead of the kicking and screaming resistance we saw at the beginning when their parents attempted to usher them through the doorway, and the parents English improved enough to be able to hold broken conversations and communicate somewhat humorously with them. The two married couples, both with four children each, brought joy and energy to Jubilee. We all said a very tearful goodbye to them a couple weeks ago and I was on the trip to Clarkston to help them move into their new home. It was incredible to realize that their move to a three bedroom apartment in Clarkston is the end of the road for them—for literally years, upwards of twenty years in some cases, they have been living in refugee camps, in hopes of being able one day  to move and have a place they can call their own. I doubt that they could have imagined anything like the huge apartment complex of 40+ buildings that we turned into would ever be their home. Their apartments were significantly nicer than I anticipated (especially after hearing horror stories of cockroaches and flooding in some complexes). And yet, the move to their own apartment is also the beginning of the road for them in so many ways that it’s ridiculous to think of what they must do to establish themselves… for starters, what about getting a job?! Though the refugee resettlement agency cannot give them the time and personal relationships that we can here at Jubilee, they attempted to get them oriented to their apartment as quickly as possible. We all watched feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the task ahead of them as they had to fill out piles of paperwork that they couldn’t read, were handed social security cards for the first time, and were taken to sign a lease agreement. As Russ, one of the partners here, said about their apartment orientation, “It’s like walking into a hurricane. ‘Sign here, don’t touch that! Make sure this is turned on, lock this, open that, always keep this door closed…’” His comment certainly captured the essence of the scene.

The photo above is of three of the children in one of the families looking out the window of their new apartment. One of the older boys asked Caleb, “Where is the forest?” and Caleb nearly cried when he told him there was no forest for him to play in. The realities of their new life in urban America began to set in.

Indeed transitions exist for us all, some more drastic than others, some more frequently than for others. I’d love to have some profound concluding thought on what it all means to switch from place to place and people to people, or about the journey of it all, but mostly for me there’s just still a lot of discovery going on throughout it all. I think my friend Annie articulated her current experience with all these ideas pretty well when she wrote a few weeks ago from Indonesia on her blog titled “What’s the Rush?” :

“Oh, I’ll tell you what the rush is. I have just one year to experience, soak up and learn as much as humanly possible in just one year here – not the mention trying to fit spiritual growth into my busy schedule. I’m joking. Or am I? Suddenly, this year, which by the way was actually only 11 months to begin with, has suddenly turned into four months. It feels like I’m just hitting my stride in my assignment and now I’m going home in like, two minutes.

Really, though, the important thing is having and enjoying experiences, and along with that, I’m hoping, come learning and spiritual and personal growth. I’m hoping that it’s kind of a package deal.

That being said, part of the experience, a big part, is understanding that there is, in fact, no rush.”

So I’ll try not to rush through these last five weeks, and I’ll try not to rush home to Seattle. And once I do make it to the west coast again, I’ll try not to rush off again too quickly to Alaska (… did I mention I’m moving to Sitka, Alaska in August? 🙂 I’ll be working with Jesuit Volunteer Corps for a year. Ask me if you want more details!)

Next time I promise more reports on all the happenings here, and being that we will be visiting families in Clarkston next weekend, will be attending a Karen wedding this coming Sunday, and camping with the volunteer group the following weekend, there should be plenty to talk about! For now though, I’ll take someone else’s words as a way to conclude—a few brief lines of a happy song that I have recently enjoyed listening to:

“Happy is the heart that still feels pain
Darkness drains and light will come again
Swing open up your chest and let it in
Just let the love, love, love begin”

“Everybody” – Ingrid Michaelson

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