As I tried to think about how to conclude my year and even more so how to write about it, I kept thinking about all the ways I have changed and the things I’ve learned in a year. Before she left, my housemate Marji wrote a blog post as a letter to herself that she would have wanted when she first started this year. You can read her wonderfully candid post here: http://yav-marji.blogspot.com/2016/06/a-letter-to-myself.html?spref=fb
I loved this idea so much that I decided to steal it, and so as my last official DOOR year post, here’s the long, honest letter that Rowena in September 2015 would have wanted from the Rowena of August 2016:
Before you do anything else, breathe in deeply. I know how enthusiastic you are to pour yourself so completely into the work you’ll be doing in LA but I need to stress how important it is to pace yourself. The good news is, you will not at all burn out or become cynical this year. The bad news is, you’re going to be really, really, really tired almost all the time. You’re going to forget to eat dinner. You’re going to forget to text your friends. You’re going to feel guilty for not cleaning your room more often. And you’re going to be tempted to drug up on caffeine (which thankfully you won’t do). Pace yourself. You will wear yourself out during the week and you will have nothing left for the weekends.
Make the decision to speak in Spanish even when you are nervous, embarrassed, or feeling vulnerable. Otherwise, you will spend so much time laying on your bed staring at the ceiling thinking of all the things you could have said in [enter situation here] and didn’t. You’ll feel so disappointed in yourself and it will be your biggest insecurity all year.
Your experience at PATH (and well, this year in general) is going to have more turbulence than a small airplane in a tropical storm. People are going to leave, there will be problems, and you will never know what each day is going to hold. But guess what? You’re still going to love your job a lot and by the end of the year, I promise you will have been fully initiated as a real social worker.
Make intentional time to process your thoughts. Watching Netflix or reading is a great way to relax, but it is not the self care you will need. You will need to write down what you feel. You will need to talk. You will need to walk it out. Don’t hurt yourself by thinking that avoiding your struggles will make them disappear.
You are going to have housemate conflict. There will be things that happen out of your control. Don’t feel guilty for not being able to solve every problem. Your job at PATH requires a lot of emotional intervention with clients. It’s ok if you don’t always have the energy for that in your home.
Do not feel guilty for the generosity that coworkers, church friends, and other people will shower you with. They will want to buy you lunch. They will want to treat you. They will go out of their way to make you feel loved and appreciated. Have the peace and assurance that as you fully give and share of yourself, you will receive it from others as well. This is a beautiful thing. Be blessed by it; do not devalue it by feeling guilty.
Laugh at yourself all the time if you can. You’re going to make mistakes, and you’re going to feel incompetent occasionally, but cut yourself some slack! Tell yourself everyday that you are doing a good job because you’re already doing so much more than all the others who haven’t even tried.
This will be a hard year. You will have so many parts of your heart torn. But it will be the best year of your life. You will have more peace and joy than you have ever known. You will feel some powerful love and grace. You will witness miracles in the lives of people you meet. There will never be a day that you won’t be in love with Los Angeles and every moment will be worth it.
It will be hard. It will be exhausting, but you will become so strong. And while we’re talking about beautiful things, I’ll include some bonus things that will happen to you this year:
–You’ll fall 100% in love with the children and families in your community. They will bring you treats and gifts. They will invite you into their homes. They’ll cook for you. You’ll go to soccer games and t-ball games. You’ll get hugs, and drawings, and smiles and the children will tell you that they love you. They will call your name so often you’ll get tired of hearing it. But then they will wrap their arms around you and you’ll feel all the pieces of your heart settling into place.
–You will become so independent. You will be surprised by your own independence. You will be able to navigate the city. You’ll be able to confidently go where ever you feel like going.
–You will have a raw and real understanding of mental health, and how to think about it. You will not be afraid and you will no longer have stigma towards individuals who suffer from mental health issues.
–You will no longer be afraid of things that a lot of other people fear. You will understand the stories of individuals experiencing homelessness. You will know more about gang culture. You will have learned how to be careful and mindful, but you will not be afraid.
–You will get to experience really incredible things in LA even on your limited budget. By the time you have to leave, you’ll feel like you experienced just about every important thing.
–You will both have a greater understanding of God, and also waaay more questions. It’s a good thing God never gets tired of questions 😉
–You will become a force to be reckoned with!
Be thankful. Be patient. Be gracious. Be love. Be all of these and more with everything and everyone you encounter.
Tell yourself daily that peace is not dependent on your circumstances. Tell yourself that it is well with your soul. Sing when you want to. Cry when you need to. Smile, smile, smile.
And go be great, because you will be 🙂
PS: This may be the end of my DOOR year, but it is not the end of my blog journey; I’ll be continuing to keep a blog in the future. Stay tuned for more in a few weeks after I have re-adjusted to life back in Ohio and in school!