Sunday, December 29, 2013

Obligatory New Year's Post :)

Hi everyone! I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas with your loved ones. My time with my family has been restorative and healing. During my time here, I've been thinking about what I hope to accomplish in the coming months. I do have career and educational aspirations, but the most important thing for me to realize in 2014 is that I am not obligated to apologize for my choices, and I am certainly not obligated to please others all the time.

While I knew that I would be home for three weeks in December (my boss worked this out with me), a situation arose that prompted me to leave Austin two weeks early. (Don't worry, everything's fine!) I made this decision in my best interest with regards to my health (see my previous post) and other circumstances. While most were supportive of this choice, especially my boss, co-workers and community members, I did meet opposition from others. In short, I felt judged and misunderstood. I let someone else make me feel guilty for making choices that, while not typical for someone in my program, were necessary for my physical, mental and spiritual health.

If I've learned anything from my YAV year so far, it's that I cannot control other people. I can't control what they think, what they do, what conclusions they may draw about me, or how they will respond to any situation. I've let myself agonize over others' perceptions of me and what they think I should or should not do or be. I've decided not to do this anymore. It's unhealthy and, frankly, other people don't matter in the grand scheme of things. All that matters is who I am, what I think is best for me, and how I can move forward to become who I want to be. Opinions are like mouths; everybody's got one! :)

So, in 2014, I'm not going to apologize for making my own choices. This will be difficult. I don't like telling people no, and I don't like feeling like I've let people down. But when it comes to my needs and how to best meet them, I can't, and won't, say no to myself. I won't in 2014 or any other time. Happy new year, friends. Move forward and go with God.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Emmanuel: God with Us.

Hey everyone,
    It's been a while! :) A lot has happened since I last wrote. Work has been crazy and wonderful (I'll post about that later), but my personal life has been perhaps more hectic. I have to admit that I've had a hard time since I moved to Austin in August.
   Don't get me wrong, I love my job and the work we do for incarcerated individuals; my work is mainly in immigration, and I'm passionate about what I do. I love my community members and the time we spend discerning and asking questions together. Sometimes, though, I get frustrated with my body.
   It's no secret to many of my family and friends that, four years ago, I became extremely sick. I spent the majority of my freshman year at Maryville College not knowing what to label what my body was going through. I didn't understand and I was afraid. An internist who would occasionally come to our school tentatively diagnosed me with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that can cause hypothyroidism. The specialist I saw that semester, and subsequent internists, however, refused to diagnose me with the disorder, leaving me with virtually no way to feel better. I've been on medication for almost two years now, but even with that small miracle, I did not officially have a name for this amalgamation of symptoms. I treated myself as though I had Hashimoto's the whole time, hoping that I was right and that I would one day find an anwser. I was waiting for something to happen.
    Four years later, when I moved to Austin, I began to feel this way again and, not wanting history to repeat itself, I sought help from a local endocrinologist. After four long years of unanswered questions and frustrating dead ends with different treatments, my new doctor uttered three words I was longing to hear: "You have Hashimoto's." 
   It's difficult to conceive of a person being happy moments after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Trust me, not one is glad to have any condition like this! I have to say, though, that I was relieved to have this diagnosis. Mixed in with this relief, however, is a kind of sadness. Realizing that I have Hashimoto's does not just mean that I have a diagnosis; it means that I officially have a disease. That, my friends, is slightly frightening.
   It's funny that I'm beginning to process this news during Advent. Advent, for those of you who aren't familiar it, is a period of waiting that is observed by many Christian denominations. During this time, we ponder the coming of the Christ child. This is a long, dark, somber time of waiting for something miraculous to happen. The miracle is that God comes to us in the form of a baby, a human who, throughout his life, felt all the pain and heartache that accompanies having a mortal mind and body. This birth gives the world hope that God is present with us in our brokenness. Emmanuel, the name given to the child, means "God with us."
   I can feel God with me now. I don't know what my future will look like, or how I will choose to manage Hashi's. (This is a short name often to given to Hashimoto's. We try to make it sound cute, at least!) But I do know that sickness and suffering is not the last word. God is with me in a doctor who takes me seriously and listens to my story and doesn't just pay attention to my lab results. God is with me in a family that stands by me in the good times and the bad. God is with me in my boss and co-workers who order be gluten, soy and dairy free food for office lunch meetings (I'm looking at you, Bob, Kymberlie, Holly, and Cristina!). This presence is a healing presence.
   I ask you to send prayers, good juju, good thoughts, or whatever my way as I figure this out. I am grateful for all of you and the joy you have brought me. This Advent season, remember that God is with you always.

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." John 1:5

Thursday, August 29, 2013


   Hey everyone! I've been settling in at my new apartment since I arrived here on Monday afternoon. Catherine (one of the other YAVs at my site) and I have been exploring the city and finding out where the best grocery stores are, etc. We love Austin so far.

      Yesterday, my site coordinator took me to meet my boss. He and I spoke for some time about the work I will be doing at his organization, Grassroots Leadership, which seeks to shut down for-profit prisons and immigrant detention centers in Texas and nationwide. My co-workers gave me some literature regarding the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) that owns many of the for-profit detention centers in the United States. Prisoners and detainees are denied medical care, are subject to sexual and physical assault by guards, are not provided adequate bedding, and are overcrowded in these facilities. I am enraged by what I have learned so far, and I am excited to begin work to combat these human rights violations.
      Mainly, I will be working on the immigration reform side of things. One of my main responsibilities will be organizing a long-standing visitation program at the T. Don Hutto immigrant detention center in Taylor, Texas (not far from Austin). The women detained in that facility are primarily from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, though there are other nationalities as well. These women are seeking asylum in the United States, meaning that they may be  seeking refuge from  political or other persecution and abusive situations. The visitation program allows volunteers to stand with these women, to provide them a friend in whom to confide, and a friendly face.
     At YAV orientation, one of our mentors warned us not to become overwhelmed by the people we will be serving, or the situations in which they live. We cannot change the systems of injustice by ourselves. I cannot be a super YAV! I admit that I haven't even begun work yet and I already feel overwhelmed by what I have been learning about the atrocities committed against human beings in our country. In spite of that, I hope to do my small part to stand with these detainees and perhaps give them some comfort and a voice. I am blessed to be able to do this, and I hope I do it well.
      God is with you.
                                                                                             Love, Lauren :)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Orientation is ending...when did that happen?

Hey friends,
    Welcome to my new blog! I hope this will be a good way for people to keep up with me and the work I will be doing. I am really excited to move to Austin tomorrow and begin my journey. Thank you to everyone who has supported me financially and/or through prayer during this important time.
     I have decided to call this blog "Vaya con Dios" or "go with God" because of a New York man who was speaking Spanish with me this morning after my commissioning service at Nauraushaun Presbyterian Church in Pearl River, New York. He spoke this phrase in hopes that my fellow YAVs and I would be blessed on our journey of service for the Presbyterian Church (USA) and for the church universal in this next year.
      I fly tomorrow to my new life, which seems unreal. YAV orientation has been amazing, and I will dearly miss all my new friends that I have met here. They are my true family, and I am blessed to know each of them.
    That's all for now, friends. Updates will be coming soon. Vaya con Dios, amigos. :)
                                                                                                                            Lots of love,
                                                                                                                                     Lauren :)