This past weekend I traveled to New Mexico for a retreat with last year’s YAVs. Re-entry, as we call it, was a chance to reconnect with the first batch of my YAV friends, and to share stories and experiences from our years of service. Not to mention Ghost Ranch itself is a stunning place to be.
The long weekend started on Thursday morning, as I hopped on a plane with a handful of other YAVs (or YAVAs now, I s’pose?) who currently reside in New Orleans. The anticipation grew as more friends joined us on the flight from Dallas to Albuquerque, and next thing you know 50 or so YAVs were all piled on a bus to Ghost Ranch.
Re-entry is built largely to help YAVs process their newly-finished years, through small group discussions, group sessions, worship and plenty of fellowship. The general format of the retreat is relatively similar to orientation at Stony Point, but I was struck by the physical differences between the two places and how they reminded me of the ragtag little family that is a group of YAVs just returning from a year of service.
The open spaces at Stony Point are blanketed with green grass and surrounded by shady trees that invite pleasant afternoons of get-to-know-you conversations (on the off chance that you have some free time). In August it might get a little hot during the day, but for the most part the weather is pleasant enough…unless you happen to run into a hurricane.
The red rocks of Ghost Ranch are for the most part stripped of vegetation, bare except for a few spiky cacti and a good bit of prickly desert grass. The mid-day sun can be harsh, and in September there is a (relative) cold that sets in at night. But if you take a little hike to the top of a mesa or step outside at night and look upwards, the view will take your breath away.
In the past twelve months all of us have been challenged, in ways too different to describe here. Through our experiences over the last year and through our conversations this past weekend, we have shed the green layers of presumption and expectation and bared at least part of our red rock souls to one another. Some are weary and broken, while others are as motivated and confident as ever. Either way we have found solidarity in our shared wandering and understanding in our shared love for others. The hike out of the valley to the top of the mesa might be longer for some than others, and some will be more out of breath when they reach the end of the trail. But that view at the top is worth it.
I would be lying if I said that I could put into words everything that changed in me last year. But I boarded the plane back to New Orleans with desert dust still coating my sandals (and probably still stuck between my toes), a messy reminder of a year that has most certainly changed me and that will forever be an important part of me. This next year in my journey will surely challenge and change me even more than the last, and I’ll head off to Ghost Ranch again in a year only come back with even more dirt between my toes.
My friend and fellow YAV Luke wrote the following poem at the end of our orientation more than a year ago and just shared it with us again. I’m not sure there are better words to describe what this quirky, inspiring, plaid-wearing family means to me. So read on, friends, and I’ll talk to you soon.
This community will not be broken.
too much love
too much compassion
too much hope
too much energy
too much contagious enthusiasm
too much life.
We are full of life.
This community is a living thing.
This community will not be broken.
We separate tonight
so many different directions
to many places
to endure many pains and sorrows.
We will struggle.
We will hurt.
We will cry out to God
and ask, “Why do you let this happen?”
But the community will not be broken.
We will lift each other up
in prayer and in action.
the kind word.
the loving gesture.
God has put us together,
a community that will stand in solidarity and partnership
with the poorest of the poor, the victims of
that would have us believe they aren’t human. Not worthy.
We will ache.
We will feel a longing for God’s love for all unlike anything
we’ve ever felt before.
We will cry.
We will yell.
We will break down.
Hit rock bottom.
But when we need someone
that very moment
when we feel we’re useless
powerless against forces so far
beyond our control
we’ll stand as a community
we will not be broken.
and we will change the world.