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Before I started my YAV year, I was stuck. Stuck in a dead-end job. Stuck living

at home. Stuck in neutral with no clear idea of how to move forward or even what that forward would look like. Stuck with no money, no fulfillment and no satisfaction. I made a life change. I took a crazy leap of faith that something major needed to happen and that the YAV program would lead me toward something new and get me out of stuck.

Needless to say, it did. I lived with other people my own age and for the first time ever, actually liked the experience. I discovered that I actually can cook and bake and found that I rather enjoyed the experience. I found that moving away from everyone I’d ever known and everything I’d ever been a part of was the best thing for me.  More than anything, though, I have to say I actually found myself. I know that might sound like a huge cliche but it’s really the truth. Before, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life: law school? acting? politics? social work? Turns out, none of those were quite the right fit. I had some time to spend with God and discovered that seminary was really where my heart was calling me to be. I think I always knew that but I needed some pushing to help confirm it. My YAV year gave me that push and for that, I will remain forever grateful.

I honestly don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been for YAV. I’m now in seminary in California and I’m pretty much the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. I can’t even begin to say how grateful I am for what the YAV program did for me.

Yes, it was rough. They always are. I served in Chicago in what was a rough neighborhood. I got mugged twice. I dealt with several deaths of people back home that I cared deeply about. I even had to deal with a blizzard! There were days I hated it. There were days when I seriously thought that I had completely failed at being a YAV and was all set to pack it up and go home and just be known as the loser who couldn’t even win at YAV. Yet, it was in those hard times when I most felt comforted and loved, by my housemates; by my site coordinator; by my fellow YAVs both domestic and international; by the YAV office and by my friends and family back home. Those hard times helped give me the confidence to move forward and persevere. They gave me the confidence to move away from Chicago after my time was up for another new beginning. It’s cliche to say this but my YAV year literally did save my life. Actually, I’m not sure that what I had before could really be defined as a life. It was more like I was just existing, not living. So, let’s put it a different way. My YAV year gave me life. More specifically, it gave my life meaning and purpose and a sense of direction: all things that had been lacking up until then.

It’s so hard to believe that its been almost two years now since my year ended. It still seems like just yesterday that I was watching Buffy reruns with my housemates or traveling to Springfield to lobby against the death penalty or exploring downtown Chicago or any of the various other things I did over the course of that year. I think in the end, I just want to say that I’m very thankful for all that YAV gave me. Life, hope, a sense of purpose. What more could I have asked for? I am who I am today because of YAV. There’s no doubt that it remains the single best thing I ever did!

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